Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mark Seifrid on the pistis christou debate

In Christ, our righteousness: Paul's Theology of Justification (pp. 139-46), Seifrid puts in his 2 cents on the pistis christou ("faith of Christ") debate. Although he acknowledges the validity of the faithfulness of Christ in Hebrews, Romans 5 and Revelation as a biblical theme, Seifrid urges that in Paul's letters Christ is the object of faith. Proponents of the subjective genitive can displace the significance of Christ's atoning death for a moral ideal of fidelity. In light of the grammatical debates about the meaning of the "faith of Christ" in Gal. 2.16, 3.22, Rom. 3.22, 26, Phil. 3.9 and Eph 3.12, Seifrid states as follows:

1. Paul speaks of the "faith of Christ" in connection with the gift of salvation, esp. in assocation with justification.

2.The passages in which the expression occurs invariably have to do with the revelation of God's saving purposes in Jesus Christ, usually in contrast to the will of God as expressed in the law.

3. Paul's usage of the noun is absolute, he speak of "the faith" without qualifying it.

Seifrid's own option is as follows:

"We have to do here with a 'qualifying' genitive, which is roughly parrallel to Paul's usage of the genitive in 'the word of Christ', 'the gospel of Christ, 'the truth of Christ', 'the law of Christ' and the like. In speak of the 'faith of Christ, Paul points to the cross and resurrection as the ground of faith, the decisive act of God in which 'faith' has come into the world as a reality and demand. He sets forth Christ as the exclusive, all-determining source of faith. In fact, his striking statements in Galatians that 'faith has arrived' appears precisely in conjunction with his use of the verbal expression 'the faith of Christ' ...Those who have argued for reading the expression as a subjective genitive have rightly sensed that in these contets Paul is concerned to affirm that faith itself is the work of god. They have failed to see, however, that Paul speaks of Christ's cross and resurrrection as the 'place' in which God has effected faith." (p. 146).

Interesting stuff to ponder, particularly in light of Watson's thoughts on the same subject about keeping the genitives deliberately ambiguous.


Michael Pahl said...

It's interesting that Seifrid brings up "word of Christ" and "word of the gospel" in this. These phrases, along with other gospel-phrases such as "word of the Lord" and "word of God" and "gospel of God", have often been discussed as intentionally ambiguous genitival constructions: Christ/the Lord/God as in some sense both source and content of the word/gospel. Of course, subjective/objective genitive determinations are not made from any grammatical indicators, but entirely from the context, and both possibilities seem indicated in the range of uses of these gospel- (and faith-) phrases.

It makes me wonder how much this subjective/objective genitive distinction is simply a modern grammatical construction imposed on the texts, when the authors themselves would have been utterly unaware of the need for such a distinction. If that's so, it may be helpful at times for us to make such a distinction, but we must always be open to the possibility of intentional or unintentional ambiguity in these constructions.

Anonymous said...

Seifrid gave a fabulous presentation on the related topic. The paper was read at the 2006 Symposium on Exegetical Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary. It is indeed a " fresher reading of Paul" on the nature of justification by faith. Here is the pdf link :



Anonymous said...

Indeed, Seifrid's paragraph is worth noted. It is a stunning declaration on the subject!