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The Gospel of John uses the verbs “to come”, “to see” and “to believe in Jesus” who is the focal point, in order to help readers to establish an authentic relationship with Jesus. These verbs in Greek are “erkhomai” (venir, to come), “pisteuô” (croire, to believe) and four other verbs: “horaô”, “theôreô”, “theaomai”, “blepô”, which can be translated as “to see” in other languages. There is not much difference in the meaning of these four verbs in the context of the Fourth Gospel.
The themes of “coming to Jesus”, “seeing him” and “believing in him” have two contrary senses. People can come to Jesus in the physical sense, but they do not “really come to Jesus” in the view of the narrator. In the same way, the audience in the Fourth Gospel can physically see Jesus, so they can ostensibly believe in him, but they don’t truly “see” Jesus and “believe” in him. We can designate these different ways of coming, seeing and believing by using the adjectives “unreal” and “veritable”. There are unreal and veritable comings to Jesus, unreal and veritable seeings him, unreal and veritable ways to believe in him.
How can readers discern “the unreal way” and “the veritable way”, when they want to come, to see and to believe in Jesus? We will study some text of the Gospel of John in order to grasp the correct way of coming, seeing and believing in Jesus. This theme will be treated in three parts: (I) Unreal coming to Jesus, seeing him and believing in him. (II) Veritable coming to Jesus, seeing him and believing in him. (III) Veritable believing without physically seeing Jesus. We cite the biblical text from Revised Standard Version – Second Catholic Edition, 2006 (RSV-SCE). The Greek text is taken from NESTLE-ALAND, Novum Testamentum Graece, (NTG), (27th Revised Edition), Stuttgart, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1996.
II. Unreal coming to Jesus, seeing him and believing in him
In the article “Daily bread and everlasting bread (6,22-40)”, we looked upon the themes of misunderstanding of the crowd about the sign of multiplication of the loaves, and their misunderstanding of Jesus himself. We find out also “the unreal way” and “the veritable way” to come to Jesus, to see him and to believe in him in Jn 6. We use chapter 6 of the Fourth Gospel and some other passages to treat this subject.
1. Unreal coming to Jesus
After the sign of multiplication of the loaves in 6:5-13, the narrator makes known to readers in 6:14 that: “When the people saw the sign which he [Jesus] had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!’” This narrator’s statement indicates that the crowd seems to recognize who Jesus is, but in the next verse the narrator says that the crowd misunderstood Jesus. The writer talks about Jesus’ knowledge of the crowd’s intention: “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (6:15).
The sentence: “Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (6:15b), literally means “He withdrew again to the mountain by himself alone (anekhôrêsen palin eis to oros autos monos)” (6:15). The phrase “himself alone” (autos monos) suggests to Jesus’ loneliness because the crowd does not understand him. At the same time, the word “mountain” (oros) reveals his close relation with his Father, because the mountain symbolizes the presence of God. Rudolf SCHNACKENBURG wrote: “The ‘loneliness’ of the Johannine Jesus also means intimacy with his Father (cf. 8:16.29; 16:32).”(Rudolf SCHNACKENBURG, The Gospel According to St. John, vol. II:Commentary on Chapter 5–12, New York, The Crossroad Publishing Company, (1971), 1987, p. 20). The verse 6:15 indicates the crowd’s coming is an unreal coming, because Jesus refuses their intention to make him king. In fact, they come to Jesus by the unreal way; this is not a veritable coming.
In the context of the pericope 5:39-40, Jesus accuses “the Jews” who look for him, saying: “39 You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (5:39-40). “The Jews” in Jn 5 mistakenly believe that they can find eternal life in the scripture (5:39), but the truth is that they refuse to come to Jesus; therefore they do not have eternal life from him. The expression: “to come to Jesus” in 5:40 means “to receive him”, “to believe in him”. In this context, the verb “to come” has a theological sense. Like the crowd in Jn 6, the Jews in Jn 5 seek Jesus, and come to him, but their intention is not to receive him and to believe in him. On the contrary, they come to Jesus to accuse him. Therefore this is not a true Johannine coming.
2. Unreal seeing and believing
The above analysis asserts that the crowd did see the sign of multiplication of the loaves which Jesus had performed (6:14), but this is not a veritable seeing. Jesus confirms this unreal seeing of the crowd in 6:36: “I said to you that you have seen (heôrakate) me and yet do not believe”. If the seeing of Jesus could not lead the viewer to believing in Jesus, this is not a true seeing.
