Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 20 May 2014; Revised 1 April 2019
Scripture Text: The Scripture text of John used in this commentary is prepared by Blaine Robison and based on the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Jewish character of the author and writing. See my web article The Jewish New Testament.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Torah (Law), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ). I use the title "The Testimony of John" because that is how John describes his book (John 21:24). See the article Witnesses of the Good News for background information on this book.
Methodology: For an explanation of abbreviations, acronyms, terminology, spelling conventions, and other information on organization of the commentary see my Commentary Writing Philosophy.
Primary Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of the chapter commentary. Unless otherwise indicated the following primary sources are used:
• Different Bible versions may be cited for Scripture quotations. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Messianic Jewish versions are CJB, DHE, GNC, HNV, MW, OJB, & TLV.
• The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use among Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here.
• Citations for Josephus, the first century Jewish historian (Yosef ben Matityahu), are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75-99 A.D.) trans. William Whiston (1737). Online.
• The meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). See the Greek Guide for the meaning of grammar abbreviations. Definitions of Hebrew words are from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), given as "BDB." The numbering system of the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible is identified with "SH" (Strong's Hebrew number) and "SG" (Strong's Greek number). Strong's Online.
• Dates are from Risto Santala, The Messiah in the New Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings (1992). Online.
Meeting with Nicodemus, 3:1-15
Midrash of John the Apostle: Love and Light, 3:16-21
Immersing Ministry in Judea, 3:22-24
The Last Testimony of Yochanan the Immerser, 3:25-30
Midrash of John the Apostle, Messenger of Life, 3:31-36
Spring, A.D. 27
Meeting with Nicodemus, 3:1-15
Now: Grk. de, conj., used to indicate (1) a contrast to a preceding statement or thought, "but;" (2) a transition in presentation of subject matter, "now, then;" or (3) a connecting particle to continue a thought, "and, also" (BAG). Here the second usage applies. there was: Grk. eimi, impf., a function word used in a wide variety of grammatical constructions, primarily to declare a state of existence, whether in the past ('was, were'), present ('are, is') or future ('will be'), often to unite a subject and predicate. The verb may also denote (1) temporal existence; live; (2) a sojourn; stay, reside; (3) phenomena, events; take place, occur; and (4) time references (BAG). The imperfect tense is used of continuous or repeated action in past time.
a man: Grk. anthrōpos, human being, man, here used of an adult male. In the LXX anthrōpos renders three Hebrew words: (1) adam, SH-444, used for a human male or generically for man and woman and as a contrast to animals (e.g., Gen 1:26, 27; 2:5; 1Sam 15:29); (2) ish, SH-376, adult male or husband (Gen 2:23, 24; Job 1:1) and (3) enosh, SH-582, man or mankind, often signifying the aspect of weakness and mortality (Job 5:17; Ps 8:4-5) (DNTT 2:564). John introduces in this narrative an ordinary man which sets up a contrast to an extraordinary man.
of the Pharisees: pl. of Grk. Pharisaios, a transliteration of the Heb. P'rushim, meaning "separatists." While the book of John generally uses the term "Pharisee" (and only in the plural) as a faction of the Sanhedrin, here the term pertains to the religious party. The name was born of the fact that they separated themselves from the common people for religious devotion. The Pharisees traced their roots to the Hasidim ("pious ones") organized in the time of Ezra, but are known as an organized group from the 2nd c. BC (Jeremias 247). The first mention of the group is in the books of Maccabees where they are described as "a company of Hasideans, mighty warriors of Israel, every one who offered himself willingly for the law" (1Macc 2:42; cf. 1Macc 7:13; 2Macc 14:6).
There were several Pharisaic communities in Jerusalem (Jeremias 252), and a large number of priests, including those among the higher ranks of priests, were Pharisees (Jeremias, fn31, 230; 256f). In addition, Pharisee leaders, such as Hillel and Shammai, had disciples throughout Israel and the Diaspora. There were many aspects of Phariseeism with which Yeshua would have agreed. They believed in resurrection and the importance of a holy life, and they regarded Greek ideas as abominations. In contrast to the Sadducees the Pharisees accepted the traditions of the Sages as having equal authority as the written Torah, sometimes even greater than the written Torah.
The Pharisees were one of several religious parties among Jews in the first century, yet they wielded considerable power, especially as a faction of the Sanhedrin. Yeshua enjoined his disciples to respect their authority (Matt 23:2-3). Learning of the Torah in the synagogues was also supervised by Pharisees, and even though the temple was under the control of Sadducean priests, the Divine worship, prayers, sacrifices, and various festival customs were performed according to the direction of the Pharisees due to their popularity with the people (Ant. XIII, 10:6; XVIII, 1:3-4). For more information on the Pharisees see my comment on John 1:24.
his name: Grk. onoma in its central sense is used to identify someone. In Hebrew literature it also carries the extended sense of qualities, powers, attributes or reputation. Nicodemus: Grk. Nikodēmos, a transliteration of the Heb. Naqdimon ("innocent of blood"). Stern comments that Nicodemus is not mentioned in traditional Jewish literature. Yet, some have identified him with Naqdimon ben-Gurion, mentioned in the Talmud as one of the three wealthiest men in Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple (Gittin 56a) and a holy man reputed to have miraculous powers (Ta'anith 19b, 20a) (Lightfoot 3:262).
The Talmud says that Naqdimon's name was actually Boni, but acquired the name Naqdimon (from the Heb. verb nikdera, to open) because God opened storm clouds to reveal the sun upon his intercession. Ta'anith presents Nakdimon ben Gurion as a most respected member of the peace party during the revolution in the reign of Vespasian and opposed to the Zealots. According to Sanhedrin 43a Nicodemus, identified as Buni, was a disciple of Yeshua. The Gospel of Nicodemus and other apocryphal works narrate that Nicodemus gave evidence in favor of Yeshua at the trial before Pilate, that he was deprived of office and banished from Jerusalem by the hostile members of the Sanhedrin, and that he was immersed by Peter and John. His remains were said to have been found in a common grave along with those of Gamaliel and Stephen (C.M. Kerr, ISBE).
a ruler: Grk. archōn, one who has eminence in a ruling capacity or one who has administrative authority, including appointees in a government office and national rulers (Matt 20:25; Acts 16:19). The term is used of synagogue officials (Matt 9:18; Luke 8:41; Acts 14:5), religious party leaders (Luke 14:1), and members of the Sanhedrin (Luke 18:18; 23:13, 35; 24:20; John 3:1; 7:26; Acts 3:17; 4:5, 8; 13:27; 23:5; 1Cor 2:8). In the book of John the Pharisees generally represent a faction of the Sanhedrin, whose membership included the chief priests, elders and scribes. Pharisees could be among either the elders or scribes.
Some scribes belonged to the party of the Pharisees (Matt 22:34-35; Mark 2:16). Some passages pair the Pharisees with the scribes, implying the Pharisees were elders (e.g., Matt 15:1). Yeshua described the scribes and Pharisees as having "seated themselves in the chair of Moses" (Matt 23:2), probably an allusion to the Sanhedrin who sat on chairs. Pharisees and scribes are often identified as acting together to oppose Yeshua's teaching and ministry (e.g. Mark 7:5; Luke 5:21; 11:53; 15:2; John 8:3). In other passages Pharisees are paired with the chief priests in which they are seen acting in concert (Matt 21:45; 27:62; John 7:32, 45; 11:47, 57; 18:3).
of the Judeans: pl. of Grk. Ioudaios, Judean, Jew, Jewish or Jewess (BAG), although the term in biblical contexts does not mean the opposite of "Christian" as in common use today. The noun, occurring 194 times in the Besekh and 66 times in the book of John, is used to identify biological descendants of Jacob and adherents of the Judean religion. For more discussion on the background of Ioudaios and John's usage of it see my comment on John 1:19. Stern in his Complete Jewish Bible translates the phrase as "a ruler of the Judeans." Of other Messianic Jewish versions the HNV has "a ruler of the Judeans," the MW has "a ruler of the Jews," the OJB has "a katzin of the Yehudim," and the TLV has "a ruler of the Jewish people."
Some Christian versions employ Ioudaioi as a singular adjective with "Jewish leader" or words to that effect (CEB, CEV, ERV, EXB, GNC, NCV, NIRV, NLT, TEV, TLB), The GW, NET, NOG and NIV have "member of the Jewish ruling council." For translation purposes it's important to remember that "Ioudaioi" is a genitive case noun, not an adjective, and the root meaning of the genitive case is attribution (DM 74). This attribution may be one of three types. First, "ruler of the Judeans" has as its distinguishing attribute the relationship of "ruler" to "Judeans," i.e., those who adhere to the Judean religion regulated by the Sanhedrin.
Second, the "ruler of the Jews" would have has as the attribute of "ruler" being Judean. In other words, the Council only accepted members who agreed to their religious values and traditions. They did not have to live in Judea, such as Joseph who lived in Arimathea (Luke 23:53), which was located in southwestern corner of Samaria. Third, "ruler of the Judeans" emphasizes that the locus of the Sanhedrin's power was in Judea, although they would claim authority over the Judean religion wherever it was practiced. Important to note is that John is not making a negative evaluation here, but a simple statement of fact. (See my web article Jewish Jurisprudence.)
2 this man came to him by night, and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you have come from God, a teacher; for no one can do these signs that you do, except God be with him."
this man: Grk. houtos, masc. demonstrative pronoun, lit. "this one." came: Grk. erchomai, aor., to come or arrive with focus on a position from which action or movement takes place or to go with the focus on the goal for movement. The narrative makes no mention of where Yeshua was staying but he would have been a guest in someone's home. During the Passover week every home in Jerusalem with space available would provide lodging to pilgrims. to him by night: Grk. nux, night as a chronological period, sunset to sunrise. The fact that Nicodemus came at night means nothing of itself. It may simply reflect the best time for both men to meet after the work and activity of the day. Festival meals could run quite late. Simon Peter fished at night (Luke 5:5; John 21:3), Yeshua walked on the water at night (Matt 14:25) and Paul taught a group of people at night (Acts 20:7).
and said: Grk. legō, aor., to make a statement or utterance, whether oral or in written form. In the LXX legō renders Heb. amar (SH-559), to utter, say, shew, command or think. The Greek verb "say" functions as quotation marks for the text following since ancient writings did not contain punctuation. Rabbi: Grk. Rhabbi, voc. case, which transliterates the Hebrew rabbi ("rah-bee", lit. "my lord, my master”), derived from Heb. rab (SH-7227, "great, lord, master") (BAG). Rhabbi or the Hebrew Rabbi does not occur in the Tanakh, LXX, or DSS. Rhabbi is found 15 times in the Besekh, all in the apostolic narratives (eight of which are in John). A derivative form rhabbouni occurs twice (Mark 10:51; John 20:16). On most occasions the title is used to address Yeshua by a present or future disciple.
In the first century Rhabbi was a title of respect used for Torah scholars by everyone, even those of the same or higher rank (Stern 68). The title did not become associated with the congregational leader of a local synagogue until Medieval times ("Rabbi," JVL). Notable rabbis had pupils or disciples who studied their expositions and were duty bound to obey their instructions. For more background information on Rhabbi see the note on John 1:38. Yeshua, of course, never sought such formal recognition, but like other rabbis of his time Yeshua gathered and taught disciples, expecting them to change and conform to his will. Unlike other rabbis Yeshua taught as one possessing independent authority (Matt 7:29; Mark 1:22). He did not need to speak in the name of one of the Sages or one of the two prominent authorities of the day, Hillel and Shammai. Yeshua never appealed to any other authority other than his Father or the Scriptures.
we know: Grk. oida, perf. (the perf. tense of Grk. eidon, to see), to have seen or perceived, hence to know (NASBEC). The verb is used for various kinds of knowledge: (1) to know someone or about someone; (2) to be intimately acquainted with or stand in a close relation to someone; (3) to know or understand how to do something, be able; (4) understand, recognize, or come to know by experience; and (5) to remember (BAG). In the LXX oida occurs frequently to render Heb. yada (SH-3045; e.g., Num 11:16; Deut 1:39; Josh 2:4; 2Sam 19:6), which has a wide range of meaning, but in most occasions refers to a personal knowledge, whether of knowing persons or knowing by experience, as well as knowing by learning (DNTT 2:395). To the Hebrew mind "knowing" is not philosophical or theoretical, but based in reality. The first person plural verb may allude to other Pharisees or members of the Sanhedrin, especially those who witnessed Yeshua's actions in the temple.
that you have come: Grk. erchomai, perf. from God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. In secular Greek writings a number of deities, always represented in anthropomorphic form, were called theos. In ancient polytheistic culture theos was not one omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and ruler of the universe and certainly not spirit as described in Scripture (John 4:24). In the LXX theos renders the generic designations of God, El (which occurs over 200 times, including combinations such as El Bethel, El Elyon, and El Shaddai) and Elohim (which occurs over 2300 times), as well as the tetragrammaton YHVH, over 300 times (DNTT 2:67-70). As with many other Greek words the LXX infused new meaning into theos.
The only God in existence is the God who chose Israel out of all the nations on the earth (Isa 44:6; 45:5-6, 14, 18, 21; 46:9), making Him the "God of Israel" an expression that occurs 199 times in the Tanakh and two times in the Besekh (Matt 15:31; Luke 1:68). All the other deities worshipped by religions in the world are the product of Satan-inspired imagination. Parallel to this formula is "God of Jacob,” which appears 21 times in Scripture, 13 of which include the longer formula, "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." Every nation had their deity, but only to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and then Moses did the true God reveal His name, His character and His commandments. This God may be the God of the Gentiles (Rom 3:29), but only if they accept the revelation that He is the God of Israel and join themselves to Israel. Only the God of Israel saves (Jer 16:19-20).
a teacher: Grk. didaskalos, teacher or instructor who regularly engaged in the imparting of knowledge or skills, a vocation of special status among the Israelites. In the LXX didaskalos only occurs in 2 Maccabees 1:10 to denote Aristobulus, the head of the Egyptian Jewish community, who, having dedicated an exposition of the Pentateuch to King Ptolemy Philometor, is called a teacher clearly for this reason. However, the participle form of the verb didaskō, "one teaching," is used to render the participle form of three Hebrew verbs: (1) maskil, part. of sakal, give insight, teach (SH-7919; Job 22:2); (2) hamlammed, part. of lamad, instruct, teach (SH-3925; Ps 119:99); and (3) moreh, part. of yarah, to throw or shoot and thus "one who throws out," "points out," or "instructs," (SH-3384; Prov 5:13; Isa 9:15).
In Greek education teaching was concerned with imparting knowledge or technical skills. Philo, the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher (25 BC - AD 50), employs this meaning when he uses the term "teacher" to refer to both Moses (On Giants 54) and God (Who is the Heir of Divine Things? 102). In both cases Philo regards a teacher as one who imparts knowledge, not as one who lays ethical demands before others. Hebrew education in the Tanakh, however, is more concerned with obedience than imparting information. The situation is different in the Qumran texts where moreh occurs more frequently, often with a qualifying phrase like "the righteous one," probably in reference to the founder of the sect (DNTT 3:767).
