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Bible Commentaries

Vincent's Word Studies
John 3



Other Authors
Verse 1

A man

With a reference to the last word of the previous chapter. The interview with Nicodemus is, apart from the important truth which it embodies, an illustration of Christ's knowledge of what was in man. Godet truthfully observes that John reminds us by the word ἄνθρωπος (man ), that Nicodemus was a specimen of the race which Jesus knew so well.

Named Nicodemus

Literally, Nicodemus, the name unto him. The name means conqueror of the people ( νὶκη , victory, and δῆμος , people ), though some give it a Hebrew derivation meaning innocent blood.

A ruler

A member of the Sanhedrim.

Verse 2

To Jesus

The best texts substitute πρὸς αὐτὸν , to him.

By night

Through timidity, fearing to compromise his dignity, and possibly his safety. The fact is noticed again, John 19:39(see on John 7:50). By night, “when Jewish superstition would keep men at home.” He could reach Jesus' apartment without being observed by the other inmates of the house, for an outside stair led to the upper room.


The teacher of Israel (John 3:10) addresses Jesus by the title applied by his own disciples to himself - my master (see on John 1:38). “We may be sure that a member of the sect that carefully scrutinized the Baptist's credentials (John 1:19-24) would not lightly address Jesus by this title of honor, or acknowledge Him as teacher” (Milligan and Moulton).

We know ( οἴδαμεν )

Assured conviction based on Jesus' miracles (see on John 2:24).

Thou art a teacher

According to the Greek order, that thou art come from God as teacher.

From God

These words stand first in the sentence as emphatic. It is from God that thou hast come.

Verse 3

Answered and said

See on John 2:18.

Verily, verily

See on John 1:51.

Be born again ( γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See ( ἰδεῖν )

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

Kingdom of God

See on Luke 6:20.

Verse 4

When he is old ( γέρων ὤν )

Literally, being an old man.

Can he ( μὴ δύναται )

The interrogative particle anticipates a negative answer. Surely he cannot.

Second time

Nicodemus looks at the subject merely from the physical side. His second time is not the same as Jesus' anew. As Godet remarks, “he does not understand the difference between a second beginning and a different beginning.”

Verse 5

Born of water and the Spirit

The exposition of this much controverted passage does not fall within the scope of this work. We may observe,

1. That Jesus here lays down the preliminary conditions of entrance into His kingdom, expanding and explaining His statement in John 3:3.

2. That this condition is here stated as complex, including two distinct factors, water and the Spirit.

3. That the former of these two factors is not to be merged in the latter; that the spiritual element is not to exclude or obliterate the external and ritual element. We are not to understand with Calvin, the Holy Spirit as the purifying water in the spiritual sense: “water which is the Spirit.”

4. That water points definitely to the rite of baptism, and that with a twofold reference - to the past and to the future. Water naturally suggested to Nicodemus the baptism of John, which was then awakening such profound and general interest; and, with this, the symbolical purifications of the Jews, and the Old Testament use of washing as the figure of purifying from sin (Psalm 2:2, Psalm 2:7; Ezekiel 36:25; Zechariah 13:1). Jesus' words opened to Nicodemus a new and more spiritual significance in both the ceremonial purifications and the baptism of John which the Pharisees had rejected (Luke 7:30). John's rite had a real and legitimate relation to the kingdom of God which Nicodemus must accept.

5. That while Jesus asserted the obligation of the outward rite, He asserted likewise, as its necessary complement, the presence and creating and informing energy of the Spirit with which John had promised that the coming one should baptize. That as John's baptism had been unto repentance, for the remission of sins, so the new life must include the real no less than the symbolic cleansing of the old, sinful life, and the infusion by the Spirit of a new and divine principle of life. Thus Jesus' words included a prophetic reference to the complete ideal of Christian baptism - “the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5; Ephesians 5:26); according to which the two factors are inseparably blended (not the one swallowed up by the other), and the new life is inaugurated both symbolically in the baptism with water, and actually in the renewing by the Holy Spirit, yet so as that the rite, through its association with the Spirit's energy, is more than a mere symbol: is a veritable vehicle of grace to the recipient, and acquires a substantial part in the inauguration of the new life. Baptism, considered merely as a rite, and apart from the operation of the Spirit, does not and cannot impart the new life. Without the Spirit it is a lie. It is a truthful sign only as the sign of an inward and spiritual grace.

6. That the ideal of the new life presented in our Lord's words, includes the relation of the regenerated man to an organization. The object of the new birth is declared to be that a man may see and enter into the kingdom of God. But the kingdom of God is an economy. It includes and implies the organized Christian community. This is one of the facts which, with its accompanying obligation, is revealed to the new vision of the new man. He sees not only God, but the kingdom of God; God as King of an organized citizenship; God as the Father of the family of mankind; obligation to God implying obligation to the neighbor; obligation to Christ implying obligation to the church, of which He is the head, “which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all things with all things” (Ephesians 1:23). Through water alone, the mere external rite of baptism, a man may pass into the outward fellowship of the visible church without seeing or entering the kingdom of God. Through water and the Spirit, he passes indeed into the outward fellowship, but through that into the vision and fellowship of the kingdom of God.

