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XXXIX.

Defective Learning.

“He that believeth on Him shall not be confounded.”—1 Peter ii. 6.

St. Paul declares that faith is the gift of God (Ephes. ii. 8). His words, “And that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God,” refer to the word “faith.”

A new generation of youthful expositors confidently assert that these words refer to “by grace are ye saved.” The majority of them are evidently ignorant of the history of the exegesis of the text. They only know that the pronoun “that” in the clause “and that not of yourselves” is a Greek neuter. And without further examination they consider it settled that the neuter pronoun can not refer to “faith,” which is a Greek feminine.

Allow us to put our readers on their guard against the thoughtless prattle of shallow school-learning. It should be remembered that while our exegesis is and always has been the one accepted almost without exception, the opposite opinion is shared by only a few expositors of later times. Nearly all the church fathers and almost all the theologians eminent for Greek scholarship judged that the words “it is the gift of God” refer to faith.

1. This was the exegesis, according to the ancient tradition, of the churches in which St. Paul had labored.

2. Of those that spoke the Greek language and were familiar with the peculiar Greek construction.

3. Of the Latin church fathers, who maintained close contact with the Greek world.

4. Of such scholars as Erasmus, Grotius, and others, who as philologists were without peers; and in them all the more remarkable, since personally they favored the exposition that faith is the work of man.

5. Of Beza, Zanchius, Piscator, Voetius, Heidegger, and even of Wolf, Bengel, Estius, Michaelis, Rosenmüller, Flatt, Meier, 408 Baumgarten-Crusius, etc., who to the present day maintain the original tradition.

And lastly, Calvin, altho he is said to have favored the other exegesis. But if he had surrendered the original interpretation, he would have given some reason for it; for he was thoroughly acquainted with it. And this makes it probable that he never intended to discuss the question. That he adhered to the traditional exegesis is proven from his own words, in his “Antidote Against the Decrees of the Conciliam of Trente” (page 190, edition 1547): “Faith is not of man, but of God.”

Even our educated Reformed laymen are acquainted with the fact, if it were only from the study of the magnificent commentary on the Ephesians by Petrus Dinant, minister at Rotterdam, who flourished in the latter part of the seventeenth century. He published it in 1710, and the book had such a large sale that it was reissued in 1726; even now it is in great demand. We quote from it the following (vol. i., p. 451): “‘And that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.’ The word ‘that,’ (GR. tau omicron upsilon w/tonos tau omicron), refers either to the preceding ‘being saved,’ or to ‘faith.’ To the former it can not refer, St. Paul having stated already that salvation is a gift of God. Hence it must refer to faith. It is true the Greek (GR. tau omicron upsilon w/tonos tau omicron), is a neuter, while (GR. pi iota w/tonos sigma tau eta sigma), faith, is a feminine. But Greek scholars know that the relative pronoun may refer just as well to the following (GR. delta omega w tonos rho omicron upsilon), gift, which is neuter, as to the preceding (GR. pi iota w/tonos sigma tau nu sigma), which is feminine, according to the rule in Greek grammar governing this point. Hence ‘that,’ viz., ‘faith, is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”‘

But recent discoveries may have upset this ancient exegesis. If the modern expositors of Utrecht, Gröningen, and Leyden, who make a hobby of this modern exegesis, will therefore show us this recent discovery, we will give them an attentive hearing. But they fail to do this. On the contrary, they say: “The matter is settled, and so plain that even a tyro in Greek can see it.” And by saying this, they judge themselves. For brains incomparably superior, such as Erasmus and Hugo Grotius, knew so much of Greek that they were at least acquainted with the Greek rudiments. And we may venture to say that all the Greek scholarship now lodged in the brains of our exegetes at the universities just named would not half fill the cup which Erasmus and Grotius together filled to the brim. Wherefore we confidently maintain the traditional exegesis.

The positive assurance wherewith these young expositors make 409 their assertions need not surprise us. The explanation is easily found. They were nearly all prepared at universities whose professors of New-Testament exegesis seek to estrange their students from the traditional interpretation of the Scripture by making surprising observations; e.g., the students had learned at home that “the gift of God,” in Ephes. ii. 8, refers to faith; but they had never consulted the original text. Then the professor observed, with perfect correctness, that it does not read (GR. alpha w/tonos upsilon tau eta) but (GR. tau omicron upsilon w/tonos tau omicron), adding: “The gentlemen can see for themselves that this can not refer to faith.” And, unacquainted with the subject, his inexperienced hearers suppose that nothing more remains to be said. If their Greek scholarship had been more thorough and extensive, they would have been able to judge more independently.

With this conviction they enter the church; and when a simple layman repeats the old exegesis, they delight, at least on such occasions, to parade the fruit of their academic training; and the simple layman is made to understand that he knows nothing of Greek, and that the Greek text plainly reads the other way, and that therefore he may not support the antiquated exegesis.

