Craig S. Keener
The Son from Above. 3:1–36
IN THIS SECTION, JESUS REVEALS to Nicodemus that he is the Son from above (3:13, 16), and John reiterates this point (3:31, 35–36). Jesus likewise continues the theme of true purification (3:5) from 2:6, which again contrasts forcefully with mere Jewish water rituals (3:25), even those of the Baptist (3:22–26; 4:1–2). Nicodemuss partial faith continues the theme of 2:23–25, but contrasts starkly with the fully reliable witness of John (3:21–36) and the responsiveness of the sinful Samaritan woman (4:1–42).
Nicodemus and the Heavenly Witness (3:1–21)
The warning against untrustworthy believers depending merely on signs (2:23–25) leads directly into the following paragraph: Nicodemus professes a measure of faith in Jesus based on his signs (3:2, repeating the σημεία ποιείον of 2:23), but has not yet crossed the threshold into discipleship;4742 he is at most a representative of some open-minded dialogue partners in the synagogues (hence perhaps the use of plural verbs, though cf. comment on 3:11).4743 John invites his audience to contrast Nicodemus's slow response here to the ready response of the Samaritan woman in 4:7–29, who is able to overcome her misunderstanding in the course of that dialogue.4744 (Several of Johns narratives involve the pattern of sign, misunderstanding, clarification, and response.)4745 In the course of the Gospel, however, Nicodemus, who came out of darkness into light (3:2,21), moves from secret discipleship (3:1–2; 7:50–52)4746 to true, complete discipleship (19:39–42).4747 John presents several models of a journey to discipleship, of which Nicodemus is one;4748 Nicodemus will eventually join the Samaritan woman among disciples.4749 If 3:1–21 is the discourse explicating the sign of 2:1–11, it shows that true relationship with God involves neither waterpots nor the earthly temple (a theme revisited in both cases in 4:10–14, 20–24, 28), but the water of the Spirit (3:5) and the revealer from above (3:11–21).
Because we lack other sources by which to test it, we can comment only briefly on the essential historicity of this narrative.4750 Its recurrent symbolic significance indicates considerable Johannine interpretation and idiom, but cannot be used to dismiss the possibility of a historical nucleus any more than, say, the Johannine features in his account of the feeding of the five thousand in ch. 6.4751 Certainly the wordplays indicate a Greek-speaking audience,4752 but Jerusalems aristocracy probably spoke mainly Greek,4753 and in any case no one argues for a verbatim transcription of the dialogue without a prior transposition into Johannine idiom. That Jesus historically spoke of a rebirth of some sort is likely.4754 Jesus probably spoke of some sent «from heaven» (i.e., from God; Mark 11:30) and viewed his own role as unique (see introduction, ch. 7). Beyond asserting a basic historical nucleus, however, it is impossible on purely historical grounds to determine the degree to which the dominant Johannine idiom has shaped that nucleus.
1. Nicodemus Comes to Jesus (3:1–2)
By appealing to what his community «knows» and broaching the matter of Christology (albeit from an inadequate starting point), Nicodemus's assertion sets the stage for the rest of the discourse.4755 Nicodemus suggests that Jesus is a teacher «from God,»4756 a phrase which for John's audience, familiar with Johannine idiom, would be equivalent to claiming that Jesus is «from above,» but which to Nicodemus within the story world undoubtedly would bear a less exclusive sense (cf. 1:6). The story includes a contrast between the «teacher of Israel» who fails to comprehend heavenly realities (3:10) and the teacher from God who reveals them (3:2).
Although no one doubted that some men of God could still work signs, the general Pharisaic view that prophets were rare or vanished мая have contributed to Nicodemus being impressed with the testimony of Jesus' signs (despite their limited halakic value in the same tradition).4757 Nicodemus points out that «no one can» do signs like those Jesus has done (2:23) unless God is with him (3:2); Jesus develops Nicodemus's δύναται, which is repeated throughout the following narrative (3:3,4, 5, 9): what no one can do is enter the kingdom without rebirth–or, in more general terms, do anything of the Spirit by means of the flesh (cf. 15:5).4758
1A. Nicodemus (3:1)
That John calls Nicodemus άνθρωπος, a «man» or «person» of the Pharisees (3:1), мая be inconsequential (the term appears more than fifty times in the Gospel), but «a Pharisee» would have been simpler; this term appears nowhere else in the Gospel linked with Pharisees in the genitive. John probably employs the term here to make explicit the connection with the «people» (άνθρωπου … άνθρώπω) whose hearts Jesus knew in 2:25. The «ruler of the Jews» title connects him with the elite who oppose Jesus (7:48)–showing that in Johns narrative world, even some of the prime representatives of «the world» can ultimately become Jesus' followers (19:39). The rulers are not a Johannine invention (Luke 14:1; 18:18; 23:13, 35; 24:20), but John uses them to timely effect in contrasting the Judean elite with Jesus' Galilean followers. The few references to them might all imply the inclusion of Nicodemus (cf. 7:26,48), and they therefore appear less uniformly hostile than «the Pharisees» (12:42), although Nicodemus is also one of the Pharisees, and they, too, appear divided at points (9:16).
Because Nicodemus appears to be a prominent figure, some have suggested that John appeals to the prominent Nakdimon ben Gorion, who might have been a very young man in the time of Jesus, forty years before Jerusalem's destruction.4759 That Nakdimon was one of the wealthiest and most powerful aristocrats by the time of the Judean-Roman war4760 might fit John's portrait, but Nakdimon ben Gorion was also considered very pious by rabbinic standards,4761 which would suggest that no one in that line of tradition noticed any faith in Jesus on his part. Nicodemus was not, however, an unusual name among Greek-speaking Jews; a prominent one from Rome is a case in point.4762 Thus most commentators doubt an identification between John's Nicodemus and the son of Gorion.4763
What мая be significant is that Nicodemus is named at al1. Certainly many other figures in the Gospel, such as the woman in 4:7–42 or the men in 5:5–15 and 9:1–38, remain anonymous. They мая remain anonymous unlike Nicodemus because John's tradition would be more apt to preserve the events of their encounter with Jesus than their names, whereas Nicodemus was of such a stratum of Jewish society that the tradition would preserve his name as wel1. Yet it is also the case that Nicodemus must be named for literary reasons; it would be more difficult for any but the most diligent reader to recognize his recurrence in 7and 19if he remained anonymous, even if he were described by some other traits.
Nicodemus calls Jesus «teacher» (3:2), which is a correct term for disciples to employ (1:38; 11:28; 13:13–14; 20:16),4764 even if it is not a complete Christology by itself. Although the leaders мая have thought themselves the appropriate guardians of sound teaching (9:34), Jesus teaches (6:59; 7:14, 28, 35; 8:20; 18:20), just as do the Father who sent him (5:20; 6:45; 8:28) and the Spirit who carries on his teaching (14:26). In this context, the most striking point is that Jesus is much more truly a teacher than the ignorant «teacher of Israel» who comes to him to learn (3:10). Although Nicodemus is not a completely reliable voice in the narrative, John elsewhere confirms Nicodemus's recognition that God is with Jesus (8:29; cf. 1:1–2).
1B. Nicodemus Comes by Night (3:2)
Scholars propose various reasons why Nicodemus came by night. Jewish teachers often studied at night,4765 especially those who had to work during the day;4766 thus Nicodemus мая have come to receive instruction from a greater sage, namely, Jesus. More likely, he comes at night to avoid being seen (cf. 7:51–52; 12:42–43; 19:38); night was the time for secret (sometimes antisocial) deeds and whatever one wished not to be known.4767 Nicodemus remains a secret believer at this point, not a disciple.4768 Nicodemus here remains in solidarity with those who fear to confess Jesus lest they be expelled from the synagogue (12:42).4769 In the story world, fear accounts for Nicodemus coming by night, but John probably also mentions «night» on a more symbolic level for his audience (cf. 13:30), bracketing the narrative with Nicodemus coming «by night» (3:2) and true believers leaving darkness to come to Jesus' light (3:21).4770 In so doing, John foreshadows Nicodemus's ultimate discipleship in 19:39–42.4771
2. Birth from Above (3:3)
Jesus responds to Nicodemus's observation about Jesus' identity by calling him to a greater level of recognition.4772 For this reason, some suggest that 3is a christological assertion. Philo portrayed Moses' ascent to the heavenly realm of spirit to receive the law as a sort of second birth, whereas Christ is the only true ascender in this passage (3:13).4773 In support of such an argument we мая note that, in the whole narrative, it does become evident that Jesus is the one from above (3:13, 31), and that Jesus was «born» (18:37).4774 Nevertheless, it is also clear that being "born from above» refers not to Jesus, but to the community regenerated through him who is from above (1:13). The level on which 3responds directly to 3is a summons to a greater depth of insight: by being born «from above,» Nicodemus can truly «see,» that is, understand, the kingdom of God. «Teacher from God» is inadequate, as is a worldly understanding of Jesus' kingship (18:36–37); only supernatural insight can enable one to grasp the character of Jesus' identity. Jesus insists that Nicodemus be born from God–that is, become a child of God and of Abraham. The implication that Nicodemus did not already have this status proved inconceivable to Nicodemus and becomes the focal point of harsh debate between Jesus and Jerusalem leaders in 8:37–47.
2A. Birth from Above and Understanding
The narrative is full of plays on words (such as άνωθεν; φωνή; and πνεύμα); paronomasia and other kinds of wordplays were a common technique in ancient texts, though advanced rhetoricians advised very restrained use.4775 John plays here on more than one sense of «see,» just as κατέλαβεν in 1suggested both «overcome» and «comprehend.» («Seeing» could refer to their future experience as in 3:36, but in John can also refer to spiritual perception; see pp. 247–51.) As Nicodemus's misunderstanding quickly confirms (3:4), one cannot «see» the kingdom in the sense of understanding it until one has been born from above. John's audience мая recall that it was divine Wisdom that showed (εδειξεν; cf. 2:18) Jacob the kingdom of God (Wis 10:10),4776 just as Jesus as divine Wisdom (3:13) tries to reveal it to Nicodemus here (3:11–12, 31–33). Because Jesus' kingdom is «not of this world» (18:36), this world cannot understand it; only those who, like Jesus, were not from this world but from above, could do so.
Some early Jewish interpreters in the more mystic tradition мая have also understood «seeing God's kingdom» in terms of visionary ascents to heaven, witnessing the enthroned king. Many pagans took for granted the postmortem ascent of the soul,4777 but some sought various forms of visionary ascents while alive.4778 One trajectory of Jewish ascent traditions, found in the Hekhalot literature (the antiquity of which is debatable),4779 provides instructions on how to participate in ascents.4780 Although some early Christians reported such visionary ascents (2Cor 12:1–4),4781 and they must have been familiar in the Johannine community (Rev 1:10), the emphasis rests on the agency of the Spirit (Rev 1:10) rather than on instructions for ascent,4782 and in any case falls far short of the experience of a revealer who descended from heaven to begin with (3:13). Moses became a prominent representative of this tradition of mystic ascents; see comment on 3:13.4783 Rabbinic tradition played down Enoch and Baruch, representatives from nonrabbinic visionary traditions, but emphasized Moses the lawgiver. If John considers such mystics at all in this passage, however, it is only to polemicize against them; for further discussion, see comment on 3:13, below.
Greek άνωθεν can mean «from above,» «anew,» or «again."Although Nicodemus will construe it only as «again» (as in, e.g., Gal 4:9), John's audience (especially if not hearing this Gospel or its stories for the first time) will understand that Nicodemus has missed the point. The most common sense of the term in Greek4784 and the normal usage of the expression in the Fourth Gospel (3:31; 19:11; cf. 8:23) will lead John's audience to understand the expression as «from above,» in terms of John's vertical dualism. Greek thinkers could speak of God or gods as «above,»4785 in terms of a vertical dualism; but Jewish texts were no less attracted to the portrait of God as «above»4786 and to a vertical dualism contrasting God's heavenly realm with the earthly.4787 «Above» or «the one above» in fact became standard Jewish circumlocutions for God,4788 as elsewhere in this Gospel (19:11), so birth from above means birth from God.4789 Birth «from above» conveys the same essential sense as «birth from Spirit» as opposed to fleshly birth: what is merely human is inadequate, and the chasm between divine and human power is infinité.
Granted, born άνωθεν can mean «born again» rather than or in addition to «born from above»;4790 but John's informed audience, familiar with his own usage, will find Nicodemus's more limited interpretation wanting. Secondary characters sometimes functioned as foils for primary ones in ancient Mediterranean stories, for example, Odysseus's foolish companions versus Odysseus, who alone would survive (Homer Od. 1.8); similarly, Dionysius of Halicarnassus feels he can best articulate Demosthenes' greatness by contrasting him with others (Demosth. 33). In this passage Nicodemus becomes a foil whose misunderstanding allows Jesus to clarify his point for John's audience (cf. 14:5,8).4791
Jesus' words about a rebirth, a transformation of character (3:6) that is an essential prerequisite to understanding the things of the Spirit (3:8; 1Cor 2:10–16), are clear enough on their own terms.4792 Nevertheless, a variety of proposals seeks to explain the broader context within which John's audience would have understood the expression and could have expected Nicodemus to have understood the expression.
2B. Hellenistic Rebirth
Many have proposed a Hellenistic context of some sort.4793 Plato spoke of a soul being «born again» (πάλιν γίγνεσθαι), but referred to successive reincarnations.4794 Some Greek thinkers accepted the idea of reincarnation,4795 but reincarnation hardly comports well with Johannine eschatology (5:25–30; 6:39–40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48). Some have identified the language of rebirth in the Mysteries, which they suppose influenced early Christianity.4796 Thus, for example, Bultmann admits that «the expression … 'born of God'… is not attested in the same form in the mystery religions and Gnosticism,» but nevertheless regards it as beyond doubt that Johannine language derives from such sources!4797 Yet apart from the language of some of the deities experiencing recuscitation or new birth,4798 much of the evidence for this language in the Mysteries derives from uninitiated church fathers who read the Mysteries through the grid of Christian experience,4799 or from texts about the Mysteries reflecting their syncretistic views long after Christianity had become a major competitor for adherents in the Roman world.4800
Thus the testimony for the use of παλιγγενεσία in the Eleusinian Mysteries comes from Tertullian.4801 Later texts from the Isis cult suggest transformation4802 and rebirth,4803 but again, the earliest obvious language to this effect stems from Christian writers.4804 Evidence for a permanent rebirth in the taurobolium, dedicated to Cybele,4805 stems from the fourth century, possibly reflecting Christian influence.4806 Orphic rebirth involved a process rather than an event,4807 and did not involve moral transformation.4808 Philosophic conversion, without making much use of such images, involved moral transformation far more than any initiation into the Mysteries did.4809 One might also wonder how many members of Johns audience, even if Gentiles, would have been familiar with such language, since teachings of the Mysteries were by definition supposed to be kept secret! Thus Nock, who thinks that Titus 3adopts Hellenistic language in place of the earlier Jewish eschatological image of a new creation, concedes that
παλιγγενεσία is not a characteristic mystery word. Plutarch uses it, De Is. et Os. 35 p.364F of the reanimation of Zagreus and Osiris–not of their worshippers; in De carnium esu I 7 p. 996C it refers to the destiny of the soul after death and elsewhere it is applied to transmigration… Usually παλ. describes transmigration or (more often) the periodic rebirth of the universe after a general conflaguration.4810
The mystery language is rare, unattested as early as the first century, and relates primarily to deliverance from fate, not moral evi1.4811 That many early Christian writers employed the Greek language is not in dispute, but this hardly requires knowledge of terminology obtained only by initiation into the Mysteries!4812
The image of rebirth appears in Mithraism,4813 which connects it with deification and liberation of the soul from matter,4814 but although it existed earlier, Mithraism as we know it became strong in the empire only after the spread of Christianity.4815 Hermetic sources include a rebirth linked with divinization,4816 but, as noted in our introduction, these sources are too late, including the influence of some Christian language.4817
The earliest, most widespread sense of being begotten by God in Hellenism seems to have been being God's children by virtue of creation,4818 language shared in Hellenistic Judaism, for instance in the Jewish Sibylline Oracles.4819 For Philo, God as creator is γεννητής, «begetter»;4820 the whole universe is born from God after wisdom.4821 But individual παλιγγενεσία, «rebirth,» for Philo, occurs at death.4822 John's birth from the Spirit as well as from the flesh, however, implies a special kind of re-creation (3:6; 20:22).
2C. Jewish Contexts for Rebirth
Many streams of Jewish tradition speak of birth from God in terms of creation4823 or Israel's redemption.4824 The Essenes apparently thought that those predestined to be part of the elect community were born from the truth, «from a fountain of light» (1QS 3.19; cf. John 3:19). Early Judaism also employed the language of «new creation» in a variety of manners. It was first of all the eschatological world (Jub. 1:29; 4:26; 1 En. 72: l),4825 as one would expect from Scripture (Isa 65:17). Later rabbis applied this eschatological image to a forensic new beginning, implying the cleansing of past sin, on Rosh Hashanah,4826 though all direct support for this tradition is late. One whose sins were forgiven (a designation naturally applicable to proselytes) could be compared with a newborn child.4827 Perhaps relevant here is the idea that one who converted another counted as if he or she had created them.4828 In earlier texts, God would also «create» a new heart for his people (Jub. 1:20–21) and they could plead with God to «forgive» them «and create a new spirit» in them (4Q393, 1–2 2.5–6, alluding to Ps 51and Ezek 36:26).4829 Probably most significantly with regard to the earliest Christian imagery, God would deliver his people from all sin in the eschatological time, an idea abundantly attested both in broader early Judaism (Ezek 36:25–27; 1QH 11.13; Pss. So1. 17:32)4830 and in the later rabbis.4831 (Given rabbinic emphasis on Torah's power to deliver from sin,4832 it is not surprising that a few later rabbis also connected this deliverance with a new birth of Israel at Sinai.)4833
But our extant sources also suggest a particular sort of newness associated with conversion in Judaism. It must be admitted at the outset that the most complete sources available on the topic are rabbinic, hence considerably later than John. Nevertheless, various streams of evidence suggest this images probable antiquity. If the image proves early enough, and if we are correct in our general understanding of John's milieu and the Palestinian Jewish matrix of earliest Christianity, this is the association that would stand closest at hand for John, his tradition, and his audience. In this case, Jesus calls Nicodemus to be morally transformed by conversion just as Nicodemus would expect of a proselyte, albeit perhaps more ontologically: he invites Nicodemus to become fully Jewish in faith!4834 As Robinson suggests, the passage portrays Nicodemus s religious life as mere «flesh,» waiting to be transformed by Gods Spirit.4835
Later Jewish teachers opined that when a Gentile converted to Judaism, the proselyte became «like a new-born child.»4836 Thus in a sense proselyte baptism, when accompanied by circumcision, cleanses away Gentile impurity.4837 The rabbinic phrase «new-born child» is not precisely the language of «rebirth,»4838 but when applied to an adult convert certainly implies it. A more important objection against the parallel is that in the earliest rabbinic sources the phrase applies to a new legal status rather than to an ontological transformation.4839 Perhaps engaging in hyperbole to underline the newness of status, later rabbis took the new legal status of proselytes so seriously that in theory4840 they permitted marriage to onés «former» mother;4841 but this was a matter of legal status akin to what occurred in Roman adoption. Roman law recognized adoptive ties so strongly that it prohibited incest even if ties were based only on adoption;4842 children were freed from their father's authority if the father lost his citizenship, just as if he had died.4843 By adoption, the new son lost all status connections with his natural family and his former debts.4844 Likewise one who became a Roman might no longer be considered appropriate to inherit from a mother of another nationality.4845 Cotta, recalled from exile, claimed to be «born twice» into Roman citizenship.4846 Although there was never consensus, many Tannaim forbade proselytes to call Abraham their father;4847 but many early Christians certainly understood converts to the Jewish Jesus movement as fully grafted into Israel's heritage (Rom 2:25–29; 11:17; Gal 3:8–14).
By their nature, other sources unfortunately provide less detail about the legal status or ontological dynamics of conversion than the more voluminous body of rabbinic tradition. Yet sources from Philo and Josephus to Joseph and Aseneth indicate that people anticipated transformation of some sort as well as a change in legal status; proselytes turned completely from their former Gentile condition.4848 Various traditions of moral transformation suggest the possibility of that image: echoing the language of Saul's transformation (1Sam 10:6), Joshua and Kenaz each became «another person.»4849 More relevantly (if the document does not bear Christian influence), Joseph prays for the repentant Asenath as she converts to Judaism: «renew [άνακαίνισον] her by your spirit… revive [άναζωοποίησον] her by your life.»4850 The Covenanters held that a hostile angel left the convert who truly obeyed the law (CD 16.4–6). Thus some Jews мая have viewed conversion more ontologically than others. But many Jewish people did not, and the early Christian view of re-creation by the Spirit thus demands a more explicit sort of supernatural intervention.4851
Whatever Jewish people believed about the transformation of Gentiles in conversion, they believed that Israelites did not need this transformation of conversion (cf. Matt 3:9; Luke 3:8).4852 Thus, for example, in later rabbinic thought Israel was already delivered from the mastery of the evil impulse4853 or from the evil powers of the stars.4854 Jewish people were born into the covenant by natural birth; requiring a second birth to enter it was beyond Nicodemus's understanding.4855 It is therefore not suprising that Nicodemus might not grasp what Jesus was demanding of him (3:4).
3. What This Birth Means (3:4–8)
Nicodemus's failure to understand the nature of Jesus' allusion (3:4) provides the opportunity for Jesus to explain more fully: he means a spiritual rebirth, probably employing symbolically Jewish imagery for conversion (3:5–6). «Entering» the kingdom is familiar enough language from the Synoptic tradition,4856 but «birth from water and the Spirit» as a prerequisite resembles at best only one extant logion in that tradition (Mark 10:15; Matt 18:3–4).4857 The reader not familiar with other early Christian language for regeneration (Gal 4:19, 29; 1Pet 1:23; perhaps Jas 1:18), presumably widely known among John's circle (1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18), would nevertheless come to this passage with some understanding based on 1:12–13; Nicodemus, however, is naturally clueless.
Jesus' opponents in this Gospel maintain that they are born from God (8:41), whereas Jesus replies that they are born from the devil instead (8:44). In this Gospel's radical moral dualism, mere fleshly birth is inadequate and leaves one a child of the devil until one is born from above, from God by means of the Spirit.
3A. Nicodemus Misunderstands (3:4)
Like most characters in the Fourth Gospel, especially Jesus' opponents, Nicodemus fails to understand Jesus' heavenly message (cf. 3:11–12).4858 Greek sages and others sometimes employed metaphoric language4859 and spoke in riddles.4860 Jewish sages were likewise expected to speak in and understand riddles (cf. Sir passim).4861 Yet Jesus' interlocutors repeatedly fail to grasp the meaning of his riddles.4862 Jesus' metaphors in this Gospel in general and this passage in particular function like the Synoptic parables,4863 many of which proved impenetrable to those outside Jesus' circle (cf. Mark 4:10–12). Nicodemus's failure to comprehend Jesus' point, which Jesus regards as inexcusable for a teacher of Israel (3:10), encourages the Johannine believers that their message is dismissed through ignorance rather than through the intellectual prowess their opponents' claim. The darkness could not apprehend the light (John 1:5).
Jerusalem's leaders and others often understand Jesus partly correctly–but only on a purely physical leve1. They cannot be reborn physically (3:4), nor can they eat Jesus' flesh physically (6:52), nor can one younger than fifty have seen Abraham (8:57), and so forth– their preunderstanding of what Jesus should mean makes it impossible for them to truly hear him.4864 Usually they misunderstand Jesus by interpreting him solely within the framework of their own culturés expectations,4865 even when Jesus seeks to accommodate their language by speaking «of earthly things» (3:12).
