Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:V
JESUS IN JERUSALEM, AND NICODEMUS AS A WITNESS OF THE FIRST POWERFUL IMPRESSION OF JESUS UPON THE PHARISEES. THE CONVERSATION OF CHRIST WITH NICODEMUS BY NIGHT CONCERNING THE HEAVENLY BIRTH AS THE CONDITION OF ENTRANCE INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD. SYMBOLISM OF WATER, WIND, AND THE BRAZEN SERPENT.
(John 3:1–15, Gospel for Trinity Sunday; John 3:16–21, Gospel for 2nd Pentecost)
1[But]1 there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2The same came to Jesus [him]2 by night, and said unto him, Rabbi [Master], we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born3 again from above]4 he cannot see the kingdom of God.5 4Nicodemus 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? 5Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the [omit of the]6 Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God [of heaven].7 6That which is [hath been] born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is 7[hath been] born of the Spirit8 is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye 8must be born again [from above]. The wind9 bloweth where it listeth [will], and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell [knowest not, οὐχ οῖ̓δας], whence it cometh, and10 whither it goeth; so is [it with] every one that is [hath been] born of the Spirit. 9Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master [the teacher, ὁ διδάσχαλος] of Israel, and knowest not these things?
11Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know [that which we know] and testify that [which] we have seen; and ye receive not our witness [testimony]. 12If I have told you earthly [human] things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of [omit of] heavenly [divine] thing?1113And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which 14[who] is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness [made it a high signal for the surrounding wilderness], even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whosoever believeth in him12 should [may] not perish, but [omit not perish but]13 have eternal life.
16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should [might] not perish, but have everlasting life. 17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn [judge]14 the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18He that believeth on him is not condemned [judged]; but he that believeth not is condemned [hath been judged] already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19And this is the condemnation [judgment] that [the]15 light is come into the world, and men loved [the] darkness rather than [the] light, because their deeds were evil.16 20For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh [and cometh not] to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved [detested, discovered, shown to be punishable]. 21But he that doeth [the] truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that [for]17 they are wrought in God.
ΕXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
[This is one of the richest and most important sections of the Bible. The sixteenth verse alone contains the whole gospel in a nutshell, or “the Bible in miniature,” and is worth more than all the wisdom of the world. The infinite love of the Father, the mission of His Son, the work of the Holy Spirit, the lost condition of man, the necessity of a new birth from above, faith in Christ as a condition of salvation, the kingdom of God, eternal life—all these fundamental doctrines are set forth by the unerring mouth of our Lord in this interview with a timid, yet earnest and anxious inquirer. The central idea of the passage is the new birth, which implies the total depravity of man and the work of divine grace. This great doctrine stands in the proper place at the beginning of Christ’s ministry.
The first miracle of Christ was a miracle of transformation, His first public act in Jerusalem an act of reformation, His first discourse a discourse on regeneration. He is not satisfied with mere improvements of the old, but demands a new life, lays a new foundation. True religion in the soul begins with a personal conviction of sin and guilt, and of the necessity of a radical change. Without such a conviction all efforts to convert a man are in vain. The night discourse with Nicodemus is the locus classicus on the new birth, as the indispensable condition of admission into the kingdom of God. It occupies a position in the Gospel of John, similar to that which the Sermon on the Mount does in the Gospel of Matthew.
It is characteristic of the idealism and mysticism of John that in his Gospel he gives no account of the institution of the church18 and the sacraments. But, anticipating the visible rite, he presents in John 3. the idea of the new birth, which is symbolized in Christian baptism, together with the idea of “the kingdom of God,” which is the internal and abiding essence of the church. So in John 6 he gives the general idea of vital union with Christ, which underlies the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
According to the Synoptists, Christ began His public ministry by preaching to the people: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye (change your mind, μετανοεῖτε), and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). According to John, He made, at the outset of His ministry,. the same demand, first indirectly, and then directly (δεῖ ὑμᾶς, John 3:7), upon an individual, a man circumcised, orthodox, honest, unblemished, yea, of the highest rank, a member of the Supreme Council of the theocracy, even favorably disposed to Christ and almost ready to accept Him as the Messiah, in a word, a man endowed with every personal and official claim to membership of the Messianic kingdom, yet lacking one fundamental condition: a new birth from above. Christ answers not so much to the words, as to the thoughts of Nicodemus, penetrating his heart to the very core (2:25). With historical faithfulness, John does not state the result of the conversation, because it did not appear at once, but some time afterwards (7:50; 19:39).
Regeneration (ἀναγέννησις, παλιγγενεσία) is a creative act of God the Holy Spirit, whereby a new spiritual life from above is implanted in man, through the means of grace, especially the preaching of the gospel; like the natural birth, it can occur but once. Conversion (μετάνοια, which must not be confounded with regeneration) is the corresponding subjective change of heart, whereby man, under the influence of the Spirit, in conscious repentance and faith, turns from the service of sin to the service of God; this may be repeated after a relapse. Regeneration, as to its origin and mode of operation, is a mystery like the natural generation and birth, but a mystery manifest in its effects to all who have spiritual eyes to see; it meets us as a fact in every true Christian, or child of God, who is as sure of the higher life of Christ in his own soul as he is of his natural existence. The difficulties in the exposition of this passage are mainly dogmatical, and arise from the relation of regeneration to baptism, viz., whether water means baptism at all, and, if so, whether it refers to John’s baptism, or the baptism of the disciples of Jesus, or, by anticipation, to Christian baptism (which did not appear till the day of Pentecost), or the general idea of baptism in its various forms as a historic preparation for Christian discipleship; and also from the question as to the necessity of baptism for salvation. These difficulties are fully discussed below.—P. S.]
John 3:1. There was a man.—An important incident of the residence of Jesus in Jerusalem, exemplifying what has just been said, and introduced with the continuative δέ. [Comp. however, Text Note 1.—P. S.] Lücke [and Godet]: An example of the higher knowledge just mentioned; Tholuck: Of the weak faith just mentioned;19 De Wette: A proof of John 3:23–25; Luthardt: Transition from the people to an individual; Ewald: Nicodemus an exception; Strauss: Added through desire to show a believer from the cultivated world; Baur: Nicodemus a typical figure: outwardly believing, inwardly unbelieving Judaism. (On the contrary Luthardt: He is in fact a genuine disciple in disguise, see Tholuck.) The views of Lücke and Tholuck do not exclude, but meet in, that of De Wette. An example, that is to say, at once of the weak faith to which Jesus cannot entrust Himself, and of His power to discern it. Yet John has especially selected this incident also on account of its great didactic importance, and as an example of the enthusiasm which Jesus at first awakened, extending even into the circle of the Pharisees.20
Nicodemus.—A current name, first with the Greeks, then with the Jews (נַקְדִימוֹן ,נַקְדָם Lightfoot and Wetstein). Akin to Νικόλαος. Starke :“If the name be Hebrew, it is equivalent to innocent blood (נַקִי and דָּם), but if Greek, conqueror of people (the same as Nicolaus). As the Jews gave not only Hebrew, but Greek and Latin names also, to their children, both meanings at last met in Nicodemus.” The gradual unfolding of his faith appears by stages in this place, John 7:50 and John 19:39. “Tradition adds that he afterwards, having publicly acknowledged the doctrine of Jesus, and having been baptized by Peter and John, was deposed from his office and banished from Jerusalem (Photius, Biblioth., Cod. 171), but was supported in a country-seat by his kinsman Gamaliel, till his death.” Winer. Thus tradition makes him again in an unworthy mariner-keep out of sight with his faith. The Talmud mentions also a Nicodemus, Son of Gorion, properly called Bunni, who was a disciple of Jesus, and survived the destruction of Jerusalem, whose family sank from wealth into great poverty (Delitzsch, (Zeitschr. f. Luth. Theolog. 1854, p. 643). The identity is not proved. Josephus also, Antiq. XIV. 3, 2, speaks of a Nicodemus, who was sent as a legate of the Maccabean Aristobulus to Pompey. The apocryphal literature has completed the biography of Nicodemus in a Gospel ascribed to him.21
The germ of a genuine faith had to contend in Nicodemus with regard for the polite world, thoughts of his station, fear of men, Pharisaic prejudice, but, on a foundation of sincerity, conscientiousness, rectitude, and a higher fidelity even to his office, issues victorious in courageous confession and joyful offerings; and the closing words of the conversation, John 3:21, are plainly enough a prediction of the Lord respecting him, after a reproof, John 3:20, of his stealthy coming in the night as a suspicious sign. Similar characters, though they probably did not all so decidedly come out, are described in John 12:42.
A ruler of the Jews.—Member of the Sanhedrin [comp. Luke 23:13; 24:20; Acts 13:27], like Joseph of Arimathea, John 7:50. Of the party of the Pharisees. [ἐκ τῶν φαρισαίων. This is not mentioned as derogatory. Hengstenberg remarks that the Pharisees were specially hostile to the doctrine of regeneration and resolved religion into a self-made holiness. But the Sadducees were even more opposed to spiritual religion. A Paul could proceed from the earnest Pharisees, but not from the frivolous and skeptical Sadducees.—P. S.]
John 3:2. By night.22—That this is intended for a mark of weakness, is proved by John 3:20; and even by the particular mention of this circumstance itself, as well as by the very gradual appearing of his adhesion to Jesus.23 Koppe puts him down as a hypocrite (see Lücke), who came to question the Lord with evil intent, and who feigned simplicity; Niemeyer, on the contrary, represents his shyness as a true caution. “He was an honorable character, rather slow of nature,” says Meyer. Yet no doubt something more. An educated man of age, sitting as pupil to a young, untitled rabbi; a Pharisee, stepping free of the despotic and heresy-scenting spirit of his sect; a Sanhedrist, who soon ventures to oppose the fanaticism of the whole council; a prominent, serene-tempered, mature man of the world, who under the cross of the dead Jesus appears as a disciple, and in a costly burial-gift gives token of his unreserved and joyful devotion, and thus evinces that there were given to him and have continued with him, in his frigid school, a noble vigor of spirit, in his legal dignity a living yearning, in his high age a youthful striving, under all traditional prejudice a large ingenuousness, above all, under the whole system of Pharisaic show a sincere heart, and under all the rust of worldliness the metal of a turn for the faith and devotion of the Christian. Meyer justly observes, against De Wette and others, that the coming of Nicodemus by night does not imply that no disciples were present at the interview; and the directness of the narrative, though bearing the Johannean stamp, leads us to supppose that John was a witness.
Rabbi, we know [οἴδαμεν].—First of all, Nicodemus accords to the Lord the dignity of Rabbi, denied to Him by many (John 7:15); and this, considering the importance attached by the scribes to this title, is not without a favorable significance. This “we know” implies that he had kindred spirits in his circle, who acknowledged the high office of Jesus.24 Yet the word shades off, in a somewhat politic sense, from a Pluralis excellentiæ into a suggestion of an indefinite prospect of recognition by the whole Sanhedrin.25 It expresses also the self-sufficient scribe-spirit, and unconsciously betrays over valuation of knowledge and under-valuation of faith.
A teacher come from God.—Acknowledgment of an indefinite prophetic character.26—
For no man can do these miracles.—Acknowledgment of a number of accredited, important miraculous signs [ταῦτα τὰ σημεῖα, hæcce tanta signa], which Jesus had done in Jerusalem, and which, in the judgment of Nicodemus, certified Him to be a new prophet of God. Miracle a test of a prophet, but under qualifications, Deut. 13:1; 18:20.
Except God be with him.—The miracle proves the supernatural power which stands by the worker. False miracles might be performed through Satanic agency, Ex. 7. But the character and greatness of the miracles of Jesus made it certain to Nicodemus that He wrought them in the power of God. And this involved the further inference that He was accredited by the miracles as a prophet sent from God. The ἔρχεσθαι is significant, John 1:6, 15.
John 3:3. Verily, verily, I say unto thee.—One of the great cardinal truths of the kingdom of heaven, solemnly introduced. The answer consists of a series of antitheses: (1) The address of Rabbi is answered by an address without Rabbi; (2) the “we know” is met with “verily, verily, I say unto thee;” (3) the word: Thou art come from above, and therefore art a teacher (from the kingdom of God), is met by the word: A man must be even born from above, if he would so much as see the kingdom of God; (4) the sign is met by the kingdom of God itself. And this antithesis runs through all: Thou wouldst know that I am a prophet, but thou still lackest the qualifications for seeing who I am, and seeing in me the personal manifestation of the kingdom of God.
Various views of the relation of the answer of Jesus to the address of Nicodemus: (1) Intermediate talk omitted (Kuinoel and others). (2) Jesus would lead him from the faith of miracles to the faith which morally transforms (Augustine, De Wette). (3) Jesus is come not as a teacher, but for the moral transformation of the world (Baumgarten-Crusius). (4) Thou thinkest thou already seest a sign of the kingdom of God; no man can see the kingdom of God, unless he be born anew (Lightfoot, Lücke). (5) Meyer: The address of Nicodemus is interrupted by Christ, and must therefore be completed from this answer. Nicodemus intended to ask: What must I do, to enter into the kingdom of the Messiah? To this Christ here gives him the answer. But (a) the hypothesis of interruption is unsuitable; better, that of hesitation; best, that of polite, skilful waiting, as if to say: What more? (b) Nicodemus was as yet hardly so far advanced as to ask what Meyer puts into his mouth. The connection is probably this: Thou thinkest that I am come from God. But ho who would even see the kingdom of God, must be more than this; he must be born from above; how much greater must be said of the Founder of the kingdom of God.
Jesus gave him to understand that he had not yet reached the forecourt of true knowledge. At least Christ’s answer confronts the proud consciousness of the address with the humbling nature of truth. And when He requires the new birth from above as the condition of seeing the kingdom of God, He means, according to the analogy of the Jewish designation of proselytes as born again (Jeramoth fol. 62, etc.), primarily: Except a man come out from the old system, become a proselyte, publicly commit himself to a new position. And in birth from above the word demands a great transition. Nicodemus would privately assure Him of the adhesion of a party of the Pharisees, implying the presumption that he would attach himself to the old order of things. Jesus demands of him a proselytism wrought by God, a coming forth from the darkness of night and of the old party, if he would have any understanding at all of the kingdom of God which he himself announces. We may still suppose that John relates only the essential, salient words, and omits intervening details; the main progress of thought, however, he has undoubtedly given, though in the color of his own contemplation.
Except a man be born from above [Ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν].27 Various interpretations of ἄνωθεν: (1) Locally: from heaven (ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ); (2) temporally: afresh, from the very beginning (ἐξ ἀρῆς). Both views are adduced by Chrysostom [who himself explains the word by παλιγγενεσία]. In favor of the latter, in the sense of iterum, denuo, are the Vulgate [Augustine], Luther [Calvin, Beza], Olshausen, Neander, Tholuck [Alford, Hengstenberg, Godet]. Against it are the verbal criticisms, that ἄνωθεν, taken temporally, means not again, but from the beginning, and that the rendering again has probably arisen under the influence of the expressions of Paul in Rom. 12:2; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 4:23; Col. 3:10; Tit. 3:5; and of Pet. in 1 Pet. 1:23. For the local explanation are Origen and many others, down to Bengel [SUPERNE, unde Filius hominis descendit], Lücke, and Meyer [also De Wette, Robinson, Baur, Bäumlein, Weizsäcker, Owen, Wordsworth]. From above, in the sense of from God, ἐκ θεοῦ. This is further favored by the consideration “that John conceives regeneration not under the aspect of a second birth, but of a divine birth, John 1:13; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1.” Meyer. The ideas of being born from above or of God and being born anew are, however, in substance interchangeable, and Tholuck’s objections to Lücke, etc. [Krauth’s trs., p. 114], are untenable.
[Often as the fact of regeneration appears in the N. T., the terms for it are rare, and not near as frequent as the terms μετάνοια and others, which signify the corresponding act of man in turning to God under the regenerating operation of the Holy Spirit. The verb ἄνωθεν γεννεθῆναι, to be begotten, or born from above, i.e., from God, which is used twice in this ch. (John 3:6, 7), occurs nowhere else in the N. T. John also uses once to be born of water and Spirit (γεννηθῆναι ἐξ ὔδατος καὶ πνεύματος), John 3:5, and twice to be born of the Spirit (τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος, John 3:6, ὁ γεγ. ἐκ τ. πν., John 3:8, without the water), but the more usual phrase with him is to be begotten, or born of God (γεννηθῆναι ἐκ θεοῦ), 1:13; 1 John 2:19; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18. The verb ἀναγεννάομαι, to be begotten, or born again, occurs but once or twice, 1 Pet. 1:23 (ἀναγεγεννημένοι οὐκ ἐκ σπορᾶς φθαρτῆς ἀλλὰ ἀφθάρτου, διὰ λόγου ζῶντοχ θεοῦ); 1 Pet. 1:3 (ἀναγεννήσας ἡμᾶς εἰς ἐλπίδα); comp. James 1:18 (ἀπεκύησεν ἡμᾶς λόγῳ ἀληθείας). The noun ἀναγέννησις, regeneration, is not found at all in the N. T. (although often in the Greek fathers), but the analogous noun παλιγγεννεσία occurs twice, once in connection with baptism, Tit. 3:5 (ἔσωσεν ἡμᾶς διὰ λουτροῦ παλιγγενεσίας καὶ ἀνακαινώσεως πνεύματος ἁγίου), and once in a more comprehensive sense, with reference to the final resurrection and consummation of air things, Matth. 19:28 (ἐν τῇ παλιγγενεσία, ὄταν κ. τ. λ.). Paul speaks of a new creature (καινὴ κτίσις) in Christ, 2 Cor. 5:17, and of the new man (καινὸς ἄνθρωπος), Eph. 4:24. The Rabbinical theology had a very superficial conception of the new birth and confined it pretty much to the change in the external status of a proselyte to Judaism. Hence the comparative ignorance and perplexity of Nicodemus who, being a circumcised Jew, did not feel the need of such a radical change.—P. S.]
The kingdom of God.—The fact that the phrase “kingdom of God” occurs only here and in John 3:5, and nowhere else in John (except John 18:36, the βασιλεία Xριστοῦ, which Meyer has overlooked), not only proves, as Meyer rightly observes, the independent originality of this Gospel, but also characterizes John’s view of Christianity. From his point of view John sees not the form of a universal kingdom, but the world transfigured in personal being. Lücke: John seems to have transformed the positive Jewish idea into the more abstract, and to the Greeks more intelligible formula of fellowship (κοινωνία, 1 John 1:3), the unity of believers with God and Christ. The essential elements of the idea of a kingdom, however, come out distinctly in chapters 10 and 17, and are fully developed in the Apocalypse. On the βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ see Com. on Matthew 3:2, p. 69. [The kingdom of God is a deeper and more spiritual conception than the church, which is the earthly training school for the heavenly and everlasting kingdom. We could not with any propriety substitute here: “Except… he cannot see the church.”—P. S.]
He cannot see.—Not even see; to say nothing of entering, being at homo therein. Meyer disputes this interpretation; comp. εἰσελθεὶν, John 3:5. That entrance and experience go with the seeing, must of course be understood.
