Jan 4, 2016

God''s Faith? (part II)

In the first posting in this series, it was shown that "faith" was not something that God has, and that faith implies limited knowledge, being contrasted with sight or full vision, and therefore incompatible with the nature and perfections of God. This fact should guide us in our interpretation of passages which might seem to teach that God or Christ believe, hope, trust, etc.

According to sound rules of hermeneutics it is forbidden to take propositions or presuppositions to the Bible and then to use them as rules for how to interpret the text of Scripture. However, it is quite proper to apply clear biblical propositions from one portion of Scripture towards interpreting other portions. This is simply using Scripture usage to help to determine meaning, or it is interpreting Scripture, as much as possible, by Scripture. It is comparing Scripture with Scripture. If many Scriptures show clearly that God is omniscient, for instance, then a passage which seems to teach otherwise must not in fact teach it, and so it must be looked at more closely to discern the reason for the seeming discrepancies. There are no contradictions in Scripture, only seeming ones, or ones in the mind of the interpreter. If it has been proven that God does not have faith, then obviously the scripture passages which supposedly teach that he does have and exercise faith must not really teach such.

Those who use those passages (that seem to imply that God has faith) as actual proof texts and arguments have the burden of proof on them to show 1) that the texts in question unquestionably teach it, and 2) how such is consistent with the nature and perfections of God, and 3) how such is consistent with the definition of the word "faith." Further, seeing that the view that God and Christ (in his divinity) had faith is a new and minority view, the burden of proof is further weighted on them to prove their proposition.

It is of course proper for one to say that he has faith or trust in or towards God, but it is not proper for one to say that God has faith in him, or places trust in him. God does not say to people - "I trust in you," or "I believe you," or "I give credit to you," or "I am persuaded that you," or "you are worthy of my trust and confidence," etc.

To say that God believes and trusts, or that he has confidence, etc., is making God into a man like us, yet God is unlike us. He is unique. That is one of the reasons why he is God and God alone. In fact, God being "holy" in his essential nature implies this uniqueness. God is truly unlike any other. Well might God say to such interpreters who say he has faith - "thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself." (Psalm 50:21)

In some respects the debate on this point is connected with the debate over whether God has feelings and emotions like we have. The Westminster and London Confessions of Faith affirm that "God is without body, parts, or passions." In Process Theology, however, this article of faith is denied, affirming rather that God has emotions just as have humans. Of course, some of these same advocates of God having faith and passions as have his creatures also deny that God has absolute foreknowledge of all future events, at least those that result from libertarian free will.

In the body of this series we will take a general look at the New Testament uses of "faith" ('pistis' or one of its variants), the noun primarily, both that which is arthrous and that which is anarthrous, but primarily the latter. This will be crucial for our study concerning "faith" (without the definite article) and "the faith" (with the definite article). We will also look at those passages where a second noun with a genitive ending is attached to "the faith," or main noun, and where the English preposition "of" is often used to designate such. Thus we have such phrases as "the faith of God," "the faith of Christ," "the faith of the saints," etc.

Many interpreters and translators argue over whether a particular passage with a genitive ending noun is either to be interpreted as objective genitive or subjective genitive. All realize that there is no way of knowing by the Greek alone, for both the genitive and subjective are the same in Greek with respect to such genitive nouns.  Thus, the translator must also become an interpreter or exegete and base his translation in large part, not upon the Greek language itself, but upon context, syntax, and sound rules of exegesis. Such factors will determine the translator's choice of a word or words, in the English, in this case, whether to use the prepositions "of" or "in," etc.

It has been often said that the greatest difficulty for Bible interpreters and students of the word is not learning the meaning of the big words in Scripture, but with the little prepositions, conjunctions, particles of speech, idioms, etc. And with translators, it is also often difficult to find out the best words and arrangement of words in the English language. Though translators generally do try to be as "literal" as possible, even keeping words in the same order as the Greek or Hebrew, sometimes this is not practical for the average reader in English. Sometimes word order must be sacrificed in order to make the text readable and understandable in English. Especially is this true with scripture idioms. In these cases translators use what is called "equivalence" rather than the "dynamic" or literal word for word method.

Here are some things one should know relative to the Genitive case in Greek. We will talk more about the Genitive case as we go along in our investigation of the pertinent passages involved in this debate. Some of the things this writer says has already been said by me but is added here for authority. Other things are said that are additional thoughts about the Genitive case than what has already been mentioned and will be important to remember as we begin our look at the various passages involved in this discussion.

In "The Genitive Case" (SEE HERE), from an excellent Internet article on the subject, the writer says the following under the sub heading "General Considerations." (emphasis mine)

"The genitive case is used in such a variety of ways in Greek, Wallace says, "The genitive case is one of the most crucial elements of Greek syntax to master." It is commonly used just like the possessive form of the English noun (i.e., with the apostrophe, singular, "the saint's faith," or plural, "the saints' faith"). But, more particularly, most genitive functions are related to our English use of the preposition "of" (e.g., "the faith of the saints"). Then some functions indicate something more like the uses of prepositions like "from," "than," "within which," and so on."

The writer also gives us these pertinent words:

"Yet, even though Greek genitives are used in only a few different constructions, and can often be translated in a few simple ways, the meanings of those few constructions, and of those ways of being translated are far more varied and deep than any other case. And our purpose is to find the meaning, not just to produce an idiomatic translation. The wide variety of meanings and implications which can be conveyed through the Greek genitive is simply amazing."


