Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

John 3:9

Nicodemus said to Him, "How can these things be?"
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Blindness;   Jesus, the Christ;   Life;   Mysteries;   Nicodemus;   Salvation;  
Dictionaries:
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Nicodemus;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - John, gospel of;   Nicodemus;   Teacher;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Disciple, Discipleship;   Salvation;   Charles Buck Theological Dictionary - Episcopacy;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Nicodemus;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Jesus Christ;   Nicodemus;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Holy Spirit;   Nicodemus;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Gospels;   John, Gospel of;   John, Theology of;   Mss;   Nicodemus;   Scribes;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Announcements of Death;   Discourse;   Holy Spirit;   Individuality;   Mental Characteristics;   Property (2);   Righteous, Righteousness;   Teaching of Jesus;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Nicodemus ;   The Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary - Regeneration;   Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary - Heart;  
Encyclopedias:
Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia - Tabernacle, the;   Jesus of Nazareth;   International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - How;   Nicodemus;   Sanctification;   Seed;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Birth, New;   Nicodemus;  
Devotionals:
Every Day Light - Devotion for December 4;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

How can these things be? - Our Lord had very plainly told him how these things could be, and illustrated the new birth by one of the most proper similes that could be chosen; but so intent was this great man an making every thing submit to the testimony of his senses that he appears unwilling to believe any thing, unless he can comprehend it. This is the case with many - they profess to believe because they comprehend; but they are impostors who speak thus: there is not a man in the universe that can fully comprehend one operation, either of God or his instrument nature; and yet they must believe, and do believe, though they never did nor ever can fully comprehend, or account for, the objects of their faith.

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Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on John 3:9". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/john-3.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

How can these things be? - Nicodemus was still unwilling to admit the doctrine unless he understood it; and we have here an instance of a man of rank stumbling at one of the plainest doctrines of religion, and unwilling to admit a truth because he could not understand “how” it could be, when he daily admitted the truth of facts in other things which he could as little comprehend. And we may learn:

1.that people will often admit facts on other subjects, and be greatly perplexed by similar facts in religion.

2.that no small part of people‘s difficulties are because they cannot understand how or why a thing is.

3.that people of rank and learning are as likely to be perplexed by these things as those in the obscurest and humblest walks of life.

4.that this is one reason why such men, particularly, so often reject the truths of the gospel.

5.that this is a very unwise treatment of truth, and a way which they do not apply to other things.

If the wind cools and refreshes me in summer if it prostrates the oak or lashes the sea into foam - if it destroys my house or my grain, it matters little how it does this; and so of the Spirit. If it renews my heart, humbles my pride, subdues my sin, and comforts my soul, it is a matter of little importance how it does all this. Sufficient for me is it to know that it is done, and to taste the blessings which flow from the renewing. and sanctifying grace of God.

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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on John 3:9". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/john-3.html. 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator

John 3:9

How can these things be?

Religious revivals

This question is often asked concerning revivals of religion, and in dealing with it I would show

I. THAT THERE ARE SOLID GROUNDS ON WHICH TO BUILD A HOPE OF THE DISPENSATION OF THE SPIRIT TO PRODUCE REVIVALS OF RELIGION IN OUR CHURCHES.

1. We should endeavour to obtain a correct estimate of the real condition of the primitive churches of whom we read that they received the Holy Ghost. On this subject there are two opinions.

2. The Holy Spirit chooses oftentimes to display His Divine prerogative of sovereignty as to the time, place, and modes of His operations; and He displays it in such a manner that not unfrequently He gives no account of it to us. How is it that of two men brought up under the same influences one is converted and the other not? There is an analogy between the operations of God in nature and in grace, as different countries will yield different productions, each excellent in their kind; as oaks are of slow, and parasites of rapid growth, so is the work of conversion. Read the explication of the subject in 1 Corinthians 12:1-31. So one country is visited with a dispensation of the Spirit which issues in marked and numerous conversions, while another is visited with one which issues in works in defence of the gospel, and yet another with the missionary spirit.

3. There are circumstantials often connected with revivals which are by no means essential to their general character.

4. There are facts frequently occurring amongst ourselves which prove that the Spirit has not forsaken us.

5. Inference that if the means be employed we may expect yet greater things in the way of the Spirit’s manifestations.

II. THERE ARE PREPARATORY MEASURES TO BE ADOPTED IN ORDER TO THE ATTAINMENT OF THESE HIGH AND GRACIOUS DISTINCTIONS.

1. Cultivate a solemn, deep, and abiding conviction of the necessity and importance of the Spirit’s influences to advance the cause of religion.

