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John 3:16, 17 ESV

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:16, 17 THGNT

οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ᾽ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον. οὐ γὰρ ἀπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν υἱὸν εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἵνα κρίνῃ τὸν κόσμον, ἀλλ᾽ ἵνα σωθῇ ὁ κόσμος δι᾽ αὐτοῦ.

Strong's Concordance

eis: to or into (indicating the point reached or entered, of place, time, fig. purpose, result)
Original Word: εἰς
Part of Speech: Preposition
Transliteration: eis
Phonetic Spelling: (ice)
Definition: to or into (indicating the point reached or entered, of place, time, purpose, result)
Usage: into, in, unto, to, upon, towards, for, among. 1774 Occurrences in KJV: into (573x), to (281x), unto (207x), for (140x), in (138x), on (58x), toward (29x), against (26x), miscellaneous (322x).

HELPS Word-studies

1519 eis (a preposition) – properly, into (unto) – literally, "motion into which" implying penetration ("unto," "union") to a particular purpose or result

Εις is translated as “in” almost 8% of the time (138x). I don’t understand why this happens given the definitions found in Strong's and HELPS. If John wanted to convey the word in, wouldn’t he have used εν? I am not too familiar with the language so your insight would be appreciated :).

To me, John 3:16 seems to be most accurately rendered as “…whoever believes into him should not perish…” along with other places like in Matthew 18:6; John 1:12; Philippians 1:29; and 1 Peter 1:21.

At first glance, this does sound a bit odd in our English language and some may think it is unnecessary because in and into are too similar. Nevertheless, is there a significance to the word into? Why was it written εις and not εν?

An English comparison by Cambridge Dictionary is as follows:

We use in to talk about where something is in relation to a larger area around it:
A: Where’s Jane?
B: She’s in the garden.
I’ve left my keys in the car.

We use into to talk about the movement of something, usually with a verb that expresses movement (e.g. go, come). It shows where something is or was going:
A: Where’s Jane?
B: She’s gone into the house.
Helen came into the room.

Matthew 27:42 is an example of using the preposition εν in relationship to belief… “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” (ESV) The context here is mocking the Lord Jesus. Although they said we will believe in Him, this was said in a mocking way. Εν doesn’t seem to be as strong as εις. We need to believe into Him for eternal life.

The Recovery Version of the Bible is the only version I know of that translates John 3:16 in this way— “…everyone who believes into Him…”. I would like to be accurate and know what the theological significance is to rendering the English translation to believing into Him vs. in Him.

Here is a footnote found in the Recovery Version study Bible published by Living Stream Ministry: John 3:16 footnote 2… “Believing into the Lord is not the same as believing Him (John 6:30). To believe Him is to believe that He is true and real, but to believe into Him is to receive Him and be united with Him as one. The former is to acknowledge a fact objectively; the latter is to receive a life subjectively.”

I also think of James 2:19, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (ESV)

It feels like believing in something has the sense of just having knowledge or believing that something exists, maybe a more surface-level belief. The demons do not believe into God, otherwise they would be saved. They merely believe that God is one because they have objective knowledge but they are not willing to be joined to God (into implies the sense of movement). Believing into something seems a bit deeper. It is the realization of the basic facts of God and His redemption and the willingness to be joined to Christ through believing.

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  • You are referring to a concordance, an English Dictionary and a 'Helps' source. May I suggest you refer to Daniel B Wallace's book 'Beyond the Basics' p369 : eis Spatial, Temporal, Purpose, Result, Reference/Respect, Advantage, Disadvantage, In place of en. Thus the translation may be : into/toward/in/for/throughout/in order to/so that/ with the result that/with respect to/with reference to/against. 'Into' may be used spatially. It is not a correct translation in this case (believe). It is a correct translation for 'into the world'. 'Unto' often renders the broad concept of eis.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 23, 2023 at 14:42
  • Welcome to SE-BH. Please see the Tour and the Help as to the purpose and the functioning of the site. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 23, 2023 at 15:39
  • koine-greek.com/2020/11/27/…
    – Perry Webb
    Sep 23, 2023 at 18:29
  • 1
    I suggest you examine a good lexicon such as BDAG which lists three pages of material on how this word is translated., It has ten basic meaning and many sub-meanings for most of them. This is too extensive to reproduce here. Alternatively look at Thayer in biblehub.com/greek/1519.htm
    – Dottard
    Sep 23, 2023 at 21:17
  • There is no ἐν in this verse: σὺ πιστεύεις ὅτι ⸂εἷς ἐστιν ὁ θεός⸃,* καλῶς ποιεῖς· καὶ τὰ δαιμόνια πιστεύουσιν καὶ φρίσσουσιν. (James 2:19, NA28). James left out the rest of the Shema. I don't think James thought the demons believed the rest of the Shema because it was something to do.
    – Perry Webb
    Sep 23, 2023 at 21:54

