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As he spake these words, many believed on him. (8:30 KJV)
As he was saying these things, many believed in him. (8:30 ESV)
ταῦτα αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος πολλοὶ ἐπίστευσαν εἰς αὐτόν

Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him... (8:31 KJV)
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him... (8:31 ESV)
ἔλεγεν οὖν ὁ Ἰησοῦς πρὸς τοὺς πεπιστευκότας αὐτῷ

Many translations like the KJV treat the phrase πεπιστευκότας αὐτῷ, believed him, to mean the same thing as ἐπίστευσαν εἰς αὐτόν, believed on/in/upon him. The ESV correctly recognizes there is a difference. Since the author used both phrases in such a close proximity, it seems we are to see some difference between the two phrases. This leads to my first question:

  1. What evidence is there to support the idea these phrases should be taken as synonymous or should they be seen as conveying something different?

Next, given the context of Jesus being in the Temple (8:2) the "many" of verse 30 would be Jews. Then verses 30 and 31 would convey something like the following:

As He was saying these things, many [of the Jews] believed in Him. So Jesus said to [some of] the Jews who had believed Him...

It sounds like Jesus is addressing only "[some of] the Jews" from among "the many [Jews]." Then what follows is directed to this smaller group of "the Jews" Jesus has singled out. Essentially there are two different groups of Jewish people in the Temple. The ESV's "had believed" also suggests something from the past is active in these events. This raises two additional questions:

  1. Is it possible Jesus is speaking to a smaller group of those who "had believed Him" but no longer hold those same beliefs (either unbelievers or people who held new beliefs)?

  2. Since the events follow those of the Feast of Tabernacles, could "had believed Him" be referring to things Jesus said during the Feast of Tabernacles, or must we limit the "had believed Him" of 8:31 to only those events which immediately precede?

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    εἰς αὐτόν is suggestive of connection "into him", whereas αὐτῷ, being dative, is about direction "towards him", i.e. they were "inclined" to believe him. Like in the Parable of the Sower ἐπίστευσαν εἰς αὐτόν are those in which the seed has reached the "good ground" and πεπιστευκότας αὐτῷ are the others in which the seed does not take root. – enegue Jun 15 '17 at 23:41
  • "Believing Into ..." is not actually a greco-roman linguistic construction. This phrase is actually a "semiticism" - and carries a special meaning, (believing oneself into a relationship with, or into the love of God ...). See related question In the New Testament, What is the Origin of “Believe In” and “Believe Into”?. It seems that an author is implying very different things - if they choose to use those two phrases in the same document. – elika kohen Aug 21 '17 at 17:48
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“believed in Him” and “believed Him” are indeed distinct, (the promiximity of each to the other makes this almost disputable) but perahaps not so semantically distinct, only syntactically. That is, they are simply different angles at saying the same thing, with notable, though not very significant nuances.

St. Jerome even retained the syntactical distinction in the Vulgate:

v. 30 ...multi credidérunt in eummany|believed|in|him

v. 31 ...ad eos, qui credidérunt eito|those|who|believed|(to/at/in) him

This is virtuallly identical to the Greek which He (quite slavishly) translated:

v. 30 ...πολλοὶ ἐπίστευσαν εἰς αὐτόνmany|believed|in|him

v. 31 ...πρὸς τοὺς πεπιστευκότας αὐτῷto|those|having believed (that believed)|(to/at/in) him


ἐπίστευσαν and πεπιστευκότας mean “believe[d]” and “having believed,” respectively. Thus I think we are looking at a case of “many began to believe in what He was saying/give Him credence...” versus “of those who had given credence to Him (v. 30) (i.e. and objectively only those true believers)...”

This is especially true since this part of the Gospel is commentary or documentary in nature (“He said,” “they answered” etc). And as a believer himself, the author of the Gospel, St. John, is making this distinction between the whole audience and the specific, objective set of beleivers among them, and thus uses τοὺς πεπιστευκότας αὐτῷ as a qualification for “Jesus said to...”

Keeping in mind that this may well be a qualification, the “they answered” and “they” this and that could refer to both the believers and unbelievers of Jesus from the entire audience.

This focus on belief and trust in Jesus Christ is characteristic of St. John's Gospel, a probably reason for the qualification, if it is one.

I believe πεπιστευκότας αὐτῷ can be translated “[who] believed in Him” quite fine in this context.

