Kevin Grasso – Christ-Faith in Paul’s Letters

Episode: The debate as to whether the phrase πίστiς Χριστοῦ should be translated as “faith in Christ” (objective genitive) or the faithfulness of the Christ (subjective genitive) seems interminable. In an important new journal article, Kevin Grasso claims to have entirely disproven the viability of the objective genitive as traditionally understood. Meanwhile, he claims that a third-way solution (“Christ-faith” is better evidenced grammatically, while it also makes good theological sense of aspects of the subjective interpretation.

The Article: Kevin Grasso, “A Linguistic Analysis of πίστiς Χριστοῦ: The Case for the Third View,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 43 (2020), 108-44. Published Abstract: “This study seeks to demonstrate that the Pauline phrase πίστις Χριστοῦ is best understood grammatically as the ‘Christ-faith’ in accordance with the so-called ‘third view’, where ‘faith’ is taken to mean a system or set of beliefs, and ‘Christ’ qualifies what the system is about. I argue that the grammar disallows the meaning ‘faith in Christ’ where Christ is the object of one’s ‘trust’, since objective genitives can only mean ‘belief of something (to be true)’, as is shown by an analysis of the data in the NT and in Harrisville 1994; 2006. Additionally, the subjective genitive rendering often fails to make sense within the literary context and faces its own grammatical difficulties. Drawing on work from theoretical linguistics in lexical semantics and syntax, I show that the third view meaning, translated as the ‘Christ-faith’, is the most likely rendering given the context of each of the passages, the Greek case system and the meaning of the noun πίστις as used in the NT and other Koine Greek writings.”

Guest: Kevin Grasso is the founder of Biblingo, a software program to teach the biblical languages, and a PhD student at Hebrew University in the Hebrew language department as well as an MA student in the comparative religion department. He did his MA in linguistics with a focus in Bible translation from Dallas International University. He studies theoretical linguistics, particularly syntax and semantics, as well as contemporaneous literature with the Scriptures. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife Rachel and his son Emmett, and in his spare time, he enjoys playing basketball, hiking, hanging out with friends, Bible study, and occasionally attempting to play the violin.

OnScript’s Review: Grasso’s article makes a bold and potentially momentous claim: the traditional translation, “faith in Christ” as an objective genitive for pistis Christou, is grammatically disallowed. That is, the verb-noun-argument patterning evidenced for the pist* root shows that there is considerable evidence against and no grammatical evidence in favor of this translation, making it all but impossible. Although he may have offered a knock-out blow to the objective genitive, I don’t find Grasso’s evidence against the subjective decisive, for it does not take seriously enough how Paul establishes a pistis-lexicon and syntax earlier in his letters that places guiderails around how to take subsequent pistis Christou phrases. For example, the entire holistic ek pisteōs eis pistin structure (“by fidelity for fidelity”) in Rom 1:17 needs to be taken more fully into account by Grasso given its relationship to dia pisteōs Iēsou Christou (through the fidelity of Jesus the Christ) and eis pantas tous pisteuontas (for all performing the fidelity action) in Rom 3:22. That is, Paul appears to separate the king’s initial agency (by or through the Christ’s fidelity) and its subsequent “for us” purpose (in order to cultivate human fidelity). [For further discussion, see Bates, “The External-Relational Shift in Faith (Pistis) in New Testament Research” CBR 18 (2020): 176-202, or, in a less technical fashion, Gospel Allegiance, p. 73-82]. Meanwhile Grasso musters evidence from reception history in favor of the third view that those favoring the subjective genitive will need to weigh. Regardless of questions about the subjective genitive versus the third way, Grasso’s innovative demonstration that the objective genitive (as traditionally understood) is grammatically disallowed has seismic potential. –Matthew W. Bates, author of Salvation by Allegiance Alone, for OnScript

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