John 3:3
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Jump to: AlfordBarnesBengelBensonBICalvinCambridgeChrysostomClarkeDarbyEllicottExpositor'sExp DctExp GrkGaebeleinGSBGillGrayGuzikHaydockHastingsHomileticsICCJFBKellyKingLangeMacLarenMHCMHCWMeyerParkerPNTPoolePulpitSermonSCOTeedTTBVWSWESTSK
(3) Jesus answered and said unto him.—The words of Nicodemus are clearly only a preface to further questions. Jesus at once answers these questions; the answer being, as it frequently is, to the unexpressed thought (comp. e.g., John 2:18). The coming of the Messiah, the Divine Glory, God’s Kingdom, these are the thoughts which filled men’s minds. These miracles—in what relation did they stand to it? This Teacher—what message from God had He about it?

Verily, verily, I say unto thee.—(Comp. John 1:51.) The words are in the decisive tone of authority and certainty. “This is God’s teaching for thee, teacher as thou thyself art” (John 3:10).

Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.—Our translators have followed the ancient expositors in giving the alternative renderings “born again” and “born from above” (margin). Chrysostom notes the two currents of interpretation in his day; and in our own day the opinions of scholars, whether we count them or weigh them, may be equally claimed for either view. There can be no doubt that the Greek word (ἄνωθεν) is found with both meanings. It is equally certain that St. John elsewhere uses it in the local sense “from above” only (John 3:31; John 19:11; John 19:23); but these instances are not sufficient to establish an usus loquendi, and the sense here, and in John 3:7, must be taken in connection with the meaning of the verb. (Comp. the same word in Luke 1:3, “from the very first,” and Galatians 4:9, “again.”) What has not, perhaps, been sufficiently noted is, that the Greek word is not the true key to the difficulty, and that its double sense has led men to seek the meaning in a wrong direction. The dialogue was between One who was called and one who really was a Rabbi. The word actually used almost certainly conveyed but one sense, and it is this sense which the Syriac version, coming to us from the second century, and closely connected with the Palestinian dialect of the first century, has preserved. This version reads “from the beginning,” “afresh,” “anew.” This is the sense which St. John wishes to express for his Greek readers, and the word used by him exactly does express it. That the Greek word has another meaning also, which expresses the same thought from another point of view, may have determined its choice. This other point of view was certainly not absent from the circle of the writer’s thoughts (comp. John 1:13).

On “the kingdom of God,” which is of frequent occurrence in the earlier Gospels, but in St. John is found only here and in John 3:5, comp. Note on Matthew 3:2. To “see” the kingdom is, in New Testament usage, equivalent to “enter into the kingdom,” John 3:5, where indeed some MSS. read “see.” (Comp. in this John John 3:36, and Luke 2:26; Acts 2:27; Hebrews 11:5; 1Peter 3:10; Revelation 18:7.) The condition of the spiritual vision which can see this kingdom is spiritual life, and this life is dependent on being born anew.

(3) It is perfectly natural to ascribe the power of willing to the Spirit, but it is not consistent with the simplicity of our Lord’s teaching thus to personify “wind,” especially in teaching on a subject where the simplest words are hard to fathom. The common rendering makes Him use the same word, in the same verse, of the third person in the Trinity, and of a natural phenomenon.

John 3:3. Jesus answered — Jesus, knowing the prejudices Nicodemus laboured under, both as a Jew and a Pharisee, judged it necessary immediately to acquaint him with the absolute necessity of experiencing a thorough change, both of his heart and life, to be wrought by divine grace; a change so great as might appear like coming into a new world by a second birth, and would bring the greatest and most learned men to the simplicity, teachableness, and humility of little children, see Matthew 18:3. He therefore said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee — I declare it with the utmost solemnity, as a truth of the highest importance, that whatever great privileges any man may inherit by his natural birth or education, or church-fellowship, or by the place he occupies, or the rank he holds in civil or religious society, or how exact and strict soever he may be in ceremonial observances; unless a man be born again, he cannot see — Cannot even have just views of, much less can he enjoy; the kingdom of God — On earth or in heaven; can neither be a true member of the church militant, nor enter into the church triumphant: nor will thy knowing and acknowledging that I am a teacher come from God, avail thee, unless thou experience this second birth. The original expression, εαν μη τις γεννηθη ανωθεν, may also be rendered, unless a man be born from above: the sense, however, which our translation gives it, is evidently that in which Nicodemus took it: for he so expresses himself as to show, that he thought a man could not be born in the manner Christ spoke of, without entering a second time into his mother’s womb. What is added, at John 3:5, explains what was before undetermined, as to the original of this birth. The reader must observe, that in the following discourse our Lord touches on those grand points, in which it was of the utmost importance that Nicodemus, his brethren, and mankind in general, should be well informed, namely, that no external profession, no ceremonial observances, or privileges of birth, could entitle any to the blessings of the Messiah’s kingdom; but that an entire change of heart, as well as of life, was necessary for that purpose: that this could only be wrought in man by the Spirit of God: that every man born into the world was by nature (John 3:6) in a state of depravity and sin, of condemnation and misery; (John 3:17-19;) that the free mercy of God had given his Son to deliver them from it, (John 3:14-16,) and to raise them to a blessed immortality; that all mankind, Gentiles as well as Jews, might share in these benefits procured by his being lifted up on the cross, and to be received by faith in him; but that, if they rejected him, their eternal, aggravated condemnation would be the certain consequence. It is justly observed by Dr. Owen, “That if regeneration here mean only reformation of life, our Lord, instead of making any new discovery, has only thrown a great deal of obscurity on what was before plain and obvious, and known, not only to the Jews, but the wiser heathen.” The fact is, as by justification and adoption, a relative change, or a change of state, is signified, the person before under guilt being thereby acquitted; the person before under wrath being taken into favour with God; or, which is implied in adoption, the person, who was before merely a servant, serving God from fear, and perhaps with reluctance, being thereby made a son and an heir, (see Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:4-7,) so by regeneration, a real change is intended; a change of nature, termed (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15) καινη κτισις, a new creation; and described, (Ephesians 4:22-23,) as putting off the old man, being renewed in the spirit of our minds, and putting on the new man, created after God in righteousness and true holiness. The ground and reason of which doctrine are evident; man by the fall lost the image of God, especially his moral image, and without recovering it, without being made pure in heart and life, he cannot see the Lord, Hebrews 12:14; Matthew 5:7; 2 Corinthians 5:3. Now this divine image begins to be restored to us when we are regenerated, and is increased and perfected in and by our sanctification, termed, (Titus 3:6,) the renewing of the Holy Ghost.

If it be inquired, why this change is termed a birth, the reason may be, that it resembles in some particulars, and may be illustrated by, our natural birth. For, 1st, As the natural birth introduces us into natural life, in consequence of which, we have union with, and breathe the air of, this world; so by the spiritual birth we are introduced into spiritual life, have union with God, and breathe the spirit of prayer and praise. 2d, The natural birth opens our natural senses, our eyesight, hearing, tasting, &c., and thereby discloses natural things; so the spiritual birth opens our spiritual senses, and imparts the seeing eye, the hearing ear, the feeling sense, (Hebrews 6:4-5; 1 Peter 2:3,) and thereby manifests to us spiritual things. 3d, The natural birth prepares us to enjoy natural things, which, without being born into this world, it is impossible we should enjoy; so the spiritual birth introduces us to the enjoyment of spiritual things, illumination of mind, renovation of heart, manifestations of the divine favour, communications of the Divine Spirit, peace and joy through believing, lively hopes of life eternal, and above all, fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4th, The natural birth introduces us among men, and, partaking of their nature, as we proceed in the course of life, we begin to share in their desires and aversions, hopes and fears, sorrows and joys, cares, labours, and pursuits: we hear and understand, and then begin to converse. In like manner, the spiritual birth introduces us among Christians, true Christians, nor are we only among, but of them, and as we partake of their heavenly and holy nature by regeneration, we also soon begin to entertain their views, and manifest affections and dispositions, desires and designs, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, similar to theirs: first, we hear, and then, being improved in knowledge, we speak their heavenly language. 5th, When born into this world we are capable of receiving, tasting, and being nourished by the food provided for us; so when born of God, we begin to have an appetite for, and to partake of, first the sincere, uncorrupted milk of the word, adapted to the state of babes in Christ; and then of the stronger meat, suited to those of riper age. Hence follows a growth in spiritual health and strength, knowledge, experience, and holiness, till, growing up into Christ in all things, we arrive at the measure of the stature of his fulness.

He cannot see the kingdom of God — The common explanation that is given of the word see, in this passage, is, enjoy, share in. Accordingly it is considered synonymous with enter, John 3:5. “Though I admit,” says Dr. Campbell, “in a great measure, the truth of this exposition, I do not think it comprehends the whole of what the words imply. It is true, that to see often denotes to enjoy, or to suffer, as suits the nature of the object seen. Thus, to see death, is used for to die; to see life, for to live; to see good days, for to enjoy good days; and to see corruption, for to suffer corruption. But this sense of the word seeing is limited to a very few phrases, of which those now mentioned are the chief. I have not, however, found an example (setting this passage aside as questionable) of ιδειν βασιλειαν, [seeing a kingdom,] for enjoying a kingdom, or partaking therein. I understand, therefore, the word ιδειν, to imply here, what it often implies, to perceive, to discern, namely, by the eye of the mind. The import, therefore, in my apprehension, is this: the man who is not regenerated, or born again, of water and of the Spirit, is not in a capacity of perceiving the reign of God, though it were commenced. Though the kingdom of the saints on the earth were already established, the unregenerate would not discern it, because it is a spiritual, not a worldly kingdom, and capable of being no otherwise than spiritually discerned. And as the kingdom itself would remain unknown to him, he could not share in the blessings enjoyed by the subjects of it, which appears to be the import of the expression, (John 3:5,) he cannot enter the kingdom of God. The two declarations, therefore, are not synonymous, but related; and the latter is consequent upon the former.” Our Lord’s words being represented as spoken in answer to what Nicodemus had said to him, the doctor thinks the sense he gives them makes the connection and pertinency of the whole discourse much clearer. Nicodemus had acquainted our Lord that, on the evidence of his miracles, he believed him to be a teacher come from God, but made no mention of his being the Messiah, or of his reign upon earth; and this interpreter supposes it is in reference to this defect in his faith, “partly, as it were, to account for his silence on this article, and partly to point out to him the proper source of this knowledge, that our Lord answers by observing, that, unless a man be enlightened by the Spirit:” (implied in being born again,) “he cannot discern either the signs of the Messiah, or the nature of his kingdom. Augustine is of opinion, that it was necessary thus to humble the spiritual pride of the Pharisee: the conceited superiority to the vulgar in things sacred, which is the greatest obstruction to divine knowledge, that he might be prepared for receiving with all humility the illumination of the Spirit.” Dr. Macknight interprets our Lord’s answer in nearly the same sense with that above stated. His paraphrase on it is, “Though the lustre of my miracles constrains thee to acknowledge, that I am a teacher come from God, thou dost not fully believe that I am the Messiah, and the reason of thy doubt is, that thou dost not find me surrounded with the pomp of a temporal prince. But, believe me, unless a man be renewed in the spirit of his mind, he cannot discern the evidence of my mission, who am come to erect the kingdom of God, consequently cannot see that kingdom, cannot enter into it on earth, neither enjoy it in heaven.”

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?Verily, verily - An expression of strong affirmation, denoting the certainty and the importance of what he was about to say. Jesus proceeds to state one of the fundamental and indispensable doctrines of his religion. It may seem remarkable that he should introduce this subject in this manner; but it should be remembered that Nicodemus acknowledged that he was a teacher come from God; that he implied by that his readiness and desire to receive instruction; and that it is not wonderful, therefore, that Jesus should commence with one of the fundamental truths of his religion. It is no part of Christianity to conceal anything. Jesus declared to every man, high or low, rich or poor, the most humbling truths of the gospel. Nothing was kept back for fear of offending men of wealth or power; and for them, as well as the most poor and lowly, it was declared to be indispensable to experience, as the first thing in religion, a change of heart and of life.

Except a man - This is a universal form of expression designed to include all mankind. Of "each and every man" it is certain that unless he is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. It includes, therefore, men of every character and rank, and nation, moral and immoral, rich and poor, in office and out of office, old and young, bond and free, the slave and his master, Jew and Gentile. It is clear that our Saviour intended to convey to Nicodemus the idea, also, that "he" must be born again. It was not sufficient to be a Jew, or to acknowledge him to be a teacher sent by God that is, the Messiah; it was necessary, in addition to this, to experience in his own soul that great change called the "new birth" or regeneration.

Be born again - The word translated here "again" means also "from above," and is so rendered in the margin. It is evident, however, that Nicodemus understood, it not as referring to a birth "from above," for if he had he would not have asked the question in John 3:4. It is probable that in the language which he used there was not the same ambiguity that there is in the Greek. The ancient versions all understood it as meaning "again," or the "second time." Our natural birth introduces us to light, is the commencement of life, throws us amid the works of God, and is the beginning of our existence; but it also introduces us to a world of sin. We early go astray. All men transgress. The imagination of the thoughts of the heart is evil from the youth up. We are conceived in sin and brought forth in iniquity, and there is none that doeth good, no, not one. The carnal mind is enmity against God, and by nature we are dead in trespasses and sins, Genesis 8:21; Psalm 14:2-3; Psalm 51:5; Romans 1:29-32; Romans 3:10-20; Romans 8:7.

All sin exposes men to misery here and hereafter. To escape from sin, to be happy in the world to come, it is necessary that man should be changed in his principles, his feelings, and his manner of life. This change, or the beginning of this new life, is called the "new birth," or "regeneration." It is so called because in many respects it has a striking analogy to the natural birth. It is the beginning of spiritual life. It introduces us to the light of the gospel. It is the moment when we really begin to live to any purpose. It is the moment when God reveals himself to us as our reconciled Father, and we are adopted into his family as his sons. And as every man is a sinner, it is necessary that each one should experience this change, or he cannot be happy or saved. This doctrine was not unknown to the Jews, and was particularly predicted as a doctrine that would be taught in the times of the Messiah. See Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:25; Psalm 51:12. The change in the New Testament is elsewhere called the "new creation" 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15, and "life from the dead," or a resurrection, Ephesians 2:1; John 5:21, John 5:24.

He cannot see - To "see," here, is put evidently for enjoying - or he cannot be fitted for it and partake of it.

The kingdom of God - Either in this world or in that which is to come - that is, heaven. See the notes at Matthew 3:2. The meaning is, that the kingdom which Jesus was about to set up was so pure and holy that it was indispensable that every man should experience this change, or he could not partake of its blessings. This is solemnly declared by the Son of God by an affirmation equivalent to an oath, and there can be no possibility, therefore, of entering heaven without experiencing the change which the Saviour contemplated by the "new birth." And it becomes every man, as in the presence of a holy God before whom he must soon appear, to ask himself whether he has experienced this change, and if he has not, to give no rest to his eyes until he has sought the mercy of God, and implored the aid of his Spirit that his heart may be renewed.

3. Except, &c.—This blunt and curt reply was plainly meant to shake the whole edifice of the man's religion, in order to lay a deeper and more enduring foundation. Nicodemus probably thought he had gone a long way, and expected, perhaps, to be complimented on his candor. Instead of this, he is virtually told that he has raised a question which he is not in a capacity to solve, and that before approaching it, his spiritual vision required to be rectified by an entire revolution on his inner man. Had the man been less sincere, this would certainly have repelled him; but with persons in his mixed state of mind—to which Jesus was no stranger (Joh 2:25)—such methods speed better than more honeyed words and gradual approaches.

a man—not a Jew merely; the necessity is a universal one.

be born again—or, as it were, begin life anew in relation to God; his manner of thinking, feeling, and acting, with reference to spiritual things, undergoing a fundamental and permanent revolution.

cannot see—can have no part in (just as one is said to "see life," "see death," &c.).

the kingdom of God—whether in its beginnings here (Lu 16:16), or its consummation hereafter (Mt 25:34; Eph 5:5).

We observed before, that the term answered doth not always in the New Testament signify a reply to a question before propounded; but sometimes no more than a reply, or the beginning of another speech: whether it doth so here or no, some question. Some think Christ here gives a strict answer to a question which Nicodemus had propounded to him, about the way to enter into the kingdom of God; which question the evangelist sets not down, but leaves to the reader to gather from the answer. Others think that our Saviour knew what he would say, and answered the thoughts of his heart. Others, that he only began a discourse to him about what was highly necessary for him, that was a master in Israel, to understand and know. He begins his discourse with

Verily, verily, the import of which we considered, John 1:51. The word translated again, is anwyen, which often signifieth from above; so it signifieth, John 3:31 Jam 1:17 3:15-17. It also signifieth again: Galatians 4:9, How turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements? That it must be so translated here, and John 3:7, appeareth from Nicodemus’s answer in the next verse. But the expression of the second or new birth by this word, which also signifies from above, may possibly reach us, that the new birth must be wrought in the soul from above by the power of God, which is what was said before, John 1:12,13, the necessity of which our Saviour presseth from the impossibility otherwise of his seeing the

kingdom of God; by which some understand the kingdom of his glory (as the phrase is used, Luke 18:24,25); others understand it of the manifestation of Christ under the gospel state, or the vigour, power, and effect of the gospel, and the grace thereof. By seeing of it, is meant enjoying, and being made partakers of it, as the term is used, Psalm 16:10 John 16:10 Revelation 18:7. The Jews promised their whole nation a place in the kingdom of the Messiah, as they were born of Abraham, Matthew 3:9; and the Pharisees promised themselves much from their observation of the law, &c. Christ lets them know neither of these would do, but unless they were wholly changed in their hearts and principles (for so much being born again signifieth; not some partial change as to some things, and in some parts) they could never have any true share, either in the kingdom of grace in this life, or in the kingdom of glory in that life which is to come. It is usual by the civil laws of countries, that none enters into the possession of an earthly kingdom but by the right of birth; and for the obtaining the kingdom of heaven, there must be a new birth, a heavenly renovation of the whole man, soul, body, and spirit, to give him a title, by the wise and unchangeable constitution of God in the gospel, and to qualify him for the enjoyment of it.

Jesus answered and said unto him,.... Not to any express question put by Nicodemus; unless it can be thought, that a question of this kind might be asked, what is the kingdom of God, so much spoken of in thy ministry? and what is requisite to the seeing and enjoying of it? though not recorded by the evangelist; but rather to the words of Nicodemus, concluding from his miracles, that he was the Messiah; and that the kingdom of God was now approaching, or the world to come, the Jews so much speak of; and in which all Israel, according to their notion, were to have a part (o); and which notion, our Lord in the following words, seems to oppose:

verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God; Nicodemus, according to the general sense of the nation, thought that when the Messiah came, and his kingdom was set up, they should all share in it, without any more ado; they being the descendants of Abraham, and having him for their father: but Christ assures him, that he must be "born again"; in distinction from, and opposition to his first birth by nature; in which he was vile, polluted, carnal, and corrupt, being conceived in sin, and shapen in iniquity, and was a transgressor from the womb, and by nature a child of wrath; and in opposition to, his descent from Abraham, or being born of him, and of his seed; for this would be of no avail to him in this case, nor give him any right to the privileges and ordinances of the kingdom of God, or the Gospel dispensation; see Matthew 3:9; as also to birth by proselytism; for the Jews have a frequent saying (p), that

"one that is made a proselyte, , "is like a child new born".''

Which they understand, not in a spiritual, but in a civil sense; such being free from all natural and civil relations, and from all obligations to parents, masters (q), &c. And by this phrase our Lord signifies, that no man, either as a man, or as a son of Abraham, or as a proselyte to the Jewish religion, can have any true knowledge of, or right unto, the enjoyment of the kingdom of God, unless he is born again; or regenerated, and quickened by the Spirit of God; renewed in the spirit of his mind; has Christ formed in his heart; becomes a partaker of the divine nature; and in all respects a new creature; and an other in heart, in principle, in practice, and conversation; or unless he be "born from above", as the word is rendered in John 3:31; that is, by a supernatural power, having the heavenly image stamped on him; and being called with an heavenly calling, even with the high calling of God in Christ Jesus: if this is not the case, a man can have no true knowledge of the kingdom of the Messiah, which is not a temporal and carnal one; it is not of this world, nor does it come with observation; nor can he have any right to the ordinances of it, which are of a spiritual nature; and much less can he be thought to have any true notions, or to be possessed of the kingdom of grace, which lies in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost; or to have either a meetness for, or a right unto the kingdom of glory: though by the following words it seems, that the word is rightly rendered "again", or a second time, as it is by Nounus.

(o) Misn. Sanhedrin, c. 11. sect. 1.((p) T. Bab. Yebamot, fol. 22. 1. 48. 2. 62. 1. & 97. 2.((q) Vid. Maimon. Issure Bia, c. 14. sect. 11. & Eduth, c. 13. sect. 2.

{2} Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot {d} see the {e} kingdom of God.

(2) The beginning of Christianity consists in this, that we know ourselves not only to be corrupt in part, but to be wholly dead in sin: so that our nature has need to be created anew, with regard to its qualities, which can be done by no other power, but by the divine and heavenly, by which we were first created.

(d) That is, go in, or enter, as he expounds himself below in Joh 3:5.

(e) The Church: for Christ shows here how we come to be citizens and to have anything to do in the city of God.

John 3:3. In John 3:2 Nicodemus had only uttered the preface to what he had it in his mind to ask; the question itself was to have followed. But Jesus interrupts him, and gives him the answer by anticipation. This question, which was not (as Lange thinks, in contradiction of the procedure of Nicodemus on other occasions) kept back with remarkable prudence and caution, is to be inferred solely from the answer of Jesus; and it was accordingly no other than the general inquiry, “What must a man do in order to enter the Messiah’s kingdom?” not the special one, “Is the baptism of John sufficient for this?” (Baeumlein), for there is no mention of John the Baptist in what follows; comp. rather Matthew 19:16. The first is the question which the Lord reads in the heart of Nicodemus, and to which He gives an answer,-—an answer in which He at once lays hold of the anxiety of the questioner in its deepest foundation, and overturns all Pharisaic, Judaistic, and merely human patchwork and pretence. To suppose that part of the conversation is here omitted (Maldonatus, Kuinoel, and others), is as arbitrary as to refer the answer of Jesus to the words of Nicodemus. Such a reference must be rejected, because Jesus had not given him time to tell the purpose of his coming. We must not therefore assume, either that Jesus wished to lead him on from faith in His miracles to that faith which effects a moral transformation (Augustine, De Wette, comp. also Luthardt and Ebrard); or that “He wished to convince Nicodemus, who imagined he had made a great confession in his first words, that he had not yet so much as made his way into the porticoes of true knowledge” (Chrysostom); or that “He wished to intimate that He had not come merely as a Teacher, but in order to the moral renewal of the world” (Baumgarten Crusius, comp. already Cyril, and Theophylact); or, “Videris tibi, O Nicodeme, videre aliquod signum apparentis jam regni coelorum in hisce miraculis, quae ego edo; amen dico tibi: nemo potest videre regnum Dei, sicut oportet, si non, etc.” (Lightfoot, approved by Lücke, and substantially by Godet also).

ἐὰν μὴ τις γενν. ἄνωθεν] except a man be born from above, i.e. except a man be transformed by God into a new moral life. See on John 1:13. What is here required answers to the μετανοεῖτε, etc., with, which Jesus usually began His preaching, Mark 1:15. ἄνωθεν, the opposite of κάτωθεν, may be taken with reference to place (here equivalent to ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ; comp. Xen. Mem. iv. 3. 14; Symp. vi. 7; Thuc. iv. 75. 3; Soph. El. 1047; Eur. Cycl. 322; Bar 6:63; Jam 1:17; Jam 3:15), or with reference to time (equivalent to ἐξ ἀρχῆς); Chrysostom gives both renderings. The latter is the ordinary interpretation

Syriac, Augustine, Vulgate, Nonnus, Luther, Castalio, Calvin, Beza, Maldonatus, etc. (so likewise Tholuck, Olshausen, Neander, and substantially Luthardt, Hengstenberg, Godet)—because Nicodemus himself (John 3:4) thus understood it. Accordingly, ἄνωθεν would be equivalent to iterum, again, anew, as Grimm (on Wis 19:6) also thinks. But this is already unjustifiable upon linguistic grounds, because ἄνωθεν when used of time does not signify iterum or denuo, but throughout, from the beginning onwards[150] (and so Ewald and Weiss interpret it), Luke 1:3; Acts 26:5; Galatians 4:9; Wis 19:6; Dem. 539, 22. 1082, 7. 13; Plat. Phil. 44 D; and, conformably with Johannean usage, the only right rendering is the local, not only linguistically (John 3:31; John 19:11; John 19:23), but, considering the manner of representation, because John apprehends regeneration, not according to the element of repetition, a being born again, but as a divine birth, a being born of God; see John 1:13; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1. The representation of it as a repeated, a renewed birth is Pauline (Titus 3:5, comp. Romans 12:2; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 4:23-24; Colossians 3:9) and Petrine (1 Peter 3:22). Ἄνωθεν, therefore, is rightly taken as equivalent to ἐκ θεοῦ by Origen, Gothic Vers. (ïupathrô), Cyril, Theophylact, Arethas, Bengel, etc.; also Lücke, B. Crusius, Maier, De Wette, Baur, Lange, Hilgenfeld, Baeumlein, Weizsäcker (who, however, adopts a double sense), Steinfass.

ἰδεῖν] i.e. as a partaker thereof. Comp. εἰσελθεῖν, John 3:5, and see John 3:36, also ἰδεῖν θάνατον (Luke 2:26; Hebrews 11:5), διαφθοράν (Acts 2:27), ἡμέρας ἀγαθάς (1 Peter 3:10), πένθος (Revelation 18:7). From the classics, see Jacobs ad Del. epigr. p. 387 ff.; Ellendt, Lex. Soph. II. 343. Not therefore: “simply to see, to say nothing of entering,” Lange; comp. Ewald on John 3:5. It is to be observed that the expression βασ. τοῦ θεοῦ does not occur in John, save here and in John 3:5;[151] and this is a proof of the accuracy with which he has recorded this weighty utterance of the Lord in its original shape. In John 18:36 Christ, on an extraordinary occasion, speaks of His kingdom. The conception of “the kingdom” in John does not differ from its meaning elsewhere in the N. T. (see on Matthew 3:2). Moreover, the necessary correlative thereto, the Parousia, is not wanting in John (see on John 14:3).

[150] This, and not “again from the beginning,” as Hofmann (Schriftbeweis, II. 11) arbitrarily renders it, is the meaning of ἄνωθεν. It is self-evident that the conception from the beginning does not harmonize with that of being born. Nor, indeed, would “again from the beginning,” but simply “again,” be appropriate. Again from the beginning would be πάλιν ἄνωθεν, as in Wis 19:6; Galatians 4:9. The passage, moreover, from Josephus, Antt. i. 18. 3, which Hofmann and Godet (following Krebs and others) quote as sanctioning their rendering, is inconclusive. For there we read φιλίαν ἄνωθεν ποιεῖται: “he makes friendship from the beginning onwards,” not implying the continuance of a friendship before unused, nor an entering again upon it. Artemidorus also, Oneirocr. i. 14, p. 18 (cited by Tholuck after Wetstein), where mention is made of a dream of a corporeal birth, uses ἄνωθεν in the sense not of again, but as equivalent to coelitus with the idea of a divine agency in the dream (Herm. Gottesd. Alterth. § 37. 7. 19).

[151] ‘The expression, moreover, βασ. τῶν οὐρανῶν (comp. the Critical Notes) is not found in John.

3. Jesus answered] He answers his thoughts before they are expressed. See on John 2:25, and on John 1:51.

born again] The word translated ‘again’ may mean either ‘from the beginning,’ or ‘from above.’ By itself it cannot exactly mean ‘again.’ S. John uses the same word John 3:31; John 19:11; John 19:23. In all three places, (see especially John 19:11), it means ‘from above,’ which is perhaps to be preferred here: ‘from the beginning’ would make no sense. To be ‘born from above’ recalls being ‘born of God’ in John 1:13, (comp. 1 John 3:9; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:4; 1 John 5:18). Of course being ‘born from above’ is necessarily being ‘born again;’ but ‘again’ comes not so much from the Greek word, as from the context. Comp. ‘verily I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven,’ Matthew 18:3.

There is a probable reference to this passage (3–5) in Justin Martyr, Apol. I. lxi. If so, we have evidence that this Gospel was known before a.d. 150. See on John 1:23 and John 9:1.

he cannot see] i.e. so as to partake of it. Comp. to ‘see corruption,’ Psalm 16:10; to ‘see evil,’ Psalm 90:15; to ‘see death,’ John 8:51; Luke 2:26.

the kingdom of God] This phrase, so frequent in the Synoptists, occurs only here and John 3:5 in S. John. We may conclude that it was the very phrase used.

John 3:3. Ἐὰν μὴ τίς, Unless one [Except a man]) The expression is indefinite: Nicodemus, however, rightly applies it to himself. Comp. John 3:7, ye. The sense here is: That opinion of thine, Nicodemus, as to Jesus is not sufficient: it is needful that you absolutely believe, and submit yourself to the heavenly ordinance, even baptism. Comp. Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” This was the doctrine necessary for Nicodemus. Accordingly Jesus began from this point, as Nicodemus indeed had furnished the handle.—γεννηθῇ, be born) This is put forward first under a figure, in hard language, in order to convince [convict] Nicodemus of ignorance; it is afterwards, when he was humbled, shown in plain [literal] words, John 3:15, “That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish,” etc., etc. [Comp. 1 John 5:1, Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.] The same truth is expressed in this passage, as Matthew 3 expresses by the word μετανοίας, repentance. For this word does not occur in the whole Gospel according to John.[50] [Beware of thinking that the work of faith is accomplished without any trouble: for it is (nothing short of) a generation from above. Beware again, on the other hand, of regarding regeneration as more difficult than it really is: it is simply, to wit, accomplished by faith (i.e. in the act of believing).—V. g.]—ἄνωθεν) Comp. John 3:2; John 3:7; John 3:11, “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen,” etc.; 31, “He that cometh from above is above all.” ἄνωθεν signifies from above, whence the Son of man hath come down.—οὐ δύναται, cannot) Nicodemus had not himself sufficiently known [the full significancy of] what (John 3:2, Thou art a Teacher come from God) he had said.—ἰδεῖν, to see) even now, and after this life: to see, with [real] enjoyment.—τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ Θεοῦ, the kingdom of God) [Nicodemus was aspiring after this; yet being ignorant of how great consequence in this respect faith in Jesus was.—V. g.] He who sees Christ, sees this. Whence the new birth [cometh], thence [also cometh] acquaintance with Him.

[50] Both Evangelists open the Gospel with the same initiatory truth, though the difference of the word in one from that of the other proves the coincidence undesigned.—E. and T.

Verses 3-21. -

5. The revelation of earthly and heavenly things to one who knew that God was with him. Verses 3-12. -

(1) The conditions of admission into the kingdom of God. New birth of the Spirit. Verse 3. - Many explanations have been offered of the link of connection between the suggestion of Nicodemus and the reply of Jesus. Many expansions or additions have been conjectured, such as the following, suggested by Christ's own language elsewhere: "You, by the finger of God, are casting out devils; then the kingdom of God has come nigh unto us. How may we enter upon its further proofs?" - a view which would demand a deeper knowledge of the mind of Christ than we have any reason to suppose diffused at this period. Others (Baumlein) have supposed Nicodemus to have said, "Does the baptism of John suffice for admission into the kingdom?" - a suggestion which would be most strange for a Pharisaic Sanhedrist to have extemporized. At the same time, it may be proved that the rabbis regarded proselytism as a "new birth," and one produced or brought about by circumcision and baptism (Wunsche, l.c. 506; Geikie, 1:505). Others, again, have put further words into the reply of Jesus, such as, "The kingdom of God is not in the miracles which I am working; it is in a state of things which can only be appreciated by a radical spiritual change" (Lucke). Similarly Luthardt. Nicodemus was thinking of the kingdom of God evinced by miraculous signs; and Jesus points him to the inner reality rather than to the outer manifestation. Godet sees the Pharisaic position in the question of Nicodemus, "Art thou the Messiah? is the kingdom of God near, as thy miracles seem to indicate?" He was assuming that, as a Pharisee, he had nothing to do but walk in the light, the dawn of which was revealed to him in the signs of a divinely sent Teacher. All these views embrace a large amount of possible conjectural truth; but they ignore the play upon the words of Nicodemus, which the answer of Jesus involves, showing that a sharp, clean retort followed the speech of the former. "We know that NO MAN IS ABLE to do these signs which thou art working EXCEPT GOD, BE WITH HIM. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, EXCEPT ONE be born anew, HE IS NOT ABLE to see the kingdom of God." The form of both protasis and apodosis in each sentence closely corresponds, and this correspondence suggests the fact of an immediate repartee. adopting even the form of the question or assertion of the ruler of the Jews. To the "we know" of Nicodemus, comes the "I say unto thee" of Jesus. To the general sentiment of Nicodemus Christ gives a personal application. In place of speculation concerning his own relation to God and to the kingdom, Christ searches in the heart of his questioner for spiritual susceptibility. Over against the general proposition about God being with the Worker of these signs Christ sets the practical truth and Divine possibility of any man seeing the kingdom of God. To the suspicion of Jesus being the Messenger and Minister of God, he opposes the supposition of being born from heaven, or anew. From ancient times commentators have been divided as to the meaning of the word ἄνωθεν - whether it should be rendered "from above" or "anew," "again." The first was favoured by Origen and many others down to Bengel, Lucke, Meyer, Baur, Wordsworth, Lange, based on the local meaning of the word in numerous places; e.g. "from the top" (Matthew 27:51), "from heaven above" (James 3:15, 17; John 3:31; John 19:11). Moreover, John uses the idea of birth from God, or by his will supervening on the life of man, and the consequent conference upon it of a new beginning (John 1:13; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1, 4, 18). The great point on which our Lord insists is the Divine spiritual origin of the life of which he has so much to say. Several of the English versions, Coverdale's - and second edition of the Bishops' Bible - have adopted this rendering, with the Armenian and Gothic Versions. The Revised Version has placed it in the margin. Against it is to be brought the use of the verb ἀναγεννᾶσθαι (1 Peter 1:3, 23, and in Justin, 'Apol.,' 1:6l) - a word which corresponds with this clause, ἄνωθεν γεννηθῆναι, and yet could scarcely be translated "to be born from above," but, "to be born again." The second rendering, giving a temporal value to ἄνωθεν, was adopted by Augustine, Chrysostom (who uses both views), the Vulgate, Luther, Calvin, Tholuck, Godet, Westcott, Moulton, Weiss, and Luthardt, and is sustained by the fact that Nicodemus was led by it to an inquiry about (δεύτερον γεννηθῆναι) a second birth. If the expression had had no ambiguity about it, and merely conveyed the idea of a heavenly birth, his mistake would have been greater than it was. There are, moreover, numerous passages confirming the temporal sense of ἄνωθεν (Wettstein and Grimm both quote from Josephus, 'Ant.,' 1:18. 3; and Artemidorus, 'Oneiroc.,' 1:13); and the παλιγγενεσία of Titus 3:5 points in the same direction. The Jewish rabbi ought to have been familiar with the idea of the "new heart" and "right spirit," and the marvellous and mighty change wrought in men by the Holy Spirit; but the spiritual idea had been overlaid by rabbinic ritualism, and all the hopeless entanglements of ceremonial purity which had been reacts to do duty for spiritual conformity with the Divine will. Archdeacon Watkins reminds us that the Syriac Version here gives the rendering "from the beginning," or "anew," and lays great stress on this solution of the ambiguity in the Greek word. The statement of Christ is very remarkable. A man must be born anew, must undergo a radical change, even to see the kingdom of God (cf. Matthew 18:3). The true kingdom is not a Divine government of outward, visible magnificence, sustained by miraculous aid - a physical sovereignty which shall rival and eclipse the majesty of Caesar. When the kingdom shall come in its genuine power, the carnal eye will not discover its presence. The man born anew will alone be able to appreciate it. The Jews boasted that they were born of God (John 8:41), but could not understand that they needed vital, fundamental, moral renewal - a second birth, a new beginning. Let the opening of Christ's Galilaean ministry be compared with this bold utterance. There in public discourse he called upon all men everywhere to "repent," to undergo a radical change of mind, and that because the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Μετάνοια portrays the same change as παλιγγενεσία; but one term denotes thai; change as a human experience and effort, the other as a Divine operation. Neither repentance nor regeneration commended itself to the rabbinic mind as a necessity for one who was exalted by privilege and ennobled by obedience. The phrase, "kingdom of God," is not a mode of representing truth to which this Gospel calls frequent attention. Still our Lord to Pilate (John 18:36) admits that he is himself the Head of kingdom which is "not from hence" - not resting on this world as its foundation or source. In Matthew the whole of the mission of Christ among men is repeatedly portrayed as "the kingdom of heaven." And from the time when the Lord ascended until now, various efforts have been made to realize, to discover, to embody, to emblazon, to crush, to ignore, that kingdom and its King. This great utterance is a key to much of the history of the Church, and an explanation of its numberless mistakes. Moreover, it supplies an invaluable hint of the true nature of the kingdom of God. Thoma insists on the other rendering of ἄνωθεν, and compares it with the Philonic doctrine, "that the substance of the νοῦς is not attributed to that which is created, but is breathed into the flesh from above (ἄνωθεν) by God.... Aim, O soul, at the bodiless essence of the spirit world as thy inheritance." These ideas, he thinks, John has placed into the lips of Jesus. The two classes of ideas are fundamentally distinct. Philo contrasts the sensuous and the intellectual; Christ is contrasting nature and grace. John 3:3Answered and said

See on John 2:18.

Verily, verily

See on John 1:51.

Be born again (γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν)

See on Luke 1:3. Literally, from the top (Matthew 27:51). Expositors are divided on the rendering of ἄνωθεν, some translating, from above, and others, again or anew. The word is used in the following senses in the New Testament, where it occurs thirteen times:

1. From the top: Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; John 19:23.

2. From above: John 3:31; John 19:11; James 1:17; James 3:15, James 3:17.

3. From the beginning: Luke 1:3; Acts 26:5.

4. Again: Galatians 4:9, but accompanied by πάλιν, again.

In favor of the rendering from above, it is urged that it corresponds to John's habitual method of describing the work of spiritual regeneration as a birth from God (John 1:13; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1, 1 John 5:4, 1 John 5:8); and further, that it is Paul, and not John, who describes it as a new birth. In favor of the other rendering, again, it may be said: 1. that from above does not describe the fact but the nature of the new birth, which in the logical order would be stated after the fact, but which is first announced if we render from above. If we translate anew or again, the logical order is preserved, the nature of the birth being described in John 3:5. 2. That Nicodemus clearly understood the word as meaning again, since, in John 3:4, he translated it into a second time. 3. That it seems strange that Nicodemus should have been startled by the idea of a birth from heaven.

Canon Westcott calls attention to the traditional form of the saying in which the word ἀναγεννᾶσθαι, which can only mean reborn, is used as its equivalent. Again, however, does not give the exact force of the word, which is rather as Rev., anew, or afresh. Render, therefore, as Rev., except a man be born anew. The phrase occurs only in John's Gospel.

See (ἰδεῖν)

The things of God's kingdom are not apparent to the natural vision. A new power of sight is required, which attaches only to the new man. Compare 1 Corinthians 2:14.


John 3:3 Interlinear
John 3:3 Parallel Texts

John 3:3 NIV
John 3:3 NLT
John 3:3 ESV
John 3:3 NASB
John 3:3 KJV

John 3:3 Bible Apps
John 3:3 Parallel
John 3:3 Biblia Paralela
John 3:3 Chinese Bible
John 3:3 French Bible
John 3:3 German Bible

Bible Hub

John 3:2
Top of Page
Top of Page