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Bible Commentaries

International Critical Commentary NT

John 3

Verses 1-99

The Discourse with Nicodemus (3:1-15)

3:1. Nicodemus appears three times in the Fourth Gospel (see on 7:50, 19:39), but is not mentioned by any other evangelist, unless we may equate him with the ἄρχων of Luke 18:18 (see below on v. 3). The attempt to identify him with Joseph of Arimathæa has no plausibility (see on 19:39); and the suggestion that he is a fictitious character invented by Jn. to serve a literary purpose is arbitrary and improbable (see Introd., p. lxxxiii f.). Νικόδημος is a Greek name borrowed by the Jews, and appears in Josephus (Antt. xiv. iii. 2) as that of an ambassador from Aristobulus to Pompey. In the Talmud (Taanith, 20. 1) mention is made of one Bunai, commonly called Nicodemus ben Gorion, and it is possible (but there is no evidence) that he was the Nicodemus of Jn. He lived until the destruction of Jerusalem, which would accord very well with the idea that Jn. has the “young ruler” of Luke 18:18 in his mind, although in that case γέρων of v. 4 must not be taken to indicate that the person in question was really “old” at the time of speaking. All that can be said with certainty of the Nicodemus of the text is that he was a Pharisee, and a member of the Sanhedrim (7:50), and apparently a wealthy man (19:39). He seems to have been constitutionally cautious and timid (see on 7:50).


Some points in the narrative of 3:1-15 would suggest that the incident here recorded did not happen (as the traditional text gives it) at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. First, at v. 2, mention is made of σημεῖα at Jerusalem which had attracted the attention of Nicodemus; but we have already noted on 2:23 that no σημεῖον in that city has yet been recorded. On the other hand, the “signs” which had been wrought at Jerusalem during the weeks before the end had excited much curiosity. That Nicodemus should have come secretly during the later period would have been natural, for the hostility of the Sanhedrim to Jesus had already been aroused (7:50); but that there should have been any danger in conversing with the new Teacher in the early days of His ministry does not appear. Again, at v. 14 (where see note), Jesus predicts His Passion; but if this prediction be placed in the early days of His ministry, we are in conflict with the Synoptists,who place the first announcement of His Death after the Confession of Peter. No doubt, Jn. is often in disagreement with the earlier Gospels, but upon a point so significant as this we should expect his record to agree with theirs.

However, there is not sufficient evidence to justify us in transposing the text here; and we leave the story of Nicodemus in its traditional position, although with a suspicion that the original author of the Gospel did not intend it to come so early.1

For the constr. Νικόδημος ὄνομα αὐτῷ, see on 1:6.

2. For the rec. τὸν Ἰησοῦν (N),אABLTbWΘ have αὐτόν.

οὗτος ἤλθεν πρὸς αὐτὸν νυκτός. This was the feature of the visit of Nicodemus which attracted attention: he came by night. Cf. 7:50, 19:39. He was impressed by what he had heard, and he gradually became a disciple; cf. 12:42.

The form into which the conversation is thrown is similar to that in c. 4.2 There is a mysterious saying of Jesus (3:3, 4:10), at which the interlocutor expresses astonishment (3:4, 4:11, l2), whereupon the saying is repeated (3:5f, 4:13, 14), but still in a form difficult to understand. That, in both cases, there was an actual conversation is highly probable; but the report, as we have it, cannot in either case be taken to represent the ipsissima verba. Nothing is said in c. 3 of any one being present at the interview between Jesus and Nicodemus; but, on the other hand, there is nothing to exclude the presence of a disciple, and hence the account of the interview may be based, in part, on his recollections.

καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Ρ̓αββεί. See on 1:38. Nicodemus was ready to address Jesus as Rabbi, because he recognised in Him a divinely sent διδάσκαλος. This was not to recognise Him as Messiah; but Nicodemus and others of his class (note the plural οἴδαμεν, “we all know,” as at 9:31 and Mark 12:14),1 like the blind man of 9:33, were convinced by the signs which Jesus did that He had come�Acts 10:38. The σημεῖα to which Nicodemus referred were those mentioned 2:23 as having inspired faith at Jerusalem. See note in loc.


3. For the phrase�

Jesus answers the thought of Nicodemus, rather than his words. Nicodemus was prepared to accept Him as a prophet and a forerunner of the Messianic kingdom; but he misunderstood the true nature of that kingdom. It was a spiritual kingdom, “not of this world,” as it is described in the only other place in Jn. where it is mentioned (18:36). It did not come “with observation” (Luke 17:20, Luke 17:21), and no appreciation of signs or miracles would bring a man any nearer the understanding of it. A new faculty of spiritual vision must be acquired before it can be seen. The answer of Jesus is startling and decisive:�

This saying is the Johannine counterpart of Mark 10:15Matthew 18:3, Luke 18:17). It is to be observed that this saying in Mk. and Lk. comes immediately before the colloquy with the rich young man, whom Lk. describes as a “ruler,” and it is not impossible that this “ruler” is to be identified with Nicodemus (see on v. 1).1 In any case, “the kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of heaven” is a main topic in the teaching of Jesus as reported by the Synoptists; and it is noteworthy that in this passage (the only passage where Jn. reproduces the phrase in full) the saying which introduces it is terse and epigrammatic, quite in the Synoptic manner. That we have here a genuine saying of Jesus is certain, given in another shape at Mark 10:15. It is repeated in an altered form at v. 5 (cf. v. 7), and reason is given in the note there for regarding the form in v. 3 as the more original of the two. For the repetitions in Jn., see further on 3:16.

ἄνωθεν, in the Synoptists (generally) and always in the other passages (3:31, 19:11, 23) where it occurs in Jn., means “from above,” desuper; so also in James 1:17, James 1:3:15, James 1:17. This is its meaning here, the point being not that spiritual birth is a repetition, but that it is being born into a higher life. To be begotten ἄνωθεν means to be begotten from heaven, “of the Spirit.”2

No doubt, to render ἄνωθεν by denuo, “anew,” “again,” as at Galatians 4:9, gives a tolerable sense, and this rendering may be defended by Greek usage outside the N.T. Wetstein quotes Artemidorus, Oniroer. i. 13, where a man dreams that he is being born, which portends that his wife is to have a son like himself: οὕτω γὰρ ἄνωθεν αὐτὸς δόξειε γεννᾶσθαι. So Josephus, Antt. 1. xviii. 3, φιλίαν ἄνωθεν ποιεῖται πρὸς αὐτόν, “he made friends with him again.” But desuper suits the context in the present passage better than denuo.

οὐ δύναται ἰδεῖν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ “To see” the kingdom of God is to participate in it, to have experience of it, as at Luke 9:27. For this use of ἰδεῖν, cf. Acts 2:27 “to see corruption,” Luke 2:26 and John 8:51 “to see death (cf. Psalms 89:48, Hebrews 11:5), Revelation 18:7 “to see mourning,” 1 Macc. 13:3 “to see distresses,” Ecclesiastes 9:9 “to see (that is, to enjoy) life.”1 No doubt, a distinction may be drawn linguistically between “seeing the kingdom of God” and “entering into the kingdom of God,” which is the phrase used in v. 5. Thus in Hermas, Sim. ix. 15, the wicked and foolish women see the kingdom while they do not enter it. But no such distinction can be drawn here; v. 5 restates v. 3, but it is not in contrast with it. “Seeing the kingdom of God” in Jn.’s phraseology is “entering into it”; it is identical with the “seeing” of “life” in v. 36, where see note.2


4. λέγει πρὸς αὐτὸν ὁ Ν. For this constr. Of λέγειν, see on 2:3.

Nicodemus is represented as challenging the idea of rebirth. From one point of view this is easy to understand. He was probably familiar with the Jewish description of a proselyte as “one newly born” (see Introd., p. clxiii). But for Jews a Gentile was an alien, outside the sheltering providence of Yahweh. Certainly, he must begin his spiritual life anew, if he would be one of the chosen people. But it was incredible that any such spiritual revolution should be demanded of an orthodox Jew.

Yet this is not the objection which Nicodemus is represented as urging. The words placed in his mouth rather suggest that he took the metaphor of a new birth to mean literally a physical rebirth. “How can a man be born again, when he is old?” (as may have been his own case, but see on vv. 1, 3). “Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb?” This would have been a stupid misunderstanding of what Jesus had said, but yet it is to this misunderstanding that the reply of Jesus is directed. It is not a fleshly rebirth that is in question, but a spiritual rebirth, which is a different thing.

Nicodemus says δεύτερον, where Jesus had said ἅνωθεν, thus mistakenly understanding by ἅνωθεν, denuo rather than desuper; see on v. 3 above.

πῶς δύναται κτλ.; This is a favourite turn of phrase in Jn. Cf. 3:9, 5:44, 6:52, 9:16.

5. ὁ must be omitted before Ἰησοῦς, as in v. 3. See on 1:29.

For γεννηθῇ nearly all the Latin versions have renatus (f alone has natus), which may point to a Western reading�1 Peter 1:3, 1 Peter 1:23.


