Galatians 2.20, Vicarious Humanity and Faith, and Interpretive Tradition in Evangelical Exegesis

I have been itching to write a post on the vicarious humanity of Christ, and I shall. Until then, here is a repost from my Evangelical Calvinist blog that I think is quite substantial (for a blog post) in presenting an exegetical case for the centrality of the vicarious humanity of Christ as a foundational plank for a theory of salvation.

It’s always nice, when we check out a dogmatician, to find that what they are saying actually correlates to scripture. I’ve been doing a little checking on T.F. Torrance, and his vicarious view of faith in Galatians 2:20 (in my past life I actually received a couple of degrees that involved an in-depth focus in NT Greek). Here is a summary of how Torrance read Galatians 2:20, and the “faith of Christ:”

iv) faith involves living by the faith of Christ — Torrance points out the significance of the Greek wording of Galatians 2:20, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ We have been brought to know God. Our old way of living in which we did not know God has been put to death with Christ. We now live, we have faith, we interpret the scriptures and do theology, and yet it is not us but Christ who lives in us. The real believer is Christ and we live by and out of the human faith of Christ. (Robert T. Walker, ed., Thomas Torrance, “Incarnation,” xlv)

Torrance was simply following the King James’ rendering of this passage which says:

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” ~Galatians 2:20

And the KJV translated the “genetive” under question as a Subjective Genetive, which simply makes the “faith” the possession of the Son of God. “More modern translations” have opted for the Objective Genetive which translates this passage accordingly:

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” ~Galatians 2:20 (New American Standard)

So you see the difference, one has the “faith” as the possession of the Son, the other has “faith” as the possession of us. The question, then, is which is the best reading? I checked the standard Greek Grammar for our day, Dan Wallace’s “Greek Grammar Beyond The Basics,” and he implies that he (and in fact many Grammarians of our day are actually in favor of the KJV’s rendering — which is atypical [which also means the textual evidence here is not variant or under scrutiny]) favors Torrance’s reading; or the KJV’s, here’s what he says on this structure in the Greek New Testament:

Older commentaries (probably as a Lutheran reflex) see Christou as an objective gen., thus, “faith in Christ.” However, more and more scholars are embracing these texts as involving a subjective gen. (thus, either “Christ’s faith” or “Christ’s faithfulness”). Without attempting to decide the issue, we simply wish to interact with a couple of grammatical arguement, one used for each position.

1) On behalf of the objective gen. view, it is argued that pistis in the NT takes an objective gen. when both nouns are anarthrous; it takes a subjective gen. when both are articular. In response, the data need to be skewed in order for this to have any weight: most of the examples have a possessive pronoun for the gen., which almost always requires the head noun to have an article. Further, all of the pistis Christou texts are in prepositional phrases (where the object of the preposition, in this case pistis, is typically anarthrous). Prepositional phrases tend to omit the article, even when the object of the preposition is definite. The grammatical arguement for the objective gen., then, has little to commend it.

2) On behalf of the subjective gen. view, it is argued that “Pistis followed by the personal genetive is quite rare; but when it does appear it is almost always followed by the non-objective genetive. . . .” This has much more going for it, but still involves some weaknesses. These are two or three clear instances of pistis + objective personal gen. in the NT (Mark 11:22; Jas 2:1; Rev 2:13), as well as two clear instance involving an impersonal gen. noun (Col 2:12; 2 Thess 2:13). Nevertheless, the predominant usage in the NT is with a subjective gen. Practically speaking, if the subjective gen. view is correct, these texts (whether pistis is translated “faith” or “faithfulness”) argue against “an implicitly docetic Christology.” Further, the faith/faithfulness of Christ is not a denial of faith in Christ as a Pauline concept (for idea is expressed in many of the same contexts, only with the verb pisteuw rather than the noun), but implies that the object of faith is a worthy object, for he himself is faithful. Although the issue is not to be solved via grammar, on balance grammatical considerations seem to be in favor of the subjective gen. view. (Daniel B. Wallace, “Greek Grammar Beyond The Basics,” 115-16)

This should illustrate, at least, a couple of things:

1) Translation of the biblical languages involves “interpretive decisions;” and those decisions are informed by a prior commitment to a theological grid (which has hopefully taken shape by a spiraling process of inductivly studying both Christ’s life and scripture).

