In the (1582) first edition of the Douay Rheims, John 3:36 appears as follows:

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In 1899, the (Challoner) Douay Rheims gives for the same verse:

He that believeth in the Son, hath life everlasting; but he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

I can see how "incredulous" could become "believeth not".

However, John 3:36 as provided by the USCCB (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/3), which is, I think, the New American Bible, revised edition translation version, is rendered:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.

QUESTION: How does "believeth not" now become "disobeys"?

Can someone answer this, perhaps, from a translational point of view? (I am not certain of the underlying Greek which the 1582 Douay Rheims Bible was based on, nor do I know what script was used as a basis for the NAB revised translation.) Thank you.


3 Answers 3


The Greek of the English translations is the same as for the Latin Vulgate of Jarome, from which Douay Rheims is translated. There are a number of versions correcting the Latin influence (unbelief) following the RV "obeyeth not" for ἀπειθέω; NRSV, ISV, NAB, CJB, WEB, DLNT: disobeys. NET, NIV "rejects". NJB "refuses to believe". As commentators like Cambridge commentary states,

he that believeth not] This may also mean he that obeyeth not, and this is better, for it is not the same word as ‘he that believeth’ with the negative added. The same correction seems to be needed, Act 14:2; Act 19:9; Rom 11:30 (see margin). Comp. Heb 4:6; Heb 4:11; 1Pe 4:17.

John 3:36

(THGNT) ὁ πιστεύων εἰς τὸν υἱὸν ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον· ὁ δὲ ἀπειθῶν τῷ υἱῷ οὐκ ὄψεται ζωήν, ἀλλ᾽ ἡ ὀργὴ τοῦ θεοῦ μένει ἐπ᾽ αὐτόν.
(DRC) He that believeth in the Son hath life everlasting: but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life: but the wrath of God abideth on him.
(VulgCH) Qui credit in Filium, habet vitam æternam: qui autem incredulus est Filio, non videbit vitam, sed ira Dei manet super eum.

The word "apathy" derives etymologically from the Greek απάθεια (apatheia, "absence of feeling"), a term used by the Stoics to signify a condition of being totally free from the pathe, emotions and passions such as pain, fear, desire, and pleasure. The Greek verb ἀπειθέω (apeitheō) means "not persuaded" or "disobey" While the two words have similar roots in Greek, they have different meanings in English. Apathy refers to a lack of emotion or motivation, while ἀπειθέω refers to disobedience or being unpersuaded. See Apathy as philosophy. Beware of deriving doctrine from semantics or etymological connections.

Wiktionary :

ἀπᾰ́θεια • (apátheia) want of sensation, impassibility (of persons) insensibility, apathy (among the Stoics) calmness, dispassionateness

Abbott Smith's Lexicon states: G544 ἀπειθέω, -ῶ (< ἀπειθής),

[in LXX for H4784 מָרָה, H5637 סָרַר, etc.;] as in cl. (MM, VGT, s.v.); to disobey, be disobedient: absol., Act 14:2; Act 19:9, Rom 10:21; Rom 11:31; Rom 15:31, Heb 3:18; Heb 11:31, 1Pe 3:20; c. dat., Joh 3:36, Rom 2:8; Rom 11:30, 1Pe 2:8; 1Pe 3:1; 1Pe 4:17 (Cremer, 475).†

Thus, the Latin Vulgate translation incredulus (unbelieving) is wrong in getting a contrast of believing vs unbelieving. There is a different Greek word for unbelieving G569 ἀπιστέω apisteo, which is not used. The contrast of believe vs disobedience/non-compliance, however, leads us to rethink the meaning of faith. It is not an agreement to a proposition, but obedience and compliance to a cause. Faith applies to the Son, as in obedience and submission, not a mental affirmation as traditionally believed.

It should be noted that due to the traditional dominance of Latin Vulgate, there is a great deal of the Vulgate's influence in the English translations, despite their base text was Greek. The famous example may be following Latin mistranslation of monogenes (only) as only begotten from unigenitus instead of unicus in John 3:16. The Latin translation also reveals Jerome's doctrine.

