Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

John 3:4

Nicodemus *said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?"
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Blindness;   Jesus, the Christ;   Life;   Man;   Nicodemus;   Regeneration;   Salvation;   Thompson Chain Reference - Discernment-Dullness;   Insight;   Lack of Insight;   Misunderstood Truth;   Truth;   The Topic Concordance - Holy Spirit;   Kingdom of God;   Rebirth/being Born Again;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Life, Spiritual;   New Birth, the;  
Dictionaries:
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Nicodemus;   Regeneration;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - John, gospel of;   Nicodemus;   Regeneration;   Sin;   Teacher;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Disciple, Discipleship;   King, Christ as;   Lawlessness;   Life;   Obedience;   Salvation;   Spirituality;   Charles Buck Theological Dictionary - Episcopacy;   Regeneration;   CARM Theological Dictionary - Born again;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Birth;   Nicodemus;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Birth;   Jesus Christ;   Nicodemus;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Bible, Theology of;   Birth;   Holy Spirit;   Nicodemus;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Blessedness;   Children (Sons) of God;   Gospels;   John, Gospel of;   John, Theology of;   Mss;   Nicodemus;   Scribes;   Sin;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Discourse;   Eternal Life (2);   Heart;   Holy Spirit;   Individuality;   John, Gospel of (Critical);   Mediator;   Mental Characteristics;   Nicodemus;   Property (2);   Questions and Answers;   Reality;   Religious Experience;   Righteous, Righteousness;   Teaching of Jesus;   Worldliness (2);   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Nicodemus ;   The Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary - Regeneration;   Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary - Heart;   Kingdom;   Regeneration;  
Encyclopedias:
Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia - Tabernacle, the;   Jesus of Nazareth;   International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Baptismal Regeneration;   Bear;   Faithful;   How;   Nicodemus;   Sin (1);   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Birth, New;   Nicodemus;  
Devotionals:
Every Day Light - Devotion for December 4;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

How can a man be born when he is old? - It is probable that Nicodemus was pretty far advanced in age at this time; and from his answer we may plainly perceive that, like the rest of the Jews, and like multitudes of Christians, he rested in the letter, without paying proper attention to the spirit: the shadow, without the thing signified, had hitherto satisfied him. Our Lord knew him to be in this state, and this was the cause of his pointed address to him.

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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on John 3:4". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/john-3.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

How can a man … - It may seem remarkable that Nicodemus understood the Saviour literally, when the expression “to be born again” was in common use among the Jews to denote a change from “Gentilism” to “Judaism” by becoming a proselyte by baptism. The word with them meant a change from the state of a pagan to that of a Jew. But they never used it as applicable to a Jew, because they supposed that by his birth every Jew was entitled to all the privileges of the people of God. When, therefore, our Saviour used it of a Jew, when he affirmed its necessity of every man, Nicodemus supposed that there was an absurdity in the doctrine, or something that surpassed his comprehension, and he therefore asked whether it was possible that Jesus could teach so absurd a doctrine - as he could conceive no other sense as applicable to a Jew - as that he should, when old, enter a second time into his mother‘s womb and be born. And we may learn from this:

1.that prejudice leads men to misunderstand the plainest doctrines of religion.

2.that things which are at first incomprehensible or apparently absurd, may, when explained, become clear. The doctrine of regeneration, so difficult to Nicodemus, is plain to a “child” that is born of the Spirit.

3.Those in high rank in life, and who are learned, are often most ignorant about the plainest matters of religion. It is often wonderful that they exhibit so little acquaintance with the most simple subjects pertaining to the soul, and so much absurdity in their views.

4.A doctrine is not to be rejected because the rich and the great do not believe or understand it. The doctrine of regeneration was not false because Nicodemus did not comprehend it.

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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/john-3.html. 1870.

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?