Enter into

This more than see (John 3:3). It is to become partaker of; to go in and possess, as the Israelites did Canaan.

Verse 6

That which is born ( τὸ γεγεννηένον )

Strictly, that which hath been born, and consequently is now before us as born. The aorist tense (John 3:3, John 3:4, John 3:5, John 3:7), marks the fact of birth; the perfect (as here), the state of that which has been born (see on 1 John 5:18, where both tenses occur); the neuter, that which, states the principle in the abstract. Compare John 3:8, where the statement is personal: everyone that is born. Compare 1 John 5:4, and 1 John 5:1, 1 John 5:18.

Of the flesh ( ἐκ τῆς σαρκὸς )

See on John 3:14. John uses the word σάρξ generally, to express humanity under the conditions of this life (John 1:14; 1 John 4:2, 1 John 4:3, 1 John 4:7; 2 John 1:7), with sometimes a more definite hint at the sinful and fallible nature of humanity (1 John 2:16; John 8:15). Twice, as opposed to πνεῦμα , Spirit (John 3:6; John 6:63).

Of the Spirit ( ἐκ τοῦ πνευματος )

The Holy Spirit of God, or the principle of life which He imparts. The difference is slight, for the two ideas imply each other; but the latter perhaps is better here, because a little more abstract, and so contrasted with the flesh. Spirit and flesh are the distinguishing principles, the one of the heavenly, the other of the earthly economy.

Verse 7

Unto thee - ye must

Note the change from the singular to the plural pronoun. In his address to Nicodemus (thee ) the Lord had spoken also to those whom Nicodemus represented, and whom he had included when he said “we know” (John 3:2). His error was the error of his class.

Verse 8

The wind ( τὸ πνεῦμα )

Some hold by the translation spirit, as Wyc., the spirit breatheth where it will. In Hebrew the words spirit and wind are identical. Πνεῦμα is from πνέω tobreathe or blow, the verb used in this verse (bloweth ), and everywhere in the New Testament of the blowing of the wind (Matthew 7:25, Matthew 7:27; Luke 12:55; John 6:18). It frequently occurs in the classics in the sense of wind. Thus Aristophanes, τὸ πνεῦμ ' ἔλαττον γίγνεται , the wind is dying away (“Knights,” 441), also in the New Testament, Hebrews 1:7, where the proper translation is, “who maketh His angels winds,” quoted from 1Kings href="/desk/?q=1ki+18:45&sr=1">1 Kings 18:45; 1 Kings 19:11; 2 Kings 3:17; Job 1:19. In the New Testament, in the sense of breath, 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 11:11. The usual rendering, wind, is confirmed here by the use of the kindred verb πνεῖ , bloweth, and by φωνὴν , sound, voice. Tholuck thinks that the figure may have been suggested to Jesus by the sound of the night-wind sweeping through the narrow street.

Where it listeth ( ὅπου θέλει )

On the verb θέλω , to will or determine, see on Matthew 1:19. Listeth is old English for pleasure or willeth, from the Anglo-Saxon lust, meaning pleasure. Chaucer has the forms leste, lust, and list.

“Strong was the wyn, and wel to drynke us leste (pleased ).”

Canterbury Tales,” 752.

“Love if thee lust.”

Canterbury Tales,” 1185.

“She walketh up and down wher as hire list (wherever she pleases ).”

Canterbury Tales,” 1054.

“A wretch by fear, not force, like Hannibal,

Drives back our troops, and conquers as she lists.”

Shakespeare, “Henry VI.,” Pt. I., i., v., 22.

Hence listless is devoid of desire. The statement of Jesus is not meant to be scientifically precise, but is rather thrown into a poetic mold, akin to the familiar expression “free as the wind.” Compare 1 Corinthians 12:11; and for the more prosaic description of the course of the wind, see Ecclesiastes 1:6.

Sound ( φωνὴν )

Rev., voice. Used both of articulate and inarticulate utterances, as of the words from heaven at Jesus' baptism and transfiguration (Matthew 3:17; 2 Peter 1:17, 2 Peter 1:18); of the trumpet (Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 14:8), and of inanimate things in general (1 Corinthians 14:17). John the Baptist calls himself φωνή , a voice, and the word is used of the wind, as here, in Acts 2:6. Of thunder, often in the Revelation (Revelation 6:1; Revelation 14:2, etc.).

