The Difference a Preposition Can Make by Dr. George C. Anderson

A prepositional phrase that is key to Paul’s theology is repeated frequently in Galatians and Romans pistis Christou.  To translate pistis Christou in the objective genitive, the phrase would read the way we have read it in almost every English translation: “faith in Jesus Christ.”  Certainly, many lives have been blessed because of the radical choice this insistence demands.  A famous quote during the Industrial Revolution comes from a poor miner’s wife speaking for many whose lives were redirected and transformed by a radical shift of allegiance to Jesus Christ.  Her husband, the miner, had been saved by the preaching of John Wesley.  He stopped doing what so many of his fellow miners were doing, and that is escaping from their harsh and dignity-denying life through drinking, often resulting in the neglect and abuse of families.  The wife said something like this:  “Jesus turned water into wine.  I’ve seen a greater miracle.  In our house, Jesus turned wine into furniture.”

No one who reads history honestly can deny the power of conversion to transform a life.  “I once was lost, and then was found,” is the basic theme of countless life stories with many variations on the plot.

There is another way, though, to translate pistis Christou that is just as legitimate, and that is in the subjective genitive as “faith of Jesus Christ.”  “We are justified,” Paul said, “by the faith of Christ.”

According to the rules of Koine Greek, it is legitimate to translate the phrase both ways, and include all that can be gained through both.  To allow the phrase to be translated as “faith of Christ,” doesn’t take anything away from how lives can be transformed by the power of God’s love.  It does open up other possibilities.

First, “faith of Christ” alludes to a faith that comes not all at once in a conversion, but grows through a relationship.  In a moment, one can believe in Jesus.  It takes a lifetime to explore the faith of Jesus as we keep trying to understand what he is saying, what he is doing, and who he is as a person.

Second, to be saved by the faith of Jesus doesn’t let followers of Christ off the hook.  Followers are held accountable.  Jesus believed in the God who created the heavens and the earth, the God who hears the cries of those enslaved, the God who spoke through prophets in calling for the liberation of those who are oppressed.  Jesus’ faith was a love of others as God’s children as thus as his brothers and sisters, loving them even in their sin.  His faith compelled him to give his life by dying for the sake of those he lived for; dying for those who could not save themselves.  To be saved by the faith of Jesus, then, is to be led into the causes of justice and reconciliation to which Jesus was led.

Finally, to understand Paul speaking of the faith of Jesus opens up a whole new way of considering people of other faiths.  We are less concerned as to whether or not they believe in Jesus as an intellectual assent and more concerned if others are for or against what Jesus taught, lived for and died for.  Followers of Christ would find the abuse of the defenseless and weak to be sin whether the abuse comes at the hands of Muslims or of fellow Christians.  We would find worthy of praise the work of reconciliation by whoever was about that work.  Christ is resurrected and at work in places and among people who do not know his name, but do know his love.

Again, I do not think translating pistis Christou as “faith of Jesus” rules out the translation “faith in Jesus.”  I just think that we can find profound inspiration in the reading of the phrase that is less common, but perhaps more appropriate to Paul’s larger message.  The glorious thing about salvation is not getting our heads straight and our words right, but having hearts claimed by the love of Jesus which lives and moves among us working the beautiful work of justice, grace and reconciliation.

George Anderson is Senior Pastor at Second Presbyterian Church. Visit them on the web at

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -

Related Articles