  • Given the use of the phrase ἐπίστευσαν εἰς αὐτόν elsewhere in John, I have difficulty accepting your position this group was not the "true believers." ἐπίστευσαν εἰς αὐτόv is used in 3:16 (also 3:15, & 3:18), 6:40, 11:45. At the Feast of Tabernacles 7:5 (in the negative about His brothers) 7:31, 7:39, and 7:48. In particular 7:39 is explicit it means true believers. You need to support this position that true believers in 7:39 (and throughout) are not the true believers in 8:30 and instead "the Jews" of 8:31 are true believers. – Revelation Lad Jun 16 '17 at 0:06
  • My position is as noted in my answer: "[St. John] uses τοὺς πεπιστευκότας αὐτῷ as a qualification for “Jesus said to...” Keeping in mind that this may well be a qualification, the “they answered” and “they” this and that could refer to both the believers and unbelievers of Jesus from the entire audience." Also, "I have difficulty accepting your position this group was not the "true believers."—I don't believe I implied this group did not have in it a following of true believers. Don't forget that people can also believe for a time and then no longer follow Jesus. – Sola Gratia Jun 16 '17 at 11:46
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The two phrases are not used interchangeably. The first phrase, ἐπίστευσαν εἰς αὐτόν (believed in Him), is recognized as the “stronger” faith statement:

Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him. Better, Jesus said, therefore, to the Jews who had believed Him. There is a change in the expression respecting their belief. In John 8:30 S. John uses the strong phrase ‘believed on Him;’ here he uses the much weaker ‘believed Him’ (see on John 1:12), as if to prepare us for the collapse of their faith. [John 8:31 Cambridge Bible for School and Colleges Commentary]

As discussed in more detail in my answer to the question In John 8:31–44, does Jesus refer to “the Jews who believed in him” as children of the devil? “believe in…” is used 33 times in John and 2 times in 1 John. These 35 uses make up almost 80% of those in the New Testament. On the other hand, the phrase “believed Him” is nowhere else used in the Gospel.1 “Believe in…” is the fundamental statement of belief in the Johannine corpus.

The verse cited in the Cambridge commentary focuses attention on the key aspect of belief the writer of the Fourth Gospel is attempting to make:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name (John 1:12) [ESV throughout]

Like the passage in 8:30-31, there are two groups of people. The first consists of those who did receive Him. This group has been closed because Jesus returned to His Father and people are no longer able to receive Him as John and others did. The second group, those who believe in His name (πιστεύουσιν εἰς...), remains open unto the present. Also, despite their personal contact with Jesus, those who received Him have the same status as those who believe in His name. Each had/have the ability to become children of God. Like the laborers in the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) the Gospel of John describes an egalitarian family where regardless of how and/or when one comes into the family all are equally "children" of God.

The Gospel ends with an appeal on the same note:

but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)

The purpose of the Gospel is to pass on a written record of things which will allow any future reader to have the same life in His name as those who did receive Him. According to John, believing Jesus is the Christ, gives a reader a new life in His name which is the ability to become a child of God. By “believing in…” John states the reader is in the same condition as the writer of the Gospel and those who received Jesus Christ in the flesh.

The temporal component is the integral element in the two belief phrases of John 8:

As he was saying these things, many believed in him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had [in the past] believed him… (John 8:30-31)

The context, as He was saying… describes something taking place in the present where the perfect participle had believed… describes an antecedent action.2 This picture is unusual since the logical way to report a positive statement of what is believed in a setting of "as someone is speaking" is to report they “believed Him.”

After the woman was caught in adultery, John records Jesus making claims to be divine. He is sent by the Father (8:16); He is from above and not of this world (8:23); He makes two “I AM” statements (8:24, 28). Upon hearing these things, one expects to learn whether anyone believed Him. Yet John only reports many “believed in Him” never stating what obviously must also be true: they "believed Him."

The significance of this construction comes when the parenthetic statement which explains the meaning of “believed in Him” is considered:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)

The many who believed in Him as He was saying these things would receive the Spirit later, after Jesus had been glorified. Therefore, John has recorded the events of Chapter 8 such that readers will find themselves in the same position as those who were physically present and actually heard Him. If the reader believes the written record, then they will receive the Spirit in exactly the same way as those who “believed in Him” as He was saying these things at the Feast of Booths. Those present as He was saying these things had to wait until Jesus was glorified; those reading do not wait because Jesus has been glorified.

A requirement to “believe Him” or to “receive Him” comes to an end once He is no longer on the earth. Thus John presented a written record of what Jesus said and is purposeful to do so in a way which gives every person who reads and believes in His name the same ability to become a child of God as those who did receive Him and those who did hear Him.

John ignores to "believe Him" as a means to receive the Spirit for three reasons:

  1. Those physically present must still wait until Jesus is glorified, a future action.
  2. It places readers who may only believe in Him in the same position as those who were physically present.
  3. Those who are present and believe Him may change and decide they do not believe Him, which is what happens at both the Feast of Booths and the Passover in Capernaum (John 6). Retrospectively, those who stopped following Him (Capernaum) or tried to kill Him (Jerusalem) are placed in a group of those who had believed Him and excluded from the group who believe in Him.

1. “Believed himself” or “himself believed” ἐπίστευσεν αὐτὸς is used in 4:53 in referring to the official from Cana after learning his son was healed.
2. Daniel B. Wallace, The Basics of New Testament Syntax, Zondervan, 2000, p. 267. When contrasted with a statement of belief “as He was saying these things…” a statement of what was believed in the past, casts doubt on what this group believes about those things He just said.

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