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I'm looking at Philippians 3:9

and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; (NKJV)

And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: (KJV)

KJV is not the only translation that uses "of Christ" though many translations use "in Christ".

To me "of" and "in" are so far apart from their meaning and intent, it changes what that verse is actually saying. If it is "faith in Christ" then my faith is on deck. If it is "faith of Christ" which really could be translated as "faithfulness of Christ" because "pistis" can be translated like that, then to me there is more security of being found in the righteousness that comes from God. If my faith is responsible for me to gain access to the righteousness that comes from God, that has human condition problems.

Looking at the raw greek in Mounce's Greek Interlinear "dia pistis Christos" there is no Greek word for "in" or "of" at all in the sentence. It seems to me to be a coin toss though I suspect God does not do coin tosses.

I almost hesitate to put this question here because looking at various translations and their lack of agreement, it seems this is a problem that has no solution in the immediate context.

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  • You won't be the first one to wonder. This is one of those constructions (object genitive or subject genitive) that are both grammatically correct, but there is no clear-cut answer. The "in" is a result of translating as an object genitive, the "of" is a translation of the subject genitive. Scholars are not agreed on what was meant. It is a construction that occurs other places as well. Mar 31 at 16:48
  • The question (up-voted +1) highlights justification by faith and the fact of the righteousness of God (not 'the righteousness of Christ') being its focus. The 'faith of' Jesus Christ is the faith he had in God to receive the sacrifice he offered on behalf of God's people. 'The righteousness which is from God' is by the faith of Christ. Excellent question. See also 'the righteousness of God; out of faith (ek) unto faith (eis) in Romans 1:17.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 31 at 17:15
  • Good question, upvoted +1. I added some formatting, I can roll back my edits to the question if you don't like them Mar 31 at 17:35

5 Answers 5

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This is one question that has such a vast Biblical literature, I struggle to know where to begin. So let me suggest the range of meaning of phrases like πίστεως Χριστοῦ (faith of Christ) can have:

  • faith of Christ meaning the faithfulness of Christ in doing His ministry on our behalf
  • faith of Christ meaning the entire body of belief as expounded in the NT by the apostles
  • faith in Christ meaning our trust in Christ to do what He promised
  • faith of Christ meaning the faith we have received as imparted by Christ

All these are grammatically and theologically possible. We have an identical situation with similar phrases such as:

  • the faith of God, Mark 11:22, Rom 3:3
  • faith in God, 1 Peter 1:21
  • faith in Jesus, Acts 20:21, 24:24
  • faith on God, Heb 6:1
  • faith toward God, 1 Thess 1:8
  • faith of Jesus, Rom 3:22, 26, Gal 2:16, 3:22, Rev 14:12

... and so forth. Each case must be decided on its own merits.

Phil 3:9

καὶ εὑρεθῶ ἐν αὐτῷ, μὴ ἔχων ἐμὴν δικαιοσύνην τὴν ἐκ νόμου, ἀλλὰ τὴν διὰ πίστεως Χριστοῦ, τὴν ἐκ Θεοῦ δικαιοσύνην ἐπὶ τῇ πίστει = and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness of the Law, but through faith of Christ, the righteousness of God on [the basis] of faith (my translation)

Here we are given scant clues about what is intended. Note the genitive in the phrase διὰ πίστεως Χριστοῦ (through/via faith of Christ). This could mean:

  • through our faith/trust in Christ
  • through Christ's faithfulness to save us (Rom 3:22, 26, Gal 2:16, 3:22, Rev 14:12). This is the most literal meaning because the genitive (Christou) suggests that the faith belongs to Christ or originates in Christ.
  • through our faith/belief in that which is preached by the apostles (Acts 6:7, 14:22, 8:12, 2 Peter 1:1, etc)
  • through the faith we receive from Christ to trust Him

However, note the clear distinction made in the text itself. Paul contrasts our own meager efforts with that which come from Christ. That is, in contrast to our efforts to keep the law, we should trust in Christ's faithfulness to save us.

