(Eph. 2:8) Is “faith” the gift of God or is “grace” the gift of God?

CLAIM: Some Calvinists teach that this passage supports the doctrine of irresistible grace. They argue that “faith” is the “gift of God.” Instead of exercising faith of our own freewill, God gives us the faith to believe in him, as a gift. Is this the case? Sproul writes, “The faith by which we are saved is a gift. When the apostle says it is not of ourselves, he does not mean it is not our faith. Again, God does not do the believing for us. It is our own faith but it does not originate with us. It is given to us. The gift is not earned or deserved. It is a gift of sheer grace.”[1] Is this the case?

RESPONSE: The gift of salvation is not faith; instead, the gift of salvation is grace. In the original Greek, the gender of the nouns is different. Paul writes, “For by grace [feminine] you have been saved through faith [feminine]; and that [neuter] not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).[2] The grammar demonstrates that Paul isn’t explicitly referring to faith as the gift of God. Instead, he is probably referring to the entire package of salvation. Klyne Snodgrass writes, “Since there is no neuter noun is in the previous clause as the obvious antecedent of ‘this,’ the word most likely refers to the whole process of God’s saving people by grace.”[3]

Moreover, note that “faith” is defined as being antithetical to “works.” Since faith is not a work, Calvinists and Arminians can both affirm that their salvation was entirely based on God’s grace—not works—even if people need to freely place their faith in Christ.

For more on this subject, see our earlier article, “Calvinism and Arminianism.”

[1] Sproul, What is Reformed Theology? 163.

[2] Stott writes, “Nevertheless, Paul is not directly affirming this here because ‘this’ (touto) is neuter, whereas ‘faith’ is a feminine noun.” Stott, John R. W.: God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1979, 1980. 83.

[3] Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 105.