Enter the Debate

Much discussion has come forth over the past several weeks in the biblical blogosphere regarding the πιστις Χριστου debate. Now, for a quick summary, read this post.

The discussion has rested heavily in Romans. The general consensus: πιστις Χριστου is objective (faith in Christ) and not subjective (Christ’s faith/faithfulness). I want to enter the debate with Ephesians in mind.

NT Wrong briefly mentions Ephesians in the debate on his blog by referencing Eph 3:12 and 4:13 in passing.[1]

In regards to 3:12, I have already stated my position, that the faith in question is part of a subjective genitive clause, meaning it is Christ’s faithfulness that provides us with access to God.[2]

The general discussion throughout the blogosphere has maintained a position that disregards the subjective genitive as a possibility in favor of the objective genitive. There is good reason for this position, especially in regards to Romans. But in Ephesians 3:12, something else is going on. What may be true in Romans is not true everywhere else in the New Testament necessarily.

The clause in question in Ephesians 3:12 is entirely genitive. Additionally, Christ is not explicitly mentioned; instead, there is a reference to “him.” Furthermore, the clause is part of a prepositional phrase (δια της πιστεως αυτου). A similar construction is used in 3:17, only δια της πιστεως is followed by a dative prepositional phrase (εν ταις καρδιαις υμων). The latter is clearly referencing faith in Christ (by our faith, Christ dwells in our hearts). It is the use of the genitive in 3:12 that I want to focus on henceforth.

The former genitive construction, “through the faith in him,” rests in the context of Eph. 3:1-13. The discussion in this section continues Paul’s praise of God with respect to the work that he has done through Jesus Christ on our behalf. In Eph. 3, Paul mentions the mystery of God’s “economy of grace” (i.e., plan of salvation, household laws of grace, or however else you wish to understand την οικονομιαν της χαριτος). Paul has been given insight into this mystery; this knowledge has been hidden until the time of the apostles and prophets in the Spirit. What was the mystery? The mystery was that God had planned to bring the Judeans and the non-Judeans together into the same body as the people of God. Paul understood that he was given the task to preach this insight to the non-Judeans. This discussion is entirely focused on God’s work in Christ and does not have the faith of the saints in view.

The previous section, Eph. 2:11-22, also focuses on God’s work in Christ to bring the Judeans and the non-Judeans together into one temple. The first section, Ephesians 2:1-10, although it does say that it is by faith (it is implied that it is the faith of the saints) we are being saved, the focus of this passage is God’s work in Christ to raise the people to life. In the great eulogy (Eph. 1:3-14) and the propositio (Eph. 1:15-23), the focus rests on God’s work in Christ; Paul does mention the faith of the saints in Jesus, but he is not focused on their faith.

The focus of Ephesians is not our faith, but rather, God’s work in Christ. Bear in mind that if Christ had not remained faithful, we would not have access to God, we would not be made into a new person or temple, and we would not have grace. Additionally, Eph. 1:17 suggests that Christ did have faith in the Father, for it says, “. . . in order that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, might give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in his knowledge, . . .” Christ has a God–God the Father. Christ remained faithful to God, as is evident in the Garden of Gethsemane. Therefore, it is possible to speak of Christ’s faith.

Since Ephesians focuses on God’s work in Christ and it is possible to speak of Christ’s faith, we are theologically and contextually capable of seeing a subjective genitive in Eph. 3:12. The use of αὐτοῦ in Ephesians is nearly always subjective or possessive when it is connected with a noun; when used in the same genitive prepositional phrase, δια + genitive article + genitive noun + αὐτοῦ, which occurs in Eph. 1:7 and 3:16, αὐτοῦ functions possessively. The style of Ephesians also suggests a subjective use of αὐτοῦ in Eph. 3:12. When we consider the theological and literary context along with the letter’s style, it is best to see a subjective use in Eph. 3:12.

Every case of the πιστις Χριστου debate needs to be considered in its own context. What happens in Romans may not be true necessarily for Ephesians and vice versa. In the debate, it seems that Eph. 3:12 is at least one case where a subjective genitive should be taken over an objective genitive.


[1] I have not read all of NT Wrong’s blog posts. After performing a quick search on his blog, I did not find any posts after his original entry that deal with the δια της πιστεως αυτου phrase in Eph. 3:12. Searching his blog is not easy, especially since I could not find a search field on his blog.

