Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Intro to Paul: Faith in or of Christ?

Posted by Robert C. on July 16, 2007

I’ve been reading a little book called An Introduction to the Study of Paul by David Horrell (RBL reviews available here; I’m actually reading the older 2000 edition), which I think is a great introductory on Paul, and pretty affordable. I hope to take up several ideas in the book, esp. in the two chapters focused on Paul’s theology, over the next several weeks. I’d like to start by taking up a crucial and repeated idea in Paul’s writings, that we are justified or made righteous “by the faith of (or ‘in’) Jesus Christ” (cf. Gal 2:16, 17; 3:11, 24; 5:4; Rom 3:20, 28; 4:2; 5:1, 9). The KJV uses “of,” as well as the NET, but most modern translations use “in” instead of “of” (see the NET note in the link for a good discussion of the linguistic issue).

I think most scholars favor “faith in Christ,” which represents the way we normally think about faith: we (as the subjects) have faith in Christ (who is the object of our faith). The alternative way of reading this shifts the subject of the faith so that Christ is the subject, and it is Christ’s faith (or faithfulness, the Greek pistis can be translated either way) that saves us.

Out of curiosity, I tried to get a sense of how these various phrases were used in LDS scripture. It seems that “faith in Christ” is the more common wording, and when “faith of Christ” is used, it is introduced by the preposition in, as in the phrase “firm in the faith of Christ”—my thinking here is that saying “firm in the faith in Christ” would be awkward, so of is used instead of the more “correct” phrase “faith of Christ.”

However, I think there are two important counter issues to consider. Firstly, I’m not sure the wording used in LDS scripture should really have any bearing on how we read Paul. There are many complex issues to consider here, for example trying to determine the role Joseph played in the translation process. I think it is at least interesting that in this case Joseph seems to opt for a different wording than that which is more common in the KJV (of Paul’s epistles at least, I haven’t really looked in the rest of the NT…).

Secondly, I think the English phrasing of “faith in Christ” is itself somewhat ambiguous. Consider how I might say “my money is in the stock market.” In this case, esp. if I put money in the stock market a long time ago, I am referring to not just money that I literally put in the market, but also the interest that has accrued in the market. OK, that was probably a bad example, so let’s try a non-finance example: I might say I have a scriptural interest in Paul. Is this more equivalent to saying I am interested in Paul, or that Paul interests me? Inasmuch as “Paul interests me” is the more correct meaning, then it seems, at least to me, somewhat incorrect to think of “interest” as something belonging to me or originating in me. Rather, it is Paul that strikes up an interest in me—my interest is a result of something about Paul more than it something about me. In this sense, saying that I have faith in Christ may not mean that I exercise my faith so much as I am able to attain faith by something that Christ does. I’m not explaining this well, perhaps someone else can explain this better or come up with a better example. My point is that I think “faith in Christ” might be read in a way that emphasizes Christ’s faithfulness, or ability to inspire faith in us, rather than the more conventional way of thinking about faith as something that we generate on our own. (This breaking of a strict subject-object separation is something very common in Continental thought, so I’m thinking this is clear despite my unclear explanation….)

What actually got me wondering (again) about this different way of thinking about “faith in Christ” was reading Moroni 6:4:

. . . and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.

Notice that Christ and the good word of God are what keep the new members faithful, and thus Christ is the “author and the finisher of their faith.” To understand Paul, I think it is very important that we set aside what I think is a pre-conditioned tendency to think of faith as something that we must find within ourselves (pre-conditioned partly because of the strict subject-object separation that modernity conditions us to accept). Rather, I think faith is something that we not only place in Christ, but something we find in Christ as well.

7 Responses to “Intro to Paul: Faith in or of Christ?”

  1. Todd Wood said

    Robert C., the “in Christ” motif is one of the most fundamental, precious truths of my faith. This topic is the center of my Christian fundamentalism. Thanks for the spotlight on the phrase.

  2. Jim F. said

    Robert, were I trying to unpack “faith in Christ,” I would start by replacing “faith” with “trust”: I trust in Christ. To do so, I trust him to reconcile me with the Father. In other words, my trust is in his faithfulness. That trust is exhibited when I am faithful to Christ as my Lord and Master. He is the author of my faith because his faithfulness is what draws me to be faithful to him.

  3. The theme of “in the name” is also, it seems to me, helpful in thinking this preposition: to be “in” Christ may be understood as doing things “in His name.” That too requires a great deal of thought, but perhaps it gives another place to start.

  4. cherylem said

    A good post, Robert. Thanks for doing this. hopefully I’ll be able to add something, and I’m interested in the continuing discussion.

  5. BrianJ said

    Robert: I asked (begged) you for this series and I want you to know I am reading it—I just have nothing to add. But please keep it going!

  6. Robert C. said

    I hope that Todd, Jim, and Joe will continue to share their much-more-informed insights on Paul. I grew to love Paul esp. on my mission, but I frankly don’t think I’ve moved much beyond the understanding I gained then, which means I surely have some rather idiosyncratic views (i.e. views not very well informed by historical-critical issues, or even a careful holistic reading in the sense that I surely came to understand and love certain verses in out-of-context ways…). Jim F.’s commentary on Romans chapter 1 is a rare exception to my hitherto general ignorance of informed or careful readings of Paul.

    So, on this more personal note, I should also admit frankly that my initial attraction to Paul may have been a bit of a personality quirk. That is, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a rather strong P (perceiving) rather than J (judging) on the Myers-Briggs personality test which, according to this page means that I prefer “to stay open to new information and options” rather than “to get things decided.” Similar perhaps to the well-known Liahona vs. iron rod type-distinction that Richard Poll is famous for. That is, as my frequently messy desk and unstructured thoughts surely attest, I think I have above-average tolerance for ambiguity and unresolvedness, and this translates into something like a deep-seated aversion for too much structure and too much emphasis on rules, which translates further into an aversion to “the law” quite generally defined. So I like to hear Paul talk about the law somewhat disparagingly, pointing out at least the inherent incompleteness of the law. Of course, this is probably just a long way of confessing that I have a weakness for rationalizing things under the banner of the spirit of the law as opposed to the letter. Anyway, I’ll be rather curious to see how many of my preconceptions about Paul I’ll have to jettison. And I trust that all of you here will keep me honest and make sure that I don’t simply wrest Paul in order to support my general tendency toward institutional and structural insouciance.

    Next, I’m hoping to write something about Paul’s notion of justification, hopefully later this week—but don’t hold me to the letter of this promise, there’s a good chance I’ll become distracted or take a rather indirect route in approaching this….

  7. Jim F. said

    Robert C, Thank you for you kind comments about my Romans 1: Notes and Reflections. I think I will be finished with the next volume, on Romans 5-8, with an overview of 2-4, late this summer (which probably means “late this year”). So, obviously, I think that Paul is very interesting and well worth giving time to. However, I’ve gotten myself so far over my head this summer that I don’t have any of the time I thought I would have for extra-curricular activities like this or the Abraham and Isaac blog (which I really do have to do something for).

    In other words, I’d love to take part in this discussion, but right now doing my Sunday School study materials is about all I can manage.

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