Another Western variant1 is τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐραῶν, for the rec. τὴν βας.τοῦ θεοῦ, which is supported by אcABLNWΓΔΘ. א* 511 e m support τῶν οὐρανῶν, which is also read in Justin (Apol. i. 61), Hippolytus (Ref. viii. 10), Irenæus (Frag. xxxiii., ed. Harvey), and ps.—Cyprian de Rebaptismate 3. Tertullian has in regnum caelorum (de Bapt. 13); but in another place in regnum dei (de Anima 39). Origen’s witness is alike uncertain, his Latin translation giving both caelorum (Hom. xiv. in Lucam, and Comm. in Rom. ii. 7) and dei (Hom. v. in Exod.). Perhaps, as Hort says, the Western reading was suggested by the greater frequency of the phrase εἰσέρχεσθαι εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν in Mt.

The seal of the baptismal waters is thrice mentioned by Hermas (Sim. ix. 15, 16) as a pre-requisite to entering the kingdom of God; and in 2 Clem. 6 (before 140 a.d.) we have “if we keep not our baptism pure and undefiled, with what confidence shall we enter into the kingdom of God?” It is possible that here we have reminiscences of the language of v. 5. See Introd., p. lxxvi.

The reference in the word ὕδατος is clearly to Christian baptism (see Introd., p. clxiv). But, so far as Nicodemus was concerned, this would have been an irrelevant reference; the argument being darkened by the presence of ὕδατος καὶ before πνεύματος. Jesus explains that Nicodemus must be “begotten from above” before he can enter the kingdom of God, i.e. that a spiritual change must pass upon him, which is described in v. 6 as being “begotten of the Spirit.” The words ὕδατος καί have been inserted in v. 8 by א a b e, etc. (see note in loc.), although they form no part of the true text; and it has been suggested that, in like manner, in the verse before us they are only an interpretative gloss.2 There is, however, no MS. evidence for their omission here (although the Sinai Syriac transposes the order of words and testifies to a reading “begotten of Spirit and of water”), nor is there extant any patristic citation of the verse which speaks of “being begotten of the Spirit” and does not mention the water. The passage from Justin (Apol. i. 61) by which Lake supports his argument is as follows: ἔπειτα ἄγονται ὑφʼ ἡμῶν ἔνθα ὕδωρ ἐστί, καὶ τρόπον�John 3:3 or John 3:5 that he has in his mind. But there is nothing to suggest that the reading before him was ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἐκ Πνεύματος κτλ. Indeed, in another place (Tryph. 138) he has the phrase τοῦ�


We conclude that the words ὕδατος καί cannot be extruded from the text of Jn., but that they are not to be regarded as representing precisely the saying of Jesus. They are due to a restatement by Jn. of the original saying of v. 3, and are a gloss, added to bring the saying of Jesus into harmony with the belief and practice of a later generation.1

ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ κτλ. We have seen (on 1:13) that those who believe on the name of Christ are described as “begotten of God,” ἐκ θεοῦ γεγεννημένοι, and the references given in the note show that this is a characteristic Johannine phrase. It is necessary to interpret the words ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος (vv. 5, 6, 8) in similar fashion, and to understand them as describing the man who “is begotten of the Spirit.” “God is Spirit” (4:24), and the phrases “begotten of God” and “begotten of the Spirit” mean the same thing. At 1 John 3:9 we have πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ�1 John 3:24) it is said of those who keep God’s commandments γινώσκομεν ὅτι μένει ἐν ἡμῖν, ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος οὖ ἡμῖν ἔδωκεν. The “seed of God” is the “Spirit,” whereof believers are made partakers by a spiritual begetting. That is to say, the words ἐκ τοῦ Πνεύματος in this verse point to the Spirit as the Begetter of believers.


To translate “born of the Spirit” suggests that the image is of the Spirit as the female parent of the spiritual child, whereas Johannine usage (and O.T. usage also, as we have seen on 1:13) shows that the image is that of the Spirit as the Begetter. It has been pointed out already (on 1:13) that the Latin rendering natus must not be taken as excluding the meaning begotten.

In Semitic languages the Spirit, Ruḥ, is feminine; e.g. the Old Syriac of 14:26 runs, “The Spirit, the Paraclete, she shall teach you all things.” Thus the phrase “begotten of the Spirit,” which we have found reason for accepting as Johannine, would be inconsistent with the Aramaic origin of the Fourth Gospel. If, as Burney held, Jn. were originally written in Aramaic, then the original behind τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ Πνεύματος must have meant “born of the Spirit.” But this does not harmonise with 1:13 or 1 John 3:9.


6. After σάρξ ἐστιν, 161 Syr. cur. and some O.L. texts add the explanatory gloss on ὅτι ἐκ τῆς σαρκὸς ἐγεννήθη. After πνεῦμά ἐστιν, a similar group with Syr. sin. add ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματός ἐστιν.

Flesh and Spirit are distinct, and must not be confused. They are contrasted with each other in 6:63, where the property of “quickening” is ascribed to spirit, while flesh has no such quality, where eternal life is in question. Both are constituent elements of man’s nature, and so of the nature of Christ (Mark 14:38, 1 Peter 3:18, 1 Peter 4:6). They represent the two different orders of being, the lower and the higher, with which man is in touch. Flesh can only beget flesh, while spirit only can beget spirit.

7. μὴ θαυμάσῃς κτλ. “Marvel not that I said to thee, You must be begotten from above.” The aphorism is repeated in the original form (v. 3), which we have shown reason for supposing to have been amplified in v. 5. ὑμᾶς, includes all men, and not Nicodemus only; observe that it is not ἡμᾶς, for Jesus Himself did not need re-birth. Of His natural birth it could be said τὸ γὰρ ἐν αὐτῇ γεννηθὲν ἐκ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἁγίου (Matthew 1:20).

μὴ θαυμάσῃς: cf. 5:28, 1 John 3:13. θαυμάζειν in Jn. generally indicates unintelligent wonder.


δεῖ ὑμᾶς … See on 3:14 (cf. 2:4, 4:24) for the thought of the Divine necessity involved in Jn.’s use of δεῖ.

8. ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος. א a b eff2 m Syr. sin. and Syr. cur. give ἐκ τοῦ ὕδατος καὶ τοῦ πνεύματος, an expansion of the true text from v. 5.

τὸ πνεῦμα ὅπου θέλει πνεῖ, καὶ τὴν φωνὴν αὐτοῦ�

πνεῦμα may be translated either “wind” or “Spirit.” It is true that elsewhere in the N.T. πνεῦμα never has its primitive meaning “wind” (except in the quotation of Psalms 104:4, in Hebrews 1:7; cf. 2 Ezra 8:22); but this meaning is often found in the LXX, e.g. Genesis 8:1, 1 Kings 18:45, 1 Kings 18:19:11, 2 Kings 3:17, Isaiah 7:2, Isaiah 11:15, Psalms 148:8, Ecclus. 43:17, Wisd. 5:23.

The verb πνεῖν occurs 5 times elsewhere in the N.T. and is always applied to the blowing of the wind (cf. 6:18). In the LXX it is found 5 times with the same application, there always being in the context some allusion to the Divine action. Cf. Bar. 6:61 τὸ δ αὐτὸ καὶ πνεῦ̀μα ἐν πάσῃ χώρᾳ πνεῖ, and esp Psalms 147:18 πνεύσει τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτοῦ καὶ ῥυήσεται ὕδατα.

φωνή is properly articulate speech, but is often equivalent to “sound.” In the LXX “the Voice of God” is a common form of expression, and φωνή is often used of thunder as God’s Voice in nature (Exodus 9:23, 1 Samuel 7:10, Psalms 18:13, etc.). It is twice used of the sound of wind, in Psalms 29:8 (of a tempest, as the Voice of Yahweh) and 1 Kings 19:12 (φωνή αὔρας λεπτῆς, “the still small voice” which Elijah heard). In Jn. it is always used of a Divine or heavenly voice (except 10:5 where the “voice” of strangers is contrasted with the “voice” of the Good Shepherd).

There is no etymological objection to translating “The wind blows where it will, and thou hearest its sound”; but we may equally well translate “The Spirit breathes where He will, and thou hearest His Voice.” There is a like ambiguity in Ecclesiastes 11:5, ἐν οἷς οὐκ ἔστιν γινώσκων τις ἡ ὁδὸς τοῦ πνεύματος, where the “way” which is unknown by man may be the “way of the Spirit” or the “way of the wind.” To the Hebrew mind the wind, invisible yet powerful, represented in nature the action of the Divine Spirit, as is indicated in Genesis 1:2 and often in the O.T.; and so in some places the precise rendering of πνεῦμα may be doubtful. That, however, it never stands for “wind” in the N.T. elsewhere is a weighty consideration for the translator of the verse before us. φωνή may mean, as we have seen, “the sound” of wind; but it is also to be remembered that the φωνή from heaven of Revelation 14:13 was the Voice of the Spirit. The ἦχος from heaven on the Day of Pentecost was said to be like a “rushing mighty wind” (Acts 2:2).