2) Again, to reiterate, even at the level of translation (let alone exposition and commentary), we are all involved in theological exegesis; this is probably the most gapping whole in “Evangelical scholarship,” and one that needs to be corrected.

It is nice to know that TFT checks out, that his theology has substance; and the vicarious faith of Christ for us is something that we find weaved throughout the New Testament (and even OT) text — Galatians 2:20 just happens to be one of the most explicit passages. Even if we settle for “just the grammar,” the vicarious faith of Christ for us is an exciting prospect. It grounds ‘our’ faith in His, as He serves, truly, as our mediator and High Priest! Hope you have found this encouraging . . . I have!

This entry was posted in Biblical Theology, Daniel Wallace, Fundamentalism, Hermeneutics, Soteriology, Systematic Theology, Thomas F. Torrance, Vicarious Humanity. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Galatians 2.20, Vicarious Humanity and Faith, and Interpretive Tradition in Evangelical Exegesis

  1. Bobby,

    Interesting, but even if we follow this textual aspect, it does not really change the fact that Christ is Himself our salvation and mediation! And that His “forensic” work for us, is the essence of our saving grace! HE is Himself, “Through the patience (his patience, and suffering suffering nature) of God, to show at this time His righteousness, that HE might be just, and a justifier of him which is of the faith of Jesus.” (Rom. 3:26, 1599 Geneva Bible, text and notes in the parenthesis).

    Would you not agree?


  2. Sorry I doubled the word “suffering”, but forgot the comma.


  3. Btw Bobby,

    You have driven me back into reading Barth here! 🙂 I am reading his part on.. The Revelation of God (Part I) The Triune God, God In His Revelation.


  4. Bobby Grow says:

    Fr Robert,

    Yes, I think this goes along with Calvin’s duplex gratia, and then extends that a bit further, by ontologically grounding salvation in the person of Jesus Christ for us.

    I just finished Bruce McCormack’s chapter in his edited book “Justification In Perspective,” and he argues that Barth does not jettison, whatsoever, the forensic framework of justification put forward by someone like Calvin and the Reformers; only that, through Barth’s reification he radicalizes it in a way that, of course, places “justification” ontologically in the being and becoming of God’s life in Christ (so of course this is Barth’s “election”). Good, reading Barth can never hurt.

    I’m still toying with where I’m at, a bit; if I’m more Calvinian or Barthian/Torrancean, probably still the latter.


  5. Bobby,

    Yes, I have that McCormack book too. Funny, I was just looking at my copy of his “Orthodox and Modern, Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth”. Yeah, Barth has made his followers! Much more than a NT Wright I feel! Btw, Torrance comes right out against the forensic, don’t ya think? I will have to re-read Molnar’s bio on TFT. I confess to reading it quickly at the time.

    Our theological self definitions ebb and flow somewhat, however I don’t feel I have ever been too far from Calvin, even when I was looking at Orthodoxy, Calvin seemed to stay the mind, and pressed me back to the Biblical Revelation itself! As I have said, Orthodoxy simply lacks badly in the area of Pauline Imputation.

    And I always enjoy Barth, its just always a challenge to understand him!


  6. Bobby Grow says:

    Fr Robert,

    I think if you read TFT’s “Atonement,” this idea that he jettisons the “forensic” just cannot be sustained. He certainly reframes this issue, with his ontological theory of the atonement; but the forensic is still a major aspect of that (how can it not be given its Pauline rootage?). Molnar’s bio was good, I liked it!

    I just finished reading an essay by Wright on Paul’s justification; obviously he doesn’t follow the usual ideas on imputation, but instead goes with vindication, and of course the referent being not personal salvation but covenant identity with God’s people through God’s declaration and righteousness. I think Wright helps with the covenant idea, but I think he doesn’t go far enought; Simon Gathercole does a better job (in the “Justification In Perspective” volume) at constructively appropriating some of Wright’s insights, but also working from within a more trad framework. Anyway, I prefer to see imputation and identity in terms of a personalising lense (and thus ontological), wherein Christ’s elected humanity for us becomes the ground of God’s declaration of God’s salvation for us through his Son the mediator between God and man. I think Wright needs help with the theology, and I think the tradition needs help with the metaphysics; and of course that’s why I like both Torrance and Barth, because they provide help for both 😉 .