John 3:4. How can a man be born when he is old?—Taken literally, this reply of Nicodemus supposes, an absurdity. And so Meyer, after Strauss, would take it. He admits that a Jewish theologian must have been familiar with the Old Testament ideas of circumcision of the heart (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 4:4), and a new heart and spirit (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26; Ps. 51:10; 86:11); yet Nicodemus may have been limited in other respects; and now on meeting Jesus, become really perplexed. We might rather suppose that the good-humored old man spoke, possibly even wittily, with a double meaning.28 The first sentence may mean either: How can a Jewish Senator, an elder of the people, become a heathen proselyte? or: How can a physically old man, undergo new, fundamental, spiritual transformation ? The second sentence would then illustrate this impossibility by a physical impossibility: Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb? The expositor must remember that the Orientals constantly express their thoughts in such similitudes. Meyer: “The ἄνωθεν he understood not as δεύτερον, but not at all.” He assuredly did understand it as an equivalent of δεύτερον, for the total antithesis is evidently implied: ἄνωθεν γεννηθῆναι, ἐκ τῆς γῆς γεννηθῆαι. Then the idea of being born from above involves that of being born anew. Various interpretations. (1) A Jew is required to make himself the same as a proselyte (wetstein, Knapp). (2) Luthardt: The beginning of a new spiritual life is not to be conceived without a new beginning of the natural. (This could not be said by one familiar with the Old Testament). (3) The demand is as unreasonable as that one should enter a second time into his mother’s womb, etc. (Schweizer, Tholuck). (4) No one can turn in mature age into a different spiritual state (Schleiermacher, Baumgarten-Crusius). Besides the two antitheses here quoted—an old man required to make a new spiritual beginning, a Jewish elder to become a proselyte—the expression contains also the intimation that an old, matured stage of the Jewish spirit could not pass into a new and different youthful life. But we still suppose that Nicodemus employs the sensuous expression in innocent good-nature, to bring out vividly, with rabbinic art, the impossibility of the requirement of Jesus.
John 3:5. Born of water and Spirit [γεννηθῇ ἐξ ὔδατος καὶ πνεύματος].—The next answer of Jesus has three noticeable features: (1) The imperturbable confidence expressed in the repetition; (2) The advance of the thought; the explanation of the birth from above as a being born of water and Spirit; (3) The entering into the kingdom of God, instead of seeing it. Whereupon further explanations follow, John 3:6, 7, and 8.
[Before giving the various interpretations, we shall briefly state our own view on this important and difficult passage. The key to it is furnished by the declaration of the Baptist that he baptized only with water, but Christ would baptize with the Holy Ghost, John 1:33 (βαπτίζειν ἐν ὔδατι—τὸ πνεῦμα); Matth. 3:11, and by the passage of Paul where he connects Christian baptism, as “the bath of regeneration” (λουτρὸν παλιγγενεσίας) with “the renewal of the Holy Ghost” (ἀνακαίνωσις πνεύματος ἁγίου), and yet distinguishes both, Tit. 3:5. Comp. also Eph. 5:26 (καθαρίσας τῷ λουτρῷ τοῦ ὔδατος); 1 John 5:6 (“that came by water and blood,” after which א. B. insert καὶ πνεύματος, “not by water only, but by water and blood”); John 3:8 (“three that bear witness on earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood”). The term ὔδωρ then is closely related to, and yet clearly distinguished from, πνεῦμα, and in such connection always refers to baptismal water. It is water in its well known symbolic significance, as representing purification from sin by the cleansing blood of atonement. So water appears often already in the O. T., especially in Messianic passages. Ps. 51:2: “Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” Isa. 52:15: “So shall He sprinkle many nations.” Ezek. 36:25: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean;” to which is added, John 3:26, the promise of a new spirit and a new heart. Zech. 13:1: “In that day there shall be a fountain opened in the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness;” comp. 12:10, where the outpouring of the Spirit of grace is promised at the coming of the Messiah. Nicodemus, though ignorant of Christian baptism, which did not appear till the day of Pentecost, was familiar with these passages, with Jewish lustrations, with the baptism of John unto repentance, probably also with the baptism of the disciples of Jesus (mentioned soon afterwards, John 3:22; 4:2), and the baptism of proselytes which Jewish tradition traces back to remote antiquity. The idea which underlies all these baptisms is essentially the same. We would therefore not confine ὔδωρ to any particular form of baptism, but (with Lange, see below, No. 5) extend it to all preparatory lustrations; nor would we refer it directly to the sacrament as an external act or rite, but (with Olshausen) to the idea rather of which the cleansing with water is the symbolic expression; just as in John 6. we have an exposition of the general idea of the holy communion before the sacrament was instituted in which it comes to its full embodiment. The idea underlying all forms of baptism, is the forgiveness of sins on condition of repentance. This is the negative part of regeneration, while the new life communicated by the Holy Spirit is the positive part, or regeneration proper. So Peter in his pentecostal sermon represents the matter when he calls upon his hearers: “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). The chief matter is, of course, the positive part, the gift of the Holy Spirit, who is the efficient cause, the creative and vivifying agent of regeneration, and who alone can make the word and the sacrament effective. Hence the Spirit alone is mentioned John 3:6 and 8. The omission of water here is as significant, as the omission of baptism in the negative clause of Mark 16:16, where the condition of salvation and the reason of damnation are laid down. This is a sufficient hint that the necessity of water baptism to salvation is not absolute, but relative only. The penitent thief passed into paradise without water baptism. Cornelius was regenerated before he was baptized, and many martyrs in the early ages died for Christ before they had a chance to receive the sacrament. It is possible to have the substance without the form, the baptism of the Spirit, without the baptism of water; as it is quite common, on the other hand, to be baptized with water and have the Christian name without the Christian spirit and life. The Apostles themselves (except Paul) never received Christian baptism, for Christ Himself who alone could have administered it to them, did not baptize (4:2). In their case the pentecostal effusion of the Spirit was sufficient. We are bound to God’s appointed means of grace, but God is free, and the Spirit “bloweth where it listeth.”—P. S.]
Different interpretations of water.
(1) The water signifies [Christian] baptism (fathers, and older Lutheran divines, Meyer,29 Tholuck, De Wette).30 Baptism is λοντρόν παλιγγενεσίας as the means of cleansing, Tit. 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:21; Eph. 5:26; Heb. 10:22;’ 1 John 5:6, 8. With baptism the gift of the Holy Ghost is joined, Acts 2:38. Tholuck: “The water is (John 7:39) the symbol of the communication of the Spirit.” Yet probably in another sense. Calvin’s objection: The words would then have been unintelligible, because the baptism of Christ had not yet begun.31 Strauss: This very thing proves a later insertion [a proleptic fiction] of the Evangelist.
(2) The older Reformed divines (except Beza, Aretius), also Arminians, Socinians: ὕδωρ is a figurative term for the purifying power of the Spirit; therefore ἔυ διὰ δυοῖν.32
(3) Piscator, Grotius, Episcopius, Neander, Baumgarten-Crusius: the baptism of John.33
(4) Schweizer: the proselyte baptism, with: not only, but also—to be supplied.34
(5) Baptism in the comprehensive sense as a theocratic historical lustration in its various phases according to the degree of the development of the kingdom of God. Thus the flood even is represented as a prototype of Christian baptism [1 Pet. 3:20, 21], Lücke alone brings forward the universal idea of baptism in its symbolical import. “Water is here, as in the baptism of John, the symbol of purification, of μετάνοια, of the essential but negative beginning of the being born of God.” It is only to be observed, first, that a merely negative beginning is inconceivable; and secondly, that the μετάνοια in question is one which completes itself by entrance into a new, higher fellowship by means of the corresponding lustration. And this lustration, of course, was not yet before Nicodemus in the Christian form, but only in the form of the baptism of John. The word refers, therefore, primarily to the baptism of John. But to this, as the lustration of its time. The word found its fulfilment in the Christian baptism, which actually asserts its character as a dividing lustration between the old world and the new. The passage is therefore to be explained from the words of John: “I baptize with water, etc.;” except that Christ makes of the antithesis a synthesis. Concretely: One must become a divinely begotten proselyte, through the medium of discipleship under John and discipleship under Christ. It cannot be objected, that John’s office is only temporary (against Meyer). As the transition is through the Old Testament into the New, so it is also through the person who closes the Old Testament to him who opens the New, to Christ. One must first become historically a Christian, receiving the lustration of Christian discipline; then, spiritually a Christian. As the condition of salvation, the two things are a concrete unit; the first not without the second, the second not without the first; yet the second, the baptism of the Spirit, the chief and decisive thing according to John 3:6.
Of water and Spirit.—The relation of the two.—Olshausen: The water denotes the soul purified in simple repentance, as the feminine principle, the Spirit, the masculine. (Is this a remnant of theosophy?)35 Meyer: The passage shows the necessity of baptism to participation in the kingdom of the Messiah, but only to those passing over to Christianity, not to Christian children (for which he quotes, without warrant, 1 Cor. 7:14). Tholuck: According to the Lutheran doctrine the communication of the Spirit is not absolute, but only ordinarie dependent on baptism. The ἐκ, according to the Lutheran doctrine, denotes the causa materialis, according to Musæus, instrumentalis. Tholuck himself proposes a middle view, making ἐκ denote the visible source, the operating cause. This, however, is not a middle view, but a still stronger form of the causa materialis. Unquestionably the ἐκ with water denotes the historical means, with Spirit, the vital.—The water is the predominantly negative medium of the birth, the Spirit, the predominantly positive. In general, the birth from water might be intelligible to the Israelite from his usual lustrations, and particularly from the promises in Is. 1:16; Mal. 3:3; Jer. 33:8; Ezek. 36:25; and the birth from the Spirit, from circumcision, and such promises as Ezek. 36:26; Joel 2:28; Zech. 12:10.
He cannot enter.—Lücke: In the nature of the case εἰσελθεῖν must be the same as ἰδεῖς; that is, have a share in the presence of the kingdom of God. [So also Meyer], Still ἰδεῖν denotes this rather in the aspect of perceiving as an object, εἰσελθεῖν, of entering into it. And this makes the expression a further development of the idea of the participation, corresponding to the further definition of the being born from above, as a being born of water and of the Spirit.
[It is from this expression mainly (οὐ δύναται εἰσελθεῖν, etc.), that the fathers inferred the doctrine of the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation, which is still taught in the symbols of the Greek, Roman, and Lutheran churches. Clement of Alexandria assumed that even the saints of the O. T. were baptized in hades before they could pass into heaven, and Augustine went so far as to exclude all unbaptized infants who die in infancy from heaven,—an inference against which all our nobler feelings instinctively rebel. Baptism no doubt is the ordinary and regular way to Christ’s church, as circumcision was to the Jewish church. But on the other hand it has always been maintained by judicious divines in all churches, that it is not the want, but the contempt of the sacrament that condemns (non defectus , or privatio, sed contemptus sacramenti damnat), and that under certain conditions the baptism of desire (baptismus flaminis), and the baptism of blood in martyrdom (baptismus sanguinis), may be a full equivalent of baptism proper (baptismus fluminis). The omission of water in John 3:6 and 8, implies that the Holy Spirit may produce regeneration without baptism, as He undoubtedly did under the Jewish dispensation and in the case of Cornelius; while on the other hand the example of Simon Magus proves that baptism may take place without being accompanied by spiritual regeneration. The necessity of regeneration and faith to salvation is absolute, the necessity of baptism, or any thing else, is merely relative. Only unbelief, i.e., the rejection of the gospel, with or without baptism, condemns. This is clearly taught, Mark 16:16: ὁ δὲ ἀπιστήσας (without the addition καὶ μὴ βαπτισθεὶς) κατακριθήσεται. Comp. my remarks on p. 127.—P. S.]
John 3:6. That which is born of the flesh.—The σάρξ; here is the designation of human nature in its sinful tendency, antithetic to spirit. Generally John uses σάρξ for human nature as a whole. He now, at the outset, views human nature as sinful σάρξ in contrast with the Spirit (John 1:13, and here). But that he can conceive it also as regenerate σάρξ, appears from John 1:14, and 6:51 sqq. From this alone it follows, that he must have an idea of an original pure σάρξ; and this is evident also from John 17:2. Σάρξ, absolutely, therefore, is not “the material nature of man, ethically determined by sinful inclination of which it is the seat, with the principle of the sensuous life of the ψυχή” (Meyer) Σάρξ is here, as in John 1:13, the whole human nature, body, soul, and spirit, but under per verse dominion of the σάρξ, in the narrower sense in contrast with the ruling of the human spirit by the Spirit of God. The neuter stands for the personal, to make the expression as general as possible (Winer, p. 160). There is thus the same antithesis as in John 1:13. All men are flesh, in so far as they have proceeded from the natural, carnal generation, stand opposed to the kingdom of God, and need the birth from the Spirit. What, therefore, is born of the flesh is flesh, and would be flesh again, though a man could be born the second time of his mother, Besser says: “Not something in us is carnal, but everything” (see Flacius.)
That which is born of the Spirit.—The water in John 3:5 is omitted as less decisive, but is implied, especially in so far as the office of the water is to abnegate that which is sinful in the birth from the σάρξ in order to mediate the birth from the Spirit. The passage relates not only to a proceeding of the moral nature and life from the Spirit of God (Meyer), but to a transformation of the whole person himself by the operations of the Spirit.—Is spirit. That is: Is determined in its whole nature by the Spirit as its principle, growing towards entire spiritualization, as that which is born of the flesh is determined by the flesh as its principle, and in its abnormal development sinks into carnality, Rom. 8:5. Evidently the whole sentence applies to the whole human race (not, as Kuinoel holds, to the Jews alone), and expresses: (1) The contrast between the old man and Christ as the Son of Man; (2) The contrast between the unregenerate and the regenerate (see Rom. 5). Meyer: “In the conclusions respectively, the substantives σάρξ and πνεῦμα stand significantly and strongly [comp. 1 John 4:8] for the adjectives σαρκικός and πνενματικός, and are to be taken qualitatively.”
John 3:7 Marvel not.—The expression of Jesus reflects the astonishment of the aged hearer. His confusion seems to pass into waiting admiration. Christ then shows him why he should not wonder, by illustrating the spiritual mystery by a mystery of nature. With great force He here brings out the word: YE MUST, etc. Bengel: Te et eos, quorum nomine locutus es.
John 3:8. The wind bloweth where it listeth.—The comparison of the one πνεῦμα with the other, as well as the verb πνεῖ, satisfies us that the subject here is the wind, not the Spirit, as Origen and Augustine took the word. Not alone the double sense of the word (πνεῦμα, רוּהַ), but the symbolical import of the wind also occasions the illustration of the spiritual case by the natural analogy. With John, concrete, graphic circumstances always reflect themselves in high thoughts; and thus we may suppose the figure here to have been furnished by a storm or roaring wind in the night. Now first comes the question: What does the figure say? Then: What does it mean? The wind in its blowing, the air in its motion, is a type of the Spirit, because it is in fact the element of the unity and union of the diversities of the earth. It bloweth where it listeth. The personification of the wind is suggested by its unconfined, apparently free motion, as unaccountable as original, personal will. Where? Meyer presents an example of ποῦ with a verb of motion; but here the where is emphatic, the place where the wind whistles and roars in its strength.
[There are three points of comparison between the wind and the Spirit in the work of regeneration: 1) the freedom and independence: ὅπου θέλοι πνεῖ; 2) the irresistible effect: τήν φωνὴν αὐτοῦ ἀκούεις; 3) the incomprehensibility: οὐκ οἶδας, both as to origin (πόθεν) and termination (ποῦ ὑπάγει). To these might be added a fourth analogy, which, however, is not stated in the text, viz., the different degrees of power; the Holy Spirit acts now like the gentle breeze upon minds as tenderly constituted as John, Melanchthon, Zinzendorf, now like a sweeping storm or whirlwind upon characters as strong as Paul, Luther, Calvin, Knox. Hence the presumption and folly to make our own experience the measure and rule for all others. We should rather adore the wisdom and goodness of God in the variety of His operation.—P. S.]
And thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell.—Though perfectly manifest, the deepest mystery. And first in reference to the WHENCE. Even if the general conditions of its origin be known, as they were only in part to the ancients (locality, season, heat, etc.), yet the particular actual conditions, and the precise origin of a given current, are not known. No more the end of the current, its particular actual effects. So with the Spirit, both as to its origin and its effects, in the matter of regeneration. The origin of the rustling wind of the new life-word of Christ, which stirs him, Nicodemus does not know. The wind comes down mysteriously through the Old Testament with ever increasing strength. Nicodemus has marked many things in the Old Testament, but not the rising motion of the Spirit. Still less knows he whither this mighty Spirit-current leads, out over Israel into the Gentile world, and out over the earth into the eternal heaven. Yet the Lord immediately gives to the figure a definite application. In whatever soul the Spirit of regeneration would act, there he is present all at once in his untrammelled power. The beginnings are a mystery. So the issues in the eternal life. This, too, Nicodemus did not yet know; how the Spirit had seized him, and whither it would go with him, 1 Cor. 15:28. How some of the older theologians used this passage for the doctrine of gratia irresistibilis, while others denied this use of it, and how Calvin interpreted it, not for his system, but only as presenting the incomprehensible and mysterious in the work of the Spirit, see in Tholuck. The words concerning the wind and regeneration would evidently say: Regeneration is a thing which, both as to its origin and its goal, is a mystery of faith, but in its manifestation, especially under the preaching of the Gospel and under awakening miracles, is a mighty, unmistakable life. Faith as life is plain: life as faith is a mystery. The wind a type of divine operation; Xenoph. Memorab., 4, 3, 14. Comp. Ps. 135:7; Eccles. 11:5.
So is every one.—Popular phrase for: So is it with every one.
John 3:9. How can these things be?—Luther: “Nicodemus becomes more foolish and gets no idea of the parable.” Stier: “He now really asks, instead of contradicting.” If the question be interpreted from the advance of the discourse of Jesus, it says far more, and the πῶς is not hæsitantis, as Grotius takes it. Nicodemus asks now with the wish that such a regeneration may be possible by a power which makes water and Spirit operative. Though the wind so mysteriously comes and goes, it yet has its sufficient cause; where lies the sufficient cause for the mysterious regeneration of water and the Spirit? The δύναται having been already treated, the emphasis now is not on it, but on πῶς.
John 3:10. Master of Israel, and knowest not these things?—Not now a rebuke for want of faith in the power of the divine Spirit (Tholuck), but a reminder that he, as Master of Israel, ought to know the ground for the outpouring of the Spirit, to wit, the doctrine of Christ the Son of God, and His sufferings and His redeeming work.—Master of Israel. According to Scholl (see Lücke, I. p. 527) three men stood at the head of the Sanhedrin: The president (הַנָּשִׂיא), who was called, by eminence, the public teacher of the law; the vice-president, or pater domus judicii, sive Synedrii (אַב בֵּית דִּין); and the wise man (חָכָם), sitting on the left of the president. Now Nicodemus could hardly have been the president of the Sanhedrin: but he might have been “the wise man.” Yet, as Lücke remarks, this last office is doubtful, and the ideas of wise man, teacher, etc., do not coincide. Lücke, after Erasmus: “Ille doctor, cujus tam Celebris est opinio.” Nicodemus took the lead of those who desired to know concerning Jesus; so far he was the teacher of Israel. He wished to know what he was, and did not know that he was the Messiah, or what the Messiah was, as the basis of the sending of the Spirit and of regeneration. This he might know from Is. 11 and 61.
