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Does the word 'believe' in John 3:15-16 mean to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, or to believe in the message of Jesus:

15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

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. ESV

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  • It strikes me that the phrase might be more important; "believe in him" which is translated from "pisteuwn eis auton"cf. scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/joh3.pdf May 13 '14 at 19:10
  • (Although different from the question I posed, it still seems to me that the way that πιστεύων takes its object is key to the OPs question, as I think mikebabcock was getting at. πιστεύω seems able to use no preposition when it means "believe the message" or "believe what I say" (John 12:38, 4:21, 5:45), so the presence of the (any) preposition is something different.)
    – Susan
    May 21 '14 at 3:44
  • See John 5. The man by the pool of bethesda was “made whole” and had no idea who Jesus was or whose Son he was. He understood what the Name of Jesus means and how he is also a child of God. John 5:7 expresses the realization that matches John 1:12-13. It is not about the mythologies symbols associated with Jesus but something far more important about reality
    – Gus L.
    Jun 21 at 12:58

11 Answers 11

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The Greek text of the passage you mention is as follows:

ΚΑΤΑ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΝ 3:15-16 (SBLGNT)
15 ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον. 16 Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλὰ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

One possible literal translation of the text:

John 3:15-16 (YLT)
15 that every one who is believing in him may not perish, but may have life age-during, 16 for God did so love the world, that His Son -- the only begotten -- He gave, that every one who is believing in him may not perish, but may have life age-during.

The Greek word πιστεύω (pisteuō), translated believe in some versions of the Bible, has its roots in the Greek word πίστις (pistis), which means faith, which is derived from another word, πείθω (peithō), persuade.

About the word πιστεύω, the The Essence of the New Testament: A Survey says:

The Greek word pisteuō means to believe, trust, rely upon, and its related noun is pistis (faith). In his Gospel, John never used the words repent, repentance, or faith to describe the way people are saved. Instead, he used believe since the term included all these ideas. John preferred the verb form to emphasize the act that is necessary for someone to be saved-total dependence on the work of another. John did indicate that believing can be superficial when it is merely intellectual without resulting in true salvation (John 2:23- 24; 6:66; 12:42-43; see Jas 2:19). Jesus used a wordplay when He said that people must do "the work of God" for salvation, for His point was that we must not try to work for it at all. We must simply "believe in the One He has sent" (John 6:29). Because this Gospel was written for the clear and simple purpose of persuading everyone who reads it to "believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31), it is no surprise that the Gospel of John is the most frequently distributed portion of the Bible to those curious about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In another hand, the word πίστις is defined in Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon as:

  1. Conviction of the truth of anything, belief [...]; in the N. T. of a conviction or belief respecting man's relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and conjoined with it. [...]
    • a. When it relates to God, πίστις is "the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ" [...]
    • b. In reference to Christ, it denotes "a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God" [...]
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It strikes me that the phrase might be more important; "believe in him" which is translated from "pisteuwn eis auton." The same phrase appears two verses later exactly (to begin verse 18), but the ending of verse 18 is "he that does not believe is condemned" from "pepisteuken eis to onoma" (not believed the name).

From this I surmise the issue is belief in the identity of Jesus; failure to do so leads to condemnation.

Greek taken from interlinear here: http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/Greek_Index.htm

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John 1

Jesus is referenced here as the Word, God, and Light.

Taken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/john_1:1

John 1:1 is the first verse in the opening chapter of the Gospel of John. In the Douay–Rheims, King James, New International, and other versions of the Bible, the verse reads:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.[1][2][3]

The phrase "the Word" (a translation of the Greek word "Logos") is widely interpreted as referring to Jesus, as indicated in other verses later in the same chapter.[4] This verse and others throughout Johannine literature connect the Christian understanding of Jesus to the philosophical idea of the Logos and the Hebrew Wisdom literature. They also set the stage for later understanding development of Trinitarian theology early in the post-biblical era.

