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Jeremy Pierce

I've always found the following reason pretty convincing. In one of the key debated places in Galatians, the expression occurs in close quarters with the verbal form of the same root, which clearly indicates the believer's belief in Christ. Why, then, postulate that the expression must mean something else when the noun is used in such close proximity, unless one assumes the New Perspective from the outset and simply needs some way to confirm it. It's hard for me to see it as anything but question-begging, at least in that context.

I should say that the subjective reading could be true even if the New Perspective is not. It's not as if the subjective genitival reading requires the NPP. Peter O'Brien is a serious critic of the NPP, but he accepts the subjective genitival reading in Philippians. (I haven't seen him address its use in Galatians and Romans.) But it's for the above reason that I find the subjective reading very implausible in Galatians, at least.

Esteban Vázquez

Way to put a busy guy on the spot, John! ;-) But as is my wont, I am loath to participate on blog-o-storms, since it is always and unfailingly the case that someone else has already said what I would've said, and much better to boot. For proof of this point, well, one only needs to follow the links you provide above!

And thanks, of course, for these examples from the Hebrew Bible and DSS. One of these days...



That's in Galatians 3:22. The same collocation is found in Romans 3:22 (easy to remember).

I've tried hard to come around to the NPP on this and other matters. I really have. No luck so far.


We like the newfangled ideas.

I noticed that BBB does not include any third option readings. Why must we be locked into an either/or situation?


Daniel and Tonya (happy B-day!),

Francis Watson lays claim to a third option. I haven't been able to make heads or tails out of it so far.

I predict that Michael Bird will read enough Greek between now and his forthcoming new book to modify his embrace of NPP orthodoxy on this point. In fact, I think that's a done deal already, but he is being coy about it.

My own position, BTW, is not straight Lutheran by any means. In short, I'm mixed Lutheran-NPP when it comes to the "righteousness of God," but not when it comes to "trust of Christ."

Justin Richter

Augustine takes an interesting interpretation of πίστις Χριστοῦ:

"By that faith of Jesus Christ, that is which he bestowed upon us, we believe that we now have from God and will will have more fully from him the righteous life that we live." (The Spirit and the Letter, ¶ 18)

He takes it as a subjective genitive, but it is "Christ's Faithfulness" that is imparted to the believer that allows him to obey the law of Christ.

I happen to disagree with some of his exegesis on Romans, but it is interesting that such a major figure would interpret it subjectively.



That's a great quote from a great theologian. I don't think it captures the grammatical-historical sense of passages like Rom 3:22 and Gal 3:22, but it captures their canonical sense.

The Augustinian dictum reinterprets and widens the sense of the Pauline language based on the entire witness of Scripture. At its best, canonical exegesis does precisely that.

I'm not convinced that the pars destruens of the NPP is right. But its pars construens, at the level of canonical exegesis, has much to offer in relation to, not in replacement of, the Augustinian-Lutheran take on Paul.

Kevin P. Edgecomb

Also, Augustine was not using the Greek, but the Old Latin. It's inapplicable to the direct question. Both "per fidem Iesu Christi" and "ex fide Iesu Christi" (the Vulgate readings; I don't have access to the VL right now) are clearly simply genitives, as ambiguous as the Greek. His interpretation is interesting, but hardly probative.

Justin Richter

No doubt. Augustine was definitely using Old Latin. You make a good point that the genitive is equally ambiguous in that language. Too often people try point out that Augustine didn't interpret scripture right because he didn't read the Greek manuscripts. I think that's a sham. I think the Vulgate was an adequate translation. Also, Augustine demonstrates that he had a working knowledge of Greek on numerous occasions; in fact, in the same paragraph from the previous quote he states, "If θεοσεβεια is translated into Latin according to its etymology..." I wouldn't be shocked if Augustine was relatively better in Greek then many exegetes today.


With Augustine, as with all pre-critical and post-critical interpreters - including myself, when I go "native" and interpret a passage paradigmatically, not historically - one cannot pretend that he limit himself to what Paul was saying through the expressions Paul uses.

