Is Faith the Gift of God in Ephesians 2:8? By Jack Kettler
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;” (NASB)
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -” (NIV)
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” (KJV)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,” (NKJV)
It seems to me that a common reading of the passage leads one to the conclusion that the apostle is referring to faith as the gift of God. If not faith, what was Paul referring to when he said: “and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God?” This we will seek to determine in the following study.
An objection to connecting the word “faith” with being the “gift” of God:
There are those who object and say the Ephesians passage does not teach that “faith” is the gift of God and argue that the pronoun “that” (touto) is neuter in gender, and the word “faith” (pistis) is feminine. The argument says that the general rule in Greek grammar is that the gender and number of the pronoun should be the same as its antecedent. When there is no clear antecedent, then is is argued “that” (touto) should be connected to the word “saved” or the idea of salvation and would excluded “faith” to be understood as “the gift of God” in Ephesians 2:8.1
We can agree that there is a general grammatical rule regarding pronouns and antecedents. We cannot agree that there are no exceptions to this rule. As will be seen from commentary evidence, there are a number of exceptions to this rule. In the case of Ephesians 2:8, there is a clear antecedent in the verse and it is precisely the word “faith.” Can the above mentioned general grammatical rule prohibit the connection between “faith” being the “gift of God” be answered with certainty?
The Objection Answered
In sharp contrast to those who object, Robert L. Reymond in his New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith says:
Even though “faith” is a feminine noun in the Greek and “this” [NIV] is a neuter demonstrative pronoun, it is still entirely possible that Paul intended to teach that “faith,” the nearest possible antecedent, is the antecedent of the pronoun “this,” and accordingly that saving faith is the gift of God. It is permissible in Greek syntax for the neuter pronoun to refer antecedently to a feminine noun, particularly when it serves to render more prominent the matter previously referred to (see, for example, ‘your salvation [. . . soterias], and this [. . . touto] from God’ - Phil. 1:28; see also 1 Cor. 6:6, 8)2
Contemporary theologian R. C. Sproul concurs and has this to say:
The rules of Greek syntax and grammar demand that the antecedent of “that” be the word “faith.” Faith is not something we conjure up in our own effort, or the result of the willing of the flesh. Faith is a result of the Spirit’s sovereign work of regeneration.3
Christian philosopher and commentator Gordon Clark agrees:
Grammatically, neuter demonstrative pronouns, even in the more precise classical Greek, often refer to feminized nouns, especially to abstract feminine nouns. Hence it is false to say that touto [that] cannot mean faith.”...The Arminian ungrammatical and illogical interpretation now says something like this: “ you are saved by faith ; your salvation is a gift from God , your salvation is not of works .” But this is both weak and redundant . Compare it with the Calvinistic , logical , and grammatical interpretation: “ you have been saved by grace through faith; even that faith is not of your origination; faith too is a gift of God .”4
More from Gordon Clark on this:
At a certain graduation ceremony I heard a seminary president misinterpret this verse. His misinterpretation did not succeed in ridding the verse of the idea that faith is the gift of God, though that was presumably his intention. He based his argument on the fact that the word faith in Greek is feminine, and the word that in the phrase, "and that not of yourselves," is neuter.
Therefore, he concluded, the word that cannot have faith as its antecedent. The antecedent, according to this seminary president, must be the whole preceding phrase: "For by grace are you saved through faith." Now, even if this were correct, faith is still a part of the preceding phrase and is therefore a part of the gift. Taking the whole phrase as antecedent makes poor sense. To explain that grace is a gift is tautologous. Of course, if we are saved by grace, it must be a gift. No one could miss that point. But Paul adds, "saved by grace, though faith," and to make sure he also adds, and that, that is, faith, is not of yourselves.
But what of the president's remark that faith is feminine and that is neuter? Well, of course, these are the genders of the two words; but the president did not know much Greek grammar. In the case of concrete nouns, for example, the mother, the ship, the way, the house, the relative pronoun that follows is ordinarily feminine; but what the president did not know is that abstract nouns like faith, hope, and charity use the neuter of the relative pronoun. As a matter of fact, even a feminine thing, a concrete noun, may take a neuter relative (see Goodwin's Greek Grammar 1022). The moral of this little story confirms the original Presbyterian policy of insisting upon an educated ministry. Here was a seminary president distorting the divine message because of ignorance of Greek - or, more profoundly, as I have reason to believe from some of his publications, because of a dislike of divine sovereignty.
