Sunday, August 04, 2013

Get Thee Behind Me, Subjective Genitive

For Paul, salvation is by...?

(a) "faith in Christ" (objective genitive)
(b) "the faithfulness of Christ" (subjective genitive)

Technically speaking, either (a) or (b) could be the accurate translation of pistis Christou in Rom 3:22, 26; Gal 2:16, 20; Gal 3:22; Philip 3:9. So which is it? Years ago I explained why the objective genitive ("faith in Christ") is the better translation, but the subjective genitive demon won't be exorcised so easily. Here's an update of that post reviewing five key points.

(1) The crucial text of Rom 3:21-26 sits between two sections that contrast human activity. The former (1:18-3:20) is about human sin, human works. The latter (3:27-31) contrasts human faith over against all of this boasting and works. The middle section of 3:21-26 thus tells people what to believe in order to achieve this faith. Likewise, a believer's faith (not Christ's) is the focus of Romans 4. Abraham's trust is emphasized, and believers are to follow the example of his faith (Rom 4:12), not Christ's. Abraham believed the initial promise, and believers may now believe in the content of that promise (Christ). The stress of Rom 4 is on believing the promise. To share the faith of Abraham (Rom 4:16) is to believe in Christ (the promise).
* Stephen Carlson (in comments below) suggests that the subjective genitive reading avoids redundancy in Rom 3:21-22. But the repetition isn't a problem. The emphasis of the repetitive part is on the "all", not the "faith". Paul is simply saying that "God's righteousness through faith in Christ is available to all who have such faith." After all, the theme of this section is Gentile rights: ethnic works are excluded from salvation, since "God is One" (Rom 3:29-30) -- the Lord of pagans as much as Jews -- and thus all peoples must be saved on the same basis. In oral cultures repetition is a common technique for getting a point across, and audiences hearing Rom 3:21-22 read out loud would hear the appropriate stress.
(2) Advocates of the subjective genitive need to rely heavily on the transformation doctrine of Rom 5-8, where Paul speaks of imitating the savior's activity -- dying with Christ at baptism, being crucified with him, etc. But it is precisely in this section where Paul does not mention "faith" (aside briefly in 5:1), let alone pistis Christou. He never contrasts Christ's faith with any disbelief of Adam's ("something that would be crying out to be said, if the 'faith of Christ' were the focus of salvation", notes Stephen Finlan), only Christ's obedience vs. Adam's disobedience. It is Rom 3:21-4:25 and Rom 9:30-10:21 which focus on faith: what people must do in order to be saved. Rom 5-8 is about mystical union with the savior: what people do as a natural consequence of being called. (In Galatians the categories mesh briefly (2:19-21).)
* Douglas Campbell argues that the faith claims of Rom 3-4 (& Rom 9-10) should be read through the participationist language of Rom 5-8, which is the heart of Paul's gospel. I agree that Rom 5-8 is the theological center of gravity, but it doesn't follow that its content can be imposed on the other sections and change their meaning. Rom 5-8 is Christocentric, Rom 3-4 is anthropocentric. Pistis Christou is found in the latter and is thus an anthropocentric term. It's about the human decision for Christ. It's not about Christ providing a new template for humanity (the subject of Rom 5-8). Advocates of the subjective genitive reading, to be sure, are bringing out a potential of Paul's thought, but which Paul never developed. Put another way: that Paul's participationist language is compatible with a subjective genitive reading of pistis Christou doesn't make that reading of pistis Christou correct.
(3) For that reading is plainly wrong. If the subjective genitive were really what Paul had in mind when speaking directly about faith, we would expect him to have used Christ as the subject of the verb "believe"/"have faith", but as Thomas Tobin points out (Paul's Rhetoric in its Contexts, p 132), that never happens in the 42 places the verb is found in his letters. On the other hand, Paul used Christ as the object of the verb in clear cases (Rom 9:33, 10:11). And if exegetes then desperately insist that the verb should be translated one way ("believe"/"trust"), the noun another ("faithfulness"), then they will have to contend with Francis Watson's demolition of that distinction (Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective, pp 241-244), based on the evidence of Paul's scriptural interpretations in Rom 4:1-12 and 9:30-10:21 -- where noun and verb are seen to be interchangeable; "believing" and the response of "faith" one and the same. This point alone shows how flimsy the subjective genitive reading is.

(4) There is the glaring and embarrassing fact that later church fathers never read Paul in terms of the subjective genitive. Michael Whitenton thinks he has demonstrated otherwise, and we'll have to await his article to see what he makes of this business. But for now, this fact stands as a serious strike against the subjective genitive reading. [Edit: See comments below. I misunderstood Michael's thesis. He's talking about the earlier apostolic fathers (and not how they read Paul per se) rather than later church fathers (who did in fact read Paul with the objective genitive). So this point will remain standing in any case.]

