N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 18 (the faithfulness of Jesus Christ)

dayrevolutionbegan

[There is no Part 17. Subsequent editing deleted it, and it’s too much trouble to renumber an redate the following posts at this point.]

N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

Rom 3:20-24

I shift back to the NET Bible translation, because I think it’s more accurate in a few places —

(Rom. 3:20-23 NET)  20 For no one is declared righteous [faithful to covenant] before him [God] by the works of [obedience to] the law [Torah], for through the law [Torah] comes the knowledge of sin.  21 But now apart from the law [Torah] the righteousness of God [faithfulness of God to his covenants] (which is attested by the law [Torah] and the prophets [of the OT or Tanakh]) has been disclosed – 22 namely, the righteousness of God [faithfulness of God to his covenants] through the faithfulness [obedience to the point of crucifixion] of Jesus Christ for all who believe [are faithful to/believe in/trust in Jesus]. For there is no distinction,  23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 

Wright spends very few words in this book on the earlier part of chapter 3, but he has quite a lot to say about the rest of the chapter.

[just because]

“Faithfulness of Jesus Christ”

The Greek is πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ pisteōs Iesou Christou. The -ou ending generally indicates genitive, meaning we translate with an “of.” Hence, the KJV quite literally translates “faith of Jesus Christ,” which doesn’t make much sense but is very true to the Greek grammar.

Later translations “fix” the problem by changing “of” to “in.” Hence, “faith in Jesus Christ,” which is fine theology but grammatically doubtful. In fact, it creates a redundancy. The NIV has, for example, “faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” So that seems unlikely. Why say the same thing twice in the same sentence?

The NET Bible translator notes explain the question well —

Though traditionally translated “faith in Jesus Christ,” an increasing number of NT scholars are arguing that πίστις Χριστοῦ (pistis Christou) and similar phrases in Paul (here and in v. Rom 3:26; Gal 2:16, Gal 2:20; Gal 3:22; Eph 3:12; Phi 3:9) involve a subjective genitive and mean “Christ’s faith” or “Christ’s faithfulness” (cf., e.g., G. Howard, “The ‘Faith of Christ’,” ExpTim 85 [1974]: 212-15; R. B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ [SBLDS]; Morna D. Hooker, “Πίστις Χριστοῦ,” NTS 35 [1989]: 321-42).

Noteworthy among the arguments for the subjective genitive view is that when πίστις takes a personal genitive it is almost never an objective genitive (cf. Mat 9:2, Mat 9:22, Mat 9:29; Mar 2:5; Mar 5:34; Mar 10:52; Luk 5:20; Luk 7:50; Luk 8:25, Luk 8:48; Luk 17:19; Luk 18:42; Luk 22:32; Rom 1:8; Rom 1:12; Rom 3:3; Rom 4:5, Rom 4:12, Rom 4:16; 1Co 2:5; 1Co 15:14, 1Co 15:17; 2Co 10:15; Phi 2:17; Col 1:4; Col 2:5; 1Th 1:8; 1Th 3:2, 1Th 3:5, 1Th 3:10; 2Th 1:3; Tit 1:1; Phm 6; 1Pe 1:9, 1Pe 1:21; 2Pe 1:5). On the other hand, the objective genitive view has its adherents: A. Hultgren, “The Pistis Christou Formulations in Paul,” NovT 22 (1980): 248-63; J. D. G. Dunn, “Once More, ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ,” SBL Seminar Papers, 1991, 730–44. Most commentaries on Romans and Galatians usually side with the objective view.

ExSyn 116, which notes that the grammar is not decisive, nevertheless suggests that “the faith/faithfulness of Christ is not a denial of faith in Christ as a Pauline concept (for the idea is expressed in many of the same contexts, only with the verb πιστεύω rather than the noun), but implies that the object of faith is a worthy object, for he himself is faithful.” Though Paul elsewhere teaches justification by faith, this presupposes that the object of our faith is reliable and worthy of such faith.

Here’s the key point: pistis includes faith, trust, and faithfulness. It is often translated “faithfulness” in other biblical contexts. Our Reformation history wants us to radically separate faith from faithfulness, as though these are very different things, but we must both repent and believe. We repent to become faithful. Jesus expects his followers to be faithful.

Therefore, by translating it as the NET Bible (and Wright) translate, we find a theme emerging. God is faithful to his covenant and so is seen to be righteous. Jesus is faithful, through submission to the crucifixion most especially, and so is righteous. And those who are in Jesus through — what? — faith/faithfulness are followers of Jesus, are in Jesus, are brothers and sisters of Jesus because we are like Jesus. So we are declared righteous — justified (same word in the Greek!)