In 2:23-25, the narrator summarizes Jesus’ activity when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast. There is a link between “see the signs” and “believe in Jesus” in 2:23. The narrator relates in 2:23-25: “23 Now when he [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did; 24 but Jesus did not trust himself to them, 25 because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.” The narrator uses the verb “to believe” (pisteuô) twice in 2:23-34; and there is a contrast between these two uses. The first use describes in 2:23b that “many believed in his name (polloi episteusan eis ton onoma autou).” The second represents Jesus’ response to their belief in 2,24a: “But Jesus did not trust himself to them (autos de Iêsuos ouk episteuen auton autois).” Here, the verb “to believe” (pisteuô) is reflexive. The translation “episteuen auton” as “trust himself” seems to be the closest word available in the English language, but this translation loses the subtlety of the play on words “episteusan” ([Many] believed, the aorist tense) in 2:23 and “ouk episteuen” ([Jesus] has not believed, the imperfect tense) in 2:24. (See Francis J. MOLONEY, The Gospel of John, (Sacra Pagina Series 4), Collegeville (MN), The Liturgical Press, 1998, p. 86-87). Literally, Jesus did not “believe” those who “believed in” him (2:23-24).
Before the passage 2:23-24, the disciples believed in Jesus when they saw the first sign at Cana in 2:1-10. There, after the sign of changing water into wine, the narrator concludes: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (2:11). This is true belief through seeing a sign. However, people’s faith thanks to sign in 2:23 is inadequate. This type of believing needs to be maintained and develop further.
In 8:31, the belief of the Jews is not a true belief at all. In the pericope 8:21-30, Jesus discusses with “the Jews” (8:22) about his ministry and his relationship with the Father. In 8:27, the narrator comments about the Jews’ misunderstanding: “They did not understand that he [Jesus] spoke to them of the Father” (8:27). Strangely, at the end of this pericope (8:21-30), the narrator notes that “As he spoke thus, many believed in him (episteusan eis auton)” (8:30). Then the narrator opens the next section (8:31-59) with these words: “Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him (pepisteukotas autô), ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples…’ (8:31). The discussion between Jesus and the Jews continues until the end of chapter 8 (8:59). What does the belief of the Jews in 8:30-31 mean? Is it a true belief in Jesus?
Note that in 8:30, the phrase “to believe in” in Greek is “pisteuô + eis + pronoun in accusative case.” While in 8:31, “to believe in” in Greek is “episteuô + pronoun in dative case.” In general, the expression “pisteuô + eis + accusative” (to believe in) describes an accurate Johannine faith. But this meaning should not be applied rigidly, because in 2:23, the expression “pisteuô + eis + accusative” (to believe in) was used, but the examination above shows that the belief of many people in 2:23 is not a true belief. In the other use, in general, when the Greek text uses the expression “pisteuô + en + dative” or “pisteuô + dative”, it usually describes an inadequate faith. However, this distinction should be judged according to the context of the particular narrative.
In the context of the two pericopes 8:21-30 and 8:31-59 we may conclude that the belief of the Jews in 8:31 is inadequate. This is not an accurate Johannine faith. In fact, they don’t really believe in Jesus, because they contradict Jesus and react with increasing vehemence. The accusation and counter-accusation become bitterer in the narrative of section 8:31-59. The Jews want to kill Jesus (8:37) and at the end of the passage, “they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple” (8:59). This hostile behavior is not compatible with the true belief in Jesus. The true believer is one who will “abide (menô) in Jesus’ word” (8:31b). By this means the believer becomes the true disciple of Jesus (8:31c). The behavior of the Jews shows that their belief is not veritable.
III. Veritable coming to Jesus, seeing him and believing in him
1. Veritable coming to Jesus
The article “Daily Bread and Everlasting Bread (6,22-40)”, discusses about the parallelism between 6:25-34 and 4:9-15 concerning the misunderstanding of hearers. In chapter 6, after verse 34, Jesus’ revelation in verse 35 is in parallel with 7:37-38. True coming to Jesus and true belief in him clearly link together in these two passages. Jesus says to the crowd in 6:35: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” In 7:37-38, the narrator relates that on the last day, the great day of the feast of Tabernacles, Jesus proclaimes: “37b If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. 38 He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water’” (7:37b-38).