When sometimes the Heraut3535    A religious weekly publication edited by the author.—Trans. dares to repeat the old, well-tried opinion, these youthful savants can not help but think: “The Heraut does not act in good faith; the editor knows perfectly well that it reads (GR. tau omicron upsilon w/tonos tau omicron), and that (GR. pi iota w/tonos sigma tau eta sigma) is feminine.” Of course, the Heraut knows this very well—just as well as Erasmus and Grotius knew it—and, knowing a little more of Greek than these childlike rudiments, has taken the liberty, supported by the goodly company of the scholars just named, to entertain an opinion different from that of the Utrecht graduates.

Undoubtedly every man has a right to his own opinion and to reject the traditional exegesis. Moreover, in Phil. i. 23, it is distinctly stated that faith is gift of God. But we protest against the shallowness and artlessness of men who in their ignorance pose as scholars, and make it appear as tho even a tyro in Greek, if he be only an honest man, could not support the opposite opinion for a moment. For this is inexcusable in one who presumes to pronounce judgment upon another who knows what he is talking about, as will appear from the postscript of this article.

The reader will kindly bear with us for treating this matter 410 somewhat extensively, for it touches a principle. Our universities deny our confession of faith. They may still concede that God is the Author of salvation, but faith (such as they interpret it) is taken in the sense of a medium which originates from the union of the breath of the soul and the inworking of the Holy Spirit. Hence their manifest preference for such novel exegesis, apparent also from the energetic and persistent effort to popularize it.

And this tendency is manifest in many other directions. For individual, original research there is little opportunity. Hence the instruction received at Utrecht is the only source of information. And this is so thoroughly rooted in heart and mind that the student can not conceive that it can be otherwise. Moreover; the arguments have been presented so concisely and incessantly that convincing arguments for opposite views seem utterly impossible.

This being the case, our young theologians, honest in and loyal to their convictions, declare from the pulpit and in private conversation that uncertainty regarding various doctrinal points is out of the question; so that it must be conceded and acknowledged that the ancient expositors were decidedly wrong. And this is the cause of the strong opposition against many established opinions, even among our best ministers; not from love of opposition, but because sincere convictions forbid them to follow any other line of conduct, at least as long as they are not better informed,

And this may not remain so. There is no earnestness in that position. It is unworthy of the man, scientifically trained; it is unworthy of the minister. There is need of individual research and investigation. These Utrecht novelties should be received with a considerable grain of salt. It may even be freely surmised that the learning of the Utrecht faculty, when they oppose the learning of the whole Church, must be discredited.

And thus our young men will be compelled to return to original research. Not only that, but they will be compelled to buy books. The libraries of nearly all our young theologians contain scarcely anything but German works, products of the mediation theology; hence exceedingly one-sided, not national, foreign to our Church, in conflict with our history. This lack ought first to be supplied. And then we hope that the time soon will come when every minister in our Reformed churches shall be in the possession of at least a few solid and better works. And when thus the opportunity is born for more impartial and more correct study, the rising generation 411 of ministers should once more resume their studies, and obtain the conviction by their own experience, even as others have done, that the work of study and research, which will bear good fruit for the Church of God, is not yet finished, but really only just begun. Then a generation of more earnest and better-trained men will treat the opinions which we have advanced with a little more appreciation, and, what is of much higher importance, they will treat the being of faith with more thoughtfulness.

It is of vital interest that the exercise of faith and the faculty of faith be no longer confounded, and that it be acknowledged the latter may be present without the former. Otherwise there will be a complete deviation from the line of the Scripture, which is also that of the Reformed churches. It will make salvation dependent upon the exercise of faith, i.e., upon the act of accepting Christ and all His benefits; and since this act is an act, not of God, but of man, we imperceptibly lose our way in the waters of Arminianism.

Hence everything depends upon the correct understanding of Ephes. ii. 8. For faith is not the act of believing, but the mere possession of faith, even of faith in the germ. He that possesses that germ or faculty of faith, and who at God’s time will also exercise faith, is saved, saved by grace, for to him was imparted the gift of God.

Formerly theologians were used to speak of faith’s being and well-being; but this had reference to another distinction, which must not be confounded with the one thus far treated. Sometimes the plant of faith seems more vigorous in one than in another, and its development riper and fuller, bearing branch, twig, leaf, blossom, and fruit—which is evidence of the well-being of faith. It may also be that, in the same person, faith seems to pass through the four seasons of the year: there is first a spring-tide, in which it grows, followed by a summer, when it blossoms; but there is also an autumn when it languishes, and a winter when it slumbers. And this is the transition from the well-being of faith to its mere being. But as a tree remains a tree in winter, and will possess the being of a tree even tho it have lost its well-being, so faith may remain still living faith in us, tho temporarily without leaf and blossom.

For the comfort of souls, our fathers always pointed to the fact, and so do we, that salvation does not depend upon the well-being 412 of faith, so long as the soul possesses the being of faith. Altho, after the example of our fathers, we add, that the tree does not live in winter, except it hastens on toward spring, when it shall bud again; and that the being of faith gives evidence of its presence in the soul only by hastening on toward its well-being.

