Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical, and Theological Studies

Michael F. Bird and Preston M. Sprinkle eds. The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical, and Theological Studies. Milton Keynes, U.K., and Peabody, Mass.: Paternoster and Hendrickson, 2009. Pp. xix + 350. ISBN: 978-1-84227-606-8. $19.95 paper.

These essays present the range of arguments that have shaped the debate over whether to construe the phrase pistis christou as an objective genitive, i.e., “faith in Christ,” or as a subjective genitive, i.e., “the faithfulness of Christ.” James Dunn, a long-time proponent of the objective interpretation, provides an insightful forward that notes the continuing influence of Richard Hays’ work. Michael Bird’s introduction delineates the purpose of the volume and provides a helpful survey of each chapter.

Part 1 begins with Debbie Hunn who gives a valuable history of interpretation in order to determine which construal of the phrase is most plausible. Next, Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts provide a lexical and syntactical analysis and conclude, based on lexis and case function, “that Christ was the proper object of faith” (p. 53).

Part 2 opens with Douglas A. Campbell’s analysis of Rom. 3:22 in which he argues for the subjective reading, as well as a messianic reading of Hab. 2:4 in Rom. 1:17b. Next R. Barry Matlock concludes that there is sufficient warrant for the objective reading. He rightly recognizes that this debate is part of the larger discussion over the juridical versus participationist readings of Paul. Paul Foster concludes that a subjective reading is most appropriate in Phil. 3:9 and Eph. 3:12. The faith of Christ is in view, and righteousness is imputed based on Christ’s work. Richard H. Bell contests Foster’s reading and interprets Phil. 3:9 and Eph. 3:12 objectively.

Part 3 starts with Mark A. Seifrid, who seeks to answer the question: what does it mean to believe in Christ? His answer is, “to be acted upon by God in his work in Jesus Christ” (p. 146). Francis Watson rejects the subjective reading based on hermeneutical grounds and dispenses with the messianic reading of Hab. 2:4 (p. 162). This view allows for faith as part of God’s broader work of grace. Preston M. Sprinkle argues for a third-way, i.e., “Christ-Faith”, which is understood as the gospel and its contents. Ardel B. Caneday assesses the way Christ’s faithfulness is central to the argument of Galatians. He emphasizes discontinuity between Christ and the Law and concludes that Christ’s faithfulness ends the curse of the Law (p. 203).

Part 4 begins with Peter G. Bolt, who argues that when the synoptic gospels are considered, the subjective reading becomes an increasingly viable option. Willis H. Salier contends that John’s gospel provides a balanced portrait of Jesus as a model of faithfulness while at the same time as the object of faith. Bruce A. Lowe concludes that in Jam. 2:1 the subjective reading of the phrase means “nothing other than trust in God” (p. 256). David A. deSilva convincingly asserts that neither pistis or pisteuō are employed in Revelation to indicate trust or faith in Christ; rather, he is presented as a faithful witness (p. 274).

Part 5 opens with Mark W. Elliott, who argues that the objective reading predominated among the church fathers, and throughout the history of Christian theology. Benjamin Myers assesses Karl Barth’s understanding of God’s faithfulness revealed in Christ.

Bird and Sprinkle have gathered key perspectives within the ongoing debate without arguing for any particular one. The book admirably reaches its stated goal (p. xiii). One omission in the collection is the lack of interaction between theological and social-scientific approaches, which could provide both methodological clarity and enhance the interpretive potential of the disputed phrase. Bird and Sprinkle, however, provide both scholars and graduate students with a useful resource on this important debate.

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