pistis Cristou:

Our Faith in Christ or the Faith(fulness) of Christ?

Eight times in the New Testament the phrase pistis Cristou, or a similar variation, appears.[1] The question is whether this phrase should be understood as an objective genitive (our faith in Christ) or, alternatively, as a subjective genitive (the faith or faithfulness of Christ).[2]

Traditionally, the objective view has been preferred: our faith in Christ.[3] In fact, almost all modern English translations are united in their understanding of the phrase pistis Cristou to mean human faith in Christ. The one notable exception is the King James Version, cited below. This preference is now being challenged by a growing number of New Testament scholars.

If we choose the first, an objective genitive, then it is the believer’s faith that produces righteousness—a right standing before God.[4] If the second alternative is chosen, then it is Christ’s faith (or, as some render it, his faithfulness) that makes us righteous. How? Because His faith led Him to His death on the cross. Under this analysis, it is Christ’s obedience (faith) that makes righteousness before God available to all believers.

Here are the passages containing this distinctive phrase. All citations given are the King James Version with the phrase in bold so that it can be clearly identified:

  1. Romans 3:22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
  2. Galatians 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
  3. Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
  4. Galatians 3:22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
  5. Ephesians 3:12 In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.
  6. Philippians 3:9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

[1] Romans 3:22, 26; Galatians 2:16 (twice), 20, 3:22; Ephesians 3:12 and Philippians 3:9.

 [2] The objective genitive is also referred to as the “anthropological” or “anthropocentric” reading since it generally emphasizes human belief whereas the subjective genitive is referred to as the “Christological” or “Christocentric” reading because it emphasizes the faith of Christ or the faithfulness of Christ (i.e., the faith of Christ that led Him to obey God unto death, even death on the cross).

[3] A position that is driven not by grammatical considerations nor by lexical considerations, but a position that is driven by a theological commitment to the battle cry of the Protestant Reformation: “It is my faith, and my faith ALONE, that makes me righteous.” A position, for what it is worth, that we in the Churches of Christ deny but for which we have never offered a theologically valid alternative.

 [4] A position that is, as a practical matter in my opinion, no better than believing that it is my works that produce my righteousness! What if I don’t have enough works? What happens if I don’t have enough faith? The result is the same: my salvation becomes a question mark rather than the exclamation point that the Good News of Christ wants it to be!

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