Galatians: Faith in Christ or the Faithfulness of Christ

Nestled in the tightly argued and exegetically demanding section of Galatians 2:15-21 we read this: “A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (2:16, ESV; similarly NIV). But if you use another translation, such as the NET, you would have read this: “No one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.”

Codex Sinaiticus - Comma JohanneumThe first translates the Greek to mean that we are made right with God through placing our faith in Jesus Christ. However the latter renders the verse to mean that we are justified, declared righteous, by the faithfulness of Christ. There is a technical linguistic term for each of these, respectively: the objective genitive and the subjective genitive. For example, the phase ‘the love of God’ can mean: our love for God (objective genitive) or God’s love (subjective genitive). Usually context would inform our reading of the phrase. The same is true in Greek. Only in this instance translators are divided, with most admitting that the Greek cannot be argued definitively in favour of one or the other. So which is it?

I would be foolhardy to harbour any notions of settling a debate in which both sides boast the support of formidable scholars. But we must do business with the text and its context. Before offering my trifling opinion, it is worth stating that we would lose nothing theologically if we translated every instance solely one way or the other. For there are passages that unambiguously develop the significance of Christ’s obedience (Romans 5:19; Philippians 2:8) and that emphasise our faith in Christ (Galatians 3:1-5; Ephesians 2:8-9). I would also add, a point made by Carson, in his superb essay Approaching the Bible, we misconstrue how language works if we attempt to read a text while entertaining the whole semantic range of words or phrases (which is what the Amplified Bible sets out to do). In our reading of Galatians we must settle on a translation.

Mihaly MunkacsyWorking through the first half of Galatians I have became convinced that the subjective genitive fits more naturally with its surrounds. At first I thought it was simply a matter of avoiding repetition, since the next phrase in 2:16 straightforwardly reads: “We also have believed in Christ Jesus.” But as Schreiner rightly responds, ‘Instead of thinking these verses are redundant, we can read them as emphatic, stressing the necessity of faith.’ The reason I am more in favour of reading 2:16 as “the faithfulness of Christ” is tied to my understanding of an issue central to the letter: the works of the law. Paul is tackling readers who were confusing faith alone with a faith augmented by obedience. As I have written elsewhere, 1st century Jews did not view religion as either grace or works; so it follows that the Jewish believers at Galatia struggled to distinguish between sola fidei and faithful obedience. Therefore it is not unlikely that Paul’s emphasis extends beyond faith in Christ alone to the faithfulness of Christ alone.

These posts are meant to be short, so let me conclude. The wonder of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone is that the quality of my faith depends less on my grip and far more on the object: Christ. This challenges us to shift confidence away from ourselves and solely onto Jesus Christ, the one with whom the Father was pleased. I need that reminder, as the Galatians did, because my own faithfulness, obedience, and even my faith in Christ can subtly become the reason for my confidence, when it should never be anything other than his obedience and death on my behalf.

The Lord is With You: Idiom Observations

GabrielSomehow the inevitable reading of an account that has likely been read or heard every year of my life was nevertheless fresh on Sunday. The reading was from Luke and covered Gabriel’s appearance to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). Perhaps it is because I have been reading Ruth recently but I particularly noticed Gabriel’s greeting, “Greetings, favoured one, the Lord is with you!” (NET). The reason that reading Ruth has any relevance to this greeting is that the narrative of Ruth reveals a Semitic greeting, “… Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “May the Lord be with you!” They replied, “May the Lord bless you!”” (Ruth 2:4, NET). Semantically, “May the Lord be with you” and “The Lord is with you” barely differ (if you’re that way inclined; the former’s Hebrew is simply “יְהוָה עִמָּכֶם” which the LXX translates as “κυριος μεθ’ ὑμων”, Luke 1 has “ὁ κυριος μετα σου”).