2. Labour to put out of the way all those impediments which tend to obstruct the descent of the Spirit. Trifling with prayer, speculating on gospel verities, hypocrisy in worship, conformity with the world, uncharitableness and all those things which “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.”

3. Acknowledge thankfully what God has already done by His Spirit.

4. Consecrate more time to fervent and importunate prayer-private, family, social, etc.

5. Expect great things from God. (J. Clayton.)

Genteel ignorance

John Wesley always preferred the middling and lower classes to the wealthy. He said, “If I might choose, I should still, as I have done hitherto, preach the gospel to the poor.” Preaching in Monkton Church, a large old, ruinous building, he says, “I suppose it has scarce had such a congregation during this century. Many of them were gay, genteel people, so I spoke on the first elements of the gospel, but I was still out of their depth. Oh, how hard it is to be shallow enough for a polite audience!” (Anecdotes of the Wesleys.)

Man naturally ignorant

To unconverted persons a great part of the Bible resembles a letter written in cipher. The blessed Spirit’s office is to act as God’s decipherer, by letting His people into the secret of celestial experience, as the key and clue to those sweet mysteries of grace, which were before as a garden shut up, or as a fountain sealed, or as a book written in an unknown character. (Toplady.)

Christ and the enquiry room

I. THE INQUIRER Nicodemus was

1. A sincere inquirer; his sincerity was based on a conviction of Christ’s Divine mission. He knew there could be no trickery or magic in His wonderful works. Hence his unequivocal confession.

2. An anxious inquirer.

3. A perplexed inquirer.

4. A reverential inquirer.

II. THE SUBJECTS TAUGHT IN THE INQUIRY ROOM

1. The kingdom of God. This kingdom is

2. This kingdom has conditions. Entrance to it could not be

(4) pharisaical righteousness;

III. THE METHOD ADOPTED WAS COVERSATIONAL.

IV. THE RESULTS.

1. For a time doubtful.

2. Afterwards most satisfactory. (Joseph Heaton.)

Nicodemus’s perplexity

1. We live in a world of wonders: vegetable growth, insect evolution, human birth; about each of which we might well say, “How can these things be?”

2. There are greater wonders in the world towards which we are hastening--resurrection, etc.

3. Not less wonderful is the work of grace within a man’s soul.

I. WHAT THESE THINGS WERE WHICH PERPLEXED NICODEMUS. The new birth.

1. This doctrine is one of which the Bible is full. See John 1:13; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:20; 1 Peter 1:23, which teach that only by the almighty power of God can a dead sinner be born again, and that this power is exercised through the Word of Truth.

2. This doctrine presupposes the corruption of human nature--not that it has simply gone wrong through bad example and vicious training. It does not want mending, but renewing.

3. David found this out--“I was shapen in iniquity.” So did St. Paul--“In my flesh dwelleth no good thing,” “They that are in the flesh cannot please God.”

4. This doctrine is very humbling to pride of birth and intellect.

5. This doctrine conveys a blessed truth. Man may become a child of God, holy and meet for heaven.

6. Heaven being a character as well as a place no man can enter without being born again.

II. THESE ARE THE THINGS WE MUST KNOW IF WE ARE TO BE SAVED.

1. The very worst may be saved.

2. To be saved we must go to the author of the new birth.

3. Whatsoever may be our wants with regard to the present life nothing can stand in the place of His. Philanthropic schemes are good in their place, but are as the small dust of the balance compared with this.

4. The new birth is a personal experience, and each sinner must come individually, prayerfully, believingly and now. (Canon Miller.)

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "John 3:9". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/john-3.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?

The natural man finds it very difficult to receive spiritual things, due to his inherent preoccupation with the mechanics of them, the "how" of everything. Nicodemus' question is therefore one of remarkable interest to all.

HOW CAN THESE THINGS BE?

