Notes on John 3:1-21

Jesus and Nicodemus, Crijn Hendricksz, 1616–1645.
Continuing this series on doing lectio divina in the Benedictine tradition, today's section of St John's Gospel, 3:1-21, deals with a conversation with one of Jesus' supporters among the Pharisees, a member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus.

St John mentions him again as arguing against the arrest of Jesus (John 7) and in helping Joseph of Arimathea preparing his body preparing his body for burial (John 19).  It is a very doctrinally rich passage, dealing, amongst other things, with Christ's divinity, the necessity of baptism and the life of grace.  Verses 16-21 are the Gospel for Monday in the Octave of Pentecost.


The Latin:

Erat autem homo ex pharisæis, Nicodemus nomine, princeps Judæorum. 2 Hic venit ad Jesum nocte, et dixit ei: Rabbi, scimus quia a Deo venisti magister, nemo enim potest hæc signa facere, quæ tu facis, nisi fuerit Deus cum eo. 3 Respondit Jesus, et dixit ei: Amen, amen dico tibi, nisi quis renatus fuerit denuo, non potest videre regnum Dei. 4 Dicit ad eum Nicodemus: Quomodo potest homo nasci, cum sit senex? numquid potest in ventrem matris suæ iterato introire et renasci? 5 Respondit Jesus: Amen, amen dico tibi, nisi quis renatus fuerit ex aqua, et Spiritu Sancto, non potest introire in regnum Dei. 6 Quod natum est ex carne, caro est: et quod natum est ex spiritu, spiritus est. 7 Non mireris quia dixi tibi: oportet vos nasci denuo. 8 Spiritus ubi vult spirat, et vocem ejus audis, sed nescis unde veniat, aut quo vadat: sic est omnis qui natus est ex spiritu. 9 Respondit Nicodemus, et dixit ei: Quomodo possunt hæc fieri? 10 Respondit Jesus, et dixit ei: Tu es magister in Israël, et hæc ignoras? 11 amen, amen dico tibi, quia quod scimus loquimur, et quod vidimus testamur, et testimonium nostrum non accipitis. 12 Si terrena dixi vobis, et non creditis: quomodo, si dixero vobis cælestia, credetis? 13 Et nemo ascendit in cælum, nisi qui descendit de cælo, Filius hominis, qui est in cælo. 14 Et sicut Moyses exaltavit serpentem in deserto, ita exaltari oportet Filium hominis: 15 ut omnis qui credit in ipsum, non pereat, sed habeat vitam æternam.16 Sic enim Deus dilexit mundum, ut Filium suum unigenitum daret: ut omnis qui credit in eum, non pereat, sed habeat vitam æternam. 17 Non enim misit Deus Filium suum in mundum, ut judicet mundum, sed ut salvetur mundus per ipsum. 18 Qui credit in eum, non judicatur; qui autem non credit, jam judicatus est: quia non credit in nomine unigeniti Filii Dei. 19 Hoc est autem judicium: quia lux venit in mundum, et dilexerunt homines magis tenebras quam lucem: erant enim eorum mala opera. 20 Omnis enim qui male agit, odit lucem, et non venit ad lucem, ut non arguantur opera ejus: 21 qui autem facit veritatem, venit ad lucem, ut manifestentur opera ejus, quia in Deo sunt facta.

And the English:

"And there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. [2] This man came to Jesus by night, and said to him: Rabbi, we know that thou art come a teacher from God; for no man can do these signs which thou dost, unless God be with him. [3] Jesus answered, and said to him: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. [4] Nicodemus saith to him: How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother' s womb, and be born again? [5] Jesus answered: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. [6] That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit. [7] Wonder not, that I said to thee, you must be born again. [8] The Spirit breatheth where he will; and thou hearest his voice, but thou knowest not whence he cometh, and whither he goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. [9] Nicodemus answered, and said to him: How can these things be done? [10] Jesus answered, and said to him: Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things? [11] Amen, amen I say to thee, that we speak what we know, and we testify what we have seen, and you receive not our testimony. [12] If I have spoken to you earthly things, and you believe not; how will you believe, if I shall speak to you heavenly things? [13] And no man hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven. [14] And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up: [15] That whosoever believeth in him, may not perish; but may have life everlasting. [16] For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting. [17] For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him. [18] He that believeth in him is not judged. But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [19] And this is the judgment: because the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil. [20] For every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. [21] But he that doth truth, cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, because they are done in God. 

You can find the Latin, Greek and Knox translation of John 3 here.  You can listen to the Latin here and the Greek here.  The video below provides the English and the Latin read verse by verse.

