Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

John 3:12

If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
New American Standard

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Blindness;   Jesus, the Christ;   Jesus Continued;   Life;   Mysteries;   Salvation;   Unbelief;  
Dictionaries:
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Nicodemus;   Witness;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Faith;   John, gospel of;   Teacher;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Disciple, Discipleship;   Charles Buck Theological Dictionary - Episcopacy;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Abel;   Nicodemus;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Jesus Christ;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Holy Spirit;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Gospels;   John, Gospel of;   John, Theology of;   Mss;   Nicodemus;   Scribes;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Announcements of Death;   Attributes of Christ;   Character of Christ;   Discourse;   Earthly and Heavenly ;   Faith ;   Heaven ;   Holy Spirit;   Individuality;   Mental Characteristics;   Popularity ;   Property (2);   Prophet;   Questions and Answers;   Regeneration (2);   Reserve;   Righteous, Righteousness;   Sacrifice (2);   Son of God;   Teaching of Jesus;   Trinity (2);   Unbelief (2);   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Quicken, to:;   The Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary - Regeneration;  
Encyclopedias:
Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia - Tabernacle, the;   Jesus of Nazareth;   International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Earthly;   Heavenly;   Nicodemus;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Abel;   Cain;   Nicodemus;  
Devotionals:
Every Day Light - Devotion for December 4;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

If I have told you earthly things - If, after I have illustrated this new birth by a most expressive metaphor taken from earthly things, and after all you believe not; how can you believe, should I tell you of heavenly things, in such language as angels use, where earthly images and illustrations can have no place? Or, if you, a teacher in Israel, do not understand the nature of such an earthly thing, or custom of the kingdom established over the Jewish nation, as being born of baptism, practised every day in the initiation of proselytes, how will you understand such heavenly things as the initiation of my disciples by the baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire from heaven, if I should proceed farther on the subject?

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Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on John 3:12". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/john-3.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

If I have told you earthly things - Things which occur on earth. Not sensual or worldly things, for Jesus had said nothing of these; but he had told him of operations of the Spirit which had occurred “on earth,” whose effects were visible, and which “might” be, therefore, believed. These were the plainest and most obvious of the doctrines of religion.

How shall ye believe - How will you believe. Is there any probability that you will understand them?

Heavenly things - Things pertaining to the government of God and his doings in the heavens; things which are removed from human view, and which cannot be subjected to human sight; the more profound and inscrutable things pertaining to the redemption of men. Hence, learn:

1.The height and depth of the doctrines of religion. There is much that we cannot yet understand,

2.The feebleness of our understandings and the corruptions of our hearts are the real causes why doctrines of religion are so little understood by us.

3.There is before us a vast eternity, and there are profound wonders of God‘s government, to be the study of the righteous, and to be seen and admired by them forever and ever.

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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on John 3:12". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/john-3.html. 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator

John 3:12

If I have told you of earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
--The question in its bare form is easily grappled with, but in its application to the subjects before us we encounter a great obstacle. Earthly things are the deep things of the new birth; heavenly things are the lifting up of the Son of man, the gift of the Only-Begotten, that the world through Him might be saved. Regeneration and santification are by comparison earthly things; redemption, atonement, justification are by contrast and preeminence heavenly. He who believes not the former, how can he believe the latter We notice

I. AN INVERSION OF OUR COMMON ESTIMATE OF THE MYSTERIES OF CHRIST’S KINGDOM.

1. It is usual to speak of the work of Christ as far easier of apprehension than the work of the Spirit. The idea of atonement is treated as self-evident, and theory after theory has been constructed to explain it. But Christ says difficult as it is to understand a Divine influence, it is more difficult to apprehend a Divine sacrifice; that He only who is from heaven can reveal the latter, while a master of Israel is culpably ignorant if he knows not of the former.

2. The same persons exaggerate the mystery of the doctrine of grace, whereas Christ treats it as a plain earthly thing. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews treats it in the same way, bidding us leave the elements, baptism, etc., to go on to perfection--the strong meat, the profounder study of the fulfilment of type and shadow in the atonement and mediation of Jesus Christ.

II. CAN WE EXPLAIN THIS INVERSION?

1. With regard to the new birth.

2. How different with the topics that follow! At first sight less mysterious, for was not Christ really man, and was not His sacrifice a human death? Yet when we turn to that which the human enshrined, the mystery of Christ’s Person, we see the appositeness of the term heavenly.

