Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tony Siew on 'pistis Christou'

Yesterday, after my last class ended, I had a short chat with Tony Siew over St. Paul. And among many other fascinating things we talked about, I asked Siew's view over the term ' pistis Christou' (Gal 2.16). The translation of this ambivalent term could render it to be 'faith of Christ' or 'faith in Christ'.

Since the language alone does not clear the vagueness of this term, inevitable we have to source our understanding of it through a wider consideration, such as the overall theology of St. Paul (if that is indeed possible).

Nonetheless Siew's opinion is rather unique and deserves further exploration. I'll transpose Wright and Dunn's conversation over this issue with Siew's opinion here:
Wright (who favors 'faith of Christ'): My own view is based entirely on Romans 3. I do not claim that Paul must have always meant the same thing by the phrase wherever it occurs, but I think Romans 3 creates a presupposition in that direction. Paul says in Romans 3:1-3 that the Israelites who were entrusted with the oracles of God were faithless, which leaves a problem for God because God is committed to working through Israel to save the world. What is required is a faithful Israelite in fulfillment of God’s covenant faithfulness, so when in 3:21 he says God has unveiled his covenant faithfulness, dia pisteōs Iēsou Christou, eis pantas tous pisteuontas, I find every reason to translate “God has unveiled his covenant faithfulness through the faithfulness of Jesus for the benefit of all who believe,” both halves of which are important. I think what Paul means by “the faithfulness of Jesus” there is not Jesus’ belief system or act of faith, but his faithfulness to God’s saving plan, which is the same thing as his obedience as we find it in Romans 5. Therefore, I hold my mind open to hearing the same things in Galatians and elsewhere.

Dunn (who favors 'faith in Christ'):’s pretty clear to me in some key passages, particularly Galatians 3, that pistis language is being used of Christian faith, to use that shorthand... But what strikes me again and again is that Paul starts his talk of in Galatians 3 with Abraham: “Even so Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith (ek pisteos) who are sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:6, 7, NASB). It’s pretty obvious to me that this means “you believed as Abraham believed”; and it is that pistis reference which sets the pattern for the pistis references throughout the chapter. That would be one of the lines of argument I would want to develop.

Siew: (paraphrase) I think it is 'faith in Christ', yet that does not reject the idea that we are justified by the faithfulness of Christ. When one believed in Jesus, I'll take it to mean believing in the life, death, and resurrection of the historical Jesus. And that includes the faithfulness of the historical Jesus. So although I interpret the phrase in Gal 2.16 as 'faith in Chirst', that necessarily encompasses, not excludes, Christ's faithfulness.

In different words, if I understand Siew rightly, he is suggesting that the phrase is to be understood as St. Paul's shorthand for writting 'faith in the faith of Christ'. This somehow reminds me of John Owen's book 'The Death of Death in the Death of Christ'.

Siew should consider writing on this. A book perhaps, since Richard Hays who differs with him has his own.


Tony Siew said...

Hi Joshua, your summary of my views is actually better than what I actually said. Thanks!

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Tony,

Thanks for confirming my reading of you.

Alex Tang said...

Isn't 'faith in the faith of Christ' rather restrictive?

Wouldn't Paul use pistis Christou for faith in Christ which includes his human faithfulness rather than limit it to only one aspect of Christ-his faith?