Some Questions About Greek Grammar

By Wayne Jackson

“First, can you tell me, based upon the Greek text, if the expression ‘faith in Christ’ (Rom. 3:22 and Gal. 3:26), is correctly translated; or should it be ‘faith of Christ’? As I understand it, the phrase is in the genitive case.

Second, why are the verbs ‘believing’ and ‘confessing’ (Rom. 10:9) in the aorist tense? One would think they would be in the present tense (of continuous action). Does not the aorist indicate a ‘one time’ action in the past?"

Let us consider the components of these good questions one at a time.

Faith in Christ

Generally, the “genitive” case corresponds to the English possessive; yet, the matter is much more complex than that. While it is the case that “faith” in Romans 3:22 is a genitive, one must note that there are a number of different kinds of this grammatical “case.” J. Harold Greenlee lists 15 varieties of the genitive (1969, pp. 28-31).

While a few scholars contend that “faith [of] Jesus Christ” (Rom. 3:22) signifies “the faith belonging to Christ” (i.e., it is a reference to Jesus’ personal fidelity) most students consider it to be an objective genitive. This means that Jesus is the “object” of the faith. The phrase would signify the quality of faith which focuses upon Christ as its object.

The Bible student must recognize that it is one thing to grammatically identify a term; it is quite another to determine how such is used in a given context. This involves interpretation, not the mere acknowledgement of a grammatical peculiarity.

Faith is in the genitive case in Galatians 3:26, in conjunction with the preposition dia, rendered “by” (KJV), or “through” (ASV). Dia, with the genitive, signifies “through” or “by means of.” And that is the sense in this passage. It is “by means of the faith” that one becomes a child of God.

The explanation as to how that is achieved is set forth in verse 27, “for (gar—explanatory) as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ.”

Incidentally, in the Greek Testament an article precedes “faith,” hence “the faith.” Here “the faith” stands for the gospel system (cf. Gal. 1:23; 1 Tim. 5:8; Jude 3). So, it is by means of “the faith” system (as opposed to the law of Moses) that one becomes a child of God in this age.

The Two Aorists

Now, let us look at the two aorists, “believeth” and “confesseth” in Romans 10:9. We’ve also added verse 10 for some additional comments.

“[B]ecause if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved: for with the heart man believeth (present tense—believing) unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession (present tense—confessing) is made unto salvation.”

It really is not the case that the aorist merely indicates a “one-time” action in the past. What the aorist does is “freeze” the action, viewing it as an event, regardless of how much time is involved.

For example, “death reigned [aorist] from Adam to Moses” (Rom. 5:14). During this span of centuries, thousands died, but, in this context, death is viewed simply as an event devastating humanity, even though it was occurring as a constant phenomenon. The aorist, therefore, can focus upon isolated events, or be constantive in force—a sort of parenthesis that “sums up.”

Also, however, is the important fact that both verbs, in verse 9, are in the subjunctive mood, the mood of contingency. In Greek, the matter of “time” is relevant only in the indicative (indicating or telling) mood. Time, therefore, is not a prime factor in verse 9.

In the case of Romans 10:9, “believe” and “confess” are simply two conditional acts of obedience preliminary to the reception of salvation from past sins. By a figure known as the synecdoche (a part put for the whole), they stand for the entire company of conditions necessary for the remission of sins.

On the other hand, the terms “believing” and “confessing” (v. 10) are present tense forms. These denote a “process of faith and confession,” which, embraced in a life-long commitment, result in the ultimate salvation of heaven (Rom. 13:11; 2 Tim. 4:18).

The two verses in concert, then, picture the salvation process commenced, and then continued.

Sources/Footnotes
  • Greenlee, J. Harold. 1969. A Concise Exegetical Grammar of New Testament Greek. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.