III. Let us press upon ourselves the thought of THE HEAVENLINESS OF THE ONE ALL-SUFFICIENT SACRIFICE. We have in our Lord’s question the key to much of modern unbelief. Christ tells us of our need of Divine grace to change us into new men, and we believe not that. Men confess that they must be moral, but contend that they can secure that for themselves, and that it is weakness to look cut of themselves for help. Nature refuses grace. Who, then, can wonder if the same unbelief shall spread into the region of the heavenly, and the scoffer at grace scoff at atonement? (Dean Vaughan.)

The moral and the revealed truths

We may distinguish between these. Christ’s teaching in its practical applications is its earthly side; His revelation of God, His nature and will its heavenly side.

I. THE MORAL TEACHING OF CHRIST MUST BE ACCEPTED BY EVERY UPRIGHT CONSCIENCE.

1. Where else do you find the idea of the sovereign and eternal value of right more clearly and firmly expressed?

2. The same applies to holiness. He opposes the systems which make it consist in outward performances, and places stress on the intention.

3. None more than Christ have preached the necessity of sacrificing one’s self for the sake of truth.

4. Whoever taught as Christ the relations of men with one another and the bonds of justice and mercy which should units them? Christ alone has made love the supreme law of mankind.

5. Not only has He taught all this; He has acted all He has taught.

6. This is why He has a right to the authority He claims over our consciences, and why when He tells us of earthly things He has a right to be believed.

II. CHRIST CLAIMS THE SAME FAITH AS THE REVEALER OF RELIGIOUS TRUTH. He is not merely a teacher of morals; He speaks of the things which are far beyond our human vision: of God, His government, providence, saving purposes, judgment. In the presence of these affirmations our situation changes. So long as His moral teaching was in question we could judge of it by our consciences, but here are declarations we cannot control.

1. Are we justified in putting faith in Christ.? If we set aside this faith, no other means of access to religious truth remains. Science can teach us nothing. Are we then to remain in the dark? Men have tried to do so, but always unsuccessfully.

2. Is Christ to be believed?

Earthly and heavenly things

Heavenly things, being represented unto us in an earthly form (John 3:8), come clothed to us with our own notions. We can see the sun better when reflected in the water of a vase than in the firmament; and we can interpret heaven’s language best when it speaks to us in the language of earth. (T. Manton.)

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "John 3:12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/john-3.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

I told ye earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you heavenly things?

The earthly things Jesus told Nicodemus regarded the new birth, an experience received by ordinary men during their earthly sojourn. Mysterious as it is, the new birth is a common everyday fact, "earthly" in the sense of men being in actual contact with the phenomenon and aware of it constantly. Thousands of Israel had already responded; but the Pharisees never made it.

Heavenly things ... is a reference to such things as the incarnation, the death of Christ for the sins of the world, the existence of the spirit world above our own, the final judgment, heaven, hell, and all of those great spiritual realities lying utterly beyond earthly vision. It was of some of such heavenly things that Jesus proceeded to speak to Nicodemus.

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Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 3:12". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/john-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

If I have told you earthly things,.... Not that the doctrines he delivered were earthly ones; for he was not of the earth, but from heaven, and above all, and so spake not of the earth, but of heaven, John 3:31; and this doctrine of regeneration was an heavenly doctrine; and the thing itself required supernatural power, and grace from above: but either they were the more easy doctrines of the Gospel; or were delivered in a plain and easy style, and illustrated by similes taken from earthly things, as from human birth, from the water, and from the wind:

and ye believe not; i.e. those things; ye do not receive them, nor give credit to them; or "me", as the Ethiopic Version adds, who relate them on the best evidence, having fully known, and clearly seen them:

how shall ye believe; give credit to me, or receive my testimony:

if I tell you of heavenly things? of the more sublime doctrines of the Gospel, such as the descent of the Messiah from heaven; the union of the two natures, human and divine, in him; his being the only begotten Son of God; his crucifixion and death, signified by the lifting up of the serpent on a pole in the wilderness; and the wonderful love of God to the Gentile world in giving Christ to, and for them; and the salvation, and eternal happiness of all that believe in him, whether they be Jews or Gentiles; and these delivered in language suitable to them, without figures, or natural similes, which help the understanding, and convey ideas of things more easily to it.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on John 3:12". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/john-3.html. 1999.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

earthly things — such as regeneration, the gate of entrance to the kingdom of God on earth, and which Nicodemus should have understood better, as a truth even of that more earthly economy to which he belonged.

heavenly things — the things of the new and more heavenly evangelical economy, only to be fully understood after the effusion of the Spirit from heaven through the exalted Savior.

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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.
Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on John 3:12". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/john-3.html. 1871-8.

People's New Testament

If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not. He had spoken of the things that belonged to the kingdom of God on earth, of the new birth. If Nicodemus could not understand and believe this, how would he receive testimony concerning the heavenly kingdom, God, and eternal glory?