Canst not tell ( οὐκ οἶδας )

Better, as Rev., knowest not. Socrates, (Xenophon's “Memorabilia”), says, “The instruments of the deities you will likewise find imperceptible; for the thunder-bolt, for instance, though it is plain that it is sent from above, and works its will with everything with which it comes in contact, is yet never seen either approaching, or striking, or retreating; the winds, too, are themselves invisible, though their effects are evident to us, and we perceive their course” (iv. 3,14). Compare Ecclesiastes 11:5.


So the subject of the Spirit's invisible influence gives visible evidence of its power.

Verse 9

These things

Such as the new birth.

Be ( γενέσθαι )

Literally, come to pass.

Verse 10

Answered and said

See on John 2:18.

Art thou a master of Israel ( σὺ εἶ ὁ διδάσκαλος τοῦ Ισραὴλ )

The σὺ , thou, is emphatic. A master is more correctly rendered by Rev., the teacher. Not ironical, but the article marks Nicodemus' official relation to the people, and gives additional force to the contrast in the following words. Similarly Plato: “Will you ( σὺ , emphatic), O professor of true virtue, pretend that you are justified in this?” (“Crito,” 51). On “Israel,” see on John 1:47. The word occurs four times in John's Gospel; here, John 1:31, John 1:47, John 1:49.

Knowest not ( οὐ γινώσκεις )

See on John 2:24. Nicodemus is not reproved for the want of previous knowledge, but for the want of perception or understanding when these truths are expounded to him. Rev., better, understandest not.

Verse 11

We speak - we know - we have seen

After the use of the singular number in John 3:3, John 3:5, John 3:7, John 3:12, the plural here is noteworthy. It is not merely rhetorical - “a plural of majesty” - but is explained by John 3:8, “every one that is born of the Spirit.” The new birth imparts a new vision. The man who is born of the Spirit hath eternal life (John 3:36); and life eternal is to know God and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent (John 17:3). “Ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know ( οἴδατε ) all things” (1 John 2:20). He who is born of water and of the Spirit sees the kingdom of God. This we therefore includes, with Jesus, all who are truly born anew of the Spirit. Jesus meets the we know of Nicodemus (John 3:2), referring to the class to which he belonged, with another we know, referring to another class, of which He was the head and representative. We know ( οἴδαμεν ), absolutely. See on John 2:24.

Testify ( μαρτυροῦμεν )

Rev., better, bear witness of. See on John 1:7.

Verse 12

Have told ( εἶπον )

Rendering the aorist more strictly, I told.

Earthly things ( τὰ ἐπίγεια )

Compounded of ἐπί , upon, and γῆ , earth. In Colossians 3:2, the adjective appears in its analyzed form, τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς , things on the earth. It is in this literal sense it is to be taken here; not things of earthly nature, but things whose proper place is on earth. Not worldly affairs, nor things sinful, but, on the contrary, “those facts and phenomena of the higher life as a class, which have their seat and manifestation on earth; which belong in their realization to our present existence; which are seen in their consequences, like the issues of birth; which are sensible in their effects, like the action of the wind; which are a beginning and a prophecy, and not a fulfillment” (Westcott). The earthly things would therefore include the phenomena of the new birth.

Heavenly things ( τὰ ἐπουράνια )

Compounded with ἐπί , upon or in, and οὐρανός , heaven. Not holy things as compared with sinful, nor spiritual things as compared with temporal; but things which are in heaven, mysteries of redemption, having their seat in the divine will, realized in the world through the work and death of Jesus Christ and the faith of mankind (John 5:14-16). Thus it is said (John 3:13) that the Son of man who is in heaven came down out of heaven, and in John 3:31, John 3:32that He that cometh out of heaven beareth witness (on earth) of what He has seen and heard; and that, being sent from God, He speaketh the words of God (John 3:34).

It has been urged against the genuineness of the fourth Gospel that the lofty and mystical language which is there ascribed to Jesus is inconsistent with the synoptical reports of His words. That if the one represents truthfully His style of speaking, the other must misrepresent it. Godet's words on this point are worth quoting: “It would be truly curious that the first who should have pointed out that contrast should be the Evangelist himself against whose narrative it has been brought forward as a ground of objection. The author of the fourth Gospel puts these words (John 3:12) into the mouth of Jesus. He there declares that He came down from heaven to bring this divine message to the world. The author of the fourth Gospel was then clearly aware of two ways of teaching adopted by Jesus; the one the usual, in which he explained earthly things, evidently always in their relation to God and His kingdom; the other, which contrasted in many respects with the first, and which Jesus employed only exceptionally, in which He spoke directly, and as a witness, of God and the things of God, always naturally in connection with the fate of mankind. The instructions of the first kind had a more simple, more practical, more varied character. They referred to the different situations of life; it was the exposition of the true moral relations of men to each other, and of men to God … . But in that way Jesus could not attain to the final aim which He sought, the full revelation of the divine mystery, of the plan of salvation. Since His baptism Jesus had heaven constantly open before Him; the decree of salvation was disclosed to Him; He had, in particular, heard these words: 'Thou art my well beloved Son;' He reposed on the Father's bosom, and He could descend and redescend without ceasing into the depths of the Father's fathomless love, of which He felt the vivifying power; and when He came, at certain exceptional moments, to speak of that divine relationship, and to give scope to that fullness of life with which it supplied Him, His language took a peculiar, solemn, mystical, one might even say a heavenly tone; for they were heavenly things which He then revealed. Now such is precisely the character of His language in the fourth Gospel.” Compare Luke 10:18, sqq., where Jesus' words take on a character similar to that of His utterances in John.

