Darkness to Light Home Page

Books and eBooks by the Director

Faith "in" or "of" Jesus?
(Romans 3:22)

By Gary F. Zeolla


The following message was posted in "alt.christnet.bible" and "alt.christnet.theology" Newsgroups.

Romans 3:22:
Greek:   pisteos Iesou
KJV:    "faith of Jesus"
NKJV: "faith in Jesus"
LITV:   "faith of Jesus"

I have read the various posts about Romans 3:22 with interest. What has interested me most is the rather strong language some have been using against the NKJV.

First, let me say to those who do not Greek, that you are treading on very thin ice when you start making disparaging remarks about a translation and its translators. Until you have actually translated portions of Scriptures, you simply have no conception of the intricacies and difficulties involved in translating. Consider Peter’s and Jude’s warning against speaking evil of things you do not understand (see 2Peter 2:13; Jude 10).

Second, let me quote from the commentary we used when I took Intermediate Greek at Denver Seminary: C.E.B. Cranfield. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Edinburgh: T&T Clark Limited, 1975).

Cranfield writes, "The genitive ‘christou’ expresses the object of faith (cf. v. 26; and also Mk 11:22; Acts 3:16; Gal 2:16 (twice), 20; 3:22; Eph 3:12; Phil 3:9; Col 2:12). Here for the first time in the epistle Christ is explicitly referred to as the object of faith."

A footnote after the verse references then states, "The suggestion that it should be understood as a subjective … is altogether unconvincing" (p.203).

A.T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures in the New Testament comments similarly:
{Through faith in Jesus Christ} (dia pisteôs [Iêsou] Christou). Intermediate agency (dia’ is faith and objective genitive, "in Jesus Christ," not subjective "of Jesus Christ," in spite of Haussleiter's contention for that idea.

The objective nature of faith in Christ is shown in Gal 2:16 by the addition eis Christon Iêsoun episteusamen (we believed in Christ), by tês eis Christon pisteôs humôn (of your faith in Christ) in Col 2:5, by en pistei têi en Christôi Iêsou (in faith that in Christ Jesus) in 1Tim 3:13, as well as here by the added words "unto all them that believe" (eis pantas tous pisteuontas) in Jesus, Paul means (copied from the Online Bible).

To explain the difference between a subjective and objective genitive, I will quote from the grammar book we used at seminary.

The Subjective Genitive. We have the subjective genitive when the noun in the genitive produces the action, being therefore related as subject to the verbal idea of the noun modified.

The Objective Genitive. We have this construction when the noun in the genitive receives the action, being thus related as object to the verbal Idea contained in the noun (Dana and Mantey. A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. New York: Macmillan, 1955, pp.78,79).

Now, "faith of Jesus" would be taking the genitive in the former sense; "faith in Jesus" would be taking it in the latter. Both are grammatically possible. So it is up to the translator to decide which to use.

Before deciding it often helps to see how the same word or phrase is being used elsewhere. Cranfield references v. 26 in this chapter. Here Paul uses the exact same phrase pisteos Iesou as in v. 22. How do the above versions render pisteos Iesou in 3:26?

Romans 3:26:
KJV:    "faith in Jesus"
NKJV: "faith in Jesus"
LITV:   "faith of Jesus"

Please note the KJV rendering. It is the very rendering that is being disparaged in these Newsgroups for v.32. But if it is wrong to render pisteos Iesou as "faith in Jesus" in the NKJV in v.32 then it is wrong to render it as such in v. 36 in the KJV.

For me, the main question is why the KJV is inconsistent in rendering this exact Greek phrase one way in v.32 then a different way in v.36. I personally see no contextual reason for doing so. So if it was up to me, I most definitely would NOT follow the KJV’s lead and render the identical phrase differently within the same paragraph.

Now, both the NKJV and LITV are consistent in their translation. The NKJV uses "in" in both verses while the LITV uses "of" in both. But which is best?

Again, let me emphasize, both are grammatically possible. However, in rendering a genitive, the most common and simplest method is to use "of" - however, it can be rendered in various other ways depending on context. Moreover, the simplest is not always the most exact. It is the job of the translator to try to determine exactly how a word is being used.

So before deciding on how to render it in these verse, it would help to see how it is used in one other verse Cranfield references.

