Faith and “the Working of God” in Col. 2:12

QUESTION: As you have pointed out, Colossians 2:12 says that we are buried and raised with Christ (i.e., regenerated) IN baptism, and THROUGH faith. But the rest of the verse describes this faith as being tēs energeias tou theou. This is usually translated as faith “IN the working [or power] of God.” But there is no preposition “in” in the Greek text. In fact, the genitive case is used; and in the Greek language this case is usually translated with “of.” So, is not Paul actually saying that our faith is OF the working of God? Does the genitive case then support the Calvinist doctrine that faith is not our choice, but is the gift of God? Is Paul actually saying that we are regenerated through a faith caused by “the working of God”? Is he saying that God is the source of our faith?

ANSWER: You are correct in saying that “the working of God” is in the genitive case. And you are correct that the genitive case is often translated as a possessive, using our preposition “of.” (There is no actual Greek preposition here meaning “of”; this meaning is drawn from the genitive case of the noun for “working.”)

The question is whether the use of the genitive case always and necessarily means “of,” in the sense of possession. IF that were the case, then the “faith” in Colossians 2:12 might indeed be something “belonging to” or “drawn from” the working of God. But here is the fact (and this is very important): the genitive case simply does not ALWAYS and NECESSARILY have this possessive meaning. It has other connotations, according to the context.

This is especially true when the Greek noun pistis (“faith”) is followed by a noun in the genitive case. The following data will show very clearly that the genitive case is often used with “faith” to show the OBJECT of that faith, and is NEVER used to describe its source.

I have limited my search to Paul’s writings, using a Greek-English concordance. I found 20 instances (including Col. 2:12) where the word “faith” is followed by a noun phrase. In these 20 instances, TEN of them are using the genitive case, and ten are using a preposition. Three different prepositions are used: en (“in”), seven times; pros (“toward”), twice; and eis (“unto”), once. Now, here is the important point: besides Col. 2:12, every phrase is describing the OBJECT of the faith, and never the SOURCE of the faith.

In fifteen of the twenty instances, the object of the faith is Jesus himself. Philemon 5 uses pros: “faith toward the Lord Jesus.” Colossians 2:5 uses eis: “faith unto Christ.” Six texts use en (Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13; 2 Tim. 1:13; 3:15), with the simple meaning of “in Christ Jesus.” But here is the important point: the remaining seven texts describe faith IN JESUS by using the simple genitive case: Rom. 3:22; Gal. 2:16 (twice); 2:20; 3:22; Eph. 3:15; Phil. 3:9. These last seven texts show that the genitive case is being used to indicate the OBJECT of faith. (Some have attempted to interpret them to mean “the faith of Jesus,” in the sense of “the faithfulness of Jesus”; but this is extremely faulty theology. The texts are clearly referring to OUR faith IN Jesus.)

In the other five texts, the noun “faith” is followed by five other nouns. First Thessalonians 1:8 speaks of “faith toward [pros] God.” Romans 3:25 speaks of “faith in [en] his blood.” The next two use the genitive case to describe the object of faith: Philippians 1:27, where “faith (of) the gospel” clearly means “faith IN the gospel”; and 2 Thessalonians 2:13, where “faith (of) the truth” indisputably means “faith IN the truth.” This leaves Colossians 2:12, where “faith (of) the working of God,” following the consistent pattern everywhere else, MUST mean “faith IN the working of God.”

The false idea that the genitive case (“of”) in Colossians 2:12 must mean that the working of God is the source of faith is simply an instance of Calvinist propaganda, and ignorant propaganda at that. As shown above, in all of the other cases where the genitive case follows the noun “faith” in Paul’s writings, the OBJECT of the faith is meant. There is no reason the think that Colossians 2:12 is any different.

[ADDENDUM. Outside of Paul’s writings there are but a few other uses of a phrase combining “faith” with a following noun. Here are the ones I found: (1) In Mark 11:22, Jesus says, “Have faith in God.” “In God” is actually just the genitive for God (theou). This supports the conclusion above regarding Col. 2:12. (2) Acts 3:16 has two phrases, “faith (of) His name,” genitive, meaning “faith IN His name”; and “faith THROUGH (Greek, dia) Him,” speaking of the faith that brought about the lame man’s healing. (3) Acts 20:21 and 24:24 both speak of faith eis Jesus. (4) Hebrews 6:1 speaks of “faith TOWARD (epi) God. (5) Finally, in Revelation 2:13 Jesus speaks of “faith in Me,” using the genitive mou. This is a pronoun, not a noun; but the use of the genitive is significant. It obviously indicates Jesus as the object of faith.]

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Faith and “the Working of God” in Col. 2:12 — 3 Comments

  1. In passages that are clear when Paul uses pistis followed by a genitive noun of person he always implies the subjective genitive, never the objective For instance in Romans 3:3 tên pistin tou theou (‘God’s faithfulness’) and pisteôs tou patros êmôn Abraam (‘the faith which Avraham avinu had’) in Romans 4:12).

    In Col. 2:12 it is a subjective genitive: “you were raised up along with him through God’s faithfulness that worked when he raised Jesus from the dead”. The statement is equivalent to the promise in Romans 8:11 “if the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then the One who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.”
    We are “raised up”, not because of our faith, but because of God’s faithfulness in raising Jesus.

    • Thank you for pointing out that Romans 3:3 and 4:12 also have the word pistis with a genitive noun, which in these cases is used in the subjective sense. These two verses, however, do not by any means make your case for some kind of grammatical rule, “when Paul uses pistis followed by a genitive noun of person he always implies the subjective genitive, never the objective.” I say this for two reasons.

      One, I listed seven texts which use pistis with a genitive noun (or pronoun, in the case of Eph. 3:12–which I mistakenly listed as Eph. 3:15). Judging from these contexts, all seven of these should clearly be understood as objective genitives. E.g., in Galatians 2:16 Paul says we are not justified by works of law but dia pisteos Christou Iesus, then immediately says again that we are justified ek pisteos Christou and not by works of law. The parallelism with Romans 3:28 shows that Paul is speaking of our faith in Jesus. The contrast of “faith in Jesus” with “works of law” shows that Paul is talking about things we do, not something Jesus does. Likewise, the contexts of all seven listed texts overwhelmingly point to the meaning of “faith IN Jesus” (objective genitive), rather than “faithfulness OF Jesus” (subjective genitive).

      Two, even if we granted that your suggested rule–that “when Paul uses pistis followed by a genitive noun of person he always implies the subjective genitive, never the objective”–were true (which we do not), it would not apply to Colossians 2:12 anyway. This is obviously true because here the word pistis is NOT followed by “a genitive noun of person.” It is followed by the impersonal noun energia, “working, power.” Also, there is no parallel with Romans 8:11, which is speaking of the resurrection of our bodies, while Colossians 2:12 is speaking of the resurrection of our spirits in baptism (i.e., regeneration). The true parallel is with Ephesians 2:8-10, where being “created in Christ Jesus” (v. 10) is equivalent to being raised up with Christ in Colossians 2:12, and where personal faith is cited as the means for receiving this gift (v. 8). I think only theological desperation can find God’s faithfulness rather than the sinner’s faith in the word pistis in Colossians 2:12.

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