Elsewhere didaskalos is used interchangeably with rhabbi as here (Matt 23:8; John 1:38). Since the conversation with Nicodemus would have been in Hebrew, then the actual form of address should be considered. When people other than Yeshua's disciples addressed him as didaskalos (as given in the Greek text, e.g., Matt 8:19; 12:38; 19:16; 22:16; 22:24, 36; Mark 4:38; 9:17; 10:35; John 8:4), they most likely said moreh or possibly rabbi.
for no one can: Grk. dunamai, pres. mid., to be capable for doing or achieving something as qualified in the context. John employs this verb more than any other book in the Besekh, particularly as a way to reflect on what is and is not possible (Morris 215). do: Grk. poieō, pres. inf., a verb of physical action that may refer to (1) producing something material; make, construct, produce, create; or (2) to be active in bringing about a state of condition, such as carrying out an obligation or responsibility; do, act, perform, work. these: pl. of Grk. toũto, neut. demonstrative pronoun, this, it. signs: pl. of Grk. sēmeion may mean (1) a sign (signal); (2) a token; (3) a proof; (4) an extraordinary phenomenon; (5) a portent; or (6) a miracle (Mounce). Yeshua's adversaries often demanded a "sign" that would attest his authority (Matt 12:38; John 2:18). In the book of John the signs Yeshua performed reveal his identity as Son of God (John 2:11; 6:14; 20:30f).
In the LXX sēmeion is predominately a translation of the Heb. word oth (SH-226) and like it means (a) sign, mark, token; (b) miraculous sign or miracle (DNTT 2:626). Signs are sometimes promised by prophets as pledges of certain predicted events or as pledges or attestations of divine presence and intervention in the affairs of men. Oth has its root in the verb avah, which means to sign, mark or describe with a mark (BDB 16). The term "sign” in Scripture has a variety of important uses in the Tanakh. The first usage is in Genesis 1:14 in which the stars would serve as signs that speak for God or even as portents of events on earth (cf. Ps 19:1f; Jer 10:2). "Sign” also referred to a visible manifestation of God’s grace and favor, as the rainbow, circumcision and the Sabbath are covenantal signs (Gen 9:12f, 17; 17:11; Ex 31:13, 17; Ezek 20:12).
Most of the usages of "sign” in the Tanakh are related to miraculous wonders that only the Creator could perform, such as the plagues on Egypt and the Red Sea crossing (Ex 4:17; 7:3; Deut 11:3; 26:8), the many miracles for Israel's benefit during the years of wilderness wandering (Deut 4:34; 7:19) and the shadow’s advance on the palace steps (2Kgs 20:9). Sometimes the miraculous sign was a token that would serve as a warning or reminder, such as Aaron’s rod (Num 17:25) and the stones in the Jordan (Josh 4:6). These meanings frequently overlap and the use of the word "sign” may point backward to a historical event or even forward to the fulfillment of a promise.
that you do: Grk. poieō, pres. except: Grk. ean mē, lit. "if not." God: Grk. theos. be: Grk. eimi, pres. subj. See the previous verse. with: Grk. meta, prep., used to mean either (1) an association, accompaniment or some other linkage; with, amid, among; or (2) a sequential or positional marker; after, behind. The first usage applies here. him: Grk. autos, personal pronoun used in a generic sense. It's not clear what "signs" Nicodemus is talking about. Perhaps word of the miracle at Cana had been reported in Jerusalem. Perhaps he alluded to the actions of Yeshua in the temple, which portended fulfillment of two important prophecies concerning the last days (Zech 14:21; Mal 3:1). In any event, no voice from God had been heard since the time of Malachi (some 400 years), so leaders naturally took note when Yochanan the Immerser and Yeshua had appeared speaking God's word and acting with authority.
Yeshua: Grk. Iēsous, a transliteration of the Hebrew name Yeshua ("Jesus" in Christian Bibles). Yeshua is a contraction of the Hebrew name Y’hoshua ("Joshua"), which means "YHVH [the LORD] is salvation" (BDB 221). The meaning of his name is explained to Joseph by an angel of the Lord, "You shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matt 1:21). The English rendering of "Jesus" originated with the Mace New Testament in 1729. By virtue of His incarnation and Jewish mother, Yeshua must still be a Jew. For more information on the meaning our Lord's name, his identity, and the history of translation of the name see my web article Who is Yeshua?
answered: Grk. apokrinomai, aor. pass. ind., to answer or reply to someone, whether to a question, request, exhortation, command, etc. (BAG). In the LXX apokrinomai renders Heb. anah (SH-6030), to answer or respond to something said in conversation; to respond to an occasion and speak in view of circumstances or to testify or respond as a witness in a legal proceeding (BDB 772). John likely uses the verb in the Hebraic sense of advancing the narrative. and said: Grk. legō, aor. See the previous verse. The combination of the verbs "answered and said," occurring frequently in the narratives, is a typical Hebraic way of advancing the narrative of dialog (e.g., Gen 27:39; 40:18; Josh 24:16; Jdg 20:4; 1Sam 1:17). The verb "answered" emphasizes that a verbal response was made and "said" introduces the quotation.
Truly: Grk. amēn ("ah–mayn") reflects a strong affirmation, meaning "so let it be" or "truly." In the LXX amēn transliterates the Heb. ’amen (ah–mayn, SH–543), which means "it is true, so be it, or may it become true." The Heb. root aman means "to confirm or support." The word amēn reflects an Hebraic conviction that God’s words were to be reverently received. In typical Jewish usage the singular amēn points to something previously said (Stern 26). For example, in the Torah people responded with "amen" for each of the curses as they were pronounced (Deut 27:15 +11t) and on other occasions "amen" was a congregational response to a public blessing of God (1Chr 16:36; Neh 5:13; Ps 106:48). In the Synoptic narratives amēn occurs 57 times in declarative statements of Yeshua, of which 34 are unique.
According to standard versions amēn is used to introduce axiomatic statements in Kingdom instruction, parables and prophecies. Stern contends, though, that many of those occurrences follow Jewish practice and rather than introducing statements the "amen" actually affirms the sentence spoken immediately before. (Examine the context of Matt 5:18, 26; 6:2, 5, 16; 10:15, 42; 13:17; 18:18; 23:36; 24:34, 47; and 26:13). Christian interpreters may have assumed "amen" begins statements because of the arbitrary verse divisions imposed on the Greek text in the mid-16th century by Robert Stephanus (aka Robert Estienne). However, Yeshua sometimes uses "amen" to introduce a declaration (e.g., Matt 8:10; 11:11; 16:28; 17:20; 19:23; 21:21; 24:2; 25:12, 45; 26:21). Similar usage does occur in the Tanakh (1Kgs 1:36; Jer 28:6). However, Yeshua employs amēn in a different manner here.
truly: Grk. amēn is repeated. In the Besekh the double use of amēn occurs only in the Book of John (25 times). The double "amen" does occur in the Tanakh as a response to a priestly declaration (Num 5:22; Neh 8:6), as well as in the construction "amen and amen" as the appropriate affirmation of a blessing (Ps 41:13; 72:19; 89:52). However, Yeshua uses "amēn amēn" as a prefix to the statement that follows, which is without parallel in Jewish literature (Morris 169). There is no good reason not to accept the grammar as authentic and Yeshua was quite capable of being innovative. The double use of amēn reinforces the complete reliability and truthfulness of Yeshua's prophetic teaching. Moreover, the double "amen," spoken in the presence of God, asserts the character of the Messiah who is the Truth (John 14:6) and implies God's endorsement.
I tell: Grk. legō, pres. act. ind. you: Grk. su, pronoun of the second person. unless: Grk. ean mē, lit. "if not." one: Grk. tis, indefinite pronoun, one, anyone. is begotten: Grk. gennaō, aor. pass. subj., cause to come into being; to father, beget or procreate. The Greek verb gennaō may refer to the female role in bearing and giving birth (Luke 1:13, 57; 23:29; Heb 11:23), but most often the verb emphasizes the male role. In the LXX gennaō is used chiefly for Heb. yalad (SH-3205), to bear, bring forth, to beget, to father (first use in Gen 4:18), which can refer to either the male or female role in conception and birth (DNTT 1:176). Both verbs have special significance in genealogical narratives (e.g., Gen 4, 5, 6, 9, 10; Matt 1) and in particular the begetting and birth Yeshua (Matt 1:16; 2:1; Luke 1:35; John 18:37; Acts 13:33).
The Hebrew verb is also used in a figurative sense of God as a mother giving birth to Israel (Deut 32:18) and foreigners being incorporated in spiritual Zion (Ps 87:4-6). Paul uses gennaō to describe becoming a spiritual father (1Cor 4:15; Phm 1:10) and in other passages the verb is used to indicate creation of spiritual character as here (1Jn 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). Thayer notes that verb represents a Jewish concept, of one who brings others over to his way of life, as stated in the Talmud, "He who teaches the son of his neighbor the Torah, Scripture ascribes it to him as if he had begotten him" (Sanhedrin 19b).
from above: Grk. anōthen, adv., from above, here as an idiomatic expression for heaven or God. Yeshua speaks figuratively of spiritual procreation, begotten by God. Many versions have "born again" because the dialog seems to focus on a second birth. Morris argues that if "born from above" is rejected then "born anew" would be better than "born again" because Yeshua speaks of something new, not something repeated (213). A few versions have "born anew" (ASV, CEB, Darby, MW, OJB, RSV, WEB). The DHE and TLV have "born from above" and the CJB has "born again from above."
Stern also points out that the concept of being "born-again" is Jewish, as demonstrated by this example from the Talmud: "a proselyte is like a newborn infant" (Yebamoth 48b; 62a). Stern also notes that the idea of being born again resembles that of the "new creation" (2Cor 5:17), which too is found in rabbinic literature (e.g., in Genesis Rabbah 39:11) as might be experienced by those whom are accounted as dead:
"A man who is childless is accounted as dead, for it is written, 'Give me children, or else I am dead' [Gen 30:1]. And it was taught: Four are accounted as dead: A poor man, a leper, a blind person, and one who is childless. A poor man, as it is written, for all the men are dead (which sought Your life). A leper, as it is written, (And Aaron looked upon Miriam, and behold, she was leprous. And Aaron said unto Moses…) let her not he as one dead [Num 12:10-12]. The blind, as it is written, 'He has set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old' [Lam 3:6]. And he who is childless, as it is written, 'Give me children, or else I am dead.'" (Nedarim 64b)
For these four individuals restoration would be as one born from the dead and Yeshua provided that new life. God made it possible for the childless couple of Zechariah and Elizabeth to give birth to Yochanan the Immerser (Luke 1) and Yeshua will later tell Yochanan that the poor have the good news proclaimed to them, giving them hope and a new life (Matt 11:5). Yeshua will heal the leper (Matt 8:2-3; Luke 17:11-19) and the blind man (Matt 9:27-31; 11:5; 12:22; 20:30-34; John 9:1-7).
he is not: Grk. ou, negative particle. able: Grk. dunamai, pres. mid. See the previous verse. to see: Grk. horaō, aor. inf., to perceive with the physical eyes or to experience extraordinary mental or inward perception. The verb could be taken either literally or metaphorically, perhaps both. the kingdom: Grk. basileia means kingship, royal power, or territory ruled over by a king. of God: Grk. theos. See the previous verse. The doctrine of the kingdom of God in the teaching of Yeshua and the apostles relates to the expectation and fulfillment of promises made to Israel, not to a future religion called Christianity. Israel first sang the praise of God's reign after crossing the Red Sea (Ex 15:18) and then at Mount Sinai they accepted the yoke of God's Kingdom (Ex 19:6, 8). According to the Book of Jubilees (12:19), Abraham set the example for his descendants by declaring God to be his king.
Yeshua, speaking in Hebrew, may have said either Malkut de-Adonai or Malkut Shaddai. "Kingdom of God" is equivalent to "Kingdom of Heaven" (Heb. Malkut Shamayim) in Matthew where "Heaven" serves as a euphemism for the sacred name. In writing his book for non-Jews as well as Jews the choice of theos emphasizes its LXX usage for the God of Israel, but also respects Jewish sensitivities and avoids saying the sacred name. If Yeshua in speaking of the Kingdom had used the Greek title kurios, which predominates in translating YHVH in the LXX, Jews would have been offended and the Roman authority confused if not hostile since Caesar regarded himself as kurios. (cf. "kingdom of our Lord," 2Pet 1:11; Rev 11:15, which is of a late date in apostolic writings. Perhaps this was the reason Peter was martyred.)
The hope that God would be King over all the earth, with all idolatry banished, is expressed frequently in Scripture (e.g., Ex 15:18; Ps 22:28; 29:10; 93:1; 99:2; 103:19; 145:11-13; Isa 52:7; Dan 4:3; Micah 4:7; Obad 21; and Zech 14:9). The theme of God's reign as king is also found in intertestamental Jewish literature: Tobit 13:1; Sibylline Oracles 3:47-48, 767; Psalms of Solomon 17:3; Wisdom of Solomon 10:10; Assumption of Moses 10:1; Prayer of Azariah and the Three Men 33; and Enoch 84:2. Ancient Jewish prayer liturgy, such as Aleinu and Kaddish, include the phrase that "God may establish His Kingdom speedily" It was even laid down by the Sages that no benediction would be effective without reference to the Kingdom (Ber. 12a).
There are two kinds of kingdom or two characteristics of God's kingdom. In the covenant with Israel God expressed his will for a priestly kingdom, "you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19:6; cf. Rev 1:6; 5:10). Then, God promised David a royal kingdom through his descendant, "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever" (2Sam 7:13). Yeshua declared that the Kingdom of God had come near in his person (Mark 1:15) and associated the Kingdom of God with the times and reign of the Messiah (Lightfoot 3:264). Messiah's kingdom will have both characteristics since he is the Son of David and the Great High Priest.
In the history of Christianity the Church was thought of as the Kingdom (so Augustine, City of God). Beginning in the 19th century dispensational tradition interpreted the kingdom as a future eschatological event with political implications for a restored Israel, when Yeshua comes back and sets up his kingdom. The Second Coming will involve apocalyptic judgment and final consummation of all things. Probably most Evangelicals associate the kingdom with heaven, i.e., the world to come, the afterlife. Thus, to be saved means to have a place in heaven when one dies. None of these interpretations were included in the definition of the kingdom Yeshua proclaimed to Nicodemus. The kingdom of God is the reign of the Messiah in the hearts of the people of Israel, as well as his literal reign on the earth with Jerusalem as his capital in the age to come.
4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He can not enter a second time into the womb of his mother, and be begotten."
Nicodemus responded with a rhetorical question. He is not playing stupid or being argumentative, but advancing the dialog in a manner typical of rabbinic discussion. How: Grk. pōs, adv., introduces a query concerning manner, way or reason in respect to a matter; how, in what manner, in what way, how can it be that? can: Grk. dunamai, pres. mid. See verse 2 above. a man: Grk. anthrōpos. See verse 1 above. be born: Grk. gennaō, aor. pass. inf. See the previous verse. when he is: Grk. eimi, pres. part., lit. "being." See verse 1 above. old: Grk. gerōn, elderly, old man. Very likely Nicodemus envisions himself in the rhetorical question.
The second sentence from a grammatical point of view is not a question, as commonly translated, but a simple statement of fact. The GNB and NIRV translate as a regular sentence as I do here. The NIV makes it into a statement of questioning incredulity. He can: Grk. dunamai, pres. mid. not: Grk. mē, a particle of qualified negation, not. It differs from the other standard negative particle, ou, in that ou is objective, dealing only with facts, while mē is subjective, involving will and thought (DM 265). With mē the negation concerns a supposition. enter: Grk. eiserchomai, aor. inf., to go or enter into a geographical area, manufactured structure or other place defined in the context. a second time: Grk. deuteros, adj., second as of a series, but used here in a temporal sense of a second time.
into the womb: Grk. koilia, abdomen, here the female reproductive organ. of his mother: Grk. mētēr (=Heb. ima) refers to a biological mother, although occasionally in the Besekh the word is used as a metaphor (Rom 16:13). and be begotten: Grk. gennaō, aor. pass. inf. Nicodemus does not mean return to being a nine-month old baby in the act of birth, but rather the impregnation of the woman by the husband. Nicodemus states the impossibility of the supposition, because obviously the law of entropy cannot be reversed and an adult regress to a fertilized egg. Moreover, the mother of the old man would be dead. Morris offers the suggestion that the response of Nicodemus is wistful (215). That is, he takes a retrospective look at his life and wishes he could do it all over again. Since this can't be done, how can a greater miracle, the remaking of man's essential being be done? Regeneration must surely be even more impossible.