Augustine, like any other Father, read Paul with an ear for what God was saying through Paul's words.

"What God was saying" was not an arbitrary quantity, but was determined by a canonical hermeneutic (scripture interprets scripture) and a regula fidei (a traditional systematization of the cardinal truths of the gospel the details of which were also derived from scripture). Just as Paul could take a passage from Torah that refers to the care of animals and apply it to people based on the principle that all scripture is pro nobis (written for us), Augustine could take an expression from Paul and "reset" it along more explicitly theocentric and christocentric lines.

In so doing, Augustine knew himself to be faithful to the witness of scripture as a whole. No more, but also, no less.

Peter Kirk

Justin, consider this example of Augustine going astray by misunderstanding Greek and/or using a poor translation.

Kevin P. Edgecomb

Yes, Jerome took Augustine to task several times over Greek. His occasional foray resembles that of a contemporary pastor pulling out the old canard of "The Three 'Loves' in Greek" or whatever. Yes, he has some Greek, but he doesn't have Greek.

But, as John notes, this is peripheral to the philological issue. Augustine was approaching the verse pastorally, through the lens of the broader understanding of his received instruction and his impressive intellect. His is a broadly theological statement, dealing more precisely with the intersection of Christology and Anthropology. There's no indication that this is textually or philologically based.



I think you would do well to cut Augustine some slack here. See Kevin's comment after yours.


Thanks for saying what I was trying to say, but more clearly.

Peter Kirk

I will cut no slack for a man who has led Christian theology astray for 1600 years by exegeting the Latin of Romans 5:12 in a way which cannot possibly be supported by the Greek text. This is not my own idea, it is agreed by among others the Reformed commentator on Romans (ICC) Cranfield. Augustine was a Manichaean, only partly converted, who brought into Christianity many pagan ideas which had never been held by Christians before him. Yes, he had an impressive intellect (although you can hardly applaud his reliance on translations), but he used it to lead the church astray.



It is interesting that you are capable of damning central figures in the history of the church - Augustine is apparently the root of all evil in your book - while praising someone like Todd Bentley.

My views, as you know, are opposed to yours on both counts. We will have to agree to disagree in both cases.

Paul, Augustine, Luther, and Calvin: all of these thinkers struggle with many of the same questions and are close to each other in terms of the way they frame the questions and the way they answer them.

I think your real beef is with Paul, not with those who came after him.

Peter Kirk

John, my beef is NOT with Paul. I fully accept what he wrote in Romans 5:12, with ἐφ᾽ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον understood according to the normal rules of Greek and with most translations as "because all sinned". Yes, all have sinned, by their own action, and it is because of that death spread to all human beings. What I reject is Augustine's misunderstanding of these words as "in whom [i.e. Adam] all sinned", which is understood as a denial of Paul's statement that all committed sin by making Adam the one who committed the sin and is responsible for their death. If Calvin held this same misunderstanding, I reject his teaching as well, and stand with Paul's teaching that all have committed sin and that is why all die.



The meaning of the phrase you cite is not as clear-cut as you suggest. It is misleading to suggest that in the history of interpretation, Augustine is the reason others have defended interpretations at variance with the one you prefer.

It may or may not be true that the phrase in question means:

(1) "on account of the fact that all have sinned"

instead of

(2) "on account of which all have sinned."

But one thing is certain: the classical Jewish and Christian teaching about sin and evil, a tightrope act in which various forms of evils and their causes are accounted for, including things like genetic predisposition in the singular and plural, cultural determinants, historical inevitability, personal culpabilities, and metaphysical evil, has a lot more going for it than any alternative you have offered so far.

You can't take Augustine down by pointing out that his interpretation of one phrase in Paul is doubtful. This amounts to nit-picking.

In the final analysis, you have to look out at the world and say, against the combined witness of scripture and both Jewish and Christian tradition (not just Augustine), that all die because of the sins they themselves commit.

