• And, how can "πιστεύητε" in Him be "work" (ἔργον)?

Text: John 6:28-29 (ESV)

28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works (ἔργα) of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work (ἔργον) of God that you believe (πιστεύητε) in him whom he has sent.”

  • 1
    I didn't get it at first. But you are saying that Jesus is pointing them away from legal works to a way of faith, and that the 'work' is on God's part. Good point. Yes, I agree. Up-voted +1 for both the question and the in-built answer.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 14, 2020 at 18:59
  • 1
    Compare to the John 5:17 Ὁ πατήρ μου ἕως ἄρτι ἐργάζεται κἀγὼ ἐργάζομαι. And I wonder if ἄρτον "bread" and ἄρτι "always" are somehow related so we have another wordplay that might be insightful.
    – Diego
    Sep 30, 2020 at 19:40

5 Answers 5


In John 6 we have a discussion, verging on a rabbinic debate (in style), about the "Bread of Life".

Before proceeding further, let us observe that in John's writing (and most of the rest of the NT) the word used for "life" is ζωή (zóé) and almost always (including especially in John 6) means eternal life as distinct from earthly life for which the writers might use "bios". See 1 John 5:11, 12.

Back to John 6. Jesus is trying to lift the spiritual eyes of the Jews from their daily life to eternal matters when He declares (V26 & 27).

Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, it is not because you saw these signs that you are looking for Me, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval.”

The Jews then ask a classic legalistic question (V28), "What must we do to perform the works of God?” τὰ ἔργα τοῦ Θεοῦ

Jesus replies: "The work of God (τὸ ἔργον τοῦ Θεοῦ) is this: to believe [or trust] in the one he has sent."

Note the change from the Jewish question to Jesus' reply. The Jews asked about "works" (ἔργα plural); but Jesus replied that there are not many works but one simple "work" (ἔργον singular) - to believe/trust in Jesus.

Such an exchange is typical of a Rabbinic teaching exchange - to take part of the question and make it part of the reply/answer. Even in modern speech, this remains common practice.

Note the comment of Ellicott:

(29) This is the work of God.—They speak of “works,” regarding life as an aggregate of individual deeds. He speaks of “work,” regarding separate acts as the outcome of principle. His own works (John 5:36) made one complete work (John 17:4). They had one great work to do, which indeed seemed not a work, but which when realised would be the living principle of every work, and would be as food abiding unto eternal life.

... and also of the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges -

  1. the work of God] They probably were thinking of works of the law, tithes, sacrifices, &c. Christ tells them of one work, one moral act, from which all the rest derive their value,—belief in Him whom God has sent.

Bengel's Gnomen is similar:

John 6:29. Τὸ ἔργον τοῦ Θεοῦ, the work of God) That work which is approved by God: comp. ch. John 4:34, [Jesus said] “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.” Jesus opposes the singular number to the plural of the Jews, who had said, the works of God, John 6:28. He retains, however, their term. In another sense, τὸ ἔργον τοῦ Θεοῦ, the work of God, is used Romans 14:20.[126]—πιστεύσητε, that ye believe) The thing is expressed plainly, and afterwards is described successively in metaphorical and in plain language.

  • Mystified about the down-vote. Cancelled with an up-vote +1.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 15, 2020 at 7:41
  • 1
    @NigelJ - many thanks. I wish more people would explain their votes so that we might learn something.
    – Dottard
    Jul 15, 2020 at 7:42

How can "believe"/"belief"/"faith" be a "work"? The answer should be that the semantics of Paul, especially underscored in his letter to Romans, with regard of "work" in his famous dichotomy of faith/belief vs. works (i.e. "works of Law") does not seem to apply in Jesus' answer, in which the "work" is used in a broader sense, as an intentional action or act, or even existential commitment.

When the people ask Him "what works should we do?" they must have meant the works of Law and expected Jesus' interpretations of those works, His take on them and His specific instructions (for example, how specifically to fulfil the precept 'respect your parents' etc.), yet Jesus shifts in His answer the semantics of "works" to another dimension, initiating the vision of the new era - the era of grace - when nobody can do those things that avail for eternal salvation unless Christ acting in them with their own conscious and collaborative or better co-cative free consent.

That's why such a "work" is called "work of God", for it cannot be done by human effort only, but only together with God, through co-action with God's action in us. Actually, that sounds like a pleonasm, for even God's salvific action in us cannot be fulfilled without our co-action, for it is a strange mutual co-action of God and man. I dare say, neither God can do anything in history of mankind, without humans co-acting with Him - for such is the dignity with which God invested humans - and thus the term "work of God" entails this mutual co-action.

This free co-active consent can be called both "work" - for it is a co-work with Christ and His grace - and "faith" for it is impossible to accept Christ' grace and action (the two being the same) in one's heart without a faithful free consent and reception of Christ in one's heart. And thus, again, this faithful free initiative of consent and reception of Christ and His action/grace in our heart can be called "the Work" for it is the foundation of our synergic, i.e. co-active or co-working life in Christ. And it depends on us totally, in the horrible mystery of freedom.

