Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

John 3:3

Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
New American Standard Version
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Adam Clarke Commentary

Jesus answered - Not in the language of compliment: - he saw the state of Nicodemus's soul, and he immediately addressed himself to him on a subject the most interesting and important. But what connection is there between our Lord's reply, and the address of Nicodemus? Probably our Lord saw that the object of his visit was to inquire about the Messiah's kingdom; and in reference to this he immediately says, Except a man be born again, etc.

The repetition of amen, or verily, verily, among the Jewish writers, was considered of equal import with the most solemn oath.

Be born again - Or, from above: different to that new birth which the Jews supposed every baptized proselyte enjoyed; for they held that the Gentile, who became a proselyte, was like a child new born. This birth was of water from below: the birth for which Christ contends is ανωθεν, from above - by the agency of the Holy Spirit. Every man must have two births, one from heaven, the other from earth - one of his body, the other of his soul: without the first he cannot see nor enjoy this world, without the last he can not see nor enjoy the kingdom of God. As there is an absolute necessity that a child should be born into the world, that he may see its light, contemplate its glories, and enjoy its good, so there is an absolute necessity that the soul should be brought out of its state of darkness and sin, through the light and power of the grace of Christ, that it may be able to see, ιδειν, or, to discern, the glories and excellencies of the kingdom of Christ here, and be prepared for the enjoyment of the kingdom of glory hereafter. The Jews had some general notion of the new birth; but, like many among Christians, they put the acts of proselytism, baptism, etc., in the place of the Holy Spirit and his influence: they acknowledged that a man must be born again; but they made that new birth to consist in profession, confession, and external washing. See on John 3:10; (note).

The new birth which is here spoken of comprehends, not only what is termed justification or pardon, but also sanctification or holiness. Sin must be pardoned, and the impurity of the heart washed away, before any soul can possibly enter into the kingdom of God. As this new birth implies the renewing of the whole soul in righteousness and true holiness, it is not a matter that may be dispensed with: heaven is a place of holiness, and nothing but what is like itself can ever enter into it.

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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on John 3:3". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Verily, verily - An expression of strong affirmation, denoting the certainty and the importance of what he was about to say. Jesus proceeds to state one of the fundamental and indispensable doctrines of his religion. It may seem remarkable that he should introduce this subject in this manner; but it should be remembered that Nicodemus acknowledged that he was a teacher come from God; that he implied by that his readiness and desire to receive instruction; and that it is not wonderful, therefore, that Jesus should commence with one of the fundamental truths of his religion. It is no part of Christianity to conceal anything. Jesus declared to every man, high or low, rich or poor, the most humbling truths of the gospel. Nothing was kept back for fear of offending men of wealth or power; and for them, as well as the most poor and lowly, it was declared to be indispensable to experience, as the first thing in religion, a change of heart and of life.

Except a man - This is a universal form of expression designed to include all mankind. Of “each and every man” it is certain that unless he is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. It includes, therefore, men of every character and rank, and nation, moral and immoral, rich and poor, in office and out of office, old and young, bond and free, the slave and his master, Jew and Gentile. It is clear that our Saviour intended to convey to Nicodemus the idea, also, that “he” must be born again. It was not sufficient to be a Jew, or to acknowledge him to be a teacher sent by God that is, the Messiah; it was necessary, in addition to this, to experience in his own soul that great change called the “new birth” or regeneration.

Be born again - The word translated here “again” means also “from above,” and is so rendered in the margin. It is evident, however, that Nicodemus understood, it not as referring to a birth “from above,” for if he had he would not have asked the question in John 3:4. It is probable that in the language which he used there was not the same ambiguity that there is in the Greek. The ancient versions all understood it as meaning “again,” or the “second time.” Our natural birth introduces us to light, is the commencement of life, throws us amid the works of God, and is the beginning of our existence; but it also introduces us to a world of sin. We early go astray. All men transgress. The imagination of the thoughts of the heart is evil from the youth up. We are conceived in sin and brought forth in iniquity, and there is none that doeth good, no, not one. The carnal mind is enmity against God, and by nature we are dead in trespasses and sins, Genesis 8:21; Psalm 14:2-3; Psalm 51:5; Romans 1:29-32; Romans 3:10-20; Romans 8:7.

All sin exposes men to misery here and hereafter. To escape from sin, to be happy in the world to come, it is necessary that man should be changed in his principles, his feelings, and his manner of life. This change, or the beginning of this new life, is called the “new birth,” or “regeneration.” It is so called because in many respects it has a striking analogy to the natural birth. It is the beginning of spiritual life. It introduces us to the light of the gospel. It is the moment when we really begin to live to any purpose. It is the moment when God reveals himself to us as our reconciled Father, and we are adopted into his family as his sons. And as every man is a sinner, it is necessary that each one should experience this change, or he cannot be happy or saved. This doctrine was not unknown to the Jews, and was particularly predicted as a doctrine that would be taught in the times of the Messiah. See Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:25; Psalm 51:12. The change in the New Testament is elsewhere called the “new creation” 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15, and “life from the dead,” or a resurrection, Ephesians 2:1; John 5:21, John 5:24.

He cannot see - To “see,” here, is put evidently for enjoying - or he cannot be fitted for it and partake of it.

The kingdom of God - Either in this world or in that which is to come - that is, heaven. See the notes at Matthew 3:2. The meaning is, that the kingdom which Jesus was about to set up was so pure and holy that it was indispensable that every man should experience this change, or he could not partake of its blessings. This is solemnly declared by the Son of God by an affirmation equivalent to an oath, and there can be no possibility, therefore, of entering heaven without experiencing the change which the Saviour contemplated by the “new birth.” And it becomes every man, as in the presence of a holy God before whom he must soon appear, to ask himself whether he has experienced this change, and if he has not, to give no rest to his eyes until he has sought the mercy of God, and implored the aid of his Spirit that his heart may be renewed.

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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on John 3:3". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Born anew ... is better translated "born again," as in the KJV, PH, IV, New English Bible (1961), etc. The marginal reading "from above" is preferred by some, but such a rendition is too vague, omitting the element of meaning which appears in the word "again." The new birth is another, a second birth; and, although in a sense the second birth is from above, so also in another sense is the first birth, or natural birth. Thus, "born again" is more explicit and correct.

The doctrine of the new birth will be discussed under John 3:5, where Jesus more fully described it. Here the emphasis is upon the absolute necessity of it. It is not merely true that one cannot enter God's kingdom without the new birth; he cannot even see it! The requirement here stated by Jesus was actually a demand that Nicodemus forsake all reliance upon the law of Moses, and upon the elaborate ritual and traditionalism of the Pharisees, and enter upon a totally new way of life. It was a shocking requirement; and the evidence is that Nicodemus, at that point in time, was not able to accept it.

Concerning the abrupt manner of Jesus' speaking to Nicodemus, Hovey said:

The answer seems abrupt, but it is unnecessary to suppose the omission of any connecting thought. For Jesus, being recognized as a teacher from God, and reading for himself at a glance the character of Nicodemus, as well as the question in his heart, viz.: "What must a man do in order to enter Messiah's kingdom?" (Meyer) ... declares at once that a new birth a new life, is indispensable to any real knowledge of the kingdom of God. "No one," he says, "whether Jew or Gentile, can grow up and glide over from nature to grace; every one must begin his life altogether anew, in order to share in my kingdom,"[3]

The kingdom of God ... It is a mistake to minimize the teaching of this Gospel regarding the kingdom of God. True, John was more concerned with the credentials of the King, the burden of the Gospel being to prove the deity and Godhead of Jesus Christ; but the kingdom was never far from his thoughts. In this great passage, the terms of entering the kingdom are emphatically stated; and before Pontius Pilate Jesus made pointed reference to "my kingdom" (John 18:36,37). Jesus' great purpose of establishing his kingdom is there stated to have been his total reason for coming into the world; and John, with the synoptics, recorded the inscription with the significant words "The King of the Jews" (John 19:19).


[3] Alvah Hovey, Commentary on John (Philadelphia: The American Baptist Publication Society, 1885), p. 95.

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Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
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Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 3:3". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Jesus answered and said unto him,.... Not to any express question put by Nicodemus; unless it can be thought, that a question of this kind might be asked, what is the kingdom of God, so much spoken of in thy ministry? and what is requisite to the seeing and enjoying of it? though not recorded by the evangelist; but rather to the words of Nicodemus, concluding from his miracles, that he was the Messiah; and that the kingdom of God was now approaching, or the world to come, the Jews so much speak of; and in which all Israel, according to their notion, were to have a partF15Misn. Sanhedrin, c. 11. sect. 1. ; and which notion, our Lord in the following words, seems to oppose:

verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God; Nicodemus, according to the general sense of the nation, thought that when the Messiah came, and his kingdom was set up, they should all share in it, without any more ado; they being the descendants of Abraham, and having him for their father: but Christ assures him, that he must be "born again"; in distinction from, and opposition to his first birth by nature; in which he was vile, polluted, carnal, and corrupt, being conceived in sin, and shapen in iniquity, and was a transgressor from the womb, and by nature a child of wrath; and in opposition to, his descent from Abraham, or being born of him, and of his seed; for this would be of no avail to him in this case, nor give him any right to the privileges and ordinances of the kingdom of God, or the Gospel dispensation; see Matthew 3:9; as also to birth by proselytism; for the Jews have a frequent sayingF16T. Bab. Yebamot, fol. 22. 1. 48. 2. 62. 1. & 97. 2. , that

"one that is made a proselyte, כקטון שנולד דמי, "is like a child new born".'

Which they understand, not in a spiritual, but in a civil sense; such being free from all natural and civil relations, and from all obligations to parents, mastersF17Vid. Maimon. Issure Bia, c. 14. sect. 11. & Eduth, c. 13. sect. 2. , &c. And by this phrase our Lord signifies, that no man, either as a man, or as a son of Abraham, or as a proselyte to the Jewish religion, can have any true knowledge of, or right unto, the enjoyment of the kingdom of God, unless he is born again; or regenerated, and quickened by the Spirit of God; renewed in the spirit of his mind; has Christ formed in his heart; becomes a partaker of the divine nature; and in all respects a new creature; and an other in heart, in principle, in practice, and conversation; or unless he be "born from above", as the word is rendered in John 3:31; that is, by a supernatural power, having the heavenly image stamped on him; and being called with an heavenly calling, even with the high calling of God in Christ Jesus: if this is not the case, a man can have no true knowledge of the kingdom of the Messiah, which is not a temporal and carnal one; it is not of this world, nor does it come with observation; nor can he have any right to the ordinances of it, which are of a spiritual nature; and much less can he be thought to have any true notions, or to be possessed of the kingdom of grace, which lies in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost; or to have either a meetness for, or a right unto the kingdom of glory: though by the following words it seems, that the word is rightly rendered "again", or a second time, as it is by Nounus.

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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.
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Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on John 3:3". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

2 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot d see the e kingdom of God.

(2) The beginning of Christianity consists in this, that we know ourselves not only to be corrupt in part, but to be wholly dead in sin: so that our nature has need to be created anew, with regard to its qualities, which can be done by no other power, but by the divine and heavenly, by which we were first created.

(d) That is, "go in", or "enter", as he expounds himself below in (John 3:5).

(e) The Church: for Christ shows here how we come to be citizens and to have anything to do in the city of God.

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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on John 3:3". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Except, etc. — This blunt and curt reply was plainly meant to shake the whole edifice of the man‘s religion, in order to lay a deeper and more enduring foundation. Nicodemus probably thought he had gone a long way, and expected, perhaps, to be complimented on his candor. Instead of this, he is virtually told that he has raised a question which he is not in a capacity to solve, and that before approaching it, his spiritual vision required to be rectified by an entire revolution on his inner man. Had the man been less sincere, this would certainly have repelled him; but with persons in his mixed state of mind - to which Jesus was no stranger (John 2:25) - such methods speed better than more honeyed words and gradual approaches.

a man — not a Jew merely; the necessity is a universal one.

be born again — or, as it were, begin life anew in relation to God; his manner of thinking, feeling, and acting, with reference to spiritual things, undergoing a fundamental and permanent revolution.

cannot see — can have no part in (just as one is said to “see life,” “see death,” etc.).

the kingdom of God — whether in its beginnings here (Luke 16:16), or its consummation hereafter (Matthew 25:34; Ephesians 5:5).