2 Answers 2

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As Greek shifted from more classical structure (Hellenic) to more common structure (Hellenistic), much of the distinction between these prepositions was lost. Sometimes the use of ⲉⲓⲥ and ⲉⲛ make sense to us. But there are very many times when their usage overlaps. BDF explains it this way:

  1. Εἰς instead of ἐν in a local sense. In MGr εἰς has absorbed the related preposition ἐν (in conjunction with the disappearance of the dative); in the NT ἐν appears almost twice as frequently as εἰς, but the confusion of the two has begun in that εἰς often appears for ἐν (ἐν for εἰς more rarely, §218). Cf. Hatzid. 210f.; Regard, Prép. 330–49. No NT writer except Mt is entirely free from the replacement of ἐν by εἰς in a local sense, not even Lk in Acts where most of the examples are found (Jn has the fewest); Mk 1:9 ἐβαπτίσθη εἰς τὸν Ἰορδάνην (cf. Homil Clem 11.36.2 εἰς τὰς ... πηγάς; ἐν Mk 1:5, Mt 3:6),

(F. Blass, A. Debrunner, and Robert W. Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Accordance electronic ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1961), paragraph 11.)

In the text I'm working through right now, there's a clear example of this:

  • “Πίστει παρῴκησεν εἰς γῆν τῆς ἐπαγγελίας ὡς ἀλλοτρίαν” (Ἑβραίους 11·9 THGNT-T)

Clearly Abraham didn't dwell "into" the land. He dwelled "in" the land.

The effect of this is that there are sometimes when we shouldn't be all-too-picky about making this distinction from the Greek since it cannot be proven. In the context of baptism especially there are those who assert that baptism means "to immerse" since the word, ⲉⲓⲥ ("into") is being used. But that is making an assertion that cannot be proven from the Greek.

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  • Forgive but baptism is understood as meaning to immerse or submerge or to dip under because that's what it means and not because of the preposition attached to it.
    – Austin
    Sep 28, 2023 at 2:35
  • There are those who conclude that baptism means, "immerse". But neither the preposition, ⲉⲓⲥ, nor the actual usage of the word supports this. As to the meaning of ⲃⲁⲡⲧⲓⲍⲱ, cf. Mk 7:4; Lk 11:38. It's absurd to conclude that the Jewish people immersed their tables and couches every Sabbath; likewise, it's absurd to conclude that Jesus immersed himself before meeting with the Pharisee. According to the NT usage, it simply means, "to put water on."
    – Epimanes
    Sep 28, 2023 at 13:58
  • Mark 7:1-5 refers specifically to the tradition of baptizing hands, cups, and other vessels prior to eating. They obviously did this by dipping, submerging, or immersing these in water. The presence of the word couch you refer to is disputed so it would be foolish to hang one's argument on it. Regarding Luke 11:38 eating is again the context & we've already established the tradition of dipping hands prior to eating. For all the examples provided the use of "baptism" neatly falls within the meaning established by NT Greek dictionaries everywhere of dipping, immersing, or submerging.
    – Austin
    Sep 30, 2023 at 6:41
  • Again, please have a look at those passages again. In vain does one search to find a mode/manner of baptism within NT usage. Forcing a "immerse" meaning into contexts where it cannot be proven is not a faithful way to treat the text. Again, one does not wash tables and couches by dragging them to a pool (somewhere) and immersing them. One simply wipes them down. The Pharisee was not offended that Jesus did not "immerse" himself before the meal. And, no, the standard primary definition of "ⲃⲁⲡⲧⲓⲍⲱ" is not, "immerse," it's just simply "wash."
    – Epimanes
    Sep 30, 2023 at 10:34
  • Again you hang your argument on a disputed textual variation to overturn NT greek dictionary definitions. The word couch isn't found in some of the most important manuscripts of Mark. Yes, the pharisee was offended that Jesus did not immerse his hands as is the tradition estblished Mark 7. I'm not forcing an immerse meaning but simply apply the definition. You don't see the manner of baptism in the New Testament because you refuse to accept its basic definition. That's like saying the mode/manner of crucifixion is never discussed because you dont accept the definition of crucifixion.
    – Austin
    Sep 30, 2023 at 15:26
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When a preposition is part of the object of the verb, its meaning depends on its meaning in combination with the verb.