A. T. Robertson in his A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, page 704, lists six exceptions to the common rule that adjectives agree in gender with their nouns: Acts 8:10, Jude 12, 2 Peter 2:17, 1 Peter 2:19, 1 Peter 2:19, 1 Corinthians 6:11 and 10:6. These include masculine pronouns with feminine nouns, neuter adjective with feminine nouns, and neuter adjective with masculine nouns. The most interesting in the present connection is 1 Peter 2:19, where twice there is a neuter demonstrative with a feminine noun, thus paralleling Ephesians 2:8. I dutifully report that Robertson strangely asserts that the neuter demonstrative in Ephesians 2:8 does not refer to the noun faith. He gives neither a grammatical nor a theological reason for this assertion.5
What do other Reformed Commentators have to say:
English Baptist pastor, and renowned Biblical scholar Dr. John Gill says:
through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; salvation is through faith, not as a cause or condition of salvation, or as what adds anything to the blessing itself; but it is the way, or means, or instrument, which God has appointed, for the receiving and enjoying it, that so it might appear to be all of grace; and this faith is not the produce of man's free will and power, but it is the free gift of God; and therefore salvation through it is consistent with salvation by grace; since that itself is of grace, lies entirely in receiving grace and gives all the glory to the grace of God: the sense of this last clause may be, that salvation is not of ourselves; it is not of our desiring nor of our deserving, nor of our performing, but is of the free grace of God: though faith is elsewhere represented as the gift of God, John 6:65 and it is called the special gift of faith, in the Apocrypha:
“And blessed is the eunuch, which with his hands hath wrought no iniquity, nor imagined wicked things against God: for unto him shall be given the “special gift of faith”, and an inheritance in the temple of the Lord more acceptable to his mind.'” (Wisdom 3:14)
----- (I asked the following question from a Greek and Hebrew professor:
“In this verse, to what does the word “that” refer to? Adam Clarke, Wesley & company say that it is neuter plural and “Faith” is feminine hence it cannot refer to faith, (Such an admission would destroy their theological system.) However “Grace” is also feminine as is “Salvation”.”'
His reply was:
“Here you ask a wonderful theological/exegetical question to which I can only give an opinion, and not a definitive answer. The problem is that there is NO precise referent. Grace is feminine. Faith is feminine. And even Salvation (as a noun) is feminine. Yet it must be one of these three at least, and maybe more than one, or all three in conjunction. Since all three come from God and not from man, the latter might seem the more likely. However, it is a tautology to say salvation and grace are “nor of yourselves,” and in that case it certainly looks more like the passage is really pointing out that man cannot even take credit for his own act of faith, but that faith was itself created by God and implanted in us that we might believe (i.e. the normal Calvinistic position). In which regard the whole theological issue of “regeneration preceding faith” comes into play. So, that is basically my opinion, though others obviously disagree strenuously, but from an exegetical standpoint, the other positions have to explain away the matter of the tautology.”'6
Dutch Commentator, William Hendriksen writes:
8. Reflecting on what he has just now said about grace, and repeating the parenthetical clause of verse 5b, the apostle says, For by grace59
59 The original has τῇ γὰρ χάριτι. Note the anaphoric use of the article. This is very common in Greek. See Gram. N.T., p. 762. Some translate: “this grace.” Gram. N.T. A. T. Robertson, Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research
you have been saved.… For explanation see on verse 5. He continues: through faith; and this not of yourselves, (it is) the gift of God …
Three explanations deserve consideration:
(1) That offered by A. T. Robertson. Commenting on this passage in his Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. IV, p. 525, he states, “Grace is God’s part, faith ours.” He adds that since in the original the demonstrative “this” (and this not of yourselves) is neuter and does not correspond with the gender of the word “faith,” which is feminine, it does not refer to the latter “but to the act of being saved by grace conditioned on faith on our part.” Even more clearly in Gram.N.T., p. 704, he states categorically, “In Eph. 2:8 … there is no reference to διὰ πίστεως [through faith] in τοῦτο [this], but rather to the idea of salvation in the clause before.”
Without any hesitancy I answer, Robertson, to whom the entire world of New Testament scholarship is heavily indebted, does not express himself felicitously in this instance. This is true first because in a context in which the apostle places such tremendous stress on the fact that from start to finish man owes his salvation to God, to him alone, it would have been very strange, indeed, for him to say, “Grace is God’s part, faith ours.” True though it be that both the responsibility of believing and also its activity are ours, for God does not believe for us, nevertheless, in the present context (verses 5–10) one rather expects emphasis on the fact that both in its initiation and in its continuation faith is entirely dependent on God, and so is our complete salvation. Also, Robertson, a grammarian famous in his field, knew that in the original the demonstrative (this), though neuter, by no means always corresponds in gender with its antecedent. That he knew this is shown by the fact that on the indicated page of his Grammar (p. 704) he points out that “in general” the demonstrative “agrees with its substantive in gender and number.” When he says “in general,” he must mean, “not always but most of the time.” Hence, he should have considered more seriously the possibility that, in view of the context, the exception to the rule, an exception by no means rare, applies here. He should have made allowance for it.60
60 Though Lenski calls Robertson’s statement (“Grace is God’s part, faith ours”) careless, his own explanation (op.cit., p. 423), in which he likewise bases everything on the fact that τοῦτο is neuter but πίστις feminine, is basically the same as that of Robertson.