The context, however, seems to remove all ambiguity in the present passage. Πνεῦμα at the beginning of the verse must refer to the same subject as πνεύματος at its close, and in vv. 5, 6. The argument is that, as the Divine Spirit operates as He will, and you cannot tell whence or whither (οὐκ οἶδας πόθεν ἔρχεται καὶ ποῦ ὑπάγει), so it is with every one begotten of the Spirit. That which is begotten of the Spirit shares in the quality of spirit (v. 6). Thus Christ, who was preeminently ὁ γεννηθεὶς ἐκ πνεύματος (Matthew 1:20), said of Himself, in words identical with those of this verse, ὑμεῖς οὐκ οἶδατε πόθεν ἔρχομαι, ἤ ποῦ ὑπάγω (8:14; cf. 9:29). So it is in his measure of every child of God who is begotten of the Spirit (cf. 1:13). Not only do the laws of physical generation not govern spiritual generation (for natural law does not always hold in the spiritual world), but you cannot standardise or reduce to law the manifestations of spiritual life. It is the teaching of Jn. (8:32), just as clearly as of Paul, that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17).


The rendering of πνεῦμα as Spirit rather than wind is supported by the Latin versions,1 which have “spiritus ubi uult spirat”; and it is noteworthy that the earliest patristic allusion to the passage, viz. Ign. Philad. 7, is decisive for it. Ignatius says: “Even though certain persons desired to deceive me after the flesh (κατὰ σάρκα) yet the Spirit (τὸ πνεῦμα) is not deceived, being from God, οἶδεν γὰρ πόθεν ἔρχεται καὶ ποῦ ὑπάγει, ” the last phrase being an exact quotation from the verse before us.2 Other early authorities for the same view are Origen (Fragm. in loc., ed. Brooke, ii. 252), and the author of the third-century treatise de rebaptismate, 15, 18. It is not until we reach the later Fathers that the interpretation “the wind blows where it lists” makes its appearance.

For the use of ὑπάγειν in Jn., see on 7:33, 16:7.

τὴν φωνὴν αὐτοῦ�

The verb λαλεῖν is used with special frequency in Jn. It occurs nearly 6o times in the Gospel; and 30 times it is placed in the mouth of Jesus in the first person singular, the only Synoptic instance of this latter use being Luke 24:44. The general distinction between λέγειν and λαλεῖν, viz. that λέγειν relates to the substance of what is said, while λαλεῖν has to do with the fact and the manner of utterance, holds good to a certain extent in Jn., as it does in classical Greek. But in Jn. the two verbs cannot always be distinguished in their usage and meaning, any more than “say” and “speak” can always be distinguished in English. Here ὃ οἴδαμεν λαλοῦμεν should be rendered “we speak of what we know,” the words spoken not being given; but then ταῦτα τὰ ῥήματα ἐλάλησεν (8:20) means, “He spoke these words,” viz. the very words that have just been cited (cf. 16:25, 17:1, 13, etc.). See, in particular, 10:6, 14:10, 12:49, 16:18, in which passages the verb λαλεῖν is used exactly as λέγειν might be; cf. 8:43.

If there is any special tinge of meaning in λαλεῖν as compared with λέγειν in Jn., it is that λαλεῖν suggests frankness or openness of speech. Jn. “assigns it to Christ 33 times in the first person, whereas it is never thus used by the Synoptists, except at Luke 24:44 after the Resurrection” (Abbott, Diat. 2251b). See on 18:20.


The plural forms οἴδαμεν, λαλοῦμεν, etc., arrest attention. The verse is introduced by the solemn�

The similarity of the language used here to that which Jn., in other passages, uses to associate his own witness with that of his fellow-disciples is very close: e.g. ὃ�1 John 4:14), or ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ (1:14), or the use of οἴδαμεν in 1 John 3:2, 1 John 3:14, 1 John 3:5:15, 1 John 3:19, 1 John 3:20. And, having regard to the way in which commentary and free narrative are intermingled in this chapter (see on v. 16), we seem to be driven to the conclusion that in v. 11 Jn. is not reproducing the actual words of Jesus so much as the profound conviction of the Apostolic age that the Church’s teaching rested on the testimony of eye-witnesses (cf. 1 John 4:14). He has turned the singular ἑώρακα (see v. 32) into the plural ἑωράκαμεν (v. 11), just as in v. 5 he has added ἐξ ὕδατος to the original saying of the Lord about the need of spiritual birth.


καὶ τὴν μαρτυρίαν ἡμῶν οὐ λαμβάνετε. This is repeated (v. 32), and is a frequent theme in the Fourth Gospel. Cf. 1:11, 5:43, 12:37.

12. The contrast between τὰ ἐπίγεια and τὰ ἐπουράνια appears again, 1 Corinthians 15:40, 2 Corinthians 5:1, Philippians 2:10, Philippians 3:19, James 3:15; the word ἐπἱγειος appearing in these passages only in the Greek Bible. The thought of this verse is like Wisd. 9:16, 17, “Hardly do we divine the things that are on earth, and the things that are close at hand we find with labour; but the things that are in the heavens who ever yet traced out … except thou gavest wisdom and sentest thy Holy Spirit from on high?”


The ἐπίγεια or “earthly things” as to which Jesus has already spoken include the doctrine of the kingdom of God, which was to be set up on earth, and accordingly of the New Birth which Nicodemus found it difficult to accept. Such matters are wonderful in the telling, although ἐπίγεια all the time, in contradistinction to the deep secrets of the Divine nature and purpose (ἐπουράνια), of which no one could tell except “He that cometh from heaven” (v. 32).

πιστεύσετε. So אABL. πιστεύσητε is read by ΓΔΘW fam. 13, etc.

13. οὐδεὶς�Proverbs 30:4 τίς�Deuteronomy 30:12 and the reference thereto in Romans 10:6). So too in Bar. 3:29, “Who hath ascended to heaven and taken her (sc. Wisdom), and brought her down from the clouds?” the answer is “No one.” There is a Talmudic saying which taught this explicitly: “R. Abbahu said: If a man says to thee, I ascend to heaven, he will not prove it,”1 i.e. the thing is impossible. This was the accepted Jewish doctrine.


On the other hand, the Jewish apocalypses have legends of saints being transported to heaven that they might be informed of spiritual truth, e.g. Enoch (Enoch lxx. 1, etc.), Abraham (in the Testament of Abraham), Isaiah (Ascension of Isaiah, 7), etc.2 But of such legends the Fourth Gospel has no trace. “No one has ascended into heaven, save He who descended from heaven, viz. the Son of Man.”

There is no reference to the Ascension of Christ in this passage (cf. 6:62, 20:17), which merely states that no man has gone up into heaven to learn heavenly secrets. It is only the Son of Man who came down from heaven, which is His home, who can speak of it and of τὰ ἐπουράνια with the authority of knowledge.3

The phrase καταβαίνειν ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ is used again of Christ’s coming in the flesh at 6:33, 38, 41, 42, 50, 51, 58, but in that sense nowhere else in the N.T. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16 κατ. ἐξ οὐρανοῦ is used of the Advent of Christ in glory, and in 1:32 above of the Descent of the Spirit at the Baptism of Jesus. καταβαίνειν is also used Ephesians 4:9 of the Descent into Hades. The phrase here, however, undoubtedly refers to the Descent of Christ to earth in His Incarnation, and the use of the title “the Son of Man” in this context has no Synoptic parallel (see Introd., p. cxxx).


It may be added that the pre-existence of the Son of Man in heaven is a tenet of the Book of Enoch: “That Son of Man was named in the presence of the Lord of Spirits and His name before the Head of days. And before the sun and the signs were created, before the stars of the heaven were made, His name was named before the Lord of Spirits” (xlviii. 2, 3). See on 6:62.

ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ�

ὑψοῦν means “to lift up,” either literally or figuratively, when it is equivalent to “exalt.” In Acts 2:33 (τῇ δεξιᾷ τοῦ θεοῦ ὑψωθείς) and Acts 5:31 (τοῦτον ὁ θεὸς … ὕψωσεν τῇ δεξιᾷ αὐτοῦ) it is used of the exaltation by God of Jesus to His right hand, i.e. of the Ascension. Cf. Philippians 2:9 and Isaiah 52:13, where it is said of the Servant of Yahweh ὑψωθήσεται καὶ δοξασθήσεται σφόδρα.

