St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
John 3:1-17, “Born from Above”
Sunday, February 24, 2002
This morning, Father Mike Kreutzer led us through John 3:1-17, “Born from Above” which is today’s Gospel reading. Handouts were passed out at the meeting and were used as a guide for the lesson. It was explained that Nicodemus represented a group of Jews who were just starting to believe in Jesus. Mike then began by reading through the verses.
John 3:1-17: 1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
This passage is “the first oral exposition in John of the revelation brought by Jesus, and in capsule form it gives the principal themes of that revelation.” (Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John, I-XII, The Anchor Bible, Volume 29) The scene takes place during the Passover in Jerusalem (cf. 2:23-25). Jesus has been performing signs there even though none of these have been recounted in John. John has just said that Jesus knew what was in people’s hearts, and now he shows that Jesus knows what is in Nicodemus’ heart. Nicodemus serves as an example of one of those Jews who had come to believe that there was something special about Jesus, but only because of the signs they had seen.
Structure: In verses 2, 4 and 9, Nicodemus makes three statements; the first is an implicit question, and the other two are explicit. Jesus responds to each of them with a statement beginning “Very truly, I tell you.” The responses grow in length.
2: “a leader of the Jews” = a member of the Sanhedrin: the highest governing body in Judaism; it consisted of priests (Sadducees), scribes (Pharisees), and lay leaders of the aristocracy, and was presided over by the High Priest
“at night”: important symbol for John. Opposition to Jesus’ early ministry (unlike the Synoptics) is highlighted by John. The use of “night” is symbolically important. Nicodemus was kept “in the dark”.
“come from God”: dual meaning. Jesus was a teacher sent by God but he himself came from God.
2-5: “no one can” // “no one can see the kingdom of God” (vs. 4), “no one can enter the kingdom of God”; “can” is used six times in verse 2-10. Jesus’ reply was a play on Nicodemus’ words.
“anothen”: Greek word meaning “from above” or “again”. Nicodemus was confused from the dual meaning of this word, but the dual meaning does not exist in Aramaic which was most probably the language spoken by Jesus at that time.
“see” (Greek, “idein”) = “experience”
4: Nicodemus’ failure to understand opens the way for Jesus to explain in greater detail
5: “water and Spirit”; reference to baptism and being born from above.
6: “What is born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of Spirit is spirit.” (Johannine dualism). The other Gospels do not use this good vs. evil approach.
7: “Do not be astonished”: an introductory phrase used by the Pharisees. This was a common way of introducing something important.
8: “pneuma” = wind or spirit. This play on words happened to be the same in Greek or Hebrew.
“phone” (Greek) = lit. “voice” or “sound”.
9: last mention of Nicodemus in this scene; he fades back into the night from which he came
11: “speak” (lalein): in the Septuagint, refers to the transmission of the revealed word of God by a prophet; in Acts, refers to the transmission of the gospel; in John, refers to the revelation of the truth from God by Jesus. This was the beginning of Jesus revealing who he is and why he has come.
13: “has ascended”: problematic; ascension has already occurred; in Johannine writings, there is a transcendence of, and certain indifference to, “normal time”
14: reference to Numbers 21:9 ff.: “lifted up” = the first of three (3:14; 8:28; 12:32-34) uses in John; includes entire saving event (“Pascha”). There may be a parallel in the Synoptics with Jesus’ three warnings. The serpent of the wilderness is first mentioned in the Book of Numbers. Later in II Kings the serpent becomes a pagan god.
16: “loved” refers to a supreme act of love
Nicodemus reappears two times in the Gospel according to John:
John 7: 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, 51 “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” 52 They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.” (Note it was mentioned that the Galileans were looked upon in those days as “country bumpkins”.)
John 19: 38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (Finally by the end Nicodemus is willing to step out of darkness and into the light. Once again, the dark/light and day/night symbolism is used.)
The entire story is used extensively during Lent and in preparation for baptism. Mike noted that in paraphrasing from Leonel Mitchell’s book, that Lent is a time of penitence and fasting and a time of renewal. It is a time to mend your hearts and prepare for the Pascal feast. Some additional group discussion followed. There was a question regarding the meaning of Jesus, the son of man. One interpretation is to mean that he was just an “ordinary guy” or it could refer to his role at the end of time. Then the question arose as to whether Nicodemus may have been a real person or not. After all, there was no one there taking notes while he and Jesus spoke with one another. One explanation is that the Evangelist may have created the specific character to portray Jesus’ interactions with others. There are many passages and parallelisms in the Bible that cannot be directly explained. It was also mentioned that even different versions of the Bible available today, can offer slightly different meanings and interpretations to some of the verses.