John 3 Study Notes

3:1-4:42 The bulk of chaps. 3 and 4 is devoted to Jesus’s encounters with Nicodemus, a representative of the Jewish religious establishment, and an unnamed woman representing Samaritan religion. Interspersed are explanatory sections (3:16-21,31-36) and a vignette on John the Baptist (3:22-30). The encounters with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman are a study in contrasts. Nicodemus’s status as a Sanhedrin member differs sharply from the lowly Samaritan woman who had a sinful past and present. Yet in both cases Jesus discerned deep spiritual need. He confronted Nicodemus about his need for regeneration and the woman about her sin.

3:1 Nicodemus was a common name in first-century Palestine. Ruler of the Jews refers to the Jewish governing body known as the Sanhedrin.

3:2 Nicodemus’s coming to Jesus at night may have negative overtones (“night” is probably negative in 13:30 but not in 21:3; see also the reference to the present event without apparent negative connotation in 19:39). Coming from a “teacher of Israel” (3:10), the address rabbi denoted respect, especially since it was known that Jesus did not have formal rabbinic training (7:15). The signs mentioned in John’s Gospel presumably included those performed in Jerusalem (2:23), possibly the temple clearing (cp. 2:18; see note at 2:11).


Greek pronunciation [AH noh thuhn]
CSB translation again
Uses in John’s Gospel 5
Uses in the NT 13
Focus passage John 3:3,7

The expression born again comes from Jn 3:3, where Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born (gennao, the term used for the genealogy in Mt 1:1-17) again (anothen). The term anothen can mean again or from above. The meaning again for anothen occurs in Gl 4:9, which is a clear instance of this meaning in the NT. All other uses of the term mean from above (see Jn 3:31; 19:11; Jms 1:17; 3:15,17) or something similar (such as top in Mt 27:51; Mk 15:38; Jn 19:23). Nicodemus construed Jesus’s words in an overly literalistic way (v. 4). It’s likely that Jesus used anothen to mean both a second birth and a birth from above, from the Spirit (vv. 5-6,8).

3:3-8 The discussion of the need for spiritual rebirth develops the reference to the “children of God” who are “born . . . of God” in the prologue (1:12-13). On “children of God,” see 8:39-58 and 11:51-52. The phrase born of water and the Spirit probably refers to spiritual birth that cleanses from sin and brings spiritual transformation (Ezk 36:25-27). The kingdom of God, a major topic in the other Gospels, is mentioned by John only in vv. 3,5 (see the reference to Jesus’s kingdom in 18:36).

3:7 You is plural, probably indicating Nicodemus and other Sanhedrin members (cp. vv. 1,11).

3:8 Jesus illustrated his pronouncement of vv. 3-5 with an analogy between wind and a person born of the Spirit. Wind and Spirit translate the same Greek and Hebrew words (Gk pneuma; Hb ruach). While the wind’s origin is invisible, its effects can be observed; it is the same with those born of the Spirit.

3:9-10 Jesus may here be “returning the compliment” (see note at v. 2), though he chastised Nicodemus for his lack of understanding.

3:11-12 Jesus’s knowledge is firsthand rather than speculative or based on hearsay. The earthly things probably refers to the teaching on spiritual regeneration.

3:13 Jesus’s statement may allude to Pr 30:4. Only Jesus descended from heaven and returned there (Lk 24:51; Ac 1:9).

3:14-15 The reference to the Son of Man being lifted up is the first of three “lifted up” sayings in John (8:28; 12:32). All three speak of the future “lifting up” of the Son of Man in double meaning (possibly inspired by the language of Is 52:13). The reference in this verse invokes Moses’s lifting up of a serpent in the wilderness so that everyone who had been bitten by a poisonous snake and looked at the serpent in faith was healed (Nm 21:8-9). The third and final “lifted up” saying (Jn 12:32) emphasizes that the lifting up of the Son of Man refers to Jesus’s crucifixion (cp. 12:33 and the similar reference to Peter’s martyrdom in 21:19).

3:16-18 God, out of love, gave his one and only Son (cp. 1:14,18), so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life (see notes at 5:26; 14:4-6). John’s favorite designation for Jesus is the Son sent by the Father (3:34-36; 5:19-26; 6:40; 8:35-36; 14:13; 17:1), imagery taken from the Jewish concept of the shaliach (messenger), according to which the sent one is like the sender himself and faithfully pursues the sender’s interests (13:16,20). Jesus is that “sent one” par excellence (9:7), and he in turn sends his disciples (see note at 20:21-22). Being sent implies that the commission, charge, and message are issued by the sender rather than originating with the ones sent. The messengers’ role is to fulfill their commission according to their sender’s will.


Greek pronunciation [mah nah gehn AYSS]
CSB translation one and only
Uses in John’s Gospel 4
Uses in the NT 9
Focus passage John 3:16,18

MonogenÄ“s means the only one of its kind. The word appears in the Greek OT and Apocrypha with the meaning “only child.” In Heb 11:17 where Isaac is called Abraham’s monogenÄ“s. Isaac was not Abraham’s only son, but he was his one-of-a-kind son—the son of promise. In the Old Latin translation, monogenÄ“s was translated as unicus, from which we get our word unique. This is what is meant by monogenÄ“s in John’s writings (Jn 1:14,18; 3:16,18; 1Jn 4:9): Jesus is God’s one and only Son in that his essential nature is the same as the Father’s.

3:19-21 On Jesus as the light, see note at 8:12.

3:22 Jesus left the vicinity of Jerusalem and headed to the Judean countryside. In 4:3, Jesus left Judea altogether, returning to Galilee (2:12) by way of Samaria.

3:23-25 The ministries of Jesus and John overlapped and led to a dispute between their respective disciples.

3:26 On John the Baptist as a witness to Jesus, see note at 5:31-47.

3:27 John points out that Jesus would not be having such success unless God was in it.

3:28 John’s assertion that he had been sent ahead of the Messiah may allude to Mal 3:1 (cp. Mt 11:10; Mk 1:2; Lk 7:27).

3:29 John’s reference to Jesus as the groom (cp. Mt 9:15) identified Jesus as Israel’s long-awaited King and Messiah. In the OT, Israel is frequently depicted as God’s “bride” (Is 62:4-5; Jr 2:2; Hs 2:16-20). John’s role was that of the groom’s friend, who selflessly rejoiced with the groom (1:6-9,15,19-36).

3:30 John the Baptist downplayed his disciples’ concerns expressed in v. 26. Now that the light had come (1:6-9), the “lamp” had done its work (see note at 5:35).

3:31-32 The one who comes from above is Jesus. The earthly one is John the Baptist, but it speaks not of sin but of finiteness.

3:33 Has affirmed (Gk sphragizo) means literally “to seal” in the sense of confirming or authenticating something as true (see note at 6:27-29).

3:34 On Jesus as the recipient of God’s Spirit, see note at 1:32-34 (see also Rv 3:1; 5:6).

3:35 The Father has given the Son authority over all things because of his love.

3:36 Has eternal life indicates that eternal life is not just a future expectation but is already a present experience. The wrath of God remains on him makes clear that unless a person believes in Jesus the Messiah, he remains under God’s judgment (vv. 19-21).

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