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Appendix 6: Exegesis of John 20:31

Interpretative Translation:

31 ταῦτα δὲ γέγραπται ἵνα πιστεύ[σ]ητε ὅτι Ιησοῦς ἐστιν ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱος)τοῦ θεοῦκαὶ ἵνα πιστεύοντες ζωὴν ἔχητε ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ.

31“. . . but these [things] have been written in order that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you should have life in His name.”

Exegetical Proposition:

The two-fold purpose for which John wrote an account of Jesus’ glorious works was in order that the early church might believe the truth about Him and in order that by believing the truth about Him they should experience true life in Him.


I. The purpose for which John wrote an account of Jesus’ glorious works was in order that the early church might believe the truth about Him (20:31a).

II. The purpose/result for which John wrote an account of Jesus’ glorious works was in order that by believing the truth about Him that the early church should experience true life in Him (20:31b).


Up to this point in the gospel, John has highlighted that believing upon hearing is better than believing because of seeing. Now in John 20:30-31, he effectively says, “Now on the one hand there are many signs which the apostles witnessed and, for some, these led to their belief; but on the other hand only some of those signs are told here so that by hearing of them you may believe the truth about Jesus and truly live.” The first half (v. 30) of the concluding remark sets up a “on the one hand A, but on the other hand B” relationship which provides a nice transition from the example of Thomas to the purpose statement in v. 31.

ταῦτα δὲ γέγραπται. The δὲ conjunction can function in one of two ways. If the μὲν of v. 30 is taken as an emphatic particle then δὲ can be treated as an adversative conjunction, contrasting the many unwritten works of Christ with the few select works presented in the Gospel. However, δὲ can also be taken as the second in a pair of correlative conjunctions (μὲνδὲ). The latter use may imply a subtly different contrast, “Now on the one hand Jesus performed many signs in the presence of his disciples… but on the other hand I am only writing to you about these [few]…” Since the question is “How should one respond to Jesus,” and not “Did John write about all the signs Jesus performed,” the latter makes better contextual sense. Just as Jesus purposefully provided many signs for his witnesses, so John purposefully presents a few for his readers.

There is nothing special about γέγραπται. It is a very common word. However, a few observations are worth noting. First, it is singular while the demonstrative pronoun is plural. This might suggest that the subject is “this book” and that the pronoun is actually the direct object. However, the passive voice of the verb suggests a breach of concord where a singular verb uses a plural subject, something not too uncommon. Second, many translations (ASV, ESV, KJV, NCV, NIV, NKJV, NLT, RSV) choose to translate the verb as a present rather than as a perfect (ISV, NASB). The intensive perfect makes better sense of the context because it emphasizes result or present state. Keener notes that the use of the perfect for “written” often referred to Scripture.1

ἵνα πιστεύ[σ]τηε. Few scholars contest that the first ἵνα clause is a ἵνα+subjunctive purpose clause. The translation above, “in order that . . . might . . . ” does not reflect a decision about the text critical (TC) problem which surrounds the verb. Neither does it reflect uncertainty, in other words, the “might” could also be rendered “will.” It simply represents an acceptable gloss for a ἵνα+subjunctive purpose clause.2

The TC question in this clause involves tense. Did the original read aorist πιστεύσητε (text) or present πιστεύητε(variant)? The aorist is better attested geographically but the present depends on the earlier manuscripts. Examination of internal evidence allows for a variety of explanations. One explanation for the variant is that the copyist may have wanted to match the present tense of the following ἵνα+subjunctive clause. But there are no clear authorial tendencies warranting such a decision. Apart from this verse, John uses either combination almost equally. He uses the ἵνα-clause with a 2nd person present subjunctive five times (John 6:29; 13:34; 15:12, 17; and 20:31b). He uses the ἵνα-clause with the aorist subjunctive six times (John 10:38; 11:15; 13:19; 17:15 (2 times); and 19:4).

