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Only Jesus (great song by Big Daddy)

What Did Jesus Say? (2012) - 7 topics 

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Chapter Twenty-Six: John 3:16: Does Obeying Unto Christ Save? (Part Two)

Thayer and Parkhurst On Obedience Meaning Of Pisteuo

This obedience-meaning for pisteuo is also reflected by other evangelical lexicographers. These reputable Christian scholars are evidently trying to gently disabuse Christians from the idea of belief alone as the primary meaning of these words in the New Testament. For example, J.H. Thayer is the most highly honored lexicographer of New Testament Greek. Nevertheless, Thayer noted pistis — the noun formed from pisteuo — is “used especially of the faith by which a man embraces Jesus, i.e., a conviction, full of joyful trust....conjoined with obedience to Christ.” (Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon (T. & T. Clark: 1958) at 511.) Likewise, Parkhurst, who enjoys similar repute, said in 1829 of pisteuo in John 3:16 that it simultaneously means a “cordial reception [belief] ... and obedience.....” (Parkhurst, A Greek and English Lexicon to the New Testament (1829) at 683-84.)

Obey’ Fits Other Passages

If pisteuo means obey here, then John 3:16 would be merely repeating Hebrews 5:9 which explicitly says: “He became the author of eternal salvation unto all of them that are obeying Him.” (Obey is hoopakouo in continuous tense.)9

Likewise, if pisteuo means obey in John 3:16, it would fit John 8:51 which says: “anyone who keeps on obeying (tereo, ‘diligently following’ in a continuous tense) my teaching should never ever die.”

It would also perfectly match Peter’s declaration to the High Priest in Acts 5:32: “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that [keep on] obey[ing] (peitharcheo, continuous tense) him.”(Act 5:32 ASV.) Peitharcheo means literally submission to a judge, and its typical usage means obey. Here, Peter says God’s Holy Spirit is given to those who “keep on obeying [Jesus].”

Thus, translating pisteuo in John 3:16 as obey or comply, if truly the intention of Jesus, would match other Greek synonyms which are used to mean obey and which likewise appear in salvation-formula statements. These equivalent statements which conditioned salvation on obedience use distinct but yet synonymous verbs for obedience: tereo — diligently follow or obey; peitharcheo — submit to a judge or obey; and hoopakouo — listen attentively to or obey. (John 8:51; Acts 5:32; Heb. 5:9.)

Hence, the translation of pisteuo in John 3:16 as obey has serious possibilities. It is a true dictionary meaning. It is not merely a suggestion or contrived idea. Moreover, if intended in John 3:16, we see it fits well into other verses which explicitly emphasize obedience for salvation-sake as used by Jesus, the Apostle Peter and the writer of Hebrews.

‘Trust’ Meanings Of Pisteuo

There are still other translation options of pisteuo to consider. In Liddell-Scott, four of the other six meanings of the verb pisteuo center on trust or entrust. See Footnote 7, page 423.

[2012 ADDITION: In Galatians 2:7, Paul says the Gospel to the Gentiles was "entrusted" -- pisteuo -- "to me." C Winn comments that Jerome made this clear in his Latin Vultage so that his definition of pisteuo in Gal 2:7 "was entrusted to," and thus, "by doing so, he undermined his translation of pisteuo as 'faith 'elsewhere." This 'trust' meaning is proven by Vine's Dictionary which identifies "entrusted to" is from 'pisteuo' as used in Gal. 2:7, Romans 3:2, 1 Cor. 9:17, Titus 1:3, and 1 Thess. 2:4 (see Vine's Pisteuo): pisteuo "to believe," also means "to entrust," and in the Active Voice is translated "to commit," in Luke 16:11; John 2:24; in the Passive Voice, "to be intrusted with," Rom 3:2, RV, "they were intrusted with" (AV, "unto them were committed") of Israel and the oracles of God; 1 Cor 9:17, RV, "I have ... entrusted to me" (AV, "is committed unto me"), of Paul and the stewardship of the Gospel; so Gal 2:7;Titus 1:3; in 1 Thess 2:4, where he associates with himself his fellow missionaries, RV, "to be entrusted with" (AV, "to be put in trust with")." Let the reader beware that later compilations such as Westcott Hort removed pisteuo in Gal. 2:7, and replaced it with pepisteumai. See this link. Cfr. Tischendorf (pisteuo).]

These words trust or entrust are not to be confused with “trust in some fact.” Some like Stanley accept pisteuo really means trust, but then immediately try to dilute the meaning of trust so it is indistinguishable from belief alone. Instead, trust implies follow and/or obey, and is distinguishable from believe in a fact. Based on accepting trust as the meaning here, Stanley dilutes it to a trust that Jesus’ atonement is sufficient without any works of obedience ever necessary on our part. (Stanley, Eternal Security, supra, at 33-34.)

Instead, the meaning of pisteuo as trust is not so shallow. Another eminent Protestant scholar of the Greek, W. E. Vine in his An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984) explains when pisteuo means trust, then pisteuo means “not mere credence” (belief alone) but instead, “reliance upon.” He means a reliance like you would rely upon your doctor’s orders. You would follow or obey your doctor’s guidance.10

Thus, to trust Jesus, if the correct translation, would mean to trust Him as the doctor of your soul. If your doctor pays you a visit, gives you a sermon on how you need to live differently, e.g., be a peacemaker, not lust adulterously, not make false vows, etc., in order to have a “righteousness” greater than all the teachers you had before and “enter heaven” (Matt. 5:20, 23:23), you mean by such trust to say you are going to trust the doctor’s prescriptions. You will obey the doctor’s orders.

“Belief In Facts” Meaning Of Pisteuo

Nevertheless, in one usage identified in Liddell-Scott, pisteuo can be translated as someone believes that something is true. Or it can mean to be confident in a fact. (See Footnote 7, page 423.)

This belief-in-a-fact usage out of six possible meanings leaves open the door — ever so slightly — that the speaker (Jesus) in John 3:16 could mean potentially belief in some fact or truth. This belief-usage does not imply, by itself, obedience or compliance is what should lead to eternal life. Thus, the belief alone option has to be on the table at the outset.

Continue to Part 3-


 9. It literally means to listen attentively.

10. An online reprint is at http://www.bibletexts.com/glossary/belief.htm (accessed 7-5-07).

11. Westcott-Hort, Nestle-Asland 26 (http://www.thenazareneway.com/greek_new_test/john.htm); Stephen's Textus Receptus 1550; Scrivner 1894; Byzantine Majority (http://www.awmach.org/webo/BGR/joh.htm#3:1(accessed 7-4-07)




Response to This Issue

Mishna's YouTube "Silver Bullett for a BenjamiteWolf" - takes the thesis of this part of JWOS, and makes a 3 Minute Video with stirring music to make the point.