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This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.
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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on John 3:3". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

John Lightfoot's Commentary on the Gospels

3. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

[Jesus answered, &c.] You may ask how this answer suits with the question that Nicodemus put: it may appear very apposite upon this account: "You seem, O Nicodemus, to see some sign of the approaching kingdom of heaven in these miracles that are done by me. Verily, I say unto thee, No one can see the kingdom of God as he ought, if he be not born from above."

[Except a man be born again.] By what word our Saviour expressed born again in the Jewish language, it is not easy determining. The subject of the question, well considered, may afford us some light in the solution of it.

I. We must not suppose it a set discourse merely, and on purpose directed upon the subject of regeneration, though the doctrine of the new birth may be well enough asserted and explained from hence: but the question is about the aptitude and capacity of the man qualified to be a partaker of the kingdom of God, or of heaven, or of the times or benefits of the Messiah. For that the kingdom of God or of heaven are terms convertible in the evangelist, is obvious to every one that will take the pains to compare them: and that by the kingdom of God or of heaven is meant the kingdom and times of the Messiah, is so plain, that it needs no argument to prove it.

When, therefore, there was so vehement and universal an expectation of the coming and reign of the Messiah amongst the Jews, and when some token and indication of these times might appear to Nicodemus in the miracles that Christ had wrought, our Saviour instructs him by what way and means he may be made apt and capable for seeing and entering into this kingdom, and enjoying the benefits and advantages of Messiah's days. For,

II. The Jews thought that it was enough for them to have been of the seed of Abraham, or the stock of Israel, to make them fit subjects for the kingdom of heaven, and the happiness that should accrue to them from the days of the Messiah. Hence that passage, There is a part allotted to all Israel in the world to come; that is, in the participation of the Messiah. But whence comes it that universal Israel claim such a part? Merely because they are Israelites; i.e. merely because they come of the stock and lineage of Israel. Our Saviour sets himself against this error of theirs, and teacheth that it is not enough for them to be the children of Abraham, or the stock of Israel, to give them any title to or interest in the Messiah; but they must further be born from above; they must claim it by a heavenly, not an earthly birth. These words of his seem to fall in and bear the same kind of sense with those of John Baptist, "Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our Father."

III. The Jews acknowledged, in order to proselytism, some kind of regeneration or new birth absolutely necessary: but then this was very slightly and easily attainable. If any one become a proselyte, he is like a child new born. But in what sense is he so?

"The Gentile that is made a proselyte, and the servant that is made free, behold, he is like a child new born. And all those relations he had whiles either Gentile or servant, they now cease from being so. By the law it is lawful for a Gentile to marry his mother, or the sister of his mother, if they are proselyted to the Jewish religion. But the wise men have forbidden this, lest it should be said, We go downward from a greater degree of sanctity to a less; and that which was forbidden yesterday is allowable today." Compare this with 1 Corinthians 5:1.

Christ teaches another kind of new birth, requisite for those that partake of the kingdom of the Messiah, beyond what they have either as Israelites or proselytes; viz., that they should be born from above, or by a celestial generation, which only makes them capable of the kingdom of heaven.

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Lightfoot, John. "Commentary on John 3:3". "John Lightfoot Commentary on the Gospels". 1675.

People's New Testament

Verily, verily, I say unto thee. This form of expression was often upon the lips of Jesus to give emphasis to an unusually solemn and weighty declaration. See Matthew 5:18. It occurs twenty-four times in John.

Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. The term translated "again" is rendered "anew" in the Revision, which is better. It is the great doctrine, so fundamental in the Gospel, of Regeneration, a new Birth, being made a new creature, the same doctrine spoken of in John 1:12-13. Nicodemus, like all Jews, supposed that all who were born as children of Abraham would, as Abraham's seed, be citizens of the kingdom, but Jesus shows him that no one can be a new creature in Christ Jesus unless he is born anew. We are born naturally into the kingdom of nature, to live the natural life; if we enter the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of grace, it must be by a new birth. The doctrine that a man can bury his old sinful life, and begin a new one with the freshness of youthful hope, is foreshadowed in the Old Testament (Isaiah 1:18; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26), and taught in the New Testament (Romans 6:8; Romans 8:3; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15-16).

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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 3:3". "People's New Testament". 1891.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Except a man be born anew (εαν μη τις γεννητηι ανωτενean mē tis gennēthēi anōthen). Another condition of the third class, undetermined but with prospect of determination. First aorist passive subjunctive of γενναωgennaō ΑνωτενAnōthen Originally “from above” (Mark 15:38), then “from heaven” (John 3:31), then “from the first” (Luke 1:3), and then “again” (παλιν ανωτενpalin anōthen Galatians 4:9). Which is the meaning here? The puzzle of Nicodemus shows (δευτερονdeuteron John 3:4) that he took it as “again,” a second birth from the womb. The Vulgate translates it by renatus fuerit denuo. But the misapprehension of Nicodemus does not prove the meaning of Jesus. In the other passages in John (John 3:31; John 19:11, John 19:23) the meaning is “from above” (δεσυπερdesuper) and usually so in the Synoptics. It is a second birth, to be sure, regeneration, but a birth from above by the Spirit.

He cannot see the kingdom of God (ου δυναται ιδειν την βασιλειαν του τεουou dunatai idein tēn basileian tou theou). To participate in it as in Luke 9:27. For this use of ιδεινidein (second aorist active infinitive of οραωhoraō) see John 8:51; Revelation 18:7.

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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)
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Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on John 3:3". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

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.

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

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Jesus answered — That knowledge will not avail thee unless thou be born again - Otherwise thou canst not see, that is, experience and enjoy, either the inward or the glorious kingdom of God. In this solemn discourse our Lord shows, that no external profession, no ceremonial ordinances or privileges of birth, could entitle any to the blessings of the Messiah's kingdom: that an entire change of heart as well as of life was necessary for that purpose: that this could only be wrought in man by the almighty power of God: that every man born into the world was by nature in a state of sin, condemnation, and misery: that the free mercy of God had given his Son to deliver them from it, and to raise them to a blessed immortality: that all mankind, Gentiles as well as Jews, might share in these benefits, procured by his being lifted up on the cross, and to be received by faith in him: but that if they rejected him, their eternal, aggravated condemnation, would be the certain consequence.

Except a man be born again — If our Lord by being born again means only reformation of life, instead of making any new discovery, he has only thrown a great deal of obscurity on what was before plain and obvious.

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on John 3:3". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

The Fourfold Gospel

Jesus answered1 and said unto him, Verily, verily2, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew3, he cannot see the kingdom of God4.

  1. Jesus answered. Not the words, but the thoughts of Nicodemus. The answers of Jesus often look rather to the thoughts of the questioner than to the form of the question. Nicodemus came seeking to know something about the kingdom of God, and Jesus opened at once upon the subject.

  2. Verily, verily. See .

  3. Except one be born anew. The Greek word "anothen," translated "anew," may also mean "from above", and some commentators seek to so translate it here, but it is rightly translated "again", for Nicodemus understood it to mean a "second" birth. As to the import of the passage, Luther's words are pertinent:

    "My doctrine is not of doing, and of leaving undone, but of being and becoming; so that it is not a new work to be done, but the being new created--not the living otherwise, but the being new-born."

  4. He cannot see the kingdom of God. To "see" the kingdom means to possess or enjoy it (Psalms 16:10; Psalms 90:15; John 8:51; Luke 2:26).

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J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton. "Commentary on John 3:3". "The Fourfold Gospel". Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1914.

Abbott's Illustrated New Testament

Jesus answered, &c. There is no apparent connection between the reply of Jesus and the words of Nicodemus. Undoubtedly much of the conversation was omitted.--Be born again; altogether and entirely changed in the temper and disposition of the mind.

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Abbott, John S. C. & Abbott, Jacob. "Commentary on John 3:3". "Abbott's Illustrated New Testament". 1878.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Истинно, истинно говорю тебе. Христос дважды использует слово «аминь» и делает это, дабы еще больше привлечь внимание Никодима. Ведь, говоря о столь серьезной и важной вещи, Он должен был сделать Никодима весьма чутким к Своим словам. Иначе он пренебрежительно и легковесно отнесся бы к сказанному. На это и нацелено повторение слова «аминь». Впрочем, хотя речь Христова кажется далекой от содержания беседы и весьма несвоевременной, тем не менее, Христос переходит к новой теме вполне уместно. Ибо, как напрасно сеять семя в невозделанную почву, так и напрасно предлагать евангельское учение, ежели слушатель не будет прежде приведен к послушанию и не возымеет желание учиться. Христос видел: душа Никодима была полна терний. В ней проросло так много сорняков, что едва ли нашлось бы место для духовного учения. Итак, увещевание Христово было подобно возделыванию поля и направлено на очищение души, дабы ничто не препятствовало успеху Его учения. Посему будем помнить: это было сказано однажды, но ежедневно должно звучать в наших ушах. Ибо кто из нас скажет, что свободен от порочных чувствований и не нуждается в подобном очищении? Итак, если мы хотим получить пользу от обучения в школе Христовой, необходимо начать с этого важного урока.

Если кто не родится свыше. Христос как бы говорит: покуда у тебя нет того, что является главным для царствия Божия, твое признание Меня учителем немногого стоит. Ибо вход в царствие Божие означает для тебя стать новым человеком. Поелику высказывание это весьма примечательно, нам надлежит рассмотреть каждую его часть по отдельности. Видеть царствие Божие означает то же, что и войти в царствие Божие, как вскоре будет явствовать из контекста. Однако ошибаются те, кто принимает царство Божие за небеса. Скорее оно означает духовную жизнь, которая начинается уже в этом мире. Ее началом является вера, и она все больше возрастает день ото дня по мере роста самой веры. Посему смысл следующий: никто не может вступить в Церковь и числиться среди сынов Божиих, ежели прежде не будет обновлен. Итак, здесь кратко показывается, в чем основа христианства. Одновременно эти слова учат нас, что мы рождаемся далекими и чуждыми царствия Божия, что мы постоянно враждуем с ним, покуда второе рождение не сделает нас иными. Это общее положение, охватывающее весь человеческий род. Если бы Христос сказал, что нельзя пойти на небеса без предшествующего возрождения одному или немногим, мы могли бы заключить, что здесь имеются в виду вполне определенные лица. Но Он говорит о всех без исключения. Это неопределенное утверждение, имеющее ту же силу, что и утверждение всеобщее. Кто не родится заново и т.д. Кроме того, словом «возродиться» Христос означает не исправление какой-то одной части, но обновление всей природы. Откуда следует, что в нас царит один лишь порок. Ведь если обновление необходимо во всем и в каждой отдельной части, порча должна быть разлита повсюду. О чем вскоре будет сказано подробнее. Эразм следовал мнению Кирилла, и наречие ανωθεν перевел как «свыше». Признаю, что у греков данное выражение двусмысленно, но мы знаем, что Христос говорил с Никодимом по-еврейски. Кроме того, если бы здесь была двусмысленность, Никодим не стал бы колебаться и по-детски воображать второе телесное рождение. Итак, он мог только единственным образом понять слова Христа: человеку надлежит родиться заново, прежде чем он вступит в царствие Божие.




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Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 3:3". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.

Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books

Ver. 3. "Jesus answered and said unto him: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a man be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

The relation of this answer to the words of Nicodemus has been differently understood, for the very reason that He was not able to finish the expression of His thought. Meyer, in conformity with his supposition indicated above, interprets this answer thus: "Every particular work is unfitted to open the door of the kingdom of God; there must be a radical regeneration." But we have seen that Nicodemus, the Pharisee, could not have come with the thought which Meyer supposes. Baumgarten-Crusius and Weiss, starting from the title of teacher which he had given Him, think that Jesus means to say: "It is not a new teaching only that you need, it is a new birth."

