Bible Commentaries

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentZerr's N.T. Commentary

John 3

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verse 1

1 Ruler is from ARCHON, which Thayer defines with the simple words, "A ruler, commander, chief, leader." I have examined four other lexicons, and they give virtually the same definition. It does not necessarily mean one with official authority, although it is so used in some cases. It generally means a man of outstanding prestige among the people, in whatever position he may be found; whether religious or civil, official or unofficial; a person of much influence. Nicodemus was thus respected because of these qualities, and not merly because he was a member of the Sanhedrin. Being a Pharisee in religion, he occupied a noted position in that group. See the long note at Mat 16:12 for the description of the Pharisees.

Verse 2

2 The scripture does not even intimate why Nicodemus chose the nighttime for his visit with Jesus, hence it would be speculation for me to attempt an explanation. Had it been worth-while for us to know the reason, doubtless John would have been inspired to tell us. However, there are indications that he left the presence of Jesus with a favorable attitude toward him and his disciples. (See chapter 7:50, 51; 19:39.) Rabbi is a Greek word, and has been transferred into the text of the New Testa- ment by the King James translators in its original form. Thayer defines it, "my great one, my honorable sir." It has been used as a proper noun 8 times, and translated by the simple term "master" 9 times. The complimentary things Nicodemus said were not mere flattery, for he gave a logical reason for his statement. In truth, the very reason he gave for saying that Jesus was from God, was the one that. John states to be the purpose for performing the miracles (chapter 20:30, 31).

Verse 3

3 Baptism, which is the final act in the process of the spiritual birth, is not the only important subject connected with salvation under the Gospel Dispensation, yet it is the principal one considered in this conversation with Nicodemus; there is a good reason for it. The Jews placed much of their dependence upon their fleshly birth, being in the blood line from Abraham (Mat 3:9), which fact entitled them to be members of the Jewish Dispensation of religion. The text does not give us any of the introductory conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, further than the complimentary words of this verse. Perhaps that is all that was said to begin with, but Jesus knew what was in his mind (chapter 2:25), and hence the following conversation was on the subject uppermost in the mind of this Jewish teacher. He evidently thought his birth through the blood line from Abraham would entitle him to consideration in connection with the kingdom that Jesus was reported as being on earth to set up. Jesus took that idea away by a sweeping statement that meant his fleshly birth would not be even considered as a factor in entering the kingdom of heaven. See is from the Greek word EIDO, which has such a wide range of meanings that space would forbid attempting to quote all of them. The context has to be considered in each case to determine its specific meaning. The definitions of both Thayer and Robinson that apply in this verse and others like it, are condensed to the simple phrase, "To experience." A sinner may see the church as an institution of which he is not a member, but he cannot have the experience as a member without being born again.

Verse 4

4 With a fleshly birth still in mind, Nicodemus asked the question stated in this verse. He evidently was not a believer in the theory of "Transmigration of souls" (Mat 14:2), or he would not have thought that even that kind of a new birth would be impossible, the only difference being the said theory did not teach that a man would enter his mother's womb, but that of another woman.

Verse 5

5 The necessity of a new birth in general was the form in which Jesus opened up this subject to Nico-demus; He then entered more into the details of the process. The Greek New Testament uses the same word in the process of reproduction, whether the time of begetting or that of the birth is considered. The word is GENNAO, and Thayer gives us the two definitions, "To be begotten; to be born." If the entire process is referred to in our language, it is proper to use the word "born," such as saying a child was born to Mr. and Mrs. John Doe. But if the parents are referred to separately, the correct form of speech is that a child is begotten by his father, and born of his mother. Having only the one Greek word on the subject, the King James translators often give us "born" when it should have been "begotten." A more exact wording of our passage would be, a man must be born of the water, having been begotten by the Spirit. This begetting takes place when a man believes the words of the Spirit (1Jn 5:1), because that word is the seed (of reproduction) of the kingdom (1Pe 1:23). After a man believes this word, he is then put under the water, and as he comes out of it he is being born of that water, because the literal meaning of "being born" is, "to come out of." The person has then been born into the kingdom of God.

Verse 6

6 This verse is a simple statement of the difference between things fleshly and things spiritual. The kind of birth Nicodemus thought Jesus was speaking of is fleshly only, while he was speaking of a spiritual birth. It is true the fleshly body must be acted upon even in the spiritual birth, but that is because the inner man that is being renewed or regenerated, is living within the fleshly body.

