Believe on the Lord Jesus

After Monday’s rant re: my general ennui toward the texts assigned for The Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C, it was bad form to not post yesterday, I apologize.  It really had nothing to do with the lessons for this week.  Instead, my internet provider, CenturyLink (ugh, DSL) had a nationwide outage yesterday.  Essentially, when I had time to write, I didn’t have internet access and when I had internet access, I didn’t have time to write.  So, sorry lessons for Sunday, it wasn’t about you.

In fact, I’ve been pondering for two days now about the peculiar phrase used by Paul and Silas in response to the question of the Jailer, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Tomorrow, hopefully, we can deal with that word)  The response has a very “Authorized Version” feel to it, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  The modern ear is used to hearing about people believing in things.  We believe in aliens, ghosts, our team’s ability to win, and our politicians having our best interest in mind.  (Maybe not that last part)  We aren’t as used to hearing about people believing on things.  Part of me wonders if this is a semantic difference, like those people who (rightly) wait in line, rather than those who (absurdly) wait on line.  A quick search through BibleWorks, however, has me wondering if there is something more to this.

The Greek phrase translated as “believe on the Lord Jesus” is used in the Acts lesson from two weeks ago.  Peter, in recalling the conversion of Cornelius, tells the council, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in [on] the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”  Elsewhere in Acts, others do believe “on” (epi) Jesus.  Only once that I found, does the language believe in (eis) occur (10:43).  So, what’s the deal?

Partly, I think it is because belief in the ancient near East wasn’t about intellectual assent: i.e. believing in aliens.  Instead, believe was entering into a relationship by placing one’s trust in another.  So when people believe on Jesus, the lay their trust upon him, they hand over their burdens to him, they are empowered by him.  We’ve lost that sense in the four hundred looooong years since the Enlightenment.  Maybe this Sunday’s Acts lesson is a chance to begin teaching our congregations how to get that old fashioned religion by “believing on Jesus.”

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