Christians are Pistis





In the letter to the Galatians a central theme is understanding how faith, both our faith and Christ’s faithfulness, functions in relation to our justification. There is no lack of passion or effort in the scholarly arena in regards to πίστις [ ̓Ιησοῦ] Χριστοῦ even though there seems to be a lack of scholarly consensus. Dr. Dan Wallace has written on this subject to the SBL Annual Meeting in November of 2000 reasoning for the defense of the work being done for the NET Bible. Wallace stated, “In 1975, when C. E. B. Cranfield’s first volume of his ICC commentary on Romans was published, he could speak of the subjective genitive view of πίστις Χριστοῦ in Rom 3.22 as ‘altogether unconvincing’ without giving much support for this conclusion, and citing only an early articulation of the subjective view written in 1891.”1

Modern scholars today seem to have opinions on the proper translation of πίστις [ ̓Ιησοῦ] Χριστοῦ as faith in Christ or faithfulness of Christ due to theological or ecclesiological implications and tend to push strongly for their presupposition instead of following the rationale of the opposing implication. When demonstrated that the subjective genitive is to be preferred over the objective genitive the theological implications are staggering. It should not be understood that every instance of πίστις should be translated homogeneously, but care is to be taken with understanding Paul’s usage in relation to justification without conflating it with sanctification or glorification. Three implications can be gained here (a) justification has no genesis of invocation, passive or active, within the one being justified (b) understanding the role faith plays in justification as truly extra nos and (c) the articulation set forth by the Reformers and modern Protestant scholarly academia is to be viewed in antiquity as moving in the right direction but still advocating a merit-based works righteousness.

1 Danial B. Wallace,

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The theological struggles to articulate faith as an action while simultaneously stating it is not an action has been the bane of Protestant scholars for centuries. Commentaries on Galatians fumble through the objective genitive in a stark contradiction, even within the same page. In William Hendriksen’s New Testament commentary, Galatians , under section five on justification he notes, “Man cannot earn it. He can only accept it as a gift...This does not reduce man to sheer passivity. Is not a tree which accepts water and minerals from the soil, light from the sun, etc., very active? So it is also with faith. It is receptive but not passive. It is very active, indeed!”2 In section eight he writes, “he is also totally unable to perform even a single perfect deed.”3 Section nine implies that the action of justification lay with human will. “The invitation is that all should repent and accept the righteousness of Christ, including forgiveness of sins...and life eternal.”4 Tension becomes obvious when compared to section four where Hendriksen states “justification...rests not on human works...not even on faith as a work of man...but solely on God’s sovereign grace in Jesus Christ.”5 and continues with stating that this alone is the “legal basis upon which man’s justification becomes both possible and actual.”6 From Hendriksen, we can deduce that the intent of justification is made possible so we might exercise actively a passive faith, which we are unable to do, but we must do so that we should repent and accept the righteousness of Christ for our justification to be an actual justification. Contradictory theological double-talk is found in the majority of articulations where the

2 William Hendriksen, Galatians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1968), 98-99. 3 Ibid., 99.
4 Ibid., 99.
5 Ibid., 98.

6 Ibid., 98.

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objective genitive of πίστις Χριστοῦ is insisted upon in regards to justification. Bruce McCormack states the reasoning for favoring faith in Christ is that “What is clear in all of this is that construal of pistis Christou as a subjective genitive is doing a lot of heavy lifting here.”7 and that “the subjective genitive is simply too controversial to obtain ecclesial standing. It is an interesting proposal but nothing more.”8

In light of Wallace’s observation and the obvious obfuscation of the role of faith’s relationship to justification, a closer examination of Paul’s articulation from the perspective of the subjective genitive is warranted. How one is justified is the central theme of Galatians based solely on the faith of Christ in and through believers, always to the benefit of another.

Faith As Incurvatus In Se
The intent of faith is never for the benefit or glory of the one expressing that faith. Faith, as

demonstrated by Paul, is for another by fidelity in Christ. Within justification, this faith should function for the faithfulness of others and toward God alone as He is worthy of this perfect Christ-faith. Our focus on this example should be that of Christ as Paul states in Galatians,

yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. But if while seeking to be justified in Christ we ourselves have also been found to be sinners, is Christ then one who encourages sin? Absolutely not! (2:16-17 NET).