Finally, he should hare justified the departure from the rule that unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise the antecedent should be looked for in the immediate vicinity of the pronoun or adjective that refers to it.
(2) That presented, among others, by F. W. Grosheide. As he sees it, the words “and this not of yourselves” mean “and this being saved by grace through faith is not of yourselves” but is the gift of God. Since, according to this theory — also endorsed, it would seem, by John Calvin in his Commentary — faith is included in the gift, none of the objections against theory (1) apply with respect to theory (2).
Does this mean then that (2) is entirely satisfactory? Not necessarily. This brings us to
(3) That defended by A. Kuyper, Sr. in his book Het Werk van den Heiligen Geest (Kampen, 1927), pp. 506–514.
Dr. Kuyper is, however, not this theory’s sole defender, but his defense is, perhaps, the most detailed and vigorous. The theory amounts, in brief, to the following: Paul’s words may be paraphrased thus, “I had the right to speak about ‘the surpassing riches of his grace’ for it is, indeed, by grace that you are saved, through faith; and lest you should now begin to say, ‘But then we deserve credit, at least, for believing,’ I will immediately add that even this faith (or: even this exercise of faith) is not of yourselves but is God’s gift.”
With variations as to detail this explanation was the one favored by much of the patristic tradition. Supporting it were also Beza, Zanchius, Erasmus, Huigh de Groot (Hugo Grotius), Bengel, Michaelis, etc. It is shared, too, by Simpson (op. cit., p. 55) and by Van Leeuwen and Greijdanus in their commentaries. H. C. G. Moule (Ephesian Studies, New York, 1900, pp. 77, 78) endorses it, with the qualification, “We must explain τοῦτο [this] to refer not to the feminine noun πίστις [faith] precisely, but to the fact of our exercising faith.” Moreover, it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that the explanation offered is also shared by the average man who reads 2:8 in his A.V. or A.R.V. Salmond, after presenting several grounds in its favor, particularly also this that “the formula καὶ τοῦτο might rather favor it, as it often adds to the idea to which it is attached,” finally shies away from it because “salvation is the main idea in the preceding statement,” which fact, of course, the advocates of (3) would not deny but do, indeed, vigorously affirm, but which is not a valid argument against the idea that faith, as well as everything else in salvation, is God’s gift. It is not a valid argument against (3), therefore.
I have become convinced that theory (3) is the most logical explanation of the passage in question. Probably the best argument in its favor is this one: If Paul meant to say, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this being saved is not of yourselves,” he would have been guilty of needless repetition — for what else is grace but that which proceeds from God and not from ourselves? — a repetition rendered even more prolix when he now (supposedly) adds, “it, that is, salvation, is the gift of God,” followed by a fourth and fifth repetition, namely, “not of works, for we are his handiwork.” No wonder that Dr. A. Kuyper states, “If the text read, ‘For by grace you have been saved, not of yourselves, it is the work of God,’ it would make some sense. But first to say, ‘By grace you have been saved,’ and then, as if it were something new, to add, ‘and this having been saved is not of yourselves,’ this does not run smoothly but jerks and jolts.… And while with that interpretation everything proceeds by fits and starts and becomes lame and redundant, all is excellent and meaningful when you follow the ancient interpreters of Jesus’ church.”61
61 As to grammar, from the works of Plato, Xenophon, and Demosthenes several instances of the use of τοῦτο to indicate a masculine or feminine antecedent are cited by Kuyper. He also quotes the following from a Greek Grammar: “Very common is the use of a neuter demonstrative pronoun to indicate an antecedent substantive of masculine or of feminine gender when the idea conveyed by that substantive is referred to in a general sense.” The quotation is from the work of Kühnhert, Ausführliche Grammatik der Griech. sprache (Hanover, 1870), Vol. II, p. 54.
This, it would seem to me also, is the refutation of theory (1) and, to a certain extent, of theory (2).