In summary, the external evidence lines up pretty evenly and the internal evidence is equally inconclusive. Consequently, Metzger and Committee assign the text a C rating.3 The significance of the TC question is that an aorist subjunctive allows for a translation of “might come to believe,” which implies John addresses an unbelieving audience. On the other hand, the present normally means “might continue to…,” implying John addresses a believing audience. However, Carson contends that John uses theseἵνα-clause combinations interchangeably for both senses.4 Admittedly, this interchangeability renders the TC question immaterial to the debate regarding purpose of the Gospel.

Another question surrounding the ἵνα-clause has to do with the precise meaning of “believe.” John uses it in a variety of ways, covering 14 of the 20 nuances presented in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG). So how does he use it in this verse? BDAG takes it to mean to consider something as true and therefore worthy of one’s trust where the “something” is presented by means of a τι-clause.5 However, the question is better answered from the perspective of Biblical theology. In other words, how does John tend to use it in the gospel? When John uses “believe” in similar contexts, he has a continuous idea in mind. The belief he has in mind is an enduring trust. The object of that trust is both a person and a proposition regarding their identity.6 Therefore, BDAG’s gloss is quite acceptable.

ὅτι ∆Ιησοῦς ἐστιν ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ. This clause is examined above, in the main body of the thesis.

ἵνα πιστεύοντες ζωὴν ἔχητε. The second ἵνα introduces aἵνα+subjunctive purpose/result clause. The translation above, “that…should…” stems from biblical theology rather than from grammar, though the grammar allows it. It attempts to convey that John’s gospel closely associates true believing, that is sustained belief, with divine activity.7 The participle, πιστεύοντες, most likely functions as a participle of means. It is the means by which the main verbal idea takes place.8 As previously stated, John uses this term in variety of ways. BDAG classifies it as to entrust oneself to an entity in complete confidence, believe (in), trust, where the object is not expressed.9 This reflects the observation that John tends to use the preposition ες rather than ν when supplying the object of the verb.

The term zwhvn is in the accusative case which indicates that it is the direct object of the subjunctive. A question of reference surrounds this term. It occurs 135 times in the NT. BDAG classifies them within two broad categories, physical life and transcendent life, which are broken down into seven sub-categories. John uses it 49 times, 35 in the gospel. Context clearly suggests that John has the second broad category in mind but which specific nuance? Given the association to belief as a persevering faith, he mostly likely has eternal life in view (which may explain the textual variant, αἰώνιον). For John, this includes more than life after death.10 It encompasses a fullness of life which the regenerate experience by continually depending and communing with Christ (the “abiding” principle) prior to death (John 10:10b).

ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ. This prepositional phrase presents a few questions. First, to what does it refer or what does it mean? Second, to which verbal idea within the clause does it belong, the main verb or the participle?11 Finally, how does it function in relationship to either of the verbs?

The complete phrase occurs once in the Johannine corpus. It occurs 12 times without αὐτοῦ and only in the gospel.12 He uses a similar prepositional phrase, εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ, two times (John 1:12 and 2:23) and two more times without αὐτοῦ (John 3:18 and 1 John 5:13). The expression is more often used of the Son’s name (13 times) than of the Father’s (3 times; John 5:43; 10:25; 17:11-12).13 This makes an incredible statement about Jesus. John essentially avers that the person of Jesus shares the same character and power as the person of Father. Brown’s discussion of John 5:43 suggests that when Christ uses it of himself, he may have the “I AM” in mind.14 The assertion fits especially well with John 17:11-12.

The last two questions can be combined into one. How does the phrase function? One view relates it to the participle and takes it to function as a preposition of reference/respect, providing a direct object for participle (Bernard implies this by treating the exchange of εἰς for ἐν as an acceptable one); or to function as a preposition of space/sphere, modifying the realm of belief (Brown). Another view relates it to the subjunctive verb and takes it to function as a preposition of space/sphere. The first view has a couple of problems. The distance between the phrase and participle makes the relationship seem strained. And more significantly, when John provides the content for the verb “believing”, he most often uses a ὅτι-clause (14 times) or an εἰς-prepositional phrase (37 times). The only other time that he may be using the ἐν preposition is in John 3:15. Interestingly, the verb is also a participle in this verse. Yet notice that even in this case, when the phrase immediately follows the participle, it makes just as much sense to associate it with the main verb as it does to assign it to the participle.15

Brief Discussion on Purpose of John’s Gospel

There are essentially three major camps on the purpose of John’s gospel. One contends that it was written solely to evangelize Jewish unbelievers.16 A second camp believes that it was written to a primarily Christian community who needed perspective and encouragement to keep believing.17 A third group of scholars observes that John had a broader audience in mind, one comprised of both believers and unbelievers.18 The discussion will use Carson’s view and defense as a guide for addressing the various arguments given in support of his view.

