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Usage of Pisteuo in Acts by Luke Encompasses Obedience, and Is Not Mere Belief

Wayne Jackson in Belief as Used in the Book of Acts in the Christian Courier -- an evangelical outreach -- explains the meaning of pisteuo can be "to believe" but also "to trust" and "to obey." He says John 3:36 proves the "to obey" meaning, as the contrast is with a verb to "disobey." Jackson points out that John 2:24 proves the "trust" meaning as Jesus would not "pisteou" certain men... he did not trust them.

So then Mr. Jackson examines how did Luke use pisteuo in the book of Acts ... as mere belief, or the acts of obedience / repentance, or trust that were discussed in the same context?

(1) Following Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, certain devout Jews inquired: “What shall we do?” The apostle commanded them to repent of their sins and be baptized for the remission thereof (Acts 2:38). Those who “received his word were baptized” (v. 41).

Luke then says: “And all that believed were together” (v. 44). “Believed” sums up the obedience described previously.

(2) On the initial day of its existence, the church consisted of at least 3,000 souls. Later, Luke records that many others heard the word and “believed; and the number of men came to be about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). It is obvious that the 5,000 mentioned here included the 3,000 referenced earlier, and that the “believed” of this passage means precisely what it did in [Acts] 2:44.

(3) After the baptism of Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, Peter went to Jerusalem to defend his actions before a rather hostile Jewish audience (cf. [Acts] 11:2). He argued that God had authenticated the Gentiles’ acceptance by giving them the Holy Spirit. 

The apostle then said: 

“If then God gave unto them the like gift as he did also unto us, when we [Jews] believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I, that I could withstand God?” ([Acts] 11:17). 

Note that the entire conversion process of the Jews (cf. [Acts] 2:38) is simply referred to as “when we believed.”

Of note, when Peter says in Acts 11:17 "when we believed on the Lord Jesus" the Greek is: "pisteusasin epi" Jesus -- meaning "believed upon...." -- the verb being an aorist participle active in the dative.

The next example of usage has the same contrast between pisteuo and apeitheo that exists in John 3:36, revealing there pisteuo should be rendered as obey. Mr. Jackson writes:

(4) In the course of his first missionary journey, Paul, together with Barnabas, came to the city of Iconium. They entered into a synagogue of the Jews and proclaimed the gospel of Christ.

There was an encouraging response for Luke says that “a great multitude both of Jews and Greeks believed” ([Acts] 14:1). Note the sentence that follows. “But the Jews that were disobedient stirred up the souls of the Gentiles, and made them evil affected against the brethren” ([Acts 14:2] ASV).

The term rendered “disobedient” in the ASV is apeitheo, which carries the idea of refusing to be persuaded, a failure to comply (Thayer, p. 55). Moulton and Milligan, prominent experts in the Greek papyri, cite numerous examples of where apeitheo means “to disobey.” In conclusion they stated: “We have not sought for more instances, but it has seemed desirable to give rather plentiful illustrations to prove a case which is very important for doctrine” (p. 55).

The article's footnote provides Moulton's cite as: Moulton, J.H. & Milligan, G. (1963) The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament Illustrated from the Papyri (London: Hodder & Stoughton).

It seems Moulton and Milligan know very well that whether John 3:16 means "believe" or "obey" turns on the identical contrast in John 3:36 where pisteousin eis is contrasted with the verb apeitho -- meaning disobey. This tells you the meaning and intent of the word pisteuosin as a contrast to make one's meaning clear. Mr. Jackson then applies that lesson to construe Luke's meaning in Acts 14:1. The Jews and Greeks in other words obeyed Jesus. Moulton and Milligan thus imply that knowing how pisteuo is used as a contrast to apeitheo has a "very important" impact on "doctrine." They are alluding to John 3:16, and its identical contrast with apeitho in John 3:36.

Mr. Jackson then reviews other examples. Finally, he states his conclusion:

Belief, because it is the foundation of one’s surrender to Christ, and because it is the motivating factor for further obedience, is employed by Luke to reflect the entire process in becoming a Christian — including repentance, acknowledgment of Jesus as the Son of God, and immersion in water. How can anyone contend that the sole mental act of “believing” in Christ represents the entire plan of salvation?

Again the link for his article is found here. Wayne Jackson is also the author of the well-received book Acts from Jerusalem to Rome (2005) available at this Amazon link.