John 3:11. Verily, verily, We speak that which we know.—The introduction of another cardinal truth of the doctrine of Christ the Son of God, His sufferings and His work. An intimation that it is He himself, without the declaration that it is He. That we do know. The personal certitude of Christ meeting the ignorance of Nicodemus. A plural of personal dignity, veiled in the plural of the new Christian community. The plural, therefore, does not mean simply: (1) Christ and John the Baptist (Knapp, Luthardt); (2) Christ and the prophets (Luther, [Calvin], Tholuck); (3) Christ and God (Chrysostom, and others);36 (4) Christ and the Holy Ghost (Bengel); (5) Men (Baumgarten-Crusius); (6) The universal Christian consciousness (Hilgenfeld); (7) Jesus alone (Meyer).37 “We speak that which we know,” has reference to the consciousness of Christ alone. “Testify that which we have seen,” relates to Christ and his associates, the Baptist and the disciples, who recognized in him the glory of the Son of God, [Hengstenberg and Godet include the disciples in both plurals. Godet makes some good remarks here (I p. 420), and says that the plural gives to the passage a festive rhythmical character in the consciousness of standing no more alone. It reminds one of Matth. 11:25, where our Lord thanks His Father that He had revealed the mysteries of the kingdom to babes, while they are hid from the wise and prudent.—P. S.] Meyer refers ἑωράκαμεν to Christ’s having seen with God in his præ-existence. But here the præ-existence and the life of Christ form a concrete unit.
And ye receive not our witness.—The Sanhedrin had not admitted the testimony of John or the manifestation of Christ; Nicodemus himself acknowledged only the prophet in Him, and had objected to the doctrine of regeneration.
John 3:12. If I have told you earthly (human) things.—̓Επίγεια, in antithesis with ἐπουράνια. According to the context, the Lord evidently means by ἐπίγεια the doctrine of regeneration and its conditions, as He afterwards means by ἐπουράνια the doctrine of the Son of God, the suffering Christ, the redemption of the world. But why these terms? By ἐπίγεια we understand the truths and facts already having place on earth (ἐπίγειον, that which is found on earth),38 by ἐπουράνια (ἐπουράνιον, that which is found in heaven),39 new heavenly revelations and things. The doctrines of regeneration, of baptism, of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, were more distinctly expressed in the Old Testament than the doctrine of their cause, the Son of God, etc.; they were in some sense already at home in Israel. For though the ἐπουράνια, before God and in idea, form the prius, and are the basis of the ἐπίγεια, yet here, as every where, the posterius comes to view before the prius in its whole, essential glory. It should be noticed that further on γῆ and οὐρανός come in the same sort of antithesis. In a theological point of view the ἐπίγεια might be compared with anthropological truths, the ἐπονράνια with the strictly theological, Christological, and soteriological.
(1) Luther, Beza, Grotius: The ἐπίγεια, are the preceding figurative expressions; therefore the ἐπουράνια, what they mean.
(2) Lücke: ἐπίγεια, synonymous with τὰ ἐν χερσίν, as in Wisd. 9:16;40 tangible things, lying near to men at hand [easily understood]; those ἐν οὐρανοῖς, unsearchable, remote from men41 (Tholuck: the divine counsels).
(3) De Wette, Baumgarten-Crusius: Moral things, in which the man has a receptive activity, and heavenly things, in which he bears himself with receptive faith.42
(4) Meyer, somewhat more uncertainly: What Jesus had hitherto presented, among other things the doctrine of regeneration, in distinction from what He would present in future, heavenly mysteries.43
(5) Lampe, more clearly: The earthly things, that which had hitherto been presented, because (a) the work of grace is wrought upon earth; (b) Israel had been already instructed concerning it under the economy of the law. The heavenly things, the new things which were to be presented concerning the heavenly origin of that work and the nature of the divine decree, etc., as dark things, and for the most part sremaining yet unknown.
How will ye believe, etc.—Expressing apprehension of finding Nicodemus still more obtuse to what he had yet to say. It should be observed that in both cases Nicodemus is regarded in his connection with the Jews. Just this connection makes it so hard for him to believe. The singular also should be noticed, which here comes in with great strength in contrast with the previous plural: If I tell you,—introducing what follows.
John 3:13 And no man hath ascended.—Now follows first the doctrine of the Son of God Himself, yet in deep, obscure hints corresponding to the indecision and incredulity of Nicodemus. The καί here must be noted at the outset. Olshausen makes it adversative (yet), Beza demonstrative (for), Baumgarten-Crusius concessive (indeed), Meyer continuative, that is unmeaning, Lücke corroborative of the preceding. Correctly, “And yet He alone can tell, ἐπουράνια, who is Himself ἐπουράνιος.” That is: And yet you must be told heavenly things by Him who, being the heavenly One, is Himself the first subject of this revelation.
Next must be observed the three significant tenses: Perfect, ἀναβέβηκεν, aorist, καταβάς, and present, ὁ ὤν. Evidently, the first proposition is founded on the second, the second on the third; therefore, conversely the third is proved by the second, the second by the first. If now the whole amounts to: The Son of Man hath ascended into heaven, the perfect cannot be taken for future, referring to the future adscensio (Augustine, Bengel, and others); nor as denoting an ecstatic raptus in cœlum, according to the Socinians; nor tropically, for the immediate knowledge of divine things, which Christ as it were brings down from heaven (Beza, Lücke, referring to Prov. 30:4); still less does it say, according to Jansen, Meyer, Tholuck, and others: “Nullus hominum in cœlo fuit, quod adscendendo fieri solet, ut ibi cœlestia contemplaretur, nisi;” that is: No man hath been in heaven, but He, etc. This would reduce the matter to a mere assurance. From the miracles, which Nicodemus himself acknowledged, it should be concluded that Jesus has perfectly ascended to heaven, that is, in virtue of His moral perfection He is a new revelation, and that, the new one, which brings the kingdom of heaven down from heaven. And again from this should be inferred that He came from heaven, that is, has constitutionally a heavenly origin, became man from heaven. From this should further be inferred that He Himself in His incarnation continues one with God, in the presence of God, and thus in heaven. And from this root we pass back again. From the Godhead of Christ, and from the divine consciousness of Christ as the Son of Man, results His incarnation, and from this the new revelation which He, in virtue of His moral perfection, brings from heaven. Then the οὐρανός explains itself. “Lampe, in opposition to the doctrine of the cœlum empyreum of the Reformed theology: Generatim cœlum est symbolum rerum omnium supra nos et extra conspectum nestrum in altum evectarum. Corresponding to this is the Lutheran conception: non τοπικῶς, sed τροπικῶς sumendum, of the status majestatis divinæ (comp. Flacius, Clavis). Yet Quenstedt (III. p. 395) thinks that in the third ἐν οὐρανῷ the status beatitudinis is meant. It accords with John’s use of language simply to suppose, according to rabbinic usage, a metonymic transfer of οὐρανός, the sedes divina, to God Himself; so ἐξ οὐρανοὐ ἑρχόμενος, John 3:31; ἐκ τ. ον̓ρ. δεδόμενον, John 3:27,” Tholuck. Yet different elements are to be distinguished in the one conception: (1) The world of heavenly spiritual revelations; (2) the world of heavenly life, origin, centre, and goal; (3) the world of the heavenly glory of God, of the omnipresence. The idea of the heaven to which Christ ascends, and which expressly is to be conceived τοπικῶς, attaches itself to the second of these elements. ̔Ο καταβάς, Hunnius and others: “Descendit ratione divinæ naturæ, non quidem motu locali, sed humanæ naturæ assumtione, et voluntaria exinanitione.” The ὁ ὤυ was referred by the older theologians to the omnipræsentia, or the status beatitudinis. Erasmus, the Socinians, Semler, Luthardt quite gratuitously substitute an imperfect: ὅς ἦν. Nor does it denote, according to De Wette and Tholuck, the abiding, real manifestation of God in Christ; for the being of the Son of Man in God is to be distinguished from the being of God in Him.—The Son of Man. Intimating that those characteristics belong to the Messiah; that the Son of Man is the Messiah; and the Messiah is the Son of Man; without more particular explanation.44
John 3:14. And as Moses in the wilderness.—The dark expression of the divinity of Christ and His Messiahship is followed by a dark expression of the appointment of the Messiah, to suffering, and to exaltation through suffering. The connection (the καὶ) is variously taken. Meyer: The transition is “neither from the being able to communicate heavenly things to the being obliged to communicate them (Lücke), nor from the theoretical to the practical (De Wette), nor from word to fact (Olshausen), nor from enlightenment to salvation (Scholl), nor from present lack of faith to the future origin of it (Jacobi), nor from the subjective condition of the kingdom of God, regeneration, to the objective redemption (Tholuck), nor from the work of Christ to His person (Baumgarten-Crusius). Nor, we add, “from the ground for believing to the blessedness of him who believes” (Meyer himself). According to Tholuck, 7th ed., it is the transition to the communication of the ἐπουράνιον; which, however, he too evidently began in John 3:12. It is clearly the transition from the Son of God to the work of redemption.
The serpent in the wilderness.—Christ attaches His doctrine to the event in Num. 21:8: Moses, at the command of God, set up a brazen serpent as a standard of salvation for those who were bitten by the fiery serpents in the camp.45 Glossa ord.: “Magistrum legis ad significationem legis invitat.” Meyer recognizes only two points of comparison: (1) The lifting up of the brazen serpent, and of Jesus on the cross; 2) the being restored to health by looking on the serpent, and to eternal life, by faith in Christ. He unwarrantably rejects Bengel’s further point: Ut serpens ille fuit serpens sine veneno contra serpentes venenatos, sic Christus homo, homo sine peccato contra serpentem antiquum. But we should go still farther. As the brazen serpent, the image of the deadly serpent, was changed into an image of the remedy, so Christ, the crucified, made in the likeness of the sinner (so Luther, Bengel, Olshausen, Jacobi, Stier, Lechler,), of the deceiver of the people (Matth. 27:63), of the false Christ and Antichrist (Matth. 12:24; Jno. 18:33), a curse (Gal. 3:13) and image of sin itself (2 Cor. 5:21), as if He were the very manifestation of the murderer of men (Jno. 8:44), was made with His cross the sign of salvation, by looking upon which in faith men should be saved. The contrasts: Bad appearance, good reality; apparently poisonous, in reality wholesome; apparently overcome, made powerless, in fact victorious; lifted up apparently as a reproach, in fact as an honor. Ethical idea at the bottom of these paradoxes, and the same in both cases: Reconciliation with the image of the evil, and infinite calmness resulting therefrom through the believing look, through the πίστις. The serpent bites Him who is lifted up, who destroys it; sin has power over him who has not reconciled himself to the judgment of God, to the evil, as a remedy against the sin. The believing look upon the brazen serpent healed by calming and elevating the soul. Faith in the Crucified is the faith that Christ in the form of one condemned has transformed the judgment of God into deliverance, and the consequent, willingness to suffer the cross with Him. Wisd. 16:6: σύμβολον σωτηρίας.
Of course the ὑψωθῆναι primarily means a being lifted up under suffering and shame, not, as Paulus makes it, a being glorified outright; and it darkly points to the lifting up of malefactors on the post; yet the passages Jno. 8:28; 12:32 involve also glorification in the death of the cross. And this is also probably (as Lechler, Tholuck, and others think) included here. Hofmann wavers between the wholly opposite ideas of elevation for exhibition (Weissagung und Erfüllung, ΙΙ. p. 143), and for putting away (Schriftbeweis, ΙΙ. p. 198). Tholuck: “A word must have been used in the Aramaic, which admitted both conceptions; and this is the case with זקף (against Bleek’s Beiträge, p. 231), which means in the later Chaldaic, as in the Hebrew, to ‘set up,’ in the Syriac, to ‘crucify,’ but also to ‘lift up,’ Targum Jer. 3:2: זְקוּפִי עֵינָךְ.” This secondary sense Bleek and, according to the impression of Hofmann (II. 1,198), also Luthardt would make in fact the only one, excluding from the passage all reference to the cross, and taking it only as saying that Christ will be, not only as humble, but also as exalted, the object of faith. But both John 8:28, and John’s own interpretation, John 12:33, put this out of the question. On the contrary the double sense is plainly suggested by the way in which Christ conceives His death as His essential δοξασμός (John 13:31, 32); according to the sentence of Hamann, “the cross is the star with the rays taken off.” Tholuck’s exposition: “The comparison primarily offered is: Ignominious elevation made saving to believers.” The ignominious, however, does not come first in the imago of the serpent, but the appearance of the hostile and destructive.
Even so must.—The preparation of this remedy rests upon the divine counsel (δεῖ, comp. Lu. 24:46). It is evident also from this passage, that Christ was from the beginning conscious of the necessity of His dying for the salvation of mankind, and of dying an ignominious death under the condemnation of men (see John 2:19), and that He from the beginning spoke of it; but at first only in mysterious hints. His unveiled utterances, especially to His disciples, came later. Lücke justly suggests that the must (δεῖ) does not say the death of Christ was rendered necessary by that type of the brazen serpent; still the lifting up of the serpent was made a type only because it really was a type, if not in the mind of the bitten Israelite, at least in the mind of the ordaining Spirit. In Moses, too, must have already flashed the presentiment that evil, the consequence of sin, must become the remedy for evil, the serpent’s bite be healed by the serpent’s image. The οὕτως here has peculiar force: expressing the feeling and contemplation of the infinite contrast between the glory of the Son of Man and His suffering on the cross.
Works: Buxtorf, Dissertat., the treatise: Historia. serpentis ænei; Vitringa, Observat. I. 2, John 11; Rambach, Geheimniss der chernen Schlange; Menken, Ueber die cherne Schlange, 1812. In Menken’s Works, Bremen, 1858, Vol. VI. p. 353 sqq. [Erskine, on the Brazen Serpent.]
The serpent, primarily the type of the devil, is supposed to have been, in the form of the brazen serpent which was attached to the sacred banner of Israel (?), a figure of the sanctification of the human nature of Christ perfected on the cross, and thus the brazen serpent was a symbol of salvation. The fiery serpents in the wilderness, however, were primarily the form of a divine punishment, presented in a form elsewhere denoting sin. The elevated serpent-standard was thus the type of punishment lifted in the phantom of sin, and transformed into a means of salvation. This is the nature of the cross. The look at the cross, is a look at the curse-laden One, who is not a sinner, but a divine token of evil and penalty, and of the suffering of penalty, which is holy and therefore transformed into deliverance. Reconciliation by the suffering of penalty becomes in the believing heart reconciliation with the suffering of penalty, and so salvation. It may even be said: In the form of the cross, as in the form of the serpent, the distinction between damnable sin, which the sinner did not recognize, and wholesome punishment, healing evil, in which he would see his misfortune, is made perfect and clear; and faith means purely distinguishing between bad sin and good penalty or evil. Jacobi, Stud. und Kri., 1835, p. 37; Lechler, Stud. und Krit., 1854, p. 826.
[I add here the note of Alford: “The serpent is in Scripture symbolism, the devil,—from the historical temptation in Gen. 3 downwards. But why is the devil set forth by the serpent? How does the bite of the serpent operate? It pervades with its poison the frame of its victim: that frame becomes poisoned: and death ensues. So sin, the poison of the devil, being instilled into our nature, that nature has become σὰρξ ἁμαρτίας, a poisoned nature,—a, flesh of sin. Now the brazen serpent was made in the likeness of the serpents which had bitten them. It represented to them the poison which had gone through their frames, and it was hung up there on the banner-staff, as a trophy, to show them that for the poison, there was healing;—that the plague had been overcome. In it, there was no poison, only the likeness of it. Now was not the Lord Jesus made ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτὶας, Rom. 8:3? Was not He made ‘Sin for us, who knew no sin’ (2 Cor. 5:21)? Did not He, on His cross, make an open show of and triumph over the Enemy, so that it was as if the Enemy himself had been nailed to that cross (Col. 2:15)? Were not Sin and Death and Satan crucified, when He was crucified? ἔκεῖ μέν ἐπεὶ δι’ ὅφεως ἡ βλάβη, δι’ ὅφεως καὶ ἤ θεραπεία• ἐνταῦθα δὲ, ἐπεὶ δι’ ἀνθρώπου ὁ θάνατος εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸν κόσμον, δι’ ἀνθρώπου καὶ ἡ ζωὴ παρεγένετο. Euthym.—P. S.]
John 3:15. That whosoever believeth in him.—Application of the figure. The look at the brazen serpent a type of faith. The thing there to be prevented, death; here, perdition. The thing there to be gained, healing; here, salvation, eternal life. Yet the theocratic looking at the brazen serpent was not without an internal element of faith; and so, on its part, the moral salvation has its external side; it is an infinite vital development from within outward. The ζωὴ αἰώνιος, the opposite of θάνατος and ἀπώλεια; beginning with the new life of faith and love, in the spirit; already manifesting itself in this world in the healthful issues of the spirit through the ψυχή and σῶμα as a real, substantial, not merely moral ζωή; completing itself in eternity and in the appearing of Christ as δόξα and ἀνάστασις. Ζωή in the essential sense, as life from God and participation of His life in Christ, in opposition to essential death in sin; αἰώνιος, not simply the eternity of duration and of the world to come, but the eternity of the transcendent presence of all times and places, according as to their divine purport at every point, as against the ἀπώλεια, in which the man is lost not only from God and from himself, but also from time and space, to go down without bottom and without end. The divine life, or the spiritual, embracing the depth and breadth of eternity. The whosoever must here already be noted. It marks the accessibleness of the salvation to all, its individual and universal character at once, as well as the moral nature of faith (“whosoever believeth in Him.”)
John 3:16. For God so loved the world.—The summing up of the several preceding doctrines in a total picture of the ἐπουράνια, after the analogy of John 1:14, and like passages. Christology here goes back to the basis of theology; soteriology unfolds itself to the ordo salutis and to eschatology. A gospel in nuce, like the sentences of 1 Tim. 3:16, and others.