A theological anthropology, to be taken seriously, has to make sense out of and establish scope and limits to apparently contradictory passages: Gen 6:3,5-8,11-13; 8:21; Exod 20:5-6; Isa 63:17; Ezek 18; Ezek 36:27 (human obedience created ex nihilo); Rom 5:18; Rom 9-11; and Rev 22:10-15. I don't think you have done that yet.

You get all worked up about Augustine and give him far more credit than he deserves for the doctrine of sin and salvation in the Christian faith. But that is not the same thing as coming up with a credible alternative to said doctrine, an alternative that accounts for biblical and experiential data.

The biblical data are, besides being received by Jews and Christians alike as divine revelation, a distillate of experience. On the basis of experience, I cannot follow you, insofar as I understand you, when it comes to questions of sin and salvation.

Peter Kirk

John, come on, you have been through all kinds of seminaries, and you don't know that there are credible alternatives to Augustine's doctrine of original sin? It's not just that one verse, of course, Augustine made many other theological innovations.

I don't expect you to agree with me. But I do expect you to show some respect for alternatives held by many respected theologians in ancient and modern times, and not imply that they, as well as me, are fools for not agreeing with Augustine.



I'm having a hard time figuring out who you think are "the many respected theologians in ancient and modern times" who developed an alternative to Augustine's doctrine of original sin.

Augustine's own teaching was hammered out in opposition to the teachings of Pelagius. The latter's teachings, inclusive of the denial of original sin, were condemned by council after council in the East and the West.

The doctrine of original sin was taught by figures as diverse as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Melito of Sardis, Origen, Cyprian, Ephrem and Aphrahat, Athanasius, and Didymus the Blind.

Who are these "many respected theologians of ancient times" you refer to?

As for modern times, I'm not sure who you have in mind either. The better modern theologians, Catholic, Orthodox, and Reformed, recalibrate some of the emphases of the classical Augustinian synthesis, enrich it perhaps on the basis of broader foundations in the Bible and tradition, but do not do away with the questions to which it responds or the answers it offers.

You might at least give an example or two of an ancient theologian and a modern theologian whom you respect and who offer a credible alternative to the Augustinian synthesis.

That said, I am thankful that you raise these questions. I am convinced that the witness of the Bible and that of the early Church stand or fall together on point after point. The conviction is grounded in historical and cultural considerations which I believe to be unimpeachable.

As far as I can see, you head full blast in the other direction, that of driving a wedge between the New Testament and Christianity that followed, of the four or five first centuries and far beyond. Your approach is hard for someone like me to accept. I'm trained as a linguist and a historian first of all, as a theologian in second order. I am leery of theology which is rootless from a historical point of view.


Merry Christmas,

Peter, thanks for directing me to that post. Very interesting. You are right. I may have sounded a little over zealous with Augustine's knowledge of Greek. Did Augustine have perfect theology? I think he would be the first one to tell you that he didn't. In fact, at the end of his life, he wrote a whole book where he goes an dretracts alot of his previous thoughts. Yet, I'm pretty sure he isn't as bad you make him out to be. For goodness sake, he helped shepard the Church through some of her most turbulent times. You can't view his theology apart from his pastoral intention. They weren't seperate categories for him. In my opinion, he is a good example of how to develop theology in the practice of love and charity (not just intellect), which is an area in which we can all use some help in.

Also, I agree with John that he didn't invent his theology out of thin air; instead, I think he merely refined previous church thought. Take the Enchiridon for example, there isn't anything in there that you couldn't find in earlier Church catechisms. Furthermore, C.P. Bammel demonstrates that Augustine's view on justification was highly dependant on Origen's commentary on Romans. Thats the beautiful thing about most of Church history; doctrine was always a communal development.

Peter, have a good Christmas brother and I know some day you will be illumined to the truth ;).

Peter Kirk

Justin, thank you for your conciliatory response, something I find lacking elsewhere in this comment thread. I agree that I may have pulled down Augustine a bit too far in response to John's near idolatry of him. At least I haven't been quite as hard on him as Jim West was.

