In response to a recent blog I wrote on “Beware of Confusing Explanations of John 3:16” (see here), Robert asks, “How do you handle John 2:23 where pisteuō is translated as commit?
Here are John 2:23-24: “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men…” The same word, pisteuō, is translated as believe in v 23 and commit in v 24.
Robert’s implied question, which I hear often, is this: If pisteuō means commit in v 24, why doesn’t it also mean commit in v 23? Couldn’t we translate these verses as “many committed themselves to His name…But Jesus did not commit Himself to them?
Pisteuō is used 100 times in John’s Gospel. Only in John 2:24 do English translations translate it as commit or entrust. Why? Because translators consult the context. In the context of John 2:23, committing to His name does not make sense. Compare John 1:12 where the same expression occurs. And in the context of John 2:24, He Himself did not believe to them does not make sense. (If John had wanted to say that He Himself did not believe in them, he would have used episteuen eis autous, not episteuen autois.)
The word pisteuō is used to refer to commitment or entrusting only eight times in the NT—out of 246 total uses. That sense of the word is very rare in the NT.
None of these eight passages explain what we must do to have everlasting life. In fact, none of these refer to what we entrust or commit to God—or to anyone. All eight verses refer to what God entrusts or commits to men:
Luke 16:11: God will entrust true riches to overcomers in the life to come.
John 2:24: Jesus did not entrust Himself to new believers who were not yet committed to confessing Him publicly (compare John 3:1-21).
Romans 3:2: God committed His oracles to the Jews.
1 Corinthians 9:17: God entrusted Paul with a stewardship.
Galatians 2:7: God committed to Paul the gospel to the Gentiles.
1 Thessalonians 2:4: God entrusted Paul with the gospel.
1 Timothy 1:11: God committed the gospel to Paul’s trust (literally: “according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, to which I was entrusted”).
Titus 1:3: God committed the preaching of His word to Paul.
Since translators are aware of those eight uses, they translate John 2:23 and John 2:24 based on what the context dictates.
According to John 1:12, whoever believes in Jesus’ name is a child of God and is born of God. John 2:23 says that many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He did. Therefore, those people were born of God that day. But Jesus did not commit or entrust Himself to them. Why? Because He knew they were not prepared to confess Him openly before men.
If you are a believer, do not take it for granted that God is committing Himself to you. If you are walking in the light of His word, then He is indeed entrusting new understanding and life lessons to you. But if you are walking in the darkness, then He is not. Insight into God’s word is not based primarily on one’s intellect or one’s technique. It is based primarily on God revealing its meaning to those who are humble and seeking. God resists the proud but pours His favor on the humble.