Faith/belief is not a work we do in order to earn salvation. Nor do we psyche ourselves up enough in order to believe "sufficiently". We simply trust Christ to do what He promises as we have no other choice - we cannot save ourselves!

Thus we may understand Paul's characteristic literary economy to mean all of the following:

  • our faith/trust in Christ is imparted by Christ - salvation is a divine initiative, Phil 2:13, John 6:44, Rom 2:4
  • it is Christ's faithfulness in delivering the promises that make salvation possible. That is, salvation comes through Christ.

Such an understanding of "through faith of Christ" is consistent with other NT teaching that we should "fix our eyes on Jesus" Heb 12:2.

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Both are grammatically possible. This is a topic that has been oft-debated, and is a question that is raised with respect to Romans 3:22 & Galatians 2:16 as well.

2 common ways to resolve the ambiguity:

1) Theology

Which one makes more sense in light of the theology taught by Paul? This approach has produced mixed results. (it can also lead to imposing meaning on the text instead of deciphering meaning from the text)

2) Redundancy

If one meaning produces an unnecessarily redundant sentence, there is a somewhat compelling case for preferring the other meaning.

This argument has been made with respect to Romans 3:22...

through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe (NASB)

...appears redundant, whereas the redundancy is eliminated if "of" is used instead of "in".

There is not a consensus among theologians or translators which preposition in English better conveys Paul's meaning.


For a more in-depth review of the topic, see this article

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  • I am looking at how the sentence in Roman 3:3 is arranged "Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect" (NKJV) "the pistis of God" as my way to look at Php 3:9. All 10 translations I regularly refer to are in agreement on this verse. Even though there are people, in this case, Jews who don't believe, changes nothing about how God honors his covenant to those who do believe. It is the faithfulness of God and in Php the righteousness of God. This is something I can wrap my head around.
    – Todd
    Mar 31 at 17:46
  • Romans 3:22 isn’t redundant as “faith in Christ” if read in context.
    – bob
    Apr 1 at 3:12
  • There are several meanings of πίστις and "faith" is only one of them. It can also mean "faithfulness, reliability". I agree about there not being a consensus. I personally would prefer "faithfulness, reliability" for Romans 3:22 "through the faithfulness/reliability of Jesus Christ for all those who put their faith in him." Not much point of pushing any arguments. Sometimes we just don't know. Apr 1 at 3:54
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St. Paul taught many things by the inherent ambiguity of words, since he taught in simplicity of speech. I in my opinion, he deliberately played off of the inherent multivalence of the Hebrew language even in his Greek Epistles. This way, he could impart more than one teaching, with so many words.

2 Corinthians 11:6 For although I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge; but in all things we have been made manifest to you.

How are Christians saved?

  • By Christ 's faithfulness
  • By faith in Christ
  • By the Christian faith

These are all senses of the Greek phrase "faith of Christ."

Far from these meanings being opposed or constrasted in Paul, I think it's easily arguable that St. Paul regularly and deliberately exploits by ambiguity of 'Jewish Greek' in order to best teach the Christian faith. After all, he can teach (in this instance), three times more than if he used Greek in a more precise fashion.

After all, the ambiguity for us English speakers is no greater than that for the Greek speaker, since Greek is open to the above senses, in light of the Jewish author.

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    +1 This right here seems to be the best answer. I agree wholeheartedly that the message of the Bible is rich and multilayered. We should translate words in such a way that allows the message to breath and not narrow the range of meaning intended.
    – Austin
    Apr 2 at 0:30
  • I hadn't considered that Paul may have meant all three uses of the word at the same time. My mind is trained to look at the context to determine the correct meaning when more than one meaning can apply to a word(s). In this case, context doesn't help, at least not for me. That he may have meant all three definitions at the same time is something I am going to have to ponder.
    – Todd
    Apr 3 at 1:59
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The confusion only arise with the reading weakness of the modern English. So, it is rather the problem of the modern English readers, than the language and teachings used by men of God. It is clear that the KJV used "faith of Christ" literally, because at that time people were more used to such genitive construct. When you practice Greek further, you should be more confident and habitual in understanding such language and should learn that language has always been ambiguous; it is only a modern trend which demands mathematical precision in translation which often results in misinterpretation imposed upon all readers. I will quote from the book, Going Deeper with New Testament Greek, Merkle, Plummer:

When a genitive noun is attached to a head noun having an inherent verbal quality (e.g., love, anger, desire), then the genitive often functions as the subject of that verbal idea. For example, if the expression “love of God” could be rearranged to “God loves x” and maintain accurately the author’s intent, then “of God” is a subjective genitive. One of many examples in the NT can be found in 2 Cor 5:14, which states, “For the love of Christ controls us” (NASB; ἡ γὰρ ἀγάπη τοῦ Χριστοῦ συνέχει ἡμᾶς). The head noun ἀγάπη has an inherent verbal quality, and we are thus predisposed to read the genitive attached to it as a subjective or objective genitive. Context makes clear that Paul is speaking about Christ’s love for his people, so τοῦ Χριστοῦ would be the subject of the verbal idea “love”—a subjective genitive. Whether a given genitive is a subjective or objective genitive (or some other kind of genitive) can be inferred only from the context.

ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε (Luke 18:42) Your faith has healed you

The person Jesus healed exercised faith.

ἐν τῇ ὑπομονῇ ὑμῶν κτήσασθε τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν (Luke 21:19) By your endurance gain your lives

Jesus is calling on his hearers to endure.

αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ μαρτυρία τοῦ Ἰωάννου (John 1:19) This is John’s testimony

John the Baptist testified.

τίς ἡμᾶς χωρίσει ἀπὸ τῆς ἀγάπης τοῦ Χριστοῦ (Rom 8:35) Who can separate us from the love of Christ?

Paul is not speaking of our love for Christ (which would be an objective genitive; see below), but Christ’s love for us.

The context makes it clear that these are subjective genitive. Some examples of objective genitive: (your) Zeal of God (KJV and other old versions) Rom 10:2 is translated "zeal for God" in the modern versions. (Your) testimony of Christ (1 Cor 1:6) in old versions is translated "testimony about/concerning Christ" in the modern versions.

A great verse to illustrate the distinction between the subjective and the objective genitive is Acts 9:31: “So the church . . . had peace, being built up and walking in the fear of the Lord [objective genitive] and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit [subjective genitive], increased in numbers” (ἡ μὲν οὖν ἐκκλησία . . . εἶχεν εἰρήνην οἰκοδομουμένη, καὶ πορευομένη τῷ φόβῳ τοῦ κυρίου καὶ τῇ παρακλήσει τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος ἐπληθύνετο). The church feared the Lord (objective genitive), and the Holy Spirit encouraged believers (subjective genitive).

ἡ δὲ τοῦ πνεύματος βλασφημία οὐκ ἀφεθήσεται (Matt 12:31) but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven

The Holy Spirit becomes the object of blasphemy.

ἔχετε πίστιν θεοῦ (Mark 11:22) Have faith in God

Robertson comments, “we rightly translate [this phrase] ‘have faith in God,’ though the genitive does not mean ‘in,’ but only the God kind of faith.”

διὰ τὸν φόβον τῶν Ἰουδαίων (John 7:13) for fear of the Jews (ESV)

If you avoid relying on the modern misleading translations, it will be beneficial to restore the proper English and improve your understanding of the language. If we study the context we would know that blasphemy of Spirit cannot be blasphemy done by the Holy Spirit. Faith of God cannot be a faith exercised by God, or God's faithfulness. Nobody is saved because of Christ's faithfulness, but only by his own faith. Christ's faithfulness is never in question.