"Although we can identify with many of the wide variety of uses in the GNT, genitives do cause numerous disputes regarding their translation. Context and logic, with an eye given over to harmonizing each text with the consistent overall teachings of God's Word, are absolutely critical to the interpretations of many genitive forms in the GNT. Before you interpret a genitive, a good understanding of doctrine, of how the author was thinking, is often required. For biblical Greek, this requires much prayer to Thee Author over time, to be taught by His Holy Spirit."

The same writer also adds this information, saying:

"There are 19,633 genitive forms in the GNT (7,681 nouns; 4,986 pronouns; 5,028 articles; 743 participles; and 1,195 adjectives), making up 25% of all declined words. Nominatives make up 31% of all declined forms, accusatives 29%, datives 15%, and vocatives less than 1%."

Under the sub heading "The Semantics of Genitives in the Exegesis of Scripture," the author writes:

"Wallace quotes Moule as saying the genitive is "immensely versatile" and "hard-worked" as far as Greek cases go. The meaning or semantics of genitives can be difficult at times, due to their wide variety of possible functions. But a good understanding is important and rewarding for one seeking to correctly interpret the meaning of Scripture. Wallace states: "Learning the genitive uses well pays big dividends. It has a great deal of exegetical significance, far more so than any of the other cases, because it is capable of a wide variety of interpretations."

"Context always plays a large part in the interpretation of syntax, but is far more critical to the interpretation of genitives than it is to the interpretation of any other case forms. Genitives have well over a hundred different and distinctly identifiable functions. (Of course, Wallace, and this document, will divide those functions into about thirty five main categories, but some of them could each be further divided into five or six subcategories.) In order to determine which category a genitive falls into, and thus its meaning, one must almost always make a judgment call based on an examination of the context, since the syntax of the construction with the genitive usually does not indicate much of anything. Yet, judging by context is often a subjective matter, requiring careful observation, logic, much background knowledge, and other factors. So interpreting by context can cause many disputes."

"The genitive form "covers a multitude of semantic relationships" and is frequently used to produce compressed "kernels" of thought which, for an English translation, require many more words to describe clearly.

The Greek construction of these "kernels" is basically: HEAD NOUN + GENITIVE NOUN (abbreviated as N-Ng, which stands for a Noun [of any case] followed by a Noun of the genitive case). Whenever we see this construction, we need to "unpack" it."

This is what we have in those disputed passages where God or Christ is said to have faith, i.e., "the faith of God" (Rom. 3:3) and "the faith of Christ" or "the faith of the Son of God," (Galatians and elsewhere) etc. "The faith" is the HEAD NOUN and "God," "Christ" and "Son of God" (this latter is a double Genitive) are in the place of the GENITIVE NOUN. In our look at the pertinent passages in this discussion, we will have need to "unpack" them.

Our author continued:

"Grammatical constructions involving other cases often give structural clues which help in their interpretation -- such as the use of articles with certain words, the position of the words in relation to each other, and so on. But, although the genitive can be used for more functions than any other case, a construction with a genitive is the same (N-Ng) for most functions. Thus, its interpretation depends more on context than on the structure of its grammatical construction. The lexical definition of the genitive form, whether it is articular, its number (singular or plural), and a few other considerations will affect its interpretation. But the context is usually most critical. Outside of the context, many possible meanings of a N-Ng construction can be antithetical, completely opposite or very sharply contrasted with each other, especially with verbal head nouns. So a great deal of thought, with a thorough examination of context, is often required to "unpack" its true meaning."

"Basically, there are two general roles which a genitive form can serve in Greek. One is the standard role as a true genitive, which "defines, describes, qualifies, restricts, limits" (Wallace). In grammars which assume an eight-case system, this is the only role they recognize, since they define the other major role as a different case, even though it uses the same genitive form. However, a genitive form can also serve in the role of an ablative, which implies the idea of separation, source or comparison, and its meaning is normally conveyed by our English preposition "from." Regarding both these roles, there are some common implications."

"A genitive indicates limitation according to kind or quality: When a genitive modifies a noun, it generally limits it to a particular "kind.""

"A genitive is usually adjectival, in a way often implying movement from it: The genitive is the only oblique case which generally modifies a noun, and, thus, is generally adjectival. In addition, it implies movement from the genitive to the noun it modifies. That is, whatever limitation the genitive is expressing, that limitation is frequently transferred from the genitive to the head noun it modifies. In possession, "a gadget of the man," the "man" owns and holds the "gadget," where owning and holding are actions from the genitive. In an ablative role, "righteousness from God," God is the source causing the righteousness, where causing is an action from the genitive. So there is implication of movement or action from a genitive. We frequently see this implication when genitives are used as objects of prepositions too. For example, the phrase ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ ("out of God") implies movement from God, towards the word being modified by this phrase."

Under the sub heading "Grammatical Role 1: Adjectival Genitives" our author says:

"This is the most fundamental role of a genitive, it describes. Whether as a true genitive or as an ablative, the genitive describes the head noun. Thus it qualifies or modifies the head noun, indicating limitations as to the scope of that noun's class of persons or things. In this way, the genitive functions much like an adjective. However, the genitive is more emphatic or stronger than an adjective, and a genitive also implies movement or action from it to the head noun."

These particular statements will become important to remember in our coming exegetical look at the various passages on this topic.

Our author continues:

"Using a genitive noun is often far stronger and more emphatic than using an adjective because a noun is stronger and more emphatic than an adjective. This is mostly because a noun generally represents something real, whole or tangible. But an adjective merely represents a quality or quantity, which is only a part of the existence or essence of the noun it modifies."

In the next posting we will begin our look at Romans 3: 3 where the apostle speaks of "the faith of God."

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