  • @Gigineishvile. I read it again. Up vote for me. The "faith" has concept of faithfulness, loyalty to whom we believe. That is, a life-long commitment and dedication (of "will") in obedience to "Holy Spirit and Words" -the co-active working - with thankfulness and confessions (1 Jn 1:9) for our lapses. And, such πιστεύητε - a continuous believing by us, Jesus calls, “ ἔργον.”
    – Sam
    Jul 21, 2020 at 4:41
  • @Sam Thanks! Yes, "faith" in this sense, entails conscious devotion of will, and this devotion is a work, a deed of commitment. Thus, "faith" in this sense and "work" can be used interchangeably. Jul 24, 2020 at 18:27

With God as the genitive, what only makes sense is τὸ ἔργον τοῦ Θεοῦ means God's work. The person asking Jesus was asking what he should do. He thought he could do God's work by following God's command. But, God does his work, not us. No one keeps the Law perfectly. Jesus turned the question around. For God do his work in us, we must believe. Jesus' statement can also mean faith is the results of what God has done. Jesus was doing God's work, resulting in their belief (John 4:34).

Roberson's comment:

The work of God that ye believe (το ἐργον του θεου ἱνα πιστευητε [to ergon tou theou hina pisteuēte]). In 1 Thess. 1:3 Paul speaks of “your work of faith” (ὑμων του ἐργου της πιστεως [humōn tou ergou tēs pisteōs]). So here Jesus terms belief in him as the work of God. These Jews were thinking of various deeds of the Pharisaic type and rules. Jesus turns their minds to the central fact. “This simple formula contains the complete solution of the relation of faith and works” (Westcott). Note the present active subjunctive πιστευητε [pisteuēte], “that ye may keep on believing.” On him whom he hath sent (εἰς ὁν ἀπεστειλεν ἐκεινος [eis hon apesteilen ekeinos]). The pronominal antecedent (εἰς τουτον ὁν [eis touton hon]) is omitted and the preposition εἰς [eis] is retained with the relative ὁν [hon] really the direct object of ἀπεστειλεν [apesteilen] (sent). Note ἐκεινος [ekeinos] for God (emphatic he).
Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Jn 6:29). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.


John 6:28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works [plural] God requires?”

29 Jesus answered, “The work [singular] of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

Jesus' answer cannot mean that the only thing you need to do for God is to believe. That would only encourage laziness. Rather, he meant that whatever works you do, do them in faith by first, believing the Son of God.

James later elaborated this idea that one cannot separate faith from works in

James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

20You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?

For believers, works are faith and faith is work of believe.


Q: In John 6:29- When Jesus answered, this is the "work ((ἔργον) of God"- Is it a wordplay"

1. This is the work of God

The "work of God" taken with God in the possessive genitive means "work wrought by God, the work God has done." However, contextual clues indicate that the proper interpretation would be, this is the work that God requires. In verse 28, they asked Jesus about what they needed to do, not what God needed to do for them. And in v. 27, Jesus told them what they need to do, which set the context for the subsequent verses. An analogy would be, to workers who want employment, the vineyard owner says, "my work" (what I require of you) for you is to pick grapes."

It is noteworthy how John Calvin comments: "They had spoken of works Christ reminds them of one work, that is, faith; ... but that faith alone is sufficient because this alone does God require from us, that we believe." Here, he takes the work of God to mean the work that God requires from us.

Constable's note also says, "The only work that God requires of people for salvation is faith in His Son (cf. John 3:11-17). The work that Jesus specified was not something physical at all. It was what God requires; namely, trust in Jesus (cf. Romans 3:28)." NET Bible rightly translates v.29 as, "This is the deed (ἔργον) God requires—to believe (ἵνα πιστεύητε - that you should believe) in the one whom He sent. (Note: annotation mine)

2. And how can "πιστεύητε" in Him be "work" (ἔργον)?

The πιστεύητε (present subjunctive active) means continue believing and trusting in Jesus. It implies a dynamic way of life, moving from faith to faith, living by faith (Rom. 1:17), "working out your salvation" (Phil. 2:12), and "ὁ νικῶν" (overcoming, Rev. 21:7)--the typical depiction of a living faith (James 2:14-26). The πιστεύω also has the concept of faithfulness and loyalty to whom we believe.

It involves our will to have lifelong commitment and dedication in obedience to Holy Spirit and Words. In that regard, πιστεύητε is work (ἔργον) not as a means to earn salvation, but the manifestation of the life of the living faith in the Lord and Savior. And it is "active co-working" with God. God, at all costs, respects our will and expects our willing participation in doing our part. God has all the provisions ready for His children, the Word, the angel (Heb. 1:14), and the Holy Spirit (Παράκλητος -Helper). It takes a humble heart submitting to the Lord, yielding to, yearning for His mercy and grace without ceasing, and confessing for our lapses in doing so. Sovereign God can but will not infringe the part of our responsibility. When we cry out in our weakness, He will extend His hand to rescue us—i.e., drowning Peter (Matt. 14:31).


For Mitzvah practicing Jews, it is a radical statement: setting free from the burdensome works of 613 do's and don'ts to one work of believing in Jesus, who came to fulfill the Law (Matt. 5:17-20), on the cross He finished it (John 19:30).

Believing in Him involves our will to have lifelong commitment and dedication in obedience, and that is the work God requires of us, and we take our cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24).

And, it was not a wordplay!

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