But those who think an ancient audiencés sympathy would have gone to the perplexed interlocutor rather than to Jesus the protagonist4866 miss the point. To be sure, the audience мая identify with the perplexity of disciples in 14:5, for even the text has not yet clarified the point for the first-time reader. At the same time, the misunderstanding of the Jerusalem elite, as in 7or 7:52, merely confirms their ignorance; God had provided insight into his mysteries only to babes (cf. Matt 11:25; Luke 10:21). Further, the idea that an ancient audience would have identified with the interlocutors fails to reckon with ancient literary expectations, in which misunderstanding served a valuable literary function. It sometimes functioned as an ironic or suspense device, for instance, when characters interpret a literal statement too figuratively.4867 Such misunderstandings often provided the audience humor at the misunderstander's expense;4868 at other times they intensified the tragic pathos of a protagonist misunderstanding a warning that is clear to the reader or dramatic observer.4869
In the gospel tradition, including the Fourth Gospel, Jesus' own disciples take some of his literal statements too figuratively (e.g., Mark 9:10) and some of his figurative statements too literally (e.g., Mark 8:16; John 11:12). Such misunderstanding serves as a dramatic technique allowing the primary teacher the occasion to expound the point more fully.4870 Often secondary characters become foils for primary teachers; thus, for example, both allies and enemies typically misunderstood sages in philosophical biographies.4871 In the Socratic tradition and broader realm of Greek sages, disciples usually proved unable to comprehend the teacher fully,4872 like the disciples in Mark and John.4873 While we мая doubt that John's audience would readily think of Plato in particular, Platós dialogues helpfully illustrate the point: Socrates often trapped learned people in their inconsistencies, learned people who for Plato merely served as foils for his Socrates and the views he espoused. One of the first dialogues a newcomer to Plato might read was «the Euthyphro, in which Socrates engages in conversation with a seer and religious expert… who, it turns out, really does not comprehend religious values at all (as with Nicodemus).»4874
Recipients of divine revelation often proved similarly incapable of digesting the messages given to them;4875 the literature is replete with oracles understood only in retrospect.4876 Biblical prophets also misunderstood and required explanation (e.g., Zech 4:5),4877 and the motif appears frequently in apocalyptic texts (e.g., 4 Ezra 5:34–35).
3B. Born of Water (3:5)
Because Nicodemus missed Jesus' point (3:4), Jesus explains what he means by birth from above, using what is probably an «earthly» analogy (3:12): the rebirth of which Jesus speaks is not physical birth, as Nicodemus supposed (3:4), but a spiritual birth (3:6).4878 By «born from above» (3:3) Jesus probably means born «from God,» so 3clarifies this claim with «born from the Spirit.» «Born of the Spirit» is clear enough in the context of early Christian teaching (Gal 4:23, 29; cf. 1Pet 1:3, 23), but what Jesus means here by «born of water» (and how this helps explain «born from God») is less clear, though it undoubtedly made sense to John s original audience.
Proposals include apocalyptic heavenly waters, waters of natural begetting (semen), or waters of baptism (those of Judaism, John the Baptist, or Christians). We will suggest that the entire phrase «born of water and of the Spirit» is equivalent to 3s «born from above,» that is, from God, and therefore refers to the activity of the Spirit (7:37–39). Yet even if water refers, as we argue, to the Spirit, its specific mention by this title мая be for contrast or comparison with either natural birth (1:13; 3:6) or baptism (1:31, 33), and in view of Jewish usage and Johns context, I believe that the latter is far more likely.
One way to read «water» in this context is to suppose that it refers to natural birth,4879 so that 3expounds 3:5: one must be born of both flesh and the Spirit. This interpretation makes some sense of the following context, of the birth or begetting image, and could be supported by a reading of 1 John,4880 but it has two flaws. The first is that, natural as «water» would be to describe the eruption of embryonic fluid from the amniotic sac at birth, it is a very rare description in extant early Jewish texts (though perhaps because midwives were women and rabbis were men).4881 One could circumvent this problem by reading instead «begotten from water and the Spirit,» referring to conception rather than birth,4882 in view of the frequent use of water for semen.4883 But «water» could represent a variety of mostly transparent fluids,4884 and on the level of Johannine theology it is (as we shall argue below) explicitly associated with the Spirit, for which semen seems a less apt metaphor than baptism does (1 John3refers to the word, as in Jas 1:18; 1Pet 1:23; Luke 8: ll;4885 contrast the language of Spirit-baptism in early Christian sources). Further, as others have pointed out, «from blood» would have been a more natural metaphor for birth or conception than «from water» (cf. 1:13).4886
The second and more important problem is that this interpretation does not fit what 3says, perhaps echoing instead Nicodemus's misunderstanding. Jesus is calling Nicodemus to be born of water and the Spirit as prerequisites for entering the kingdom; the context indicates that Nicodemus has already been born of the flesh and needs no incentive to do so again (3:4); rather, Jesus wishes to encourage him to be born of the Spirit and not of the flesh (3:6). Born «from water and from the Spirit» explains «born from above» in 3:3.
Odeberg also proposed that the waters refer to the celestial waters around Gods throne in Jewish throne-visions;4887 this would correspond with «above» in 3and might fit the theme of «ascent» in the context (3:13). But given the multiple uses of the water image, this one, restricted largely to throne-visions, seems less than obvious for Johns audience, particularly given the absence of such waters in the opening throne-visions of Revelation.4888 In light of 3:8, Hodges suggests that we read «water and Spirit» in 3as «water and wind,» hence parallel to «above,» and by implication «heaven,» in 3:3.4889 Hodges's appeal to context is insightful, but because we read πνεύμα in 3as both «wind» and «Spirit"–that is, as a double entendre (see below)–and the nearer context of Spirit in 3offers no allusion to wind, we doubt that the allusion is clear in 3:5.
As we argue with regard to the relevant passages in this commentary, most «water» passages in the Fourth Gospel suggest some contrast with Jewish ritua1.4890 The following context points to conflict between regular Jewish lustrations and John's baptism (3:22–25), as well as the greater baptism of Jesus (3:26–4:1), though even Jesus' baptism is by implication distinguished from and greater than the mere water baptism administered by his disciples (1:33; 3:34; 4:2).
Jesus could allude in this context to the need for Nicodemus to submit to John's baptism as a prerequisite for the coming of the Spirit.4891 But while John is certainly a foil and witness for Jesus (1:8, 15, 26–27) and his baptism fits the following context,4892 in view of 2and 3we suspect that John's baptism becomes not the single foil, but merely the highest example of the inadequacy of Jewish purification rituals. Given how the Baptist is continually subordinated to Jesus in the Gospel and the possible abuse some мая have been making of the Baptist's name (see comment on 1:6–8), it is improbable that the Fourth Gospel would here elevate his baptism to a prerequisite for birth from above.
Yet John's baptism мая be seen in continuity with Christian baptism. Certainly John's baptism was incomplete without Jesus' gift of the Spirit, but John's death did not end the practice of baptism, which already had been adopted by the Jesus movement (4:1–3).4893 The proposal that John 3refers to Christian baptism also has much to commend it.4894
Like the image of becoming a newborn child, the command to baptism stems from earlier in the Jesus tradition.4895 Moreover, one can argue that baptism and faith typically occur together in Johannine thought; Potterie contends that faith elsewhere precedes (1 John 5:6), accompanies (John 19:34–35), and here follows Christian baptism.4896 Unfortunately, the baptismal character of these other references is also disputable,4897 and it is difficult to see that Christian baptism would be offering Nicodemus an earthly analogy he could grasp (3:10–12). Still, John and his audience clearly do presuppose some information which Nicodemus does not (such as the identification of water with the Spirit in 7:37–39), so it is not impossible that John intends a reference to Christian baptism. Whatever else the water here means, if it alludes to any kind of baptism (and it probably does), it alludes to the public crossing of social boundaries, which would transfer Nicodemus from one community to another.4898
It is hardly self-evident, however, that John's audience would presuppose Christian baptism here; even some interpreters who see Christian baptism in this text acknowledge that the Fourth Gospel includes no other clear references to the ritua1.4899 Further, in the context of his whole water motif, where Jesus frequently supersedes the water of Jewish traditions (see comment on 2:6; 4:10; 5:2; 7:38; 9:6; 19:34), including the water of John's baptism (1:33), we propose another interpretation as more likely.4900
One Jewish lustration ritual probably makes the most appropriate sense of the «earthly» analogy (3:12) that Jesus seems to offer Nicodemus: as noted above, converts to Judaism were apparently seen as newborn children, and proselyte baptism seems to have been a vital step in this conversion process. If this is the referent of «water,» it would certainly drive home a stark point: the teacher of Israel (3:10) himself needs to become a true Israelite (1:47), a true child of Abraham (8:39–40), one of the Lord's sheep (10:14–15).4901
Proselyte baptism is almost certainly pre-Christian, as we argued on 1:26–27. An early, explicit connection between proselyte baptism and the point at which a convert becomes a newborn child is more difficult to prove, given the paucity of discussion of baptism in our earliest extant Jewish sources.4902 By the third century C.E., however, the connection is explicit,4903 and it is far less likely that the rabbis would have borrowed this idea from the Christians than that the syncretistic Mysteries would have done so. If John alludes to a Jewish ritual here as in many of his references to water, the most likely is the one associated with conversion, which again seems to have been associated with the image of rebirth in Judaism. This is not to suggest, however, that the Fourth Gospel means by «water» what most of early Judaism meant: early Jewish Christians had long before transformed Jewish proselyte baptism into an act of Christian conversion (e.g., Acts 2:38,41 ),4904 and the gospel tradition had long before employed «baptism» as an image for entering the eschatological life of the Spirit (Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33).
3C. Born of the Spirit (3:5)
Even scholars who apply the «water» image to literal baptism recognize that the emphasis of the passage is on the Spirit, for it is the Spirit which is repeated in the context (3:6, 8),4905 and it is the Spirit that emphasizes the parallel with «born from God.» But what is the relation between «water» (particularly as we have understood it, referring to prosleyte baptism) and the Spirit mentioned immediately after it?
Jesus uses the image of proselyte baptism for conversion, but the informed reader will remember that the real baptism Jesus had come to bring was not a baptism in mere water but in the Holy Spirit (1:33).4906 The one passage in which the Fourth Gospel explicitly interprets its water motif for the reader is 7:37–39, where water represents the Spirit.4907 Water represented various items in early Judaism; in the rabbis it especially pointed to Torah.4908 But John's own explicit statements are the clearest clue to his meaning, so we should take our cue from him and interpret the other passages accordingly. It is not unusual for this Gospel to prefer ambiguous language which must be explained (e.g., 14:4–5). Just as Jesus' parables in the Synoptic tradition required private explanation, Jesus' heavenly teaching in John (3:11–13) remains obscure except to disciples who persevere (8:31–32), to those who receive the insight of the Spirit (3:8; 14:17, 26).
Although the grammatical argument by itself is not decisive in 3:5,4909 John's explicit explanation of «water» as the Spirit in 7invites us to read the more ambiguous 3as a hendiadys:4910 «since both nouns are anarthrous and are governed by a single preposition,»4911 the και likely functions here epexegetically, hence «water, i.e., the Spirit.»4912 The text probably «reflects the typical Johannine idiom of 'pairs in tension.'»4913 Thus Origen suggested that «water» differed from the «Spirit» here only in «notion» and not in «substance»; Calvin also identified the two.4914 At the least the grammar suggests a close connection between «water» and «Spirit» here, «a conceptual unity» of some sort;4915 but the full and explicit identification of water and the Spirit in 7probably suggests a full identification here as wel1. (This would answer the objection that the otherwise likely identification of «water» and «Spirit» here appears tautologous.)4916
In other words, Jesus calls Nicodemus to a spiritual proselyte baptism, a baptism in the Spirit.4917 Some streams of early Judaism, particularly Essene thought, associated the Spirit with inward purification.4918 Ezek 36 provided ready biblical precedent for this association of the Spirit with purifying water, and usually appears as the clear basis for early Jewish teaching to this effect. It stands as an allusion behind early Jewish claims concerning eschatological deliverance from sin (Jub. 1:23).4919 Some commentators, while acknowledging the similarity in Ezek 36:25–27, reject it as background here, preferring to emphasize unspecified Greek ideas.4920 Other commentators accept the far more likely interpretation that «water» here alludes to Ezek 36.4921 Given the possible allusion to Ezek 36:26–27 in John 3(see below), it is possible (though not definite) that this passage even involves an implicit midrash on Ezek 36 (especially if 3alludes to the wind of Ezek 37).
An appeal to Ezek 36 reinforces the probable use of proselyte baptism as an illustration for Spirit baptism here. Qumran's Manual of Discipline connects Ezek 36 with an immersion in conjunction with repentance (1QS 3.8–9). In this context, the «Spirit of holiness» cleanses God's people from sin (1QS 3.7), cleansing them «like purifying waters»4922 poured out on his chosen at the time of the end (1QS 4.21).4923 Later rabbis also read in Ezek 36 an eschatological, purifying immersion.4924 While Essene baptism required immersion rather than pouring, the image of God «pouring» his Spirit like water on his people (e.g., Isa 44:3; Ezek 39:29; Joel 2:28)4925 provides a foundational water image for early Christian teaching about a «baptism» in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17).
As in John 6and 8:15, «the flesh» in 3is inadequate and spiritually valueless; only what shares the nature of the Spirit can relate to the Spirit (4:24), and as in 6it is the Spirit that matters.4926 In that context, Jesus is explaining that the real meaning of «eating» him is not physical; so here with the water of John 3:5. John мая well be opposing a false «sacramentalism» of sorts,4927 but more than likely it is Jewish rather than Christian proselyte baptism that he replaces with baptism in the Spirit. This is not to contend that he would not have applied the same principles to Christian baptism had the situation demanded (cf. 1Cor 10:1–6), but to doubt that this is John's primary focus.
3D. Born of Flesh or of Spirit? (3:6)
While the Spirit would ultimately raise the bodies of the dead, in a text to which John would soon allude in v. 8 (Ezek 37:9–14),4928 John focuses on the resurrection life which the Spirit makes available in the present era (John 14:16–19). Ezek 36 promised that God's Spirit would provide a new heart or spirit to his people (36:26), a new heart which is connected in the context with both cleansing from sinful practices (36:25) and the coming of God's Spirit to enable one to obey his commandments (36:27). As noted in more detail below, «that which is born of the Spirit is spirit» hence implies that those born from God share his moral nature (1 John 3:6, 9; cf. Eph 4:24; 1Pet 1:23; 2Pet 1:3–4). New birth is more than a metaphor of social conversion from one group to another (although it includes that); it is an image of absolute transformation.
John contrasts this rebirth by the Spirit with merely natural, «fleshly» birth (the kind Nicodemus thought of in 3:4); Scripture had contrasted the weakness of mortal flesh with the power of God's Spirit (Gen 6:3; Isa 31:3),4929 and Judaism by John's day, followed by early Christianity, had developed further the biblical emphasis on the limitations of flesh.4930 The body was not by itself evil,4931 but by virtue of its mortality and finiteness, such «flesh» lacked moral perfection, hence became susceptible to sin.4932 Whether or not in conjunction with Hellenistic influence,4933 this emphasis is not an unnatural development of the terms semantic range.4934 Paul, an early Christian writer who shares many ideas with John, seems to have emphasized this moral frailty of flesh (Rom 7:5, 14, 18, 25; 8:3–13; 13:14). John, however, does not use flesh with necessary connotations of sin (e.g., 1:14); for him, flesh simply retains its biblical and early Jewish connotation of creaturely, human frailty. As with Paul, this frailty is inadequate for the true worship of God, for which only the Spirit is adequate (Gal 5:19–23; Phil 3:3). If Nicodemus like Paul would boast in the flesh, in his religious standing before God from a human perspective (Phil 3:4–6), he had to learn that trusting the flesh was vain, and he must worship in the Spirit (Phil 3:3; see comment on John 4:23–24).
When John interprets the new «spirit» of Ezekiel, born from God's Spirit, and contrasts it with human flesh, born from natural birth, he presumably means by this «spirit» something akin to what his contemporaries meant when they contrasted «spirit» (or its synonyms) with «flesh» (or its synonyms). Greeks for centuries, and later Romans, regularly differentiated soul and body,4935 usually emphasizing the immortality of the former4936 (although exceptions existed).4937 Some Greek thinkers denigrated the body, even regarding it as a tomb from which one might be released at death.4938 Contrary to common scholarly opinion, however, early Judaism generally accepted this differentiation between the soul and body. Such differentiation does not surprise us in Josephus (Ag. Ap. 2.203) and other hellenized sources,4939 but also appears in many sources traditionally viewed as less hellenized.4940 Jewish sources, both those traditionally regarded as more hellenized4941 and other sources, also usually embraced the immortality of the soul;4942 this seems to have posed little conflict in their minds with the doctrine of the resurrection. Some even used various forms of the Greek idea of the body as a tomb.4943 That Johns audience might recognize here an anthropologically dualistic assertion (without further implications of the body as a tomb, etc.) is thus not difficult to conceive.
At the same time, given «the ancient principle that like begets like,» rebirth from the Spirit presumably implies that a believer «takes on the same character as Gods Spirit.»4944 After other things brought forth according to their kind (Gen 1:11–12, 21, 24–25), God created people in his likeness and image (1:26–27), as his children (cf. Gen 5:1–3). Recreation of the human spirit by God's Spirit would naturally follow the same principle.4945 For Plutarch, whatever is born from corruptible matter will also be corruptible, ever changing.4946 In the first-century Greco-Roman world one familiar saying claimed that benevolence and truth reflected the likeness mortals shared with deities.4947 Ancients frequently applied this principle to the contrast between soul (or spirit or mind) and body. Although onés body was from earthly substances, the soul was like a foreign exile imprisoned within it.4948
These popular conceptions found a ready home in Hellenistic Jewish thought. Philo taught that, because God had no body, creating people in his image meant creating the human mind, the most important element of the human sou1.4949 Thus humans contained both mortal flesh and, in their mind, the immortal, divine spirit;4950 for Philo, humanity is both terrestrial and celestia1.4951 John does not, however, refer to the breath of life in all humans, but the specific eschatological endowment of a heart for obedience in Ezek 36, as becomes clearer in 3:8. This new nature comes «from above,» «from heaven,» but only through faith (3:15–16) in the Son who came from heaven (3:13) and was lifted there again by way of the cross (3:14).
Birth must therefore be from above, from God's Spirit and not from merely human flesh. As in Pauline theology (esp. Rom 8:1–11), what is merely human cannot please God (Rom 8:7–8). The initiative and power for spiritual life must come from God alone, and so with the continuing in the Christian life (15:5); only fruit, not human merit, is appropriate (15:1–8; cf. Gal 5:22–23). In the same way, worship is inadequate apart from the Spirit (4:23–24). A merely human perspective on Jesus' identity and mission proves inadequate (7:24); human criteria that would favor Nicodemus over a sinful Samaritan woman prove untrustworthy; encounters with Jesus himself accomplish more than arguments (1:46; 4:29) for those who мая come to the light (3:20–21).
The Fourth Gospel thus repeatedly emphasizes that even what seems to be the noblest of human religion is inadequate (he in fact generally portrays the Judean religious elite negatively); only the spiritual life birthed and nurtured by the Spirit, claimed by early believers but not by most of their competitors,4952 was adequate. If religion does not come from God himself, it is to be rejected.
3E. Explaining the Spirit's Ways (3:7–8)
Nicodemus could not comprehend Jesus' analogies because he lacked experience with the Spirit (cf. 1Cor 2:14); just as one not yet born from above could not even «see» God's kingdom (3:3), one could not grasp the origin of the Spirit-born any more than one could grasp the origin or destination of the wind (3:8). Not only had prophets played on the ambiguity of the Hebrew term that means both «wind» and «Spirit» (esp. Ezek 37), but earlier Greeks had used the winds as an analogy for the gods: they are invisible yet we see their effects.4953 Gentiles also used the wind as an example of unpredictability (to «write in wind» or in water is to make a promise one might not keep; Catullus 70.4). One would expect a comparison strictly between the Spirit and the wind, but the comparison here is technically between the wind and those born from the Spirit.4954 In this context, however, the application is apropos: those born of the Spirit replicate the Spirit's character (3:6), making their origin and destiny as mysterious to outsiders as their Lord from above, whose identity confounded the «world.»
Jesus summarizes his case so far in 3:7. Not surprisingly, «amazement» commonly accompanied miracles,4955 and it was a common response to Jesus in this Gospel (4:27; 5:20; 7:15, 21). More surprisingly, Jesus enjoins Nicodemus not to be amazed, though this, too, represents Johannine idiom (1 John 3:13), perhaps implying that the true heavenly matters will be even more shocking to Nicodemus's sensibilities than he мая expect (5:28; cf. 3:10–12).4956 When Jesus summarizes his earlier statement about the necessity of rebirth more tersely and demandingly in 3:7, he uses the plural pronoun: «all of you» must be born from above (presumably because all of you are flesh, 3:6). Just as Nicodemus claimed «we know» (3:2) and just as more hostile synagogue leaders would later speak in similar language (9:24, 29), Jesus also speaks to the community that Nicodemus represents.4957 This makes good sense of Jesus' language of rebirth, since in both Jewish and many pagan circles, conversion entailed integration into a new community.4958 Nicodemus, a «secret» believer who is part of the powerful elite (3:1), will identify instead with the marginalized followers of Jesus.4959 Still, «we know» (in all but two cases οϊδαμεν) is a common Johannine phrase, often used ironically (3:2, 11; 4:22, 42; 6:42; 7:27; 8:52; 9:20, 21, 24, 29, 31; 14:5; 16:30; 20:2; 21:24), and Jesus' own «we» here makes sense on the story level; cf. comment on 3:11.4960
The blowing4961 of the wind «where it wills»4962 мая imply what the inadequacy of fleshly birth did in 3:6: by definition, one cannot be born from above on the basis of onés own ability; one must look to the cross, as the Israelites looked to the serpent in the wilderness (3:14–15).4963 The destiny of the wind proves as mysterious as its origin.
Jesus emphasizes the mystery of where those born from the Spirit came from: God's own children, miraculously birthed into the world, could pass unrecognized by a world not equipped to detect their presence and difference. In comic portrayal, one who was lost might not know where one was from (unde) or headed (quorsum);4964 here it is the world that is lost in its understanding of intrusive visitors from above. Origin affected identity; one of the most basic questions a visitor would be asked is, «Where are you from?»4965 This question often matched another that is relevant in this context: «What is your parentage?»4966 (Indeed, in many cases the question, «Where are you from?» was best answered by naming onés father.)4967 One determined to live outside society's confines might delight in thwarting the intent of the question; Diogenes the Cynic replied that he was a «citizen of the world» (κοσμοπολίτης).4968 The Fourth Gospel emphasizes Jesus' origin «from above» (3:31; 8:23), making issues like an origin in Bethlehem or Galilee secondary questions (7:42). It seems to have been a commonplace that the wind was difficult to trace;4969 the rhetorical form of the comparison is also not unusua1.4970
Thus 3refers to the origin and destination of those born from the Spirit: they are from above and will remain with Jesus (14:3), but this entire realm remains obscure to the world (3:11–12, 19–20; 14:21–24). The world did not know where Jesus was from (8:14; 9:29–30) or where he was going (6:62; 8:14, 22); for that matter, this Gospel was not the earliest Christian work to claim that Jesus could not be understood solely from a fleshly framework but only by those re-created by God (2Cor 5:16–17). At the same time, Hebrew often contrasted opposites to imply everything between them (e.g., Gen 1:1; Deut 6:7), and Jesus probably implies that the entire character of the Spirit-led life is mysterious to those who have no experience of it (cf. 1Cor 2:14–15); Jesus models this mysterious, divinely-led life in this Gospel (e.g., 7:6–10).
There can be little doubt that «hearing the sound of the wind» involves double entendres between the sense most likely for Nicodemus to have grasped and the deeper sense available to Johns informed audience (for wordplays, see comment on 3:3). Especially after the connection between the Spirit and water (3:5), the informed reader will likely recognize «wind» as a significant OT metaphor for God's life-giving Spirit (esp. Ezek 37:9–14, which follows naturally after the allusion to Ezek 36 in John 3:5),4971 an image further reinforced by the Gospel's climactic pneumatological passage (20:22).4972
Further, John's other language is decisive in favor of finding a double entendre here. John frequently employs άκούω in a theologically loaded sense.4973 Jesus hears the Father (3:32; 5:30; 8:26,40; 15:15; cf. 8:38); the Spirit hears Jesus (16:13), and others must hear Jesus (or in some texts, the Father or the Spirit; 3:8, 29; 4:42; 5:24–25, 28, 37; 6:45; 8:43, 47; 10:3, 8, 16, 20, 27; 12:47; 14:24; 18:37).4974 John sometimes uses hearing as an image spiritually synonymous with vision (e.g., 8:38). The φωνή, or «sound,» of the wind is also its «voice,» the usual sense of the term in John.4975 Friends of the bridegroom rejoice at his voice (3:29), and Jesus' sheep know his voice (10:3–5,16, 27); Jesus' voice raises the dead (5:25,28). Although God's voice occurs in other forms (12:28,30), by virtue of his being God's word, Jesus is in effect God's voice, his form, his sent one, and the embodiment of life (5:37). One who rejects his message cannot «hear» God (8:47). Everyone who is from the truth hears Jesus' voice (18:37); hence only those born from the Spirit know the voice of the Spirit.
