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A Sri Lankan Commentary

on Pauls Letter to the Galatians

David A. deSilva


Eugene, Oregon

A Sri Lankan Commentary on Pauls Letter to the Galatians
Copyright 2011 David A. deSilva. All rights reserved. Except for brief
quotations in critical publications or reviews, no part of this book may
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isbn 13: 978-1-61097-707-4

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DeSilva, David Arthur
Global readings : a Sri Lankan commentary on Pauls letter to the Galatians /
David A. deSilva.
xii + 336 p. ; 23 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index(es).
isbn 13: 978-1-61097-707-4
1. Bible. N.T. GalatiansCommentaries. I. Title.
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who had graced Israel with the unique privileges of a covenant relationship, and a means by which to remain within that covenant relationship
and enjoy its blessings. Moreover, God had generously made provisions
for failure to observe the covenant in the form of sacrifices, so that forgiveness and reconciliation remained available. Such provisions show
that flawless performance was not expected.

What Does Paul Mean by the Faith of Christ?

The Greek phrase pistis Isou or pistis Christou (the faith of Jesus or
the faith of Christ) or an equivalent appears at several crucial points
in Pauls discussions about how people can pursue justification in Gods
sight, often set over against works of the Law as the rejected alternative (Gal 2:16 [twice]; 3:22; Rom 3:22, 26; Phil 3:9; see also the similar
phrase in Gal 2:20). There are two challenges in the interpretation or
translation of this phrase. The first is lexical, since pistis can have several
different meanings. According to three standard dictionaries used in
classical and biblical studies, the principal senses are:
1. Trust (in others), faith, confidence
2. That which gives confidence (e.g., assurance, proof)
1. that which causes trust and faith, hence faithfulness, proof,
2. trust, confidence, faith in the active sense
3. that which is believed, body of faith, doctrine
claims that doing the works of the Law as outlined by the author of this text leads to
justification before God at the end time (4QMMT 30): It will be reckoned for you
as righteousness when you perform what is right and good before Him (4QMMT
31; Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 228). Moreover, m. Aboth 3:16
declares that the world is judged by grace, yet all is according to the excess of works.
Such a connection between works and acquittal at the last judgment is not completely foreign to the New Testament, however. The visions of the last judgment in
Matt 25:3146; Rom 2:511; 2 Cor 5:910; and Rev 20:12 all say that people will be
judged according to their deeds. Paul also speaks of (bad) works resulting in exclusion from the kingdom (e.g., Gal 5:1921; 1 Cor 6:911).



31.43 pistisa
that which is completely believable, what can be fully believed,
hence proof
31.85 pistisb
faith, trust
31.88 pistisc
trustworthiness, dependability, faithfulness
31.102 pistisd
[Christian] faith
31.104 pistise
the content of what Christians believe, hence the faith, beliefs,
33.289 pistisf
promise, pledge to be faithful

In Gal 2:1516, we are chiefly concerned with two possible meanings: pistisb (faith, trust) and pistisc (trustworthiness, dependability,
The second issue is grammatical, and concerns what nuance we
should understand the genitival relationship between the two nouns
to convey from among quite a varied spectrum of possibilities. Nouns
in the genitive case generally give greater specificity to, and thus limit,
another noun by adding a descriptor. In essence, a noun in the genitive case is set in relationship to another noun (say, love) to supply
an answer to a question like Whose love? What kind of love Love
for whom? Love from what source? In the phrase pistis Christou,
this genitival relationship tends to be construed either as subjective,
with the noun Christ answering the question Whose pistis? or as
objective, with the noun Christ answering the question Pistis towards whom? or Pistis whither directed? A different example of the
difference between a subjective and objective genitive can be found in
the statement, The love of Christ [agap Christou] compels us (2 Cor
97. The sense of pistise, the faith, beliefs, doctrines, did appear in Gal 1:24.


5:14) Is it love for Christ, or Christs love (for us), that compels Paul and
his team to preach the Gospel?
These two sets of variables produce four principal possibilities for
the interpretation of the phrase pistis Christou:
a. Trust directed toward Jesus, reliance on Jesus
b. Faithfulness or loyalty directed toward Jesus
c. Jesus trust in God, or his reliance on God
d. Jesus faithfulness toward God (or possibly toward Jesus
Almost all modern translation resolve the ambiguity of the phrase in favor of the first of these four options. An increasing number of scholars,
however, have been arguing that the phrase would be better translated
in line with either the third or fourth of these options.
The issue of how to interpret this phrase is fraught with theological
significance for most of those scholars who have engaged this particular
debate. One theological concern focuses on the basis for justification
in Paul, whether that basis should be seen as the persons faith or trust in
Jesus or Jesus faithfulness toward God. In a sort of hyper-Lutheranism,
some scholars have ranted against interpreting the phrase as trust in
Jesus because to do so would, in effect, make faith itself into a work,
resulting in just another kind of justification by works.98 Resolving
the translation in favor of Jesus faithfulness, on the other hand, keeps
Jesus own obedience to God to the point of death in focus as the basis
for the justification of the believer.99
As has not always been clear in the debate thus far, the resolution
of the single phrase pistis Christou (or its equivalent) in a mere six verses out of Pauls whole body of writing jeopardizes neither theological