According to our previous remarks, we think, rather, with Luthardt, that, on hearing the first words of Nicodemus, the whole Pharisaic programme with relation to the kingdom of God presented itself vividly to the mind of Jesus, and that He felt the need of directly opposing to it the true divine plan touching this capital subject. Nicodemus believes that he discerns in the appearance of Jesus the dawn of the Messianic kingdom, such as he conceived it; Jesus reveals to him an altogether spiritual conception of that kingdom, and, consequently, of all other moral conditions for entrance into it: "It is not a glorified earthly life; it is not a matter of expelling the Roman legions and of going to conquer the Capitol! The true kingdom of God is a state of the soul, the submission of the heart to the Divine will; to enter it, there must be wrought within the man a work at once spiritual and individual, which has nothing in common with the great political drama which thou hast in view." It is, then, the full security in which Nicodemus is living with regard to his participation in the kingdom of the Messiah, that Jesus wishes to break up, by answering him in this way. We have in Luke 17:20-21, a parallel which offers the best commentary on our passage. "When cometh the kingdom of God?" a group of Pharisees ask of Jesus. "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation," Jesus answers; "it is within you." The coincidence could not be more complete. The formula amen, amen, implies a doubt in the hearer"s mind (see John 1:51); the doubt implied here is that which naturally arises from the Pharisaic prejudices of Nicodemus. "The pious Jew, the honored Pharisee, the powerful ruler, Nicodemus is prostrated," says Hengstenberg, "at the shock of this, verily." The solemn expression: "I say unto thee," or "I declare to thee," recalls to Nicodemus that dignity of divine teacher which he has himself just attributed to Jesus. By the indeterminate formula: if any one, Jesus avoids the harshness which the direct application to such an old man would have involved. The word ἄνωθεν has, in the three other passages where John uses it (John 3:31; John 19:11; John 19:23) the local meaning: from above, that is to say, from heaven.

The passages, also, may be compared in which he makes use of the expression: to be born of God; for example, John 1:13, and in the 1st Epistle 1 John 2:29, 1 John 3:9, etc.; nine times in all. These parallel passages seem decisive and have determined a large number of interpreters (Origen, Erasmus, Lucke, de Wette, Meyer, Baumlein, Reuss, etc.) to adopt this meaning here. But may we not also conclude from the last passages cited that if this were the idea which John wished to express, he would rather have employed the expression ἐκ θεοῦ, of God? The misunderstanding of Nicodemus (John 3:4) is more easily explained, if Jesus said in Aramaic: anew, than from above, since even in this latter case, also, Nicodemus might have spoken of a second birth. At all events, it follows from the expressions: a second time ( δεύτερον) and his mother"s womb, that, if he thought of a birth coming from above, he understood this term in the sense in which it can be applied even to the natural birth,—that is to say, that every child who is born comes from God, descends from heaven. However, if the word ἄνωθεν expressed here such a striking idea, the emphasis would be laid upon this word, and, in that case, it ought to be placed before the verb. Placed after the verb, ἄνωθεν only strengthens the idea of beginning connected with that of being born, which leads us to give to this adverb the temporal, rather than the local sense: from the beginning. We have three striking examples of this sense of ἄνωθεν . Josephus says (Antiqq. 1.18, 3): φιλίαν ἄνωθεν ποιεῖται; he contracts friendship with him, going back to the beginning, that is, as if they entered for the first time into mutual relations. Tholuck cites, the following passage of Artemidorus (Oneirocriticon 1.14): A father dreaming that his wife gives birth to a child exactly like himself, says: "that he seems to himself ἄνωθεν γεννᾶσθαι, to be born from the beginning, to recommence his own existence." In the Acta Pauli, Jesus says to Peter, who is flying from martyrdom and to whom He presents Himself: ἄνωθεν μέλλω σταυρωθῆναι, "I am going to begin anew my crucifixion."

Compare also in the New Testament, Luke 1:3; Acts 26:5; and Galatians 4:9. In this last passage ἄνωθεν is completed by πάλιν : "entering from the beginning into a state of slavery which will be the second." This sense of ἄνωθεν can scarcely be given in French. The expressiontout a: neuf would best answer to it. The sense is: to place in the course of the earthly life a beginning as new as birth itself. There is nothing to oppose this sense, philologically, according to the examples cited. And it makes the answer of Nicodemus more easily understood. The word to see is perhaps connected with to be born; a new sight implies a new life. Sight is often the symbol of enjoyment, as well as of suffering (John 8:51). In the old covenant, the kingdom of God was realized in a politico-religious form. From this temporary envelopment, Jesus freed the spiritual principle which forms the true foundation of that state of things, the submission of the human will to the divine will, in one word, holiness (comp. the Sermon on the Mount); and from this principle He derives a new order of things which is first realized in individuals, and which brings about thereby the renewal of society, and finally is to transform nature itself. For it is false to exclude, as Reuss does (Hist. de la theol . chret . t. II., pp. 555f.), the social and final consequences of the notion of the kingdom of God in the sense of our Gospel. The eschatological hopes attached to this term in the Old and New Testaments are found again in full in John 5:28-29; John 6:39-40; John 6:44; John 6:54.

Meyer calls attention to the fact that the term kingdom of God does not again appear anywhere else in John, and rightly finds in this fact a proof of the truly historical character of the narrative which occupies our attention. If, as Renan thinks, Jesus had been only a young enthusiast, obedient to a mission which He had assumed for Himself, would He not have been flattered by seeing such considerable personages as Nicodemus and those whom he represented (John 3:1) as well as the colleagues in whose name he spoke, ranked among the number of his adherents, and would not this feeling have borne Him on, at this moment, to entirely different language? The assured feeling of the divinity and holiness of His missson alone could, in the face of this success, keep Him from a false step.

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Scofield's Reference Notes

born again


(1) The necessity of the new birth grows out of the incapacity of the natural man to "see" or "enter into" the kingdom of God. However gifted, moral, or refined, the natural man is absolutely blind to spiritual truth, and impotent to enter the kingdom; for he can neither obey, understand, nor please God John 3:3; John 3:5; John 3:6; Psalms 51:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21-23; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Romans 8:7; Romans 8:8; Ephesians 2:3 (See Scofield "Matthew 6:33").

(2) The new birth is not a reformation of the old nature (See Scofield "Romans 6:6") but a creative act of the holy Spirit John 3:5; John 1:12; John 1:13; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10; Ephesians 4:24.

(3) The condition of the new birth is faith in Christ crucified John 3:14; John 3:15; John 1:12; John 1:13; Galatians 3:24

(4) Through the new birth the believer becomes a partaker of the divine nature and of the life of Christ Himself Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:10; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 1:27; 1 Peter 1:23-25; 2 Peter 1:4; 1 John 5:10-12

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Scofield, C. I. "Scofield Reference Notes on John 3:3". "Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition)". 1917.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Ver. 3. Except a man be born again] E supernis, Out of heaven, Erasm. Except a man be first unmade (as St Peter expounds our Saviour) and newly made up again, ταις αμαρτιαις απογενομενοι, 1 Peter 2:24; except the whole frame of the old conversation be dissolved, and a better erected, there is no heaven to be had. Heaven is too hot to hold unregenerate persons; no such dirty dog ever trampled on that golden pavement, it is an undefiled inheritance, 2 Peter 1:3.

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Sermon Bible Commentary

John 3:3

I. The first thing to be observed, as we read this discourse just as it lies before us, is the clear deliverance, by implication at least, on the doctrine of the complete depravity of human nature. It was to Nicodemus—with his morality and unblemished life, with his position as a teacher of the only true religion that was in the world at the time, and not to some dark, sin-defiled creature who had trampled on all law—that the Saviour says, "You are all wrong; you must be born again."

II. The next and corresponding truth is the radical character of the religion of Christ. In order to meet this great need, that religion goes to the root of everything within us, and touching and transforming all creates us anew in Christ Jesus.

III. The inexorable character of this requirement. It is a law of the kingdom of Christ, and it stands at the entrance to that kingdom, never to be disannulled: "Ye must be born again." Like the rocks which sometimes guard the entrance to a safe and spacious harbour, these words stand. A ship must enter here, or turn back to the wide ocean, with no haven or home.

IV. Although this law is itself radical and inexorable, there is nothing uniform or unchangeable as to times and modes of its fulfilment. In these there may be, and indeed there is, endless variety. As it is well not to fall short of the teaching of Scripture, it is also well not to go beyond it. In this matter of regeneration or conversion, nothing can be firmer and clearer than the law, nothing wider and more unlimited than the mode.

V. This great change is very blessed. Great happiness will accrue to a man when it is accomplished, and when he is living the new life in Christ. It is, indeed, a most blessed thing that such a change is possible, still more that it is realised in actual fact; that it occurs in cases around us; that God thus comes to dwell with men; that His Spirit touches and transforms human spirits; that men become new creatures in Christ Jesus. These are great and good things. "Ye may be born again." Does not that give a new and more luminous aspect of the case? Why should we look upon the new birth only as a stern necessity? Why not regard it as a glorious privilege? It is by far the most beneficent change that takes place under the sun. It is the seed of all virtue, the starting-point of an endless progress, the first outburst of the living water springing up into everlasting life.

A. Raleigh, From Dawn to the Perfect Day, p. 108.

References: John 3:3.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 201; vol. xxx., p. 33; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 130; G. Moberly, Plain Sermons at Brighstone, p. 1; F. D. Maurice, The Gospel of St. John, p. 85.

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Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

John 3:3. Jesus answered and said It is remarkable, that the evangelist introduces this passage of the history, with observing that Jesus knew the thoughts of all men: probably he meant to signify, that in the course of the conversation, Jesus prevented Nicodemus by forming his discourse to him in such a manner, as to obviate all the objections which his thoughts had suggested, without giving him timeto propose them. This remark seems to shew the force and propriety of the things which our Lord said to Nicodemus; and accounts for this ruler's being so speedily and thoroughly convinced, though Jesus did not assume either the name or character of the Messiah. It seems, his reasonings, besides their own intrinsic light, had an additional evidence arising from their being exactly adapted to Nicodemus's most secret thoughts; so that theydemonstrated the extent of our Lord's knowledge with great advantage. We see this in all the branches of the conversation; wherein our Lord touches on the following grand points, of the utmost importance to Nicodemus and his brethren, and indeed to all mankind; namely, that no external profession, nor any ceremonial observances or privileges of birth, could entitle any man to the blessings of the Messiah's kingdom; that an entire change of heart and life was necessary to that purpose; that this must be accomplished by a divine influence on the mind; that mankind are by nature in a state of condemnation and misery; that the free mercy of God had given his Son, to deliver them from it, and to raise them to a blessed immortality, which was the great design and purpose of his coming; that all mankind, that is, Gentiles as well as Jews, were to share in the benefits of his undertaking; that they were to be procured by his being lifted upon the cross, and to be received by faith in him; but that if they rejected him, there was no other remedy; and their eternal aggravated condemnation would be the certain consequence of it. Our Lord might enlarge more copiously on these heads, which it might be the more proper to do, as some of them were directly contrary to the notions commonly entertained by the Jews concerning the Messiah's kingd

Conversion has, in all ages, been a great and surprising effect of the divine power upon the human soul, producing a change, the full extent of which cannot be better expressed than by the terms regeneration, begetting-again, new-birth, which import the communication of a new nature; and upon the diversity of men's dispositions before and after that change, are founded the names of old and new man, by which the apostle denominates the unconverted and converted state. This, however, must not be so understood, as if the new nature was raised to its perfection immediately upon its being conveyed to us in regeneration; for as by the natural generation we are not born with the perfectly matured powers of men, but with the faculties for obtaining these full powers and perfections; so in the spiritual generationthe habits of grace and holiness are not all at once raised to their maturity. We have the seeds of them conveyed to us, which must be gradually nourished to their full measure by the Spirit of God through the means of prayer, habit, experience and practice; and, above all, by strong faith in the merits and intercession of our blessed Redeemer. In speaking to Jews there was a peculiar propriety in expressing this change by the term of regeneration, as it shews them that Abraham's begetting them, however much they might glory in it, was not sufficient to make them the people and children of God; but that, laying aside the glory of their descent, it was necessary that they should be begotten anew bya greater Father, even the Spirit of God, who would communicate a better nature to them than that which they had derived from Abraham. The phrase, he cannot see the kingdom of God, signifies, he cannot enter into it; just as to see death, Luke 2:26 is to die.

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Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

Christ here acquaints Nicodemus, and in him all persons, That there must be a change from nature to grace, before there can be a change from grace to glory; for though he was a Jew, a doctor, and one that had good thoughts of Christ, looking upon him as an extraordinary person, one that had received power from God to work miracles; yet Christ assures him, that nothing short of the regenerating change would bring him to heaven.

'Tis not enough that we be new dressed, but we must be new made; that is, thoroughly and universally changed, the understanding by illumination, the will by renovation, the affections by sanctification, the life by reformation, or we can never be happy in the enjoyment of him in heaven; for heaven, which is a place of the greatest holiness, would be a place of the greatest uneasiness to an unregenerate and an unholy person: the contagin is universal, deep, and inward, therefore such must the change be.

