Friday, January 04, 2008

Somebody, Help Me Understand!

I posted my working thesis for an essay on which I am working concerning ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ. As I write, I am wondering about my assessment of an argument that I found in Gordon Fee's new book, Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study. I have been pondering this segment for more than a month. Now that I am about to include it within my essay, I desire help from others, for, given my utmost respect for Gordon Fee as a scholar, I wonder whether I have misunderstood what I am reading. On pages 223-227, Fee includes an excursus on πίστις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. He poses six difficulties that he sees with taking the expression as a subjective genitive (the faithfulness of Jesus Christ). He argues in favor of the objective genitive (faith in Jesus Christ). His fifth argument follows.
Paul does use a shortened version of the phrase (ἐκ πίστεως without a genitive qualifier) no fewer than seven times in Galatians alone [3:7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 24; 5:5; add 3:23 twice, 25, 26; 5:6; 6:10] and in each instance it refers to their ‘faith’ in Christ, by which they were justified, not to the faithfulness of Christ that made such justification possible. Since ἐκ πίστεως by itself seems to be a pickup of the longer phrase, it would be especially strange for Paul to give it a different meaning from that intended in the two instances where the same phrase occurs with ‘Christ’ as the genitive qualifier (2:16; 3:22). That is, ἐκ πίστεως means that we live ‘by faith’=trust in Christ Jesus, how is it that the longer version of the phrase makes Christ the subject of the ‘faith’ rather than the object?” (Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007], 226-227).
Is this not arguing in a circle? Is this not an example of begging-the-question? If this is not begging-the-question, please help me understand how it is not? Thank you.


It seems that I need to clarify my question.

The issue under dispute:
The meaning of Paul’s longer phrase, ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ [ek pisteos Christou], in Galatians 2:16.
Does the phrase mean “by faith in Christ” or “by the faithfulness of Christ”?

Gordon Fee's reasoning:
First: The grammatically unqualified phrase, ἐκ πίστεως [ek pisteos] in Galatians 3:7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 24, means, by implication, “by faith [in Christ]” even if "in Christ" is not present in those passages.

The later grammatically unqualified phrase, ἐκ πίστεως [ek pisteos], derives its meaning from the earlier longer and grammatically qualified phrase, ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ [ek pisteos Christou], in Galatians 2:16.

Third: It would be quite strange for Paul to give ἐκ πίστεως [ek pisteos] a different meaning from the meaning he intended in those instances where he uses the same phrase but with the grammatical qualifier, ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ [ek pisteos Christou] as in Galatians 2:16 and later in 3:22).

Therefore: The earlier and longer grammatically qualified expression (ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ [ek pisteos Christou]) must mean "by faith in Christ" and must not mean "by the faithfulness of Christ" because the later grammatically unqualified expression (ἐκ πίστεως [ek pisteos] speaks of our faith in Christ.

Here is my concern. If the meaning of the earlier longer phrase is the issue disputed, and the later shorter phrase derives its meaning from the earlier longer phrase, then how can anyone appeal to the meaning of the later shorter phrase to define the earlier longer phrase without begging the question? In other words, how is Gordon Fee not implicitly assuming the very thing he is endeavoring to prove?

If the meaning of A is the issue under question, and B derives its meaning from A, then how can we appeal to the meaning of B to define A without assuming the very thing that we are endeavoring to prove? This is how I understand Gordon Fee's argument. If I am correct, then, has he not begged the question? But, have I correctly understood Gordon Fee?


minternational said...

I don't think it can be called a circular argument if, firstly, it can be demonstarted that the shorter form is indeed just that, a shorter form of the longer phrase and, secondly, it can be demonstrated that the use of the shorter form is, as Fee contests, in contexts that speak of faith in and not the faith of.

However, in the absence of such demonstrations, it might indeed qualify as begging the question.

Unknown said...

Dr. Caneday,

I believe I understand your concern.

At first, I thought he was indeed begging the question. However, after having considered his argument a bit more I think he is simply making a logical inference. He is working backward from the "evidence" and making an assertion about the source. I don't think this makes his argument fallacious (although it is very close), just weak.

I have a few questions. If you adopt that subjective genitive for all those occurrences of the shorter phrase, where does the exegesis take you theologically? Does Fee have this destination in view as something he wishes to avoid? Furthermore, is this his strongest argument against adopting the subjective genitive?

abcaneday said...


As to where the subjective genitive leads, I will leave that for another time when I can post an abstract of my essay.

The argument is one of six that Fee poses. I do not think that it is any weaker or stronger than his other five arguments. As one who desires to be convinced of his view, he has not persuaded me. I believe that he could make his case much stronger than he does, if he had a fuller grasp of the view that he rejects.

At this point, I remain convinced that Fee has engaged in assuming the very thing that he is attempting to prove. To prove that pistis Christou in Galatians 2:16 is not a subjective genitive, Fee claims that later uses of pistis, without the genitive qualifier, defines the earlier use of pistis Christou with the genitive qualifier.

I am eager to be persuaded of Fee's view, but I do not find his argument persuasive, particularly the one that I have posted, which seems to assume the very thing that he seeks to prove.

