The Comprehensive Meaning Of ‘Believe’

by Douglas Hoff


What does the New Testament mean when it speaks of some who believed?  What is being affirmed of these people?  Is it simply saying they accepted some information as factually correct?  Or, do the words “believe,” “believed,” and “believers” convey a wider meaning?

A general rule of interpretation is to pay attention to the context in which the word under consideration is found.  This certainly holds true for the analysis of the word believe.  In some passages the word, believe means a person accepts something as being true.  For example, some of the Jewish rulers recognized Jesus as being the Son of God but they were unwilling to confess that publicly (John 12:42).  Their “belief” did not lead them to trust in the Lord. Why?  Because they “loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”

In the New Testament the word, believe usually includes the idea of trust leading to obedience.  When people truly believe Jesus is the Son of God they will trust him and do as he says.  For example, the nobleman of Capernaum had a son who was on the brink of death (John 4:46-53).  This man came to Cana and asked the Lord to come heal his son. Jesus told him, “Go your way; your son lives.” John recorded, “So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way” (John 4:50; NKJV). Upon returning home he learned his faith in Jesus was well founded (John 4:51-53).

The book of Acts often employs the word believe in its comprehensive sense. Let us consider a few examples.


1.) On the day of Pentecost certain devout Jews were pricked in their hearts when they learned they were guilty of crucifying God’s Son (Acts 2:36, 37).  As a result, they cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter then commanded them to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38).  Luke recorded “they that gladly received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41).  Just three verses later we read, “And all that believed were together, and had all things common” (Acts 2:44).  Those who believed refer to the souls who were saved (vs. 40) when they complied with the Lord’s commands which Peter had given them.


2.) The Lord adds saved souls to his church (Acts 2:47).  However, Acts 5:14 (NKJV) states “Believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” Believers are also described as those who were obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7).


3.) Acts 8:12, 13 (NKJV) reads, “But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.” Notice the Samaritans’ belief led them to be baptized.  This makes sense since Jesus taught baptism is necessary to obtain salvation (Mark 16:16).


4.) On Paul’s third preaching trip he encountered twelve men who had been baptized with John’s baptism (Acts 19:1-7).  Upon learning they were disciples he asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”  When they said, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit” he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized? Paul’s follow up question shows the natural connection between baptism and belief in the mind of an inspired apostle.

Sadly, there are many today who deny baptism’s intimate association with true belief.  They fail to accept the comprehensive meaning of this fundamental Biblical word.  Their concept of believing is similar to that of the demons about which James wrote (James 2:19ff). They know God exists but remove obedience from believing. Torment awaits those who disobey (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).




I gleaned several good ideas for this article from Wayne Jackson, The

Acts of the Apostles, 2nd ed. (Stockton, CA: Christian Courier Publications, 2005), 415-8.  See also Wayne Jackson, “Notes From the Margin of My Bible,” Christian Courier, Oct. 2006, 24. This column also deals with the use of ‘believe’ in Acts — in particular, with the case of Crispus (Acts 18:8; cf. I Corinthians 1:14).


Douglas Hoff, preacher

Flat Rock Church of Christ

(734) 782-2886 [

P.O. Box 12

Flat Rock, MI 48134-0012


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