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Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

3.] We are not to imagine that any thing is wanting to complete the sense or connexion. Our Lord replies, It is not learning, but life, that is wanted for the Messiah’s Kingdom; and life must begin by birth. Luther (Stier, iv. 17, edn. 2) says: “My teaching is not of doing and leaving undone, but of a change in the man (nicht von Thun und Lassen, fondern von Werden);—so that it is, not new works done, but a new man to do them; not another life only, but another birth.” And only by this means can Nicodemus gain the teaching for which he is come,— ἰδεῖν τ. β. τ. θ.,—‘become a disciple of Christ:’— ἴδοι, τουτέστι νοήσοι, Thl.,—‘understand, by sharing’—‘have any conception of.’

ἄνωθενοἱ μὲνἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦφασιν, οἱἐξ ἀρχῆς.” Chr(44),—who, as also Euthym(45), explains γεν. ἄνωθ. by παλιγγενεσία:—Orig(46), Cyr(47), and Thl. taking the other meaning.

The true meaning is to be found by taking into account the answer of Nicodemus, who obviously understood it of a new birth in mature life. Born afresh would be a better rendering than ‘born again,’ being closer to the meaning of ἄνωθεν, ‘from the very beginning;’—‘unless a man begin his life anew altogether ( πἁλιν ἄνωθεν, Galatians 4:9), he cannot’ &c.

It is not impossible that the other meaning may lie beneath this,—as the βασιλεία is τοῦ θεοῦ, and so must the birth be;—but Grotius has remarked that in Hebrew and Aramaic (in one of which languages our Lord, discoursing with a Rabbinical Jew, probably spoke) there is no word of double meaning corresponding to ἄνωθεν:—so that He must have expressed it, as Nicodemus understood it, of an entirely new birth. That John never uses the word elsewhere in this sense (Lücke) is here of little weight, for he uses it only three times more, and never with a verb cognate to γεννάομαι. The Evangelist most likely chose the Greek expression γεν. ἄνωθ. as strictly corresponding to the term ἀναγεννᾶσθαι, which, when he wrote, was in common use in the Church: see 1 Peter 1:3; 1 Peter 1:23. Justin Martyr, as Bp. Wordsworth reminds us, quotes as our Lord’s saying, Apol. i. 61, p. 79, ἆν μὴ ἀναγεννήθητε, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς τ. βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν: probably mixing this with Matthew 18:3. On the birth itself, see below, John 3:5.

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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on John 3:3". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae



John 3:3. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

AS there is an essential distinction between divine and human knowledge, so is there a very great difference in the ways by which each of them is to be obtained; the one being attainable only by rational investigation, the other only by faith. Reason indeed must judge whether such or such things be revealed; but when that point is clearly ascertained, faith must receive the truth simply on the authority of God; and that too, no less when it lies beyond the sphere of our reason, than when it may easily be comprehended by it. The manner in which revealed truths are inculcated seems to imply this; for the prophets enforced their declarations, not with arguments, but with, “Thus saith the Lord:” and our Saviour, with an authority which none but himself ever presumed to exercise, and which strongly marked his equality with the Father, disdained to use any other confirmation than that of his own assertion: this appears, as in numberless other passages, so particularly in his conversation with Nicodemus; when, instructing him in the mysterious doctrine of regeneration, he required a full assent to it upon the testimony of his own word. May we bow to his authority, while we consider,

I. The nature of regeneration—

The mistakes which very generally obtain respecting this subject being first rectified, the truth will be more clearly seen—

Many suppose that baptism is the same with regeneration—

[In the early ages of Christianity these terms were often used as synonymous, because it was taken for granted that none but truly regenerate persons would submit to a rite which engaged them to separate themselves from an ungodly world, and exposed them to the most imminent peril of their lives. But there is a wide difference between the two; regeneration being absolutely necessary to salvation, while baptism, as in the case of the dying thief, may under some circumstances be dispensed with. Besides, it was doubtless the great design of our Lord and his Apostles to regenerate and convert men: but were they so intent on administering the rite of baptism? Our Lord, we are told, “baptized no man;” and it is said of Paul, that “God sent him not to baptize;” yea, he himself “thanks God that he had baptized none but Crispus and Gaius:” but if he had regenerated none other, would he have thought that a proper ground for thanksgiving? Again, if baptism and regeneration be the same thing, we may use them altogether as synonymous terms: now it is said that “Whosoever is born of God overcometh the world [Note: 1 John 5:4.],” and that “he neither doth sin nor can sin, because he is born of God [Note: 1 John 3:9.].” But if we should say the same of all that are baptized, would not the worldly and sinful lives of many flatly contradict us? It appears then from the superior importance of regeneration, from the design of Christ and his Apostles respecting it, and from the properties ascribed to it in Scripture, that it neither is, nor can be, the same with baptism. Baptism is an outward work of man upon the body; regeneration is an inward work of God upon the soul.]

Others think that regeneration imports no more than an outward reformation, or at most, a partial change of the inward man—

[But can we conceive that, when a ruler of the Jews came to our Lord, acknowledging him to be a teacher sent from God, and desiring to be instructed in those things which he was come to reveal, our Lord would tell him that wicked men could not be saved without reforming their lives? Did Nicodemus need such information as that? Or, if this was all that our Lord meant, would this teacher in Israel have been so astonished at it? And would not our Lord have instantly rectified his misapprehension, and shewn him that there was no cause for astonishment? Can we imagine that our Lord would have confirmed the mistake, by representing this doctrine as an incomprehensible mystery, which man can no more fathom, than he can ascertain the hidden causes, or mark the exact boundaries, of the wind? Yea, would he have left this man so bewildered, saying, How can these things be! if he had meant no more than, that a wicked man must reform his life? Nor is it less evident that regeneration does not consist in a partial change even of the inward man. To what purpose should we boast of having experienced the illumination of Balaam [Note: Numbers 24:4.], the humiliation of Ahab [Note: 1 Kings 21:29.], the confession of Judas [Note: Matthew 27:4.], the faith of Simon Magus [Note: Acts 8:13; Acts 8:21; Acts 8:23.], the confidence of the unbelieving Jews [Note: John 8:41-42.], the attention of Ezekiel’s auditors [Note: Ezekiel 33:31.], the reformation of Herod [Note: Mark 6:20; Mark 6:27.], or (what perhaps includes all these together) the promising appearance of the stony-ground hearers [Note: Matthew 13:20-21.], if, like them, we rest in any partial change? Surely, if our righteousness exceed not theirs, we cannot hope that we shall be happier than they in our final doom.]

In opposition to all such erroneous notions, the Scripture itself defines regeneration to be “a new creation, wherein old things pass away, and all things become new [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:17.].”

[The author of this work is the Holy Spirit, who by a supernatural agency renews our inward man, and makes us partakers of a divine nature [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.]. Our faculties indeed remain the same as they were before; but there is a new direction given to them all. Our understanding is enlightened, so that we behold ourselves, and Christ, and the world, yea, every thing else too, in a very different light from what we ever did before [Note: Acts 2:37-47.] — — — Our will is changed, so that instead of following, or even desiring to follow, our own way, we surrender up ourselves altogether to God’s government, saying most unfeignedly, Not my will, but thine be done [Note: Acts 9:6.] — — — Our affections also are exercised in a very different manner from what they were before, so that, instead of being called forth principally by the things of time and sense, they are set upon things spiritual and eternal [Note: Colossians 3:2.] — — — We say not that this change is perfect in any man, (for there still are sad remains of the old and corrupt nature even in the best of men; the leprosy is never wholly removed till the walls be taken down.) But the change is universal in all the faculties, and progressive throughout our lives: nor can it be effected by any efforts of man, or by any other power than that of God [Note: John 1:13.].]

As the Scriptures give this extensive view of regeneration, so they fully declare,

II. The necessity of it—

“The kingdom of God” sometimes imports the kingdom of grace on earth, and sometimes the kingdom of glory in heaven. Indeed both are one and the same kingdom, subject to the same Head, composed of the same members, and governed by the same laws: grace is glory begun; glory is grace consummated. But for the purpose of illustrating our subject, we observe that, without regeneration,

1. We cannot enter into God’s kingdom of grace—

[There are many duties to be performed, and many privileges to be enjoyed, by the subjects of God’s spiritual kingdom, which an unregenerate man can neither perform nor enjoy. Who can doubt whether it be our duty to “repent in dust and ashes,” to “live by faith on the Son of God,” or to “crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts?” But can an unregenerate man do these things? We acknowledge that he may restrain in many respects his outward conduct; but can he root out from his heart the love of the world, and the love of sin? Can he truly lothe and abhor himself as well for the unhallowed corruptions of his heart, as for the grosser transgressions of his life? As well may he attempt to create a world as to effect these things by any power of his own. Again; it is the Christian’s privilege to enjoy that “peace of God which passeth all understanding,” to “abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost,” and to be transported with that “joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.” But can an unregenerate man possess that peace, when his iniquities are not forgiven? Can he look forward with delight to the coming of the day of Christ, when all his desires and pursuits terminate in this lower world? Can he be so elevated with holy joy, when there is nothing in his state which does not rather call for rivers of tears? But if any one doubt what answer he must return to these questions, let him go to his chamber, and see whether he be competent to form his mind to these sublime employments; and he will soon find that no power but that which created our souls at first, can form them anew after the Divine image.]

2. We cannot enter into the kingdom of glory—

[There is a meetness for the heavenly inheritance [Note: Colossians 1:12.], which every one must attain, before he can enjoy the felicity of the saints in light. As, on earth, no occupation can afford us pleasure, if we have not an inward taste and relish for it, so, in heaven, we must have dispositions suited to the state of those above. But where is this disposition to be obtained, if not in this life? Can it be thought that there shall be “repentance in the grave,” and that we shall become regenerate in a future state? Shall he, who never supremely loved his God, become at once inflamed with devout affection towards him? Shall not he, who never was renewed after the Divine image, rather behold with dread and horror the holiness of God, and tremble at the sight of that Lamb, whose dying love he despised, and whose blood he trampled under foot? Shall he, who never sought one hour’s communion with God in secret, delight to have no other employment to all eternity? No; “as the tree falleth, so it lieth;” “he that was unjust will be unjust still; and he that was filthy will be filthy still.” As there is this reason on the part of man, so is there a still more cogent reason on the part of God. God has declared, with repeated and most solemn asseverations, that “except a man be born again, he shall never enter into his kingdom.” And has he spoken thus merely to alarm us? “Is he a man that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent?” Will he dishonour himself to favour us? Will he violate the rights of justice, holiness, and truth, in order to save those, who, to their dying hour, rejected and despised his proffered mercy? If all the world tell you that you shall be admitted into heaven, believe them not: for the Judge of quick and dead has with the strongest possible asseverations declared, you never shall. Let us not then deceive ourselves with such vain hopes: for they can terminate in nothing but disappointment and ruin.]


1. The unregenerate—

[You cannot surely be at a loss to know your real state, if you will examine candidly whether you have ever experienced such a change in your views, desires, and pursuits, as has been before described? O, let every one put home to his conscience this question, Am I born again? And know that neither circumcision, nor uncircumcision will avail you any thing, but a new creation [Note: Galatians 6:15.]. You must be born again, or perish — — —]

2. The regenerate—

[St. Peter, writing to such persons under the severest persecution, begins his Epistle with congratulations [Note: 1 Peter 1:1; 1 Peter 1:3-4.]: and St. Paul bids us under the heaviest calamities to be thankful for renewing grace [Note: Colossians 1:11-13.]. Do ye then bless God in every state, and “shew forth the virtues of him who hath called you to his kingdom and glory [Note: ἀρετὰς. 1 Peter 2:9.]” — — — Let your renovation be progressive; and never think that you have attained any thing as long as any thing remains to be attained.]

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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on John 3:3". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.

