Saturday, July 10, 2010

Faith of Jesus Christ (7)

Previously on Paul

... On the one hand, human faith does seem to be the major focus of what Paul has to say in places like Romans 4 and Galatians 3. When Paul says that "a person is justified [deemed right with God] by faith" (Rom. 3:28, NRSV), he is surely talking about our faith--the faith of Paul the Jew or Ken the Gentile. Paul does not seem to be talking about Jesus' faith here. He is laying down a general principle for how sinful people can be considered right with God, and the answer is "on the basis of [their] faith."

We see this line of thinking very clearly in Romans 4. "Blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin," Paul says (4:8, NRSV). He is expanding on what it means for God to consider someone righteous (4:6) despite their sins (4:7) and ungodliness (4:5). His train of thought is clearly about the faith of sinful humans, not the faith of the sinless Jesus (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21).

Yet over time I have come to fall off the log also with those who think Paul, in both Romans and Galatians, started his argument by mentioning Jesus' faith, Jesus faithfulness and obedience to die on the cross. Both sides have made their cases, and neither side has a silver bullet. Where you end up is inevitably your sense of how all the little pieces add up and your overall sense of Paul's thinking in general.

For example, notice how redundant Paul's thought is in Galatians if he only has human faith in view:

Since a person is deemed right with God "through faith (pistis) in Jesus Messiah, we also have directed faith (pisteuo) toward Messiah Jesus, so that we might be deemed right by faith (pistis) in Messiah." [1]

Here's how I prefer to translate it:

Since a person is deemed right with God "through the faithfulness of Jesus Messiah, we also have directed faith toward Messiah Jesus, so that we might be deemed right through Messiah faith." [2]

Certainly Paul does not have to be concise, so this is no definitive argument that Paul had both Jesus' faith and our faith in view in this verse. It is just one point that eventually added up for me personally as a scholar.

But there are other arguments. For example, notice how similar Romans 5:19 is to this interpretation of Romans 3:22:

5:19: "through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous" (NIV).

3:22: "the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus to all who have faith." [3]

Clearly Paul had a place in his thinking for the obedient, faithful death of Jesus in us becoming right with God (cf. Phil. 2:6). But was he thinking this sort of thing in Romans 3:22? I will not go into further details in the main text here about what finally led me to see this as a "both/and" rather than an "either/or." [4]

You might wonder at this point what difference this whole debate makes, especially if everyone agrees that both the faithful death of Jesus and our faith in Jesus is important. True, beyond our desire in general to know accurately what Paul was really thinking, it is to a large extent a question of emphasis and tone. But I can think of three ways in which taking my interpretation points to three significant shifts...

[1] These two translations of Galatians 2:16 are mine.

[2] I prefer to leave the last faith expression ambiguous, "Messiah faith," in case Paul meant a double entendre here, a reference to both Christ's faith and our faith in Christ. Christ's faith is the basis for our justification, so we have put our faith in Christ. So in every way, it is "Christ-faith" that is the means of justification.

[3] My translation. Notice again how redundant this verse would be if human faith was only what Paul had in mind: "through faith (pistis) in Jesus to all who have faith (pisteuo)."

We can debate whether "righteousness of God" in 3:22 refers to God's righteousness or a righteousness he assigns to us. I tend to see a double entendre here of both, but in any case the idea that God deemes us righteous is obviously part of Paul's thought in the passage whatever the precise meaning of the phrase in this specific place.


Bill C said...

I have come to a similar position.
Here is how I see Gal 2.16 working:
[We] know that
[Ia] a man is not justified by observing the law, but by the faithfulness of Messiah Jesus.
[Ib] So we, too, have put our trust in Messiah Jesus
[IIb]that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Messiah and not by observing the law,
[IIa] because by observing the law no one will be justified.

The verse revolves around two similarly worded Law – Faith antithesis [competing opposites], Units Ia and IIb. Structurally, the antitheses establish a pattern of antithesis followed by supporting/amplifying statement. That pattern is normal parallelism.

Now note that:
1. Unit Ia is a generically-applicable statement [all Judeans]
2. Unit Ib is a personally-applicable statement [we – Paul and Peter who represents the Pillars]
3. Unit IIb is a personally-applicable statement [we – Paul and Peter who represents the Pillars]
4. Unit IIa is a generically-applicable statement [all Judeans]

Concerning the verbal subjects, the pattern is chiastic. The first antithesis (Ia) is formulated in impersonal terms: the subject is ‘a man’. It is amplified (Ib) in personal terms: the subject is ‘we’. The second antithesis (IIb) is personal not generic: the subject ‘we’ is continued by the verb form. Its amplification (IIa) is generic not personal: the subject is ‘all flesh’. This analysis reveals inversion in the order of the repetition. The verse moves from impersonal to personal, then from personal to impersonal, a movement reflected in the three subjects. What Paul has done is create a complex interaction between the generic and personal phrases and the antithetical statements.

The beginning phrase, the Greek of ‘we know that…’ is very similar to how quotations are introduced and some believe that Paul is ‘quoting’ here. The ‘we’ in ‘we know that…’ are Peter and Paul and the implication is that the words Paul cites reflects their mutual understanding. After all, when “push comes to shove”, who should be the ones to ‘verbalize’ the gospel message? Would it not be Peter and Paul? They are the two who were identified in Gal 2:7, as the ones who “had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel.” Paul is not citing some ‘general Christian tradition’ that everyone has ‘signed off’ on [because, for one, the Rivals in Galatia disagree strongly]; Paul is citing an agreed message between himself and Peter, who represents the Pillars.

Here’s how the four Units interact and relate to each other:
1. Unit Ia is the ‘verbalization’ of the gospel message as reflected in the meeting with the pillars spoken of in the preceding verses.
2. Unit Ib is Paul and Peter’s personal description of how the gospel message [Unit Ia] was implemented in their lives. The ‘we’ of the text is emphatic and could be rendered ‘we, ourselves’ or ‘even, we’.
3. Unit IIb states the reason why they [Peter and Paul] personally implemented the gospel message the way that they did. In essence, Paul, for himself and Peter, is certifying their ‘full compliance’ with the gospel message, the message that is being questioned in Galatia.
4. Unit IIa provides the Scriptural support for the personal action taken by Peter and Paul and also justifies why the gospel message was stated as it was in Unit Ia.

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks for this!