  7. Bobby: That is a beautiful theological construct (in Barth & Torrance), but I just don’t think it is biblical myself. Note some of the beauty in some Roman Catholic theolog’s, like Von Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics, etc. Here I would place this more toward the area of mystical theology myself. And Rome has some grand theologians! No, I will go with both Luther and Calvin on a biblical Justification! And as Geerhardus Vos maintains, the “forensic” is first and foremost, simply the ground of our redemption!


  8. Bobby Grow says:

    I just don’t think the “forensic” alone category takes into account the ontological (or christological) concerns that make the forensic in Paul spin. That’s why I find TFT, some Scots, and Barth as helpful correctives (and lets not forget Athanasius 😉 ).


  9. You know as well as I do, that Calvin has a doctrine of sanctification (sanctificatio) that follows on the forensic work of Christ. It is distinct from justification however, and simply must be in any real ordo salutis. As sanctification is the real and actual change in a man, the renewal and renovation of the sinner, and the making again in the “imago Dei” and the image of God. And yet even in this life there is never any perfection here. But there can and should be growth. Myself, I find the ontology of both Barth’s and TFT’s theology, to be just too definitional and metaphysical.


  10. Hey Bobby, I remember writing an essay on Christ’s vicarious humanity once 😉

    BTW: what did you meanwhen you spoke above of ‘“justification” ontologically in the being and becoming of God’s life in Christ’? Might be worth unpacking that one a bit.


  11. Also Bobby, good works are the result, not the ground of justification! This simply must be maintained to my mind in any proper Protestant theology, etc. 🙂


  12. Bobby: Checking my copy of TFT’s ‘Atonement, The Person and Work of Christ’. TFT does teach: Justification, reconciliation and redemption are the act of God and man in Christ. Also later in chapter four, Torrance teaches that “All law and liturgy are understood in terms of..”dikaioma” “. Yes, this is quite near the EO. This is hardly Reformed theology, at least in the historical and classic sense. You should perhaps read his ‘Atonement, etc.’ more closely.. Do you follow these lines?


  13. Bobby Grow says:

    Hey Jason, yes, I seem to remember reading an essay of yours like that 😉 ; I can’t wait until the whole world can read it, they will be blessed just as I have been by it.

    Yeah, my little statement probably would be worth unpacking a bit. I’ve been reading Jungel on Barth, and then I just read an essay by McCormack on Barth and justificaiton; I think my language there is hang-over from that. I think all I’m getting at with this is the idea that salvation should be understood as ontologically grounded in the divine life, particularized in the elected humanity of the Son for us. So that salvation, then is understood in personalist terms vs. purely juridical/decretive. I am actually struggling a bit with this issue; i.e. whether or not I go with McCormack’s reading of Barth or say Hinsiger’s relative to the so called “Companion” debate. What do you think?


  14. Bobby Grow says:

    Fr Robert, I also know that in Calvin’s double grace that he does not necessarily have a mechanical ordo in place. But I do agree that logically speaking justification does come first for Calvin. It’s funny that you find Barth too metaphysical, since he is known for being post-metaphysical; at least by many of his most important interpreters 😉 .

    You should check pg. 136 of Atonement (last page of chptr 4); I’ll just grab a quick phrase from it: “Imputation describes the perfected work of grace. It inidicates that justification is forensic in the sense that it is grounded on the once and for all judgement of Jesus Christ on the cross, . . .” I don’t think I’ve ever claimed that TFT follows the stricutures of Reformed orthodoxy’s style of forensic theology; in fact just the opposite. Instead, all I’ve asserted is that TFT has a place for the forensic in his theory of the atonement; but that this place is not primary, the primary place is ontological (or personal). But it is error for people to say (and I’ve heard quite a few Reformed orthodox say this) that TFT didn’t have any room at all for the forensic in his atonement framework; this is just not the case. Certainly he doesn’t frame it the same way you would or that a Federal Calvinist would or something; but definitely has it in there as an aspect of his total theory.


