Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What's at Stake in the Pistis Christou Debate?

Here's a thought provoking quote from Mark Reasoner:

'In the end, the best arguments for the subjective genitive seems to be its theological utility, not the lexical or syntactical difficulties of the objective genitive'.

That confirms to me that one of the reason for the attraction of the subjective genitive is not exegetical but its aesthetical appeal to certain theological implications that arise from it. Thus, it is the theological mileage that one gets out of the subj-gen view that makes it compelling.

Reasoner also says this:

'Why does it matter whether we read pistis Christou as objective (faith in Jesus) or subjective (Jesus' faith)? First, the degree to which we emphasize faith in the human affects how we present the gospel. Proponents of the subjective genitive, who hold that Christ's faith is what saves, will not call for a distinct, conversion-constituting act of placing one's faith in Jesus. They will rather call people to join the church that lives out in a concentric pattern the faith that Jesus displayed. Second, we will begin to read Paul's gospel not as primarily based around the dichotomy of works and faith, which both have a human subject, but rather as a dichotomy between law and Christ. Third, this view of pistis Christou moves students of Paul's letters to see that justification by faith is part of a bigger theme in Paul, participation in Christ.'
My comments are: (1) We should affirm that human faith only has saving value because of God's own faithfulness to Israel and creation has been expressed in the sending of his Son, and that the cross is only efficacious because Jesus himself was obedient/faithful to the Father. But that does not warrant a divide between conversion and community driven cruciformity to the example of Christ. While Paul expected Christians to follow the example of Christ's obedience (e.g. Phil. 2.5-11), he also expected them to turn from idols to God (1 Thess. 1.10). (2) We should also affirm that the primary faultlines in Paul's thinking is not over assent to theological propositions versus merit theology, but whether the salvation of the Gentiles belongs to the epoch of Moses or to the new epoch inaugurated by Jesus' faithfulness.

9 comments:

simon said...

Interesting post - thanks Michael. Where do the Reasoner comments come from?

Doug Chaplin said...

Thanks for this. I have the same question as Simon. I also have a longer question and comment that I've posted here.

Michael F. Bird said...

Simon,
pp. 39-40 of his book, Romans in Full Circle.

J. B. Hood said...

Seems to me at least some of the defenses of obj gen I've read also rely a fair bit on theological utility...

Colin Toffelmire said...

I'm not an NT student, but a friend of mine who is has suggested reading this passage as a plenary genitive, with both objective and subjective senses being implied. Is such a reading at all common? Is it completely absurd for any particular reason? Just a wondering.

Michael F. Bird said...

Colin,
Mark Seifrid and Francis Watson seem to take such a view and take the "Faith of Jesus" as primarily an objective genitive but with wider connotations including Jesus as the author of faith as well.

J. B. Hood said...

Former RTS-Jax Pauline prof Knox Chamblin also votes plenary, or leaned towards it at one point in time.

Grosey's Messages said...

mmmmm Mike, so is there a little incipient dispensationalism seeping out in that last sentence?
I guess on the overall tyheme, would that amke Moore College the source for NT Wright's thought? :)
(with much humour and gentle digging)
Steve

Rabbi Saul said...

Sounds like Reasoner is giving us a false dilemma: either the matter is mere theological utility, or it has to do with grammatical or syntactical difficulties with the alternative. But since when is exegesis limited to grammar and syntax? What about context and biblical background? What about the fact that Paul speaks of faith "coming" - a strange way to speak, to be sure, if pistis must refer to the believer's faith in Christ.

It's also a non sequitur to suggest that the subjective genitive reading takes away from human faith (although I'm not sure I would agree with Reasoner on what that precisely must involve); after all, the biblical basis for faith is much broader and deeper than the pistis Christou phrase.