Through Erasmus (see Lücke, Ι. p. 543) the view has become current with later scholars, Kuinoel, Paulus, Tholuck, Olshausen, Maier, and others, that from John 3:16 the Evangelist continues the discussion on his own part. The disappearance of dialogue, the preterites ἠγάπησεν, ἦν, the term μονογενής peculiar to John, and the general character of the discourse, are taken to show this. But this hypothesis has been with good reason contradicted by Meyer [p. 168], Stier, Baumgarten-Crusius, and myself in the Leben Jesu ΙΙ. p. 508.46 John’s coloring is in fact admitted elsewhere; why not here? Lücke proposes a middle view. The conversation continues in John 3:16, narrated by John, but with the illustrative, amplifying hand of the narrator more free than before. But Kling has justly objected that this even would lead to an undistinguishable mingling of narration and reflection. Against the breaking off of the dialogue it is enough to remark, that there would be no close; in favor of the continuance of it, that all that follows is very specially appropriate for Nicodemus, and peculiarly the closing words in John 3:20 and 21. The disappearance of the form of the dialogue is expressive, showing that Nicodemus has become a willing hearer. Tholuck in support of his view cites John 3:31, where it is thought still more necessary to assume a continuation by the Evangelist himself. But there, no more than here and in John 1:16–18 [?], can an unmarked interruption of the historical narrative be conceded.
John 3:16 contains not merely a confirmative repetition of John 3:15 (Tholuck), but gathers the statements of John 3:13, 14, and 15 into one. Here each several word has the utmost weight. The for (γάρ) bases the two preceding statements, the Christological and the soteriological, upon the love of God. The so (οὔτως) is a resonance of the οὔτως in John 3:14. Loved (ἠγάπησεν) denotes infinite love as the motive, the purpose, and the act of redemption, or as love, grace, and mercy. God (Θεός), the Holy in His entire antagonism to the world, the Merciful in His entire yearning towards the world. The World (κόσμος) the world of man, founded on the world of God, now lost in worldliness. Against the Jewish particularism (with Lampe: Universitas electorum).47 His only begotten Son (See note on John 1:14). [Here John learned the term μονογενής from Christ Himself.] Expresses the singular proof of love, 1 Jno. 4:9; Rom. 8:32; Heb. 11:17. An allusion to Abraham’s offering, Gen. 22:2.48 At the same time transforming the designation Son of Man into Son of God. Gave. Combining the two ideas of the simple διδόναι (ἀπέστειλεν, 1 Jno. 4:9; see here John 3:13 and 17) and διδόναι ὑπέρ (Lu. 22:19) or παραδιόναι (Rom. 8:32), which appears in John 3:14 and 15. Meyer properly remarks, ἔδωκεν contained more than ἀπέστειλεν, John 3:17 (which itself, however, in another aspect, contains a specific idea); but when he adds, that it denotes not specially a giving up to death, but the entire state of humiliation, we must observe (1) that the preceding words [John 3:15] refer to death, and (2) that Christ is given to the world not only in His humiliation, but also in His glory to all eternity. That (ἵνα) marks the sole object of the sending of Christ; whosoever believeth (πᾶς ὁ πιστεν́ων) expresses at once the universal offer of salvation and the condition of it; might not perish (υὴ ἀπόληται), &c., the salvation itself in its negative and positive infinity. The alternation of the aorist [ἀπόληται] and the present [ἔχῃ] not only denotes the being lost and being saved as already beginning in the present, but also expressing, like the aorist: he gave, the actual present existence of the Redeemer.
John 3:17. For God sent not his Son.—A contradiction of the Jewish exclusivism was contained in John 3:16. Here it comes out more distinctly. Offsetting the lowly, suffering form of Christ in John 3:15, which is visible also through John 3:16, the kingly side of Christ in His work is here brought forward. Hence we have here sent instead of given; the power to judge is attributed to Him in reference to the being lost, and it is His power to save which secures for believers eternal, life. It is asserted, however, that the saving of the world is the object of His mission, not the judging. According to the Jewish Christology (Bertholdt, Christologic, pp. 203 and 223) the Messiah was to come for judgment against the heathen. Carnal interpretations of Old Testament passages like Ps. 2:9; Mal. 4:1; comp. Matt. 3:10, had led the exclusive Pharisaic spirit to this view. This decidedly bespeaks this verse as a continuation of the conversation with Nicodemus; yet the second τὸν κόσμον is not on this account to be specially referred merely to the heathen world (Lücke and Tholuck here are not accurately represented by Meyer). The statement, however, is negative enough in its expression of the Christian universalism over against the Jewish particularism. And not only “has the thrice pronounced κόσμος something solemn about it” (Meyer), but also something doctrinally decisive against that particularism. As regards the fact that Christ is nevertheless also Judge of the world, Tholuck puts this right: A damnatory judgment was to be only an incidental result of His advent, as also in Lu. 12:51. Meyer distinguishes with more dogmatic clearness between the first advent of Christ to σωτηρία, which was not a coming to judgment, because, if this were to judgment, it would bring condemnation upon all; and the second advent to judgment against those who remain unbelieving, John 5:22, 27. Both views are right, but not sufficient. The first coming of Christ also brings a judgment with it (John 3:19), and the second has for its first feature the consummation of the σωτηρία, and the final judgment, as a judgment to condemnation, is only a revelation of the self-condemnation of the unbelieving, which began with their induration in unbelief. The difference between the Old and New Testament types of the Messiah is this: In the Old Testament the Judge becomes Redeemer by His judging (Is. 10:22; 65:8, &c.; a σπἑρμα is saved); in the New the Redeemer becomes Judge by His redeeming. Acknowledgment of the need of redemption is voluntary self-judgment, repentance; rejection of redemption, unbelief, is the ideal, virtual judgment, which begins at once upon the manifestation of Christ [ch. 12:48]; the establishing of the fact that the man has entirely alienated himself from the Redeemer and the redeemed, and cannot in any way have part in the final redemption, is the last judgment.
John 3:18. He that believeth on Him is not judged.—New Testament transfiguration of the Old Testament doctrine of salvation by faith, Gen. 15; Is. 28:16; Hab. 2:4. Manifestly these words again are perfectly fitted and designed to shake the Jewish views of Nicodemus. Pharisaic Judaism had perverted the principle: The believer is not judged, the unbeliever is judged,—into the principle: The Jew is not judged, he who is not a Jew is judged. So the Roman Catholic dogma: He who is within the pale of the Catholic faith, is saved; he who is not, is damned. Likewise the old Protestant formula: He who comes in this life into the sphere of the faith of the gospel, &c. Christ, on the contrary, makes salvation dependent on an individual, personal, living faith, and perdition on decided, obstinate personal unbelief. The believer is not judged because he as a sinner puts himself voluntarily under a spiritual judgment, and thereby receives the righteousness of faith for the perfecting of his life in the sphere of salvation.
The guilt of the unbeliever is strongly emphasized as a treble guilt: He has not accepted God in His Son. He has not received the Only Begotten, in whom all the value of faith, the fulness of the manifestation of God, is concentrated. Finally he has not believed in his name, i.e. in the developed knowledge of Christ as concentrated in the sphere of His Spirit. He hath not believed (perfect), i.e. he is fixed in unbelief, and in so much as he is fixed, the fact also is fixed that he has fallen under condemnation to meet the final judgment by the sheer unfoldings of his condemnation. The antithesis is put here with all its sharpness; but not as passing upon the given unbeliever the opinion that he is fixed in his unbelief. The ideal unbeliever is condemned quia, the actual unbeliever quatenus. Tholuck: “But ὅτι gives not the external ground on which the judgment rests (Chrysostom)—for neglect of the Son of God—but the way in which the condemnation is wrought.” Yet it also gives the decisive ground; only the Son of God, in the case, is not to be conceived as external.
John 3:19. And this is the judgment.—The tale now, by its form, its choice of terms, turns directly towards Nicodemus, to press him to a decision and bring him to the light. At the same time, as to its matter, it proceeds to the explanation of the immoral, damnable nature of unbelief, and to the intimation that the rulers of the Jews are already further gone in this unbelief than Nicodemus suspects. Thus they are already judged. The actual beginning of the virtual judgment of the world, which from Jerusalem is spreading through the world, working outward from within, runs parallel with the unfolding of faith, till the consummation in the day of glory.
That light is come into the world.—This belongs to the judgment, because it calls for the separation, κρίσις.
And men loved.—Particular signs of this, therefore, have already come to view [see above]. While Nicodemus can still fancy that the Sanhedrin is with him inclined to faith, Christ already sees the beginning of the end. Indeed the δεῖ in John 3:15 is connected with this. The aorist, therefore, does not imply that a later period is in mind.
The darkness rather.—Is the μᾶλλον magis or potius? Bengel, Tholuck (“because the φῶς, John 1:4, which man originally possessed, prevents him from entirely mistaking the ἀλήθεια in the light”) say the former; Origen, Meyer, the latter: and no doubt rightly, because the Lord is speaking of the time of decision, at which the lesser love of the light passes into hatred of it, John 3:20. Before the critical manifestation of the light, it might mean magis; now it means potius. It is the decided choice of the evil, that is in view.—Because their deeds.—Αν̓τῶν placed first is significant. Far more than: They had sin. Their whole bent was to do evil, hence they needed the cover of darkness for their evil deeds. See Matt. 23.
John 3:20. For every one that doeth evil. Looking to those who persist in unbelief. Γάρ comes not to justify the preceding χάρ (Meyer), but to explain it and define the expression for the evil choice: ἠγάπησεν μᾶλλον. The doing evil (φαῦλα) denotes the law of the nature. The adjective denotes not only bad, cowardly, hateful, but also trifling, insignificant; and in antithesis to John 3:21 probably corrupt, false.—Hateth the light.—Comp. Rom. 8:7. Unbelief is the root of impious conduct.—Lest his deeds.—The evil consciousness and intention of unbelief.—Should be reproved.—The ἔλεγχος, the exposure, the conviction, the condemnation of the deeds, shunned by him who through pride and cowardice will not submit to the condemnation of shame, accept the judgment of the penitent spirit, nor renounce his false deeds. Thus he chooses the darkness, i.e. the dominion of delusion, falsehood, with sense of the falsehood. Luke 3:7; John 8:9; Eph. 5:11, 13.
John 3:21. But he that doeth the truth.—A most suitable parting word for Nicodemus. If thou art and continuest to be honest, thou wilt yet come to the light. Thus a conditional promise. This, however, is the specific reference of the expression; the general truth is: The Lord gives good speed to the upright, Prov. 2:7. Doeth THE truth.—Meyer: That which is really moral; Tholuck; Acting in the whole spirit of his life according to objective truth. The doing of the objective truth, however, is expressed by the coming to the light. Hence the references to subjective truth. He who inwardly loves sincerity shuns deceit, is faithful against himself, and acts in this spirit (is true to the inner light), has a leaning towards the light of revelation, towards faith; he feels himself attracted by the light as the false man feels himself repelled.—That his deeds may be made manifest.—Not that he would parade them, but that he would be made certain of his actions and his spirit in the full light of moral day. “The need of moral satisfaction in itself, and of the victory of the good over the world” (Meyer).—For they are wrought in God.—This is the ground of his moral courage and striving after truth. So far as he has acted in sincere regard for the inner light, he has done his work in God. In other words, the drawing of the Father to the Son (John 6:44, 45), the work of the gratia præveniens, is in it. The for does not mean at all, he is conscious that his deeds are wrought in God, but this direction of his doing is the unconscious ground of his courage. According to his best knowledge and conscience he has acted with inward trembling before the divine, therefore he cannot tremble before the objective light of God in the world. Calvin (with others) takes John 3:21 as set against John 3:20 only to show what the truth-loving man on the contrary would do (the ideal conception of the truth-loving man). In answer to this Tholuck: Then either all men would fall into the first class and no one would come to Christ, or the regenerate man must be intended. The Greek, Roman Catholic, and Arminian exegesis holds, according to Tholuck’s concurring statement: The good conscience, which may present its strivings, weak as they are, before Christ, whatever of darkness is still about them, however, thereby receiving its κρίσις. Tholuck refers to John 8:47; 18:37; 6:44, 45; to a Synesius, to the rich young man, to the scribe, Mark 12:34. Over against this he places another interpretation: The Protestant exegesis and Augustine found this sense contrary to the analogia scripturæ, according to which a bonum spirituale before regeneration is impossible. According to Augustine, Luther, Olshausen, Stier, the ποιεῖν τὴν ἀλ. therefore must mean: “to be upright, sincere.” We cannot consider this interpretation clearly distinct from the other. It is plain that the doing of the truth here still cannot mean the doing of revealed truth. Such truth might be spoken of in the case of the Jews before Christ; hardly in the case of the Gentiles before Christ. And even though it be, the doing will be in both cases the doing of objective truth as it shines upon the consciousness. And to endeavor earnestly to conform to this truth would be, to be upright, to act according to the best of one’s knowledge and conscience. The works which proceed from this are works done in God, i.e., relatively good works, striving towards their perfection in God; comp. Rom. 2:7. Thus the uprightness is not to be conceived without the fruit of such deeds, nor indeed the doing without the root of uprightness. They are wrought in God. The upright man works unconsciously under the influence of the gratia præveniens, or the Logos, and thus his works, having their starting point in God, will continually reach out towards their full manifestation in the light.
In these words Jesus seemed to say to Nicodemus: Thou art now come to Me in the night; thou wilt yet come to Me in the light; farewell, to meet again in the light.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
[Comp. my introductory remarks, p. 122 f.—P. S.]
1. The interview of Christ with Nicodemus by night. Even a secret disciple Christ admits, if he be sincere, and therefore be tending towards openness. Proof in the history of Christianity: Disciplina arcani, Hugenots, etc. The contrast between a pure secrecy which works towards openness, and an openness which conceals itself in evil secrets. Regeneration itself, the subject of this nocturnal conversation, is a deep secret, which presses towards the most open manifestation in a consistent life and at the day of Christ.
2. The unwavering certainty of Christ towards Nicodemus is reflected in the posture of pure Christianity towards human hierarchy, tradition, rank, and policy. Nicodemus is better than his theology; in theology he is the type of a rationalizing supernaturalism; in character he is an inquiring child involved in the prejudices of old age.
3. Christianity is not merely a purer, newer life, but life absolutely pure and new. [Still less is Christianity mere doctrine, although doctrine is included in life. Luther explains John 3:3: “My teaching is not of doing and leaving undone, but of a radical change in the man, so that it is not new works done, but a new man to do them; not another life only, but another birth.” Alford: “Our Lord replies, It is not learning, but life, that is wanted for the Messiah’s kingdom; and life must begin by birth”—P. S.]
4. Regeneration is the fundamental condition of seeing and entering the kingdom of God.
5. Regeneration, a birth from above. See the exegesis, John 3:3. (1) The counterpart of the carnal birth (see Rom. 5:12 sqq.); (2) the glorification of pure natural birth as it would have been in paradise; (3) the fulfilment of the typical Old Testament regeneration, represented by circumcision; (4) the groundwork of the future great regeneration in the resurrection and the regeneration, the palingenesia, Matt. 19:28.
6. The media or elements of regeneration: (1) The historical and symbolical: washing with water; (2) the active and real: the Spirit.—Of water and Spirit the first creation (Gen. 1); of water and Spirit the second and higher. [But in the first creation, the Spirit brooding over the waters; in the new, the water signifying and sealing the Spirit. In the old, the Spirit applying the water, moulding it to its purposes; in the new and higher, the water applying the Spirit.—E. D. Y.]
7. Christian baptism: (1) The glorification of water; (2) the fulfilment of the symbolical washings, the baptism of John, and the baptism of the disciples of Jesus. (3) the goal of the historical types, the flood and the passage of the Red Sea; (4) the fellowship of the baptism of Jesus with water in the Jordan; (5) the fellowship, the symbol and sacrament of the baptism of Jesus with blood (Rom. 6:6); (6) a separation through Him and with Him out of the old world and from it.
8. The Spirit which accompanies baptism: (1) The glorification of the vital air, the blowing wind, the storm at night (as also of fire, Acts 2; see Ps. 104:4; Ezek. 1:4; 37:9; Dan. 7: 2; Hag. 2:6); (2) the fulfilment of the symbolical and typical Spirit—breathings: inspirations, trances, visions, single words and works of the Spirit.
9. Water and Spirit inseparable in the ground-work of the kingdom of God. The word and the sacrament, accompanied by the quickening Spirit.
10. The birth of the new life a deep mystery and the most open manifestation, 1 Tim. 3:16.
11. The necessity of being born again of water and the Spirit, and its apparent impossibility, v. 1–8. The possibility, the conditions and basis of it, v. 9–16. The basis of the regeneration to be realized on earth lies in the heavenly origin of Christ: His eternal, divine generation, and His heavenly, divine-human birth. This birth is consummated, as to its historical process, in His elevation on the Cross and His death upon the throne of glory, by His atoning death and His victory. And the basis and unity of both lies in the love of God and His giving of His Son for the redemption of the world.
12. The earth, in Scripture, the symbol of the theocracy, of divine institution and administration upon earth, of the historical tradition of salvation, Ps. 93:1; 104:5; Rev. 13:11. As distinguished on the one hand from the sea, emblem of the swelling, formlessly moving life of the nations, Ps. 93:3; Dan. 7:3; Rev. 13:1. On the other hand from the heavens, emblem of the future kingdom of heaven, the completed revelation of God, Is. 64:1; Matth. 3:16.
13. Christ descending and ascending between heaven and earth, because He is in heaven. On His eternal, divine-human constitution and office rest (a) His descending, His incarnation and humiliation, (b) His ascending and exaltation.
14. The brazen serpent the most obscure and the most pregnant mystery of the Old Testament typical system. See the exegesis, v. 14. Its connection with the symbolical use of the serpent in general in the Scriptures.
15. The condition of the appropriation of salvation, faith, and the consequent twofold operation of salvation: redemption and condemnation. Deciding for Christ by faith, secures redemption; deciding against Him by unbelief, begins condemnation (see 1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:16; comp. Deut. 30:15).
16. The condition of susceptibility to faith: Sincerity, subjective truth, i. e., obedience to the gratia præveniens. Inward falsehood the source of unbelief, a poison which perverts the form of faith itself into hypocrisy.
17. Yet sincerity or uprightness (Prov. 2:7; Eccl. 7:29; John 1:47) not to be confounded with proud bluntness or downrightness, which way very easily strike over into self-deceit and falsehood. Uprightness moreover, even in company with diffidence, and notwithstanding its timidity, in constant submission to the guidance of God, or through the obedience of truth, issues in the gladness of confession and the light. (Moses, Jeremiah, Calvin,49 like Nicodemus, originally timid characters, but faithfully sincere.)
18. The Pharisee Nicodemus a fore-runner of the Pharisee Paul. [Both alike sincere, but very unlike in energy and decision.—P. S.]