How persistently man probes every mystery! Wherever there are dark and knotty problems, or things hard to be understood, there man stands, the great inquisitor, demanding to know, "How can these things be?" In a sense, this attitude is the glow of the human race, resulting in countless discoveries and inventions; and yet, there are certain areas that God seems to have reserved for himself, for even in Paradise there was a tree forbidden to man. In a little different sense, there remain certain questions of the deep things of God, which, by their very nature, are unanswerable. This is such a question, nor does it stand alone. However, the question of "how" God does this or that is not necessary to the enjoyment of God's gifts. As Jesus said:

So is the kingdom of heaven, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and he should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring up and grow, he knoweth not how ... but when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle (Mark 4:26-29).

From this word of Jesus, it is plain that people should be more concerned with obeying God's laws than in searching out the "why" and the "how." Nicodemus apparently permitted his puzzlement over the "how" of the new birth to prevent his ready acceptance of Christ's word. Of course, such questions have their place, but obedience should not wait upon the resolution of all problems.

Some of the questions which are similar to the one that Nicodemus raised here are: (1) How did God create the heavens and the earth? People strive in vain to answer this; but they cannot agree. It is enough for the child of faith to believe that "God spake, and it was done; He commanded and it stood fast" (Psalms 33:9). (2) How does God answer prayer? Does He answer by performing a miracle? How can prayer do any good when God already knows everything? We must confess a little sadly that we do not know; but we believe that "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). (3) How are the dead raised up? (1 Corinthians 15:35). This is another "how" that torments the intellect endlessly; but the believer holds that it is no more difficult for God to give one another life than it was for Him to have given him the first life. The soul's deepest instinct demands belief in a resurrection; but "how" it will come to pass is a problem beyond the perimeter of man's ability to solve problems. And yet there is an instinct supporting the divine revelation that a resurrection will indeed occur.

Illustration: The great chemist Farraday received an engraved cup of pure silver with his name and inscription on it; but one day a workman knocked it into a jar of nitric acid where it was quickly consumed. The workman was frantic with concern, but the great Farraday only smiled. He added other chemicals to the jar, precipitated the silver from the solution, returned it to the original craftsman; and within six weeks, the same cup was sitting in its accustomed place, perfect as before, inscription and all! If man with his little learning can do a thing like that, how easily may God recall our human spirits and reclothe them with the robes of flesh; nor should we dare to disbelieve it, merely because God has not permitted us to photograph him in the process.

How can a man be born again when he is old ... ? Part of the answer to that question, namely the reception of the Holy Spirit, was not even available to the apostles at the time Nicodemus made this inquiry; and his mistake of waiting until he had all the answers was tragic. His greater concern should have been the acceptance of what he knew, namely, that he should have accepted the baptism of John. If he had submitted to that, as did Christ and the apostles, he would have experienced more, in time, and would have been truly "born again."

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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 3:9". "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 answered and said unto him,.... Remaining still as ignorant as ever, though Christ had explained the phrase "born again", at which he stumbled, by a being "born of water and of the Spirit", or of the grace of the Spirit of God; and had illustrated this by the free, powerful, and invisible blowing of the wind:

how can these things be? The Arabic version reads, "how can this be?" referring either to the last thing said, that a man's being born of the Spirit, is like the blowing of the wind; or to the explanation of the first expression, that a man should be born of water, and of the Spirit; or to the first assertion itself, that a man should be born again; which notwithstanding the explanation and illustration, seemed as impossible, and as impracticable as ever; or rather to them all, and so the Persic version reads, "how can all these things be?"

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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 3:9". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/john-3.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

3 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?

(3) The secret mystery of our regeneration which cannot be comprehended by man's capacity, is perceived by faith, and that in Christ only, because he is both God on earth, and man in heaven, that is to say, man in such a way that he is God also, and therefore almighty: and God in such a way that he is man also, and therefore his power is made manifest to us.
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Bibliographical Information
Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on John 3:9". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/john-3.html. 1599-1645.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

How? (ΠωσPōs) Nicodemus is not helped either by the use of υδωρhudōr or πνευμαpneuma to understand δει γεννητηναι ανωτενdei gennēthēnai anōthen (the necessity of the birth from above or regeneration). He falls back into his “stupid misunderstanding.” There are none so dull as those who will not see. Preoccupation prevents insight. Literally one must often empty his mind to receive new truth.

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The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on John 3:9". "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

These things

Such as the new birth.

Be ( γενέσθαι )

Literally, come to pass.

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Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on John 3:9". "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.

