In this post I wish to make a simple point about John 14:12, a verse we have referred to often as foundational to our understanding of “spiritual gifts.” I want to focus on the phrase “whoever believes in me,” as this is key to understanding what Jesus was teaching here, as well as what John intended to convey in his gospel.
That phrase is far from unique, and in fact it fits into a major theme in that gospel. The exact same phrase, and variations of that phrase occur throughout the book, and an examination of these clearly demonstrate that what Jesus says here about doing the same works as He is applicable to all believers, not merely the eleven in the room with Him that evening, not merely the apostles and close associates, not merely Christians of the first century, not merely those living before the close of the Canon.
The verse is neither obscure nor insignificant, and even bears the attention-grabbing prefix: “Truly, truly, I say to you.”
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)
These works Jesus refers to include much, much more than “spiritual gifts”: prophecy, healing, and such, but these are certainly included. The works, Jesus states, back up His words and are with them a basis for faith (John 14:11). Thus confirmation of the message of salvation is not relegated to any purported category of “sign gifts,” but to His works in general, works that, according to our Lord, will be done by “whoever believes” in Him.
Let’s look at that phrase. In the Greek it is an articular infinitive:
ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ (ho pisteuōn eis eme) “the (one) believing in me”
A. πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ (pas ho pisteuōn eis eme) “all the (one) believing in me”
B. ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ (ho pisteuōn en auto) “the (one) believing in him”
C. πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ (pas ho pisteuōn en auto) “all the (one) believing in him”
D. ὁ πιστεύων εἰς τὸν υἱὸν (ho pisteuōn eis ton huion) “the (one) believing in the son”
E. ὁ πιστεύων (ho pisteuōn) “the (one) believing”
There are many other related expressions in this theme, but I list those with identical or near identical wording.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him [πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ (pas ho pisteuōn en auto)] may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him [πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ (pas ho pisteuōn en auto)] should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Whoever believes in him [ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ (ho pisteuōn en auto)] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)
Whoever believes in the Son [ὁ πιστεύων εἰς τὸν υἱὸν (ho pisteuōn eis ton huion)] has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me [ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ (ho pisteuōn eis eme)] shall never thirst. (John 6:35)
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes [ὁ πιστεύων (ho pisteuōn)] has eternal life. (John 6:47)
Whoever believes in me [ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ (ho pisteuōn eis eme)], as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me [ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ (ho pisteuōn eis eme)], though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me [ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ (ho pisteuōn eis eme)], believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (John 12:44-46)
It is sometimes said that even if we are not told that spiritual gifts will cease during the church age, we are not told they will continue either. It looks to me as if that is exactly what our Lord tells us in John 14:12.