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Eph 2:8-9 - Is it grace or faith not of ourselves?

(Garth D. Wiebe, July 2020, εστε σεσωσμενοι explanation added April 2022)

I've heard the question come up, whether Eph 2:8-9 refers to "grace" or "faith" as being a "gift" that is "not of ourselves." This is easily answered using both Greek and English grammar. The text is

τη γαρ χαριτι εστε σεσωσμενοι δια της πιστεως και τουτο ουκ εξ υμων θεου το δωρον ουκ εξ εργων ινα μη τις καυχησηται.
Hyper-literally, this is translated
For to-the grace you(plural) are-being having-been-saved through the faith and this not out of-you of-God the gift not out of-works in-order-that not any should-boast.
In both Greek and English, "through the faith" is a prepositional phrase. The preposition is δια, "through," and the object of the preposition is "the faith." In Greek, της πιστεως, "the faith," is in the genitive case. In English, it is in the objective case, the object of the preposition, "through." In Greek, τουτο, "this," is in the nominative case, which corresponds to the English subjective case. In Greek, το δωρον, "the gift," is in the nominative case. It corresponds to the English subjective case. That means that τουτο, "this," corresponds with το δοωρον, "the gift," not της πιστεως, "the faith," because "the faith" is the object of the preposition, not the subject, "this...the gift."

There is another nuance that is missed by everyone. The two ways that εστε σεσωσμενοι in Eph 2:8 is typically translated are

"you have been saved" (NIV, ESV, NKJV, NASB, NAB, NRSV, ISV), or

"you are saved" (CSB, HCSB, NET),

with the archaic English KJV "are ye saved" corresponding to the latter and the archaic English ASV "have ye been saved" corresponding to the former.

I often find it helpful to back-translate from English back to Greek what people want something to say, to show that the scriptures could say something but doesn't.

"You(plural) have been saved" would be σεσωσθε, perfect passive.

"You(plural) are saved" would be εσωθητε, aorist passive. (Or, as the aorist is so often habitually but incorrectly mistranslated into English past tense, "You(plural) were saved.")

In any case, only one word is needed to render it! If it is so simple to just say that so plainly with one word in the Greek, then why are there two words? Why would someone want to periphrase that if there is a single word to express it? The answer is that εστε σεσωσμενοι is not a periphrasis. It is a verb and a participle separately, and each has a separate meaning. Why then is it considered periphrastic, corresponding to an English verb phrase, "have been saved" or "are saved," where "have been" or "are" are as auxiliary/helper verb(s) and "saved" is the main verb? Because that is the way the English mind instinctively works. But you cannot impose English grammar rules on the ancient Greek text, especially since English did not even exist as a language back then, and wouldn't for another one or two thousand years. But εστε is the main verb, an intransitive, linking verb in the present tense, and σεσωσμενοι is a participle in the perfect passive tense, acting as a predicate adjective.

That εστε is in the present tense ("you are being") can therefore be mapped to the prepositional phrase δια της πιστεως "through the faith," since δια, "through," in both Greek and English, typically connotes time/motion, whereas the perfect passive participle, σεσωσμενοι, can be mapped to that which has been completed, that which is already a given, which is the gift, corresponding to the finished work Jesus did on the cross on our behalf. Our "faith" is active, our decision, our choice to believe and keep believing. That is not a "gift" but our responsibility, our part of the deal. The juxtaposition of εστε with σεσωσμενοι is of doctrinal significance, something happening in the present juxtapositioned with something completed.

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