The Faith of Jesus Christ. An Investigation of the Narrative Structure of Galatians 3:1–4:11

Written by Richard B. Hays Reviewed By Richard N. Longenecker

In an extremely interesting and provocative work, which was originally written as a doctoral dissertation under William Beardslee at Emory University, Richard B. Hays argues (1) that underlying Paul’s theological argument of Galatians is a Jesus narrative (‘story’) which was assumedly held in common by all early Christians, but which was sometimes diversely understood as to its soteriological implications, and (2) that this basic narrative was spelled out by Paul in terms of a representative Christology and a participationistic soteriology in his dealing with the Galatian situation. With regard to the first point, Hays accepts that the logic of Gal. 3:1–4:11 has been informed, in part, by such factors as the errorists’ teaching, rabbinic exegetical procedures, certain epistolary and rhetorical conventions of the day, and Paul’s own Christian experience. But he insists that more fundamental than any of these in giving material substance to Paul’s arguments is the church’s common tradition about Jesus, which comes to expression most clearly, though somewhat allusively, at 3:1, 13–14, 22, 26–28, and 4:3–6. With regard to the second point, Hays sees Paul’s message epitomized in the expression pistis Jēsou Christou of 3:22 (cf. 2:16, twice)—which he insists must be taken as a subjective genitive and understood as ‘the faith (or, faithfulness) of Jesus Christ’—and in the formula en Christō Jēsou of 3:26–28. Without arguing for a unitary use of pistis in Galatians, and so not denying that pistis is sometimes used as well for mankind’s response of trust and commitment, Hays’ insistence is: ‘The argument of Gal. 3:1–4:11 finds its point of coherence in [1] the story of the Messiah [2] who lives by faith’ (p. 235).

In a day when Paul and Paul’s message are being extensively reappraised, Hays has much to say that is of importance. Of particular value are (1) his evaluative reviews of positions that have a bearing on a number of matters in Pauline study, (2) his highlighting of the presence of Jesus-narrative elements in Gal. 3:1–4:11, and (3) his grammatical defence of the view that pistis Jēsou Christou is most likely to be taken as a subjective genitive and understood as ‘the faith (or, faithfulness) of Jesus Christ’. Debatable, however, is his claim (‡ la A. T. Hanson) that Paul read Hab. 2:4 as a messianic text which proclaims that the Messiah (ho dikaios) will live by faith. And doubtful is his insistence that Abraham was for Paul not the prototype of the believer but the prototype of Christ, since Abraham’s faith foreshadows not the believer’s faith but Christ’s. Both of these latter positions Hays uses as supports for his main thesis, though I view them as unsupported by the evidence and non sequiturs accepted in an attempt to be rigidly consistent.

I applaud Hays’ work in highlighting the Jesus elements in Gal. 3:1–4:11, and I agree that a Jesus narrative seems to have supplied much—though not all, as Hays is prone to insist—of the material substance for Paul’s argument there. Here, I believe, Hays has made an important contribution to Pauline studies. I would, however, argue that more is involved, both materially and formally, than this in Paul’s Galatian argument, and so would call for greater consideration than Hays gives to such factors as Paul’s own Christian experience, the errorists’ teaching, Hellenistic epistolary conventions, Jewish exegetical procedures and certain widespread rhetorical practices of the day. All of these, of course, Hays acknowledges here and there in his treatment, though not to the extent I think necessary.

Further, I applaud Hays’ defence of pistis Jēsou Christou as a subjective genitive that epitomizes in one way Paul’s representative Christology, vis-‡-vis the teaching of the errorists at Galatia. More, however, could have been done by way of connecting this representative ‘faith’ or ‘faithfulness’ theme with the obedience theme and the Sonship motif found elsewhere in Paul’s writings (which Hays does to some extent in treating Gal. 4:4–5 and Phil. 2:6–11, though could have done more). And while Hays acknowledges that pistis is not a univocal concept for Paul, but is sometimes used ambiguously in the apostle’s letters, more allowance could have been made for Paul in certain contexts speaking of believers’ faith in Christ—thereby allowing his central thesis to be established by its primary evidence, without weakening it by trying to make Paul to be entirely consistent.

In sum, therefore, I commend Hays’ work as an important contribution to the study of Galatians in particular and of Paul more generally. I only warn readers not to follow Hays in driving excellent observations and important theses to unwarranted conclusions, all in the name of logical consistency. Paul is too broad, too diverse, and too unsystematic for that.

Richard N. Longenecker

McMaster Divinity College, Ontario