This post is part of a series. Parts: two, three.
So for my long paper topic, I’ve decided to look at πίστις (the Greek word for faith or faithfulness) in John Chrysostom’s exegesis of Paul. John was one of the best early exegetes of the Church, and has left us many pages of homilies on the Scriptures. He was especially fond of Paul, and did quite a bit of exposition. I’m currently interested in the πίστις Χριστου debate. For those unfamiliar, the debate has to do with a particular phrase in Paul, (πίστις Χριστου) which can be interpreted as either “faith in Christ” (the traditional reading), or “the faith(fulness) of Christ.” One example is Galatians 2:20, which reads in the NIV: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” That’s the traditional reading, but the grammar is ambiguous enough to support the following interpretation. “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” The focus in this interpretation would be Jesus’ faithfulness on earth, especially his “obedience to death, even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:6-11). I’m inclined to this reading (especially in Gal 2:20, where contextually it’s stronger than in other places, like Gal 2:16). However, I trust Chrysostom’s mastery of Greek much more than my own, so I wanted to see how he would take it. What follows is some of my findings in Galatians.
I’ve been surprised, so far, to find evidence already that John understands the phrase πίστις Χριστου as “Christ’s faithfulness” in at least one location. His discussion in Galatians 2:16 mostly deals with the Law (especially polemic against those who still follow Jewish practices). However, once we get to 2:20 we have this little gem:
Ἐπειδὴ καὶ ὁ νόμος κατηγόρησε, καὶ ὁ Θεὸς ἀπεφήνατο, ἐλθὼν ὁ Χριστὸς καὶ εἰς θάνατον ἑαυτὸν ἐκδοὺς, πάντας ἡμᾶς ἐξήρπασε τοῦ θανάτου. Ὥστε Ὃ νῦν ζῶ ἐν σαρκὶ, ἐν πίστει ζῶ. Ἐπεὶ εἰ μὴ τοῦτο ἦν, οὐδὲν ἐκώλυσε πάντας ἀφανισθῆναι· ὃ καὶ ἐπὶ τοῦ κατακλυσμοῦ γέγονεν· ἀλλ’ ἡ τοῦ Χριστοῦ παρουσία στήσασα τοῦ Θεοῦ τὴν ὀργὴν, διὰ τῆς πίστεως ζῇν ἡμᾶς ἐποίησεν. Ὅτι γὰρ τοῦτό φησιν, ἄκουσον τῶν ἑξῆς· εἰπὼν γὰρ, ὅτι Ὃ δὲ νῦν ζῶ ἐν σαρκὶ, ἐν πίστει ζῶ, ἐπήγαγε· Τῇ τοῦ Υἱοῦ τοῦ Θεοῦ τοῦ ἀγαπήσαντός με, καὶ δόντος ἑαυτὸν ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ. (PG 61.646-647)
Here’s my translation of the passage, which will no doubt be rough, but I’m hoping it will be accurate enough.
Since the Law had brought charges, and God had announced his own evidence, Christ came and gave himself over to death, snatching us all from death. Thus, “my present life in the flesh, ἐν πίστει ζῶ.” Thus, if this had not happened, nothing would have stopped anyone from being destroyed, which happened at the time of the flood. But the coming of Christ, stilling the wrath of God, accomplished this for us through his faithful life.( διὰ τῆς πίστεως ζῇν). Listen to what follows! For this reason it says, “The life I now live in the flesh, I live in the faithfulness,” and it continues, “that is of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
He then goes on to chide Paul for “hogging what is common for himself,” since he talks about Christ “loving me” instead of “loving us.” I found this eternally amusing, though he goes on to explain Paul’s “usurping” in Old Testament terms.
As we see here, John believes that Paul is living in the faithfulness that Jesus expressed in his life on earth, especially his obedience in “handing himself over to death.” Some of it I’m not clear on (especially the ὃ καὶ ἐπὶ τοῦ κατακλυσμοῦ γέγονεν, though I know it has something to do with judgment). The “through his faithful life” or “through his faithful living” seems pretty clear though. Can any of you greeklings confirm my translation/interpretation of John here?
And, of course, John’s understanding of πίστις Χριστου doesn’t settle anything entirely, but it’s always helpful to have the early Greek fathers supporting you on a grammatical issue!
Update: My professor clarified the line that was giving me trouble: ὃ καὶ ἐπὶ τοῦ κατακλυσμοῦ γέγονεν. The translation now reads, “which happened at the time of the flood.”