98. Hooker, PISTIS XRISTOU, 32142, especially 341. Something of the same
appears to be operative in Richard B. Hays, PISTIS and Pauline Christology: What
Is at Stake?, 3560, especially 46, when he writes that reading the phrase as faith in
Christ, that is, as an objective genitive, verges on blasphemous self-absorption in
our own religious subjectivity.
99. Hooker, PISTIS XRISTOU, 33738.


concernalthough the theological concerns definitely jeopardize the
exegesis of these verses! First, as we have seen above, Paul is not setting
faith in Christ or Christs faithfulness over against works as any
human acts, but rather over against works of the Law, those acts performed out of an attempt to fall in line with Gods righteous standards
by conforming ones life to the Torah. Faith in Christ will never, then,
become a work of the kind that concerns Paul (especially of the sort
that perpetuates the barriers between Jew and Gentile and the religious
hegemony and privilege of the former). If faith in Christ is a work at
all, it is a work that aligns with Gods purposes for tearing down those
ethnic barriers, for the formation of the one people of the One God, the
God of Jew and Gentile.
More importantly, however, the prior question that Pauls antithesis was meant to answer is not What has saving power, works or
faith?100 or what is the basis on which we are justified? The question
is closer to what path will lead us toward successfully conforming our
lives to the standards of a righteous God, in whose eyes we seek to be
acquitted? There simply is no danger of an objective reading (faith in
Christ) leading to making faith a new work such that our own believing becomes the basis for our own justification or deliverance. That
basis is still the beneficent self-giving of Jesus on our behalf and Gods
gracious provision of the Holy Spirit. This basis, moreover, is explicitly named throughout Galatians quite apart from the resolution of the
translation of pistis Christou (see Gal 1:4; 2:2021; 3:1014), so that this
theological concern remains secure as well.101
Faith in Christ is merely our response of recognizing that basis as
adequate and recognizing Jesus as a trustworthy and reliable mediator
of Gods favor and agent of reconciliation,102 such that we receive their
gifts and enter into the reciprocal relationship of grace and response to
grace into which God in Christ invites us as the means and venue for
our justification (our transformation, by Gods Spirits working within
us, into people who reflect Gods righteousness). That said, a resolu100. Matlock, Even the Demons Believe, 313.
101. So also, rightly, Martyn, Galatians, 271; Watson, By Faith (of Christ),
14763, especially p. 163.
102. So rightly van Daalen, Faith according to Paul, 8385, especially p. 84.


tion in favor of the subjective genitive (i.e., Jesus faithfulness) does
not diminish the necessary place of trust as human response in Pauls
theology at all, for the benefits of Jesus death on our behalf are still only
given to those who trust in, or rely on, Jesus (even we have relied on
Jesus in order that we might be acquitted before God, Gal 2:16; cf. Rom
The arguments in favor of interpreting the phrase as a subjective
genitive, then, are briefly as follows: (1) This reading has the advantage
of maintaining parallelism between the faith of Jesus (2:16) and the
faith of Abraham (3:69). No one would suggest that we translate the
latter as believing in Abraham. As a fully human being, Jesus, too,
needed to have and to demonstrate trust in and reliance on God, especially as the God who raises the dead.104 Abraham demonstrated trust
in God; Jesus, the seed of Abraham, demonstrated the same faith or
faithfulness toward God; thus the blessing promised to Abraham and
to his Seed is secured for all who likewise trust.105 (2) It also has the
advantage of avoiding the redundancy inherent in the traditional interpretation, which, if followed, means that the disciples trust is mentioned three times in a single verse (Gal 3:22).106 (3) In regard to the
occurrences of the phrase in Rom 3:2226 it is argued that Paul uses
subjective genitives in connection with pistis at Rom 3:3; 4:12, 16, and
therefore could not expect his hearers to construe the genitive constructions involving pistis in the pistis Christou constructions in Rom 3:22,
26 as objective genitives.107
These arguments, however, are ultimately not strong enough to
justify a coup dtat in biblical translation. (1) The example of Abraham
points equally well, if not more strongly, in the direction of understanding pistis Christou as trust in Christ, since it is specifically Abrahams
103. Hooker, PISTIS XRISTOU, 337.
104. Contra James Dunn, Theology, 382.
105. Hooker, PISTIS XRISTOU, 32531.
106. Hays, Faith of Jesus Christ, 158, 17172; Campbell, The Rhetoric of
Righteousness, 6263; Hooker, PISTIS XRISTOU, 322, 329, though she admits
that Paul is no stranger to redundancy.
107. Hays, Faith of Jesus Christ, 171; idem, Pauline Christology, 47; Campbell,
Rhetoric of Righteousness, 6667; Stowers, A Rereading of Romans, 201.


