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In the 16th-19th century English, the "of" construct is clearly used for the objective, not possessive or subjective genitive, as seen from King James Bible and other versions like Geneva of the 16th century. See some 8 examples comparing KJV and ESV: describing the Christian faith as faith of Christ, faith of God.

KJV Gal 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Rom 3:22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference

Rom 3:3 For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?

Old English versions have the same. Ex. Wycliffe Gal 2:16 "that we ben iustified of the feith of Crist"

It was continued in some versions like Douay-Rheims 1899. However, the new versions from the Revised Version (20th Century) have a shift in understanding this objective genitive and turns those phrases "faith in" by removing of. I have read someone citing that OED states of used to mean in. There is evidence that the new interpretation of faith of Christ to be faithfulness of Christ or his own faith can be traced to 19th century. This indicates a shift in "of genitive" understanding in English.

Question: The meaning of of-gen is clear (it used to be exactly Greek, objective). Is there other evidence and analysis about this change in the modern English that slowly it became confusing to people to include subjective or possessive genitive?

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    I think you want the "early-modern-english" rather than the "old-english" tag for this question.
    – user888379
    Commented Jan 24 at 15:54
  • Shakespeare's Coriolanus has "the faith of men" which appears possessive (although you could argue other things, it certainly isn't objective). But your best bet is probably the OED which will document different meanings with historical examples. (Although I don't know how you'd prove something was unambiguous/unconfusing to someone from the 16th or 17th century.)
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 24 at 16:49
  • It was definitely unambiguous otherwise they would've used "faith in" and other prepositions. "Faith of men" refers to the common faith that men hold. I think it is also objective, and that all Greek references in the NT have the same meaning, objective. Sadly the corrupt losers have locked oed oed.com/dictionary/of_prep?tab=meaning_and_use-paywall#33800123
    – Michael16
    Commented Jan 24 at 17:25
  • What do you mean by "during King James Bible"? In the early 17th century?
    – TimR
    Commented Jan 25 at 15:05
  • yes, actually throughout the centuries (old english to 19th), especially during those centuries of the KJV.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jan 25 at 15:15

2 Answers 2

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Here's a quick summary of "noun of noun" style constructions from the OED. It can be seen that many senses go back to Old English and even more predate the King James Version and early modern English. The objective goes back to Old English, but other senses including material, partitive, collective, and possessive are of similar age, and subjective is 13th century.

Expressing the material or substance of which something is made goes back to Old English. With noun: "reaf of oluenda hærum" (robe of camel hair).

Connecting a collective or quantitative term with the specific component, also late Old English. From 1200: "Ten hundred punde of seoluer and of golde." Connecting a general with a specific as with "burh of Lincolne"="Burgh of Lincoln", Old English.

Partitive is early Old English: "monige of Ongelþeode"="Many of the English people".

Replacing objective genitive: Old English "witnesse of þas"="witness of this".

Expressing the subject matter of thought, ideas, stories, etc: 12th century with preceding noun: "tale.. Of blisses dune, of sorwes dale."="Tale of joys done, of sorrows given".

Subjective with a noun goes back to 1225: "Þenche ȝie ælc word of him swete."="You think each word of him sweet." And e.g. 1382 we find "Heer begynneþ þe epistil of seynt Ierom."="Here begins the epistle of St Jerome".

Possession: Old English with belonging to a place, also with titles and rulers: "men of Lundenbyrig", "eorl Rotbert of Normandig". 14th century for actual possession: "The bones of hir freendes that were slayn." "In this temple of the goddesse Clemence." "Off" was used with this sense in the 12th century; but Old and Middle English normally used the genitive case for this.

Other senses are prepositional, largely following verbs. The original sense going back to Old English is: "Indicating the thing, place, or direction from which something goes, comes, or is driven or moved: from, away from, out of." This is now dialectal or replaced by the spelling "off", although there are traces of this when you talk about removing something from its owner as in "robbing Americans of jobs", developing from a source "nothing much developed of Agrarianism", "of your own free will".

The use of "of" to indicate an agent with a passive verb goes back to Old English, although these days "by" is more common. It is found with a verb expressing the means or instrument back to Old English, now replaced by "off", "by", etc.

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The history of "of" is quite complex. In Old English, Of, off, were the same word separated only by emphasis and from carried much the same meaning: it gave an origin (comparable to the German "von").

In Middle English, the French Norman "de" muddied the waters and of and off separated into their current meanings although retaining much of the old:

"Move off the road -> Move from the road."

"Simon of Aramathea -> Simon from Aramathea.

"It is made of gold -> it is made from gold"

"This is the leg off the table -> This is the leg from the table. -> This is the leg of the table", etc.

Thus The Faith of Christ would thus imply "The Faith from (that originates in) Christ" (we have no idea what Christ's "faith" was.)

Today we see it as "The Faith of (that is contextually associated with) Christ."

As far as being confusing - people have always been easily confused. As far as religious use is concerned, confusion is why there are so many faiths...

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  • This change in meaning happened long before the 16th century, so "of" had many of its current meanings by the time of the KJV or even Tyndale and Coverdale: it started before the Norman Conquest according to the OED, but was greatly encouraged by the use of "de" in Norman French after 1066 (French "de" substituted for the Latin genitive as well as use as a preposition of origin, and English "of" followed likewise).
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 1 at 9:46

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