A while ago I posted on another expression that I noticed because idioms are one of the major barriers when trying to understand a language. It’s no use being able to understand the Zulu for “the cat is sleeping in the fireplace” and then offering to get it a blanket when the idiom means that there’s no food (otherwise there would be a fire in the fireplace on which to cook the food). In the case of “The Lord is with you” it’s useful to note that this is a simple greeting. This realisation has a couple of applications:

First, we shouldn’t heap up theological meaning on every occurrence. While it would certainly be useful to ask the significance of the greeting – did surrounding nations have similar greetings or was Israel unique in understanding God as near and did this theology filter into everyday speech? – it is not the point every time we find it. We shouldn’t, therefore, read Mary’s “trouble at the angel’s words” as being the result the sudden revelation of her Lord’s immanence.

Second, we should read in light of it’s actual meaning. When the angel says to Gideon, in Judges 6:12, “The Lord is with you, courageous warrior!” (NET) we should read it as saying, “Good morning, imposing soldier!” Gideon’s response is, then, amusing and a bit cynical in that he doesn’t question his designation as a courageous warrior (even though he is not – and strikingly so); rather, he responds with something like, “You think it’s a good morning? What are you smoking? How is this ruddy morning good when everywhere I look I see disaster”.

gabriel2The phrase can be found in a number of Pauline epistles (e.g. 2 Tim. 4:22, 2 Thess. 3:16) and he seems to have modified it slightly to “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” (1 Cor. 16:23, 1 Thess. 5:28, 2 Thess 3:18). 2 Thess 3:16,18 have both of these versions and it seems that Paul may have personally written verses 17 and 18 which means that his scribe would have written v16 and “signed off” and Paul concluded with his own greeting.

In the case of Luke 1:28, Mary’s trouble is not the result of the “hello” but of the idea that she is “one who is favoured” – a recipient of grace – (contra Gideon) it makes sense that she would then wonder what this grace was. In an unrelated note; I suppose that, like Zechariah, the source of her fear would be the sight of Gabriel.

So next time you see “The Lord [is/be] with you” ask yourself what would be different if the passage read “Hi!”.

Let’s be Sensible: Original Insights [Titus 2]

Being Sensible

Most people arrive at Bible College dreading the prospect of  Greek and Hebrew – nerdy as I am, I relished it. Not because I expected to have original insights on any given text but because I could have insight based on any given the original text. In general, to be perfectly honest, our translations do a fantastic job of conveying just what the original is trying to say because English is a wonderfully diverse and expressive language. Sometimes, however, English fails us and something exciting happens in Greek that is totally unseen in our English translations.

In Bible study we are working our way through Titus and we’ve just hit Titus 2:1-10. Already we’ve noticed that Paul is concerned about the mental activity of the Cretans. In his introduction, Paul says that it is “knowledge of the truth” that “leads to godliness” (1v1) and his response to bad behaviour on the part of the church in Crete is “instruction in sound doctrine” (1v9).

In my preparation I always like to read through the Greek and jot down my own thoughts before looking at commentaries or other translations simply so that I approach the text with some kind of freshness of mind. As I worked through 2v1-10 I was struck by the prevalence of σώφρων and its cognates (see vv2, 4, 5, 6 and outside 2v1-10 there’s 1v8 and 2v12).

The word “σώφρων” means something like “of a sound mind” and the idea is that living sensibly (sound mindedly) will result in curbing of one’s desires. The words “temperate” or “self-controlled” are, therefore, sometimes used in translation. In this instance “sensible” (HCSB, RSV, NET) seems like a good translation because it communicates the sound-mindedness of the behaviour. “Self-controlled” is certainly the more common option though (ESV, LEB, NLT, NIV – the ESV has actually reworked this section from the RSV). The trouble is that “self-controlled” lacks the link to thought life. Then there is also the annoying cognate “σωφρονίζω” which means to make someone be “σώφρων” – a concept that English cannot express in a word and so we have “encourage” (HCSB), “train” (ESV, NLT) and “urge” (NIV) but nothing that shows the link Paul is making between a sensible mind and good behaviour (“make the young women sensibly minded so that they love their husbands and love their children”).

No translation I have found picks up on all these occurrences and their cognates. But then, it’s not good English style to repeat words, English prefers synonyms. The unfortunate result is that as English translations alternate between “self-controlled” and “sensible” and even “train”, we lose the emphasis that Paul places on “sensibility” by his repetition.