I include verse seventeen because of how closely Paul relates the possible misconception that may occur in thinking that our seeking, or act of will, is the determining factor. The moment we

7 Bruce McCormack, Galatians and Christian Theology, e d. Mark W. Elliott, Scott J. Hafemann, N. T. Wright, and John Frederick (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2014), 170.

8 Ibid., 173.

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abuse the understanding of faith as the means on our behalf we sin in how Martin Luther described sin with Augustine. “ ‘Scripture’, Luther tells us, ‘describes man as so curved in upon himself that he uses not only physical but even spiritual goods for his own purposes and in all things seeks only himself’ ( Luther’s Works, vol. 25, p. 345, see also pp. 291-92).”9 Incurvatus in se is the debilitating ability the Church has to greedily clutch a gift from God given for the good of another and dispense that gift, if and when we desire and to what degree, for our own self-interest.

The danger of turning faith into a work, not done to us, but by us, is to put the action in our will and not in the will of God alone. Thomas Söding articulates Paul’s faith as “to trust in God, to be sure of his promises, to be convinced by his word, and to be obedient to his will -- these form the very essence of faith; otherwise faith would not be faith. The heart of his justification thesis is a common confession: ‘We...believe in Christ Jesus’ (2:16).”10 The understanding that we are justified by our own faith, even a faith gifted to us, is the type of self-serving sin that Luther and Augustine identify. It is also a function of faith within justification that Paul is trying to have the Galatians understand and reject. A motivation toward God as a means through ourselves was a concern of Luther by “the ways that we think we are humbly serving God in prayer, in service, and in ministry to others, but in fact are trying to prove something to God”11 as if we need to do something in order for God to respond positively to us.

10 Thomas Söding , Galatians and Christian Theology, e d. Mark W. Elliott, Scott J. Hafemann, N. T.

Wright, and John Frederick (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2014), 79.


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At this point, our faith is no longer in Jesus Christ for our justification rather our faith is in our faith.

Luther struggles with this concept in his commentary on Galatians where he takes hold of the gift of faith for selfish ambition to merit God’s favor.

Here is to be noted, that these three things, faith, Christ, acceptation, or imputation, must be joined together. Faith taketh hold of Christ, and hath Him present, and holdeth Him enclosed, as the ring doth the precious stone. And whosoever shall be found having this confidence in Christ apprehended in the heart, him will God accept for righteous. This is the mean and this is the merit whereby we attain the remission of sins and righteousness.12

The Augsburg Confession states in Article IV,

Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor , and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.”13 (bold emphasis mine)

When the emphasis Luther has is based in the one who is to be justified it becomes easier to see why the Council of Trent responded the way it did.

Moreover, it must not be maintained, that they who are truly justified must needs, without any doubt whatever, convince themselves that they are justified, and that no one is absolved from sins and justified except he that believes with certainty that he is absolved and justified, and that absolution and justification are effected by this faith alone, as if he who does not believe this, doubts the promises of God and the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ.14

An attitude of confidence in something is how one is justified in Luther’s view. I realize this is the equivalent to Reformed blasphemy for me to make such a claim. So, before the

12 Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, translated by Erasmus Middleton (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1979), 71.

14 Council of Trent, Chapter IX, .

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obloquy begins, Luther himself stated as much, “but to him that believeth, sin is pardoned, and righteousness imputed. This truth, and this confidence, maketh him the child of God, and heir of His Kingdom.”15 From this moment on we have a large amount of ink spilled to defend a defenseless concept, one that is not represented by Paul. Protestant and Reformed Christians will agree that it is not us who merits justification but they seem to insist that we merit the justification that has been merited for us!

