Today I received a call asking me about something Dr. Wayne Grudem said in his book Free Grace Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel. In a footnote on page 110 (note 14), Grudem writes, “It seems to me that there is room for disagreement over the meaning of ‘many believed in his name’ in John 2:23, but I would take it to refer to genuine trust in Christ, because believing ‘in his name’ is believing in him, in biblical usage.”
Most Bible scholars suggest just the opposite, that the new believers of John 2:23 are not actually believers at all. They point to v 24 in which John tells us, “But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men…” The word translated commit is the word pisteuō which is translated as believed in v 23. Jesus did not entrust Himself to these new believers.
Grudem does not explain verse 24. He simply makes the great observation that John 1:12 says that all who believe in His name have everlasting life (John 1:13), and thus these who believe in His name must have everlasting life.
But notice what other commentators say about John 2:23. Under the heading, “Inadequate faith (John 2:23-25),” D. A. Carson writes, “their faith is spurious. To exercise faith on the grounds of having witnessed miraculous signs is precarious” (John, p. 184).
R. V. G. Tasker calls this faith “superficial” (John, p. 65). Leon Morris says, “it is not the deepest faith…It is no more than a beginning” (John, p. 206).
However, J. Ramsey Michaels agrees with Grudem that the faith in John 2:23 is genuine (John, p. 173).
Kudos to Grudem and Michaels for pointing out what should be obvious to all. If all who believe in Jesus have everlasting life, then those whom inspired Scripture tell us believed in Jesus certainly had everlasting life.
I suppose before I close, I should explain verse 24. There is a clear play on words here. While they believed in Jesus (entrusted themselves to Him), He did not entrust Himself to them. This does not mean that He did not give them everlasting life. It means He did not give them ongoing discipleship teaching.
Why? The answer is found in the ending of John 2:25 and the start of John 3:1. The last word in the Greek text of John 2:25 is anthrōpos, man. The first major word in John 3:1 is anthrōpos, man: “Now there was a man…” (ēn de anthrōpos in Greek). Nicodemus is mentioned three times in John, and each time John tells us that he “came to Jesus by night” (John 3:2; 7:50; 19:39). In John’s Gospel, Nicodemus represents a secret believer, one who believes in Jesus but is unwilling to confess Him (see John 12:42-43). Until a believer is willing to confess Jesus, the Lord is unwilling to entrust Him with more truth. Compare Luke 8:18 and Luke 19:26.
See this 6-minute video by me and this article by Wes Spradley for a fuller explanation of John 2:23-25.