5 Yeshua answered, "Truly, truly, I tell you, unless one is begotten of water and spirit, he is not able to enter into the kingdom of God!"
Yeshua answered: Grk. apokrinomai, aor. pass. See verse 3 above. Truly, truly: See verse 3 above. I tell: Grk. legō. See verse 2 above. you, unless: Grk. ean mē, lit. "if not." one is begotten: Grk. gennaō, aor. pass. subj. See verse 3 above. of: Grk. ek, prep., lit. "out of." water: Grk. hudōr, water as a physical element. Yeshua no doubt means immersion in water as normally connected with ritual cleansing of the body (cf. Matt 3:1-17; John 1:26-34). "Born of water" would not refer to physical birth, since that experience is stated as "born of woman" (e.g., Job 14:1; 15:14; 25:4; Matt 11:11; Gal 4:4).
Pertinent to Yeshua's statement is that immersion was required for becoming a proselyte. While not specifically prescribed in the Torah, Jewish Law at the time (and since) required that a Gentile wishing to become a proselyte had to immerse his whole body, in addition to submitting to circumcision and offering a sacrifice (Yebamoth 22a, 46b, 47b; K'ritot 9a; Shabbath 135a). The immersion requirement was based on the precedent that all Israel had to wash themselves before receiving the Torah and entering into the covenant with God (Ex 19:10) and foreigners were present who had joined themselves to Israel (cf. Ex 12:48-49). Likewise, at Qumran immersion was treated as a rite of purification for new members joining the community (DNTT 1:144).
and spirit: Grk. pneuma (for Heb. ruach), wind, breath or spirit as the animating force for bodily movement (Luke 8:55). Pneuma is used for transcendent beings (Matt 8:16; Heb 1:14), particularly the Spirit as God's self-expression (Gen 1:2; Mark 1:10). Though pneuma in this verse is commonly translated in English versions as "the Spirit" (meaning the Holy Spirit), the absence of the definite article suggests that Yeshua might have intended the human spirit (so HNV, LEB, MW, NET, TLV and WEB versions) and refers to the attitude of one's heart and manner of life (cf. Acts 18:25; Rom 1:9; 12:11). Another possibility is that Yeshua uses pneuma as a double entendre, alluding to the promise given to Ezekiel:
"Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances." (Ezek 36:25-27 NASB)
Yeshua's teaching on being begotten from above does rely on a human analogy. Being "born of water and spirit" reflects the reality of human physical formation. That is, the human body is mostly water (75% at birth) and spirit, that aspect of being human that permits communion with God. The human fetus is enveloped in water and birth is accomplished by the "breaking of the woman's water." At what point the fetus becomes a spiritual being is a mystery, but there is the story of Elizabeth's baby in her womb leaping for joy (Luke 1:44). The human spirit must by definition be part of the fertilization process, which transmits the image of Adam to every person. There is no evolution in the womb. From the point of conception the baby is completely human in every respect, making abortion a crime against God.
he is not: Grk. ou, adv., particle of strong negation of fact. able: Grk. dunamai, pres. mid. See verse 2 above. to enter: Grk. eiserchomai, aor. inf. See the previous verse. into: Grk. eis, prep., focus on entrance, frequently in relation to a direction toward a goal or place and consequent arrival; into, to, toward. the kingdom of God: See verse 3 above. Yeshua makes it clear that being a part of his kingdom requires an internal transformation, not merely outward conformity to law. The Old Covenant envisioned a kingdom, but the people did not live up to God's expectations. The problem was not inability to keep the Torah, as Christians commonly suppose (cf. Deut 30:11). Rather, the problem was "uncircumcised hearts," or unwillingness to obey (Acts 7:51). Even Moses prophesied that one day God would circumcise their hearts to obey Him (cf. Deut 30:6; Rom 2:28-29).
6 That which has been begotten of the flesh is flesh; and that which is begotten of the Spirit is spirit.
That which has been begotten: Grk. gennaō, perf. pass. part., here of physical procreation. See verse 3 above. of: Grk. ek, prep., lit. "out of." the flesh: Grk. sarx, an entity alive in an earthly or physical way, 'flesh.' The term has both literal and figurative uses in Scripture, generally of the human body or human nature with its limitations in contrast with supernatural beings. In the LXX sarx stands for Heb. basar, with the same range of meaning. is: Grk. eimi. See verse 1 above. flesh: The saying reflects simple biology that every living thing reflects the physical makeup of its parents (cf. 1Cor 15:39). and that which is begotten: Grk. gennaō, perf. pass. part., used figuratively of spiritual procreation and birth. of: Grk. ek, prep. the Spirit: Grk. pneuma with the definite article, the Holy Spirit. See the previous verse. is spirit: Grk. pneuma. The object of the heavenly action by the Holy Spirit is the individual's spirit.
7 "Marvel not that I said to you, 'You must be begotten from above.'
Marvel: Grk. thaumazō, aor. subj., be extraordinarily impressed; to wonder, be amazed, astonished, impressed, surprised. not: Grk. mē, negative particle. that I said: Grk. legō, aor. See verse 2 above. You: pl. of Grk. su, pronoun of the second person. The plural "you" would be intended in a broad sense. must: Grk. dei, pres., impersonal verb from deō ('bind, compel') and thus conveys the idea of something that's necessary, something that must or needs to happen; must, necessary, behooves. be begotten: Grk. gennaō, aor. pass. inf., here of spiritual birth. See verse 3 above. from above: Grk. anōthen, adv., from above. See verse 3 above. Yeshua means "It's not really an amazing thing that transformation of character requires divine action."
8 "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but know not from where it comes, and where it goes: so is every one born of the Spirit.
The wind: Grk. pneuma. See verse 5 above. blows: Grk. pneō, pres., to blow, used of wind. Wind currents circumnavigate the globe and are very important in the hydrologic cycle to transfer water vapor from the oceans to the land in the form of precipitation. This combination of wind and water enables vegetation to grow. where: Grk. hopou, adv. of place, where. it wishes: Grk. thelō, to have a desire for something or have a purpose for something; will, wish, desire. Yeshua is not personifying nature as if it has an independent personality from God. While the wind currents that circumnavigate the globe generally flow east to west, locally they can move in any direction.
and you hear: Grk. akouō may mean (1) to hear, with the focus on willingness to listen or to heed the substance of what is said; (2) hear with comprehension, understand; (3) receive information aurally, hear, hear about; or (4) a legal term of hearing a case. The third meaning applies here. In the LXX akouō consistently stands for Heb. shama, which not only means to apprehend, but also to accept and to act upon what has been apprehended (DNTT 2:173). the sound: Grk. phōnē can mean (1) an auditory impression, sound, noise; (2) the faculty of producing an auditory impression, voice; or (3) a system of communication, language. The first meaning applies here. Yeshua states an observation of nature. Sound is a property of wind, though not normally heard unless the current is strong. Some wind currents, such as wind shear or a tornado, can be especially loud.
but: Grk. alla, conj. with a strong and emphatic adversative meaning, but. know: Grk. oida, perf. See verse 2 above. not: Grk. ou, negative particle. from where: Grk. pothen, adv. of direction, from where, whence. it comes: Grk. erchomai, pres. mid. See verse 2 above. and where: Grk. pou, adv. of place, where, at which place. it goes: Grk. hupagō, to proceed from a position, here with the focus on an objective destination, go. so: Grk. houtōs, adv. used to introduce the manner or way in which something has been done or to be done, in this manner, way or fashion, so. is: Grk. eimi. See verse 1 above. every one born: Grk. gennaō, perf. pass. part., lit. "having been born." of the Spirit: Grk. pneuma with the definite article.
Yeshua engages in a wordplay here, since both the Greek word "pneuma” and the Hebrew word "ruach” may mean either "wind” or "spirit,” depending on context. In so doing he says something important about the work of the Holy Spirit. Just as the wind cannot be controlled by man, so the Spirit acts upon whom He chooses, when He chooses, where He chooses and how He chooses. Some Evangelicals have developed a kind of "cookie cutter" theology that insists everyone can have the same experience or gift of the Spirit. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 12 that the Spirit places people in the Body of Messiah where He wants them and gives them gifts of His own choosing. Wanting a gift and praying for a gift is not the same thing as obtaining it. The Spirit knows best how to work in and through Yeshua's disciples.
9 Nicodemus answered and said to him, "How can these things occur?"
Nicodemus: See verse 1 above. answered and said: See verse 3 above. Nicodemus asks a rhetorical question. How: Grk. pōs, adv. See verse 4 above. can: Grk. dunamai, pres. mid. See verse 2 above. these things: pl. of Grk. toũto, neut. demonstrative pronoun, this, it. occur: Grk. ginomai, aor. mid. inf., may mean (1) come into being by birth or natural process; (2) to exist through application of will or effort by someone or (3) undergo a state of existence, change or development. The third meaning applies here and the past tense verb could be translated as come to be, take place, happen, or occur. The question may reflect a kind of wonder, because Nicodemus had never experienced a true spiritual anointing in his life.
10 Yeshua answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and you do not understand these things?"
Yeshua answered and said to him: See verse 3 above. Are you the teacher: Grk. didaskalos. See verse 2 above. Yeshua may have implied that Nicodemus held an important office, such as that of Rabbi. However, being a member of the Sanhedrin would require interpretation and application of Torah, so in that sense he could be considered a teacher. Identifying Nicodemus as a teacher may hint at his age. The Talmud provides a list of age-connected milestones (Avot 5:21). At age 30 a man should have "full strength" and be capable of carrying on his vocation (cf. Num 4:2-47). Age 40 was the age for understanding and 50 for giving counsel. Yeshua began his ministry when he was about 30 (Luke 3:23). Yeshua's description of Nicodemus suggests that he may have been at least 40.
of Israel: Grk. Israēl, a transliteration of the Heb. Yisrael, which means "God prevails” (BDB 975). The name first appears in Genesis 32:28 where the heavenly being with whom Jacob struggled said, "From now on, you will no longer be called Ya'akov, but Isra'el; because you have shown your strength to both God and men and have prevailed" (CJB). The announcement, occurring before Jacob's reconciliation with his brother Esau, was prophetic, because not until chapter 35 do we read that the name change was made permanent. Then God spoke to Jacob,
"Your name is Ya'akov, but you will be called Ya'akov no longer; your name will be Isra'el." Thus he named him Isra'el." God further said to him, "I am El Shaddai. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation, indeed a group of nations, will come from you; kings will be descended from you. Moreover, the land which I gave to Avraham and Yitz'chak I will give to you, and I will give the land to your descendants after you." (Gen 35:9-12 CJB)
The name of Israel was then given to the land God bequeathed to the descendants of Jacob (Gen 49:7) and used of the whole people regarded as one person (Num 24:5). The reader should note that Yeshua said "Israel" and not "Palestine." Contrary to the erroneous labeling on Christian Bible maps and usage by Christian commentators there was no Palestine in Bible times. There is no Palestine now and to use the term in any biblical context can only be described as antisemitic. (See my web article The Land is Not Palestine.) Regardless of what names governments have placed on the land, to God the land was and is "Israel" (cf. Matt 2:20-21; 10:23; Luke 4:27; 7:9). Yeshua also does not say "New Israel," a title that the Church later claimed for itself when it adopted the false doctrine of Supersessionism. (See my web article Scripture vs. Supersessionism.)
And you do not understand: Grk. ginōskō, pres., to know, but has a variety of meanings, including (1) to be in receipt of information; know, learn, find out; (2) form a judgment or draw a conclusion; think, understand, comprehend, perceive, notice, realize, conclude; or (3) have a personal relationship involving recognition of another's identity or value; make acquaintance, recognize. In the LXX ginōskō renders Heb. yada (SH-3045), which has a similar wide range of meaning, but in most occasions refers to a personal knowledge, whether of knowing persons or knowing by experience, as well as knowing by learning (DNTT 2:395). To the Hebrew mind "knowing" is not philosophical or theoretical, but based in reality. Yeshua's point is that Nicodemus did not adequately comprehend.
these things: pl. of Grk. toũto, neut. demonstrative pronoun. The plural form might seem out of place since Yeshua has really only been discussing one subject, that of being begotten from above. The plural might simply refer to all the words that Yeshua had spoken. Perhaps the mostly likely reason for the plural is to express the entirety of something, here the subject they've been discussing, what is possible with God. For someone that should know the Scriptures backwards and forwards, Nicodemus should know that the God of Israel performed miraculous wonders on many occasions.
One of those miracles was the taking of the Spirit on Moses and putting Him on the seventy elders (Num 11:25). When Joshua complained about two Spirit-anointed elders engaging in prophesying Moses replied, "Would that all the LORD’S people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!” (Num 11:29). The Tanakh goes on to describe more than a dozen men who were anointed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, changing ordinary men into extraordinary men. Just consider Othniel (Jdg 3:10), Gideon (Jdg 6:34), Jephthah (Jdg 11:29), Samson (Jdg 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14), Saul (1Sam 10:6, 10), David (1Sam 16:13; 2Sam 23:1-2), Amasai (1Chr 12:18), Azariah (2Chr 15:1), Elijah (1Kgs 18:12), Elisha (2Kgs 2:15), Jahaziel (2Chr 20:14), Zechariah (2Chr 24:20), and Ezekiel (Ezek 2:2).
11 Truly, truly, I tell you, We speak what we know, and bear witness of what we have seen; and you do not receive our witness.
Truly, truly I tell you: See verse 3 above. We speak: Grk. laleō, pres., is used in the Besekh primarily to mean making an vocal utterance and to exercise the faculty of speech; assert, proclaim, report, say, speak, talk about, utter. The verb is perhaps a reminder that the good news of the Messiah was first oral long before it was ever written down. The perfect tense indicates action completed in past time with continuing results to the present. what we know: Grk. oida, perf. See verse 2 above. and bear witness: Grk. martureō, pres., to attest to a fact or truth, often in a legal context; testify, attest. The verb points not to relating opinion or hearsay, but what is objective truth. of what we have seen: Grk. horaō, perf. See verse 3 above. Yeshua has seen things that Nicodemus could only dream about. Yeshua could have alluded to the many he saw responding to the message of Yochanan the Immerser and repenting of their sins.
and you do not receive: Grk. lambanō, pres. The verb marks the transit of something from a position to another person who is the agent with the latter being also the receptor; to take or receive. The verb is also used idiomatically of apprehending or comprehending mentally or spiritually and by extension choosing to accept, which seems to be the intent here. our witness: Grk. marturia, attestation of a fact or truth; testimony, witness, especially in a legal context; lit. "the witness of us." Stern suggests that the first person plural form of the verbs and pronouns implies Yeshua putting himself in the company of the leading lights of Israel, such as Abraham (John 8:56), Moses (John 5:46), Isaiah (Isa 12:41), Yochanan the Immerser (John 1:7, 32–34) and other prophets of Israel (John 5:39).
