The Calvinist Robot and the Arminian Zombie: Grammars of coming to faith.


Grammar police

Grammar police (Photo credit: the_munificent_sasquatch)

The term “grammar” has its origin in the Greek word for “letter,” gramma. “Grammar” used to be restricted to language, but no more. There’s now a grammar of all sorts of odds and togs, for example, a “grammar of fashion”: The larger the ‘vocabulary’ of someone’s closet, the more creative and expressive the wearer can be. If you were to attend Stanford University, you could dig into the “grammar of cuisine,” and slaver over such fare as “The structure of British meals.”And, if you are one of those who thinks deeper, there’s the grammar of the genetic code. (“Code” in linguistics is a another name for “grammar”). The reason why we can use the term “grammar” in so many diverse contexts is because the “grammar” of a system is simply the structure of interrelationships that undergirds that system, showing how things fit together into a coherent whole. (See Jacob Neusner and the Grammar of Rabbinical Theology (Part 2): What is grammar?)

In this article, I examine the grammatical relationships within Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and THAT not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”


 When monergism/calvinism is contrasted with synergism/arminianism, what first comes to mind is God’s role and man’s role in coming to faith. The calvinist says that man plays no cooperative or contributive role in coming to faith, while the arminian says that man cooperates with God by turning his heart to God, that is, exercises his will to come to faith. In this regard, the favourite word in arminianism is “whosoever,” (John 3:16), which in the original Greek simply means “the one who” and not “the one who wills.” In calvinism, God first regenerates the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation.  “Doesn’t Jesus command me (John 3), “You must be born again?” Yep. “Well, I did what he said I must do, I borned again.” Faith, for the Arminian is something the believer does, not something God gives, as calvinism maintains. 


 Michael Horton reports that 85% of evangelicals in America haven’t a clue what justification is about. And moi? Let me try: justification is basically rightstanding with God. “Justification” is a forensic term, which has nothing to do with microscopes and solving crimes, but with absolving crimes, in biblical language, forgiving sin. But much more than forgiveness: reconciliation with God and given the righteousness of Christ. Two core biblical texts about justification are:

 (2 Corinthians, 5:21)

 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of (in rightstanding with) God” .

 Romans 3:19 – 28

[19] Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. [20] For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

[21] But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—[22] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: [23] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [24] and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, [25] whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. [26] It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

[27] Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. [28] For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

 The “righteousness” in 2 Corinthians 5:21 “we might become the righteousness of (in rightstanding with) God” and in Romans 3:22 “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” should not be equated with what is commonly called “sanctification” (becoming holy), The quip “I know I am justified; now I must focus on the job of sanctificationis, at best, simplistic. There are two kinds of “sanctification”; the first occurs when we become Christians (born again and receive the gift of faith):

 “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2).

The second kind of sanctification is illustrated in Ephesians 2:10:

[8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.(Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV).

 In short, “sanctification is used, in its widest sense, as descriptive of the whole process, originating in regeneration, by which depraved men are restored to a conformity to God’s moral image” (William Cunningham. “Justification” in Historical theology Vol 2 : a review of the principal doctrinal discussions in the Christian church since the apostolic age, 1863).

 In Roman Catholicism, “justification” embraces the whole process of salvation: regeneration, faith, works – purgatory (if you’re not a “saint”) – glorification. Protestant Christians, by and large, are in agreement that justification is by grace alone through faith alone. Protestants are divided into monergists and synergists. In monergism, God alone is involved in a sinner’s justification – the calvinist view). In synergism, God and the sinner cooperate in the sinner’s justification – the arminian view. So, monergists are calvinists, and synergists are arminians (after Jacob Arminius 1560 – 1609). A calvinist view of justification is that God sovereignly regenerates sinners freeing their will from the bondage of their sin nature, planting in them the desire to be reconciled with God, and thus enabling them to stretch out their hands to receive the gift of faith. They have become right with God (reconciled) – justified. An arminian says that God offers degenerate sinners the gift of faith, and no sinner has lost his or her ability to choose God, and so sinners are free to accept or reject the gift of faith. If they desire to accept it, they become regenerated and thereby justified. It follows logically that such a sinner must have something better in himself or herself than the sinner who rejects the gift of faith. Most arminians would deny that they have anything good in themselves.

