John 3:16 King James Version (KJV)
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.
Importance of Context
Thanks to Father Linsky for putting these beautiful, encouraging, and famous words from the Gospel of St. John in context, an essential step in correct interpretation and understanding of Sacred Scripture. It is important to remember that the writers of the various books of the Bible did not divide them up into chapters and verses. The divisions we commonly see in current English versions are only about 600 years old. So, St. John might be quite disturbed to find that Christians are going around quoting that one sentence from his theologically deep and profound story of Jesus’s encounter with Nicodemus, often not even knowing from whence the sentence came.
OT – NT Connections and Paragraphs
Speaking of verses and chapters, and the OT connections, some translations even go so far as to add paragraphs. I’m not a student of typology so have never given serious thought to those OT connections with Moses and with Abraham and Isaac, connections that were very important to first century Jewish understanding of who Jesus was and of the meaning of this encounter with Nicodemus. The online NABRE linked at this blog shows verses 14 and 15, the reference to Moses and the serpent, at the end of a paragraph and John 3:16 as the beginning of a new paragraph. Given the discussion this morning, I would acknowledge the connection only son sacrifice connection between God/Jesus and Abraham/Isaac by beginning a new paragraph with verse 14. But, that is just an idea of course.
The Whole Story
We can be easily misled and even build heresies on single “verses” pulled out of context and perhaps even by single books pulled out of context. As Dan pointed out, John 3:16 is true, the Gospel in a nutshell, but doesn’t tell the whole story. Where are the Beatitudes and the Our Father? They are not in the Gospel According to St. John. And with only John’s Gospel, we know nothing of the birth, baptism, temptation, or transfiguration of Jesus Christ, and find no mention of repentance. So, in seeking the whole truth, we have to consider the Sacred Scriptures in their entirety.
Another issue, even with single verses, is difficulty in translation of ancient Greek and Hebrew into meaningful modern English language. Bill pointed out that the Greek word translated “believe” really means trust and goes far beyond mere intellectual belief. Below is what a Bible Greek dictionary says about the word and about the following little three-letter Greek word which is translated “in” or “into” and, according to the Greek Bible dictionary, “denotes purpose and sometimes result.” One could say that since the verb can be translated “believe in,” the verb plus the preposition gives double emphasis much as when Jesus proclaims “I Iam” or “Amen amen.” All three examples are characteristic of the Gospel of John.
And here is what the subject verse looks like in Greek, the two key words being highlighted in yellow. More information HERE.
It is interesting to see how various translators of English versions have handled that little highlighted Greek phrase. Of fifty-six versions checked, fifty-two translate it as belief in or on. The Amplified Bible hedges the bet a bit by translating as “believes and trusts.” The Amplified Bible Classic Edition adds parenthetically “(trusts in, clings to, relies on).” The Contemporary English Version translates as “has faith in.” The New Life Version translates as “puts his trust in.” The Complete Jewish Bible translates as “trusts in.” So, even without looking at the Greek, insights can be gained from considering how different translators have handled the problem.
A Simple Example
To take a simple example to illustrate the difference between believing that and believing in or into, it is one thing to believe that global warming is real but something entirely different to “believe into” global warming which might result in getting off the grid and going 100% solar, giving up driving, beef, air conditioning, moving to higher ground further north, shutting down the churches as unjustified energy consumers, etc. In Bible Greek terms, in John’s Gospel, believing in or into something means a change in one’s life. (I’m not suggesting that we all “believe in” global warming. I think that is, or at least should be, more political than religious.)
Occurrences of That Two-Word Greek Phrase
An interesting fact about the two-word Greek phrase highlighted above is that it never occurs in Matthew, Mark, or Luke but occurs 14 times in John, once in 1st John, and once in Acts. For the really curious, here are all sixteen occurrences, NABRE English but based on a search of the Greek Phrase.
Skipping the Greek – Conclusion
This suggests that “belief in Jesus” is a key theme of the Gospel of John. Backing off from consideration of any Greek, we can search just the NABRE for instances of appearance of believe, believes, believer, believing, and believed. It is interesting that we find only one in Matthew, three in Mark, one in Luke, but twenty nine in John. That clearly supports belief in “belief” as a key theme of John and suggests value in paying especially close attention whenever forms of that word are encountered in John. And the general idea for John seems to be that “belief in” involves faith and trust and reliance and motivates and results in change and action. It is not just mental or intellectual.