Carson asserts the gospel “aims in particular to evangelize Jews and Jewish proselytes.”19 His article, “The Purpose of the Fourth Gospel: John 20:31 Reconsidered,” elaborates on this position.20 First, it presents three points of interest in the verse which affect the question of purpose. These have been treated above with conclusions as follows: 1) the πιστεύ[σ]τηε TC question is immaterial to the debate, 2) the TC question regarding different word order in D and W is inconsequential, and 3) it makes little difference to the question of purpose whether “Christ” and “Son of God” are taken as synonymous, though this paper believes the latter to be a crucial expansion of Jewish expectations regarding the former. Carson arrives at similar conclusions and, therefore, proceeds to argue his position on grammatical grounds. Second, Carson argues that on firm syntactical grounds the firstἵνα-clause should be translated “that the Christ, the Son of God, is Jesus. The discussion above has already shown this to be overstated.

Third, the article engages in implications and reflections that surface additional arguments. His first implication presupposes a Jewish audience and shows that this audience would not ask what kind of Messiah is Jesus, nor would they ask that the claim that Messiah had come be proven to them by supplying the name of this messiah. The answer to the first question, the Messiah is like Jesus, requires that John’s audience was completely familiar with His life story. The answer to the second question can be given by a convertible proposition, Jesus is the Messiah, and therefore allows for Carson’s interpretation of John 20:31. Carson fails to see that from a rhetorical analysis standpoint there are simply too many examples of irony to discount that John’s audience was familiar with Jesus’ story.

His second reflection looks at the implications of a different question to his presumed underlying question. He notes that the question, “Who is Jesus?” also has an evangelistic edge to it in that it implies that the readers are partially or completely ignorant to Jesus’ full identity regardless of ethnicity. He looks at three possible audiences: 1) docetic Christians, 2) Gentile non-Christians, and /or 3) non-Christian Jews. He concludes that the third is the most plausible. The biggest problem with this is that John’s narrative spends so much time addressing the “Apostles in process,” the representative believers in the making. The object lesson from Thomas’ confession is completely lost.

The third implication concerns the various explanations and translations of Semitic words (John 1:38, 41; 4:25; 19:13, 17). He presents a good argument for how this does not prove that the audience was completely Hellenistic, “a Greek-speaking Jew with no knowledge of Hebrew or Aramaic might well appreciate the translations.”21 He concludes that a non-Christian Hellenistic Jewish audience could account for these linguistic observations. His points are valid but they work equally well for a converted Hellenistic Jewish audience.

The fourth implication claims that the presumed underlying question, who is the Messiah, fits better with the prologue. But this claim can also be made by those who see an audience of Jewish and Gentile believers needing encouragement in their faith. Furthermore, “Jesus” and “Christ” appear for the first time in the same verse (John 1:17). Given the date of the gospel and the development of the “Christ” title from noun to a proper name, it is highly like that John uses the terms “Jesus Christ” together as a proper name for the historical person who is the subject of this gospel. In this sense, the underlying question presumed by this paper, “Who is Jesus?” fits equally well with the prologue.

The fifth implication admits that John’s expanded depiction of the Messiah surpassed the 1st century Jewish view/expectation of the messiah. It notes that such a description is unexpected and perhaps inconsistent for someone trying to show that the Messiah is Jesus. The approach risked failure since connecting Jesus to current messianic expectations would be far more persuasive. It replies to the potential objection by saying that from John’s perspective, “he was in line with the scriptures (John 5:39-40, 46), and he was therefore rightly harnessing messianic expectation and rightly identifying who the Messiah really was, while his opponents did not understand the scriptures.”22 This response does not validate his view; it simply handles a perceived objection to it. The issue is an important one since the same objection can be made against the claim that John wrote to converted Jews who were wondering if they had trusted in the right messiah. Carson’s response also supports the view of the third group which believes that John had a broader audience in mind, one comprised of both believers and unbelievers, and Jews and Gentiles.