But the word is not used thus in the Fourth Gospel, where it is always applied to the “lifting up” of Jesus on the Cross, and is always found in connexion with the title “Son of Man” (see Introd., p. cxxxii). Jesus said to the incredulous Jews (8:28) ὅταν ὑψώσητε τὸν υἰὸν τοῦ�Acts 2:33, Acts 5:31), and it is therefore clear that it does not refer to the Ascension, but to the Crucifixion. Again in 12:32 we have ἐὰν ὑψωθῶ ἐκ τῆς γῆς, πάτας ἐλκύσω πρὸς ἐμαυτόν, on which Jn.’s comment is, “this He said, signifying by what death He should die.” And that the people understood the word thus appears from their rejoinder (12:34); while they knew that the Christ “abides for ever,” they were puzzled by the saying that the “Son of Man” was to be “lifted up.” If ὑψωθῆναι were to be understood merely as “exaltation” (as the Ascension was) they would have had no difficulty in admitting δεῖ ὑψωθῆναι τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ�

In the present passage, there can in like manner be no reference to the Ascension of Jesus, as in that case the type of the brazen serpent would not be applicable. In the story in Numbers 21:9f., Moses set his brazen serpent “upon the standard,” or, as the LXX turns it, ἔστησεν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ σημεὶου, so that those who had been bitten by the poisonous serpents might look upon it and live. As the story is explained in Wisd. 16:6, 7, the brazen serpent was a σύμβολον σωτηρίας: “he that turned towards it was not saved because of that which was beheld, but because of thee, the Saviour of all (τὸν παντῶν σωτῆρα).” The word ὑψοῦν is not used anywhere in the LXX of the act of Moses in “lifting up” the serpent and exposing it to the gaze of the people, nor is the word used anywhere in the N.T. outside Jn. of the “lifting up” of Jesus on the Cross. But this is undoubtedly the parallel which is drawn in the words of Jesus in 3:14. Those who looked in faith upon the brazen serpent uplifted before them were delivered from death by poison; those who look in faith upon the Crucified, lifted up on the Cross, shall be delivered from the death of sin.

The early Greek interpreters are quite unanimous about this. Thus Barnabas (§ 12) says that Moses made a brazen serpent, the τύπος of Jesus, that he set it up conspicuously (τίθησιν ἐδόξως), and bade any man that had been bitten “come to the serpent which is placed on the tree (ἐπὶ τοῦ ξύλου ἐπικείμενον) and let him hope in faith that the serpent being himself dead can yet make him alive (αὐτὸς ὢν νεκρὸς δύναται ζωοποιῆσαι), and straightway he shall be saved.” This is but an elaboration of the idea in John 3:14, going beyond what is there said, for Barnabas emphasises the point that the brazen serpent is a type of Jesus, while all that is said in John 3:14 is that as the first was “lifted up,” so must the Son of Man be “lifted up.”

Origen (Exhort. ad martyr. 50, arguing that death by martyrdom may be called ὕψωσις), and Cyprian (Test. ii. 20) apply John 3:14 to the Crucifixion of Jesus; cf. Justin, Tryph. 94. Claudius Apollinaris (about 171 a.d.) writes of Jesus as ὑψωθεὶς ἐπὶ κεράτων μονοκέρωτος, where ὑψοῦν evidently means to lift up on the Cross; Cf. Psalms 22:21 (Routh, Reliq. Sacr., i. 161). See also the passage from Artemidorus quoted on 21:18, 19 below, for the connexion between the ideas of ὕψος and of crucifixion.

We have then here a prediction placed in the mouth of Jesus, not only of His death, but of the manner of that death. The Synoptists represent Jesus as more than once foretelling His death by violence (Mark 8:31, Mark 9:31, Mark 10:33 and parallels), but only in Matthew 20:19 is death by crucifixion specified; cf. Luke 24:7. But by the use of the word ὑψοῦν (cf. also 8:28 and 12:32) Jn. consistently represents Jesus as predicting that He would be crucified, which would carry with it the prediction that He would suffer at the hands of the Roman authorities, and not by the Jews (cf. John 18:31, John 18:32).

It is not consistent with the Synoptic tradition (cf. Mark 8:31, Matthew 16:21, Luke 9:22) to represent Jesus as foretelling His Passion so early in His Ministry. We should expect not to find any indication of this until after the Confession of Peter (6:68, 69). And if vv. 11-15 are intended by the evangelist to be taken as words of Jesus, rather than as reflexions of his own (see on v. 13), then it is probable that they are recorded here out of their historical context. See on v. 1 above.


It has been suggested, however (e.g. by Westcott and E. A. Abbott) that we must see a deeper significance in the word ὑψοῦν as placed in the lips of Jesus. Abbott holds1 that the Aramaic word which is rendered by ὑψοῦν was זְקַף, and that this actually has the double meaning (1) to exalt, (2) to crucify. But Burkitt has shown that this cannot be accepted because זִקַף could not be used of a “lifting up” such as the Ascension was.2 In short, (a) Jn. clearly states his own view of what Jesus meant by the words which he ascribes to Him here; (b) all the early Greek exegetes agree with him; (c) if we try to get back to the Aramaic word lying behind ὑψοῦν, we cannot find one which has this special ambiguity. ארים will fit ὑψοῦν in the sense of “exalt,” but not in that of “crucify.” זקף will fit ὑψοῦν in the sense of “crucify,” but not in that of “exalt.” We cannot therefore accept Westcott’s view that “the lifting up includes death and the victory over death.” There does not seem to be any hint of this in any of the passages in which ὑψοῦν occurs in Jn.

The Jewish commentators on Numbers 21:9f. give little help as to the significance of the brazen serpent, being perplexed by the inconsistency of the story with the general prohibition of all images in the religion of Israel. Indeed, Hezekiah found it necessary to destroy “the brazen serpent that Moses had made” (2 Kings 18:4) because it had led to idolatrous practices. Philo (Legg. All. ii. 19) allegorises the narrative after his manner. As the poisonous serpents signify the pleasure (ἡδονή) which is dangerous to the soul, so the brazen serpent signifies temperance (σωφροσύνη); then the man who sees psychically the beauty of σωφροσύνη, καὶ διὰ τούτὸν τὸν θεὸν αὐτόν, ζήσεται.


Jesus, however, explicitly takes this story as a type of His Cross, which must have fulfilment: δεῖ, “it is necessary” that so “the Son of Man shall be lifted up,” as Jn. reports His words here. Something has already been said (see note on 2:4) of what may be called the Predestinarian Doctrine of Jn.; see also Introd., p. clii, where Jn.’s use of the phrase “that it might be fulfilled” is examined. A similar Divine necessity is indicated several times elsewhere in this Gospel by the word δεῖ. The evangelst uses it, when writing in his own person, of the inevitableness of the Resurrection of Christ. But he also ascribes the employment of this way of speech to Jesus Himself. “I must work the works of Him that sent me, while it is day” (9:4); “Other sheep I must bring” (10:16); and again at 12:34 the people charge Jesus with saying, as here, δεῖ ὑψωθῆναι τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ�

The rec. has εἰς αὐτὸν after πιστεύων (a common constr in Jn.; see on 1:12) with אΓΔΘ; but recent editors have generally followed BTbW in reading ἐν αὐτῷ Yet the constr. πιστεύειν ἔν τινι never appears in Jn., so that if we read ἐν αὐτῷ, πιστεύων must be taken in an absolute sense (see on 1:7 for this usage), and we must translate, with the R.V., “Whosoever believeth may in Him have eternal life.” (Cf. for the constr. 1:4.) The thought of the believer being “in Christ” is thoroughly Johannine (15:4, 1 John 5:20) as well as Pauline. But we prefer the reading εἰς αὐτόν, which has good MS. support. See on v. 16.


The connexion between faith and eternal life runs through the Gospel, the purpose of its composition being ἵνα πιστεύοντες ζωὴν ἔχητε ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ (20:31). Cf. 6:47 ὁ πιστεύων ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον and 3:36 ὁ πιστεύων εἰς τὸν υἱὸν ἔχει ζω. αἰώ, where see note.

The adj. αἰώνιος is always associated in Jn. with ζωή (never, as in Mt. or Mk., with “sin” or “fire”), the expression ζωὴ αἰώνιος occurring 17 times in the Gospel and 6 times in 1 Jn. (in the form ἡ ζωὴ ἡ αἰώνιος in 1 John 1:2, 1 John 2:25). ζωὴ αἰώνιος as the portion of the righteous is mentioned Daniel 12:2, and thereafter the expression is found in the Psalter of Solomon (iii. 16) and in Enoch.1 It occurs frequently in the Synoptists and in Paul, and always in the sense of the future life after death (but see on 12:50). This significance it has also in Jn. many times; e.g. in the present passage this is the primary meaning. Cf. esp. 12:25, and see note on 4:14. But for Jn, and for him alone among N.T. writers (although cf. 1 Timothy 6:19), ζωὴ αἰώνιος may be a present possession of the believer (3:36, 5:24, 6:47, 1 John 5:13), which continues and abides after the shock of death (6:54). “To have eternal life” means more than “to live for ever”; the stress is not so much upon the duration of the life, as upon its quality. To have eternal life is to share in the life of God (5:26) and of Christ (l:4), which is unfettered by the conditions of time. And so it is defined as the knowledge of God and of Christ (17:3), for true knowledge cannot be without affinity. Thus ὁ ἔχων τὸν υἱὸν ἔχει τὴν ζωήν (1 John 5:12). See Introd., p. clx.