In 6:35, he who comes to Jesus shall not hunger and he who believes in Jesus shall never thirst. Jesus invites everyone to come to him and to believe in him. This is a true coming and a veritable believing, because these actions lead the believers to everlasting life. In fact, there is the parallelism between “he who comes to Jesus” and “he who believes in Jesus”. These expressions correspond with “shall not hunger” and “shall never thirst”. This parallelism describes the sense of the verbs “to come” and “to believe”. Veritable coming to Jesus implies true belief in him and vice versa, veritable belief in Jesus implies true coming to him (see analysis on the topic “The bread satisfies all hunger and thirst” in the article “Daily Bread and Everlasting Bread.”)
This dynamic of “coming to” and “believing in” recurs in 7:37b-38. Jesus himself invites everyone to “come to Jesus” and to “believe in him”. This progression of “true coming to” and this decision of “true belief in” lead everyone to living water. There is a problem in the use of punctuation in 7:37b-38. The different choices in punctuation result in different meanings. Here are two ways to punctuate in 7:37b-38.
(1) First, the Greek New Testament of NESTLE-ALAND, Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th Edition, chose the following punctuation: “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water’” (7:37b-38). By giving a full-stop at the end of this sentence: “Let him come to me and drink.” Then the next sentence: “He who believes in me…” links with the scripture’ words: “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.” In this case, “his heart” in scripture’s words refers to the believer’s heart. One who comes to Jesus and drinks living water from him, such a one is a true believer and has the source of living water in his or her heart. What Jesus said to the Samaritan woman in Jn 4:14 helps to buttress this interpretation: “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (4:14).
(2) The second possible option for punctuation in 7:37b-38 is: “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink he who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” There is no full-stop and no separation between “let him come to me and drink” and “he who believes in me”. In this case, “he who believes in me” is the one who comes to Jesus and drinks. Therefore the expression “his heart” in the Scripture’s words refers to Jesus’ heart.
Raymond E. Brown and others are in favor of the second interpretation; see the argument in Raymond E. BROWN, The Gospel According to John, I–XII,vol. I, (Anchor Bible 29), New York (NY), Doubleday, 1966, p. 320-322. In our analysis, we follow the punctuation of Greek New Testament in Novum Testamentum Graece, 1996. With many others, we choose the first interpretation presented above. Jn 4:14 could lend support to this understanding, and grammatically, the scripture quotation in 7:38 fits better with the believer. However, in the two styles of punctuation in 7:37b-39, there is a clear link between “come to Jesus” and “believe in him”. True coming to Jesus involves belief in him and vice versa. There is the same progression among “seeing Jesus” and “believing in him”.
2. Veritable seeing and believing
Jesus describes the true seeing in 6:40 when he says to the crowd: “This is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (6:40). In these Jesus’ words, “seeing the Son” means seeing Jesus himself because he is the Son of the Father. This is a veritable seeing because it leads the viewer to believe in Jesus.
The invitation of Jesus to really see the sign (2:11), see the Son (6:40) and believe in him, is realized at the end of The Gospel of John in the episode of Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved before the empty tomb (20:1-10). When Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, went toward the tomb of Jesus on the first day of the week (20:1-7), they didn’t see Jesus in the tomb. They only “6b saw the linen cloths lying, 7 and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself” (20:6b-7). The narrator reveals the attitude of the disciple whom Jesus loved, that “he saw and believed” (20:8b). The disciple whom Jesus loved is the first one who believes in Jesus before his appearance to the disciples on the evening of that day (20:19-23). The seeing and the belief of this disciple whom Jesus loved are examples of authentic belief. More importantly, this disciple did not see Jesus; he saw only the empty tomb, the linen cloths and the napkin. This belief without seeing Jesus will become the beatitude at the end of the Gospel (cf. 20,29b). See the analysis about “Three levels of believing in Jesus” in the article: “Believe (pisteuô) in the Gosepl of John.”
IV. Veritable believing without seeing Jesus
The episode “Jesus appears to Thomas” in 20:26-29 shows the transition between two stages: (1) Belief in Jesus by seeing him, and (2) Belief in Jesus without physically seeing him. When Jesus appears to the disciples in 20:19-23, they were glad at seeing Jesus (20:20b), but “Thomas, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came” (20:24). Thomas said to the other disciples: “Unless I see in his [Jesus] hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” (20:25b). In fact, the other disciples saw Jesus and believed that Jesus rose from his death, but Thomas who was not there when Jesus appeared to other disciples did not believe. He needed also to see Jesus in order to believe in him.