Thus Jesus speaks not only of the «sound of the wind,» but of the «voice of the Spirit,» continuing his emphasis on the Spirit from 3:5–6. This particular pun works in Hebrew as well as (or even more clearly than) in Greek: קול רוח can refer either to the sound of the wind or to the voice of the Spirit.4976
Because a potential association between God's Spirit and wind in Ezek 37 follows di־ rectly upon an association between God's Spirit and purifying water in Ezek 36, a biblically literate teacher of Israel like Nicodemus should have caught both allusions by the time Jesus finished the second one; but he did not (3:9).
4. The Heavenly Witness (3:9–13)
Only one born from above (3:3) could «see» God's kingdom, and only who came from above (3:13) could testify firsthand about heavenly realities (3:11) and so reveal heavenly things (3:12). Nicodemus and John's hearers can be born anew to eternal life only through the uplifting of Jesus on the cross (3:14–16);4977 the revealer from above must return above so that rebirth from the Spirit will be possible (7:39).
4A. Nicodemus's Ignorance (3:9–10)
Nicodemus's use as a foil through whose questions Jesus will reveal insights to John's audience is nearly complete, so Nicodemus offers a final, general, «How can (πώς δύναται) these things be?» (3:9). Jesus responds in 3:10–13. Some argue that Jesus' use of the plural in 3represents the voice of the Johannine community;4978 in the whole context of this Gospel, however, it is more likely that it represents the joint voice of Jesus and the Father who bears witness with him so that he is not alone in his witness (5:31–32, 36–37; 8:13–14,17–18). Speaking against divine witness and attestation was a serious matter (3:32).4979
At the same time, Jesus' shift from addressing the «teacher of Israel» (3:10) to «you» (plural) who «do not receive our witness» (3:11) suggests that Jesus addresses the community of which Nicodemus at this point remains a part. Nicodemus nowhere recurs after this point, but Jesus' words profit the reader.4980 So clearly do these words address the reader directly that one scholar has even argued (implausibly) that the passage originally immediately followed the prologue, the language of which it shares.4981 Still, the passage мая reflect the words of the Johannine Jesus through 3:21; John functions like the Paraclete in applying Jesus' words afresh, and Jesus often speaks of himself in the third person in Son of Man sayings (e.g., 1:51; 3:13–15; 8:28).4982
Nicodemus was a «ruler» of Israel (3:1) and recognized Jesus as a teacher from God (3:2), but his own lack of understanding as a «teacher of Israel,»4983 one who claimed to teach others, proves shameful (3:10).4984 Even if one takes Jesus' words «Are you a teacher of Israel?» (3:10) as an expression of astonishment,4985 they undoubtedly represent reproof as wel1.4986
4B. The Earthly Cannot Grasp the Heavenly (3:12)
Jesus reproves Nicodemus for his failure to understand (see comment on 3:10). Jesus мая reinforce the shame with a qal vaomer argument: Nicodemus cannot understand the «light» (what is earthly); how can he understand the «heavy» (what is heavenly; 3:12)?4987 Ancient rhetoric would have found acceptable the use of earthly analogies to communicate divine realities;4988 philosophic logic also reasoned from the known to what was not yet known.4989 The «earthly» things were probably such analogies as wind and the «water» of proselyte baptism.4990 Thus when in the Testament of Job Baldad challenges Job's knowledge of the heavens, Job stumps Baldad with a question and concludes, «If you do not understand the functions of the body, how can you understand heavenly matters (επουράνια)?»4991 Similarly, Ezra could not answer the angel's questions about wind, fire, or a past day; how could he answer questions about heaven or hell?4992 When Ezra struggles to fathom Israel's intense punishment, 4 Ezrás theodicy is that earthly people understand only earthly things, and only celestial beings understand things above.4993 The specific model for this passage is undoubtedly from the Wisdom of Solomon, probably circulated in most recensions of the Greek Bible in the Diaspora: «For the corruptible body weighs down the soul, and the earthly tabernacle weighs down the mind which has many considerations. And we barely figure out the things on earth [τα επί γης], and find the things at hand only with toil; but who has discovered the things in heaven [τα … έν ούρανοΐς]?»4994
The meaning of «heavenly» revelations depended on the circles in which one moved. Some Greek philosophers emphasized that they lived according to heaven's values revealed in nature, rather than according to earth's values in society.4995 They generally believed that the soul was of heavenly substance and was progressively freed from the corrupt material world by philosophy, and ultimately by death.4996 In the Testament of Solomon a demon's lecture on «heavenly matters» (των επουρανίων) is basically folk magic,4997 but in most texts «heavenly matters» are divine (see comment on 3:3). In apocalyptic texts, heavenly revelations could include meteorological data from the lower heavens,4998 but especially revelations focusing on the vision of God on his throne, as in other Jewish mystical traditions.4999 In John, things above are simply the things of God which Jesus shares with the disciples (cf. 16:13–15; Col 3:1–3); like Jacob's Ladder, Jesus was the one who bridged heaven and earth (1:51).5000
Nor would ancient hearers have paused long over the claim that people often rejected such revelations of heavenly matters (3:11). Thus Romans found unbelievable the supposed eyewitness accounts about heaven based on Drusillás ascent there.5001
4C. Jesus' Heavenly Testimony (3:11, 13)
Jesus and the Father testified, but Nicodemus and his allies did not receive their witness (3:11). As such, Nicodemus, not yet truly a disciple, functions as a representative of the world that fails to receive Jesus' witness (3:32; cf. 1:10–11). The Baptist will confirm that Jesus is the one from above (3:31); earthly people like Nicodemus could understand and speak only of earthly matters (3:31).
Though Nicodemus was a leader in a movement that emphasized traditions more than the attestation of experience,5002 Jesus' signs had communicated to Nicodemus and his colleagues Jesus' divine origin; now Jesus attests his revelation on the basis of his own origin and experience.5003 That only someone from heaven could truly reveal heavenly matters (3:13; cf. 6:46) would have functioned as a logical argument in Mediterranean antiquity.5004 This is true in part because the heavenly-earthly contrast would have been familiar to an ancient eastern Mediterranean audience. Many sources attest the view of some Greek philosophers that human souls, like the gods, were heavenly, whereas matter was earthly and perishable.5005 Influenced by Hellenism, later rabbis also opined that the soul was from heaven and the body from earth; thus doing God's will made people like angels.5006
But John speaks of a the descent of a particular person, not merely the souls of humanity or a divine spark within humanity, who is from heaven. His language of ascent and descent (e.g., 6:33, 62; see introduction on vertical dualism, ch. 4) closely resembles early Christian imagery for Jesus' incarnation or death and resurrection or exaltation (e.g., Eph 4:9–10; Phil 2:5–11).5007 Some have appealed to a descending redeemer from a gnostic myth here,5008 but this myth is far too late to provide reasonable background for John.5009 Talbert presents better candidates for Greek and Roman ascending and descending redeemers,5010 but though these examples are superior to, and less anachronistic than, proposed gnostic redeemers, most of these parallels also prove inadequate: the visit of Zeus and Hermes in Ovid Metam. 8.626–721 appears no different from the visit of divine messengers in Gen 18:1–16; Serapis's message to Ptolemy and subsequent ascent in fire (Tacitus Hist. 4.83–84) appears little different from biblical traditions about the angel of the Lord (e.g., Judg 6:21–22).5011 He cites other examples that include a descent (human born, sent from the gods to help humanity) without an ascent. But when Talbert turns to the descent of Wisdom in Jewish sources, we have returned to familiar Johannine ground: Wisdom descends from heaven,5012 and in another line of tradition leaves earth during eschatological suffering.5013
Johns direct source in 3probably follows his direct source for his claim that the earthly cannot understand the heavenly (3:11–12, following Wis 9:15–16), in Wis 9:17: the only way anyone could understand the heavenly ways was because God gave that person wisdom and sent his holy spirit from heaven.5014 In the context of the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is not here merely one recipient of such wisdom and Spirit, a description that better befits his followers; rather he is divine Wisdom incarnate, having descended from heaven (3:13; cf. 1:1–18).5015 When Israel needed salvation, God s all-powerful Word (λόγος) came from heaven (άπ' ουρανών ), from (έκ) the royal throne, to slay the firstborn of Egypt (Wis 18:15).5016 Likewise later rabbis harshly condemned anyone who denied that the Torah or any part of it came from heaven.5017
This image of Wisdom reinforces the emphasis on Jesus as Gods agent or «sent» one in the Fourth Gospe1. No mortal could initiate his coming: «Who has ascended to heaven (άνέβη εις τόν ούρανόν) and taken her [Wisdom] and brought her from (εκ) the clouds?» (Bar 3:29).5018 God alone knows Wisdom (Bar 3:31–32), hence God alone could send Wisdom, as God alone in the Fourth Gospel sends his Son (cf. 3:17); cf. also Q material in Matt 11/ Luke 10:22. Solomon beseeches God to send Wisdom forth from his holy heavens (Wis 9:10).5019
One could argue that Jesus has come from heaven after first ascending there, as Moses did to receive Torah, according to many Jewish traditions. Although later rabbinic traditions develop the theme in great detail,5020 the original story of Moses' heavenly ascent probably did circulate in the first century,5021 and various commentators on this passage stress the story of the ascent of Moses.5022 Wayne Meeks treats this theme most thoroughly, arguing that 3may polemicize against this idea by arguing that only Jesus has ascended.5023 We should also observe that, unlike Moses (cf. 6:32–33), Jesus did not merely witness heaven; he is "from heaven» (3:13, 31; 6:38, 41–42, 50–51, 58), from God's realm (1:32; 3:27; 6:31–33; 12:28; 17:1). In this context Jesus is not a Moses figure himself but the instrument through which Moses brought salvation (3:14). The context emphasizes that he is greater than Moses (cf. also 1:17; 5:46; 6:32; 9:28–29),5024 divine Wisdom itself.5025 Evidence suggests that mystics in Johns day already claimed to experience heavenly revelations (see comment on 3:3) and to attribute such ascents to figures of the past; some suspect that John here polemicizes against Enoch literature and other ascent texts about heroic mediators5026 or visionary mystics.5027 Given the polemic against such figures in rabbinic literature, a polemic against them here is not impossible; in view of the rest of the Fourth Gospel, however, the central polemic probably exalts Jesus above Moses. Philo declares that the Sinai revelation worked in Moses a second birth which transformed him from an earthly to a heavenly man;5028 Jesus, by contrast, came from above to begin with and grants others a birth «from above» (3:3).
5. Trusting God's Uplifted Agent (3:14–21)
For John, birth from above depends on the exaltation to heaven of the revealer from above. If Jesus is God's agent, then people must «come» to him through faith in his cross. Most people, however, do not do so, because they prefer to live in darkness.
5A. Lifting Moses' Serpent (3:14)
This passage clarifies the prerequisite for birth from above: not mere faith in Christ in an abstract sense, nor faith despite the crucifixion, but faith in the crucified Jesus. Not only is Jesus greater than Moses because Jesus parallels the Torah or Wisdom which Moses merely mediated (see comment on 3:13), he is greater than Moses because he parallels the instrument of salvation which Moses merely lifted up (3:14).
The passage about the serpent (Num 21:8–9) which John uses in the Nicodemus story comes from a context which he probably mined for other information: the account of the well in the wilderness which follows in Numbers (Num 21:16–18) мая inform John's following story about the Samaritan woman at a wel1.5029 Although the passage about Moses' serpent does not seem to have been a prominent favorite, early Jewish texts do recall it.5030 None of the extrabiblical traditions associated with that passage appear widespread enough for us to assume them as background for this passage, although it is tempting to consider Philós exegesis of the serpent going on his belly: he symbolizes pleasure, looking «downward.»5031 Some very late traditions linked the serpent in the wilderness with the evil serpent of Genesis 3,5032 though this probably illustrates midrashic techniques by which such a link might appear natural rather than a tradition on which John мая have drawn.5033 Gnostic sources inverted the typical Jewish use of serpents (based on Gen 3) as symbols for evil into a positive symbol;5034 but these sources are late and in any case an unlikely source for John's thinking. They are no more valuable than the standard associations of serpents with particular pagan deities5035 and мая be less valuable than the widespread use of snakes as an image of something hideous.5036 One should not press details as if Jesus becomes a symbol of evil crucified (cf. 2Cor 5:21)5037–in which instance those who crucified him would be compared to Moses (8:28).
Probably more helpfully, some interpreters saw Moses' serpent as a positive alternative to the hostile ones that had bitten the people, which had more in common with the serpent in Eden.5038 (Egyptians used images of snakes as prophylactic magic against snake bites.)5039 If this tradition is not ad hoc and might be known by John's audience, he мая play on positive connotations of Moses' serpent. Another possibility is that the Son of Man bears humanity's judgment in death just «as the deadly serpents were representatively judged in the bronze image.»5040
Then again, the most natural midrashic interpretation would connect Moses' bronze serpent (Num 21:8–9) with his rod that became a serpent (Exod 4:3; 7:9–10, 15), hence functioned as a sign;5041 in this case, Jesus' crucifixion is itself a «sign» (cf. 2:18–19). Moses stood the serpent on a σημείου, a standard (Num 21:8–9 LXX; cf. John 2:11, 18; 3:2);5042 thus everyone (πάς) bitten, seeing it, would ζήσεται, live (cf. 3:15). As some rabbis interpreted «live» in terms of eternal life when convenient,5043 so here John can midrashically exegete «live» as «have eternal life.» Given material resembling Wisdom of Solomon in the preceding verses (3:12–13), an allusion to that work here would also make sense; in Wis 16the bronze serpent symbolizes salvation (σύμβολον … σωτηρίας), thus again functions as a «sign.»5044 Because John emphasizes soteriological vision (see introduction), one might suppose that he emphasizes looking on the serpent, hence on Jesus;5045 but while John might have approved of such an application, it is less clear that he intended it. Given his own emphasis on vision, it is all the more striking that he leaves it unmentioned here; it remains a very possible interpretation, but not conclusively so.
For John, however, the central element of the image is probably the «lifting up,» which he emphasizes elsewhere (cf. 8:28; 12:32), rather than any comparison with the serpent.5046 «Lift up» certainly refers to the crucifixion here as elsewhere in the Gospel, a usage it can bear very naturally in Palestinian Aramaic5047 and in ancient Mediterranean thought.5048 It is possible also that «lift up» мая represent another double entendre; the term or its equivalents can mean exalt5049 by praise.5050 The Hebrew Bible often associates «lifting» with a «standard» or «ensign» used to gather God's people, usually translated σημεΐον («sign») in the LXX, as noted above on Num 21:8–9.5051 (A bronze serpent as an «ensign» need not be viewed as an unusual image; before the LXX was translated, Persiás king used a golden eagle as his σημείον.)5052 More clearly, in light of the vertical dualism of the passage (3:3, 13), «lift up» seems to connote «to heaven,»5053 but in John s Gospel this occurs by way of the cross.5054 Because John clearly refers to Jesus' crucifixion (12:32–33), he most likely derives the image from Isa 52(containing both ύψόω and δοξάζω), the context of the Suffering Servant.5055 (Traditions preserved in the Targumim мая shed some light on John's usage, but those traditions мая also be later;5056 the early Christian tradition мая have been independent.) Given other associations, such as the Passover lamb in 1:29, John likely assumes an expiatory theology (1 John 2:2; cf. Rom 3:25).5057 (For the divine necessity implied in δεί, see comment on John 4:4.)
In the story world, if Nicodemus (assuming he has not already faded from the picture) has not understood preceding allusions to Ezek 36 and 37, he probably cannot understand this point, either. The Gospel itself gradually clarifies the meaning of the Son's «uplifting» and the probable allusion to Isa 52:13; John 8is somewhat clearer, and 12:32–33 is explicit.5058 But like the would-be disciples of Mark 4:9–20 and Matt 13:9–23, only those who pressed into the inner circle, who persevered long enough to understand Jesus' enigmatic sayings in the context of his whole ministry or his private teachings to his closest disciples, would understand. Jesus' enigmas are cleared up only to those who continue in his word (8:31).
5B. God Gave His Son (3:15–16)
In the context of the Son of Man being «lifted up» in crucifixion, the aorist εδωκεν plainly refers to Jesus' death on the cross, which this passage defines as the ultimate expression of divine love for humanity (cf. Rom 5:5–8).5059 The expression «unique Son»5060 adds pathos to the sacrifice, drawing on an image like Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac.5061 Some could understand English translations (God «so» loved the world) as intending, «God loved the world so much»; but John's language is qualitative rather than quantitative. Οΰτως means, «This is how God loved the world»; the cross is the ultimate expression of his love.5062 Nowhere in this Gospel does God say, «I love you»; rather, he demonstrates his love for humanity by self-sacrifice (13:34; 14:31), and demands the same practical demonstration of love from his followers (e.g., 14:15, 21–24; 21:15–17).5063 (See the fuller breakdown of John's uses of «love» in our introductory section on Johannine theology.)
«Give» occurs so frequently in the Fourth Gospel (sixty-three times) that it constitutes one of Johns motifs, though it is linked explicitly with love only on occasion (3:16, 35; 17:24). In some texts God specifically gives (usually either authority or the disciples) to the Son (3:35; 5:22,26–27,36; 6:37,39; 10:29; 11:22; 12:49; 13:3; 17:2,4,6, 7,8,9,11,12,22,24; 18:9,11). In these texts the Father grants Jesus disciples (6:37,39; 10:29; 17:24; 18:9); life in himself (5:26); works to do or commands to obey (5:36; 12:49), including his death (18:11); glory (17:24); supreme authority (5:22,27; 17:2); and (as an expression of that authority) all things (3:35; 13:3; cf. 11:22). God gives to others;5064 in these texts he gives the law (1:17), his Son (3:16); authority (19:11) or a role in his plan (3:27); the true bread (6:32, i.e., Jesus); the opportunity for salvation (6:65); the Spirit (14:16); and whatever Jesus' true followers request (15:16; 16:23).
Jesus is the giver in other texts, granting authority to become God's children (1:12); the Spirit (3:34, if understood thus);5065 the water of eternal life (4:7,10,14,15); the food of eternal life (6:27, 34); his own life as the food of eternal life (6:51–52); eternal life (10:28; 17:2); an example (13:15) and a command (13:34); peace (14:27); God's words (17:8, 14); and God's glory (17:22). The predominant christological usage is soteriologica1. In some cases the giving explicitly progressed from the Father's gift to Jesus to Jesus' gift to his disciples (e.g, 17:8, 22). Some uses appear inconsequentia1.5066
When John's audience thought of God «giving,» they мая have thought of his gift most frequently mentioned in Deuteronomy, the land.5067 Perhaps (if members of John's audience would be inclined to make any comparison with their heritage at all) the most relevant comparison for them would be between the gift of God's Son and the «gift of Torah» (cf. Exod 24:12; Lev 26LXX; Deut 4:8; 4MT; 5:22,29; 9:10–11; 10:4; 11LXX; 31:9) emphasized in much of early Judaism.5068 But whereas in biblical and Jewish teaching Israel alone received that gift (see comment on 1:11; cf. Rom 3:2), here God gives the gift of his Son to the world (see comment on 1.T0).5069 This love is of the same sort as the Father's love for the Son (3:35; 15:9; 17:23) and is exemplified on a narrative level in Jesus' love for his friends by which he entered the realm of hostility to bring them life (11:5, 7–8), and by the cross (13:34). It also provides the model for believers' self-sacrificial love for one another (13:34–35; 15:12; 1 John 3:16; 4:11,19). This special love from Father and Son was an early Christian conception (e.g., Rom 8:37; Gal 2:20; Eph 2:4; 5:2, 25; 2 Thess 2:16) undoubtedly treasured in John's circle of believers (1 John 3:16; 4:10,19; Rev 1:5; 3:9).
Although John's portrait of divine love expressed self-sacrificially is a distinctly Christian concept, it would not have been completely unintelligible to his non-Christian contemporaries. Traditional Platonism associated love with desire, hence would not associate it with deity.5070 Most Greek religion was based more on barter and obligation than on a personal concern of deities for human welfare.5071 Homer's epic tradition had long provided a picture of mortals specially loved by various deities,5072 but these were particular mortals and not humanity as a whole or all individual suppliants to the deity. Further, deities in the Iliad have favorite mortals, debating back and forth who should be allowed to kill whom. But they do not knowingly, willingly sacrifice themselves (though some like Ares and Artemis are wounded against their will); Hera and others back down when threatened by Zeus, and even limit their battles with one another on account of mortals (cf. Il 21.377–380). Achilles complains that the deities have destined sorrow for mortals yet have no sorrow of their own (Il. 24.525–526). By this period, however, popular Hellenistic religion was shifting away from traditional cults toward personal experience,5073 bringing more to the fore a deity's patronal concern for his or her clients. Thus a few deities, especially the motherly Demeter and Isis, are portrayed as loving deities.5074
Jewish tradition often stresses God's abundant, special love toward the righteous or Israe1.5075 This tradition stems from biblical teachings about the covenant (Deut 7:7, 13; 10:15; 23:5; 33:3; Isa 63:9; Hos 11:1); without abandoning his ethnic universalism Isaiah could speak of the restoration after judgment in terms of God's special love for Israel (e.g., Isa 43:4; 63:9). In some early Jewish traditions God even entered into his peoplés sufferings, for example, sharing their exile.5076 Some second-century teachers felt that God cared more for an individual Israelite than for all the nations.5077 It was impossible for God to hate Israel;5078 in one late tradition God loved Israel so much that he made himself unclean once, revealing himself in a place of idolatry, to redeem them.5079 Some streams of Jewish tradition do point out that God loved (έφίλησεν) all humanity he created.5080 Other texts, however, indicate that, in the absolute sense, God loves (άγαπά) no one except the one who abides with wisdom,5081 or that Israel was the sole object of his love in the world.5082 Most texts simply do not address God's love for the disobedient.
John, however, emphasizes not only God's special love for the chosen community (e.g., 17:23), but for the world (cf. 1 John 2:2; 1Tim 2:4; 2Pet 3:9). The «world» in the Fourth Gospel is sometimes identical with «the Jews» (15:18–16:2), but refers to the Samaritans in the following narrative section (4:42). Jesus as a «light to the world» (8:12) мая be Isaiah's «light to the nations» (Isa 42:6; 49:6; cf. 60:3), so in Johannine theology God's love for the «world» represents his love for all humanity. This remains a love for potential believers that is qualified by wrath toward those who refuse to respond to his gracious gift (3:36).5083 Nevertheless, that God gave his/Son for the world indicates the value he placed on the world. Some interpreters argue that God's love for the world here «exceeded even His love for His beloved Son.»5084 \
One might question whether John's interpretation remains consonant with the Jesus tradition here. Would such universalistic sentiments derive from the historical Jesus in any sense? Jesus did, after all, avoid the cosmopolitan, Hellenistic cities of Galilee5085 and seemed less than eager to accommodate Gentiles who came to him (Mark 7:27; Matt 8:7; 15:23–24).5086 But the early Christians мая have been correct that Jesus' reticence stemmed from his immediate mission rather than his lack of concern (e.g., Mark 7:27; Rom 15:7–12); some other secure elements in the Jesus tradition probably indicate a concern for Gentiles.5087
Faith in the crucified Jesus yields eternal life (3:15–16),5088 life initiated at a birth from above (3:3–5). Although this was by definition eschatological life (Dan 12:2), John employs a present active subjunctive in 3to indicate that through faith a person experiences the birth that initiates the new, eschatological life.5089 (For further discussion of «eternal life,» see the section on «life» in our introduction.) In the context of the whole Fourth Gospel, however, it becomes clear that mere «signs-faith» can prove inadequate (e.g., 2:23–25); though sometimes starting with signs-faith, one must develop the sort of faith that perseveres to the end (8:31–32,59), that ultimately trusts Gods gift of eternal life so fully that it is prepared to relinquish the present life (12:25; cf. 12:9–11). Modern readers of 3:15–16 who assume that it rewards passive faith with eternal life, apart from perseverance, read these verses in accordance with a very modern theological understanding that is utterly foreign to their Johannine context.5090 «Perishing» (άπόληται; cf. 6:27, 39; 10:10, 28; 11:50; 12:25; 17:12) applied naturally to physical destruction (e.g., Mark 3:6; Matt 8:25; Acts 5:37; 27:34), but already had long appeared in early Christian texts for eternal destruction (Matt 10:28; 18:14; Rom 2:12; 14:15; 1Cor 1:18; 8:11; 2Cor 2:15; 4:3; 2 Th 2:10; 2Pet 3:9; probably Luke 13:3, 5; Jude 11).
5C. Saved from Condemnation (3:17–18)
The Father sent Jesus «into the world» at his birth (18:37) and he would leave the world at his glorification (16:28). «Into the world» is a frequent Johannine phrase (3:19; 6:14; 10:36; 11:27; 12:46; 16:28; 18:37) which, though it can connote a normal humans entrance into the world at birth (16:21) or one of Jesus' followers saved from the world being sent back to preach (17:18), usually fits well into this Gospel's high Christology, in which Jesus relinquished his heavenly glory to become mortal (17:5); see comment on 1:19.