19. The Pericope for Trinity.50 See Strauss [late court-preacher of the King of Prussia and Prof. at Berlin]: Das evang. Kirchenjahr, p. 279. Braune: This account is the gospel for Trinity. The feast arose upon this doctrine, not upon an eternal divine fact (—yet the triune God reveals Himself here through His act as triune God in the triune operation of the new birth—). The church feared that the people might be led by the Christmas festival in honor of the All-Merciful, the Easter festival in honor of the Conqueror of the power of darkness, and Pentecost in honor of the All-Sanctifying Spirit, to worship three Gods in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. (It no doubt had also a more joyful motive). Strauss distinguishes four periods of the Trinity festival. First period: The day of the feast not yet distinctly prominent. Second period: The trichotomy of the church year makes the feast the octave and appendix of Pentecost (“little Pentecost “). At first Festum omnium sanctorum. This festival Gregory III. or IV. transferred to the 1st November; the Sunday after Pentecost at first became again the Pentecostal octave, while in the East it continued to be All Saints’ day. Third period: Formerly a Trinity festival had been celebrated on the last Sunday of the year; now this is transferred to the octave of Pentecost. Gradual development in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, in which the feast of Trinity becomes the prelude to Corpus Christi.51 Fourth period: Protestant settlement of it as neither a prelude nor a close, but a festival for the opening of the second part of the church year, the Trinity season. On the changes of the pericopes, see Strauss, p. 282.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
See hints already given under the two former heads. What is true of every section of the Bible, is true in a peculiar degree of this: It is homiletically inexhaustible. Many a single verse forms a theme of itself; John 3:3, 5, 6, 16, etc.—If we would treat it in larger sections, we must first embrace the whole.
The sacred discourse of the Lord with Nicodemus by night concerning the sacred mysteries of God’s night: (1) Concerning the divine night of regeneration in the soul; (2) by means of the divine night in the operation of means of grace; (3) on the basis of the divine night (Weihnacht, “holy night,” as Christmas is called in the German) of the incarnation of Christ; (4) decided by the divine night of the death and glorification of Christ; (5) all proceeding from the divine night of the purpose and love of God for the redemption of the world; and (6) unfolding its complete operation in the decision between the divine morning of eternal salvation, and the night of judgment.—The conversation of Christ with Nicodemus concerning the being born from above: (1) Concerning the necessity of it (in order to see the kingdom of God), John 3:1–4; (2) concerning the effecting of it (through water and the Spirit), John 3:5–8; (3) concerning the conditions precedent for the possibility of it; (a) objectively: the incarnation of the Son of God, His passion: both resting on the purpose of divine love; (b) subjectively: faith in the love of God in giving Christ; (4) concerning its decisive operation; (a) saving, negatively: deliverance from corruption, death, perdition; positively: the gift and possession of eternal life; (b) condemning: manifestation of the self-judgment and self-condemnation of unbelief.—Awaking to a Christian life of faith, a birth: (1) A regeneration, or second birth, as distinct from the first; (2) a birth from above, as the perfect, real birth for the eternal kingdom of God.—How Christian earthly things, the personal experiences of the Christian, are rooted in Christian heavenly things, the mysteries of God.—Water and wind, the fundamental elements of the first creation, emblems of the second.—Christianity the most hidden life, and at the same time the most manifest.—The conversion of Nicodemus, or Christ the Saviour even of the great of this world.—And the Saviour of an honest Pharisee.—The being born from heaven alone leads to heaven.—Twice, the number of life: (1) Twice to be born; (2) twice to die; (3) twice to live.—A ruler of the Jews and the King of the Jews, or the hierarch and the Lord.—The heavenly birth and the heavenly eye.—Water and the Spirit.—Wind and the Spirit.—The voice of the wind and the course of the wind.—The newly born: A breath of the Spirit, manifested by its sound.—The knowledge of Nicodemus and the knowledge of Christ.—The threefold relation of Christ to heaven: (1) The inner heaven; (2) the upper heaven; (3) the open heaven.—The serpent emblem, and the emblem of the Crucified.—The elevation in supreme judgment.—God so loved, etc., (John 3:1) the infinite scale of the love of God.—Condemnation, despised salvation.—Unbelief, the second and irremediable fall.—Unbelief, sin in its desperate form, as the root, the sum, and the denial of sin. Unbelief once decided, judgment begins.—The false man and the sincere.—The shunning and the seeking of light. The works of the upright strive as shoots of light towards the light of day.
The Pericope for Trinity, John 3:1–15. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost active and manifest in the work of regeneration.—The experience of the Christian an experience of the Holy Trinity; (1) Of the Spirit, in the virtue of the word and sacrament; (2) of the Son, in the virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ; (3) of the Father, in the virtue of manifested, world-embracing love.
The Pericope for 2. Pentecost, v. 16–21. The love of God for the world, the motive to the divine consummation of the world: (1) In the redeeming gift of the Son; (2) in the testing operation of the Spirit.—The redeeming motion of the love of God in its all-embracing majesty: (1) Comprehended in the gift of the Son, and therefore embracing the world (Jews, heathen, etc.); (2) directed to each lost individual, and to all, as a power of salvation; (3) embracing depth and height (death and life) to raise sinners from perdition to the eternal life of heaven; (4) a redeeming operation so decisive that, embracing heaven and hell, it is manifest both in the condemned and in the saved (in the one as love despised, in the other as love believed); (5) embracing beginning and end, manifest in a process of grace having its root in the election of grace passed upon all the children of truth (gratia præveniens), and its top shining in the light of eternal glory.—Christianity not in any wise a condemnation: (1) Neither in its source (the love of God), (2) nor in its design (the sending of Christ); (3) nor in its operation (the believer is not judged, the unbeliever has judged himself).—The gift of the Son a precursor of the outpouring of the Spirit.—The mysteries of darkness and the mysteries of light in the world, as all brought into day by the light of Christ.
STARKE: Examples of notable converts are worth recording, that the goodness of God may be magnified, and others may be encouraged. Those who sit in the highest ranks and the most honorable offices, should think more of their human misery than of their elevation and dignity in the world.—A man, though living in the most hardened condition. (Pharisæism), may nevertheless be converted.—Rank, office, and fear often stand in the way of conversion; but happy they who value more the salvation of their souls, and overcome those hindrances.—MAJUS: Not all nocturnal meetings for edification are suspicious and to be forbidden.—Fear a great hindrance to goodness.—OSIANDER: The weak in faith must not be despised.—LANGE: The ground of the necessity of regeneration lies in the nature of God and of man.—The doctrine of regeneration must be diligently pressed, 1 Cor. 2:14.—The scruples of scholars.—Tit. 3:5.–1 Peter 3:21.—The patience of Christ with the weakness of man, and His friendly care to remove all doubts and scruples, are a model for us, 1 John 3:9; 2 Peter 1:4; Rom. 8:5.—ZEISIUS: All that proceeds not from spiritual regeneration, be it never so pure and brilliant in its glitter, is nothing to wards salvation, and cannot please God.—The nobility of the regenerate: raised to the highest ranks of heaven, Col. 3:9, 10.—MAJUS: The senseless astonishment of unbelief is good for nothing, but before the sublimity of the divine mysteries one loves in reverence to wonder.—The same: The grace of the Holy Ghost is free, not bound either to means, persons, or times.—CANSTEIN: As often as we hear the wind, we ought to think of the mystery of regeneration, Job 37:9.—Art thou a master, etc. The true heart-theology is not always to be found among people of great titles and places.—God so loved (v. 16). So overflowingly and so intensely, and after this manner and in this order. The love of God the first and true source of all our blessedness.—Believers must, it is true, stand before the judgment, but they come not into judgment.—Bibl. Wirt.: Faith alone is the means of salvation; therefore unbelief is the sole cause of damnation.—The blame lies with men, Hos. 13:9.—HEDINGER, on the words: Every one that doeth evil: Wickedness shuns the light, yet it must come to the light.—ZEISIUS: Could the stones and beams of many a palace and dwelling speak, what abominations, wrought in secret, should we not hear! Yet that great day of judgment will make manifest every hidden thing, as truly as God is God.—OSIANDER: Many would rather in eternity be put to shame before God, angels, and the elect, than blush a moment before a few people in the world.
GERLACH: A chief point of corruption in the doctrine of the Pharisees of that day was their entirely outward conception of the law, and their consequent utter mistaking of the relation of man to God. The deep, sinful corruption of human nature and the necessity of a regeneration were to all purpose utterly hidden from them. If, therefore, they would partake of the salvation which Christ brings, they must clearly perceive the need of it.—At all events Nicodemus hoped to find out whether the kingdom of God was soon to appear; that he, in that case, was to have a share in that kingdom, he had no doubt.—Jesus shows him that the kingdom of God, which he was expecting as future and external to himself, was already inwardly present; but not yet for him, because this required an entire transformation and renewal of the mind.—The baptism with water was an emblem of repentance under the law, grief for sin; the baptism with the Spirit denotes the operation of the renewing, inwardly transforming power of the grace and truth of God in Christ Jesus. To the water baptism of John (which Jesus continued by His disciples), he therefore says, must be added the Spirit-baptism of the Messiah, which was promised by John himself.—Every force produces its like. If a man should even be bodily born a second time by an external miracle, he would remain the same.—The Spirit, the eternal, almighty, all-creating and all-renewing divine life which is in God and is God Himself, by partaking of which man, against and above nature, is renewed to holiness and to victory over the world and death.—Christ was begotten of the Holy Ghost, and those who believe in Him are children of God by the same Spirit—The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works.
LISCO: Regeneration is necessary in part on account of the constitution of the spiritual kingdom to which the man is to belong, in part on account of the natural state in which the human heart is found, which is flesh (Luther’s Marginal Note).—The two parts: Word and Spirit, belong together, as in wind the two things: sound and blowing.—Faith and unbelief as the inner ground of the opposite fates of men.—BRAUNE: Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. If not through cowardice, at least through delicate self-love and regard for his associates in rank and office. Yet he came, and had much to overcome: riches of earthly goods, riches of reputation and power, riches even of virtue and righteousness.—Gideon’s act in the night, Jud. 6:27.—2 Cor. 5:17.—Every soul has its determination either to rise to glorification in the clear light of the divine Spirit, or to sink into the perdition of the curse, and God would that every soul should be born again not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever, 1 Peter 1:23.—RIEGER: Christ leaves Nicodemus time to take root and bear fruit.
HEUBNER; Noctes Christianæ more than Noctes Atlicæ.—The danger of worldly honor. He who stands high in the world, must be at unspeakable pains to become small and humble.—The miracles a legitimate ground of belief in the divine mission of Jesus.—Nicodemus here stood in the fore-court of conversion.—A man is always only one thing, ruled either by the flesh, or by the Spirit (there is, however, a stage of transition, Rom. 7). Nothing more astonishes and offends an unconverted man, than to say to him: Thou must beradically changed. The doctrine of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, as the sum of Christianity: (1) God the Father, full of severity and love, has founded a kingdom for which man is destined; (2) for this fallen man needed regeneration by the Spirit; (3) this he now receives through Christ, by faith in Him.—Love of sin prepossesses against truth.—Here is to be found the Christian conception of those who are really obscurantists.—Often the opinion steals in, that the inward alone (that is, what is kept back, shut up,) makes the Christian. When Victorinus (so Augustine relates), deeply moved by reading the Holy Scriptures, said confidently to Simplicianus in Rome: “Know that I am already a Christian,” and Simplicianus answered: “I will not believe it, nor count thee among the Christians, till I see thee in the church of Christ.” Victorinus laughed and said: “Do the walls then make a Christian?” But afterwards, fearing Christ might not confess him, unless he confessed Christ, he suddenly came to Simplicianus and said: “Eamus ad ecclesiam, Christianus volo fieri” (August. Conf., John 2, § 3, 4). Swift held his family worship with his servants in perfect secresy, merely to avoid suspicion of hypocrisy (see his Life of Sheridan). Learn to rise above the judgment of the world; be not ashamed of your better principles.
SCHLEIERMACHER: In every one the beginning of the divine working can no more be determined, than the end of it can be descried.—Even those whom we may compare to the master of Israel, have continued but too long in that which could be the property and benefit of only a particular age or a small part of the Christian Church; and they had not been able to rise above this narrow horizon, and view the work of grace in its whole grand compass; and just by reason of this, they have led believers astray.
John 3:16–18: The great object of Christ’s mission. He appeared among us as a (the) token (token and seal) of the love of God, the object of faith, the universal possession of all men.—BESSER, on the brazen serpent: Jesus the life of my life, Jesus the death of my death.—NITZSCH: The mystery of our spiritual regeneration: (1) The necessity of it; (2) the possibility of it; (3) the actuality of it.—HOSBACH: The new birth: (1) What is it? (2) How does it arise? (3) Whither does it lead?—O. v. GERLACH: The glorification of the triune God in the regeneration of man.—KLING: The being born of the Spirit, on the one hand manifest, on the other hidden as to its origin and end.
[BURKITT: ‘Tis not enough that we be new-dressed, but we must be new-made, that is, thoroughly and universally changed, the will by renovation, the affections by sanctification, the life by reformation. We must be like God, or we can never live with Him. If we be not like Him in the temper of our minds on earth, 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 contagion is universal, deep, and inward, therefore such must the change be.—The way and work of the Holy Spirit in the soul’s regeneration, is oft-times very secret, and usually exceeding various. Various as to the time. Some are wrought upon in youth, others in old age. Various in His methods of working: Some are wrought upon by the corrosives of the law, others by lenitives of the gospel. Various in the manner of His working, and in the means by which He works: Upon some by a powerful ordinance, upon others by an awakening Providence. But the Spirit’s work in all still the same, it produces likeness to God.—RYLE: What a feeble beginning a man may make in religion, and yet finally prove a strong Christian. Never despise the day of small things (Zech. 4:10).—What a mighty change our Lord declares to be needful to salvation, and what a remarkable expression He uses in describing it.—A day will come when those who are not born again will wish that they had never been born at all.—AUGUSTINE (on John 3:15): The bite of the Serpent brought death; the death of Christ brings life Look at the Serpent, that the Serpent may not harm you. Look at death that death may not hurt you. But at whose death? At the death of Him who is the Life. Death died in Christ, so that we may now say: “O death, where is thy sting,” etc.—LUTHER: Henceforward, he who is condemned must not complain of Adam, and his inborn sin. The seed of the woman, promised by God to bruise the head of the serpent, is now come and has atoned for sin and taken away condemnation. But he must cry out against himself for not having accepted and believed in the Christ, the devil’s head-bruiser and sin-strangler. If I do not believe the same, sin and condemnation must continue.—LAVATER (John 3:16): Jesus means one who creates joy and happiness. He who views Jesus otherwise than as a bringer of joy, the gospel as anything else but a message of joy, suffering as anything but a fountain of joy, knows neither God nor Christ nor the gospel. God is love, and love can only love. God is the living will of love. Love is pure joy and makes happy all who come in contact with it.—P. S.]
John 3:1. [δέ after ῆν seems to imply that Nicodemus was not one of those to whom Christ did not trust Himself, 2:24; for He opened to him the profoundast secrets of the kingdom of God. It may be, however, merely continuative=and.—P. S.]
John 3:2.—The Recepta reads πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, against which there are decisive authorities, particularly A. B. “Beginning of a section and a lesson.” Meyer.
John 3:3. [γεννάω means usually to begat (of the Father), Matth. 1:2 ff. and often; hence ὁ γεννήσας, the father; rarely to bear, to bring forth (of the mother), as Luke 1:57. God or the Holy Spirit produces the higher spiritual life; hence begotten from above, would perhaps better express the idea; comp. 1:13; 1 Cor. 4:15; Philem. 10; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18; Heb. 1:5; 5:5.—P. S.]
John 3:3. [ἄνωθεν, מֵעַל, the reverse of κάτωθεν, and equivalent to ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, from heaven, 3:31; 19:11, 23; Matth. 27:51; Mark 15:38; James 1:17; 3:15,17, or ἐκ θεοῦ, from God, comp. John 1:13; ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος, 3:6, 9, which may be taken as the true explication. If the temporal sense be preferred (in which Nicodemus misunderstands it, John 3:4); comp. Luke 1:3; Gal. 4:9, it should be rendered anew, afresh (from the root, entirely new) rather than again. Tyndale: boren a newe; Cranmer; boren from above; Geneva: begotten againe; Rheims: borne againe; Conant: born again; Alford: born anew, with a marginal note: or, from above; Young: from above; Vulg.: renatus fuerit denuo; Luth.: von neuem geboren werde; Ewald: von vorne an (i. e, ganz von neuem) geb. wird. See the Exegesis.—P. S.]
John 3:3. [βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ only here and John 3:5 in John, but in 18:36 Christ speaks of His kingdom. The Synoptists use for it more frequently the term βασ. τῶν οὐρανῶν, which John never employs unless it be in John 3:5. (See note 7 below.—P. S.]
John 3:5. [The absence of the article both before ὕδατος and πνεύματος should be noticed. It gives to the two agents a generic character, and favors a more comprehensive interpretation of water than that which confines it to a particular kind of baptism, Jewish, Johannean, or Christian. See Exeg. Notes.—P. S.]
John 3:5. [Instead of the text. rec. βασ. τοῦ θεοῦ, which is retained by Tregelles, Alford, Westcott and Hort, and others, Tischendorf (ed. 8.) reads βασ. τῶνοὐρανῶν on the authority of א1 and the still older Euseb. Orig., Hippol., Iren., and Just. M. Irenæus (Fragm. 35) quotes tho passage literally thus: καθὼς καὶ ὁ κύριος ἐφη, ἒαν μή τις, κ.τ.λ., είς τ. βασ. τῶν οὐρανῶν. Justin M. (middle of the 2d cent.), Apol. I. c. 51 (ed. Otto, I. p. 144), cites less accurately from memoryΚαὶ γὰρ ὁ χριστὸς εἶπεν. Ἄν μὴ ἀναγεννηθῆτε (instead of ἔαν μή τις γεννηθῇ), οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθητε (instead of οὐ δύναται είσελθειν) εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν. Chrysostom also, in his homilies on John 3, reads several times βασ. τῶν οὐρανῶν. The change from this into the received reading may be traced to a desire to conform to John 3:3.—P. S.]
John 3:6. [Here and in John 3:8 the article is used before πνεύματος, and of course should be retained in the translation.—P. S.]
John 3:8. [The double meaning of the Greek πνεῦμα, and the Hebrew רוּחַ, wind and spirit, suggested this analogy.—P. S.]
John 3:8.—Lachmann: ἤ ποῦ, or where, according to A., the Vulgate, and other versions, Armenian, Arabic, Syriac, and several of the fathers The καί, therefore, arose probably from tho need of a proverbial form of the sentence. [The usual reading κ α ὶ ποῦ, and where (whither), is retained by Treg., Alf, Tischend. on the authority of א B. L. T., etc., also Ignatius Ad Philad. c. 7.—P. S.]
John 3:12. [Literally the earthly things—the heavenly things: τὰ ἐπίγεια—τὰ ἐπουράνια.—P. S.]
John 3:15.—Lachmann: ἐπ’ αὐτόν, according to God. A.; Tischendorf: ἐν αὐτῳ, according to Cod. B. and others. Theodoret and Cod. L. read ἐπ’ αὐτῷ; Meyer is for ἐν αὐτῷ, and proposes to connect this with ἔχη. Against this is the parallel 5:16. Probably the above variations are efforts of the catholic spirit to sharpen the idea of faith; εἰς αὐτόν being a more general conception.
John 3:15.—Μὴ ἀπόληται, ἀλλ’ is wanting in [א] B. L. J., and many others. It is omitted by Tischendorf [Treg. Alf.], and put in brackets by Lachmann. It has probably been taken from John 3:16.
