πίστις χριστοῦ, ‘Faith in Christ’ or ‘Faith of Christ’: More on the Vicarious Humanity of Christ

I have written, in the past, on the vicarious faith of Christ for us; and also had a guest post, here, by Myk Habets on the same topic. I want to further highlight this reality as it is presented for us in the Epistle of Galatians. This
continues to represent a hot topic in biblical and exegetical studies, and through this post, once again you will understand what I think about this. The issue has to do with what in the Greek is pistis Christou πίστις χριστοῦ –‘the faithfulness or faith of Christ’. So the issue of contention is whether this phrase should be translated ‘faith in Christ’ (the objective genetive in the Greek), or ‘the faithfulness or faith of Christ’ (the subjective genetive in the Greek); I opt for the latter translation (the subjective genetive)—here is a post wherein I deal head on with this issue Galatains 2.20, Vicarious Humanity and Faith, and Interpretive Tradition in Evangelical Calvinist ExegesisJ. Louis Martyn is an exegete front and center in this debate; he writes:

I live in faith, that is to say in the faith of the Son of God. The place in which the I lives this new life is not only that of everyday human existence but also and primarily the place of faith (the stress lies on the end of the sentence). Were it only the former, it would not be life “to God” (v. 19). Were it only the latter it would be a futile attempt to escape the specific place in which one was called (I Cor. 7:20-24).

But what is this newly created faith-place? A linguistic clue is found in the degree of parallelism between Gal. 2:20 and Rom 5:15:

Gal 2:20                                                                           Rom 5:15

(and the life I now live in the flesh)                        (and the free gift abounds)

I live in faith,                                                                     in grace,

namely the faith of the                                                  namely the grace of

Son of God . . .                                                                    Jesus Christ

Just as in Rom 5:15 the life-giving grace is specified as the grace “of Jesus Christ,” so here the life-giving faith of which Paul speaks is specified as the faith of the Son of God . . . . Christ’s faith constitutes the space in which the one crucified with Christ can live and does live. [J. Louis Martyn, The Anchor Bible, Galatians: A New Translation With Introduction And Commentary, 259.

This is in rhythm with Thomas Torrance’s understanding of the Incarnation and what he calls the ontological theory of the atonement; wherein Christ enters into humanity, and acts for us, in a way we would never act apart from participation with his acting humanity for us. Here is how Robert Walker (TF Torrance’s nephew) sketches Torrance’s view:

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)

The concern with this is how human agency, in light of this, can be said to retain a subjective and created integrity; so that humanity is not objectified in the humanity of Christ, such that there no longer remains a created contingency known as humanity. Michael Bird, in summary of Ben Myers perspective on Bird’s and Preston Sprinkle’s book The Faith of Jesus Christ, writes:

Benjamin Myers draws attention to Karl Barth’s unique contribution to the debate through his conception of God’s faithfulness as revealed in the πίστις of Jesus. He detects a pervasive Paulinism, running from Barth’s Römerbrief to the Kirchliche Dogmatik, which places God’s operations in the context of cosmic apocalyptic action rather than seeing them as the outcome of salvation-history. Myers shows how Barth regards faith as essentially God’s faithfulness revealed in Jesus Christ, and human faith as the obedience that participates in Jesus’ own obedience to the Father. Myers also regards the construal of the πίστις χριστοῦ debate as a contest between ‘anthropological’ and ‘christological’ readings to be a false dichotomy, since Barth’s own model shows that the human subject need not be erased in order to make room for divine action. (see full post here)

The significance of this is massive! If the grammar and syntax in Scripture supports this reading—e.g. the ‘subjective genetive’ that πίστις χριστοῦ (faithfulness of Christ)—then the view of faith as something that is created and given to us to activate as human agents is muddled. Whole systems of theological construction—like ones based upon substance metaphysics, like classical Calvinism and Arminianism (who operate with concepts like ‘created grace’) are no longer viable alternatives. Further, if this reading is the case, then a personalist understanding of salvation will finally take its rightful place as the touchstone in soteriological discussion and consideration; relational and Christian Triune emphases will be in the forefront when we think of salvation, and Christ will be the center and ground of salvation talk—and we will no longer concern ourselves with how God’s Sovereignty and Human Freedom usually function in a competitive relation, since these two will be understood from within the hypostatic union of the Divine Son with his human becoming. Even further, humanity will understand its freedom for God, and thus its purpose for existence, from the freedom for God that has opened up for us through the gracious faithfulness of the Son in our stead—so instead of objectifying humanity, the vicarious faithfulness of the Son, subjectivizes humanity in the way that humanity had always been intended for; for relation and participation in the life of God, by grace and through the adoption of the Spirit in the Son’s humanity for us.

This is the exciting topic I am very slowly working at for my PhD studies. I wonder what you think …

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4 Responses to πίστις χριστοῦ, ‘Faith in Christ’ or ‘Faith of Christ’: More on the Vicarious Humanity of Christ

  1. John says:

    Hi Bobby
    Great mind changing topic! This is what it is all about isn’t it? Changing our mind, or repenting of how we think about who God is? For most of my life it has always been about me, and in religion; how I can measure my results so that I may stand in good standing; however that was accomplished, whether through external works or internally trying to gut it out.
    The Holy Spirit is about convincing me and all humanity that sin, righteousness and judgment have been taken care off. That we have been forgiven, made right and do not have to judge others and ourselves anymore. I can rest in the faithfulness of Jesus as He continues to reveal His passion for me and all humanity. Space/time grace is for us to come to a halt in our wisdom of right and wrong and live by His faith, for faith is the salvation of the soul. Is this easy? The hardest part is my own unbelief! So in my own darkness the Holy Spirit continues to prompt me to take up His cross. For many of us, including myself, this becomes clearer through physical impairment. Faith is the hope of glory in each of us, who is a Person called Jesus.


  2. Wayne says:

    Very provocative, Bobby. Shifts the entire axis of much of theology to where it should be – and reminds us of how the interpretation of one word/phrase can change so much… I very much look forward to further fruits of your dissertorial work!


  3. whitefrozen says:

    N.T Wright has a lot to say about this subject – but I’m honestly not too sure how I feel about his Christology. I’ve only begun to skim his works on it (I have a few essays/lectures he’s written I’m working through) and while I can’t say I think he’s wrong, but I do tend to stick to the more Barthian/Bonhoefferian ideas. I am seeing, however, overlaps in idea if not in language between Barth/Wright.


  4. Bobby Grow says:


    Thank you, brother for sharing your testimony; very encouraging! Amen, I love that passage from Colossians; the “Hope of Glory,” indeed. And we are smack in the center of his life as he took humanity for himself for us. What Good News!


    Thank you for the encouragement! It is amazing how much a word or phrase can change so much—I sense an ulterior tone in your comment, a bit 😉 🙂 … you know on “eternal” .


    Yes, I think there is “some” overlap between Barth/Wright (although my true Barthian friends would say Nein!). You should check out Suzanne McDonald’s most awesome PhD dissertation published as Re-imaging Election. She places Barth in conversation with John Owen, and then NT Wright, amongst others on all of this (in particular election as representation as a biblical motif). Anyway, check that book out when you get the chance!


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