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:"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
5. Maximilian Zerwick, Biblical Greek: Illustrated by Examples, Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 2001, p. 13