The goal is to restore to God’s image — his kingly, priestly, righteous, covenant obedient image — and Jesus is the very enfleshment of God’s image. So the goal is for us to become like Jesus. And that requires, first and foremost, faith/faithfulness, because these are the characteristics that define both Jesus and God the Father.

Why does faith save? Because it sets us on the path to becoming restored to God’s image, like Jesus, faithful to the covenant, and ultimately united with God the Faithful. Theosis! (if you remember that series.)

It makes too much sense not to be true. And now go re-read any of Paul’s epistles with this in mind and see how much more clear Paul’s writing becomes.

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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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9 Responses to N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 18 (the faithfulness of Jesus Christ)

  1. Dwight says:

    Excellent post. I think we in the CoC have a poor understanding of faith/faithfulness, worshipful/worship, loving/love, etc. when we see the word in action it most usually means that the person has that quality to which it is expressed.
    But when we get to things like baptism we have qualities that are to drive us such as love, faith and worship to God and the baptism does what? Washes us so that we can stand before God clean, which is the whole point, standing before God. We think washing makes us clean and it does, but more than that it makes us presentable. We cannot be in a covenant relationship while unclean.

  2. Larry Cheek says:

    This is very true for the Christians in Rome. But, can anyone prove that there were Christians in the Church of Rome who had not been baptized? Where do we find any Apostle suggesting that faith saved and added to the church?

  3. Larry Cheek says:

    In this statement there are several deviations from the text of scripture. “Why does faith save? Because it sets us on the path to becoming restored to God’s image, like Jesus, faithful to the covenant, and ultimately united with God the Faithful. Theosis! (if you remember that series.)”
    1. If faith saved it would be replacing Jesus.
    2. Jesus is the savior, not faith.
    3. Faith setting on a path to salvation, is not salvation, it is only a beginning.
    4. Faith can be lost, it is totally dependent upon the individual who presently has it.
    5. Faith has never been given the power to save, it only gives us access to Jesus. With out it the door is closed to Jesus.

  4. Part of our problem is that we equate salvation and forgiveness of sins, whereas (while salvation includes forgiveness) it is much more. We tend to think in a lineal sequence of separate actions (hearing, believing, repenting, confessing, being baptized). We should see all of these as interlocking actions in a continuing process.

    I addressed this concept in a recent post, Musing About Baptism, which can be seen at committedtotruth.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/musing-about-baptism/. I intend to explore more about the inter-connected nature of these in an upcoming post currently being written.

  5. Dwight says:

    Larry, it appears that you are still in faith vs baptism debate mode, whereas Jay is just trying to address Rom.3:20-24 which primarily deals with faith and righteousness vs the works of the Law.

    Jay even says, “Why does faith save? Because it sets us on the path to becoming restored to God’s image, like Jesus, faithful to the covenant, and ultimately united with God the Faithful.”
    This not wrong. Faith in Jesus does propel us towards restoration. If we don’t first trust in God, we won’t obey. There is not conflict in this thinking.
    Note, Jay did not say that faith=united with God the faithful, but “on the path”.
    While your argument is true ‘If faith saved it would be replacing Jesus.
    2. Jesus is the savior, not faith.
    3. Faith setting on a path to salvation, is not salvation, it is only a beginning.
    4. Faith can be lost, it is totally dependent upon the individual who presently has it.
    5. Faith has never been given the power to save, it only gives us access to Jesus. With out it the door is closed to Jesus.

    We almost must understand that in 1 Peter 3:21 says “saves us—baptism”, now place baptism in the place of faith in your above argument and you are not wrong either, but are not right because their is salvation in baptism. It says so.

    Jay, also says, “faith/faithfulness are followers of Jesus, are in Jesus, are brothers and sisters of Jesus because we are like Jesus.” so he is not isolating Jesus out of faith, but making him the reason for it.

    The truth is as Jerry points out we think too linear. Faith doesn’t simply lead to baptism and then baptism takes over, but faith leads to and is in baptism and exist after we are baptized. If we stop having faith even after we are baptized we will never be united with God.
    The Israelites by faith left Egypt and were baptized by God in the Red Sea and yet many of them didn’t see the promised land because they lacked sustaining faith. Those that had faith, two of them, did see the promised land.
    Faith is the power behind what we do in Christ.

    Now as you pointed out Jesus saves. No debate there. But it is the faithfulness of Jesus to God and man who saves us, which I think is the point of Rom.3:20-24. We are to love God because he first loved us and we are to be faithful to God, because God is faithful.

  6. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    NT Wright has influenced my faith and growth more than I can express. One on my favorite books by NTW is “Justification,” a book in which he addresses some of the NPP challenges from John Piper. NTW discusses pistis Iēsou Christou several times in both the Galatians and Romans chapters.