[2] The following quotation comes from my explanation of Eph. 3:8-12, and it gives my reasons for translating the genitive noun phrase in v. 12 as a subjective genitive:

Many translations take the last genitive phrase, διὰ τῆς πίστεως αὐτοῦ, as an objective genitive. They translate it, through faith in him. However, we cannot translate it as an objective genitive. Instead, we must see it as a subjective genitive, and we need to translate it, through his faith. There are several pieces pointing to the subjective use rather than the objective use in Ephesians. The use of αὐτοῦ in Ephesians is always subjective or possessive. It is used a total of 33 times as one of these options, but never as an objective genitive. The use of διὰ plus the genitive article plus a genitive noun plus αὐτοῦ occurs in two other places in Ephesians, 1:7 and 3:16, and in both of those cases αὐτοῦ functions subjectively (first, through his blood, and second, through his Spirit). These reasons are enough to indicate at the least that an objective use of αὐτοῦ is not found in Ephesians, so it would be very strange for Paul to shift and use it in 3:12. Given the use of the genitive construction elsewhere and the use of αὐτοῦ throughout Ephesians, we conclude that this phrase is to be taken as a subjective genitive, translating it, through his faith

There is one place where αὐτοῦ might be objective, and that is found in Eph. 1:17. Additionally, to be more precise, αὐτοῦ does not always function subjectively or possessively. There are a couple of instances in which it functions differently, but it is important that, when it is not subjective or possessive, it is not objective, with perhaps Eph. 1:17 being the one exception. I take αὐτοῦ in this case to refer to God’s knowledge, the content of which is found in .vv 18-19. God’s knowledge is a knowledge of his calling, his inheritance for the saints, and his power. Paul is praying that God will reveal his knowledge (calling, inheritance, and power) to his readers. I admit that I am alone in this understanding of Eph. 1:17.

Ephesians Sentence by Sentence: 4:29

πᾶς λόγος σαπρὸς ἐκ τοῦ στόματος ὑμῶν μὴ ἐκπορευέσθω, ἀλλὰ εἴ τις ἀγαθὸς πρὸς οἰκοδομὴν τῆς χρείας, ἵνα δῷ χάριν τοῖς ἀκούουσιν. Let no rotten word come out from your mouth, but if anything is good for building up the need, in order that it might give grace to the ones who hear.

Paul is continuing his exhortation section in light of the new person that is found in Christ. He exhorts his listeners and readers to guard their tongues. First, he says, “Let no rotten word come out from your mouth.” Rotten does not equate to bad language, curse words, or swear words necessarily. The word σαπρὸς when used in a moral context deals with that which is harmful. Paul is commanding that his readers and listeners not use words that are harmful. This concept is further amplified in the next clause. Additionally, by using πᾶς, Paul is emphasizing his command, essentially saying, “There must not be a single harmful word coming out from your mouth.” Second, he says, “. . . but if anything is good for building up the need.” When we read it literally, this clause appears to be awkward. The word χρεία means need, but in this context, it is an objective genitive, and it bears the idea of necessity. Paul exhorts his readers and listeners to speak that which is good for building up wherever necessary. Why? The purpose of speaking good for the building up of the church is to benefit those who hear the words. Paul desires for the listeners to receive grace. He has a concern for the general body of Christ. The words are to be spoken for the edification of the body. But Paul also has a concern for those who hear the words. Words are powerful and have a mighty effect on those who hear them. Paul desires for blessing, not harm, to come forth from the words that are spoken.

Do not let a single harmful word come out from your mouth, but instead speak whatever is good for edification wherever it is necessary, in order that what is spoken might give grace to those who hear.

All too often we let our words get the best of us. It has been said that the quickest way to slit our throats is to use our tongue, so we ought to keep it in its sheath. This task is a challenge. But it is an important challenge that cannot be overlooked. Too easily do we destroy friendships with our words. We say something harmful about a friend to someone else; that person then spreads what we have said. Then the friend in question becomes destroyed. It spreads like wildfire and it is not quickly mended. Paul’s words are true for all general circumstances, whether you belong inside or outside of the church. But in the church we must particularly be careful. We do not want to harm other members of the body of Christ, do we? We do not want to be responsible for causing other Christians to lose faith, do we? No, we do not, and instead of harming, we should do everything we can to build up the body with our words. We do want to encourage each other, do we not? We do want to pray for other Christians, do we not? Our words are important; they are indeed powerful. Therefore, the content of our words must be kept in check. We need to put aside any words that are harmful for the body of Christ. Instead, we need to use our words to build up the body. Not only that, our words should benefit those who hear them. The next time someone says something negative about a friend in your church, whether a fellow believer or a guest, interrupt the gossip, do not let it continue, and interject with a positive, encouraging word about that person. Actively seek to edify the body of the church with your words. Do not idly stand by. Be careful with your words. Use them for the glory of God.

