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The Good Works Epi: A Revealing of Christ in Eph. 2:10

Artist’s rendition of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.

 

The NIV translates Eph. 2:10 as, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This translation can easily lead to misunderstanding. The text does not appear to say anything about works “to do.”

Let’s look at Paul’s flow of thought. In verse 6, he points out that we have been co-resurrected with Christ and co-seated in the heavenlies with Him. These glorious realities result in God’s excelling riches of grace and His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus being shown forth in the coming ages.

“For.” The “for” illustrates how His grace and kindness are displayed. “For by grace you have been saved through faith”
“This is not originating out of you” –> “from God is the gift.”
“Not originating from [our] works” –> “so that no one can boast.”

“For.” This “for” shows how God’s purpose in Christ cannot be based on our performance.
“For originating from Him we [plural] are a masterpiece [singular].”
“Created in Christ Jesus . . .”
“Upon good works . . .” The preposition used here is “epi” (upon, as in “foundation”) not “eis” (unto, toward).

So this part would read, “Created in Christ Jesus based on good works.” We can be sure that this cannot refer to anything we do, so it must refer to what Jesus has done. In Acts 10:38, we are told that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how He went around doing good and healing . . .”

What follows are, I think, some great food-for-thought comments [edited] on Paul’s use of the preposition “epi” in Eph. 2:10b. One would expect “eis” (unto) to be used here, but rather it is “epi” (upon).

Dear ———,

What first comes to mind when you are confronted by the phrase or
term — Good Works? Be honest and remember what the first impression was that came to your mind. You will need it later in the matter I would like to present. Was it not something we might perform? I know that is the first thing that I think of ….

What follows is something that I never had considered until a few
weeks ago after having looked closely at the Greek of Ephesians 2:10.
Recently, in a small group setting we were asked to memorize some
verses. Among them was Ephesians 2:10. Here are what a few translations
offer for Eph 2:10b:

KJV: created in Christ Jesus “unto” good works
NIV: created in Christ Jesus “to do” good works
NLT: created in Christ Jesus “so that we can do” the “good things”
NASB: created in Christ Jesus “for” good works

In the Greek, Ephesians 2:10 reads:

AUTOU GAR ESMEN POIHMA KTISQENTES EN CRISTWi IHSOU EPI ERGOIS
AGAQOIS OIS PROHTOIMASEN hO QEOS hINA EN AUTOIS PERIPATHSWMEN

When I looked at this verse in the Greek I was surprised and taken
back by the use of EPI preceding ERGOIS AGAQOIS (“good works”). Virtually all English translations represent this phrase as “unto” or “for” or even (as in the NIV) as an infinitive…”to do”
good works.

Quite frankly, I said to myself…”What’s EPI doing there
and how could anyone translate the preposition EPI as “to do” . . . or even “unto”? One of which is verbal…the other inferring direction towards.

This contemplation led to the following conclusion on my part and
that this conclusion is demanded by the Greek. Am I mistaken, and if you think so … why?

ERGOIS AGAQOIS (“good works”) here, is not related to good works that we may or may not perform, but, in fact, to the good works accomplished in and by Christ – and that these good works and their results are the “basis” of our “being created in Christ Jesus upon [EPI] good works.”

I believe this impression is required by the Greek because:

EPI + Dative according to BDAG is a marker of presence or occurrence
near an object or area, at, near — b. with Dative, of immediate proximity at, near, or by. 6. Marker of basis for a state of being, action, or result, on. With Dative.

Now, this would require a rendering such as:

“We are ones having been established (founded, created) in Christ
Jesus ‘on the basis of’ good works.”

Everything that is created, that is, established, is founded or established first “on” or “on the basis of” something. Is
it not the same that is being described here by the Greek? I believe it is. Our “creation in Christ Jesus” is based on what?

The answer is – “upon [epi] good works.” But certainly not our good works, but rather and only those of Christ.

It would be easy to come up with a list of these “good works” that
have been done and that in fact, the rest of verse 10 states that it is God who before prepared them that we should walk in them. Just a few in cooperation and working (producing) ERGAZOMENOS with His Father — He has brought about the Lamb of God — The Vine — The Bread of Life —
The Cleansing Blood — Which issues into the Saving Life — The Church – The Revelation. All of these meet the qualifications of having been
before prepared by God with the result that we should walk in them.