In F. F. Bruce’s Commentary on the Greek Text of Galatians, he too takes notice with Wallace of Cranfield’s position but favors an objective genitive reading. “C. E. B. Cranfield (Romans, 203 n. 2) briefly dismisses the subjective genitive as ‘altogether unconvincing’.”16 and continues the defense,

R. Bultmann (TDNT VI, 203, s.v. πίστις) points out that πίστις Χριστοῦ ̓ Ιησοῦ is tantamount to believing ‘that Jesus died and rose’ (1 Thes. 5:14). ‘Paul never defines faith. The nature of faith is given in the object to which faith is directed....Faith always means faith in... or faith that...’ (G. Bornkamm, Paul, 141). ‘Faith in...’, one should say, as well as ‘faith that...’: it is the personal faith that unites one to Christ along with all fellow-members of the new covenant community--all those who, in Paul’s idiom, are ‘in Christ’. [sic]17

Bruce continues with this line of thought leading to an understanding that Paul is arguing against believing in legalistic works in favor of believing in our faith in Christ. Claiming that Paul’s problem with the agitators in Galatians is that they believe in X as opposed to believing in x. It would seem evident that neither X nor x can justify but only Christ alone, however, Luther’s influence is so strong traditionally that this would lead Bruce to create an unusual translation of

15 Luther, 72.
16 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle To The Galatians (Grand Rapids MI: The Paternoster Press, 1982), 139. 17 Ibid., 139.

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Acts 15:11 “Through the grace of the Lord Jesus, we believe so as to be saved, just as they do.”18 Many other scholars agree with this articulation and the wording is similar in that the action or effort is located within the one who is to be justified as evidenced with M. F. Sadler, “For what did God send His Son amongst the Jews? In order that through faith in Him they might be justified.”19 In support of the objective genitive within justification, faith will always be defended and maintained as incurvatus in se .

Christ’s Faithfulness Is Our Faithfulness
We know that our salvation is not based on works that we do (Eph 2:8-9) and that is stressed all

the more with the understanding of justification as Paul defines it. In light of the last section, with the desire to use faith in a selfish manner, we need to focus our attention on the proper meaning of faithfulness within the soteriological framework of justification alone. In Pauline thought within the Christ-event there is a creative agency that must be recognized. We will perceive our meaning from Romans 4:5, 17 without attempting to force an understanding back into Galatians. Complementary themes Paul uses in his body of work will assist us in the way we approach Christ’s faithfulness to us and through us.

God calling things into existence is not a new concept. It is a defining characteristic and method used throughout the Bible. Starting with Genesis, we read of God speaking into existence that which does not exist as though it does. What God declares is not only is true and real but also good. Through saying, declaring, promising, or calling, the same results occur and that is the finality of the reality that is God. John refers to Jesus as the λόγος (John 1:1) and this word itself

18 Ibid., 139.

19 M. F. Sadler, The Epistle of St. Paul To The Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians (London: George Bell and Sons, 1889), 36. Commentary on Galatians 2:16a “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law”.

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already carried with it the connotation of divine creative and organizational power within Stoic philosophy.20 It is no surprise that Paul utilizes this attribute when describing justification, “ But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5 NET) and “the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do” (Rom. 4:17b NET). It is not too far removed to say that this is what Paul has in mind when speaking of God’s justification of the Galatian believers through the faithfulness of Christ.

Creation is seen as unified cooperation within trinitarian theology early in the Church’s life and Paul’s letters. In regards to calling and grace, Orrey McFarland suggests that “Paul’s experience should be interpreted primarily with that of his churches’ experience of divine creation .”21 McFarland argues that grace has two distinct but similar meanings in Galatians. The first is that God’s calling will manifest in the new creation of the one called and then through the one called. “In Galatians God’s grace is primarily and most fundamentally the gift of Christ, the gift without which there are no other gifts.”22 A logical thread can be followed from Christ’s faithfulness to Paul; Paul’s faithfulness is that of Christ’s faithfulness to the Galatians; the Galatians faithfulness is that of Christ’s faithfulness to others; the other’s faithfulness is that of Christ’s faithfulness to us; our faithfulness is that of Christ’s faithfulness to be given, not to ourselves, but to others. The reason is for freedom (Gal. 5:1) and love (Gal. 5:22-23) with πίστις

20 J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 1960), 18.
“There is a crude, unformed matter, without character or quality; and there is the dynamic reason or plan (λόγος) which forms and organizes it.”

