John 3:1
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
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(1) There was a man.—Read, But there was a man. Our division of chapters breaks the connection, and the omission of the conjunction leads us to think of the visit of Nicodemus as quite distinct from what has gone before; whereas it really rises out of it (comp. John 3:2 with John 2:23).

The name Nicodemus was not uncommon among the Jews, but like Stephen, Philip, Jason, etc., was derived from their intercourse with the Greeks. (Comp. e.g., Demosth. 549, 23, and Jos. Ant. xiv. 3, § 2.) Of this particular Nicodemus, we know with certainty nothing more than is told us in this Gospel (John 7:50; John 19:39). The Talmud mentions a Nakedimon, so called from a miracle performed by him, who was the son of Gorion, and whose real name was Bonai. It also gives the name Bonai as one of the disciples of Jesus. He was one of the three richest Jews when Titus besieged Jerusalem, but his family was reduced to the most abject poverty. So far the Talmud. The inference is that this change of fortune is connected with his becoming a Christian and with the persecution which followed, and he is himself identified with the Nicodemus of the Gospel. We can only say this may be so. The reader who cares for more on the subject will find full references in Lampe, and the extracts from the Talmud translated in Lightfoot. Others may be content to accept this latter writer’s conclusion. “It is not worth while to take great pains in a question which is very involved, if we may not also call it useless.” (For the “Pharisees,” to which sect Nicodemus belonged, comp. John 1:24, and Matthew 3:7.)

Ruler of the Jews.—One of the Sanhedrin (comp. John 1:19, Note). This is made certain by the position of Nicodemus, in John 7:50.

(1) The word πνεῦμα (pneuma) occurs some 370 times in the Greek New Testament, and of these, twenty-three times in this Gospel. It is nowhere rendered “wind” by our translators, except in this instance, and they have rendered the same word by “Spirit” in the same verse, and twice besides in the same context (John 3:5-6). There is another word for “wind” (ἄνεμος), which occurs thirty-one times in the New Testament, and which John himself uses in John 6:18. It is not contended that πνεῦμα may not mean “wind,” “the breath of wind,” but that this is not its New Testament use, where the word is restricted to its special meaning. (It is plural in Hebrews 1:7; see Note there.) It is admitted also that the Hebrew or Chaldee word which πνεῦμα here translates has the two senses, but the sense in which it is here used is fixed by the translator.

John 3:1-2. There was a man of the Pharisees — Belonging to the sect so called. What is here related, doubtless, occurred while our Lord was attending at Jerusalem to keep the passover, as is mentioned in the latter part of the preceding chapter: a ruler of the Jews — A member of the great council, termed the sanhedrim, John 7:50. The same came to Jesus — With desire of receiving instruction from him in divine things, but came privately, and by night — Through shame, and fear of his brethren of the council, who from the very beginning of Christ’s ministry were his enemies. And said unto him, Rabbi — Giving him the title of respect with which it was usual to address the Jewish doctors; we know that thou art a teacher come from God — Namely, with an extraordinary commission. It is probable that the expression, we know, signifies no more here than it is known, for, as Dr. Whitby justly observes, Nicodemus could not say with truth, that his brethren, the Pharisees and rulers, knew Christ to be a teacher come from God; for it appears from chap. John 7:48, that none of them believed on him. For no man can do these miracles that thou doest — Miracles so beneficial and divine; except God be with him — In an extraordinary manner, investing him with power from on high. Here, 1st, We are assured of the truth of Christ’s miracles, and that they were not counterfeit and fictitious. For Nicodemus, a judicious, sensible, inquisitive man, one that had all the reason and opportunity imaginable to examine them, was so fully satisfied they were miracles, that he was induced by them to go contrary to his interest, and the stream of those of his own rank, who were prejudiced against Christ. 2d, We are directed what inference to draw from Christ’s miracles; we are, therefore, to receive him as a teacher come from God. His miracles were his credentials. The course of nature could not have been altered, but by the power of the God of nature, who, we are sure, is the God of truth and goodness, and would never set his seal to a lie or a cheat. Nicodemus’s acknowledgment, that Jesus was a teacher come from God, and his applying to him under that character, implied that he came with a desire to receive from Christ’s own mouth a particular account, both of the doctrine which he taught, and of the kingdom which he declared God was about to erect. Our Lord’s answer intimates, that he either expressly made, or secretly intended, such an inquiry; and it is impossible to enter into the beauty of the following discourse without considering the matter in this light.