1) In general, words usually have multiple meanings based on the context. Here,

Compare the two phrases in v15 and v16 in John 3 (NA28).

ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ⸂ἐν αὐτῷ⸃ ⸆ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον. v15

ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλὰ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον. v16

These are parallel phrases giving ⸂ἐν and εἰς the same meaning as in these phrases. This doesn't mean the prepositions always have the same meaning. They do not. It means they have overlapping meanings where they can mean the same. The translations translate them the same. Wallace specifies that these two prepositions have overlapping meanings.

  1. confusion/overlapping of prepositions (e.g., εἰς/ἐν, ὑπέρ/περί). -- Wallace, D. B. (1996). Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (p. 20). Zondervan.

The lexicons give the variation in the means of words according to how they fit their context. BDAG suggests πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν means "everyone whose faith depends on him."

ε. w. prepositional expressions: εἰς Ro 4:18, if εἰς τὸ γενέσθαι αὐτόν here is dependent on ἐπίστευσεν. πιστεύειν εἰς τὴν μαρτυρίαν believe in the witness -- Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & and , F. W. (2000). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 816). University of Chicago Press.

BDAG indicates πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ⸂ἐν αὐτῷ means "everyone with object of one's faith based on him." Thus, there is little difference in their meanings in these two phrases.

ἐν prep. w. dat.... ⑧ marker denoting the object to which someth. happens or in which someth. shows itself, or by which someth. is recognized, to, by, in connection with:... J 3:15 (but ἐν αὐτῷ is oft. constr. w. πιστεύων, cp. v.l.); -- Ibid. (3rd ed., p. 329)

2) While the New Testament was written in Greek, the New Testament writers were influenced by Aramaic and Hebrew.

While εἰς αὐτὸν in John 3:16 isn't a predicate nominative this suggests the use of εἰς can be influenced by the Semitic preposition ל when no preposition is necessary.

C. Substitution for Predicate Nominative (εἰς + accusative)

Εἰς + the accusative is occasionally found replacing the predicate nominative in the NT. Although this construction is found in the papyri, it is usually due to a Semitic influence (Hebrew ל). This idiom is frequent in OT quotations ... -- Wallace, D. B. (1996). Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (p. 47). Zondervan.

Note the hiphil of אמן in the Hebrew Old Testament. Thus, the Hebrew word for believe is usually followed by a preposition.

hif: pf. הֶאֱמִינ/מִינוּ, הֶאֱמַנְתִּי/תֶּם, impf. אַ/יַאֲמִין, יַאֲמֵנ/מֶן־ impv. הַאֲמִינוּ, pt. מַאֲמִין: causative —1. to believe = to think ... with לְ and inf., to be convinced that Ps 27:13; —2. to regard something as trustworthy, to believe in: a thing ... with בְּ, to (have) trust in ... with לְ ... —3. to have trust in, to believe in, God: with בְּ ...; with לְ ...; abs. to believe ... -- Koehler, L., Baumgartner, W., Richardson, M. E. J., & Stamm, J. J. (1994–2000). In The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 64). E.J. Brill.

Thus, prepositions with πιστεύω may be an unnecessary addition from Hebrew influence.

Examples for preposition in Hebrew but not in the Septuagint (LXX):

Gen. 15:6: וְהֶאֱמִ֖ן בַּֽיהוָ֑ה καὶ ἐπίστευσεν Αβραμ τῷ θεῷ

Exodus 4:1 לֹֽא־יַאֲמִ֣ינוּ לִ֔י οὖν μὴ πιστεύσωσίν μοι

Exodus 4:8: אִם־לֹ֣א יַאֲמִ֣ינוּ לָ֔ךְ ἐὰν δὲ μὴ πιστεύσωσίν σοι μηδὲ

Exodus 14:31: וַיַּֽאֲמִ֨ינוּ֙ בַּֽיהוָ֔ה וּבְמֹשֶׁ֖ה עַבְדֹּֽו καὶ ἐπίστευσαν τῷ θεῷ καὶ Μωυσῇ τῷ θεράποντι αὐτοῦ.

Deut. 1:32: אֵֽינְכֶם֙ מַאֲמִינִ֔ם בַּיהוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם οὐκ ἐνεπιστεύσατε κυρίῳ τῷ θεῷ ὑμῶν,

Deut. 9:23: וְלֹ֤א הֶֽאֱמַנְתֶּם֙ לֹ֔ו καὶ οὐκ ἐπιστεύσατε αὐτῷ

I'm not finding examples in the LXX of πιστεύω with ⸂ἐν or εἰς preceding the object, but lots of examples of πιστεύω with the object dative and no preposition. In Hebrew the hiphil of אמן, when it has an object, the object is preceded by ב or ל.