 Grammar in the Bible

 In Ephesians 2 we read:

 [1] And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—[3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—[6] and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

 I repeat verse 8, our key text: [8]“ “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves (your own doing); it is the gift of God.”

 The demonstrative pronoun that refers to both grace and faith. The letters of Paul (as with the whole New Testament) were written in Greek. So, it would be necessary in any decent exegesis to go to the original language. And so, a crafty devil or advocate would not be satisfied with a translation, for if they were, they’d be(come) calvinists. I say this because most Christians don’t know Greek and don’t care to know it, yet they believe the translated text in their language is correct. They are right to believe the translations because – unless you are a King James Onlyest – most translations (there are one or two icky exceptions in English)– in any language – do a good job.

 Calvinists are accused of turning people into robots because they maintain that everyone who comes to eternal life is predestinated to it, that is, appointed to it (Acts 13:48). They’re also accused, in their exegesis, of logical and grammatical gyrations. The calvinist argues that grace alone brings a person to faith. Here is a typical arminian commentary of “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8):

 (My italics)

 “God, in creation, could have made man as some automated robot who could never fail but to please Him. Praise God, in His wisdom He chose us fallen sinners, who through faith can be cleansed of sin and be found worthy in His sight. We are still sinners but sinners saved by grace. Grace alone saves. Salvation is the gift, but it must come by us putting our faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.” (Do Unbelievers Really Just Not Understand the Gospel?)

 This person has indicated no rejection of the English version of Ephesians 2:8. The grammar of the verse indicates that the demonstrative pronoun “that” points back to the entire previous sentence, unless otherwise qualified (restricted). So in verse 2:8, if the writer wants to restrict the pointer “that” to grace (which saves) but not to faith (which saves), he would have written “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that GRACE (which saves you) is not of your doing; it is the gift of God.” The implication of this sentence would then be that faith is of your own doing (“putting our faith” – the writer above).

Before I move on to the Greek of this verse, Sometimes a writer/speaker mentions several items but can only retain in short term memory (Freud’s “preconscious”) the last thing he wrote/spoke. So, when he says “that” he is, in his mind, pointing back to at least the last thing (the immediate antecedent) he wrote, which in our verse is “faith”: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

All English translations of this verse illustrate the grammatical rule that the demonstrative pronoun that in Ephesians 2:8 automatically refers to, at the least, its immediate antecedent, which in Ephesians 2:8 is the noun “faith.” So, “that not of yourselves must refer to “faith.”

The Greek Arminian

The arminian is like the atheist: the atheist says there is no God, so no matter how staggering the complexity of the universe, we’re here ain’t we, so the only explanation is that we must have randomly evolved from the slime . The arminian says, the Holy Spirit is a gentleman; he doesn’t want robots, he wants someone to come to Jesus freely using the greatest human attribute we have: our freedom to love. This (to use a demonstrative pronoun pointing back – to the whole sentence, of course) is at best confused.

No, no, says the arminian, let’s go to the Greek.” Ok then, you appealed to the Greek, so to the Greek you shall go.

 τῇ γὰρ χάριτί ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι διὰ τῆς πίστεως καὶ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐξ ὑμῶν θεοῦ τὸ δῶρον

 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and THAT not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

 tē gar FOR chariti BY GRACE este YOU sesōsmenoi HAVE BEEN SAVED dia THROUGH pisteōs FAITH kai AND touto THAT ouk NOT ex OF umōn YOURSELVES theou to dōron (it is a) GIFT OF GOD.

