The faith of Christ

ThomasBelieving-150x150Way back in the 50’s a debate started regarding the translation of certain key passages in Paul that had to do with justification by faith. The question was whether or not we should translate these passages as referring to Christ’s faith or to ours. Of course, most post-reformation translations take these passages as obvious references to our faith in Christ. In the Greek language, however, the construction could be translated either as a subjective genitive (Christ’s faith) or as an objective genitive (our faith in Christ). Interestingly, the King James translates them as referring to Christ’s own faith. Over the decades the debate grew intense and scholars from around the world joined in. In fifty or so years a decided shift has taken place. At first the burden of proof was on those who thought the passages should be translated as referring to Christ’s faith, and not to our faith in Christ. These days it is the other way around.

Here are the key passages. I will quote first from the New American Standard Bible.

ROM 3:22 “even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe, for there is no distinction.”

ROM 3:26 “for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who as faith in Jesus.”

GAL 2:16 “nevertheless knowing that a man is no justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”

GAL 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”

GAL 3:22 “But the Scripture has shut up all me under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

EPH 3:12 “in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.”

PHIL 3:9 “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”

As you can see, far from being peripheral, these passages are at the center of Paul’s thought. The issue at hand challenges both the Roman Catholic and Reformation doctrines of justification at a fundamental level.

I first discovered the debate when I was in seminary working on an exegetical paper on EPH 4:11-13. Verse 13 reads, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.” In my paper, I argued that ‘of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God’ were to be interpreted as referring to Christ’s own faith and knowledge, as surely as ‘the fulness of Christ’ refers to his own fulness and not ours. Looking back I can see how this issue opened the door for me to understand the theology of J. B. and T. F. Torrance, with their powerful and beautiful emphasis on the vicarious humanity of Christ. Over the years I continued to follow the debate, which reached its peak in the 90’s, but is still brewing. Strangely, the theological significance of this transition is yet to be appreciated.

Three factors convince me that Paul is not talking about our faith in Christ, but Christ’s very own faith, such that we are justified by the faith and faithfulness of Jesus himself.

(1) It seems clear enough, as even the NASB translation reads, that Paul (in EPH 4:13) is speaking about our participation in Jesus’ own faith, knowledge and fulness. In his earlier prayer (EPH 3:14-19) Paul prays that we would come to comprehend and to know the love of Christ, that we “may be filled up to all the fulness of God.” In Colossians Paul says, “For in Him [Christ] all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made full” (2:9-10). Clearly the fulness belongs to Jesus, and is then shared with us. Jesus himself tells us that he came to give us not simply peace, but his own peace (JN 14:27), and his own joy (15:11). And, of course, in his famous prayer it is abundantly clear that Jesus envisages the very love and glory of the Father and Son themselves dwelling in us personally (17:22-26). In Matthew, Jesus claims not only that all things have been handed over to him, but also that he alone knows the Father, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him (11:27). The heart of the gospel is the fact that Jesus alone knows the Father, and he alone is filled with the fulness of God, and that he has come to share himself and all that he is and has (fulness, knowledge, peace, joy, glory, love, and faith, among other things) with us. Sharing in Jesus’ own life and relationship with his Father and the Spirit is the point.

(2) The genitive construction in ROM 3:26 (ek pisteos Jesou) is exactly the same in ROM 4:16 where Paul is talking about Abraham’s faith (ek pisteos Abraam). The NASB does not translate the Abraham passage as ‘our faith in Abraham,’ but as “those who are of the faith of Abraham.” If the NASB were consistent, ROM 3:26 would read, “for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus.

(3) In Galatians 2:16 we have a perfect illustration of what is called a chiasm. The verse reads,

“nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, not by the works of the Law…”

A chiasm or chiastic structure fills the Psalter. It is very Hebraic. It is named after the Greek letter ‘Chi’ which looks like an X in English. If you take away the right part of the X you are left with an arrow pointing to the right. In terms of a chiastic argument, the first point in the argument starts with the top left of the X, or arrow. The next point, which is the heart of the argument is the tip. The last point is a repeat of the first point and starts at the beginning of the bottom of the left side of the X. If this is all too confusing to you, let me put Paul’s argument in chiastic sequence.

knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law
—–but through faith in Christ Jesus
———-even we have believed in Christ Jesus,
—–that we may be justified by faith in Christ
not by the works of the Law.

Three times in this verse, Paul, allegedly, speaks of faith in Christ, which is rather redundant and superfluous, unless a chiasm is being employed, and he has in mind not our faith in Christ, but Christ’s faith or faithfulness. The verse works perfectly only when we understand that Paul is thinking about the faith of Christ. It would then read,

knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law
—–but through the faith of Christ Jesus,
———-even we have believed in Christ Jesus
—–that we may be justified by the faith of Christ
not by the works of the Law.

The first and the last clauses speak of not being justified by the works of the law. The second and next to the last speak of being justified by the faith of Christ himself. The middle clause speaks of our trusting in Jesus’ faith and faithfulness. The point of Christian faith is not in the efficacy or power of our own faith, but believing in the faith and faithfulness of Jesus himself, who stands in our place. We believe in Jesus and in his faith. This is the center, the tip of the arrow, of Paul’s chiastic argument. Jesus has taken his place on our side of the covenant relationship with God. And in our place he has offered the perfect response of faith and faithfulness, wherein we are justified. We take our stand, according to Paul, upon his vicarious offering to the Father, upon his faith and faithfulness, that we may be justified not by our own works or faith, but by Jesus.’ We choose to be justified by Jesus’ faith and faithfulness, not our own.

The fruit of taking our stand on Jesus’ faith is peace, the cessation of striving to find a way to justify ourselves through anything that we may do, whether our own faith or works or religious activity of any sort. We cling to, hope in, and pin all our hopes on Jesus, and upon who he is and what he has done as our vicarious representative.

Failure here is simply to doom ourselves to live with ourselves and our faith and religious performance. To not believe in Jesus—and in his faith and faithfulness—is to sentence ourselves to believe in ourselves and in our own efforts, and it is to suffer living with the failed assurance of such a way of believing. So for Paul, we rest in Jesus himself, not in ourselves, and in resting in him, in believing in him, his own glory, knowledge, peace, joy, love and faith begin to have room to come to personal expression in us.

If we translate the key passages as references to Jesus’ faith in our place, it would look something like the following.

ROM 3:22 “even the righteousness of God which comes through the faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all those who believe, for there is no distinction.”

ROM 3:26 “for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus.”

GAL 2:16 “nevertheless knowing that a man is no justified by the works of the Law but through faith of Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”

GAL 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith/faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”

GAL 3:22 “But the Scripture has shut up all me under sin, that the promise by the faith of Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

EPH 3:12 “in whom we have boldness and confident access through His faith/faithfulness.”

PHIL 3:9 “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”

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