The Alabama Baptist and Dortian Calvinism: Response 3

Tim Brister —  August 8, 2007 — 3 Comments

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:

  1. “Grace” as antecedent
  2. “Faith” as antecedent
  3. The concept of grace-by-faith salvation as antecedent
  4. 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.”[1]

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.[2]

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,”[3] 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.”[4] 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.”[5] 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.”[6]

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!”[7]

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.

_______________________________


[1]Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 333-35.

[2]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.

[3]Richard Young, Intermediate New Testament Greek: A Linguistic and Exegetical Approach (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 255-56.

[4]John MacArthur, Ephesians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 60-61.

[5]Richard Phillips, Chosen in Christ: The Glory of Grace in Ephesians 1. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2004), 136.

[6]Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 732.

[7]Sam Storms, Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 71.

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3 responses to The Alabama Baptist and Dortian Calvinism: Response 3

  1. Hello Timmy,

    I am reading your discussion of the nature of the Greek in Eph. 2:8 and you quote MacArthur as saying: “Faith is nothing that we do in our own power or by our own resources.”

    So **we** don’t have the faith that **we** have?

    MacArthur goes on to justify his point with the comment that: “Otherwise salvation would be in part by our own works, and we would have some ground to boast in ourselves.” Now I understand the concern to present salvation as “of the Lord”. But to claim that we are not the ones having the faith, that it is not something we do, seems extreme. MacArthur’s point also breaks down on Rom. 3:27-28 “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith? For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.” According to this passage a saving faith EXCLUDES BOASTING. And yet this faith is a faith that WE HAVE. God does not have the faith in our place nor does He take over our body and cause the faith to occur. It seems that some in their concern to present that salvation is by faith alone not by works start talking about faith (if it is something we do) as if faith becomes a work if it is something that we do. The biblical caterogories discussed in Romans seem to be **works of the law** versus **faith**. Not works of the law versus **anything we do** (which then makes even faith a work; so if we have faith we may then boast in our faith which is contradicted by Rom. 3:27-28 which tells us the faith that leads to justification excludes boasting). The bible distinguishes faith from works, so faith even if it is faith that we “do” is not a work. The New Testament does not consider faith to be something that we do not do, that God does in our place. We have the faith, not God (similarly when we sin it is our action that causes the sin, God does not sin in our place or take over our body and cause us to sin). And scripture says that we are In Christ by His doing (1 Cor. 1:30), so we are saved by God’s efforts alone. But I think some calvinists go too far as MacArthur appears to be doing when they suggest that “Faith is nothing that we do in our own power”.

    I believe it could be properly stated as: God saves those who trust (have faith) Him, but our trust (faith) is not what saves us, it is God’s actions that save us. For example: if we trust Him we will be glorified at the end, but our trust is not what causes us to be glorified, God alone can transform/glorify us to prepare us for eternity and He will glorify those who trust Him. The action of glorifying/transforming an individual human person’s body is a unilateral and miraculous action done by God alone. God alone can and will do this action and He will do this action only with believers (1 Cor. 15:50-52). And believers cannot do this action themselves nor can they earn or merit this action on the part of God.

    Bob

  2. Bob,

    The point being made about saving faith is that the resources of faith is provisional (given from God), not inherent within all men. Therefore, we cannot believe apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.

    You said, “I believe it could be properly stated as: God saves those who trust (have faith) Him, but our trust (faith) is not what saves us, it is God’s actions that save us.”

    Exactly.

    The object of saving faith is not faith but Jesus Christ. This is the error of the contemporary “word of faith” movement.