21 Orrey McFarland, Horizons in Biblical Theology, vol. 35, issue 2 (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishers, 2013), 156. .

22 Ibid., 156.

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as translated properly in the subjective genitive for the benefit of others, not for ourselves. McFarland states that this “letter begins with Paul’s invocation that the Galatians receive grace and peace ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,’ where the single ἀπὸ governs both God and Jesus as the unified source of the gifts.”23 To which I would claim remains unchanged throughout history.

Only through the concept of πίστις [ ̓Ιησοῦ] Χριστοῦ understood in the subjective genitive as the faithfulness of Christ or Christ faith does the continuity of Paul’s justification understanding keep with the biblical modus operandi of God. Along with the understanding of the creative element, there is also the biblical understanding of God as the one who is faithful. Jesus, God incarnate, would operate in the same way as faithful and whose faithfulness is equal to that of God. The understanding should default to the Old Testament concept of God’s faithfulness as we see throughout the Psalms (Ps. 57:3; 61:7; 77:22; 86:15; 89:8) and in relation to Israel. “The LORD passed by before him and proclaimed: ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin...’” (Ex. 34:6-7a NET). Paul echoes this attribute in 2 Timothy 2:11-13 (NET),

This saying is trustworthy:
If we died with him, we will also live with him.
If we endure, we will also reign with him.
If we deny him, he will also deny us.
If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself.

23 Ibid., 156.

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The hope of salvation in both testaments rests on God’s righteousness, faithfulness, and creative calling. Christ is holy and so we are holy as we are in Christ. 1 Peter 1:16 and Lev. 11:44-45 state this reality and recognize the faithfulness of God through the faithfulness of Christ.

N. T. Wright translates Gal. 2:16, “We know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah; so we came to believe in the Messiah, Jesus, so that we might be justified by the faithfulness of the Messiah, and not by works of the law...”24 Wright further states “in response to ‘the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah’, Paul declares (2.16b) that ‘this is why we too believed in the Messiah, Jesus; so that we might be declared ‘righteous’ on the basis of the Messiah’s faithfulness, and not on the basis of works of the Jewish law.”25

Martinus C. de Boer advocates for a subjective genitive strongly supported by Galatians 3:22-25,

In 3:22, Paul refers once again to “the faith of Jesus Christ,” as he does in 2:16a; in the verses that immediately follow (3:23-25), Paul speaks of “Faith” (pistis) in a personified way, as a virtual synonym for Christ (3:24): Faith “came” onto the world stage at a certain juncture in time (3:23, 25), as Christ himself did (3:19)...Faith is not here an intrinsic human possibility nor even a human activity... “Faith” functions as a metonym for Christ... “Faith” here is thus something that belongs to or defines Christ himself.26

Douglas Moo, who would object to the subjective genitive, admits this is a strong argument.

Of course, if the genitive construction at the end of verse 22 is construed as subjective, then “the faith” in verse 23 will refer to the faith/faithfulness exercised

24 N. T. Wright, Justification (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 117.
25 N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013), 967. 26 Martinus C. de Boer, Galatians (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 149.

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by Jesus Christ. And to be sure, this opening clause in verse 23 constitutes perhaps the strongest single exegetical point in favor of this interpretation.27

Two further pieces of evidence de Boer highlights are worth mentioning.

[1] If Paul wanted to say “faith in [Jesus] Christ,” he would have used an expression such as pistis eis Christon (found in Col 2:5), corresponding to the verbal construction pisteuein eis, “believe in,” in Gal 2:16b. [2] The formulation pistis Iēsou Christou has an exact parallel in pistis Abraam in Rom 4:16; the latter undoubtedly means “the faith of Abraham,” not “faith in Abraham” (also 4:12, “the faith of our father Abraham”).28

By Paul personifying faith as Christ we are to understand what this implies for the Body of Christ; i.e., the Church. Our fiduciary responsibility is to bring the faithfulness of Christ to others for justification as we have been called to do.

