Mysterious 2:8 – Or Is It?

Do curious inconsistencies captivate you? Do you mull over mysterious misfits? Ever examined Ephesians 2:8?

Normally when Paul describes the basis for salvation, he credits God’s work through Christ. He might point to Jesus’ blood providing forgiveness or Jesus’ atoning death. Although obscured in many English translations, Paul even spoke of the “faith of Jesus” being the foundation for redemption and righteousness, as in Romans 3:22-24 and Philippians 3:9.

Conversely, whenever Paul described our appropriation of God’s gift of forgiveness and sonship, the language changes to believing in Christ, being baptized into Christ, obeying the gospel and confessing Christ. God saves; we respond in order to receive.

Why then in Ephesians 2:8, did Paul run counter to his customary manner by describing salvation based upon our faith?

The deeper we look at this verse the more profoundly puzzling it becomes. From Ephesians 1:18 through at least the end of chapter 2, Paul’s persistent goal is to emphasize God’s power through Christ toward the believer.

God raised Christ from the dead. He makes us alive. He created us in Christ to do good works. Through Christ’s blood a new body is created where unity exists. Why, then, disrupt this doggedly determined focus upon God’s activity in Christ by interjecting the role of our faith?

Paul’s singular focus becomes clearer when we consider that even though this context is filled with baptismal concepts, Paul refused to break away from emphasizing God’s work in order to mention this human response. This is a message about what God has done through Christ. It is not about our response to God.

So why then, at the very heart of this message about how God’s power has supplied our salvation, reverse engines to speak of our faith as the basis? Our faith sticks out like a sore thumb in the midst of a smooth and consistent message about God’s working through Christ.

On the larger scale, what should we make out of the parallels between Philippians 3:9 and this text? Both contrast faith and works. But in Philippians Paul amplified upon faith penning, “faith of Christ.”

Could it be, when Paul anchored salvation upon faith, he did not have our faith in mind? Might Paul have been focused upon the faith of Christ? This is not to deny that we must trust in Jesus for salvation. The question here is, *in this text* was Paul focused on our faith or the role of Jesus’ faith to supply God’s gift of salvation?

Paul does qualify this faith with “and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” He seems to be making it clear that the saving faith he has in mind is not ours.

Curious. Is this just a mysterious Pauline hiccup or has Paul been consistent all along, but we have not been listening closely? Are we interpreting this text based upon what others have taught us it means or the context? I think I’ll be mulling this over a bit more.

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Barry Newton

Married to his wonderful wife Sofia and a former missionary in Brazil, Barry enjoys trying to express old truths in fresh ways. They are the parents of two young men.

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4 thoughts on “Mysterious 2:8 – Or Is It?

  1. Barry,
    Considering Eph. 2:7 (“That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus”)I think it is very possilbe that in verse 8 Paul is speaking of the faith of Christ. This fits with the fact that in Galatians 2:20 (despite some modern translations) Paul says that the life he lives in Christ is “by the faith of the Son of God.” If Jesus had not had the faith to completely “commit Himself unto Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:21-24) then there would be no salvation available to us and no salvation for us to abide in and live in. Thank you for your thoughts. ~ Ray

  2. Elsewhere in scripture the inspired (God breathed) Word says that saving faith is a work of man.
    There are no ‘hiccups.’ Pauline or otherwise, in the inspired word of God.

  3. Thank you for the kind words, insightful thoughts and opinions. I appreciate the time and thought behind them.
    Ray, I had not considered Ephesians 2:7 in that light. Thanks.
    As far as I can tell, those verses whose Greek specifically mentions Jesus’ faith and which point toward it providing the basis for our salvation include Romans 3:22, 26; Galatians 2:16, 20; 3:22; Ephesians 3:12 and Philippians 3:9. Incidentally, Galatians 2:16 which makes two references to Jesus’ faith also contrasts faith and works. Except for Romans 3:26, the KJV translates all of these “faith of,” not “faith in.”
    It is true Jesus taught that humanity’s work was “to believe in him whom God has sent.” John 6:29 This statement agrees with the article above. There is a huge difference between statements such as this which point to our need to appropriate what Jesus has made available and the claim that Paul focuses upon our faith as providing salvation.

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