From a brief conversation with a fellow reader and blogger of Karl Barth (Mike Ivaska), I thought I’d post a brief discussion of Barth’s understanding of πίστις in its genitival relation to Χριστοΰ (a phrase which has produced quite a number of articles, blogs [for example, HERE and HERE] and books such as the one pictured to the left).
Barth notes that (perhaps) the most significant use of πίστις (what he refers to in the language of the ancient scholars as the “so-called genetivus mysticus”) is in reference to πίστις Ίησοΰ Χριστοΰ (as found extensively in the thoughts of Paul and John in particular). He argues that this
“denotes the state created by God’s revelation in Christ, the being of Christians, their being εν Χριστω, by which they are put in a position to achieve for their part the knowledge of God or of Christ as the Kyrios, the reality of man in which this achievement is an event.” [CD I.1:228]
This πίστις Χριστοΰ is regarded as “the divine decision made about man. Only then and on this basis does the word slip down, as it were, into the sphere of human actions…” [ibid]. Thus, Barth argues for a reading of πίστις in relation to the Christ, that is Jesus, as belonging first and foremost to the faithfulness of God prior to any “faith” on the part of humankind.
Faith, for Barth, is the act whereby we embrace the πίστις of God through the mediator, Jesus. It is in Jesus that genuine πίστις is submitted to and embraced as the gift of God to us, for us, and in us. Perhaps this is just more of a Barthian Reformed theology coming through, but for me I find this way of conceiving of πίστις in this peculiar construction (πίστις Ίησοΰ Χριστοΰ) enlightening. So I would argue (at least at a theological level) for a double sense overall to πίστις Χριστοΰ even as the individual contextual occurrences in the New Testament might give particular emphasis to one element over the other at any given point. This does not mean such readings are antithetical, but that there is a sense in which one is brought to the fore in order to point to a particular thing at a particular moment. There can be no faith in Christ apart from the faithfulness of Christ.
So what are your thoughts on the πίστις Χριστοΰ debate? Should an objective genitive be read (faith in Christ) or a subjective genitive (the faith/faithfulness of Christ)? Or is there a sense in which both are held in a tension in the manner I’m proposing (perhaps based on a facile reading of Barth on the topic)?