  • 1
    It might be rendered thus: "Whoever believes in and obeys the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son, whether they believe or not, shall not see life"
    – moron
    May 18, 2023 at 21:51

The Greek (the text on which modern Bibles are based) of John 3:36 is:

πιστεύων εἰς τὸν Υἱὸν ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον· ὁ δὲ ἀπειθῶν τῷ Υἱῷ οὐκ ὄψεται ζωήν, ἀλλ’ ἡ ὀργὴ τοῦ Θεοῦ μένει ἐπ’ αὐτόν. = The one believing in the Son has eternal life, but the one not obeying the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (BLB)

Note that here we have two different verbs:

  • πιστεύω (pisteo) is translated "believing"
  • ἀπειθέω (apeitheo) is translated "disobeying" or "not obeying"

Now, the Douay-Rheims (and its revision, the Challoner) were not translated from the Greek but the Latin text (itself a translation of the Greek). The Clementine text of John 3:36 is:

Qui credit in Filium, habet vitam æternam ; qui autem incredulus est Filio, non videbit vitam, sed ira Dei manet super eum. = He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who is unbelieving of the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.

Unlike the Greek, the Latin (both the Clementine and Jerome texts are the same here) use the same verb based on "Credo" and its simple negation, "incredo".

By contrast, the latest Catholic Bible, the New American Bible, is based on the Greek and thus reflects the different verbs of believe vs disobey.


Not sure I understand the question, does the OP want to know what the original Greek απειθων means or only wants to know translations how ‘believes not’ became ‘disobeys’?

Make it simpler, go to the LXX plug in Ezekiel 3:27 and the word απειθων is conjugated identically to John 3:36 and is translated forbear, resisting persuasion, refusal, all infer disobedience directly or indirectly. The Hebrew word being translated to Greek is יחדל which means to cease, to stop, to forego, to desist.

Isaiah 50:5 the word απειθω is translated rebellious, resisting persuasion. The Hebrew word being translated to Greek is מריתי which means rebellious in Hebrew.

Different conjugations of ἀπειθέω translating different Hebrew words in the LXX

  • Exodus 23:21 LXX translates תמר which means to be bitter or to provoke by απειθει
  • Leviticus 26:15 LXX translates תמאסו which means do not despise or reject by απειθησητε
  • Numbers 14:43 LXX translates שׁבתם which means to turn away by απειθουντες
  • Numbers 20:10 LXX translates המרים which means rebels by απειθεις

In all these cases and there are 60 more examples ἀπειθέω never meant to not believe, as in an intellectual or purely mental affirmation, it implied that the mind refused to believe which resulted in the action of either turning away, rebelling, to reject and/or to provoke through disobedience.

In conclusion, in the mind of the Ancient Greek, the word ἀπειθέω was associated with a mode of thinking that resulted in practical terms a counter or rebellious action.

Let’s read the passage in John 3:36 again

“He who is persuaded by the Son (to live his life accordingly) has everlasting life; and he who rebels against the Son (living his life as he sees fit) shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”” ‭‭John‬ ‭3‬:‭36‬ ‭

  • No, rebellion is rather resisting which is antisthemi, to stand up against. Apathy is to be dull to the call, not dancing on the tune, disobedience, dispassionate.
    – Michael16
    May 19, 2023 at 5:04
  • @Michael16 I’m sorry but I don’t understand where you are going with this comment or how it relates to my response. Could you please elaborate further? thank you in advance May 19, 2023 at 10:36
  • Oh I think I get what you mean, but I’m simply stating what, at least up until now has been the accepted definition. I agree with you May 19, 2023 at 10:38
  • απειθω shouldnt be translated as rebellious; and resisting is also a more active aggressive move than passive refusal, disobedience. G436 ἀνθίστημι anthistemi is the word for resist, rebel. I dont know about Hebrew and LXX occurences, there must be better words for rebel and resist in Hebrew.
    – Michael16
    May 19, 2023 at 10:45
  • 1
    That’s a whole big debate about whether the NT really specifically quotes the LXX. In any case I don’t have a bone to pick either way here and agree with the main point of your answer—was just unsure whether you can go from the LXX Greek to the Hebrew to reliably understand the Greek (from a language standpoint I mean) in the MGNT, the latter being much newer than the former. Anyway not a hill I want to die on, just a thought.
    – bob
    May 19, 2023 at 16:27

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