Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Faith of Christ

Way back in the 50’s a debate started regarding the translation of certain key passages in Paul that had to do with justification by faith. The question was whether or not we should translate these passages as referring to Christ’s faith or to ours. Of course, most post-reformation translations take these passages as obvious references to our faith in Christ. In the Greek language, however, the construction could be translated either as a subjective genitive (Christ’s faith) or as an objective genitive (our faith in Christ). Interestingly, the King James translates them as referring to Christ’s own faith. Over the decades the debate grew intense and scholars from around the world joined in. In fifty or so years a decided shift has taken place. At first the burden of proof was on those who thought the passages should be translated as referring to Christ's faith, and not to our faith in Christ. These days it is the other way around.

Here are the key passages. I will quote first from the New American Standard Bible.

ROM 3:22 “even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe, for there is no distinction.”

ROM 3:26 “for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who as faith in Jesus.”

GAL 2:16 “nevertheless knowing that a man is no justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”

GAL 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”

GAL 3:22 “But the Scripture has shut up all me under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

EPH 3:12 “in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.”

PHIL 3:9 “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”


As you can see, far from being peripheral, these passages are at the center of Paul’s thought. The issue at hand challenges both the Roman Catholic and Reformation doctrines of justification at a fundamental level.

I first discovered the debate when I was in seminary working on an exegetical paper on EPH 4:11-13. Verse 13 reads, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.” In my paper, I argued that ‘of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God’ were to be interpreted as referring to Christ’s own faith and knowledge, as surely as ‘the fulness of Christ’ refers to his own fulness and not ours. Looking back I can see how this issue opened the door for me to understand the theology of J. B. and T. F. Torrance, with their powerful and beautiful emphasis on the vicarious humanity of Christ. Over the years I continued to follow the debate, which reached its peak in the 90’s, but is still brewing. Strangely, the theological significance of this transition is yet to be appreciated.

Three factors convince me that Paul is not talking about our faith in Christ, but Christ’s very own faith, such that we are justified by the faith and faithfulness of Jesus himself.

(1) It seems clear enough, as even the NASB translation reads, that Paul (in EPH 4:13) is speaking about our participation in Jesus’ own faith, knowledge and fulness. In his earlier prayer (EPH 3:14-19) Paul prays that we would come to comprehend and to know the love of Christ, that we “may be filled up to all the fulness of God.” In Colossians Paul says, “For in Him [Christ] all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made full” (2:9-10). Clearly the fulness belongs to Jesus, and is then shared with us. Jesus himself tells us that he came to give us not simply peace, but his own peace (JN 14:27), and his own joy (15:11). And, of course, in his famous prayer it is abundantly clear that Jesus envisages the very love and glory of the Father and Son themselves dwelling in us personally (17:22-26). In Matthew, Jesus claims not only that all things have been handed over to him, but also that he alone knows the Father, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him (11:27). The heart of the gospel is the fact that Jesus alone knows the Father, and he alone is filled with the fulness of God, and that he has come to share himself and all that he is and has (fulness, knowledge, peace, joy, glory, love, and faith, among other things) with us. Sharing in Jesus' own life and relationship with his Father and the Spirit is the point.

(2) The genitive construction in ROM 3:26 (ek pisteos Jesou) is exactly the same in ROM 4:16 where Paul is talking about Abraham’s faith (ek pisteos Abraam). The NASB does not translate the Abraham passage as 'our faith in Abraham,' but as “those who are of the faith of Abraham.” If the NASB were consistent, ROM 3:26 would read, “for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus.

(3) In Galatians 2:16 we have a perfect illustration of what is called a chiasm. The verse reads,

“nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, not by the works of the Law…”


A chiasm or chiastic structure fills the Psalter. It is very Hebraic. It is named after the Greek letter ‘Chi’ which looks like an X in English. If you take away the right part of the X you are left with an arrow pointing to the right. In terms of a chiastic argument, the first point in the argument starts with the top left of the X, or arrow. The next point, which is the heart of the argument is the tip. The last point is a repeat of the first point and starts at the beginning of the bottom of the left side of the X. If this is all too confusing to you, let me put Paul’s argument in chiastic sequence.

knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law
-----but through faith in Christ Jesus
----------even we have believed in Christ Jesus,
-----that we may be justified by faith in Christ
not by the works of the Law.

Three times in this verse, Paul, allegedly, speaks of faith in Christ, which is rather redundant and superfluous, unless a chiasm is being employed, and he has in mind not our faith in Christ, but Christ’s faith or faithfulness. The verse works perfectly only when we understand that Paul is thinking about the faith of Christ. It would then read,

knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law
-----but through the faith of Christ Jesus,
----------even we have believed in Christ Jesus
-----that we may be justified by the faith of Christ
not by the works of the Law.

