Thursday, September 16, 2010

Know that phrase!

I've been really enjoying Dr. Eastman's Greek Exegesis of Galatians class, and if you've looked through this text in Greek, there are a few phrases that biblical scholars have been wrestling with for... oh, I don't know, decades? I might be wrong, but it seems like the debate will never end. Anyway, here's two phrases that you might be familiar with:

(1) ἔργων νόμου
(2) πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

The first phrase, most often translated as "works of the Law" occurs seven times (if I'm counting correctly) in the NT: Rom. 2:15, 3:20, 3:28; Gal. 2:16, 3:2, 3:5, and 3:10. The problem lies in what Paul actually meant by "works of the Law." Is it some type of legalistic adherence to Jewish law, customs, traditions, etc. as the Reformers have understood Paul? Or is it the food laws, circumcision, etc., that are the "markers" or "badges" of the ones in the covenant? In addition, this phrase is very odd and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls with 4QMMT (one of the texts from the find), we now have another understanding of the phrase "works of the Law" or מעשי התורה.

The second phrase, most often translated as "faith in Jesus Christ" is actually not as neatly translatable as it seems in the popular English versions. It occurs in this construction five times in the NT: Rom. 3:22, Gal 2:16, 3:22, 3:26, and Phil. 3:9. It is in what's called the genitive construction and in this particular case, most often understood as objective genitive (i.e., faith in Jesus Christ, where Jesus Christ is the object of the faith) or subjective genitive (i.e., faith[fulness] of Jesus Christ, where Jesus Christ is the subject of the faith). Plenty of ink has been spilled on this topic and while the traditional view of seeing it in objective genitive relationship prevailed for a long time, recently the subjective genitive has been gaining support.

Why am I bringing this up? Well I'm still trying to wrap my mind around this whole debate and wanted to know what you all thought about these phrases. We haven't hit either of these phrases yet in my seminar class, but I'm looking forward to the lively debate.


Anonymous said...


I think this debate will never be resolved! At least there will never be a consensus. Nevertheless, I assume it is worth engaging for one's self if for nothing else!

Mike S. said...

Brian: You're probably right! Seeing the number of scholars who have jumped into the mix without any consensus arising out of the ashes probably means this will be a fun topic for discussion for many more years to come.