The sixth implication deals with the meaning of ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, a subject which has already been addressed above. The seventh implication (strong attacks against Jewish leaders), like the fifth, provides an explanatory defense rather than supporting validation. The eighth (meaning of life) and ninth (question of syntax regarding SPN constructions) implications have already been addressed above.

The tenth implication deals extensively with the difficult question of what to do with chapters 14-17. Carson’s admits that few would judge this as primarily evangelistic. He provides five explanations that make his view viable. His defense proves only that there are reasonable ways to explain objections to his view.

The eleventh implication deals with Barrett’s argument against the view of a primarily non-Christian Jewish audience. Barrett notes that the many Hellenistic and Gnostic overtones suggest a non-Jewish audience. Carson rightly rebuts by highlighting that the overtones would also befit a diverse and syncretistic Diaspora Judaism. However, this explanation also befits a Christian audience coming out of this type of Diaspora Judaism. Finally, the last implication rightly observes that an argument in support of the second or third view based on experience and history of the gospel’s immense help to the believer confuses purpose and result.

After reviewing a few commentaries and Carson’s article, this paper opines that the third view provides the best solution to the question of purpose. John wrote to witness to and to build up an ethnically mixed audience. Hall Harris provides a helpful summary of the reasoning supporting this view.23

First, the use and purpose of signs seems to mark the margins of the literary context. The first is performed in the presence of the disciples (John 2:11). And the desired response to the many of them is explained in reference to disciples (John 20:30). This implies that John has believers in mind. Second, the immediate context also uses a disciple, Thomas, to show that persevering faith must confess Jesus as none other than God Incarnate (vv. 26-29). Third, John spends so much time dealing exclusively with the disciples (chaps. 13-17) that it is difficult to see how he only had non-Christians in view. Fourth, the fact that John repeatedly shows the disciples to be “believers in process” supports the view that some in John’s audience were not yet true believers. Fifth, the rhetorical devices of double entendre and irony suggest that John assumes his audience was familiar with the basic story of Jesus. Finally, and also in defense of an evangelistic purpose, John 20:31 emphasizes that the real issue is truly believing (sustained trust, persevering faith) that Jesus is God Incarnate so as to possess/obtain eternal life in Him.

1 Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 2 vols. (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003), 2:1215.

2 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 472.

3 Bruce Manning Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2d ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 219-20.

4 D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 661; D. A. Carson, “The Purpose of the Fourth Gospel: John 20:31 Reconsidered,” Journal of Biblical Literature 106 (1987): 640. Citing John 13:15, Brown also agrees (Raymond Edward Brown, The Gospel according to John (xiii-xxi), 1st ed., Anchor Bible, ed. William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman, vol. 29A [Garden City: Doubleday, 1966], 1056).

5 Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. by Frederick William Danker, 3d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 816-17.

6 John 11:27; 16:27

7 John 1:13; 6:44, 63-65; 10:28-30; 12:32; and 15:16, 19. Daniel B. Wallace notes that many times New Testament (NT) writers use language that reflect their theology, “what God purposes is what happens, so a i{na+subjunctive can be used to express both divine purpose and result” (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 473). Bernard sees this clause as a purpose statement only (J. H. Bernard, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to St. John, ed. A.H. McNeile, International Critical Commentary, ed. S. R. Driver, A. Plummer, and C. A. Briggs, 2 vols. [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1928], 2:686). Brown and Keener also classify it as such (Brown, John (xiii-xxi), 1055-61; Keener, John, 2:1215-16). And Morris implies a resultative nuance in addition to purpose (Leon Morris, The Gospel according to John, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Ned B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, and Gordon D. Fee [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995], 756).