According to Matthew Henry (1662–1714) in his commentary, Jesus is called the "Word" in this opening verse because he was the Son of God sent to earth to reveal his Father's mind to the world. He asserts that a plain reading of the verse written by John the Evangelist should be understood as proof that Jesus is God; that Jesus has the same essence as God and existed with God the Father from the very beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.[5]

Mark 1:14-15 (KJV)

14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,

15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

John 3:15-16 (KJV)

15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

In John 14:6 the original wording was "I am the way, I am the truth, and I am the light (today the word light has been replaced with life)" The truth is Jesus is both life and light. For he lights the way to the Father, and the Father is the source of all life. He is the light that shines in the darkness of this world. But the world does not comprehend him. Without Jesus, we have no salvation. By reading through the words of Jesus in the Bible, you will see that he preached more about Hell than he did about Heaven, and healed and delivered from devils many people.

Matthew 3:17Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)

17 and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Matthew 17:5Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)

5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.

So I would suggest that we are to, based on the above scriptures, believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that we are to believe what He says, and that includes what he says about the Kingdom of Hell, and the Kingdom of Heaven.

I have also been taught by my pastor, Pastor Scott Tones of Christchurch, Cottingham that we must not read one portion of scripture and believe we understand it. We must have at least two portions of scripture that are in agreement. Also, to fully understand scripture, it is also necessary to understand the culture of the peoples in those locations at those time periods. This helps us to avoid mistransaltion, misunderstanding, and helps to bring the scriptures alive.

When you begin to understand Ancient Hebrew (the language, the pictorgrams, and their meanings), you see that Jesus is mentioned in the beginning of Genesis, and that he created the Universe and all that is in it. You will also see that Jesus' death was prophesied in Genesis through understanding the names and their meanings in the geneology. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2-o0WI_qz8. The last link reveals Jesus to the the Creator, the Son of God, to be killed by His own hand in Genesis 1:1 using the Ancient Hebrew.

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The actual Greek phrases in question are:

  • John 3:15 - πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ = believing in Him
  • John 3:16 - πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν = believing in Him

In both cases, the phrase is almost "naked" meaning that we simply "believe" - but is this the real meaning?

According to BDAG, the verb πιστεύω has the following meanings:

  1. to consider something to be true and therefore worthy of one's trust, believe, eg, John 11:26, 8:24, 12:38, 1 John 5:10, etc
  2. to entrust oneself to an entity in complete confidence, believe (in), trust, eg, John 6:29, 30, 8:31, 1:7, 50, 3:15, 18b, 4:41, 48, 53, 6:44, 6:36, 47, 64, 9:38, 10:26, etc.

That is, the verb πιστεύω means to entrust oneself to another, Jesus in this case. A moment's thought will reveal this is the only way we could obtain eternal life because we cannot achieve it by ourselves - we must trust someone else to do it!

Thus, Jesus is simply saying the rather obvious - Trust in me for eternal life - you cannot achieve it yourself!

This, I would prefer to translate John 3:15-16 as:

so that all trusting in Him [Jesus] may have life eternal. For thus, God loved the world that He gave His unique Son to that everyone trusting in Him should not perish but should have life eternal.

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The word 'believe' in John 3:15-16

Does the word 'believe' in John 3:15-16 mean to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, or to believe in the message of Jesus:

15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 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. ESV

The Greek verb pi·steuʹo (related to the noun piʹstis, generally rendered “faith”) has the basic meaning “to believe; to have faith, The Scriptures tell us: " Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."(Heb. 11:1 ESV)

Faith is, therefore, the basis for hope and the evidence for conviction concerning unseen realities. The entire body of truths delivered by Jesus Christ and his inspired disciples constitutes the true Christian “faith.” Christian faith is based on the complete Word of God, including the Hebrew Scriptures, (1 Tim. 2:3-4, Heb. 11:6) to which Jesus and the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures frequently referred in support of their statements.

1 Timothy 2:3-4 Amplified Bible

3 This [kind of praying] is good and acceptable and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who [a]wishes all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge and recognition of the [divine] truth.

Hebrews 11:6 NIV

6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

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To believe in Jesus is to accept what God the Father says about Jesus, and what Jesus says about The Kingdom of Heaven as true, and then act up on what God has has said of Jesus, and to act upon what Jesus has said about The Kingdom of Heaven. To simply hear and not to act upon is not belief! Jesus said to the Pharisees "Before Abraham was, I AM." (John 8:58) If we look to the story of the burning bush, when Moses said "Who shall I say sent me?" God replied "I AM, Who I AM." (Exodus 3:14) Therefore, we are to both believe in Jesus as the Son of God, and also in the message He preached which is The Kingdom of God. Especially when you consider Matthew 3:16-17, where God declares Jesus to be His Son.