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Original work done by Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
Johnson, Barton W. "Commentary on John 3:12". "People's New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pnt/john-3.html. 1891.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

If I told (ει ειπονei eipon). Condition of the first class, assumed to be true.

Earthly things (τα επιγειαta epigeia). Things upon the earth like τα επι της γηςta epi tēs gēs (Colossians 3:2), not things of an earthly nature or worldly or sinful. The work of the kingdom of God including the new birth which Nicodemus did not understand belongs to τα επιγειαta epigeia

If I tell you heavenly things
(εαν ειπω υμιν τα επουρανιαean eipō humin ta epourania). Condition of the third class, undetermined. What will Nicodemus do in that case? By τα επουρανιαta epourania Jesus means the things that take place in heaven like the deep secrets of the purpose of God in the matter of redemption such as the necessity of the lifting up of Christ as shown in John 3:14. Both Godet and Westcott note that the two types of teaching here pointed out by Jesus (the earthly, the heavenly) correspond in general to the difference between the Synoptics (the earthly) and the Fourth Gospel (the heavenly), a difference noted here in the Fourth Gospel as shown by Jesus himself. Hence the one should not be pitted against the other. There are specimens of the heavenly in the Synoptics as in Matthew 11:25.; Luke 10:18.

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The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on John 3:12". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rwp/john-3.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

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.

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Bibliographical Information
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on John 3:12". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/vnt/john-3.html. Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

Earthly things — Things done on earth; such as the new birth, and the present privileges of the children of God.

Heavenly things — Such as the eternity of the Son, and the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Bibliographical Information
Wesley, John. "Commentary on John 3:12". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/john-3.html. 1765.

The Fourfold Gospel

If I told you earthly things and ye believe not2, how shall ye believe3 if I tell you heavenly things4?

  1. If I have told you. Jesus here divides religious phenomena into two divisions--earthly and heavenly.

  2. Earthly things and ye believe not. The earthly phenomena are those which have their sphere in this world. In this sense regeneration is an earthly thing; for though it has a heavenly origin, its manifestations are among the daily sights and experiences of our earthly life.

  3. How shall ye believe. These things have their sphere far removed from earth, and transcended the comprehension of Nicodemus. Now, if Nicodemus would not believe Jesus when he told him of things which he himself partially knew, how would he believe when Jesus spoke of that which was utterly unknown to him?

  4. If I tell you heavenly things? Religion has also its heavenly phenomena, such as the ordering of God's celestial household; the experiences of those who pass into the divine presence; the propitiation, or the changes wrought in the attitude of God toward man by the sacrifice of Christ; the powers and limitations of Christ's priestly intercession, etc.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website. These files were made available by Mr. Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton. "Commentary on John 3:12". "The Fourfold Gospel". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tfg/john-3.html. Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1914.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Если Я сказал вам о земном. Христос делает вывод: самого Никодима и ему подобных следует винить в том, что они не преуспевают в евангельском учении. Христос показывает, что причина заминки не в Нем. Ведь Он спустился на землю как раз для того, чтобы вознести нас на небеса. Весьма распространен порок, состоящий в том, что люди желают слушать только изощренное и утонченное учение. Посему большинству нравятся возвышенные и отвлеченные спекуляции, и они мало ценят Евангелие, не находя в нем красноречия, услаждающего их слух. Итак, они не считают достойным себя внимать обычному и смиренному учению. Сколь это мерзко! Мы не воздаем чести тому, что Бог говорит нам, только потому, что Он снисходит до нашего невежества. Посему будем знать: когда Бог говорит с нами в Писании грубым простонародным языком, это делается ради нас самих. И лжет тот, кто говорит, что претыкается от такого смирения, и потому не может покориться Слову Божию. Ведь, если он не принимает Бога вблизи, то как взлетит к Нему за облака? Некоторые толкуют слово «земное» как начатки духовного учения. Ибо отречение от себя есть как бы первый урок благочестия. Однако я скорее соглашусь с теми, кто относит это слово к форме учения. Хотя вся речь Христова была небесной, Он говорил настолько понятно и знакомо, что Его речь могла бы показаться чем-то земным. Кроме того, эту фразу не надо относить только к одной проповеди. Ведь Христос часто пользовался этим способом научения, то есть, народной простотой, которая противопоставляется здесь внешней помпе, столь любимой мнительными людьми.

 

 

 

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 3:12". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/john-3.html. 1840-57.

Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books

Ver. 12. "If I have told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?"

