Q – Does the Greek designate what the “it” is that is being referred to in Ephesians 2:8-9? I know that “it” is supplied by the translators, so maybe the better thing to ask is: what is “the gift” referring to. Is it grace or faith? I know that most people think that grace is being referred to and that is what I was taught. But, when I look at Romans 12:3 I wonder if the faith that we use to accept salvation is given by God in the first place.
Jim – Let’s start by looking at the passage under consideration, Ephesians 2:8-10.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (New International Version)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (New King James Version)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (New American Standard Update)
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (King James Version)
“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.” (New English Translation)
The reason that I have listed five different versions of this passage is to prove that the original text is so clear in its meaning that every respected translation agrees on all of the salient points. And, they all make the same addition to the text in order to comply with the rules of the English language. They all insert the phrase “it is,” referring back to whatever part of the opening phrase is actually a gift of God. In fact, the NET adds “it is” twice. But in reality, that phrase is not a part of the original Greek text. Consequently, Young’s Literal Translation (composed in 1898 in an effort to stick as closely to the original Greek construction as possible) renders the whole passage thusly:
“And God, being rich in kindness, because of His great love with which He loved us, even being dead in the trespasses, did make us to live together with the Christ, (by grace ye are having been saved,) and did raise us up together, and did seat us together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that He might show, in the ages that are coming, the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus, for by grace ye are having been saved, through faith, and this not of you — of God the gift, not of works, that no one may boast; for of Him we are workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God did before prepare, that in them we may walk.” (Eph 2:4-10)
So, inasmuch as the word “it” that you are asking about is not a part of the original text, the real question we have to address is: to what is Paul referring when he says that something is not of ourselves, but is a gift of God, not resulting from any man’s works, so that no man can boast?
Now, what does appear in the original text is the phrase “kai touto,” commonly translated “and that.” So, we need to identify what “that” is when Paul writes “and that not of yourselves.” Whatever “that” is, it is a gift of God. And I think that if we can identify what “that” is, we can answer your question.
It is often pointed out (usually by folk who are opposed to God’s sovereignty in salvation) that the word “that” is written in the neuter gender in the Greek text. At the same time, the word “faith” is in the feminine gender. Usually, that fact works as a launching pad from which all sorts of conclusions are drawn about how Paul could not have been referring back to faith when he declared that it was not from ourselves. Consequently, they reckon, faith is an action or ability that humans must instigate and sustain, to which God responds. But, anyone who makes that argument is simply showing that he hasn’t yet grasped the intricacies of Greek grammar.
But at the same time, because of the change in genders, we who support God’s sovereign election and action in salvation cannot simply conclude that faith is the gift Paul speaks of and walk away as if we’ve won that argument. There’s more to it.
The simple fact is that there is nothing in the first phrase — “For by grace you have been saved through faith” – that matches “that” in gender. As James White points out in his excellent exegesis of this text, “grace” is feminine and “have been saved” is a masculine participle. So, there’s only one possible outcome that satisfies all of the data, grammar and choice of language: the neuter demonstrative pronoun “that” encompasses and refers back to the entirety of the preceding clause.
In other words, there is nothing in the opening clause of Ephesians 2:8 that originates with the saved individual. And that would include faith. Salvation, grace, and faith are all inclusively the gift of God, not the result of any person’s effort or works, for the purpose of excluding all boasting. They are “the gift,” which is even more interesting.
The word rendered “gift” in this verse is “doron,” usually denoting a sacrificial gift or offering. As a result, the gift of which Paul writes cannot be earned; it must be offered sacrificially by the one who willingly gives it. And so, consistent with the entirety of his theology, Paul writes that God willingly “gifts” his people with everything necessary for their salvation: grace and faith.
Lastly, you mentioned Romans 12:3 and wondered if the faith that we use to accept salvation is given by God in the first place. I would respond that you are right on track in that thinking. But I would also direct you to another passage:
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1-2)
If Jesus is indeed both “the author and perfecter of faith,” then we cannot claim to have any part in its inception or completion. The King James Version says that He is the “author and finisher” of faith. Any way you slice it, God’s word insists that faith starts and ends with Him. He instigates it, He sustains it, and He completes it.
Or, to approach this from another angle, IF we insist that we have some part in believing what God has said or done, then we have added our portion to the equation of salvation and we do indeed have something about which we could justifiably boast. After all, God did His bit, but we also did ours.
Yet, all of Scripture declares that the salvation of humans will redound to God’s glory and He will not share that glory with anyone. The consistent testimony of the Bible is that God is the first cause and only power that sustains our faith. And that fits perfectly with our understanding of Ephesians 2:8-9.
I hope that helped. It was good to hear from you.
Yours for His sake,