12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
If: Grk. ei, conj. with a contingency aspect, used here to introduce an "if" clause. "If” introduces a specific circumstance that may either be assumed to be valid for the sake of argument or to be taken for granted. I told: Grk. legō, aor. See verse 2 above. you earthly things: Grk. epigeios, adj., of the earth, earthly, in contrast to heaven. From an educational point of view "earthly things" might allude to ordinary human knowledge that may be gained by experience. Yeshua has spoken of what he has seen and used the analogies of human birth and the wind. These are things that Nicodemus should grasp.
and you do not believe: Grk. pisteuō in general Greek usage means to have confidence or faith in the reliability or trustworthiness of some thing or someone. In the LXX pisteuō renders the Heb. 'aman, which essentially means to confirm or support (BDB 52). In the Niphal form 'aman means to be true, reliable or faithful and can be applied to men (e.g., Moses, Num 12:7), but especially to God who keeps his covenant and gives grace to those who love him (Deut 7:9). In the Hiphil form 'aman means to stand firm or trust as Abraham trusted in God's promise (Gen 15:6). In the Hebrew concept believing, trusting and being faithful are inseparable. Believing begins with the conviction of God's existence, generosity and faithfulness to His promises (Heb 11:6). If one truly believes, then one trusts; if one believes and trusts, then one is faithful (cf. Matt 7:21; Acts 21:20).
how: Grk. pōs, adv. See verse 4 above. will you believe: Grk. pisteuō, fut. if: Grk. ean, conj., conditional particle that produces an aspect of tentativeness by introducing a possible circumstance that determines the realization of some other circumstance along the lines of "if x happens, then y will follow." I tell: Grk. legō, aor. subj. you heavenly things: Grk. epouranios, heavenly, celestial. From an educational point of view "heavenly things" allude to advanced thinking. Tenney points out that if Nicodemus couldn't grasp the meaning of spiritual truth as conveyed by concrete analogy, how would he do so if it were couched in an abstract statement?
The contrast between "earthly things" and "heavenly things" hints at a perspective of maturity in which a person transitions from childhood to adulthood (cf. Luke 2:51). A child comprehends knowledge, or "earthly things," in a literal and concrete fashion. Nicodemus is a child from a spiritual point of view. Yeshua implies that by virtue of being a teacher, Nicodemus should have moved beyond the child level of understanding (cf. 1Cor 3:2; Heb 5:12). Nicodemus should be a spiritual adult, able to take in the meat of the Word (Heb 5:14). The Kingdom of God is a subject that belongs to the category of "heavenly things," and citizenship in this kingdom requires a transformation of heart, soul and spirit.
13 And no man has ascended into heaven, except The One having descended out of heaven, the Son of Man.
Yeshua repeats very much what he told Nathanael (1:51), except that here Yeshua's description is of something accomplished, not something anticipated.
And: Grk. kai, conj. that marks a connection or addition. Kai has three basic uses: (1) continuative – and, also, even; (2) adversative – and yet, but, however; or (3) intensive – certainly, indeed, in fact, really, verily, yea (DM 250f). The first use applies here. Kai is used in the LXX to translate the vav (ו) character added to words for conjunctive effect. There are over 50 conjunctions in biblical Greek, but kai is by far the most common in the Besekh, occurring over 9,000 times (BibleHub). Beginning verses with a conjunction, as well as the excessive use of conjunctions, is evidence of either an original Hebrew text or Jewish Greek. In contrast to most Bible versions I translate all the instances of kai (and all the other conjunctions) as a reminder of John's Hebraic writing style.
no man: Grk. oudeis, adj. indicating negation of a person or thing as actually existing at a given place or moment; no one. has ascended: Grk. anabainō, perf., to go up to a point or place that is higher than the point of origin, sometimes in the context of going up steps. Idiomatically the verb means to enter or approach. In the LXX anabainō renders Heb. alah (SH-5927), to go up, to ascend, to climb, particularly of going up the mountain of God, the sanctuary and Jerusalem (DNTT 2:185). Yeshua is not saying that no one had ever gone to heaven in Old Covenant days. After all, Enoch (Gen 5:24) and Elijah (2Kgs 2:1) were taken to God's presence without dying first.
Morris suggests that the unexpected perfect tense, meaning that "no man has gained the heights of heaven" may emphasize continuing possession, but in a spiritual rather than physical sense (223). Yeshua may be alluding to the interpretation of Deuteronomy 30:13 in Targum Jonathan, "The law is not in the heavens, that you should say, 'O that we had one like Moses the prophet to ascend into heaven, and bring it to us, and make us hear its commands, that we may do them!'" In other words, no one has entered into such close communion with God and gained an insider knowledge of divine things in order to reveal them to others. Only one who dwells there and will come from there can reveal the heart of God and the true meaning of His Torah.
into heaven: Grk. ouranos, the area above the earth that encompasses the sky, interstellar space and associated phenomena or the transcendent dwelling-place of God. In the LXX ouranos translates the Heb. hashamayim (lit. "the heavens") (DNTT 2:191). The Hebrew and Greek words for "heaven" are used in Scripture to refer to at least three different places (Ps 148:1-4). In terms of direction from the ground level of the earth the first heaven is the atmosphere or "face" of hashamayim, across which birds fly (Gen 1:20; Rev 19:17).
The second heaven is interstellar space (Gen 1:1, 8; Matt 24:29), populated with the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day of creation. Finally, the third heaven is the location of the throne of God and the home of angels (1Kgs 8:30; Matt 6:9; 2Cor 12:2). Here the term obviously has the third meaning. Yeshua could be taken literally in the sense that no man had ever ascended into heaven after death. David says, "If I ascend to heaven you are there," (Ps 139:8), but he probably only meant if he could fly in the sky like a bird. Lucifer sought to ascend to heaven
except: Grk. ei mē, lit. "if not." The One: Grk. ho, definite article, but used here as a demonstrative pronoun. A few versions translate the pronoun as "he who" or "he that" (ESV, KJV, NASB), but most versions render it literally as "the one." A few versions appropriately capitalize "One" (AMP, HCSB, MSG, NCV, NIRV, NLV, TLV). Among Jews "The One" was a circumlocution for God (cf. Ps 3:3; 37:24; Isa 40:26; 45:7; 49:7; Amos 9:5-6; John 1:33; 6:46; 7:18; 12:45; 15:21; Acts 10:42; Rom 5:17; 2Cor 4:6). having descended: Grk. katabainō, pres. part., to proceed in a direction that is down, come or go down. The present tense emphasizes the duration of the descent from the starting point. Relevant to Yeshua's point is that Solomon mentions the ascending and descending in relation to the Son of God.
"Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son's name? Surely you know!" (Prov 30:4)
out of heaven: Grk. ouranos, the third heaven. Yeshua had possessed the heights of heaven (cf. Deut 10:14; Job 22:12; Ps 68:33) and yet he condescended to come to earth in flesh to bring heavenly realities to earth and to redeem mankind (Php 2:5-8). the Son: Grk. huios, a male offspring or descendant, whether by direct birth or by more remote ancestry. In the LXX huios renders Heb. ben ("son,” "son of”), which is used in three distinctive ways: (1) to identify direct paternity, as the son of his father (Gen 5). (2) to mean not the actual father but a more distant ancestor (e.g., Gen 32:32), as Yeshua is referred to as the son of David and Abraham (Matt 1:1); or (3) to mean in a broader sense of having the characteristics of (e.g., Ps 89:22; Dan 3:25; cf. 2Thess 2:3), and this too applies here.
of Man: Grk. anthrōpos. See verse 1 above. The title "Son of Man" translates the Heb. ben adam. The idiom "Son of Man" is thoroughly Hebraic and has no counterpart in Greek culture. Christian interpreters typically treat "Son of Man" in the context of Yeshua's ministry as representative of his identification with humanity, whereas "Son of God" pertains to his deity. In Hebraic thought these expressions mean just the opposite. "Son of Man" is a Messianic title that refers primarily to the eschatological supra-natural figure from heaven who establishes a kingdom on the earth (Dan 7:13-14, 27). However, Yeshua added the unexpected element of suffering in order to bring salvation from sin. For a full discussion on this important title see John 1:51.
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up;
And: Grk. kai, conj. See the previous verse. as: Grk. kathōs, conj. emphasizing similarity, conformity, proportion, or manner; as, just as. Moses: Grk. Mōusēs transliterates Heb. Mosheh, which is most likely derived from Egyptian mes meaning "child" or "son" (BDB 602), since the daughter of Pharaoh named him (Ex 2:10). She explained the chosen name by saying, "Because I drew [Heb. mashah, "to draw"] him out of the water." Moses was the great Hebrew leader, prophet and lawgiver of Israel. Moses was a Levite, the son of Amram and Jochebed (Num 26:59). He had two wives, Zipporah (Ex 2:21; 18:2) and a Cushite woman (Num 12:1), and two sons of Zipporah, one named Gershom and the other named Eliezer (Ex 18:3-4). Moses was the leader of the Israelites in their deliverance from Egyptian slavery and oppression and their journey through the wilderness.
At Mount Sinai Moses served as mediator to facilitate the beginning of the covenant relationship between God and Israel. Forty years later on the plains of Moab Moses renewed the covenant with Israel and made preparations for their entry into the promised land. Moses compiled, wrote and/or edited the five books attributed to his name (Ex 24:4; Deut 31:9; Mark 12:19; Luke 24:27, 44; Acts 15:21; Rom 10:5) and left Israel with the rich legacy of God's Word. He was a heroic leader of the people and as a devout man of God. His story is found in the extensive narratives from Exodus 1:1 through Deuteronomy 34:1. Moses was a giant of a man. Moses died at the age of 120 and God buried him in the land of Moab (Deut 34:5-7).
lifted up: Grk. hupsoō, aor., may mean (1) cause to move from a position to one that is higher; lift upward; or (2) cause to be higher in status; elevate, exalt. In context both meanings have application. the serpent: Grk. ophis, snake in the literal sense without specification of species, or having the habits or characteristics of a snake in reference to humans or other entities, especially of a demonic order (Matt 23:33; 2Cor 11:3; Rev 12:9, 14-15; 20:2). Rabbi Shapira offers the fascinating detail that Hebrew word for snake (nachash) holds the numerical value of 358 and the Hebrew word Messiah (Mashiach) holds the same value (92). in the wilderness: Grk. erēmos, unpopulated region, desert or lonely place.
so: Grk. houtōs, adv. See verse 8 above. must: Grk. dei, pres. See verse 7 above. the Son of man: See the previous verse. be lifted up: Grk. hupsoō, aor. pass. inf. The analogy clearly offers a parallel of action and purpose. Yeshua reminds Nicodemus of the Torah story in which Israelites were saved from the plague of serpents when they gazed on the brass serpent that Moses put on a standard and raised for all to see (Num 21:6–9; Deut 8:15; 1Cor 10:9). Healing came to afflicted people by looking at the uplifted snake. Ironically, King Hezekiah would later demolish the bronze serpent because people treated it as an idol (2Kgs 18:4). Christians have approached the same offense by venerating the cross or treating it as a good luck charm.
On the surface Yeshua's analogy appears to be shocking, because in Bible history the serpent is symbolic of evil beginning with the temptation in the Garden (Gen 3:1-5; 2Cor 11:3). As a result of the serpent's deception God cursed the serpent. Later, snakes became symbolic of God's judgment on His people (Jer 8:17; Amos 9:3) and "serpent" is one of the names of Satan (Rev 12:9; 20:2). Satan also attempted to ascend to heaven and exalt himself to be equal with God, as described in the taunt song against the King of Babylon (Isa 14:12-14). It's obvious that Yeshua meant the analogy to be taken literally but he is certainly not comparing himself to his arch-enemy.
Like the literal snake Yeshua would be bound to a pole and lifted up. People looking to him would then be saved from eternal death. In this way Yeshua is presented as superior to Moses (Reinhartz 164). It's not likely that this point in John's narrative that Nicodemus could even imagine Yeshua's prophecy being fulfilled in such a literal fashion. Since "lifted up" has the meaning of "exalted," Yeshua might have meant that as the serpent on the pole represented the healing power of God, so Yeshua would be elevated in peoples' eyes by serving their needs. The apostles would later connect this "lifting up" with being exalted to the right hand of God (Acts 5:31). There is irony in the analogy. The snake on the pole represented both judgment and salvation: judgment on Satan, the god of this world and salvation through the glorious Son of Man who served as a sin offering. For other points of comparison between Moses and Yeshua see my web article Moses and Yeshua.
15 that every one trusting in him may have eternal life.
that: Grk. hina, conj., used to add an idea that completes an intention expressed; in order that. every: Grk. pas, adj., comprehensive in scope; all, every. one: Grk. ho, demonstrative pronoun; this one, that one, etc. trusting: Grk. pisteuō, pres. part. See verse 12 above. "Trusting" is preferred over "believing" here because of the following preposition. After all, the demons "believe" but are not saved (Jas 2:19). Yeshua refers to a level of devotion that exceeds a mental assent. in: Grk. eis, prep., lit. "into." See verse 5 above. him: Grk. autos, i.e., the one raised on the pole, Yeshua.
may have: Grk. echō, to have, hold or possess with a wide range of application: (1) hold in one's hands, wear, preserve, seize; (2) have as one's own or at hand, possess; (3) have with oneself or in one's company; (4) experience a condition or situation; (5) view something in a particular way, consider, look upon, view; and (6) have the possibility, can, be able (BAG). The fourth meaning would seem to apply here and the present tense indicates an experience that starts and continues concurrent with the trusting. Some disciples misunderstand the nature of saving faith. A person receives blessing from God not because he believes but who he believes in. The power resides in Yeshua alone, just as healing power resided in the snake on the pole. Deliverance comes by virtue of Yeshua's faithfulness in submitting to the cross.
eternal: Grk. aiōnios, adj., can mean (1) relating to a period of time extending far into the past; long ages ago; (2) relating to time without boundaries or interruption; eternal; or (3) relating to a period of unending duration; permanent, lasting. In the LXX aiōnios occurs as the equivalent for Heb. olam, "a long duration, antiquity or futurity" (BDB 761), which is also used as an adverb meaning "for ever, for all time" (DNTT 3:827). In the Tanakh olam is used for ancient time (Gen 49:26), and indefinite futurity, which may equate to a man's lifetime (Deut 15:17), but more often to the everlasting nature of God (Gen 21:33), His laws (Ps 119:89), His promises (Isa 40:8) and His covenant (Gen 9:16; 17:7; Ex 31:16; 2Sam 23:5). Lastly, olam encompasses existence after death and eternity (Ps 90:2; Isa 45:17; Dan 12:2-3).
life: Grk. zōē, alive in contrast with being dead. "Eternal life" is the ultimate prize and the quality of life manifested in glory, honor and immortality. Both the Pharisees and Essenes embraced the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and resurrection (Josephus, Wars II, 8:11, 14). Reward and punishment would begin after death and the souls of the righteous would enter heavenly blessedness, while the souls of the ungodly are punished in Hadēs in the depths of the earth. This separation is clearly presented in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:22-26). Eternal life, however, is not just eternal existence, but sharing in the life of God. For that reason Yeshua taught that the abundant life, the best kind of life possible, begins now (Matt 10:39; John 6:35, 63; 10:10). It doesn't wait until after one dies.
Midrash of John: Love and Light, 3:16-21
The flow of the narrative strongly suggests that verses 16-21 are a midrash by John the apostle on Yeshua's message in verse 15 and the theme of "light" in chapter one. A midrash ("commentary,” "exposition” or "interpretation” of Scripture), taken from drash ("search” or "inquire”), may focus either on halakhah ("the path that one walks"), directing the Jew to specific patterns of religious practice, or on aggadah ("narrative"), dealing with theological ideas, ethical teachings, philosophy, and other interpretations of Scripture that are not halakhah. This method concerns determining the meaning of a text and making appropriate application. A midrash not only concerns itself with what a verse means in its context, but its meaning in the whole of scriptural revelation. The midrashim in the book of John are typically aggadah.