When a teacher says to his pupil: "If you do not understand me on this point, how will you understand me on that?" we must suppose that the disciple expects to be instructed respecting this latter point. We must, therefore, conclude from this word of Jesus, that the heavenly things are to Jesus" view those which preoccupy Nicodemus, and with reference to which he had come to interrogate Him: the person of the Messiah, the nature of His kingdom, the way in which He will lay the foundation of, and complete this great work, both in Israel and in the Gentile world. And, indeed, these are precisely the questions which Jesus answers in the second part of the conversation, which is to follow.

The contrast between the past, "if I have told you" and the present "if I tell you" proves that Jesus had not yet set forth publicly what He calls the heavenly things. This conversation was the first communication of Jesus concerning the nature of the Messianic kingdom and the mode of salvation, outside of the innermost circle of His own friends. The public teaching of Jesus had, therefore, up to that time related to what He calls the earthly things.This expression cannot denote things which appertain to earthly interests: for Jesus did not occupy Himself with these things before this, any more than He did afterwards. If by the heavenly things we must of course understand the designs of God, inaccessible to the human mind, for the establishment of His kingdom, we must include in the domain of earthly things all that which appertains to the moral nature of man; outside of the region of redemption and regeneration; thus, everything which Jesus comes to declare respecting the carnal state of the natural man and the necessity of a radical transformation. Jesus is thinking, no doubt, of the contents of His first preachings, analogous to those of John the Baptist, and which Mark sums up (John 1:15) in these words: "Repent ye, and believe the Gospel: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;" those preachings of which we possess the most remarkable example in the Sermon on the Mount. What a difference as compared with the revelations which Jesus makes to Nicodemus! The conversation with him is the first step in a region infinitely elevated above that elementary preaching. We understand now why it has been preserved to us by John; it had been of marked importance in the development of his own faith.

According to Lucke and Reuss the earthly things are the things easy to be understood, and the heavenly "the most elevated ideas of the Gospel, less accessible to an intelligence which was not yet enlightened by it." This sense is true from the standpoint of consequences, but not from that of explanation strictly so-called. There is no example to prove that heavenly can signify difficult, and earthly, easy. Ewald makes of εἶπον a third person plural: "If they (the prophets) have spoken to you of earthly things and you have not believed (the reading: ἐπιστεύσατε)."

But a subject of this sort could not be understood, and an ἐγώ could not be omitted in the following clause (Meyer, Baumlein). In this remarkable saying, Jesus contrasts the facts which pertain to the domain of the human consciousness, and which man can verify by observation of himself, with the divine decrees which cannot be known except by means of a revelation. This is the reasoning: "If, when I have declared to you the things whose reality you can, by consulting your own consciousness, discover, you have not believed, how will you believe when I shall reveal to you the secrets of heaven, which must be received solely on the foundation of a word?" There, the testimony of the inner sense facilitates faith; here, on the contrary, everything rests upon confidence in the testimony of the revealer. This testimony being rejected, the ladder, on which man may raise himself to the knowledge of heavenly things, is broken, and the access to the divine secrets remain, closed.

This saying of Jesus should teach apologetics to place the supporting point of faith in the declarations of the Gospel which are most immediately connected with the facts of consciousness and the moral needs of the soul. Its truth being once recognized in this domain where it can be verified by every one, it is already half-demonstrated in relation to those declarations which are connected with the purely divine domain. It will be completely so, as soon as it shall be established that these two parts, divine and human, of the Gospel, are adapted to one another as the two parts of one whole; that the moral needs of man which are proved by the one find their full satisfaction in the divine plans revealed in the other. The moral truth of the Gospel is the first guarantee of its religious truth.

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Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on John 3:12". "Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsc/john-3.html.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

Ver. 12. If I have told you earthly things] That is, spiritual things under earthly gross similitudes, of wind, water, &c. In the mystery of Christ, the best of us are acute obtusi. But for the natural man, that cannot tell the nature of the wind, or enter into the depth of the flower or the grass, &c., how should he possibly have the wit to enter into the deep things of God, especially if darkly delivered?

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Bibliographical Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on John 3:12". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/john-3.html. 1865-1868.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

12.] The words μαρτυρίαν λαμβάνειν prepared the way for the new idea which is brought forward in this verse— πιστεύειν. Faith is, in the most pregnant sense, ‘the receiving of testimony;’ because it is the making subjectively real the contents of that testimony. So the πιστεύειν εἰς αὐτόν [see John 3:15] is, the full reception of the Lord’s testimony; because the burden of that testimony is, grace and truth and salvation by Himself. This faith is neither reasoning, nor knowledge, but a reception of divine Truth declared by One who came from God; and so it is far above reasoning and knowledge:— πιστεύομεν above οἴδαμεν.