John 3:17. [Κρίνειν, to judge, is used, not κατακρίνειν, to condemn, here and John 3:18, and ἡ κρίσις, John 3:19. The E. V. is not consistent in the rendering of κρίνειν, κρίμα and κρίσις, using alternately to judge, to condemn, to damn, yet in the great majority of cases to judge. Κατακρίνειν is seventeen times translated to condemn, twice to damn.—P. S.]
John 3:19. [τὸ φῶς, the true personal Light, Christ, comp. 1:4, 5, 8, 9. The importance of the definite article is obvious. The E. V. retained it in John 3:20, but dropped it here—one of its innumerable inconsistencies.—P. S.]
John 3:19.—The order: αὐτῶν πονηρά [instead of πονηρὰ αὐτῶν].
John 3:21. [ὅ τ ι assigns the reason for the preceding intention. See Exeg.—P. S.]
[The term ἐκκλησία never occurs in John’s Gospel and first Epistle, though repeatedly in his third Epistle, and in the Apocalypse. In the Gospel and first Epistle the ideal side of the church prevails, in the Apocalypse the real, empirical, because it is there represented in its historical conflict with the powers of darkness.]
[So Hengstenberg, and Alford: One of the believers on account of Christ’s miracles, ii. 23. Bengel: Ex iis, de quibus c. ii. in fine; sed nonnihil melior multis.—P. S.]
Treatises on the section: Knapp, Scripta varii arg. I., p. 183 sqq; Fabricius, Commentat. Gott. 1825; Scholl, in Klaiber’s Studien V. 1, p. 71: Jacobi, Stud, und Krit. 1835, 1. Hengstenberg, Evang. Kirchen-Zeitung, 1860, No. 49. [A large number of English tracts on Regeneration (mostly doctrinal and practical) are noticed in Malcom’s Theological Index (Boston, 1869) pp. 396, 397.—P. S.]
[The Evangelium Nicodemi comprises the Acta Pilati and the Descensus Christi ad inferos. See Tischendorf, Evangelia Apocrypha, Lips. 1853, pp. 203–412, where the whole is given in Greek and Latin.—P. S.]
[Bengel remarks to νυκτός: “Nunquam non recipit Christus ad se venientes.”—P. S.]
[Augustine: Quamvis ad Jesum venerit, tamen quia nocte venit, adhuc de tenebris carnis suæ loquitur. Hengstenberg: The night is mentioned as a symbol of the darkness of the mind of Nicodemus (11:10; 13:30). Bettor: He came in the dark from fear of public opinion. Yet he came, which is far better than not coming at all The remark does not exclude company. John and other disciples of Christ were probably present at the interview, Ewald conjectures that also Nicodemus had some attendants with him.—P. S.]
[Bengel: Ego et mei similes, principes potius, quam Pharisæi, xii. 42. Huic plurali respondet pluralis, John 3:7.—P. S.]
[Comp. here the note of Alford. Stier thinks that Nicodemus, in using the plural, concealed his own conviction, so as to be able to draw back again if necessary. Rather farfetched.—P. S.]
[The word διδάσκαλος seems to imply a cautious inconsistency. The expected Messiah was a king, and never regarded “as a mere teacher till the days of modern Socinianism.” Alford].
[Bengel: “Sermo indefinitus, quem Nicodemus tamen recte ad se applicat, comp. John 3:7, vos.” This passage was already quoted in the middle of the second century by Justin M. See Text. Note 7. The idea of some modern hyper-critics that the author of the Gospel should have borrowed from Justin is simply ridiculous.—P. S.]
[Godet finds in the words of Nicodemus no absurdity, but a good-natured irony, une bonhomie un peu ironique. This hardly suits the seriousness of the occasion. Nicodemus speaks comparatively. A moral new birth in an old man seems to him as impossible as a second natural birth.—P. S.]
[Meyer: Baptism is meant as the causa medians, the Holy Spirit as the causa efficiens of regeneration. He thinks that no other but Christian baptism can be meant because it is connected with the Holy Spirit.—P. S.]
[So also Hengstenberg, Godet, Webster and Wilkinson, A. Barnes, Owen (who explains: except ye receive the rite of Christian baptism). Hooker, as quoted by Wordsworth, remarks: “Of all ancient writers there is not one to be named who ever expounded the text otherwise than as implying external baptism.” Wordsworth, who follows the fathers into all their allegorical fancies, has a curious note here to show what an important part water occupies in the Gospel of John. Christ just came from the water, Christ turned water into wine, Christ presents Himself as the water of life (John 4.), Christ does nothing without water, etc.—P. S.]
[True; but Nicodemus understood from the lustrations of the O. T. and the public baptism of John, the general idea of baptismal purification which culminated in Christian baptism; and besides Christ spoke not only to Nicodemus, but through him to all men and all ages. J. C. Ryle (of the evang. party of the Church of England), in his Expository Thoughts on John, urges six arguments against the usual interpretation, especially because the reference of water to baptism would imply the regenerate state of all the baptized and the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. But this is reasoning from dogmatical inferences which are not justified either by the context or the analogy of Scripture. Christ clearly demands, besides baptism, the new birth of the Spirit, and lays the main stress on this (John 3:6, 8), as He does on faith, Mark 16:16, as the indispensable condition to salvation. See below.—P. S.]
[Calvin: Of water, which is the purifying Spirit, so that water and Spirit mean the same thing, as Spirit and fire, Matth. 3:11. Coccejus: Gratia Dei, sordes et vitia abluens. Lampe: Obedientia Christi. Grotius: Spiritus aqueus, i.e., aquæ instar emendans. But in view of the facts that John baptized, that Christ Himself was baptized, that His disciples (4:2) baptized in His name, it seems impossible to disconnect water from baptism. Calvin’s interpretation arose from doctrinal opposition to the R. Catholic over-valuation of the sacrament, which must be guarded against in another way. Godet, of the Reformed Church of Switzerland, correctly remarks (i. 408): “il est impossible de ne pas prendre le mot eau dans son sens naturel et de ne pas l'appliquer au baptême.”—P. S.]
[This view is also held by Bengel, Hofmann, and Dean Alford; yet by the latter so as to allow for a wider application to Christian baptism, which certainly should not be excluded. After showing that ὔδωρ must mean baptismal water, Alford goes on to say: “This being then recognized, to what does ὔδωρ refer? At that time, two kinds of baptism were known: that of the proselytes by which they were received into Judaism,—and that of John, by which, as a preparatory rite, symbolizing repentance, the people were made ready for Him who was to baptize them with the Holy Ghost. But both these were significant of one and the same truth; that namely of the entire cleansing of the man for the new and spiritual life on which he was to enter, symbolized by water cleansing the outward person. Both were appointed means,—the one by the Jewish Church,—the other, stamping that first with approval, by God Himself,—towards their respective ends. John himself declared his baptism to be incomplete,—it was only with water; one was coming, who should baptize with the Holy Ghost. That declaration of his is the key to the understanding of this verse. Baptism, complete, with water and the Spirit, is the admission into the kingdom of God. Those who have received the outward sign and the spiritual grace, have entered into that kingdom. And this entrance was fully ministered to the disciples when the Spirit descended on them on the day of Pentecost. So that, as spoken to Nicodemus, these words referred him to the baptism of John, which probably (see Luke 7:30) he had slighted. But they were not only spoken to him. The words of our Lord have in them life and meaning for all ages of His Church: and more especially these opening declarations of His ministry. He here unites together the two elements of a complete Baptism which were sundered in the words of the Baptist, John 1:33—in which united form He afterwards (Matth. 28:19, 20; Mark 16:16) ordained it as a sacrament of His Church. Here He speaks of spiritual Baptism, as in John 6 of spiritual Communion, and in both places in connection with the outward conditions and media of these sacraments. It is observable that here, as ordinarily (with a special exception, Acts 10:44 ff.), the outward sign comes first, and then the spiritual grace, vouchsafed in and by means of it where duly received.” The objection to a reference of ὕδωρ to John’s baptism is, that Christ after manifesting Himself as the Messiah could not well have made the baptism of His forerunner a condition of admission to His kingdom. In this case He would have said at least οὐκ ἐξ ὕδατος μόνον, ἀλλα καί, not only of water, but also and chiefly of the Spirit.—P. S.]
[This is entirely inapplicable to Nicodemus, who was a Jew in full communion. Besides it is not quite certain, although probable, that the Jewish proselyte baptism existed before Christ. Comp. Schneckenburger, Ueber das Alter der jüd. Proselytentaufe und deren Zusammenhang mit dem johanneischen und christlichen Ritus, and Herzog’s Encycl., vol. XII., p. 245.—P. S.]
[Olshausen refers for illustration to the brooding of the Spirit of God over the waters of the deep in the first creation, which in a certain sense is repeated in every new birth; hence the regenerate is called a new creature, 2 Cor. 5:17.—P. S.]
[Stier: The three Persons in the Holy Trinity. But ἐωράκαμεν suits neither God the Father nor the Holy Spirit.—P. S.]
[Lücke, De Wette. So also Alford, but in a proverbial rather than rhetorical sense.—P. S.]
[Comp. 1 Cor. 15:40; 2 Cor. 5:1; Phil. 2:10; 3:19; James 3:15; Sap. 9:16.—P. S.]
[Comp. Matth. 18:35; 1 Cor. 15:40, 48; Eph. 1:3; Phil. 2:10, etc.—P. S.]
[A striking parallel: καὶ μόλις εἰκάζομεν τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς καὶ τὰ ἐν χερσὶν εὑρίσκομεν μετὰ πόνου, τὰ δὲ ἐν οὐρανοῖς τίς ἐξιχνίασε. But in this passage the earthly things belong to the order of nature, while in our passage the Lord distinguishes between earthly things and heavenly things in the sphere of religion and revelation.—P. S.]
[So also Reuss, Hist. de la théol. christ. t. II., p. 427. But ἐπουράνια never has this meaning.—P. S.]
[Similarly Godet: les choses dont vous pouvier constater en vous-mêmes la realilé, and on the other hand les secrets du ciel qu’il faudra croire uniquement sur ma parole.—P. S.]
[Regeneration, says Meyer (5th ed. p. 162), though originating in heaven, takes place on earth and so far belongs to the category of the ἐπίγεια. He includes in this, however, all that Jesus had hitherto told the Jews (ει̇͂πον ὑμῖν), as distinct from the ἐπουράνια, i.e., the Messianic mysteries and divine counsels in regard to the redemption of the world. Hengstenberg essentially agrees with Meyer (I.197). Alford takes the earthly and the heavenly things to mean the same mysteries but viewed under two aspects, either as occurring on earth and among men, or as having their origin in the divine counsels.—P. S.]
[Alford remarks against the figurative explanation of this passage: “Hebrew metaphors are founded on deep insight into divine truth; these words in fact express the truths on which Hebrew metaphors are constructed.” As uniting in Himself God who dwells in heaven, and man who dwells on earth, Christ was always both in heaven and on earth, the golden clasp of both. Augustine: Ecce hic erat et in cœlo erat: hic erat in carne, in cœlo erat divinitate, natus de matre, non recedens a Patre. Augustine adds that in some sense all true Christians partake of this double existence. Tales fecit discipulos suos. Paulum audi apostolum dicentem, nostra autem conversatio in cœlis. Si homo Paulus apostolus ambulabat in carne in terra et conversabatur in cœlo, Deus cœli et, terræ poterat esse et in cœlo et in terra.—P. S]
[Num. 21:8 f: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent (שָׂרָף, Sept. ὅφιν χαλκοῦν, Vulg. serpentem. æneum, brazen serpent) and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.” Here we have two kinds of serpents, 1) the living, poisonous serpent whose bite is deadly—image of sin; 2) the dead, brazen serpent without the poison—a symbol of Christ and His salvation. He was made “in the likeness of sin,” yet without sin. (Rom. 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24). This furnishes the first point of comparison: the brazen serpent and Christ. The other two points are the elevation to the pole—to the cross, and the healing effect, which in the O. T. was physical and temporary, in the N. T. is spiritual and permanent. The Hebrew saraph is so called, from the red spots on its skin, or from the burning effect of its poison which is like a consuming fire: hence certain serpents were called by the Greeks πρηστῆρες and καύσωνες. Moses took not a living serpent, but a dead image of it, which had the appearance, but not the poison of a serpent, and acted as a healer instead of a destroyer. In Egyptian theology the serpent is the symbol of healing, and in Sap. 16:6, it is called σύμβολονσωτηρίας. In the Bible it is primarily the symbol of the devil, of sin and death, from Genesis down to the Apocalypse (20:2: τὸν ὅφιν τὸν ἀρχαῖον ὅς ἐστι διάβολος). The physiology of the serpent aids in understanding its agency in the fall. A. F. Krummacher (the father of the celebrated pulpit orator) gives the following unique and suggestive description of this mysterious reptile: “The serpent, a beast like to an embodied thunderbolt that has had its origin in the deepest night, parti-colored, painted like fire, as black and dark as night, its eyes like glowing sparks, its tongue black, yet cloven like a flame, its jaws a chasm of the unknown, its teeth fountains of venom, the sound of its mouth a hiss. Add to this the strange and wonderful motion, ever striving like a flash to quiver, and like an arrow to flee, were it not hindered by its bodily organization. It appears among the beasts like a condemned and fallen angel; in the heathen world of false gods, it hath found and still finds ever awe and adoration; its subtlety has become a byword, its name a naming of Satan, whilst the popular feeling, even now, as in all times past, connects a curse and exorcism with its appearance.”—P. S.]
[Also by Alford, in loc., who well sums up the chief arguments. The Dean justly remarks, that it would give us a very mean idea of the honesty or reverence of the Evangelist to suppose him capable of attributing to his Master words and sentiments of his own invention. Of the two examples which are quoted on the other side, John 1:16 is not to the point, for the whole prologue is John’s, and 3:31 ff. is disputed, see notes there. In any case John could get such words and ideas only from his divine Master, and would not have ventured on expressing them without authority from Him—P. S.]
[To confine κόσμος to the mundus electorum (as is done by supralapsarian Calvinists, and the Swiss Formula Consensus), is to destroy the beauty and force of the passage which is to bring out the boundless love of God to all His creatures. God hates nothing; that He has made, and Christ died for all, but the benefits of His death are available only to those who accept them by faith. World means in the Scriptures and in popular language 1) the whole universe; 2) the earth; 3) all men (so here); 4) the present order of things as distinct from the future world; 5) the ungodly world, in opposition to the kingdom of God, and as subject to Satan, who is called “the prince of this world” (John 12:31). But it never means the elect or the saints, which would be just the reverse of the last mentioned signification. If it had this meaning here, Christ might have said: “God so loved the world … that the world (instead of whosoever believeth) might not perish.” The universality of God’s love and the all-sufficiency of Christ’s atonement (which, however, must not be confounded with its actual efficiency) is most clearly taught here and in such passages as 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 John 2:2 (which illustrates our passage): “He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”—P. S. ]
[So also Stier, Hengstenberg, and Alford. Nicodemus, in being reminded of Isaac’s offering, was reminded of the love required, the substitution made, and the prophecy there uttered to Abraham, to which ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων nearly corresponds. Comp. Heb. 11:19; Gen. 22:16.—P. S.]
[Calvin says of himself (Præf. ad Psalm.); “Ego qui natura timido, molli et pusillo animo me esse fateor,” and he fairly trembled when Farel, as by divine authority, detained him in Geneva as his proper field of labor.—P. S.]
[Trinity Sunday is the first Sunday after Pentecost or Whitsunday. It commemorates the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and closes the festival part of the Christian year. It is of Latin origin and cannot be clearly traced beyond the tenth century. The Greek church (from the times of Chrysostom) celebrates on the same Sunday the feast of all Saints and Martyrs (which in the Latin church falls on the first of November). The Lutheran and Episcopal churches have together with the other great festivals retained Trinity Sunday. The discourse with Nicodemus is the gospel for the day, because regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit and the basis of Christian life.—P. S.]
[The feast of transubstantiation, which, of course, is rejected by all Protestant churches. It is celebrated in the Roman church with unusually solemn processions on the first Thursday following Trinity Sunday (feria quinta proxima post octavam pentecostes), with reference to Maunday Thursday, as the day of the institution of the Eucharist. In German it is called Fronleichnamsfest. i. e., the feast of the Lord’s body.—P. S.]
After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.VI
JESUS IN THE JUDEAN COUNTRY, AND THE SPREAD OF HIS BAPTISM, WITH THE FAITH OF THE PEOPLE. LAST TESTIMONY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST CONCERNING CHRIST. CHRIST THE TRUE BAPTIST. THE BRIDEROOM OF THE CHURCH, WHO COMES FROM HEAVEN. (The Real Song of Songs.)
22After these things came Jesus and his disciples [came] into the land of Judea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. 23And John also was [still] baptizing in Ænon near to [omit to] Salim, because there was much water there: and they 24came and were baptized. For John52 was not yet cast into prison. 25Then there arose a question between some of [on the part of] John’s disciples and the Jews 26[a Jew]53 about purifying [religious washing]. And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond [the] Jordan, to whom thou barest [hast borne] witness [didst serve as a witness], behold the same baptizeth, and all men come [are going] to him.
27John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except [unless] it be given him from heaven. 28Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. 29He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which [who] standeth and heareth him rejoiceth greatly [lit., rejoiceth with joy, χαρᾷ χαίρει] because of the bridegroom’s voice: [.] this my joy therefore is fulfilled [is made full, complete]. 30He must increase, but I must decrease. 31He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly [is of the earth],54 and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above 32 all.55 And [omit And]56 what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony [and his testimony no one receiveth]. 33He that hath received his [his emphatic, αὐτοῦ τὴν μ.] testimony hath set to [omit to] his seal that God is true. 34For he whom God hath [omit hath] sent speaketh the words of God: for God [he]57 giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him [omit unto him].58 35The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. 36He that believeth on [in] the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not [disobeyeth, ὁ δὲ ὰπειθῶν] the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
John 3:22. After these things.—Μετὰ ταῦτα. Probably not only after the interview with Nicodemus (Meyer), but after all that is related of His stay in Jerusalem.
Into the land of Judea.—Judea here, of course, not in the wider sense of Palestine, but in the narrower sense, as distinguished from Samaria, Galilee, and Perea; Southern Palestine, on this side the Jordan, having Samaria on the north, the Jordan and the Dead Sea on the east, Idumea on the south, Philistia and the Mediterranean on the west. And here, too, not the province of Judea itself is meant, to which in fact Jerusalem especially belonged, but the Judean country; Ἰουδαία being here used adjectively [χώρα Ἰουδαία, Mark 1:5; Acts 16:1]. From the baptizing Meyer infers a sojourn on the Jordan towards the north-east.
And there he tarried with them.—From the time of His return to Samaria (probably about seeding time, see John 4:35) we may infer that He continued in the Judean country from the month of March till perhaps November or December, at least half a year (see the place referred to).