There are too many difficulties that are not adequately explained by those who hold Fee's view, the traditional interpretation of pistis Christou.

Andrew said...

I don't see a problem with his reasoning. What he's saying is:

1. Paul seems to use the phrase "ek pistis" in ways that look similar to how "ek pistis christou" as an objective genitive would be used.

2. "ek pistis" and "ek pistis christou", look at face value like they are similar phrases and we should suspect it likely therefore that Paul uses them in similar ways.

3. Conclusion: This is a reason to think Paul's use of "ek pistis christou" is objective genitive.

If the premises are correct, then the conclusion follows logically from the premises. It's not a very strong argument in the sense that it simply provides evidence not proof for the objective genitive, but it doesn't fall to the fallacy you're claiming it does.

I think possibly the source of your confusion is that you've realised that most people who held a subjective genitive viewpoint would deny premise 1. Yes, I think they would. Therefore Fee's argument is useless. It's not that it's logically incorrect, it's simply that it relies on a premise that's not universally accepted.

In my view the most important piece of evidence in the pistis christou debate is the perfect parallel between Rom 3:26 and 4:16 - see here for my blog post.

Richard said...

Dr. Caneday,

I’m not seeing the question being begged by Gordon Fee. Let me try to articulate two items: (1) my understanding of Fee’s reason #5 and (2) where I see a misunderstanding in your interpretation of Fee’s argument.

(1) Fee’s Argument
As I see it Fee is making two claims in his argument:
a) The short form (ek pisteos) “refers to their ‘faith’ in Christ”
b) There is some connection between the short form and long form. Fee uses the language: “…seems to be a pickup of the larger phrase.”
Fee then draws the conclusion that since the short form means X (faith in Christ) and
in light of the connection between the short and long forms it “would be especially
strange” that the long form would mean something significantly different than X.

Now both claims above can be challenged at an exegetical level but neither seems to be question begging. This being the case I had to ask myself why it is that you see question begging. I believe this is because of an interpretative difficulty made with regard to Fee’s argument. This leads to my next point.

(2) Caneday’s articulation of Fee’s argument
In two places you use the language of “derivation” to describe Fee’s argument.

· “The later grammatically unqualified phrase, ek pisteos, derives its meaning from the earlier longer and grammatically qualified phrase…”
· “If the meaning of the earlier longer phrase is the issue disputed, and the later shorter phrase derives its meaning from the earlier longer phrase…”

I read and re-read Fee but I do not see where he either argues or assumes that the shorter phrase is “derived” from the longer phrase. What Fee does state is that the shorter phrase “seems to be a pickup of the larger phrase.” Now, I grant this may not be the clearest expression but I’m not sure that it necessarily means, or is intended to mean, “derivation.” This is why in my articulation of Fee’s argument above I used the phraseology, “There is a connection between the short form and long form,” without attempting to specify the exact nature of the connection. Fee’s wording may be vague but it doesn’t seem to be question begging unless one assumes that Fee’s language must necessarily refer to some sort of derivation.

Not to belabor the point but as I see it your concluding “concern” contains a questionable premise. Here is your sentence with some letters added to mark out the premises.

· “If (a) the meaning of the earlier longer phrase is the issue disputed, and (b) the later shorter phrase derives its meaning from the earlier longer phrase, then how can anyone appeal to the meaning of the later shorter phrase to define the earlier longer phrase without begging the question?”

This is an “If…then…” argument in which the “If” portion contains two premises (a and b). It is premise (b) that seems questionable in that Fee does not articulate his position in this manner.

In conclusion, I’m not attempting to argue for or against Fee’s exegetical and grammatical arguments. I’m simply registering my dissent that his argument can be overturned by appealing to the logical error of question begging.

abcaneday said...

Thanks to all who have responded to my appeal for help. It appears that I have assumed certain things about what Fee says based upon other factors not expressly included within the quoted portion about which I asked.

Hence, the logical fallacy seems to be my assumptions concerning what Fee means by certain statements rather than his error.

I appreciate the assistance everyone has offered.

Ana said...

Analizar el significado de la frase εκ πιστέως (por la fe) en el pensamiento de Pablo.
Ro 1:17b, Pablo cita el texto de Habacuc 2:4; pero lo hace de tal manera que es dificil precisar cuál pudo haber sido su Vorlage (fuente del escritor).
En el texto hebreo, Habacuc 2:4 dice: "Pero el justo por su fe vivirá" y en la LXX tenemos: "pero el justo por mi fidelidad vivirá".
Algunos creen que la expresión εκ πιστέως (por la fe) de Ro 1:17b se refiere al texto hebreo, otros creen que hace referencia al texto griego, e incluso otros llegana afirmar que ambos tipos de texto estan aludidos en el referido pasaje de Romanos.
De acuerdo al uso paulino de la expresión εκ πιστέως ¿Cuál de las tres posibilidades es la correcta? ¿Por qué?
Espero su respuesta

abcaneday said...


It seems to me that Paul cites the Greek text but does modify the text slightly concerning the personal pronoun from "my" to "his."