That Jesus did not come to condemn does not mean that the world will not be condemned; in John's theology, the world is condemned already and only those who respond to God's gift in the cross will be saved.5091 Salvation is a central aspect of Jesus' mission (3:17, 35–36; 4:22, 42; 5:21–24, 34; 6:40; 10:9; 12:47), though the language of salvation is hardly distinctly Johannine in early Christianity. Only the Samaritans call Jesus σωτήρ (4:42; as in 3:7, it applies to the «world»),5092 and only in his conversation with the Samaritan woman does Jesus speak of σωτηρία–where he recognizes that it is «from the Jews» (4:22).5093 By contrast, the verb σώζω (like verbs for knowing, seeing, and believing) occurs more frequently, usually with reference to Jesus' mission and usually without explicitly specifying from what danger one is saved, though the context in two cases (and through these the others) suggests salvation from the realm of sin and from eternal judgment (3:17; 5:34; 10:9; 12:47).5094 Other early Christian writers apply the term more frequently, but often in a similar sense that suggests a degree of continuity in the early Christian use of this salvific language (e.g., Rom 5:9–10; 8:24; 10:9–10,13; 11:14, 26; 1Cor 1:18, 21; 3:15). This early Christian emphasis on God actively seeking to restore to himself, at great cost to himself, those alienated from him by their rebellion was a distinctive position in Mediterranean antiquity of this period.5095
But judgment also appears as a central motif in this Gospel (κρίσις in 3:19; 5:22, 24, 27, 29, 30; 7:24; 8:16; 12:31; 16:8, 11; κρίνω in 3:17, 18; 5:22, 30; 7:24, 51; 8:15, 16, 26, 50; 12:47,48; 16:11; 18:31). Jesus' present mission is not judgment (3:17–18; 8:15; 12:47), but the world apart from him stands under judgment (3:18–19; 12:31; 16:8, 11). Jesus will judge in the end, and the way people respond to him in the present determines their destiny (12:48); those who do not embrace him face eternal judgment (5:24,29). When Jesus judges, his judgment is just (5:30; 8:16), like the Father's (5:22; 8:50), who authorized him as judge (5:22, 27; 8:26). By contrast, unlike Jesus, the Father (8:50) and the law (7:51), Jesus' adversaries judge unrighteously (5:30; 7:24; 8:15; 18:31). Judgment occurs in the context of Jesus' ministry as peoplés hearts are exposed by how they respond to him and his message (9:39; cf. 12:31). John does not borrow this picture from Hellenism; Dodd in fact doubts that any adequate Hellenistic parallels exist to this picture of judgment accompanying the revelation of light.5096 For believing in Jesus' «name» see comment on 1:12.
5D. Responding to the Light (3:19–21)
The fundamental image behind 3:19–21 is the transcultural commonplace that activities conducted in daylight are visible, hence publicly known, whereas activities conducted when one cannot be seen can remain secret.5097 John's use of «light» and «darkness» would make especially good sense in his milieu (see comment on 1:4–5). In some diverse images in Jewish tradition, most of humanity was under darkness,5098 including the nations who rejected Torah.5099 Most significantly, even a first-time reader or hearer or the Gospel might well recall the stark illustration from the prologue: light is in conflict with and banishes darkness (1:5). They cannot coexist, and it is darkness that must retreat. (Modern readers мая miss the shocking apparent incongruity of a small sect such as Qumran or the Jewish Christians identifying its own movement with triumphant light, with the rest of the world in darkness and evil–cf. 1 John 4:5–6; 5:19.)
Although John's Jewish contemporaries would agree that God can judge sins in the present time,5100 they would emphasize that a person's works would be publicly exposed in the eschatological time;5101 but John's Christology leads to a realized eschatology in which that judgment and revelation occur in the present (11:24–26; 12:44–50).5102 This is not to claim that John denies future eschatology here (cf., e.g., 5:28–29; 6:39–40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48); rather, ones future state depends on how one responds to Jesus in the present. John's illustration of intrusive light for realized eschatological judgment мая play on the eschatological «day of the Lord» (as in Rom 13:11–12; 1 Thess 5:2, 4–5);5103 then again, he also exhibits no prejudice against mixing metaphors (e.g., 3:5, 8).
In this context the world's love for darkness (3:19; cf. 1 John 2:15) contrasts emphatically with God's love for the world (3:16); if the world is alienated from God, it is because it has stubbornly refused his self-sacrificial offer of reconciliation.5104 This preference for the world's values rather than God characterizes Jesus' enemies, religiously committed though they мая be (5:42; 12:25,43; 15:19);5105 even Jesus' disciples would be tested in the priorities of their love (21:15–17). Ancient moralists might recognize that not everyone «loved the truth,»5106 but emphasized that people should.5107 John claims that only those who practice the truth will come to the light. This claim suggests that Jesus confronts people with the character they already have.5108 Thus, for example, Nathanael is already a «true Israelite» when he confronts Jesus, and responds accordingly (with faith demonstrated by a correct Christology; 1:49).
Some read this as a statement of John's predestinarian outlook (cf. 1 John 2:19).5109 Granted, some segments of early Judaism included a heavy predestinarian element, albeit usually not to the exclusion of human responsibility.5110 In 1 Enoch, those «born in darkness» who were not «of the generation of light» will be thrown into darkness, whereas the righteous will shine forever (J En. 108:11–14).5111 Early Jewish sources particularly emphasize the chosenness of Israel or (especially in the Dead Sea Scrolls) its righteous remnant (Deut 4:37; 10:15).5112 But just as Jesus' predestinarian language about his parables in Mark 4:11–12 and Matt 13:11–12 invites hearers to choose to become part of the group of persevering disciples, so does Jesus in John (e.g., 8:31; 15:5–6). Most Jewish groups affirmed human responsibility alongside God's sovereignty,5113 at least when it became an issue in dispute in the determinist mood of late antiquity.5114 In contrast to some systems then and later, most Jews probably viewed predestination and human responsibility as compatible.5115
Most importantly, in contrast with some of the Hellenistic views noted above, the Fourth Gospel explicitly requires a point or process of turning rather than simply being invested with a particular nature at onés natural birth: everyone needs a new birth to acquire the new nature (3:3–6). On this count, a sinful Samaritan woman (4:23, 29) might fare better than those exposed to Torah all their lives (e.g., 7:47–52). The probable inclusio between «night» (3:2) and «darkness» (3:19–21; cf. 7:7) suggests that Nicodemus belonged on God's side. But that belonging was still not in effect (3:3) until he believed (3:16), and was not secure until he persevered as a disciple (19:39–42). «People loved darkness» (3:19) seems to articulate general human depravity, which could reinforce Jesus' perspective on Nicodemus in the narrative: rather than commending him for coming, he challenges his evasive misunderstandings (3:4, 9).5116 One should not read too much into the general statement; the following narrative both affirms that all are coming to Jesus (3:26) and that no one receives his witness (3:32), statements which cannot both be true in the absolute sense. What confirms that Nicodemus has come only partway to the light, lest his deeds be exposed (3:20), is his role in the rest of the Gospel; only after further works of truth (7:50–51; 19:39–42) would he be ready to «come» to Jesus fully (3:21).
Some earlier interpreters, relying too much on the apparent predestinarian character of the passage, claim that John's interest is not ethical, but in two classes of humanity in some semi-gnostic sense, «children of light and children of darkness.»5117 This sort of choice between ethics and preordained classes is no longer tenable; the Qumran Scrolls divide humanity into just such groups but emphasize appropriate works and entrance into the community. Terms like ελέγχω,5118 ποιέω,5119 and often αλήθεια5120 are the language of ethics; one мая likewise compare a Qumran scroll in which «the people of truth» (האמת) are those who practice Torah5121 (עושי התורה). Stoic philosophers likewise divided humanity into the wise and the unwise, expecting the «wise» to actualize their status, in a sense, by progressing in wisdom.5122
Jewish ethics in general, like John's, emphasized righteous works;5123 Wisdom would lead one to works acceptable before God (Wis 9:12). Greek and Roman writers5124 and Jewish tradition (e.g., Wis 1:16) concurred that people should act in accordance with their teaching, not simply speak; they also recognized that, despite pretense, onés true nature would come out in the end (Livy 3.36.1). In John, people demonstrate their character, either as part of the world or as those born anew from above, by their «works.» Works appear in a variety of senses: evil works (3:19–20; 7:7; cf. 2 John 11; φαϋλα in John 5:29) or good works, works of truth (3:21; 8:39); the creative works of the Father and Jesus (5:17, 20, 36), and Jesus' works, which often refer to signs (7:3, 21; 9:3–4; 10:25, 32–33, 37–38; 14:10–12; perhaps 15:24). As signs, such works should elicit faith (10:37–38; 14:11); those who embrace Jesus' works by faith will also do works (14:12).
For John, the central «work» yielding the new, eternal life is faith (6:27–30), but for Jesus, God's «work» is also obedience to his will and mission (4:34, 38; 17:4). Once one is truly in the light, one will keep God's other commandments (14:15,23–24), especially the central one, loving onés fellow disciples (13:34–35). One does the works of the one whose nature one shares (8:39, 41), hence birth from God's Spirit remains necessary for genuinely good works (3:6). Thus for John, the emphasis on works does not allow salvation outside of obedient faith in Christ.
The Greater and the Lesser (3:22–36)
In this passage John the Baptist again testifies for Jesus, as in the opening of the Gospel (1:6–9,15,19–36), framing encounters with prospective disciples like Nathanael (1:45–51) and Nicodemus (3:1–21); it also contrasts John's wilderness witness with elite Nicodemus's incomprehension.5125 The passage opens with a contrast between Jesus' baptism and Johns (3:22–23, 26), and becomes a discourse full of Johannine Christology but which, unlike most Johannine discourses, appears in the mouth of the Baptist rather than of Jesus. This passage мая address those who exalt John the Baptist too highly (3:26);5126 it мая also address those in the synagogue community who reject Jesus' deity but accept John as a prophet.
1. Setting for the Discourse (3:22–26)
Central to the setting is the matter of ritual purification; John's disciples disagree with traditional views about purification (3:25), as does the Fourth Gospel's author (2:6; cf. 11:55).5127 Yet his disciples, perhaps like some of his followers in the late first century, also held an inadequate view of purification; they мая have seen Jesus as competition (3:26). As in 1:29–37 John again needs to point his disciples to the greater one (3:27–30). John, who offers the best form of Jewish purification, offers merely purification in water; Jesus offers a baptism in the Spirit (1:31–33; 3:5).5128 That purification and baptismal questions are central to this section is clear from its unity with 4:l-3.5129 Μετά ταϋτα (3:22) is a frequent transitional device in John (5:1,14; 6:1; 7:1; 19:38; 21:1)5130 and Revelation (1:19; 4:1; 7:9; 9:12; 15:5; 18:1; 19:1; 20:3) which also occurs seven times in Luke-Acts and on only two other occasions in the NT.
1A. Jesus' Ministry and John's Ministry (3:22–23, 26)
Regardless of the applicability to followers of the Baptist in the time in which the Fourth Gospel was written, a historical reminiscence likely stands behind the tension between John's and Jesus' followers.5131 The Synoptics allow for little overlap between John and Jesus, presenting Jesus as John's successor and the fulfillment of his message. One might suppose that John, whose story world extends the ministry of Jesus to two or three years, overlaps Jesus and John the Baptist. For an apologetic against followers of the Baptist, however, the chronology followed in the Synoptic tradition would have worked well enough. (John apparently knew the tradition circulated through Mark and his Synoptic followers; 3seems to explicitly respond to it.)5132 The Fourth Gospel thus allows the tension between the two movements to stand as early as Jesus' ministry, but clarifies the appropriate place of the Baptist movement through the Baptist's own words. The Synoptics мая well have suppressed the overlap as a potential embarrassment,5133 although there is less evidence of tension with a Baptist community at that point.
Jesus came into Judea (3:22), which either refers to «Judea outside of Jerusalem» (thus the presence of γήν) or implies that the author refers to a point after that of 3:1–21, with an unmentioned elapse of time and return to Galilee. If his proximity to John is implied, he мая be in the Jordan Valley (3:23).
1B. John's Location (3:23)
According to the most common reconstruction,5134 «Aenon» («springs») near Salim, the place with much water, is probably near the modern Ainun («little fountain»); though Ainun lacks water, many springs remain in the region. Most significantly, this location lies east of Mount Gerizim and the ancient Shechem, now the leading center of Samaritan habitation.5135 This means that Jesus' ministry in «unclean» Samaria (4:9) in a sense followed his predecessor's precedent of ministering near that region.5136 Early Christian texts from Lukés as well as John's tradition indicate that Jesus was more open to Samaritans than most of his contemporaries (Luke 10:33; 17:16; Acts 1:8) and that the Samaritan mission was largely successful (Acts 8:5–25).5137 Would John's audience, perhaps retaining some roots in Galilee, recognize the Samaritan place names?5138
Although it remains possible that the Fourth Gospel's audience knew something of Galilean geography (perhaps at least Salim), John lacks much theological incentive to create Aenon. Historically it seems likely that John the Baptist baptized in this region for at least three reasons: First, John drew adherents especially from Judea, but also from Galilee.5139 Second, a location near Perea, with its many Nabatean inhabitants, would render politically sensitive his denunciation of Antipas's affair with Herodias. That affair had led to severely damaged relations with the Nabatean kingdom, whose ruler Antipas had carelessly insulted by preferring Herodias to that king's daughter whom he had planned to divorce.5140 (Nabateans also were known for securing water in the desert, which had enabled them to surpass other Arab tribes;5141 it is possible that this information might be relevant for the Baptist when away from the Jordan.) Third, John was probably executed at Antipas's fortress, Machaerus, near this region.5142
1C. John Was Not Yet in Prison (3:24)
This aside serves several functions. First, it notifies members of an audience perhaps familiar with the Markan tradition preserved in the Synoptics that the author of the Fourth Gospel is not unaware that John would be imprisoned; it simply had not happened at this point in Jesus' ministry, as one might gather from the Synoptic abbreviation (Mark 1:14). Second, it serves as a prolepsis for those familiar with that tradition; the Gospel must mention it here because it will not be narrated later.5143 Finally, the aside sounds much like an earlier aside in Jer 37:4, augmenting the prophetic identity of John and the reliability of his witness.
Once arrested, John was imprisoned in the fortress Machaerus,5144 which was in Perea, the region «across the Jordan» where the Fourth Gospel places much of John s public ministry (1:28; 3:26; 10:40). Even outside Palestine, Machaerus was known as one of the strongest fortresses of Judea.5145 Just as the Synoptic tradition мая have abbreviated the overlap between Jesus and John, Josephus appears to have simplified the account of John s martyrdom. Whereas in Josephus John's execution appears to follow his arrest quickly, Mark (6:17,21) and Q (Matt ll:2/Luke 7:18) both suggest that Antipas kept John imprisoned for some time before executing him.5146 John's imprisonment мая function to foreshadow Jesus' impending arrest (though not as clearly as in Mark 6:14–29); this was an accepted and ancient literary technique.5147
1D. John versus Traditional Jewish Purifications (3:25–26)
The Fourth Gospel portrays Jesus' purification by the Spirit as superior to John's by water (1:33), but John's is also the best of all Jewish purifications, from which it is here distinguished5148 and to which Jesus' work is also far superior (2:6; cf. 3:5). Purification rites were common throughout the Mediterranean world (see comment on 1:25–26, 31), and early Judaism, which had developed biblical purification rituals, was no exception. Various baptistic sects, most notably the Essenes, мая have competed in the wilderness,5149 and these мая have challenged the character of the Baptist's immersions; but these sects and the Pharisees also condemned one another's baptisms.5150 In the context of this Gospel, the «Jew» with whom John's disciples here clash5151 probably means one of more Pharisaic, Jerusalemite persuasion.
The Fourth Gospels portrait of baptism by Jesus' disciples (3:26) makes sense. Because Christian baptism is presupposed in our earliest sources (Paul, e.g., Rom 6:3–4; 1Cor 1:14–17) and our depictions of the earliest events (Jesus' postresurrection commission in Matt 28:19; the first Christian sermon in Acts 2:38), it seems more likely that Jesus, who moved in the Baptist's circle, actually instituted the rite, than that later urban Jerusalem Christians or Galilean Christians more chronologically and geographically distant from the Baptist would have done so. If John demanded immersion as a sign of repentance and Jesus regarded him as a prophet, presumably Jesus would have carried on the same tradition.5152 Moreover, if John the Baptist practiced the rite, there is no reason that Jesus' earliest disciples could not have done so. Yet the lack of evidence for the practice in the Synoptic tradition is telling; whether the Synoptics de-emphasize it to avoid comparisons with the Baptist, or whether Christian baptism represents a postresurrection mandate, is unclear. At the same time, the Fourth Gospel appears to have more reason to downplay it than the Synoptics, and мая report accurate historical tradition that, in the earliest stage of Jesus' ministry, which overlapped with that of John in a comparable region, Jesus' disciples supervised others' baptisms under his supervision. The author is careful to report that Jesus himself did not practice baptism (4:2), which might help explain why it does not appear in Synoptic tradition. Further, the baptism of Jesus' followers at this stage would have appeared to outsiders as merely a continuation of the Baptist's practice by one of his former disciples.5153 The author's primary purpose in recording that Jesus himself did not baptize, however, is undoubtedly to retain the primary emphasis on baptism in the Spirit (1:33). The announcement that «all» are coming (έρχονται) to Jesus (3:26) мая displease John's disciples who came (ήλθον) to John (cf. the warning in 11:48).5154 By contrast, the report of «all» coming to Jesus pleases John (3:27), both because Jesus is «above all» (3:31) and because John's mission was to testify to the light that «all» might believe the light (1:7).
Gossip networks were common, so it is not surprising that matters thought to be of interest were often reported to teachers.5155 The Fourth Gospel recounts the disciples' report to John the Baptist, however, to provide the setting for John's ready acknowledgment that Jesus holds the supreme authority (3:27–36).
2. Jesus Is Greater Than John (3:27–30)
Ancient literature reports numerous rivalries, for instance among philosophical schools, dramatic poets, and politicians (see comment on 17:21–23); rivalries also appeared among first-century Christian workers (1Cor 1:11–12; Phil 1:15–17; 4:2–3; cf. Matt 24:45–51). But once past figures had attained the status of public heroes, the tendency was often to reduce the tensions between the schools. Thus Seneca the Stoic could explain that Epicurus was not so bad as Epicureans.5156 Likewise, Aulus Gellius could point out that, despite the common belief that Plato and Xenophon were rivals, in reality their followers, out of zeal for their heroes, were rivals. Plato and Xenophon worked together, but their followers tried to show one or the other to be greater.5157 It would not be surprising if some had made Jesus and the Baptist rivals, especially among the latter's disciples who did not become part of the Jesus movement (see comment on 1:6–8);5158 but John lays such suspicions to rest as in 1:19–36.
John's ambition was to fulfill God's purpose as Jesus' forerunner, not to seek his own glory.5159 (Just how pervasive this Johannine emphasis is мая be surmised from the contrast with Q: whereas John in prison later sends disciples to confirm Jesus' identity, here he confirms it in response to his disciples' information.)5160 He acknowledges that any significance in his own role is nothing but a matter of divine gift, hence not a cause for boasting (3:27). That a divine gift was not appropriate grounds for self-boasting was often recognized (cf. 1Cor 4:7).5161 «Heaven» was a Jewish surrogate title for God,5162 but like «above» (3:5), again reiterates John's vertical dualism, which emphasizes in turn the infinite distance between God and humanity crossed only in Christ (1:51). In contrast to John, Jesus not only receives from heaven but is from heaven (3:12–13); the rest of the Gospel indicates that what the Father gave Jesus, in fact, was authority over all (3:35; 5:27; 13:3; 17:2), especially those the Father had «given» to him (6:39; 10:29; 17:2, 9; 18:9). John reiterates his earlier claim (1:20–27; see comment there) that he was merely sent before the Messiah (3:28).
Naturally John will rejoice in the news about Jesus' growing following (3:29). John adds a new illustration based on the responsibility of the bridegroom's friends to rejoice with him.5163 As Jesus provided joy for his friend's wedding (2:6–11)–even at a great price (2:4)–so those who follow him should rejoice in his honor at the banquet his Father has prepared for him. In at least some Mediterranean cultures, friends or relatives of the bridegroom could offer speeches of encouragement at the wedding banquet.5164 The bridegroom's «friend» here мая be the shoshbin5165 (sometimes compared with our modern «best man»), a highly honored position that involved much joy.5166 (A shoshbin would undoubtedly be chosen with more forethought than the ruler of the wedding banquet in 2:9.) The shoshbins of bride and groom functioned as witnesses in the wedding,5167 normally contributed financially to the wedding,5168 and would be intimately concerned with the success of the wedding.5169 Some have linked the shoshbin with the marriage negotiator.5170 This was probably sometimes the case; agents (shaliachim) often negotiated betrothals,5171 and sometimes these agents were probably significant persons who might also fill a role in the wedding, which might fit the image of John as one «sent» by God.5172 But such agents were sometimes servants,5173 not likely to become shoshbins.5174
The text's χαρά χαίρει («rejoice with joy») is emphatic. Joy was so important at weddings (see comment on 2:1–3) that many later rabbis insisted that a bridegroom, the shoshbins, and the guests were free from most daily prayers5175 and the obligation of living in tabernacles during the Feast of Sukkoth.5176 Just as one was expected to mourn with mourners, piety demanded rejoicing with the groom at a wedding;5177 «gladdening» bride and groom was an obligation.5178 To illustrate the importance God attached to the joy of weddings, Jewish teachers reported that God himself acted as Adam's shoshbin, his best man.5179
Although the same image of wedding joy underlies Mark 2:19–20, one hardly need suppose that this passage reflects the influence of that one; the custom was pervasive. Especially for the Fourth Gospel, the image of Jesus as the bridegroom might stem from the earlier biblical image of God as Israel's groom.5180 A closer connection мая be with the wedding scene in John 2,5181 where Jesus underlined the significance of the feast's joy by allowing it to continue.5182
The focus of the wedding illustration is joy (which appears associated with friendship also in 15:11–15). Greeks thought of joy in a variety of ways,5183 and Jewish people often connected it with keeping God's commandments.5184 In John's Gospel, joy applies espedaily to the postresurrection relationship the disciples would have with God (15:11; 16:20–24; 17:13; 20:20).5185 Heroes of the past like Abraham (8:56) and John the Baptist (3:29) rejoiced with Jesus; all who sowed would rejoice with his reaping and that of the disciples (4:36), and his disciples should also rejoice with his restoration to the Father (14:28). Johns joy, like that of others in the Gospel, thus appears paradigmatic for believers who wish to exalt Jesus. John also «hears» Jesus (3:29), which reinforces his paradigmatic significance in the Gospel (e.g., 3:8; 10:3).
The Gospel's perspective on sacrificial friendship (15:13) мая invest the image of the bridegroom's «friend» here with commitment to martyrdom, although the connection is not explicit and мая be inferred only because the Gospel draws from a larger ancient tradition of characteristics of friendship. In any case, desiring to subordinate himself to his Lord, John was willing to become less prominent. This could imply his willingness to face imprisonment (3:24) and martyrdom,5186 but Jesus, too, would face hostility and death. The most essential part of his submission was his subordination to Christ.
3. Jesus Is God's Supreme Representative (3:31–36)
This passage is consummate Johannine Christology,5187 bringing together more diverse Johannine themes than even the prologue (though less integrative ones). The view that these verses represent the author's «theological reflection» on the Baptist's testimony is therefore not unlikely.5188 At the same time, the Baptist's testimony does not clearly break here; if these are not his words, the writer takes them as the logical implications to which the Baptist's testimony must point. John is a model for witness: even at onés own expense, causing one to decrease (1:20–37; 3:30), one must seek to glorify Jesus and point people to him; this is the work that the Spirit empowers (15:26–27; 16:14).
The passage explains why the Baptist must decrease but Jesus' ministry increase: Jesus is the one from heaven, whose witness is essential (3:31–32); see comment on 3:12–13, to which this passage alludes (for the rejection of his witness, see comment on 1:10; 3:19–20).5189 Jesus is the one from above (3:13), whereas Nicodemus, a representative of inquirers from the Judean elite and the world, was from below (cf. 8:23) and could only understand and speak of earthly things (3:12). In view of 3(see comment there), Jesus is also greater than Moses,5190 and so also greater than John. Just as the one who was before John chronologically precedes him in rank (1:15), so also the one from heaven has rank over all the earth, including over John the Baptist. That those who behold and hear testify (3:32) is good Johannine language (John 19:35; 1 John 1:1–2), but here refers specifically to Jesus' claim to testify what they had seen (3:11).