  15. Bobby,

    Funny, I got an e-mail from a fellow a while back that left the Torrance Society, he has returned to Classic Calvinism it appears. He was not happy, but so goes these kind of things. Indeed whatever TFT teaches it is not Calvin! As I have said his (TFT’s) theology is a metaphysical combination, perhaps really closer to the EO? Indeed Barth may be less metaphysical than his fine student Torrance, but the prinicple is certainly there. But I am no Barth scholar, but I have read the CD once thru in my life, that means something! 😉 And I still read Barth, but only now on subjects, etc. He is to my mind, much closer to the Reformed idea than Torrance. But again, that is my opinion.

    It is interesting for myself also, that I too cannot escape some real central Federal Calvinist ideas, but I am always historically moved and even pressed in my theological study and search. And the central place of God’s sovereignty and reality is always seems to be both the real mystical and existential place for me!


  16. And it is here (ontological), that the EC seems to “can” the doctrine of God? And I just cannot go there myself. I mean even the best theologically of the EO seek a balance of both the cataphatic and the apophatic theology of the doctrine of God!


  17. Even Calvin could write about the so-called faults in St. Paul’s literary style: “the singular providence of God has passed on to us these profound mysteries in the garb of a poor style, so that our faith might not depend on the power of human eloquence, but on the efficacy of the Spirit alone.” (Calviin, Commentary on Romans 5:15.

    Not of course that there are real faults in Paul’s writing, but he is human.. and God uses the humanity of the Biblical writer, but it is still the Word of God, and this in this sense Infallible.


  18. Bobby Grow says:

    Fr Robert,

    1) I think the fact that you’ve read through the whole CD is definitely a real accomplishment; I haven’t done that! Yeah, I’ve come across guys who have had an affinity for TFT, but ultimately Westminster’s siren call was just too alluring.

    2) It’s ironic, a bit, that you would charge TFT with being EO, and at the same time, methodologically recognize that TFT as EC’r par excellence is cataphatic which rubs against the EO.

    3) I think Calvin’s analysis of Paul’s literary style is neither here nor there. I don’t really understand how that’s relevant to our discussion? :-S


  19. Bobby: If you look closely, the EO seeks a balance of both the cataphatic with the apophatic in theology. My point of course is to the doctrine of God! A place of loss for both the EO and the EC, without the decreetive will of God! At least the EO recognizes this place of the apophatic in the nature of God, as does classic the GOD that is always Immutable, and always in “Himself”!


  20. My point to Calvin and his doctrine of the Word, places the Word of God in Paul, as in this place of God being totally other. Paul as a Jew sees God always outside of time!


  21. Btw, to read the CD, ya need about a year or so (maybe two.. 🙂 , and the desire and drive to just read Barth! I had this once! 😉


  22. Bobby Grow says:

    Fr Robert,

    I agree that the EO have more of a balance, and that they probably err on the cataphatic side of things. I am somewhat surprised, though, since you know TFT’s Trinitarian Faith etc. that you want to say that he (and/or EC in my case) would somehow mitigate the ineffable profundity that TFT/EC fully recognizes in regards to a doctrine of God. As far as the decretive will, the classics just cannot sustain a prolonged trinitarian/personalist discussion on a doctrine of God with the substance metaphysics they are working with. Beyond that, the decrees end up subordinating God to his creation in the incarnation and thus rupture God’s person from his work. And EC presses the fact that God is who he is ad extra because he is who he is in se first. So I don’t really know what you’re getting at with asserting that it is only classics who maintain God’s aseity; this is simply not the case, and is a point I broach in my chapter for our book.

    Paul as a Christian Jew came to know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob just like all Christians have; through encounter with the risen man from Nazareth.

    I have tried to read the CD like that, but there is just too much other stuff I’d rather read; maybe someday I’ll finish.


  23. Pingback: πίστις χριστοῦ, ‘Faith in Christ’ or ‘Faith of Christ’: More on the Vicarious Humanity of Christ | The Evangelical Calvinist

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