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

John 3:3. In John 3:2 Nicodemus had only uttered the preface to what he had it in his mind to ask; the question itself was to have followed. But Jesus interrupts him, and gives him the answer by anticipation. This question, which was not (as Lange thinks, in contradiction of the procedure of Nicodemus on other occasions) kept back with remarkable prudence and caution, is to be inferred solely from the answer of Jesus; and it was accordingly no other than the general inquiry, “What must a man do in order to enter the Messiah’s kingdom?” not the special one, “Is the baptism of John sufficient for this?” (Baeumlein), for there is no mention of John the Baptist in what follows; comp. rather Matthew 19:16. The first is the question which the Lord reads in the heart of Nicodemus, and to which He gives an answer,-—an answer in which He at once lays hold of the anxiety of the questioner in its deepest foundation, and overturns all Pharisaic, Judaistic, and merely human patchwork and pretence. To suppose that part of the conversation is here omitted (Maldonatus, Kuinoel, and others), is as arbitrary as to refer the answer of Jesus to the words of Nicodemus. Such a reference must be rejected, because Jesus had not given him time to tell the purpose of his coming. We must not therefore assume, either that Jesus wished to lead him on from faith in His miracles to that faith which effects a moral transformation (Augustine, De Wette, comp. also Luthardt and Ebrard); or that “He wished to convince Nicodemus, who imagined he had made a great confession in his first words, that he had not yet so much as made his way into the porticoes of true knowledge” (Chrysostom); or that “He wished to intimate that He had not come merely as a Teacher, but in order to the moral renewal of the world” (Baumgarten Crusius, comp. already Cyril, and Theophylact); or, “Videris tibi, O Nicodeme, videre aliquod signum apparentis jam regni coelorum in hisce miraculis, quae ego edo; amen dico tibi: nemo potest videre regnum Dei, sicut oportet, si non, etc.” (Lightfoot, approved by Lücke, and substantially by Godet also).

ἐὰν μὴ τις γενν. ἄνωθεν] except a man be born from above, i.e. except a man be transformed by God into a new moral life. See on John 1:13. What is here required answers to the μετανοεῖτε, etc., with, which Jesus usually began His preaching, Mark 1:15. ἄνωθεν, the opposite of κάτωθεν, may be taken with reference to place (here equivalent to ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ; comp. Xen. Mem. iv. 3. 14; Symp. vi. 7; Thuc. iv. 75. 3; Soph. El. 1047; Eur. Cycl. 322; Baruch 6:63; James 1:17; James 3:15), or with reference to time (equivalent to ἐξ ἀρχῆς); Chrysostom gives both renderings. The latter is the ordinary interpretation

Syriac, Augustine, Vulgate, Nonnus, Luther, Castalio, Calvin, Beza, Maldonatus, etc. (so likewise Tholuck, Olshausen, Neander, and substantially Luthardt, Hengstenberg, Godet)—because Nicodemus himself (John 3:4) thus understood it. Accordingly, ἄνωθεν would be equivalent to iterum, again, anew, as Grimm (on Wisdom of Solomon 19:6) also thinks. But this is already unjustifiable upon linguistic grounds, because ἄνωθεν when used of time does not signify iterum or denuo, but throughout, from the beginning onwards(150) (and so Ewald and Weiss interpret it), Luke 1:3; Acts 26:5; Galatians 4:9; Wisdom of Solomon 19:6; Dem. 539, 22. 1082, 7. 13; Plat. Phil. 44 D and, conformably with Johannean usage, the only right rendering is the local, not only linguistically (John 3:31; John 19:11; John 19:23), but, considering the manner of representation, because John apprehends regeneration, not according to the element of repetition, a being born again, but as a divine birth, a being born of God; see John 1:13; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1. The representation of it as a repeated, a renewed birth is Pauline (Titus 3:5, comp. Romans 12:2; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 4:23-24; Colossians 3:9) and Petrine (1 Peter 3:22). ἄνωθεν, therefore, is rightly taken as equivalent to ἐκ θεοῦ by Origen, Gothic Vers. (ïupathrô), Cyril, Theophylact, Arethas, Bengel, etc.; also Lücke, B. Crusius, Maier, De Wette, Baur, Lange, Hilgenfeld, Baeumlein, Weizsäcker (who, however, adopts a double sense), Steinfass.

ἰδεῖν] i.e. as a partaker thereof. Comp. εἰσελθεῖν, John 3:5, and see John 3:36, also ἰδεῖν θάνατον (Luke 2:26; Hebrews 11:5), διαφθοράν (Acts 2:27), ἡμέρας ἀγαθάς (1 Peter 3:10), πένθος (Revelation 18:7). From the classics, see Jacobs ad Del. epigr. p. 387 ff.; Ellendt, Lex. Soph. II. 343. Not therefore: “simply to see, to say nothing of entering,” Lange; comp. Ewald on John 3:5. It is to be observed that the expression βασ. τοῦ θεοῦ does not occur in John, save here and in John 3:5;(151) and this is a proof of the accuracy with which he has recorded this weighty utterance of the Lord in its original shape. In John 18:36 Christ, on an extraordinary occasion, speaks of His kingdom. The conception of “the kingdom” in John does not differ from its meaning elsewhere in the N. T. (see on Matthew 3:2). Moreover, the necessary correlative thereto, the Parousia, is not wanting in John (see on John 14:3).

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Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on John 3:3". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. 1832.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

John 3:3. ἐὰν μὴ τίς, Unless one [Except a man]) The expression is indefinite: Nicodemus, however, rightly applies it to himself. Comp. John 3:7, ye. The sense here is: That opinion of thine, Nicodemus, as to Jesus is not sufficient: it is needful that you absolutely believe, and submit yourself to the heavenly ordinance, even baptism. Comp. Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” This was the doctrine necessary for Nicodemus. Accordingly Jesus began from this point, as Nicodemus indeed had furnished the handle.— γεννηθῇ, be born) This is put forward first under a figure, in hard language, in order to convince [convict] Nicodemus of ignorance; it is afterwards, when he was humbled, shown in plain [literal] words, John 3:15, “That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish,” etc., etc. [Comp. 1 John 5:1, Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.] The same truth is expressed in this passage, as Matthew 3 expresses by the word μετανοίας, repentance. For this word does not occur in the whole Gospel according to John.(50) [Beware of thinking that the work of faith is accomplished without any trouble: for it is (nothing short of) a generation from above. Beware again, on the other hand, of regarding regeneration as more difficult than it really is: it is simply, to wit, accomplished by faith (i.e. in the act of believing).—V. g.]— ἄνωθεν) Comp. John 3:2; John 3:7; John 3:11, “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen,” etc.; 31, “He that cometh from above is above all.” ἄνωθεν signifies from above, whence the Son of man hath come down.— οὐ δύναται, cannot) Nicodemus had not himself sufficiently known [the full significancy of] what (John 3:2, Thou art a Teacher come from God) he had said.— ἰδεῖν, to see) even now, and after this life: to see, with [real] enjoyment.— τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ, the kingdom of God) [Nicodemus was aspiring after this; yet being ignorant of how great consequence in this respect faith in Jesus was.—V. g.] He who sees Christ, sees this. Whence the new birth [cometh], thence [also cometh] acquaintance with Him.

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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on John 3:3". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

We observed before, that the term answered doth not always in the New Testament signify a reply to a question before propounded; but sometimes no more than a reply, or the beginning of another speech: whether it doth so here or no, some question. Some think Christ here gives a strict answer to a question which Nicodemus had propounded to him, about the way to enter into the kingdom of God; which question the evangelist sets not down, but leaves to the reader to gather from the answer. Others think that our Saviour knew what he would say, and answered the thoughts of his heart. Others, that he only began a discourse to him about what was highly necessary for him, that was a master in Israel, to understand and know. He begins his discourse with

Verily, verily, the import of which we considered, John 1:51. The word translated again, is anwyen, which often signifieth from above; so it signifieth, John 3:31 James 1:17 3:15-17. It also signifieth again: Galatians 4:9, How turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements? That it must be so translated here, and John 3:7, appeareth from Nicodemus’s answer in the next verse. But the expression of the second or new birth by this word, which also signifies from above, may possibly reach us, that the new birth must be wrought in the soul from above by the power of God, which is what was said before, John 1:12,13, the necessity of which our Saviour presseth from the impossibility otherwise of his seeing the

kingdom of God; by which some understand the kingdom of his glory (as the phrase is used, Luke 18:24,25); others understand it of the manifestation of Christ under the gospel state, or the vigour, power, and effect of the gospel, and the grace thereof. By seeing of it, is meant enjoying, and being made partakers of it, as the term is used, Psalms 16:10 John 16:10 Revelation 18:7. The Jews promised their whole nation a place in the kingdom of the Messiah, as they were born of Abraham, Matthew 3:9; and the Pharisees promised themselves much from their observation of the law, &c. Christ lets them know neither of these would do, but unless they were wholly changed in their hearts and principles (for so much being born again signifieth; not some partial change as to some things, and in some parts) they could never have any true share, either in the kingdom of grace in this life, or in the kingdom of glory in that life which is to come. It is usual by the civil laws of countries, that none enters into the possession of an earthly kingdom but by the right of birth; and for the obtaining the kingdom of heaven, there must be a new birth, a heavenly renovation of the whole man, soul, body, and spirit, to give him a title, by the wise and unchangeable constitution of God in the gospel, and to qualify him for the enjoyment of it.

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Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

родится свыше Иисус ответил на вопрос, который Никодим даже не задает. Он прочел сокровенные мысли Никодима и достиг самой сути его проблемы, т.е. необходимости в духовном изменении или возрождении, произведенном Духом Святым. Новое рождение является действием Бога, при котором верующему дается вечная жизнь (2Кор. 5:17; Тит. 3:5; 1Пет. 1:3; 1Ин. 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). Место 1:12, 13 указывает, что «родиться свыше» также содержит в себе идею «стать дитем Божиим» через веру во имя воплощенного Слова.

не может увидеть Царствия Божия В контексте это главным образом ссылка на участие в Тысячелетнем Царстве в конце века, которого ревностно ожидали фарисеи и другие иудеи. Поскольку фарисеи не были материалистами, они естественно и с нетерпением ожидали приближающегося предсказанного воскресения святых и установления мессианского Царства (Ис. 11:1-16; Дан. 12:2). Их проблема заключалась в том, что они думали, что право для вхождения в царство им давало простое физическое происхождение и соблюдение религиозной обрядности, а отнюдь не требуемое духовное изменение, которое подчеркивал Иисус (ср. 8:33-39; Гал. 6:15). Приход царствия в конце века можно описать как «возрождение» мира (Мф. 19:28), но, чтобы войти в царствие, требуется возрождение личности до конца мира.

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Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

Except a man be born again; our Lord saw that Nicodemus had no true apprehension of the spiritual nature of the kingdom which he had come to establish, nor of the spiritual character required for admission to it. He therefore met his difficulty at the outset by teaching him that all men, be they Jews or Gentiles, must be made new in the inner man by a spiritual birth, before they can enter into his kingdom and enjoy its privileges. To be born again is to be made new men inwardly by a great change from supreme love of the Creator.

See the kingdom of God; understand or enjoy its blessings. Matthew 3:2.

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Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

3.Except a man—Our Lord’s reply seems abrupt; but it was perfectly suited to the case. Nicodemus was a logical believer upon the ground of miracle. Jesus forthwith proceeds, therefore, to lead him from that starting-point, to the full heart reception of the deeper spiritual truths of Christianity, and to the full experience of their truth and power. His deeper points are, original sin, regeneration by the Spirit, atonement, salvation by faith, condemnation by unbelief.

He cannot see—Same as cannot enter, John 3:5. So to see life, John 3:36. Compare to see good days, Psalms 34:12; also Ecclesiastes 6:6; Hebrews 12:14.

It is not to be supposed that John has here given anything more than a very brief and free, though symmetrical, summary of this conversation. It would take an ordinary reader not more than two or three minutes to utter the whole; and it is not to be imagined that an interview so carefully sought should be so briefly transacted.

We need feel no perplexity about the question proposed by sceptics, How did John come by his report of this secret conversation? If we are to suppose that Nicodemus came perfectly alone (which cannot conclusively be shown) we need not therefore conclude that Jesus was himself alone. Nicodemus may have been afraid to bring companions; but he could not have been afraid of John and his four fellow disciples, had he or they been present.


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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 3:3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

‘Jesus answered and said to him, “In very truth I tell you except a man be born from above (or anew) he cannot see the Kingly Rule of God”.’

Jesus cut short his preamble and came emphatically to the point, (although of course John may well have abbreviated the discussion). “Unless a man is born from above (Gk. anothen) he cannot appreciate or experience the Kingly Rule of God.” Nicodemus was learning that an understanding of God’s spiritual rule over men, which Jesus had come to bring, required spiritual understanding. The implication appears to be that He saw Nicodemus as lacking that spiritual understanding.