(5) Finally, a more oblique point. When confronted with faddish readings of the bible, we must always ask what agendas are being served. Here are a few (with thanks to Stephen Carlson for the third). (a) Hyper-Protestant phobias: if faith is the natural outworking of an elective call made by God, then the subjective genitive reading allows one to put to bed the fear that faith itself is a work. Faith becomes less a human summoning of courage to choose Christ ("faith in"), and more an inevitable result of being unified with Christ in baptism and crucifixion ("faithfulness of"). In other words, it allows one to smuggle Calvinism in through the back door fearing that Luther didn't go far enough. (b) Proto-Arianism: if Christ is more a role-model (whose faithfulness is to be followed) than a deity (to have faith in), then the subjective genitive reading allows one to think of Jesus as a buddy/brother more than a proto-trinitarian Father. In other words, for completely different reasons, it could be attractive to liberal theologians as much as conservative Protestants. (c) New frontiers, new paradigms: it could just be that some (especially Duke scholars, in this case) are in love with new paradigms which allow them to read Paul completely on their own terms outside the confines of Lutheran categories; but like it or not -- and the same can be said against the New Perspective -- Luther was not wholly in error. Largely in error, yes, but not entirely.

18 Comments:

Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

Just some quick reactions:
(1) Rom 4 is about Abraham's belief in God, "who gives life to the dead" (v.14) and "who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead" (v.24). It is not clear to me how to get from Abraham's belief in God to one's belief in Christ, esp. in Rom 3:22, 26.
(2) If pistis is faithfulness, then the distance between Christ's faithfulness and his obedience is not great.
(3) 2 Cor 4:13 has Christ speaking through Ps 115:1 LXX saying "I believed." Campbell has a very recent article on this.
(4) I haven't read Mike's article, but I'm not sure his article will do that.
(5) A new paradigm can be a fad or an actual paradigm shift. Time will have to tell on this one.

3/06/2010  
OpenID mwhitenton said...

Thanks for the post, Loren. I'm not arguing that the Apostolic Fathers interpret Paul this way or that per se. That's not what they are up to in any case.

What I am after is looking for echoes of "faith in Christ" or "Christ's faithfulness" in the Apostolic Fathers. In my estimation, I have not found any of the former (when πίστις Χριστοῦ is used), but have found six of the latter.

The later church fathers do interpret Paul with an objective genitive. However, the earlier ones may show signs of a subjective reading. Lastly, Hippolytus connects Jesus' faithfulness with his death on the cross in De Christo et Antichristo 61 (see my piece with Bird in NTS 55, 552–562).

Of course, I would refer you to my upcoming piece. *wink*

3/06/2010  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Thanks for the clarification, Michael. I look forward to reading the article.

3/06/2010  
Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

The Campbell cite is: Douglas A. Campbell, "2 Corinthians 4:13: Evidence in Paul that Christ believes," JBL 128 (2009): 337-356.

3/06/2010  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Stephen,

Regarding your five points:

(1) Rom 4 is about Abraham's belief in God, "who gives life to the dead" (v.14) and "who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead" (v.24). It is not clear to me how to get from Abraham's belief in God to one's belief in Christ, esp. in Rom 3:22, 26.

More accurately, Rom 4 is about Abraham's belief in God, "who gives life to the dead" (v.14) and so others may follow his example (not Christ's example) by believing in God "who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead" (v.24). And don't forget Sanders' wisdom: it's a mistake to play off against each other theocentric and Christocentric readings, as if Paul would have made a clear distinction between "faith in the God who reveals himself in Christ" and "faith in Christ". "Modern theology is rightly concerned with the distinction [read: advocates of the subjective genitive reading are concerned with the distinction!], but it is perhaps asking too much to look to Paul for the solution to this particular problem." (Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, p 42)

(2) If pistis is faithfulness, then the distance between Christ's faithfulness and his obedience is not great.

It's nonetheless telling that throughout the entirety of Rom 5-8, Paul doesn't talk about "faith". He actually seems to be at great pains to exclude the terminology from this section, in the same way (now that I stop and think about it) that he's at pains to avoid other formula -- like "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek" in the context of baptism -- and I wonder if this is another one of those Galatians-->Romans evolutions I need to add to my ever-growing list for the book I'm writing.

(3) 2 Cor 4:13 has Christ speaking through Ps 115:1 LXX saying "I believed." Campbell has a very recent article on this.

