Pisteos Christou and the Subjective Gentive

Pisteos Christou and the Subjective Gentive

Ever since I was at Westminster Theological Seminary (2000-2003), I have been fascinated by the so-called pistis Christou passages in the New Testament (Rom. 3:22, 26, Gal. 2:16; 3:22, Eph. 3:12, Phil 3:9). G. Herbert and G.M. Taylor brought attention to them in the 1950s and 1960s, but they became the subject of a healthy debate related to the New Perspective on Paul.

Taken subjectively, Saint Paul’s Greek phrase pistis Christou can mean “the faith of Christ”. Taken objectively, it’s closer to “faith in Christ”.

The distinction is rather important. Take for example Galatians 2:16:

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus [subjective translation] Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ [subjective translation], and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

The subjective translation above makes the faith in question the faithfulness of Christ. I’m open to this reading but with a caveat. We must never never attribute the theological virtue of faith to Christ. This is why I favor “faithfulness” if we must opt for the subjective genitive version of the phrase pistis Christou.

Why can’t Christ have “faith”? Saint Thomas Aquinas explains:

As was said above (II-II, 1, 4), the object of faith is a Divine thing not seen. Now the habit of virtue, as every other habit, takes its species from the object. Hence, if we deny that the Divine thing was not seen, we exclude the very essence of faith. Now from the first moment of His conception Christ saw God’s Essence fully, as will be made clear (34, 1). Hence there could be no faith in Him (STh III q. 7, a. 3)

As the consubstantial Logos, Christ always sees the Divine Essence, even after his incarnation, even on the cross, even in his descent into hell. As Hebrews states, “Faith is the evidence of things unseen” (Heb 11:1), yet Christ always saw perfectly the object of faith. Consequently, Christ does not have “faith” in the strict sense since there is nothing “unseen” to Him.

If you’re interested in the subjective/objective debate concerning Saint Paul’s phrase “pistis Christou” below is a great little bibliography arranged by Zeba Antonin Crook (Ph.D. Cand) at the University of St. Michael’s College Ontario, Canada (FYI, Crook favors the subjective genitive interpretation):

Pistis Christou Bibliography

Dunn, J.D.G., “Once More: Pistis Christou,” _SBL 1991 Sem. Papers_
(Atlanta” Scholars, 1991) pp. 730-44.

Hay, D.M., “Pistis as ‘Ground for Faith’ in Hellenized Judaism and
Paul,” _JBL_ 108 (1989) : 461-76.

Hays, R.B., “Pistis and Pauline Christology,” _SBL 1991 Sem. Papers_
(Atlanta” Scholars, 1991) pp. 714-29

Hebert, G., “‘Faithfulness’ and ‘Faith,’” _Theology_ 58 (1955) :
373-379.

Hooker, M.D. “Pistis Christou,” _New Testament Studies_ 35 (1989) :
321-342.

Howard, George, “Notes and Observations on the Faith of Christ,”
_Harvard Theological Review_ 60 (1967) : 459-484.

, “The ‘Faith of Christ,’” _The Expository Times_ 85 (1974)
: 212-215.

Hultgren, A.J., “The Pistis Christou Formulation in Paul,” _Novum
Testamentum_ 22 (1980) : 248-263.

Johnson, L.T., “Rom 3:21-26 and the Faith of Jesus,” _The Catholic
Biblical Quarterly_ 44 (1982) : 77-90.

Ljungman, Henrik, _Pistis: A Study of its Presuppositions and its
Meaning in Pauline Use_ (Lund: C.K.W. Gleerup, 1964).

Longenecker, B.W., “Pistis in Romans 3:25: The Neglected Evidence for
the ‘Faithfulness of Christ,’” _New Testament Studies_ 39 (1993) :
478-480.

O’Rourke, J.J., “Pistis in Romans,” _Catholic Biblical Quarterly_ 35
(1973) : 188-194.

Robinson, D.W.B., “Faith of Jesus Christ,” _Reformed Theological Review_
29 (1970) : 71-81

Taylor, G.M., “The Function of Pistis in Galatians,” _The Journal of
Biblical Literature_ 85 (1966) : 58-76.

Williams, S.K., “Again Pistis Christou,” _The Catholic Biblical
Quarterly_ 49 (1987) : 431- 447.

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About the Author

Taylor was an Episcopal priest in Fort Worth, Texas before being received into the Catholic Church by Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth. Taylor was also formerly the Assistant Director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., located three blocks north of the White House, where he lectured regularly. He was served under Archbishop John J. Myers and Msgr. William Stetson for the Pastoral Provision of John Paul II, the canonical structure by which Anglican clergy are received into the Catholic Church and then go on to pursue Holy Orders in the Catholic Church. He is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (M.A.R. Theology), Nashotah Theological House (Certificate in Anglican Studies), and University of Dallas (M.A. Philosophy). He is currently a Ph.D. student in Philosophy at the University of Dallas where he studies the Natural Law theory of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae Ia Iaa qq. 94-108). Taylor and his wife live in Dallas, Texas with their five children. He is the author of The Catholic Perspective on Paul (forthcoming). Visit his personal site at: www.taylormarshall.com Taylor is also the Editor of Christian and American at: www.christianandamerican.com.