Jan 5, 2016

God's Faith? (part III)

In this third posting in this series we will begin an examination of those passages where there is mention made of the faith of God or of Christ.

Passage #1 - Romans 3:3

"For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?"  (KJV)

My Thesis

Let me begin with my thesis relative to this passage. I contend that "the faith of God" denotes the Christian faith or system of revealed truth, or the GospelNegatively, the faith of God in this passage cannot be proven to be a subjective faith which God has and exercises, either towards creatures, or among the three persons of the Trinity towards each other. Nothing in the wording, in Greek or English, or in the context, demands that it be interpreted as a subjective Genitive.

I will show that it is either universally the case, or at least almost so, that when the noun "faith" is used with the definite article, "the faith" stands for "the gospel" or for "the Christian faith." Interpreters agree that this is the case at least in some instances in the New Testament. One such instance is found in Jude 1:3.

"Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints."

Every serious interpreter or commentator interprets “the faith" in this verse objectively, signifying the body of Christian doctrine or the gospel system. They do so not because the Greek demands that it signify or mean such, but because the syntax and context clearly demonstrates that interpretation.

I contend that "the faith" in Jude 1:3 signifies much the same thing as it does in Romans 3:3. Besides the difference of context between the two passages, there is also this difference: the Jude passage has no qualifying adjective or Genitive noun, being simply "the faith," but the Romans passage has such.

This does not mean, however, that in such passages where there are no adjectives or Genitive nouns written in the text, that there are not any implied. Bible commentators and teachers of the word realize this, and thus in their expositions (in giving "the sense" of the words in question) often suggest or otherwise supply them. If someone would have asked Jude what was the specific faith that he had in mind, he would have added adjectives and Genitive nouns in explanation.

Jude, in saying "the faith," is obviously talking about the creed of Christians, the object of subjective belief. The presence of the definite article limits "faith" to a specific kind, as does the Genitive noun. The context also limits it. "The faith" is described as that which Christians are to contend for apologetically. It is what had been "delivered unto the saints."

Further, since "the faith" (or divine revelation) came from God and his Son, through inspired writers, and was "delivered to the saints," it was presented as an external object calling for belief, but when it was believed it then also became subjective and internalized. One may now be said to have faith or belief in "the faith" When reference is to "belief" of the faith (or truth, or gospel, etc.) then "belief" nearly always is without the definite article (though often with a personal pronoun that acts as an adjective, i.e., "your faith," "her faith," etc.), because the focus is on the quality of subjective belief.

One could substitute word equivalents for "the faith" in these and such texts as "the truth," "the way," "the doctrine," "the gospel," etc. Though these are not exactly synonyms, yet they are often used interchangeably by the New Testament writers when referring essentially to the same system or body of divinity that God has given to men. Some of those inspired writers favored one expression or another when referring to the fundamental teachings of believers.

There is of course some slight differences between "the faith" of Jude 1:3 and that of Romans 3:3, as will be elaborated upon as this passage is closely analyzed. But for now I observe that "the faith" of Jude 1:3 included more inspired revelation than what was included in Romans 3:3 in the mind of the apostle Paul when he spoke of "the faith of God." In either case "the faith" means the inspired body of divinity given to men in the holy Scriptures.

It is important in beginning our analysis of this verse to examine the various translations of this verse. For the sake of brevity I will give only a representative sampling and only offer short comments after some of them.

New International Version

"What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God's faithfulness?"

This rendering at least is consistent in translating "pistis" as "faithfulness" and "a-pistis" as "unfaithfulness." However, as I hope to show, "faith" does not denote faithfulness, although it may have that connotation is some instances.

English Standard Version

"What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?"

New American Standard Bible

"What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?"

Why make pistis in a-pistis "belief" but make pistis "faithfulness" seeing they mean the same thing? The alpha "a" in front of pistis does not automatically mean that "no faith" or "unbelief" denotes "unfaithfulness." Again, if we substitute the word "unfaithfulness" in places where "unbelief" is used, it will create the same kinds of problems. Likewise, if we substitute "faithfulness" in places where "belief" or "faith" are used, we create theological problems. This I intend to show.

Pistis is nearly always, or can be, translated as either "belief" or "faith" and only rarely as "faithfulness," and this is always, or nearly always, both unnecessary and incorrect. Likewise A-Pistis (no faith, or without faith, or lacking faith) is nearly always translated as either "unbelief" or "lack of faith." Thus, a more consistent rendering, if we make a-pistis to mean "unbelief," would be to translate "pistis" not as "faithfulness" but as "belief." In other words, we would translate as follows: "shall their unbelief make the belief of God..." If we insist on making "belief" to connote "faithfulness" then, to be consistent, we should make "unbelief" to connote "unfaithfulness." Some of the translations we are looking at are consistent in this regard.