Nicodemus the teacher of Israel appeared here in a very obtuse and unspiritual frame of mind, in that he ridiculed the Lord's requirement of a new birth. Even ordinary spiritual perceptiveness would have saved him from such a reply as this, which was merely another way of saying, "What you ask is an impossibility!" However, it was not so much the impossibility of a new birth that Nicodemus rejected, as it was the idea that such a thing was necessary. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, one of a class that had rejected out of hand the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins preached by John the Baptist (Luke 7:30). It should be remembered that John's baptism was from God, and that all who rejected it rejected God. This fact underlies the truth that the publicans and harlots entered God's kingdom before the Pharisees. They accepted John's baptism; the Pharisees did not. Christ and his apostles accepted the baptism of John and submitted to it; and that baptism was intended as preparatory for the kingdom of heaven; and, therefore, it is impossible to suppose that Nicodemus should have been excused for not knowing what Jesus meant by being "born of water," mentioned in the next breath: the excuse for Nicodemus being founded upon the sophistry that the baptism of the great commission was not announced by Jesus until long after this interview; but there was another water baptism much nearer at hand, of which Nicodemus did know, and which he had rejected along with others of his class. Again from Hovey:

The metaphor of the new birth appears to have been used by the Rabbis to describe the religious change in a Gentile who became a proselyte to Judaism; and the import of baptism as administered by John implied the same view of repentance, namely, that it was a burial of the old life, and entrance upon a new life.[4]

ENDNOTE:

[4] Ibid., p. 96.

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Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/john-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Nicodemus saith unto him,.... Understanding him of a natural birth, to be repeated:

how can a man be born when he is old? as it seems by this, he himself now was:

can he enter the second time into his mothers womb, and be born? the Ethiopic version adds, "again"; and the Arabic version, "and then be born"; this he urges, as absurd, impracticable, and impossible; and which shows him to have been as yet a natural man, who could not receive nor discern spiritual things.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on John 3:4". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/john-3.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

Nicodemus saith unto him, How f can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?

(f) How can I who am old be born again? For Nicodemus answers as if Christ's words were only addressed to himself.
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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on John 3:4". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/john-3.html. 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

How, etc. — The figure of the new birth, if it had been meant only of Gentile proselytes to the Jewish religion, would have been intelligible enough to Nicodemus, being quite in keeping with the language of that day; but that Jews themselves should need a new birth was to him incomprehensible.

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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.
Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/john-3.html. 1871-8.

John Lightfoot's Commentary on the Gospels

4. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?

[Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb?] The common opinion of the Jews about the qualification of an Israelite, qua Israelite, still sticks in the mind of this Pharisee: and although our Saviour useth that term, which in the Jewish language plainly enough intimates the necessity of being born from heaven, yet cannot he easily get off from his first prejudice about the Israelitish generation: "Whereas the Israelites, as they are Israelites, have a right to be admitted into the kingdom of the Messiah, do you therefore mean by this expression of yours, that it is necessary for any to enter a second time into his mother's womb, that he may be an Israelite anew?"

He knew and acknowledged, as we have already said, that there must be a sort of a new birth in those that come over to the Jewish religion; but he never dreamt of any new proselytism requisite in one that had been born an Israelite. He could not therefore conceive the manner of a new birth, that he should be made an Israelite anew, unless it were by entering into the mother's womb a second time; which to him seemed an impossible thing.

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Lightfoot, John. "Commentary on John 3:4". "John Lightfoot Commentary on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jlc/john-3.html. 1675.

People's New Testament

How can a man be born again when he is old? The question of Nicodemus indicates his surprise, skepticism and misapprehension of what Jesus meant.

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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 3:4". "People's New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pnt/john-3.html. 1891.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Being old (γερων ωνgerōn ōn). Nicodemus was probably familiar with the notion of re-birth for proselytes to Judaism for the Gentiles, but not with the idea that a Jew had to be reborn. But “this stupid misunderstanding” (Bernard) of the meaning of Jesus is precisely what John represents Nicodemus as making. How “old” Nicodemus was we do not know, but surely too old to be the young ruler of Luke 18:18 as Bacon holds. The blunder of Nicodemus is emphasized by the second question with the μηmē expecting the negative answer. The use of δευτερονdeuteron adds to the grotesqueness of his blunder. The learned Pharisee is as jejune in spiritual insight as the veriest tyro. This is not an unheard of phenomenon.

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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 3:4". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rwp/john-3.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

When he is old ( γέρων ὤν )

Literally, being an old man.

Can he ( μὴ δύναται )

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

Second time

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

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Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/vnt/john-3.html. Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?

When he is old — As Nicodemus himself was.

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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.
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Wesley, John. "Commentary on John 3:4". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/john-3.html. 1765.

The Fourfold Gospel

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old1? can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born2?

  1. How can a man be born when he is old? Knowing that a man cannot be literally born a second time, Nicodemus states to Jesus the literal import of his words, hoping thereby to draw from him an explanation of this new, strange metaphor which he was using.

