“Believe” as the prime mover in Saint John’s Gospel

By Antoine, sx.

The discussion about Faith is a broad topic. Looking at the implications of the Christian Faith, one gets a clear mind that the Johannine concept of Faith highlights the beginning of Jesus’ Messianic age. Starting from the wedding in Cana, John’s narratives or signs open to different layers of understanding the Faith as a response to the promising message of Jesus, confession of Jesus’ own person and trust in his words. However, instead of describing how each event happens; it is highly necessary to comprehend, rather, the essentiality of John’s approach of Faith.

First, from the length of the Gospel itself, “Faith,” is not a Johanine concept. Instead, John uses the word “believe” in different forms. Reading carefully the section, one discovers that to “believe” is the merest word and higher degree of faith. In fact, it is repeatedly written 15 times along the three chapters (2-4). It is generally used to address either the belief/unbelief attitudes, and the individual/group’s witness and testimony.  Schnackenburg uses a number of words such as to follow, receive, listen, obey, know and accept with an equivalent consideration of believing. For him, on the one hand, to “believe” in Jesus means to acknowledge his claims for his own person or confession done gradually either by testimony (3:35-36) or by the witness (3:11-21). On the other hand, to “believe” is to receive Jesus and his words inwardly, accept the Revealer himself along with his revelation and come to Jesus in the symbolism of light (3:20).  From this point of view, one finds that the foundation of faith is the nature of the New Testament revelation which enables believers to give a rational assent to the message of Christ. However, following the text carefully, it is clearly proved that Jesus is the object and content of the Faith. More precisely, He is the full revelation of the Father and the initial motive of faith.

Second, the Evangelist presents different aspects of faith, such as the promise of the eternal life or salvation (3:38;45), the manifestation of God’s glory (2:11), born from above (3:3), true worship and knowledge (4:21), the resurrection (the hour is coming: v23). At the individual level, we see the expression of the authentic faith or correct Faith[1] of Mary, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, and the pagan official who believed in Jesus, not because of his signs/deeds but because of the individual commitment to Jesus’ words.  At the group level, we experience the faith based on signs. For instance the faith of Jesus’ audience after he cleansed the temple (2:23), and many Samaritan villagers (4:42) and the resurrection of Lazarus. Interpreters of John like Moloney for example, determine that to believe is a “radical openness to the word of Jesus”[2] that becomes the criterion of the true Faith. Hereby, Moloney will connect the Cana miracles to the resurrection linked to the act of Faith presented under the hint of the resurrection in chapters 19 and 20.

Hence, like Nicodemus, the Official, and the Samaritan woman, Mary and companions, let us break down our own categories and open our mind and heart to the light of the Father that, enlightened, we may confess our Faith in Jesus and worship the Father in Spirit and Truth. Do you really believe in the Son of God? I am the one talking to you. Repent and Believe.

[1] Word used by Moloney F, in “From Cana to Cana (Jn 2:1-4:54) and the Fourth Evangelist’s Concept of Correct (and Incorrect) Faith” Salesianum 40 (1978) 817-843.

[2] Ibidem, p. 829.

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