And baptized.—According to John 4:2 Jesus Himself did not baptize; but as John remarks this only in a passing and supplemental way, he evidently intends to designate this baptism as a baptism of Jesus Himself. [Virtually (according to the maxim: quod quis per alium facit, id ipse fecisse dicitur), but not literally; for the testimony of 4:2 is explicit, that Jesus Himself did not baptize. His work was to preach and to baptize with the Holy Spirit; water baptism was a subordinate ministerial office, and could as well be performed by others. For the same reason Paul did not baptize except in a few cases, 1 Cor. 1:14–16. The baptism of the disciples of Jesus, which is only mentioned here and 4:2, was still essentially the baptism of John, but it prepared the way for Christian baptism, which was instituted after the resurrection, Matt. 18:19, and first performed on the birth-day of the Christian Church, Acts 2:41. Before Christ had finished His work on earth, the Holy Spirit was not yet in full regenerative operation (7:39), nor could baptismal water signify the cleansing blood of atonement (19:34; 1 John 1:7). This baptism then had a prophetic character, and was subsequently not repeated, but completed by the pentecostal baptism of the Spirit.—P. S.]
John 3:23. And John also was baptizing.—This statement serves to explain what follows.—In Aenon; עֵינוֹן ,עֵינָן, adjective of עַיִן, “place abounding in springs.” Meyer makes out of it יוֹן עַיִן “dove-fountain,” without arguing the matter. According to Eusebius and Jerome: [Onomasticon under Aenon and Salem] Aenon lay in octavo lapide Scythopoleos ad meridiem juxta Salem et Jordanem; and Salem: in octavo lapide a Scythopoli in campo Vicus Salamias. From this it is inferred that both places were in Samaria; which Epiphanius (Hær. lvii. 2) confirms.59 This has been thought so inconsistent with our passage, that two places of similar names, Shilhim and Ain, which, according to Josh. 15:32, lay on the southern border of Judea, have been substituted.60 According to others the places in question might have lain in Judea hard by the Samaritan border (see Meyer). Robinson (III., p. 322) found a Salem near Nablus, remote from the Jordan. According to this it has been held improbable that Aenon was on the Jordan, and Lücke thinks it was a place of springs. We suppose that John might very probably have been baptizing temporarily on Samaritan ground. Elijah, his prototype, dwelt long with a Phenician widow; Elisha healed the Syrian Naaman by directing him to wash in the Jordan. John, on his appearance, preached: God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. If John was to execute his office as fore-runner of Christ in His universal character, he must hare come to Samaria, and even to the Galilean court (see the direction of the angel, Luke 1:17 and 76). He might have had, moreover, special reasons for this. He could not give up his work, because he felt himself appointed to die in his official service; yet he wished also to give way to the Lord, and, not as compelled by events, but voluntarily, to decrease by the side of Him. This purpose would be exactly served by his retiring into a small place, and especially by his beginning to labor in Samaria. It is further noteworthy, that immediately after this Christ begins to teach in Samaria, though only in passing, and that the passage before us relates to the disciples of John who were involved in a controversy with a Jew concerning purification. If this Jew seems to have given the preference, as a Jew, to the baptism of Jesus. it is natural to suppose that he based his preference on the fact that Jesus was baptizing on Judean soil, John in Samaria. Enon at all events lay this side the Jordan. The objection that John was still baptizing in his old way, is solved by his calling. As to the objection that he was not baptizing “into Jesus,” he had only to baptize into Christ; to point out the Christ in Jesus was the business of his testimony. Meyer remarks, against Bretschneider and others, that he did not baptize into Jesus because Jesus had not yet appeared at all as the Messiah. Yet John had designated Him as the Messiah, and now did so again with the utmost clearness. But his office as fore-runner had not ceased with a public appearance of Jesus as the Messiah.
There was much water.—This can be mentioned to define only the spot, not the region.
John 3:24. John was not yet thrown into prison.—This, according to De Wette, Meyer, etc., is intended to be a correction of the Synoptical tradition. But it is only a completion of it; for the Synoptists open the ministry of Jesus with His labors in Galilee, not because these were the “very beginning” (Tholuck), but because this was the current tradition, and because their method of construing the history, particularly with regard to the contrast between John and Christ, required it. At the time of the return of Christ from the country of Judea to Galilee in the winter of 781 John had been cast into prison, according to Mark 1:14; during his first great tour in Galilee He received the embassy from the Baptist in the spring of 782; after His return from the feast of Purim in March of 782, however, He received the intelligence of the execution of the Baptist, according to Matth. 14:12; comp. John 6:1.
John 3:25. A question.—Ζήτησις, disputation. Not with the Jews, but with a Jew. [See TEXTUAL NOTES.] The one Jew, who disputes with the disciples of John concerning purification (περὶκαθαρισμοῦ), that is, concerning the religious washing for purification, which must precede the kingdom of heaven [Ezek. 36:25; Zech. 13:1], or concerning the baptisms of John and Jesus as to their purifying virtue and Messianic validity, gives exegetical trouble. According to Tholuck the controversy was begun by disciples of John, and yet the Jew on his part contentiously extolled the baptism of Jesus, to provoke the disciples of John; in other words, with not the best design. This evil design is more strongly represented by Luthardt: An intent to make the Baptist untrue to his office, in order to operate the more effectually against Jesus, Chrysostom and Semler, on the contrary, have supposed that the Jew had been baptized by Jesus, which seems also implied in the complaint of John’s disciples in the next verse. [The first sacramental controversy, and the forerunner of a good many.—P. S.]
John 3:26. He that was with thee, to whom thou hast borne witness.—Jealousy is at the out-set betrayed by the avoidance of the name of Jesus (comp. Luke 10:37; 15:30); then it is implied that Jesus had been at first Himself dependent on him, that is, as one baptized by him; though it is not asserted, as by the modern criticism, that He had been a pupil of John. To whom thou barest witness, etc. A reproach against John and Jesus at once (“behold, the same”). Yet expressed only in the tone, in the choice of words, while nothing is literally ventured beyond historical statement. But that they, themselves irritated, wished to provoke the Baptist to see in Jesus an unauthorized rival in the matter of baptism, no matter how much He may be in other respects, is manifest. Every expression, in this view, is pregnant. Even the words: “beyond Jordan,” might imply that they had known better baptism-days on a better soil. Finally their displeasure expresses itself in the exaggeration: “all men come to Him.” Nevertheless they cannot be considered decidedly hostile; they show an uncertainty, a wavering, in the issue of which the mass of John’s disciples afterwards split into two branches, one friendly, the other hostile. The Baptist was to express himself on this distinction of two baptismal communions existing together.
John 3:27. A man can receive nothing (take nothing upon himself).—A general principle of religion, applied to the kingdom of God. Gifts and positions in the kingdom of God rest upon the free grace and investiture of God Himself. Here lies the obligation of humility before God, reverence for the gifted, freedom from envy, modesty, self-respect. The form of the expression silences by its universality, the spirit of the expression purifies by its repression of human nature, its emphasizing of the divine. The reference of the maxim: (1) To the Baptist, according to many ancients and moderns (Lücke). Wetstein: Non possum mihi arrogare et rapere, quæ deus non dedit. (2) To Jesus; De Wette, Meyer: The greater ministry is given by God to Him. (3) To John and Jesus (Kuinoel, Luthardt; Tholuck doubtful). The last view is no doubt the true; for the maxim is the general superscription of the following contrasts: Christ and John; (1) Christ and the forerunner; (2) the Bridegroom and the Bridegroom’s friend; (3) the increasing One, and the decreasing; (4) He who is from heaven, and he that is of the earth. God is above the distinction, and gives to each one his own.
John 3:28. Ye yourselves bear me witness.—Ye yourselves, so jealous, bear witness to my modesty, in that ye recall how I bore witness to Him. But that.—Ἀλλ’ ὅτι seem only a transition to the discourse dependent on it (Meyer, Winer). Yet the expression might also point back to the Baptist’s description of himself (John 1:23), with the sense; τοῦτο εἰμί, ὅτι ἀπ.—Ἐκεῖνος refers to Jesus, of whom they had been speaking. De Wette.
John 3:29. He that hath the bride.—The Old Testament theocratic figure of the marriage-union between Jehovah and His people, Is. 54:5; Hos. 2:19; and the Song of Songs, according to Bengel and Luthardt;61 which Meyer doubts, because that book is not quoted in the New Testament; yet it is manifestly an example at least in favor of the view here mentioned.—This figure passed over to the relation between Christ and the renewed and adorned theocratic people, Eph. 5:32; Rev. 21:2, 9. He that hath the bride, is therefore he to whom she is given from above, and who is thereby distinguished as the supremely Gifted. He is the bridegroom (De Wette: Comp. the proverb: Wer das Glück hat, führt die Braut heim).—From him is here distinguished the friend of the bridegroom, a distinct personage in the Jewish wedding usage. Lücke: Φίλος τοῦ νυμφίου answers to the Hebrew שׁוֹשְׁבֵן, in which, however, the ideas of φίλος τοῦ νυμφ. and παρανύμφιος or νυμφαγωγός are combined. According to the Hebrew custom, the Shoshben, a friend of the bridegroom, was a necessary mediator both in the formation and in the conclusion of the marriage. In behalf of his friend he made suit with the bride, and was the indispensable negotiator between the bride and bridegroom in relation to the wedding. At the wedding itself he was a chief manager of the feast, a necessary functionary at the inspection of the wedding-chamber, and even after the close of the marriage a mediator in misunderstandings and dissensions.—In a passage Keluvoth (fol. 12, 1) it is expressly said: Duos שושבנים constituebant, unum sponso, alterum sponsæ (Schöttgen, Horæ. Hebr. et Talm.). Another name is אֹהֵב (tr. Sanhedrin f. 27, 2). Doubtless John has especially in his eye the business of the wooing, to which he was appointed. And then besides his subordination to the bridegroom, and his unenvious service in relation to the bride, he expresses also the honor and satisfaction he has in his position.
Standeth and heareth him.—(1) Interpretation according to rabbinic passages: customary listening of the shoshbenim at the door (ἐπὶ τῇθ ύρᾳ) of the bride-chamber. For the particulars see Lücke, Ι., p. 564. Probably only isolated apocryphal instances suggested by apocryphal accounts (Tobias. Something like it here and there perhaps in the history of Jesuitism and Herrnhutism). Hard to imagine as general custom. (2) Baumgarten-Crusius, Luthardt: He waits for him that is to come, and hears his voice as he approaches, bringing his bride home. Against this Meyer: The παρανύμφιος does not stand waiting for the bridegroom, but accompanies him on the way to the house of the bride. Such waiting is the part of the bride’s-maid, Matth. 25:1. (3) Eckermann, Meyer: He stands at his service, waiting his bidding, and meantime rejoices in his conversation and gladness in general. (4) Tholuck: The conversation of the bridegroom with the bride preceding the wedding. (5) Lücke: The voice of the bridegroom has in the Old Testament almost the tone of a proverb, Jer. 7:34; 16:9; 25:10. The friend stands at his side and hears the happy voice of the bridegroom. More accurately Grotius: עָמַד, stare est ministrare, ut Genes. 41:46; Deut. 1:38; Zach. 3:7: audiens blandimenta ad sponsarn. Vide Cant. Cantic.: Hæc est vox φωνὴνυμφίου. The reference is no doubt to affectionate and tender greetings to the bride, not commissions (Meyer: bidding) to the friend. The friend stands (back) and hears in silence how the bridegroom himself talks to the bride of his love, contrasted with his own business-like talking of it to her in urging the suit.
The voice of the bridegroom is therefore the New Testament words of love, the gospel of Christ, and that even in distinction from the now ceasing lispings of prophecy concerning the new covenant. De Wette also: Of the gladness of the bridegroom. When Tholuck observes that φωνή must not be referred to the rejoicings at the wedding, since the wedding begins later with the inauguration of the kingdom, and thus far only the conversation of the bridegroom is introduced, it must be remarked that the figure of the wedding is not intended to be pressed. According to the word of Christ, Matth. 9:15, the wedding had already in one view begun with His appearance. In another view it began with His resurrection and the founding of the church, Matth. 22:9. In still another view it is to come at the second appearing of Christ, and meantime the Apostles are the wooers of the bride, 2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 21:19. These aspects might perhaps be distinguished by the three stages of going for and saluting the bride (the act primarily meant here), the wedding-feast, and the final nuptials; denoting the preaching of the gospel, the outpouring of the Holy Ghost and founding of the church, and the manifestation of the kingdom. Yet we cannot apply this distinction of periods to the words of the Baptist. To his prophetic view the wedding was begun.
Rejoiceth with joy.—Χαρᾷ χαίρει, see Luke 22:15, [and שוש אשיש, Is. 61:10. A Hebraizing mode of intensification: pure joy, joy and joy only.—P. S.] The διά, as in 1 Thess. 3:9, which is unusual, in place of the classical ἐπί, etc., adds emphasis to the voice in itself. He finds that voice a compensation to his position. Contrast of this unenvious joy with the jealous tones of the disciples of John.
This my joy.—This his share in the wedding. Hath been made full (πεπλήρωται, perfect tense).—In the happy meeting of the bridegroom and bride in the house of the bride the wedding itself is, to him, as good as come. He has happily completed his task as wooer of the bride. He has done the work of his life. See the analogous perfect: μεμαρτύρηκα, and the exegesis, John 1:34. Is fulfilled, has become perfect. Yet only in its kind, as the joy of the friend of the bridegroom; therefore to be distinguished from the perfection of the New Testament joy of faith, John 15:11; 16:24; 17:13 (which places Meyer cites). He meant not by this the ceasing of his work, but the decreasing and diminishing of it before the increasing glory of the word and work of Christ.
John 3:30. He must increase.—The true description of the relation between John and Christ, and between the Old Covenant and the New, in the primitive church, in the mediæval church, in this modern age, in the life of every evangelical community, and of every individual Christian. Increase: In labors, in authority, in disciples. Decrease: ἐλαττοῦσθαι, be diminished. Noble freedom from envy. An admonition to His disciples. St. John Baptist’s day in the calendar, the longest day [June 24th], after which the days decrease; the birth-day of Christ [Dec. 25], one of the shortest, from which the days grow longer.
John 3:31. He that cometh from above is above all.—The relation of the section now following to the preceding. Different views [of the authorship of John 3:31–36]: (1) A meditation of the Evangelist (Wetstein, Bengel, Kuinoel, Schott, Paulus, Olshausen, Tholuck, etc.), as supposed to be indicated by the John-like strain, an assumed contradiction between John 3:32 and 26, and the disappearance of all reference to the Baptist. Against this it is observed, that there is no break at any point, and the present in John 3:31 and 32 indicates the time of John the Baptist. (2) A middle view (Lücke, De Wette, Hofmann): The discourse of the Baptist is continued indeed, but the subjective reproduction of the Evangelist makes it almost a reflection of his own. (3) Continuation of the address of the Baptist, like John 3:16–18 in John 1, and as in John 3 John 3:16–21 continue the discourse of Christ; my Leben Jesu, II., 2, p. 521, Ebrard, Kritik, p. 294; also Meyer, [p. 180];62 the Johannean character and coloring being also admitted even here. The stately conclusion of the prophetic testimony of the Baptist concerning Christ is not at all inconsistent with his subsequent expression of human feeling, Matth. 11. According to Strauss and Weisse this passage in particular is supposed to prove, that the discourses in John are not historical, but composed by himself. From this passage then, on the contrary, a clear light may be shed upon the exquisite, far-reaching, teeming historical truth of the whole gospel.
Ὁ ἅνωθεν ἐρχόμενος. Present, referring to the, mission of Christ, which is just unfolding itself. See the testimonies of the Baptist concerning the divine dignity of Jesus, John 1:15–18; John 3:27; John 3:29, 34.—Above all.—With respect to Christ all men are put in the category of the need of salvation.
He that is of the earth, etc.—Not a tautology, but signalizing the difference of origin and of consequent quality. From the origin of the person, his nature appears, and from this his mode of speaking. But how could John say this of his testimony (Hofmann)? Tholuck argues; Therefore the Evangelist says this, not the Baptist. But the thing said must nevertheless be true, and then it might even better be said by the Baptist in his humility, than by the Evangelist respecting his former teacher. The Baptist himself therefore must have said it. The question is in what sense? We have a parallel at John 1:18. In full comparison with the full glory of Christ no one, not even of the prophets, nor the Baptist, has ever seen God; in this comparison every man, even of the prophets, the Baptist not excepted, is of the earth. Then does this mean: of the earth, in the sense of John 1:13; 3:6, belonging to the old, sinful world as to his origin, therefore in his kind, therefore also in his speech, since, even as prophet, he can speak the divine but rarely, in fragments, and under the veil of figures; or in the sense of the ἐπίγεια as distinguished from the ἐπουράνια in John 3:12? Exegesis passes by this question, and treats the antithesis as if it had the sense of John 3:6; the σάρξ in distinction from the πνεῦμα. We understand, however, by the earth (γῆ) primarily the old economy and Theocracy in distinction from the heaven (οὐρανός), whence the new revelation comes (see on John 3:12). With the idea of the old is then connected unquestionably the idea of the imperfect and defective. The antithesis of earthly and heavenly, or carnal and spiritual descent passes into the antithesis of the old and the new time, and this into the antithesis of mankind needing revelation and redemption, and the Redeemer. Moreover John speaks here of his human λαλεῖν, not of his prophetic εἰπεῖν, or this latter is reduced in his view to a minimum in his human λαλεῖν, in comparison with the divine μαρτυρεῖν of Christ, and it should be observed that John says: λαλεῖ ἐκ τῆς γῆς, not τὰ τῆς γῆς.
He that cometh from heaven.—A solemn repetition of the preceding, giving it the strong form of a dogmatical statement.
John 3:32. What he hath seen and heard.—See John 3:13; also 1:18. Meyer: In His præ-existence. Rather, in His whole living divine nature, in virtue of which His testifying is at every moment preceded by a having seen or a having heard. The seeing and hearing denotes not only the directness of His knowledge, but also the full reality, the total scope of it, identifying it with His bodily vision [Leben Jesu II., p. 518).
And no man receiveth his testimony.—According to the critics, in contradiction with John 3:26. Unquestionably a contradiction of the noble-minded master to his small-minded disciples. For them it was quite too much to see all running to Jesus; but to him it was quite too little; to him it was as nothing. A hyperbole, therefore, of grief and indignation. A rebuke to the disposition of his disciples; moreover, an admonition to them to go to Jesus, as in John 1:29. He could not send them away by force, because his school was a school of preparation, in which those only had become perfect, who went of their own will to Jesus. The Baptist qualifies his hyperbole (see similar expressions of the Evangelist, John 1:11; 12:37) by what follows. Tholuck: “John reviews the history as a whole, in the course of which the believers are a vanishing minority.” John no doubt speaks here with the conduct of the Jews chiefly in view. See Rom. 9.