16 For thus God loved the world, so as he gave the only Son, that every one trusting in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
John makes a statement that would become one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. For: Grk. gar, conj., is generally accepted as a contraction of ge ("yet") and ara ("then"), and in a broad sense means "certainly it follows that." Gar often functions to connect statements in narratives with preceding statements and is normally translated "for." thus: Grk. houtōs, adv. See verse 8 above. God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. See verse 2 above. For John the Jewish apostle of the Jewish Messiah God is not the God of Christianity that hated and rejected the Jews, but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who remained faithful to the covenants He made with his people and demonstrated his loyal love to the world He created.
loved: Grk. agapaō, aor., to have such an interest in another that one wishes to contribute to the other's well-being, even if it means making a personal sacrifice to do so. The verb occurs 36 times in the book of John, more than twice the number in any other book of the Besekh, except 1 John where it occurs 31 times. In the LXX agapaō translates aheb, but aheb is a far more comprehensive word than agapaō. There are four words in Greek for love. Besides agapaō there is eros, desire or longing between a man and woman; storgē, family affection; phileō, affection of people who are close to one another, whether inside a family or out, also care and compassion, and then love of things that one enjoys. Aheb is like the English word "love” which is used to mean all these things. The verb points to both the character of God (1Jn 4:8) and the faithfulness of God to his covenant promises.
the world: Grk. kosmos, usually translated "world," has a variety of uses in the apostolic writings, including (1) the entire cosmic universe including the earth; (2) the planet upon which mankind lives; (3) the inhabitants of the earth; (4) everything in the world that opposes God and is ruined and depraved of character (BAG). The LXX of the Tanakh uses kosmos some ten times for words meaning ornaments, jewelry or decorations and five times for Heb. tsaba, the "hosts of heaven and earth," i.e., the stars (Gen 2:1; Deut 4:19). The meaning of kosmos as "world" is only found in later Greek writings of the LXX (Wis., 2nd Macc., 4th Macc.). The Tanakh has no word for the "world" corresponding to the Greek kosmos.
The Tanakh mainly calls the universe "heaven and earth," but some writings use Heb. hakkol, lit. meaning "the all," (Ps 103:19); also without the article, kol (Ps 8:7). The Tanakh presents the universe as consisting of three areas: above the earth (the heavens, which are also three), the earth, and under the earth, the underworld (Hades, Sheol). Under the influence of Hellenistic Judaism the original temporal understanding of the Heb. olam ("age, a long duration, antiquity or futurity," BDB 761)") acquired the spatial meaning of kosmos in the sense of "world, universe, the world of men. The DSS preserved the original meaning of olam, but the spatial meaning of "world" is found frequently in Rabbinic usage. The change of meaning especially impacted Jewish apocalyptic writings. "This world," like "this age," is described in Rabbinic literature as being under the domination of Satan, sin and death (DNTT 1:522-524).
Defining the "world" in this context is not simple since in a few passages the term is used of Jews (John 6:33; 12:19; 14:19; 17:6). Then other passages use "world" to refer to the nations outside Israel (Luke 12:30; John 14:22), but more generally to recipients of the good news of salvation and objects of reconciling grace (Matt 26:13; Mark 16:15; John 3:17; Rom 11:12, 15; 2Cor 5:19). Morris expresses the opinion that God loving all mankind is a distinctly Christian idea, and "no passage appears to be cited in which any Jewish writer maintains that God loved the world." Yet, John was a JEW and he said God loved the world (cf. Titus 3:4). John's statement is significant because throughout the Scripture God's love is directed to the patriarchs and Israel (Ex 20:6; Deut 4:37; 5:10; 7:7-8; 10:15; 23:5; 33:3; 1Kgs 10:9; 2Chron 9:8; Ps 78:68; Isa 63:9; Jer 31:3; Hos 14:4; Mic 7:20; Zeph 3:17; Mal 1:2; Rom 5:8; 9:13; Eph 2:4).
There is, however, in the Tanakh a strong implication of God's love for those outside Israel. God promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him (Gen 22:18). God said He loves "peoples" (Deut 33:3) and He shows his love for the "alien" [i.e., Gentile] by giving him food and clothing (Deut 10:18). God commanded the Israelites to love "the stranger [i.e., Gentile] who resides with you" (Lev 19:34). God would not command a practice that was foreign to Him. Then there references in the Psalms to God's lovingkindness toward the world.
"He [YHVH] loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the lovingkindness of the LORD." 13 The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; 14 From His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, 15 He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works." (Ps 33:5, 13-15 NASB)
"Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men." (Ps 107:8 NASB)
"The LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. 9 The LORD is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works." (Ps 145:8-9 NASB)
Some Bible readers might be confused by the statement in Isaiah 40:17, "All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless." However, this verse is in the context of a word picture of measuring scales, which contrasts the power and knowledge of men to the omnipotence and omniscience of God. In reality God's love toward the world was veiled to them as Paul says,
"You can understand my insight into the mystery of Messiah, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy shlichim and prophets. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are joint heirs and fellow members of the same body, and co-sharers of the promise in Messiah Yeshua through the Good News." (Eph 3:4-6 TLV)
God is not to blame for the world not comprehending His love, because as Paul chronicles in Romans 1:18-32, the world turned away from the Creator and worshipped loveless gods of their own imagination.
so as: Grk. hōste, conj. may be used to (1) introduce an independent clause that represents a consequence of the statement that precedes; for this reason, therefore, and so; or (2) introduces a dependent clause of an actual result; for the purpose of, with a view to, in order that. he gave: Grk. didōmi, aor., to give, often with the focus on generosity. In the LXX didōmi generally renders Heb. natan, SH-5414, to give, used in one of three settings (1) by men one to another; (2) by men to God; and (3) by God to men (DNTT 2:41). the only: Grk. monogenēs, functioning as an adj., being the only one of a kind; sole, only, unique. The word monogenēs occurs 9 times in the Besekh, four times of persons other than Yeshua and five times of Yeshua, all in the writings of John (John 1:14, 18; 3:18; 1Jn 4:9).
In the LXX monogenēs renders Heb. yachid (SH-3173, "only, only one, solitary") used of oneself (Ps 22:20; 35:17), and an only daughter (of Jephthah, Jdg 11:34). Some versions offer the translation here of "only Son" or "one and only Son" (e.g. CJB, ESV, MSG, NCV, NET, NIRV, NIV, NLT, NRSV, RSV, TEV, TLV). The traditional translation inserts "begotten" (ASV, DRA, KJV, NASB, NKJV), no doubt to emphasize his incarnation through birth and because the meaning of monogenēs seems heightened into a special category for Yeshua (BAG 529). Son: Grk. huios with the definite article. See verse 13 above. The mention of the Son without qualification in this context can only mean the Son of Man (verses 13 & 14 above), Daniel's divine deliverer.
that: Grk. hina, conj. See verse 15 above. every one: See the previous verse. trusting: Grk. pisteuō, pres. part. See verse 12 above. As in verse 15 "trusting" is preferred over "believing." The present tense emphasizes the beginning point and continuance of trusting faithfulness. in: Grk. eis, prep, lit. "into." See verse 5 above. him: See the previous verse. should not: Grk. mē, negative particle. perish: Grk. apollumi, aor. mid. subj., may mean (1) cause severe damage; destroy, kill; or (2) experience disconnection or separation; lose, perish. The second meaning applies here. but: Grk. alla, conj. See verse 8 above. have: Grk. echō, pres. subj. See the previous verse. eternal life: See the previous verse.
This verse conveys simple but powerful truths. Scripture repeatedly says that God loves His people Israel (Deut 7:13; 23:5; 33:3; 2Chr 2:11; 9:8; Rom 5:8; Eph 2:4; 2Th 2:16; 1Jn 4:10; Rev 1:5), but John affirms that God's love is also extended to all the peoples of the earth. Thus, God's sacrificial love benefited the whole world. John sets forth the truth that Yeshua's death on the cross provided universal atonement (John 4:42; 6:51; Rom 5:15; 6:10; 2Cor 5:14-15; 1Tim 1:15; 2:6; Heb 10:10; 1Jn 2:2). However, there is no declaration of universal salvation as John clearly presents the outcome of eternal loss for those who do not put their trust in Yeshua.
17 For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world might be saved through him.
For God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. See verse 2 above. sent: Grk. apostellō, aor., to cause to move from one position to another, but often to send as an authoritative personal representative. Originally in Greek culture apostellō was used of sending an envoy to represent a king or a personal representative with legal powers. In the LXX apostellō translated Heb. shalach ("to stretch out or to send," SH-7971), often in contexts of commissioning and empowering a messenger (DNTT 1:128). not the Son: Grk. huios. See verse 13 above. In context this would be the Son of Man. into the world: Grk. kosmos. See the previous verse.
to judge: Grk. krinō, aor. subj., to subject to scrutiny and evaluation of behavior, to judge, whether in a personal, congregational or legal context. A continuum of judgment may be defined: observe, distinguish, evaluate, analyze, and decide, with the result being positive or negative. In the LXX krinō is used mainly to translate three different Heb. words: din, rib and shaphat (DNTT 2:363). Din means not only to judge (in a legal sense, usually by tribal elders, e.g., Ruth 4:1-3), but also to punish, wrangle, vindicate and obtain justice for someone (Gen 15:14; 30:6; Deut 32:36; 2Sam 19:9; Ps 54:3; Jer 5:28). Rib means to quarrel, to litigate, to carry on a lawsuit (Gen 26:21; Jdg 8:1; 21:22; 1Sam 24:16). Shaphat, which occurs the most frequently and means to judge in a legal sense or to govern. In ancient Israel there was no separation of Executive, Legislative and Judicial functions of government. Thus, a judge could also be one who brings salvation, peace and deliverance to the oppressed (Ex 2:14; Deut 10:18; Jdg 3:9, 15; 1Sam 8:20; 2Sam 15:4, 6).
the world: Grk. kosmos. This verse appears to contradict Yeshua's later statement in John 9:39, "For judgment I came into this world, so that those who don't see may see, and the ones who do not see may become blind" (TLV). John's point here may be that during Yeshua's earthly ministry he would not sit as a judge in the legal sense. On at least two occasions he refused to act as a court judge (Luke 12:13-15; John 8:3-11). This limitation, of course, does not apply to the Second Coming when Yeshua will sit as judge (Matt 25:31-32; John 5:22-29; 12:48; 2Cor 5:10). In contrast to verse 16 John affirms that God's love will not keep Him from condemning the world for its sinfulness.
The straightforward meaning is that Yeshua's purpose in his earthly ministry was not to judge the world, but to judge Israel. Paul states this principle in his letter to the Corinthians, "For what business do I have judging outsiders? Don't you judge those who are inside? But those who are outside, God judges" (1Cor 5:12-13 TLV). Yeshua took on the role of teacher-judge, a Levitical function (cf. Lev 10:8-11; Deut 17:9-11). He upheld God's expectations in the Torah, and explained the deeper meaning of Torah (Matt 5−7). He also pointed out bad attitudes and wrong behavior and called for repentance, warning people of the final judgment to come (Matt 10:15; 11:22; 12:36, 41-42).
but: Grk. alla, conj. See verse 8 above. that the world: Grk. kosmos. John repeats his idiosyncrasy of "threes" in a verse. might be saved: Grk. sōzō (from saos, 'free from harm'), aor. pass. subj., to deliver, or rescue from a hazardous condition, often in the sense of bodily harm (Matt 14:30), as well from spiritual peril (Matt 24:13). The subjunctive mood looks toward what is conceivable, not actual. In the LXX sōzō translates no less than 15 different Hebrew verbs, but the most important yasha, used in the Hiphil for to deliver and save (e.g., 1Sam 23:5), and malat, used in the Piel for to escape, deliver, save, (e.g., 1Kgs 1:12). The verbs are used in relation to various external threats and bodily peril, especially enemies (DNTT 3:206).
Two important principles may be noted in the Tanakh. First, deliverance may come about through men, even though possessing significant limitations (e.g., Gideon, Jdg 7:2). Second, the pious Israelite was aware of the fact that deliverance comes ultimately from God himself (Ps 18:2; 44:3). It is by His power and name that foes are vanquished and evil defeated. In the Besekh sōzō frequently refers to rescue from spiritual peril, including deliverance from God's wrath on the Day of the Lord. The verb sōzō is also used in various passages to refer to healing (Matt 9:21, 22; Mark 5:23, 28, 34; 6:56; Luke 6:9; 8:36, 48, 50; 17:19; 18:42; John 11:12; Acts 4:9; 14:9). through: Grk. dia, prep., by means of, through. him: Grk. autos, personal pronoun. John asserts that Yeshua is God's agent of deliverance and redemption.
18 The one trusting in him is not judged, but the one not trusting has been judged already, because he has not trusted in the name of the only Son of God.
The one trusting: Grk. pisteuō, pres. part. with the definite article. See verse 12 above. The present participle emphasizes both the ongoing activity and the character of the one who trusts. in: Grk. eis, prep., lit. "into." See verse 5 above. The use of the preposition here emphasizes entry into a personal relationship, not simply affirming a creedal belief. him: Grk. autos, personal pronoun, i.e., Yeshua. is not judged: Grk. krinō, pres. pass. See the previous verse. but: Grk. de, conj. See verse 1 above. The conjunction is used to indicate a contrast. the one not trusting: pisteuō, pres. part. The present participle again emphasizes a continuing disposition and character. has been judged: Grk. krinō, perf. pass. The perfect tense does not imply a predestined judgment, but of a fixed judgment based on God's criteria.
already: Grk. ēdē, adv. with focus on temporal culmination; now, already. because: Grk. hoti, conj. that serves as a link between two sets of data, here indicating causality with an inferential aspect; for, because, inasmuch as. he has not trusted: Grk. pisteuō, perf., in the name: Grk. onoma. See verse 1 above. Here "name" refers to the only authorized agent of God through whom salvation is mediated. of the only: Grk. monogenēs. See verse 16 above. Son: Grk. huios. See verse 13 above. of God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. See verse 2 above. The title "Son of God" occurs 43 times in the Besekh and all but one refer to Yeshua. "Son of the Father" appears in 2 John 1:3 and eight times Yeshua is referred to as the only Son of the Father. Indeed, he is the "unique one of God" (John 1:18).
Yeshua constantly referred to God as his Father. There is no equivocation in Paul's writings that Yeshua is the image of the invisible God (2Cor 4:4; Php 2:5-7; Col 2:9; Heb 1:2-3). Therefore, Christianity has traditionally restricted the meaning of the title "Son of God" to deity, the second person of the triune Godhead. Unbelieving Jews typically object to the concept of God having a divine son and can rightly claim that before the advent of Christianity "Son of God' had a very human meaning. Adam was the first son of God (Luke 3:38). Then God declared that the nation of Israel was His son (Ex 4:22; Isa 63:16; 64:8; Jer 31:9; Hos 11:1; 18:13) and by extension applied to all righteous Israelites (Ps 82:6; Sir. 4:10; Wsd. 2:13; Pss. Sol. 13:9; Jub. 1:24-25; Rom 9:4; 2Cor 6:18). The disciples of Yeshua would later be described as "sons of God" (Matt 5:9, 45; Rom 8:14-15, 19, 23; 9:26; Gal 3:26; 4:6-7; Eph 1:5; Heb 12:7-8).
Yet, there are verses in the Tanakh that mention God having a unique Son in a very personal sense:
"But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain." I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. … Worship the LORD with reverence And rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!" (Ps 2:6-7, 11-12 NASB)
"Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son's name? Surely you know!" (Prov 30:4 NASB)
For Jews during this time "Son of God" was used as a title for a human descendant of King David, the Messiah, who would establish the promised Kingdom, as indicated in John 1:17, 41 and 49 (see my notes there). "Son of God" was a title of the Davidic king inasmuch as the king functioned as God's regent on earth and was vested with God's authority. Just as Yeshua referred to himself as the Son of Man in verse 13 above so now John identifies Yeshua as the expected Davidic Son of God.
