Editors: Michael Bird and Preston Sprinkle
Bibliographic Info: 308 pp. + 42 pp. of indices and bibliography
Publisher: Paternoster (2009, UK) and Hendrickson (2009, US)
Buy it from Amazon
Thanks to Authentic Media for the review copy.
For those unaware of the debate that this book is focused upon, it is on a two word phrase used by Paul (most importantly in Romans and Galatians) – pistis Christou. This phrase can legitimately be translated as either “faith in Christ” (objective genitive) or the “faith/fulness of Christ” (subjective genitive). The first translation places the emphasis on our faith in Christ, that is, Christ is the object of faith. Whereas the other alternative places emphasis on the Jesus’ own faith, that is, it is Christ’s act of faithfulness to God that justifies (i.e. his faithfulness to God which climaxed in his death on the cross).
Interestingly, this issue also has significance on the greater thrust of Pauline thought, specifically the New Perspective on Paul debate. The objective genitive reading tends to favor the classical Lutheran view of justification, whereas the subjective genitive reading sways more towards the NPP’s view of justification. So a lot is at stake here in this brief Greek phrase pistis Christou.
After a foreword by James Dunn, this volume commences with three introductory essays on the Pistis Christou debate. The first is from Michael Bird, who provides a summary of what this debate is about and why it matters. Debbie Hunn then provides an overview of the literature this debate has produce with an emphasis on three different methods used in an attempt to arrive at an answer (lexical, grammatical, theological). Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts then focus upon the role that the lexical, semantic, and syntactic features should play in this debate.
Four essays follow in which the authors focus upon specific Pauline passages. Douglas Campbell quite convincingly argues that Romans 1.17 and 3.22 should be interpreted as the subjective genitive. He summarizes his view with these words:
These important if not programmatic texts state that the faithfulness of Christ – in the broader sense of his obedience, death, and resurrection – has revealed the saving righteousness of God. (pg. 70)
R. Barry Matlock then examines Gal 2.16, 3.22, Rom 3.22 and Php 3.9, in an effort to gauge a sense of how Paul uses pistis by itself and in relation to Christou (these passages contain additional usage of pisteuw or pistis apart from the phrase pistis Christou). Matlock’s approach is quite interesting, and he uses it to support an objective genitive reading.
Paul Foster’s essay follows, in which he argues that Php 3.9 and Eph 3.12 should be rendered as subjective genitives. He finds reasoning for this in that the context of Philippians 3 suggests a reading which conveys that Jesus’ own faithfulness is the basis for our righteousness. Foster thinks that an even stronger argument for the subjective reading can be marshaled together for the Ephesians passage.
Interestingly, the next essay, by Richard Bell, argues for the objective reading in the exact same passages as what Foster just covered! I found Foster’s case for the subjective genitive reading of Philippians 3.9 to be more convincing than Bell’s, but I thought Bell’s objective genitive interpretation of Ephesians 3.12 to be more convincing than Foster’s subjective rendering. A sharp observation (and perhaps accurate to a degree?) that Bell makes in his conclusion is that those who argue for the subjective interpretation of pistis Christou are reading the theology of Hebrews back into the writings of Paul.
The next four essays approach the pistis Christou issue from a different angle and with a fresh perspective. Mark Seifrid discusses whether pistis Christou could in fact refer to Christ as the author and source of our faith. Francis Watson investigates Paul’s other faith formulations (e.g. ek pistews) in order to prove the falsity of the subjective reading of pistis Christou. Preston Sprinkle’s “third view” is the most intriguing, as he takes pistis Christou as meaning “Christ-faith”, which is to say that he views it as a singular unit and not two distinct objects (e.g. Christ and faith). He sees “Christ-faith” as a combination between the content of the gospel (the Christ-event) and the preached gospel (the message about the Christ-event). Preston includes a survey of scholars who have viewed pistis Christou as something similar to his “third view”, as well as what this interpretation means for Galatians 3.2-5 and 3.22-26. The final essay in this section is by Ardel Caneday who sees erga nomou and pistis Christou in Galatians as being Paul’s way of referring to the Torah and Christ; that is, Paul is describing the covenant of the Law and the new Covenant by Christ.
The next four essays then tackle the issue of Christ’s faithfulness in other non-Pauline New Testament writings: Peter Bolt looks at the synoptics and Acts, Bill Salier examines the Gospel of John, Bruce Lowe considers James 2.1 in the wider context of the epistle, and David deSilva explores Revelation. The final two essays of the book then approach the issue at hand through a more historical method. Benjamin Myters approaches this subject through the writings and theology of Karl Barth, and Mark Elliott believes that the objective rendering of pistis Christou is the attested reading throughout the early and medieval church fathers.
Before I read this volume, I was somewhat leaning towards the subjective rendering, though that has more to do with my understanding of the person of Jesus and the gospel than an exegetical position on the pistis Christou phrase of Paul. After reading these essays, I see well-reasoned cases for both sides, but can not firmly say which side I fall on.
All in all, this is a very strong collection of essays on this important Pauline issue. Particularly good about this volume is the diverse approaches that are taken to approach this issue.