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οἱ πιστεύοντες: An Early Christ-Group Self-Designation and Paul's Rhetoric of Faith

  • Ryan S. Schellenberg (a1)

Abstract

Although it is widely recognised that οἱ πιστεύοντες was a self-designation of the early Christ groups, this is not reflected in scholarship on Romans and Galatians, where the participle is usually taken as a generic substantive. Such a rendering obscures the force of Paul's rhetoric, which presupposes the status of οἱ πιστεύοντες as a shared self-designation and mobilises it in an effort to naturalise Paul's claims regarding the exclusive justificatory value of his addressees’ πίστις. Accordingly, in Rom 3.22 and Gal 3.22, where οἱ πιστεύοντες appears in close connection with πίστις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, it is unlikely that the latter phrase designates Christ's own faithfulness.

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References

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1 Dunn, J. D. G., Beginning from Jerusalem (Christianity in the Making 2; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009) 9; so also Spicq, C., Vie chrétienne et pérégrination selon le Nouveau Testament (LD 71; Paris: Cerf, 1972) 1519.

2 Morgan, T., Roman Faith and Christian Faith: Pistis and Fides in the Early Roman Empire and Early Churches (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015) 235; likewise Trebilco, P., Self-Designations and Group Identity in the New Testament (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012) 7980, 90.

3 Morgan, Roman Faith and Christian Faith, 234–41; Trebilco, Self-Designations and Group Identity, 68–121.

4 The singular participle appears five additional times, only in Romans (1.16; 4.5; 9.33; 10.4, 11). Since in my judgement it cannot decisively be demonstrated that the singular was used as a self-designation by Paul or others in the mid-first century, I exclude these from my analysis. It is suggestive here that in 1 Corinthians, Paul sets the plural οἱ πιστεύοντες in opposition to οἱ ἄπιστοι (14.11) but consistently chooses ἀδελφός or ἀδελφή, not ὁ πιστεύων, when contrasting an individual believer with these same ἄπιστοι (6.6; 7.12, 14, 15). On the more varied usage in Acts, which nevertheless always retains a collective sense, see Trebilco, Self-Designations and Group Identity, 104.

5 The exception is 1 Cor 1.21, where the NRSV has ‘those who believe’.

6 As demonstrated by 1 Thess 1.7, where the NRSV has ‘all the believers’, the presence of πᾶς is not the determining factor here, although it is true that πᾶς is often used with an articular substantive participle when that participle has a generic meaning. See BDF §413(2).

7 Among the many who render the phrase ‘the believers’ without comment are Conzelmann, H., 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975) 242; Fitzmyer, J. A., First Corinthians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 32; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008) 521. Cf. Dibelius, M., An die Thessalonicher i–ii; an die Philipper (HNT 11; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1937 3) 4–5, 8–9.

8 Malherbe, A. J., The Letters to the Thessalonians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 32B; New York: Doubleday, 2000) 116.

9 Collins, R. F., First Corinthians (SP 7; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999) 105. Likewise Rigaux, B., Saint Paul: Les épîtres aux Thessaloniciens (EBib; Paris: Gabalda, 1956) 385; Best, E., A Commentary on the First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (BNTC; London: Black, 1972) 105.

10 As often noted, ‘believe’ gives the misleading impression that πιστεύω chiefly denotes cognitive assent. See e.g. Hodge, C. Johnson, If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) 82.

11 Jewett, R., Romans: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007) 278.

12 Cranfield, C. E. B., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (2 vols.; ICC 32; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975 6) i.203; Fitzmyer, J. A., Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 33; New York: Doubleday, 1993) 346; Longenecker, R. N., The Epistle to the Romans: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016) 413.

13 Wolter, M., Der Brief an die Römer (Röm 1–8) (EKKNT 6/1; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener/Ostfildern: Patmos, 2014) 250. Note, though, that ‘Glaubenden’ and ‘Gläubigen’ are somewhat more common in German commentary on these passages than ‘believers’ is in English, perhaps because these terms remain cognate with ‘Glaube’. E.g. Stuhlmacher, P., Der Brief an die Römer (NTD 6; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1989 14) 57; Wilckens, U., Der Brief an die Römer (Röm 1–5) (EKKNT 6/1; Zürich: Benziger/Neukirchener-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1978) 187; Lohse, E., Der Brief an die Römer (KEK 4; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003 15) 131. On German- vs English-speakers’ proclivities in this regard, see Watson, F., Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015 2) xlii–xliii.

14 Dunn, J. D. G., Romans 1–8 (WBC 38A; Dallas: Word, 1988) 167; cf. idem, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 384.

15 A limited exception here is Ulrichs, K. F., Christusglaube: Studien zum Syntagma πίστις Χριστοῦ und zum paulinischen Verständnis von Glaube und Rechtfertigung (WUNT ii/227; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007) 37, 96, 142, 150, 176. See below for further discussion.

16 Morgan, Roman Faith and Christian Faith, 236; Trebilco, Self-Designations and Group Identity, 82–3.

17 Of the occurrences noted by Trebilco, the following are particularly compelling as instances of denominative use: Mark 9.42; 16.17; Acts 2.44; 4.32; 5.14; 15.5; 18.27; 19.18; 21.20, 25; Eph 1.19; Heb 4.3; 1 Pet 2.7; Herm. Sim. 8.3.3 (69.3); 9.19.1 (96.1); 9.19.2 (96.2); 9.20.1 (97.1); 9.21.1 (98.1); 9.22.1 (99.1); 9.23.1 (100.1); 9.24.1 (101.1); 9.25.1 (102.1); 9.26.1 (103.1); 9.27.1 (104.1); 9.28.1 (105.1); 9.29.1 (106.1); 9.30.2 (107.2). All are absolute uses of the plural substantive participle, in the present, aorist or perfect. Cf. R. Bultmann, ‘πιστεύω κτλ.’, TDNT vi.214; BDAG s.v. 2.b.

