Monday, December 10, 2007

Pistis Christou: An Adjectival Genitive

The Pistis Christou debate has almost exclusively focused on debating whether it is a subjective or objective genitive. Now obviously there are more types of genitive than this, but virtually zero articles on the subject seem to devote any thought to these other possibilities.

It has long been my view that Pistis Christou is an adjectival genitive. That is to say that the genitive Christou is acting as an adjective, and thus essentially means "Christ-like".

Pistis Christou = Christ-like faithfulness

An example in English is "He's got the courage of a lion and the strength of Samson." Here the genitives function as adjectives qualifying the main nouns and mean 'lion-like' courage and 'Samson-like' strength.

A simple table categorizing the objective, subjective and adjectival interpretations of Pistis Christou is helpful:

Genitive typeWho has faithfulnessObject of faithfulness

From this table we can see that the adjectival genitive shares common features with both the subjective and objective genitives. It makes humans the ones having faith like the objective genitive and God the target of their faith like the subjective genitive.

Since the adjectival genitive is essentially a hybrid in this way it can incorporate and explain evidence for both the subjective and objective genitive viewpoints. For example, in the discussion An Evening Conversation on Jesus and Paul between James Dunn and NT Wright, Dunn says he believes that the evidence points to humans having the faith and Wright says he believes the the evidence points to God being the object of the faith, and therefore they each take their evidence as proof respectively of objective and subjective views. From the table we see that both observations agree with the adjectival view.

More importantly, what I consider to be the single strongest piece of evidence in the entire pistis Christou debate fits only with the adjectival view, and does not fit with either the subjective or objective views (and thus is generally ignored). This is the parallel between Romans 3:26 and 4:16:
Rom 4:16 tw ek pistews Abraam

Rom 3:26 tov ek pistews Christou
This almost exact parallel in structure and wording occurs only half a chapter after Paul's heavy use of pistis Christou. All major bible versions unanimously translate 4:16 as "those who share the faith of Abraham", because the context of 4:16 is quite restrictive in clearly determining the meaning - it demands an adjectival interpretation and permits neither the subjective nor objective reading. The verbal identity of the parallel implies that Rom 3:26 should be read as "those who share the faith of Christ", ie as an adjectival genitive.

Another similar parallel is comes from Paul's talk about us having the mind of Christ (ie Christ-like minds). In Phil 2:5f he encourages the Christians to "have the same mind in you that was in Jesus Christ". And in 1 Cor 2:16 he says that we have Christ-like minds:
1 Cor 2:16 noun Christou exomen - "we have the mind of Christ"
This is an example of Paul using Christou to qualify a noun, and Christou being an adjectival genitive. In this way pistis Christou exomen would mean that we have Christ-like faith.

I believe that the adjectival reading of pistis Christou is superior to either the objective or subjective readings. Obviously I have only covered a small proportion of the arguments regarding pistis Christou in this post, but it is my experience that the adjectival genitive deals consistently well with the evidence and is able to account for data that each of the other theories count in their favor. As we have seen the adjectival reading also accounts for key data that neither the subjective nor objective readings can explain. Key parallels with Paul's use elsewhere demonstrate the adjectival genitive to be Paul's likely meaning.

Finally I have two questions. What is the best translation for the adjectival genitive: Is it better to talk of "Christ-like faithfulness" or a person who "shares the faithfulness of Christ" or who "has a level of faithfulness like that which Christ himself had"? Secondly, is 'adjectival genitive' the best and clearest name for the type of genitive I am trying to advocate it as being? (I'm far from an expert on naming genitive types!)


Blogger graham old said...

I'd say that 'shares the faithfulness...' is a good interpretation and a fair translation. It captures something more than simply copying and speaks of our uniting in the work of Christ through our own faithfulness.


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