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    Hello, Jason, and welcome. The folks here at this site welcome your feedback and participation, and many even share your views; however, we want to stick as close to the text as possible. So when you connect the dots, help us to see how you do it. Just because you learned how to understand the Bible does not mean that we can see the same dots. Also please hyperlink your verses, and please feel free to consult other authorities to back up your views. For example, in this posting can you connect believing in Jesus with believing in the "Word" of God as one and the same? Can you connect the dots?
    – Joseph
    May 18 '14 at 21:53
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    I second @Joseph 's helpful comment. Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites that study the Bible.
    – Dan
    May 18 '14 at 22:33
  • When you see your leader like that, you follow, you believe. Quoted from Liberian Nostalgia for War Criminal Charles Taylor, Finlay Young April 27, 2012. If you believe in someone you follow them. To follow is an action. So in other words to believe is to accept, and then to act upon. Luke 9:35 - A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him." When I am taught a programming language by a tutor, the tutor instructs me on the language syntax and how to apply it. then take the goodness of my instructor and live it. Jesus is our instructor. Listen then do.
    – Jason Alls
    Jan 3 '17 at 16:43
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This is where much error has divided the Churches. So I want to give a thorough presentation so that confusion can actually end. The Answer outright can sound unbelievable, so a building of concepts is needed to be able to hold the correct interpretation.

First is to understand that Belief and Faith act as synonyms to the same concept.

John 11:40 [πιστεύσῃς], John 3:15 [πιστεύων], John 3:16 [πιστεύων], Ephesians 2:8 [πίστεως]

Next we need to understand why that teaching gives life.
We can understand faith by understanding the reason why it was needed.

For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22 NKJV)

Since the Cause of Death came from Adam, Understanding How will teach us about Faith.

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17 NKJV)

Notice he did not say if you do evil you will die. It is If you eat the fruits then you die.

...for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17 NKJV)

Understanding evil is very important to this concept.
I have other sources that take longer to also show evil as error, yet this explains it the simplest, and I don't have a lot of other things to convince people of.

We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:6 NKJV)

It is Important to understand what the Knowledge of Good and Evil is. I have other sources that show the knowledge of Good and Evil means Function and Dysfunction, yet since I do not want to have to convince people of that source. I will attempt to do it the bible way.

Good is a Function?

Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:17 NKJV)

Error is Dysfunction, Sin is eating the fruit of it.

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7 NKJV)

The Fruit of Function and Dysfunction is not an actual fruit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV)

For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. (Romans 7:5 NKJV)

So we can see two points here

  • The fruit is found "in our members"
  • The Fruits of Function and Dysfunction are eaten regularly.

Comparing the two sets of fruits

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. (Matthew 7:16-17 NKJV)

Defining The Fruits of Function and Dysfunction

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 NKJV)

Defining the Fruits of Faith

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22 NKJV)

Seeing the choice through an example Dysfunction can be defined as when something is supposed to work stops working. Let us place a situation where an air conditioner breaks down in a time of need. When that person "Knows" about the dysfunction. There is "Two Reaction Paths".

Path One - The Path of Unbelief (The Natural Path)
When seeing that the air Conditioner is broken the man exclaims, "I can't believe that the Air Conditioner is Broken!" Then follows through with an Outbursts of Wrath which is defined as the Fruits of the Flesh, or as the Fruits of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Path Two - The Path of Faith (The Path of Jesus)
When seeing that the air Conditioner is broken the man trusts in the word and prays "Can we get a new Air Conditioner?" and much Love, Peace, and Joy are created.

To the Questioner's Answer! Does the word 'believe' in John 3:15-16 mean to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, or to believe in the message of Jesus
The Answer goes like this, Once you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then you can learn about his message, and then you can apply what he taught. So the word 'believe' in John 3:15-16 is used in the application of what the Son of God Taught.

But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? (Luke 6:46 NKJV)

Yet to "Have the Faith" you must know "When to Apply It"

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 NKJV)

So when the Dysfunction is Known: We hope in God, and that is Belief.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. (Galatians 6:7-8 NKJV)

So either "the Body" fulfills the Law, or the "Spirit" Fulfills the Law.