19 And this is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and the leading men loved the darkness rather than the Light; for their works were evil.
And: Grk. de, conj. See verse 1 above. The conjunction continues the thought of the previous verse. this: Grk. hautē, fem. demonstrative pronoun. is: Grk. eimi. See verse 1 above. the judgment: Grk. krisis, judgment. The term has four possible applications: (1) of scrutiny of conduct; (2) of a local court responsible for administration of justice; (3) of saving help; (4) of responsible or right decision. The first meaning applies here, as well as a nuance of the third. that the Light: Grk. phōs (for Heb. or), that which serves as a revealing or disclosing medium; light. Light as a physical illumination was the first created thing (Gen 1:3) and in the Tanakh light is a frequent image for God or God's presence or favor (Ps 27:1; 36:9; Isa 2:5). Here, as in John 1:9, "the Light" is a name for the Messiah.
has come: Grk. erchomai, perf., to come or arrive. into the world: Grk. kosmos. See verse 16 above. In this verse kosmos has a more narrow meaning than in verse 16. and the: pl. of Grk. ho, pronoun and definite article. The definite article is left untranslated by Bible versions, since its function is to give emphasis to the noun. leading men: pl. of Grk. anthrōpos, human being. In this instance the plural noun with the plural definite article, both in the nominative form, likely signals a particular class or group of men, such as the adversaries of Yeshua and hostile members of the Sanhedrin. loved: Grk. agapaō, aor. See verse 16 above. Contrary to common understanding agapaō can be selfish (cf. Luke 6:32) or directed to the wrong things (Luke 11:43; John 12:43).
the darkness: Grk. skotos, used for (1) absence of light, darkness, and (2) fig. of ignorance in moral or spiritual matters. The second meaning applies here. rather: Grk. mallon, adv., a change in procedure or circumstance involving an alternative; rather. than the Light: Grk. phōs. for their works: pl. of Grk. ergon generally means a tangible deed, action or accomplishment that may be observed. In John's narrative "works" is a major theme with the word occurring 25 times, and referring either to evil actions of men (as here), good actions of men or the missional actions of God and Yeshua in the form of revelation, miracles, signs, and sacrifice, the ultimate good works. The subject of "works" is often on the lips of Yeshua, but sometimes, as here, part of John's own message. were: Grk. eimi, impf., to be.
evil: Grk. ponēros, adj., may mean (1) marked by lowness in social worth or deviation from an acceptable moral or social standard, particularly as prescribed by God in his Word, (2) low in quality, bad, poor, or (3) in deteriorated or undesirable state or condition, of physical circumstances. In the LXX ponēros renders Heb. ra, which can mean evil, bad or of little value (DNTT 1:565). In the Tanakh ra is used to describe both that which is ethically evil (Deut 1:35; 4:25) and something that is unpleasant, disagreeable or injurious (e.g. Deut 22:14; 28:35; Isa 3:11). John appears to use ponēros as a deviation from God's moral standards. Stern suggests that this verse echoes Isaiah 59:2, "Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (CJB).
Reinhartz prefers to think of "evil" here as not a moral category but a theological one, referring to the failure to believe (164). Indeed, "believing" or "trusting" is a work as Yeshua later defines:
Then they said to Him, "What shall we do to perform the works of God?" 29 Yeshua answered them, "This is the work of God, to trust in the One He sent." (John 6:28-29 TLV)
The reality of the "evil deeds" here probably has both moral and theological aspects. Yeshua's adversaries preferred their definition of the faithful religious life (cf. Matt 23:5) and refused to transfer their loyalty to the Messiah. Thus their unbelief tainted all their religious works. In addition, Yeshua accused some of these adversaries of egregious violations of Torah (Matt 15:5; 23:14, 23, 28, 31) and they hated him for announcing their sins to others. Their deeds were indeed evil.
20 For every one doing evil things hates the Light, and does not come to the Light, lest his works be reproved.
For every one doing: Grk. prassō, pres. part., to engage in activity with focus on productivity; do, perform, engage in, carry out. evil things: Grk. pl. of phaulos, adj., displaying insensitivity about what is right and proper; bad, low-grade. Mounce adds "evil, wicked." BAG has "worthless, bad, evil, base." hates: Grk. miseō, pres., to detest, abhor or reject. The Heb. equivalent is sane ("saw-nay"), which may simply mean to love less (e.g., Jacob loved Leah less than Rachel, Gen 29:30; cf. Deut 21:15-17; Matt 10:37), but more often an emotional impulse to despise that can result in an action to turn against (e.g., Joseph’s brothers hated him because he was the favorite and betrayed him, Gen 37:2-8). Hatred in Scripture also refers to the hostility shown by an enemy (Gen 24:60; Ex 1:10; Num 10:35; Deut 30:7; 2Sam 22:18; Ps 18:17; Matt 24:9; Luke 1:71).
the Light: Grk. phōs. See the previous verse. By understanding "Light" as a name for the Messiah, the description of John vividly illustrates the animosity of Yeshua's adversaries. Taking the name more generally for God (1Jn 1:5), John may also allude to the effort of the wicked to hide exposure of their sins from the public. and does not come: Grk. erchomai, pres. mid. See verse 2 above. to the Light: Grk. phōs. lest: Grk. hina mē, "in order not." his works: pl. of Grk. ergon. See the previous verse. be reproved: Grk. elenchō, aor. pass. subj., refers to evaluating or responding to improper behavior with varying modes of approach, depending on the context. The verb could mean (1) to expose wrongdoing, (2) disapprove of wrongdoing or (3) offer convincing evidence of wrongdoing. The irony is that every adversary that dared to make a false accusation to Yeshua left with a stinging revelation of his own sin.
21 But the one doing the truth comes to the Light, that his works may be made known, because they have been done in God.
But: Grk. de, conj., used for contrast. the one doing: Grk. poieō, pres. part. See verse 2 above. the truth: Grk. alētheia, that which is really so. Alētheia may be expressed as (1) truthfulness in communication as opposed to deception; (2) fundamental reality that transcends mere appearance; or (3) spiritual and moral character signified by dependability, uprightness, truthfulness or integrity. The third description has greatest application here. In the LXX alētheia regularly translates the Heb. emet (SH-571, "firmness, faithfulness, truth," BDB 54), although Christian Bibles sometimes render it as "truth" and sometimes as "faithfulness" (DNTT 3:877). Given the dual meaning of emet the idiomatic expression is often used for truthfulness in God and piety in man. "Doing the truth" means being faithful to God and living according to His expectations.
comes: Grk. erchomai, pres. mid. See verse 2 above. The present tense would mean to start and keep on coming. to the Light: Grk. phōs. See verse 19 above. that his works: pl. of Grk. ergon. See verse 19 above. may be made known: Grk. phaneroō, aor. pass. subj., cause to be in a state or condition that makes observation possible; make known, show, disclose. that: Grk. hoti, conj. that serves as a link between two sets of data, here to exhibit an inferential aspect; for, that, inasmuch as. they have been done: Grk. ergazomai, perf. pass. part., working or doing that may focus either on (1) effort as such in the course of activity; be at work be active; or (2) result of effort; do, effect, carry out. in God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. See verse 2 above.
John presents something of a theological conundrum. "Doing the truth" implies that someone could have good character before coming to Yeshua. Christian theology prefers to think of life in two stages: (1) "I was once a sinner" and (2) "but I came pardon to receive from my Lord" (from the hymn A New Name in Glory, Austin Miles, 1910). After all, if unregenerate man is totally depraved as Christian theology says, how can he "do truth?" Yeshua seems to contradict common Christian belief with the declaration to his disciples "if you being evil [Grk. ponēros, see verse 19 above] know how to give good gifts to your children" (Matt 7:11). In the context of Yeshua's statement he was not accusing his disciples of being wicked or morally corrupt, but lacking the perfection and power of God to give what a person really needs, spiritual power (Luke 11:13).
However, John's description of the "doers of evil" in verse 20 and "doers of truth" in this verse illustrates the concept of the Two Ways found in many Psalms. The apostles identified people considered righteous in God's sight: Joseph (Matt 1:19), Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:6), Miriam (Luke 1:47-48), Simeon (Luke 2:25), Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50) and Cornelius (Acts 10:22). These people were not "saved" by common Christian definition. Scripture teaches that if something is truly good, then it is from God (Jas 1:17), which John affirms here. From a Wesleyan perspective God working goodness through people is evidence of his prevenient grace.
May-December, A.D. 27
Immersing Ministry in Judea, 3:22-24
22 After these things Yeshua and his disciples came into the land of Judea, and he stayed with them there, and were immersing.
After: Grk. meta, prep. used here as a sequential or positional marker; after. these things: pl. of Grk. toũto, neut. demonstrative pronoun. This is a typical Hebraic manner of expressing indefinite time. Santala estimates that the period of time covered by verses 22-36 lasted six months, May to December (111). Yeshua: See the note on verse 3 above. and his disciples: pl. of Grk. mathētēs (from manthanō, to learn), one who learns through instruction from a teacher. In the Besekh the noun occurs only in the apostolic narratives and corresponds to the Heb. talmid (SH-8527, scholar or pupil). See the note on John 1:35. The talmidim are designed "his" (Grk. autos), implying that Yeshua functioned as a rabbi (John 1:38, 49).
Being a disciple of Yeshua required four particular qualities. First, to be a disciple required sacrifice. Traveling the country meant leaving behind family, security and living under austere conditions. This was not a life of luxury. Simon Peter alluded to his sacrifice when he spoke of leaving everything to follow Yeshua (Matt 19:27). The rich young ruler was not willing to pay this price to be a disciple (Matt 19:21-22). Second, to be a disciple required commitment. Devotion to the rabbi came before all other obligations (Luke 9:57-61; 14:26). Once the commitment was made turning back would have been equivalent to rebellion against God (Luke 9:62). The disciple left behind his ordinary life and embraced an extraordinary life with his rabbi.
Third, to be a disciple required humility. A disciple came to the rabbi with an inquiring mind, a desire to know. He did not have answers, but he sought answers about God and spiritual things. He knew the rabbi had the answers (John 6:68). This humility is illustrated by the rabbinic saying "Let your home be a meeting-house for the sages, and cover yourself in the dust of their feet, and drink in their words thirstily" (Avot 1:4; translation by Bivin 12). Miriam, sister of Martha, demonstrated this humility when she sat at the feet of Yeshua (Luke 10:39). Fourth, to be a disciple required obedience (Matt 28:19). The rabbi's will became the disciple’s will. The rabbi directed, the disciple obeyed. The only authority greater in the disciple's life would be God.
Since mathētēs is plural there were at least two disciples with Yeshua, which presumptively were among those introduced at the end of chapter one: John, Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanael. However, it's very likely that Andrew and Simon Peter remained in Capernaum for the sake of their fishing business (2:12), because Yeshua will later return to Galilee and call them into fulltime service. There is no further mention of Andrew's presence until 6:8 in connection with the feeding of the five thousand and no further mention of Simon Peter until 6:68 when he professes personal loyalty to Yeshua in the face of many defections. went: Grk. erchomai, aor. See the note on verse 2 above.
into the land: Grk. gē can mean soil (as in receiving seed), the ground, land as contrasted with the sea, and the earth in contrast to heaven. The LXX uses gē more than 2,000 times and translates the Heb. word erets (DNTT 1:517). In the Tanakh erets designates either (a) the earth in a cosmological sense, or (b) "the land” in the sense of a specific territorial area, primarily the Land of Israel (BDB 75). The term is used here to refer to an area away from the city of Jerusalem. Some versions translate with "countryside" (CJB, ESV, HCSB, MSG, NIV, NLT, NRSV).
of Judea: Grk. Ioudaios. See verse 1 above. While normally the adjective refers to Jewish people, here it refers to the Judean countryside in contrast to the capital city. "Judea" most likely refers to the historic territory of Judea (which lay between Samaria and Idumea), since the context is during the reign of the Herods, although the first readers of John might assume he meant the Roman province of Judaea, which comprised all three territories. and he stayed: Grk. diatribō, impf., to spend time. The verb lit. means "to wear out," so it indicates more than just passing the time, but using the time in productive ministry.
there: Grk. ekei, adv., of that place, as opposed to here or another place; there. with them: i.e., his disciples. and were immersing: Grk. baptizō, impf., means to dip, soak, or immerse into a liquid. The imperfect tense refers to continuing action in past time. The verb baptizō is derived from baptō (immerse or plunge) and means that what is dipped takes on qualities of what it has been dipped in—such as cloth in dye or leather in tanning solution. In the LXX baptō translates the Heb. taval (to dip) 13 times. Baptizō occurs only four times in the LXX: in Isaiah 21:4; 2 Kings 5:14 (re: Naaman); Sirach 34:25; and Judith 12:7. While baptizō in the Isaiah passage speaks of being overwhelmed by a vision, the other three passages report incidents of self-immersion in water (DNTT 1:144).
The active voice of the verb "immersing" in this verse does not mean that someone personally put his hands on the immersion candidates and shoved them under the water as occurs in Christian practice. Not generally considered by Christian commentators is that Jewish immersion was (and is) self-immersion, and for modesty sake gender-specific. That is, men were not present when women immersed and vice versa. And, no one was allowed to touch the one immersing. No one needed to put the penitent under for it to be valid. Rather, this phrase depicts Yeshua and his disciples superintending the immersion of all those who came and expressed repentance. As an attending witness he would insure that each person completely immersed himself.
In all likelihood several people would be immersing at the same time. In one fascinating piece of evidence, there is an ancient drawing from a Roman catacomb which depicts Yochanan and Yeshua at Yeshua's immersion. Yochanan is standing on the bank of the Jordan River extending a hand to Yeshua assisting him from the water (R. Steven Notley, John's Baptism of Repentance, Jerusalem Perspective Online, 2004; also Ron Moseley, The Jewish Background of Christian Baptism).
23 Now Yochanan was also immersing in Enon near to Salim, because much water was there: and they were coming, and were immersing.
Now: Grk. de, conj. See verse 1 above. Here de functions as a connecting particle to continue a thought. Yochanan: Grk. Iōannēs attempts to transliterate the Heb. Yōchanan ("John" in Christian Bibles) and means "the Lord is gracious,” an apt description of the one who would prepare the way of the Messiah (Stern 15). Yochanan was a cousin (degree unknown) of Yeshua, born in Hebron just six months before Yeshua (cf. Luke 1:26, 36, 56-57), most likely in March, 3 BC. The commencement of Yochanan's ministry occurred in the fifteenth year of the reign of Caesar Tiberius, probably Autumn A.D. 26 (Edersheim 183; Santala 125). Because of his immersing ministry Yochanan is given the title "the Immerser" ("the Baptist" in Christian Bibles), occurring 15 times in the Synoptic Narratives, but never in John. See my commentary on John 1:6 for more background information on Yochanan.
was: Grk. eimi, impf. See verse 1 above. also: Grk. kai, conj. See verse 13 above. immersing: Grk. baptizō, pres. part. See the previous verse. In other words while Yeshua and his disciples engaged in immersion ministry, Yochanan was doing the same in a different location. in Enon: Grk. Ainōn ("fountain"). Stern suggests the Ainōn is possibly a corruption of Hebrew Einayim ("Two Springs”). Its location is uncertain but is thought to be in the eastern hills of Samaria. near: Grk. engus, prep., near or close to in a geographical sense. to Salim: Grk. Salim ("peace"). The Oxford Bible Atlas places both locations on the west side of the Jordan within the border of the Decapolis, five to six miles south of Scythopolis (86). There is no indication that John meant these place names to be symbolic, but as genuine locations.