Basically, however, theories (2) and (3) both stress the same truth, namely, that the credit for the entire process of salvation must be given to God, so that man is deprived of every reason for boasting, which is exactly what Paul says in the words which now follow, namely, 9, 10. not of works, lest anyone should boast. This introduces us to the subject:
Works in relation to our salvation
As a basis for salvation, a ground upon which we can plead, works are rejected. “Not the labors of my hands can fulfil thy law’s demands.” In this connection it must be remembered that the apostle is not thinking exclusively or even mainly of works in fulfilment of the Mosaic law, by means of which the Jew, unconverted to Christ, sought to justify himself. Surely, also by such “works of the law” “no flesh will be justified in his sight” (Rom. 3:20; cf. Gal. 2:16). But in view of the fact that Paul was addressing an audience consisting mostly of Christians from the Gentile world it is clear that he wishes to emphasize that God rejects every work of man, be he Gentile, Jew, or believer in his moments of spiritual eclipse, every work on which any man bases his hope for salvation. If, then, salvation is completely from God, “who spared not his own Son but delivered him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32), every ground of boasting in self is excluded (Rom. 3:27; 4:5; I Cor. 1:31). When the Lord comes in his glory, those at his left hand will do all the boasting (Matt. 25:44; cf. 7:22); those at his right hand will be unable even to recall their good deeds (Matt. 25:37–39).
Now all boasting is excluded,
Unearned bliss is now my own.
I, in God thus safely rooted,
Boast in sovereign grace alone.
Long before my mother bore me,
E’en before God’s mighty hand
Out of naught made sea and land,
His electing love watched o’er me.
God is love, O angel-voice,
62 This is the product of my attempt to translate into English, with retention of meter, the first stanza of the beautiful Dutch hymn “Alle roem is uitgesloten.”7
Vs. 8, 9. These verses confirm the preceding declaration. The manifestation of the grace of God is the great end of redemption. This is plain, for salvation is entirely of grace. Ye are saved by grace; ye are saved by faith and not by works; and even faith is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. We have then here a manifold assertion, affirmative and negative, of the gratuitous nature of salvation. It is not only said in general, ‘ye are saved by grace,’ but further that salvation is by faith, i. e. by simply receiving or apprehending the offered blessing. From the very nature of faith, as an act of assent and trust, it excludes the idea of merit. If by faith, it is of grace; if of works, it is of debt; as the apostle argues in Rom. 4, 4. 5. Faith, therefore, is the mere causa apprehendens, the simple act of accepting, and not the ground on which salvation is bestowed. Not of works. The apostle says works, without qualification or limitation. It is not, therefore, ceremonial, as distinguished from good works; or legal, as distinguished from evangelical or gracious works; but works of all kinds as distinguished from faith, which are excluded. Salvation is in no sense, and in no degree, of works; for to him that worketh the reward is a matter of debt. But salvation is of grace and therefore not of works lest any man should boast. That the guilty should stand before God with self-complacency, and refer his salvation in any measure to his own merit, is so abhorrent to all right feeling that Paul assumes it (Rom. 4, 2) as an intuitive truth, that no man can boast before God. And to all who have any proper sense of the holiness of God and of the evil of sin, it is an intuition; and therefore a gratuitous salvation, a salvation which excludes with works all ground of boasting, is the only salvation suited to the relation of guilty men to God.
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.9
My thoughts on Faith being the Gift of God:
God graciously gives the gift of faith. I am saved by grace and even my faith is a gift. Ephesians 2:8 says: “and that not of yourselves”. What is not of yourselves? Faith! Did I choose Christ and exercise faith? Yes, but why? Who gets the glory? Christ? Or me? Why did I choose to believe? Ephesians 1: 4,5 supplies us the answer. “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” Was this salvation in my hands to choose or reject? If this were the case, then could I not glory in and of myself? How can that be so? Because I would have done something others had not done.
The following verse tells us that predestination is:
“according to the good pleasure of his will.” “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” Romans 9:16. The doctrine of predestination more than any other teaching of scripture takes salvation out of man's hands and places it in God's control. Men do not like God's control. The cause of God's choosing or predestination is found in Him. If we insist that we played a part in God's choice, then human merit is brought into the picture. Salvation then becomes synergistic rather than monergistic. Biblical salvation is monergistic. Christ alone, by his complete and finished work saves the sinner. Within a synergistic scheme, salvation becomes a cooperative effort. My work takes away from the work of Christ. How? I made a contribution. I played a part in my salvation. If I was not willing, then God could not save me. A synergistic scheme of salvation not only steals Christ's glory, it limits God's power. God can only do what we allow him to do within this type of system.
In conclusion, it seems to me as the above commentators have very aptly pointed out, that “faith” is the gift of God and exactly what the apostle is teaching, namely, “faith” is not of ourselves, it is the “gift of God.” This interpretation removes all grounds of man's boasting.
Thus, we can confess by the grace of God that: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” Titus 3:5.