After all, without Him we can do “nothing.” Among the many things that show that Paul is in these verses describing our position and condition in Christ is verse 11 which is part of the immediate context and is a further description of what we were and what we are now in Christ.
Drawing attention to what it is that we “must” realize concerning
our being in Christ. Not necessarily (at this point) to be concerned with what we must be “doing” — which I would like to suggest again is not what is being said in the Greek of Ephesians 2:10b.

Are there any arguments from a different perspective that can cancel
out this conclusion of mine? If there are and they are so…I would
hope I would want to know and believe that very thing.

Virgil Newkirk
Salt Lake City, Utah

As Jamal Jivanjee pointed out in his blog weeks ago, bees seek the nectar. They don’t focus on the results of their taking in the nectar, which is pollination.

Likewise, we must, like the bees, just seek the nectar (Christ). The pollination (good works) then comes naturally. “Good works” must be seen against the backdrop of us abiding in the vine. Jesus said, You can do nothing without the “nectar” from the Vine. Only from the posture of abiding/resting in the vine does fruitfulness result.

Paul noted in Phil. 2 that we work out our salvation only because it is God who is working in us, both to will and to do His good pleasure.

Also — and this is so vital but often overlooked — on the Last Day, when Jesus pointed out the visiting/feeding/clothing, etc., the righteous had done, they reply, “When did we do that?” It would appear that the Lord’s people were not even conscious of “doing good.” What they did just flowed naturally out of their life from the Vine.

On the other hand, those who listed their good works before the Lord – “We did many wonderful works in your name and we cast out demons” – are told by the Jesus, “I never knew you, depart from Me” (Matt. 7).

It is only as we pursue the Living Nectar, Jesus, that it can be said with confidence, “Let the pollination begin.” – Jon Zens

Helpful article: Robert Countess, “That God for the Genitive!” Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society, 21:2, Spring, 1968, p. 121ff.

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Comments

  1. Pam Frazier says:

    Very good post Jon, really sheds some light on this subject of good works. Abide in the Vine and good naturally follows. That we were created based on the good work of Christ, I never realized, so that is an eye opener for me. Thanks Jon for your wisdom and knowledge of the New Testament. You have given me something to ponder yet again.

  2. Frank Prescott says:

    Good article. I have always seen the phrase “For we are His workmanship, created IN Christ Jesus” as being the operative thing. Not much else to say!

  3. Always a joy reading you Sir.

  4. Very helpful and insightful article, Jon. Thanks so much! I hope this helps lift the religious burden of “good works” done in order to earn something instead of “good works” naturally flowing from our participation in Christ’s life.

    P.S. Is there a way to get email notifications of new articles?

  5. Adel Forsythe says:

    Thank you for this post and for including the comments of Jamal. It is so much more beautiful to see Christ flowing in us and through us than to be looking for work that is waiting to be done.

    I am not a student of the greek language. I can only imagine the traditional translation ties better with the words that follow: “which God prepared in advance for us to do.” But your translation seems to suggest: upon good works, which God prepared in advance for us to flow in.

    Does this seems appropriate to you? I don’t want to add a translation that you did not intend.

    • Adel, my main point was that the “upon” (as in ‘foundation,’ based upon) could not have our performance in view. Instead, it would have the performance of Jesus in view. Because He is the vine, His life flows into us as branches, and fruitfulness results. We can do, Jesus said, not-a-thing without Him.

  6. Tom (aka Volkmar) says:

    Jon,

    Care to speculate as to why translators continue to render epi as “for” or even “to do”?

    Tom

    • Tom, my hats go off to translators. It’s a challenging job to go from one language to another. But sometimes it does baffle me how they can miss certain issues. This particular part of the verse is tough, and my guess is that they were trying to make the best sense of out it, but my feeling is that they could have done better in this instance.

  7. Dear Sir:

    I found this refreshing and well thought out exegesis by entering “eph. 2:10 created in Christ Jesus upon good works” in my WEB search engine. I have been conflicted by this verse every time I read it as commonly rendered. Prof. David K Johnson disagreed with the popular rendering of the Greek preposition, as you have, and taught that this meant that we are to walk peri-about epi-upon Christ’s magnificent works of salvation. The conflict comes when I am continually confronted with the implications of the popular rendering: ‘ARE YOU PERFORMING OR NEGLECTING THE GOOD WORKS! HAVE YOU DONE ENOUGH OR WILL YOU BE FOUND WANTING?’

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