The Fourfold Gospel

The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

  1. The wind bloweth where it will . . . so is every one that is born of the Spirit. In this sentence we have the Greek word "pneuma" translated by the two words "wind" and "spirit". There can be no justification in rendering "pneuma" as "wind", when in the last clause of the same sentence, and three times in the immediate context, it is rendered "spirit". There can be no doubt that it means the same in both clauses of this verse, and if we render it wind in the first clause, we must say "born of the wind" in the last clause. Whatever is the meaning of this verse, it must be extracted from the rendering which the Revisers have strangely placed in the margin, viz.: "The Spirit breatheth where it will", etc. It teaches that a man is born of the Spirit, breathing as he wills through inspired men. It is equivalent to Paul's maxim that faith comes by hearing the word of God* (Romans 10:17).

    * From this (Bro. McGarvey's) construction of John 3:8 I dissent, and hold that the Revisers have given us the true reading in the text. The question has been fully discussed in Lard's Quarterly, Vol. III, p. 337; Benjamin Franklin's Sermons, Vol. I, p. 281; Alexander Campbell's Millennial Harbinger, 1832, p. 604; 1833, p. 24; 1869, pp. 317, 478, 522, 688. I take this passage to mean that the process by which a man is regenerated by the Spirit of God is no more mysterious than other operations in the natural world, of which operations the blowing of the wind is taken as an example.--Philip Y. Pendleton.

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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 3:9". "The Fourfold Gospel". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tfg/john-3.html. Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1914.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Как это может быть? Здесь мы видим, что более всего мешает Никодиму. Все сказанное он воспринял как нелепицу, поелику не разумел, каким образом это происходит. Так и для нас худшее препятствие состоит в нашей надменности, поскольку мы всегда хотим мудрствовать больше, чем нужно. Посему мы с дьявольской гордостью отвергаем все, что не ясно для нашего разума. Словно можно затолкнуть неизмеримую силу Божию в столь тесные рамки. Позволительно исследовать способ и причину дел Божиих, но только сдержанно и почтительно. Никодим же в своем возражении как басню отверг то, во что не мог поверить. Об этом подробнее будет сказано в шестой главе.

 

 

 

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 3:9". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/john-3.html. 1840-57.

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

THE PUZZLED INQUIRER

‘How can these things be?’

John 3:9

In the interview between our Lord and Nicodemus, we have an early instance of difficulties of belief in a candid and thoughtful mind. The question contained in the text has often been repeated since with the same cautious timidity, and the same hesitating acquiescence with respect to the Christian verities.

I. There is a striking resemblance between the methods of religious inquiry of Nicodemus and the people of the twentieth century.—With him the difficulties of faith were prospective; with us they are retrospective. But then, as now, unworthy compromise in the place of courage leads to much vacillating uncertainty in religious thought, and this produces a want of thoroughness and completeness in the religious life; for unsteady conduct is almost sure to follow on infirm convictions. Unless a radical change takes place by Divine influence in the modes of thinking and feeling on religious subjects, the standpoint of seekers after God will remain to be that of fruitless questioning, ‘How can these things be?’ when no answer is expected where a negative is implied, when, from want of energy and earnest persistence, the true answer is never found. Discovery of truth is impossible when prejudice in favour of uncertainty prevents further search in the inquirer.

II. But the hesitation of Nicodemus forms another instructive aspect of his personality.—He is ready to make some admissions favourable to religion, but he does so with considerable reserve. To gain time, he asks questions which savour after intentional misapprehension. For example, ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ etc. He will not see the spiritual and deeper significance of the words of Christ, and accepts them only in their bare literal import. Just so ‘candid unbelievers in the present day are but too often satisfied in attacking the weak outworks of the Christian system’ (as Christian apologists often think they have proved ‘the truth’ when they have merely upset a false theory of their opponents), and thereby feel themselves justified in remaining in a condition of mental suspense, leaving the ultimate decision as to the acceptance or rejection of the Christian scheme in abeyance, whilst waiting for a less faulty presentation of it on the part of its official advocates. In this way much of precious time and mental tissue are wasted in frivolous wrangling and sophistical hair-splitting concerning terms and phrases.

