Is Faith the “gift” in Ephesians 2:8?

 

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; (Ephesians 2:8, NASB95)

Some Christians believe that the word “that” in Ephesians 2:8 refers to the word “faith” as its antecedent.  The following comments from various commentaries on the passage show that the Greek language does not support this.  Neither can the word “that” refer to “grace.”  Rather, the word “that” modifies the previously presented concept of “salvation.”

 

The Bible Knowledge Commentary:

Much debate has centered around the demonstrative pronoun “this” (touto). Though some think it refers back to “grace” and others to “faith,” neither of these suggestions is really valid because the demonstrative pronoun is neuter whereas “grace” and “faith” are feminine. Also, to refer back to either of these words specifically seems to be redundant. Rather the neuter touto, as is common, refers to the preceding phrase or clause. (In Eph. 1:15 and 3:1 touto, “this,” refers back to the preceding section.) Thus it refers back to the concept of salvation (2:4-8a), whose basis is grace and means is faith. This salvation does not have its source in man (it is “not from yourselves”), but rather, its source is God’s grace for “it is the gift of God.”[1]

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary

And that not of yourselves. The word that refers not to grace or to faith, but to the whole act of salvation—“That salvation not of yourselves.”[2]

Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament

And thatNot faith, but the salvation.[3]

The Bible Exposition Commentary by Wiersbe

(The word that in Eph. 2:8, in the Greek, is neuter; while faith is feminine. Therefore that cannot refer to faith. It refers to the whole experience of salvation, including faith.) [4]

Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible:

And that not of yourselves – That is, salvation does not proceed from yourselves. The word rendered “that” – τοῦτο  touto – is in the neuter gender, and the word “faith” – πίστις  pistis – is in the feminine. The word “that,” therefore, does not refer particularly to faith, as being the gift of God, but to “the salvation by grace” of which he had been speaking. This is the interpretation of the passage which is the most obvious, and which is now generally conceded to be the true one; see Bloomfield. Many critics, however, as Doddridge, Beza, Piscator, and Chrysostom, maintain that the word “that” (τοῦτο  touto) refers to “faith” (πίστις  pistis); and Doddridge maintains that such a use is common in the New Testament. As a matter of grammar this opinion is certainly doubtful, if not untenable; but as a matter of theology it is a question of very little importance.

Whether this passage proves it or not, it is certainly true that faith is the gift of God. It exists in the mind only when the Holy Spirit produces it there, and is, in common with every other Christian excellence, to be traced to his agency on the heart. This opinion, however, does not militate at all with the doctrine that man himself “believes.” It is not God that “believes” for him, for that is impossible. It is his own mind that actually believes, or that exercises faith; see the notes at Rom_4:3. In the same manner “repentance” is to be traced to God. It is one of the fruits of the operation of the Holy Spirit on the soul. But the Holy Spirit does not “repent” for us. It is our “own mind” that repents; our own heart that feels; our own eyes that weep – and without this there can he no true repentance. No one can repent for another; and God neither can nor ought to repent; for us. He has done no wrong, and if repentance is ever exercised, therefore, it must be exercised by our own minds. So of faith. God cannot believe for us. “We” must believe, or “we” shall be damned. Still this does not conflict at all with the opinion, that if we exercise faith, the inclination to do it is to be traced to the agency of God on the heart. I would not contend, therefore, about the grammatical construction of this passage, with respect to the point of the theology contained in it; still it accords better with the obvious grammatical construction, and with the design of the passage to understand the word “that” as referring not to “faith” only, but to “salvation by grace.” So Calvin understands it, and so it is understood by Storr, Locke, Clarke, Koppe, Grotius, and others.

Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible:

It is the gift of God – Salvation by grace is his gift. It is not of merit; it is wholly by favor.

But whether are we to understand, faith or salvation as being the gift of God? This question is answered by the Greek text: τῃ γαρ χαριτι εστε σεσωσμενοι δια της πιστεως· και τουτο ουκ εξ ὑμων· Θεου το δωρον, ουκ εξ εργων· ἱνα μη τις καυχησηται· “By this grace ye are saved through faith; and This (τουτο, this salvation) not of you; it is the gift of God, not of works: so that no one can boast.” “The relative τουτο, this, which is in the neuter gender, cannot stand for πιστις, faith, which is the feminine; but it has the whole sentence that goes before for its antecedent.” But it may be asked: Is not faith the gift of God? Yes, as to the grace by which it is produced; but the grace or power to believe, and the act of believing, are two different things. Without the grace or power to believe no man ever did or can believe; but with that power the act of faith is a man’s own. God never believes for any man, no more than he repents for him: the penitent, through this grace enabling him, believes for himself: nor does he believe necessarily, or impulsively when he has that power; the power to believe may be present long before it is exercised, else, why the solemn warnings with which we meet every where in the word of God, and threatenings against those who do not believe? Is not this a proof that such persons have the power but do not use it? They believe not, and therefore are not established. This, therefore, is the true state of the case: God gives the power, man uses the power thus given, and brings glory to God: without the power no man can believe; with it, any man may.