    God does save those who trust him, but should also be stated that God enables those to trust in him. Calvinists believe in a “whosoever will” gospel; in fact, they believe it more than the Arminians because they not only believe God knows who the whosoever is, but he enables them to “will” to come and gives them the gifts of repentance and faith to turn to Christ and believe. I think Spurgeon expresses the instrumental means of faith well when he said:

    “Faith is chosen by God to be the receiver of salvation because it does not pretend to create salvation nor to help in it, but it is content to receive it humbly. ‘Faith is the tongue that begs pardon, the hand which receives it, and the eye which sees it; but it is not the price which buys it.’” (All of Grace, 63)

  3. Timmy,

    I don’t think you understood my point: my point is that MacArthur by claiming that faith or trust is something we cannot do by our own power is making an extreme and false statement. All sorts of people have the capacity to choose to trust in all sorts of things (e.g. Paul claims that the nonbeliever worships and trusts in the creation more than the creator, Rom.1:25).

    “The point being made about saving faith is that the resources of faith is provisional (given from God), not inherent within all men. Therefore, we cannot believe apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.”

    The bible says that faith is developed as a person hears the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Calvinists argue that people are unable to trust God unless first regenerated. The bible never says that regeneration produces faith. Calvinists will sometimes appeal to 1 John to claim that regeneration precedes and produces faith, but the text does not say this (nor was this ever John’s subject in that letter). John says that his purpose in writing 1 John is to give believers assurance that they are believers. So his argument throughout the letter is that if you are truly saved, regenerate, a Christian, then certain things will be true about you. So the argument is: if you are saved then consequences x, y, z will be true about you. The argument is not: regeneration causes or produces x, y, z (this is reading into the text a way of thinking that Calvinists believe in, but is not stated by the text).

    Arminians are incorrect in claiming that faith produces regeneration. God will regenerate those who have trust in Him, but their trust does not produce the regeneration. Regeneration, like justification and glorification are actions that are miraculous and done by God alone.

    “You said, “I believe it could be properly stated as: God saves those who trust (have faith) Him, but our trust (faith) is not what saves us, it is God’s actions that save us.”
    Exactly.”

    It is interesting that you agree with my statement here. We could also state:

    I believe it could be properly stated as: God regenerates those who trust (have faith) Him, but our trust (faith) is not what regenerates us, it is God’s action that regenerates us.

    Do you agree with this statement as well?

    My point is that while we are called to have a faith response to the gospel message, even if we do so, God is the one who does the actions that make up salvation. Calvinists go beyond this and want to make the faith itself also an action that God does. But he does not have faith for us, or in our place, we have the faith, it is our choice to trust Him. And we are not capable of making a choice to trust Him for salvation unless the Holy Spirit has been working in us showing us who Jesus is what he did and what that means in regards to salvation.

    “God does save those who trust him, but should also be stated that God enables those to trust in him.”

    God enables people to trust him as the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to them through the gospel and the preaching and teaching of the Word. God enables you to have a faith response to the gospel message, but you have to have the faith yourself.

    “Calvinists believe in a “whosoever will” gospel; in fact, they believe it more than the Arminians because they not only believe God knows who the whosoever is, but he enables them to “will” to come and gives them the gifts of repentance and faith to turn to Christ and believe.”

    I don’t think this is accurate. When most people speak of “whosoever will” they are claiming that the gospel is available to and capable of being believed by all who hear it. Calvinists do not believe that. They believe that people due to the influence of sin are incapable of having a faith response unless regenerated first. So the gospel is not available to “whosoever” it is only made available to and believable by the predetermined elect. The limited atonement belief is that the atonement is intended for and only available for the elect. This is not a “whosoever will gospel” unless these words are changed beyond their ordinary meaning. Arminians actually believe that the gospel is available to all, capable of being believed by all, so they are the ones who believe in “whosoever wills gospel”, not the Calvinists.

    “I think Spurgeon expresses the instrumental means of faith well when he said:
    “Faith is chosen by God to be the receiver of salvation because it does not pretend to create salvation nor to help in it, but it is content to receive it humbly. ‘Faith is the tongue that begs pardon, the hand which receives it, and the eye which sees it; but it is not the price which buys it.’” (All of Grace, 63)”

    I like the Spurgeon quote thanks for sharing it. Spurgeon is correct in saying that faith “does not pretend to create salvation nor to help in it”, though those who have a faith response to the gospel message will be saved.

    Bob

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