  2. Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born? So far as he did grasp the meaning of Jesus, Nicodemus saw himself barred forever from the kingdom by an impossible requirement. Many, like him, need to learn that God asks of us nothing that is impossible; that, on the contrary, the yoke is easy and the burden is light (Matthew 11:30).

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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. These files were made available by Mr. Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton. "Commentary on John 3:4". "The Fourfold Gospel". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tfg/john-3.html. Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1914.

Abbott's Illustrated New Testament

How can a man, &c. We are not to suppose that Nicodemus seriously understood our Lord as using the language in its literal signification; but, not knowing precisely what he did intend, he employs these expressions as an emphatic mode of asking an explanation. In fact, the Savior's reply seems to indicate, not so much that Nicodemus misunderstood what he meant to say, as that he was our surprised at its extraordinary import.

John 3:5 Of water and of the Spirit. Water is emblematical of the public profession of repentance, and the Spirit is the agent that produces the inward change. The meaning, therefore, is, that an entire change in the spiritual condition of the soul must be openly avowed and truly experienced, to fit the sinner for the kingdom of heaven.

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Abbott, John S. C. & Abbott, Jacob. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Abbott's Illustrated New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ain/john-3.html. 1878.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Как может человек родиться, будучи стар. Выражение, коим воспользовался Христос, не было известно в законе и пророках. Тем не менее, поскольку в Писании повсюду упоминается об обновлении, и оно является одним из первых принципов веры, отсюда явствует, сколь плохо знали книжники Священное Писание. И это неведение, не знающее что такое благодать возрождения, было свойственно довольно многим. Почти все рассуждали и философствовали о бессмысленных тонкостях, пренебрегая при этом главным в учении о благочестии. Сегодня подобную картину мы наблюдаем в папстве, в лице тамошних богословов. Они всю жизнь утомляют себя изощренными спекуляциями, но то главное, что относится к богопочитанию, к упованию нашего спасения, к упражнениям в благочестии, им известно не более, чем сапожнику или волопасу движение звезд. Более того, услаждаясь богословскими тайнами, они открыто пренебрегают подлинным учением Писания как недостойным возвышенного учительского звания. Итак, не удивительно, что Никодим как бы преткнулся здесь о соломинку. Ибо праведное мщение Божие видно в том, как люди, мнящие себя выдающимися и верховными учителями и гнушающиеся общей простоты учения, приходят в тупик от самых первых положений веры.

 

 

 

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/john-3.html. 1840-57.

Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books

Ver. 4. "Nicodemus says to him: How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time, can he, into his mother"s womb and be born?"

This saying, to the view of several modern critics, is a master-piece of improbability. Reuss thinks that "it is indeed, wrong to try to give to this answer a meaning even in the smallest degree plausible or defensible." Schleiermacher proposes to explain thus: "It is impossible, at my age, to recommence a new moral life." Tholuck, Baumlein and Hengstenberg, nearly the same: "What thou askest of me is as impossible as that a man should enter again...." These explanations evidently weaken the meaning of the text.

Meyer thinks that the embarrassment into which the saying of Jesus throws Nicodemus, leads him to say something absurd. Lange finds rather a certain irritation in this answer: The Pharisee would attempt to engage in a rabbinical discussion in order to show Jesus the exaggeration of His demands. These suppositions have little probability. Would Jesus speak as He does in the sequel to a man so narrow-minded or so irritable? Lucke explains: "Thou canst not, by any means, mean that...?" This explanation is philologically accurate; it faithfully renders the meaning of the negative μή (comp. our translation).

As Weiss observes, Nicodemus does not answer thus as a man wanting in understanding; but he is offended at seeing Jesus propose to him such a condition; he refuses to enter into His thought, and, holding firmly to the literal sense, he limits himself to a setting forth of its absurdity. The manner in which he expresses this impression does not seem even to be entirely free from irony. It is because in truth, he cannot conceive how the beginning of another life can be placed in the womb of the natural existence. The kingdom of God has always appeared to him as the most glorious form of the earthly existence itself. To what purpose a new birth, in order to enter into it? The Old Testament spoke, no doubt, of the force from above, of the divine aid necessary to sanctify the man, but not of a new birth (see Luthardt).

