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Did they just believe in Him enough to listen to Him for awhile but really want to kill Him because there is no place in them for his word as in verse John 8:37? Are these people the ones who didn't quite agree with the Pharisees in verses 8:13ff? What relationship does belief have with Jesus and discipleship later in the verse; is he saying that belief means follow and now you need to deepen your belief by obeying or what?

31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples NRSV

and

37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. NRSV

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The same dichotomy appears in the Hebrew Bible:

Exodus 14:22 (NASB)
22 When Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses.

And then later in the Psalms we read:

Psalm 95:8-11 (NASB)
8 Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
As in the day of Massah in the wilderness,
9 “When your fathers tested Me,
They tried Me, though they had seen My work.
10 “For forty years I loathed that generation,
And said they are a people who err in their heart,
And they do not know My ways.
11 “Therefore I swore in My anger,
Truly they shall not enter into My rest.”

These Israelites had "believed" but they did not enter the Promised Land "because of unbelief" (Heb 3:19); that is, "what they heard was not united with faith" (Heb 4:2). The idea here is not just the obvious declaration of personal faith with the mouth, but the subsequent testing which had revealed the latent hardened heart, which accused both Moses and the Lord of capricious motives for having saved the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt (to where they had desired to return).

Returning to the Book of John, the same latent hardened heart appears early in the Gospel account with regard to those who "believed."

John 2:23-25 (NASB)
23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.

"What was in man" was the latent hardened heart. Like the Israelites who had seen the miracles of God through Moses and who had "believed," so too many "believed" on Jesus because of his miracles (as the passage above notes). Judas Iscariot is one example of a disciple who had the authority to cast out demons and perform miracles of healing (Matthew 10:1), but who was at one and the same time "the son of perdition" (John 17:12), which in the Christian New Testament is a title only shared with the Antichrist (1 Thess 2:3) - "ὁ υἱὸς τῆς ἀπωλείας."

What demonstrates the latent hardened heart in those who "believe" are trials and testing. In the case of both Moses and Jesus, those who "believed" had taken offense at the calls for repentance and obedience (notwithstanding that divine miracles were prevalent and evident throughout, which were "believed"). In the case of Judas Iscariot, the latent hardened heart enabled the betrayal of Jesus.

John 13:2 (NASB)
2 During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, (emphasis added)

Satan exploited the latent hardened heart of Judas Iscariot, which led to Jesus's death by crucifixion. How many miracles had Judas seen with his own eyes, and so had "believed" on Jesus?

Rather than stand with Jesus and face the trials awaiting in Jerusalem (as the disciple Thomas had noted "let us follow him so we can die with him"), Judas instead initiated the deliberate offer to the enemies of Jesus to betray him. In this respect, Judas avoided the trials and tests through alignment with the enemies of Jesus. In other words, the trials and tests of faith had revealed his latent hardened heart, which Satan exploited.

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  • Because the Pharisees could not do any works:miracles themselves to demonstrate who was greater, where the greater works:miracles are reason of which is from God. A completion of works, such as between Moses and the Pharaoh’s magicians, sorcerers, and wise men in Exodus 7. Jesus however never challenges the Pharisees to a miracle contest. So it becomes the reasoning of Matthew 12: A House Divided Cannot Stand. How can one distinguish between good and evil without such a competition?
    – user64483
    Commented May 24 at 10:02
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The Jews (in the context of chapter 8) who had believed in Jesus are the same group who in the next verses 33 to the end of the chapter disagree with Jesus and attempt to stone him. In the context of time, had is a past context of time, not a future or a present time in the context of chapter 8. Now considering John 8:1-11 is known to be an “interpolation” it can be most reasonable that these are Jews who are mentioned in verse 31 as the believers.

Answer to the question:
They believed in Jesus' interpretation of the law of Moses with respect to stoning the adulteress to death. In that sense, they had believed in Jesus.

Food for thought:
Reason suggests that the story of the adulteress was interpolated into the chapter to make sense of verse 31 to answer who were the Jews that did believe.

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  • You wrote: "The Jews (in the context of chapter 8) who had believed in Jesus are the same group who in the next verses 33 to the end of the chapter disagree with Jesus and attempt to stone him." Do you have any supporting evidence for your assertion? In Israel at that time, there were Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Essenes, Sicarii, and other mutually hostile groups, right?
    – Dieter
    Commented May 25 at 1:08
  • The only supporting evidence would be in John 8. Yes there was the four sects of philosophy in Judaism as mentioned by the historian Flavius Josephus. The meaning of “believers” changes throughout the chapter. It begins with everybody who believed in Jesus interpretation of the law of Moses regarding the punishments of stoning to death the adulteress. From there the group of believers dwindles as the arguments continue over interpretations of Abraham
    – user64483
    Commented May 25 at 11:54

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