3:1-8 Nicodemus was afraid, or ashamed to be seen with Christ, therefore came in the night. When religion is out of fashion, there are many Nicodemites. But though he came by night, Jesus bid him welcome, and hereby taught us to encourage good beginnings, although weak. And though now he came by night, yet afterward he owned Christ publicly. He did not talk with Christ about state affairs, though he was a ruler, but about the concerns of his own soul and its salvation, and went at once to them. Our Saviour spoke of the necessity and nature of regeneration or the new birth, and at once directed Nicodemus to the source of holiness of the heart. Birth is the beginning of life; to be born again, is to begin to live anew, as those who have lived much amiss, or to little purpose. We must have a new nature, new principles, new affections, new aims. By our first birth we were corrupt, shapen in sin; therefore we must be made new creatures. No stronger expression could have been chosen to signify a great and most remarkable change of state and character. We must be entirely different from what we were before, as that which begins to be at any time, is not, and cannot be the same with that which was before. This new birth is from heaven, ch. 1:13, and its tendency is to heaven. It is a great change made in the heart of a sinner, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It means that something is done in us, and for us, which we cannot do for ourselves. Something is wrong, whereby such a life begins as shall last for ever. We cannot otherwise expect any benefit by Christ; it is necessary to our happiness here and hereafter. What Christ speak, Nicodemus misunderstood, as if there had been no other way of regenerating and new-moulding an immortal soul, than by new-framing the body. But he acknowledged his ignorance, which shows a desire to be better informed. It is then further explained by the Lord Jesus. He shows the Author of this blessed change. It is not wrought by any wisdom or power of our own, but by the power of the blessed Spirit. We are shapen in iniquity, which makes it necessary that our nature be changed. We are not to marvel at this; for, when we consider the holiness of God, the depravity of our nature, and the happiness set before us, we shall not think it strange that so much stress is laid upon this. The regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is compared to water. It is also probable that Christ had reference to the ordinance of baptism. Not that all those, and those only, that are baptized, are saved; but without that new birth which is wrought by the Spirit, and signified by baptism, none shall be subjects of the kingdom of heaven. The same word signifies both the wind and the Spirit. The wind bloweth where it listeth for us; God directs it. The Spirit sends his influences where, and when, on whom, and in what measure and degree, he pleases. Though the causes are hidden, the effects are plain, when the soul is brought to mourn for sin, and to breathe after Christ. Christ's stating of the doctrine and the necessity of regeneration, it should seem, made it not clearer to Nicodemus. Thus the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to the natural man. Many think that cannot be proved, which they cannot believe. Christ's discourse of gospel truths, ver. 11-13, shows the folly of those who make these things strange unto them; and it recommends us to search them out. Jesus Christ is every way able to reveal the will of God to us; for he came down from heaven, and yet is in heaven. We have here a notice of Christ's two distinct natures in one person, so that while he is the Son of man, yet he is in heaven. God is the HE THAT IS, and heaven is the dwelling-place of his holiness. The knowledge of this must be from above, and can be received by faith alone. Jesus Christ came to save us by healing us, as the children of Israel, stung with fiery serpents, were cured and lived by looking up to the brazen serpent, Nu 21:6-9. In this observe the deadly and destructive nature of sin. Ask awakened consciences, ask damned sinners, they will tell you, that how charming soever the allurements of sin may be, at the last it bites like a serpent. See the powerful remedy against this fatal malady. Christ is plainly set forth to us in the gospel. He whom we offended is our Peace, and the way of applying for a cure is by believing. If any so far slight either their disease by sin, or the method of cure by Christ, as not to receive Christ upon his own terms, their ruin is upon their own heads. He has said, Look and be saved, look and live; lift up the eyes of your faith to Christ crucified. And until we have grace to do this, we shall not be cured, but still are wounded with the stings of Satan, and in a dying state. Jesus Christ came to save us by pardoning us, that we might not die by the sentence of the law. Here is gospel, good news indeed. Here is God's love in giving his Son for the world. God so loved the world; so really, so richly. Behold and wonder, that the great God should love such a worthless world! Here, also, is the great gospel duty, to believe in Jesus Christ. God having given him to be our Prophet, Priest, and King, we must give up ourselves to be ruled, and taught, and saved by him. And here is the great gospel benefit, that whoever believes in Christ, shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and so saving it. It could not be saved, but through him; there is no salvation in any other. From all this is shown the happiness of true believers; he that believeth in Christ is not condemned. Though he has been a great sinner, yet he is not dealt with according to what his sins deserve. How great is the sin of unbelievers! God sent One to save us, that was dearest to himself; and shall he not be dearest to us? How great is the misery of unbelievers! they are condemned already; which speaks a certain condemnation; a present condemnation. The wrath of God now fastens upon them; and their own hearts condemn them. There is also a condemnation grounded on their former guilt; they are open to the law for all their sins; because they are not by faith interested in the gospel pardon. Unbelief is a sin against the remedy. It springs from the enmity of the heart of man to God, from love of sin in some form. Read also the doom of those that would not know Christ. Sinful works are works of darkness. The wicked world keep as far from this light as they can, lest their deeds should be reproved. Christ is hated, because sin is loved. If they had not hated saving knowledge, they would not sit down contentedly in condemning ignorance. On the other hand, renewed hearts bid this light welcome. A good man acts truly and sincerely in all he does. He desires to know what the will of God is, and to do it, though against his own worldly interest. A change in his whole character and conduct has taken place. The love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost, and is become the commanding principle of his actions. So long as he continues under a load of unforgiven guilt, there can be little else than slavish fear of God; but when his doubts are done away, when he sees the righteous ground whereon this forgiveness is built, he rests on it as his own, and is united to God by unfeigned love. Our works are good when the will of God is the rule of them, and the glory of God the end of them; when they are done in his strength, and for his sake; to him, and not to men. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a subject to which the world is very averse; it is, however, the grand concern, in comparison with which every thing else is but trifling. What does it signify though we have food to eat in plenty, and variety of raiment to put on, if we are not born again? if after a few mornings and evenings spent in unthinking mirth, carnal pleasure, and riot, we die in our sins, and lie down in sorrow? What does it signify though we are well able to act our parts in life, in every other respect, if at last we hear from the Supreme Judge, Depart from me, I know you not, ye workers of iniquity?A man of the Pharisees - A Pharisee. See the notes at Matthew 3:7.

Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews - One of the "Sanhedrin," or great council of the nation. He is twice mentioned after this as being friendly to our Saviour; in the first instance as advocating his cause, and defending him against the unjust suspicion of the Jews John 7:50, and in the second instance as one who came to aid in embalming his body, John 19:39. It will be recollected that the design of John in writing this gospel was to show that Jesus was the Messiah. To do this he here adduces the testimony of one of the rulers of the Jews, who early became convinced of it, and who retained the belief of it until the death of Jesus.


Joh 3:1-21. Night Interview of Nicodemus with Jesus.

1, 2. Nicodemus—In this member of the Sanhedrim sincerity and timidity are seen struggling together.John 3:1-13 Christ, in a conference with Nicodemus, teacheth him

the necessity of regeneration,

John 3:14,15 the efficacy of faith in his death.

John 3:16,17 God’s great love to mankind in sending his Son for

their salvation,

John 3:18-21 and the condemnation for unbelief.

John 3:22 Jesus baptizeth in Judea,

John 3:23,24 as doth John in Aenon.

John 3:25-36 John’s doctrine concerning Christ.

The particle there being put in only to fit our idiom to the Greek, where is nothing but the verb, signifies nothing to prove that what we read in this chapter was done at Jerusalem. It is a dispute amongst some interpreters, whether he was there or no. It should seem by John 7:50, that Nicodemus’s chief residence was there. He was one of the Pharisees, who were a sect (as we have showed before) which had their name either from a Hebrew word, which signifieth to explain, (because they were expounders of the law), or from another word, which signifieth to divide, because they were separate from others: the opinions have both learned patrons. This man’s name in Greek signifies, The victory of the people. He was either the head of a family among the Jews, or a ruler of the synagogue, or one of the sanhedrim: it seemeth most probable he is here called a ruler upon the last account, if we consider John 7:50.

There was a man of the Pharisees,.... The Syriac version adds, "there"; that is, at Jerusalem; and who was among those that believed in the name of Christ, upon seeing the miracles he did at the feast of the passover, in that place. This man was not a common and ordinary man, but a man of note and eminence, of dignity and figure; and who was of the sect of the Pharisees, which was the strictest sect for religion and holiness, among the Jews; and which, as corrupt as it was, was also the soundest; as having not only a regard to a Messiah, and to all the writings of the Old Testament, but also believed the doctrines of angels and spirits, and the resurrection of the dead, which the Sadducees denied; but yet they were implacable enemies of Christ; and therefore it is the more to be wondered at, that such an one should come to him, and desire a conversation with him:

named Nicodemus; frequent mention is made of , "Nicodemon ben Gorion", the brother of Josephus ben Gorion (p), the writer of the Wars and Antiquities of the Jews; and there are some things which make it probable, that he was the same with this Nicodemus; for the Nicodemon the Jews speak so much of, lived in this age; as appears, not only from his being the brother of Josephus, but also from his being contemporary with R. Jochanan ben Zaccai, who lived in this time, and until the destruction of the temple; since these two are said (q) to be together at a feast, made for the circumcision of a child. Moreover, he is represented as very rich, and is said to be one of the three rich men in Jerusalem (r), and who was able to have maintained a city ten years (s); and they speak of his daughter, as exceeding rich: they say, that she had for her dowry a thousand thousand golden denarii, or pence; and that her bed was strewed with (i.e. the furniture of it cost) twelve thousand golden denarii; and that a Tyrian golden denarius was spent upon her every week, for a certain kind of soup (t); and the wise men decreed her four hundred golden denarii, for a box of spices every day (u); and it is elsewhere (w) said, five hundred: and this our Nicodemus was very rich, as appears from his liberality at the funeral of our Lord, John 19:39. Moreover, the Nicodemon of the Jews, is said to be a counsellor (x) in Jerusalem; and so was this, as seems evident from John 7:32 and it may be further observed (y), that the right name of Nicodemon, was Boni (z); now Boni elsewhere (a), is said to be one of the disciples of Jesus, as Nicodemus was secretly, and perhaps at, and after his death openly, as his associate Joseph of Arimathea was; to which may be added, the extreme poverty that his daughter is by them said to be reduced unto; for they report, that R. Jochanan ben Zaccai saw her gathering barley corns from under the horses' hoofs in Aco (b); or as it is elsewhere said, out of the dung of the beasts of the Arabians; when she asked alms of him, and he inquired of her, what was become of her father's substance. Now to this low estate, the family of our Nicodemus might be reduced, through the persecution of the Christians by the Jews. The name is Greek, as at this time many Greek names were in use among the Jews, and signifies the same as Nicolas; but the Jews give an etymology of it, agreeably to the Hebrew language; and say, that he was so called, because the sun, "shone out for his sake": the occasion and reason of it, they tell us, were this (c); Nicodemon, upon want of water at one of the feasts, agreed with a certain man for twelve wells of water, to be returned on such a day, or pay twelve talents of silver; the day being come, the man demanded the water, or the money; Nicodemon went and prayed, and a plentiful rain fell, and filled the wells with water; but meeting the man, he insisted on it that the day was past, the sun being set, and therefore required the money; Nicodemon went and prayed again, and the sun shone out; and they add, that there are three persons for whom the sun "was prevented", detained, or hindered in its course, (a word nearer his name than the former,) Moses, and Joshua, and Nicodemon ben Gorion; for the two former they produce Scripture, and for the latter tradition: hence it is elsewhere said (d), that as the sun stood still for Joshua, so it stood still for Moses, and for Nicodemon ben Gorion: but to proceed with the account of our Nicodemus, he was

a ruler of the Jews; not a civil magistrate; for the civil government was now in the hands of the Romans; but an ecclesiastical ruler; he was a member of the sanhedrim, which consisted of the doctors, or wise men, and priests, Levites, and elders of the people; and so was a dignified person, and as afterwards called, a master in Israel.

(p) Ganz Tzemach David, par. 1. fol. 25. 1. Shalshalet Hakabala, fol. 19. 1.((q) Pirke Eliezer, c. 2. & Juchasin, fol. 23. 2.((r) T. Bab. Gittin, fol. 56. 1.((s) Midrash Kohelet, fol. 75. 4. (t) Abot R. Nathan, c. 6. fol. 3. 2. (u) T. Bab. Cetubot, fol. 66. 2.((w) Echa Rabbati, fol. 49. 2.((x) Echa Rabbati, fol. 46. 3. Midrash Kohelet, fol. 75. 1.((y) T. Bab. Taanith, fol. 20. 1.((z) T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 43. 1.((a) Echa Rabbati, fol. 49. 3.((b) T. Bab. Cetubot, fol. 66. 2.((c) T. Bab. Taanith, fol. 20. 1.((d) T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 25. 1.

There {1} was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a {a} ruler of the Jews:

(1) There are none sometimes more unlearned than the learned, but the learned as well as the unlearned must desire wisdom from Christ only.

(a) A man of great estimation and a ruler amongst the Jews.

John 3:1-2. Prominence is now given to a specially important narrative, connected by the δέ which continues the discourse,—a narrative belonging to that first sojourn in Jerusalem,—viz. the conversation with Nicodemus, wherein Jesus more fully explains His person and work. No intimation is given of any inner connection with what precedes (Lücke: “now comes an instance of that higher knowledge possessed by Jesus;” De Wette, Lange, Hengstenberg: “an illustration of the entire statement in John 2:23-25;” Tholuck: “an instance of the beginnings of faith just named;” Luthardt: “from the people collectively, to whom Jesus had addressed Himself, a transition is now made to His dealing with an individual;” Ewald: “Nicodemus appears desirous to make an exception to the general standing aloof of men of weight in Jerusalem”).

ἄνθρωπος] in its most ordinary use, simply equivalent to τὶς; not “un exemplaire de ce type humain que Jésus connaissait si bien” (Godet). It is quite independent of John 2:25, introducing a new narrative.

Νικόδημος, a frequent name as well among the Greeks (Demosth. 549. 23, and later writers) as among the Jews (נַקְדָם or נַקְדִימוֹן, see Lightfoot and Wetstein). We know nothing certain of this man beyond the statements concerning him in St. John (comp. John 7:50, John 19:39).[148] The Nicodemus of the Talmud was also called Bunai, must have survived the destruction of Jerusalem, and was known under this latter name as a disciple of Jesus. See Delitzsch in the Zeitschr. f. Luther. Theol. 1854, p. 643. The identity of the two is possible, but uncertain. The so-called Evangelium Nicodemi embraces, though in a doubtful form, two different treatises, viz. the Acta Pilati and the Descensus Christi ad inferos. See Tischendorf, Evang. Apocr. p. 203 ff.

ἄρχων] He was a member of the Sanhedrim, John 7:50; Luke 23:13; Luke 24:20.

He came to Jesus by night,[149] being still undecided, in order to avoid the suspicion and hostility of his colleagues. He was not a hypocrite (as Koppe in Pott, Sylloge, IV. p. 31 ff., holds), who pretended to be simple in order to elicit from Jesus some ground of accusation; a circumstance which, if true, John would not have failed to state, especially considering what he says of him in John 7:50 and John 19:39 : he was, on the contrary, though of a somewhat slow temperament, a man of honourable character, who, together with others (οἴδαμεν, comp. ὑμᾶς, John 3:7), was in a general way convinced by the miracles of Jesus that He must be a divinely commissioned and divinely supported Teacher, and he therefore sought, by a confidential interview, to determine more exactly his to that extent half-believing judgment, and especially to find out whether Jesus perhaps was the very Messiah. His position as a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrim shows how strongly and honestly he must have felt this need. Comp. John 12:42.

For the entire section see Knapp, Scripta var. arg. I. 183; Fabricius, Commentat. Gott. 1825; Scholl in Klaiber’s Studien, V. 1, p. 71; Jacobi in the Stud. u. Krit. 1835, 1; Hengstenberg in the Evang. K. Z. 1860, 49; Steinfass in the Meklenb. Zeitschr. 1864, p. 913.

That the disciples, and John in particular, were with Jesus during the interview, has nothing against it (as De Wette and most others think), for Nicodemus came to Jesus by night only through fear of the Jews; and the vivid and peculiar features, with the harmonious characteristics of the narrative, even if touched up by the pen of John, confirm the supposition that he was a witness. If not, he must have received what he relates from the Lord Himself, as it impressed itself deeply and indelibly upon his recollection. As to the result of the interview, nothing historically to be relied upon has come down to us, simply because there was no immediate effect apparent in Nicodemus. But see John 7:50, John 19:39.

ὅτι ἀπὸ θεοῦ ἐλήλ. διδάσκαλος] that thou art come from God as teacher. The expression implies the thought of one divinely sent, but not the idea of the Logos (as Bretschneider holds).

ταῦτα τὰ σημεῖα] emphatic, haecce tanta signa.

ἐὰν μὴ ᾖ ὁ θεὸς μετʼ αὐτοῦ] ὅτι οὐκ ἐξ οἰκείας δυνάμεως ταῦτα ποιεῖ, ἀλλʼ ἐκ τῆς τοῦ θεοῦ, Euthymius Zigabenus. From the miracles (John 2:23) Nicodemus thus infers the assistance of God, and from this again that the worker of them is one sent from God.

[148] According to Baur, p. 173, he is a typical person, representing the believing and yet really unbelieving Judaism, just as the Samaritan woman (chap. 4) represents believing heathendom; thus leaving it uncertain how far the narrative is to be taken as fact. According to Strauss, the whole owes its origin to the reproach that Christianity made way only among the common people (notwithstanding 1 Corinthians 1:26-27). weisse rejects at least the truth of the account, which De Wette designates “a poetical, free, and highly spiritualized reproduction.” See on the other hand Brückner. According to Hilgenfeld, the whole conversation cannot be understood “unless we view it from the evangelist’s standing-point;” according to which, we see that the design is simply and solely to explain how Christianity essentially distinguished itself from Judaism. According to Scholten, we have here set forth the power of Christianity triumphing over the slowness of heart and prejudices of the learned,—this merely, without any historical basis of fact in the story.

[149] A symbolical reference to “the still benighted mind” must not be attributed to this simple historical statement (against Hengstenberg).

1. There was a man] Better, Now there was a man. The conjunction shows the connexion with what precedes: Nicodemus was one of the ‘many’ who ‘believed in His name,’ when they beheld His signs (John 2:23).

Nicodemus] He is mentioned only by S. John. It is impossible to say whether he is identical with the Nicodemus of the Talmud, also called Bunai, who survived the destruction of Jerusalem. The name was common both among Greeks and Jews. Love of truth and fear of man, candour and hesitation, seem to be combined in his character. Comp. John 7:50, John 19:39. In John 19:39 his timidity is again noted and illustrated.

a ruler of the Jews] A member of the Sanhedrin, John 7:50. Comp. John 12:42; Luke 23:13; Luke 24:20. His coming by night is to avoid the hostility of his colleagues: the Sanhedrin was opposed to Jesus. Whether or no S. John was present at the interview we cannot be certain: probably he was. Nicodemus would not fear the presence of the disciples.

Chap. John 3:1-21. The discourse with Nicodemus

This is the first of the eleven discourses of our Lord which form the main portion, and are among the great characteristics, of this Gospel. They have been used as a powerful argument against its authenticity; (1) because they are unlike the discourses in the Synoptic Gospels, (2) because they are suspiciously like the First Epistle of S. John, which all admit was written by the author of the Fourth Gospel, (3) because this likeness to the First Epistle pervades not only the discourses of our Lord, but those of the Baptist also, as well as the writer’s own reflections throughout the Gospel. The inference is that they are, as much as the speeches in Thucydides, if not as much as those in Livy, the ideal compositions of the writer himself.

On the question as a whole we may say at once with Matthew Arnold (Literature and Dogma, p. 170), “the doctrine and discourses of Jesus cannot in the main be the writer’s, because in the main they are clearly out of his reach.” ‘Never man spake like this man’ (John 7:46); not even S. John, and still less any one else, could invent such words.

But the objections urged above are serious and ought to be answered. (1) The discourses in S. John are unlike those in the Synoptists, but we must beware of exaggerating the unlikeness. They are longer, more reflective, less popular. But they are for the most part addressed to the educated and learned, to Elders, Pharisees, and Rabbis: even the discourse on the Bread of Life, which is spoken before a mixed multitude at Capernaum, is largely addressed to the educated portion of it (John 6:41; John 6:52), the hierarchial party opposed to Him. The discourses in the first three Gospels are mostly spoken among the rude and simple-minded peasants of Galilee. Contrast the University Sermons with the Parish Sermons of an eminent modern preacher, and we should notice similar differences. This fact will account for a good deal. But (2) the discourses both in S. John and in the Synoptists are translations from an Aramaic dialect. Two translations may differ very widely, and yet both be faithful; they may each bear the impress of the translator’s own style, and yet accurately represent the original. This will to a large extent answer objections (2) and (3). And we must remember that it is possible, and perhaps probable, that the peculiar tone of S. John, so unmistakeable, yet so difficult to analyse satisfactorily, may be a reproduction, more or less conscious, of that of his Divine Master.

But on the other hand we must remember that an eventful life of half a century separates the time when S. John heard these discourses from the time when he committed them to writing. Christ had promised (John 14:26) that the Holy Spirit should ‘bring all things to the remembrance’ of the Apostles; but we have no right to assume that in so doing He would override the ordinary laws of psychology. Material stored up so long in the breast of the Apostle could not fail to be moulded by the working of his own mind. And therefore we may admit that in his report of the sayings of Christ and of the Baptist there is an element, impossible to separate now, which comes from himself. His report is sometimes a literal translation of the very words used, sometimes the substance of what was said put into his own words: but he gives us no means of distinguishing where the one shades off into the other.

Cardinal Newman has kindly allowed the following to be quoted from a private letter written by him, July 15th, 1878. “Every one writes in his own style. S. John gives our Lord’s meaning in his own way. At that time the third person was not so commonly used in history as now. When a reporter gives one of Gladstone’s speeches in the newspaper, if he uses the first person, I understand not only the matter, but the style, the words, to be Gladstone’s: when the third, I consider the style, &c. to be the reporter’s own. But in ancient times this distinction was not made. Thucydides uses the dramatic method, yet Spartan and Athenian speak in Thucydidean Greek. And so every clause of our Lord’s speeches in S. John may be in S. John’s Greek, yet every clause may contain the matter which our Lord spoke in Aramaic. Again, S. John might and did select or condense (as being inspired for that purpose) the matter of our Lord’s discourses, as that with Nicodemus, and thereby the wording might be S. John’s, though the matter might still be our Lord’s.”

John 3:1. Ἦν δέ, Now there was) Eleven conversations of Jesus are recounted in full detail by John: the first of these now begins.—ἄνθρωπος, a man) one of those, concerning whom see ch. 2, towards the close: but one considerably better than many.

Verse 1. - But there was a man of the Pharisees. Is this narrative introduced, as Baur thinks, to give a specimen of wrongly directed faith, to which Christ did not entrust himself? and was the evangelist busy at once on his great mission of undervaluing the Jewish parties and nation? Certainly not. We have a clear proof that, in the case of the genuine inquirer, Christ did open His very heart; and to a "ruler of Jews," to a "Pharisee," to a "teacher of Israel," he deigned (because he knew what was in the man, and required nobody's help) to unveil the deepest realities of the kingdom of God and of the salvation of man. Baur is not correct in making Nicodemus out to be a specimen of unbelieving Judaism and unsusceptible Pharisaism, seeing that the later notices of this Sanhedrist show that he became a disciple of Jesus, if secretly, Nicodemus was attracted, as others had been, by the "signs" which Jesus had wrought; but he had gone further and deeper than they, and Jesus "knew it." A controversy has arisen on the point - Did our Lord, by these penetrative glances, manifest his Divine nature, assume a Divine prerogative, or exercise a lofty, penetrative human gift? Westcott, on the philological ground of the contrast in meaning between γινώσκειν and εἰδέναι, urges that the former word, used here, represents knowledge acquired by processes of inquiry and perception, as distinct from the latter, which is reserved for absolute and settled knowledge. Godet, on theological grounds, urges that the phrase refers to the human faculty of observation rather than to the Divine prerogative of heart-searching. There are, however, many other indications of this same thought-mastery, which the evangelists appear to regard as proofs of Divine power; so that I think the real significance of the passage is an ascription to Jesus of Divine power. The supernatural in mind, the superhuman mental processes of Jesus, are part of the proof we have that, though he was Man, he created the irresistible impression that he was more than man. Thus Nathanael and Thomas found these to be the most irresistible proofs of the supreme Divine perfections of their Master (cf. John 1:49; John 4:17; John 6:61; John 11:4, 14; John 13:11; John 21:17; and also Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, etc.). "The man of the Pharisees" furnishes (Godet) a test for determining the authenticity of the narrative. If the lines of the following discourse, which move from the first fundamental conditions of admission into the kingdom of God to the deepest principles of Divine character, and the grounds and consequences of reconciliation with God, are such as meet the standpoint and correct the deductions of the Pharisee, we have, then, all but demonstrative evidence that this conversation did not evolve itself out of the consciousness of the second century. The Pharisaic party was excited by the ministry of John (ch. John 1:24), and throughout the early ministry of Jesus in Galilee followed him, with suspicious, malicious suggestions, even plans for his suppression. The name Nicodemus, if Hebrew in etymology from dam and naki, may have meant "innocent blood;" it Greek, as is more probable, seeing that the plan of bearing Greek as well as Hebrew names was not uncommon, it would signify "Conqueror of the people." Tradition says that he was baptized by Peter and John, and deposed from his position in the Sanhedrin, but supported by his kinsman, Gamaliel. Each reference to him (John 7:50 and John 19:39) implies a certain timidity, and perhaps unworthy reticence. These are relative terms. Much moral courage must have been required for a ruler of the Jews (a phrase only applicable to a man of high ecclesiastical rank) to have dreamed of doing what he is reported to have done here and elsewhere. The Talmud mentions a Nicodemus ben Gotten, who was also called Bonai, a disciple of Jesus, of great wealth and piety, who survived the destruction of Jerusalem, and therein lost nil his fortune (Lightfoot, in loc.; Delitzsch, 'Zeitsch. Luth. Theol.,' 1854). The hint that he was an old man in this year (A.U.C. 781, or A.D. ) renders his survival till A.D. improbable, but not impossible by any means. The identification is not complete. The Talmud does not speak of him as a Sanhedrist, though it gives curious details, which imply that he must have been a priest in the temple, and had the charge of providing the water supply for the pilgrims (Geikie, 1:584; Winer, 'Real.,' 2:152). John 3:1A man

With a reference to the last word of the previous chapter. The interview with Nicodemus is, apart from the important truth which it embodies, an illustration of Christ's knowledge of what was in man. Godet truthfully observes that John reminds us by the word ἄνθρωπος (man), that Nicodemus was a specimen of the race which Jesus knew so well.

Named Nicodemus

Literally, Nicodemus, the name unto him. The name means conqueror of the people (νὶκη, victory, and δῆμος, people), though some give it a Hebrew derivation meaning innocent blood.

A ruler

A member of the Sanhedrim.

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