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Πίστις in Galatians 5.5–6: Neglected Evidence for ‘Faith in Christ’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 May 2016

Debbie Hunn*
Dallas Theological Seminary, 3909 Swiss Avenue, Dallas, TX 75204, USA. Email:


Scholars rarely appeal to Gal 5.5–6 in the πίστις Χριστοῦ debate. However, two points show the relevance of these verses to the discussion: (1) in 5.1–6 Paul picks up the contrast between πίστις and νόμος he developed in chs. 2–3 so that πίστις in 5.5–6 is equivalent to πίστις Χριστοῦ in the earlier chapters, and (2) πίστις in vv. 5–6 is human faith because it works through human love. Gal 5.5–6 therefore supports the position that πίστις Χριστοῦ is an objective genitive meaning faith in Christ.

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1 Πίστις Χριστοῦ as a subjective genitive would refer to Christ's faith or faithfulness, but as an objective genitive to faith in Christ.

2 Choi, H.-S., ‘ΠΙΣΤΙΣ in Galatians 5:5–6: Neglected Evidence for the Faithfulness of Christ’, JBL 124 (2005) 467–90Google Scholar; D. A. Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2009) 886–92; M. C. de Boer, Galatians: A Commentary (NTL; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011) 315–19. Most proponents of πίστις Χριστοῦ as a subjective genitive do not tie πίστις in 5.5–6 to πίστις Χριστοῦ in 2.16 or 3.22 (Choi, ‘ΠΙΣΤΙΣ in Galatians 5:5–6’, 470 n. 17).

3 For a list of scholars in the subjective genitive camp who understand some occurrences of πίστις in Gal 3 to refer to human faith, see my article Pistis Christou in Galatians: The Connection to Habakkuk 2:4’, TynBul 63 (2012) 7591Google Scholar, at 76–7 n. 4. Richard Hays, however, has long appreciated the need for a similar interpretation of several uses of πίστις in Gal 2–3, and Douglas Campbell observes that ἐκ πίστεως and διὰ πίστεως are indistinguishable in the context (R. B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1–4:11 (Biblical Resource Series; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 20022) 166, 173; Campbell, The Deliverance of God, 378). Dieter Kremendahl assumes without argument that the two phrases have the same meaning (Die Botschaft der Form: Zum Verhältnis von antiker Epistolographie und Rhetorik im Galaterbrief (NTOA 46; Freiburg: Universitätsverlag/Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000) 190).

4 Choi, ‘ΠΙΣΤΙΣ in Galatians 5:5–6’, 467 n. 2. In the same note Choi adds that in Romans Paul abbreviates διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (3.22) to διὰ πίστεως (3.25, 31) and ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ (3.26) to ἐκ πίστεως (3.30).

5 See Hunn, ‘Pistis Christou in Galatians’, 80–5 for some details.

6 J. D. G. Dunn, ‘ΕΚ ΠΙΣΤΕΩΣ: A Key to the Meaning of ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ’, The Word Leaps the Gap: Essays on Scripture and Theology in Honor of Richard B. Hays (ed. J. R. Wagner, C. K. Rowe, A. K. Grieb; Grand Raids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2008) 351–66, at 357.

7 De Boer points out in addition that Paul had already used ἐκ πίστεως in 3.7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 24, as he does in 5.5 (Galatians, 317). See also Choi, ‘ΠΙΣΤΙΣ in Galatians 5:5–6’, 471.

8 The promise is the Abrahamic promise, which includes justification (3.6–9, 18, 22). It is not the objective of this article to solve the problem of whether the righteousness in 5.5 refers to justification at conversion, as in 3.22, or to its goal of perfection in the eschaton. Gal 3.1–5 says that both beginning in the Spirit and ‘ending’ (ἐπιτελέω in v. 3) are done by πίστις.

9 E.g. H. Schlier, Der Brief an die Galater (KEK 7; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 197114) 234; F. Mussner, Der Galaterbrief: Auslegung (HTKNT 9; Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 19885) 350; R. N. Longenecker, Galatians (WBC 41; Dallas: Word Books, 1990) 228–9; J. L. Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 33A; New York: Doubleday, 1997) 472.

10 Campbell, Deliverance of God, 1163 n. 137.

11 Campbell, Deliverance of God, 886–8.

12 Choi argues for πίστις in 5.5–6 as power based on the two verbs, ἰσχύει and ἐνεργουμένη (translated ‘counts’ and ‘working’, resp., NRSV), in v. 6 (‘ΠΙΣΤΙΣ in Galatians 5:5–6’, 482–3).

13 Campbell, Deliverance of God, 887–8. Furthermore, de Boer cites Jas 5.16; Acts 19.16, 20; Rev 12.8 to say that ἰσχύει in Gal 5.6 means ‘to be strong, to have power’ (Galatians, 318 n. 449).

14 Campbell, Deliverance of God, 890–1, quotation on p. 890.

15 Campbell, Deliverance of God, 887.

16 Note, too, that by receiving the Spirit, the Galatians were then also ‘in Christ’ as the parallel in vv. 5–6 between waiting ‘in the Spirit’ in v. 5 and being ‘in Christ’ in v. 6 shows.

17 Choi, ‘ΠΙΣΤΙΣ in Galatians 5:5–6’, 486; de Boer, Galatians, 318.

18 de Boer, Galatians, 318–19. Similarly, Choi's thesis is that ‘πίστις δι᾽ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη [in 5.6] refers to Christ's faithfulness working powerfully through his self-giving love to humanity on the cross’ (‘ΠΙΣΤΙΣ in Galatians 5:5–6’, 482).

19 E.g. Mulka, A. L., ‘Fides quae per caritatem operatur (Gal 5:6)’, CBQ 28 (1966) 174–88Google Scholar, at 175; Schlier, Galater, 244; Mussner, Galaterbrief, 369; K. Kertelge, ‘Freiheitsbotschaft und Liebesgebot im Galaterbrief’, Neues Testament und Ethik (Freiburg: Herder, 1989) 326–37, at 328; F. J. Matera, Galatians (SP 9; Collegeville: Liturgical, 1992), 183; J. D. G. Dunn, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (BNTC; London: A. C. Black, 1993) 288; Ukwuegbu, B. O., ‘Paraenesis, Identity-Defining Norms, or Both? Galatians 5:13-6:10 in the Light of Social Identity Theory’, CBQ 70 (2008) 538–59Google Scholar, at 550.

20 de Boer, Galatians, 319.

21 Russell, W., ‘The Apostle Paul's Redemptive-Historical Argumentation in Galatians 5:13–26’, WTJ 57 (1995) 333–57Google Scholar, at 338–9. Don Garlington adds: ‘If, according to v. 6, faith works “through love”, then v. 13 clarifies specifically what Paul means' (D. B. Garlington, An Exposition of Galatians: A Reading from the New Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 20073) 258).

22 Russell, ‘Redemptive-Historical Argumentation’, 338–9.

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Πίστις in Galatians 5.5–6: Neglected Evidence for ‘Faith in Christ’
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