What Is The Gift In Ephesians 2:8?

Τῇ γὰρ χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι διὰ πίστεως· καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν, θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (ESV)

In response to the recent posts on justification the question has come to the inbox how we should understand Paul’s language in Ephesians 2:8, as cited above from the ESV and the NA28. In particular the question is how to relate faith (πίστις), which a feminine noun to the neuter demonstrative pronoun this (τοῦτο). There are probably several ways this has been approached but let’s consider two, in historical order. First Calvin’s comment on v.8:

8. For by grace are ye saved. This is an inference from the former statements. Having treated of election and of effectual calling, he arrives at this general conclusion, that they had obtained salvation by faith alone. First, he asserts, that the salvation of the Ephesians was entirely the work, the gracious work of God. But then they had obtained this grace by faith. On one side, we must look at God; and, on the other, at man. God declares, that he owes us nothing; so that salvation is not a reward or recompense, but unmixed grace. The next question is, in what way do men receive that salvation which is offered to them by the hand of God? The answer is, by faith; and hence he concludes that nothing connected with it is our own. If, on the part of God, it is grace alone, and if we bring nothing but faith, which strips us of all commendation, it follows that salvation does not come from us.

Ought we not then to be silent about free-will, and good intentions, and fancied preparations, and merits, and satisfactions? There is none of these which does not claim a share of praise in the salvation of men; so that the praise of grace would not, as Paul shews, remain undiminished. When, on the part of man, the act of receiving salvation is made to consist in faith alone, all other means, on which men are accustomed to rely, are discarded. Faith, then, brings a man empty to God, that he may be filled with the blessings of Christ. And so he adds, not of yourselves; that, claiming nothing for themselves, they may acknowledge God alone as the author of their salvation.1

Then Charles Hodge:

The only point in the interpretation of these verses of any doubt, relates to the second clause. What is said to be the gift of God? Is it salvation, or faith? The words καὶ τοῦτο only serve to render more prominent the matter referred to. Compare Rom. 13:11; 1 Cor. 6:6; Phil. 1:28; Heb. 11:12. They may relate to faith (τὸ πιστεύειν), or to the salvation spoken of (σεσωσμένους εἶναι). Beza, following the fathers, prefers the former reference; Calvin, with most of the modern commentators, the latter. The reasons in favour of the former interpretation are, 1. It best suits the design of the passage. The object of the apostle is to show the gratuitous nature of salvation. This is most effectually done by saying, ‘Ye are not only saved by faith in opposition to works, but your very faith is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.’ 2. The other interpretation makes the passage tautological. To say: ‘Ye are saved by faith; not of yourselves; your salvation is the gift of God; it is not of works,’ is saying the same thing over and over without any progress. Whereas to say: ‘Ye are saved through faith (and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God), not of works,’ is not repetitious; the parenthetical clause instead of being redundant does good service and greatly increases the force of the passage. 3. According to this interpretation the antithesis between faith and works, so common in Paul’s writings, is preserved. ‘Ye are saved by faith, not by works, lest any man should boast.’ The middle clause of the verse is therefore parenthetical, and refers not to the main idea ye are saved, but to the subordinate one through faith, and is designed to show how entirely salvation is of grace, since even faith by which we apprehend the offered mercy, is the gift of God. 4 The analogy of Scripture is in favor of this view of the passage, in so far that elsewhere faith is represented as the gift of God. 1 Cor. 1:26–31; Eph. 1:19; Col. 2:12, et passim.2

Both views are monergistic, both uphold the Reformation, both are seeking to work carefully with the text and to account for Paul’s intent. In some ways they are not far apart but there is a difference between them. In order to sort out these questions I consulted my next door neighbor at work, Steve Baugh, Professor of New Testament at Westminster Seminary California, who, as it happens, has just completed a commentary on Ephesians forthcoming in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series. On this clause he writes,

καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν, “and this does not originate from you.” There is much popular discussion about the word “τοῦτο” (“this”) and its antecedent in v.8b. It is tempting to take the antecedent as “faith” (i.e., “this faith is not from you “; as Hodge…), even though πίστις (“faith”) is feminine and the demonstrative pronoun is neuter. Grammatically, one could suppose that an abstract idea like “faith” or “believing” could be referenced as neuter, but that would make this rather common construction unnecessarily complicated (cd BDF §131). In Greek, events as a whole are treated as neuter singular things with neuter articles (e.g., το πιστευειν, “believing”), neuter relative pronouns (e.g., Eph. 5:5), or neuter demonstrative pronouns as in v. 8b (also, for example: 6:1; 1 Cor 6:6, 8; Phil 1:22, 28; Col 3:20; 1 Thess 5:18 and 1 Tim 2:1–3). Hence the antecedent of τοῦτο [“this’] is the whole event; “being saved by grace through faith.”

Steve goes on to explain that this understanding of “this” as referring to the whole complex of salvation, to all the components, is Paul’s way of saying that it all comes from God, not from “human capacity or exertion.” This means that even the believer’s act of believing comes from God. He notes that Paul says this in Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake….” “This is part,” Steve writes, “of the evidence of Protestantism’s historic position that salvation is sola gratia and sola fide….” Our salvation and the faith by which we receive it, it’s all God’s gift.

A second, related, question has come asking how to think about our part in the act of faith. It is we who believe but that we believe is a gift of God. By nature, in Adam, we are dead in sins and trespasses. In regeneration God sovereignly bestows new life on his people, and in that new life, he grants faith by which we are united to Christ. When we say that it is we who believe, we’re saying that God does not believe for us. To be clear, it not that God graciously makes it possible for us to believe, as if it were up to us, but rather as part of the gift of new life, God graciously gives us the gift of faith.

NOTES

1. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, trans. William Pringle (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 227.

2. Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1858), 119–120.

6 comments

  1. Thank you both for clarifying how both faith being not of ourselves but the gift of God follows from the whole complex of salvation being not of ourselves but the gift of God, AND how faith being the gift of God is demonstrable from elsewhere in Scripture.

  2. “It is we who believe but that we believe is a gift of God.”

    So could it be said that Calvin is speaking to the ‘It is we who believe’ piece of your statement, while Hodge is speaking to the ‘but that we believe is the gift of God’ part of it? In general, I’ve understood faith and salvation as Hodge does, and didn’t realize there was wiggle room on this point.

    If my understanding of statements from Hodge and Calvin aren’t correct then maybe I don’t understand the distinction between synergism and monergism as well as I thought I did, or monergism itself. If we don’t include faith as a gift, how can it not be argued that we are bringing something to God – faith – that he then grants salvation because of?

    Am I misunderstanding the nature of faith as the instrument of our salvation? Or some other distinction?

    Thank you in advance for your help in understanding this issue and your blog in general.

    • Will we ever understand this issue in this life? Isn’t this the REAL mystery in Scripture, not these straightforward doctrines like the Trinity? Doesn’t the Bible abound in these contrasts, “I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me”, “nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me”, Philippians 2:12-13, etc.? Isn’t it only “Calvinism” that states the case correctly in all instances, that God always justly requires of us justly what we by nature cannot do, but anything we do do to meet God’s requirement is always His work, but we do it? In contrast, Arminianism denies our inability to believe and hypercalvinism denies our duty to believe (One well-known recently deceased minister on our side of the pond was heard to say “If faith is a gift, how can it be a duty?”. On the strength of that dictum, his denomination was allowed by trustees to take over a church building that apparently had hypercalvinist trust deeds. I wonder what would have happened if he’d said “If unbelief is a sin, how can faith NOT be a duty?”?). And of course Pelagianism additionally denies our inability to savingly keep the law and Antinomianism additionally denies our duty to keep the law. Logicians would make a 5×2 truth table out of this!

    • SM,

      No, I don’t think Hodge and Calvin disagree or that they are speaking the question you raise. I added that last bit, about how to relate our believing to the fact that it is a gift, to the post to address a second related but distinct question that I received recently on this topic. Calvin was speaking to how properly to interpret Eph 2:8 and whether “this” refers to the whole complex, which is how he seems to have taken it. Hodge wanted to refer “this” to faith specifically.

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