Originally published: “Kevin McFadden, Faith in the Son of God: The Place of Christ- Oriented Faith within Pauline Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021),” in Presbyterion 47, no.2 (Fall 2021): 181-82.
If you spend any time around New Testament scholarship, you will inevitably bump into the πίστις Χριστοῦ debate (or, with the preponderance of writings, you may slam into it!). Two thousand years later, much ink is being spilled on the Apostle Paul, and one of the primary debates is surrounding how to translate this short Greek phrase. In his latest book, Faith in the Son of God: The Place of Christ-Oriented Faith within Pauline Theology, Kevin W. McFadden, Associate Professor of New Testament at Cairn University, defends the historical approach of translation, rendering the phrase “faith in Christ.” Through careful exegesis of the debated eight πίστις Χριστοῦ phrases, an analysis of broader ways to engage the debate, and a robust understanding of Pauline theology as a whole, McFadden presents a commendable piece of scholarship that opponents of the historical view must reckon with.
For those unfamiliar with the πίστις Χριστοῦ debate, a majority of English speaking scholars now advocate for a translation that renders the phrase as “faithfulness of Christ,” rather than “faith in Christ.” Perhaps you are wondering if it even matters? Is not the faithfulness of Christ and our faith in Christ both important? Can Greek grammar and Pauline theology advocate for both views? While McFadden would agree, he would also argue strongly for the historical view, noting that “this debate is significant because of the relationship of these eight phrases to Paul’s entire theology and especially his view of justification and salvation (and thus, by implication, our view of salvation)” (24). Therefore, a proper understanding of the πίστις Χριστοῦ is not merely a matter of grammar, but of theological precision that has huge implications for our understanding of justification, salvation, and even the gospel itself.
In Pauline scholarship, a dramatic turn came about with the publication of Rich Hays’s dissertation entitled The Faith of Jesus Christ, which was originally published in 1983 and then published in a second edition in 2002. McFadden notes the importance of Hays’s work: “But it was Hays’s careful argument that convinced many scholars in the English-speaking world to adopt this new translation, which has now had an effect even on some English Bible translations” (26). Therefore, throughout the book, McFadden will primarily engage Hays’s work and the work of his students. This does not mean that McFadden is merely engaging Hays, but rather, through careful exegesis, McFadden helpfully defends the historical position in light of Hays’s work. How does McFadden go about this?
OVERVIEW OF THE ARGUMENT
In Chapter 1, McFadden spends significant time on the historical context of Christ-Oriented Faith, spending a bulk of his time in the sources that Paul quotes (relevant passages from the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint). McFadden spends time examining the usage of “faith” in Genesis 15:6, which is one of the most important texts quoted by Paul in the New Testament. He also has a lengthy section on Habakkuk 2:4, which his often a hot source of debate for scholars. McFadden demonstrates that from a source perspective, the original text describes our faith in God as a “cause and condition of salvation and justification” (100).
Chapters 2 and 3 are personally the most helpful and challenging sections in the entire book. While most scholarship has been focused on the eight πίστις Χριστοῦ phrases, McFadden powerfully demonstrates that even outside these phrases, Pauline theology advocates for Christ-oriented faith. In chapter 2, McFadden provides a thorough exegesis of Paul’s letters in which he shows that “Paul significantly emphasizes Christ-oriented faith in his theology” (157). Through exegesis of Galatians 2, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 1, and many others, this work demonstrates that broader Pauline theology advocates for Christ-oriented faith. In Chapter 3, McFadden shows parallel conceptions to Christ-oriented faith, such as “obedience to the gospel, calling on the name of the Lord, hoping in Christ, and seeing the Lord’s glory” (180). Scholars who advocate for the “faithfulness of Christ” view will be forced to engage McFadden’s careful exegetical work of Pauline theology.
In Chapter 4, McFadden finally engages the eight disputed πίστις Χριστοῦ phrases that have consumed much of the debate. He carefully explains the history of translation and interpretation surrounding these verses, an evaluation of Hays’ Christological view of πίστις, while also providing an analysis of the many “by faith” phrases in Pauline theology. Overall, McFadden has provided rigorous scholarship that adds nuance and perspective to the historical position. Lastly, in Chapter 5, McFadden spends time on what he calls “theological synthesis,” arguing that we can also view this debate through four perspectives: Christology, anthropology, soteriology, and eschatology (240).
McFadden has provided both a theological primer for new students and a fine contribution of scholarship to the πίστις Χριστοῦ debate. Throughout the book, McFadden carefully demonstrates the danger of placing the theological cart before the exegetical horse, as many of those do from the “faithfulness in Christ” view. Over and over again, McFadden challenges the assumption of Hays and others, that πίστις Χριστοῦ cannot mean “faith in Christ.” It appears that in many instances, those who advocate for the “faithfulness in Christ” view do so in light of their presupposition against the historical view (faith in Christ). The strength of this latest work is its careful exegesis of the Pauline corpus, which allows the text to dictate the theological conclusions. For pastors and New Testament scholars alike, this is a must-read book that is worth its weight in exegetical acumen and scholarly contribution.