Verse 7

7 Jesus is still reading the mind of Nicodemus, and sees him in a state of confusion over the things that have been said. He is inclined to question the conclusions that Jesus has presented to him, because he cannot understand all about them. As an argument by way of comparison, Jesus intends to remind Nicodemus that he accepts other conclusions in the domain of his experiences, many of which are as mysterious as this one about a spiritual birth that seems to puzzle him. Yet he will accept them on the strength of the evidences, even though some phases of the cases might seem mysterious. One of those circumstances will be presented in the next verse.

Verse 8

8 The religious world in general is overwhelmed by erroneous ideas about the Spirit, as it is involved in the process of the new birth. Then in trying to refute those ideas, the friends of truth may go to extremes and invent other notions that are likewishe erroneous. One of such performances is the strain that is put on the present verse, which is only an illustration which Jesus draws from nature, to prove to this bewildered Jew that he is inconsistent in faltering over the new birth just because some features of it may seem mysterious to him, when he will accept the fact that the wind blows, even though he cannot tell (from any evidence of his senses) from where the wind comes nor to where it goes after it passes him. So is every one means that every person who is born of the Spirit is supposed to accept the proposition on the evidence of God's teaching, even though some things about it seem strange. That the passage means just what the common translation makes it say, and that it does not call for some labored interpretation to rescue it from the hand of "sectarians," I shall give the definitions of the original words in Thayer's lexicon for this verse. Wind is from PNEUMA, and the definition is, "1. a movement of air, (gentle) blast; a. the wind . . . hence the wind itself, Joh 3:8." Bloweth is from PNEO, and the definition is, "To breathe, to blow: of the wind, Mat 7:25; Mat 7:27; Luk 12:55; Joh 3:8; Joh 6:18, Rev 7:1; Act 27:40."

Verse 9

9 Nicodemus was still confused about the subject in general. It is as if he said, "I do not see how all of this can be, or what the action of the wind has to do with the Spirit in the new birth."

Verse 10

0 The word master is from a Greek word that means "teacher." Being a teacher of Israel would not be a reason why he should understand the new birth under the Gospel system, therefore we know that these things refers to the subject of the temporal wind that Jesus described in verse 8.

Verse 11

1 Jesus gives Nicodemus a mild rebuke for stumbling over what was said to him about the things in nature, which were matters that should be accepted as facts by every person who has made any observation.

Verse 12

2 The only verse that has any earthly things in it as far as this conversation is concerned, is verse 8, the one about the wind. This again shows that passage refers to the literal wind,. and is used to illustrate the point stated in verse 10.

Verse 13

3 The thought in this verse is that the Son of man had previously been in Heaven, and hence was in a position to speak on heavenly subjects, such as the new birth. This passage closed up the discussion on the subject of the new birth into the kingdom of God that Jesus was about to set up on the earth.

Verse 14

4 The account of the serpent is in Num 21:9. There were no curative qualities in the brasen serpent, but those who looked upon it were cured by the Lord as a reward for their faith. The serpent was placed on a pole so all could see it.

Verse 15

5 The literal sight of Jesus on the cross is not what saves sinners, for only a few men of the world could see it. Hence the Lord makes his comparison on the principle of believing, for the death of the Son of God on the cross will benefit no one who does not have faith in that great sacrifice.

Verse 16

6 The word so is from HourĀ°, and means, "in such a manner." The point is not how much God loved the world, but what kind of love He had. The answer is stated by telling how God manifested it, which was by the sacrifice He made for the sins of the world. God is the maker and owner of all that is in the universe, and no sacrifice could have been so costly that He would have been unable to produce it. But the value of the sacrifice (from the standpoint of its price or cost) is not the question. It is the fact that God gave up His only begotten Son. There was only one being in the universe who possessed that qualification. The subject is explained in detail at Luk 1:35, and I urge the reader to see and carefully consider that place, then come back to the present paragraph. Perish and everlasting life are put as alternatives for the responsible members of the world. There is no middle ground; every creature that God has formed is destined to experience one or the other of these lots endlessly, after the judgment.

Verse 17

7 The world was all under the guilt of unbelief before Jesus came into it (Rom 11:32), therefore his coming was not for the purpose of pronouncing condemnation upon it; that had already been done. But the condition called for something to counteract it, and the Son of God was sent among mankind for that purpose.

Verse 18

8 He that believeth on him is not condemned, since faith in Christ leads to obedience which lifts the condemnation from him. (See Rom 8:1.) He that believeth not is condemned already. That is because it leaves him in the state he was in before Jesus came into the world. (See the preceding verse.)

Verse 19

9 The condemnation that rests upon the world is not an arbitrary decree of God, but is based on the truth that men prefer darkness to light. The reason for their unwise choice is in their wanton manner of life, which is an evil one.

