Saturday, 13 June 2015

What is the gift?

In Ephesians we read:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Paul is contrasting a gift which is freely given with works which is what is earned. When mentioning gift, what is Paul referring to? The "gift of God" is referring back to the word "this" which refers back to words in the preceding phrase. The options as I see it are:
  1. Grace
  2. Salvation
  3. Faith
  4. The entire clause
I don't read Greek so can only offer some preliminaries on the language issues, but below I will show parallels to this elsewhere in Paul's writing.

The nouns in Greek are
  • gift: doron (neuter);
  • grace: charis (feminine); and
  • faith: pistis (feminine).
The pronoun "this" is touto (neuter) here. The verb "saved" is sozo.

Options 3 and 4 above are often proposed as the solution. The word "this" and the word "faith" are not in the same gender but I am told that this doesn't necessary exclude option 3.

There are several verses in which Paul uses similar phraseology. Elsewhere in Ephesians he writes:
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. (Ephesians 3:7)
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4:7)
And in Romans he also mentions:
For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,... (Romans 3:22-24).
The parallels in Ephesians and Romans associate the gift with grace. Comparing these parallels with our passage it would be reasonable to conclude that the gift in Ephesians 2 refers to God's grace.

Earlier is Ephesians Paul writes,
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
and in our passage he also says,
For by grace you have been saved through faith.
Clearly associating grace with salvation.

Now consider Paul in Romans,
For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:... (Romans 4:3-6).
Paul says that wages are not a gift, but that faith is counted as righteousness apart from works. As per Paul, faith is often contrasted with works. Works result in wages not a gift. But faith results in a gift. The same contrast is in Ephesians. By grace you have obtained salvation. And this is by faith, not as a result of works. The faith here is contrasted with works as it is elsewhere in Paul. So Paul frequently says that grace is a gift and he frequently contrasts faith with works and here in Ephesians he pulls both these concepts together. Grace is a gift; and it comes by faith not works. But somehow because these words all appear together an argument is made that faith is a gift. However it doesn't fit the contrast of the passage and it doesn't fit with how Paul writes elsewhere.

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