Mark 11:22:
Greek:   pistiv theou
KJV:    "faith in God"
NKJV: "faith in God"
LITV:   "faith of God"

Here theou is also a genitive. Both the KJV and NKJV are apparently taking it as a objective genitive indicating Jesus is saying God should be the object of our faith. This is a perfectly true statement. So "faith in God" makes sense.

But the LITV is taking it as a subjective genitive. But this would indicate that God somehow has faith. But how can God have faith? Who would He have faith in? He is the ultimate object of faith; but He does not need or have faith. So the rendering of the LITV leads to a theological impossibility.

The LITV probably has "of" because, as already stated, "of" is the most common and simplest way the genitive is rendered. And the LITV generally follows the principle of using the simplest method of translating without making a decision as to the use of a word.

However, as was repeatedly drilled into us in Greek class, context is always the final determiner of how to render a passage. And when the context requires it (as this one does), it is necessary to make such a decision as to the use of the genitive. So, if it was up to me, I most definitely would follow the KJV and NKJV and use "faith in God" here. So it can be seen that using "in" is a perfectly acceptable and, at times, necessary way to render the genitive.

Going back to Romans, it is grammatically possible to take the genitive in either a subjective or objective sense. But is it theologically possible? Taking the genitive in the subjective sense, the meaning would be that it is the faith of Jesus (in His humanity), in following the Father's will that enables us to be declared righteous. And such an idea would be theologically correct (Rom 5:19; Heb 2:10).

But it is also theologically possible for Paul to be is saying Jesus is the object of our faith. Cranfield and Robertson give several other verses in Scripture where this is very clearly the idea.

So it is grammatically and theologically possible to take the genitive in a subjective or objective sense. But, again, the exact phrase appears again four verses later. And there, it seems to most likely be an objective genitive. Even the KJV translates the phrase as such. So the context favors taking it as an objective genitive in 3:22 also. So I would follow the NKJV and render pisteos Iesou as "faith in Jesus" in both Rom 3:22 and 3:26.

By way of clarification, in the above I am NOT saying that one's theology should dictate translation. How a verse is translated should be based on Greek lexical studies and grammatical rules, along with context. A translator should studiously avoid injecting his own theological bias into the text. But what I am trying to demonstrate that the NKJV is sound grammatically and theologically, contrary to the claims some have made in these Newsgroups.

Now for the question of footnotes, it has been said that the NKJV is "dishonest" because it does not footnote the change from "of" to "in" from the KJV. First off, as indicated, the NKJV probably made the change so as to give a consistency of translation of the two uses of this identical phrase in this paragraph. So there is nothing "dishonest" about the change itself.

Second, the 1769 edition of the KJV (which is the edition in general use today) does not footnote every change it made from the previous four editions of the KJV (1611, 1629, 1638, 1762). So the NKJV is not required to footnote every change it makes to the 1769 KJV.

Third, the NKJV does have many alternate translation, textual notes. And I for one find these to be very helpful. However, it would be simply impossible to footnote every word in the Bible that has an alternate rendering. You would have a footnote for almost every word in the Bible!

Now The NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994) has both "of" and "in" for each of the three verses discussed above (Mark 11:22; Rom 3:22,26). The editor of this interlinear is Arthur L. Farstad, who was also the NT editor of the NKJV. I highly recommend it.

But still, it is the job of a translator of a regular Bible version to make the decision as to which usage of a word best fits a particular context. Not an easy task! Again, until you have actually tried translating potions of Scriptures yourself you simply do not realize how difficult it can be as there as so many vital decision to be made.

It is because of this difficulty and the many decisions that need to be made, that no English translation is "perfect" - not the KJV, not the NKJV, and not the LITV, although all three of these are very reliable. Moreover, it is because of the differing possible ways words and verses can be render that I repeatedly recommend people compare more than one version in Bible study.

For those of us who know Greek, when I see a significant difference between translations I know it is time to pull out the original text and do some digging. If you do not know Greek you can at least see that there is more than one possible way to render the passage. Commentaries and other Bible study aids can help in understanding why there is a difference.

One thing is certain though, if you do not know Greek you are not really in a position to enter debates about how to translate Greek!

><> Reepicheep <><

"Faith "in" or "of" Jesus? Copyright © 1999 By Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

The above article was posted on this Web site April 2, 1998.

Bible Versions Controversy: Translation Principles
Bible Versions Controversy
Verse Evaluations and Word Studies

Text Search     Alphabetical List of Pages     Subject Index
General Information on Articles     Contact Information

Darkness to Light Home Page

Click Here for Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla