Neil Chambers on the Death of Christ and the Purchase of Faith: An Analysis of John Owen’s Arguments (Part 2: Philippians 1:29)
Owen’s verses considered.
Phil. 1: 29
hoti humin echaristhe to huper christou, ou monon to eis auton pisteuein alla kai to huper auton paschein
This is a verse Owen uses relatively frequently and with a consistent interpretation. He understands it to say “It is given unto us, huper christou on the behalf of Christ, for Christ’s sake, to believe on him.”19 Owen clearly takes the verse, in the form he has cited it, to indicate that we are granted the gift of faith ‘for Christ’s sake’, that is, as a reward for Christ’s obedience on the cross. This understanding is not argued, but assumed. However, it is a misunderstanding of the relation of huper christou to echaristhe and to pisteuein. The function of the verse is to explain to the Philippians why their present trials are a sign from God of their salvation. This is so “because their believing in Christ and especially their suffering for his sake had been ‘graciously given to them by God’.”20 Within that context the huper christou is related to the paschein. As Moises Silva writes,
this phrase [huper chistou] is not to be construed with what precedes, as is suggested by some English translations [ . . . ], but rather with paschein ‘to suffer for Christ’s sake.’ As Ltf. points out, “The sentence is suspended by the insertion of the after- thought” [namely, the clause où monon to eis auton pisteuein]. then it is resumed with alla.21
Taken with paschein the phrase huper chistou now gives the reason for the suffering of the Philippians, “out of devotion for, on account of our identification with, Christ.”22
The verse is helpfully diagrammed thus:
hoti umin echaristhe to huper chistou [paschein understood]
ou monon to eis auton pisteuein
alla to huper autou paschein.
There are repeated articular infinitives as co-ordinated objects of the verb echaristhe indicating what is given by God, with each articular infinitive containing within it a prepositional phrase further specifying the action of the infinitive. The to huper autou is resumptive.23 It is clear that while faith is the gracious gift of God, huper autou does not indicate the cause of God giving faith to the Philippians, rather it specifies the one for whose sake, on whose behalf, they are undergoing suffering. This verse does not speak of a purchase of faith, or a bestowal of faith by God as a reward for Christ’ obedience.
Chambers, N.A. “A Critical Examination of John Owen’s Argument for Limited Atonement in the Death of Death in the Death of Christ,” (Th.M. thesis, Reformed Theological Seminary, 1998), 204-207. [Some reformatting; old style title emphasis converted to italics; italics original; underlining for side-headers original; and inline underlining mine.]
1910: 257. See also 10: 159, 235, where he quotes the verse in the same sense, in the latter claiming that it teaches that faith is clearly the fruit of Christ’s death; 10: 288 “How vain it is to except, that these things are not bestowed absolutely upon us ‘but upon condition’ and therefore were so procured; seeing that the very condition itself is also merited and procured, as Eph. 1: 3,4, Phil. 1: 29.”; 10: 397. It is only in this last that the reference to Phil. 1: 29 is not joined to a reference to Eph. 1:3.
20Peter T. O’ Brien Commentary on Philippians. New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), p. 158.
211Moises Silva Philippians The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), p. 98. Also H.C.G.Moule, Philippian Studies. Lessons in Faith and Love (London: Pickering and Inglis, n. d.), footnote 1, p. 69; Marvin R. Vincent, A critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon, I. C. C. , (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1897), p. 36.
22Silva, Philippians, 97; O’Brien: “The preposition huper, ‘for the sake of, for’, when used with verbs of suffering, gives ‘the reason for it’ (huper tou onomatos , Acts 5:41; 9:16; 21: 13; cf. 2 Thess. i: 5) .” Philippians, p. 159. This is in contrast to Hawthorne and Wuest who favour the sense of ‘in the place of i or even ‘instead of’ for huper. Gerald F_ Hawthorne Philippians Word Biblical Commentary, (Waco: Word Books, 1983), p. 61; Kenneth S. Wuest, Philippians in the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1942), p. 54.
23O’Brien: “Because of the different prepositional relationship [eis instead of huper after pisteuein], the to huper Christou already expressed is again taken up by to huper auto.” Philippians, p.159. BDF §399 which lists Phil. 1:29 as an example of lithe anaphoric significance of the article” of the substantivized infinitive.