Jesus already bears God's seal of approval (6:27). That one who accepts Jesus' witness has «sealed» it with the testimony that God is true (3:33) seems to imply that those who receive him become further witnesses attesting the veracity of his claim. Persons of means typically offered their seal by means of a signet ring,5191 sometimes to attest who enacted a transaction,5192 who made an official decree,5193 or who witnessed the execution of a document.5194 One could employ the term figuratively for an ancient, quoted authority's testimony.5195 In Jewish tradition charity could provide a divine seal (σφραγίς) before God meriting reward (Sir 17:22), and one could be perfected by the seal (σφραγίς) of martyrdom (4 Macc 7:15); these seals refer to God's seal on people. Here, however, people also affix their testimony to God's faithfulness, his truth in Jesus the Messiah (e.g., 1:7–8,15, 32,34; 3:26; 4:39; 15:27).5196 But while Jesus accepts such other witnesses (5:33–35), his final, critical attestation continues to be from God himself (5:31, 34, 36–39; 8:16–18; esp. 6:27).5197 Some later rabbis declared that God needed no one to attest his decrees but his own seal, which is truth (ΠΏΚ).5198
In 3:34, Jesus speaks God's words (cf. 8:47; 12:47; 14:10,24) because God attested him by the Spirit (cf. also 1:32–33; 15:26); this declaration is primarily christological but also supplies a model for Jesus' followers, who will speak his words because the Spirit is with them (15:26–27; 20:22). Jesus might be the dispenser of the Spirit to humanity (cf. 15:26),5199 just as the waterpots in 2were to be filled «to the brim.» Jesus is the giver in 4:10; 6:27; 14(cf. Rev 2:7), and the Son indeed exercises delegated authority to carry out God's works («all things into his hand,» 3:35; 13:3).5200 In the nearest of the texts in which Jesus is giver, he gives living water, presumably the Spirit (4:10).
Conversely, if the subject and object of «give» are the same in 3and 3:35, then the Father gives Jesus the Spirit in limitless measure to Jesus in 3:34.5201 The Father is the giver to humanity in 3:16,27, to the disciples through Jesus' intervention in 14and 16:23, but specifically to the Son in 3:35; 5:26; 11:22; 13:3; 17:2. That Jesus has the Spirit «without measure» would indicate that the Spirit abides on him (1:32–33) and could contrast him with the prophets, who, even according to later rabbinic tradition, had the Spirit only «by weight,» that is, by measure, meaning that each prophet spoke only one or two books of prophecy.5202 Jesus provides a well springing forth within each believer (4:14), but the unlimited rivers of water flow from him (7:37–39).
If this Gospel leaves a hint that these words reflect John's thought, John's words about the Spirit probably allude to his own witness of the Spirit attesting Jesus in 1:32–33. In this context the Son is clearly the special object of the Father's love (see comment on love in the introduction), which the Father demonstrates by entrusting all things into his hand (3:35; cf. 5:27; 17:2). But the lack of specified object for «gives» (and perhaps its present tense) might support the idea of giving to the world, so in the end it is difficult to settle on the preferred interpretation; but «receives» the Spirit without measure might fit Jesus as the recipient better. The Father's enormous love for the Son (3:35) becomes the Johannine measure of God's love for the disciples (17:23), as Christ's sacrifice attests (3:16).
The wrath of God against an unrighteous world (3:36) fits Jewish teaching;5203 here, however, the line of demarcation between righteousness and unrighteousness is faith in Jesus (3:36). The contrast between the fate of the believing (see comment on 3:15–16)5204 and the disobedient5205 develops further the teaching in 3:19–21; that the contrast between faith and unbelief can also be expressed in terms of obedience points again to the practical rather than merely theoretical nature of genuinely salvific faith in the Fourth Gospe1. Whereas the Spirit «abides upon» Jesus (1:33) and Jesus will abide in his disciples (15:4,7), wrath «abides upon» those who disobey him through unbelief (3:36).
* * *
For the connection, cf. also, e.g., Potterie, «Naître,» 43 (through «l'inclusion sémitique»); Painter, John, 13; Whitacre, Polemic, 110; Augustine Tr. Ev. Jo. 11.3.4–11.4.1; missed by Bultmann, John, 133. Potterie, «Naître,» 46–48, structures the successive paragraphs around faith (imperfect faith, 2:23–3:2; conditions of faith and entrance into the kingdom, 3:3–10; and true faith and eternal life, 3:11–21).
Wilson, «Anti-Judaism,» 39; Barrett, John, 202; cf. Sevrin, «Nicodemus Enigma» (emphasizing Nicodemus's continuing ambiguity throughout the Gospel, «an 'in-between'… as a way to leave an opening to the Jews,» 369). The «we» мая represent the πολλοί of 2(Barrett, John, 205). Martyn, Theology, 161 compares the depiction of Gamaliel I in Acts 5:34–39.
Many observe the contrast, e.g., Bultmann, John, 111; Pazdan, «Nicodemus.»
See Lee, Narratives, 12–13.
Ellis, Genius, 5–6,53, is probably right that John wrote partly to summon such secret believers in the synagogue to more adequate faith.
Cf., e.g., Stasiak, «Man.» Pace Goulder, «Nicodemus,» who thinks him negative throughout the Gospel (representative of Petrine Jerusalem Christianity).
On characters as «types» in ancient drama, see Koester, Symbolism, 37.
Thus Munro, «Pharisee,» finds not so much contrast as samples of the spectrum of believers; cf. Whitters, «Profiles»; Dschulnigg, «Nikodemus.»
The particular Nicodemus in the narrative is probably otherwise unknown to us; see comment on his name, below. In view of the diversity of potential parallels elsewhere, the alleged parallels with Christian preaching in Acts 5:27–39 (Hanhart, «Structure,» 34) are forced.
Pace Suggit, «Nicodemus,» 94.
Robinson, Trust, 88, suggests most of the Gospel took place in dialogue with Greek-speaking Jerusalemites before its transplantation to Asia Minor.
Some estimate that two-thirds of Jewish inscriptions in Palestine are in Greek (Van der Horst, «Inscriptions»); the current count мая be lower, but Greek would be most current among the hellenized urban elite.
Crossan, Jesus, xxxiii, finds fourfold independent attestation in Mark 10:13–16 (par. Matt 19:13–15; Luke 18:15–17); Matt 18:3; John 3:3–5; and Gos. Thom. 22:1–2; cf. also Sanders, John, 123; Kelly, Peter, 50; Porterie, «Naître,» 53; Snodgrass, «ΠΝΕΎΜΑ,» 193; various streams of early Christianity (Gal 4:29; Tit 3:5; 1Pet 1:3, 23). That Justin 1 Apo1. 61 applies «born again» to baptismal regeneration suggests either knowledge of the Fourth Gospel or of tradition behind it.
See Neyrey, «Debate.»
The location of the phrase мая be emphatic (Westcott, John, 48), but Gaster, Scriptures, 14, reaches too far in comparing John's phrase with Qumran's supreme teacher.
Lightfoot, Talmud, 3:263; see Keener, Spirit, 13–16, 33–35.
The repetition is often noted, e.g., Brown, John, 1:130; in Johannine idiom more generally (in questions, e.g., 5:44; 6:52,60; 9:16; cf. 4:9; in statements, e.g., 6:44,65; 7:34; 8), e.g., Bernard, John, 1:103. Πώς δύναται is the sort of question one expects of the uninitiated in apocalyptic texts (T. Ab. 11:5B).
Bowman, Gospel, 32; Bauckham, «Gurion Family»; Blomberg, Reliability, 91–92. Barrett, John, 204 acknowledges the possibility.
Sipre Deut. 305.2.1; 'Abot R. Nat. 6A; 13, §31; b. Ketub. 66b, bar.; Lam. Rab. 1:5, §31. He is undoubtedly the same Nicodemus who is father of one «Gorion» as in Josephus War 2.451 (just as names alternated from father to son between «Simon» and «Gamaliel» in another prominent Jerusalem household; the Nicodemus of Josephus Ant. 14.37 мая be an ancestor).
Abot R. Nat. 6A; b. cAbod. Zar. 25a, bar; Tacan. 19b-20a. Some Amoraim opined that he practiced much charity but should have offered more (b. Ketub. 66b-67a).
CI J 1:295, §380. As a common Greek name, see, e.g., Isaeus Estate of Pyrrhus 4,25,36–37,39,77; Aeschines Timarchus 172; for related names for Jewish people, see Williams, «Personal Names,» 110.
E.g., Brown, John, 1:129–30.
Interestingly, some statements that follow disciples' (4:31; 9:2; 11:8) or others' (6:25) use of «Rabbi» for Jesus invite his correction; but significant exceptions (1:38,49; cf. 20:16) call into question the possible pattern.
E.g., 1QS 6.6–7; t. Šabb. 1:13; b. cAbod. Zar. 3b; Ber. 43b, bar.; zErub. 18b; 65a; Tamid 32b; Pesiq. Rab Kah. 7:4; Exod. Rab. 47:5; Lev. Rab. 19:1; Num. Rab. 15:16; Safrai, «Home,» 745; Schnackenburg, John, 1:366. Some Gentile intellectuals studied at night (Plutarch Demosthenes 8.4; 12.5–6; Cicero Att. 7.7; 13.26, 38), though Philostratus Vit. soph. 1.21.518 seems to view it as unusual (and one worked by night so that he could study by day [Valerius Maximus 8.7.ext.l 1]).
Safrai, «Education,» 964–65. As a ruler (3:1), Nicodemus would not have to work during the day.
E.g., Judg 6:27; 1Sam 28:8; 2 Kgs 25:4; Sophocles Ajax 47; Ant. 494; E1. 1493–1494; Euripides E1. 90; Iph. taur. 1025–1026; Livy 27.5.18; Ovid Metam. 7.192; Lucian Phalaris 1; Hermogenes Issues 50.14–16; Maximus of Tyre Or. 19.4; Gen. Rab. 74:7; Pesiq. Rab. 8:2. Even the Scrolls could use «night» and «darkness» literally at times (4Q299 frg. 5, lines 1–4).
With Brown, John, 1:130.
So also John Chrysostom Hom. Jo. 24 (on 2:23–3:4), though noting that Nicodemus acts more courageously in 7and 19:39.
As often noted, e.g., Hoskyns, Gospel, 211; Ellis, World, 63; Barrett, John, 204–5; Ellis, Genius, 52–53; Brown, John, 1:130; Morris, John, 211. The symbolic use of «night» appears elsewhere in the Jesus tradition (Luke 22:53), but John's light/darkness dualism draws from a broader base of imagery.
With, e.g., Auwers, «Nuit.»
Schnackenburg, John, 1:366, suggests that Nicodemus's agenda behind his question is the desire for eternal life «which preoccupied all Jews.» Others did ask the question (e.g., b. Ber. 28b, bar.; cf. Luke 3:10; Acts 2:37; 16:30), but Schnackenburg overstates the case here.
Philo QE 2.46; cf. also Moses 1.50.279 (both cited by Boring et a1., Commentary, 253–54).
Nicholson, Death, 81–83; Meeks, Prophet-King, 298; Meeks, «Man,» 53.
See Rhet. ad Herenn. 4.21.29–4.22.32; Quintilian 8.3.11–12; 9.3.66–67; Rowe, «Style,» 132; Anderson, Glossary, 93, 127; idem, Rhetorical Theory, 283–85; cf. Blass, Debrunner, and Funk, Grammar, §488. For clarifying word meanings normally, see Rhet. Alex. 25, 1435b. 19–22; for deliberate ambiguity and homonymy, see Anderson, Glossary, 81–82; for discussion of homonyms (words sharing the same name but a different «essence»), see, e.g., Porphyry Ar. Cat. 61.10–68.3. Cf. also συζυγία (Anderson, Glossary, 111) and άντανάκλασις (ibid., 20). For an example, see τρυφάν and τρέφειν in Musonius Rufus 9, p. 70.28–31; or κόρακας and κόλακας in Diogenes Laertius 6.1.4.
Also noted by Borgen, «Agent,» 146 n. 3. If Wisdom alludes to Gen 28:12, the revelation of Jacob's ladder, it might also evoke the image of a conduit of revelation between heaven and earth (see comment on John 1:51).
E.g., Book of the Dead spells 145–146; Plutarch Isis 78, Mor. 382F-383A; Heraclitus Ep. 5; Frankfurter, Religion in Egypt, 261–62. The soul returns to its place of heavenly origin (e.g., Maximus of Tyre Or. 41.5; Menander Rhetor 2.9,414.21–23); this can be portrayed as divinization (2.9, 414.25–27). Some philosophers, including later Platonists, prepared for such ascents by «ascending» out of bodily attention into contemplation of the divine (e.g., Porphyry Marc. 6.103–108; 7.131–134; 10.180–183; 16.267–268; 26.415–416; cf. Col 3:1–2).
E.g., PGM 4.930–1114; 12.325–334; 77.1–5; Lucian Icaromenippus 1–2 (satirically); Lincoln, Paradise, 83; cf. shamanic journeys in other cultures, e.g., Rasmussen, «Journey.»
One might argue that the lack of early attestation reflects the secret character of transmission (Séd, «Traditions secrètes,» following t. Hag. 2:2), but this only means we cannot verify their antiquity either way. Dimant and Strugnell, «Vision,» contend for early Merkabah revelations on the basis of 4Q385.4.
See Himmelfarb, «Ascent»; cf. possibly magical preparations in Swartz, «Ritua1.»
Some argue that Jewish merkabah mysticism provided the framework for Paul's experience (Bowker, «Visions»; cf. Kim, Origin, 252–53; contrast Schäfer, «Journey»); for a Jewish context including such rabbinic and apocalyptic sources, see Young, «Motif.»
Cf. Ezek 1:26–28; 2:2; Isa 6:1–5; this would fit earliest Christianity's pervasive emphasis on the activity of the Spirit (cf. Fee, Presence; idem, Spirit; Keener, Spirit).
See particularly Meeks, Prophet-King, 298–99. Grese, «Born Again,» argues that John adapts the «heavenly journey» motif to entering the kingdom through Jesus.
Vellanickal, Sonship, 172; Hoskyns, Gospel, 211.
E.g., Epictetus Diatr. 1.30.1 (άνωθεν); for vertical dualism, see, e.g., Epictetus Diatr. 1.9; Plutarch R.Q. 78, Mor. 282F. Sanders, John, 123, thinks John's «from above» reflects a Hellenistic vertical dualism; but apocalyptic texts are full of vertical dualism (below); for that matter, the image is not foreign to unrelated cultures (e.g., Mbiti, Religions, 237).
E.g., T. Ab. 7:7A; m. Roš Haš. 3:8. Using the term άνωθεν in this sense, see, e.g., Sib. Or. 3.307; Philo Heir 64; Flight 137–138; Names 259–260. Many texts associate God with heaven (1 Esd 4:58; Tob 10:13; Jdt 6:19; 1Macc 3:18, 50,60; 4:24; 3Macc 7:6; 1 En. 83:9; 91:7; T. Ab. 2:3A; Philo Creation 82; Sib. Or. 1.158,165; 3.247, 286; 4.51).
E.g., Ascen. Isa. 9:9; T. lud. 21:3; Gen. Rab. 38:6; Pesiq. Rab. 25:2. See especially in apocalyptic texts, most thoroughly in Lincoln, Paradise.
E.g., 3 En. 28:9; b. Pesah. 54a; Gen. Rab. 51:3; Ecc1. Rab. 10:11, §1; Marmorstein, Names, 91. For «heaven» as a title for God, see Dan 4:26; Luke 15:18,21; Rom 1:18; 1 En. 6:2; 13:8; 1QM 12.5; 3Macc 4:21; m. 'Abot 1:3,11; 2:2,12; t.B. Qam. 7:5; Sipra Behuq. pq. 6.267.2.1; Sipre Deut. 79.1.1; 96.2.2; 'Abot R. Nat. 29 A; b. cAbod. Zar. 18a, bar.; Nid. 45a, bar.; Num. Rab. 7:5; 8:4; cf. probably Diodorus Siculus 40.3.4. On periphrasis, see Rhet. ad Herenn. 4.32.43; Rowe, «Style,» 127; Anderson, Glossary, 23,102.
In Philo, the human is composed of both earthly and heavenly components, by virtue of creation (Philo Creation 82; Heir 64); for John the heavenly element is created through rebirth from the Spirit (3:5–8). Γεννάω can imply the feminine role of giving birth (e.g., 1 Chr 2:17; 1 Esd 3:15) or the masculine role of begetting (e.g., Gen 5:3; Ruth 4:18–22; 2 Chr 2LXX). Both images мая depict God together in Deut 32(note especially the masculine active participle τρεφοντος).
It means born «again» in Artemidorus Onir. 1.13, which refers figuratively to a son in his father's likeness. Many (e.g., Braun, «Vie»; Hunter, John, 38; Brown, John, lxxxxv; Cadman, Heaven, 64; Shedd, «Meanings,» 255; Culpepper, Anatomy, 155) suggest a typical Johannine double entendre here.
Culpepper, Anatomy, 135. For the value of foils in extolling onés protagonist, see fairly explicitly Dionysius of Halicarnassus Demosth. 33.
Various cultures have rites of passage that constitute symbolic rebirths (e.g., Mbiti, Religions, 151, 158–59, 184–85, 231), but more than most of them, John's emphatic language (1:12–13) and images (e.g., 20:22; cf. Gen 2:7) suggest an ontological transformation.
Kümmel, Theology, 309. White, Initiation, 66, 70, cites Jewish parallels but (p. 252) thinks Hellenism helped shape John's language here.
Plato Meno 81BC; cf. Phaedrus 248AB; 248E-249B; Virgil Aen. 6.747–751. Cf. reincarnation as souls' «second birth» (δευτεραν γενεσιν) in Plutarch D.V. 32, Mor. 567EF. See more fully Hoheisel, «Seelenwanderung.»
E.g., Athenaeus Deipn. 15.679A; Pythagoras in Diodorus Siculus 10.6.1; Iamblichus V.P. 18.85; Maximus of Tyre Or. 10.2; Croy, «Neo-Pythagoreanism,» 739; Pythagorean-Orphic ideas in Thom, "Akousmata," 105; Epimenides and Pythagoras in Blackburn, «ΑΝΔΡΕΣ,» 191; in Roman literature, Virgil Aen. 6.747–751; Silius Italicus 13.558–559; for the evil only, Valerius Flaccus 3.383–396; cf. later Kabbalah (Ginsburg, Kabbalah, 126–27). Reiztenstein, Religions, 39, concedes that in Hellenistic literature παλιγγενεσία refers primarily to the migration of souls. The idea was, of course, more widepread in India; partial reincarnation also appears in some other cultures (Mbiti, Religions, 110, 215).
Reitzenstein, Religions, 333–37; Angus, Religions, 95–98; Bury, Logos-Doctrine, 34; Bultmann, Christianity, 159; Lightfoot, Gospel, 131; Schoeps, Paul, 112; Dibelius and Conzelmann, Epistles, 148–50; Lohse, Environment, 234.
Bultmann, Epistles, 45–46.
On Dionysus, see, e.g., Otto, Dionysus, 154; on Osiris, e.g., Plutarch Isis 35, Mor. 364E
E.g., Hippolytus Haer. 5.8.10; 23; Tertullian Bapt. 5.1.
Metzger, «Consideration,» 10–11; Eliade, Rites, 115.
Willoughby, Initiation, 65; later, in Hippolytus Haer. 5.8.40–41 (but see the reservation in Boring et a1., Commentary, 252). Whatever «rebirth» took place in the Eleusinian Mysteries was also apparently dissociated from the initial bathing rite that accompanied many cults (Nock, Christianity, 61).
E.g., Apuleius Metam. 11.21–24; see more fully Nock, Conversion, 138–55.
Willoughby, Initiation, 175,187–92.
E.g., CIL 6.510 (Aug. 13, 376, in Grant, Religions, 147); Reitznestein, Religions, 44–45; Gasparro, Soteriology, 118.
Wagner, Baptism, 250,254; Stambaugh and Balch, Environment, 136–37. The earlier, temporary rebirth does not clearly predate the second century.
Willoughby, Initiation, 108, a significant concession (see 90–113 for his case for regeneration in Orphism).
Guthrie, Orpheus, 269. Sallustius does apply rebirth language to the Orphic quest for immortality (ibid., 209).
E.g., Diogenes Laertius 4.16; 6.2.56; Valerius Maximus 6.9.ext.1. See more fully Wilken, «Collegia,» 272; Meeks, Moral World, 44, 54–55; Stambaugh and Balch, Environment, 45–46, 144; Stowers, Letter Writing, 37, 112–13; Lutz, «Musonius,» 27–28; esp. Nock, Conversion, 164–86; cf. MacMullen, «Conversion.» Some schools allowed for instant transformation, whereas others emphasized the process (Stowers, «Resemble Philosophy?» 91–92). In various societies diverse rituals are connected with behavioral transformations (e.g., Eliade, Rites, 88; Mbiti, Religions, 170), including an initiatory symbolism of returning to the womb (Eliade, Rites, 51–53; cf. embryo symbolism, pp. 57–64) and other new birth symbolism (ibid., 53–57).
Nock, «Vocabulary,» 132.
Wagner, Baptism, 270; Vellanickal, Sonship, 49; Ferguson, Backgrounds, 239.
The broader, nontechnical meaning of such terms appears in Philo and Josephus (Selwyn, Peter, 122–23).
Cf. PGM 4.645–648, 719–723.
Cf. Bornkamm, «Heresy,» 127.
See Grant, Gods, 40–41.
Reitzenstein, Religions, 47–48, 55,62; Willoughby, Initiation, 196–224; Dodd, Interpretation, 45–46; Lee, Thought, 45. For «birth anew,» commentators cite, e.g., Corp. herm. 4.4; 13.1.
Oddly, some have cited Hermetic language as the background for the NT language (e.g., Reitzenstein, Religions, 453–54; Barrett, John, 206–7; Houlden, Epistles, 89).
E.g., Cleanthes Hymn to Zeus in Stobaeus Ec1. 1.1.12; Epictetus Diatr. 4.10.16; Plutarch Plat. Q. 2.1–2, Mor 1000E-1001C; T.T. 8.1.3, Mor. 718A; Marcus Aurelius 10.1; cf. Vellanickal, Sonship, 360; Kelly, Peter, 50. Plato Statesman 270DE records an ancient tale about the rebirth of the cosmos.
Sib. Or. 3.604, 726; 5.284, 328, 360, 406, 498, 500 (probably second century B.C.E., possibly Egyptian Jewish).
E.g., Philo Decalogue 53, 107; Spec. Laws 1.96, 209; cf. Spec. Laws 3.189. See further Lee, Thought, 47. For sonship language in Philo, see esp. Vellanickal, Sonship, 50–51. See the much fuller comment on 1:12; and documentation in Keener, Matthew, 217, on divine fatherhood.
Philo Virtues 62.
Philo Cherubim 114; cf. the analogy of death and a second birth in Seneca Ep. Luci1. 102.26; Maximus of Tyre Or. 41.5. Wolfson, Philo, 1:405, cites in this connection also QE 2.46, «second birth»; see further Burnett, «Immortality.» The language of the «regeneration» could suggest the Stoic idea of a cosmic conflagration (cf. Philo Eternity 85; Moses 2.65; cf. Matt 19:28), but writers could also use παλιγγενεσία simply with reference to the coming of spring.
Davids, James, 89.
Vellanickal, Sonship, 27,38–39.
Cf. also eschatological «works of newness» in 1QS 4.25 (concurring with Ringgren, Faith, 165); Midr. Pss. 2, §9 on Ps 2:7.
Lev. Rab. 29:12; see various citations in Moore, Judaism, 1:533. Re-creation applies to Moses' call in Exod. Rab. 3:15; other sources in Buchanan, Consequences, 210.
P. Bik. 3:3, §7 (explaining why Saul could be said to begin reigning at the age of «one» in 1Sam 13:1).
E.g., 'Abot R. Nat. 26, §54B; of Abraham and Sarah in Sipre Deut. 32.2.1; 'Abot R. Nat. 12A; Song Rab. 1:2, §3; see other citations in Davies, Paul, 119. Amoraim also applied the principle to teaching young men (b. Sanh. 99b).
For moral transformation in the Hebrew Bible, see also Fuller, Gospel, 173.
Also 1QS 4.17–20, 23–26; 1 En. 5:8–9; 10:16; 91:8–11, 17; 92:3–5; 107:1; 108:3; Jub. 50:5; 4 Ezra 7:92; T. Zeb. 9:8, MSS; T. Mos. 10:1.