The phrase ‘the kingdom/kingly rule (basileia - kingship) of God’, mentioned only here in John (although see for the idea John 18:35-37), needs to be understood. In Jesus’ day a kingdom was not a piece of land with boundaries, but a sphere over which a king ruled, a place where he exercised his kingship. Where there were people who came under his rule there was his kingdom, even though the boundaries kept changing. Desert sheikhs own no land but they rule over their ‘kingdom’, for where their tribe is at any time, there is their kingdom. It rides about with them. So God’s kingdom is composed of those who admit and acknowledge His rule wherever they are.

Note on The Kingly Rule of God.

The Kingly Rule of God (or Heaven) was a central part of Jesus’ teaching in the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke which can be ‘seen together’ (sun opsis) because they follow a common pattern). It was a Kingly Rule which was present in Jesus and into which men then entered by responding to Him, but which would finally be revealed in greater manifestation in Heaven. It had both a past, a present and a future aspect. It had been intended that Israel would be under the Kingly Rule of God (Deuteronomy 33:5; 1 Samuel 8:7), but they had rejected His kingship As Christians we are under the Kingly Rule of God, and are called on to be responsive to His kingship. And in future those who are His will enter under the eternal Kingly Rule of God.

God’s kingship, His rule over His people, had been established at Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:5) but it had finally been rejected (1 Samuel 8:7), and the history of the Old Testament, bore witness to the fact that it had never become a practical reality. Right from the beginning they had fought against the idea. Indeed that was why they had sought an earthly king over them (1 Samuel 10:17-19). They had wanted a king whom they could see and rely on. And throughout their history they had constantly rebelled, so that it became apparent that God’s rule could not be established because of their disobedience. In the words of Isaiah 63:19, ‘we are become as those over whom you never bore rule, as those who were not called by your name’.

Thus the prophets declared that their wretched condition, so unlike what had been promised, was due to this failure. The prophets then began to look forward to a day when God would change the hearts of His people by the pouring out of His Spirit and would at that stage establish His rule (Isaiah 44:3-6; Ezekiel 36:26-28; Jeremiah 33:3-4), and this was linked with the coming of a great king (Isaiah 11:1-5; Jeremiah 30:9) and the coming of a great prophet (Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 49:1-6; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12; Isaiah 61:1-3). These would reintroduce God’s rule over men. Now, says Jesus, that time has come. God is going to act to establish His rule.

The Kingly Rule of God was to be both within them (the acceptance of His rule in their hearts) and among them (because Jesus the king and His true people were there) (Matthew 6:33; Matthew 12:28; Matthew 21:31; Matthew 21:43; Mark 4:26; Mark 4:30; Mark 9:1; Mark 10:14-15; Mark 12:34; Luke 7:28; Luke 9:27; Luke 10:9; Luke 11:20; Luke 16:16; Luke 17:21; Luke 18:17; Acts 8:12; Acts 14:22; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20). To follow Jesus, and to truly believe in Him, was to respond to the Kingly Rule of God and come under His rule, and this was something that Jesus wanted Nicodemus to appreciate.

There are no grounds for saying that the Kingly Rule of God was postponed. What actually happened was that it bypassed many of the Jews, who rejected Jesus’ view of it. But it continued its expansion into the world. Paul and others continued to call men under the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 8:12; Acts 14:22; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20). As will be clear from the references above it was the constant message of the early church.

But it has, of course its vital future aspect, for God’s rule will never be fully established over all men until that day when all that is contrary to Him is done away, and those who are His enter into His everlasting kingdom (Isaiah 24:23; Obadiah 1:21; Zephaniah 3:15; Zechariah 14:9; Mark 14:25; Luke 13:29; Luke 22:16-18; Luke 19:11; Luke 21:31; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:50; Galatians 5:21; Colossians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:5). The one is preparatory to the other.

Interestingly this is the only passage in John where the Kingly Rule of God is spoken of, although the idea is not totally ignored, for a parallel idea produces before Pilate a statement of great significance (John 18:36). Thus the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel begins with an emphasis on the Kingly Rule of God, and ends with an emphasis on the Kingly Rule of Christ. The writer hardly therefore saw it as insignificant.

But in John, in between these firm statements about the Kingly Rule of God/Christ (John 3:3 & John 18:36), the same idea is more often spoken of from the point of view of possession of ‘eternal life’ (three times in chapter 3, twice in chapter 4, twice in chapter 5, five times in chapter 6, once in chapter 10, twice in chapter 12, twice in chapter 17). To be under the Kingly Rule of God now is to possess eternal life. To enter in future into the Kingly Rule of God will be to enjoy eternal life. Both represent the same idea from a different viewpoint and have the same twofold aspect, both present (it is ours to enjoy now) and future (one day it will be ours).

This difference of expression in John is largely due to John’s deliberate selectivity and the fact that much in John’s Gospel was spoken to Pharisees who, unlike the people, thought in terms of ‘the life of the age to come’ (eternal life). They believed firmly in the resurrection to come. The people on the other hand thought more in terms of coming under the Kingly Rule of God (although in their view that meant a kingdom on earth established by a war-like Messiah). Thus to the Pharisees Jesus mainly spoke of eternal life, both present and future, whilst to the people He mainly spoke of coming under the Kingly Rule of God, again something to be experienced both now and in the future. To the disciples He proclaimed both (Matthew 19:29; John 6:65; Matthew 6:33).

It also reflects John’s preference for the aspects of Jesus’ teaching that used the phrase ‘eternal life’, which had tended not to be emphasised by the sources of the Synoptic Gospels. They chose rather to think in terms of coming under God’s kingly rule, which probably seemed more substantial. But they did speak of eternal life when dealing with the conversations of people in Jerusalem, such as the rich young ruler and a certain Pharisee. See Luke 10:25; Luke 18:18; Luke 18:30 and parallels; Matthew 25:46. It will be noted that in Luke 18:18; Luke 18:24-25; Luke 18:30 the two ideas are put side by side. To have eternal life is to be under the Kingly Rule of God. Note also Matthew 18:8-9; Matthew 19:17; Mark 9:43; Mark 9:45 where ‘life’ is the equivalent of ‘eternal life’.

We must ever remember that during His ministry Jesus taught and did a huge amount which was never recorded (compare John 21:25). Only a comparatively small amount of selective teaching was memorised and passed on. And John, the favoured disciple, appears to have heard and memorised teaching which the others either had not heard, had not understood, or did not fully appreciate, teaching given in Judea among the Judaisers. This passage in itself, however, demonstrates that he knew the importance that Jesus placed on the Kingly Rule of God.

End of note.

‘Born from above.’ In John 3:31; John 8:23; John 19:11 the word ‘anothen’ unquestionably means ‘from above’ referring to the One Who comes ‘from above’ and power given ‘from above’. Thus birth ‘from above’ fits the overall picture. This probably has Isaiah 45:8 in mind. ‘Drop down, you heavens from above (in LXX we discover anothen as here), and let the skies pour down righteousness.’ The idea there is of rain falling in abundance and producing new life, the crops and fruit which are evidence of the righteousness of those so blessed, an idea which is then applied to the pouring out of the Spirit on God’s true people producing righteousness ( Isaiah 44:1-4 - see further on John 3:5).

‘Not see the kingly rule of God’. This could mean ‘not understanding the Kingly Rule of God’, but compare John 3:36; John 8:51 where to ‘see’ means to experience life or death. In that case it would mean here that they would not experience the Kingly Rule of God. In fact both ideas may be in mind for John loves the double meaning. The thought is important. It is stressing that, without the Spirit’s work, entry under God’s direct rule is not possible. For it depends on a spiritual transformation.

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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on John 3:3". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Jesus" abrupt dogmatic statement cut to the heart of the matter. He affirmed strongly that one cannot see the kingdom of God without a second birth from above (Gr. anothen, cf. John 3:31). Anothen means both "again" ( John 3:4; cf. Galatians 4:9) and "from above" ( John 3:31; John 19:11; John 19:23).

"Although Nicodemus understood it to mean "again," leading him to conclude that Jesus was speaking of a second physical birth, Jesus" reply in John 3:6-8 shows that He referred to the need for a spiritual birth, a birth "from above."" [Note: Harris, p220.]

The term "kingdom of God" as Jesus used it consistently refers to the earthly messianic kingdom that will be the earthly phase of God"s eternal heavenly kingdom. To enter the kingdom of God means to obtain eternal life (cf. Mark 9:43; Mark 9:45; Mark 9:47). John used "kingdom" language rarely ( John 3:3; John 3:5; John 18:36). This is the only passage in John that mentions the kingdom of God, though Jesus spoke of "my kingdom" in John 18:36. He used "life" language instead (cf. John 1:12-13). This is understandable since he evidently wrote late in the first century when it was clear that God had postponed the kingdom. His readers needed to prepare for the future immediately by obtaining eternal life.

The implication of Jesus" illustration of new birth is that life with God in the future will require completely new equipment. Nicodemus had claimed to see something of who Jesus was by His signs. Jesus replied that no one can see God"s kingdom, the end in view, without new birth.

"If the kingdom does not dawn until the end of the age [and it will], then of course one cannot enter it before it comes. Predominant religious thought in Jesus" day affirmed that all Jews would be admitted to that kingdom apart from those guilty of deliberate apostasy or extraordinary wickedness (e.g, Mishnah Sanhedrin John 10:1). But here was Jesus telling Nicodemus, a respected and conscientious member not only of Israel but of the Sanhedrin, that he cannot enter the kingdom unless he is born again.... The coming of the kingdom at the end can be described as the "regeneration" of the world ( Matthew 19:28, NIV "renewal"), but here what is required is the regeneration of the individual before the end of the world and in order to enter the kingdom." [Note: Carson, pp188-89.]

"By the term born again He means not the amendment of a part but the renewal of the whole nature. Hence it follows that there is nothing in us that is not defective." [Note: John Calvin, Calvin"s Commentaries: The Gospel According to St. John, 1:63.]

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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 3:3". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

John 3:3. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except any one have been born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Jesus answers his thoughts rather than his words, but the connection between the address and the answer is not hard to find. John the Baptist had familiarised all with the thought that the kingdom of God was at hand, that the reign of the Messiah, so long expected, would soon begin. Whatever meaning may be assigned to the words of John 3:2, we may certainly say that every thoughtful Jew who believed what Nicodemus believed was ‘waiting for the kingdom of God.’ But the Pharisee’s conception of the Messianic promise was false. In great measure, at least, his ‘kingdom of God’ was outward and carnal, not inward and spiritual,—a privilege of birth, belonging of right to Israel. This false conception Jesus would at once correct, and the gravity of the error is reflected in the solemnity of the language, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee.’—‘Any one.’ This more literal rendering is necessary here because of the next verse. Our Lord says simply any one. Nicodemus brings in the word ‘man,’ to give more expressiveness to his reply.

‘Have been born anew.’ It has been, and still is, a much controverted question whether the Greek word here used should be rendered again, or anew, or from above. ‘Again’ is certainly inadequate; for, though the word may denote beginning over again, commencing the action afresh, it cannot express mere repetition. Much may be said in favour of the third rendering, ‘from above.’ This is the undoubted meaning of the same word as used below (John 3:31); and a similar idea is expressed in the passages of the Gospel (chap. John 1:13) and First Epistle of John (chap. 1 John 2:29, 1 John 5:1, etc.) which speak of those who are begotten of God. It may also be urged that, as Christ is ‘He that cometh from above’ (John 3:31), those who through faith are one with Christ must derive their being from the same source, and may well be spoken of as ‘born from above.’ Notwithstanding these arguments, it is probable that anew is the true rendering. Had the other thought been intended, we might surely have expected ‘of God’ instead of ‘from above.’ The correspondence between the two members of the sentence would then have been complete; only those who have been born of God can see the kingdom of God. Further, born (or begotten) of God is a very easy and natural expression, but this can hardly be said of born (or begotten) from above: ‘coming from above’ is perfectly clear; ‘born from above’ is not so. The chief argument, however, is afforded by the next verse, which clearly shows that Nicodemus understood a second birth to be intended. But the words ‘except any one have been born from above’ would not necessarily imply a second birth. The Jews maintained that they were born of God (see chap. John 8:41), and would have had no difficulty whatever in believing that those only who received their being from above could inherit the blessings of Messiah’s kingdom. Our Lord’s words, then, teach the fundamental truth, that not natural birth, descent from the stock of Israel, but a second birth, the being begotten anew, a complete spiritual change (see John 3:5), admits into the kingdom of God.

