New Wineskins, In Reply to Kyle Pope (Faith Only?)

WineskinsbannerFaith only?

Kyle argues —

The original text doesn’t say “only.”  Just as Ephesians 2:8 doesn’t say “through faith only.”  Yes, faith working through love is the heart of the gospel, but can we take this to the extreme?  Can I murder someone in faith because I felt I was acting through love? Of course not!  But why?  Because Scripture defines love, just as Scripture defines faith.  What is love for God?  Jesus said, “If you love Me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Let’s look at the original text.

ASV  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love.

CJB  When we are united with the Messiah Yeshua, neither being circumcised nor being uncircumcised matters; what matters is trusting faithfulness expressing itself through love.

CSB  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.

DBY  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision has any force, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love.

DRA  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision: but faith that worketh by charity.

ERV  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love.

ESV  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

ETH  For, in the Meshiha Jeshu, circumcision is not any thing, nor uncircumcision, but faith which is made perfect by love.

GNV  For in Iesus Christ neither circumcision auaileth any thing, neither vncircumcision, but faith which worketh by loue.

GWN  As far as our relationship to Christ Jesus is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether we are circumcised or not. But what matters is a faith that expresses itself through love.

KJG  For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

KJV  For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

MGI  For in Christ Jesus neither is circumcision anything nor uncircumcision, but faith that is matured by love.

MIT  In Christ Jesus neither circumcision amounts to anything nor foreskinnedness. On the contrary, what matters is faith functioning through love.

MRD  For, in the Messiah Jesus, circumcision is nothing, neither is uncircumcision, but the faith that is perfected by love.

NAB  For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

NAS  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

NAU  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

NET  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight– the only thing that matters is faith working through love.

NIB  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

NIRV  Circumcision and uncircumcision aren’t worth anything to those who believe in Christ Jesus. The only thing that really counts is faith that shows itself through love.

NIV  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

NJB  since in Christ Jesus it is not being circumcised or being uncircumcised that can effect anything — only faith working through love.

NKJ  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.

NLT  For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.

NRS  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

RSV  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.

RWB  For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

TNIV  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

WEB  For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

YLT  for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith through love working.

It’s clear enough that the translators disagree on whether to use “only” in the translation. But even where “only” isn’t used, the translation often quite clearly indicates that “faith working through love” is all that counts.

The key Greek word is alla, meaning “but.” So why do so many add “only”? (It’s hardly a Baptist bias when the Catholic New Jerusalem Bible adds the “only”!)

This takes us to the Greek resources. Louw-Nida notes that alla is —

a marker of more emphatic contrast (as compared with de 89.124) – ‘but, instead, on the contrary.’

Bryan Findlayson  notes in the technical notes to his Lectionary Bible Studies that the alla is adversative, that is, meaning “but only,” citing the highly respected Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.

The combination oute / alla is parallel to Galatians 1:12 —

(Gal 1:12 ESV) For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s point, of course, is that the gospel he received came only from revelation and not some blend of human and divine sources.

But we find the answer in more than a technical analysis of the Greek. The context is quite sufficient. Suppose what Paul meant was —

(Gal 5:6 ESV)  6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but … faith working through love [but not just faith working through love].

If that’s a proper translation, how does Paul’s logic flow? Well, it doesn’t. If Paul admits that justification may be found in something other than faith and love, then circumcision might be one of the other things essential for justification. But his whole point — the reason he wrote verse 6 — is to demonstrate that circumcision isn’t necessary at all because it’s neither faith nor love. And this is a consequence of all that he has written up to this point. I could write extensively on the point, but I’ll try to keep it brief.

(Gal 2:16 ESV) 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.

Now, Paul argues both that works of the Law are insufficient and that faith is sufficient. Indeed, as I wrote in my New Wineskins article —

Some want to narrow “works of the law” to the Law of Moses. We don’t need to cover that question because, regardless of the meaning of “law,” we know what “faith” means. And Paul’s point is not so much that “law” is bad as “faith” is sufficient. The important thing, then, is the definition of “faith.”

Paul argues for the sufficiency of faith (which must be the sort of faith that works through love, of course) repeatedly —

(Gal 3:2 ESV) Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

(Gal 3:7 ESV) Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

(Gal 3:8 ESV) And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

(Gal 3:9 ESV) So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

(Gal 3:11 ESV) Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

(Gal 3:13-14 ESV) 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” — 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

(Gal 3:22 ESV)  22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

(Gal 3:24 ESV) 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

(Gal 3:25-26 ESV)  25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,  26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

(Gal 5:5 ESV)  5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

Recognizing that receipt of the Spirit is a mark of the saved and only the saved, each of these passage plainly states that justification and salvation and hope come by faith — and only faith. Of course, Paul does not mean by “faith” mere intellectual assent. This must be a faith that “works through love.”

