Reimagining Faith: Faithfulness

One of the most important debates in NT scholarship for the past 30 years or so has been the interpretation of the Greek phrase πίστις Χριστοῦ (pistis christou; “the faith of Christ”).

Basically, it comes down to this: is Paul talking about “faith in Christ” (objective genitive) or “the faithfulness of Christ” (subjective genitive) when he uses this phrase?

In this case, “faithfulness of Christ” would mean Jesus’ faithfulness in going to the cross.

Can pistis mean “faithfulness”?

The answer is decidedly, “Yes.”

In fact, the most unequivocal use of pistis in the book of Romans is one in which it clearly means “faithfulness” rather than faith, and is used in a “subjective genitive” construction.

In Rom 3:3, Paul is reflecting on the “faithlessness” of some who did not believe the gospel. He contrasts this with the faithfulness of God. “Their faithlessness cannot nullify the faithfulness of God, can it?”

Faithfulness of God is the English rendering of τὴν πίστιν τοῦ θεοῦ (ten pistin tou theou; “the faith of God”).

Might this help with the conversation we’ve been having here since the end of last week?

The starting question was what we do with final judgment based on works within a system of theology that strongly emphasizes justification (initial judgment?) based on faith.

On Saturday I suggested that we rethink “faith in Christ” as “faithing into Christ,” or “believing unto union with Christ.”

Today I want to raise the question of whether thinking in terms of “faithfulness” might better capture what Paul is after than our normal idea of “belief”?

In order for this to work, we’ll have to rethink the faith versus works contrast. In Romans and Galatians, there are particular works that Paul is eager to deny are at the heart of justification–those that define Jewish people as a particular set-apart people; works that indicate conversion to Judaism as such.

No, says Paul, Gentiles don’t have to become Jewish. Faithing into Christ is enough.

Within this framework, Paul’s claim in Romans 1 makes much more sense. The goal of his ministry is to bring about “the obedience of faith” or, “faithful obedience” among the Gentiles.

Not faith alone, but an obedient faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If we are saved by Christ’s faithfulness in going to death on the cross for us, perhaps our part in continuing the story is to respond with a Christ-shaped faithfulness of our own.

Believing into Christ means faithfulness to the Christian story, a lived faithfulness that puts that story on display in our own communities, our own lives.

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