On the general expectation of a king and a kingdom, see chap. John 1:49. It is remarkable that the kingdom of God is expressly mentioned by John in this chapter only (compare, however, chap. John 18:36).-‘Cannot’ is by no means the same as ‘shall not.’ It expresses an impossibility in the very nature of things. To a state of outward earthly privilege rights of natural birth might give admittance. In declaring that without a complete inward change none can possibly see (have a true perception of) ‘the kingdom of God,’ Jesus declares the spiritual character of His kingdom. In it none but the spiritual can have any part.

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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 3:3". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

John 3:3. Jesus answered — Jesus, knowing the prejudices Nicodemus laboured under, both as a Jew and a Pharisee, judged it necessary immediately to acquaint him with the absolute necessity of experiencing a thorough change, both of his heart and life, to be wrought by divine grace; a change so great as might appear like coming into a new world by a second birth, and would bring the greatest and most learned men to the simplicity, teachableness, and humility of little children, see Matthew 18:3. He therefore said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee — I declare it with the utmost solemnity, as a truth of the highest importance, that whatever great privileges any man may inherit by his natural birth or education, or church-fellowship, or by the place he occupies, or the rank he holds in civil or religious society, or how exact and strict soever he may be in ceremonial observances; unless a man be born again, he cannot see — Cannot even have just views of, much less can he enjoy; the kingdom of God — On earth or in heaven; can neither be a true member of the church militant, nor enter into the church triumphant: nor will thy knowing and acknowledging that I am a teacher come from God, avail thee, unless thou experience this second birth. The original expression, εαν μη τις γεννηθη ανωθεν, may also be rendered, unless a man be born from above: the sense, however, which our translation gives it, is evidently that in which Nicodemus took it: for he so expresses himself as to show, that he thought a man could not be born in the manner Christ spoke of, without entering a second time into his mother’s womb. What is added, at John 3:5, explains what was before undetermined, as to the original of this birth. The reader must observe, that in the following discourse our Lord touches on those grand points, in which it was of the utmost importance that Nicodemus, his brethren, and mankind in general, should be well informed, namely, that no external profession, no ceremonial observances, or privileges of birth, could entitle any to the blessings of the Messiah’s kingdom; but that an entire change of heart, as well as of life, was necessary for that purpose: that this could only be wrought in man by the Spirit of God: that every man born into the world was by nature (John 3:6) in a state of depravity and sin, of condemnation and misery; (John 3:17-19;) that the free mercy of God had given his Son to deliver them from it, (John 3:14-16,) and to raise them to a blessed immortality; that all mankind, Gentiles as well as Jews, might share in these benefits procured by his being lifted up on the cross, and to be received by faith in him; but that, if they rejected him, their eternal, aggravated condemnation would be the certain consequence. It is justly observed by Dr. Owen, “That if regeneration here mean only reformation of life, our Lord, instead of making any new discovery, has only thrown a great deal of obscurity on what was before plain and obvious, and known, not only to the Jews, but the wiser heathen.” The fact is, as by justification and adoption, a relative change, or a change of state, is signified, the person before under guilt being thereby acquitted; the person before under wrath being taken into favour with God; or, which is implied in adoption, the person, who was before merely a servant, serving God from fear, and perhaps with reluctance, being thereby made a son and an heir, (see Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:4-7,) so by regeneration, a real change is intended; a change of nature, termed (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15) καινη κτισις, a new creation; and described, (Ephesians 4:22-23,) as putting off the old man, being renewed in the spirit of our minds, and putting on the new man, created after God in righteousness and true holiness. The ground and reason of which doctrine are evident; man by the fall lost the image of God, especially his moral image, and without recovering it, without being made pure in heart and life, he cannot see the Lord, Hebrews 12:14; Matthew 5:7; 2 Corinthians 5:3. Now this divine image begins to be restored to us when we are regenerated, and is increased and perfected in and by our sanctification, termed, (Titus 3:6,) the renewing of the Holy Ghost.

If it be inquired, why this change is termed a birth, the reason may be, that it resembles in some particulars, and may be illustrated by, our natural birth. For, 1st, As the natural birth introduces us into natural life, in consequence of which, we have union with, and breathe the air of, this world; so by the spiritual birth we are introduced into spiritual life, have union with God, and breathe the spirit of prayer and praise. 2d, The natural birth opens our natural senses, our eyesight, hearing, tasting, &c., and thereby discloses natural things; so the spiritual birth opens our spiritual senses, and imparts the seeing eye, the hearing ear, the feeling sense, (Hebrews 6:4-5; 1 Peter 2:3,) and thereby manifests to us spiritual things. 3d, The natural birth prepares us to enjoy natural things, which, without being born into this world, it is impossible we should enjoy; so the spiritual birth introduces us to the enjoyment of spiritual things, illumination of mind, renovation of heart, manifestations of the divine favour, communications of the Divine Spirit, peace and joy through believing, lively hopes of life eternal, and above all, fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4th, The natural birth introduces us among men, and, partaking of their nature, as we proceed in the course of life, we begin to share in their desires and aversions, hopes and fears, sorrows and joys, cares, labours, and pursuits: we hear and understand, and then begin to converse. In like manner, the spiritual birth introduces us among Christians, true Christians, nor are we only among, but of them, and as we partake of their heavenly and holy nature by regeneration, we also soon begin to entertain their views, and manifest affections and dispositions, desires and designs, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, similar to theirs: first, we hear, and then, being improved in knowledge, we speak their heavenly language. 5th, When born into this world we are capable of receiving, tasting, and being nourished by the food provided for us; so when born of God, we begin to have an appetite for, and to partake of, first the sincere, uncorrupted milk of the word, adapted to the state of babes in Christ; and then of the stronger meat, suited to those of riper age. Hence follows a growth in spiritual health and strength, knowledge, experience, and holiness, till, growing up into Christ in all things, we arrive at the measure of the stature of his fulness.

He cannot see the kingdom of God — The common explanation that is given of the word see, in this passage, is, enjoy, share in. Accordingly it is considered synonymous with enter, John 3:5. “Though I admit,” says Dr. Campbell, “in a great measure, the truth of this exposition, I do not think it comprehends the whole of what the words imply. It is true, that to see often denotes to enjoy, or to suffer, as suits the nature of the object seen. Thus, to see death, is used for to die; to see life, for to live; to see good days, for to enjoy good days; and to see corruption, for to suffer corruption. But this sense of the word seeing is limited to a very few phrases, of which those now mentioned are the chief. I have not, however, found an example (setting this passage aside as questionable) of ιδειν βασιλειαν, [seeing a kingdom,] for enjoying a kingdom, or partaking therein. I understand, therefore, the word ιδειν, to imply here, what it often implies, to perceive, to discern, namely, by the eye of the mind. The import, therefore, in my apprehension, is this: the man who is not regenerated, or born again, of water and of the Spirit, is not in a capacity of perceiving the reign of God, though it were commenced. Though the kingdom of the saints on the earth were already established, the unregenerate would not discern it, because it is a spiritual, not a worldly kingdom, and capable of being no otherwise than spiritually discerned. And as the kingdom itself would remain unknown to him, he could not share in the blessings enjoyed by the subjects of it, which appears to be the import of the expression, (John 3:5,) he cannot enter the kingdom of God. The two declarations, therefore, are not synonymous, but related; and the latter is consequent upon the former.” Our Lord’s words being represented as spoken in answer to what Nicodemus had said to him, the doctor thinks the sense he gives them makes the connection and pertinency of the whole discourse much clearer. Nicodemus had acquainted our Lord that, on the evidence of his miracles, he believed him to be a teacher come from God, but made no mention of his being the Messiah, or of his reign upon earth; and this interpreter supposes it is in reference to this defect in his faith, “partly, as it were, to account for his silence on this article, and partly to point out to him the proper source of this knowledge, that our Lord answers by observing, that, unless a man be enlightened by the Spirit:” (implied in being born again,) “he cannot discern either the signs of the Messiah, or the nature of his kingdom. Augustine is of opinion, that it was necessary thus to humble the spiritual pride of the Pharisee: the conceited superiority to the vulgar in things sacred, which is the greatest obstruction to divine knowledge, that he might be prepared for receiving with all humility the illumination of the Spirit.” Dr. Macknight interprets our Lord’s answer in nearly the same sense with that above stated. His paraphrase on it is, “Though the lustre of my miracles constrains thee to acknowledge, that I am a teacher come from God, thou dost not fully believe that I am the Messiah, and the reason of thy doubt is, that thou dost not find me surrounded with the pomp of a temporal prince. But, believe me, unless a man be renewed in the spirit of his mind, he cannot discern the evidence of my mission, who am come to erect the kingdom of God, consequently cannot see that kingdom, cannot enter into it on earth, neither enjoy it in heaven.”

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on John 3:3". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

answered and said. A Hebraism. See note on Deuteronomy 1:41. App-122.

Verily, verily. See note on John 1:51.

a man = any one.

born = begotten. See note on Matthew 1:2.

again = from above. Greek. anothen = from above: i.e. by Divine power, as in John 3:31; John 19:11, John 19:23. Matthew 27:51. Mark 15:38. Luke 1:3. James 1:17; James 3:15, James 3:17. The Talmud uses this figure, as applied to proselytes.

cannot = is not (Greek. ou. App-105) able to.

see. Greek. eidon. App-133.

the kingdom of God. App-114. Occurs in John only here and in John 3:5.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on John 3:3". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Jesus answered and said unto him; Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. This blunt and curt reply was plainly meant to shake the whole edifice of the man's religion, in order to lay a deeper and more enduring foundation. Nicodemus probably thought he had gone a long way, and expected, perhaps, to be complimented on his candour. Instead of this, he is virtually told that he has raised a question which he is not in a capacity to solve, and that before approaching it, his spiritual vision required to be rectified by an entire revolution on his inner man. Had the man been less sincere, this would certainly have repelled him; but with persons in his mixed state of mind-to which Jesus was no stranger (John 2:25) - such methods speed better than more honeyed words and gradual approaches. Let us analyze this great brief saying. "Except a man" [ tis (Greek #5100)] - 'a person,' or 'one' "be born again," the most universal form of expression. The Jews were accustomed to say of a pagan proselyte, on his public admission into the Jewish faith by baptism, that he was a newborn child. But our Lord here extends the necessity of the new birth to Jew and Gentile alike-to every one!

Be born again, [ anoothen (Greek #509)] - or, as the word admits of being rendered, 'from above.' Since both are undoubted truths, the question is, Which is the sense here intended? Origen and others of the fathers take the latter view, though Chrysostom leaves it undecided; and with them agree Erasmus, Lightfoot, Bengel, Meyer, DeWette, Lucke, Lange, and others. But as it is evident that Nicodemus understood our Lord in the sense of a second birth, so the scope of our Lord's way of dealing with him was to drive home the conviction of the nature rather than the source of the change. And accordingly, as the word employed is stronger than "again" [ palin (Greek #3825)] it should be rendered by some such word as 'anew,' 'of new,' 'afresh.' In this sense it is understood, with our translators, by the Vulgate, Luther, Calvin, Beza, Maldonat, Lampe, Olshausen, Neander, Tholuck, Stier, Luthardt, Campbell, Alford, Webster, and Wilkinson. Considering this to be the undoubted sense of the term, we understand our Lord to say that unless one begin life anew, in relation to God-his manner of thinking, and feeling, and acting, in reference to spiritual things, undergoing a fundamental and permanent revolution.

He cannot see - that is, 'can have no part in'-just as one is said to "see life," "see death," etc.

The kingdom of God - whether in its beginnings here or its consummation hereafter. (See the note at Matthew 5:3; and compare Luke 16:16; Matthew 25:34; Ephesians 5:5.)

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on John 3:3". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

The Bible Study New Testament

3. Unless he is born again. Jesus answers the thoughts of Nicodemus. “Again” is the proper translation, as can be seen from John 3:4. Luther says on this: “My doctrine is not of doing, and of leaving undone, but of being and becoming; so that it is not a new work to be done, but the being new created not the living otherwise, but the being new-born.” Nicodemus would think that all who were Abraham’s descendants would be citizens of the Kingdom. What Jesus says to him is in contrast to his Jewish heritage. The teaching that a man can bury his old life of sin, to begin a new life of hope, is predicted by the Old Testament (Isaiah 1:18; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26), and clearly taught in the New Testament (Romans 6:8; Romans 8:3; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15-16).