III. We may imagine the strange transformation in modes of thought and feeling wrought in Nicodemus during that night interview with our Lord, and the mingled feelings of satisfied wonder and discontent with self with which he left at break of day with a new light dawning on his soul. The master in Israel had changed much, even then when began, unconscious to himself, the career of his discipleship of Him Whom he acknowledged as the great Master sent from God. So the presence of Christ in modern life, constant intercourse with Christ in His teaching, may now lead men by degrees from uncertainty to knowledge in Divine things.

Rev. M. Kaufmann.

Illustration

‘After all the claims of scepticism are acknowledged, a wide margin is left for provisional belief (as opposed to provisional unbelief on principle).

“There lives more faith in honest doubt,

Believe me, than in half the creeds,”

says the author of the “In Memoriam”; hut describing in the same stanza the experience of one “perplexed in faith,” he adds—

“He fought his doubts and gather’d strength,

He would not make his judgment blind,

He faced the spectres of the mind,

And laid them: thus he came at length

To find a stronger faith his own:

And power was with him in the night,

Which makes the darkness and the light,

And dwells not in the light alone.”

This, too, we think, is the experience of every honest doubter who will not rest satisfied until he has arrived at some conclusion. The danger lies in inconclusive debate, which leads nowhither. If we are not afraid of the light of truth, it will come to us in broken rays—perhaps, as Lord Bacon says, all human truth is arrived at—or we shall turn to it, dazzled or dazed, though it be sooner or later, as the case may be. Purity of motive is the best equipment for this voyage of discovery.’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on John 3:9". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/john-3.html. 1876.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?

Ver. 9. How can these things be?] Christ had told him that the manner of the Spirit’s working is incomprehensible, and yet he is at it, How can these things be? Sed scribo haec frustra (saith Luther in a certain letter of his to Melancthon) quia tu secundum philosophiam vestram, has res ratione regere, hoc est, ut ille ait, cum ratione insanire pergis.

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Bibliographical Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on John 3:9". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/john-3.html. 1865-1868.

Sermon Bible Commentary

John 3:9

The Christian Mysteries.

The Feast of Trinity succeeds Pentecost; the light of the Gospel does not remove mysteries in religion. This is our subject. Let us enlarge upon it.

I. Consider such difficulties in religion as press upon us independently of the Scriptures. Now we shall find the Gospel has not removed these; they remain as great as before Christ came. Why does God permit so much evil in His own world? This was a mystery before God gave His revelation. It is as great a mystery now, and doubtless for this reason, because knowledge about it would do us no good; it would merely satisfy curiosity.

II. Nor, again, are the difficulties of Judaism removed by Christianity. The Gospel gives us no advantages, in mere barren knowledge, above the Jew, or above the unenlightened heathen.

III. Nay, we may proceed to say, further than this, that it increases our difficulties. It is, indeed, a remarkable circumstance, that the very revelation that brings us practical and useful knowledge about our souls, in the very act of doing so, may (as it would seem), in consequence of doing so, bring us mysteries. We gain spiritual light at the expense of intellectual perplexity; a blessed exchange doubtless, still at the price of perplexity. As we draw forth many remarkable facts concerning the natural world which do not lie on its surface, so by meditation we detect in revelation this remarkable principle, which is not openly propounded, that religious light is intellectual darkness.

IV. Such being the necessary mysteriousness of Scripture doctrine, how can we best turn it to account in the contest which we are engaged on with our own evil hearts? Difficulties in revelation are expressly given to prove the reality of our faith. They are stumbling-blocks to proud, unhumbled minds, and were intended to be such. Faith is unassuming, modest, thankful, obedient. Those that believe not fall away; the true disciples remain firm, for they feel their eternal interests at stake, and ask the very plain and practical, as well as affectionate, question, "To whom shall we go" if we leave Christ?

J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. i., p. 203.


References: John 3:11.—J. Keble, Sermons from Ascensiontide to Trinity, p. 332. John 3:12.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 401; R. S. Candlish, The Gospel of Forgiveness, p. 1.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on John 3:9". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/john-3.html.

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

Observe here, 1. How Nicodemus, consulting only with carnal reason, persists in his apprehension concerning the absurdity and impossibility of our Saviour's notion of regeneration, or being born of the Spirit. Nicodemus said, How can these things be?

Learn hence, That the great cause of men's ignorance in matters of salvation, and the mysteries of religion, is consulting their own natural reason without submitting their understandings to the authority of divine revelation. Till they can give a reason for every thing they believe, they cry out with Nicodemus, How can these things be?

