John 3

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Verse 2: He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (NIV)

  • ”In the dark” is not just a physical thing but paints Nicodemus as a leader that is spiritually in the dark, something that is reinforced by the light and dark discussion in vs. 20/21.
  • Literally, Nicodemus came “to Jesus FROM the dark” which is a movement towards light, out of darkness, but that doesn’t last as he fades away from the story.


Verse 3: In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (NIV)

  • This is “amen” twice, which amplifies it and makes it much more emphatic. This double use is not used very often.
  • Jesus uses the same phrasing that Nicodemus had used, “if not” and “able”. Nicodemus makes the case that Jesus must be God because of what Jesus does. Jesus uses his same logic and same words to say that he can’t even see the kingdom of God unless he’s born again.
  • There are multiple possible meanings of “seeing” the kingdom. This could refer to the future and heaven, but since Jesus mimics Nicodemus’s words it is probably talking about seeing what God is doing right here on earth. Unless you are born again you can’t really even say what God is doing.
  • The “again” of “born again” comes from “anothen” and everywhere else in John is used to mean “from above” (Kittel 378) and so should probably be interpreted that way here too. The meaning is nearly the same, though, as this phrasing was used to avoid directly talking about God (Keener John 3:3) and so still indicates a new or change of birth.
  • The ”born” used here was used in the rabbinic writings to talk about conversion of someone to the faith, with a good disciple being like a son to the teacher (Kittel 666).
    • This is also has implications that the Jewish thought was that you weren’t even really alive until you come to the faith so whatever happened before didn’t really matter.
    • To be the child of someone is to follow them and be like them. If you are not following God you are not the child of God.
  • ”Born” is also not usually referring to the mother’s act but to the father’s (Liddell 162). The father’s role was the give the principle material but then it was the father’s role to shape that material into who the person would be.
  • This passage is the only one in John to use the “kingdom of God” language that is found so often in the other gospels.


Verse 4: “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” (NIV)

  • The language of new birth was common in the rabbi’s of the time, that shouldn’t have confused Nicodemus. What probably confused him is that he didn’t get how even Jews had to get a new birth to be with God.
  • There is a lot discussion about the use of “water” here. Some see it as Christian baptism and so is in parallel with “spirit”. An alternative reading is that is is being used to refute Nicodemus’s idea of birth alone and so is referring to physical birth and is in parallel with the flesh of the following birth. “Water” is a euphemism for semen at times and might be used as such here.


Verse 8: The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (NIV)

  • This is a confusing verse, but seems to be about how Christians are seen in the world at large, their effect is felt but not understood by those that see the children of the Spirit (Borchert 177).


Verse 16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (NRSV)

  • This verse begins with an adverb that is generally untranslated but means “in this way” (Liddell 580). This is how God loved the world. This isn’t about quantity of love, but about demonstration of love.
  • In Greek, placement in a sentence is fairly fluid, and what is up front in a clause gets priority. “he gave his only son” is literally “the son, the only son, he gave.” This is emphasizing the nature of this gift, the seriousness of it.
  • Literally, it doesn’t say “his” son, but “the” son. While the son is definitely God’s, this is treated more like a title than a relational term.
  • ”Only begotten/only son” is used in John only about Jesus. It is a term meaning “unique” and is used in other Greek literature to refer to the Phoenix or other one of a kind beings (Arndt 527).
  • ”Perish” is a translation of a subjunctive verb meaning “to destroy or kill” (Kitell Vol 1, 394). The subjunctive is the Greek mood of possibility and here indicates not a certainty of avoiding death, but the way is open. It becomes possibly to be saved.
  • ”Have life” is again a subjunctive dealing with the possibility to have eternal life. This shouldn’t be seen as saying that we have to earn salvation, just that there is action on our part, that this isn’t a forced or certain thing. It is a relationship of trust with Jesus.


Verse 17: Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (NRSV)

  • These are two contrasting purpose statements, with the purpose of condemning or saving.


Verse 18: Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (NRSV)

  • Just because Jesus did not come with the purpose of condemning anyone does not mean that no one will be condemned. The point is that everyone already was condemned without the Son.


Verse 19: And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. (NRSV)

  • Previous actions already condemned, this is not a new thing.


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