The Faith of Jesus Christ

The righteous shall live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)

I am no expert in New Testament Greek, and write this blog more as a question than a statement.

Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted three times in the New Testament (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:37-38), which gives some indication that it was an important Scriptural passage to the earliest Christian community and its understanding of Jesus as Christ.

Following the Protestant Reformation the passage was particularly linked with ideas pitting justification by faith against a “works righteousness” but I think in the modern American Evangelical mind it probably has as much to do with confirming individualism and individual faith.

But I was intrigued by the comments of Professor Gary Rendsburg in his lectures in The Great Courses on THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS on Habakkuk 2:4.  In Lecture 9, Rendsburg discusses Pesher Habakkuk which was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and belongs to the Qumran community’s understanding of Habakkuk.

Habakkuk was originally written about 610BCE.  Rendsburg says the original meaning of the text is pretty simple and straightforward:  “… the righteous person shall prosper by his own faith in  God.”

Dead Sea Scroll Pesher Habakkuk

The Pesher method of interpretation assumed that God was speaking not so much to the original audience, but prophetically.  Jews preserved the statement through the centuries without knowing what the text fully meant.  But then in the Qumran community, the text was understood as speaking directly to them in their current condition.  It was they, the Qumran community, who were the intended audience by God, and they finally and fully understood the meaning of the prophecy of Habakkuk 2:4.  The Pesher Habakkuk text interprets the text to refer to their leader, “the Teacher of Righteousness.”  Faith is directed through “the Teacher” to God.    It is as much the proper faith of the Teacher which is important as is the faith of those in the community of Qumran believers in their Teacher.

Rendsburg sees the New Testament writers as doing a very similar thing – the first Christians use the same text to refer to Christ that the Qumran community uses to refer to the Teacher of Righteousness.  It is the faith and faithfulness of Christ which is foremost.  Christians receive God’s promises through the faith of Christ, through Christ’s faithfulness and obedience to His Father.  Faith is to be directed through a single individual in Christianity (namely, Jesus Christ) as in the Qumran community (their Teacher of Righteousness).  This is a very different reading of the Habakkuk text than using it as referring to personal faith as one’s way to salvation.  It is Christ’s faith which is essential, and we by becoming one with Him, by becoming part of the Body of Christ, share in His faith and the blessings this brings from His Father.

Now the part of this blog that is my own question about understanding St. Paul.  St. Paul frequently uses the phrases in Greek “pisteos Christou” or “pisteos Iesou” which get translated into English as “faith in Christ” (see the RSV, Romans 3:22, 26  and Galatians 2:16 for examples).   But it appears to me the text is literally and actually speaking about the “faith of Christ” which would be the more natural translation of St. Paul’s phrases.  This would certainly put St. Paul’s understanding of Habakkuk 2:4 very much in line with the Qumran Pesher Habakkuk interpretation.  It is the faith of the one individual, Jesus Christ which is essential for the salvation of us all.  This seems to be St. Paul’s thrust, rather than talking about the faith each Christian places in Christ.   It is not an individualistic reading of faith, but a communal understanding of sharing in the faith of the Savior.   We place our faith in God through Jesus Christ whose own faith is ultimately the righteousness we need to become God’s children.  It is not through our personal faith in Christ that we prosper, but rather by being united to Christ we receive His righteousness which is His because of His faith and faithfulness to His Father.

It is perhaps the case (this is my question, conjecture) that our English New Testaments need to stick more closely to St. Paul’s phraseology and speak about the “faith of Christ” more than our faith in Christ.  This understanding would be more faithful to what some Jews, both those who believed in Jesus and those who looked to a different “Teacher”, understood about Habakkuk’s prophecy.  The faith of Jesus Christ becomes central to our salvation and is perhaps closer to what First Century Christians meant when they spoke of the pisteos Christou, the faith of Christ.

Go back and read the texts of Paul and replace the usual translation of “faith in Christ” with the “faith of Christ” and see how that changes the tenor of the text, and perhaps gets us back past the needs of the Reformation and to the mind of St. Paul.

See: The Faith of Jesus Christ (II)

9 thoughts on “The Faith of Jesus Christ

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  2. I use David Stern’s “Complete Jewish Bible” for most of my studies, Fr Ted, because I appreciate the historically Jewish understanding he brings to these sorts of conundrums. Anyway, his dynamic translations of Romans 3:22, 26 and Galatians 2:16 are:

    “…and it is a righteousness that comes from God, through the faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah, to all who continue trusting. For it makes no difference whether one is a Jew or a Gentile, …and it vindicates his righteousness in the present age by showing that he is righteous himself and is also the one who makes people righteous on the ground of Yeshua’s faithfulness.”

    “…even so, we have come to realize that a person is not declared righteous by God on the ground of his legalistic observance of Torah commands, but through the Messiah Yeshua’s trusting faithfulness. Therefore, we too have put our trust in Messiah Yeshua and become faithful to him, in order that we might be declared righteous on the ground of the Messiah’s trusting faithfulness and not on the ground of our legalistic observance of Torah commands. For on the ground of legalistic observance of Torah commands, no one will be declared righteous.”

    So it would seem that the thrust of this translation rests in the faithfulness of Christ and our finding our righteousness in Him…not our own faithfulness, as quixotic as it often is.

  3. Pingback: Revelations: Christ Is Coming…and Soon! « GoodOleWoody's Blog and Website

  4. Reading this called to mind a Western hymn that I used to sing some 45 years ago:

    Ye who own the faith of Jesus
    Sing the wonders that were done
    When the love of God the Father
    O’er our sin the victory won
    When he made the Virgin Mary
    Mother of his only Son
    Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary, full of grace.

    “Faith of Jesus” or “faith of Christ” seems to capture several different meanings, whereas “faith in Christ” limits it to one.

  5. Stephen

    Not to advertise myself too much, but I just published an article on this, trying to strengthen the case for understanding Paul to deploy Hab 2:4 in Rom 1:17 as a reference to Christ: “Romans 1.1-5 and Paul’s Christological Use of Hab. 2.4 in Rom. 1.17: An Underutilized Consideration in the Debate,” JSNT 34 (2012): 277-85.

    There’s a growing bibliography on this issue, with Richard Hays, Douglas Campbell, Stan Stowers, Daniel Kirk, and (because of his entire monograph devoted to the issue) Desta Heliso being the best known advocates of Paul using Hab 2.4 Christologically.

    Francis Watson, among others, has recently strongly re-asserted the traditional reading of a reference to the Christ follower’s faith. Watson engages 1QpHab (PesherHabakkuk) extensively in his discussion, though in an idiosyncratic way that doesn’t interact much with the relevant available secondary literature at the time. See his important book, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith, pp. 40-77. This is not to detract from Watson’s brilliance; though I disagree with him, his book provides a detailed and insightful discussion of this and other issues from the vantage point of how Paul engages his Jewish sacred writings (the focus of the whole book).

    1. Fr. Ted

      Thank you for your post and the information about your own article as well as all the rest. The only one of the authors you mention that I’m familiar with is Richard Hays. I will have to search to see how to find your article.

      1. Stephen

        Email me and I can send it to you. The notes and bibliography in it can point you to others discussing this issue.

  6. Pingback: The Faith of Jesus Christ (II) | Fr. Ted's Blog

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