(Paul, of course, refers to baptism in Gal 3 and sees no contradiction between his teaching and the association of baptism with salvation. I’ll get to why baptism does not contradict the sufficiency of the faith in a series on baptism soon to begin. For now, it should be enough to realize that Paul obviously does not consider baptism a work.)

Now, notice that Paul’s argument is against imposing circumcision as a requirement to be saved (or stay saved). And he refutes that argument by arguing for the sufficiency of faith. Thus, he argues —

(Gal 3:23-26 ESV)  23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.  24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.  25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,  26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

We were once a “captive” and “imprisoned” under the Law, which was our “guardian.” But Christ came, ending all this, “in order that we might be justified by faith.” This means “we are no longer under a guardian” because we are all sons “through faith.” Plainly, the thought is “faith only” (but only a faith that works through love!).

If it’s faith plus other things he doesn’t even name, he’s proven nothing, because circumcision might be one of those unnamed things that is also required. After all, if a cappella singing must be added to faith for salvation, then why not circumcision? You see, we are no longer under the Law as guardian, and this is true for a reason: “faith has come … you are all sons of God, through faith”!

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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5 Responses to New Wineskins, In Reply to Kyle Pope (Faith Only?)

  1. Our fear of "faith only" seems to be primarily based on fear that this would exclude the necessity of baptism. This comes from a misunderstanding of baptism as a "work" instead of a faith(ful)-response to the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. When we begin to see baptism as expressive of trust in Jesus, not as a work that rewards us with forgiveness of sins, we will begin to see what you are arguing for in this post.

    The HBRCB formulation of "the plan of salvation" tends to overlook the centrality of Jesus and reliance on him for our salvation – and that our response to him is not a response to a preacher's passionate pleading in the "invitation" or to his rational argument about the necessity of this response in his sermon. Rather baptism is participation with Jesus in His death and resurrection because we are trusting Him for our salvation!

    Excellent response!

    Jerry

  2. Anonymous says:

    Once again, Jay, you have focused on the principle point of conflict. Many of our CofC brethren fear their inability to judge the reliability of someone else's faith, so they seek black and white markers they can use to judge another's (and even their own) faith.

    An important corollary, to the importance of Faith, is grace (as you've noted many times). The faith I was taught as I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, did not find God's grace sufficient to have confidence in our salvation.

    Thus, I often find people who seek a legally based salvation, really seek assurance of their own salvation by being able to check off a set of boxes which are clearly definable.

    Of course, by setting up easily defined check boxes, such as a cappella music, the meatier matters are overlooked. And the meatier matters are "loving others, the way Jesus loved us." Forgiving others they way Jesus forgives us.

    Singing a cappella is easy to check off.

    But try loving the unloveable people around you. That's the hard stuff

  3. Mike Ward says:

    I don't find this very compelling. Do we beleive an unrepentant serial killer is saved just because he says he has faith? If not, why not? Is it because his actions reflect his lack of faith? If so why can't it be argued that insturmental music also reflects a lack of faith? If God says don't do something and we do it any way, do we have faith? I think that is a valid quesiton especially given the equivalence drawn between belief and obediance repeatedly in John 14 and 15. Now I do not believe using instrumental music shows a lack of faith, but that is because I do not believe the bible prohibits it. But the a capella faction believes that the bible does. Even though I think they are wrong about this I do not think it is fair to act as is they denying the sufficiency of faith.

  4. Rich W says:

    The point isn't whether the word 'only' belongs in this passage or not. The issue is emphasizing the word 'only' at the same time as reducing the scope of the word 'faith' and the scope of the 'gospel' does not include the total communication given us by God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost (NT).

    All of these put together starts really sounding like a watered down Christianity. I know many will refute that, but it seems that way to me and I predict that is how generations to come will hear it.

  5. Kyle Pope says:

    Jay,

    The point is that Galatians 5:6 does not use the Greek word monos "only" as we see in James 2:24. There even the ESV renders it "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." The presence of the Greek word alla does not justifiy the insertion of "only." This is a reflection of denominational bias not a demand of the grammar. Thanks.

    Kyle Pope

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