The Decapolis, a Greek place name meaning "ten cities," was originally a group of ten free cities organized on the Greek model and founded during the Seleucid period, brought under Hasmonean control by John Hyrcanus, and "liberated" by the Roman general Pompey (Wessel on Mark 5:20). The cities are identified as Damascus, Philadelphia (modern Amman), Canatha, Scythopolis, Pella, Hippos, Gadara, Dion, Raphana, and Gerasa. All the cities were located (except Scythopolis) on the east of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. Later, other cities were added. They were independent of the local tetrarchy, and answerable directly to the governor of Syria. They enjoyed the rights of association and asylum; they struck their own coinage, paid imperial taxes and were liable to military service (ISBE). Here Yochanan could minister free of restriction and interference.
because: Grk. hoti, conj. See verse 18 above. much: pl. of Grk. polus, adj. of number; many. water: pl. of Grk. hudōr, water as the physical element, here of that found in a natural source, lit. "many waters." was: Grk. eimi, impf. there: Grk. ekei, adv. of place; there, in that place. and they were coming: Grk. paraginomai, impf. mid., to make one's way so as to be present; come, arrive, be present. Morris suggests the translation of "they kept coming." and were immersing: Grk. baptizō, impf. mid. Again, the imperfect tense reflects a continuing activity. The middle voice in Greek grammar (the subject = the agent) reflects the Jewish practice of self-immersion. Yochanan purposely conducted his ministry outside of Judea in an area less likely to suffer the scrutiny of the Sanhedrin.
24 For Yochanan was not yet cast into prison.
For Yochanan: See the previous verse. was: Grk. eimi, impf. See verse 1 above. not yet: Grk. oupō, adv., negative particle indicating that an activity, circumstance or condition is in abeyance or suspension; not yet. cast: Grk. ballō, perf. pass. part., may be used of a vigorous action and be translated as cast, throw or scatter, or of a more subdued action and be translated as put, place, lay or bring (BAG). The first meaning applies here. into prison: Grk. phulakē, a place for detaining a law-breaker, not a place for carrying out a specified period of detention. The term is for a place in which one is confined until disposition is made of the detainee's case. Yochanan's imprisonment is reported in Matthew 14:3-12 and Mark 6:17-29. (See my commentary on Mark.)
The Last Testimony of Yochanan the Immerser, 3:25-30
25 There arose then a dispute between disciples of Yochanan and a Judean about purification.
There arose: Grk. ginomai, aor. mid., lit. "there began." See verse 9 above. then: Grk. oun, conj. indicating that one takes account of something in the narrative immediately preceding or of implication contained in it; then. a dispute: Grk. zētēsis, act of delving into a subject or issue; debate, discussion, dispute, or argument. between: Grk. ek, prep., lit. "out of." disciples: pl. of Grk. mathētēs. See verse 22 above. of Yochanan: See verse 23 above. Several passages speak of Yochanan's disciples (Matt 9:14; 11:12; Luke 7:18-19; 11:1; John 4:1; Acts 19:1-3).
and a Judean: Grk. Ioudaios. See verse 1 above. The CJB, HNV and TLV translate the word with "a Judean" and DHE has "a Yehudi," which are better choices than "a sectarian Jew" (MW) or "a certain Jew" in Christian versions. All the Greek texts have the singular form of which word, which accounts for the singular form in most Bible versions. Only a few versions translate the word as plural (DRA, HNV, KJ21, KJV, NKJV, WE, WEB, YLT). It is interesting that the KJV departs from the singular in the TR to render Ioudaios with the plural "Jews." The plural probably anticipates the mention of the Pharisees in 4:1, who had heard about Yeshua's immersion ministry. The discussion might have resulted from Pharisees taunting Yochanan's disciples with the fact that more people were coming to Yeshua, mentioned in the next verse.
about purification: Grk. katharismos, the state of being clean in either a religious or spiritual sense. The term can refer broadly to those things specified in Torah that produce uncleanness and the prescribed remedy, which normally required washing with or in water, as well as the ritual cleansings that took place by pilgrims in Jerusalem before entering the Temple grounds. A controversy might have arisen because of the implication that Yochanan's message of repentance and insistence on water immersion (Matt 3:11) reflected atonement for sins when only a blood sacrifice could provide atonement. Yet, God does use the metaphor of washing with water as symbolic of removing sins (Num 19:9; 1Sam 7:6; Ezek 36:25; see verse 5 above). Yochanan also used immersion as preparatory to the coming of the Messiah and symbolic of entry into a new age in a morally and spiritually clean state.
26 And they came to Yochanan, and said to him, Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, behold, he is immersing, and all are coming to him.
And: Grk. kai, conj. they came: Grk. erchomai, aor. See verse 2 above. "They" refers to Yochanan's disciples mentioned in the previous verse and the verb might imply that they had come from Judea (verse 22 above). to Yochanan: See verse 23 above. and said: Grk. legō, aor. See verse 2 above. to him, Rabbi: Grk. Rhabbi. See verse 2 above. This is the only time that Yochanan was addressed as "Rabbi," an appropriate title since he had disciples and taught them the ways of God. he who was with you: This is an oblique reference to Yeshua, which may signify a lack of familiarity with Yeshua, but more likely a form of disrespect in not saying his name, since he was not as important to them as Yochanan.
across: Grk. peran, adv., on the other side, here corresponding to the direction of east, probably on the same general latitude as Jerusalem. the Jordan: Grk. Iordanēs (Heb. Yarden, "the descender"). This important river runs through a deep valley known as the Jordan Rift. It begins in the mountains of Syria, flows into the Sea of Galilee, which is 212 meters below sea level and after about 70 miles finally empties into the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on the face of the earth, 400 meters below sea level. Several tributaries flow into the Jordan emptying almost as much water as the Jordan itself. The deltas of these streams were ideal for cultivation. Many cities of antiquity were built close to the place where the tributaries and the Jordan met.
The Jordan River and Jordan Valley played an important role in a number of memorable events in biblical history. In the Tanakh the river is mentioned in the stories of the separation of Abram and Lot (Gen 13:11), Jacob wrestling with the angel of ADONAI at the ford of the Jabbok (Gen 32:22-26), and Israel crossing the river "on dry ground" under the leadership of Joshua (Josh 3:15-17). During the period of the judges and the early monarchy, the Jordan was a strong line of defense, not to be easily forded. In the later monarchy the Jordan River is featured in the miracles of Elijah (a place for hiding, 1Kgs 17:3; dividing it, 2Kgs 2:8) and Elisha (dividing it, 2Kgs 2:14; healing of Naaman, 2Kgs 5:10-14).
The location John mentions here has never been positively identified, but alludes to the place where Yeshua met Yochanan in 1:28-29. to whom: Grk. hos, relative pronoun. you bore witness: Grk. martureō, perf., to attest to a fact or truth, often in a legal context; testify, attest. The perfect tense points to the time several months previously when Yochanan had announced Yeshua to be the Lamb of God (1:29, 36) and the Davidic Son of God (1:34). The perfect tense also emphasizes the continuing results of that proclamation. behold: Grk. ide, aor. imp., of eidon, to see, but functions as an attention-getting particle without regard to number of persons addressed; in general (you) see!
he: Grk. houtos, masc. demonstrative pronoun. is immersing: Grk. baptizō, pres. See verse 22 above. John, the author of the Gospel, clarifies in 4:2 that Yeshua was not personally directing individual immersions, but his disciples. and all are coming: Grk. erchomai, pres. mid. to him: Disciples of a rabbi were typically very loyal and these disciples of Yochanan apparently had not accepted Yochanan's testimony about Yeshua and clearly viewed the ministry of Yeshua and his disciples as a threat. Indeed, their rejection of Yochanan's message of the Messiah no doubt led to the testimony of Yochanan's disciples 25 years later that they had never heard of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2).
27 Yochanan answered and said, "A man is not able to receive anything, unless it has been given him from heaven."
Yochanan: See the note on verse 23 above. answered and said: See the note on verse 3 above for this Hebraic way of introducing quoted material. A man: Grk. anthrōpos, human being. is not: Grk. ouk, neg. particle of strong negation. able: Grk. dunamai, pres. mid. See the note on verse 2 above. to receive: Grk. lambanō, pres. inf. See the note on verse 11 above. anything: Grk. oude, adv., negative particle that links a negative statement to the preceding negative (ouk) in terms of consequence, lit." neither, nor, not even." unless: Grk. ean mē, lit. "if not." it has been given: Grk. didōmi, perf. pass. part. See the note on verse 16 above. him from heaven: Grk. ouranos. See the note on verse 13 above, here used as a circumlocution for God. Yochanan gently corrects his loyal disciples with an important truth.
28 You yourselves bear witness to me, that I said, I am not the Messiah, but, that I am sent before him.
You yourselves: The double use of plural second person pronouns is a typical Hebraic manner of strengthening an address or exhortation. bear witness: Grk. martureō. See verse 26 above. The present tense gives vividness to an event that occurred in the past. to me: i.e., "I was there and you were with me, remember?" that I said: Grk. legō, aor. See verse 2 above. "I said it once and I'm saying it again. Pay attention this time." Yochanan proceeds to remind his disciples of what he had said in Perea (John 1:20). I: Grk. egō, pronoun of the first person. am: Grk. eimi. See verse 1 above. Yochanan's use of "I am" (egō eimi) contrasts with Yeshua's repeated use of "I AM." not: Grk. ou, adv. that makes a strong denial of fact. the Messiah: Grk. Christos, the expected fulfiller of the hopes of Israel for an end-time deliverer, the Anointed One or Messiah. The English "Christ" transliterates the Greek title, but does not translate it.
In Greek culture christos comes from chriein, to rub lightly, and in its secular use had no religious connotation at all. Christos as an adjective described someone smeared with whitewash, cosmetics or paint, and was anything but an expression of honor. As a personal reference it even tended toward the disrespectful (DNTT 2:334). Christos was chosen deliberately by the Jewish translators of the LXX to render Mashiach and in so doing infused new meaning into the Greek word. The Heb. title Mashiach means 'anointed one' or 'poured on.' Mashiach was used in the Tanakh for (1) the patriarchs (1Chron 16:16-22; Ps 105:15); (2) the High Priest, Lev 4:5; (3) the King, 1Sam 12:3; 2Sam 22:51; Isa 45:1; and (4) the Messiah, Ps 2:2 and Dan 9:25-26. This last usage defined the term in the first century.
When Yeshua arrived on earth Jews were looking for deliverance from the oppression of Imperial Rome. Jewish anticipation was grounded in the future hope expressed by the Hebrew prophets of one who would come to deliver and rule as God's anointed (Deut 18:15-17; Isa 7:14; 9:1-7; 11:1; 16:5; 22:22; 53:1-12; Jer 23:5; 30:9; 33:15-21; Ezek 34:23-24; 37:37:24-25; Dan 7:13-15; Hos 3:5; Amos 9:11-15; Obad 1:21; Mic 5:2; Zech 9:9; 12:8; Mal 3:1-2; 4:1-3). The failure of the Hasmonean Kingdom (37 B.C.) led later Jewish writers to promise a victorious deliverer (Psalms of Solomon 17:21-23; 18:5-7; 2 Esdras 7:28-29; Enoch 48:11; 51:4; 92:133, 135; Sirach 48:10) who would usher in an Olam Habah ("the world to come") or Messianic Age.
Jewish leaders believed that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David and born in Bethlehem (Matt 2:4-6). He would fulfill the promises made to the patriarchs and to Israel. Those promises included redemption for Israel, destruction of the enemies of Israel, the restoration of Israel to sovereign rule in its land and establishment of the Davidic monarchy over Israel and the nations (Luke 1:68-74). In fact, the angel Gabriel provided assurance of fulfillment to Miriam (Luke 1:32) and Paul reiterated the truth (Acts 13:32-34). What the Jews did not expect was that in order to have a victorious Messiah, they would have to first have a suffering Messiah, one who would be an atoning sacrifice (John 1:29).
but: Grk. alla, conj. See verse 8 above. that I am sent: Grk. apostellō, perf. pass. part. See verse 17 above. before him: i.e., the Messiah, which Yochanan had announced to be Yeshua. In his preaching Yochanan cited Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 as descriptive of his mission (Matt 3:3; Mark 1:2). Yochanan was a forerunner, a voice crying in the wilderness. He was not the Messiah.
29 He who has the bride is a bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices with joy because of the voice of the bridegroom: therefore, my joy has been made full.
He who: Grk. ho, definite article; lit. "the one." has: Grk. echō, pres. part. See verse 15 above. In the context of marriage the verb has the sense of possession. the bride: Grk. numphē, bride, daughter-in-law. In the LXX numphē renders Heb. kallah (SH-3618, daughter-in-law, bride, SS 4:8; 5:1; Isa 49:18; 62:5). is: Grk. eimi, pres. a bridegroom: Grk. numphios, a bridegroom (derived from numphē), which may be distinguished from anēr, "husband." In the LXX numphios renders Heb. chatan 9 times (SH-2860), daughter's husband, bridegroom, son-in-law (Jdg 19:5; Ps 19:5; Isa 61:10; 62:5; Jer 7:34; 16:9; 25:10; 33:11; Joel 2:16). The use of numphē and numphios emphasize the betrothal stage of marriage that culminates with nisuin or the bridegroom taking his bride. The bridegroom is the one who goes into the nuptial chamber for consummation with his bride (cf. Ps 19:5; Joel 2:16).
but: Grk. de, conj. the friend: Grk. philos, in a close relationship with another, as opposed to a casual acquaintanceship; friend. of the bridegroom: The phrase "friend of the bridegroom" refers to the "companions of the bridegroom" (cf. Jdg 14:11; 1 Macc 9:39; Mark 2:19; Luke 5:34; John 3:29). The singular form probably alludes to the equivalent of "best man." The companions of the bridegroom (Heb. Shoshbenin) would bring him gifts and rejoice with him and then their services and gifts were reciprocated on the occasion of their marriages (Baba Bathra 144b, fn. 20; Kethuboth 12a). In addition, they remained with him at all times and even brought him to the bridal chamber when it was time for consummation and later verified the tokens of virginity. Thus, they could be called upon as witnesses to attest to the bridegroom's integrity and the bride's virginity.
who stands: Grk. histēmi, perf. part., be in an upright position, to stand, used of bodily posture. The perfect tense implies that Yochanan's "standing" has the nuance of taking a stand of principle or holding his ground regardless of what others would say. and hears: Grk. akouō, pres. part. See verse 8 above. him: i.e., Yeshua. rejoices: Grk. chairō, pres., to be in a state marked by good feeling about an event or circumstance; be happy, glad, delighted, rejoice. with joy: Grk. chara, joy as an emotional response that may be experienced in a variety of circumstances or of sharing in a celebration. It's association with the verb chairō suggests an experience that transcended any previous experience of joy.
because of: Grk. dia, prep., lit. "through," but used here in a causal sense. the voice: Grk. phōnē. See verse 8 above. of the bridegroom: Grk. numphios. therefore: Grk. oun, conj. this: Grk. hautē, fem. demonstrative pronoun. joy: Grk. chara. of mine: Grk. emos, possessive pronoun, my, mine. has been made full: Grk. plēroō, perf. pass., may mean (1) cause to abound in content to a maximum, fill; or (2) to bring to fruition or completion, complete, fulfill, fill up, carry out. The second meaning has application here. Yochanan could rejoice because of the fulfillment of prophecy.