Whereas, though we cannot give a reason for all gospel mysteries which we believe, we can give a good reason why we believe them, namely, because God hath revealed them. No man can be a Christian who refuses to submit his understanding to the authority of divine revelation.

Observe, 2. How our Saviour reproves Nicodemus for, and upbraids him with, his ignorance, ver. 10, and his infidelity, ver 12. First his ignorance is reproved, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? As if Christ had said, "Ignorance in any, as to the fundamentals of religion, is shameful, though but in a common learner, much more in a teacher and master, and he a teacher and master in Israel: now thou art one of them, and yet knowest not these things!

Learn hence, 1. That a man may be very knowing himself, and take upon him to teach and instruct others. and yet be very ignorant of the nature, and much unacquainted with the work, of regeneration upon his own soul: a man may be very sharp-sighted, as the eagle, in the mysteries of art and nature, and yet blind as a mole in the things of God.

2. That ignorance, in the fundamentals of religion especially, is very culpable and shameful in any that enjoy the means of knowledge, but especially in those that undertake to teach and instruct others. Art thou a teacher, thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?

Next, our Saviour upbraids him for his infideltiy, ver. 12. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not. This infidelity received its aggravation from the facility, and perspicuity of our Saviour's doctrine. I have told you earthly things; that is, I have set forth spiritual things by earthly similitudes, not in a style suitable to the sublimity of their own nature.

Let the ministers of Christ learn from their Master's example, in all their discourses to accommodate themselves, and descend as low as may be, to the capacities of their people: I have told you earthly things.

2. That even spiritual things, when they are shadowed forth by earthly similitudes, and brought down in the plainest manner to the capacities of their people, yet are they very slow to understand them, and very backward to believe them. I have told you of earthly things, and ye believe them not.

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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on John 3:9". 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

9.] The question of Nicodemus is evidently still one of unbelief, though no longer of frivolity: see John 3:12.

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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on John 3:9". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/john-3.html. 1863-1878.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Nicodemus had before spoken as if he thought it a thing impossible, understanding our Saviour of a carnal generation, which he knew could not be repeated: perceiving that he spake of a spiritual birth, he is now posed at the mystery of it; it being a thing the doctrine of which he had not been acquainted with. His carnal stupidity hindered his understanding the first lesson of Christianity, though explained by the Sun of righteousness; and his pride hindered him from confessing his ignorance; he rather judges the doctrine to be absurd and impossible. The like darkness is in every unrenewed mind; regeneration being like that new name, which none understand but those that have it.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on John 3:9". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/john-3.html. 1685.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

How; Nicodemus here asked a question which Jesus did not answer. He had revealed the fact, its nature, necessity, and author. The manner it was not necessary, and would not be useful, for Nicodemus to know. The fact might be believed, and all its benefits be secured, without knowing how it was accomplished. It is not necessary, in order to believe a fact and receive the benefit of it, that a man should understand the manner in which it is accomplished; and he should not let his ignorance of what God has not revealed hinder him from receiving and treating as true what he has revealed.

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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on John 3:9". "Family Bible New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fam/john-3.html. American Tract Society. 1851.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

9.How—Nicodemus here does not so much ask the manner as imply that it cannot be in any manner. He is too respectful to give his doubt in any stronger form than a question.

Our Lord has now firmly maintained the doctrine of regeneration propounded in the third verse, but his listener is in doubt. Jesus, therefore, in the following verses, First grounds himself on his own authority as a teacher, acknowledged by Nicodemus himself to be from God, affirming in the sublimest terms his own absolute knowledge, 10-13. Second, To this doctrine of regeneration he adds the second great spiritual truth of the kingdom of God, the doctrine of universal atonement, 14-17. Third, He affirms that upon faith depends our justification or condemnation, assigning for that doctrine its proper reason, 18-21.

Rationalists boldly assert that the doctrines contained in 14-21 were not, according to the other Evangelists, advanced by Jesus so early in his ministry. Yielding to this claim, commentators like Tholuck and Olshausen maintain that the passage was not spoken by Jesus, but is our Evangelist’s own additional comment. This we may answer in the course of our notes, but we here say: Since Nicodemus has acknowledged Jesus, on ground of miracles, to be a God-sent teacher, there was a perfect wisdom in our Lord’s forthwith pushing him individually into the deeper truths of the Gospel, however much in advance of his teaching to a world less prepared and committed. You admit, Nicodemus, my mission from God. You are bound then to stop not there. Your next steps are renovation, (which you should accept on my authority,) atonement, and salvation by faith in the Son of God.