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Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on John 3:3". "The Bible Study New Testament". College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(3) It is perfectly natural to ascribe the power of willing to the Spirit, but it is not consistent with the simplicity of our Lord’s teaching thus to personify “wind,” especially in teaching on a subject where the simplest words are hard to fathom. The common rendering makes Him use the same word, in the same verse, of the third person in the Trinity, and of a natural phenomenon.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on John 3:3". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
1:51; Matthew 5:18; 2 Corinthians 1:19,20; Revelation 3:14
5,6; 1:13; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:1; Titus 3:5; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3,23-25; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 5:1,18
or, from above.
James 1:17; 3:17
he cannot
5; 1:5; 12:40; Deuteronomy 29:4; Jeremiah 5:21; Matthew 13:11-16; 16:17; 2 Corinthians 4:4
Reciprocal: Numbers 5:22 - Amen;  Deuteronomy 30:6 - will circumcise;  Psalm 15:1 - Lord;  Psalm 87:5 - of Zion;  Isaiah 43:7 - for I;  Ezekiel 36:26 - new heart;  Ezekiel 44:9 - GeneralMatthew 3:2 - for;  Matthew 3:14 - I have;  Matthew 5:20 - ye;  Matthew 18:3 - Verily;  Matthew 19:23 - enter;  Matthew 21:43 - The kingdom;  Mark 10:15 - GeneralMark 14:18 - Verily;  Luke 8:8 - other;  Luke 10:9 - The kingdom;  John 3:4 - How;  John 3:7 - Ye;  John 3:11 - verily;  John 3:12 - earthly;  John 3:36 - see;  John 5:19 - Verily;  John 6:26 - Verily;  John 6:44 - except;  John 6:53 - Verily;  John 8:34 - Verily;  John 10:1 - Verily;  John 13:16 - Verily;  Romans 8:8 - they that;  Romans 14:17 - kingdom;  1 Corinthians 2:14 - receiveth;  1 Corinthians 15:50 - that;  2 Corinthians 5:17 - a new;  Ephesians 2:10 - we are;  Colossians 2:12 - the faith

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on John 3:3". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

Commentary by J.C.Philpot on select texts of the Bible

John 3:3

"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." John 3:3

True religion begins with an entrance into the soul of supernatural light and supernatural life. How or why it comes, the soul knows not; for "the wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell whence it comes or where it goes, so is every one that is born of the Spirit." The wind itself is not seen, but its effects are felt. The sound of the wind is heard in the tops of the mulberry trees, where God himself is not seen. "The voice of the Lord, powerful and full of majesty. You heard his words but didn"t see his form; there was only a voice," ( Deuteronomy 4:12). Thus effects are felt, though causes are unknown.

Streams flow into the heart from a hidden source; rays of light beam into the soul from an unrisen sun; and kindlings of life awaken in us a new existence out of an unseen fountain. The new-born babe feels life in all its limbs, though it knows not yet the earthly father whence that natural life sprang. And thus new-born souls are conscious of feelings hitherto unpossessed, and are sensible of a tide of life, mysterious and incomprehensible, ebbing and flowing in their heart, though "Abba, Father," has not yet burst from their lips.

A man"s body is alive to every feeling, from a pin"s scratch to a mortal wound, from a passing ache to an incurable disease. The heart cannot flutter or intermit for a single second its customary beat, without a peculiar sensation that accompanies it, notices it, and registers it. Shall feelings, then, be the mark and evidence of natural life, and not of spiritual? Shall our ignoble part, the creature of a day, our perishing body, our dust of dust, have sensations to register every pain and every pleasure, and be tremblingly alive to every change without and every change within; and shall not our immortal souls be equally endowed with a similar barometer to fluctuate up and down the scale of spiritual life? We must lay it down, then, at the very threshold of vital godliness, that if a man has not been conscious of new feelings, and cannot point out, with more or less precision, some particular period, some never-to-be-forgotten season, when these feelings came unbidden into his heart, he has not yet passed from death unto life. He is not in Christ, if he is not a new creature ( 2 Corinthians 5:17).

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Philpot, Joseph Charles. "Commentary on John 3:3". Commentary by J.C.Philpot on select texts of the Bible.

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

Ver. 3. "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee. Except a man be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

Why does Jesus commence directly with regeneration? Chiefly on this account, because opposition to the view of Nicodemus led to this: It is not, as thou supposest, a question of some new fruits, but of new roots, of life; not of a moral reformation, but of a fundamental renovation; not of the adoption and following of single prescriptions, but of a new sphere of existence. But also, because the doctrine of human depravity, and the consequent necessity of regeneration, forms the basis for all other doctrines, which Christ, as the teacher come from God, had to communicate. Not until the need of redemption has been called forth by this doctrine, is there the proper receptivity for the doctrine of the divinity of Christ, of His atonement, and of the signification of faith. The Lord, Himself refers to this, when in ver. 12 He designates earthly things as more accessible than heavenly. "The knowledge of the depravity of our nature," says Quesnel, "and the necessity of being renewed by Jesus Christ, are the first elements of the Christian religion."

The strong asseveration (cf. on ἀμὴν, ἀμὴν, at John 1:22) presupposes ignorance of this great truth, and resistance to its acknowledgment, as was intimated in the words of Nicodemus, and was fully discerned by Him who knew what was in man. It is a deeply humbling truth. On this account, the man resolves with difficulty on allowing its application. When it is accepted, all boasting is excluded. The entire edifice of imagined excellence falls into ruins. Everything loses its importance, which one believes himself to have worked out in a long life of rectitude. He is thrown back at once to the point at which he first entered into life. If we specially regard Nicodemus, this point was for him a truly tragical one; there was nothing left of him. The Jew, who as such already supposed himself to have a share in the kingdom of God (the Talmud, in the Tract Sanhedrin, adduces this very proposition: all Israel has a part in the future world)—the Pharisee, the separate, whose peculiar character consisted in regarding himself as better than other people—member of the Chief Council—the reputation of being a particularly virtuous man, and the zealous endeavour to be such,—all seemed to be suddenly consumed to a small heap of ashes. He must be born over again; it is as though he had not yet been born at all. Here the word of God verily proves itself to be sharper than any two-edged sword. The serious question arises, whether it were not better to renounce the kingdom of God, than to seek it at such a price. And one may indeed avoid, at an apparently easier price, such a vast requirement. Nicodemus certainly took serious counsel within himself, whether he should not retract his declaration: "Master, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God."

In the form in which the requisition is made, there is yet a certain indulgence. Jesus pronounces the sentence generally; He does not say directly, Thou must be born again. The Lord uses the more direct personal address in ver. 7.

With respect to ἄνωθεν, there was a difference of interpretation even in the times of the Church Fathers. Chrysostom says, Some render ἄνωθεν by, from heaven; others, by from the beginning. Etymologically, both renderings are admissible. ἄνωθεν, from above, Matthew 27:51, John 19:23, occurs in the sense of from heaven, in John 3:31; John 19:11, James 1:17; James 3:15; James 3:17; with the meaning of from the first, Luke 1:3, where it corresponds to the ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς in ver. 2, Acts 26:5, Galatians 4:9, where πάλιν and ἄνωθεν occur in connection with each other, as also in Wisdom of Solomon 19:6. According to the latter rendering, ἄνωθεν calls attention to the fact, that an entirely new beginning must be made, in opposition to the opinion, that only a continued building on the ground of nature is needed. It favours this rendering, in the first place, that the δεύτερον in the answer of Nicodemus corresponds to the ἄνωθεν here,—a ground which cannot be set aside by such remarks as these: "Nicodemus understood only so much of the discourse of Jesus, that he comprehended that a second birth was meant;" or, "Nicodemus did not understand ἄνωθεν as δεύτερον, but not at all." Moreover, the phrase, to come down, or come from above, certainly occurs; but it is doubtful whether it can be said: to be born from above;—from above must then mean, by an influence coming down from above. But it is of decisive significance, that all the parallel passages speak of a being born again,—none, of a being born from above. The Lord Himself speaks, in Matthew 19:28, of the regeneration of the earth, which presupposes the regeneration of the human race. Baptism is designated as the washing of regeneration in Titus 3:5. The ἀναγεννήσας in 1 Peter 1:3, ἀναγεγεννημένοι in 1 Peter 1:23, is of the more significance, since ἀνά in the verbs compounded with it, is akin to ἄνω, over again, denuo. καινὴ κτίσις also, in 2 Corinthians 5:17, corresponds to ἄνωθεν in the meaning of over again. Finally, the rendering of regeneration is the oldest: it is found in the ancient Syriac translation, and already in Justin Martyr, who wrote about half a century after the composition of this Gospel, and in his first Apology, § 61, thus quotes our text: ἄν μὴ ἀναγεννηθῆτε, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν. From all this, there can be no doubt as to the meaning of ἄνωθεν. It contains the severest indictment of human nature, on whose soil no fruits of righteousness can flourish, and which needs an absolute transformation. Regeneration is distinguished from μετάνοια by this, that in it the requirement of a permutation into an entirely new being is laid down more rigorously, and addition to that which already exists is more distinctly excluded. Anton: "This way of proceeding is a heavy cross to man. He is not willingly in a school, where his nothingness is presented before him; for man wishes notwithstanding to be nonnihil, something.

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on John 3:3". Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

3.Verily, verily, I say to thee. The word Verily ( ἀμὴν) is twice repeated, and this is done for the purpose of arousing him to more earnest attention. For when he was about to speak of the most important and weighty of all subjects, he found it necessary to awaken the attention of Nicodemus, who might otherwise have passed by this whole discourse in a light or careless manner. (57) Such, then, is the design of the double affirmation.

Though this discourse appears to be far-fetched and almost inappropriate, yet it was with the utmost propriety that Christ opened his discourse in this manner. For as it is useless to sow seed in a field which has not been prepared by the labors of the husbandman, so it is to no purpose to scatter the doctrine of the Gospel, if the mind has not been previously subdued and duly prepared for docility and obedience. Christ saw that the mind of Nicodemus was filled with many thorns, choked by many noxious herbs, so that there was scarcely any room for spiritual doctrine. This exhortation, therefore, resembled a ploughing to purify him, that nothing might prevent him from profiting by the doctrine. Let us, therefore, remember that this was spoken to one individual, in such a manner that the Son of God addresses all of us daily in the same language. For which of us will say that he is so free from sinful affections that he does not need such a purification? If, therefore, we wish to make good and useful progress in the school of Christ, let us learn to begin at this point.

Unless a man be born again. That is, So long as thou art destitute of that which is of the highest importance in the kingdom of God, I care little about your calling me Master; for the first entrance into the kingdom of God is, to become a new man. But as this is a remarkable passage, it will be proper to survey every part of it minutely.

To SEEthe kingdom of God is of the same meaning as to enter into the kingdom of God, as we shall immediately perceive from the context. But they are mistaken who suppose that the kingdom of God means Heaven; for it rather means the spiritual life, which is begun by faith in this world, and gradually increases every day according to the continued progress of faith. So the meaning is, that no man can be truly united to the Church, so as to be reckoned among the children of God, until he has been previously renewed. This expression shows briefly what is the beginning of Christianity, and at the same time teaches us, that we are born exiles and utterly alienated from the kingdom of God, and that there is a perpetual state of variance between God and us, until he makes us altogether different by our being born again; for the statement is general, and comprehends the whole human race. If Christ had said to one person, or to a few individuals, that they could not enter into heaven, unless they had been previously born again, we might have supposed that it was only certain characters that were pointed out, but he speaks of all without exception; for the language is unlimited, and is of the same import with such universal terms as these: Whosoever shall not be born again cannot enter into the kingdom of God

By the phraseborn again is expressed not the correction of one part, but the renovation of the whole nature. Hence it follows, that there is nothing in us that is not sinful; for if reformation is necessary in the whole and in each part, corruption must have been spread throughout. On this point we shall soon have occasion to speak more largely. Erasmus, adopting the opinion of Cyril, has improperly translated the adverb ἄνωθεν, from above, and renders the clause thus: unless a man be born from above. The Greek word, I own, is ambiguous; but we know that Christ conversed with Nicodemus in the Hebrew language. There would then have been no room for the ambiguity which occasioned the mistake of Nicodemus and led him into childish scruples about a second birth of the flesh. He therefore understood Christ to have said nothing else than that a man must be born again, before he is admitted into the kingdom of God.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 3:3". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.