The desire of Thomas became a reality when Jesus appeared again to his disciples and said to Thomas: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing” (20:27). The faith of the disciples in the ministry of Jesus was based on seeing signs, seeing Jesus, and hearing his teachings. It is not the same progression for the second generation of disciples after Jesus’ ascension to his Father. Thomas’ proclamation of faith to Jesus: “My Lord and my God” (20:28) expresses an authentic faith. This expression of true belief belongs to the disciples of Jesus for all time, in all generations, and anywhere. This profession of faith (20:28) at the end of the Gospel forms a literary inclusion that corresponds with the author’s declaration of faith in Jesus-Logos in the first verse of the Gospel to express firmly and strongly the Fourth Gospel’s theology. There, he solemnly wrote: “In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word (Logos) was with God, and the Word (Logos) was God” (1:1).
The response of Jesus to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (20:29) includes the beatitude for those who believe without seeing Jesus. After Jesus went to the Father, and the Paraclete – Spirit of Truth – was sent to the disciples (16:7), a new form of belief emerged: Belief without seeing Jesus. Since the second generation of disciples, they have come to believe in Jesus through the words of his disciples. Jesus already prayed for them in 17:20. He said to his Father: “I do not pray for these only [disciples of the first generation], but also for those [disciples of the second generation] who believe in me through their word.” By Jesus’ proclamation: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”, the veritable believing readers of the Fourth Gospel have been blessed by Jesus himself over the last two millennia.
The disciples throughout the ages are happy to believe in Jesus without seeing him physically. Nevertheless, on the spiritual level, Jesus is always present with his disciples. Jesus promises to the disciples that “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (14:20). In fact, the physical presence of Jesus was limited by space and time, while the spiritual presence allows Jesus to abide in each disciple anywhere and anytime. The nature of this presence is reciprocal: Jesus in the believer and the believer in him. This is a deep reciprocally communion like the relationship between Jesus and his Father. Indeed, Jesus reveals to his disciples in 14:11a: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me.” “Jesus in disciple and disciple in him”, in the light of his plan of discipleship, is a great comfort for believers.
The above analysis of unreal and veritable coming to Jesus, seeing him and believing in him, indicates an interesting use of the three verbs “to come”, “to see” and “to believe” in the Gospel of John. The translation of these verbs can infer either unreal or veritable belief. In relation to unreal coming, seeing or believing, there is always a misunderstanding by the hearer about what Jesus did or what he said. This unreal perception cannot lead to a true relationship with Jesus. In this case, the “coming to Jesus”, “seeing him” and “believing in him” do not really exist. We had the example of the unreal coming to Jesus, the unreal seeing the signs in Jn 6. Jesus said to the crowd: “You have seen (heôrakate) me and yet do not believe” (6:36). The belief represented in 2:23b is not also a veritable belief, because “Jesus did not trust himself to them” (2:24a). More importantly, the belief of the Jews in 8:31 is totally inadequate, because they accuse Jesus and want to kill him.
In the Gospel of John, the presentation of unreal coming, seeing and belief, serve to describe the veritable coming to Jesus, true seeing of him and true believing in him. Jesus invites everyone to come to him and to believe in him. He says: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst” (6:35). Jesus asks people to attain a true seeing. He promises: “Every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life” (6:40). The coming to Jesus of the Samaritans in 4:40 is a veritable coming, because this coming bears fruit: “Many more [Samaritans] believed because of his [Jesus’] word” (4:41). Veritable coming produces true belief, true relationship, and true disciples of Jesus.
The Gospel of John emphasizes the true seeing and believing of the disciple whom Jesus loved. Before the empty tomb, “he saw and believed” (20:8b), he believes without seeing Jesus. This is the belief of all disciples throughout the ages, who believe in Jesus without physically seeing him. They believe through the teachings of the Church. Jesus himself blesses all of them in 20:29b: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” We believe without physically seeing Jesus, yet at the same time Jesus is profoundly present in each one of his disciples. The promise of Jesus to the first generation of disciples is also for all believers today: “You [are] in me, and I in you” (14:20b)./.