Dr. Brown Tackles the Controversies and Answers Your Questions (including Warnings Against Exclusivism and Still More on Calvinism)
March 5, 2010
Dr. Brown Tackles the Controversies and Answers Your Questions (including Warnings Against Exclusivism and Still More on Calvinism)
I must disagree with your assessment of Eph. 2:8. First, you are correct in that faith in the Greek is feminine and gift is neuter. Therefore the gift cannot be referring to faith, but is in fact referring to salvation, which of course is eternal life.
Second, the phrase, “it is the gift of God” includes the definite article “the.” If it were referring to faith, it would have said, a gift of God.
I believe doctrine is never established with a questionable understanding of a particular verse. I believe that Scripture interprets Scripture. What I believe about a particular verse must be in agreement with other Scripture. God tells us what the gift of God is in Romans 6:23. “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
For unto us a Child is born, Unto us ***a Son is given***; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
I thank you for being honest about Eph 2:8. I would encourage you to continue your study of it, and its grammar. (Just as a general thing to consider in further study of it, when we use the word “that” as it is here used, we simply are referring back to something else previously said. I say this includes faith because faith is the closest “thing that it could refer to” (antecedent).”
As to the issue of how people were forgiven and saved generally, and how they were regenerated in particular:
I first want to say that I am sorry if I’ve misunderstood the nature of your issue, calling it perhaps contrived.
Now, those who were forgiven, saved, or regenerated before the cross were so regenerated and saved on the basis of what Jesus was to do on the cross. The Scripture says Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world.
Take a look at Rom 3:24-27a which says:
“[We] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 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. 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. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded.”
Now re-read it to notice that there were two reasons God put forward Jesus as a wrath taker: First, it was because God passed over former sins, looking forward to the cross. Then second, it is to pass over, forgiving, the sins of future believers.
This is a surface level look at this text, as one could go on for pages and not discover the joy of the truth of these verses. But mean only to show that the Apostle says that Jesus’ death is the basis of any saving act God has ever done or will do.
I do not see this as relevant because I think that even Dr. Brown would agree that the cross is the basis of all salvation, before and after the cross.
I could discuss the concept of regeneration given in the OT, from which Paul draws on in his discussion of regeneration, or the new birth. However, I don’t see the relavence of people being saved before the cross to how they were saved, because God has always saved in the same way. We must determine how He has done this.
Thank you for your consideration, and fellowship. 🙂
I would ask you also to consider John 1:12-13’s discription of those who recieve Jesus, as having already been “born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
It seems to me that those who recieved Jesus, believed in His name, *were* born already, but not because of who they were related to, nor because of their fleshly will, nor because of their human will, but rather because of God’s will.
Thank you for considering this verse. To consider your issue:
According to your reason that the word “that” cannot be refering to faith (because the genders are not the same), it could not be refering to the salvation either! Why? Because “that” is neuter and “have been saved” is a MASCULINE participle.
In fact, there is no neuter word in the precious phrase at all. Does this mean that the word “that” means nothing? No!
It refers to ALL of the previous phrase, including faith especially (as the closest antecedent). So it all is from God, not only faith, but most certianly faith.
Therefore, not only is the grace and salvation given, but the faith that recieves them is given also, according to this text.
“By grace you have been saved through faith, and *that* is not from yourselves; *it* is the gift from God, not from works, so that no one can boast.”
Please explain why the closest antecedent to the word “that,” faith, is not part of “that” which is not from ourselves but from God, if you will recognize that there is not grammatical reason to think it is not.
Also I would say that salvation is the gift of God. I just point out that this verse (Eph 2:8-9) says that ALL of salvation is from God, including as well the faith that saves. All is from God, even the heart that receives and trusts Jesus. I take this to be clearly stated in Ephesians 2:8-9 and other Scriptures, but we must be carful to interpret one Scripture at a time, and of course then compare them together. I know you would agree that we must interpret Scripture by Scripture, so thank you for your consideration.
It sounds like you are in agreement with R.C. Sproul’s antecendent arguement. I do not have a problem with interpreting one verse at a time. However, I believe that one should never form an opinion as to the meaning of one verse then ignore verses that do not agree with that opinion. If other verses do not support the opinion held on one verse, then that opinion in my estimation is incorrect. I also believe that no major doctrine should ever be settled on a single passage whose meaning is in question. There should always be supporting Scripture.