Romans 3, 10 and Phil 3 shows that the righteousness of God is the requirement for righteousness from the subjects. When the law covenant has been finished, and one still relies on it, rejecting the faith (in Christ) covenant, he is establishing his own righteousness against God's. God's acceptable standard of righteousness is on the basis of faith of Christ. The faith concerning Christ. You can simplify it as "faith in Christ", but it will hamper the readers to be familiar with the linguistic nuances. It would be superfluous to talk about God practising righteousness and faithfulness, when he is by very nature holy and truthful.

Faith of God cannot be translated as faithfulness of God. Faith of God refers to the required faith from us. That is the new covenant requirement of justification and righteousness. God has always been faithful, but the faith-in Christ covenant is a new requirement that replaces the Mosaic law. This is the whole message of the Gospel of grace. The righteousness of God is the new grace covenant that has been revealed, the new standard of righteousness apart from the law of Moses. Romans 1:17, 3:3, 3:21.

Romans 3:3
For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? (KJV) What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? (ESV)

Gal 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (KJV)

The context and overall harmony of the scripture severely refutes the "faithfulness" modern translations which are erasing the requirement to have faith in God by turning it into God's own faithfulness and actions, as subjective genitive. As long as writers like N. T. Wright, and NET Bible are gaining popularity, it is clear that in the next couple of decades, all the references of faith in Christ will be removed. At first, they started with erasing the necessity of the commands of God for us; and when that was not enough, they had to reduce the requirement of faith as well, since that too may lead many to the righteous works of God. There is a serious need to defend the traditional translations by learning languages. As you have rightly observed that the idea of Christ's faithfulness as opposed to our faithfulness is quite appealing, as it rids of our responsibility and eventually gives all licentiousness and universalism.

A solid foundation on the harmony & background of scripture is a great strength to understand such text.

Matt 5:20, Matt 5:46-48, Matt 6:33 Matt 16:27 Matt 18:3
Acts 10:34-36
Rom 2:6-16
Rom 6:16
1Cor 7:19
2Cor 5:10
1Pet 1:15-17
Rev 20:12
Rev 22:11-12
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  • Interesting discussion... You present only two options, faith in Christ or the faithfulness of Christ, but isn't there at least a third option, the faith that comes from Christ... the system of belief to hold onto that we receive from him and through him? This faith from Christ would be based on Christ's own faithfulness and it would also be required for us to believe in.
    – Austin
    Apr 2 at 2:58
  • @austin that's what faith of Christ means, that is the faith about him, the Christian sect or religion. It has nothing to do with his faithfulness which is irrelevant. Faith comes from the believer alone, nobody else. This is why such ideas are impossible incoherent from biblical perspective. The content of faith comes from God, but faith itself is essentially from man's own heart. It is subjective personal belief and not objective. Christians lack the fundamental knowledge of the Bible.
    – Michael16
    Apr 2 at 5:38
  • Christ's faithfulness is not irrelevant, but the reason for our faith. Because Jesus was obedient (faithful) we have a source of salvation - See Heb 5:7-10
    – Austin
    Apr 2 at 7:41
  • Correct @austin I mean the topic of faith or personal belief itself irrelevant or rather independent to the source of faith. God's acceptable righteousness is by Christian faith.
    – Michael16
    Apr 2 at 8:09
  • Ok. I think I understand. Perhaps instead of irrelevant it could be stated that Christ's faith is insufficient - necessary, but insufficient for the imputation if righteousness which also requires active Christian faith. likewise Christian faith is necessary, but insufficient for Christ needed to actually be faithful for faith to have any worth. I find the relationship between the types of faith so tightly wound and necessary for our salvation that the verse can mean either/or and both.
    – Austin
    Apr 2 at 16:28
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Either Subjective or Objective Genitive?
In discussing the subjective, Daniel B. Wallace examines Romans 3:22, Philippians 3:9, and Ephesians 3:12 saying "arguably the most debated group of texts involves the expression πίστεως Χριστοῦ: should it be translated 'faith in Christ' (objective genitive) or 'the faith/faithfulness of Christ' (subjective genitive)?" He says "without attempting to decide the issue, we simply wish to interact with a couple of the grammatical arguments, one used for each position:"1