Robertson’s Word Pictures:

And that (kai touto). Neuter, not feminine tautē, and so refers not to pistis (feminine) or to charis (feminine also), but to the act of being saved by grace conditioned on faith on our part. Paul shows that salvation does not have its source (ex humōn, out of you) in men, but from God. Besides, it is God’s gift (dōron) and not the result of our work.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary:

Does “and this” (kai touto) connect with “faith,” with “saved,” or with the entire clause? Probably the latter interpretation is preferable. Hence Barclay translates: “The whole process comes from nothing that we have done or could do.” The element of “givenness” applies to faith as well as to grace, for faith is a direct outcome of hearing the saving message (Rom 10:17).[5]

Conclusion–Is “faith” to be included in the “gift” of salvation?

Every commentary that I have immediate access to agrees that the grammar and syntax of the passage argue that the word “that” in the phrase “that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” refers back to the concept of salvation and not to word “faith” or the word “grace.”  Yet some (for example the EBC above) have argued that the the “whole process comes from nothing that we have done or could do” and that “The element of ‘givenness’ applies to faith as well as to grace.”

I certainly agree that “the whole process comes from nothing that we have done or could do.”  However, I do not agree that Paul’s intent in this verse was to include “faith” as part of the gift of salvation.

First, if the word “that” refers to salvation, as these commentators have persuasively argued, then there is no grammatical, syntactical, contextual, or lexical reason to include “faith” as part of the salvation that is “not of yourselves” but “the gift of God.”

Second, if salvation is the gift envisioned, this argues against including faith as part of what the word “this” refers to. Paul says that we are saved “through faith.”  So faith, not works, is the way salvation is received.  Faith is the way we obtain the gift, and not part of the gift itself.  Paul’s contrast of faith and works strengthens this idea, since he is refuting the idea that salvation can be obtained or received by works.  Clearly Paul presents faith and works as two contrasting ways that people might attempt to obtain salvation.  Therefore faith is not part of the gift of salvation as envisioned by Paul in this passage, but one of two possible ways of obtaining it.

Verse 9 confirms this when Paul says “not a result of works, so that no one can boast.”  The phrase “not a result of works” also modifies the word “this.”  So what is “not a result of works”?  Clearly, salvation is not a result of works, since we were dead in sins, unable to save ourselves, and needed the mighty power of God to resurrect us from ours helpless, hopeless state.  There is no way that our works could save us from such a state. But nothing in the context suggests that the question of whether we can achieve faith by our works is at issue. or part of Paul’s thinking. In Paul’s mind, faith and works are opposites and incompatible by their very nature.  To argue that faith is not a result of works would be totally superfluous.  Does anyone seriously think that Paul is refuting an argument that we achieve faith by our works?  There is no evidence in this context or in any of Paul’s writings that he is arguing that faith is “not a result of works.”

Other passages do show that we cannot unilaterally achieve faith.  No one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him (John 6:44).  No one can believe unless he hears (Romans 10:14).  These passages and others show that faith cannot be achieved apart from God’s working in our minds, lives, and heart.  But it would be better to use those passages to prove that point (since it is their point) and not this one, since this passage does not speak to that point.

There certainly is a sense that faith in Christ is a gift, since Christ Himself is a gift and His work on our behalf is a gift.  Additionally, our very existence and our ability to reason and make decisions are gifts from God.  None of us would overcome our sinful rebellion and stubbornness and come to Christ apart from the influence and work of the Holy Spirit.  That influence is a gift. Yet all these refer to the grounds and reasons and inclinations for faith and not to the response of faith itself.  It would be more accurate to say that the knowledge we need to believe in Christ is a gift or that the influence and persuasion that we need to believe in Christ is a gift, or that the inclination that we need to believe in Christ is a gift.  But, it is not correct to say that the response of faith itself is a gift (at least in the sense of something that is done for us or accomplished for us), since it is, indeed, something that a person does.

Imagine a radio show where free football tickets are given to the first ten callers.  The tickets were purchased by the gracious generosity of an advertising sponsor and are free.  It could be said “By grace you received the tickets, through a phone call, and that (receiving the tickets) not of yourselves, it is the the gift of the sponsor.  This statement could be made and everyone realize that the phone call was not part of the gift of the sponsor.  The caller provided the phone call and made the decision to call.  [Note that this analogy is not perfect, since, in salvation,  God provides the “phone”  (ability to believe) and faith requires no monthly phone charges. Yet the decision to “call” or believe could originate with the caller (believer).]  In such a situation, we all would realize that the phone call was originated by the caller, and in this case on his own dime. So we should assume that faith in this passage originates with the person believing, since it is the clear and consistent testimony of the scripture and of life that faith is a human choice.  No one believes for us.  God doesn’t believe for us.  He influences us to believe, but He does not cause us to believe.  We must choose whether we will believe or not (Joshua 24:15; Judges 5:8; 1 Kings 18:21; Luke 13:5; Acts 3:19; 17:30; etc.)


[1]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (2:624). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2]Pfeiffer, C. F., & Harrison, E. F. (1962). The Wycliffe Bible commentary : New Testament (Eph 2:8). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3]Vincent, M. R. (2002). Word studies in the New Testament (3:i-376). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[4]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. “An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire ‘BE’ series”–Jkt. (Eph 2:4). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

[5]Wood, A. S. (1981). Ephesians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 11: Ephesians through Philemon (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (36). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

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One Response

  1. Good post, and not only because I agree.

    Kev

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