The “faith of Jesus” or “faith in Jesus”?

I was asked this question:

I read last night in a commentary on Romans that in 3:22 and 3:26, Martin Luther translated “pistis Iesou Xristou” as faith in Jesus Christ as opposed to faith of Jesus Christ – which makes a difference. I’ve got to read other commentaries, but it is an interesting theological dilemma. Have you come across an explanation that you like to the “in” or “of” question?

That’s a good question. A growing number of theologians are pushing for the non-traditional translation of the Greek pistis Iesou Xristou as “faith[fulness] of Jesus Christ” rather than the traditional “faith in Jesus Christ.” I support the traditional reading for a number of reason.

First, the Greek translation really could go either way. The question is whether we are dealing with a subjective genitive (“faith of Jesus”) or an objective genitive (“faith in Jesus”). One could point to Romans 4:12 and 16, in which Paul writes of “Abraham’s faith,” and argue that the parallel phrase previously used in 3:22 and 26 should have the same translation.

But the New Testament has several verses in which the Greek pistis (faith) is used with a genitive that should clearly be translated in the objective sense:

And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.” (Mark 11:22)

And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. (Acts 3:16)

This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. (Ephesians 3:11-12)

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12)

These seem are pretty clear examples of where the construction pistis + [genitive] should be understood as communicating the object of the faith, not the possessor or source of the faith.

Second, the context of Romans points to understanding pistis Iesou Xristou as an individual’s faith/trust in Jesus as the object of that faith/trust. The first rule in Bible interpretation is that “context is king.” Consider just those verses immediately surrounding the verses in question. The righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (3:22). God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement that is received by faith in his blood (3:24). God justifies those who have faith in Jesus (3:26). Men are justified by faith apart from the law (3:28). The one God justifies the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith (3:30). Then chapter 4 deals with Abraham’s personal faith in the promises of God (4:3), and we know that those promises are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus (1:2-3; 3:21; Gal. 3:16). In this whole section of Romans, Paul is dealing with an individual’s personal faith as that through which justification and the righteousness of God is received. (The “wordle” to the left shows how often faith is mentioned in this section.)

Even though Luther’s commentary on Romans does provide a translation that reads “faith of Jesus” rather than “faith in Jesus,” his discussion of the passage favors the traditional rendering. He writes in his comments on 3:22:

…righteousness for justification is given us only through faith in Jesus Christ. So God has willed it, and so God is pleased to do, and this He will never change. And who is there to resist His will? Now, however, if that is true then there is no greater arrogance than not to desire to be justified by faith in Christ.

Finally, I would just add that even if the correct rendering is “faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ” in 3:22 and 25, it does not ultimately change the conclusion of Paul’s argument in Romans. The effect it would have would be to place a greater emphasis on Christ’s positive righteousness and fulfillment of the law of God as a necessary condition for being an acceptable sacrifice to God for sin. I don’t see this aspect of Christ’s work stressed until later in the letter (for example, 8:1-4). But if Paul is introducing that concept earlier, the conclusion remains the same: only through Jesus Christ is God’s wrath for our sin satisfied, and that salvation is appropriated to us only through faith in Jesus’ saving work.

One thought on “The “faith of Jesus” or “faith in Jesus”?

  1. Patti Porter says:

    Thank you for working through that logic. When I first reflected about the faith “of” Jesus Christ the other day, the immediate thought was, “Oh, no….I could never have the faith of Jesus. That’s just out of reach.” So I, of course, leaned toward thinking that “in” was meant and not “of” – that was not logical nor did it come from further study, it was purely reactionary.
    And thanks for the Wordle….I love those!!

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