John, if you want to find modern commentators who agree with me, start with two on my bookshelf, Cranfield and Dodd. Ezekiel 18 is certainly on my side. See also (as an example of early theology on my side, not as inspired Scripture) 2 Esdras 3:21-22, 4:30, cited by Dodd (I have seen NRSV only).



Remember your words ahead of mine:

"I will cut no slack for a man who has led Christian theology astray for 1600 years . . . Augustine was a Manichaean, only partly converted, who brought into Christianity many pagan ideas which had never been held by Christians before him."

There are so many problems with your frontal attack on Augustine, it is hard to know where to begin. I did the best I could to respond to it, but did not in succeed in cutting you the kind of slack you refuse to cut for Augustine. I don't disagree with you there.

On many different levels, on the question of original sin as on so many others, Augustine's way of framing the debate in the midst of controversies of his day, and the answers he offered in that context, will continue to be exemplary for Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and evangelicals for the foreseeable future.

If those who look to Augustine in this sense are guilty of "near-idolatry" in your eyes, please include me in that number. I might as well take on your negative label as a badge of honor.

For the rest, I think you conflate the exegetical question with the theological one. There is more than one way to understand Rom 5:12, but it is very hard to read Rom 5 as a whole without coming to the conclusion that Paul held to a version of the widespread teaching on original sin one finds elsewhere in Judaism and Christianity in Greco-Roman antiquity.

Peter Kirk

Yes, no doubt (as Dodd pointed out) Paul held to the view expressed in 2 Esdras, that every human followed Adam's example by sinning.



Paul held that, but also knew of evil and good that are original (in consequence of Adam and Eve's sin and God's grace proleptic to and in response to that); inherited; transgenerational; culturally and historically determined; and metaphysical. He had far more in mind than you have shown a willingness to notice, as even a cursory examination of his complex argument in Romans will demonstrate.

I am really not worried about your stance becoming popular. It stands in flagrant contradiction to the logic of Romans 5:18-19, and to reality all around us.

But here's a question: are you willing to out-Arminian Arminius? As Roger Olson correctly notes:

"Arminius believed strongly in original sin as inherited corruption that affects every aspect of human nature and personality, and renders human persons incapable of anything good apart from supernatural grace."
(Arminian Theology, p. 142).

It's a question I have: how deep into semi-Pelagian land have you traveled?

I could be mistaken, but you seem to have positioned yourself in territory that would have qualified you as a heretic in the eyes of Arminius and Wesley, not just Augustine and Calvin.

The fact is, you can't throw out "original sin" without throwing out the entire traditional theological anthropology of scripture as understood by the church. The pieces cohere. If you take even one piece out, the whole edifice falls apart.

Perhaps you know that. If so, you might be blunt about the other pieces of the edifice you want to remove. Vicarious atonement, I think, is something you have also questioned. But I thought you stepped back from the brink in the end. Maybe not.

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    by Christian Brady, targum specialist extraordinaire, and dean of Schreyer Honors College, Penn State University
  • Targuman
    on biblical and rabbinic literature, Christian theology, gadgetry, photography, and the odd comic, by Christian Brady, associate professor of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature and dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State
  • The Biblia Hebraica Blog
    a blog about Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the history of the Ancient Near East and the classical world, Syro-Palestinian archaeology, early Judaism, early Christianity, New Testament interpretation, English Bible translations, biblical theology, religion and culture, philosophy, science fiction, and anything else relevant to the study of the Bible, by Douglas Magnum, PhD candidate, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • The Forbidden Gospels Blog
    by April DeConick, Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University
  • The Naked Bible
    by Mike Heiser, academic editor at Logos Bible Software
  • The Reformed Reader
    by Andrew Compton, Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (focus on Hebrew and Semitic Languages) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • The Sacred Page
    a blog written by three Catholic Ph.D.s who are professors of Scripture and Theology: Michael Barber, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma
  • The Talmud Blog
    a group blog on Talmud News, Reviews, Culture, Currents, and Criticism
  • Theological German
    a site for reading and discussing theological German, by Mark Alter
  • theoutwardquest
    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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