Ephesians Sentence by Sentence: 4:28

ὁ κλέπτων μηκέτι κλεπτέτω, μᾶλλον δὲ κοπιάτω ἐργαζόμενος ταῖς ἰδίαις χερσὶν τὸ ἀγαθόν, ἵνα ἔχῃ μεταδιδόναι τῷ χρείαν ἔχοντι. The one who steals must no longer steal, but rather, he must grow weary while working the good with his own hands, in order that he might have to share with the one having need.

Paul continues his section of exhortations here. Prior to this verse, Paul addressed anger among Christians. Now he is addressing stealing. Paul exhorts the Christian who steals to cease stealing. The alternative is to work. Paul commands the Christian thief to put away the thief lifestyle, and to put on a new lifestyle of honest labor. The whole purpose of this labor, toiling and growing weary by working with one’s own hands for the good, is for the Christian to have something available for the one who has need for it. If a Christian is a thief, then he (or she) is not able to provide for others in the community; instead, they take away from others and complicate things. If a Christian labors, then he (or she) is able to provide for the individual, but also for others in the community as necessary.

But Paul is not saying, “You might have to share” (i.e., “there is a possibility that you might need to share”). Instead, he is saying, “Work so that you can share.” For Paul, Christians work so that they can have opportunities to share. If one does not work, then he or she will not have the necessary things for sharing. However, he expects that Christians are going to share with those in need. For this reason, they must work with their own hands.

Note the textual variant here. “One’s own,” ἰδίαις, may not be original. Papyrus 46 (apparently 49 as well) does not have ἰδίαις. The second corrector of Sinaiticus (א) does not have it, and neither does Vaticanus (B). Although they read with a substantially shorter variant, several late witnesses do not have it either (among the list are P, 33, and 1731). Several witnesses have a different order and do not have ἰδίαις (L, Ψ, al). A few witnesses include the dative preposition ἐν but still exclude ἰδίαις while adding in αὐτοῦ (629, pc). A few witnesses have a different order but include ἰδίαις (K, 1505, pc). Finally, several sources have the text as provided, such as Alexandrinus (A), Codex Claromontanus (D; not to be confused with Codex Bezae Cantebrigiensis, which is also D, but it only contains the Gospels, Acts, and 3 John), Augustine, and the original hand of Sinaiticus (א). The decision to be made here is very difficult. Earliest support does not have it. Additionally, there are numerous readings, but the majority of the kinds of readings do not contain it. Nonetheless, the inclusion of ἰδίαις does have early support. Additionally, it has wide attestation, with witnesses coming from the Western (א, for example), Alexandrian (A, for example), and Byzantine (F, G, and K, for example) traditions. Although it does not have the earliest support, nor is it the shorter reading, it does have early support and the widest attestation. Therefore, we should include ἰδίαις as part of the original reading.

The one who steals must steal no longer, but rather, he must grow weary while working the good with his own hands, for the purpose that he might have for sharing with the one having need.

As Christians, we should demonstrate that God has been working in our lives and we are changed beings. Additionally, we are set apart from the world as God’s chosen ones, as members of his household, and therefore, we must live in a different way. Stealing is not characteristic of one of God’s children. We must not steal. Instead, we must work. God has given us the ability to work, and so we must, but the fruit of our labors is not meant only for ourselves. It is meant to be shared with those who have need. Some people are less fortunate than others when it comes to work. Others are far more blessed. Christians who have the ability are called to share. The next time you walk by a homeless man who is asking for food, go buy a burger and take it to him. He has a need. If you have the ability, share with him. The next time you see a woman at the gas station who is running on empty and is asking you for some money to get some gas, do not hesitate, if you can, give her $5 or whatever you can afford to share. It is easy not to steal for most of us. Don’t shoplift gum or magazines. Don’t pirate movies or music off the Internet. Don’t plagiarize. But it is much harder for us to give away what we have earned with our own hands. We are called to share, which is a difficult task, but it is a godly task. God freely gave to us. We can freely give to others, so far as we are able. And if not to strangers, we are especially called to share with each other, for we are all members of the body of Christ. We belong to each other and therefore we should be looking out for each other. Let us work, but let us also share, and thus imitate God.