The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Religion

May 9, 2009

By grace through faith — or why prepositions matter in Bible

From the Pulpit

We who preach with any regularity are used to hearing complaints about our use of big words. I tend to defend “big words” because big words carry so much good news.

I have learned it is just as important for me to argue for the little words of theology. Some of the most important little words in all the Bible, I think, are prepositions. Prepositions are links that indicate relationships between or among other words. When it comes to theology, prepositions define the logical relationship between or among terms and ideas. Giving careful attention to prepositions helps us to think clearly about the gospel.

It’s a classic example — and an important one: We know that grace and faith are related to our salvation. What role is played by each of these, and how do they relate? This is hardly an academic question. Our answer says much about our practical religion.

What does grace do for us? Which comes first, grace or faith? Is it grace that produces faith, or is it faith that gives us grace? Can we trust our own faith to save us? If so, what does grace really mean?

This confusion experienced by many I know can be relieved by appeal to prepositions found in the text of Holy Scripture.

In one important salvation text, the Apostle Paul uses prepositions to relate grace, faith, and salvation; “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Salvation results from two things: grace and faith. So what is the role that each plays? The answer is found in the prepositions “by” and “through.”

The first preposition — “by” — concerns God’s grace; Paul says we are saved “by grace.” This prepositional phrase is constructed in the ancient language of the New Testament by use of the Greek dative case to signify agency. “By grace” means “by the agency of grace.”

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