    I shall say this more fully when we get to Romans in the exegetical section, but let me here summarize the point in advance. The problem with the single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world was the ‘through-Israel’ bit: Israel had let the side down, had let God down, had not offered the ‘obedience’ which would have allowed the worldwide covenant plan to proceed. Israel, in short, had been faithless to God’s commission. That is the point of the much-misunderstood, and actually in consequence much-ignored, but all-important, Romans 3:1–8. What is needed, following Romans 2:17–29 and 3:3, is a faithful Israelite, through whom the single plan can proceed after all. What Paul declares in 3:21–22 is that God has unveiled his own faithfulness to the single plan—through the faithfulness, which he will later refer to as ‘obedience’, of the Messiah. I shall have more to say on this when we reach the same point in our exegesis of Romans, but I simply want here to note two things. (a) This is the true meaning of ‘the faithfulness of the Messiah’, pistis Christou, as opposed to the ideas which are sometimes rightly rejected as strange or unintelligible (e.g. that Paul is referring to Jesus himself being ‘justified by faith’), and because of which exegetes frequently lapse back into the more familiar ‘faith in the Messiah’. (b) This is the context, I believe, within which we can begin to make sense—biblical sense, Pauline sense—of the theme which some have expressed, misleadingly in my view, as ‘the imputed righteousness of Christ’. To that we shall return.

    Wright, Tom. Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. P105. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2009. Print.

    Later, he states:

    ‘The faithfulness of the Messiah’, in the sense described in the previous chapter—his faithfulness to the long, single purposes of God for Israel—is the instrument, the ultimate agency, by which ‘justification’ takes place. The Messiah’s faithful death, in other words, redefines the people of God, which just happens to be exactly what Paul says more fully in verses 19–20 (always a good sign). And the way in which people appropriate that justification, that redefinition of God’s people, is now ‘by faith’, by coming to believe in Jesus as Messiah. The achievement of Jesus as the crucified Messiah is the basis of this redefinition. The faith of the individual is what marks out those who now belong to him, to the Messiah-redefined family.

    Wright, Tom. Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. P117. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2009. Print.

    Jay, do you see ‘pisteōs Iesou Christou’ pointing back to Gen 15 and the covenant ritual in which God passes through in place of Abram and by extension all mankind?

  7. Larry Cheek says:

    Dwight,
    I may well have been jumping the gun on this communication of Jay’s about N.T. Wright’s teachings. The context of the posts beginning in Romans appeared to me to be attempting to support that salvation was complete and the individual was added to the church at the point of faith and belief. Part of the communication which probably lead me in that direction was not only that many teachers and preachers promote that concept, but there seemed to be a reluctance to confirm that all who were being addressed were Christians and that these messages in the first 5 chapters were to help them to see the complete overall relationships between the Jews and Gentiles of the past. I said past because at the time frame in which the book is being written there were not supposed to be a difference between them. They were now one family in Christ. As Jay stated his desire to not discuss any of the chapter 6 until after completing 1-5 seemed to lead me to believe that 1-5 was intended to paint a different picture than the inclusion of 6 into the one picture of lost from all nations to the one Kingdom of Christ’s through the complete message 1-6 and beyond. I decided maybe I should learn a little more of NTW’s stand on this concept, it might help me to reconcile my thoughts. I googled NTW on baptism and found this, it really helps to clear up some of my thoughts, unless he has changed his position drastically in this new presentation, “another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement”. I had been considering presenting a comment following the exact path that he was portraying in this presentation. In Wright’s presentation here I did not see him teaching that anyone could avoid baptism and still arrive at the desired destination. None of the examples that he sited would have allowed that either. I hope his new teachings are still in tune with those of almost 4 years ago.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2013/02/20/n-t-wright-on-the-meaning-of-baptism/

  8. Dwight says:

    Larry, I have a tendency to leap ahead in an argument in order to confront that which I am sure will be wrong. It is probably my coC upbringing. We have our wrong filters on instead of our right filters.
    I have to learn patience and allow things to unfold and then sometimes I am pleasently surprised.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Kevin,

    Yes. God’s faithfulness to his covenants (his “righteousness”) and the “faithfulness of Jesus” are closely connected concepts in Romans — because God is faithful in part through Jesus’s faithfulness. If we see Jesus as YHWH (as Peter argues in Acts 2 and Paul argues in 1 Cor 10 and Rom 10), then Jesus didn’t die to satisfy God’s “justice.” He died to fulfill God’s faithfulness/righteousness — to honor the commitment he made to Abraham.

    (Acts 20:28 ESV) 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

    I think the faithfulness of Jesus is bigger than Gen 15, but I would certainly start at Gen 15. For example, it also includes Isaiah’s Servant Song and the Suffering Servant.

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