Two verses use the Greek ποίημα (G4161):

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Rom 1:20)

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Eph 2:10)

I recently heard a pastor claim that poiēma would be better translated 'masterpiece'; subsequently I found a random word study which agreed. It seems to me that at least in today's usage, 'workmanship' is a very dry and not-glorious way to describe the purposes God has in mind; note that mankind is considered "the image and glory of God" (1 Cor 11:7).

Is the meaning of poiēma in Rom 1:20 and Eph 2:10 is supposed to be roughly the same? If so, then the Rom 1:20 use seems to include beauty, glory, awe, etc. For at least some, Handel's Hallelujah Chorus (excellent flash mob version) sends shivers up their spines. And yet that doesn't seem to touch what is meant in Rom 1:20.

How would you translate poiēma in the above passages, to bring out its full meaning?

4 Answers 4


OLD TESTAMENT USAGE: The word "poiema" us used only twice in the New Testament, as you say. But in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the same word is used several times:

1Sam. 8:8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day—with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also.
1Sam. 19:4 Thus Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father, and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant, against David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his works have been very good toward you.
Ezra 9:13 And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, since You our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us such deliverance as this,
Neh. 6:14 My God, remember Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who would have made me afraid.
Psa. 64:9 All men shall fear, And shall declare the work of God; For they shall wisely consider His doing.
Psa. 92:4 For You, LORD, have made me glad through Your work; I will triumph in the works of Your hands.

See also Psa. 143:5, Eccl. 1:14, Eccl. 2:4, Eccl. 2:11, Eccl. 2:17, Eccl. 3:11, Eccl. 3:17, Eccl. 3:22, Eccl. 4:3, Eccl. 4:4, Eccl. 5:6, Eccl. 7:13, Eccl. 8:9, Eccl. 8:14, Eccl. 8:17, Eccl. 9:7, Eccl. 9:10, Eccl. 11:5 Eccl. 12:14 Is. 29:16

As can be seen, "poiema" is not well translated "masterpiece". See esp. Ps 63:9, where it is used synonymously with the word "erga", meaning "works/deeds". Thus, the same way the English word "workmanship" can refer both to a masterpiece and a mundane piece of work, the word "poiema" can refer to both as well.

DEFINITION: This is exactly the way BDAG defines the word: "that which is made, work, creation". Strong's and Thayer's dictionaries agree - as do virtually all English translations of Eph 2:10 and Rom 1:20.

NEW TESTAMENT USAGE This understanding of the word must also be applied to the contexts in which this word is used in the New Testament: Rom 1:20 explains how we know God's character from the "things he has made". Eph 2:10, about us being God's "poiema", comes after several verses in the beginning of ch2 talking about our sin nature. And though in these contexts the word "masterpiece" could replace "workmanship" without detracting from the meaning, as I've argued, that's simply not what the word means.

CONCLUSION: Neither the definition of the word ποιημα, nor its LXX usage, nor even its NT usage, calls for understanding or translating it as "masterpiece".

  • 2
    I've been thinking about this for a while, and I wonder: would God create anything that isn't a masterpiece, that he wouldn't declare 'good', as he does so many times in Genesis 1? This, of course, depends on who does creating/working. Jun 26, 2014 at 15:27

That’s a great thought Luke. As Isaiah said:

But now, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

Isaiah 64:8 (ESV)

He cannot create anything but awesome!

God created a masterpiece when He created man. And, by believing in Jesus, we have become His new (awesome) creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)

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    – enegue
    Aug 2, 2020 at 23:08

The emphasis of Ephesian 2:10 is "in Christ Jesus". God created this creation (born again) in Christ Jesus when he raised Him from the dead (Read Roman 6). God's creation in Christ is masterful and not of man; that's a "masterpiece".

As a believer, I am his masterpiece, and that's not of man but of God's DOING, and God alone. No wonder the Spirit of God went on to further emphasize this in chapter 4: 24 that this new creation 'which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness'. The Master created a "masterpiece" in Christ Jesus.

Blessed it be the name of the Lord forever more!

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    – agarza
    Jul 24, 2021 at 16:39

While workmanship is probably the better translation, humanity is the crowning achievement of his creation. Through humanity he chooses to co-rule, through humanity his Word was written, through humanity the Good News is preached. So in that sense, masterpiece could be seen as appropriate.

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    – agarza
    Mar 29, 2023 at 13:44

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