pisteuo (believe) in the Gospel of John

William Arnold III

The purpose for the book of John is so that, "you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" (20:31, also 19:35). The verb pisteuw ‘believe’ is used about 100 times, the adjective pistoV ‘believing’ twice but the noun pistiV ‘faith’ is not used at all. Aside from second and third John, this is the only book in the New Testament not to use the noun form but by far has the greatest frequency of the verb. Acts being the next runner up has about one third the frequency of John followed by Romans at about one fifth.

pisteuw is used in the subjunctive mood at least 17 times in John. As cited in the verse above, this is showing the possibility that someone might believe. The imperative is used at least 7 times, where Jesus is telling someone to believe (or in one case not to believe, 10:37). The present and aorist are the most frequent of the tenses, both occurring about equally.

John gives seven signs (eight counting the resurrection) to persuade the reader that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (20:21). This seems to be the theme of the first half of the book. Periodically in the gospel he informs the reader that "many believed" (2:11, 22; 4:39, 41, 53; 7:31; 8:30; 10:42; 11:45; 12:11, 42; 20:8) or "they did not believe" (7:5; 9:18; 12:37; 20:25). It is interesting to note that repeatedly we are told that the disciples "believed" (1:50; 2:11, 22; 6:69; 16:30; 20:8, 29). This shows us clearly that believing is not a "once for all" type action but must be repeated to be legitimate.

On the other hand, in one instance the writer says that certain Jews believed in him (8:30, 31) but by the time Jesus is finished talking to them they do not believe anymore (8:45, 46). This shows us not only that it is possible to genuinely believe and then later unbelieve, and also that it is possible to lose faith rather quickly.

The first occurrence of ‘believe’ is found in 1:7, where we are told that John the Baptist came for a witness that all through him might believe. John’s purpose was to lead people to believe in Jesus. This was the reason for his ministry. In the next occurrence, John says that Jesus gave the power to become the sons of God to "the ones believing in his name" (1:12). This is reiterated when he says that genuine believers should later receive the Holy Spirit (7:39).

John (the apostle) is very clear that salvation is only given to those who believe in Jesus and that those who do not believe in him will be lost (3:15, 16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 8:24; 11:26; 20:31). He shows that believing will bring true satisfaction (4:10, 14; 6:35; 7:38; 20:29, 31). He demonstrates that you cannot separate believing in Jesus from believing in God (10:38; 12:42; 14:1, 10; 16:27).

John is also not ambiguous as to what we are to believe. The construction pisteuw oti ‘believe that’ is found at least nine times in the gospel. So from this we learn that we are to believe that: I am (8:24; 13:9); the Father is in Me, and I in Him (10:38; 14:10); You (Jesus) are the Christ, the Son of God (11:27; 20:31); You (the Father) sent Me (11:42; 17:21); You (Jesus) came forth from God (16:30).

Now not only are we to ‘believe that’ but we are to ‘believe because.’ John demonstrates that people believe for a reason, because: I saw you under the fig tree (1:50); signs Jesus did (2:11, 23; 4:48; 6:30; 7:31; 11:45; 12:11; 14:11); words Jesus said (2:22; 4:41; 8:30; 13:19; 14:29; 16:30); the word of the woman who testified (4:39); Moses . . .wrote about me (5:46); I tell the truth (8:46); his (John’s) testimony (19:35; 20:31); he (John) saw . . .the tomb (20:8); you (Thomas) have seen me (20:29). The point here is that we are not expected to believe for no reason but that the evidence is overwhelming and any open-minded person would have no choice but to believe.

In conclusion, believing is a very dominant theme in the Gospel of John. As stated earlier, the book was written in order that the reader might believe (19:35; 20:31). From this book we learn a lot about what believing is, why we should believe and what we are to believe. We also learn that we must keep on believing. And finally we learn that there is more than sufficient evidence for someone to believe.

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