You mention in your last post, that there are other verses that support your position that faith is not of yourself and that saving faith is the gift of God. If it’s not too much trouble, I would like to see the references you refered to that support that position.
I will address genders in a future post.
I have not heard R. C. Sproul make that argument as far as I know, but I just think that the verse is very clear in English and Greek, grammatically and apparently.
I would be glad to discuss some other relavent passages, but I will wait for you to consider Eph 2:8-9 in another post as you said you would.
First I did not say “that” refers to “are ye saved.” I said it refers
to salvation or in particular eternal life. Which I will explain in
more detail in my next post.
Please explain how 2 feminine nouns plus 1 masculine participle
equals a signular neuter.
If as Calvinists say the “that” refers to all three Paul would have
used the word “they”.
I want to first of all admit that I do not read the original language here, but as I have stated previously, I rely on various resources to know the specifics of the language. So when I make a point I do so to the best of my understanding, so please correct me if you find a mistake in something I say. I do think I understand well the issues in this verse however and ask questions based upon that.
My point was that your argument that the “that” could not refer to faith is not valid because there is no word in the previous phrase that is neuter, as you just noted. So would you recognize that this is not an argument against faith being given, but rather of anything being given.
First, the neuter “that” must refer to the masculine paticiple “you have been saved,” the feminine “grace,” and the feminine “faith” because they all are thus equally referred to. Would you not agree that the faith is referred to as much as the grace on this grammatical gronds alone?
Second, would you recognize that “faith” is the closest antecedent to “that” which is given, making it even more clear that it is being referred to along with all in the phrase before it?
Third, if the word “they” were used, then it would refer to the three things previously mentioned, individually. But the use of the word “that” takes all of the previous phrase as a whole as being from God.
Would you not then take the faith of this verse to be given just as much as a part of the gift of salvation as the grace here mentioned?
People were not regenerated (born-again) before the Resurrection; they were still dead spiritually.
Romans 5:18 states, “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.”
God’s grace was only available subsequent to the Resurrection. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, “16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!”
Also, regarding the OT saints, Hebrews 11 says the following, “13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises…” and, “39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise…”
Finally, please notice what occurs after the crucifixion in Matthew 27, “52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”
No one was regenerate before the Resurrection. The purpose of the Cross was to make spiritual rebirth available. This can be supported by numerous passages.
Thus, as I doggedly continue to state, the Reformed position on TD has a problem (IMHO) because of the many Gospel accounts of people believing on Jesus prior to His Resurrection.
I must admit that I do not understand your point. Even if I say that people were saved differently before the cross this does not change how people are saved now.
Also I do not understand how the verses say that people were saved differently before the cross. They simply seem to say that one cannot be saved without the cross. Again, the cross works retroactively, that is backwards. According to the verse Heb 11:13 that you did not quote entirely, the peoply did not see the promises fulfilled but beleived them, seeing them “afar off”. So again those before the Cross looked forward to it, as their sufficiency. Moses told the Children of Israel that they could obey the commandments not because they chose to be free from sin, but because God would circumcise their hearts. This is one of the places Paul got the idea of regeneration from.
So it seems to be irrelavent to regeneration directly and untrue.
I’m by no means a Greek scholar either.
Here is my take on Eph 2:8-9. I realize I could be wrong, but I
believe it to be correct because, at least to me, it appears to
agree with the rest of scripture.
Now I know you said you had other scriptures to support your view. If in fact you do, then of course, I would be wrong in my
interpretation of the text.
First, in English (and again I am not an expert in English either)
if I used three different words I would not use a singular “that”
to describe them. I would have used “they’ as I mentioned
earlier. I know you disagreed with me, but I believe
that is the way most people talk.
Second, I don’t believe “that” refers to faith or the whole
phrase as Calvinists do because of the gender problems
which I mentioned before.
The question then of course becomes what does “that” refer
to. I believe it refers back to the previous neuter statement.
Which in this case is vs. 7. I say that for 4 reasons.
1. Because of the singular “that” as mentioned previously.
2. Because they are both neuter phrases.
3. The first word in vs 8 is “for” as it is in vs. 10. In both cases the word “for” draws us back to the previous verse or verses. I’m sure you would agree that to be the case in vs 10. I believe it to be the case in vs 8 as well.
4. In vs. 7 we get God’s riches and kindness shown to us in the ages to come which, as I said earlier, is eternal life. Those who do not receive them (God’s riches and kindness) receive eternal death.