Verse 13

And ( καὶ )

Note the simple connective particle, with nothing to indicate the logical sequence of the thought.

Hath ascended

Equivalent to hath been in. Jesus says that no one has been in heaven except the Son of man who came down out of heaven; because no man could be in heaven without having ascended thither.

Which is in heaven

Many authorities omit.

Verse 14

Must ( δεῖ )

Must signifies the eternal necessity in the divine counsels. Compare Luke 24:26, Luke 24:46; Matthew 26:54; Mark 8:31; John 12:34.

Lifted up ( ὑψωθῆναι )

The following are the uses of the word in the New Testament: The exaltation of pride (Matthew 11:23; Luke 10:15; Luke 14:11). The raising of the humble (Luke 1:52; James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6). The exaltation of Christ in glory (Acts 2:33; Acts 5:31). The uplifting on the cross (John 3:14; John 8:28; John 12:32, John 12:34). The reference here is to the crucifixion, but beyond that, to the glorification of Christ. It is characteristic of John to blend the two ideas of Christ's passion and glory (John 8:28; John 12:32). Thus, when Judas went out to betray him, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified” (John 13:31). Hence the believer overcomes the world through faith in Him who came not by water only, but by water and blood (1 John 5:4-6).

Verse 15

Believeth in Him ( πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν )

The best texts read ἐν αὐτῷ , construing with have eternal life, and rendering may in Him have eternal life. So Rev.

Should not perish, but

The best texts omit.

Have eternal life

A characteristic phrase of John for live forever. See John 3:16, John 3:36; John 5:24; John 6:40, John 6:47, John 6:54; 1 John 3:15; 1 John 5:12.

The interview with Nicodemus closes with John 3:15; and the succeeding words are John's. This appears from the following facts: 1. The past tenses loved and gave, in John 3:16, better suit the later point of view from which John writes, after the atoning death of Christ was an accomplished historic fact, than the drift of the present discourse of Jesus before the full revelation of that work. 2. It is in John's manner to throw in explanatory comments of his own (John 1:16-18; John 12:37-41), and to do so abruptly. See John 1:15, John 1:16, and on and, John 1:16. 3. John 3:19is in the same line of thought with John 1:9-11in the Prologue; and the tone of that verse is historic, carrying the sense of past rejection, as loved darkness; were evil. 4. The phrase believe on the name is not used elsewhere by our Lord, but by John (John 1:12; John 2:23; 1 John 5:13). 5. The phrase only-begotten son is not elsewhere used by Jesus of himself, but in every case by the Evangelist (John 1:14, John 1:18; 1 John 4:9). 6. The phrase to do truth (John 3:21) occurs elsewhere only in 1 John 1:6.

Verse 16

The world ( κόσμον )

See on John 1:9.


Rather than sent; emphasizing the idea of sacrifice.

Only-begotten Son

See on John 1:14.


See on John 3:15.

This attitude of God toward the world is in suggestive contrast with that in which the gods of paganism are represented.

Thus Juno says to Vulcan:

“Dear son, refrain: it is not well that thus

A God should suffer for the sake of men.”

Iliad,” xxi., 379, 380.

And Apollo to Neptune:

“Thou would'st not deem me wise, should I contend

With thee, O Neptune, for the sake of men,

Who flourish like the forest-leaves awhile,

And feed upon the fruits of earth, and then

Decay and perish. Let us quit the field,

And leave the combat to the warring hosts.”

Iliad,” xxi., 461, 467.

Man has no assurance of forgiveness even when he offers the sacrifices in which the gods especially delight. “Man's sin and the divine punishment therefore are certain; forgiveness is uncertain, dependent upon the arbitrary caprice of the gods. Human life is a life without the certainty of grace” (Nagelsbach, “Homerische Theologie”). Mr. Gladstone observes: “No Homeric deity ever will be found to make a personal sacrifice on behalf of a human client” (“Homer and the Homeric Age,” ii., 372).

