The phrase "Faith in Christ" can also be translated "Faith of Christ" (or "Faithfulness of Christ" [NET]):

  1. In the older school of translations of the Bible into English (I'll call them the "King James school" of translations), almost every example of "pistis Christos" is rendered "the Faith of Christ" (the subjective genetive translation)
  2. In the vast majority of modern translations (I'll call them the "Modern school") the same phrase is rendered as "[your] Faith in Christ". (the objective genetive translation)
  3. There are a few translations that waver between the two possibilities, depending on the exact verse involved, trying to bring the context to bear - the NET is an example of this.

See the section below for more detail on the Greek formulations of "Faith in Christ", and the last section for some examples of the different translations. This question only addresses the 3rd type where "en" or "eis" in Greek is not present.

The Question:

Is there any way to understand why or how this general shift occurred from translating these Greek phrases from "the Faith of Christ" to "[your] Faith in Christ" for the majority of modern translations?

Different Greek formulations for "Faith in/of Christ" in the New Testament

In trying to understand the term "Faith" in the Bible, I have come across several different underlying Greek phrases:

  1. En Pistis Christos: Faith located inside of Christ, or with Christ as the source of the faith. i.e. you have the faith because you are joined with Christ or "in Christ".
  2. Eis Pistis Christos: Faith into or toward Christ, with the direction of the faith being the key, rather than Christ being the object of the faith. I still do not fully understand the meaning of this one.
  3. Pistis Christos: (by itself with no article): This can be translated either:
    • "[your] Faith in Christ", which means [you] trust in Christ or some aspect of his character (Christ or what he does is the object of the faith). This is technically called the objective genitive translation.
    • "the Faith of Christ" [or sometimes, "the faithfulness of Christ"], meaning the faith that Christ has in some other object (such as God the Father). This is technically called the subjective genitive translation.

Sometimes there are other variations which I'm not enough of a Greek scholar to really speak to, but just about any time faith is not paired with Christ in relationship to faith, the passage is less clear as to the core meaning of faith in that instance, compared with passages that include Christ.

This question is regarding the #3 type of faith only, and only those cases that also mention faith's relationship to Christ. In #3, the Greek allows both "Faith in Christ" and "Faith of Christ" as correct translations, and neither is preferred on it's own - only context can give us clues as to which the correct interpretation is.

Usage examples:

1. Romans 3:22.

The KJV indicates that righteousness is applied to us because of the faith that Jesus had (or really, carried out):

21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested , being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe : for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned , and come short of the glory of God; (Romans 3:21-23, KJV)

  • The NET sides with KJV in this case, making it explicit that it is the action of what Christ did by changing it from "faith of Christ" to "faithfulness of Christ" (his faithfulness in carrying out the Father's plan for his death and resurrection, etc.):

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:21-23, NET)

Both the NIV and NASB are examples of the modern school's translation making the application of righteousness into a dependency on the individual believer's faith or trust with Jesus as the object of that faith:

  • 21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:21-23, NIV)

  • 21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:21-23, NASB)

2. Galatians 2:16

  • 16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no * flesh be justified. (Galatians 2:16, KJV)

  • 16 yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ (Galatians 2:16, NET)

  • 16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no * flesh will be justified. (Galatians 2:16, NASB)

So, again, what is the reason for this shift in most modern translations away from "Faith of Christ" in Romans 3:22, Gal 2:16 and similar verses?

Is it due to textual criticism (correction from a comment: textual analysis)? Shifts in theology/doctrine? A better understanding of Koine Greek? Something else?

Also Note: The NET has some pretty extensive footnotes on most of these cases that expound upon the various ancient textual variants and different possible interpretations with the reasoning why they went the way they did.

  • 7
    The answers here give a pretty good sketch of the history. To delve into the Greek syntax this would probably be better off on Hermeneutics.SE. This is a huge issue, many books have been written.....but I tend to think an "overview" answer of sorts is possible. Whether it is likely to surpass the quality of the NET footnotes I'm not sure. :-)
    – Susan
    Dec 28, 2015 at 10:15
  • 3
    To get you started. (From the preamble of that 51 page document: "I have chosen to present here the key set of arguments concerning the relevant data in Romans for this debate. Discussion of the relevant arguments and data in Galatians as well would be unmanageably extensive.")
    – Susan
    Dec 28, 2015 at 10:30
  • @Susan Thanks Susan! Those are helpful. Yes, I specifically chose this SE over Hermeneutics as I wasn't sure it's really the underlying Greek - nor would an answer have to delve into the Greek, only show that is the main cause. Are your comments indicative that you believe it is purely a matter of textual criticism? That would be the basis for a good answer... :)
    – LightCC
    Dec 28, 2015 at 19:51
  • 2
    I don't think it's a matter of textual criticism (deciding between variants in Greek manuscripts), but I do think it's a matter of textual analysis (understanding the syntax of the Greek based on the context as well as more general grammatical patterns). In my view (which is, admittedly, biased :-)), the part of this question that can be addressed adequately here was contained in the prior Q&A linked above. The (much bigger) question about the "real issue" seems to me more like a Hermeneutics.SE thing, but if the community here keeps it here, maybe somebody can distill it for this format.
    – Susan
    Dec 28, 2015 at 20:08

3 Answers 3


Have a look at it through historical criticism.

