Is Faith a Gift? (1 of 2)

Is the Gift of God Grace, Salvation, or Faith?

Q. I am reading a book titled “Preaching Another Gospel” and the author argues that faith is given to us by the Father, citing Eph 2:8, 6:23; Acts 3:16 and Rom 12:3 as proof. Where does faith come from? Any comments?

A. First, let’s define what we’re addressing. Since your book is about “another gospel”, the subject is salvation. So, I will confine my comments to “where does saving faith come from”, not faith in general.

Next, let’s read the verses cited by the author. On the surface, it does seem that his case – faith is a gift – is valid.

All from NASB:

  • Eph 2:8  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
  • Eph 6:23 Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Acts 3:16 And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.
  • Rom 12:3  For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

However, the devil is in the details, so before we hastily jump to a conclusion let’s analyze each verse in more detail. I’ll start with Eph 2:8 in the NASB, the most literal (word-for-word) English translation:

  • Eph 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and [a]that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

Most cursory readers feel that the phrase “the gift of God” refers to faith, the nearest antecedent in the sentence. Often these readers are Calvinistic in their theology. But there a problem. Notice that there is a footnote to the demonstrative pronoun “that”, and the words “it is” are in italics. The footnote reads:

  • Eph 2:8 i.e. that salvation

And the italics mean that the words are not in the original text but supplied by the translators so that the English read smoothly. This is done in the Authorized King James Version, the NASB, plus several contemporary versions. Since “it is” are not in the original text, the key boils down to the pronoun “that”. What does “that” refer to?

Why did the NASB footnote explain “that” refers to “salvation”, not “faith”? For that we need to know a little Greek. Unlike English, Greek nouns have gender and number. Greek grammar requires that pronouns agree with their antecedent in gender and number. Since most readers don’t know Greek, I quote Eph 2:8 using an Interlinear below:

The verse has 5 lines:

  • Line 1 is each Greek word’s Strong’s number.
  • Line 2 is the English transliteration.
  • Line 3 is the Greek text.
  • Line 4 is the English translation.
  • Line 5 is where each Greek word is parsed.

Note that both nouns in the first part of v 8 – grace and faith – are feminine gender, singular. However, the pronoun “that” in the second half of v 8 is neuter gender, singular. There is therefore a mismatch, and grammatically neither grace nor faith could be the antecedent of “that”. In fact, no single word in the first half of v 8 would fit “that” in the second half! But there is another rule in Greek grammar – when a pronoun refers to a multi-word concept or phrase, the gender of the pronoun remains neuter, regardless of the gender of the antecedent (since there may be several words with different gender). Now what concept is under consideration in v 8 in context? Salvation! Notice the following:

  • Salvation is by grace (v 8) – the source is from God;

A   Salvation is through faith (v 8) – the means of reception;

B   Salvation is not of yourself (v 8) – it is not because of us;

B   Salvation is the gift of God (v 8) – freely given by God;

A   Salvation is not of works (v 9) – not as a result of what we’ve done.

The chiastic structure (ABBA) shows very clearly that salvation is all of grace, through faith not works, not of our efforts but from God. The Amplified Bible puts v 8 like this:

  • For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God;

So, under this interpretation, held mainly by Arminianism, salvation is the gift of God. Although I am not Arminian in theology, I need to be true to exegesis and conclude that Eph 2:8 does not identify faith as God’s gift. That is not to say “faith” and “gift” are unrelated, because as we have already demonstrated, salvation is by grace through faith. It is a package deal. Salvation is the gift, which includes faith as the means. It’s just that faith is not the primary focus in this verse, only secondary.

(To be continued)

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