Salvation is the most important subject of Christianity. If you get salvation “wrong,” how can anything else be right? Well, many things can be right, but they are influenced by the basic teaching (or doctrine) of salvation.
One stumbling point theologians discuss is Ephesians 2:8, which is used for salvation. Here is the verse in context,
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:4-10 NKJ)
A controversy regarding Ephesians 2:8 is that some theologians say the word “that” refers to “faith” as a gift from God. Furthermore, they go on to say that God regenerates the person and then gives the gift of faith so that a person believes. Is that what the text says, or is that what some people teach in order to communicate their “theology”?
Additionally, how does someone who does not know Greek know whom to believe? If you have studied under Dr. “so and so,” why would you not believe what he says? Just because another theologian said something else, that the word “that” does not refer to “faith,” how can you believe him if Dr “so and so” says “that” refers to “faith”? That is a legitimate question. If you present theologians from one perspective that say it must be interpreted one way, and then other theologians from another perspective, who say it must be interpreted another way, whom should you believe?
Go to an impartial person. Who would be impartial? A person who teaches the Greek language and the rules for interpretation will be a more reliable source and then apply what he teaches to the text.
What does the text say? The word in question is the demonstrative pronoun “houtos” in its nominative, masculine and singular form. The demonstrative pronoun is used “to demonstrate” or “point out” a particular point. The word in the Greek New Testament is “touto,” which is a nominative, neuter singular demonstrative pronoun. If you did not have any English grammar, this may be difficult, but with a little patience and pursuit of the Lord, I trust you will be able to understand this. Please post a comment if you have ANY questions. All of this is explained to beginning, first year Greek students.
J. Gresham Machen, professor of New Testament in Westminster Theological Seminary, teaches that “Adjectives, including the article, agree with the nouns that they modify, in gender, number, and case.”1 I make that particular quote to show the precise way in which the Greek New Testament recorded word usage and the three gender forms (masculine, feminine and neuter) along with the case endings (nominative, genitive, dative and accusative), which all help in making the Koine Greek language a much more precise language than English. That is for adjectives, but the word in question, “touto” is not an adjective, it is a demonstrative pronoun.
Machen then teaches regarding demonstrative pronouns. He said, “houtos and ekeinos are frequently used with nouns. When they are so used, the noun with which they are used has the article, and they themselves stand in the predicate, not the attributive, position ($$ 68-74).”2 His reference to paragraphs 68-74 is an explanation of how the adjective is used with nouns. In other words, the demonstrative pronoun will agree with its modified nouns in gender, number and case. The reason why this is very significant is that the word for “faith” is pisteos and is feminine. Therefore the demonstrative pronoun cannot refer to faith, because it is neuter! To say that “that” refers to faith, is to reject first year level Greek learning. However, if a person says the sky is black enough times, people will eventually believe the sky is black, even though it is blue.
Eugene Van Ness Goetchius, professor of New Testament at Episcopal Theological School, agrees. He wrote, “The Greek demonstratives may modify nouns and, when they do so, they agree with nouns in case, number, and gender.”3
Paul L. Kaufman, professor of New Testament at Western Conservative Baptist Seminary made similar arguments to the above. First he wrote, “Adjectives must agree in gender, number and case with the nouns which they modify…Note carefully the gender of all nouns in this lesson [his emphasis].”4
Again the word in question is a demonstrative pronoun and it is important to note these professors (who come from varying theological backgrounds), are consistent in what they are saying about the translation and interpretation of the Greek language. Secondly, he comments,
In Greek, word order is of much less importance and does not in fact show word relations at all. (Emphasis may, however, be indicated by placing a word either first or last in its clause thus giving it what is called the emphatic position). Word relationships are shown in Greek by the case endings (and by prepositions which came in to make the basic case idea even clearer). The translation into English is made by observing the endings which indicate the word relations rather than by noting the order.5
Kaufman states that the key to understanding word order and relationships is understanding the word endings, which are found in first year Greek declension tables. These are easily understood by a brand new student.
Additionally, Kaufman comments regarding the demonstrative pronoun (which is what the word in question is). He wrote, “Both houtos and ekeinos are also frequently used with nouns and when they are so used, the noun with which they are used has the article, and the demonstrative pronouns themselves stand in the predicate position [his emphasis].”6 The predicate must agree in gender, number and case.7 Why would someone not understand this? Because they are imposing their theology upon the written Word of God!
H.E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, professors of New Testament Interpretation at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, respectively, explain the demonstrative pronoun (the word in question) under “The Adjective.” They wrote, “The adjective agrees with the noun it qualifies in gender, number, and case.”8 They further explain specifically regarding the demonstrative pronoun, “houtos may sometimes refer “not to the noun locally nearest, but the one more remote,” but it will generally be found upon close scrutiny that the antecedent of the houtos “was mentally the nearest, the most present to the writer’s thought” (W. 157). Thus it does not necessarily denote that which is physically adjacent, but that which is immediately present to the thinking of the writer.”9 This fits perfectly with Ephesians 2:8, because, while the noun to which touto refers is elliptical (which means it is not specifically recorded), it is the main subject of the verb sozo- which is the subject of the first clause in Ephesians 2:8.
Interestingly, Dana and Mantey make a comment regarding the relative pronoun. The relative pronoun is a pronoun that expands the noun in question and agrees with the “antecedent [noun] in gender and number, but not in case [his emphasis].”10 This is perfect Greek, understood by first year Greek students, because the case of the relative pronoun, which initiates a relative clause, “is determined by its relation to the clause with which it occurs.”11
A.T. Robertson, professor of Interpretation of the New Testament in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, describes the demonstrative pronoun under “Pronouns.” He wrote, “In general, like other adjectives, houtos agrees with its substantive in gender and number, whether predicate or attributive.”12 Then he happens to use a practical example of Ephesians 2:8. He wrote, “In Eph. 2:8, Τῇ γὰρ χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι διὰ πίστεως· καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν, there is no reference to pisteos in touto, but rather to the idea of salvation in the clause before (my emphasis underlined).”13
These are the teachings of six Greek professors, who come from different theological views, yet all teach the same thing about the Greek language. The word “that” cannot refer to the word “faith.” The word “that” is neuter and the word “faith” is feminine. It is impossible to say from Ephesians 2:8 that the gift of God refers to faith. If someone uses this text to support their theology that faith is a gift of God, they are making a theological view from a false premise. I am then going to examine what other teachings may be false.
1Machen, J. Gresham, New Testament Greek for Beginners (1923, MacMillan Publishing Company, New York), p. 35. Please note this is a beginner Greek book. A first year Greek student learns these simple rules. It does not take a theologian to understand the Greek. It does take a theologian to impose his theology on the Greek text, which makes false teaching. Note also, that Machen’s theology would support faith as the gift, but his teaching on the Greek language would have to deny that the word “that” refers to the word “faith.”
2Ibid, p. 53.
3Goetchius, Eugene Van Ness, The Language of the New Testament (1965, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York), p. 82.
4Kaufman, Paul L. An Introductory Grammar of New Testament Greek (1982, Ronald N. Haynes, Palm Springs), p. 18.
6Ibid, p. 41.
7Ibid, p. 25.
8Dana, H.E., and Mantey, Julius R. A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. (1955, The MacMillan Company, Toronto), p. 116.
9Ibid, p. 129.
10Ibid, p. 125.
12Robertson, A.T. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament In the Light of Historical Research (1934, Broadman Press, Nashville), p. 704.