Re: James 2:1

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Tue Feb 11 1997 - 17:41:52 EST

I was wondering why this wasn't showing up in the archives - turns out I
didn't put b-greek in the Cc: field of my mailer. Oops! Since I wrote this,
Carl has already replied, but I think this contains some useful information
that doesn't overlap, so I'm sending it again anyways...

If you are sick of objective/subjective genitives, skip to the end - there
are some interesting ambiguities in this text! 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)?

I've tripped over this phrase enough times to have some opinions, but I'm
afraid my opinions won't help you nail it down, they will introduce more
ambiguity. Maybe a bigger Greek will help narrow our options ;->

In an objective genitive, the thing which is genitive is the object: hH DE
TOU PNEUMATOS BLASFHMIA in Matt 12:31 ("the blasphemy of the holy spirit")
does not mean that the holy spirit is blaspheming, it means that the holy
spirit is being blasphemed. Grammatically, it could mean either, but knowing
what we do about the spirit, we assume that the spirit is the object, not
the subject. In a subjective genitive, the thing which is genitive is the
subject: in Romans 8, TIS hHMAS XWRISEI APO THS AGAPHS TOU XRISTOU does not
mean "who shall separate us from loving Christ", it means "who shall
separate us from Christ's loving us".

There is no way to look at a genitive and know whether it is "objective" or
"subjective" except for looking at its meaning in context. The terms
"objective genitive" and "subjective genitive" are attempts to describe
possible uses of the adnomial genitive. As a matter of fact, in English, the
phrase "faith of Christ" has exactly the same ambiguity as the Greek - is it
the faith we have in Christ, the faith the faith which is of Christ, or the
faith which Christ has? If you keep in mind that word used for "faith" can
also mean "faithfulness", other meanings are also possible. The basic
meaning of the genitive is that A pertains to B, it does not specify much
more. If A pertains to B means that A is the subject, you get one meaning,
if it means that A is the object, you get another, and there are lots of
other possibilities.

Now let's look at the text:

Jame 2:1 (GNT) Adelfoi mou, mh en proswpolhmyiais ecete thn pistin tou
kuriou hmwn Ihsou Cristou ths doxhs.

There are several things that could lead to different interpretations:

ECETE could be either imperative or indicative.
THN PISTIN TOU KURIOU could be objective or subjective.
THS DOXHS seems to dangle off the end - does it bind to Cristou, or is there
a missing implied referent, e.g. "the Lord of glory"?
MH could, in fact, be interpreted as beginning a question, but not necessarily.

I haven't wrestled with this particular passage before, but there seems to
be room for different interpretations here.


Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703
Ph: 919.598.5728 Fax: 919.598.6728
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