John 3:33, 34. He that hath received his testimony.…for God giveth not the Spirit by measure.—Aorist: ὁ λαβών. And this doubtless with special reference to such disciples of John as had gone to Christ; commending them, and recommending imitation. Hath set his seal, hath sealed. A tropical term, denoting generally in the Old Testament fastening up, in the New rather complete authentication; affixing the signature of execution, John 6:27; Rom. 4:11, etc. In Christ the truth of God as revelation is completed, 2 Cor. 1:20; by the believing confession of Him this fact, that the truth of God has proved itself perfect, is attested, sealed. How far? The answer to this question depends on the right interpretation of the two following verses. (a) If v. 34 refer to Christ, the syllogism is this; Christ as the messenger of God speaks the words of God, because God has given to Him the Spirit not by measure, but in immeasurable fulness (Lücke, De Wette);
he, therefore, who acknowledges the word of Christ to be true, acknowledges the word of God himself; he who believes not Christ, makes God a liar. (b) But the 34th verse may refer, to the prophets, summed up and represented in John: The messenger of God speaks the words of God, for God gives his Spirit copiously enough for this; he, therefore, who accepts not Christ, denies, in the Fulfiller of the testimony of the prophets, the word of God also in that testimony itself, or rather he necessitates the inference, that God promised that the Messiah should come, and has not kept His word, or that in His different revelations He has contradicted Himself. (c) Then again these opposite interpretations may be modified. The first interpretation thus, according to Meyer: ‘Whom God hath sent,’ fits not every prophet, but Christ alone, according to John 3:31, in view of His mission from heaven. On the other hand, the οὐ γὰρ ἐκ μέτρου, expressing a general truth, should not be referred primarily to Christ; else αὐτῷ must have been added. The statement is, that God gives the Spirit in general, not ἐκ μέτρου, but regardless of μέτρον, to one more, to another less, yet to every one enough for inspiration; whence it follows that Christ is the most richly endowed (ἐκ denoting the norm). Yet the more to one and less to another may be given in limited measure, and it is a preliminary question whether the μέτρον should mean a general proportion for all, or a limited measure for each individual. The passage in Vajikra rabba Sectio 15 (cited by Lücke and others): “Eliam spiritus sanctus non habitavit super prophetas, nisi mensura quadam (במשקל); quidam enim librum unum, quidam duos vaticiniorum ediderunt”—speaks not of a proportion, but of limited portions for different individuals. If now the expression be referred to the prophets, it cannot mean; God gives the Spirit immeasurably. If we would refer it directly to Christ, αὐτῷ is wanting. But we may take the expression as a motto of the New Testament age which has now opened. God, now gives the Spirit, and gives it not according to a limited measure (Joel 2; Acts 2).—Not by measure. Gerlach: “Perhaps this is an allusion to the fact that the priests were only sprinkled with the anointing oil, while upon the head of the high-priest the whole of the oil was poured, Exod. 29:7; Ps. 133:2.” From this it is clear that He whom now pre-eminently God hath sent, Christ, speaketh τὰ ῥήματα (not only ῥήματα), τοῦ θεοῦ i. e., all the words of God, the entire revelation, which has hitherto been spoken only piecemeal (see John 1:17, 18; Heb. 1:1). This the believer seals. He attests it with the confidence of the confessor and martyr, as it is attested to him in his heart. The second interpretation is modified by referring the messenger of God [John 3:34] to the prophetic office, as represented by John, and then taking the sentence about the Spirit thus: In this day, wherein God gives the Messiah the fulness of the Spirit, the Baptist also has his share in the abundance (see the history of the Baptism of Jesus). Then with this John Christ is compared, as described in John 3:35. In favor of this antithesis are the facts, (1) that John here still appears as pre-eminently the ἀπεσταλμένος; [ch. 1:6], Christ as the ἐρχόμενος; (2) that it is said in John 3:34: ὁ θεὸς ἀπέστειλεν, in John 3:35; ὁ πατὴρ ἀγαπᾷ; (3) that here the λαλεῖν (not εἰπεῖν) of the ῥήματα θεοῦ is set against the fact that all things are given into the hands of Christ.
The result is, we find ourselves compelled to decide for the second explanation of the difficult passage: The last messenger, in virtue of his participation in the New Testament advent of the Spirit, speaks the prophetic words of God as such (in distinction from fact); the Son presents Himself as the fulfilment of these words in fact. He, therefore, who receives Him, seals that God in His prophetic words (spoken by the Baptist) is true. He who disavows Christ, disavows, therefore, His fore-runner also. A good disciple of John must become a disciple of Christ.
John 3:35. Loveth the Son.—Emphatic: in singular manner. This love is the cause of the glorifying of the Son. All things: not to be qualified (Grotius: Omnia mysteria regni; Kuinoel: Doctrinæ partes). Matth. 11:27; 28:18; John 13:3.—Into his hand.—Strictly: in his hand [ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ] Pregnant diction: so into His hand, that they are in His hand (Winer, p. 385).
John 3:36. He that believeth in the Son.—The Baptist concludes his prophetic preaching with the great alternative, which Christ also pronounces in John 3:18, and at His departure from the earth.—Everlasting life, see John 3:15. Hath.—It is noteworthy that this inwardness of the eternal life was already recognized by the Baptist.—He who is not obedient in faith to the Son, άπειθῶν; not: believeth not (Luther [and the E. V.]),63 but is disobedient; meaning, however, as standing opposed to faith, the refusal of the obedience of faith. In faith lies the moral kernel of obedience veiled in love, peace, joy; hence ὁ πιστεύων. Out of unbelief disobedience, or even ἀνομία, as a moral worm comes forth openly; hence ἀπειθῶν. Meyer: “Disobedient to the Son, inasmuch as He requires faith.” Right, but not enough. Tholuck: Ἀπειθεῖν alternates with ἀπιστεῖν, Rom. 11:30.—Shall not see life.—With the everlasting life he fails of life in general; he shall not even see it, to say nothing of having it. But the wrath of God.—Neither punishment on the one hand, nor a holy passion on the other, but the righteousness of God combined with His veiled jealousy in its visitation of judgment, Rom. 1:18; Eph. 2:3; Matth. 3:7. Abideth on him; in proportion as his unbelief is incorrigible (strictly: abideth towards him; pressing more and more strongly upon him). The effect of the ὁργή is θάνατος. [The μένει implies, that we are by nature in a state of condemnation; comp. τέκνα φύσει ὀργῆς, Eph. 2:3; John 3:6.—P. S.]
A worthy closing word of the Old Testament; the last peal of the thunder of the law; the farewell of the Baptist. For what he afterwards says to Herod, he says as teacher, not as prophet; and the question with which he sends his disciples to Christ, is the question of a tempted, believing man.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. The first ministry of the Lord in the Judean country, a counterpart of His last public ministry in. the temple on Zion from the triumphal entry to the Tuesday evening (see Com. on Matt. on John 21:12–14, p. 379); in that in the first cases the hostility of the rulers of the Jews had not yet broken out, in the last case it seemed vanquished by the hosanna of a believing people. Hence here a preliminary baptizing finds place, there a teaching and healing in the temple. And the cessation of baptism in the Jewish country is a prelude of the final departure of Jesus from the temple (Matth. 23)
2. The baptizing of Jesus through His disciples a connecting link between the New Testament baptism of the Spirit and the baptism of John, as John’s baptism was a connecting link between the Old Testament washing and circumcision, and the baptism of Christ.
3. The last prophetic testimony to Christ given by the Baptist in his glory and in elevation above his last struggle [Matth. 11]; the last flash, so to speak, of the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament itself, and a testimony to the higher glory of the New.
4. The symbol of the intimate relation, the betrothal between Jehovah and His people (Ps. 45; Song of Solomon; Is. 54; 62; Ezek. 16:8; 23; Hos. 2:19) finds its fulfilment in the bridal relations between Christ and the church coming forth to meet Him. It belonged to the office of the Baptist to complete this prophecy in the most concrete vivid form. Christ on His part has taken up the word in the most varied applications, first to the disciples of John himself (Matth. 9:15), and afterwards throughout the whole New Testament, 1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:23; Rev. 21:9, The love of the bride is the symbol of the life of the Spirit. Plato’s Symposion is a heathen parallel to the Song of Solomon.
5. The perpetual force of the maxim: He must increase, but I must decrease.
6. So far as in him lay, John sent all his disciples forward to Christ, and pointed all the Jews to Him. Not only most of the Jews, however, but even many of John’s disciples failed to come up to the word of the prophet, and fell under the condemnation pronounced by him. On the disciples of John see Gieseler, Kirchengeschichte, I., p. 69 [Edinb. ed. I., 58].
7. Both of the glory of Christ, and of the condemnation, John speaks in a more Old Testament way than Christ Himself (comp. John 3:35 and 13; John 3:36 and 18); quite in keeping with his mission. His last word is a last thunder-clap from Sinai and a last lightning-flash of Elijah, prophesying of the baptism of fire (Matth. 3) and the flames of the judgment of the world (2 Pet. 3:10).
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
A series of separate themes in the sentences of the Baptist, John 3:27, 29, 30, 31 sqq.—The baptism of Jesus by the side of the baptism of John, the gradual transfer of the Old Testament order of things into the church of Christ.—Relation of the baptism of Jesus to the baptism of John: (1) Points in common; (2) points of difference.—.The harmony between John and Christ, and the dissension between their disciples, the living type of a primeval and a constantly repeated history (see Gen. 13:7).—Two divided purification or reformation churches, to be united by being pointed from men to the Lord.—The jealousy of the disciples and the purity of the Master.—The last testimony of the Baptist concerning Christ, an expression at once of the highest, gentlest love and the mightiest wrath.—Christ the Bridegroom of the bride: (1) Adorned to be such by the election of God; (2) recognized as such by the greeting of the bride; (3) honored as such by the wooer and friend; (4) proved such by His fidelity and glory.—The word of the Baptist: He must increase, but I must decrease, in its application to the natural life (1) of the world, (2) of the church, (3) of the Christian.—Christ the Witness from heaven.—Faith in Christ, a sealing of all the words of God in the Old Testament. Truth is the unity of correlative opposites.—Without faith in the truth of God, we cannot perceive the unity in the great distinction between the Old Testament and the New.—With the New Testament the Jews lost also the truth of the Old.—With their acknowledgment of the Old Testament, Christians may also obscure the truth of the New.—The life of faith a moral life on a heavenly scale: (1) Faith, an obedience rising into free, blissful confidence, and veiled in it; (2) Unbelief, a moral disobedience (immorality) in naked, open deformity.—The wrath of God, the jealousy of rejected love, i. e., a full tide of gracious operation, changed by the unbelief of the man himself into judgment. See Rom. 2:5.—Jesus in the Judean country, or an effort in hope to lead the people of Israel over by gentle ways into the new covenant (comp. Gen. 5:5).—The two baptizers together.—Religious controversy in its bad and its good operation (the words of the disciples of John, and the words of their master).—The word of the disciples: All men come to Him, and the word of the master; No man receiveth His testimony.—Only what is given him from heaven can a man truly take to himself: (1) What he usurps is given him in wrath, and received to condemnation; (2) what is given to him is forever his own.—He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; or, the life of Christendom a testimony to Christ.—The wedding of the Son.—The friend of the bridegroom, in His behaviour, an example for guidance and warning, to bishops, ministers, divines.—The decreasing of the Baptist, his increase.—The man of the earth, and the Man from heaven above all.—The believer, a witness of God attested by God.—Christ the seal of the word of God, manifest in the burning seal of living Christian hearts, 2 Cor. 1:20; Rev. 3:14.—The outpouring of the Spirit without measure.—The Father, the Son, the Spirit.—The last word of the Baptist concerning the Son: (1) What the Son is; (2) what He has; (3) what He gives; (4) what He is worth [John 3:34–36].
STARKE: Nova Bibl. Tub.: Premature zeal, envy, dependence on human authority, and self-interest: O how much harm they do!—CANSTEIN: Satan and his tools know too well how much depends on the unity of Christians; hence they take special pains to make schism of every kind among them, Gal. 5:20.—MAJUS: It is dangerous for hearers to flatter their teachers.—People must not hang with sinful passion upon a teacher who is renowned.—As the peace-makers are called the children of God, so the instigators of division are justly called children of the devil.—HEDINGER: The office of the preacher and its profitable success come from God.—We men have nothing from ourselves, but everything from heaven; therefore should we ascribe nothing to ourselves, but everything to God alone, and thank Him for it, 1 Cor. 4:7.—OSIANDER: He who attempts high things, to which he is not called of God, spends all his care and labor in vain, and comes to shame at last, as the examples of Absalom, Theudas, Judas of Galilee, and others, prove, Sirach 3:23.—HEDINGER: Let no man thrust himself into an office, without the will of God.—QUESNEL: Every calling, every grace (gift) has certain limits above which no man may elevate himself.—He who purely and steadfastly preaches Christ, may appeal to the testimony of his hearers.—A servant of the church, though in high office, has yet more cause to be humble than to be exalted.—Servants of God justly rejoice, when they can lead many souls to the Lord.—Moon and stars, are lost when the sun rises; so with me, when the Sun of Righteousness appears.—HEDINGER: Christ, the Alpha and Omega, should be all; we instruments are nothing.—CANSTEIN: Because all ministers are men, their word must be tested by the doctrine of Christ.—Christ’s testimony is the whole counsel of God for our salvation.—Christ spoke the word, or proclaimed the counsel of God, as the personal and independent Word of God.—MAJUS: The believer may verily be sure of his salvation, because he already has eternal life, though in the world he still is subject to much suffering.—CANSTEIN: Unbelief, the cause of condemnation, because it rejects the means by which the wrath of God might be averted.
GOSSNER: Eternal life is given to the believer from the hour he believes. He need not wait for it; he has it already here.—BRAUNE: As a man stands towards the Saviour, so stands he towards God and the gift of God, eternal life.—SCHLEIFRMACHER: It is an old fault, which reappears continually in a multitude of forms, and even in the Christian church,—the strong disposition of men to believe in a man.—And how does God give from heaven, what He gives to a man? Surely not otherwise than through the man’s own conduct and that of other men. So long then as our own conduct is in contradiction with the divine working, we should not console ourselves with the knowledge that a man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven, but do our utmost to find out what and how much is given us from heaven.—That John must decrease, and the Lord increase,—this is the true relation between the old covenant and the new, between every imperfect worship of God, every other less firmly closed relation of men to Him, and that which is offered in Christ.—SCHENKEL: Our future welfare rests not on man, but on Christ: (1) Not on the word of man, but on the Gospel of Christ; (2) not on the work of man, but on the atoning work of Christ; (3) not on the name of man, but on the glorious name of Christ.
HEUBNER: True calling comes only from God, from Him alone success; the rise and fall of human names, success and failure, are matters of divine control.—(From ZINZENDORF): When souls depend on men, etc., they are in most cases betrayed. Then when one such poor man comes to confusion, they are all confounded; when he is taken suddenly from them, they are all lost.—How rarely are men like John! Often the later exalt themselves over the earlier, pupils above masters; and how men envy, attack, belittle the greater merit! Men will not see others, especially their followers, outstrip them (true, alas, peculiarly of Germany, and to not the least extent of Evangelical theologians and clergy men).—Hath set his seal: Every believer is a living attestation of the true God himself. What honor, to confirm the truth of God to others!—God gives not the Spirit by measure. All, even the most gifted, are capable of growing in the Spirit in infinitum.—The guilt of rejecting divine grace leaves in the heart of the unbeliever nothing but the sense of an angry God. Conscience is the preacher of this wrath (yet the wrath manifests itself especially in swelling judgments against the unbeliever).
John 3:23. [The art. ὁ before Ἰωάννης is wanting in א. B. and omitted by Tischend., bracketed by Alf.—P. S.]
John 3:25. [ἐγένετο οὖν ζήτησις ἐκ τῶν μαθητῶν Ἰωάννπυ μετὰ Ἰουδααίου. The singular is strongly sustained by א. c A. B. L., etc., and adopted by Tischend., Treg., Alf,, W. and H., against the text. rec. Ἰουδαίων which is supported by א.* G., etc. Meyer: Der Plural bot sich mechanisch dar, viz., to conform to μαθητῶν.—P. S.]
John 3:31 [ὁ ὤν ἐκ τῆς γῆς ἐκ τῆς γῆς ἐστίν, is apparently tautological, but the difference lies in the emphasis: to the origin of a man corresponds his character.—P. S.]
John 3:31. [The second ἐπάνω πάντων ἐστίν is omitted by א.* D. and Tischend. (ed. VIII), supported by א.c A. B.L. and retained by Treg., Alf., Westc. and H. (in brackets), Meyer, Lange.—P. S.]
John 3:32. [The καὶ is wanting in several codd., also in B. L. al. which retain the second ἐπάνω πάντων ἐστίν, and is omitted by Tischend., Alf., Treg., W. and H.—P. S.]
John 3:34. O̓ θεός is wanting in B. and in other considerable codd. [א. C.1 L., omitted by Tischend, Alf., etc.—P. S.]
John 3:34. [The A. V., with many commentators, refers the passage to Christ, and hence supplies αὐτῷ. But the sentence is general in its character, hence the present δίδωσι. Christ had already received the fulness of the Spirit in baptism.—P. S.]
[This view is held by Dr. Thomson (The Land and the Book, II., 176). He visited Beisân (Scythopolis) and the neighborhood, and represents the valley there as abounding in fountains and brooks and as one of the most fertile in Palestine; yet he found no traces of the name. “The lovely valley of Jezreel,” he says, “irrigated by the Jalûd, and the Ghor Beisan below, watered in every part by many fertilizing streams, are capable of sustaining a little nation in and of themselves. Besides, Beisan is the natural highway from Bashan and the east to the sea-board at Haifa and Acre, and also to southern Palestine and Egypt. The Ghor once teemed with inhabitants, as is evident from ruined sites, and from tells too old for ruins, which are scattered over the plain. I took down their names as now known to the Arabs, but none of them have any historic significance. Of Salim and Enon, which must have been in the ghor at no great distance, I could hear nothing.”—P. S.]
[So also Hengstenberg, I., 221. The Alex Codex of the Sept. renders the three names of places in Jos. 15, Σελεεὶμ καὶ Ἀὶν καὶ Ρεμμών. In Neh. 11:29 the last two names are combined in En-rimmon. The southern country was very dry, a continuation of the Arabian desert. Hence the remark, “there was much water there,” which would be rather superfluous if applied to a place in Galilee or on the banks of the Jordan, receives its full meaning. Yet this holds good also of Dr. Lange’s view, who, with Robinson, locates Salem near Nablus.—P. S.]
[Hengstenberg also (I. 232 f.) sees in the whole passage, and especially in the voice of the beloved, and the friend of the bridegroom, clear allusions to Cant. 2:8; 5:2.—P. S.]
[Alford likwise ascribes the last verses to the Baptist, and urges the inner coherence of the discourse itself, in which John explains to his disciples the reason why Christ must increase and throw his own dignity into the shade.—P. S.]
[Alford defends the E. V.: “ἀπειθῶν may mean disbelieving. Unbelief implies disobedience.”—P. E.]