But what are the ἐπίγεια? The matters relating to the new birth which have hitherto been spoken of;—called so because that side of them has been exhibited which is upon earth, and happens among men;— ἃ τοῖς ἐπὶ γῆς ἔτι διατρίβουσιν ἀνθρώποις δυνατὰ ὑπάρξαι τε καὶ νοηθῆναι, Origen. That the parable about the wind is not intended, is evident from κ. οὐ πιστεύετε, which in that case would be ‘do not understand.’ And the ἐπουράνια are the things of which the discourse goes on to treat from this point: viz. the heavenly side of the new birth and salvation of man, in the eternal counsels of God regarding His only-begotten Son.

Stier supposes a reference in this verse to Wisdom of Solomon 9:16, καὶ μόλις εἰκάζομεν τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, καὶ τὰ ἐν χερσὶν εὑρίσκομεν μετὰ πόνου, τὰ δὲ ἐν οὐρανοῖς τίς ἐξιχνίασεν;

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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on John 3:12". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/john-3.html. 1863-1878.

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

John 3:12. How grievous the prospect which your unbelief regarding the instructions I have already given opens up as to the future!

τὰ ἐπίγεια] what is on earth, things which take place on earth (not in heaven). We must strictly adhere to this meaning of the word in this as in all other passages (1 Corinthians 15:40; 2 Corinthians 5:1; Philippians 2:10; Philippians 3:19; James 3:15. Comp. Wisdom of Solomon 9:16, and Grimm, Handbuch, p. 189). To the category of these earthly things belonged also the birth from above (against Baeumlein), because, though brought about by a power from heaven, it is accomplished on earth; and because, proceeding in repentance and faith, it is a change taking place on earth within the earthly realm of our moral life; and because it is historically certain that Christ everywhere began His work with this very preaching of μετάνοια. The Lord has in His mind not only the doctrine of regeneration just declared to Nicodemus, but, as the plural shows, all which thus far He had taught the Jews ( εἶπον ὑμῖν); and this had been hitherto only ἐπίγεια, and not ἐπουράνια, of which He still designs to speak.(157) It is therefore wrong to refer the expression to the comparison of the wind (Beza) or of corporeal birth (Grotius), as prefiguring higher doctrine; for the relation to the faith spoken of did not lie in these symbols, but in the truths they symbolized. The meaning of the words is quite altered, moreover, if we change the word ἐπίγεια into “human and moral” (B. Crusius), or take it as meaning only what is stated in the immediate context (Lücke), or, with De Wette, make the point of difference to be nothing more than the antithesis between man’s susceptibility of regeneration as a work within him and his susceptibility of merely believing.

The counterpart of the ἐπίγεια are the ἐπουράνια, of which Jesus intends to speak to them in future, things which are in heaven (so in all places, Matthew 18:35; 1 Corinthians 15:40; 1 Corinthians 15:48-49; Ephesians 1:3; Philippians 2:10, etc.). To this category belong especially the Messianic mysteries, i.e. the divine decrees for man’s redemption and final blessedness. These are ἐπουράνια, because they have their foundation (Wisdom of Solomon 9:16-17) in the divine will, though their realization commences in the present αἰών, through the entire work, and in particular through the death of Jesus and the faith of mankind; but while still unaccomplished, belongs to the divine counsel, and shall be first consummated and fully revealed in the kingdom of the Messiah by the exalted Christ, when the ζωὴ αἰώνιος will reveal itself at the goal of perfection (Colossians 3:4), and “it will appear what we shall be.” To the ἐπουρανίοις, therefore, does not first belong what is to be said of His exaltation, Matthew 26:64 (Steinfass); but that very statement, and indeed as the first and main thing, which Jesus immediately after delivers in John 3:14 ff., where the heavenly element, i.e. what is in the counsels of God (John 3:15-16), is clearly contained. According to the connection, it is to be inferred that what is heavenly is difficult to be understood; but this difficulty has nothing to do with the word itself, as Lücke holds.

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Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on John 3:12". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hmc/john-3.html. 1832.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

John 3:12. τὰ ἐπίγεια, earthly things) To the heavenly sense of Jesus Christ there are earthly things, ἐπίγεια, which, having to be accomplished on the regions of earth by us who creep on the ground, appear in the highest degree heavenly. The whole style of Scripture is full of συγκατάβασις [condescension]. Regeneration is from heaven, not however in heaven: it is indeed [a process] on the margin of heaven.— πῶς, how) The cause why Scripture is silent about many things.— τὰ ἐπούρανια) heavenly things, the inner principles of the kingdom of God, John 3:3; Wisdom of Solomon 9:16, μόλις εἰκάζομεν τὰ ἐπὶ γῆςτὰ δὲ ἐν οὐρανοῖς τίς ἐξιχνίασε; He does not, at John 3:13, so much speak out, as hint at.— πιστεύσετε, will ye believe) The less anything seems credible to reason, often the more heavenly it is.