The words: "when he is old," prove that Nicodemus did not fail to apply to himself the: "If any one" of Jesus. The word δεύτερον, a second time, undoubtedly reproduces only partially the meaning of ἄνωθεν, from the beginning, in the mouth of Jesus. This is because Nicodemus does not comprehend the difference between a beginning anew and a different beginning. A radical moral renewal seems to him impossible without a simultaneous physical renewal. Thus the explanation which Jesus gives him bears on the absolute difference between the natural birth and the new birth which He demands.

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Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsc/john-3.html.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

Ver. 4. How can a man, &c.] He understands no more of the doctrine of regeneration (though he could not but have often read of it in Ezekiel, and elsewhere) than a common cow herd doth the darkest precepts of astronomy, 1 Corinthians 2:14. All this is gibberish to him. Water ariseth no higher than the spring whence it came; so the natural man can ascend no higher than nature.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on John 3:4". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/john-3.html. 1865-1868.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

John 3:4. Nicodemus saith unto him, &c.— Nicodemus, hearing Jesus affirm that the posterityof Abraham needed a second generation and birth to fit them for becoming the people of God, could not take his words in the sense which he, with the other doctors, commonly affixed to them, when speaking of proselytes, because so applied theysignified conversion to Judaism; a thing not applicable to the Jews: not doubting, therefore, that Jesus spoke of a second natural generation and birth, he was exceedingly surprised, and his answer evidently proves, that the translation which some give of the word ανωθεν, in the former verse, from above, is wrong; for it is plain he thought that without entering a second time into his mother's womb, there was no being born in the manner Christ spoke of, ανωθεν, that is, again. What is added at John 3:5 explains what is left undetermined, John 3:3 as to the original of this birth. See 1 Peter 1:3 and 1 John 5:18.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on John 3:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/john-3.html. 1801-1803.

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

Two things are observable in this question of Nicodemus, How can a man be born when he is old?

1. His ignorance and weakness in propounding of such a question. So true is that of the apostle, The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God 1 Corinthians 2:14

What a gross conception had this learned man of the notion of regeneration! How ingnorant is nature of the workings of grace! Men of name and note, of great parts and profound learning, are very often much at a loss in spiritual matters.

Yet, 2. In this question of his, there is discovered a great deal of plainness and simplicity: he did not come, as usually the Pharisees did, with an ensnaring question in his mouth; but with a mind fairly disposed for information and conviction; with a pious desire to be instructed.

Whatever ignorance we labour under, it is safest and best to discover it to our spiritual guide, that we may attain the mercy of a saving knowledge; but how many had rather carry their ignorance to hell wwith them, than discover it to their minister!

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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on John 3:4". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wbc/john-3.html. 1700-1703.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

4.] It is impossible that Nicodemus can have so entirely and stupidly misunderstood our Lord’s words, as his question here would seem to imply. The idea of new birth was by no means alien from the Rabbinical views. They described a proselyte when baptized as “sicut parvulus jam natus.” Lightfoot in loc. I agree with Stier in thinking that there was something of the spirit that would not understand, and the disposition to turn to ridicule what he heard. But together with this there was also considerable real ignorance. The proselyte might be regarded as born again, when he became one of the seed of Abraham: this figure would be easily explained on the Judaical view: but that every man should need this, was beyond Nicodemus’s comprehension. He therefore rebuts the assertion with a reductio ad absurdum, which in spirit expresses, as in ch. John 6:60,—‘This is an hard saying; who can hear it?’

γέρων ὤν] Probably he himself was old, and he instances his own case.

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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on John 3:4". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/john-3.html. 1863-1878.