The Evangelist’s Comment on the Preceding Discourse (Vv. 16-21, 31-36)

16. This “comfortable word” is described in the Anglican Liturgy as one of those which “our Saviour Christ saith.” But it would seem that Jn. does not mean to place vv. 16-21 in the mouth of Jesus; these verses are rather reflexions and comments by the evangelist on the words which he has already ascribed to Jesus in His discourse with Nicodemus. The dialogue framework is dropped; past tenses, ἔδωκεν,�1 John 4:9). Indeed v. 16 is repeated almost verbatim 1 John 4:9: ἐν τούτῳ ἐφανερώθη ἡ�


The passage vv. 16-21 is introduced by οὕτως γάρ …, which is quite in Jn.’s style when he is making a comment: cf. αὐτὸς γάρ … (2:25), οἱ γὰρ μαθηταί (4:8), ὁ γὰρ Ἰησοῦς. (5:13), ὁ γὰρ πατήρ (5:20), αὐτὸς γὰρ ᾔδει … (6:6), ᾔδει γάρ … (6:64, 13:11), οὔπω γὰρ ἦν … (7:39), οὐδέπω γὰρ ᾔδεισαν … (20:9). Further, it is to be observed that ὥστε does not occur again in Jn., and that the constr. οὕτως … ὥστε with indicative, although classical, does not appear elsewhere in the N.T. (see Abbott, Diat. 2203, 2697). No new theme is introduced at v. 16, but the teaching of the discourse with Nicodemus is recapitulated, the opening sentence being a summary of the “Gospel according to St. John.”

It is the constant teaching of Jn. that in the order of redemption God’s Love precedes the movement of man’s soul to him. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19; cf. 1 John 4:10). Cf. “Ye did not choose me, but I chose you” (15:16) and also 13:18. See Romans 5:8. In this verse the Love of God is represented as prior to the faith of man. Indeed, God is Love (1 John 4:8).

The verb�Mark 12:30); and Jn. in like manner uses it of the love of man for his fellows (13:34, 15:12, 17), or for Jesus (8:42, 14:15, 21, 23, 21:15) or for God (1 John 4:10). It is used once in the Synoptists for the love of Jesus for man (Mark 10:21), and this is frequent in Jn. (11:5, 13:1, 23, 34, 14:21, 15:9, 12, 21:7, 20).�1 John 3:1, 1 John 4:10 (cf. Romans 5:8, Ephesians 2:4, 2 Thessalonians 2:16). The mutual love of God and Christ is implicit in the Synoptists (cf. ὁ υἱός μου ὁ�Mark 1:11, Mark 9:7, Matthew 3:17, Matthew 17:5, Luke 3:22), but Jn. is explicit in using�

Here the Love of God for man is an all-embracing love: ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον (for κόσμος see on 1:9). It was manifested by His giving “His only begotten Son” (for μονογενής see on 1:14), “His Beloved Son,” ὁ υἱὸς ὁ�Matthew 3:17). The language is perhaps reminiscent of Genesis 22:16, where it was said to Abraham οὐκ ἐφείσω τοῦ υἱοῦ σου τοῦ�Romans 8:32.


τὸν υἱὸν μονογενῆ. So א*BW, but א*CALTbΘ add αὐτοῦ after υἱόν.

ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστ. κτλ. This was the motive of the Gift, that all men might have eternal life (see on v. 15) through faith in Christ. For the phrase πιστεύων εἰς αὐτόν, as see on 1:12.

“To perish” �Matthew 10:28 σῶμα�


The repetition of the phrase ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον from v. 15, with a slight change (viz. the addition after αὐτόν of μὴ�

17.�Romans 8:3); Lk. has πέμπω once (Luke 20:13), but the parallels Mark 12:6, Matthew 21:37 have�Mark 9:37, Mat_10:4O, 15:24, Luke 4:43, Luke 9:48, Luke 10:16. It may be added that πέμπω is infrequent in the LXX, which generally has�

For�1 John 4:9, 1 John 4:10, 1 John 4:14. For πέμπω cf. 4:34, 5:23, 24, 30, 6:38, 39, 44, 7:16, 28, 33, 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 9:4, 12:44, 45, 49, 13:20, 14:24, 15:21, 16:5.


τὸν υἱόν. The rec. text adds αὐτοῦ, with AΓΔΘ, but om. אBLTbW fam. 1.

This usage of ὁ υἱός absolutely, as contrasted with ὁ πατήρ, is common to all the evangelists, and by all of them is attributed to Jesus when speaking of Himself. See Mark 13:32, Matthew 11:27, Luke 10:22, and John 5:19, John 6:40, John 8:36, John 14:13, John 17:1, besides John 3:36, 1 John 2:22, 1 John 4:14, where the evangelist thus describes Jesus. He uses ὁ υἱός absolutely, at this point for the first time. Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:28.

This verse is in close connexion with v. 16. The Divine purpose in redemption embraces all humanity. It is not confined to Jews only, or to elect nations or individuals, but embraces the whole world. This Divine intention may be thwarted by man’s abuse of his free will, but none the less it is directed to all mankind (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4, Titus 2:11).

But in the current Jewish eschatology2 Messiah was to come as the Judge of mankind, and so Jesus taught, both according to the Synoptists (Matthew 25:31f.) and to Jn.: cf. John 5:27, where we have the Son given “authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of man,” the context showing that the Last Judgment is indicated. So, again, in 9:39 we have εἰς κρίμα ἐγὼ εἰς τὸν κόσμον τοῦτου ἦλθον, the reference being indeed to a present rather than a future judging, but still the coming of Jesus being represented as εἰς κρίμα, as issuing in judgment. See further on 8:15.

How, then, is this to be reconciled with the universal purpose of love in the mission of Christ? Jn. is quick to supply the answer. The purpose of this mission in the mind of God was that every one who believed in Christ should have eternal life. Christ, as the Son of Man, is to be the Judge of mankind; he does not question that, and later on he says it explicitly (5:27). But His primary office is that of Saviour, and it was to save that He was sent. That some should reject Him is no part of the Father’s will; but if they do reject Him, they bring judgment on themselves. And so Jn. declares οὐ γὰρ�Zechariah 9:9 ὁ βασιλεύς σου ἔρχεταί σοι δίκαιος καὶ σώζων.


For the universality of this redemptive purpose, see 4:42 ὁ σωτὴρ τοῦ κόσμου, and the note there. It was one of the last prayers of Jesus that the world should come to recognise at last that God loved it, and that therefore He had sent His Son (17:23).

σωθῇ. σώζειν occurs only 6 times in Jn., σωτηρία once (4:22), and σωτήρ twice (4:42, where see note, and 1 John 4:14).

In the LXX it generally represents ישע, which primarily means “enlargement” and hence “deliverance,” ישועה being, at last, almost equivalent to “victory,” and often used in the O.T. of the final Messianic Deliverance. In the N.T. σώζειν sometimes stands for deliverance from bodily sickness, or healing (see 11:12 and cf. Mark 5:28, Mark 6:56, Mark 10:52 etc.); frequently it carries with it the idea of rescue from physical death (e.g. 12:27, Mark 3:4, Mark 15:30); and in other passages the thought is of spiritual deliverance (e.g. 5:34, 10:9, 12:47, Mark 10:26, Mark 13:13), i.e. of the transition from death to life, conceived of either as present or as future (in an eschatological reference), wrought by the life-giving power of Christ, and applied to the individual soul by an act of faith. This, the deepest meaning of σωτηρία, is constantly present to the mind of Jn. See on 4:42 for σωτήρ.


18. To the thought of Jn., ζωὴ αἰώνιος begins in the present, and is not only a hope of the future (see on 3:15 above); so also the κρίσις, or the inevitable distinction between man and man, determined by the use or abuse of his free will, begins in the present life.

Here for Jn. is the supreme test of the human spirit, whether the man “believes in” Christ or does not believe. ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν οὐ κρίνεται, or, as it is expressed later on, εἰς κρίσιν οὐκ ἔρχεται,�

ὅτι μὴ πεπίστευκεν …, “because he has not believed,” a continuing movement of unbelief being indicated by the pft. tense. Abbott (Diat. 2187) compares with ὁ μὴ πιστεύων … ὅτι μὴ πεπίστεύων … of this verse, the passage 1 John 5:10 … ὁ μὴ πιστεύων … ὅτι οὐ πεπίστευκεν … “In the latter ὅτι οὐ states the fact objectively; in the former ὄτι μή states it subjectively, as the judgment pronounced by the Judge.” ὅτι μή is a very unusual construction (see Diat. 2695), and demands some such explanation here.1


For the phrase πιστεύειν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα, see on 1:12.

For μονογενής, see on 1:14. It is possible that the repetition of the adjective here is intended to mark, not only the greatness of the Father’s love (as in v. 16), but also the uniqueness of Jesus as a Saviour. There is no other (cf. Acts 4:12).