18 As Theresa Morgan observes, ‘the quality which most naturally evokes pistis is pistis itself’. Roman Faith and Christian Faith, 217. Cf. Downing, F. G., ‘Ambiguity, Ancient Semantics, and Faith’, NTS 56 (2010) 139–62, at 156–8.

19 Cf. Schliesser, B., Abraham's Faith in Romans 4: Paul's Concept of Faith in Light of the History of Reception of Genesis 15:6 (WUNT ii/224; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007) 387–8. On Paul's eschatological hermeneutic more generally, see Koch, D.-A., Die Schrift als Zeuge des Evangeliums: Untersuchungen zur Verwendung und zum Verständnis der Schrift bei Paulus (BHT 69; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1986) 315–21; Hays, R. B., ‘The Conversion of the Imagination: Scripture and Eschatology in 1 Corinthians’, NTS 45 (1999) 391412, at 398–402; Wendt, H., ‘Galatians 3:1 as an Allusion to Textual Prophecy’, JBL 135 (2016) 369–89, at 377–8, 386–7.

20 Cf. Ulrichs, Christusglaube, 205.

21 For summary and bibliography, see Matlock, R. B., ‘The Rhetoric of πίστις in Paul: Galatians 2:16, 3:22, Romans 3:22, and Philippians 3:9’, JSNT 30 (2007) 173203, at 174–6; Easter, M. C., ‘The Pistis Christou Debate: Main Arguments and Responses in Summary’, CurBR 9 (2010) 3347, at 38–9. Exemplary for our purposes is Johnson, L. T., ‘Rom 3:21–26 and the Faith of Jesus’, CBQ 44 (1982) 7790, at 79: ‘Why should Paul add eis pantas tous pisteuontas [in Rom 3.22], if he has just said, “through faith in Jesus Christ”?’

22 Hays, R. B., The Faith of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1–4:11 (SBLDS 56; Chico, CA: Scholars, 1983) 202. Cf. Longenecker, Romans, 415.

23 See esp. Matlock, ‘The Rhetoric of πίστις’; Ulrichs, Christusglaube, 37–41.

24 Ulrichs, Christusglaube, 96, 176.

25 Ulrichs, Christusglaube, 176.

26 As Morgan notes, the fact that it became the functional equivalent of the substantive adjective οἱ πιστοί strongly suggests that οἱ πιστεύοντες was understood to connote not in the first place belief but rather trust and/or faithfulness. Morgan, Roman Faith and Christian Faith, 240.

27 Cf. Trebilco, Self-Designations and Group Identity, 118–20; Morgan, Roman Faith and Christian Faith, 238–40 and passim.

28 Howard, G., ‘The “Faith of Christ”’, ExpTim 85 (1974) 212–15, at 212–13; though see Matlock, R. B., ‘Detheologizing the ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ Debate: Cautionary Remarks from a Lexical Semantic Perspective’, NovT 42 (2000) 123, at 17–20.

29 Williams, S. K., ‘Again Pistis Christou’, CBQ 49 (1987) 431–47, at 434–5.

30 For a brief review of scholarship that advocates a ‘third view’, see Sprinkle, P. M., ‘Πίστις Χριστοῦ as an Eschatological Event’, The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical, and Theological Studies (ed. Bird, M. F. and Sprinkle, P. M.; Milton Keynes: Paternoster/Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009) 165–84. Notice that this is a proposal quite distinct from the suggestion that the genitive suggests both the faith of the believer and Christ's corresponding faithfulness. Cf. Downing, ‘Ambiguity, Ancient Semantics, and Faith’, 139–41, 160.

31 Cf. Ulrichs, Christusglaube, 19–23. On the genitive in general, still instructive is Robertson, A. T., A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1919 3) 493–4.

32 E.g. Fee, G. D., Paul's Letter to the Philippians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995) 167: ‘appositional genitive’; Aletti, J.-N., Saint Paul: Épître aux Philippiens (EBib 2/55; Paris: Gabalda, 2005) 105–6: ‘génitif d'origine’, ‘génitif objectif’ or ‘génitif d'apposition ou épexégétique’.

33 Schliesser, B., ‘“Christ-Faith” as an Eschatological Event (Galatians 3.23–26): A “Third View” on πίστις Χριστοῦ’, JSNT 38 (2016) 277300. And see Oakes, P., ‘Pistis as Relational Way of Life in Galatians’, JSNT 40 (2018) 255–75, at 265, 271–2.

34 Schliesser, ‘“Christ-Faith” as an Eschatological Event’, 285; Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ, 230–1.

35 See Barton, C. A. and Boyarin, D., Imagine No Religion: How Modern Abstractions Hide Ancient Realities (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016) 74–9. And, more generally, Morgan, Roman Faith and Christian Faith, 36–175.

36 For blood oaths, see e.g. Sallust, Cat. 22, with Barton and Boyarin, Imagine No Religion, 75–9.

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οἱ πιστεύοντες: An Early Christ-Group Self-Designation and Paul's Rhetoric of Faith

  • Ryan S. Schellenberg (a1)

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