Sorry, accidently submitted before I finished the thought.
I believe the phrase, “for by grace are ye saved through faith” is the means by which the eternal life in vs. 7 is obtained. The rest of the phrases also all refer back to the eternal life that we receive.
1) It is not of ourselves
2) It is the gift of God
3) It is not of works
Therefore, no man could boast.
That’s my position. Interested in what you have to say.
I want to say that I will be glad to discuss some other scriptures one we have discussed this one.
Now, I must admit that your interpretation is an interesting one. However, I think that it is too much of a stretch to hold water.
But first to discuss the immediate point, Ephesians 2:4-9,
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, 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 ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith ; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God ; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
First notice that the text begins with the action of God, so all that is discussed will be described in terms of what God does.
God is motivated by nothing within us, but only by His great love. Without going through what I think deadness to be (I think it simply means complete separation from God), notice that we make no effort to get out of deadness, nor does God make us alive enough for us to just barely see Him, rather God makes us fully and completely alive because we’re actually raises us up to be seated us with Jesus in the heavenly places!
Now do we come to verse seven. It begins as a subordinate clause, with “so that.”
Then, verse eight does begin with “For.” Which would mean, “because of what came before, therefore this.” So what came before? God’s making alive, raising up, and seating of us in heavenly places with Christ. So, because God has done everything, it is by grace that we are saved through faith and THAT.
Does it make sense for Paul to be referring to something in the last subordinate clause, AFTER he has already making another point? I think not.
So, to lay the points out for you:
1. Paul has already begun a new clause that begins with “For.”
2. In order for Paul to explain the previous statement in the sentence before (as indicated by “For”), he must make a self-coherent statement of explanation.
3. By making “that” refer to a statement in a subordinate clause would make Paul incoherent.
4. If Paul is referring most naturally to something within the same sentence, then it must refer to all of the phrase “grace you have been saved through faith.” It must because of the effect of the “that” being neuter and the previous phrase.
5. The effect of the “that” being singular is that it refers to the whole clause in this way that may be easily illustrated:
I can say in ordinary language, “I just took the broom to sweep the floor with the energy I had. And you know, that was all I did.” I do not need to say “those things I did were all.” It makes perfect sense to refer to three or more things.
We all have a lens through which we see things in the Bible. It is possible to see what you want to see, and I try to be sure that I do not do so by carefully examining my lens through which I see the Bible to see if it can allow me to see the whole Bible. I am willing to augment my lens if I find a place where it does not let me see what the Bible is trying to communicate clearly.
I would just ask you to consider if your lens is able to accept all the Bible says about regeneration clearly, and be willing to augment your lens.
So I will next discuss some other Scriptures in following posts.
Although I appreciate the efforts of Calvinists to use Eph 2:8-9 to argue that faith itself is a gift, what cannot be denied in scores of others verses is that the Lord holds us responsible for believing and strongly rebukes us for not believing (I’m speaking of Israel, the Church, and even the world).
It seems far wiser to take those verses at face value — especially since those truths were well established centuries before Ephesians was written — rather than to try to exegete the rest of the Bible based on a possible, but still unnecessary, reading of Eph 2.
I agree the previous verses are talking about what God has
done. does it not seem strange that faith is not mentioned.
After all if in fact faith is the gift of God and not of ourselves
Paul should have mentioned it.
Just to make sure my lens are not overly rose colored I read to
my wife and then again later to my son your broom example.
I read the statement slowly 3 times and then asked the
question “what was all I did?” Their answers were the same as
mine. Namely “I swept the floor.”
If your married you might ask your wife the same. I’d be very
interested in her answer.
Can’t wait to hear your supporting verses.
Regarding regeneration, Harold said, “…nor does God make us alive enough for us to just barely see Him, rather God makes us fully and completely alive because we’re actually raises us up to be seated us with Jesus in the heavenly places!”
I find it very interesting that you believe that this (quote above) occurred for NT people, such as John the Baptist & Martha, who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, before the Resurrection.
Regarding John the Baptist, Jesus said in Matthew 11:11, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
It seems if John, who said, “”Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” had “already” been regenerated, he would not have been, at that time, “outside” the Kingdom according to Matthew 11:11.
How can a person be “born again” and outside the Kingdom of God?
How can a person be “born again” before the atonement?
