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Why Calvinism is Wrong, pt. 3 – Grammar

November 15, 2012 Leave a comment

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

This is one the great verses of the Bible. In many ways this is our spiritual Emancipation Proclamation. It tells us that we are no longer obligated to earn God’s favor, but that only through faith may we be accepted in Him. What freedom!

However, those pesky Calvinists have to come in and ruin it! They interpret this verse differently than most, and it is all based on their understanding of the grammar in this verse. Their whole understanding hinges on one word in the verse. Believe it or not, that one word is “it.” No, really. When you come to that part of the passage which says, “it is the gift of God,” Calvinists will tell you that you’ve misunderstood the passage all along. Let’s parse this verse out, shall we?

For by grace you have been saved…

This is the main proposition of the passage, the statement which guides the rest of the context. This defining concept – that you have been saved by grace – is the cornerstone of our understanding for the rest of the passage. Until this basic premise is understood, none of the rest of the passage may be understood.

“Grace,” in its most basic definition means simply “a gift.” Thus, our salvation is a gift – not earned, but simply received or accepted.

…through faith…

Secondly, this whole process occurs through faith. That is, this transaction which we call “salvation” occurs through our faith, our believing. God (the giver) extends this gift of salvation to us (the receivers) and we accept the gift through faith.

It’s the next part that gets tricky (well, it’s tricky for the Calvinists…to the rest of us the plain meaning works just fine).

…And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

We must define here what “this” and “it” are referring to. That is, when it says “this is not your own doing,” we must ask, what is not your own doing. And when it says, “it is the gift of God,” we must ask, what is the gift of God.

For the typical Christian who prefers not to over-complicate or over-explain things, we understand immediately that the  “this” and the “it” refer to salvation. Thus the verse may be rendered as follows:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this [salvation] is not from yourselves; [salvation] is the gift of God.”

But the Calvinists disagree. They say that the “this” and the “it” refer to faith. Thus the verse should read:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this [faith] is not from yourselves; [faith] is the gift of God.”

Clever though it may be, this kind of grammatical chicanery serves only to obfuscate its syntactical perspicuity.

Okay, I was showing off there. But it actually had a purpose. If you understood that sentence, good for you. But for the rest of you, all I said was that they made something that is simple, complicated. I made that simple sentence complicated by using a thesaurus. The Calvinists make this verse complicated by using grammar.

The idea that it is faith itself which is the gift of God, is a concept which is foreign to the rest of scripture. Thus, if this is the true meaning of this verse, then it, at best, becomes one of those troubling verses we would prefer not to talk about – like the verse about baptizing for the dead.

However, if interpreted rightly, it fits in perfectly with the rest of Paul’s (yea, the whole Bible’s) teachings about salvation as a free gift not obtained through works. Take the following verses as examples:

Galatians 2:16, 21 – “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified…I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

Romans 3:20-24 – “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

Thus, the clear and sensible interpretation of Ephesians 2:8-9 is the correct one, following in the clear theology of Paul that salvation (not faith) is the free gift of God, and not received by works.