Thanks for calling my attention to this article. I just finished reading it and am still digesting. It may deserve a separate blogpost. Even if II Cor 4:13 can be construed as a case where Christ is the subject of the verb "believe", there are more clear and aggressive cases where he's the object of the verb, and it's not going to save the cause of the subjective genitive by a long shot.

(4) I haven't read Mike's article, but I'm not sure his article will do that.

You're right. See my edit to point 4 in the body of the post.

(5) A new paradigm can be a fad or an actual paradigm shift. Time will have to tell on this one.

I'm issuing an edict right now: it's a fad. Convinced? :)

3/06/2010  
Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

(1) You and Sanders (good company!) may well be right that Paul does not make a sharp distinction between Christocentric and theocentric readings of faith, but this doesn't help the argument from context.

If we look at the genitive in Rom 3:22 in particular, the choice is between the readings (s-g) "but God's righteousness [has been revealed] through Jesus Christ's faithfulness for all those who believe [scil. God]" and (o-g) "but God's righteousness [has been revealed] through faith in Jesus Christ to all those who believe [scil. Christ]."

If context is to be helpful, it helps a lot for the s-g reading that Abraham's belief is belief in God. The o-g reading, however, involves belief in Christ, which can only be assisted from the context of Rom 4 by conflating theocentric and Christocentric readings.

(2) Here I think the s-g person would not argue for a sharp distinction between faith and obedience, particularly of Christ. Both sides, it seems, have to argue for distinctions the other side is not inclined to accept. Adjudicating between these disputes is what makes understanding Paul very hard.

(3) I look forward to your more detailed thoughts on 2 Cor 4:13.

(4) 'Nuff said.

(5) ;-)

3/07/2010  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

It helps a lot for the s-g reading that Abraham's belief is belief in God. The o-g reading, however, involves belief in Christ, which can only be assisted from the context of Rom 4 by conflating theocentric and Christocentric readings.

The "help" that the subjective genitive reading gets from this is entirely superficial owing to the fact that Jesus wasn't on the scene in the time of Abraham (indeed he is being foreshadowed as the future promise), and Paul knows he can only push his proto-trinitarian outlook so far. It doesn't change the fact that Jesus is the content of the promise to be believed. If the subjective genitive advocates are going to rely on the "theocentric" structure of Rom 4 as a major piece for their case, I think they're spitballing. You're right about distinctions the other side not being willing to accept.

But I think the context of Rom 3-4 favors the objective genitive more strongly than you're granting here. The subjective genitive is about believers following the example of Christ's faith. But in Rom 4 believers follow the example of Abraham's faith (4:12, 16). They, like Abraham, are to believe in God who can provide "life from death" -- whether it be out of Sarah's dead womb (in the case of Abraham) or out of Jesus' dead corpse (in the case of contemporary believers). To believe in that God is to believe the promise, and Christ is ultimately the content of that promise.

I think the s-g person would not argue for a sharp distinction between faith and obedience, particularly of Christ.

And I should emphasize that I'm not necessarily either. I am, however, pointing out that in the entirety of Rom 5-8 -- the participatory section needed so badly by subjective genitive enthusiasts to make their case -- Paul studiously avoids faith terminology, unlike in the justification sections (Rom 3:21-4:25, 9:30-10:21), where the term abounds. That's no accident, and one must ask why.

3/07/2010  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

And with regards to my last point about Rom 5-8, I suspect Douglas Campbell has appreciated the point acutely. That's why he raids (rereads, politely speaking) the justification texts -- so that faith language can be readily brought into the orbit of the participatory doctrine of Rom 5-8, the section he so adores.

3/07/2010  
Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

The help from Rom 4 for the s-g reading of Rom 3:22 may well be superficial, but I thought the contention was that Rom 4 supports the o-g reading. Rom 4's help for the o-g reading does not even appear to have the benefit of being superficial. Abraham is not explicitly said to have faith in Christ. After all, on the s-g reading of Rom 3:22, Christians end up believing God, just like Abraham did in Rom 4.

In all likelihood, it seems that Rom 4 can plausibly be read in conjunction with either the s-g or the o-g reading of Rom 3:22. This does not make Rom 4 all that probative of evidence for reading Rom 3:22.

As for Rom 5-8, it is striking that πίστις drops out after 5:1-2. Yet Rom 5:9 states "being justified by his blood." Now, Paul may not have been the most consistent person in the world, but one consistent understanding of justification is that justification by Christ's faith and justification by Christ's blood refers to the same thing: by Christ's faithful obedience on the cross (cf. Phil 2:8).

3/07/2010  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

I thought the contention was that Rom 4 supports the o-g reading.