God does not have to regenerate you in order to believe in Jesus as demonstrated in the life of John the Baptist and many others.
The Gospels are full of people that believed in Him prior to His Resurrection. Christ is considered the “first fruits.”
If all of these others were Born Again before the Cross, why were they not considered the first-fruits?
Regarding my “first-fruits” argument, I need to further consider it. I temporarily retract it. I posted it on a whim…
I stand by the rest however!
I would just like to ask you a question about an issue that I didn’t think was relavent to Calvinism, but is being raised to deny some aspect of Calvinism.
It has been Said that the Calvinist understanding of regeneration is wrong because regeneration is caused by the cross and therefore did not happen before the cross.
I do not understand this objection because I would think that you would believe both that regeneration happened before the cross and that the cross was the basis of it. I’m not asking your view about the order of salvation but just if you think this issue relavent to Calvinism. I do not understand how it is. :/
Again, regarding Matthew 11:11, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
John the Baptist was born of women – he was born of “water,” but he wasn’t born of “Spirit” (a la John 3:5). If he was born of Spirit, he would have been in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Thus, when John the Baptist said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” he was still spiritually dead (dead in sins and trespasses) and was NOT regenerate. Thereby, clearly disproving the Calvinist position regarding “total depravity.”
You are correct. No one born again or regenerated until after
When in (John 3:15 que dije usted) does it say that John was only born of “water?” In fact, Jesus implies that he was in the Kingdom in Matt 11:12, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”
“Thus, when John the Baptist said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” he was still spiritually dead (dead in sins and trespasses) and was NOT regenerate.”
I have to ask simply why does John the Baptist’s calling Jesus the Savior of the Word mean that he was spiritually dead? Would not the fact that he sees Jesus for who he is mean that he is not cut off from God, separated from him?
The only way I can make any sense out of what you are saying is if I understand that you are saying something like this:
1. Jesus had not yet died.
2. John calls Jesus the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the World, showing Jesus had not yet died.
3. Therefore, John could not have been regenerate, since Jesus had not yet died.
If this is not your thinking, please make it clear.
If this is your line of thinking, then I do not understand why you are ignoring the fact that the Work of Jesus on the cross worked backwards. Therefore, it makes no difference whatsoever that God saves before the cross, regenerating people.
Now, regeneration is a relevant theme in the Old Testament. When Moses gave the Law he said, “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach” (Deu 30:11). But he did not say this because of their inherent ability, but rather because he had already spoken about God’s regeneration in Deu 30:6, “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.”
There are other pictures from the Old Testament that describe regeneration (such as God taking out of the heart of stone and putting in the heart of flesh), but this is one that Paul picks up to describe making alive (regeneration) in places such as Colossians 2:11-15, again as the Work of God,
“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
Again, according to Romans 3-4 and numerous other New Testament passages, people were regenerated by God to have “faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” They just looked forward to the promise of God as “afar off,” just as Heb 11:13 says.
However, you have brought no Biblical evidence that would indicate that people were not regenerated before the cross. You have only given a lot of logical conclusions drawn from your own presumptions about the way the cross saves.
Furthermore, while I am happy to discuss this issue, I still do not understand how it is relevant to Calvinism because, even if I grant you idea as true, it still would have no effect on how God saves since the cross.
Unless you have alternate and more textually based understandings of the Scriptures relevant to this subject, I must conclude that (1.) God has always saved and will always save in the same way and that (2.) it has always been and will always be that God’s salvation is based on the Work of Jesus on the Cross, alone.
By the way, I do not know why I said, “que dije usted.” I would have rather said que dijo usted, but again I’m not sure why I am typing in Spanish.
Hello Dr. Brown,
“Although I appreciate the efforts of Calvinists to use Eph 2:8-9 to argue that faith itself is a gift,”
Actually it is ****one**** calvinist here, Harold, who is obsessed with establishing that God gives some the gift of salvation and is attempting to proof text from Ephesians 2:8 to “prove” his claim. The Greek grammar does not support this and in fact goes against his attempts. He himself admits he does not know Greek and yet he keeps trying to proof text from a text when he does not even understand the grammar involved.
The text does not say that God gives some a gift of faith. That is a **theological invention** first promulgated by Augustine and repeated by scores of calvinists. I could post what Greek scholars such as Daniel Wallace (who is himself a calvinist) say about this passage, and who argue clearly and cogently that it does not say that faith is given as the gift in Ephesians 2. But it is a waste of time. Harold has his mind made up and has written countless posts here attempting to proof text from this single passage.