And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. (Galatians 5:3 NKJV)

By this you can see that the Laws of the Flesh are also of the Laws of the Circumcision. For to truly circumcise the flesh we trust in the "Word" instead of our own Bodies. Therefore by no longer trusting in our bodies to fulfill the law, we are proved righteous through "Graceful Response" upon "Knowledge of the Dysfunctional Situation".

An Example of an Ungraceful Wife
Upon knowledge that the car bill is soon due, she freaks out and screams at her husband about how careless he is for not paying the bill ahead of time. She continues to berate and smack him until he finally leaves to go make the payment.

An Example of a Graceful Wife
Upon knowledge that the car bill is soon due, she prays "Can you go pay the car bill now?", then with patient persistence she continues to ask until he pays it.

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, 2 saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. 3 Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ 4 And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” (Luke 18:1-5 NKJV)

I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. (Luke 11:8 NKJV)

For prayer works because some do not want to be bothered.

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On the answer that says Having the exact right believe about the Trinity is not as important as loving our neighbor and ourselves, without blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

I disagree with that because our words represent who we are.

...for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:... Proverbs 23:7. and Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Matthew 12:34

Therefore if what we think in our heart = who we are, and out of the abundance of what we think in our heart our mouth speaks. It implies we are giving out pieces of ourselves and expecting people to believe & receive it.

We usually use statements like: If his word is no good, he's no good or I gave him a piece of my mind (speaking about the words spoken) everytime and don't realize it's this same issue of believe my word = believe me <=> don't believe my word = don't believe me.

In direct answer to the question of this post, you cannot believe in Jesus' message without believing in Jesus.

Think about it.

If you're scheduled to visit your friend and can't make it, you send them a message of apology or a message with the content of what you plan to deliver if there physically. If they turn down your message and you find out, won't you feel you were rejected? Yes you would, because your message represents you. Your friend turned you down, when they turned down your message.

So my friend that says Having the exact right believe about the Trinity is not as important as loving our neighbor and ourselves, without blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

You cannot love your neighbor if you don't have the exact right believe about the Trinity. How do you even know what love is without understanding the Trinity. Some people call love all manner of things this days e.g.: bombing a church in the name of Allah. Killing a child born deformed, thinking they're doing them good by not allowing them go through life in a deformed condition. etc. Now where do you draw the line on what loving our neighbor actually is without going back to the person that gave the command. This is where having the exact right believe about the Trinity plays a role. It clarifies the message.

I say clarify because our interpretation of the message may not be right when heard the first time. So we need to believe the messenger and return to him always for clear interpretation of his message.

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    – agarza
    Jun 20 at 14:37
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I have been in Church since the day I was born. Trinity Lutheran Church. I'm 49 years old now and I think I know less about the Trinity now than when I was 4. So having the exact right belief about the Trinity doesn't seem important at all anymore to me. I've come to realize I was brainwashed from the Church my entire life. I was programmed to believe what our Church believed and things were made to be important that aren't important at all. Lucky I married a Baptist girl and starting stepping outside my box and started seeing how crazy a lot our beliefs are. So did my wife. She started seeing how brainwashed she was and how crazy her beliefs were.
What matters is Love. And we build Love with having a relationship with God.

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  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Jul 2 at 16:57
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Having the exact right belief about the Trinity is not as important as loving our neighbor and ourselves, without blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

Lk 10:27 (NIV) “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Lk 12:10 (NIV) "everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

Mat 7:21 (NIV) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven".

Consequently, the message is more important than the messenger.

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Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is rejection of the Holy Spirit. Just like grieving the Holy Spirit makes God our enemy. Dying in sin without the Holy Spirit is blasphemy.

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  • Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is very specific and its definition, by Jesus of Nazareth, is the attribution of devilish energy to the work of the Divine Person of the Spirit. Grieving the Spirit is another matter and many of us do it far too often. Dying in sin is yet another thing altogether.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 21 at 7:31
  • @JeffreyOuellette Hi Jeffrey, welcome to BH-Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Please be sure to take the site tour and read our code of conduct. Thanks! Aug 21 at 11:26

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