Verse 17

Sent ( ἀπέστειλεν )

See on John 1:6. Sent rather than gave (John 3:16), because the idea of sacrifice is here merged in that of authoritative commission.

His Son

The best texts read τὸν , the, for αὐτοῦ , his.

Condemn ( κρίνῃ )

Better, as Rev., judge. Condemn is κατακρίνω , not used by John (Matthew 20:18; Mark 10:33, etc.). The verb κρίνω means, originally, to separate. So Homer, of Ceres separating the grain from the chaff (“Iliad,” v. 501). Thence, to distinguish, to pick out, to be of opinion, to judge. See on Hypocrite, Matthew 23:13.


The threefold repetition of the word has a certain solemnity. Compare John 1:10; John 15:19.

Verse 18

Is condemned already ( ἤδη κέκριται )

Rev., more correctly, hath been judged already. Unbelief, in separating from Christ, implies judgment. He has been judged in virtue of his unbelief.

Verse 19


That is, herein consists the judgment. The prefacing a statement with this is, and then defining the statement by ὅτι or ἵνα , that, is characteristic of John. See John 15:12; John 17:3; 1 John 1:5; 1 John 5:11, 1 John 5:14; 3 John 1:6.

Light ( τὸ φῶς )

Rev., correctly, the light. See John 1:4, John 1:9.

Men ( οἱ ἄνθρωποι )

Literally, the men. Regarded as a class.

Darkness ( τὸ σκότος )

See on John 1:5. Rev., correctly, the darkness. John employs this word only here and 1 John 1:6. His usual term is σκοτία (John 1:5; John 8:12; 1 John 1:5, etc.), more commonly describing a state of darkness, than darkness as opposed to light.

Were ( ἦν )

Habitually. The imperfect tense marking continuation.

Evil ( πονηρὰ )

Actively evil. See on Mark 7:22; see on Luke 3:19.

Verse 20

Doeth ( πράσσων )

The present participle, indicating habit and general tendency.

Evil ( φαῦλα )

Rev., ill. A different word from that in the previous verse. Originally, light, paltry, trivial, and so worthless. Evil, therefore, considered on the side of worthlessness. See on James 3:16.

Lest his works should be reproved ( ἵνα μὴ ἐλεγχθῇ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ ).

Rather, in order that his works may not be reproved. Ελέγχω , rendered reprove, has several phases of meaning. In earlier classical Greek it signifies to disgrace or put to shame. Thus Ulysses, having succeeded in the trial of the bow, says to Telemachus, “the stranger who sits in thy halls disgraces ( ἐλέγχει ) thee not” (“Odyssey, xxi., 424). Then, to cross-examine or question, for the purpose of convincing, convicting, or refuting; to censure, accuse. So Herodotus: “In his reply Alexander became confused, and diverged from the truth, whereon the slaves interposed, confuted his statements ( ἤλεγχον , cross-questioned and caught him in falsehood), and told the whole history of the crime” (i., 115). The messenger in the “Antigone” of Sophocles, describing the consternation of the watchmen at finding Polynices' body buried, says: “Evil words were bandied among them, guard accusing ( ἐλέγχων ) guard” (260). Of arguments, to bring to the proof; prove; prove by a chain of reasoning. It occurs in Pindar in the general sense of to conquer or surpass. “Having descended into the naked race they surpassed ( ἤλεγξαν ) the Grecian band in speed (“Pythia,” xi., 75).

In the New Testament it is found in the sense of reprove (Luke 3:19; 1 Timothy 5:20, etc.). Convince of crime or fault (1 Corinthians 14:24; James 2:9). To bring to light or expose by conviction (James 5:20; Ephesians 5:11, Ephesians 5:13; John 8:46; see on that passage). So of the exposure of false teachers, and their refutation (Titus 1:9, Titus 1:13; Titus 2:15). To test and expose with a view to correction, and so, nearly equivalent to chasten (Hebrews 12:5). The different meanings unite in the word convict. Conviction is the result of examination, testing, argument. The test exposes and demonstrates the error, and refutes it, thus convincing, convicting, and rebuking the subject of it. This conviction issues in chastening, by which the error is corrected and the erring one purified. If the conviction is rejected, it carries with it condemnation and punishment. The man is thus convicted of sin, of right, and of judgment (John 16:8). In this passage the evil-doer is represented as avoiding the light which tests, that light which is the offspring of love (Revelation 3:19) and the consequent exposure of his error. Compare Ephesians 5:13; John 1:9-11. This idea of loving darkness rather than light is graphically treated in Job href="/desk/?q=job+24:13-17&sr=1">Job 24:13-17.