On behalf of the objective genitive view, it is argued that πίστις in the NT takes an objective genitive when both nouns are anarthrous; it takes the subjective genitive when both nouns are articular. In response, the data need to be skewed in order for this to have any weight: most of the examples have a possessive pronoun for the genitive, which almost always require the head noun to have an article. Further, all of the πίστις Χριστοῦ texts are in prepositional phrases (where the object of the preposition, in this case πίστις, is typically anarthrous). Prepositional phrases tend to omit the article, even when the object of the preposition is definite. The grammatical argument for the objective genitive, then has little to commend it.

On behalf of the subjective genitive view, it is argued that "Pistis followed by the personal genitive is quite rare; but when it does appear it is almost always follow by the non-objective genitive...This has much more going for it, but still involves some weaknesses. There are two or three clear instances of πίστις + objective personal genitive in the NT (Mark 11:22; James 2:1; Revelation 2:13), as well as two clear instances involving an impersonal genitive noun (Colossians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). Nevertheless, the predominant usage in the NT is with a subjective genitive. Practically speaking, if the subjective genitive view is correct, these texts (whether πίστις is translated "faith" or "faithfulness") argue against "an implicitly docetic Christology." Further, the faith/faithfulness of Christ is not a denial of faith in Christ as a Pauline concept (for the idea is expressed in many of the same contexts, only with the verb πιστεύω rather than the noun), but implies that the object of faith is a worthy object, for he himself is faithful. Although the issue is not to be solved via grammar, on balance grammatical considerations seem to be in favor of the subjective genitive view.

Plenary Genitive
Wallace also defines the plenary genitive as that which is both subjective and objective:

The noun in the genitive is both subjective and objective. In most cases, the subjective produces the objective notion.2

He offers his key to identification and explains why this category may not be accepted:

Simply apply the "Keys" used for the subjective and objective genitives. If both ideas seem to fit in a given passage, and do not contradict but rather complement one another, then there is a good possibility that the genitive in question is a plenary (or full) genitive.3

One of the reasons that most NT grammarians have been reticent to accept this category is that simply most grammarians are Protestants. And the Protestant tradition of a singular meaning for a text (which, historically, was a reaction to the fourfold meaning employed in the Middle Ages) has been fundamental in their thinking. However, current biblical research recognizes that a given author may, at times, be intentionally ambiguous. The instances of double entendre, sensus plenior (conservatively defined), puns, and word plays in the NT all contribute to this view.4

Despite recognizing Romans 3:22, Philippians 3:9, and Ephesians 3:12 as examples where both meanings may be present and the complementary affects, Wallace does not identify any of the three as potential examples of his plenary genitive category.

In defending the position a writer may intend both meanings Wallace cites Maximilian Zerwick who gives illustrations of this aspect when the genitive Χριστοῦ is used:

In interpreting the sacred text, however we must beware lest we sacrifice to clarity of meaning part of the fulness of the meaning. For example, in ἡ γὰρ ἀγάπη τοῦ Χριστοῦ συνέχει ἡμᾶς (2 Cor. 5.14), is Χριστοῦ an objective or a subjective genitive? We must answer that neither of these alone corresponds fully to the sense of the text; the objective genitive (Paul's love for Christ) does not suffice for, apart from the fact Paul usually renders the objective-genitive sense by εἰς (Col. 1:4), the reason which he adds speaks of the love which Christ manifested for us in dying for all men; nor is the subjective genitive (Christ's love for us) fully satisfactory by itself, because the love in question is a living force working in the spirit of the apostle. In other words, we cannot simply classify this genitive under either heading without neglecting a part of its value.5

Zerwick makes three key points:

  • It is Christ's nature which adds meaning beyond a single classification.
  • Insisting on a single meaning neglects part of the value of the text. To use Wallace's explanation, the two complement one another, neither one alone conveys the full thought.
  • What was written must consider what could have been written; one cannot approach the text as if the writer was unaware of an alternate means of making the statement.