The first and the last clauses speak of not being justified by the works of the law. The second and next to the last speak of being justified by the faith of Christ himself. The middle clause speaks of our trusting in Jesus’ faith and faithfulness. The point of Christian faith is not in the efficacy or power of our own faith, but believing in the faith and faithfulness of Jesus himself, who stands in our place. We believe in Jesus and in his faith. This is the center, the tip of the arrow, of Paul’s chiastic argument. Jesus has taken his place on our side of the covenant relationship with God. And in our place he has offered the perfect response of faith and faithfulness, wherein we are justified. We take our stand, according to Paul, upon his vicarious offering to the Father, upon his faith and faithfulness, that we may be justified not by our own works or faith, but by Jesus.’ We choose to be justified by Jesus’ faith and faithfulness, not our own.

The fruit of taking our stand on Jesus’ faith is peace, the cessation of striving to find a way to justify ourselves through anything that we may do, whether our own faith or works or religious activity of any sort. We cling to, hope in, and pin all our hopes on Jesus, and upon who he is and what he has done as our vicarious representative.

Failure here is simply to doom ourselves to live with ourselves and our faith and religious performance. To not believe in Jesus—and in his faith and faithfulness—is to sentence ourselves to believe in ourselves and in our own efforts, and it is to suffer living with the failed assurance of such a way of believing. So for Paul, we rest in Jesus himself, not in ourselves, and in resting in him, in believing in him, his own glory, knowledge, peace, joy, love and faith begin to have room to come to personal expression in us.

If we translate the key passages as references to Jesus’ faith in our place, it would look something like the following.

ROM 3:22 “even the righteousness of God which comes through the faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all those who believe, for there is no distinction.”

ROM 3:26 “for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus.”

GAL 2:16 “nevertheless knowing that a man is no justified by the works of the Law but through faith of Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”

GAL 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith/faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”

GAL 3:22 “But the Scripture has shut up all me under sin, that the promise by the faith of Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

EPH 3:12 “in whom we have boldness and confident access through His faith/faithfulness.”

PHIL 3:9 “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”



At every point and at all points in between Jesus and his life and faithfulness is the point

Remember, every translation is a translation of the original text through the lens of a particular theology. The Reformers made a great step forward, away from works based salvation. It is time for us to stand on their shoulders and take the next step in their journey into a faith of Christ salvation, which, I suspect was what they were saying all along.

14 comments:

Richard said...

Thanks for this wonderful blog. It strikes at the heart of the gospel.

You see, if indeed it is our faith in Jesus Christ that gets the job done, then we are simply in the bowels of treadmill religion trying to generate enough faith to please God. And the truth be known, getting enough of this type of faith will not happen anytime soon in any of our lives.

However, if we rest in the faith of Jesus Christ, the job has been done as it should be done—meaning by Jesus Christ Himself. We thus pass from a works view into the perfect grace of God freely given to us through Jesus Christ.

I’ll take that!

J. Richard Parker

John Geerlings said...

Thanks Baxter
Your writing is used by the Holy Spirit to renovate my thinking so my thanks go to Father, Son and Spirit for using you. This is good! Just a few thoughts!

Legalism is brought to the foreground in many pare-church ministries which have an endless stream of tapes and books to show us that God does not want our work, He wants relationship. So far so good, yet laced like arsenic throughout is the message of our faith. It is in fact the deepest rooted of all self-incoherent indulgences of legalism.
That in some way my right to believe leads to my relationship with God. He depends upon me to have family and this makes God reality. @#?*^$. How absurd! Yet until the Holy Sprit washes and renovates this from the mind, it will remain like sticky molasses in the brain, an unmoved mover.

Objectively the inheritance has been given, subjectively we have to change our mind and accept the reality that already is. The Word did not become flesh to separate but rather brought all of humanity in union with Him so that they could believe. If God depends on us to believe to have a family then He cannot be reality and not complete.

Thank you again for speaking truth for it resonates with my heart, and if with mine it also has to with those still stuck in their own thinking. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). The faith reality of Jesus is found in every person’s heart. jg

Robin @ Heart of Wisdom said...

Great post. The Hebrew word for faith is אמונה (emunah - Strong’s #530) and is an action-oriented word meaning “support”. Our Western concept of faith places the action on the one you have faith in, such as “faith in God.” But the Hebrew word places the action on the one who “supports God.”

Emunah means faithfulness, persistent determination, holding steady, holding firm, holding true to what is true: the faithfulness of God. Our readiness to fully devote our lives to the service of God and sacrifice our life for the sake of God is the expression of our emunah in God.

God wants a relationship and He even provides the faith (emudah) through His Holy Spirit which will bring forth appropriate actions to develop that relationship. What a God! So glad to be part of the circle.

Adam said...

A recent book available at http://www.awildernessvoice.com/LifeIntoChrist.html may interest you if you have not already seen it.

If it is Christ that lives, not I, then it must be the faith OF Christ!

Jim Noseworthy said...

Hi Baxtter and all:

Thanks for the blog.

I guess that helps to bring John 16:33 in to a sharper focus doesn't it?

33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."


1 ¶

Robin @ Heart of Wisdom said...

I can't describe how much I have enjoyed your audios. I've listened to a hundred hours in the last few weeks.