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

John 3:4. The question does not mean: “If the repetition of a corporeal birth is so utterly impossible, how am I to understand thy word, ἄνωθεν γεννηθῆναι?” (Lücke); nor: “How can this ἄνωθεν γενν. take place, save by a second corporeal birth?” as if Nicodemus could not conceive of the beginning of a new personal life without a recommencement of natural life (Luthardt, comp. Hofmann); nor: “How comes it that a Jew must be born anew like a proselyte?” (Knapp, Neander, comp. Wetstein; for the Rabbins liken proselytes to new-born babes, Jevamoth, f. 62. 1; 92. 1); nor again: “This requirement is as impossible in the case of a man already old as for one to enter again, etc.” (Schweizer, B. Crusius, Tholuck, comp. Baumgarten and Hengstenberg). These meanings are not in the words, they are simply imported into them. But the opinion that Nicodemus here wished to “entangle Jesus in His words” (Luther), or that, under excited feelings, he intentionally took the requirement in a literal sense in order to reduce it ad absurdum (Riggenbach), or “by a stroke of Rabbinical cleverness in argumentation” to declare it to be too strongly put (Lange, Life of Jesus p. 495), is opposed to the honourable bearing of this straightforward man. According to the text, what Nicodemus really asks is something preposterous. And this is of such a nature, that it is only reconcilable with the even scanty culture of a Jewish theologian (John 3:10), who could not, however, be ignorant of the O. T. ideas of circumcision of heart (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4), of a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 11:19-20; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Psalms 51:12; Psalms 86:4 ff.), as well as of the outpouring of the Spirit in the time of the Messiah (Joel 2; Jeremiah 31), upon the assumption that, being a somewhat narrow-minded man, and somewhat entangled by his faith in the miracles, he was taken aback, confused and really perplexed, partly by the powerful impression which Jesus produced upon him generally, partly by the feeling of surprise at seeing his thoughts known to Him, partly by the unexpected and incomprehensible ἄνωθεν γεννηθῆναι, in which, however, he has an anticipation that something miraculous is contained. In this his perplexity, and not “in an ironical humour” (as Godet thinks, although out of keeping with the entire manifestation), he asks this foolish question, as if Jesus had spoken of a corporeal birth and not of a birth of one’s moral personality. Still less can there be any suspicion of this question being an invention, as if John merely wished to represent Nicodemus as a very foolish man (Strauss; comp. De Wette and Reuss),—a notion which, even on the supposition of a desire to spin out the conversation by misapprehensions on the part of the hearers, would be too clumsy to be entertained.

γέρων ὤν] when he is an old man; Nicodemus added this to represent the impossibility with reference to himself in a stronger light.

δεύτερον] with reference to being for a time in the mother’s womb before birth. He did not take the ἄνωθεν to mean δεύτερον, he simply did not understand it at all.

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Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on John 3:4". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hmc/john-3.html. 1832.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

John 3:4. πῶς) This how and why are often obstacles to faith: John 3:9, “How can these things be?” ch. John 6:52, [The Jews object] “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” Nicodemus ‘marvels,’ as John 3:7 implies. It is well that he simply asks the question.(51)γεννηθῆναι, be born) Nicodemus ought to have taken into account the ἄνωθεν, from above: that he passes by: therefore he says δεύτερον, a second time.— γέρων) an old man, not merely a grown-up man. Nicodemus therefore being an old man, asks the question on his own account;(52) and had come to Jesus, who was much his junior.— ΄ὴ δύναται; can he [num potest; requiring a negative answer: Surely he cannot?]) Nicodemus objects rather vehemently, [and in such a way, that his words appear not far removed from derision. Hence it is that Jesus frames His succeeding answer as well a little more distinct, as also somewhat more paradoxical and severe.—V. g.]

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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on John 3:4". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jab/john-3.html. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

By the answer of Nicodemus, it should seem that he was an old man; which is also probable, because he was one of the rulers: he puts the case as to himself; I am, saith he, an old man, how should I be born? Can a man

enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? How true is that of the apostle, 1 Corinthians 2:14, The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God! What a gross conception doth Nicodemus (though doubtless a learned as well as a great man) discover of regeneration, as if it could not be without a man’s mother travailing in birth with him a second time! Nicodemus’s question discovers a great deal of ignorance and weakness, but yet a great deal of simplicity and plainness in him; that he did not come, as the Pharisees generally were wont to come to Christ, to catch him by captious questions, but brought discendi pietatem, a pious desire to learn from him, and to be instructed by him. The Pharisees had been used to study the traditions of the elders, and spent their time about unprofitable niceties, as to the meaning of the law; so were not at all versed in the great things which concerned the kingdom of God. The like instance hath been in later ages, the popish divines spending their time generally about nice school questions, showing themselves much ignorant of spiritual things, and the great mysteries of the kingdom of God.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on John 3:4". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/john-3.html. 1685.

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

Будучи учителем, Никодим понимал раввинский метод применения образного языка для преподавания духовных истин, и он просто узнавал символизм слов Иисуса.

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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on John 3:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/john-3.html.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

How can a man; this question referred to natural birth, of earthly parents; the assertion of Christ referred to a spiritual change by the Holy Ghost.