While the LXX was Koine Greek, Alexandra was known to have more of a classical Greek grammar. In textual criticism of the New Testament Alexandrian texts were known for making corrections more in line with classical Greek grammar.

Septuagint. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. This Greek translation was undertaken by the Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria from the third to the second century B.C. -- Patzia, A. G., & Petrotta, A. J. (2002). Pocket dictionary of biblical studies (p. 105). InterVarsity Press.

While the LXX is known for semitic influence on the language, when it came to πιστεύω, the dative object with no preposition followed more of a Greek rather than a semitic style. Nevertheless, it shows that the prepositions ⸂ἐν or εἰς with the object are unnecessary.

Both New Testament Greek and Septuagintal Greek are considered substrata of the Koine. (The LXX, however, is so heavily Semitized-precisely because it is entirely translation Greek-that it is normally treated as in a class by itself.) -- Wallace, D. B. (1996). Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (p. 17). Zondervan.

Appendex of references

§ 7. “Believing,” in the Fourth Gospel

[1480] It remains to consider the Johannine traditions about “believing,” or “trusting.” The best way of doing this will be to note the different expressions, (“trust (absol.),” “trust (dat.),” “trust to (εἰς),” “trust to (εἰς) the name of,” “trust that,”) in the order in which the Evangelist introduces them, and to trace their principal recurrences, so as to give an outline of his doctrine as expressed in Christ’s words and in Evangelistic comments. Here it may be observed that “trust in” and “trust on” are not mentioned. The former, since it occurs only once in N.T.[2], might well not be used by John: and indeed “abide in,” rather than “believe in,” represents his doctrine about the highest and ultimate relation of the believer to God. “Trust on” also, would be inconsistent with his view, which is, that man does not “rest on” Jehovah as on the Rock of the Psalmist, but that he is “in” the Father—as a child is “in” his father’s house, or “in” his father’s heart. -- Abbott, E. A. (1905). Johannine Vocabulary: a comparison of the words of the fourth gospel with those of the three (pp. 32–33). Adam and Charles Black.

[1498] 3:16–18 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that everyone that trusteth to him might not perish but might have eternal life … He that trusteth to him is not under judgment (οὐ κρίνεται). He that trusteth not is already judged [guilty] because he hath not trusted to the name of the only begotten Son of God.” The comment of Barnabas on the healing efficacy of the Serpent may be of use here: “When any of you shall be bitten (saith the Scripture) let him come to the Serpent that is hanging on the tree and let him hope and believe that it, though dead, is able to make alive and straightway he shall be saved (i.e. healed).” This is a very rudimentary and erroneous definition of “trusting”: but it helps us to understand why John does not attempt to define, and prefers to suggest. And his suggestion here is that we are to trust—not in a “dead” person or “thing,” nor that a person or thing can “make alive,” but—to (εἰς) an “only begotten Son,” who will make us alive (as will be shewn hereafter) not in spite of the fact that He has died, but because He has died (as the seed dies to live and to give life). -- (Ibid. p. 44)

2.      πιστεύω εἰς and πιστεύω with the Dative.

Specifically Johannine is the fact that πιστεύειν with the dat. can be used for πιστεύειν εἰς (→ n. 221); the linguistic variation contains no material distinction. Thus in Jn. “to believe Jesus when He preaches (or tells the truth, 8:40, 45), or to believe His Word (2:22) or words” (5:47), is equivalent to “believing in the Jesus who is proclaimed.” This corresponds to the fact that Jn. achieves a unity of Proclaimer and Proclaimed not yet attained in the Synoptic presentation. In this respect Jn. is not correcting the Synoptic depiction. One might rather say that he is correcting the kerygma. He wants to make it plain that it is the One proclaimed who Himself meets and speaks with us in the kerygma. What the kerygma proclaims as an event, God’s act, has itself the character of word. For this reason Jn. can call Jesus Himself the Logos (1:1). In this way he radically develops the thought that God’s word and act are a unity. In the word we meet God’s act, and in God’s act is His word, → 215, 29. ἀκούειν can be equivalent in meaning to πιστεύειν. “To believe in Him” is “to come to Him,”346 “to receive Him” (1:12; 5:43), “to love Him.” -- Bultmann, R. (1964–). πιστεύω, πίστις, πιστός, πιστόω, ἄπιστος, ἀπιστέω, ἀπιστία, ὀλιγόπιστος, ὀλιγοπιστία. In G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley, & G. Friedrich (Eds.), Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 6, pp. 222–223). Eerdmans. [While I don't agree with Rudolf Bultmann's theology, he was a good linguist.]

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