The Faith of Jesus Christ—Part 1

Faithfulness of Jesus Christ? Or faith in Jesus Christ?

In my continuing look at translations, I have come upon an interesting translation, interpretation, and theological issue, specifically related to the phrase (or its equivalent):

διὰ πίστεως ⸉Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ⸊ (Galatians 2:16)

“Jesus Christ” is in the genitive case, which is often simply rendered by the Multi-use but vague preposition “of.” However, the genitive case can be indicated in at least nine different ways. The issue becomes how to understand that genitive, especially relative to “faith.”

The more traditional (and common) English rendering of the genitive has been this:

“through faith in Jesus Christ”

NAS, ESV, NKJV, NRSV, HCSB—with fn for alternate, NJB, NAB, REB, GW, NLT

But some recent translations have opted to change πίστεως to “faithfulness” and retain the basic genitive form “of Jesus Christ.” Thus, they render the text as this:

“through faithfulness of Jesus Christ”

NET, NIV 2011, CEB

So, what difference does this make?

I am still in the process of studying the issue, currently reading this book by Michael F. Bird and Preston M. Sprinkle. The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical, and Theological Studies. Baker Academic, 2010. So, my comments here are preliminary at best.

The traditional rendering focuses on the faith of the individual, the one who believes (consistent with the Reformation heritage). The second one focuses on Christ’s faithfulness, which implies objective standing which Jesus accomplished, and by which the person is incorporated into that “covenant/faith community.” At first glance, this latter position seems to reflect the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), as advocated especially by N. T. Wright.  That is, Wright’s emphasis on critical “justification” texts is “incorporation into Christ community,” which moves away from the Reformation (and even early Church Fathers) understanding of “justification by grace through faith.”

Interestingly in this book, James D. G. Dunn (often seen as walking a similar path to Wright on NPP) notes in the Foreword that “faith of Christ” (second rendering) is not where he settles the question. In other words, he favors the traditional rendering. For him Galatians 3:6-7 are decisive, when Paul quotes Genesis 15:6.

So the broader NPP does not necessarily favor the second translation. I am firmly of the Reformation, specifically Lutheran tradition, view of justification and all that such implies. Thus, I think that Wright has it wrong (yeah, great pun) in his presentation and expansion of NPP.

At this point, I remain in the traditional translation and understanding of the “faith of Jesus Christ” as “faith in Jesus Christ.” I think Dunn’s note on Galatians is definitive for settling the issue. But I am reading the book with an open mind. I am pleased to see that the editors allow a variety of views in the book. Thus, it is not meant as the final statement on the topic, but to show the arguments and directions that the topic has taken.

Author: exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian

8 thoughts on “The Faith of Jesus Christ—Part 1”

  1. I wonder if the interpretation of Hab 2:4 is also involved. That is, whether it is “by his faith” or “by His faithfulness.”


    1. Good point, Ray. I definitely think so. Both NIV and NET opt for that in the translation of Hab. 2:4. CEB takes a slightly different direction.

      NIV: but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness (with footnote: “faith”)

      NET: but the person of integrity will live because of his faithfulness.

      CEB: But the righteous person will live honestly.

      I found it helpful to see the reasoning behind the NET choice. Here is the NET footnote regarding the translation choice:

      Or “loyalty”; or “integrity.” The Hebrew word אֱמוּנָה (ʾemunah) has traditionally been translated “faith,” but the term nowhere else refers to “belief” as such. When used of human character and conduct it carries the notion of “honesty, integrity, reliability, faithfulness.” The antecedent of the suffix has been understood in different ways. It could refer to God’s faithfulness, but in this case one would expect a first person suffix (the original form of the LXX has “my faithfulness” here). Others understand the “vision” to be the antecedent. In this case the reliability of the prophecy is in view. For a statement of this view, see J. J. M. Roberts, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (OTL), 111–12. The present translation assumes that the preceding word “[the person of] integrity” is the antecedent. In this case the LORD is assuring Habakkuk that those who are truly innocent will be preserved through the coming oppression and judgment by their godly lifestyle, for God ultimately rewards this type of conduct. In contrast to these innocent people, those with impure desires (epitomized by the greedy Babylonians; see v. 5) will not be able to withstand God’s judgment (v. 4a).

      At the same time, the referent still seems to be the individual person, and not another, like God (or His Messiah).


  2. Pastor,

    I want to know more about this passage.  The difference between the two translations seems immense to me….my faith in Jesus Christ , versus the faith of Jesus Christ.

    That would seem to change a lot of things!!  Talk to me more about it on Saturday…I’d like to explore it with you.



    1. Yes, I agree that the change is not incidental but fundamental. Good thing we are studying Romans this week, eh? Look forward to talking with you.

      Check out 2 Corinthians 5:17 in NIV 2011 for a corollary change that seems simple, but it is profound, and relates somewhat to this same discussion. Then look at Philippians 3:9 and the alternate footnote in NIV 2011.


  3. I thought it notable that the previous NIV version (NIV84) includes the traditional rendering:

    Galatians 2:16 NIV84
    …know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

    I’ve read varying views on this before, and I am certainly no scholar – so take my thoughts with a grain of salt here – but I wonder if this is more indicative of a shift or innovation?

    I’m always a little nervous when a broad spectrum of Bible translations are uniform in nature, only to be broken by “newer” versions, particularly when that would be at variance with a Reformation concept. I have a good opinion of the NIV11 (it’s the Bible I used for reading lately) and we’re all aware of the meticulous and copious scholarship behind the NET, but it is interesting that there was a change from the NIV84 to the NIV11. (I will not disparage the CEB, but I am not much of a fan of some of the diction, so I am perhaps less surprised in some sense.)

    To my lay mind, it would seem that there is quite a bit wrapped up in which way the passages are rendered.


    1. Thanks for stopping by. As I have studied this in the past, and now more carefully, the thought of “innovation” has crossed my mind. It seems like there is more study that is required. To make the changes in two translations seems a little premature. But that is my opinion, and that with $5 might get you a cheap latte.


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