John 8: Who are they?

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Sun Feb 27 2000 - 05:56:28 EST

Biblical Greekers all:

I have been having second thoughts about John 8:30-59E. In verses 30-33,
John tells us that "while he was saying these things, many believed in him"
(EPISTEUSAN EIS AUTON). So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him
(PROS TOUS PEPISTEUKOTAS AUTWi IOUDAIOUS), 'If you continue in my word,
truly you are my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will
make you free.' They answered him (APEKRIQHSAN PROS AUTON), 'Seed of
Abraham we are ...'" Etc.

Now, it is commonly held by commentators that the Jews of verse 31, who are
said in this verse to have believed in him, had only a superficial belief,
and so in verse 32 Jesus is telling them that to be true, genuine disciples
(MAQHTAI) they need to keep going (EAN hUMEIS MEINHTE ...) - they aren't
there yet. But (from verse 33 onwards) they start dissenting from his
comments and then strongly disagreeing with him, wanting to kill him,
accusing him of demon possession, and finally taking up stones to stone him.

And all through this passage John is referring to the same group of people.
That is, he describes these same people as "the Jews who had believed in
him" (verse 31), as being those who are seeking to kill him (verse 40), as
children of the devil (verse 44), and as not belonging to God (verse 47;
these latter three in the accusations of Jesus), while they for their part
accuse Jesus of being a Samaritan and demon-possessed (verses 48, 52), and
they pick up stones to stone him (verse 59).

Then the point is often drawn from this passage that intellectual belief is
not enough, heart commitment to Jesus is required of a disciple, and so
forth. A parallel may be drawn with Judas - one of the inner group, and yet
he betrayed Jesus.

Now, is this really a valid understanding of this passage? My examination of
the Greek makes me wonder whether a different meaning is intended.

First, the word PISTEUW in John. Are we to understand that those in vese 30
who EPISTEUSAN EIS AUTON are identical with those in the very next verse
whom Jesus addresses, PROS TOUS PEPISTEUKOTAS AUTWi IOUDAIOUS? That is, can
we accept that PISTEUW followed by EIS plus the accusative is the same in
meaning as PISTEUW followed by the dative? I would accept this, and also in
context I take it that in verse 31 Jesus is addressing the same people who
in verse 30 are said to have come to believe in him. Are you with me in this?

Next, can we accept that John is here using PISTEUW of a mere intellectual
assent, so that these very same people who are said to have EPISTEUSAN in
him go on to call him demon-possessed and take up stones against him, and
it is of them that Jesus says they are of their father the devil (verse 44)
and do not belong to God (verse 47)?

I have a real problem with this. John has said that to believe in Jesus is
to have life eternal and to be not condemned, whereas those who are
condemned are condemned already precisely because they have NOT believed
(John 3:15-18). My problem is that I cannot see the John who said this
(chapter 3) going on a little later (chapter 8) to use PISTEUW of those who
are described as children of the devil and who do not belong to God but
seek to stone Jesus.

So I see John 8 in these terms:

1. Jesus is speaking in the temple area (verse 20) to a crowd of people
some of whom quite clearly do not accept him (cf. verses 13, 22) - who, he
says, will die in their sins (vese 24).

2. But many (POLLOI) amongst this group of hearers DO believe in him, in
the usual sense of PISTEUW in John (verse 30).

3. Jesus addresses this group of people, TOUS PEPISTEUKOTAS AUTWi IOUDAIOUS
- that is, the ones who have just been said to have believed in him - but
in the comnpany of the larger group which still surrounds him. So the
members of that crowd who have NOT "believed in him" are present still to
hear what he says.

4. Thus it is these other people (and not those described as having become
believers) who answer Jesus (verse 33) with their indignant dissent, and
with whom the escalating argument continues.

5. Thus I would take it that the subject of APEKRIQHSAN (verse 33) is NOT
the previously-referred-to "believing Jews", but a generalized "they",
i.e., "people in general"; in context here, others in the crowd which the
context indicates was still present.

Is my understanding of John 8 permitted by the Greek text? Is it indicated
by the Greek text? Can we adduce other examples of where John uses a plural
verb without a specific external subject, and its subject is "some people",
"people in general"?

Or is this just the best example you have met this week of prime eisegesis?

Comments invited.



Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-9799-7501
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:
AUSTRALIA. Director, Tyndale College

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