"But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:"

- Romans 3.21,22

In many modern versions "by faith of Jesus Christ" is changed to "through faith in Jesus Christ", and the question arises whether the earlier translators were mistaken, or whether both renderings are admissible. The Greek reads DIA PISTEOS IESOU CHRISTOU, literally - through (by means of, by) faith of Jesus Christ - the names having the genitive ending. For more than two hundred years it has been debated among Biblical scholars whether the genitive in English rightly conveys the meaning of the Greek.

The Rev. John Owen, who translated and edited Calvin's Commentary on Romans for the Calvin Translation Society in 1849, wrote: "The words 'by or through the faith of Jesus Christ' mean not the faith which is His, but the faith of which He is the object. They ought to be rendered 'through faith in Jesus Christ'. The genitive case often has this meaning: 'Have faith in (of) God', Mk. 11.22; ‘I live by the faith of the Son of God', should be in our language, 'I live by faith in the Son of God'. This genitive case of the object is an Hebraism, and is of frequent occurrence".

Dr. James MacKnight, who published his new translation and commentary on the Epistles in 1795 after thirty years of labour, thought otherwise: "I therefore think the original clause does not signify through faith in Jesus Christ', which is sometimes the meaning of the expression, but 'through faith of Jesus Christ', as it is rightly rendered in our English Bible; understanding thereby, 'the faith which Jesus Christ hath enjoined', agreeably to the use of the genitive of the agent. For that this is the true meaning of the expression is plain from Philippians 3. 9, where 'the righteousness which is through the faith of Christ' is termed 'the righteousness which is of God by faith'. In like manner Romans 4.16 'That which is of the faith of Abraham' does not mean faith in Abraham, but faith like that which Abraham exercised. In Matthew 6.33, Romans 1.17 The righteousness of God is not the righteousness which God possesses, but which He requires....See Gal. 2.16, where PISTEOS IESOU, as in this verse, signifies 'the faith enjoined by Jesus'."

Dr. F. Godet's Commentary on Romans mentions and dismisses another alternative advanced by some scholars, that the passage refers to the faith that Jesus Christ Himself had, His faith in God, His fidelity

to God, or His fidelity to us. Godet then confidently asserts -"The only possible sense is this: 'faith in Jesus Christ; ‘compare Mark 11.22; Gal. 2.16; James 2.1 etc."

Dr. E. H. Gifford in the "Speaker's Commentary" wrote: "Justifying faith is here presented, not as a faith in God of which Christ is the author, but as faith in Christ Himself ... ."

Dr. A. T. Robertson in "Word Pictures in the New Testament" (1930-33) insists that the Apostle used the "objective genitive", meaning 'faith in Jesus Christ', and not the "subjective genitive", meaning "faith of Jesus Christ".

Dr. Nigel Turner's volume on Syntax, (Volume III of "A Grammar of New Testament Greek by James Hope Moulton") was published in 1963; His study of the genitive shows that it is often difficult to

determine the relationship expressed by it: "The relationship expressed by the genitive is so vague that it is only by means of the context and wider considerations that it can be made definite. For practical purposes perhaps the only real division among the genitives is that between subjective and objective ... .The sole question which the translator and exegete need to ask is whether the relationship is directed outwards from the noun in the genitive to some other person or from some other person to the noun in the genitive; or, to put it differently, whether or not the action implied by the independent noun is carried out by the noun in the genitive. Obviously 'the fall of it' (Mt. 7.27) is subjective - the house falls; so is 'a murmuring of the

Hellenists (Grecians) - the Hellenists murmur; so also in 2 Cor. 6. 7 'the armour of righteousness' is probably that which the divine righteousness provides. Clearly 'blessed of my Father' in Matt. 25.34, and 'my beloved' (TON AGAPETON MOU) in Romans 16.5 are objective. But Philippians 1.3 is quite ambiguous: EPI PASE TE MNEIA HUMON may be (a) subjective - whenever you remember me, or (b) objective - whenever I think of you."

Dr. Turner continues: "A noun in the genitive may be the objective of the action implied in the noun on which it depends. There is much ambiguity here in New Testament interpretation. Often a genitive

might equally well be subjective or objective: it is moreover important not to sacrifice fullness of interpretation to an over precise analysis of syntax. There is no reason why a genitive in the author's mind may not have been both subjective and objective. "The love of Christ constrains us" is not to be so strictly analysed, if the author thought of Christ's love to us and our love to Him as a compelling force... .Also

indirectly objective are the following expressions: Romans 3.22; James 2.1 etc.

But in the following paragraph Dr. Turner wrote: "Either subjective or objective or both may be phrases like PISTIS IESOU CHRISTOU in Romans 3.22, and AGAPE TOU THEOU (love of God) in Romans 8. 35 ... But DIKAIOSUNE TOU THEOU (righteousness of God) in Romans I. I 7;3. 22, indicates the source, and is therefore subjective, as shown by Philippians 3. 9 and Romans 9.30... .It is not easy to decide in 2 Cor. 13.13 between subjective and objective (HE KOINONIA TOU HAGIOU PNEUMATOS - the fellowship of the Holy Spirit).

Dr. Turner acknowledges the difficulty of determining the meaning of the genitive in many passages: "Indeed, so rich is Paul's compression of language with genitives that the attempt to define too

narrowly the various types of genitive is vain; they all denote a relationship which is amplified by the context. We might even be tempted to borrow Paul's own comprehensive way of speech and render DIKAIOSUNE THEOU simply - divine grace. Perhaps some genitives which we have taken as subjective or objective may come under this "mystical genitive", e.g. 2 Thess. 3.5: Romans 3.22,26, in which case these verses would speak of faith exercised within the Body of Christ.

The different renderings offered in these paragraphs are all possible, and a thorough exposition of the passage should include them all. As the verse stands in the Authorised Version it may be understood in any

of these ways, but if the expression is changed, as in the modern versions, the richness of the passage is impaired by eliminating an ambiguity, which may have been designed by the Divine Author, well understood by the inspired writer, and fully expounded in every possible way for nearly two thousand years. In this passage the modern translators would have been wise to follow Dr. Turner's excellent advice - "It is important not to sacrifice fullness of interpretation to an over-precise analysis of syntax".


For more information write to:

Trinitarian Bible Society
Tyndale House, Dorset Road
London, SW19 3NN, England
Telephone: 0 181 543 7857
Fax: 0 181 543 6370
e-mail: trinitarian.bible.society@ukonline.co.uk
Website: http://biz.ukonline.co.uk/trinitarian.bible.society/contents.htm