In Grace, Salvation & Discipleship, Charles C. Bing asserts that the distinction between Christian and disciple is clearly taught in the passage John 8:30-31.
While he was saying these things, many people believed in him. Then Jesus said to those Judeans who had believed him, “If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples”
In the last post (link) we looked at the assumptions Bing held regarding apostasy and how they influenced his interpretation of John 8:30-31. In this post we will examine his interpretation in light of two more assumptions:
- The Jews described as believers in John 8:30-31 are genuine Christians who receive eternal life.
- Jesus’ dialogue that follows is directed to another group of Jews in the crowd and not the same people in verses 30 and 31.
The first question we must ask is what did the Jews, described as having believed in Jesus in verses 30 and 31, actually believe about Jesus? Did they believe that Jesus was their Savior who would save them from their sins? Did they believe in Jesus for eternal life as Bing claims?
As Jesus is teaching them that He is the Light of the world, the Jews in the crowd are asking “who are you” (v 25). Jesus replies to this question that it is not until after He has been lifted up, referring to the cross and resurrection, that they would know who He was (v 28). At the point in time that Jesus is dialoguing with these Jews, it is more likely that the crowd believed/accepted Jesus as a miracle working teacher that has come from God claiming to be the Messiah (John 2:23; 3:1-2). And this belief was probably nominal, as they quickly reject Jesus’ teaching that they must be set free, instead relying on their ancestry to Abraham (v 32-33).
Jesus the Messiah
Jesus is talking to Jewish people. People who are anticipating the coming of a promised Messiah. Interestingly, given the Free Grace holding that believers need not recognize Jesus as Lord, the concept of Messiah is strongly rooted in being a King and Ruler. The prophecies foretold that the Messiah was to be an heir to the throne of David, rule over all the world, and have an everlasting kingdom (Isaiah 9:6-7; Daniel 7:13-14; Zech 14:9; Psalm 110:1-2). Furthermore, Jesus would die being charged as the “King of the Jews” (John 18:37; 19:19).
However, even the Twelve, who were privy to more information than anyone else during Jesus’ earthly ministry, did not fully understand the mission of the Messiah or that Jesus must die and be raised (John 2:20-22; 12:14-16). The passage in John 2, in context, contrasts how people believed in Jesus as a miracle worker from God who might be the Messiah (2:23) at the time Jesus was alive with what they would later come to know – Jesus is the Messiah who would be raised from the dead (2:20-22).
The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.
It should be noted that assessing the faith of people in various narratives in John’s Gospel is complex. People are accepting Jesus based on what they know so far, which is an incomplete picture given the transitional phase in which the Messiah has come but the full mission is not clearly revealed/explained.
Does believe always imply saved?
It is also important to recognize that believe, like disciple, may not always refer to those who have saving faith and will receive eternal life. In John 2:23, the next verse, people are described as believing in Jesus based on the signs that were being performed.
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.
However, the following verses (24-25) say that Jesus did not entrust Himself to them because He knew them. The implication is clear that these “believers” had a nominal faith that was not an authentic, enduring, or saving faith.
But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.
The verses that follow this statement (John 3:1-2) describe Nicodemus as one who saw the signs and knew that Jesus was from God.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
The description of Nicodemus matches the description of the people in John 2:24-25. The content of what He knows matches what they believe about Jesus. Nicodemus’ statement to Jesus is that “we” know, further indicating he is talking on behalf of those mentioned in the prior passage. However, we know that at this point Nicodemus is not saved because Jesus tells him that he must be born again in order to see/enter the kingdom of God (3:3,5).
Did the crowd in John 8 have authentic faith?
As we examine the context of John 8:30-31, we should observe what John writes about the Jews that Jesus encounters. Here is John 8:30-37. The references to the crowd are in bold.
As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him.
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.
The text clearly describes the Jews in verse 31 as those who believed in Jesus. In the next set of verses Jesus is dialoguing with “them”. In verse 33 “they” answer Jesus and in the next verse Jesus answered “them”. Is Jesus talking to the same group of people, referred to as those who believed, throughout this passage? If so, these people are described not only as believing (30-31) but as having murderous intent (37) and being children of the devil (v 44).
Bing argues that those in v 33 and subsequent passages are not the same as the believers in 30 -31.
Clearly the majority of the audience was hostile even though some of the Jews had believed in Him. Verses 31-32 is Jesus’ brief address to the faction of the crowd who had believed, an important acknowledgement that further the dialogue with His enemies, because Jesus introduces the possibility of freedom.
We should view verse 30 as an interjection of John’s editorial comment designed to help the reader understand the context of Jesus’ remarks that follow in verses 31-32 … The dialogue resumes with the hostile Jews without introducing them again, because their opposition has driven the dialogue from verse 13 and continues to the end of the chapter.
Is this correct? It is difficult to say for sure but it is important to understand that there are no indications in the text that Jesus is addressing different people in verses 33-37 than He is in 30-32 as the dialogue progresses. It is reasonable, on the basis of the grammar and context, to view the “believers” in John 8 as being similar to the groups of people presented in John’s Gospel who, having an initial positive reaction, do not possess a genuine, authentic faith (John 2:23-3:3; 6:66).
Bing based his assertion on the distinction between Christians and disciples, the fundamental holding of the Free Grace movement on John 8:30-31.
This [distinction] couldn’t be clearer than in John 8:30-31 where Jesus tells those who have already believed in Him how they can become disciples …
As you wrestle through the narrative in John 8 what should be clear is that this passage does not require (or even imply) the interpretation that is presented in Grace, Salvation & Discipleship.
Good article, though I think you succeed better in deconstructing Bing’s assumptions about the differing audiences than you do in examining the authenticity of the beliefs/believers in John 8.
It seems to me that believing is always commended in John. However, as the book progresses, the need for that faith to mature and continue seems to be the aim. (John 20:27-29, 31) Perhaps that is the exact point in John 8.
Just curious, how do you handle the people described as believers in John 2:23-25? It seems (at least as I read it) that John presents them in a negative (or at least non-positive) light.
In chapter 8, the natural reading is that the people addressed as believers (8:30-31) are the same people addressed in the following dialogue (as rejecting Jesus and desiring to kill Him). Do you see it that way?
Knowing that we both see maturing/enduring faith as a characteristic of saving faith, what do you make of the apostasy in John 6 and likely John 8?
I suppose I don’t read John 2 as purely negative – just incomplete. Jesus did not “entrust himself” to them, but I don’t know that this says anything about the quality of their faith. They are believing, but their belief is incomplete, because they don’t yet fully understand what it means for Jesus to be Messiah (who died and was raised). Instead, perhaps these individuals were like the disciples who didn’t understand completely until after his resurrection (2:22).
This isn’t my final position, but it’s my gut reaction. I’ll study more closely in the weeks to come.
In response to your other questions:
1) I agree with you: 8:31ff are all aimed at the same group.
2) I’ll have to punt on the apostasy question for now, due to lack of time and space 🙂
No problem. Looking forward to any other thoughts you have.