8 Bernard, John, 2:686; Brown, John (xiii-xxi), 1056; Morris, John, 754.

9 Bauer, Lexicon, 817.

10 Bernard notes the textual variant but does not elaborate on what John may mean here (Bernard, John, 2:686). Similarly, Brown briefly addresses the TC question but does not explain what John has in mind (Brown, John (xiii-xxi), 1056). Carson does not address the TC question. For meaning of the term, he refers the reader back to his discussion when it first appears in John 1:4 and to his discussion of it in John 3:15, 16 (Carson, John, 661). For John 1:4 he gives various possibilities – resurrection life, spiritual life, and a reference to creation (i.e. God speaking, a metonymy of effect for cause). However, he does not choose one. For John 3:15, 16 he proposes, “The eternal life begun by the new birth is nothing less than the eternal life of the eternal world.” He clarifies that it refers to resurrection life but that this life can be experienced before the end (Carson, John, 118-19, 202). Moloney sees a reference to an eternal life which begins when the “reader” fully embraces what John proposes, that Jesus is the divine Messiah, intimately related to the Father (Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, Sacra Pagina Series, ed. Daniel J. Harrington, vol. 4 [Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1998], 544). Morris sees a reference to “real life,” an abundant life that can “be had only though Christ” (Morris, John, 756). He obviously takes ζωήν to mean more than a life after death experience. It is in Christ and for the here and now of the one who truly believes.

11 When commenting on John 20:31, Bernard and Brown address the second question of verbal relationship but do not address the first question of referent (Bernard, John, 2:686; Brown, John (xiii-xxi), 1056). Similarly, Carson, Keener, and Molony do not address the first question of meaning in John 20:31. Morris believes it to be a reference to personhood and then refers readers back to his discussion of the expression in John 1:12 (Morris, John, 756). His discussion of the first occurrence of “the name” adds that expressions found in non-biblical papyri carry with it an idea of possession, so to believe in “the name” conveys that believers yield themselves up to be possessed by Him in whom they have believed (Morris, John, 88). On the meaning ofἐν τῷ ὀνόματι in John 5:43, Bernard provides a very helpful discussion. To the Hebrew mind, “the name” connoted intimate and mysterious connection with the bearer of the name. For someone to come in the name of someone else was to express the name bearer’s personality, even to being an outright revelation of that person. So Bernard concludes that when Christ claims to come in the Father’s name, he claims more than mere representation of the Father. “It conveys the idea that the Incarnate Son reveals the Father in His character and power” (Bernard, John, 1:255).

12 See John 5:43 (2 times); 10:25; 14:13, 14, 26; 15:16; 16:23, 24, 26; 17:11, and 12.

13 It is a ratio of 13:3.

14 Brown, John (xiii-xxi), 758-59, see esp. 764.

15 Bernard notes that order suggests that the second view is correct but he chooses to endorse the first view (Bernard, John, 2:686). His logic is unpersuasive. All of the passages he cites as similar use an εἰς-prepositional phrase (John 1:12; 1 John 5:13). And the passages containing the ἐν-prepositional phrase use a different verb and the phrase usually follows it (John 16:23, 24, 26). Brown notes both positions but chooses neither (Brown, John (xiii-xxi), 1056). And Morris relates it to the subjunctive (Morris, John, 756).

16 Carson’s commentary states this as his view and lists several others who agree, such as K. Bornhaüser, Willem Cornelis van Unnik, J. A. T. Robinson, Davis D. C. Braine, and George J. Brooke (Carson, John, 91 fn. 2).

17 Bernard, John, 2:685-886; Brown, John (xiii-xxi), 1055-56; Keener, John, 2:1215-16; Moloney, John, 542-44.

18 W. Hall Harris, “Exegetical Commentary on John” (unpublished class notes in NT 325 Gospel of John, Dallas Theological Seminary, 2005), 227-28.

19 Carson, John, 91.

20 Carson, “Purpose,” 639-51.

21 Carson, “Purpose,” 646.

22 Carson, “Purpose,” 647.

23 Harris, “Class Notes,” 227-28.

Related Topics: Grammar