3:1 Now a certain man, a Pharisee 1 named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council, 2 3:2 came to Jesus 3 at night 4 and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs 5 that you do unless God is with him.” 3:3 Jesus replied, 6 “I tell you the solemn truth, 7 unless a person is born from above, 8 he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 9 3:4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?” 10
3:5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, 11 unless a person is born of water and spirit, 12 he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 3:6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, 13 and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 3:7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must all 14 be born from above.’ 15 3:8 The wind 16 blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 17
3:9 Nicodemus replied, 18 “How can these things be?” 19 3:10 Jesus answered, 20 “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you don’t understand these things? 21 3:11 I tell you the solemn truth, 22 we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but 23 you people 24 do not accept our testimony. 25 3:12 If I have told you people 26 about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 27 3:13 No one 28 has ascended 29 into heaven except the one who descended from heaven – the Son of Man. 30 3:14 Just as 31 Moses lifted up the serpent 32 in the wilderness, 33 so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 34 3:15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” 35
2 tn Grk “a ruler of the Jews” (denoting a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest legal, legislative, and judicial body among the Jews).
3 tn Grk “him”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
4 tn Or “during the night.”
sn Possibly Nicodemus came…at night because he was afraid of public association with Jesus, or he wanted a lengthy discussion without interruptions; no explanation for the timing of the interview is given by the author. But the timing is significant for John in terms of the light-darkness motif – compare John 9:4, 11:10, 13:30 (especially), 19:39, and 21:3. Out of the darkness of his life and religiosity Nicodemus came to the Light of the world. The author probably had multiple meanings or associations in mind here, as is often the case.
5 sn The reference to signs (σημεῖα, shmeia) forms a link with John 2:23-25. Those people in Jerusalem believed in Jesus because of the signs he had performed. Nicodemus had apparently seen them too. But for Nicodemus all the signs meant is that Jesus was a great teacher sent from God. His approach to Jesus was well-intentioned but theologically inadequate; he had failed to grasp the messianic implications of the miraculous signs.
6 tn Grk “answered and said to him.”
7 tn Grk “Truly, truly, I say to you.”
8 tn The word ἄνωθεν (anwqen) has a double meaning, either “again” (in which case it is synonymous with παλίν [palin]) or “from above” (BDAG 92 s.v. ἄνωθεν). This is a favorite technique of the author of the Fourth Gospel, and it is lost in almost all translations at this point. John uses the word 5 times, in 3:3, 7; 3:31; 19:11 and 23. In the latter 3 cases the context makes clear that it means “from above.” Here (3:3, 7) it could mean either, but the primary meaning intended by Jesus is “from above.” Nicodemus apparently understood it the other way, which explains his reply, “How can a man be born when he is old? He can’t enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born, can he?” The author uses the technique of the “misunderstood question” often to bring out a particularly important point: Jesus says something which is misunderstood by the disciples or (as here) someone else, which then gives Jesus the opportunity to explain more fully and in more detail what he really meant.
sn Or born again. The Greek word ἄνωθεν (anwqen) can mean both “again” and “from above,” giving rise to Nicodemus’ misunderstanding about a second physical birth (v. 4).
9 sn What does Jesus’ statement about not being able to see the kingdom of God mean within the framework of John’s Gospel? John uses the word kingdom (βασιλεία, basileia) only 5 times (3:3, 5; 18:36 [3x]). Only here is it qualified with the phrase of God. The fact that John does not stress the concept of the kingdom of God does not mean it is absent from his theology, however. Remember the messianic implications found in John 2, both the wedding and miracle at Cana and the cleansing of the temple. For Nicodemus, the term must surely have brought to mind the messianic kingdom which Messiah was supposed to bring. But Nicodemus had missed precisely this point about who Jesus was. It was the Messiah himself with whom Nicodemus was speaking. Whatever Nicodemus understood, it is clear that the point is this: He misunderstood Jesus’ words. He over-literalized them, and thought Jesus was talking about repeated physical birth, when he was in fact referring to new spiritual birth.
10 tn The grammatical structure of the question in Greek presupposes a negative reply.
11 tn Grk “Truly, truly, I say to you.”