What a blessing! I have been promoting Perichoresis.org and your blog to all my friends (Bible hungry homeschool moms).

Thank you,

Robin Sampson
Heart of Wisdom
http://heartofwisdom.com

Martha said...

Dear Baxter,
I wrote my thesis ("The pistis of Jesus in Mark 9:14-29) in seminary on this very topic - actually, I springboarded from the pistis Christou debate through the OT and NT and then into the passage in Mark 9:14-29 - the story of Jesus and the father of the demon-possessed boy...arguing that when Jesus says, "All things are possible to the person who believes/has faith," he is talking about his OWN faith. This from a (decades-old, now) discussion I had with Gary and Cathy Deddo on this very subject (more Torrance people!). Would love to talk more about it... Blessings, Martha Chambers

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Charlie J. Ray said...

While I agree with the emphasis of your article, you remain ambiguous since the point of your chiasm still says, "even we have believed IN Christ."

I would agree that our faith is in the objective work of Christ. However, to say that we are justified by the faith "of Christ" opens the door to a subjective appropriation of our own obedience in following the "example" of Christ, as many advocates of the subjective genitive advocate.

Christ is the object of our faith even in your explanation, is He not? The truth is that the KJV does not advocate either the subjective or the objective genitive. The KJV simply translates the genitive in such a way as to retain the ambiguity of the original Greek.

Your article also neglects to mention that faith or belief itself is a gift of God, not something we work up from within ourselves (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Charlie

Chris Welch - 07000INTUNE said...

Norman Grubb
"Christ is all, and is in all"
Colossians 3:11
It is a glorious experience when God confirms His presence in us by His gifts of the Spirit, as He did at Pentecost. This is a gracious manifestation of the Spirit as power, and produces such marvelous effects on us that at first we may think we now have all. But in fact, that first impartation of power has to be inwardly expanded ... t
hrough our personal pilgrimage in the delusion of self-effort living in Romans 7, and then through the wide-open gateway into the full freedom of Romans 8. Then He is known and established in us as the living Person He is, not merely manifested in power.
*****
Anybody downloaded a game and either you're given full usage for a couple of hours, then times up....or you're given part usage of a game but realise there is much more.
Who do I know who does marketing like that?
Hmmmm
Our heavenly Dad?
Do we want full adoption as sons? When I was 20 I was given about 14 days full access to Kingdom Power. Cool or what? It was like being superman for 2 weeks. Zapped a person with epilepsy.Heard angels. Words of knowledge. Prophetic insight.Got on aircraft that were already full. Networking with the "superapostles" of France of 1978.Was given free accommodation in Paris near the Eiffel Tower....unbelievable stuff.

Do I know the state called "Full Adoption of sons "exists? Do I know it now in my Spirit? Yup. Are we all walking like Joel 2 with unlimited power into every city on earth overturning things for the Kingdom of God? Not on your nelly. Learning the Person of Jesus is the price we pay for the Full Adoption Power. And the Person of Jesus tends to win things by losing them. Ha! There's a catch then? Yup. Cos otherwise any devil would be ripping up cities using the Name of Jesus. But that doesn't mean it's not real. Listen, any 2 day old Christian can be received in Jesus Name as they go to any continent on earth and have Jesus sucked out of them. You can book your flight today. Blessed is he who come in the name of the Lord.
Here are the two conditions for power.
Come (or from our perspective GO)
In the Name of Jesus.
How many theological exams did that mention?

No....the clever bit....and Jesus didn't manage this either...
is to be "recognised" in your home town.
Now this is tricky, because it involves crossing out one of the conditions...Go.....and replacing it with "stay". And just to encourage you, so far, for 2000 years...apart from the birth of the Church in Acts 2, and the odd revival we know about...NOBODY...INCLUDING JESUS HIMSELF...ever managed it.

Yet Paul was clearly instructing his churches to expect it because he wrote.....do good to all men...that in the DAY of VISITATION...the DAY you unpack your Full Adoption certificates... everyone may see your good works and give glory to God.

Hmmm....interesting thoughts eh?

Jack Wan said...

I'm reading this writing one year on from when I first read it. Finally, I get to study it properly! This salvation by who's faith issue is expounded so well here. Very clear. Strikes the heart of the gospel, and strikes my heart of understanding.

Jack Wan

mike lober said...

Romans 12:3 NKJV

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.

mike lober said...

It is clear from scripture that God gives us faith and repentance..... Our faith is in Christ's finished work, not in His faith. We trust what Christ did.... Romans 4:4-5
Romans 4:4-5 NKJV

Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,

Bob from Baltimore said...

I was first introduced to this concept in an early work of Dallas Willard, the Christian professor of philosophy and author. "In Search of Guidance" (1993) explains his support of FOC in full detail (pp 165-168). He republished this book in 1999, "Hearing God," with a more condensed mention of it on page 156 that leaves out his exegesis / analysis. I wondered if he felt less confident about this interpretation or its significance, or whether an editor snipped it out just to save space. It is too late to ask Dallas this side of heaven, as he passed on in 2013.