Yes, it does. A believer's faith (not Christ's) is the focus of Rom 4.

Abraham is not explicitly said to have faith in Christ...

For reasons mentioned above, and again, I think it's misguided to assume that Paul's theocentric argument doesn't encompass a Christocentric one. It's because Rom 4 focuses on a believer's faith, and because that faith/belief is ultimately placed in the content of the promise to Abraham (namely, Christ), that the chapter supports the objective genitive reading substantively. It can support the subjective genitive reading only superficially.

I'm not sure I disagree with your point about Rom 5:9. My only point is that faith terminology is studiously avoided throughout Rom 5-8 (after 5:1 which points back to what preceded), and my conviction is that it's because Paul is shunning "choice" language in a section that emphasizes God's elective purpose, rescue from bondage and slavery (into a new form of slavery), and mystical union.

3/07/2010  
Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

A believer's faith (not Christ's) is the focus of Rom 4.

Yes, and Abraham's faith in Rom 4 relates to the "for all who believe" in 3:22. I don't think we disagree about that.

The challenge for me (and I hope for you) is getting from there to the preceding phrase "by (the) faith(fulness) in/of Jesus Christ." I don't see how (yet).

On the o-g reading, Rom 3:22 reads "but God's righteousness [has been shown] through faith in Jesus Christ to all those who believe [scil. Christ]." Why the tautology? Also, why does Paul go from a singular faith to plural believers? I don't understand how this reading is supposed to work.

But on the s-g, it is not tautologous to say "but God's righteousness [has been shown] through Jesus Christ's faithfulness to those who believe." Furthermore, going from Jesus's faith to the believer's faith fits nicely with Rom 1:17 "for God's righteousness is being revealed in it [scil. the gospel] from faith to faith." But, I suppose you may read Rom 1:17 differently or not in conjunction with 3:22?

As for Rom 5-8, I don't disagree with your point. I just don't know how to weigh it... and I'm afraid I'm going to need a Grand Unified Theory of Paul to do so.

3/07/2010  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

The tautology in Rom 3:22 doesn't trouble me at all. For Paul it's a matter of emphasis, not redundancy. (Tobin has addressed this point.) The same can be said for Gal 3:22 and Philip 3:9. In Galatians he wants to emphasize that the promise made to Abraham was meant to be given to those who have faith in Christ as opposed to those who observe the law; in Philippians he wants to emphasize two kinds of righteousness; and in Romans, with the phrase "for all who have faith", he wants to emphasize the breakdown of distinction between Jew and Gentile ("for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God", proven in 1:18-3:20, vindicated in 3:27-31). The charge of redundancy (leveled by many subjective genitive advocates) demands an aesthetic out of Paul that I believe to be unreasonable.

3/07/2010  
Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

Thanks, Loren. I'll have to check Tobin on this point for more details. Off hand, I cannot recall Paul being redundant or tautologous for emphasis, but if that's what he's doing, there should be decent non-pistis Christou examples of Paul doing that.

3/07/2010  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Notice, BTW, that I did not include Gal 2:16 in the group of tautological passages. The clause "even we have believed in Christ Jesus" (Gal 2:16b) is clearly not redundant and points back to what is (in my view) a clear use of the objective genitive of pistis Christou in Gal 2:16a. It takes up the exact same language. And if this is true, then the usages of pistis Christou in Gal 2:16c and 2:20 are also objective genitive, since the argument of Gal 2:15-21 is a coherent whole.

3/08/2010  
Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

Gal 2 is an interesting case. If you look just at the the micro-context, v.16 looks o-g and v.20 looks s-g. But people don't stop there, they use one to control the interpretation the other. (And it is possible to reconcile one of them in terms of the other, in either direction.) It's not immediately clear to me which should get the hermeneutical priority.

3/08/2010  
OpenID mwhitenton said...

Here's my piece, fresh from JTS.

http://mwhitenton.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/new-addition-to-the-pistis-christou-debate/

3/15/2010  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Thanks Michael! I'm going to read this tonight.

3/15/2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The following question is not a conclusion but an enquiry: Reading the bloggs by Rosson v Carlon v Whitenton et al, it seems as though the only interpretation of the subjective genitive re: pistis Christou, is either, Christ's faithfulness, or His own personal faith. Is there a possibility that the subjective genitive suggests a third intrepation, namely, a faith that originates from Christ rather than being His faithfulness or personal faith? That's to say, pistis Christou (in some contexts) could refer to the source of faith being Jesus rather than the believer. Could the subjective genitive be an inference that Christ provides the impetus for saving faith in the believer? Your insight will be helpful. JimHG

1/03/2012  

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