Verse 21

Doeth the truth ( ποιῶν τὴν ἀλήθειαν )

The phrase occurs only here and in 1 John 1:6. Note the contrasted phrase, doeth evil (John 3:20). There the plural is used: doeth evil things; evil being represented by a number of bad works. Here the singular, the truth, or truth; truth being regarded as one, and “including in a supreme unity all right deeds.” There is also to be noted the different words for doing in these two verses: doeth evil ( πράσσων ); doeth truth ( ποιῶν ). The latter verb contemplates the object and end of action; the former the means, with the idea of continuity and repetition. Πράσσων is the practice, while ποιῶν may be the doing once for all. Thus ποιεῖν is to conclude a peace: πράσσειν , to negotiate a peace. So Demosthenes: “He will do ( πράξει ) these things, and will accomplish them ( ποιήσει ).” In the New Testament a tendency is observable to use ποιεῖν in a good sense, and πράσσωιν in an evil sense. Compare the kindred word πρᾶξις , deed or work, which occurs six times, and in four out of the six of evil doing (Matthew 16:27; Luke 23:51; Acts 19:18; Romans 8:13; Romans 12:14; Colossians 3:9). With this passage compare especially John 5:29, where the two verbs are used with the two nouns as here. Also, Romans 7:15, Romans 7:19. Bengel says: “Evil is restless: it is busier than truth.” In Romans 1:32; Romans 2:3, both verbs are used of doing evil, but still with a distinction in that πράσσω is the more comprehensive term, designating the pursuit of evil as the aim of the activity.

Verse 21

Doeth the truth ( ποιῶν τὴν ἀλήθειαν )

The phrase occurs only here and in 1 John 1:6. Note the contrasted phrase, doeth evil (John 3:20). There the plural is used: doeth evil things; evil being represented by a number of bad works. Here the singular, the truth, or truth; truth being regarded as one, and “including in a supreme unity all right deeds.” There is also to be noted the different words for doing in these two verses: doeth evil ( πράσσων ); doeth truth ( ποιῶν ). The latter verb contemplates the object and end of action; the former the means, with the idea of continuity and repetition. Πράσσων is the practice, while ποιῶν may be the doing once for all. Thus ποιεῖν is to conclude a peace: πράσσειν , to negotiate a peace. So Demosthenes: “He will do ( πράξει ) these things, and will accomplish them ( ποιήσει ).” In the New Testament a tendency is observable to use ποιεῖν in a good sense, and πράσσωιν in an evil sense. Compare the kindred word πρᾶξις , deed or work, which occurs six times, and in four out of the six of evil doing (Matthew 16:27; Luke 23:51; Acts 19:18; Romans 8:13; Romans 12:14; Colossians 3:9). With this passage compare especially John 5:29, where the two verbs are used with the two nouns as here. Also, Romans 7:15, Romans 7:19. Bengel says: “Evil is restless: it is busier than truth.” In Romans 1:32; Romans 2:3, both verbs are used of doing evil, but still with a distinction in that πράσσω is the more comprehensive term, designating the pursuit of evil as the aim of the activity.

Verse 22

The land of Judaea ( τὴν Ἱουδαίαν γῆν )

Literally, the Judaean land. The phrase occurs only here in the New Testament.

Tarried ( διέτριβεν )

The verb originally means to rub, hence to wear away, consume; and so of spending or passing time.

Baptized ( ἐβάπτιζεν )

The imperfect tense agrees with the idea of tarrying. He continued baptizing during His stay.

Verse 23

Was baptizing ( ἦν βαπτίζων )

The substantive verb with the participle also indicating continuous or habitual action; was engaged in baptizing.

Aenon, near to Salim

The situation is a matter of conjecture. The word, Aenon is probably akin to the Hebrew ayin an eye, a spring. See on James 3:11.

Much water ( ὕδατα πολλὰ )

Literally, many waters. Probably referring to a number of pools or springs.

Came - were baptized

Imperfects. They kept coming.

Verse 24

Prison ( τὴν φυλακὴν )

See on Acts 5:18, Acts 5:21.

Verse 25

Then ( οὖν )

Not a particle of time but of consequence; therefore, because of both Jesus and John baptizing.

Question ( ζήτησις )

Rev., more correctly, questioning. Question would be ζήτημα , always in the sense of a question in debate. The word here represents the process of inquiry.

Between ( ἐκ )

Rev., correctly, on the part of. Literally, proceeding from. The rendering of the A.V. does not show with which party the discussion originated. The Greek distinctly states that the question was raised by the disciples of the Baptist.

The Jews

The best texts read Ἱουδαίου , with a Jew. Possibly one who asserted that John's baptism might now be dispensed with.


Probably not about the familiar ceremonial purifications, but as to whether the baptism of Jesus or of John had the greater purifying power.

Verse 26

Behold ( ἴδε )

Used by both Matthew and Mark, not by Luke, but very frequently by John.

Baptizeth - come

The present would be better rendered by is baptizing, are coming.