trust in God that Paul highlights as the response that led to Abrahams
justification (Gal 3:6, 9; Gen 15:6).108 This is also the sense of Pauls use
of Hab 2:4 in Galatians, where Paul has eliminated the word my from
the original text so as to remove the possibility of a subjective genitive (my faith, my faithfulness) and to leave trusting God as the
alternative to doing the Torah (Gal 3:1112). Hookers attempt to
argue in favor of Jesus faith rather than faith in Jesus on the basis
of the unlikelihood of translating pistis Abraham as faith in Abraham
is fundamentally flawed insofar as Abraham is never explicitly named
as a potential object of faith in Pauline discourse (though reliance on
Abraham for acquittal before God is conceivable in the first century; see
Matt 3:79), but Jesus is on numerous occasions (even in this immediate context, Gal 2:16).109
(2) Redundancy is the hallmark of Gal 2:16, in particular. Apart
from the occurrences of trust in Christ (pistis Christou) and we trusted in Christ (eis Christon episteusamen) in this verse, there is a threefold repetition of the verb to be justified and of the phrase works of
the Law: knowing that a person (i) is not justified (i) on the basis of
works of the Law . . . in order that (ii) we might be justified . . . not (ii) on
the basis of works of the Law, because (iii) on the basis of works of the Law
not all flesh (iii) will be justified. The presence of such obvious, triple redundancy in regard to the theme of justification on the basis of works
of the Law mitigates the force of any objection regarding redundancy
of the theme of trusting in Christ. Indeed, the threefold repetition of
108. Dunn, Galatians, 139.
109. As Barry Matlock (Demons, 304) appropriately points out, the fact that
subjective genitive relationships involving pistis are more common in Paul than objective genitives is simply to be expected, and not significant. If the noun accompanying pistis is not God or Christ, the possibility of an objective genitive doesnt even
arise. Surveying the usage of pistis in Plutarch, Matlock (Demons, 304) found that
pistis is used in the sense of faith, trust, confidence about forty times. Half the time
the object of trust is not explicated. When the object is explicitly named, five times
it is indicated by the preposition pros, once by peri, and thirteen times by the object
of trust named as a noun in the genitive case. He does not seek thereby to create
prejudice for an objective genitive reading in Paul, but to provide counterevidence
to the trend in the debate to speak of the objective genitive as less natural (or even


works of the Law as well as to justify might just as well be thought
to demand a threefold repetition of faith in Christ.110
(3) The fact that Paul uses subjective genitives in connection with
pistis at Rom 3:3; 4:12, 16 does not tip the balance in favor of reading
the genitive constructions involving pistis at Rom 3:22, 26 as subjective
genitives. The context of each fresh occurrence determines which sense
of pistis will be invoked and what relationship the genitive case will be
understood to indicate.111 The contrast in Rom 3:13 between God and
the faithless or unreliable people of God determines the selection
of faithfulness as the appropriate sense for pistis and the selection of
a subjective genitival relationship between God and faithfulness to
form an appropriate contrast with Israels faithlessness. The context of
discussing Abraham (Rom 4:12, 16) as an exemplar of the faith (notably,
faith in God) that leads to justification determines the selection of
faith or trust for pistis and the construal of Abraham as the one who
is displaying faith (hence, a subjective genitive). The question remains,
then: what sense of pistis and what relationship between the noun pistis
and the genitive noun Christou does the context of Rom 3:22, 26 and,
more importantly for this commentary, Gal 2:16 invoke?
To these refutations of the positive arguments in favor of reading
pistis Christou as a subjective genitive, scholars have added the following arguments in favor of retaining the objective genitive reading:
(4) Christians closer to Paul in terms of linguistic and cultural contextchurch fathers like Origen and Chrysostomread the relevant
passages as speaking about trust in Christ, not as speaking about
Christs faith or Christs faithfulness. In several instances the church
father does not gloss or comment on the phrase, leaving it ambiguous
(for us). But wherever they give an explanation or gloss that resolves
the ambiguity of the grammatical construction, it is consistently in
the direction of the objective genitive. Indeed, they give no indication
that the subjective genitive reading is even a possible alternative to be
weighed.112 We may even find early interpretations of the Pauline an110. Matlock, Demons, 307.
111. Matlock, Detheologizing the PISTIS XRISTOU Debate, 1617.
112. Harrisville, PISTIS XRISTOU, 23341; see also Silva, Explorations in
Exegetical Method, 2931.