Study and meditation

Many today, influenced by rationalist and modernist interpretations of Scripture that reject the supernatural dimension of the world, prefer to see Jesus as a great teacher rather than God.  Nicodemus too, initially starts from this perspective, but is corrected on this, as three quotes from St John Chrysostom from the Catena Aurea make clear:

"CHRYS. He did not however conceive any great idea of them from His miracles; and attributed to Him as yet only a human character, speaking of Him as a Prophet, sent to execute a commission, and standing in need of assistance to do His work; whereas the Father had begotten Him perfect, self-sufficient, and free from all defect. It being Christ's design however for the present not so much to reveal His dignity, as to prove that He did nothing contrary to the Father; in words He is often humble, while His acts ever testify His power. And therefore to Nicodemus on this occasion He says nothing expressly to magnify Himself; but He imperceptibly corrects his low views of Him, and teaches him that He was Himself all-sufficient, and independent in His miraculous works. Hence He answers, Verily, verily, I say to you, Except a man be born again, the cannot see the kingdom of God... if He said, You are not yet born again, i.e. of God, by a spiritual begetting; and therefore your knowledge of Me is not spiritual, but carnal and human. But I say to you, that neither you, nor any one, except he be born again of God, shall be able to see the glory which is around me, but shall be out of the kingdom: for it is the begetting by baptism, which enlightens the mind. Or the meaning is, Except you are born from above, and have received the certainty of my doctrines, you wander out of the way, and are far from the kingdom of heaven. By which words our Lord discloses His nature, showing that He is more than what He appears to the outward eye. The expression, From above, means, according to some, from heaven, according to others, from the beginning. Had the Jews heard it, they would have left Him in scorn; but Nicodemus shows the love of a disciple, by staying to ask more questions.

...Nicodemus coming to Jesus, as to a man, is startled on learning greater things than man could utter, things too lofty for him. His mind is darkened, and he does not stand firm, but reels like one on the point of falling away from the faith. Therefore he objects to the doctrine as being impossible, in order to call forth a fuller explanation."

The verses on being born again in the spirit are often misinterpreted by fundamentalists, so are also worth a close look at:

"AUG. As if He said, You understand me to speak of a carnal birth; but a man must be born of water and of the Spirit, if he is to enter into the kingdom of God. If to obtain the temporal inheritance of his human father, a man must be born of the womb of his mother; to obtain the eternal inheritance of his heavenly Father, he must be born of the womb of the Church. And since man consists of two parts, body and soul, the mode even of this latter birth is twofold; water the visible part cleansing the body; the Spirit by His invisible cooperation, changing the invisible soul.

CHRYS. If any one asks how a man is born of water, I ask in return, how Adam was born from the ground. For as in the beginning though the element of earth was the subject-matter, the man was the work of the fashioner; so now too, though the element of water is the subject-matter, the whole work is done by the Spirit of grace. He then gave Paradise for a place to dwell in; now He has opened heaven to us. But what need is there of water, to those who receive the Holy Ghost? It carries out the divine symbols of burial, mortification, resurrection, and life. For by the immersion of our heads in the water, the old man disappears and is buried as it were in a sepulcher, whence he ascends a new man. Thus should you learn, that the virtue of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, fills all things. For which reason also Christ lay three days in the grave before His resurrection. That then which the womb is to the offspring, water is to the believer; he is fashioned and formed in the water. But that which is fashioned in the womb needs time; whereas the water all is done in an instant. For the nature of the body is such as to require time for its completion; but spiritual creations are perfect from the beginning. From the time that our Lord ascended out of the Jordan, water produces no longer reptiles, i.e. living souls; but souls rational and endued with the Spirit.

AUG. Because He does not say, Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he shall not have salvation, or eternal life; but, he shall not enter into the kingdom of God; from this, some infer that children are to be baptized in order to be with Christ in the kingdom of God, where they would not be, were they not baptized; but that they will obtain salvation and eternal life even if they die without baptism, not being bound with any chain of sin. But why is a man born again, except to be changed from his old into a new state? Or why does the image of God not enter into the kingdom of God, if it be not by reason of sin?

HAYMO. But Nicodemus being unable to take in so great and deep mysteries, our Lord helps him by the analogy of our carnal birth, saying, That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. For as flesh generates flesh, so also does spirit, spirit.

CHRYS Do not look then for any material production, or think that the Spirit generates flesh; for even the Lord's flesh is generated not by the Spirit only, but also by the flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spiritual. The birth here spoken of takes place not according to our substance, but according to honor and grace. But the birth of the Son of God is otherwise; for else what would He have been more than all who are born again? And He would be proved too inferior to the Spirit, inasmuch as His birth would be by the grace of the Spirit. How does this differ from the Jewish doctrine? - But mark next the part of the Holy Spirit, in the divine work. For whereas above some are said to be born of God, here, we find, the Spirit generates them. - The wonder of Nicodemus being roused again by the words, He who is born of the Spirit is spirit, Christ meets him again with an instance from nature; Marvel not that I said to you, You must be born again. The expression, Marvel not, shows that Nicodemus was surprised at His doctrine. He takes for this instance some thing, not of the grossness of other bodily things, but still removed from the incorporeal nature, the wind; The wind blows where it lists, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell whence it comes, and whither it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. That is to say, if no one can restrain the wind from going where it will; much less can the laws of nature, whether the condition of our natural birth, or any other, restrain the action of the Spirit. That He speaks of the wind here is plain, from His saving, You hear the sound thereof, i.e. its noise when it strikes objects. He would not in talking to an unbeliever and ignorant person, so describe the action of the Spirit. He says, Blows where it lists; not meaning any power of choice in the wind, but only its natural movements, in their uncontrolled power. But can not tell whence it comes or whither it goes; i.e. If you can not explain the action of this wind which comes under the cognizance both of your feeling and hearing, why examine into the operation of the Divine Spirit? He adds, So is every one that is born of the Spirit."

**Cross-posted from Saints Will Arise

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