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Faith of Christ

The faith or faithfulness of Jesus is central to Paul’s understanding of how God’s righteousness has been revealed for salvation.

Jesus flanked by Peter and Paul. Detail from the Roman sarcophagus of Junius Bassus

A growing number of scholars contend, against a long-standing interpretation, that Paul stresses the importance of the faith (or faithfulness) of Christ.

What has led some Pauline scholars to highlight the faith of Christ?

Paul’s letters contain seven instances of a Greek phrase that, grammatically speaking, can be interpreted “faith in Christ” or “faith of Christ” (Rom 3:22; Rom 3:26; Gal 2:16 [2x]; Gal 2:20; Gal 3:22; Phil 3:9). The context of these passages is how God’s righteousness has been revealed or how God brings people into right relationship with God. For example, in Rom 3:22 Paul declares that God’s righteousness has been disclosed through pistis Christou (the debated Greek phrase) for all who believe. Traditionally, the disputed phrase has been rendered “through faith in Christ,” thereby emphasizing the importance, for Paul, of the human response of faith to the gospel proclamation.

However, many scholars argue that the interpretation “faith of Christ” makes better sense of Paul’s exposition. In the example from Romans, Paul has just described in unrelenting fashion for two chapters the universal scope of human sinfulness and unrighteousness—all people are implicated (Rom 1:18-3:20). This somber portrait of sinful humanity makes the human response of faith an unlikely setting for the revelation of God’s righteousness. Indeed, Rom 3:21-26 highlights God’s activity in and through Jesus: redemption is through Christ, whom God put forth as expiation for sin. Moreover, “faith of Christ” removes a redundancy in the traditional rendering of Rom 3:22 (“faith in Christ for all who believe”). The interpretation that God’s righteousness has been revealed through the faith of Christ for all who believe thus underlines the importance and role of Jesus in God’s saving activity, which is the point Paul wants to emphasize. This interpretation coheres with how Paul refers to the subject matter of the letter in Rom 1:1-3: the gospel of God that concerns God’s Son.

What is meant by the “faith” or “faithfulness of Christ”?

The notion of Jesus’s Sonship is crucial for understanding what the “faith,” or as preferred by some interpreters the “faithfulness,” of Christ means for Paul. It refers to Jesus’s filial obedience to God the Father’s will for him, particularly in offering his life on the cross. Jesus’s obedience “unto death, even death on a cross” is the climax of the first stanza of the Christ-hymn in Phil 2:8. Paul contrasts Adam’s disobedience to God with Jesus’s obedience, the obedience through which “many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). First and foremost, then, Jesus’s faithfulness points to his relationship as Son to God the Father, who acts through him to bring about salvation.

Jesus’s faithfulness to God was embodied in self-giving love for all human beings. Paul describes this in Gal 2:19-20 when he writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (author’s translation). Thus Paul can say that the cross, the ultimate expression of Jesus’s faithfulness to God, is a manifestation of divine love (see Rom 5:6-8).

In the end, it may very well be that Paul exploits the ambiguity of the phrase pistis Christou to signal two essential aspects of discipleship. Believing trust in the gospel proclamation (i.e., faith in Christ) is the beginning of the way of salvation, which also entails maturation as God’s sons and daughters in walking in the way of Jesus’s self-giving love (i.e., Christ’s faithfulness).

  • stegman-thomas

    Thomas D. Stegman, S.J., is dean and professor of New Testament at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. He received his PhD in New Testament studies from Emory University and is the author of four books and two coedited volumes, including The Paulist Biblical Commentary (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 2018), to which he contributed a 50,000 word commentary on Romans.