E.g., Gen. Rab. 89:1; Deut. Rab. 3:11. Rabbinic traditions apply this principle specifically to the evil impulse (p. cAbod . Zar. 4:7, §2; Sukkah 5:2, §2; Pesiq. Rab Kah. Sup. 3:2; Exod. Rab. 30:17; 46:4; Ecc1. Rab. 2:1, §1; 12:1, §1), often in conjunction with Ezek 36 (b. Sukkah 52a; Pesiq. Rab Kah. 24:17; Exod. Rab. 41:7; Deut. Rab. 6:14; Song Rab. 6:11, §1); cf. postmortem elimination of the impulse in L.A.B. 33:3; Gen. Rab. 9:5. A number of commentators (Dodd, Preaching, 34; Schnackenburg, John, 1:370–71), allude to the Jewish doctrine of eschatological purification here.
Sipre Deut. 45.1.2; 'Abot R. Nat. 16A; b. B. Bat. 16a; Ber. 5a; Qidd. 30b, bar.; Sukkah 52b; Pesiq. Rab Kah. 4:6; Pesiq. Rab Kah. Sup. 3:2; Lev. Rab. 35:5; Pesiq. Rab. 41:4; cf. 2Macc 2:23; T. Ash. 3:2; Aristotle Po1. 3.11.4, 1287a.
B. Šabb. 145b-146a; Song Rab. 8:2, §1; Borgen, «Traditions,» 254–58.
Cf. Suggit, «Nicodemus,» despite his different approach.
Robinson, «Baptism,» 17, though he sees «born of water» as Jewish ritua1.
Often noted, e.g., Sylvia Mary, Mysticism, 64; White, Initiation, 70 (though White, p. 252, sees Hellenistic background in John 3:3); Watkins, John, 74; Malina and Rohrbaugh, John, 82 (citing b. Yebam. 22a; 48b; 62a; 97b; Bek. 47a). Lightfoot, Talmud, 3:265, noted this in regard to John 3in the seventeenth century.
Cf. t. Pisha 7for proselyte baptism as cleansing (the same type of mikveh is used for both; see Bamberger, Proselytism, 43–44). For its cleansing power, cf. the play on words with «fountain» and «hope» on God's cleansing of Israel on Yom Kippur in b. Yoma 85b (cf. Bek. 22a; the consonants refer to water in Gen 1:10; Exod 7:19; Lev 11:36; Isa 22:11; Jer 17:13; but hope in Jer 14:8; 50:7; Ezra 10:2; 1 Chr 29:15).
Kelly, Peter, 49, noting that Hebrew and Aramaic lack the term.
Ibid.; Lampe, Seal, 25.
In practice, freed slaves converted to Judaism were forbidden lest they view Judaism as less than holy (Cohen, Law, 148–49). Moreover, the emphasis on embracing proselytes fully (Kern-Ulmer, «Bewertung»; Bamberger, Proselytism, 145–61; McKnight, «Proselytism,» 840–41) мая not have always translated into practice (cf., e.g., m. Hor. 3:8; Sipre Deut. 253.2.2; Bamberger, Proselytism, 161–69; McKnight, «Proselytism,» 841–42; Keener, Spirit, 146–47; 4Q279 frg. 1, line 6).
Cf., e.g., Jeremias, Jerusalem, 324. Further on legal status, see Hoenig, «Conversion,» 54–55.
Gaius Inst. 1.59; this remained true even after the adoptive tie was broken. Cf. also blood siblings in Mbiti, Religions, 276.
Gaius Inst. 1.127–128. Cf. the loss of agnatic ties by change of status in 1.161; the invalidation of a will through status change in 2.147.
Wansink, «Law,» 990; Lane, Hebrews, 371.
Cf. BGU5.54, lines 140–141.
Sallust Speech of Gaius Cotta 3; cf. Cicero Att. 6.6.4. Accepting citizenship in one place terminated it elsewhere (Cornelius Nepos 25 [Atticus], 3.1).
See Cohen, «Fathers»; see m. Bik. 1:4–5.
Boccaccini, Judaism, 252–56.
L.A.B. 20:2; 27:10. For Philo, ascending to the pure realm of spirit as Moses did could produce a «second birth» (QE 2.46).
Jos. Asen. 8:9/8:10–11. Some also think the prayer for the regeneration of catechumens in Apos. Con. 8.6.6 reflects an earlier Jewish prayer, but this is unclear.
E.g., Odeberg, Pharisaism, 104–5.
Montefiore and Loewe, Anthology, 306.
E.g., b. Yebam. 103b.
n Abraham: Gen. Rab. 44:12; 48:6; Exod. Rab. 38:6; cf. Apoc. Ab. 20:2–5. Abraham's exaltation appears in earlier sources without reference to this motif (e.g., T. Ab. 9:6–15A; 8:2–12:15B; cf. T. Mos. 10:8–9), which мая reflect broader Hellenistic currents about exalted deities (cf. also Eph 1:21–22).
Vellanickal, Sonship, 173.
Matt 18may suggest genuine historical tradition here (Witherington, End, 64; Pryor, «Relation»).
See more fully Fenton, John, 53; Culpepper, Anatomy, 155; Aune, Environment, 56; Becker, Evangelium, 1:135–47; Reynolds, «Misunderstanding.»
E.g., Aristotle in Aulus Gellius 13.5.5–12.
On the use of surprise and incongruity for humor among radical Greek sages, including Cynics, see Branham, «Humor»; this was also a method of biblical prophets (e.g., wordplays in Jer 1:11–12; Amos 8:1–2; Mic 1:10–15; cf. 2 Chr 25:16–17). Riddles were common (Virgil Ecl 3.104–107; Phaedrus 3.1.7; Plutarch Cicero 14.4–5), and Greek oracles often functioned thus (Sophocles Oed. tyr. 439; Virgil Aen. 6.98–101; Ps.-Callisthenes Alex. 1.35; cf. Homer Od. 2.181–182).
On the Fourth Gospels riddles (the answers known to the informed audience), see Thatcher, «Riddles in Gospel»; idem, Riddles in John; cf. Doh, «Paroimiai.»
Cf. Kysar, «Metaphor,» 40.
Colwell and Titus, Spirit, 117, though they take this too far with their adoptionist Christology. Nicodemus's allusion to of his age in 3may also imply a claim to honor (see Josephus Ag. Ap. 2.206; Ant. 3.47; Keener, Matthew, 543) though in the context of his coming to Jesus probably simply reinforces the reality of his perplexity.
Painter, John, 12.
E.g., Johnston, Spirit-Paraclete, 149; Grayston, «Misunderstandings.»
E.g., Chariton 3.7.5; 5.5.5–6.
E.g., Aristophanes Ach. 751–752. Duke, Irony 53, suggests that the Johannine Jesus is more Socratic than in the Synoptics, with more humor.
E.g., Sophocles Ant. 1048.
E.g., Ellis, Genius, 1. See, e.g., the guest in Philostratus Hrk. passim, who offers «little except to ask leading questions … (not unlike many of Socrates' interlocutors)» (Maclean and Aitken, Heroikos, xli).
Aune, Environment, 34,56 (ironic foils мая have been even more common in comedies).
See Robbins, Jesus, 167–68.
Painter, John, 9, compares John's misunderstanding motif with Mark's Messianic Secret; cf. Wrede, Secret, 143–45.
Bruns, Art, 45, who overemphasizes this particular paralle1.
E.g., Herrn. Vis. 3.6,10; Mand. 2.4; Sim. 9.12; Aune, Environment, 55.
Cf., e.g., Croesus, who misunderstood the Delphic oracle; on oracular ambiguity, see comment on John 11:51.
For a survey of views, see Snodgrass, «ΠΝΕΥΜΑ,» 190–92; for a history of the exegesis of John 3:5, see esp. Potterie, «Naître,» 32–41.
Spriggs, «Water»; Pamment, «Water and Spirit»; Witherington, «Waters»; idem, Wisdom, 97; Lee, Narratives, 45.
In view of 1 John 4:2, one could read 1 John 5as a reference to Jesus' birth and death (Spriggs, «Water,» 150). We would counter, however, that the Fourth Gospel itself never depicts Jesus' birth.
Another possible image would be washing in water immediately after birth (e.g., Hom. Hymn 3, to Delian Apollo, line 120, ϋδατι).
So Odeberg, Gospel, 49–52, though he also emphasizes the celestial waters of Jewish throne-visions (51–53).
M. 'Abot 3:1; 'Abot R. Nat. 16, 19A; b. cAbod. Zar. 20a; Gen. Rab. 63:8; Lev. Rab. 14:2, 5–6; 18:1; other texts in Urbach, Sages, 1:232. More helpfully regarding date, Michaels, John, 38, cites 1QH 1.21; 3.24; 12.25; 13.15. Cf. probably also PGM 4.645–648 (though it could perhaps imply natural birth as well).
It represents saliva in Lev. Rab. 16:4. Rain itself can represent life for the (agricultural) world (e.g., p. Tacan. 1:1, §2).
Cf. Seneca Ep. Luci1. 29.2; 38.2; Philo Heir 119; 4Ezra 9:31,33; b. Ber. 63a. Seed, admittedly, refers also more broadly to divine conception of the soul (Epictetus Diatr. 1.9.4; Maximus of Tyre Or. 10.4; Philo Moses 1.279; Alleg. Interp. 3.40; Posterity 171), which language John might reapply to spiritual rebirth (cf. comment on John 3:13); but the metaphor had various uses (e.g., Plutarch Cor. 16.2).
Michaels, John, 38–39; Bürge, Community, 161.
Odeberg, Gospel 51–66.
Admittedly, God's voice is like the sound of many waters (Rev 1:15; cf. 14:2; 19:6; Ezek 1:24; 43:2), but the water of life from the throne in Rev 22:1–2 probably refers to the Spirit in John 7:37–39 (Rev 22:17; cf. Ezek 47:1–12; Robinson, Studies, 174); the sea of Rev 4and 15may lack water (cf. Rev 21:1).
Hodges, «Water,» 213, 216, correctly citing Isa 44and Ezek 37:9–10 to illustrate that the Hebrew Bible supplied both pictures of the Spirit.
Against this, Belleville, «Born,» 126–27, notes that «water» and «Spirit» are coordinated, not opposed; but the objection would not stand if Spirit baptism replaces proselyte baptism yet retains the image of water in a positive sense, as we argue below.
Bürge, Community, 162–63; Beasley-Murray, John, 48–49; Ridderbos, John, 128. John's baptism in this connection is also mentioned, though not fully endorsed, by Howard, Gospel, 206; Morris, John, 215.
Bürge, Community, 164–65, thinks baptism as Nicodemus would have understood it here refers to John's lustrations in 3:22–30.
Many hold this view or variations on it, e.g., Vermes, Religion, 150; Gabriel, «Faith»; Evans, John, 31; Moloney, Belief, 113; Quast, Reading, 26; Brown, Essays, 127–30. Cf. also Augustine Tr. Ev. Jo. 11.1.2 (baptism in the true church vs. the schismatics); Luther, 22d and 23d Sermons on John, on John 3; 2d Sermon on John 4 (baptismal water becoming efficacious through the Spirit and the Word; citing Tit 3:5).
Potterie, «Naître;» 57.
Robinson, «Baptism,» 15.
Cf. Rensberger, Faith, 69–70.
Kümmel, Theology, 310.
Cf. also Robinson, «Baptism,» 20–21, addressing a contrast between traditional Jewish ritual and birth by the Spirit.
Howard, Gospel, 206, mentions as a possibility that «water» here uses proselyte baptism as an illustration.
See thus the objection in Kraeling, John, 101.
See the references in White, Initiation, 66. This is not a novel view; in the early twentieth century Mayor, James, 201, cites earlier sources to this effect.
Koester, Symbolism, 164.
As noted above, we believe that «baptism in the Spirit» can refer to the whole sphere of the Spirit's eschatological work among believers and that some early Christian writers applied the phrase to conversion (as here) whereas others (like Luke) could apply it to a subsequent empowerment or empowerments (on a popular level, see Keener, Questions, 17–78; idem, Giver, 52–66,157–68).
We assume that the Gospel as a literary work was meant to be read and heard on multiple occasions, hence not merely interpreted from the vantage point of the first-time reader.
E.g., m. 'Abot 1:4; 2:8; Mek. Vay. l:74ff. (ed. Lauterbach, 2:89–90); Bah. 5(237); Sipre Deut. 48.2.7; 306.19.1; 306.22–25; 'Abot R. Nat. 18 A.
Michaels, John, 43, thinks the grammar suggests a single entity, but the same construction in 1 John 5points to two, so the matter cannot be decided merely on grammatical grounds. Porsch, Wort, 128–30, objects to the epexegetical reading of the και, noting that this is not the most normal way to read the text because it introduces another complication. The construction мая not be decisive, but Johannine usage warrants the reading here.
Bürge, Community, 166; Dunn, Baptism, 192; Bates, «Born,» 235; Snodgrass, «ΠΝΕΥΜΑ,» 192–93; cf. Morris, John, 218. (Ancient rhetoricians apparently did not use this term, which appeared later; see Rowe, «Style,» 143.) Although it is not his own view, Robinson, «Baptism,» 19–20, regards a hendiadys here as clearly possible and notes that it was maintained by Origen, the English Reformers, the Lollards, Calvin, and others. For other possible hendiadys in John, see, e.g., 4:23–24; cf. 12:49; in other early Christian texts, see Blass, Debrunner, and Funk, Grammar, 228, §442.16.
Burge, Community, 166; Dunn, Baptism, 192; Turner, Spirit, 68; Talbert, John, 99 (Talbert also cites useful works by Léon-Dufour, «Reading»; Summers, «Born»).
Among epexegetic uses of και. (usually with specifying force), Blass, Debrunner, and Funk, Grammar, 229, §442, cite 1Cor 2:2; 3:5; 6:6, 8; 8:12; 12:27–28; 15:38.
Bürge, Community, 166; Dunn, Baptism, 192, citing 4:23–24; 6:63; cf. the repetition of synonyms in 12:49.
Calvin, John, 1:110–11 (on John 3:5), disagreeing with most earlier commentators and citing accurately both the grammar and other water images for the Spirit (e.g., Matt 3:11). See also Beasley-Murray, John, 48 (citing Origen Comm. Jo. 2.249ff.; Calvin, John, 1:64–65), though Beasley-Murray himself finds such interpretations dubious.
So Belleville, «Born,» 134–35, though she argues that the terms together refer to the dual work of God's Spirit, the «Spirit» here being God's nature imparted by the Spirit (p. 140), the water here being the Spirit's purifying work (140; followed by Carson, Fallacies, 42). Westcott, John, 49, argues that «water» and «Spirit» are separate.
So Lee, Narratives, 44–45.
Cf. similarly Calvin, John, 1:111. For spiritual purification in early Christianity, see, e.g., Sent. Sext. 23–24. Conversely, Herrn. Vis. 3.3 affirms baptismal regeneration.
See Keener, Spirit, 8–10. For the Spirit and life, see also Isaacs, Spirit, 100.
Some rabbis appealed to Ezek 36for the eschatological eradication of the evil impulse (b. Sukkah 52a; Pesiq. Rab Kah. 24:17; Exod. Rab. 41:7; Lev. Rab. 35:5; Song Rab. 6:11, §1) and guilt (Pesiq. Rab. 14:15), others for the eschatological pervasiveness of the Spirit (third-century tradition in Gen. Rab. 26:6).
Lightfoot, Gospel, 131.
Hoskyns, Gospel, 214; LaSor, Scrolls and NT, 151; Bruce, History, 156–57; Smalley, John, 227; Belleville, «Born,» 140; Suggit, «Nicodemus,» 96; Turner, Spirit, 68; McCabe, «Water and Spirit»; cf. Ladd, Theology, 285.
Lit., «waters of impurity,» an expression often used in the Hebrew Bible for waters that purify one from impurity.
Cf. also 1QS3.4,21.
Num. Rab. 7:10. Citing this text, R. Akiba emphasized that God himself would be their mikve, punning on «hope» and the ritual bath (the context in m. Yoma 8applies this promise to Yom Kippur; also noted in Torrance, «Baptism,» 153; idem, «Origins,» 166).
The image applies specifically to liquids; Abrahams, Studies, 1:43.
The conjoining of antonyms resembles some forms of rhetorical antithesis (on which see Rhet. Alex. 26,1435b.25–39; Rowe, «Style,» 142; Anderson, Glossary, 21–22).
Bürge, Community, 157,170. Baptism without the Spirit is worthless (White, Initiation, 254, 262; Culpepper, Anatomy, 193; cf. Ellis, World, 64; Ladd, Theology, 285).
Cf. Jewish teaching on the eschatological resurrection in Ezek 37 (e.g., Gen. Rab. 96:5; Exod. Rab. 48:4).
Thus the inadequacy of the «fleshly» perspective in Matt 16:17; John 1:13; 8:15; Rom 6:19; 1Cor 1:26; 2Cor 5:16; 11:18; Gal 1:16; 6:12; Eph 2:11; Phil 3:3–4; 1 John 2:16; on its mortality, e.g., 1Cor 15:50; 2Cor 4:11; 1Pet 1:24; 3:18; 4:1; on its weakness, T. Zeb. 9:7; T. Job 19:4; 27:2/3. Many texts lack even definite connotations of weakness, merely functioning as synonyms for humanity (e.g., Gen 6:12; Sir 28:5; John 17:1; Rom 3:20; Gal 2:16), other creatures (Gen 7:21; Jub. 5:20), or physical lineage (e.g., Rom 1:3; 4:1; 9:3, 5).
E.g., Sent. Sext. 139a-139b. Contrast the evil of matter in some forms of gnostic and later Hellenistic philosophic systems (Plotinus Enn. 1.8), and in tamer systems the worthlessness (Plotinus Enn. 2.4; cf. Marcus Aurelius 2.2) or lesser reality (Plotinus Enn. 3.6) of matter; cf. Flusser, Judaism, 62.
Gentiles could relate the body to passions (Dionysius of Halicarnassus R.A. 9.52.6; Seneca Dia1. 2.16.1; Plutarch Reply to Colotes 27, Mor. 1122D), or contrast flesh with soul (e.g., Plutarch Isis 78, Mor. 382F; Pleas. L. 14, Mor. 1096E), or note its weakness (Plutarch Pleas. L. 6, Mor. 1090EF).
For the body and passions, see, e.g., T. Jud. 14:3; for contrast with the soul, see, e.g., Philo Giants 29–31; for the earthly body vs. the heavenly soul, e.g., Sipre Deut. 306.28.2. Cf. later rabbinic comments on bodily members and the evil impulse (Pesiq. Rab Kah. Sup. 3:2).
E.g., Aristotle N.E. 1.12.6,1102a; Lucretius Nat. 3.370–395; Marcus Aurelius 5.13; 6.32; Diogenes Laertius 3.63; Heraclitus Ep. 9; Diogenes Ep. 39; Plutarch Plat. Q. 3.1, Mor. 1002B; Sextus Empiricus Pyr. 1.79; Greek Anth. 7.109. Some allowed the distinction only for humans (Sallust Cati1. 1.2, 7), others also for animals (Aristotle Po1. 1.2.10, 1254a; Diogenes Laertius 8.1.28).
Plato Laws 8.828D; Phaedo 64CE; Phaedrus 245C; Rep. 10.611BC; Aristotle Soul 1.4, 408b; Herodotus Hist. 2.123; Cicero Sen. 20.78; Tusc. 1.14.31; Dionysius of Halicarnassus R.A. 8.62.1; Seneca Dia1. 12.11.7; Ep. Luci1. 57.9; Plutarch D.V. 17, Mor. 560B; Diogenes Laertius 8.5.83; Plotinus Enn. 4.7–8; Philo Virtues 67.
Most notably, Epicureans viewed the soul as mortal (Lucretius Nat. 3.417–829; Diogenes Laertius 10.124–125); Stoics also came to accommodate their view of the soul to their view of the cosmic conflaguration (Seneca Dia1. 6.26.7). Popular thought drew also from the «shades» of earlier myth (Homer Od. 11.204–224, 487–491).
Plato Crat. 400BC. Even when the specific language is absent, the concept is frequent: Plato Phaedo 80DE; Epictetus Diatr. 1.1; 1.8–9; 1.9.11–12,16; 3.13.17; 4.7.15; Arrian Alex. 7.2.4; Plutarch Isis 5, Mor. 353A; Marcus Aurelius 3.7; 4.5,41; 6.28; 9.3; Plotinus Enn. 1.5.3; cf. 4 Ezra 7.96; Diogn. 6.7–8.
Let. Aris. 236; L.A.B. 3:10; T. Ash. 2:6; T. Naph. 2:2–3; T. Job 20:3; Apocr. Ezek. 1–2. Often «soul and body» together signified the whole (e.g., 2Macc 7:37; 14:38; Let. Aris. 139; T. Sim. 2:5; 4:8).
E.g., 1 En. 102:5; t. Sanh. 13:2; b. Ber. 10a; 60b; Yoma 20b, bar.; Lev. Rab. 4:8; 34:3; Deut. Rab. 2:37; Pesiq. Rab. 31:2. See especially the Hellenistic dualistic language in Sipre Deut. 306.28.3; later, Gen. Rab. 14:3; Ecc1. Rab. 6:6–7, §1.
E.g., Philo Alleg. Interp. 1.1; Abraham 258; Josephus Ant. 17.354; 18.14,18; War 1.84; 2.154, 163; 7.341–348; T. Ab. 1:24–25A; 4:9; 9:10B; Jos. Asen. 27:10/8; Apoc. Mos. 13:6; 32:4; 33.2.
E.g., 1 En. 22:7; 4 Ezra 7:78; Gen. Rab. 14:9. Some traditions allowed the destruction of both soul and body for the wicked at the final judgment (t. Sanh. 13:4; cf. 1Macc 2:63); Sadducees reportedly denied immortality (Josephus Ant. 18.16).
Philo Dreams 1.138–139; cf. Wis 9:15; Josephus War 2.154–55.
Snodgrass, «ΠΝΕΥΜΑ,» 195; see also Talbert, John, 77, 98; Maximus of Tyre Or. 10.4; esp. (though later) Porphyry Marc. 19.314–316; 33.516–517. For John, «nature is determined by its origin» (Vellanickal, Sonship, 197–98, citing John's frequent είναι εκ); cf. 1 En. 15:9–10: celestial spirits (angels) reside in heaven, whereas terrestrial ones (in this case giants born to the evil Watchers) reside on earth. 1QS 3.15–4.26 attributes all actions to either the spirit of truth or the spirit of leading astray.
Philosophers might read this as divinization (Seneca Dia1. 1.1.5; Ep. Luci1. 48.11; Epictetus Diatr. 1.3.3; 2.19.26–27; Plutarch Pompey 27.3; Sent. Sext. 7ab; Marcus Aurelius 4.16; Philostratus Vit. Apol1. 3.18,29; 8.5; Plotinus Virt. 1.2.7), or the soul as the divine part (Plato Rep. 10.61 IDE; Cicero Leg. 1.22.58–59; Tusc. 1.22.52; 1.25.56–1.26.65; Div. 1.37.80; Parad. 14; Seneca Ep. Luci1. 32.11; Epictetus Diatr. 1.1; 1.12; 1.14.6; Marcus Aurelius 2.13,17; 3.5–6,12,18; 5.10.2; 5.27; 12.26; Josephus War 3.372), but in view of God's Spirit and his peoplés spirit in Ezek 36:25–27, the issue in John 3is not sameness of spirit (just as flesh begets related but not the same flesh) but likeness and image.
Plutarch Ε at Delphi 18, Mor. 392C.
Longinus Sub1. 1.2.
Plutarch Exile 17, Mor. 607D, also citing Platós claim (Phaedrus 250C) that the soul is «like an oyster in its shell» (Plutarch, LCL 7:568–71).
Philo Creation 69.
Philo Creation 135.
Philo Creation 147.
See Keener, Spirit, 12–15, 26–27.
Socrates in Xenophon Mem. 4.3.14; the principle мая also cast light back on Jesus as the incarnation of the invisible God in 1:18. On the divine winds, see, e.g., Virgil Aen. 1.56–59; Keener, Revelation, 233; for Poseidon allegorized as cosmic breath, Maximus of Tyre Or. 4.8; for a naturalistic explanation (air blowing in a specific direction), see Seneca Nat. 5.1.1.
Cf. Buetubela, «L'Esprit,» emphasizing the meaning «wind.»
E.g., Matt 8:27; 15:31; 21:20; Mark 5:20; Luke 1:63; 2:18; cf. Rev 13:3; 1 En. 26:6; Sib. Or. 1.32 (Evés creation); T. Ab. 3:11–12A; the response to Apollonius in Greek tradition in Robbins, Jesus, 149. See further comment on 2:11.