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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on John 3:12". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jab/john-3.html. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

If I have spoken to you plain things, and in a plain style, humbling my phrase to your apprehensions, and illustrating sublime, spiritual mysteries, which in their own nature are more remote from your apprehensions, by plain and obvious similitudes and parables, and speaking thus, you understand and believe not; what would you do if I should discourse to you sublime and spiritual things, without these advantages for your understandings?

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on John 3:12". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/john-3.html. 1685.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

Earthly things; things which take place on earth, such as being born of the Spirit, the evidences of which are obvious to the senses.

Heavenly things; things less plain, relating to God, Christ, heaven, and eternity, the evidences of which are not addressed to sense, but to faith.

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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on John 3:12". "Family Bible New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fam/john-3.html. American Tract Society. 1851.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

12.Earthly things—Such as the regeneration which takes place on earth.

Heavenly things—Such as God’s requirement, in the counsels of heaven, of the atonement and death of his only begotten Son.

 

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 3:12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/john-3.html. 1874-1909.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

The "earthly things" that Jesus had told Nicodemus involved the new birth. The new birth is earthly in that it occurs on the earth. This teaching had been elementary. However, Nicodemus had not believed it. Therefore he could not begin to believe things that Jesus might have told him about "heavenly things." These things might have included such revelations as life beyond the grave, life in the kingdom, and the new heavens and new earth ( Isaiah 65:17).

If Jesus responded to everyone as He did to Nicodemus, it would mean that when a person rejects revelation he or she thereby limits the revelation that comes to that one from then on. This is really what usually happens.

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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 3:12". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/john-3.html. 2012.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

John 3:12. If I told you the earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you the heavenly things? Here our Lord returns to the singular, ‘I told;’ for He is not now speaking of the witness of experience, but of instruction which He Himself had personally given. It seems hardly possible, however, that our Lord simply refers to words just spoken. In saying ‘If I told you the earthly things, and ye believe not,’ He plainly refers to unbelief after instruction,-unbelief which instruction failed to remove. But if Nicodemus came alone (and there is no doubt that he did), he alone had received this last instruction. Others might be described as unbelievers, but not as remaining in unbelief after having heard the teaching concerning the new birth. We are compelled, therefore, to suppose that our Lord spoke generally of previous discourses to the Jews, and not specifically of these His latest words. But what are the earthly and the heavenly things? Many answers have been given which are Tittle more than arbitrary conjectures. Again the Evangelist must be his own interpreter. As in the next verse ‘heaven’ is not used figuratively, it cannot be maintained that heavenly is figurative here. The words ‘earthly’ and ‘heavenly’ must have their simple meaning, ‘what is upon earth,’ ‘what is in heaven.’ The things that are in heaven can only be made known by Him who has been in heaven; this is suggested by the connection between this verse and the next. When we come to the last section of the chapter, we shall find that it contains (in some degree) a comment upon these verses. Now there (in John 3:32) we read of Him ‘that cometh out of heaven, who’ bears witness of what He has seen and heard, who being sent from God ‘speaketh the words of God’ (John 3:34). But this same comment takes note of the converse also. Contrasted with Him who comes from heaven is he that is out of the earth ‘and’ speaketh out of the earth (John 3:31). Combining these explanatory words, we may surely say that ‘the heavenly things’ are those truths which He who cometh from heaven, and He alone, can reveal, which are the words of God revealing His counsels by the Divine Son now come. The things on earth, in like manner, are the truths whose home is earth, so to speak, which were known before God revealed Himself by Him who is in the bosom of the Father (chap. John 1:18). They are ‘earthly,’ not as belonging to the world of sin or the world of sense, but as being things which the prophet or teacher who has never ascended into heaven, but whose origin and home are the earth, can reach, though not necessarily by his own unaided powers. In His former discourses to the Jews, Jesus would seem not to have gone beyond the circle of truth already revealed. Even in His words to Nicodemus He mainly dwells on that which the Scriptures of the Old Testament had taught; and He reproves the teacher of Israel who did not at once recognise His words, thus founded on the Old Testament, as truth. The kingdom of God, the necessity of repentance and faith, the new heart, the holy life, the need at once of cleansing and of quickening-these and other truths, once indeed inhabitants of heaven, had long been naturalised on earth. Having been revealed, they belonged to men, whereas the secret things belong unto the Lord (Deuteronomy 29:29). Those of whom our Lord spoke had yielded a partial belief, but the ‘believing’ of which He here speaks is a perfect faith. Nicodemus was a believer, and yet not a believer. If some of the truths hitherto declared had been so imperfectly received, though those who were mighty in the Scriptures ought to have recognised them as already taught, almost as part of the law that was given through Moses (chap. John 1:17), how would it be when He spoke of the things hitherto secret, coming directly out of the heaven which He opens (comp. John 1:51), and for the first time revealed in Him,-part of the ‘truth’ that ‘came through Jesus Christ’? (chap. John 1:17).