Verse 27


Answering to given.

Be given ( ᾖ δεδομένον )

Rev., more correctly, have been given.

From heaven

Literally, out of heaven ( ἐκ ).

Verse 29

The bride

A common figure in the Old testament prophecies, of the relation between Jehovah and His people (Hosea href="/desk/?q=ho+2:19&sr=1">Hosea 2:19; Malachi 2:11). See also on Matthew 1:21, concerning Hosea.

Friend of the bridegroom

Or groomsman. The term is appropriate to Judaea, the groomsmen not being customary in Galilee. See Matthew 9:15, where the phrase children of the bridechamber is used. (See on Mark 2:19). In Judaea there were two groomsmen, one for the bridegroom, the other for his bride. Before marriage they acted as intermediaries between the couple; at the wedding they offered gifts, waited upon the bride and bridegroom, and attended them to the bridal chamber. It was the duty of the friend of the bridegroom to present him to his bride, after marriage to maintain proper terms between the parties, and especially to defend the bride's good fame. The Rabbinical writings speak of Moses as the friend of the bridegroom who leads out the bride to meet Jehovah at Sinai (Exodus 19:17); and describe Michael and Gabriel as acting as the friends of the bridegroom to our first parents, when the Almighty himself took the cup of blessing and spoke the benediction. The Baptist represents himself as standing in the same relation to Jesus.

Rejoiceth greatly ( χαρᾷ χαίρει )

Literally, rejoiceth with joy. A Hebrew idiom. See on Luke 22:15, and compare Acts 23:14; James 5:17. Only here in John's writings.

This my joy ( αὕτη ἡ χαρὰ ἡ ἐμὴ )

A very emphatic expression: this, the joy which is mine. The change of style in the following verses seems to indicate that the words of the Baptist break off at this point, and are taken up and commented upon by the Evangelist.

Verse 31

He that cometh ( ὁ ἐρχόμενος )

The present participle. The coming regarded as still in process of manifestation. Compare John 6:33.

From above ( ἄνωθεν )

See on John 3:2.

Above ( ἐπάνω )


Of the earth ( ἐκ τῆς γῆς )

Literally, out of the earth; of earthly origin.

Is earthly

The same phrase, out of the earth, is repeated, signifying of earthly nature. On the characteristic phrase εἶναι ἐκ , to be of, see on John 1:46.

Speaketh of the earth

Out of the earth. His words have an earthly source. On λαλεΐ́ , speaketh, see on Matthew 28:18.

Verse 32

Receiveth ( λαμβάνει )

Once only John uses δέχομαι for receive, of the Galilaeans receiving Christ (John 4:45). The distinction between the two is not sharply maintained, but δέχομαι commonly adds to the idea of taking, that of welcoming. Thus Demosthenes says that the Theban elders did not receive ( ἐδέξαντο ) i.e., with a welcome pleasure, the money which was offered them, nor did they take it ( ἔλαβον ). Λαμβάνει also includes the retaining of what is taken. Hence of receiving Christ (John 1:12; John 5:43; John 13:20). The phrase receive the witness is peculiar to John (John 3:11; John 5:34; 1 John 5:9).

Verse 33

Hath set to his seal ( ἐσφράγισεν )

To set to, is to affix. To set to a seal is therefore to attest a document. The expression is retained from Coverdale's version (1535). So, “They must set to their hands, and shall set to their hands.” Compare also the old legal formula: “In wittenesse qwherof I haue set to myn seele.” Rev., better, hath set his seal to this. The meaning here is, has solemnly attested and confirmed the statement “God is true.” Only here in this sense. Elsewhere of closing up for security; hiding; marking a person or thing. See on Revelation 22:10. The aorist tense here denotes an accomplished act.

Verse 34

The words ( τὰ ῥήματα )

Not words, nor individual words, but the words - the complete message of God. See on Luke 1:37.

God giveth

The best texts omit God. Rev., He giveth. Rev., also, rightly, omits the italicized to Him. The personal object of the verb giveth is indefinite. Render, He giveth not the Spirit by measure.

In order to convey the full force of the terms giveth and by measure, it will be necessary to attempt an explanation of the general scope and meaning of this very difficult and much disputed passage. The starting point of the exposition must be John 3:30, the Baptist's noble resignation of his own position, and claims to Jesus: He must increase, but I must decrease. At this point the Evangelist, as we have seen, takes up the discourse. The Baptist's declaration that Jesus “must increase” - that He is a messenger of a transcendently higher character, and with a far larger and more significant message than his own - furnishes the Evangelist with a text. He will show why Jesus “must increase.” He must increase because He comes from above, and is therefore supreme over all (John 3:31). This statement he repeats; defining from above ( ἄνωθεν ) by out of heaven ( ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ), and emphasizing it by contrast with mere earthly witness ( ὁ ἐκ τῆς γῆς ) whose words bear the stamp of his earthly origin ( ἐκ τῆς γῆς λαλεῖ ). Being from heaven, He testifies of heavenly things, as an eye-and ear-witness. “What He hath seen and heard, of that he beareth witness.” It is indeed true that men reject this testimony. “No man receiveth His witness” (John 3:32). None the less it is worthy of implicit credence as the testimony of God himself. He that has received that testimony has solemnly attested it as God's own witness; “hath set his seal to this, that God is true.” To declare Jesus' testimony untrue is to declare God untrue (John 3:33). For He whom God hath sent utters the whole divine mess age (the words of God, John 3:34).