Some (e.g., Brown, John, 1:131) attribute Jesus' admonition not to marvel to «a characteristic rabbinic usage»; more naturally, it is a common admonition to those who should not have been taken by surprise (e.g., Epictetus Diatr. 1.16.1, Μή θαυμάζετ').
Commentators here often appeal to the community Nicodemus represented in John's day (e.g., Brown, John, 1:131; Sanders, John, 125; Rensberger, Faith, 38, 56–57, 148; cf. Carreira das Neves, «Pronome»).
See Gallagher, «Conversion.»
Rensberger, Faith, 115.
The identity of οίδα with γινώσκω in 3may represent rhetorical metabole or variatio (cf. Lee, «Translations of OT,» 776–77); the repetition of οΐδα so frequently in the passage мая resemble rhetorical diaphora (cf. Rowe, «Style,» 133–34).
Schwarz, «Wind,» translates «blows» as «inspires,» but his recourse to Aramaic would probably be lost on most of John's ideal audience.
Like the description of Jesus raising whom he wills (θέλει, 5:21), it also implies divine omnipotence (cf. Rev 1:8).
Schweizer, Spirit, 72–73.
Terence Eunuch 306.
E.g., Gen 16:8; 29:4; 42:7; Josh 9:8; Judg 13:6; 17:9; 19:17; 1Sam 25:11; 30:13; 2Sam 1:3, 13; Jonah 1:8; Luke 13:25, 27; John 7:27–28, 42; 8:14; 9:29–30; 19:9; Rev 7:13; Homer Od. 19.104–105; Sophocles Oed. co1. 206; Euripides Cyc1. 102, 275–276; Helen 86; Iph. taur. 495, 505; Rhesus 682; Propertius Eleg. 1.22.1–2; Pindar Ryth. 4.97–98; Philostratus Ep. 5 (41); Hrk. 1.1. Lists enumerating persons from various places or narratives introducing foreigners usually include their place of origin (e.g., Apollonius of Rhodes 1.23–228; Appian C.W. 1.14.116).
E.g., Sophocles Oed. co1. 214–215; Euripides Helen 86; Virgil Aen. 2.74; Pindar Ryth. 4.97–98. One would also ask the person's name (Euripides Cyc1. 102; Iph. taur. 499; Parthenius L.R. 26.4; cf. Judg 13:6).
E.g., Parthenius L.R. 26 A.
Diogenes Laertius 6.2.63. For the idea, cf. Diogenes Laertius 2.99; 6.2.72; Seneca Ep. Luci1. 28.4; Epictetus Diatr. 2.10.3; Philo Creation 142; for citizenship in heaven, cf. Diogenes Laertius 2.7; Philo Contempt. Life 90; Phil 3:20; Diogn. 5.5.
E.g., Pesiq. Rab. 23:8. Socrates also reportedly compared the soul with winds that are invisible yet yield clear effects (MacGregor, John, 73, cites Xenophon Mem. 4.3).
One could speak similarly of a quickly disappearing pirate (Chariton 2.4.7: όν ούκ οίδας ούδ' οπόθεν ήλθεν ούδ' όπου πάλιν άπήλθεν); a Tanna spoke of inability to see the womb (where one came from) or the grave (where one was going; 'Abot R. Nat. 32, §69B). More analogously, a Tanna commented on Dan 12that the righteous, like the stars, are sometimes visible but sometimes invisible (Sipre Deut. 47.2.8).
Ezek 37 figures prominently in 4Q386; 4Q388; 4Q385 frg.2, lines 7–8; and a Dura Europos mural; perhaps Acts 2:2. See, e.g., Chevallier, Souffle, 23; Robinson, «Baptism,» 17; Bruce, Commentary, 54. Some diverse cultures link «spirit» and «wind» (Kaplan and Johnson, «Meaning,» 205; Egyptian language in Görg, «Wehen») or «wind» with the divine (Mbiti, Religions, 70).
Commentators often recognize «wind» and «Spirit» as a double entendre here (e.g., Lightfoot, Gospel, 131; Hunter, John, 38; Sanders, John, 125; Brown, John, 1:131; Johnston, Spirit-Paraclete, 9; Shedd, «Meanings,» 255).
Bernard, John, 2:313, contends that in John άκούω with the genitive implies «hearing with appreciation and intelligence» as distinct from the accusative usage. This observation мая summarize too simplistically, but a pattern does emerge. Genitive nouns follow this verb in 1:40; 3:8, 29; 4:42, 47; 5:24–25, 28; 6:45, 60; 7:32, 40; 8:38, 40, 47; 9:35, 40; 11:4; 12:34, 47; 14:24; 15:15; 18:37; 19:13. Nouns in the genitive or dative follow in 1:37; 3:29, 32; 4:1, 47; 5:24, 30, 37; 7:32; 8:26, 43; 9:31–32,35; 10:3; 11:4,6,20,42; 12:12,18,29,34,47; 14:28; 19:8,13; 21:7, which account for most of the book's secondhand reports, and appear theologically significant far more rarely (esp. in 3:29,32; 5:24, 30, 37; 8:26, 43; 10:3; very rarely in the remainder of the book).
«Hear» is also used in its regular narrative sense, which is not specifically theological, probably in 1:37,40; 4:1,47; 6:60; 7:32,40, 51; 9:27,31, 32, 25,40; 11:4,6,20,29,41–42; 12:12,18,29, 34; 14:28; 18:21; 19:8, 13; 21:7.
Cf. also Vellanickal, Sonship, 201.
Sometimes the sense remains ambiguous; γπί in CD 8.13 мая mean «spirit» in a bad sense-thought it probably means «wind.» Gen. Rab. 2deliberately plays on both senses in interpreting Gen 1:2.
Noted, e.g., by ÓDay, Word, 26.
This is not a perspective limited to the redaction-critical era; Strachan, Gospel, 95, helc the view in 1917. Suggit, «Nicodemus,» 97, suggests that John addresses his audience directly here-dispensing with Nicodemus, who has fulfilled his function in the narrative; Schnackenburg. «Redestücke,» ends the conversation in 3:12; Michaels, John, 40, ends it at 3:13.
So Heraclitus Ep. 8, commenting on the Ephesians. In general, true testimony rendered one accountable for having heard it (Holwerda, Spirit, 50).
Cf. Kysar, «Metaphor,» 36.
This title would carry great honor; cf. comments about R. Abbahu in Urbach, Sages, 1:610. For the irony, see more fully Duke, Irony, 45–46.
Cf. Brown, Community, 48, contrasting 3and 3:11.
Cf. the similar statement used for ridicule in Pesiq. Rab. 21:2/3, although there R. Joshua defeats his interlocutor in the conclusion.
Nicholson, Death, 89. Brown, John, 1:132, cites b. Sanh. 39a: «You do not know that which is on earth; should you know what is in heaven?» If not influenced by Christian language, Heliodorus Aeth. 10.12 мая testify to the more widespread structure of such comparisons (though you marvel at lesser truths, I am about to reveal greater).
Jewish parables in general often attested divine or heavenly realities through banal or earthly analogies (Johnston, Parables, 600); at the same time, a philosopher might refuse to answer questions about divine matters, which were not as lightly discussed as earthly matters (Eunapius Lives 371–372). Theophilus 1.13 reproves those who accept myths but deny God's revelation.
Musonius Rufus 1, p. 32.27.
Cf. Strachan, Gospel, 96 (wind and physical birth). Perhaps also the signs-faith based «on earthly realities» (Collins, Written, 66).
T. Job 38(OTP 1:858), 38(Kraft, 68); cf. 36(OTP 1:857). The date of Testament of Job is debated; hence one cannot absolutely rule out the influence of Johannine logic on it; cf. also with regard to the third-century Philostratus Hrk. 33.6–7 (and 1.2 as interpreted by Maclean and Aitken, Heroikos, lxxxi-lxxxii).
4 Ezra 4:5–9.
Wis 9:15–16. For various parallels between John and Wisdom of Solomon, see Reim, Studien, 193–95. For liberation from «heavy» earthly elements, allowing the soul to rise, see, e.g., Musonius Rufus 18A, p. 112.20, 27–28; Maximus of Tyre Or. 1.5.
Diogenes Ep. 7; cf. the spoof on Socrates in Aristophanes Clouds 228–232. For heavenly contemplation, see Seneca Dia1. 5.6.1; Ep. Luci1. 120.15; Maximus of Tyre Or. 11.10; 25.6; T. Job 36:3–5 (OTP) / 36(Kraft); 48:2; 49:1; 50:1; Col 3:1–2 (perhaps also Phil 3:20–21; Eph 2:6). Gamble, «Philosophy,» 56, supposed that Jesus dwells in the «higher world» of Platonic thought (cf. 3:13's variant reading).
E.g., Heraclitus Ep. 5; Philo Creation 147; Cicero Tusc. 1.19.43; Seneca Dia1. 12.11.6; Maximus of Tyre Or. 9.6; cf. Virgil Aen. 6.728–742.
1 En. 72–82 (1 En., book 3). Such revelations generally included a heavenly perspective on earth as well as the heavens themselves (e.g., Moses' revelation in LA.B. 19:10).
Also Christian material in Lad. Jac. 7:2,16.
Seneca Apoco1. 1.
E.g., t. Yebam. 14:6; Dibelius, Tradition, 149–50. For the limited attesting value of signs in rabbinic tradition, see comment on signs on p. 274 in our introduction, chapter 6.
Cf. Schnackenburg, John, 1:375, contrasting rabbis' knowledge of Torah with 3l's appeal to experience.
E.g., Diogenes Laertius 6.2.39, where Diogenes the Cynic demands whether one who is expounding celestial matters (μετεώρων) often came άπό του ουρανού; the same incident in Diogenes Ep. 38 (άπό τούρανοΰ καταβέβηκας). Analogously, Pythagoras reportedly obtained his doctrine from witnessing Hades (Diogenes Laertius 8.1.21).
E.g., Plutarch Isis 78, Mor. 382F; Moon 28, Mor. 943A; Heraclitus Ep. 9; Musonius Rufus 18A, p. 112.24–25; third-century B.C.E. funerary inscriptions in Grant, Religions, 108. The view need not stem from gnosticism, pace Bultmann, John, 148–49. Dodd, Interpretation, 305, roots 3in a Hellenistic milieu.
Sipre Deut. 306.28.2.
E.g., Bultmann, John, 143,148.
See, e.g., Drane, «Background,» 123; Wilson, Gnostic Problem, 226.
Talbert, Gospel, 54–55. Cf. also the descent to and ascent from Hades «by Orpheus, Pythagoras, and Zalmoxis» (Blackburn, «ΑΝΔΡΕΣ,» 190).
Talbert also does cite the ascent and descent of angels, especially the sometimes divine angel of the Lord (Gospel, 57,62). Note especially the Lord's descent from above (Gen 11:5, 7; 18:21) and going up after finishing on earth (17:22). Later rabbis spoke of God's descents in Scripture, e.g., in Gen 11(Gen. Rab. 38:9).
Sometimes as the law or a savior; Talbert, Gospel, 56, cites Bar 3:27–4:4; Wis 6:18–20; 7:27; 8:10, 13, 17; 9:10.
Talbert, Gospel, 56, cites 4 Ezra 5:9–10; 2 Bar. 48:36. Ascent and descent combine in 1 En. 42:1–2. Talbert, «Myth»; Longenecker, Christology, 58–62, show the pervasiveness of the descent-ascent schema in early Christian texts as well as its immediately Jewish origins.
In context, this passage provides the reason for the prayer that God would send down Wisdom from heaven (Wis 9:10).
The rabbis naturally also emphasized that Torah descended from heaven and returned there (Sipre Deut. 307.4.2; "Abot R. Nat. 47, §130B).
Note the interchangeability of άπό and εκ, as often in John; the leaping forth of Wisdom reflects familiar Mediterranean imagery for a celestial being (e.g., Homer Il. 4.78–79; Apollonius of Rhodes 4.640–641; Ovid Metam. 1.673–674).
E.g., p. Sanh. 10:1, §1.
Notably, this passage plainly uses εξαποστέλλω and πέμπω interchangeably, as also εκ and άπό; the Fourth Gospel also employs these depictions of Jesus' heavenly origin interchangeably (see pp. 316–17).
E.g., b. Šabb. 88b; Lev. Rab. 1:15; Pesiq. Rab. 20:4; 3 En. 15B:2; though cf. the impossibility of such ascents for mortals in b. B. Mesica 94a (possibly reflecting early antimystic polemic). For Moses' heavenly ascents in rabbinic texts, see further Meeks, Prophet-King, 205–9, for his ascent at the end of his life, pp. 209–11; in Samaritan literature, 241–46). Angelic opposition to Moses' ascent in later sources (e.g., Exod. Rab. 42:4; Pesiq. Rab. 20:4) мая reflect gnostic and other mythical patterns of powers in the heavenlies opposing the soul's ascent (Schultz, «Opposition»); cf. 1Pet 3:22.
Aristobulus frg. 4 (Eusebius Praep. ev. 13.13.5); cf. L.A.B. 12:1. Halperin, «Invasion,» compares heavenly-invasion myths (e.g., Isa 14:12–14; his rooting in a model of childhood development is less palatable). For Moses' mystic ascents in various early Jewish sources, see, e.g., Meeks, Prophet-King, 122–25, 141, 156–58.
E.g., Meeks, Prophet-King, below; Martyn, Theology, 103.
Meeks, Prophet-King, 295–97; also Aune, Eschatology, 91; Nicholson, Death, 98; Petersen, Sociology, 5.
Explicit references to Moses appear far more widely in the Gospel (1:17, 45; 3:14; 5:45–46; 6:32; 7:19, 22–23; 9:28–29) than references to Jacob (only in 4:5, 12) or Abraham (8:39–40, 52–53, 56–58) or David (7:42). The Johannine audiencés opponents seem to appeal heavily to Moses' law to support their position (cf. esp. 5:45–46; 9:28–29).
Cf., e.g., Petersen, Sociology, 6,123,131.
Segal, «Ruler,» 255.
Odeberg, Gospel, 72 (on 1 En. 70:2; 71:1; 2 En. 1–24; 3 En. passim; Γ. Levi 2; 2 Bar. passim; Ascen. Isa. passim), 73–88 (Hermetic and Mandean texts), 89–94 (rabbinic literature). See also Borgen, «Agent,» 146 n. 4, following Odeberg; cf. Grese, «Born Again»; Kanagaraj, «Mysticism»; idem, «Mysticism» in John; DeConick, Mystics, 67. Talbert, John, 101, thinks 3may counter Christian mystics (as in 1 John 4:1).
Borgen, «Agent,» 146; idem, «Hellenism,» 104–5, citing Philo QE 2.46 (on Exod 24:16), which is probably authentic. Borgen, «Agent,» 146, connects John's «Son of Man» with Philós «Man after God's image» (Confusion 146; Alleg. Interp. 1.43).
Doeve, Hermeneutics, 112; cf. Hanson, Gospel, 49.
E.g., m. Roš Haš. 3:8; p. Roš Haš 3:9, §§1–6. Cf. deliverance from serpents in response to Jeremiah's prayer in Liv. Pro. 2.3 (OTP 2:386; Greek, ed. Schermann, 81–82).
Philo Creation 157; Agriculture 108; Alleg. Interp. 3.159; Migration 66. The «belly» frequently refers to pleasure in ancient texts (Euripides Cyc1. 334–335; Longus 4.11; Plutarch Pleas. L. 3, Mor. 1087D; Epictetus Diatr. 2.9.4; Achilles Tatius 2.23.1; Philostratus Vit. Apol1. 1.7; Seneca Ep. Luci1. 60.4; 3Macc 7:10–11; 4 Macc 1:3; Syr. Men. Epit. 6–8; Phil 3:19; Apoc. E1. 1:13), including in Philo (Spec. Laws 1.148–150, 192; 4.91).
Exod. Rab. 3:12; Tg. Neof. 1 on Num 21:6. Were the tradition earlier, one might appeal here to the messianic interpretation of Gen 3:15, attested in the Targumim (McNamara, Targum, 121) and perhaps as early as the LXX (Martin, «Interpretation»). For texts identifying the serpent with the devil, see comment on 8:44.
The identification of the Jewish lawgiver with «the lawless serpent» in Acts John 94 resembles gnostic anti-Judaism and not first-century tradition. Pace some, the source of Epiphanius Haer. 64.29.6 is probably not pre-Christian (Jacobson, «Serpent»).
Odeberg, Gospel, 101–3.
E.g., Athena (Plutarch Isis 71, Mor. 379D); but especially Asclepius (e.g., Ovid Metam. 15.659–660, 669–670–where they must look on it; Lucian Alex. 12–14; Pausanias 2.27.2); see further Keener, Revelation, 315. In unrelated cultures, see, e.g., Mundkur et a1., «Serpent»; Mundkur, «Symbolism.»
E.g., Ovid Metam. 4.454, 475, 491–499, 617–620; PGM 4.2426–2428; cf. Diodorus Siculus 4.10.1; 4.11.5–6.
Granted, the bronze serpent probably symbolized Israel's serpent afflictions (the way golden tumors in 1Sam 6:4–5 symbolized the Philistines' afflictions, and perhaps like ancient Near Eastern snake amulets used to ward off serpents). But John does not import the entire background of the image.
Moses' serpent symbolizes endurance or self-mastery, the others pleasure, in Philo Alleg. Interp. 2.79–81; Agriculture 97–98. Citing Alleg. Interp. 2.79–86, Argyle, «Philo,» 386, suggests that Philo thereby implicitly identifies the serpent with one of the four virtues contained in the Logos.
See Currid, Ancient Egypt, 148–49 (also noting that this cursed the snakes).
Tenney, «Keys,» 306. Some snakes in India reportedly looked like rods of bronze (Diodorus Siculus 17.90.5–6).
Enz, «Exodus,» 209–10. For this rod in its Egyptian setting, see Currid, Ancient Egypt, 83–103.
In an ancient Egyptian setting, standards with animals on top were typically thought divine (Currid, Ancient Egypt, 149–54).
T.Hu1. 10:16; Sipre Deut 336.1.1; p. Hag. 2:1, §9; Qidd. 1:7, §6.
Cf. Asurmendi, «Torno.»
Glasson, Moses, 34.
Nicholson, Death, 100–101. To press the analogy too far would link Jesus' enemies (8:28) with Moses, who lifted the serpent.
Black, Approach, 141, following G. Kittel and appealing to Ezra 6:11; Tg. 1 Chr. 10:10; Tg. Esth. A.9.13; B.7.10; Brown, John, l:lxi, 133, cites Tg. Neof. 1 and Tg. Ps.-J. on Num 21:9ff. Others have also adopted this approach (e.g., Ellis, «Uses,» 202). The image is natural (cf., e.g., Mark 15:30, 32; Matt 27:40,42).
So in Alexander's deliberate double entendre, which Darius's killers understood as a promise of exaltation but Alexander fulfilled by their crucifixion (Callisthenes Alex. 2.21.7–11; Boring et a1., Commentary, 260–61) ; or the similar link between crucifixion and exaltation in Artemidorus Onir. 2.53; 4.49 (Meggitt, «Artemidorus»).
Concerning a double entendre between crucifixion and exaltation by enthronement, see Schwank, «Erhöht.» The Hebrew for «lift» functions both as status elevation and as execution by hanging in Gen 40 (see Hollis, «Pun»).
Thus Glasson, Moses, 36–38, argues that John presents the cross as a sign here; he does concede, however, that the LXX avoids ύψόω in the clear «ensign» texts.
Xenophon Cyr. 7.1.4.
Cf. Braun, «Vie.» Many argue that all John's ύψόω texts include the resurrection-ascension (Holwerda, Spirit, 9–11; Dibelius, Jesus, 141; Grant, Gnosticism, 173). Pesiq. Rab. 37:1, citing a fourth-century Palestinian Amora, depicts God «lifting up» the Messiah to heaven to protect him.
His death is «not … ignominious … but a return to glory» (Nicholson, Death, 163; cf. Hengel, Son, 88).
E.g., Griffiths, «Deutero-Isaiah,» 360; Lindars, Apologetic, 83, 234; Barrett, John, 214; Bauckham, God Crucified, 64–65.
The later Targum applies Isa 52:13–53to the Messiah but its sufferings to Israel (Lourença «Targum»). Chilton, «John xii 34,» thinks Tg. Isa. 52preserves an exegesis similar to John's; Adna, «Herrens,» thinks Tg. Ps.-J. on Isa 52:13–53follows a traditional Jewish hermeneutic.
See Grigsby, «Cross.»
Greek literature could also introduce a matter in a somewhat ambiguous manner (e.g.. Agamemnon's death in Homer Od. 1.29–43; 3.193–194, 234–235) but later clarify with a more detailed description (Homer Od. 3.253–312).
In John 3the aorists for «loved» and «gave» bear their usual, punctilear sense (also Evans, «Άγαπάν,» 68): here the supreme act of love (Brown, John, 1:133).
See comment on 1:14. Some мая overemphasize Aqedah allusions here (e.g., Grigsby. «Cross»; Swetnam, Isaac, 84–85).
On the syntax in 3yielding «in this way,» see esp. Gundry and Howell, «Syntax.»
Cf. also Hanson, Unity, 138. «Hatred» (3:20) was likewise expressed by deliberate repudiation or abandonment of the group (1 John 2:9, 11, 19), not simply a matter of feelings (see Malina and Rohrbaugh, John, 87).
In some cases the senses tend not to appear theologically significant to the case. Reflecting Hebrew idiom, God could also «give» (i.e., install or appoint) a king (1Sam 12:13; 1 Kgs 1:48; 2 Chr 2:11; 9:8).
The subject in 3could be the Father; Jesus' gift contrasts with that of Jacob in 4:5,12 and with that of Moses in 6:31–32 (cf. 1:17; 7:19, 22).
1:22; 9:24; 11:57; 12:5; 13:29; 19:9. The world «gives» Jesus only blows (18:22; 19:3). 13may extend the divine predestinarian use of «give» (e.g., 10:29) to Jesus (cf. 21:13), but this is less than absolutely clear.
Deut 1:8, 20, 25, 36, 39; 2:12, 29; 3:12–13, 15–16, 18,19–20; 4:1, 21,40; 5:16, 31; 6:3, 10, 23; 7:13; 8:10; 9:6, 23; 10:11; 11:9,17,21,31; 12:1,9; 13:12; 15:4, 7; 16:5,18, 20; 17:2, 14; 18:9; 19:1,2,8, 10,14; 20:14,16; 21:1,23; 24:4; 25:15,19; 26:1,2, 3,9,10,15; 27:2–3; 28LXX; 28:8,11, 52,53; 30LXX; 30:20; 31:7; 31LXX; 32:49; 34:4; cf. 2:5,9,19. This represents a majority of the occurrences of δίδωμι in Deuteronomy (also frequent in Exodus, e.g., 6:4, 8; 12:25; 13:5; 33:1; and elsewhere).
E.g., Josephus Ant. 4.318; notably among the rabbis, who emphasized Torah (Sipre Deut. 32.5.10; b. Ber. 5a; Ned. 38a; p. Hag. 3:5, §1; Exod. Rab. 1:1; Lev. Rab. 35:8; Num. Rab. 19:33).
Strikingly, moralists could recommend being discriminating in choosing to whom to give gifts; they should not be given randomly to anyone (Seneca Benef. 1.1.2).
Lee, Religion, 53–54.
E.g., Burkert, Religion, 74–75; Ferguson, Backgrounds, 118,147–48. Traditional African religions rarely speak of God's love; but as in African relations, love is more something to demonstrate than to speak about (Mbiti, Religions, 49).
E.g., Homer Il. 1.86; 5.61; 22.216. Occasionally this is explicitly tied to their sacrifices (Homer Il. 24.66–68).
Lewis, Life, 98.
Goodenough, Church, 10. For Isis, cf. P.Oxy. 1380.109–110 in Griffiths, «Isis»; for Thoeris, see P.Oxy. 3.528.5–6 (also cited by Grant, Paul, 110).
E.g., CD 8.17; "Abot R. Nat. 36, §94B; Pesiq. Rab Kah. 9(attributed to R. Ishmael); Gen. Rab. 80(third century); Exod. Rab. 18:5; 38(attributed to an early Tanna); 51:4; Song Rab. 8:7, §1; cf. Goshen Gottstein, «Love.»
Cohen, «Shekhinta»; cf. Pesiq. Rab. 8:5; Bonsirven, Judaism, 5, 18. See also Ayali, «Gottes,» though Hadrianic repression is a better catalyst for its emergence in the early period than Christian polemic; immutability was long a Greek doctrine, and polemic against Origen in Pesiq. Rab Kah. 15 (so Manns, «Polémique») is unlikely. Cf. Judg 10:16; Isa 63:9; Hos 11:8.