Postscript.

It is necessary to point out two things regarding the shallowness of which we complain.

First, that the construction of a neuter pronoun with a feminine noun as its antecedent is not a mistake, but excellent Greek.

Second, that the Church had reasons why until now she made the words “and that not of yourselves” refer to faith.

In regard to the first point, we refer not to a Hellenistic exception, but to the ordinary rule, which is found in every good Greek syntax, and which every exegete ought to know.

A rule which, among others, was formulated by Kühner, in his “Ausführliche Grammatik der Griech. Sprache,” vol. ii., I, p. 54 (Han., 1870), and which is as follows: “Besonders häufig steht das Neutrum eines demonstrativen Pronomens in Beziehung auf ein männliches oder weibliches Substantiv, indem der Begrif desselben ganz allgemein als blosses Ding oder Wesen, oder auch als ein ganzer Gedanke aufgefasst wird.” Which is in English: A neutral demonstrative pronoun is frequently used to refer to a preceding masculine or feminine noun, when the meaning expressed by this word is taken in a general sense, etc.

The examples cited by Kühner deal a death-blow to the Utrecht exegesis. Take, for instance, these from Plato and Xenophon:

Plato, “Protagoras,” 357, C.:

‘Όμολογουμεν έπιστήμες μηδεν εϊναι κρεϊττον, αλλα τουτο αει κρατειν, οπου αν ενη, και ηδονης και των αλλων απαντων.

Plato, “Menon,” 73, C.:

‘Έπειδη τοίνυν η αυτη αρετη πάντων εστί, πειρω ειπειν και αναμνησθηναι, τί αυτό φησι Γοργίας ειναι.

Xenophon, “Hiero,” ix., 9.

Ει εμπορια ωφελει τι πόλιν, τιμώμενος αν ο πλειστα τουτο ποιων και εμπόρους αν πλείους αγείροι.

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To which we add three more from Plato, and a fourth from Demosthenes:

Plato, “Protag.,” 352, B.:

Πως εχεις προς επιστήμην; πότερον και τουτό σοι δοκει ωσπερ τοις πολλοις ανρώποις, η αλλως.

Plato, “Phaedo, “61, A.:

Ύπελάμβανον; . . . και εμοι ουτω ενύπνιον υπερ επραττον, τουτο επικελεύειν, μουσικην ποιειν, ως φιλοσοφίας μεν ουσης μεγίστης μουσικης, εμου δε τουτο πράττοντος.

Plato; “Theætetus,” 145, D.:

Σοφία δε γ οιμαι σοφοι;–ναι–τουτο δε νυν διαφέρει τι επιστήμης.

Demosthenes, “Contra Aphob.,” 11:

Έγω γαρ, ω ανορες δικασται, περι της μαρτυρίας της εν τω γραμμαείω γεγραμμένης ειδως οντα μοι τον αγωνα, και περι τούτον την ψηφον ύμας οισοντας επιστάμενος ωήθην δειν κ. τ. λ.

For the present we postpone the discussion of the second point to another time.

But it is evident that these citations upset all the quasi-learning of this defective scholarship; and that the words, “And that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God,” just with the neutral pronoun, in purest Greek, can refer to faith; hence that all this fuss about the difference of gender, not only is without any foundation, but also leaves a very poor impression regarding the scholarship of the men who raised the objection.

Moreover, we must also show not only that the ancient rendering of Ephes. ii. 8 may be correct, but also that it can not be anything else but correct.

It reads: “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. For we are His workmanship.” (Ephes. ii. 8-10) The principal thought is the mighty fact that the causative worker of our salvation is God. St. Paul expresses this in the most forcible and most positive terms by saying: “You are saved from grace, through grace, and by grace.” If then it should follow, “And that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God,” we would have a dragging sentence of superfluous clauses, thrice repeating the same thing: “You have received it by grace, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” And this might do, if it read, “You are saved by grace, and therefore not of yourselves”; but it does not read so. It is simply, “and that not of yourselves.” The conjunction “and” stands in the way.

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Or, if it read, "Ye are saved by grace, not of yourselves, it is God’s work,” it would sound better. But first to say, “Ye are saved by grace,” (Eph. ii. 8) and then without adding anything new to repeat, “and that not of yourselves,” is harsh and halting. And all the more so, since in the ninth verse it is repeated for the fourth and fifth time, “not of works; we are His workmanship.”And while all this is stiff and forced, labored and superfluous, by adopting the exegesis of the ancient expositors of the Christian Church it becomes all at once smooth and vigorous. For then it reads: “You are saved by mere grace, by means of faith. (Not as tho by this means of faith the grace of your salvation would be partly not of grace; no indeed not, for even that faith is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.) And, therefore, saved through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast, for we are His workmanship.”

But then this creates a parenthesis, which is perfectly true; but even this is truly Pauline. St. Paul hears the objection, and refutes it again and again, even where he does not formulate the contrast.


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