12 tn Or “born of water and wind” (the same Greek word, πνεύματος [pneumatos], may be translated either “spirit/Spirit” or “wind”).
sn Jesus’ somewhat enigmatic statement points to the necessity of being born “from above,” because water and wind/spirit/Spirit come from above. Isaiah 44:3-5 and Ezek 37:9-10 are pertinent examples of water and wind as life-giving symbols of the Spirit of God in his work among people. Both occur in contexts that deal with the future restoration of Israel as a nation prior to the establishment of the messianic kingdom. It is therefore particularly appropriate that Jesus should introduce them in a conversation about entering the kingdom of God. Note that the Greek word πνεύματος is anarthrous (has no article) in v. 5. This does not mean that spirit in the verse should be read as a direct reference to the Holy Spirit, but that both water and wind are figures (based on passages in the OT, which Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel should have known) that represent the regenerating work of the Spirit in the lives of men and women.
13 sn What is born of the flesh is flesh, i.e., what is born of physical heritage is physical. (It is interesting to compare this terminology with that of the dialogue in John 4, especially 4:23, 24.) For John the “flesh” (σάρξ, sarx) emphasizes merely the weakness and mortality of the creature – a neutral term, not necessarily sinful as in Paul. This is confirmed by the reference in John 1:14 to the Logos becoming “flesh.” The author avoids associating sinfulness with the incarnate Christ.
14 tn “All” has been supplied to indicate the plural pronoun in the Greek text.
16 tn The same Greek word, πνεύματος (pneumatos), may be translated “wind” or “spirit.”
17 sn Again, the physical illustrates the spiritual, although the force is heightened by the word-play here on wind-spirit (see the note on wind at the beginning of this verse). By the end of the verse, however, the final usage of πνεύματος (pneumatos) refers to the Holy Spirit.
18 tn Grk “Nicodemus answered and said to him.”
19 sn “How can these things be?” is Nicodemus’ answer. It is clear that at this time he has still not grasped what Jesus is saying. Note also that this is the last appearance of Nicodemus in the dialogue. Having served the purpose of the author, at this point he disappears from the scene. As a character in the narrative, he has served to illustrate the prevailing Jewish misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching about the necessity of a new, spiritual birth from above. Whatever parting words Nicodemus might have had with Jesus, the author does not record them.
20 tn Grk “Jesus answered and said to him.”
21 sn Jesus’ question “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you don’t understand these things?” implies that Nicodemus had enough information at his disposal from the OT scriptures to have understood Jesus’ statements about the necessity of being born from above by the regenerating work of the Spirit. Isa 44:3-5 and Ezek 37:9-10 are passages Nicodemus might have known which would have given him insight into Jesus’ words. Another significant passage which contains many of these concepts is Prov 30:4-5.
22 tn Grk “Truly, truly, I say to you.”
23 tn Here καί (kai) has been translated as “but” to show the contrast present in the context.
24 tn The word “people” is not in the Greek text, but is supplied in the translation to indicate that the verb is second person plural (referring to more than Nicodemus alone).
25 sn Note the remarkable similarity of Jesus’ testimony to the later testimony of the Apostle John himself in 1 John 1:2: “And we have seen and testify and report to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was revealed to us.” This is only one example of how thoroughly the author’s own thoughts were saturated with the words of Jesus (and also how difficult it is to distinguish the words of Jesus from the words of the author in the Fourth Gospel).
26 tn The word “people” is not in the Greek text, but is supplied to indicate that the verb is second person plural (referring to more than Nicodemus alone).
27 sn Obviously earthly things and heavenly things are in contrast, but what is the contrast? What are earthly things which Jesus has just spoken to Nicodemus? And through him to others – this is not the first instance of the plural pronoun, see v. 7, you must all. Since Nicodemus began with a plural (we know, v. 2) Jesus continues it, and through Nicodemus addresses a broader audience. It makes most sense to take this as a reference to the things Jesus has just said (and the things he is about to say, vv. 13-15). If this is the case (and it seems the most natural explanation) then earthly things are not necessarily strictly physical things, but are so called because they take place on earth, in contrast to things like v. 16, which take place in heaven. Some have added the suggestion that the things are called earthly because physical analogies (birth, wind, water) are used to describe them. This is possible, but it seems more probable that Jesus calls these things earthly because they happen on earth (even though they are spiritual things). In the context, taking earthly things as referring to the words Jesus has just spoken fits with the fact that Nicodemus did not believe. And he would not after hearing heavenly things either, unless he first believed in the earthly things – which included the necessity of a regenerating work from above, by the Holy Spirit.