19. αὕτη δέ ἐστιν ἡ κρίσις. The form of the sentence, introducing an explanation, is thoroughly Johannine; cf. 1 John 1:5, 1 John 1:5:11, 14. “This is the judging,” sc. not the sentence of judgment (κρίμα), but the way in which the judgment is accomplished. It is no arbitrary sentence, but the working out of a moral law. The root of unbelief in Christ is the refusal to turn to His Light, because the man’s conduct will not bear scrutiny. Jn. traces unbelief to moral causes.

“The Light came into the world”; so he has already in the Prologue described the Advent of Christ (1:4, 5, 9); “and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for evil were their works” (see on 1:9). The comparison of wickedness to darkness and of virtue to light is, of course, found elsewhere, e.g. Philo, Quaest. in Gen. ii. 22, and Test. of XII. Patr., Naph. ii. 10, “neither while ye are in darkness can ye do the works of light.” So Job says of the wicked that they “are of them that rebel against the light” (Job 24:13). The image occurs with special frequency in Jn., e.g. 8:12, 12:35, 46, 1 John 1:6, 1 John 1:2:8, 1 John 1:9, 11; that Jesus is τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου (8:12) is one of his central thoughts.

With ἦν γὰρ αὐτῶν πονηρὰ τὰ ἔργα cf. 7:7, where Jesus is represented as saying that the κόσμος hated Him, ὅτι τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ πονηρά ἐστιν. The same phrase appears in 1 John 3:12, of the deeds of Cain. Jn. always takes the darkest view of the world apart from Christ; cf. ὁ κόσμος ὅλος ἐν τῷ πονηρῷ κεῖται (1 John 5:19). Cf. also Colossians 1:21, 2 Timothy 4:18, for τὰ ἔργα τὰ πονηρά.


20. Jn. proceeds to explain the psychology of this shrinking of the world from Christ the Light.

πᾶς γὰρ ὁ φαῦλα πράσσων κτλ., “for every one who practises base things hates the Light.” Both in this passage and at 5:29 (the only two places where Jn. has the adj. φαῦλος or the verb πράσσειν), we have φαῦλα πράσσειν, but�Romans 7:15, Romans 7:19 the verbs cannot be distinguished.

The base liver does not come to the Light, lest his works be reproved. We have ἐλέγχειν again 8:46, 16:8; cf. Ephesians 5:13 τὰ δὲ πάντα ἐλεγχόμενα ὑπὸ τοῦ φωτὸς φανεροῦται.


We should expect μήποτε for ἵνα μή, but μήποτε never occurs in Jn., who employs the constr. ἵνα μή 18 times. Burney points out1 that ἵνα μή corresponds exactly with the Aramaic דְּלָא.

21. א* omits from ὁ δὲ ποιῶν to τὰ ἔργα, because of the homoioteleuton τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ v. 20 and v. 21 (as read in its exemplar, instead of αὐτοῦ τὰ ἔργα).

ὁ δὲ ποιῶν τὴν�1 John 1:6) ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸ φῶς This is a universal saying, not to be confined to those who are already believers in Christ. As Christ Himself said: πᾶς ὁ ὢν ἐκ τῆς�

ὅτι ἐν θεῷ ἐστιν εἰργασμένα. ὅτι may mean “because” or “that.” The latter rendering seems preferable. The honest man (“in whom is no guile,” 1:47) comes to the light that it may be made plain that his deeds have been done ἐν θεῷ, a remarkable expression for which there is no exact parallel; cf. κοπιώσας ἐν κυρίῳ (Romans 16:12). See Psalms 139:23, Psalms 139:24 for the prayer of the righteous man, who does not shrink from the closest scrutiny of his life.


The Evangelist’s Commentary Continued (Vv. 31-36)

31-36. Reasons have been given in the Introduction (p. xxiii) for taking these verses in sequence to vv. 16-21, vv. 22-30 having been displaced from their original position.

The argument of this paragraph is as follows: He that is of the earth can testify only to earthly things (v. 31; cf. v. 12). Christ, who is from heaven, in testifying of heavenly things, testifies to that which He has seen and heard, but His witness is not accepted (v. 32; cf. v. 11). Nevertheless, he who does accept it, agrees that Jesus was the promised Messenger of God (v. 33; cf. v. 17). He speaks the message of God, and thereby shows that He was sent by God (v. 34). He speaks this message in its completeness, for the Spirit is not granted to Him in part only (v. 34); He is the Beloved Son (v. 35; cf. v. 16).

31. א*D fam. 1 a b e ff2 and Syr. cur. om. the second ἐπάνω πάντων ἐστίν at the end of the verse; but ins. אcABLTbΔΘW. Jn. is fond of repeating phrases, with a slight verbal change (see on v. 16).

ὁ ἄνωθεν ἐρχόμενος, i.e. Christ. ἄνωθεν has its usual Johannine significance of desuper, “from above” (but see on 3:3); cf. ἐγὼ ἐκ τῶν ἄνω εἰμί (8:23) and 1 Corinthians 15:47.

ἐπάνω πάντων ἐστίν. This is expressed by Paul in the same way ὁ ὢν ἐπὶ πάντων (Romans 9:5; cf. Ephesians 1:21).

ὁ ὢν ἐκ τῆς γῆς … λαλεῖ. There is a similar thought in 1 John 4:5: αὐτοὶ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου εἰσί· διὰ τοῦτο ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου λαλοῦσιν, the only difference being that κόσμος carries the idea of the moral condition of the world (see on 1:9), while γῆ is the physical “earth” simply. Cf. 2 Ezra 4:21: “Qui super terram inhabitant quae sunt super terram intellegere solummodo possunt, et qui super caelos quae super altitudinem caelorum.” See on 3:12.


ἐκ τῆς γῆς ἐστιν. Jn. is inclined to the constr. εἶναι ἐκ … as indicating origin and affinity; cf. 8:23 and passim. The constr. γεγεννῆσθαι ἐκ has already been discussed (3:5 and 1:13).

For λαλεῖ, see on 3:11.

32. AΓΔΘ read καὶ ὃ ἑώρακεν, but אBDLTbW om. καὶ. In this verse the words of v. 11 are repeated, the evangelist taking them up and amplifying them.

ὃ ἑώρακεν. This is one of the few passages in Jn. where ὁρᾶν in the perf. tense is used of spiritual vision (see also 8:38, 14:7, 15:24, and cf. 1:18).

ὃ … ἤκουσεν, τοῦτο μαρτυρεῖ. It is the constant teaching of Jn. that Jesus proclaimed what He had “heard” from the Father (8:40, 15:15; cf. 12:49). Jesus is the “Faithful Witness,” according to the Apocalypse (Revelation 1:5). Cf. Introd., p. xcii.


καὶ τὴν μαρτυρίαν αὐτοῦ οὐδεὶς λαμβάνει. This is reproduced from v. 11, where see note. In the traditional order of the text, this sentence would be inconsistent with v. 26, which tells of the crowds that flocked to hear Jesus; but it is plain that John the Baptist is not the speaker here (see Introd., p. xxiii).

Jn. hastens in v. 33 to correct the rhetorical οὐδείς, just as he corrects 1:11 by 1:12; cf. also 8:15, 16, 12:44f..

For the position of οὐδείς in the sentence, see on 1:18.

33. ὁ λαβὼν αὐτοῦ τὴν μαρτυρίαν κτλ., i.e. who has accepted as convincing the witness of Christ about eternal life and God’s love; cf. vv. 3-15, upon which all this is commentary.

σφραγίζειν here and at 6:27 (where see note) is the equivalent of “to attest,” the metaphor of sealing being a common one. He who accepts the witness of Jesus thereby attests that Jesus speaks the words of God as His accredited Messenger, and in this attestation virtually testifies to his belief that God is true (ὁ θεὸς�1 John 5:10 puts the same thing in another way, viz. God has testified of His Son, and so he who does not believe this testimony makes God a liar.


Lightfoot (Hor. Hebr. in loc.) quotes the Rabbinical maxim that “the seal of God is truth.”

34. ὃν�

πάντα δέδωκεν ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ. So in 13:3 (where see note) πάντα ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ ὁ πατὴρ εἰς τὰς χεῖρας. It is a favourite thought in Jn., that the Father has given all things to the Incarnate Son; e.g. judgment 5:22, 27, to have life in Himself 5:26, authority 17:2, glory 17:24, His Name 17:11, His commandments 12:49 (cf. 14:31, 17:4), and even His disciples 6:37 (where see note). The parallel in the Synoptists is πάντα μοι παρεδόθη ὑπὸ τιο͂ πατρός μου (Luke 10:22, Matthew 11:27); and there can be little hesitation in accepting the saying that “the Father gave all things” to His Son as a genuine saying of Jesus. “What grace is in the Pauline Epistles, giving is in the Fourth Gospel” (Abbott, Diat. 2742).