 Both “grace” and “faith” are of the feminine gender, but touto “that” is neuter (Demonstrative Pronoun, NEUTER singular nominative or accusative case of οὗτος). Here is an arminian exegesis of Ephesians 2:8:

 “At a certain graduation ceremony, recounts Gordon Clarke, I heard a seminary president misinterpret this verse. His misinterpretation did not succeed in ridding the verse of the idea that faith is the gift of God, though that was presumably his intention. He based his argument on the fact that the word faith in Greek is feminine, and the word that in the phrase, “and that not of yourselves,” is neuter. Therefore, he concluded, the word (touto) cannot have faith as its antecedent. The antecedent, according to this seminary president, must be the whole preceding phrase: “For by grace are you saved through faith.” Now, even if this were correct, faith is still a part of the preceding phrase and is therefore a part of the gift. Taking the whole phrase as antecedent makes poor sense. To explain that grace is a gift is tautologous. Of course, if we are saved by grace, it must be a gift. No one could miss that point. But Paul adds, “saved by grace, through faith,” and to make sure he also adds, and that, that is, faith, is not of yourselves. But what of the president’s remark that faith is feminine and that is neuter? Well, of course, these are the genders of the two words; but the president did not know much Greek grammar. In the case of concrete nouns, for example, the mother, the ship, the way, the house, the relative pronoun that follows is ordinarily feminine; but what the president did not know is that abstract nouns like faith, hope, and charity use the neuter of the relative pronoun. As a matter of fact, even a feminine thing, a concrete noun, may take a neuter relative (see Goodwin’s Greek Grammar). The moral of this little story confirms the original Presbyterian policy of insisting upon an educated ministry. Here was a seminary president distorting the divine message because of ignorance of Greek – or, more profoundly, as I have reason to believe from some of his publications, because of a dislike of divine sovereignty.” (Is Faith the Gift of God in Ephesians 2:8? By Jack Kettler).

Say, however, that an arminian concedes that touto does refer to both 1. “faith” and 2. faith is not of ourselves – 100% a gift from God, he will nevertheless maintain that this does not mean that God rams this gift down a person’s throat; we still must exercise, he says, the other precious gift, the one he was born with, his free will to love God, which God not only respects but insists is His ordained decree of how salvation should be done. This means that God is merely offering the gift of faith; we still have to let God, the arminian reasons, do what He desires us to do; dare I say “dying for us to do?” Knock, knock, knock, please let me in! Contrast this knocking on the door of hearts with: “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure? ( Isaiah 46:9-10:9).

 Hebrew translations of Ephesians 2:8

 In this last part, I examine a few Hebrew translations of Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of your own doing; it is the gift of God” (New American Standard Bible). Here is the Sar Shalom translation

 כִּי־בַחֶסֶד נוֹשַׁעְתֶּם עַל־יְדֵי הָאֱמוּנָה וְלׂא מִיֶּדְכֶם הָיְתָה זּׂאת כִּי־מַתַּת אֱלׂהִים הִיא׃

 Kee (kiy)-vachesed nosha’tem al-y’dey ha-emuna v’lo meeyed’chem haiytah zot kee-matat elohiym hee (hiy).

 Literal translation: For by grace you have been saved through the hand of faith, and not by your hand was that [and that was not by your hand/your doing], because a gift of God it (is).

 The Salkinson-Ginsburg translation is a 19th Century Hebrew translation of the Greek Bible. 1876

 כִּי־בַחֶסֶד נוֹשַׁעְתֶּם עֵקֶב אֱמוּנַתְכֶם וְלֹא מִיֶּדְכֶם הָיְתָה זֹּאת לָכֶם כִּי־מַתַּת אֱלֹהִים הִיא׃

For by grace (חֶסֶד chesed MASCULINE) you (plural) have been saved due to ( עֵקֶב ikev) your faith (אֱמוּנָה emunah FEMININE) and not by your hand, this/that (זֹּאת zot FEMININE

SINGULAR) was not to (from) you because a gift of God was it ( הִיא hee/hiy FEMININE SINGULAR)

 I like the idiom (not) “through (by) the (your) hand” (of faith) in both these translations. Grace (chesed) is masculine, and faith (emunah) is feminine. (the sexual connotations I leave to the esoteric imagination).