Thus far the reasoning is directed to the conclusion that Jesus ought to increase, and that His message ought to be received. He is God's own messenger out of heaven, and speaks God's own words.

The common explanation of the succeeding clause is that God bestows the Spirit upon Jesus in His fullness, “not by measure.”

But this is to repeat what has already been more than implied. It would seem to be superfluous to say of one who comes out of heaven, who is supreme over all things, who bears witness of heavenly things which He has seen and heard, and who reveals the whole message of God to men - that God bestows upon Him the Spirit without measure.

Take up, then, the chain of thought from the first clause of John 3:34, and follow it on another line. The Messenger of God speaks the words of God, and thus shows himself worthy of credence, and shows this further, by dispensing the gift of the Spirit in full measure to His disciples. “He giveth not the Spirit by measure.” This interpretation adds a new link to the chain of thought; a new reason why Jesus should increase, and His testimony be received; the reason, namely, that not only is He himself divinely endowed with the Spirit, but that He proves it by dispensing the Spirit in full measure.

Thus John 3:35follows in natural sequence. This dispensing power which attests His claims, is His through the gift of the divine Father's love. “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.” This latter phrase, into His hand, signifies not only possession, but the power of disposal. See Mark 9:31; Mark 14:41; Luke 23:46; Hebrews 10:31. God has given the Son all things to administer according to His own pleasure and rule. These two ideas of Christ's reception and bestowment of divine gifts are combined in Matthew 11:27. “All things are delivered unto me of my Father; and no man knoweth the Son but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and He to whomsoever the Son may determine ( βούληται ) to reveal Him.”

Therefore John the Baptist must decrease, and Jesus must increase. A measure of the Spirit was given to the Baptist, sufficient for his preparatory work, but the Baptist himself saw the Spirit descending in a bodily form upon the Son of God, and heard the voice from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Spirit is thus Christ's own. He dispenses, gives it ( δίδωσιν ), in its fullness. Hence Jesus said, later, of the Spirit of truth, “He shall glorify Me, for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine; therefore said I that He shall take of mine and shall show it unto you” (John 16:14, John 16:15).

Verse 36

He that believeth not ( ὁ ἀπειθῶν )

More correctly, as Rev., obeyeth not. Disbelief is regarded in its active manifestation, disobedience. The verb πείθω means to persuade, to cause belief, to induce one to do something by persuading, and so runs into the meaning of to obey, properly as the result of persuasion. See on Acts 5:29. Compare 1 Peter 4:17; Romans 2:8; Romans 11:30, Romans 11:31. Obedience, however, includes faith. Compare Romans 1:5, the obedience of faith.

Shall not see ( οὐκ ὄψεται )

Compare the future tense with the present “hath eternal life,” and the simple life with the fully developed idea eternal life. He who believes is within the circle of the life of God, which is essentially eternal. His life “is hid with Christ in God.” Life eternal is to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent. Hence, to such an one, eternal life is not merely something future. It is a present possession. He hath it. The unbelieving and disobedient, instead of having eternal life, shall not have life: shall not even see it (compare see the kingdom of God, John 3:3). He shall have no perception of life simply considered, much less of eternal life, the full and complex development of life.

The wrath of God ( ὀργὴ τοῦ Θεοῦ )

Both ὀργὴ and θυμός are used in the New Testament for wrath or anger, and without any commonly observed distinction. Ὁργη denotes a deeper and more permanent sentiment; a settled habit of mind; while θυμός is a more turbulent, but temporary agitation. Both words are used in the phrase wrath of God, which commonly denotes a distinct manifestation of God's judgment (Romans 1:18; Romans 3:5; Romans 9:22; Romans 12:19). Ὁργὴ (not θυμός ) also appears in the phrase the wrath to come (Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:16, etc.). Compare wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:16).

Abideth ( μένει )

The present tense. As the believer hath life, so the unbeliever hath wrath abiding on him. He lives continually in an economy which is alienated from God, and which, in itself, must be habitually the subject of God's displeasure and indignation.


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The text of this work is public domain.

Bibliography Information
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

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Monday, November 30th, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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