Szpre Deut. 24.3.1.
Exod. Rab. 15(citing a fourth-century rabbi, perhaps influenced by some Jewish Christian teaching).
Sib. Or. 1.72; cf. 'Abot R. Nat. 41A. If a specific object of God's general love is in view, it remains unclear (probably assumed) in Gen. Rab. 33:3 (third century); 58:9.
Wis 7:28. Cf. Bonsirven, Judaism, 14.
Num. Rab. 14(attributed, perhaps anachronistically, to R. Eleazar b. Azariah, ca. 70–135 C.E.).
Schnackenburg, John 1:398, says 1 John 4:9–10 is the best commentary on John 3:16. In that passage Jesus dies for those who did not love him, but 1 John applies this teaching specifically to believers, who are those transformed by it.
Roberts, «Only Begotten,'» 14. Some writers emphasized the fortitude of some fathers who endured their sons' deaths (Valerius Maximus 5.10, passim), but 3probably appeals more to paternal affection, and hence evokes sympathy for such a painful sacrifice.
Cf. Freyne, Galilee, 173.
We read Jesus' remark in Matt 8as a question, with, e.g., Jeremias, Promise, 30; Martin, «Servant,» 15; France, «Exegesis,» 257.
See Keener, Matthew, 268–70, on Matt 8:10–12.
In 3:15, èv αύτω мая refer to have «life in Him,» since John elsewhere uses είς rather than έν with πιστεύω (Barrett, John, 214), although in general είς and εν tended to merge in Koine (Mussies, «Greek in Palestine,» 1042; Bruce, Books, 66).
Petersen, Sociology, 47, argues that it is present from the standpoint of the reader but not in the story world (cf. 7:39); but the matter might be debated either way (cf. 1:6; 5:45; 8:56).
Cf. similar comments in Culpepper, John, 98, on Johannine faith as a way of life rather than «a static response»; he presents the beloved disciple as the chief Johannine example of faith (p. 100; cf. 20:8).
This is consonant with early Christian soteriology in general; see, e.g., Keener and Usry, Faith, 114–23, esp. 119–20; for similar statements of Jesus' mission in non-Johannine Jesus tradition, see Luke 9:56; 19:10; cf. Mark 2:17; 3:4; late manuscripts of Matt 18:11. Cf. the somewhat different perspective on this Johannine tradition in Diogn. 7.4–6: in love God sent Jesus, not to condemn, but he will condemn when he returns.
Τού κόσμου; cf. 1 John 4:14, the only other occurrence of σωτήρ in canonical Johannine literature; together these constitute less than 10 percent of NT occurrences of the title.
Even if one adds the occurrences in Revelation (Rev 7:10; 12:10; 19:1), these references constitute less than 10 percent of NT occurrences–hardly a characteristic Johannine term.
11is a nontheological use, although John мая intend it figuratively and ironically; 12is Jesus' inclination to request deliverance. Four (or six) examples again hardly make the term distinctly Johannine in view of the widespread use in early Christianity; the six constitute roughly 6 percent of NT uses. For σωτηρία in a natural sense, see Aeschines False Embassy 74; Xenophon Anab. 5.2.24; further sources, along with those closer to the common early Christian usage, in Keener, Matthew, 280 n. 53.
By contrast, pagans often feared that the gods would abandon the world because of its wickedness (Wicker, «Defectu,» 142); Jewish people felt that the Shekinah could withdraw for the same reason (see comment on 1:14; cf. 8:59).
Dodd, Interpretation 212. Dodd provides some evidence that might support the basic saying's authenticity; he suggests that Mark 16is a variant of 3(Tradition, 357).
2 Bar. 18:1–2.
Rabbis could speak of the nations shrouded in darkness for rejecting Torah, and Israel in light because Israel accepted it (Pesiq. Rab Kah. 7:12, bar.). Philosophers could likewise claim that people needed philosophy to give them «the clear light of truth» (darum veritatis lumen–Seneca Ep. Luci1. 48.8).
E.g., Lev. Rab. 24(apparently Tannaitic tradition).
4QpNah 3.3 on Nah 3:6–7a.
Cf. also ελέγχω in 1Cor 14(through prophecy); Eph 5:11,13 (sharing John's metaphor here that light exposes what is hidden); Jas 2(the law); God's chastening in Heb 12:5, Jude 15, and Rev 3:19; and human reproof (1Tim 5:20; 2Tim 4:2; Tit 1:9,13; 2:15)
Cf. Amos 5:20. John's usual designation is «the last day» (6:39–40,44,54; 11:24; 12:48).
John uses his two Greek terms for love interchangeably; see our introduction, pp. 324–25.
Cf. 2 Th 2:10; 1QS 4.24–25.
E.g., Plutarch Ε at Delphi 6, Mor. 387A; Cicero Tusc. 1.19.43; Aelius Aristides Defense of Oratory 11–12, 4D (cf. Plato Phaedo 91C); T. Reu. 3:9; Josephus War 2.141. Josephus writes for αλήθευαν άγαπώσιν (i.e., in this instance, historical accuracy–Josephus War 1.30); Essenes vowed to την άλήθειαν αγαπάν άεί (Josephus War 2.141). John мая presuppose the philosophical tradition authored by Plato, in which many remained in the realm of shadows instead of facing the light (for related ideas, cf., e.g., Plato Rep. 6.484B; Diodorus Siculus 10.7.3; Marcus Aurelius 10.1); some Jews had begun transposing and adapting such ideas (4 Ezra 7:26; 2 Bar. 51:8; T. Ben). 6:2; 2Cor 4:18).
Barrett, John, 218. Cf. perhaps Maximus of Tyre Or. 8.7 (trans. Trapp): «the gods have assigned Vice and Virtue … the one as a reward for a wicked nature and an evil mind, the other as the prize for a good mind» (cf. 38.6; John 8:42–57; 1 John 4:6; Mark 4:25).
Kysar, Maverick Gospel, 61, though claiming that optimism remains from an earlier period of Christian expansion. Carson, Sovereignty, seeks to balance the Gospel's emphases on God's sovereignty and human responsibility.
E.g., 1QS lO.lff.;4Q180 frg. 1, line 2; 1 En. 1:1–3,8; 5:7–8; 25:5; 38:4;48:1,9; 50:1; 58:1; 61:4, 12; 93:2; Jub. 11:17; T. Job 4:11/9. Despite Josephus's presentation of the Essenes (Josephus Ant. 18.18), even the Scrolls do not deny free will (Nötscher, «Schicksalsglaube»; Driver, Scrolls, 558–62; Marx, «Prédestination»; Sanders, Judaism, 251).
Though in v. 11 some of them мая have been «born» in darkness, with sufferings. Many ancients viewed character as inborn, not changed (Pindar O1. 13.12; also 11.19–20; but others recognized that character changed (Valerius Maximus 6.9.pref.–6.9.9; cf. 2 Chr 24:17–22).
Neh 9:7; Jer 33:24; Sir 46:1; 2Macc 1:25; Jub. 1:29; 22:9–10; 1QS 1.10; 2.5; 9.14; 11.7; 1QM 10.9–10; 12.1, 4; 15.1–2; 17.7; lQpHab 5.3; 9.12; 10.13; 4QpPs 37 frg. 1; Mek. Pisha 1.135ff.; Sir. 9.118ff.; Gen. Rab. 1:4; cf. Urbach, Sages, 1:524–41. For individual Gentiles becoming part of that chosen people, see Jos. Asen. 8:9/11; for application of the title to believers in Jesus, e.g., Col 3:12; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Clem. 50.7.
E.g., Pss. So1. 9:4; Sipre Deut. 319.3.1; cf. Sirach in Boccaccini, Judaism, 105–9; Winston, «Determinism»; Philo in Winston, «Freedom»; Carson, «Responsibility»; Wolfson, Philo, 1:424–62; rabbis in Urbach, Sages, 1:268–69. Later rabbinic theodicy explained that Israel chose God (Sipre Deut. 312.1.1–2; Num. Rab. 14:10; see comment on John 1:10–11). See further comment on 6:43–44.
Many Gentile thinkers (e.g., Epictetus Diatr. 1.6.40; 4.6.5; Marcus Aurelius 11.36; Plotinus Enn. 3.1) and early Christians (Justin Dia1. 141; 1 Apo1. 43; Tatian 8–11; Ps.-Clem. 12.3–4; 13.1–2) also argued for free will; earlier Greeks accepted human responsibility (Homer Od. 1.32–43; Chrysippus in Aulus Gellius 7.2; Aristotle E.E. 2.6.1–11, 1222b-1223a; Lucretius Nat. 2.225–265).
E.g., Josephus War 2.162–163 (Pharisees); m. Abot 3:15/16; 'Abot R. Nat. 37, 39A. Brown, Essays, 151–54, argues that even the Scrolls affirm both, though their double predestination deconstructs their logic for free will (in a way, he says, John does not, 154–55).
Scott, Gospel, 215.
E.g., T. Ab. 11:1, 3B (Enoch is the heavenly prosecutor, ό ελέγξων τάς αμαρτίας); 2 Bar. 19(the law as light). The sense of «prosecute» would fit the «judgment» of 3:18–19 (cf. 16:8–11)
E.g., 7: Levi 13(ποιήσατε δικαιοσύνην); cf. Jub. 20:2.
E.g., Tobit went in the ways of αληθείας and righteousness (Tob 1:3); Israel is summoned to ποιήσαι … άλήθειαν (Tob 13:6). Usually in the LXX «do the truth» means «to act loyally,» «to keep faith» (Brown, John, 1:135), though some later texts мая apply it to specific practices (Grayston, Epistles, 49). Westcott, John, 57, remarks that «doing the truth» appears in rabbinic texts. As many early observers of the Scrolls noted (e.g., Albright, «Discoveries,» 169; Sanders, John, 131), it is also familiar in Essene-type circles (e.g., Jub. 36:3), especially from Qumran (e.g., 1QS 1.5– ולעשות אמת וצדקה; cf. also 5.3; 8.2; 9.17).
lQpHab. 7.10–11; cf. 12.4–5. God will punish evildoers, distinguishing them from those who do good (4Q417 frg. 2,1.7–8,17–18, with 4Q418, in Wise, Scrolls, 381).
Engberg-Pedersen, Paul and Stoics, 70–72.
Cf., e.g., 1QS 4.10, 20, in Charlesworth, «Comparison,» 415.
E.g., Isocrates Demon. 17, 48, Or. 1; Demosthenes 3 Olynthiac 14; 2 Philippic 1; Diogenes Laertius 6.2.28; 6.2.64; Quintilian 1.pref.14; Epictetus Diatr. 1.25.11; 2.9.13; Seneca Ep. Luci1. 20.2; Dia1. 4.28.6–8; Juvenal Sat. 2.9–10,20–21; 14.38–40; Dionysius of Halicarnassus R.A. 7.33.3; 9.10.3; 9.47.4; 11.1.4; 11.58.3; Diodorus Siculus 9.9.1; Cornelius Nepos frg. 3.1; Aulus Gellius 17.19; Herodian 1.2.4; Josephus Ag. Ap. 2.169, 292.
Cf. Smith, John (1999), 108. The passage recapitulates some themes from 1:19–36 (Quast, Reading, 26). Source criticism on 3:22–36, as on the rest of the Gospel, seems unlikely to yield any consensus; but for one suggestion, see Klaiber, «Zeuge.»
So, e.g., White, Initiation, 250; Longenecker, Ministry, 70. See esp. Rensberger, Faith, 52–61; and comment on 1:6–8.
Pace Ellis, World, 62, the «Jew» of 3:25, and not the disciples of John, represents common Judean Judaism.
For connections between 3and 3:22–30, see also Bürge, Community, 164; Michaels, John, 45.
See Talbert, John, 105, who suggests the chiastic frame for 3:22–4in Jesus' relation to Judea (3:22a; 4:3); Jesus baptizing (3:22b; 4:2) and the partial competition between John's disciples and those of Jesus (3:26; 4).
Cf. also 2:12; 4:43; 11:7,11; 13:7; 19:28; 20:26.
E.g., Stauffer, Jesus, 64, though the sources he cites (e.g., Toledoth Yeshu and Mandean tradition) more likely reflect Christian tradition based on John 3 than independent attestation.
Batey, Imagery, 48. Nevertheless, the language of this aside also seems to recall the aside in Jer 37:4.
E.g., Stanton, Gospel Truth 166–67.
Brown, John, 1:151, notes that Eusebius placed it eight miles south of Scythopolis (Beth Shean) and that the Madaba map places it just northeast of the Dead Sea; but he prefers Ainun (cf. Ridderbos, John, 144).
E.g., Bruce, History, 159; Brown, John, 1:151; Kysar, John, 57; Hunter, John, 43, following Albright. Boismard, «Aenon,» identifies it with Ain Far'ah, in the heart of Samaria. John's geographical notes (1:28; 3:23; 5:2; 9:7; 11:54) are generally accepted as reliable (Dunn, «John,» 299).
With, e.g., Robinson, Studies, 64–65.
In the second century, Justin Martyr derived from Nablus, though converted later.
Freed, «Samaritan Influence,» 580–81, lists Aenon and Salim (3:23), Sychar (4:5), and Ephraim (11:54) as probably Samaritan.
See Josephus Ant. 18.113–114,124–125; Kraeling, Jonh, 85,90–91,143–45. For Nabatean relations with neighbors, see Matthiae, «Nabatäer.» John's attraction to influential supporters of Antipas such as soldiers and tax gatherers (Luke 3:10–14) мая also have suggested a political threat (Meier, «John,» 226–27).
See Negev, «Nabateans.» For Nabatean technology in the building of Petra, see Hammond, «Settlement»; for their sculpture style, McKenzie, «Sculpture»; for their religion, see Lindner, «Heiligtum»; Jones, «Inscription.»
Kraeling, John, 92–93, noting that he was safe in Judea or Samaria but on the eastern bank of the Jordan was in Antipas's territory.
Culpepper, Anatomy, 62.
See, e.g., Kraeling, John, 9–10,92–93; Manns, «Lumière»; Riesner, «Machärus.»
Pliny Nat. 5.15.72, who claims that it ranked second to Jerusalem at one time.
Hoehner, Antipas, 170–71; on the execution, see also Keener, Matthew, 398–402.
Cf. how Agamemnon's death at his return home provides suspense concerning what Odysseus could have faced on his return home had he not avoided it (Homer Od. 13.383–385).
Dodd, Tradition, 280–81, мая be correct that the record of this controversy is a historical reminiscence, but he errs in failing to see the Gospel's theological reason for recording it.
So Bruce, Documents, 56; Bruce, History, 120.
T. Yad. 2:20.
With Taylor, Immerser, 299.
Cf. Stauffer, Jesus, 65. The lack of water in many places in Galilee could explain its absence in much of his itinerant ministry (cf. Kraeling, John, 174), though not around the lake of Galilee.
«Coming» was salvific (6:35); those who plotted Jesus' execution to prevent «all» from coming (11:48–50) would actually bring about what they hoped to avoid (12:32).
E.g., p. Hag. 2:1, §10; Luke 13:1, 31.
Cf., e.g., Seneca Ep. Luci1. 12.11; Dia1. 2.15.4; 7.12.4; 7.13.1–2; Benef. 3.4.1.
Aulus Gellius 14.3.10–11.
Some think Johns followers claimed messianic status for him, but neither Luke 3nor Ps.-Clem. Recognitions 1.54, 64, which is from the third century (both cited in Collins, Witness, 21), can make the case.
For how countercultural this attitude was, see Neyrey and Rohrbaugh, «Increase, Decrease.»
Smith, John (1999), 105. Since Jesus was not baptizing in fire (Matt 3:11), the Baptist's later concerns are plausible; see Keener, Matthew, 333–34.
E.g., Homer I1. 1.178; Seneca Benef 4.5.1; Epictetus Diatr. 4.1.107; 4.4.29; Heraclitus Ep. 9; Marcus Aurelius 12.26; Exod. Rab. 6:3; cf. 2Macc 7:11; 2 Bar. 48:15; contrast Diogenes the Cynic in Diogenes Laertius 6.2.62). The gift in this context might be the Spirit (3:34). For self-diminishment in rhetoric, cf. Rhet. Ad Herenn. 4.50; Anderson, Glossary, 20–21; for (client) friends rejoicing in (patron) friends' honor, see esp. Seneca Benef. passim; Garnsey and Sailer, Empire, 148–52.
Jesus later employs the image (some argue that he has John partly or wholly in mind) that sower and reaper rejoice together because they share the same task.
Menander Rhetor 2.7,407.26–29.
So many commentators, e.g., Abrahams, Studies, 2:213; Dodd, Tradition, 386; Barrett, John, 223; Infante, «L'amico.» Often they appeal to the identification of onés shoshbin with onés «friend» in m. Sanh. 3(e.g., Abrahams, Studies, 2:213).
E.g., Exod. Rab. 20:8. The joy of «friends» also appears in 1Macc 9:39, though it is probably broader than a shoshbin implied by an emphatic, singular usage.
Deut. Rab. 3:16, using this earlier custom to illustrate a point.
See documentation in Safrai, «Home,» 757.
In Num. Rab. 18:12, the brides shoshbin had the evidence of the bridés virginity (but see Zimmermann, «Freund»).
Batey, Imagery, 16–17; Watkins, lohn, 87.
E.g., t. Yebam. 4:4; b. Qidd. 43a; this would include bargaining over the ketubah (Derrett, Audience, 38). Romans also negotiated betrothals through intermediaries (Friedländer, Life, 1:234).
Three of the four Tannaitic parables regarding a marriage broker present Moses as the intermediary between God and Israel (Johnston, Parables, 589). See further comment on agency under Christology in the introduction, pp. 310–17.
B. Git. 23a.
A shoshbin of higher status than the groom was preferred if possible (b. Yebam. 63a).
T. Ber. 2:10. From the Shema, however, only the groom was exempt (m. Ber. 2:5; t. Ber. 2:10).
B. Sukkah 25b; p. Sukkah 2:5, §1.
P. Ketub. 1:1, §6; cf. Rev 19:7.
Safrai, «Home,» 759, citing b. Ber. 6b.
E.g., 'Abot R. Nat. 8, §23 B; b. Ber. 61a; Gen. Rab. 18:3.
E.g., Hunter, John, 43; Hoskyns, Gospel, 229. If so, others adopted the Baptist's witness role in early Christianity (2Cor 11:2). For the image, see sources in Keener, Paul, 168,182.
Culpepper, Anatomy, 193.
Greek religion associated joy especially with Dionysus (Otto, Dionysus, 113,148), suggesting the importance of wine.
Among philosophers, wisdom and virtue rather than bodily pleasure yielded happiness (Cicero Parad. 16–19; Leg. 1.23.60; Tusc. 5.7.19–20; Musonius Rufus 7, p. 58.13; 17 p. 108.7; Iamblichus V.P. 31.196; Seneca Ep. Luci1. 23; 27.3–4; 59.10; Benef. 7.2.3; Dia1. 7; Arius Didymus 6E; also Meeks, Moral World, 46–47; Lutz, «Musonius,» 28; Engberg-Pedersen, Paul and Stoics, 73). Self-knowledge also yielded full joy (Cicero Tusc. 5.25.70).
Josephus Ag. Ap. 2.189; Pesiq. Rab Kah. 27:2; p. Pesah. 10:1. Joy also is associated with living according to wisdom (Wis 8:16); with prayer (Tob 13:1); with worship (Jub. 36:6; Jos. Asen. 3:4); and with living rightly (Let. Aris. 261). The Spirit appears with joy in p. Sukkah 5, cited in Montefiore and Loewe, Anthology, 203. See further comment under John 15:11.
It is not clear, but at least possible, that this alludes to a motif of eschatological joy (1QM 17.7; Tob 13:10, 13–14; Jub. 23:30; 1 En. 5:7; 25:6; 47:4; 103:3; Pss. So1. 11:3; Sib. Or. 3.619; 2 Bar. 14:13; cf. CIJ 1:472, §656; Sipra Sh. M.D. 99.2.2; cf. t. Sotah 15:10–15 in Anderson, «Joy»); the connection is explicitly with resurrection in T. Jud. 25:4, where it is also contrasted with sorrow (cf. John 16:20). But recognizing that Jesus was alive and had provided resurrection life in the present would undoubtedly have gratified the disciples with or without eschatological contemplations!
Westcott, John, 60.
Loader, «Structure,» thinks it contains the central structure of the Gospel's Christology. The proposed allusions to Isa 26:12–21 (Hanson, Gospel, 50–54) do not appear persuasive to me.
Michaels, John, 49, comparing 3:13–21 as a reflection on 3:1–12; cf. Smith, John (1999), 102. 3:31–36 мая summarize John's message in the way 12:44–50 does Jesus'.
Cf. Ridderbos, John, 148–49, for a list of contacts between this passage and the Nicodemus story. The theological exposition of 3:31–36 parallels that of 3:16–21 (Smith, John , 106, thinks both are the evangelist's comments).
Cf. Petersen, Sociology, 101.
Plato Theaet. 191D; Alexander 14 in Plutarch S.K., Mor. 180D; Fort. Alex. 1.11, Mor. 333A. The seals leave an imprint in soft wax (Plutarch Educ. 5, Mor. 3F).
Apuleius Metam. 10.10; cf. Lyall, Slaves, 148–52. Seals could indicate approval on a legal document, which is what Brown, John, 1:158, sees here; cf. 21:24–25.
E.g., Esth 8LXX; cf. the letter in Chariton 4.5.8. The keeper of the royal signet-ring played an important role in royal courts (Tob 1:22).
E.g., over a wide chronological range, P.Eleph. 1.16–18; 2.17–18; P.Lond. 1727.68–72; P.Tebt. 104.34–35; Rev 5:1. Witnesses might be recalled to testify to the validity of their seals (P.Oxy. 494.31–43; 156–165 C.E.). Seals were also used to identify the contents of merchandise (Carmon, Inscriptions, 108–9, 230–33; cf. perhaps Ps.-Callisthenes Alex. 1.8).
Aelius Aristides Defense of Oratory 340, §112D (επισφραγίζεται). A rhetor could also apply this term to his crowning touches of praise (Menander Rhetor 2.3, 380.2).
Jewish tradition acknowledged that even those in error would ultimately acknowledge the truth of God and Moses (e.g., Koran's family in b. B.Bat. 74a; Num. Rab. 18:20).
With MacGregor, John, 86; Michaels, John, 50.
B. Sanh. 64a; p. Sanh. 1:1, §4; Gen. Rab. 8:5; Deut. Rab. 1:10; Bonsirven, Judaism, 150.
For the image of measuring or apportioning to individual believers, cf., e.g., Rom 12:3; Eph 4:7. But the point is the «boundlessness» of the Spirit, as in the descriptions of God's mercy and Abraham's hospitality in T. Ab. 14:9; 17(using the more familiar and typical άμετρητον and άμετρον).
For Jesus' χείρ, «hand,» of authority, see also 10:28; for the Father's hand, see 10:29; contrast perhaps 7:30,44; 10:39.
That the Father gives the Spirit to Jesus here is frequently maintained and is probably the majority view, e.g., Lightfoot, Gospel, 133; Carson, John, 213; Bruce, John, 97; Turner, Spirit, 59: Whitacre, John, 99; Smith, John (1999), 107.
Lev. Rab. 15:2, noted also by Johnston, Spirit-Paraclete, 14; Carson, John, 213; Turner, Spirit, 59; Hofius, «Geist ohne Mass»; and Bürge, Community, 84, who also notes that the specific expression έκ μέτρου is foreign to Greek literature in genera1. Musonius Rufus 18B, p. 116.12, applies άμετρία negatively to excess (unlimited gluttony); cf. T. Ab. 14:9; 17:7A.
See, e.g., Isa 34:2; 1QS 4.12 in Charlesworth, «Comparison,» 415; Jdt 9:9; 1 Esd 8:21; 1 En. 62(it «rests» on the wicked); Sib. Or. 5.75–77; t. Sotah 14:3. It continues in Paul, pace Dodd (e.g., Rom 1:18; see Newell, «Anger»; Cranfield, «Romans 1.18,» 333).
Marrow, John, 48, rightly emphasizes the present tense of «having» eternal life; see comment on 3:15–16, and especially on «life» in the introduction.
Cf. Jewish teachings on Gehinnom (4 Macc 9:9; 12:12; t. Sanh. 13:3–5; Sipre Num. 40.1.9; Sipre Deut. 311.3.1; 357.6.7; Tg. Jon. on 1Sam 2:9; Tg. Hos. 14:10; Keener, Matthew, 129).