28 tn Grk “And no one.”
29 sn The verb ascended is a perfect tense in Greek (ἀναβέβηκεν, anabebhken) which seems to look at a past, completed event. (This is not as much of a problem for those who take Jesus’ words to end at v. 12, and these words to be a comment by the author, looking back on Jesus’ ascension.) As a saying of Jesus, these words are a bit harder to explain. Note, however, the lexical similarities with 1:51: “ascending,” “descending,” and “son of man.” Here, though, the ascent and descent is accomplished by the Son himself, not the angels as in 1:51. There is no need to limit this saying to Jesus’ ascent following the resurrection, however; the point of the Jacob story (Gen 28), which seems to be the background for 1:51, is the freedom of communication and relationship between God and men (a major theme of John’s Gospel). This communication comes through the angels in Gen 28 (and John 1:51); but here (most appropriately) it comes directly through the Son of Man. Although Jesus could be referring to a prior ascent, after an appearance as the preincarnate Son of Man, more likely he is simply pointing out that no one from earth has ever gone up to heaven and come down again. The Son, who has come down from heaven, is the only one who has been ‘up’ there. In both Jewish intertestamental literature and later rabbinic accounts, Moses is portrayed as ascending to heaven to receive the Torah and descending to distribute it to men (e.g., Targum Ps 68:19.) In contrast to these Jewish legends, the Son is the only one who has ever made the ascent and descent.
30 tc Most witnesses, including a few important ones (A[*] Θ Ψ 050 Ë1,13 Ï latt syc,p,h), have at the end of this verse “the one who is in heaven” (ὁ ὢν ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, Jo wn en tw ouranw). A few others have variations on this phrase, such as “who was in heaven” (e syc), or “the one who is from heaven” (0141 pc sys). The witnesses normally considered the best, along with several others, lack the phrase in its entirety (Ì66,75 א B L T Ws 083 086 33 1241 pc co). On the one hand, if the reading ὁ ὢν ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ is authentic it may suggest that while Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus he spoke of himself as in heaven even while he was on earth. If that is the case, one could see why variations from this hard saying arose: “who was in heaven,” “the one who is from heaven,” and omission of the clause. At the same time, such a saying could be interpreted (though with difficulty) as part of the narrator’s comments rather than Jesus’ statement to Nicodemus, alleviating the problem. And if v. 13 was viewed in early times as the evangelist’s statement, “the one who is in heaven” could have crept into the text through a marginal note. Other internal evidence suggests that this saying may be authentic. The adjectival participle, ὁ ὤν, is used in the Fourth Gospel more than any other NT book (though the Apocalypse comes in a close second), and frequently with reference to Jesus (1:18; 6:46; 8:47). It may be looking back to the LXX of Exod 3:14 (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν). Especially since this exact construction is not necessary to communicate the location of the Son of Man, its presence in many witnesses here may suggest authenticity. Further, John uses the singular of οὐρανός (ourano", “heaven”) in all 18 instances of the word in this Gospel, and all but twice with the article (only 1:32 and 6:58 are anarthrous, and even in the latter there is significant testimony to the article). At the same time, the witnesses that lack this clause are very weighty and must not be discounted. Generally speaking, if other factors are equal, the reading of such
sn See the note on the title Son of Man in 1:51.
31 tn Grk “And just as.”
34 sn So must the Son of Man be lifted up. This is ultimately a prediction of Jesus’ crucifixion. Nicodemus could not have understood this, but John’s readers, the audience to whom the Gospel is addressed, certainly could have (compare the wording of John 12:32). In John, being lifted up refers to one continuous action of ascent, beginning with the cross but ending at the right hand of the Father. Step 1 is Jesus’ death; step 2 is his resurrection; and step 3 is the ascension back to heaven. It is the upward swing of the “pendulum” which began with the incarnation, the descent of the Word become flesh from heaven to earth (cf. Paul in Phil 2:5-11). See also the note on the title Son of Man in 1:51.
sn Some interpreters extend the quotation of Jesus’ words through v. 21.