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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Family Bible New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fam/john-3.html. American Tract Society. 1851.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

4.How’ be born—To be born again was a figure familiar with the Jews, even, it is said, of our Lord’s day. When a proselyte was admitted into Judaism, so new were his relations and feelings that he was said to be a newborn babe. Abraham when circumcised was “born again.” It applied not only to a change of relations, (like our American naturalization of a foreigner,) but to his opinions and feelings.

Hence, many modern commentators endeavour to so interpret Nicodemus’s words as not to imply that he imagined Jesus to refer to a bodily new birth. But it is clear, from his very explicit language, that he thought our Lord’s description of this being born again to be so radical and absolute as to suggest and justify the query whether it did not include a re-birth of body. He did so, perhaps, from three reasons. 1. The words of Jesus seem to imply, not merely, as among the Jews, a change of relations, feelings, or opinions; but some renovation of nature deeper and underlying all these, and coming from an external agent. 2. The kingdom of God, of which this renovation was necessary to the seeing, is to be itself brought in by a renovation, which was held by most Jews to include a physical renewal of the earth. How physical and bodily, then, might not the regeneration it required of its individual subjects be? 3. This regeneration was a new and unheard-of one; required, not like Jewish regeneration, of Gentiles alone, but a regeneration even of the chosen seed. How deep then is it, and how can it be brought about? Is it bodily, and if so, how can it be effected?

When he is old—As Nicodemus himself may have been; though this is not so certain as commentators seem to imply. He may have been as young as John himself, and like him have survived the destruction of Jerusalem. See note on John 3:1.

 

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/john-3.html. 1874-1909.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

‘Nicodemus says to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” ’

Nicodemus takes what Jesus says to mean born again physically, and speaks as though he confuses this with natural birth. John often uses a question arising from a misunderstanding to illuminate a truth. So Nicodemus asks, ‘How can an old man enter his mother’s womb a second time?’ He is probably simply seeking more information. He does not understand what Jesus means, and deliberately makes it sound enigmatic.

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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/john-3.html. 2013.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Nicodemus asked Jesus to clarify what He meant by being born again. His question implied that he was an older man. He was quite sure that Jesus was not referring to reincarnation or a second physical birth. His crassly literal question may reflect some disdain for Jesus" affirmation, or Nicodemus may have been speaking wistfully.

"The situation is no different today. When you talk with people about being born again, they often begin to discuss their family"s religious heritage, their church membership, religious ceremonies, and so on." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:295.]

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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/john-3.html. 2012.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

John 3:4. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? These are the words of a man amazed beyond measure. Jesus has read his thoughts, and the answer to his unspoken question has come with the suddenness and surprise of a thunderbolt. The solemn emphasis laid on the words ‘born anew’ forbids his thinking of a mere figure of speech, and apparently banishes from his mind the Old Testament expressions which approach the same truth (see John 3:5). The privilege which he attached to natural birth within the bounds of Israel is tom away by a word; the’ any one ‘of our Lord’s answer, makes all men equal; and the prize which seemed almost within his grasp is given to every one who has been born anew. In his bewilderment he sees no meaning in the words of Jesus, except they be understood physically of a second natural birth; and the evident impossibility of this he expresses in the very strongest terms.

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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/john-3.html. 1879-90.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

John 3:4. ; , etc. In this reply there is no attempt to fence with Jesus, but merely an expression of the bewilderment created by His statement. The emphasis is on , which asks for further explanation. The of the second clause shows that Nicodemus understood that Jesus could not mean a second physical birth (see Lücke). On Grotius remarks: “Exemplum in se ponit, qui senex jam erat”. That our Lord understood Nicodemus’ words as a request for further explanation appears from His at once proceeding to give it.

 

 

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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on John 3:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/john-3.html. 1897-1910.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

unto. Greek. pros. App-104.

How . . . ? Note other such questions, John 4:9. 1 Corinthians 15:35. All answered by "the gift of God "(John 3:16; John 4:10. 1 Corinthians 15:38). The question implies a negative answer,

be born. Nicodemus misunderstands, and uses the Verb gennao of the mother. The Lord uses it of the Father, as meaning begetting.

old. Applying it to his own case.

into. Greek. eis. App-104.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on John 3:4". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/john-3.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Nicodemus probably referred here to himself.

Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? The figure of the new birth, as we have seen, would have been intelligible enough to Nicodemus if it had been meant only of Gentile proselytes to the Jewish religion; but that Jews themselves should need a new birth was to him incomprehensible.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/john-3.html. 1871-8.

The Bible Study New Testament

4. How can a grown man be born again? Nicodemus states the literal meaning of Jesus’ words, to ask for an explanation. If Jesus meant this literally, he sees himself forever barred from the Kingdom.

 

 

 

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Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on John 3:4". "The Bible Study New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/john-3.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(4) The proper meaning of the word rendered “sound” ( φωνή) is articulate “voice.” It is used in fifteen passages in this Gospel only, and everywhere translated “voice” except here. Let the reader substitute the one meaning for the other in any of these passages, e.g., John 1:23; John 3:29; John 5:25; John 5:28; John 10:3-5; John 10:16, and he will find that they are not interchangeable.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/john-3.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
How
3; 4:11,12; 6:53,60; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2:14
Reciprocal: John 3:9 - How;  John 6:52 - How;  John 7:36 - manner;  John 14:22 - how;  1 Corinthians 15:35 - How

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on John 3:4". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/john-3.html.

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

Ver. 4. "Nicodemus saith unto Him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?"

Nicodemus has been charged with a foolish misapprehension, being said to have understood the words of Christ of a second natural birth. Such stupidity would render it inexplicable, that Christ should have entered more deeply on the subject with him. He rather gives the answer, which will always be given by one who has passed a long life in the element of mere nature, even under the sporadic influences of grace, when the requisition is first made to him of a radical renovation of life. An elderly man is on the whole, and for the most part, what he is. He meets such demands with the consciousness, I am this; and they seem to him not much otherwise than if one should demand of a forest-tree that it should become a fruit-tree. He can, indeed, in detail, by the exertion of all his powers, and with the aid of God and His Spirit, with which Nicodemus could not have been unacquainted, strive to improve and mend himself; but to "be born," to enter into an entirely new sphere of existence, this, according to his conception, is impossible. In order to this, his existence must begin entirely over again; he must come into the world as another, even from his mother's womb, since the most of that, which has been afterwards developed and consolidated, is based on that which the man brought with him into the world; and since this, as a matter of course, is impossible, the requirement of regeneration is a visionary one, and He who has made it must take it back again. (Heumann: "This is, indeed, an impossibility. Am I then on this account to be excluded from the kingdom of God?") The requirement is an impossible thing, because it contends against nature. When this has once attained to consistency, when all has assumed a fixed form, a total change is no longer possible. Thus must Nicodemus have judged, so long as he had not yet heartily believed, and become by faith a partaker of the whole riches of Christ, and had learnt by experience His divinity, the power of His atonement, and the might of His Spirit. Nicodemus says this, however, not as a cold rationalist, one who will ward off the truth from him at any price; he says it with a quaking heart. He has come to Christ, presuming Him to be the teacher sent from God. And the word of Christ has, indeed, raised a doubt on the surface of his heart, but in its inmost depths has strengthened his conviction. It has pierced like a flash of lightning into the night of his soul; it has found an ally in his conscience, which loudly assures him that this seemingly impossible thing must yet be, if he will see the kingdom of God.

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on John 3:4". Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/heg/john-3.html.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

4.How can a man be born when he is old? Though the form of expression which Christ employed was not contained in the Law and the prophets, yet as renewal is frequently mentioned in Scripture, and is one of the first principles of faith, it is evident how imperfectly skilled the Scribes at that time were in the reading of the Scriptures. It certainly was not one man only who was to blame for not knowing what was meant by the grace of regeneration; but as almost all devoted their attention to useless subtleties, what was of chief importance in the doctrine of piety was disregarded. Popery exhibits to us, at the present day, an instance of the same kind in her Theologians. For while they weary out their whole life with profound speculations, as to all that strictly relates to the worship of God, to the confident hope of our salvation, or to the exercises of religion, they know no more on these subjects than a cobbler or a cowherd knows about the course of the stars; and, what is more, taking delight in foreign mysteries, they openly despise the true doctrine of Scripture as unworthy of the elevated rank which belongs to them as teachers. We need not wonder, therefore, to find here that Nicodemus stumbles at a straw; for it is a just vengeance of God, that they who think themselves the highest and most excellent teachers, and in whose estimation the ordinary simplicity of doctrine is vile and despicable, stand amazed at small matters.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 3:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/john-3.html. 1840-57.