Ephesians 2:8-9

Dialogue, Winter, 1994, pp. 163-164

Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV) speaks of salvation coming through the grace of God:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

Not of works, lest any man should boast.

The interpretation of those verses is controversial. Non-LDS Christians interpret them to mean that salvation comes as a free gift from God because of our faith in Him. Latter-day Saints have difficulty with those verses because they seem to conflict with the Church’s strong emphasis on the necessity of good works.

I propose an interpretation of those verses that is based on the Greek meaning of the word “gift”. Through this interpretation I have come to appreciate those verses as a beautiful expression of the Atonement, and I believe the verses are consistent with LDS doctrine.

In verse 8, Paul states that we are saved by grace: For by grace are ye saved. The scriptures teach that salvation comes by the grace of God (Acts 15:11; Rom. 3:24; 5:15-17; Eph. 1:6-7; 2:5-9; Titus 2:11; 3:4-7; Heb. 2:9; 1 Pet. 1:9-10; 2 Ne.2:6-8; 10:24-25; 25:23; Moro. 10:32-33; D&C 20:30-31; 76:94; 84:99; 138:14) . Even though we must keep the commandments of God and repent of our sins, the removal of sin comes through the suffering of Jesus Christ, and that suffering resulted from his grace or love. Repentance and acts of service are necessary before Christ allows his atonement to cleanse us, but works have nothing to do with the actual removal of sin.

Paul continues that verse by stating that “it” is the gift of God, without clarifying what “it” is: The common interpretation of that phrase is that after we have faith in God, He gives salvation to us as a gift — “it” is salvation. The Greek meaning of the word “gift”, however, indicates that Paul was not speaking of the gift of salvation but was referring to a different gift. The word “gift” in verse 8 comes from the Greek word doron and refers to a present in the form of a sacrifice or offering(1). Paul was, I believe, saying that salvation is the sacrifice of God for our sins. That is, “it” is the atonement of Jesus Christ, and Jesus performed the atonement by giving himself as a gift in the final and ultimate sacrifice.

In verse 9, Paul states that the gift referred to in verse 8 did not come by way of the works of man: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Obedience and our repentance have nothing to do with the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Jesus performed that unselfish mission completely by himself.

For me, Ephesians 2:8-9 are clear if we refer to the Greek meaning and substitute the word sacrifice for the word gift.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the sacrifice of God:

Not of works, lest any man should boast.

—————
(1) Strong, James. The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, (1890), 385

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7 Responses to Ephesians 2:8-9

  1. Robert Johnson says:

    Hello Allen,
    I appreciate your insights on this. Although I don’t agree with your interpretation just want you to know that (Grace) God’s Riches At Christ Expense, I am sure you of heard of this, do a study on grace. How hard is it for you to live out your faith. I know for me it is not hard to live Christian Life, it is not hard to love as Christ love, to forgive as he forgave. It is impossible to do it apart from God’s Grace…I have a good friend who was LDS and did his mission in the Philippines…would love for you guys to touch base….God Bless you.

  2. Jeff Collier says:

    Allen,

    As I study Scripture, I find it important to read what the Scriptures say, then form my beliefs around what they say. Instead, I might read into the meaning of God’s Word and make it say something it does not. The Greek word “doron” can mean gift of a sacrifice. More often it simply means gift. In Ephesians 2:8, there is no reason to look for more in the meaning than “gift.”

    The problem with the argument, in my opinion, is that the weight of the rest of Scripture is against this interpretation. In Romans, Galatians, Genesis, and Philippians, to name a few, the idea of salvation through grace is firmly established. If one works for this salvation, he can never attain it. In an attempt at brevity, my argument is not fully expounded. For that, I apologize. Keep searching God’s Word and He will reveal Himself to you. That is what keeps me searching.

  3. Allen says:

    Hi Jeff, thanks for your comments.

    As I explain in my essay, I believe salvation, or as Mormons would say forgiveness of sins, comes through the grace of God. Grace is not the point in our difference of interpretation of those verses from Ephesians. I think our difference of opinion comes from the interpretation of the phrase ” it is the gift of God”, or to eliminate the pronoun “it”, “salvation is the gift of God”.

    If I understand your beliefs, you believe Paul is saying salvation is given to us as a gift from God. We accept Christ, and God gives salvation to us as his gift to us. I believe Paul is saying salvation comes from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, a sacrifice in which Jesus gave himself as the pascal lamb. I believe Paul is saying, “For by grace are ye saved through faith, salvation is via the sacrifice of God not via the ceremonial works of the Law of Moses”.

    There are many verses that say works are necessary. Jesus said,”Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish”. Jesus taught he is the vine and we are the branches, and “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away”. James taught faith without works is dead. Are Jesus and James saying our works cause our sins to be forgiven? No, of course not. They are saying that our works are necessary to our salvation, but, as Paul said, salvation comes through God’s grace via the sacrifice of God. Or, as I said in my essay, “Repentance and acts of service are necessary before Christ allows his atonement to cleanse us, but works have nothing to do with the actual removal of sin”.

  4. Holly says:

    I just came across this and really appreciate the explanation. I am debating this very thing with my boyfriend and am grateful that you have printed this idea.

  5. shane says:

    When we disobey the lord there must be a time of repentance and effort to to be forgiven for our sins.
    I believe that the grace of god is a period allotted for us to make these changes’ If we leave this earth not taking advantage of this grace period (to repent and request forgiveness) and make good.. Evil cannot dwell where god is, Hence we must change our lives. Then wait for our day of judgement. We will be rewarded as god sees fit.
    God knows everyones circumstance and states .I will forgive who i will forgive but for us we are to forgive all.’
    Our works are required to overcome some of our weaknesses and to do the things he has asked of us.

  6. mark says:

    Salvation begins and ends at the cross. God Himself, became flesh to dwell amongst us, and pay the price for the sins of man. If you read the Holy Bible, John 1:1 tells us: ” In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Works should be a natural product of a saved person , never a means of salvation; lest no man should boast.

  7. mrnirom1 says:

    You know Allen.. when you look the Kingdom of God.. Christians believe that all you have to do is believe.. and you will be saved. We know that 99.9% of all the people that have come to the earth will be saved in the Kingdom of God. Now.. which glory they get.. Sun, moon, or stars.. is totally dependent upon other things.

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