The Faith of Christ
Generally speaking, I’m not against so-called “modern translations” of the Bible. As you know if you’ve read even a few of my posts, I prefer the English Standard Version. However, I’m going to disagree with this respected, not-so-modern version on a couple of passages and urge you to check the version you prefer against the following notes. Perhaps, the ESV (and others) are not mistaken. The problem may be that we are limited by the English language in expressing the full idea possible in the Greek.
Our responsibility as Christians is to handle the Scriptures as carefully as possible, going back to the potential meaning of the original language, if necessary. Today, I’m going to take a little detour to the Greek for Ephesians 3:11-12 which is rendered in the English Standard Version (ESV) with “our faith in him,” but which may be more correctly rendered in the King James Version (KJV) as “by the faith of him [Christ].”
Just a little Greek
Both translations are possible from the Greek text; thus, the decision of which way to render the words is in the hands of the translators. Tradition, philosophy, and comparison with other Scriptures are brought to bear in making the decision.
Daniel Wallace, one of the most qualified modern Greek scholars, writes: “Older commentaries (probably as a Lutheran reflex) see Cristou as an objective gen.[genitive], thus, ‘faith in Christ.’ However, more and more scholars are embracing these texts as involving a subjective gen. [genitive] (thus, either ‘Christ’s faith’ or ‘Christ’s faithfulness’).”
To clarify, those who embrace the subjective genitive are in agreement with the KJV translation for these passages. Here are the full quotes (emphasis added to make comparison easier):
This is 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 (ESV)
According to the eternal purpose which he purposed
in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness
and access with confidence by the faith of him.
Ephesians 3:11-12 (KJV)
As I’ve mentioned before, Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and the Galatians are very similar in places. The phrase “faith of Jesus Christ” is repeated twice in Galatians 2:16 in the King James Version. Here’s the full quote in both versions:
Yet we know that a person is not justified by
works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ,
so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order
to be justified by faith in Christ and not by
works of the law, because by works of the law no
one will be justified.
Galations 2:16 (ESV)
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works
of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ,
even we believed in Jesus Christ, that we might
be justified by the faith of Christ, and not
by the works of the law: for by the works of
the law shall no flesh be justified.
Galatians 2:16 (KJV)
In this passage, “faith of Christ” makes sense to me in light of the previous phrase, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law…” since it’s clearly a comparison of the law versus Christ.
Listen carefully. The Scriptures, in every version, advocate belief in Christ Jesus. So don’t think I’m saying faith in Christ isn’t necessary. However, “through our faith in him” and “justified by faith in Jesus Christ” mean something far different than “by the faith of him” and “justified by the faith of Christ!”
Christ’s Faith is Perfect
Note that both the sinner’s faith and Christ’s faith are included in Galatians 2:16 in the KJV. We are justified by the faith of Christ since we believed in his power to save. The sinner’s faith, though a necessary part of the equation, cannot help being imperfect, but Christ’s faith and his faithfulness are perfect in every way.
Righteousness does not come through subjectively believing in Christ, for even the demons believe (James); only Christ’s righteousness saves. We must be found “in him” to take advantage of Christ’s righteousness (Philippians 3:8-9). This is another passage that commonly gets translated as “faith in Christ” when “faith of Christ” is just as grammatically correct.
Some would argue that it’s impossible for Christ to have faith; how, after all, does God have faith in himself? Faith is for humans, right? And yet, Christ was human. He demonstrated obedience, too. How does God have obedience to himself? Christ was human. He demonstrated both faith and obedience as a human. The difference is that he demonstrated both faith and obedience perfectly because he was also divine.
Faith is not limited to belief only. Faith is invested with other characteristics that are at least as important as belief: trust, fidelity, loyalty, purity of purpose, and knowledge. Who ever demonstrated greater trust, fidelity, loyalty, purity of purpose, and knowledge than Christ Jesus?
Paul’s Mission: Obedience of Faith
- No one ever was–or can be–justified by works of the law of Moses which could never justify anyone in God’s eyes; rather, all believers, past and present, are justified by the work of Christ Jesus. In modern terms, no one can earn their way to salvation through their works, no matter how “good” they are.
- What a relief! My faith, in my opinion, is not sufficient to justify me before God. God knows I struggle every day to have faith in his providence and sometimes, in his existence. He also knows about my struggles to be faithful to him and to him only. Praise God, Christ justifies me by HIS faith. I am obedient to Christ Jesus in the belief that he justifies me by his saving work.
- True believers who lived prior to Christ’s death and resurrection observed the law in the belief that God would justify them by the faith of Christ. Christ’s work was necessary; theirs was an obedience of faith. We’ll come back to that phrase in a moment.
Where the Jewish nation, in general, went wrong was thinking that observance of the law was enough to obtain salvation, forgetting the faith of Abraham, that God would provide redemption through his seed. Abraham’s seed was Christ, not the Jewish nation, as they liked to think.
- “Obedience of faith” is the key to Paul’s treatise on faith, his letter to the Romans. Paul begins and ends with this phrase when he defines his entire life mission. I have added emphasis to show the similarity of the passages:
Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace
and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for
the sake of his name among all the nations…. (Romans 1:4-5)
See how he ends the letter in Romans 16.
Now to him who is able to strengthen you…according to the
revelation of the mystery…disclosed through the prophetic
writings has been made known to all nations, according to
the command of God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to
the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ!
Amen. (Romans 16:25-27)
- Obedience of faith is the command and purpose of God.
- Believers who have lived after Christ’s death and resurrection rely on Christ to justify them by his work, and the evidence of their belief is their obedience of faith.
Thanks to Matthew Neely, for his help in researching this topic.
 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1996), 115.
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