This is a good example of why I am grateful of the little knowledge I have of Greek: as I read Titus 2, I automatically see a broader theme of Titus, how Paul believes that right thinking leads to right living.

An Exhortation to Emptying

It was Jonathan Edwards in his “Religious Affections” who said that, “holy desire, exercised in longings, hungerings, and thirstings after God and holiness, is often mentioned in Scripture as an important part of true religion.” Perhaps it was Paul’s letter to the Philippians that inspired him to such a notion. For college Greek we were required to write a blog and about something that the Greek was illuminating for us and so I chose to have a look at Philippians 2:1-11. Paul is exhorting the reader to “Let the same kind of thinking dominate you as that which is also in Christ” (v5). He wants his readers to aspire to obedience exemplified by Christ (v12) but before he gets there, he gets side-tracked in ecstasy over Jesus’ incarnation and glorification.

To only see Paul’s imperatives in this passage and gloss over the detail would be to look at the night sky and forget about the stars. In this case, the proverbial star that caught my eye was Paul’s word play on “κενόω” (kenoō) and its derivative “κενοδοξία” (kenodoxia). First, Paul uses the noun “κενοδοξία” which means “empty glory” or “self-conceit” when he tells the Philippians not to do anything motivated by rivalry or “empty glory”. Speaking of Christ a few verses on, Paul uses the verb “κενόω” which means “empty” to describe the incarnation and Christ’s humility. The two words are clearly etymologically related and it is likely that Paul intended this link.

But what is the purpose of what Paul is saying in this passage and how does our knowledge of the Greek help us? Paul seems to be exhorting us to humility. As was alluded to in the first paragraph, Paul desires Christians to have a holy desire. If we think of the broader context of the whole letter to the Philippians, we will realise that in chapter one Paul is writing things like, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell”. In chapter three he is still singing the same tune, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” and then he continues later “that I may know him” and, “by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead”. This sort of self-denial only comes from a profound humility in the Christian, a humility that, Paul shows, is exemplified by Christ.

Paul tells the Philippians, and by extension, us. Not to be motivated by empty-glory; not to desire it or be mastered by it. He writes in Philippians 2:3, “nothing according to strife nor according to empty glory, but with humility deeming others better than yourselves.” In typical Pauline fashion, he tells the Philippians to take something off. What do they replace it with though, what are we to look to instead as our motivation and inspiration?

It would be uncharacteristic for Paul to tell us something to take off and not to replace it with something to put on. In verse 5 Paul responds to our nakedness; rather than chasing what is ultimately emptiness, Paul says, “Let the same kind of thinking dominate you that which is also in Christ”. What thinking was that? Paul describes it in verse 6 and 7, “who being in the form of God, did not deem being equal with God [a thing to be taken advantage of], but being himself emptied taking the form of a servant, appearing in the likeness of a man, and having been found in fashion like a man,” where “emptied” is the word “κενόω”.

The Greek illuminates an interesting parallel for us; Paul tells the Philippians not to chase after emptiness (not to be motivated by empty glory) but instead, to have the mind of Christ who emptied Himself. Christ, our model, did not hold on to His divine privileges and enforce His rightful claims to glory, he humbled Himself. “Therefore,” Paul writes in verse 9, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name”. So there is this kind of parabolic curve in which Paul commands to not-seek what the world values which is really emptiness (and he later calls “σκύβαλα” – dung), and instead to esteem Christ’s humility which resulted in His ultimate glorification. In this theological tangent, what Paul really does is that he gives the Philippian church an exhortation to emptying.

What an appropriate call to the church today! We live in an age in which Christians esteem the dung and the emptiness that the world has to offer. The idea of humbling ourselves or ’emptying’ ourselves seems ridiculous and yet that’s Paul’s instruction to us: To humble ourselves and serve. The world would be a different place if the church had the mind of Christ for then, our desires would be holy – not for ourselves but for God – and then, whether in life or in death, we would want Christ – not ourselves – to be glorified.