It will be seen, then, that the truth of John 3:5 would seem to be placed by Jesus rather amongst the ‘earthly’ than amongst the ‘heavenly’ things. Of some of the heavenly things He proceeds to speak (John 3:14-15).

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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 3:12". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/john-3.html. 1879-90.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

John 3:12. ; The reference of is fixed by the . They are such things as Jesus had been speaking of: things verified in human, earthly experience, the necessity of a spiritual birth and the results of it. Regeneration was a change made in this earthly life. The kingdom of regenerate men was to be established on earth, as apprehensible in certain of its aspects as the kingdom Nicodemus was proposing to found. The are matters not open to human observation, matters wholly in the unseen, the nature and purposes of God. Cf. the remarkable parallel in Wisdom of Solomon 9:16.

 

 

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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on John 3:12". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/john-3.html. 1897-1910.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

If Ihave. Assuming it as a fact. App-118.

earthly things. Ezekiel 36:25-27. 1 Corinthians 15:40. Colossians 3:2. 2 Corinthians 5:1. Philippians 1:2, Philippians 1:10; Philippians 3:19.

believe. App-150. i. See note on John 1:7.

if I tell. Supposing I tell. App-118.

heavenly = Plural of epouranios. Occurs only here and Matthew 18:35 in the Gospels. See Ephesians 1:3, Ephesians 1:20; Ephesians 2:6; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:12. Philippians 2:10, &c.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on John 3:12". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/john-3.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

If I have told you earthly things, [ ta (G3588) epigeia (G1919)], and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? [ ta (Greek #3588) epourania (Greek #2032)] - rather simply, 'tell you heavenly things.' By the "earthly things" which Christ had just told Nicodemus of is certainly meant regeneration, the one subject of His teaching to him up to this point; and it is so called, it would seem-in contrast with the "heavenly things" - as being a truth even of that more earthly economy to which Nicodemus belonged, and as the gate of entrance to the kingdom of God upon earth. The "heavenly things" are the things of the new and more heavenly evangelical economy, especially that great truth of salvation by faith in the atoning death of the Son of God, which He was now about to "tell" Nicodemus; though He forewarns him of the probability of people stumbling much more at that than he had done at the former truth-since it had been but dimly unfolded under the earthly economy, and was only to be fully understood after the effusion of the Spirit from heaven through the exalted Saviour.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on John 3:12". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/john-3.html. 1871-8.

The Bible Study New Testament

12. How will you ever believe me, then? What he has told Nicodemus and the others, has to do with the Kingdom of God here on earth and their relationship to it. If these things are too hard to understand, how can they believe the things about the eternal world?

 

 

 

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Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on John 3:12". "The Bible Study New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/john-3.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(12) Earthly things—i.e., things upon earth, having the sphere of their action upon earth. These are not necessarily restricted to the subjects of this interview. The context includes previous witness borne by Him, and there must have been much which is unrecorded. (Comp. John 2:23.) But the new birth is not excluded from “earthly things,” because it is the entrance to a life which, while it is spiritual, is still a life upon earth.

Heavenly things, in the same way, are things which have the sphere of their action in heaven, the full development of the spiritual life, of which the birth only is on earth; the divine counsels of redemption; the Messianic mysteries, of which this ruler of Israel does not understand even the initiation. Comp. the question in the Wisdom of Solomon, “What man is he that can know the counsel of God? or who can think what the will of the Lord is? . . . And hardly do we guess aright at things that are upon earth, and with labour do we find the things that are before us: but the things that are in heaven who hath searched out?” (John 9:13; John 9:16).

The earthly things are the elements of spiritual knowledge, having their test in the moral sense and in their fitness to supply the spiritual wants of man. When these elements are learnt, the mind is then, and then only, fitted to receive heavenly things. The teaching can only proceed step by step from the known to the unknown; but if the will refuses or the intellect neglects to know the knowable, the man cuts himself off from the power to receive truth. The message from the spirit-world has come, and others read it; but he has not learnt the alphabet. (Comp. Note on John 16:12.)

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on John 3:12". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/john-3.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
earthly
3,5,8; 1 Corinthians 3:1,2; Hebrews 5:11; 1 Peter 2:1-3
heavenly
13-17,31-36; 1:1-14; 1 Corinthians 2:7-9; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 4:10
Reciprocal: Genesis 37:20 - and let;  John 3:7 - Marvel;  Romans 10:6 - to bring;  1 Corinthians 15:47 - the Lord

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on John 3:12". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/john-3.html.

Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ver. 12. "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you heavenly things?"

A strikingly coincident parallel passage is Wisdom of Solomon 9:16, καὶ μόλις εἰκάζομεν τὰ ἐπὶ γῆς, κιὰ τὰ ἐν χερσὶν εὑρίσκομεν μετὰ πόνου· τὰ δὲ ἐν οὐρανοῖς τίς ἐξιχνίασε. The difference, however, is this,—that in this passage the earthly things belong to the sphere of nature, while in our text a distinction is made even between the earthly and the heavenly in religious matters. We can be in no doubt as to what is here meant by heavenly things, since the triple mention of heaven in ver. 13, plainly shows that we have there a further disclosure concerning this point. We must accordingly suppose doctrines like that of the divinity of Christ. That by earthly things is chiefly meant regeneration, is evident from the fact, that the Lord had previously spoken of this, ἔπον ὑμῖν. Regeneration pertains to earthly things, notwithstanding that its operating principle, the Holy Spirit, vers. 5, 6, is a supernatural one. Its basis is insight into the natural character of man—his deep depravity. This is an earthly fact. He who has first clearly perceived this, and in whom, in consequence, a longing after a higher stage of existence has been awakened, he has already made an important progress in the understanding of regeneration. (It may also be said that ἐπίγειον is the recognition of the necessity of regeneration. Cf. ver. 7, ὃς δεῖ ὑμᾶς γεννηθῆναι ἄνωθεν.) Essentially otherwise is it with heavenly things,—the divinity of Christ, ver. 13; the plan of redemption by Him, vers. 14, 15. These can be accessible only when clearness has been attained with respect to the earthly things. Experience shows that belief in the divinity of Christ and His atonement disappeared from the Church directly when it failed in the recognition of human depravity.

The words, ye believe not, are not to be taken absolutely with respect to Nicodemus. For then the Lord would not have told him the heavenly things in what follows. This would be to preach to deaf ears. And then it must be taken into view, that from ver. 9 onwards, all remonstrance from Nicodemus ceases. He is dumb, because the truth has touched his heart. He by his silence says, with Job, "Behold, I am vile: what shall I answer Thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken, but I will not answer; yea, twice, but I will proceed no further." With this declaration, which must have struck the more severely, since Nicodemus had begun with the confession, that Christ is a teacher come from God, and had therefore bound himself to accept without examination what He offered him, the Saviour gave the last blow to the dying unbelief of Nicodemus. In the subsequent history, he is represented as a believer in Christ. We cannot doubt that he became so by means of the present discourse. The point of decision, however, is designated by his silence, which is the more significant, since the Lord had severely attacked him in vers. 10-12. Especially ver. 10, spoken to a member of the Chief Council, must have brought about a decision either for the one side or the other. Anton: "These must have been real thorns in the heart of Nicodemus; now, however, he is submissive and perfectly quiet. But Christ must proceed still further with him."

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on John 3:12". Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/heg/john-3.html.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

12.If I have told you earthly things. Christ concludes that it ought to be laid to the charge of Nicodemus and others, if they do not make progress in the doctrine of the Gospel; for he shows that the blame does not lie with him, that all are not properly instructed, since he comes down even to the earth, that he may raise us to heaven. It is too common a fault that men desire to be taught in an ingenious and witty style. Hence, the greater part of men are so delighted with lofty and abstruse speculations. Hence, too, many hold the Gospel in less estimation, because they do not find in it high-sounding words to fill their ears, and on this account do not deign to bestow their attention on a doctrine so low and mean. But it shows an extraordinary degree of wickedness, that we yield less reverence to God speaking to us, because he condescends to our ignorance; and, therefore, when God prattles to us in Scripture in a rough and popular style, let us know that this is done on account of the love which he bears to us. (60) Whoever exclaims that he is offended by such meanness of language, or pleads it as an excuse for not subjecting himself to the word of God, speaks falsely; for he who cannot endure to embrace God, when he approaches to him, will still less fly to meet him above the clouds.

Earthly things. Some explain this to mean the elements of spiritual doctrine; for self-denial may be said to be the commencement of piety. But I rather agree with those who refer it to the form of instruction; for, though the whole of Christ’s discourse was heavenly, yet he spoke in a manner so familiar, that the style itself had some appearance of being earthly. Besides, these words must not be viewed as referring exclusively to a single sermon; for Christ’s ordinary method of teaching — that is, a popular simplicity of style — is here contrasted with the pompous and high-sounding phrases to which ambitious men are too strongly addicted.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 3:12". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/john-3.html. 1840-57.