Reinhartz points out that the figure of bridegroom is a prophetic image of one who rejoices (Isa 61:10; 62:5; Jer 16:9; 25:10; 33:11; Rev 18:23) (164). Yeshua likened himself to a bridegroom by saying that when the bridegroom is with his friends they do not fast (Mark 2:19-20; Luke 5:34-35). (NOTE: In Jewish wedding customs an Ashkenazi Jewish couple will fast on the day of their wedding, but the Sephardic Jews do not fast.) In the Olivet Discourse the bridegroom is a specific symbol of the Messiah who is to arrive, after which festivities can begin (Matt 25:1-10). This theme was presented again to John in Revelation 19:7-9.
30 He must increase, but I must decrease.
He: Grk. ekeinos, lit. "that one." must: Grk. dei, pres. See verse 7 above. increase: Grk. auxanō, pres. inf., cause to become greater in extent or amount, increase. but I must decrease: Grk. elattoō, pres. mid. inf., treat with less importance or become less important, whether of position or status. Yochanan's humility is a worthy example for all disciples of Yeshua. Personal testimonies of early disciples are appropriately modest in the face of God’s holiness (John 1:27; Acts 10:25-26; Php 3:8-15; 1Tim 1:12-16). Stern comments that Yochanan’s humility is no less genuine than that of Moses, who, though raised to prominence by God, proclaimed himself "the most humble man on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3). The verse here cautions believers against calling attention to themselves instead of Yeshua.
Midrash of John: Messenger of Life, 3:31-36
31 The One from above, The Coming One, is over all: he that is of the Land is of the earth, and of the Land he speaks: The One of Heaven, The Coming One, is above all.
Once again the Greek text is not clear as to the author of the last verses of this chapter. Some, as Stern, believe that Yochanan the Immerser offered the closing discourse. Others, as Morris and Tenney, think it more probable that John penned these words. Since these verses seem to be a reflection on the past I am inclined to the second viewpoint.
The One: Grk. ho, demonstrative pronoun and definite article. Several versions translate the pronoun as "He who" or "He that" (ASV, CJB, DRA, ESV, KJV, NASB, NKJV, NLT, RSV, TEV), but some versions render it literally as "The one" (CEB, CEV, DHE, ERV, EXB, NET, NIV, NRSV, OJB, PNT, LEB). A few versions appropriately capitalize "One" (HCSB, MSG, NCV, NIRV, TLV). Among Jews "The One" was a circumlocution for God (cf. Ps 3:3; 37:24; Isa 40:26; 45:7; 49:7; Amos 9:5-6; John 1:33; 6:46; 7:18; 12:45; 15:21; Acts 10:42; Rom 5:17; 2Cor 4:6). from above: Grk. anōthen, adv., from above, an idiomatic expression for heaven or God. John affirms again the heavenly origin of Yeshua.
The Coming One: Grk. erchomai, pres. mid. part. See verse 2 above. The present tense could be taken as an historical present referring to Yeshua's first coming, although we cannot exclude completely its use for an anticipated eschatological event. The participle form of the verb emphasizes the character of the person, so John seems to use it as a name for Yeshua. is: Grk. eimi. See verse 1 above. over: Grk. epanō, prep. used adverbially with the basic idea of superiority, which may be expressed in terms of place, quantity or administrative position; above, over, more than, greater, superior. all: pl. of Grk. pas, adj. See verse 15 above. Yeshua reigns supreme over all creation and all the inhabitants of the earth.
he that: Lit. "the one," i.e. Yochanan the Immerser. is: Grk. eimi, pres. part., lit. "being." of: Grk. ek, prep., lit. "out of," "from within." the Land: Grk. gē. See verse 22 above. Most versions render the noun as "earth," but the first usage in this verse seems to identify the locus of Yochanan's ministry. is: Grk. eimi. of the earth: Grk. gē. The second usage of the noun is a contrast to heaven and thus John alludes to the very different origin stories of Yeshua and Yochanan the Immerser. and of the Land: Grk. gē. The triple use of gē is in line with John's fondness for threes in a verse, and has significance. he speaks: Grk. laleō. See verse 11 above. John alludes to the prophetic preaching of Yochanan the Immerser whose focus was primarily on God's promises to Israel for the Messiah.
The One: Grk. ho. of Heaven: Grk. ouranos. See verse 13 above. Here the term refers to the location of God's throne and abode of the angels. The Coming One: Grk. erchomai, pres. mid. part., i.e., Yeshua. is over all. the last three words, apanō [over] pantōn [all] estin [is], a repetition from the first part of the verse, is enclosed in brackets in the NA26 Greek text because MSS evidence is divided and the authenticity of these three words is uncertain.
32 He bears witness to this, what he has seen and heard; and no one receives his testimony.
He bears witness: Grk. martureō, pres. See verse 11 above. Grammatically this verse continues the thought begun in verse 31 and with the omission of "is over all" at the end of verse 31 would read "The Coming One bears witness" (PNT). to this: Grk. toũto, neut. demonstrative pronoun that signifies a person or thing set forth in narrative that precedes its use or follows it, here the latter. what: Grk. ho, demonstrative pronoun. he has seen: Grk. horaō, perf. See verse 3 above. and heard: Grk. akouō, aor. See verse 8 above. Morris points out that the change from the perfect tense of "seen" to the aorist tense of "heard" is unexpected and, quoting B.F. Westcott, suggests the possibility that the former points to that which "belonged to the existence" and the latter to that which "belonged to the mission" of the Son (244).
There is an implied contrast. Yochanan testified to what he had seen and heard, namely the divine call to serve as forerunner of the Messiah and the sign he had been given to recognize the Messiah. John strongly affirms that Yeshua gave expert testimony and echoes what he said to Nicodemus in verse 11 above. Gill points out that Yeshua testified what he had seen and heard of the Father's mind and will, of his purposes and promises, of his love, grace, and mercy, in the council and covenant of peace, and being privy to all his secrets. The verbs "seen" and "heard" express the clear and perfect knowledge Yeshua has of all truths and doctrines; he having all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in him. Yeshua testified fully, freely, and faithfully; withheld nothing, but declared the whole counsel of God, and thus deservedly is called the faithful witness (Rev 1:5).
and: Grk. kai, conj. no one: Grk. oudeis, adj. indicating negation of a person or thing as actually existing at a place or moment; no one, nobody. The adjective should not be taken literalistically but as an Hebraic hyperbole for "few" (cf. Matt 7:14). receives: Grk. lambanō. See verse 11 above. his testimony: Grk. marturia. See verse 11 above. The "no one" probably alludes to the fact that some of Yochanan's disciples did not believe in Yeshua as the Messiah (verse 26 above) and later many disciples of Yeshua will turn away from him (John 6:66). A Jewish saying illustrates how John could speak in such generalities: "If five sons are faithful and two are not, you may cry, ‘Woe is me, for my sons are unfaithful!’” (Stern 386).
33 The one receiving his testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true.
The one: Grk. ho, demonstrative pronoun. receiving: Grk. lambanō, aor. part. See verse 11 above. The verb incorporates both hearing and accepting by listeners. his testimony: Grk. marturia. See verse 11 above. This is a typical example of Hebrew block logic or paradox. In the previous verse no one receives his testimony, but this verse refers to those who did receive his testimony. Reinhartz suggests that the contradictory formulation is "intended presumably to convey that those who do not accept the testimony are doubting not just the one who testifies but also that God is trustworthy or faithful" (165).
has set his seal: Grk. sphragizo, aor., to certify with a mark, seal, used fig. of guarantying something. to this, that God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. See verse 2 above. is true: Grk. alēthēs, adj., unconcealed, and so 'true.' The adjective may emphasize (1) in accordance with fact; (2) real or genuine; (3) in a straightforward, honest or truthful manner; and frequently (4) of reliability and trustworthiness. The word occurs 26 times in the Besekh and 17 of those in the writings of John. There is a saying in the Talmud that "the seal of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, is truth" (Yoma 69b).
34 For whom God has sent speaks the words of God: for He gives not the Spirit by a measure.
For: Grk. gar, conj., expressing reaction or perspective relative to a preceding statement or set of circumstances explicit or implicit in the narrative, 'certainly it follows that;' for. whom: Grk. hos, relative pronoun, here of Yeshua as implied by the next verse. God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. has sent: Grk. apostellō, aor. See verse 17 above. speaks: Grk. laleō, pres. See verse 11 above. the words: pl. of Grk. rhēma, a communication consisting of words, often with the implication of importance or special significance. In secular Greek works rhēma referred to a statement, discourse or explanation.
In the LXX rhēma occurs predominately in the Pentateuch and prophetic writings for the Heb. dabar, which means "word" or "thing." Thus, rhēma, standing for dabar, can mean both (a) a word or utterance as well as (b) a matter, event, or case in the sense of the result of things said or done. In the Tanakh rhēma is often synonymous with Grk. logos, which means a vocalized expressed of the mind, ranging broadly in extent of content and variety of form (DNTT 3:1119f). Interestingly both rhēma and logos occur together in the LXX of Exodus 34:27, "Write down these words [rhēma], for in accordance with these words [logos] I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." of God: an affirmation of divine inspiration. for: Grk. gar. He gives: Grk. didōmi, pres. See verse 16 above. not: Grk. ou, adv. used as a strong negation.
the Spirit: Grk. pneuma. See verse 5 above. The presence of the definite article indicates the Holy Spirit. by: Grk. ek, prep., lit. "out of, from within," but here as "by means of." a measure: Grk. metron, a device used to meet a standard for determination of amount or dimension, used here fig. of a measured extent or amount. John mentions the giving of the Holy Spirit as a parallelism to speaking the words of God, since they are inspired by the Spirit (cf. 2Tim 3:16). The point is that God is not stingy in giving His Spirit, because His words have been recorded in a book and gone out into all the world. Some versions capture this sense by translating metron as "limited degree" (CJB) and "sparingly" (NET), or convert the negative statement into a positive "without limit" (GW, NIRV, NIV, NLT, NOG).
35 The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand.
The Father: Grk. patēr, normally of a male biological parent or ancestor, but frequently in reference to God, which emphasizes both his activity as creator and sustainer. In the LXX patēr renders ab ("av"), which occurs about 1180 times, generally in the human sense, but also of God as father in relation to Israel (Ex 4:22; Deut 1:31; 8:5; 32:6; Isa 63:16; 64:8) (DNTT 1:616f). There is no trinitarian intention as usage developed by the church fathers. Even Yeshua can be called "Everlasting Father" (Isa 9:6).
loves: Grk. agapaō. See verse 16 above. the Son: Grk. huios. See verse 13 above. John presents something of a conundrum since agapaō is a sacrificial love. God so loved the world that He gave His Son and yet He loves the Son in the same manner. and has given: Grk. didōmi, perf. See verse 16 above. The perfect tense probably points back to creation. all things: pl. of Grk. pas, adj. See verse 15 above. into his hand: Grk. cheir, the limb of the hand, used fig. of authority or control. This granting of authority is a measure of the Father's love for the Son.
36 The one believing in the Son has eternal life; but the one disobeying the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
The chapter closes with a repetition of the message in verse 18 above with a slight difference in emphasis. The one: Grk. ho, demonstrative pronoun and definite article for the participle following. believing: Grk. pisteuō, pres. part. See the note on verse 12 above. The present tense indicates the beginning and continuance of the action of believing, trusting and obeying. The participle form emphasizes that the true disciple is a "trusting-faithful one." in the Son: Grk. huios, the Son of God-Son of Man. has: Grk. echō, pres. See the note on verse 15 above. The "having" is concurrent with the "believing." eternal life: See the note on verse 15. As noted above eternal life is not something that awaits death or resurrection, but reflects the quality of life God intends for his people to enjoy now.
but: Grk. de, conj. See the note on verse 1 above. Here de emphasizes a contrast. the one: Grk. ho. disobeying: Grk. apeitheō, pres. part., disobey, be rebellious, resist. The contrasting verb emphasizes that believing involves obeying. the Son will not see: Grk. horaō, fut. mid. ind. See the note on verse 3 above. life: Grk. zōē. See the note on verse 15 above. "Life" is shorthand for eternal life. but the wrath: Grk. orgē means anger, indignation or wrath. In the Besekh orgē, occurring 36 times, is used of human anger (Eph 4:31; 1Tim 2:8; Jas 1:19-20), but primarily divine wrath at the end of the age (Matt 3:7; Rom 2:5; Eph 2:3; 1Th 1:10; Heb 3:11; Rev 6:16). In the LXX orgē is used to translate eight different Hebrew words for anger (DNTT 1:108). Greek has only two basic words for anger (the other being thumos, e.g., Rom 2:8).
Most frequently orgē renders Heb. aph, nostril, nose, face, anger, first in Genesis 27:45 of Esau's anger at Jacob. The anatomical term is used for anger because of the change in facial features that occurs from the emotion of anger. of God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. See the note on verse 2 above. The Hebrew words for anger are most often used of the wrath of YHVH, first against Moses (Ex 4:14), next against Egypt (Ex 15:7), next against Israel for worshipping the golden calf (Ex 32:9), and then later against Israel for grumbling (Num 11:1). In the Tanakh God is often depicted as jealous and angry, and for good reason. God’s wrath began in the Garden of Eden where the first couple received the predicted penalty of disobedience (Gen 2:17; 1Cor 15:22).
Because of being born into Adam’s race all people are by nature "children of wrath" (Eph 2:3). Most of the incidents of God’s wrath in the Tanakh are directed against Israel for sinning, but wrath also awaits the nations (e.g., Isa 34:2; Jer 10:10; Mic 5:15). The eschatological wrath mentioned in the Besekh refers to God’s anger at sin and the resulting eternal punishment that He imposes as a just recompense. remains: Grk. menō, pres., to be in a situation for a length of time or to remain in a state or condition; remain or stay. on him: John indicates that the wrath of God is not something that is held in abeyance until the judgment of the last day, but is an active sentence on those who disobey the truth.
BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981. Online at BibleHub.com.
DM: H.E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. The Macmillan Co., 1955.
Danker: F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, University of Chicago Press, 2009.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology. 3 Vols., ed. Colin Brown. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
Fisher: Anthony J. Fisher, Greek New Testament. The University of York, 2000. [NA26]
Gill: John Gill (1697-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible. Online.
GNT: The Greek New Testament, eds. Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Bruce M. Metzger, & Allen Wiegren. American Bible Society, 1966. [NA25]
ISBE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Edited by James Orr, published in 1939 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Website HTML, 2011.
Jeremias: Joichim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. Fortress Press, 1975.
JVL: Jewish Virtual Library. American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2014.
Lightfoot: John Lightfoot (1602-1675), A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica (1859 ed.), 4 Vols. Hendrickson Pub., 1989. Online.
Marshall: Alfred Marshall, NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. Zondervan Pub. House, 1986.
Metzger: Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. German Bible Society, 1994.
Midrash: Midrash Rabbah: Vol. 1, Genesis. Trans. by Rabbi Dr. Harry Freedman. Soncino Press, 1939. Online.
Morris: Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1971. (NICNT)
Mounce: William D. Mounce, Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. 2011. Online.
MW-Notes: Daniel Gruber, The Messianic Writings. Elijah Publishing, 2011. Annotations by the author.
NASBEC: New American Standard Bible Exhaustive Concordance, Updated Edition. Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998.
Reinhartz: Adele Reinhartz, Annotations on "John," Jewish Annotated New Testament, eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Brettler. Oxford University Press, 2011.
Santala: Risto Santala, The Messiah in the New Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings. Trans. William Kinnaird. Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 1992. Online.
Shapira: Rabbi Itzhak Shapira, The Return of the Kosher Pig: The Divine Messiah in Jewish Thought. Lederer Books, 2013.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
Tenney: Merrill C. Tenney, John, Vol. 9, Expositor's Bible Commentary, Software version 2.6. Zondervan Corp, 1989-1999.
Wessel: Walter W. Wessel, Mark. Vol. 8, Expositor's Bible Commentary, Software version 2.6. Zondervan Corp, 1989-1999.
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