A major emphasis in Dr. Garrett’s articles was the duty of faith and repentance. I would like to divide this topic into two separate responses: the first dealing with Ephesians 2:8 (and the exegetical tradition), and the second with repentance and faith as duty and gift. Let’s begin with Ephesians 2:8.
In his article, “Does Dortian Calvinism have weight of Scripture in its favor?” Dr. Garrett shares that Calvinists often refer to Ephesians 2:8 as a reference to faith being a gift from God. Dr. Garrett’s response was that there was “a strong exegetical tradition holds that these words refer to salvation.” When I read this, I was not sure what he was meaning when he said that “these words refer to salvation.” I take it that he means that salvation by grace is the referent and not faith, or else he would not have used the adversative “although” in his assertion. So what is the exegetical tradition of Ephesians 2:8a?
According to Dr. Daniel Wallace, there have been four exegetical options for the antecedent of the demonstrative pronoun, tou/to. The standard interpretations include:
- “Grace” as antecedent
- “Faith” as antecedent
- The concept of grace-by-faith salvation as antecedent
- kai. tou/to to having an adverbial force with no antecedent (“and especially”)
Wallace rules out the first and section option because tou/to is neuter while ca,riti and pi,steuwj are feminine. He notes, “On a grammatical level, then, it is doubtful that either “faith” or “grace” is the antecedent of tou/to.”
Rather, Wallace argues that the more plausible is the third view, viz., that tou/to refers to the concept of a grace-by-faith salvation. The neuter of ou-toj is routinely used to refer to a phrase or clause. In such cases, the thing referred to is not a specific noun or substantive. The singular is used to refer both to an antecedent and a postcedent on a regular basis, while the plural is almost exclusively shut up to retrospective uses. Certain formulaic phrases are often employed, such as di.a tou/to, referring back to the previous argument (cf. Matt. 6:25; 12:27; Mark 6:14; Luke 11:19; Rom. 1:26; Heb. 1:9), or meta. tau/ta referring to the previous events (Luke 17:8; John 5:1; 21:1; Acts 13:20; 1 Pet. 1:11; Rev. 4:1).
What we see from Wallace’s analysis of Eph. 2:8, there is good reason to believe that there has not been a “strong exegetical tradition” to argue that faith is not a grace gift. Wallace rules out the possibility that option one and two that “this” refers to either grace or faith exclusively. Rather, “this” is the conceptual antecedent to the entire preceding clause that leads to the interpretation that both grace and faith are gifts from God.
A second exegetical point worth considering is discourse analysis and the role of prepositions in discovering the surface structure and deep structure of the biblical text. In his semantic study of Ephesians 2:8a, Richard Young argues that “the relational concepts (“by” and “through”) tie the prepositions together,” further confirming the notion that this construction is to be understood as a unit and not individual parts.
John MacArthur, in his commentary on Ephesians, writes, “Our response in salvation is faith, but even that is not of ourselves [but is] the gift of God. Faith is nothing that we do in our own power or by our own resources. In the first place we do not have the adequate power or resources. More than that, God would not want us to rely on them even if we had them. Otherwise salvation would be in part by our own works, and we would have some ground to boast in ourselves. Paul intends to emphasize that even faith is not from us apart from God’s giving it.” As the text reveals, God’s plan in salvation is directed to give all the glory to God (“that no one should boast”). Richard Phillips adds, “The way this is accomplished is through faith alone. . . . Faith is something we do, but it is not a work. Faith is God’s gift through the Holy Spirit, a point Paul makes in Ephesians 2:8-9. . . . Therefore, faith is a way for us to be joined to Jesus Christ for salvation, but a way in which God alone is glorified, because faith is the result of his grace working in us.” Robert Reymond affirms, “However the text is exegeted, when all of its features are taken into account, the conclusion is unavoidable that faith in Jesus Christ is a gift of God.”
From the exegetical evidence, we can see that tou/to can neither have “grace” or “faith” as the antecedent since it is neuter while grace and faith are feminine. No Christian would argue that salvation is “of ourselves,” yet if one says that tou/to cannot refer to faith, then it also cannot refer to grace either since they are the same gender. Moreover, it would be redundant to say that tou/to refers to grace since by definition grace is something given by another. Rather, the antecedent is best understood as a conceptual whole-both grace and faith are gifts of God. Both the surface structure and deep structure affirm this interpretation. And in the broader context of the biblical canon, salvation is attributed to God alone as the sole efficient Cause of brings many sons to glory. Therefore, having considered the exegetical and biblical evidence, Ephesians 2:8a confirms the truth that our salvation, from beginning to end, is a gift from God. As Sam Storms explains,
“From beginning to end, from its inception to its consummation, salvation is a gift of God to his elect. Consequently, that faith by which we come into experiential possession of what God in grace has provided is as much a gift as any and every other aspect of salvation. One can no more deny that faith is wrapped up in God’s gift to us than he can deny it of God’s grace. All is of God! Salvation is of the Lord!”
The only appropriate response to such a gift is not a boasting in ourselves, for we have brought nothing but our sin; rather, we make it our life song to boast in the cross of Jesus Christ where the great work of redemption was accomplished.
Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 333-35.
Wallace explains in a footnote that in an examination of the 22 instances of di.a tou/to in the NT, 15 had a conceptual referent (Luke 3:20; 5:6; John 11:28; 18:38; 20:20; Acts 7:60; 1 Cor. 7:37; Phil. 1:9; 1:28; Heb. 6:3), four adverbial, and three involved the same gender.
Richard Young, Intermediate New Testament Greek: A Linguistic and Exegetical Approach (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 255-56.
John MacArthur, Ephesians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 60-61.
Richard Phillips, Chosen in Christ: The Glory of Grace in Ephesians 1. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2004), 136.
Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 732.
Sam Storms, Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 71.