“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16, KJV, emphasis mine)
In my blog, The Faith of Jesus Christ, I mentioned an idea that apparently has gained some traction among biblical scholars that St. Paul in Galatians and Romans speaks about the faith of Jesus rather our faith in Jesus. St. Paul talks extensively about the faith of Abraham which reckoned him righteous in God’s assessment. Abraham is the prototype of the man of faith and the basis for Paul’s understanding of universal salvation in Jesus Christ. St. Paul speaks about the faith OF Jesus in several passages which nowadays get translated in English as faith IN Christ, an idea which is more in line with a Protestant emphasis on “faith alone” (see the RSV: Romans 3:22, 26 and Galatians 2:16 for examples, Jesus is referred to in the Greek in the Genitive). So Galatians 2:16, quoted above from the King James English text gets rendered in the New King James Version as:
“…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Galatians 2:16, NKJV, emphasis mine)
THE INTERPRETER’S BIBLE (published in 1957) comments on this text saying the text is ambiguous and could be rendered either way though the “faith OF Christ” would be the more literal, normal reading of the text.
“Galatians 2:16b,c. Here we have Paul’s affirmation: But by faith. How does the Christian know that God forgives and accepts him? Paul answers, dia pisteos Xristos Iesou, which the KJV brings literally into English, by the faith of Jesus Christ, leaving the reader to decide whether it means Christ’s own faith in God, which he breathed into his disciples and transmitted to all succeeding generations of believers, or the disciples’ faith in Christ as their dying and rising Savior who gives himself for their sins and made new men of them. By faith in Christ removes the ambiguity; but the reader must remember that Paul’s faith in Christ was created by Christ’s faith in God and by Christ’s faith in Paul.
In Paul’s life pistis was more than ‘belief’… The Greek noun means ‘faith’ and ‘faithfulness,’ ‘trust’ and ‘trustworthiness.’” (Vol 10, pp 216-217)
THE INTERPRETER’S BIBLE sees Galatians 2:16 as being ambiguous, but today, increasingly, scholars do not see the text as ambiguous but believe St. Paul meant to say the faith OF Jesus not our faith IN Jesus. Jesus is reckoned righteous by God because of His faith/ faithfulness, just as Abraham had been reckoned righteous. That is the comparison St. Paul is making.
“The bold proclamation of God’s faithfulness (‘righteousness’) in these verses (Romans 3:21-26) stands against the dismal portrayal of humanity’s faithlessness in 1:18-3:20. . . . If we follow the majority of the most recent interpretations of Paul, which understand God’s righteousness as God’s saving covenant faithfulness, and which render phrases normally translated ‘faith in Christ’ as ‘the faith/faithfulness of Christ (Romans 3:22,25), then the faith/faithfulness of God, Christ and those who respond are all named in this text. This appears most succinctly in 3:22:
1) What is manifested: God’s righteousness (= saving covenant faithfulness).
2) Where or how it is manifested: in Christ’s faith/faithfulness.
3) For whom it is manifested: all who respond in faith.
. . . Christ’s death, then, says Paul, is God’s faithful and merciful gift (3:24, 25) as well as Christ’s faithful act. This death accomplishes two things: forgiveness for sins and redemption from sin. God ‘put forward’ Christ as ‘a sacrifice of atonement,’ referring to the Jewish system of sacrifices for sins (3:25). But this was also an act of ‘redemption’ (3:24) or liberation – the language of deliverance from bondage to Egypt or any other slave master. In other words, Christ’s death deal both with sins (the deeds) and with sin (the power) – just as Paul’s analysis of the human predicament in 1:18-3:20 requires.” (Michael Gorman, APOSTLE OF THE CRUCIFIED LORD, pp 358-359)
Part of St. Paul’s argument in Galatians and Romans might be summarized as follows: God looks for someone in the world to be faithful to Him in order for God to save the world (= restore the world to a right relationship with Him). Abraham of all the people in the world responds in faith to God. Fr. Paul Tarazi comments:
“‘Abraham believed (put his trust in) God, and it (this trust) was reckoned to him as righteousness’ (Romans 4:3; Genesis 15:6). . . . this reckoning unto righteousness took place before Abraham was circumcised, that is, when he was, scripturally speaking, a mere Gentile – not yet a ‘Jew.’ . . . That is why… (according to St. Paul) the divine promise was established before the law and required one’s trust (ek pisteos) in that promise. In this way, the promise stems exclusively from God’s gracefulness (kata kharin) and thus depends on God’s faithfulness rather than on the faith of our undependable selves (Rom 3:3). . . . Thus, the rigtheousness of God is revealed in scripture ek pisteos eis pistin (beginning with trust [as described in the Law] and ending in trust [as required in the Prophets]) (Rom 1:17).” (Paul Tarazi, THE CHRYSOSTOM BIBLE: ROMANS, pp 93, 94, 100, 103)
Abraham trusts God and his faith is rewarded by God’s promise to remain faithful to Abraham through his seed/ offspring. Paul speaks extensively about the faith of Abraham and then offers the natural comparison to the faith OF Jesus. Jesus has the same faith as Abraham – He demonstrates the same trust/faith/faithfulness which Abraham exhibited and which won Abraham God’s favor. Abraham’s faith led to God’s choosing of the one people through whom the Messiah would come. God was not just choosing one people but in Paul’s thinking, the one seed, the one person who is Jesus. Christ is the fruit of Abraham’s faith; He is according to St. Paul that promised seed. And the fruit of this faith brings salvation/ justification to all the world, not just to the one people, the Jews. Now all of Abraham’s children are recognized – not just those according to the flesh, but all who share Abraham’s faith. It is the faith OF Jesus, His trust in His Father’s will, that brings righteousness to all the world thus to all of the children of Abraham.