John Brown on “Believing” vs “Believing in”

John Brown was a 19th century Scottish minister (grandson of John Brown of Haddington). Spurgeon said in his Commenting and Commentaries, ‘Brown is a modern Puritan of the utmost value.’ In his commentary on Galatians, Brown discusses the nature of saving faith in a very interesting footnote. He argues that the distinction between “believing” and “believing in” has no place in the original Hebrew. He mentions a longer work he wrote on the subject, but I can’t find any trace of it online. The following is from Gal 3:6.


“Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” These verses may either be considered as forming one sentence or two separate ones. In the first case, the construction is, ‘Since Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness, ye see that they who are of faith are the children of Abraham.’ In the second case, the 6th verse must be considered as elliptical, and the ellipsis must be thus filled up, ‘Your receiving tokens of the Divine favour in consequence of your faith, and not of your obedience to the law, is no departure from God’s ordinary mode of procedure. It was so from the beginning. The scripture account of Abraham’s justification exactly corres- ponds with your experience. “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”‘

This is a quotation from Genesis xv. 6, — “And he believed in the Lord; and he accounted it to him for righteousness.” The phrases, “Abraham believed God,” and “Abraham believed in God,” are precisely synonymous, the latter being merely a Hebraism.*5 The common doctrine on this subject — that they express different ideas, the former simple belief, the latter belief and such emotions as accompany or rise out of it — seems to have originated with Augustine, who certainly was not overburdened with Hebrew or Greek learning. The declaration, “Abraham believed God,” is just equivalent to, * Abraham counted true what God said to him, because God said it.”*1

*5 Drusius has set this in a rery satisfactory point of view: “Non assentior iis qui Tolimt alind esse Deo credere et in Deum, vel ob hoc qnod Kbriei, quorum phrasis est, que alias migrat leges Latini sermonis hoc discrimen non agnoscunt : dicunt enim credere Deo et in Deum indifferenter et pro eodem. lUud quoque ranum est, quod tamen primi nomints Tbeologi annotarunt, non recte did credo in hominiXma pro iUo credo homtnUnu. Etenim sacra scripta frequenter ita loquuntur, ut Exod. xir. 31, ‘ Credi- derunt in Deum et in Mosen servum ejus;’ et Job. xv. 15, ‘ Ecce in sanctos Buos non credet;’ et 1 Sam. xxvii. 12, * Et credidit Aclus in David;’ et 2 Par. XX. 20, < Credite in prophetas et feliciter agite/ In quatuor lods in quibtts utuntur pnepositione cum tamen sermo sit de hominibus. His addi poterit ex Jer. xii. 6. Nolo credere in eos et quod in translatione Greca, Micha vii. 6, * Nolite credere amids’— cV 0iXoir. Ac ne illud quidem verum est, aliud esse credere verfna Domini et in verba Dominiy cum certiun sit Davidem hiec duo non distinguere. Nam Psalmo cvi. quod prius dixerat crediderunt in verba ipsius, paulo post addit crediderunt verbis ipsiuSf ver. 12, 24. Quid autem credere in ecelesiam, idemne est quod credere eccletiamf Non quidem idem est, sed in idem recidit ; vel potius idem est. Nam Ebnei ssepius ita loquuntur, Gned etiam. Dicunt enim credere in vitam etemanh credere in reeurrectione mortiwrum, pro illis credere vitam etemam^ credere resurrecHonem mortuorum. Hsec linguee Hebnucs? intelligentibus et re non nomine theologis probari capio : cieteri sive probant sive improbant ov f^poyns ‘ifnroKkfidrf.” — Drusii Observatt. Sacc. lib. iii. cap. i.

*1 Joan xiv. 1. — ” Si creditis in eum, creditis ei: non autem continuo qui credit ei, credit in eum, nam et dsemones credebant ei, et non credebant in eum. Rursus etiam in apostolis ipsis possumus dicere : Gredimus Paulo et non credimus in Paulum; credimus Petro, sed non credimus in Petmm. Quid est ergo credere in eum ? Gredendo amare, credendo diligere, credendo in eum ire et ejus membris incorporari.” — AUGUSTIN [“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” John 6:29 “That ye believe in Him,” not, that you believe Him. But if you believe on Him, you believe Him; yet he that believes Him does not necessarily believe on Him. For even the devils believed Him, but they did not believe in Him. Again, moreover, of His apostles we can say, we believe Paul; but not, we believe in Paul: we believe Peter; but not, we believe in Peter. For, “to him that believes in Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted unto him for righteousness.” Romans 4:5 What then is “to believe in Him”? By believing to love Him, by believing to esteem highly, by believing to go into Him and to be incorporated in His members. SOURCE – see additional 1659 comments here, from which Brown may have been drawing.]
“It is probable that somewhat of the obscurity which has attached to faith, or belief, has taken its rise from introducing in the translation of the Scriptures a Hebrew idiom, foreign to the language in which the translation has been made. Many active verbs in Hebrew take a preposition before their object, while the corresponding verbs in Latin and English admit of no preposition. Take the following examples : — Gen. xxxii. 1; Isa. xl. 12; l. 10; Jer. xi. 4-7; vi. 30; iii. 16; viii. 5. A similar regimen is used with the Hebrew verb translated to believe which is often construed with the preposition signifying in before its object, whether that object be a divine person, a human person, or words spoken by any person. — Gen. xv. 6 ; Deut. i. 32 ; Exod. xix. 9; Psal. cvi. 12; 2 Chron. xx. 20. Our English translators, following the Hebrew idiom, as the LXX and the inspired writers of the New Testament had done in some instances, wrote ‘to believe on’ or ‘to believe in,’ when applied to any of the persons of the Holy Trinity, but dropped the preposition in all other cases. The use of this construction, foreign to the English as well as to the [Greek and] Latin idiom, might naturally give rise to an opinion, that such an unusual expression must have been intended to convey a sense different from the simple meaning of the word believe when used without a preposition.”
The foregoing quotations, especially the last, may serve to show that such a distinction is not authorised by the original Scriptures, and that the translators used a freedom hardly consistent with fidelity, if they intentionally retained the Hebrew preposition in their translation of some passages, while they dropped it in others.” — This note is attached to an excellent essay on “Faith,” in the “Religious Monitor” for Jan. 1808, and in the “Missionary Magazine” for March of the same year, with the signature A. S. D.; the initials, as I have learned on undoubted authority, of Dr Alexander Stewart, then of Dingwall, formerly of Moulin, and afterwards of the Canongate, Edinburgh. So highly do I value these remarks, that some years ago I reprinted them with a few observations on Christian hope, under the title of “Hints on Christian Faith and Hope.”
“The Scripture notion of faith agrees with the common notion of faith and belief among men — a persuasion of a thing upon testimony; but that faith whereby we believe the gospel has been very much darkened by the many things that have been said in the description of it, while that which is most properly faith has been either shut up in a dark comer of the description, or almost excluded from it as a thing presupposed to £uth, and not that very faith itself whereby we are justified and saved; and some have so defined faith as to take into its own nature the whole of gospel obedience.” – JOHN GLAS, Test. of the King of Martyrs, p. 209.

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