The Deficiency Of Human Will In Initiating God’s Promise

The tendency we have to want to motivate God to look favorably on us is one issue that Paul is dealing with in Galatians. With the Christ-event came the temptation to want to work differently to gain favor with God. Circumcision was the catalyst in the letter but we see it was more deep-rooted as an attitude of misconception of how one is justified. The sin of commission that leads away from the merits of Christ’s faithfulness is just as wrong as the sin of omission by thinking that abstaining from something that gives the appearance of merit will then gain favor with God. Even with the promised declaration of God our attitude toward the necessity of our cognitive disposition toward a given state is missing the mark because the locus is Christ!

To illustrate this point Paul uses the analogy of Sarah and Hagar in Galatians 4:22-5:1. Abraham and Sarah were given a promise by God and they thought that they must do something

27 Douglas Moo, Galatians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 241. 28 de Boer, 149.

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to grasp what God had declared, much as a ring doth a precious stone. Moo rightly points out, “Paul contrasts the manners of birth of the two sons: the one (Ishmael, from the ‘slave woman’) κατὰ σάρκα (kata sarka , accourding to the flesh), the other (Isaac, from the ‘free woman’) δι ̓ ἐπαγγελίας (di’ epanglias, through the promise).”29 This is not to be understood as God foretelling what will happen but causing it to happen in a way outside of human will or desire. “Isaac was born ‘in conjunction with’ or ‘as a result of’... the promise.”30 Paul equates Ishmael with the works of the Law, the results of human will within the promise of God. The Jerusalem above is not of human will, but of God’s faithfulness “and any Christian would readily identify the resurrection of Christ as that life-giving event.”31 Moo articulates this truth nicely, “Ishmael’s birth ‘according to the flesh’ suggests that he was born in the natural way and by the power of human decision. In contrast, then, Isaac’s birth ‘according to the Spirit’ would be a birth characterized by the work of the Spirit, which may in this context mean ‘took place by the power of the Spirit’.”32

Paul stresses that within God’s declarative promise our will does not and can not bring that reality to fruition. Only His faith and faithfulness can merit justification on our behalf and only He can rightly declare our righteousness.


29 Moo, 298.
30 Ibid., 298-299. 31 Ibid., 308.
32 Ibid., 309-310.

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In Galatians, we find clear evidence of how Paul intends faith to be understood. Christians as the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12) possess the faithfulness of Christ that has merited justification independent of us. Interpreters from Martin Luther on have struggled to maintain a clear distinction between human effort and Christ’s faith within justification. Observations made in regards to our faith should be under sanctification. I have argued that our faith is insufficient for justification due to man’s sinful nature and the separation it can cause for believers to rely on their active faith rather than on Christ. Galatians sits comfortably with all given revelation in that God is faithful, Christ is faithful, and therefore Christians are faithful.

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Works Cited

Augsburg Confession, .

de Boer, Martinus C. Galatians , Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.

Bruce, F. F. The Epistle To The Galatians , Grand Rapids MI: The Paternoster Press, 1982.

Council of Trent, Chapter IX, .

Hendriksen, William Galatians, G rand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1968.

Kelly, J. N. D. Early Christian Doctrines, Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 1960.

Luther, Martin Commentary on Galatians, translated by Erasmus Middleton. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1979.

McCormack , Bruce Galatians and Christian Theology, E dited by Mark W. Elliott, Scott J. Hafemann, N. T. Wright, and John Frederick. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2014.

McFarland, Orrey Horizons in Biblical Theology, vol. 35, issue 2, Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Publishers, 2013.

Moo, Douglas Galatians, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.
Sadler, M. F. The Epistle of St. Paul To The Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians, London:

George Bell and Sons, 1889.

Söding , Thomas Galatians and Christian Theology, Edited by Mark W. Elliott, Scott J. Hafemann, N. T. Wright, and John Frederick. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2014.

Wallace, Danial B. . Wright, N. T. Paul and the Faithfulness of God , Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013. --- Justification , Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009. .

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