36. ὁ πιστεύων εἰς τὸν υἱὸν ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον (see on 6:27, 29). We have had almost the same sentence above, 3:15, where see note, and cf. also 6:47. The present participles πιστεύων …�

ἀπειθέω does not occur again in Jn. It is, strictly, “to be disobedient,” as opposed to πείθομαι, “to allow oneself to be persuaded”; but rather implies a rebellious mind than a series of disobedient acts. Sometimes it expresses unbelief rather than disobedience, as at Acts 14:2. In the present passage there is a variant�Ephesians 5:6: ἔρχεται ἡ ὀργὴ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπὶ τοὺς υἱοὺς τῆς�


It is not always possible to distinguish the two shades of meaning in�

οὐκ ὄψεται ζωήν. Cf. v. 3, οὐ δύναται ἰδεῖν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ, and also 8:51, 52, where “seeing” death is equivalent to “tasting” death. The rebel �1 John 5:12, ὁ μὴ ἔχων τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν ζωὴν οὐκ ἔχει.

ἡ ὀργὴ τοῦ θεοῦ is not mentioned again in Jn., although often in Paul (Romans 1:18, Ephesians 5:6; and cf. Revelation 19:15 etc.). It is a thoroughly Hebraic conception, the phrase being common in the LXX; and John the Baptist spoke of “the wrath to come” (Matthew 3:7, Luke 3:7). The expression does not appear in the Synoptic reports of the words of Jesus, and He may never have used it, preferring to dwell on the fatherly love of God rather than on His hatred of sin. The phrase ἡ ὀργὴ τοῦ θεοῦ has nothing in common with Greek philosophy or religion, but it has its roots in that conception of God as essentially a moral Being, to whom therefore sin is hateful, which is behind all the teaching of Christ.


μένει is the pres. tense, not the future (μενεῖ), as some Latin authorities take it to be. Not only in the world to come, but in this world, the “wrath of God” abides upon him who is continuously rebellious, in will and deed, against the heavenly vision.

The Second Witness of John the Baptist (Vv. 22-30)

22. μετὰ ταῦτα, the phrase with which Jn. is accustomed to introduce new chapters to his story (see Introd., p. cviii). After the ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem at the Passover and the interview with Nicodemus (2:22ff.), He moved with the disciples whom He had gathered round Him (see on 2:2) into the country districts of Judæa, εἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν γῆν (the only occurrence in the N.T. of this descriptive phrase; cf. Mark 1:5), and He stayed there with them, baptizing. Probably the locality was somewhere near the fords in the neighbourhood of Jericho.

διατρίβειν occurs in N.T. elsewhere only in Acts (but see on 11:54). The imperfect tenses διέτριβεν … ἐβάπτιζεν imply that Jesus and His disciples made a stay of some duration in the district. Here, and at 3:26, 4:1, it is said that Jesus baptized people; but the editor’s correction at 4:2 states that Jesus did not baptize in person, that being the work of His disciples. This is the only ascription in the N.T. of a ministry of baptism to Jesus, whether in person or with the aid of others (see on 4:2). But there is no historical improbability about it. He had Himself submitted to baptism at the hands of John, thus (at the least) giving the seal of His approval to the ministry which John was exercising. His first disciples were taken from among the disciples of John. There is no question, at this stage, of Christian baptism, i.e. of baptism as a sacramental rite. That was only to be instituted after His Resurrection (Matthew 28:19); cf. 7:39. The baptism of John was symbolic of a cleansing of the soul (cf. 3:25 below), and making a fresh start in the spiritual life. “Repent ye” was an early message of Jesus (Mark 1:15), as it was the chief message of John Baptist. See further on 4:2.


23. For the constr. ἦν … Ἰω. βαπτίζων, where we would expect ἐβάπτιζεν (as in the preceding verse), see on 1:28. παραγίγνομαι does not occur again in Jn.

John also was carrying on his ministry of baptism in the same neighbourhood, viz. at Aenon.

Αἰνὼν ἐγγὺς τοῦ Σαλείμ. These places cannot be identified with certainty. There is a Salim to the E. of Shechem, and a village called ˒Ainun to the N.E.; but (1) there is no water at ˒Ainun, and Αἰνών was a place of ὕδατα πολλά; (2) ˒Ainun Isa_7 miles from Salim, and this could hardly be described as “near” (cf. 11:18, 19:20, 42); and (3) it is not likely that John the Baptist was labouring among the Samaritans (cf. 4:9). The site assigned by Eusebius and Jerome (and shown to the pilgrim Aetheria in the fourth century) is probably the true site, viz. in the Jordan valley about 7 1/2 miles south of Beisan, the ancient Scythopolis. “Aenon near to Salim” is marked at this point on the mosaic map of Madeba. There is still here “a remarkable group of seven springs, all lying within a radius of a quarter of a mile, which answers well to the description ὕδατα πολλά”1 It is on the W. bank of the Jordan, and this is confirmed by v. 26. Cheyne would read “Jerusalem” for “Salim,” and finds Aenon in ˒Ain Karim, which is near Jerusalem on the W. side.2 But this is merely guess-work.


Those who find allegory in Jn.’s place-names, interpret “Aenon near to Salim” as indicating “fountains near to peace,” the Baptist preparing for the higher purification by Christ the King of peace (Melchi-zedek).1

24. This verse is a parenthetical comment of Jn. (see Introd., p. xxxiv), which indicates the time at which the events happened which he records (see p. cii). The Synoptists tell nothing of this ministry of Jesus in Judæa, and Jn. is careful to remark that it was exercised in the earlier days of His public activity, before John the Baptist had been imprisoned. It is quite in his manner to assume that his readers know of the arrest of John and his martyrdom (cf. Introd., p. xciv). See also on 5:35.

All that has been mentioned in the Fourth Gospel up to this point seems to be precedent to the wonderful ministry in Galilee (Mark 1:14), which culminated in the choice of the Twelve (Mark 3:13) and their subsequent mission (Mark 6:7). Indeed Mk. expressly says that all this was “after John was delivered up” (Mark 1:14). When, therefore, Jn. speaks of the “disciples” who were with Jesus in this early ministry in Judaea, we cannot assume that the “Twelve” are indicated, the presumption being the other way (see on 2:2 above). That episodes like those in c. 3 and the beginning of c. 4 are not recorded by Mk. may be due to the fact that Peter, upon whose reminiscences Mk. has largely based his narrative, was not present; while their appearance in the Fourth Gospel is explicable, if the authority behind it was one of the disciples who witnessed the ministry in Judaea and Samaria. He may have been John the son of Zebedee.


25, 26. ἐγένετο οὖν κτλ. “So there arose a questioning on the part of (ἐκ) John’s disciples with Jews about purifying,” sc. about the purificatory baptisms which Jesus, as well as John, was encouraging.2 The turn of the sentence (ἐκ) shows that it was the Baptist’s disciples who began the dispute; they were puzzled that Jesus, to whom John had pointed as One far superior to himself, should carry on a ministry, outwardly similar to John’s, and thus divert disciples from their own master, who was pre-eminently “the Baptist.” Naturally, they would cross-examine the Jews who flocked to Jesus, ministry of baptism, and would ask them what was its special virtue.

Finally, they came to John with their complaint, addressing him as their Rabbi (see on 1:38): “He who was with thee on the other side of the Jordan (sc. at Bethany or Bethabara; cf. 1:28), to whom thou hast borne witness (1:32), behold (see on 1:29), He (οὗτος, perhaps implying hostility; cf. 6:42) is baptizing and all are coming to Him.” They were jealous and angry that what they counted their master’s prerogative should be invaded.

ζήτησις does not occur again in the Gospels, but we find the word in 1 Timothy 6:4, suggesting meticulous dispute rather than legitimate and profitable inquiry.


The rec. reading Ἰουδαίων (א*Θ fam. 13, the Latin vss., and Syr. cu.) seems preferable to Ἰουδαίου (אcABLNWΓΔ), which the R.V. has adopted. If the dispute were only with an individual Jew, we should expect Ἰουδαίου τινος1

We have had the word καθαρισμός, of ritual or ceremonial purification, at 2:6 above.

27, 28.�

John’s reply to his disciples’ outburst of jealousy was to remind them of a great principle of life: “A man can receive nothing, except it have been given him from heaven.” As Paul says, “What hast thou, that thou didst not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). The same principle is enunciated, in different forms, John 6:65, John 19:11. As to John’s baptism, it became a puzzle to the Jews whether it was “from heaven or of men” (Mark 11:30); John would certainly have claimed that his commission to baptize was “from heaven,” but he could not go beyond its limitations. “Ye yourselves,” he answers, “are my witnesses that I said I am not the Christ (1:20, 23), but that I am sent before (1:15) Him (ἐκείνου. sc. Jesus, whom you know that I acclaimed as the Christ).”