Zerwick gives another example where the genitive Χριστοῦ goes beyond subjective and objective:

So too, when Paul uses the expression εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ Χριστοῦ, this genitive is to be classified neither as subjective nor as objective, because it is both, and yet more. From the full sense of the expression one cannot exclude any of the three or four ideas which follow: the « gospel of Christ » is so called because (1) it is the good news brought and first preached by Christ (subjective genitive); (2) it is the good news concerning Christ (objective genitive); (3) it is the good news preached by the apostle ἐν Χριστῷ i.e. by Christ's commission and with Christ's presence and assistance working in preacher and audience alike.6

Paul's Pattern
Paul uses this construction in key passages. For example:

Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God (Romans 1:1 NKJV)
Παῦλος δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ κλητὸς ἀπόστολος ἀφωρισμένος εἰς εὐαγγέλιον θεοῦ

even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe... (Romans 3:22)
δικαιοσύνη δὲ θεοῦ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς πάντας τοὺς πιστεύοντας

In these examples Wallace's key of complementary meaning point to what Zerwick states is to neglect the value of the text by insisting on an either/or position. Clearly the Gospel as presented in Romans is from God and about God. It is from His righteousness one is justified (cf. 3:22-26) and from His love one is reconciled (cf. 5:1-11). Likewise without the faithfulness of Christ, one's faith in Christ would be meaningless.

Conclusion
Paul has used the grammar to make a statement which contains at least two interconnected truths:

and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in the faithfulness of Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith

Like Romans 3:22, righteousness is available by an individual's faith only because it was made available by the righteousness of Christ. Christ's righteousness is of no benefit unless one also has faith in Christ. Correspondingly, one's faith in Christ results in salvation because of the faithfulness of Christ and His righteousness. In terms of salvation, it is a both/and condition.


Notes:
1. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics an Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, Zondervan, 1996, pp. 114-116
2. Ibid., 119
3. Ibid., p. 120
4. Ibid.
5. Maximilian Zerwick, Biblical Greek: Illustrated by Examples, Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 2001, p. 13
6. Ibid.

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  • I don't think there is a single double meaning grammatical or linguistic reference in the whole Bible. I feel there's a need to refute this misconception of double entendre or intentional ambiguity claim, since they provide no evidence but a relativist assertion.
    – Michael16
    Apr 4 at 15:16
  • @Michael16 Appreciate the comment and the belief behind the position. I think Romans 3:22 is a good rebuttal. Is one justified by the faith in Jesus or by the faith of Jesus? Both because without one the other does not result in salvation. Also, John's Gospel has many instances where a word has two distinct meanings and each meaning not only makes sense, but is theologically correct. Example ἄνωθεν: is one born "again" or is one born from "above?" Neither one alone expresses what is essential; rather, to enter the kingdom of God one must be reborn from above. Apr 5 at 16:32
  • There's only one meaning of one word or sentence in a context. Christ's faith does not mean anything in the formula of salvation. It is always by grace (atonement) through man's faith. The faith of Christ is the Christian faith. Some scholars project their inability to exegete to the intent of the author. Just because they can make sense of various interpretations doesn't mean they are all valid. It's just impossible. Double meaning exist only in modern sex jokes.
    – Michael16
    Apr 5 at 17:11
  • @Michael16 Another example ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων (John 1:4). In the phrase ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς, since both have the article the construction means ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων can also be read as ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν καὶ τὸ φῶς ἦν ἡ ζωὴ τῶν ἀνθρώπων. In Him was life and the life was the life of men/in Him was life and the life was the light of men. Grammatically both are possible and in the Gospel, both are true. Apr 17 at 15:07
  • that sentence is one not two. Words have only one meaning. In him was life and life was light of men. This is one not two.
    – Michael16
    Apr 17 at 15:17

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