International Standard Version

"What if some of the Jews were unfaithful? Their unfaithfulness cannot cancel God's faithfulness, can it?"

Though I don't agree that pistis means faithfulness and a-pistis means unfaithfulness, yet this translation is at least consistent in how pistis is interpreted in both cases, both with the alpha and that without.

American Standard Version

"For what if some were without faith? shall their want of faith make of none effect the faithfulness of God?"

This translation's translation of a-pistis as "want of faith" is good and correct, but to be consistent pistis should have been translated as "the faith." The comparison is between the absence of one and same thing in one case and of the existence of it in another case.

Young's Literal Translation

"For what, if certain were faithless? shall their faithlessness the faithfulness of god make useless?"

Does "Faith" mean "Faithfulness"?

It is wrong that so many interpreters feel forced to translate "faith" as "faithfulness" in this passage. In doing so they are not consistent, for they rarely translate "faith" as "faithfulness" in other places in Romans and in the New Testament.  If they did that in those other places it would show how the definition that they give to "faith" in Romans 3: 3 and elsewhere is unique or rare.  This puts the burden of proof on those who translate pistis as faithfulness in this passage to prove the necessity for doing so. After all, as stated, the normal word for pistis is either faith or belief. Further, if we took "faith" to mean "faithfulness" in the remainder of the new testament, then we are forced into untenable consequences in soteriology.

The making of πίστις to mean "faithfulness" in Romans 3: 3 is an "interpretation" based supposedly upon the context, and not based upon a literal "translation."  Many Bible students are not able to discern when a translator is strictly translating versus when he is interpreting.  But, more on this later.

Further, those commentators and interpreters who interpret "the faith of God" to mean "the faithfulness of God" are forced to change "their unbelief" (or "no faith") to "their unfaithfulness." But, again, the normal word used to translate pistis is either faith or belief, so those translators who diverge from the norm should give solid reasons for doing so. But, if the normal use of pistis poses no difficulties (supplying the word "faith" in this passage), then why make it mean "faithfulness" here? What is it in the context of Romans 3:3 that demands that we change the normal way pistis is translated and give it the abnormal meaning of "faithfulness"?

Failure to distinguish between "faith" and "faithfulness" (or between belief and obedience), creates confusion and contradiction.  Faith comes before the Christian life of faith, before learning obedience and fidelity, before faithfulness.  Initial faith in Christ precedes faithfulness as a cause precedes an effect.

It is interesting that there is not in the New Testament of the KJV the word "faithfulness." We do find the adjective or participle "faithful" to describe people, such as "the faithful," or "the faithful servant," etc.

In Romans 3:3 the "unbelief" (ἀπιστία) of humans is set in direct opposition to the "faith" or "belief" (πίστις) of God.

Notice further how "unbelief" is qualified by the pronoun "their" but "belief" does not have a personal pronoun to modify it but does have the definite article "the," which acts as a modifier. It is "their no belief" contrasted with "the belief of God."  Both the pronoun and the article function as adjectives as does the genitive "of God."

The phrase "the belief of God" is like other such phrases in scripture, such as "the love of God," "the law of God," "the word of God," etc.  In each of these examples there is no essential difference in meaning when one renders "the law of God" as "God's law," and "the love of God" as "God's love," and "the word of God" as "God's word."  And so, in our text, there is no difference in meaning to say "the faith of God" versus "God's faith."

Of course, there is some difference.  For instance, in "the love of God" both "love" and "God" are nouns, the latter being in Greek in the Genitive case and acts as a modifier to limit the main noun "love." On the other hand, in "God's love" only "love" is the noun and "God" is the adjective. Also, as we shall show more fully forthwith, saying "the faith of God" rather than "God's faith" does put emphasis on the secondary genitive noun. It is as though we were emphasizing a word by way of capitals or italics, saying in contrast to other kinds of faith, "the faith of GOD." In the other form of expression, "God's faith," the emphasis is on the "faith."

Further, as we shall later see, the lack of the definitive article in "their no faith" and the presence of it in "the faith of God" is also significant. Many times in the Greek New Testament the definite article is used with possessive pronouns, such as saying "the faith that is yours." Many translations like the KJV omit the definite article in such cases and simply say "your faith" and it thus requires looking at each instance to see if the article is there in the Greek along with the pronoun.

Also, as we shall see, there are certain kinds of Genitive nouns that can be reversed. In other words, in such cases, "the love of God" can be reversed and say "God of the love." In the passage before us, the phrase "the faith of God" would then be "the God of faith." But, more on that later.

In the next posting I will continue with further proof of my thesis relative to this important passage.

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