Jesus maintains that the doctrine of regeneration should be accepted upon his own divine authority, 10-13.

 

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 3:9". "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 answered and said to him, “How can these things be?” ’

Nicodemus still does not understand. ‘How can these things be?’, he asks. What is clear to many a Christian child is a total mystery to the learned scholar. We must, however, remember that he has long cherished views. To him water is for outward purifying, and his religious agenda is found in seeking to keep God’s laws assiduously and totally in order to be true to the covenant with God and achieve eternal life in the future. The thought of the freedom and new life that comes through the Spirit of God is foreign to him. He is baffled.

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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on John 3:9". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/john-3.html. 2013.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

John 3:9. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things come to pass? The tone of this answer is very different from that of John 3:4. Here, as there, the question is, How can…? But there the added words show that the meaning is, ‘It is impossible’(comp. Luke 1:18); whereas in this verse the chief stress lies on the first word ‘How’(comp. Luke 1:34). The offended astonishment of Nicodemus (John 3:7) has yielded to the words of Jesus. He now understands that Jesus really means that there is such a thing as a new spiritual birth, in contrast with that natural birth which had ever seemed to him the only necessary condition of entrance into the kingdom of Messiah. Still, as John 3:12 shows, the victory over unbelief is not yet complete.

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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 3:9". "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 3:9. This explanation did not satisfy Nicodemus. He falls back upon his bewilderment, ; This question stirs Jesus to a fuller explanation, which is reported in John 3:10-15.

 

 

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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on John 3:9". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/john-3.html. 1897-1910.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

these things. See Jeremiah 31:33; Jeremiah 32:39. Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 18:31; Ezekiel 36:25-27. Psalms 51:10.

be = come to pass. Reference to John 3:4.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on John 3:9". "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 answered and said unto him, How can these things be?

Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Though the subject, says Luthardt, still confounds him, the necessity and possibility of the new birth is no longer the point with him, but the nature of it and how it is brought about. From this moment, to use the words of Stier, Nicodemus says nothing more, but has sunk into a disciple who has found his true teacher. Therefore the Saviour now graciously advances in His communications of truth, and once more solemnly brings to the mind of this teacher in Israel, now become a learner, his own not guiltless ignorance, that He may then proceed to utter, out of the fullness of His divine knowledge, such further testimonies, both of earthly and heavenly things, as his docile scholar may to his own profit receive.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on John 3:9". "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

9. How can this be? His problem is that he had thought he was already in the Kingdom.

 

 

 

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Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on John 3:9". "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

(9) How can these things be?—The answer to the previous question has spoken of a spiritual birth and a spiritual life and a spiritual kingdom, but all this is in a region of which the Rabbinic schools knew nothing. They were the authorised exponents of Law and Prophets; they knew the precise number of words, and the shape of letters; the form of a phylactery, and the width of a fringe; the tithing of garden herbs, and the manner of washing the hands: but spirit, life, a man’s soul born again!—“how can these things be?”

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on John 3:9". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/john-3.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
How
4; 6:52,60; Proverbs 4:18; Isaiah 42:16; Mark 8:24,25; Luke 1:34
Reciprocal: Joshua 7:26 - So the Lord;  John 7:36 - manner;  John 9:10 - GeneralJohn 14:22 - how;  1 Corinthians 15:35 - How;  1 Timothy 1:7 - understanding

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on John 3:9". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/john-3.html.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

9.How can these things be? We see what is the chief obstacle in the way of Nicodemus. Every thing that he hears appears monstrous, because he does not understand the manner of it; so that there is no greater obstacle to us than our own pride; that is, we always wish to be wise beyond what is proper, and therefore we reject with diabolical pride every thing that is not explained to our reason; as if it were proper to limit the infinite power of God to our poor capacity. We are, indeed, permitted, to a certain extent, to inquire into the manner and reason of the works of God, provided that we do so with sobriety and reverence; but Nicodemus rejects it as a fable, on this ground, that he does not believe it to be possible. On this subject we shall treat more fully under the Sixth Chapter.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 3:9". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/john-3.html. 1840-57.