“what cannot be denied in scores of others verses is that the Lord holds us responsible for believing and strongly rebukes us for not believing (I’m speaking of Israel, the Church, and even the world).”
Right, it does not make much sense to rebuke someone for not doing something they cannot do. Inherent in the rebuke is the assumption that they could do it but have not done so.
“It seems far wiser to take those verses at face value — especially since those truths were well established centuries before Ephesians was written — rather than to try to exegete the rest of the Bible based on a possible, but still unnecessary, reading of Eph 2.”
But Dr. Brown you don’t understand, this is the only passage that poor Harold can appeal to, to try and proof text from, that faith is given only to some. Take away this passage and he has nothing from which to support his claim. So he is fighting tenaciously and apparently this is a “hill to die on” for him! 🙂
His efforts again remind me of past dealings that I have had with non-Christian cultists who also get a verse in their minds that they have to “prove” supports their position. They will literally go around and around and around on the verse until you give in, 🙂 or you move on realizing you are dealing with a made up mind, that is made up and firmly committed to an error.
Dr. Brown in an earlier post I had suggested that you read my friend Bob Hamilton’s article on John 6. His article is the best one that I have seen on dealing with the Calvinist (and in this case James White) attempt to argue for Calvinism based upon John 6. Here it is again, if you have not yet read it:
I really believe that you should read this as part of your preparation with your upcoming discussions with James White. I am sure that you are quite ready for the other texts, :-), I just think this article really deals with the John 6 passage well.
I do not think you comments are fair.
As to Eph 2, I simply wished to have a rather complete discussion of Eph 2. If you know something that I do not, you should have said so. I do openly say that I do not understand the Greek of the Bible, as I have not yet undertaken to begin a comprehensive study of the language. I do however understand something of the Greek of this passage. If I have made a factual mistake, I have welcomed correction. I do however think that what I have said is factually correct.
I have spent so much time on this text because I do not wish for the text to be missed by me or anyone else. You claim that I am trying to take one text to interpret the entire Bible through, but I do not think you will not find where I have done this.
I have, in the case you have not seen it, given John 1:12-13 as another place to which one may go to study this issue.
Further, I do think that my last point to Dr. Brown on John 6 stands:
Dr. Brown said that the one who comes is the one who believes, and this is a very true claim that this passage makes. However, this does not negate verse 44 which says, “No *one* can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws *him*; and I will raise *him* up on the last day.” Will the Father teach all the children of Isa 54:13 which Jesus quotes? Yes, and “everyone who who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” Also, “all that the Father gives Me will come to Me” (v. 37).
All I ask is that you be honest in your objections and clear. Please do not discribe my actions as wrong, unless you have shown so. Please know that I believe what I do because I understand see it taught in the Bible ultimately, and am completely open to correction based on the Word.
Harold said, “I …am completely open to correction based on the Word.”
And, “However, you have brought no Biblical evidence that would indicate that people were not regenerated before the cross.”
**Prior** to the events of Matthew 11:11 which came **after** the baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist said in John 1, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
**Subsequent** to this declaration by John, Jesus said, “…Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
If I am the very LEAST in the kingdom of heaven and yet I am “greater” than you, then YOU are NOT in the kingdom of heaven.
Also, Jesus mentions that John was the greatest of those “born of women”. What does born of women mean? It means those that are born through water – which includes (typically) every human being. However, Christ goes on to say what I mentioned above “(regarding John) the LEAST in the kingdom is greater than he.” Meaning (IMHO), whosoever has been born of the Spirit (REGENERATED) is greater than John who, up to that point, had merely been born of water.
The Calvinist view of total depravity says, in summation, that man has a complete inability to choose God, which is in contradiction to the example above. Pre-Resurrection, John was still DEAD spritually. Therefore, the Calvinist view of TD is incorrect, and if T is incorrect, then what about ULIP?
Additionally, in the Hall of Faith passage in Hebrews 11, it concludes with “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did NOT receive the PROMISE…”
What do you think the promise was? I believe that the promise was Jesus, and if you don’t have Jesus, then you haven’t been regenerated – you’re still dead spiritually because your sins have NOT been pardoned. Remember, it wasn’t until John 20 that the disciples “received the Holy Spirit”
Bye for now.
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