[And A FinalRejoinder]

I grabbed my copy of Jimmy Akin’s book to write my second response (linked immediately below) and as I thumbed through it again I ran across the following argumentation, which is quite similar to the errors Mr. Akin made in our KIXL debate when he mis-identified the aorists in John 6 as inceptives. He writes,

One passage Fundamentalists often cite as a prooftext against the Catholic view of salvation is Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.”
Typically, those who use this verse assume that the works Paul is speaking of are good works. If that were true, it would in no way conflict with Catholic theology. Note that the passage speaks of salvation as a past event—“you have been saved.” In Greek this is the perfect tense, which denotes a past, completed action that has continuing effects in the present. The passage thus refers back to the salvation one received at the beginning of the Christian life, the effects of which are still with one through the possession of sanctifying grace.
We know from other passages in Paul that salvation also has present and future aspects…, so the kind of salvation Paul is discussing in Ephesians 2:8-9 is initial salvation. It is the kind we received when we first came to God and were justified, not the kind of salvation we are now receiving (see 1 Pet. 1:8-9, Phil. 2:12) or the kind we will one day receive (see Rom. 13:11, 1 Cor. 3:15, 5:5). (The Salvation Controversy, p. 117).

I refer the reader to Akin’s comments about the Greek perfect tense in Ephesians 2:8. As far as a very basic description of the Greek perfect tense when used of a finite verb, this would be sufficient. But there is no finite perfect tense verb in Ephesians 2:8. It is a common error to look at a computer program, grab some basic information, and present this as if it represents a meaningful inquiry into the original language. Few areas of Greek grammar and syntax expose such a procedure more quickly than that of the Greek participle. I commented on this phrase in The God Who Justifies:

The NET reflects the fact that the last phrase, “by grace you are saved” is periphrastic in nature, and sets it apart accordingly. This phrase, repeated in verse 8, is a three-word summary of the essence of the gospel. Grace is the means, the realm, the power by which salvation takes place. Grace is all, and grace is enough. And this salvation is not merely some provisional or temporary state. Paul uses a perfect passive participle along with a finite verb to express the fact that we have been and continue to be saved by that grace. Saved by grace, kept by grace: such is surely the Pauline doctrine. 

And in a footnote:

Some grammarians believe the force of the periphrastic, where the finite verb strengthens the on-going element of the perfect participle, had weakened, or passed from use, by the time of the writing of the New Testament. Others believe this force remains evident in the New Testament. Given the context of its usage here, it is difficult to explain the effort to insert the periphrastic if there is no inherent meaning being attached to it.

Computer programs generally do not instruct the user on the significance of periphrastic constructions, and hence the need to still actually learn the original languages. Be that as it may, Akin’s comments are wide of the mark, for they do not recognize that a perfect tense participle is not the same animal as a perfect tense finite verb; further, this participle is accompanied by a finite form of eimi, creating a periphrastic construction. Periphrastics have specific tense-meanings, depending on the combination used by the author (see William Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, p. 277 for a helpful chart). So, to meaningfully address the passage, Akin should have noted this (if he is even aware of it). He did not.

Beyond this, Eph. 2:8-9 is part of a context, and without that context, the commentary offered is truly without substance. The idea that Paul’s view of salvation in this passage can be sliced and diced into “initial, on-going, and future” components that are somehow distinguishable so that the salvation that is solely and completely of grace is merely the “initial” aspect of salvation not only flies in the face of the meaning of the periphrastic (the “with on-going results to the present” part of even the proper description of the perfect tense seems to have escaped Akin’s notice) but utterly misses the preceding context where Paul already has us seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (v. 6)! It is hardly necessary to point out that we are viewing eisegesis when we see the perfect’s meaning (even without the acknowledgement of the periphrastic) cut in half and the Roman Catholic idea of “sanctifying grace” appearing out of thin air, all at the same time.

There is no question that Pauline theology recognizes the all encompassing nature of salvation; there is no question that Pauline theology recognizes the eternal past of salvation in God’s decree of election, its powerful present in the redemption of those elect in time, and its glorious future in the glorification of the saints in the presence of the Triune majesty. But to say that Paul would have agreed with the idea that the initial experience of salvation (which Akin would identify with baptism anyway) is by grace alone while later “elements” can be made synergistic (and determinative of final glorification through synergistic cooperation) is to demonstrate why I have said so often that the Roman Catholic who is faithful to the magisterium finds it very, very hard to honestly deal with the text in a fair, hermeneutically sound fashion. But in direct opposition to Akin’s false assertion that it is “not the kind of salvation we are now receiving…or the kind we will one day receive,” for Paul there is only one kind of salvation: that which is all of grace, from start to finish, and stands opposed to human merit at each and every point. The problem is not with “fundamentalists” who cite the passage (and, admittedly, many do so with just as strong an attachment to a traditional interpretation as anyone else), but with Roman Catholics who separate the text from its context and force it through the filter of the Roman magisterium.

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