tithesis of faith versus works of the law (already truncated to faith versus
works) in Eph 2:810 and Jas 2:1416. In both instances, the faith in
question is quite unexceptionally that of believers, and not of Christ.113
(5) Since faith toward Christ and Christs faith/faithfulness are
both possible meanings of this phrase, hearers would depend upon the
context of the phrase to help clarify which is meant. In the immediate
context, the verb episteusamen (we put our trust), the cognate verb
form of pistis (trust/faithfulness), is used with Jesus Christ clearly
marked as the object of trust in the middle of two occurrences of the
ambiguous genitive phrase faith of Christ. This should guide the hearers toward resolving the ambiguity in favor of the objective genitive,
despite the redundancies within the verse (which, we have already seen,
are legion anyway). If Paul had intended for people to hear pistis Christou
as Christs trust [toward God] or Christs faithfulness [toward either
God or us or both], he would have needed to add something that would
bring out this nuance more clearly, since the immediate context is working against hearing this sense.114
(6) The alternative to pistis Christou is erga nomou, works of the
Torah, a succinct phrase signifying doing what the Torah commands.
Since this option clearly falls within the realm of human response to
God, context again weighs in favor of hearing pistis Christou as trust in
Christ, the alternative human responsethe response that Paul wants
the Galatians to see as incompatible with works of the Torah, against
the rival teachers suggestion that these two human responses are fully
compatible, even integral. Again, the fact that Paul and his fellow Jewish
Christians (the imagined conversation partners in Gal 2:1516) explicitly choose to respond by trusting in Christ (so even we have put
our trust in Jesus Christ, 2:16) reinforces hearing works of Torah and
trust in Jesus as two parallel options for human response.115
In conclusion, the traditional interpretation of pistis Christou as
trust in Christ in Galatians, at least, seems to be the most probable.
This is not to affirm the theological proposition we are justified by (our)
113. Matlock, Detheologizing, 23; see also idem, Demons, 3067.
114. Moule, The Biblical Conception of Faith, 157; Dunn, Galatians, 139;
Matlock, Detheologizing, 13.
115. Dunn, Galatians, 139; Matlock, Detheologizing, 12.


faith, for, according to Paul, we are clearly justified by Christs death
and rising again to life on our behalf and by the Holy Spirit that Christ
sent into the hearts of his followersand we are justified as we trust
in the sufficiency of Christs provisions for our justification and move
forward on that basis toward the manifestation of the life of Christ, the
righteous one, within us.
We are now in a position to return, then, to these three concepts
in the context of Gal 2:16. Paul presents himself as if he were addressing fellow Jewish Christians, beginning by playing to the general Jewish
prejudice according to which God has given the Jews the special privilege of being taken into the Sinaitic covenant and not being left, as were
the Gentiles, without Law and thus, de facto, sinners. In his next step,
he parts company from non-Christian Jews but still speaks in line with
what other Jewish Christians would affirm: We know that a person is
not acquitted before God by conforming his or her life to the requirements of the Torah, except by trusting in Jesus. In Greek, throughout
this verse, Paul uses the preposition ek (out of, from) to introduce
works of the Torah and reliance on Jesus. The preposition is most
commonly used in a spatial sense, denoting movement out of some
space or coming from some space. It is being used here in one of its
derivative senses, such as origin, cause, or means. A paraphrase of
the verse intending to capture the nuance that this preposition brings to
the relationship between works of the Torah and being acquitted or
being set right might read: Conforming ones life to the requirements
of the Torah, unless this is joined with trusting in Jesus, does not result
in (or does not lead to) acquittal before God.
Paul is not yet presenting works of the Torah and reliance on
Jesus as incompatible paths to acquittal before God, though he is preparing for taking this next step by pointing out that he, Peter, James, the
rival teachers, and all Jewish Christians would agree this far: doing the
Torah is not sufficient if one hopes to find acquittal at the judgment.
All of them alike have put their trust in Jesus as Gods Messiah and in
his death as, at the very least, an act of obedience that erases past sins
under the covenant for those who believe, and thus are seeking to be
justified (acquitted) as a result of relying on Jesus rather than rely-