Verse 20

0 It is a bad indication when men prefer darkness to light, for it shows they are practicing evil deeds. If they were to operate under the light, it would expose them and show them to be guilty of evil practices.

Verse 21

1 On the other hand, if a man is a lover of truth, he will want his life to be revealed in order to see if it is correct. A sincere man, even though he may be in error, will wish to be sure of himself, and he knows he can never be certain as to what is right, except as his conduct is regulated by the divine truth.

Verse 22

2 Jesus had been in Jerusalem which is in the province of Judea. Land of Judea means the rural or outlying territory of the district. The purpose for going out there is indicated by the statement that he tarried with his disciples and baptized, all of which could be conveniently accomplished in the country.

Verse 23

3 Salim was a town not far west of the Jordan, and near it was a smaller place called Aenon. John the Baptist made that his headquarters at one time, because his business was to baptize people, and there was much water in that locality. According to some information in Funk and Wag-nalls Standard Bible Dictionary, the water supply in that vicinity was in the form of springs.

Verse 24

4 This is the only place where John mentions the imprisonment of John the Baptist. The manner of the injection of the subject into the story, indicates that John's work was about over, and that his imprisonment was in the near future.

Verse 25

5 A distinction is made between John's disciples and the Jews, although John did not baptize any but Jews (Luk 1:16). This shows that while all of John's disciples were Jews, not all of the Jews as a nation became his disciples, and hence were not the people whom he prepared for Christ.

Verse 26

6 This association between John and Jesus, and John's witness that he bore for Jesus, are recorded in chapter 1:19-29. They denotes John's disciples who are referred to in the preceding verse. They seemed to be concerned because their teacher was not drawing the crowds that Jesus was having.

Verse 27

7 John was always unselfish, and appeared pleased over any good news about Jesus. Instead of being envious, he always taught that it was expected for Jesus to increase, while he (John) would decrease. He went further and told his disciples that the success of Jesus was given him from Heaven.

Verse 28

8 John also reminded his disciples that he had previously predicted this very turn of affairs. Such predictions and instructions are in chapter 1:15, 27.

Verse 29

9 John continued his exaltation of Jesus and the diminishing of his own work and importance. He did it under the figure of a social custom regarding weddings. The superiority of a bridegroom is manifested by the fact that he it is who possesses the bride. However, the friend of the groom finds satisfaction in hearing the voice and seeing the happiness of the bridegroom. In the illustration, John is the friend and Jesus is the bridegroom, which causes him (John) to have full rejoicing.

Verse 30

0 John once more makes the prediction that the difference of importance between him and Jesus was to continue and widen.

Verse 31

1 John was an inspired man, and his teaching was directed by the Holy Spirit. But he was a man only, and his origin was wholly through the natural laws of reproduction. Jesus was both human and divine, and hence John said he was from above. That is why John was to decrease while Jesus was to increase.

Verse 32

2 As Jesus was from above, he was able to speak from personal knowledge. Notwithstanding, no man (comparatively speaking) seemed willing to receive the testimony of such an infallible witness.

Verse 33

3 Hath set to his seal is all from SPHRAGIZO, which Thayer defines at this place, "To confirm, authenticate, place beyond doubt." It means that when a man receives the testimony of a personal witness like Jesus, he is thoroughly convinced that the testimony is from God and must be true.

Verse 34

4 Measure is from METBON, and Thayer's first definition is, "An instrument for measuring." It means that God did not use any measuring instrument in bestowing the Spirit on his Son. His possession of the Spirit was total; unlimited. From this we may gather further information on the much discussed subject of receiving the Spirit. The fact of John's stating that Christ received it without measure, implies that various measures of it may be given to men. Thus the apostles received that amount required to baptize them, and empower them to bestow spiritual gifts upon Christians. Then those Christians in the days of miracles possessed that measure that enabled them to perform miracles, but not enough of it to transfer it to others. And by all these considerations, we can understand how a person could be in possession of the Holy Spirit, but in a lesser measure than would enable him to perform any miracle. Further comments will be offered on this subject as the various occasions may suggest in our study of the New Testament.

Verse 35

5 A part of this verse was prospective, for not until Jesus had risen from the dead did God give unto his Son this complete authority. (See Mat 28:18.) But the unmeasured possession of the Spirit was given to him at his baptism (chapter 1:33), and it abided with him throughout his work while on the earth.

Verse 36

6 For the first part of this verse, see the comments on verses 17-19. For the word see, read the comments at verse 3.
Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on John 3". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.