Book Notice: Paul and the Language of Faith

Nijay K. Gupta. Paul and the Language of Faith. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2020. 240 Pages. $34.99 (paperback).

Nijay Gupta (Associate Professor of New Testament at Portland Seminary of George Fox University) is a Pauline scholar with a prolific publication record over the past few years. I picked up his new Paul and the Language of Faith thinking it was simply the latest installment of the ongoing pistis Christou debate. The book does address this issue, breathing new life into a once-stale conversation. But it is much more than a new proposal for the debate; it is a refreshing reassessment of Paul’s overall usage of the concept of faith.

Gupta argues that Paul’s usage of the word pistis (commonly translated as “faith” or “faithfulness”) is “polymorphous” and therefore “cannot be brought into English with one static term like ‘faith’” (177). He offers three general categories for Paul’s usage: (1) obeying faith (faithfulness or loyalty), (2) believing faith (belief without seeing), and (3) trusting faith (faith connected to God’s covenant promises). To be sure, Paul contrasts faith and works, but he is not against works; works simply cannot replace Christ. Thus Gupta coins the—rather awkward—phrase “covenantal pistism” as a rival to E. P. Sanders’s concept of “covenantal nomism.” For Gupta, covenantal pistism is “the more accurate term to indicate a divine-human relationship that includes both expectation and goodwill (hence covenantal) but mediates by pistis in Christ” (179–80). Though Gupta had previously defended the objective genitive view of pistis Christou (“faith in Christ”), he now advocates a third view where pistis Christou “is a placeholder that simply stands for the agency of Christ, especially as a platform or mediation that relates God’s people to God in a personal and transformative fashion” (175). According to Gupta, the phrase is neither an objective nor a subjective genitive but—following Benjamin Schliesser—a “relational genitive.”

Despite its provocative and controversial thesis, this book is an important work that is worthy of wide readership. Too often Paul’s faith language is flattened into mere intellectual assent, perhaps because many of us are afraid of including the concept of works in Paul’s soteriology. Though it would change the “feel” of the book, the volume would have benefitted from being 100 pages longer and containing twice as many footnotes. Gupta attempts to survey faith language in the Old Testament, in the early medieval and Reformation periods, and in Greco-Roman and Jewish first-century literature—all in the first 50 pages! What is more, instead of arguing for contested premises, there are times when Gupta assumes his point (e.g. his use of words such as “clearly” and “surely” on pp. 160, 165, and throughout the book). In spite of these minor critiques, the book constitutes a significant contribution to the literature on Paul.

CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. The present book notice was written by Mark Baker (Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), who serves as Dean of Faculty at Paideia Academy in Knoxville, TN.


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