Sunday, April 1, 2018

Justified by Faith of Whom?

This article is basically translated/taken from my blog article: 關於信的神學爭議:屬格问题.

Genitive case of nouns/pronouns: to describe certain thing of certain quality (such as “love of God”), or describe certain thing that belong to certain subject (such as God’s love), Greek genitive case is used to indicate possession or close association. In New Testament Bible, there are situations where nouns of genitive case are used in conjunction, making the phrase’s meaning not clear. It somewhat like the phrase “love of God”, which could mean God’s love, or it could be understood as our love towards God. Both are good.

Genitive faith in Romans: chapter 1 and chapter 16, there are occurrences of exact the same “obedience faith” phrase, where “faith” is genitive, which can be “obedience of faith”, meaning out of faith you have obedience, or it can be “obedience to faith”, meaning Gospel faith is the subject of your obedience. In the contexts of both chapters, Paul stated that it was the purpose of his preaching to bring nations to faith; therefore it might be more possible that faith/belief is the subject (not object) of obedience.

Theological controversial caused by genitive faith: In 3:22 we read, “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, to all those who have faith…”. But because genitive case of “faith”, “Jesus”, “Christ” here, it could also render “the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ, to all those who have faith…”.

If Jesus Christ is the object of our faith, there seem to be a syntax or logic error, at least it doesn’t make sense in Chinese: how through the means of our having faith, this thing called “God’s righteousness”, whatever it is, be added to ourselves? It’s like saying my righteous action/faith makes me receiving more of righteousness from God. Isn’t this justification thing supposed to be God’s action?

By the way, “God’s righteousness” in Jewish context mainly refers to His historical actions of saving Israelites, as well as His faithfulness in dealing with His covenant people. “God’s righteousness” in the sense of gifting, makes more sense if it refers to His acceptance of people’s entering the covenant relationship with Him. – This can be expanded in another article, Professor N.T. Wright has expounded it the best.

Now back to genitive case of “Jesus Christ”, is this the object of OUR faith? Or is this the subject that owns the faith/faithfulness? Genitive case here interprets both ways. Because of the seemingly logical error I have pointed out to the former – that our faith could cause something added to ourselves, the latter actually makes better sense – that it is Jesus Christ’s faith/faithfulness makes us acceptable to God, that His works rendered believers as part of God’s covenant people – what we called “justification by God”.

In Romans 3:25-26, we have another case with genitive faith issue: ...whom(Jesus) God has set forth a mercy-seat, through faith in his blood, for showing forth of His righteousness, in respect of the passing by the sins that had taken place before, through the forbearance of God; for showing forth of His righteousness in the present time, so that He should be just, and justify him that is of the faith of Jesus. (Darby version, here “mercy-seat” translation is tricky, it is usually understood as a sin offering to God. But our attention is on “faith of Jesus”, some translations render as “faith in Jesus”, due to its genitive case.)

Again here “God’s righteousness” (covenant favors) is displayed by His justifying those who have faith in Jesus, or is it that the righteous God justifies people because of the faithfulness of Jesus? Both can be right, but one emphasizes God’s action in Jesus, the other more depends on people’s faith in Jesus.

Traditional Reformer translations since Martin Luther always use “faith in Jesus”, but now we know “faith of Jesus” is a valid reading too. Choice of the former is very much for the reasons of supporting a doctrine, rather than from contexts or linguistics.

Using this perspective, I had re-translated this passage of chapter 3. In Chinese:

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