As we read Ephesians 2:8 in English, we are not surprised to find the word "gift" in the last part of the verse: "it is the gift of God." After all, Paul often uses the word "gift" in his writings (for example, Rom. 1:11; 6:23). In fact, the Greek word that shows up so often in Paul's letters is charisma, which is based on the word charis, the Greek word for "grace." So, it makes perfect sense for Paul to speak of salvation by grace through faith as a gift of God.
But there is a surprise here if you read Ephesians 2:8 in the original language. The English word "gift" translates, not charisma, but doron. Doron, though a common Greek word meaning "gift," never appears in Paul's letters. It shows up elsewhere in the New Testament. For example, Matthew 2:11 uses doron (in the plural) for the "gifts" of the Magi. (Doron stands behind the names "Dorothy" and "Theodore," both of which mean "gift of God.")
We don't know exactly why Paul uses the word doron in Ephesians 2:8. Elsewhere in his letters, he sometimes employs a similar noun dorea, which also means "gift." In fact, in Ephesians 3:7, Paul refers to his calling as "the gift [dorea] of God's grace." Dorea and doron appear to be specific instances or expressions of God's overarching grace.
Thus, the use of doron in Ephesians 2:8—"it is the gift of God"—underscores yet again the fact that salvation by grace through faith is not something we earn or deserve. Rather, it is God's present to us, something God gives freely as an expression of his gracious nature.
At this point, you might be wondering: "How many times is Paul going to make this same point?" He has already written, "by grace you have been saved" (2:5) and "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith" (2:8). Why say this again, using a different word? Though we cannot read Paul's mind, my hunch is that Paul reiterates this point because it is so utterly important and, perhaps, because we can so easily forget it or live as if it is not true. You and I need to know, in the depth of our soul, that we have been saved by grace and by grace through faith, and this is God's gift, freely and lovingly given to us by our gracious God.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When in your life have you received a gift (an actual gift) that reflected the grace of the giver? If God has given you salvation as a gift, how might this affect the way you treat others? Is there anyone in your life today who needs grace from you?
PRAYER: Gracious God, you are the giver of all good gifts. You are rich in mercy and incomparably rich in grace. You are the source of all goodness, all beauty, all delight, all love. Salvation is one more of your gifts, one of the sweetest and most lavish ... and the most costly to you. How I thank you for the gift of salvation by grace through faith. All praise to be to you, bountiful Giver. Amen.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.