One could do worse than pin it on Bultmann's Existentialist Alternative. (More crudely, the "I'm spiritual, not religious," phenomenon.)

Asbury Bible Commentary 1 lays it out in The Problem of Faith and History: Theological Alternatives

Bultmann's main response to Barth was that if revelation is independent of historical criticism, why claim that revelation has a historical point of reference at all! 2

And if the historical question is strictly an academic consideration, why not reinterpret the phrase “faith in Jesus Christ” in a symbolic way?

This is indeed what Bultmann did. “Faith in Christ” is a symbolic expression for experiencing a more authentic understanding of the meaning of existence!

That's probably a way more simple answer that what the OP is looking for, but understanding Bultmann's views (and his subsequent influence on biblical studies) helps me understand this shift.

Another thing that helps me understand is the old adage: "Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, the church proclaimed faith in Jesus."

1 https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/asbury-bible-commentary/Problem-Faith-History

2 Rudolf Bultmann, Essays: Philosophical and Theological, trans. James C. G. Grieg (London: SCM, 1955), 261.

  • 2
    I'm not sure I see the connection between "'Faith in Christ' is a symbolic expression for experiencing a more authentic understanding of the meaning of existence" and "Faith in Christ means Christ's faithfulness, not the Christian's faithfulness." Dec 30, 2015 at 15:00
  • The question seems less about the meaning and more about why or how or when the meaning shifted, yes?
    – Stephen
    Jan 4, 2016 at 12:01
  • 1
    It seems to me to be asking about the shift from one particular meaning to another particular meaning, not merely a shift. The shift you talk about is from literal "faith in Christ" to symbolic "faith in Christ," while the question asks for the shift from "faithfulness of Christ" to "faith in Christ." Jan 4, 2016 at 12:27
  • I disagree. The shift in "meaning" is clear. The OP lays that out. I'm trying to track down the when and how. And I'll try and be a little more clear, this is the shift in thought from a literal, historic "faith of Christ" (Barth) to a symbolic "faith in Christ" (Bultmann)
    – Stephen
    Jan 4, 2016 at 13:00
  • That clarification would definitely help. I'm still skeptical though that the NIV and NASB translation committees would be taking cues from Bultmann of all people. It's certainly possible, but I'd expect more conservative scholarship to have had a bigger influence. Jan 4, 2016 at 13:05

The King James editors were translating the Greek literally.

The Greek phrase in question in Romans 3:22 is:

διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

where the words "Jesus Christ" (Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) are in the genitive, or "possessive" case.

This is a Greek idiom. Whereas we use the preposition "in" to signify faith in something, Greek sometimes simply signifies that in which faith is placed through use of the genitive case.

The King James is not consistent in its use of "of" and "in" in expressions concerning "faith in", but the Greek consistently casts the object of faith in the genitive case.

Other examples:

Mark 11:22 (KJV 1900)
And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.

Καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ἔχετε πίστιν θεοῦ [lit. "faith of God"]

Romans 3:3 (KJV 1900)
For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?

Τί γὰρ εἰ ἠπίστησάν τινες; Μὴ ἡ ἀπιστία αὐτῶν τὴν πίστιν τοῦ θεοῦ [lit. "faith of the God"] καταργήσει;

I think that it is also true that in the 17th century the word "of" in English had shades of meaning that are different from what it has now. I don't have access to the complete Oxford English Dictionary, but the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (6th ed.) does indicate that an archaic meaning of "of" was "in". For this reason, I am speculating, the King James translators were perhaps not all that concerned about translating literally.

  • Do you have any references or other works you can cite? This sounds like speculation about the meaning rather than analysis of the two schools of interpretation and their relationship - especially over time.
    – LightCC
    Dec 21, 2016 at 2:54

I think this is simply because English has changed. In modern English "faith of Christ" would mean that faith that Christ had, whereas "faith in Christ" expresses the need to put faith in Christ, i.e. to trust in Christ for salvation. I have no doubt that the translators of the King James were trying to express the same meaning when using "faith of Christ" as modern translators with "faith in Christ". English has changed and modern translations reflect that.

  • Welcome! We're glad you are here, but this answer would be much stronger if you showed, with sources, that it doesn't merely reflect your opinion. I hope you'll take a minute to review how this site is different from others, and better understand how your answer can be supported. Jan 25, 2016 at 14:38
  • 7
    If you can find evidence that this was true of 17th C. English that would be interesting. (To me it's not clear what the KJV translators were doing -- they weren't fully consistent on this, and I suspect they were deciding not to decide, in a way, by defaulting to the most common translation of the genitive.) However, you're simply wrong that the distinction in meaning cited in the Q is "simply because English has changed". This is one of the biggest debates among modern interpreters of the Greek text of Paul's letters, and it's certainly not based on an artifact of shifting English usage.
    – Susan
    Jan 25, 2016 at 15:08
  • Hi Brian - I'm confused by your answer, as far as I can tell, "Faith of Christ" (or "Faithfulness of Christ" as the very recent and modern NET translates it) has not changed meaning over time. "Faith in Christ" has a very different meaning from "Faith of Christ" in both old and modern English (even in American English...). I believe if you will look at my question in more detail, it will help explain that this cannot be a simple "shift of English". Note that even the NASB has a few cases of "Faith of Christ" (as I mention in the question), and it is also a modern translation.
    – LightCC
    Aug 5, 2017 at 22:56

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