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This Is How the Ancient World Received Grace, Part 2

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*Editor’s Note: Matthew Bates will be speaking at the Renew Gathering on November 6, in Franklin, TN.

As mentioned in Part 1, the ancient world viewed gift-giving differently than we typically do today. For us, there is the ideal of giving a gift with no strings attached. We don’t expect reciprocation.

However, as Matthew Bates put it, “Nobody in the ancient world, including the biblical authors, felt that gifts should be pure or freely given so that reciprocation was unnecessary.” What’s the implication of “return-gifting” for our faith? As it turns out, our faith is the implication.

Here’s Bates, from his book Gospel Allegiance:

Grace required a reciprocating response.

It is nearly impossible to overestimate the importance of this for understanding the Bible’s view of salvation. For God’s specific grace (the gospel) to be accepted, a return gift was necessary. What is this return gift?

The Bible’s consistent answer is pistis, embodied loyalty to Jesus the king.

This is why the New Testament can without contradiction recognize pistis as the only acceptable saving response to Jesus the king (e.g., Rom. 1:17; 3:21–26; 4:5; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; 3:26) and at the same time speak of the necessity of obedience and performing works that accord with God’s commands for eternal life (e.g., John 3:36; Rom. 2:6–16; 2 Cor. 5:10; Gal. 5:21; 2 Thess. 1:8; Heb. 5:9; 1 Pet. 4:17).

In antiquity, grace could be unmerited and still require bodily reciprocation.

Merit and reciprocation are separate dimensions of grace, emphasized in different degrees by various ancient authors. When we fail to differentiate these, pretending that unmerited grace cannot be considered grace at all if it requires behavioral reciprocation . . ., we have failed to understand grace as the Bible presents it (Bates, 146).