In Hebrew, there are masculine and feminine nouns but no neuter nouns as exist in Greek (and German). The Greek neuter touto “that” translates as זֹּאת zot feminine singular), and “it” (in “because a gift of God was it) translates as הִיא hee/hiy feminine singular). It seems that the Hebrew translation is pointing back to “faith” alone (אֱמוּנָה emunah feminine singular). If the

Hebrew translation wanted to make it clear that it was referring to both grace (masculine) and faith (feminine), it could have done so by translating touto “that” by ha’eleh “those” (are not of yourselves). Perhaps the translators thought that everbody knows that grace is obviously free.

No Christian would disagree that all grace is from God whether the grace be 1 Arminian grace -. “prevenient” grace (“coming before” [faith]), which is enough to make you aware that God is knocking at your door in his attempt to save you – or 2. Calvinist grace – sufficient to save. How can anyone believe that it is not sufficient to save! Easy, if you’re a human.

In passing. The word grace comes from Latin gratis (free). Now if only there were no neuter nouns in Greek, Arminius would still be a calvinist. But, naturally, (natural) man has something else up his liberal sleeve – his “free” will (to love God).

Here is Elias Hutter’s Hebrew translation from his polyglot Bible (1599-1600); a very rare and wonderful book.

hutter eph 2 8 hebrew

For by-grace are-ye-saved through-faith (feminine singular); and-that (femininine singular) not-at-all of-yourselves: because gift-of God it (feminine singular). Very similar to the English and the other two translations in the picture (Spanish and French). In the French translation, foi “faith” and grace ”grace” are both feminine, while cela ”that” has no gender, which fulfills the same role as the Greek touto”that,” pointing back to both grace and faith.

Conclusion (Concussion)

Two of the Hebrew translations above of Ephesians 2:8 used the expression (not by your) hand, meaning (not of yourselves). This is where confusion, on the part of the arminian, may lurk. He may protest that surely the sinner is not a robot; surely he has to receive/accept the gift – with outstreched hands. And he is absolutely right. Recall the differences between calvinism and arminianism discussed at the beginning: A calvinist view of justification is that God sovereignly regenerates sinners freeing their will from the bondage of their sin nature, planting in them the desire, and thus enabling them to stretch out their hand to receive the gift of faith. They have become right with God (reconciled). An arminian says that God offers the degenerate sinner the gift of faith; sinners are free to accept or reject the gift. If they accept it, they become regenerated and thereby justified. So, an arminian thinks that he can desire to love God, that he can accept the gift of faith while in his degenerate state. He will say he is not that degenerate; there is still enough life left to stretch out a hand.

So, both the arminian and the calvinist stretch out their hands to God receive the gift of faith; the difference between them is that for the calvinist, a person is dead in sin and thus must first be made alive to stretch out his hand. For the arminian, a person is not dead but merely deadish and so still has enough life in him to exercise his freedom to choose God. It looks like a toss up between a calvinist robot and an arminian zombie. All I can say is, eish! I was deadISH (Hebrew ish איש man”), and now I’m alive.

“The Reformers did not ascribe to faith, in the matter of justification, any meritorious or inherent efficacy in producing the result, but regarded it simply as the instrument or hand by which a man apprehended” (William Cunningham).

[8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10).

By grace through the instrument of faith. By, through, God. We are justified by faith alone but faith that is not alone. What’s that? Verse 10 tells us that salvation does not consist only of regeneration and faith but also of works that God prepared for his children that they should walk in them. It is not works that reconcile us to God; it is justification that does that. Justification occurs at at regeneration, which is the moment we receive the gift of faith, which is also the moment that we are saved. So we are saved/have been saved (justification and sanctified), we are being saved (good works – further sanctification) and we will be saved, that is, glorifed with Christ.

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