Re: James 2:1

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Feb 11 1997 - 14:29:48 EST

At 9:02 AM -0600 2/11/97, wrote:
>In James 2:1, is the translation "faith in Christ" or "faith of Christ?"
> What is the difference between an objective genitive and a subjective
>genitive? Do you believe that 2:1 is a question (as the NRSV
>translation has it)?
>Thanks for your help.

(a) This question cannot be definitively answered to everybody's
satisfaction; grammatically either meaning is possible. One speaks of
"subjective" and "objective" genitive respectively when a noun in the
genitive depends upon another noun expressing a verbal conception if the
genitive noun would be the subject of the verb and when the genitive noun
would be the object of the verb. For example, "Joe's love" is an ambiguous
phrase in exactly the same sense as PISTIS CRISTOU is in James 2:1: it may
mean the love that Joe has (subjective genitive) or it may mean love that
somebody has for Joe (objective genitive).
In the phrase found not only in James 2:1 but at many points in the NT it
is sometimes fairly clear that the genitive must be objective, but in many
other instances it is not at all clear, and there has been a growing sense
among some interpreters in recent years to translate the phrase as meaning
"faith of Christ"--i.e., it is not the faith we have in Christ that saves
us, but rather it is Christ's faithfulness that saves us. There have been
extensive threads of discussion on this list on this topic, and you may
want to consult the archives if you are interested. There's much to be said
on both sides of the question.

(b) The phrasing in the Greek of James 2:1 can be understood equally well
as a question or as an imperative. But if it IS understood as a question,
it would be more or less a rhetorical one: "Surely you do not really
believe, do you, in view of your acts of favoritism?" This would seem to
me, at least, to be much more forceful than a straightforward imperative,
"Do not hold faith in Christ ..." And why would he want to say that? So the
question really seems to make more sense.

If you'd like to check the archives, they are at:

Unfortunately, I'm not sure exactly when those discussions took place; my
recollection is that it was discussed at least twice in the course of the
last two years.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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