After λαμβάνειν, LΘ fam. 13 add�

29. ὁ ἔχων τὴν νύμφην νυμφίος ἐστίν. This is the only reference in Jn. to the representation of Christ as the Church’s Bridegroom, which has its origin in the mystic phraseology of the O.T. (see on 1:12). Yahweh is described as the jealous husband of Israel (Exodus 34:15, Deuteronomy 31:19, Psalms 73:27), or as betrothed to Israel (Hosea 2:19), and we have the explicit statement, “Thy Maker is thy husband: Yahweh of hosts is His Name” (Isaiah 54:5). The Rabbis held that Moses was the paranymph or “friend of the bridegroom.” In the N.T. Christ is represented as the Bridegroom, and the Church, the spiritual Israel, as the Bride. The image appears in Paul (Ephesians 5:32 and 2 Corinthians 11:2; in the latter passage, Paul regarding himself as the paranymph), and also in the Apocalypse, where the New Jerusalem descends from heaven as a bride adorned for her husband, the Lamb (Revelation 19:7, Revelation 21:2). This doctrine, according to the Synoptists, goes back to the teaching of Jesus Himself. The parables of the Marriage Feast and of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 22:1, Matthew 25:1) imply as much; and, above all, there is the reply of Jesus to the question why His disciples did not practise fasting, while the disciples of John the Baptist did: “Can the sons of the bridechamber fast, while the Bridegroom is with them?” (Mark 2:19). In this saying Jesus claims to be the mystical Bridegroom Himself, and thus answers those who would put Him on a level with John the Baptist.


The answer of John in the present passage is similar. His disciples complain because his work is being invaded by Jesus; but he reminds them that while Jesus is the νυμφίος, who naturally has the Bride for His own, he, John, is only ὁ φίλος τοῦ νυμφίου, the Bridegroom’s friend, the paranymph, whose office it was to bring the Bride and the Bridegroom together. That being done, his task is accomplished.

The shoshben, or παρανύμφιος, was a well-recognised personage in Judæa (not in Galilee, and there is no mention of him in the account of the marriage at Cana). He stands expectant (ὀ ἐστηκώς; cf. 12:29), and rejoices when he hears the voice of the bridegroom in converse with his bride (for ἡ φωνὴ τοῦ νυμφίου, cf. Jeremiah 7:34, Jeremiah 16:9, Jeremiah 18:23).

χαρᾷ χαίρει does not occur again in Jn., but is found Isaiah 66:10, 1 Thessalonians 3:9. It is not necessarily a Hebraism; cf. Plato, Sympos. 195 B,; φεύγων φυγῇ τὸ γῆρας


ἡ χαρὰ ἡ ἐμὴ πεπλήρωται. Cf. for the same phrase, 15:11.

ἐμός is a favourite possessive pronoun with Jn., occurring 40 times, as against one appearance in the Apocalypse (Revelation 2:20). Cf. Introd., p. lxvi.

30. ἐκεῖνον δεῖ αὐξάνειν κτλ. Again (see on 3:14) we have δεῖ, “it has to be.” The herald’s task is over when He who has been proclaimed is come. It was divinely ordered that John the Baptist’s ministry should recede into the background, while that of Jesus drew “all men” (v. 26) more and more. “He must increase, while I must decrease,” is the final message of the Baptist. So Jesus had said, “The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).










1 See Introd., p. xxx.

N Purpureus Petropolitanus (ε 19). Dispersed through the libraries of Leningrad, Patmos, Rome, Vienna, and British Museum. vi. Some pages are missing. Edited by H. S. Cronin in Cambridge Texts and Studies (1899).

אԠSinaiticus (δ 2). Leningrad. iv.

A Alexandrinus (δ 4). British Museum. v. Cc. 6:50-8:52 are missing.

B Vaticanus (δ 1). Rome. Cent. iv.

L Regius (ε 56). Paris. viii. Cc. 15:2-20 21:15-25 are missing.

T Muralt (ε 31). Leningrad. vi. Contains cc. 1:25-42 Song of Solomon 1:2:Song of Solomon 1:9-14 4:34-50.


W Freer (ε 014). Washington. iv-vi. Discovered in Egypt in 1906. The Gospels are in the order Mt., Jn., Lk., Mk. Collation in The Washington MS. of the Four Gospels, by H. A. Sanders (1912).

Θ̠Koridethi (ε 050). Tiflis. vii-ix. Discovered at Koridethi, in Russian territory, and edited by Beermann & Gregory (Leipzig, 1913). The text is akin to that of fam. 13, fam. 1, and the cursives 28, 565, 700 See Lake and Blake in Harvard Theol. Review (July 1923) and Streeter, The Four Gospels. Cf. also J.T.S. Oct. 1915, April and July 1925.

2 see, for a fuller discussion, Introd., p. cxi.

1 Cf. also the use of οἴδαμεν in 20:2.

Δ̠Sangallensis (ε 76). St. Gall. ix-x. Græco-Latin.

1 This view is taken by Bacon, Fourth Gospel, pp. 382, 520.

2 See Abbott, Diat. 2573.

1 Cf. also Dalman, Words of Jesus, Eng. Tr., 108.

2 Cf. Tertullian, de bapt. 12: “nisi natus ex aqua quis erit, non habet uitam.”

1 Many examples of this are given by Ezra Abbot, Fourth Gospel, p. 33.

Γ̠(ε 70) Oxford and Leningrad. ix-x. Contains Song of Solomon 1:1-13 8:3-15:24 19:6 to end.


2 See Kirsopp Lake, Influence of Textual Criticism on Exegesis of N.T. (1904), p. 18, and Wendt’s St. John’s Gospel, p. 120.

1 Cf. Introd., p. clxv.

1 So, too, the early Armenian version; see J.T.S., 1924, p. 237.

2 The words following ὑπάγει in Ignatius are καὶ τὰ κρυπτὰ ἐλέγχει, and Schmiedel (E.B. 1830) argues that Ignatius is dependent, not on Jn., but on a Philonic interpretation of Genesis 16:8. Philo (de Prof. 37) comments on the story of Hagar thus: “Conviction (ό ἔλεγχος) Speaking to the soul, says to her πόθεν ἔρχῃ καὶ ποῦ πορεύῃ; “But this is not so verbally like the Ignatius passage as John 3:8 is, and there is no similarity whatever in thought between Ignatius and Philo here.

3 Charles (Revelation, p. cxl.) observes that this distinction is not observed in the Apocalypse. Cf. Blass, Gram., p. 103, and Abbott, Diat. 1614. The usage of�Acts 9:7, Acts 22:9 seems to be the reverse, viz., with φωνήν it means “to hear the articulate words,” but with φωνῆς, to hear a sound only.


Diat. E. A. Abbott’s Diatessarica, including his Johannine Vocabulary and Johannine Grammar, Parts I.-X. (1900-1915).

1 Quoted by Schurer from Jer. Taanith, ii. 1.

2 See my article, “Assumption and Ascension,” ERE ii. 151.

3 A curious passage in Irenæus (Hær. iv. xii. 4) speaks of the Word of God being in the habit of ascending and descending for the welfare of men (“ab initio assuetus Verbum Dei ascendere et descendere”) with allusion to Exodus 3:7, Exodus 3:8.


1 See Hort, Select Readings, in loc.

2 Cf. Introd, p. cxxii.

1 Diat. 2998 (23)e.

2 J.T.S., July 1919, P. 337.

1 See a discussion of the predestinarian teaching of Jn. in West. cott, Epistles of St. John, p. 91.

1 See Dalman, Words of Jesus, Eng. Tr., p. 157, for illustrations from the later Jewish literature.

C Ephræmi (δ 3). Paris. v. Palimpsest. Contains considerable fragments of Jn.

1 Cf. Introd, p. cxvi.

1 Cf. Introd., p. lxxvi.

2 Ibid. p. clvi.

1 The uncial fragment Tw has the unique reading ὅτι οὐ μὴ πεπίστευκεν, which indicates that the scribe felt the difficulty.

1 Aramaic Origin, etc., p, l00.

D Bezæ (δ 5). Cambridge. v-vi. Græco-Latin. Cc. 18:14-20:13 are missing in the Greek text, and the gap has been filled by a ninth-century scribe (Dsupp).

1 Vajikra, R. 15., quoted by Wetstein.

2 See Abbott, Diat. 2324, 2714. Dr. L. C. Purser compares Soph, Phil. 563 ἐκ βίας, violently, and El. 279 ἐκ δόλου, treacherously.

1 Sir C. W. Wilson in Smith’s D.B.2, s.v. “Aenon.”

2 See E.B., s.v. “John the Baptist.”

1 So Abbott, E.B., 1796.

2 Abbott (Diat. x.iii. 332) thinks that the dispute must have had reference to the association of fasting with baptism.

1 Bentley suggested that μετὰ Ἰουδαίον was a corruption of μετὰ τῶν Ἰησοῦ, a violent and unnecessary emendation, although Loisy seems to view it with favour.

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Bibliographical Information
Driver, S.A., Plummer, A.A., Briggs, C.A. "Commentary on John 3". International Critical Commentary NT. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/icc/john-3.html. 1896-1924.