Friday, April 17, 2009
I Believe in the Faithfulness of Christ
I believe in the faithfulness of the Messiah. I am referring to the way a particular phrase is often translated as “faith in Christ” in our modern English bibles. There is significant debate about this of which I would like to make several points.
1) Sometimes certain scholars make it seem like the translation of pistis Christou as the faithfulness of Christ is nothing more than wishful thinking. In reality this is a very natural translation of the phrase. This isn’t to say that any other translation is un-natural but those who think this is the proper translation don’t necessarily have some sort of hidden agenda. There are many other genitives in the book of Romans, for example, that we translate “of” not “in” (i.e. the faithfulness of God). The faithfulness of Christ is a very legitimate translation of pistis Christou and those of us who think so aren’t heretical weirdos with no appreciation for the Reformation.
2) It is easy to shrug something like this off thinking, “Most modern translators interpret this phrase as ‘faith in Christ’ so they’re probably right; how much do I know any way?” Though it is true that most modern translators take pistis Christou to mean faith in Christ that does not mean they’re right. There has not been unanimous agreement among translators what this phrase means in the present or in the past. Examples from Romans 3:22:
The NET Bible: “…the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe”.
KJV: “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe”.
Tyndale: “The rightewesnes no dout which is good before God cometh by ye fayth of Iesus Christ vnto all and vpon all that believe”.
Wycliffe: “And the riytwisnesse of God is bi the feith of Jhesu Crist in to alle men and on alle men that bileuen in hym”. (all emphases mine).
Now I know that most of these are translated faith of Christ not faithfulness but one thing to note is that those are the same word in Greek.
3) One big thing that determines the way things are translated is the immediate context of the passage. When Paul breaks out with his “But now” in chapter three we should look at what goes before and what comes after to see if our translation of pistis Christou makes sense in this particular context. To our surprise it makes perfect sense! Here’s what Paul says:
“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?” (Rom. 3.1-3 ESV).
Even though the Jewish people did not live up to the covenant God would remain faithful. But how would he do that? Well if we go to verse 22 and translate pistis Christou as the faithfulness of Jesus Christ then we have our answer. Jesus is the faithful Israelite! That is how God remains faithful. To translate the phrase this way makes perfect sense of the context.
Sometimes we can be scared of things we aren’t used to. That is why next week I will offer a couple reasons why we should welcome this translation with open arms. It does not minimize the doctrine of imputation, as is often thought, but rather reinforces it. It also shows us that our justification is based on Christ and not anything or anyone else.