ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ and John Chrysostom

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.”

A quick look at my front pages shows me that I haven’t posted here in over a month. Inspired by the infallible Nick Norelli (or am I confusing him with Moises Silva?), I’ve decided to post again. Hopefully I can get back to the rhythm of regular posts. For the moment, I’ll skim over what I’ve been studying over since school started.

My one religion class this fall is on the “Life and Letters of the Apostle Paul.” Naturally I love the class, all the more so since I have an excellent professor. We’re working through Romans now, and then we’ll move on to the disputed letters. I’ve written several shorter papers for the class:

  • Paul and the Greco-Roman World: Basically an examination of Acts 17. (I largely assumed that Luke gives us an accurate picture of Paul, since the question of Paul in his own letters and Paul in Acts was out of scope for that topic).
  • A letter as one of Paul’s opponents in Galatia: This was quite a bit of fun. Based on my reading of Galatians, I had to write a response (or a pre-emptive) letter to the Galatian churches expounding a Lawful Gospel. I even translated some of it into Greek. Writing letters in an ancient style is fun!
  • Marriage and Celibacy in 1 Corinthians: This was another fun paper (and apropos considering the period of my life). We had to analyze Paul’s teaching on marriage and sex, and also compare Paul’s teaching with Jesus’ teaching. Looking at the difference between the divorce passages in Mark and Matthew (Mk 10, Mt 19) makes me excited for my Gospel’s class this Spring.
  • “Sin” in Romans 1-8: Here I traced out the argument of Romans 1-8, with a particular focus on how Paul uses the word “sin,” (or more precisely, ἁμαρτία and its cognates). This was difficult (Romans is deep, especially in Greek!), but very rewarding.

I have one more short paper to write on the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, and then a long paper (upper limit 20 pages) that we get to choose. I’ve been thinking about doing something like suffering in Paul or Pauline eschatology more broadly (I argued, for instance, that the backdrop for 1 Cor 7 was a famine and not the impending return of the Messiah). Right now I’m leaning toward examining unity in Paul’s letters (or a specific letter), though I’m tempted to do something more connected with the Fathers, like Chrysostom’s exegesis of Paul.

I’ve also been part of a Greek reading group. We’ve read through Ignatius’ letters to the Romans and Philadelphians so far, and are now into his letter to the Ephesians. This has been fantastic Greek practice, and it’s also helped me see Ignatius more clearly. I’m still pondering if it’s worth reworking the paper I wrote in the Spring into a potential journal article. I would probably argue (contra Theodor Preiss), that Ignatian participatory theology lines up with Paul instead of missing him completely. Preiss’s article is old (1938), but I give the man credit: he wrote a fantastic and thorough piece on Ignatius. I have a much more favorable opinion on Ignatius than he does, but one can’t write off Preiss willy-nilly.

Finally, I’m going to get to work on a book project with Dr Adler (who teaches my Paul class). It will just be indexing work (citation and general) for a book he’s editing, but I’ll get paid for it and I know that I’ll learn quite a bit. ευχαριστω σοι, κυριε μου!

The Galatian Heres(y|ies)?

I’ve been working through Galatians as part of my Life and Letters of the Apostle Paul class, and it has been immensely rewarding! I worked through the letter in the early days of my renewed faith, but never really figured out what Paul was saying. This time I’m better equipped, but the text is even more difficult and ambiguous in Greek!

One thing I’m trying to figure out is the shape of the heresy (or heresies) in Galatia. I’ve always heard and accepted that Paul has Jewish Christians in mind. These are fellow disciples of Jesus who are insisting on circumcision and other Jewish practices for Gentile converts. Yet I’m wondering if Paul has broader Jewish thinking in mind too. Certain features make it clear that Jewish Christians were problematic. Chapter 2 talks about certain men coming from James. But 3:1-5 lead me to think there were also Jewish “rejecters” of Jesus in Galatia as well, who were advocating whole scale abandonment of Jesus. Paul’s statement that “before your very eyes the Messiah was clearly portrayed as crucified” doesn’t make sense of a Jewish Christian argument. It would require docetism on one hand (I don’t think that is what’s going on here), or a more mainstream Jewish rejection of Jesus on the basis of his crucifixion. I’m not sure how that statement could be targeted at Jewish Christians.

Multiple “heresies” makes better sense of the letter, at least what I’ve looked at so far. Paul reacting against a non-Messianic sect makes more sense of his very strong rhetoric in Galatians. I think he would have been more conciliatory with fellow brothers insisting on Mosaic law (which we see him practicing in Acts and even in his own letters à la 1 Cor 9). Hypothesizing on the basis of style is quite weak though.

So what’s your take on Paul’s opponents in Galatia? I actually have to write a letter as one of his opponents for my class, so I need to decide on the shape of their beliefs!