What a Difference a Preposition Makes!

Monday, April 21, 2008

One of my favorite Bible passages is Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (ESV)  That verse reminds me of the finality of following Jesus: the old Ray died a long time ago, and the new Ray will live on forever!  In the mean time, I live in faith while Jesus lives in me.  Pretty cool stuff.

But it’s interesting to note that most all English translations of this verse get it wrong.*  The phrase in question is “faith in the Son of God.”  As most translations (incorrectly) read, the idea is that we live in union with Christ by our continuing faith in him; that is, as long as we trust him, we are living in him.

But that is not the plain meaning of the Greek that the apostle Paul uses!  The most natural translation would be: “by [the] faith OF the Son of God,” not “faith IN the Son of God.”  That is, the faith belongs to him, not us.  The word we translate as “faith” can also have the force of “faithfulness,” like constancy or fidelity.  In that case, the verse should read, “by the faithfulness of the Son of God.”

Now, I didn’t set out to write a blog post that is an abstract discussion of biblical Greek grammar.  But what a difference a prepostion makes! 

Now, granted, there are several places in the New Testament that tell us that that we must put our faith IN Jesus Christ (John’s Gospel uses this construction often: believing/putting faith IN Jesus; see John 1:12; 3:16).  Trusting Jesus is an act of the will.  We willingly place our faith in him in order to receive his free gift of salvation (Ephesians 2:8).

But that is not Paul’s thought here at all.  In fact, he indicates that he is completely dead, crucified with Christ.  And so his ability to enact faith would also be dead.  Instead, it is the faith of Jesus Christ that lives in him and enables him to be in realtionship with God.  A few verses prior, Paul makes a similar statement: “a person is not justified [counted righteous] by works of the law, but through (the) faith(fulness) of Jesus Christ” (2:16).**

Richard Hays, a hero of mine in New Testament studies (I know, I’m a geek…), wrote this:

[Jesus’] self-giving was interpreted by early Christians as an act of…faithfulness.  When all humanity had fallen away into unfaithfulness, he alone was faithful to God.  At the same time, his death was an act that showed forth God’s faithfulness (cf. Romans 3:3), God’s determination not to abandon his people to slavery and death.  Thus, when Paul writes that a person is rectified only [through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ], he is thinking of Christ’s faithfulness as embodied in his death on a cross, which was the event through which God acted to rescue us.

And that is good news for all of us who follow Jesus Christ, however imperfectly!  As Christians we strive to trust Jesus at all times, but sometimes our fidelity feels weak and our faith seems so small.  But thankfully, our relationship with God does not ultimately depend on our ability to muster faith.  It depends on Jesus Christ who loves us and freely gave himself for us that we might live.  And so we can joyfully prostrate ourselves before our Savior who has accomplished our salvation for us.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.” (Galatians 1:3-5 ESV)


* A few, notably the NRSV and the HCSB, put the correct translation in a footnote.  The Complete Jewish Bible, translated by a messianic Jew, nails it.

** Likewise, in Romans 3:21-22, Paul addresses how we are counted righteous before God: “But now, apart from the law, a righteousness of God has been revealed–attested by the law and the prophets–a righteousness of God through the faith(fulness) of Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (my translation)


3 thoughts on “What a Difference a Preposition Makes!

  1. Pingback: Greek » What a Difference a Preposition Makes!

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking look at this text. Loving the Word does not make you a geek! Otherwise I’m in the club, too! I’m no theological student (although if I had a second life I’d love to give it a try), but I love to have my Hebrew/Greek Bible Dictionary with me as I read my bible studies. It brings a whole new dimension to passages that sometimes seem so familiar. And it highlights the sovereignty, love and grace of our wonderful Lord! So thank you, and keep being faithful to who God has made you to be.

  3. Could it be, we put “our” faith in HIM for salvation but once that salvation takes place and we begin to “die” of ourselves, enters the faith of Christ in us for dependence and continued union with Him? He must become greater; I must become less John 3:22-36

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