1:12 But to all who have received him – those who believe in his name 1 – he has given the right to become God’s children 1:13 – children not born 2 by human parents 3 or by human desire 4 or a husband’s 5 decision, 6 but by God.
3:3 Jesus replied, 7 “I tell you the solemn truth, 8 unless a person is born from above, 9 he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 10 3:4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?” 11
3:5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, 12 unless a person is born of water and spirit, 13 he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 3:6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, 14 and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
[1:12] 1 tn On the use of the πιστεύω + εἰς (pisteuw + ei") construction in John: The verb πιστεύω occurs 98 times in John (compared to 11 times in Matthew, 14 times in Mark [including the longer ending], and 9 times in Luke). One of the unsolved mysteries is why the corresponding noun form πίστις (pistis) is never used at all. Many have held the noun was in use in some pre-Gnostic sects and this rendered it suspect for John. It might also be that for John, faith was an activity, something that men do (cf. W. Turner, “Believing and Everlasting Life – A Johannine Inquiry,” ExpTim 64 [1952/53]: 50-52). John uses πιστεύω in 4 major ways: (1) of believing facts, reports, etc., 12 times; (2) of believing people (or the scriptures), 19 times; (3) of believing “in” Christ” (πιστεύω + εἰς + acc.), 36 times; (4) used absolutely without any person or object specified, 30 times (the one remaining passage is 2:24, where Jesus refused to “trust” himself to certain individuals). Of these, the most significant is the use of πιστεύω with εἰς + accusative. It is not unlike the Pauline ἐν Χριστῷ (en Cristw) formula. Some have argued that this points to a Hebrew (more likely Aramaic) original behind the Fourth Gospel. But it probably indicates something else, as C. H. Dodd observed: “πιστεύειν with the dative so inevitably connoted simple credence, in the sense of an intellectual judgment, that the moral element of personal trust or reliance inherent in the Hebrew or Aramaic phrase – an element integral to the primitive Christian conception of faith in Christ – needed to be otherwise expressed” (The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, 183).
[1:13] 3 tn Grk “of blood(s).” The plural αἱμάτων (Jaimatwn) has seemed a problem to many interpreters. At least some sources in antiquity imply that blood was thought of as being important in the development of the fetus during its time in the womb: thus Wis 7:1: “in the womb of a mother I was molded into flesh, within the period of 10 months, compacted with blood, from the seed of a man and the pleasure of marriage.” In John 1:13, the plural αἱμάτων may imply the action of both parents. It may also refer to the “genetic” contribution of both parents, and so be equivalent to “human descent” (see BDAG 26 s.v. αἷμα 1.a). E. C. Hoskyns thinks John could not have used the singular here because Christians are in fact ‘begotten’ by the blood of Christ (The Fourth Gospel, 143), although the context would seem to make it clear that the blood in question is something other than the blood of Christ.
[1:13] 4 tn Or “of the will of the flesh.” The phrase οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος σαρκός (oude ek qelhmato" sarko") is more clearly a reference to sexual desire, but it should be noted that σάρξ (sarx) in John does not convey the evil sense common in Pauline usage. For John it refers to the physical nature in its weakness rather than in its sinfulness. There is no clearer confirmation of this than the immediately following verse, where the λόγος (logos) became σάρξ.
[1:13] 6 tn The third phrase, οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρός (oude ek qelhmato" andros), means much the same as the second one. The word here (ἀνηρ, anhr) is often used for a husband, resulting in the translation “or a husband’s decision,” or more generally, “or of any human volition whatsoever.” L. Morris may be right when he sees here an emphasis directed at the Jewish pride in race and patriarchal ancestry, although such a specific reference is difficult to prove (John [NICNT], 101).
[3:3] 9 tn The word ἄνωθεν (anwqen) has a double meaning, either “again” (in which case it is synonymous with παλίν [palin]) or “from above” (BDAG 92 s.v. ἄνωθεν). This is a favorite technique of the author of the Fourth Gospel, and it is lost in almost all translations at this point. John uses the word 5 times, in 3:3, 7; 3:31; 19:11 and 23. In the latter 3 cases the context makes clear that it means “from above.” Here (3:3, 7) it could mean either, but the primary meaning intended by Jesus is “from above.” Nicodemus apparently understood it the other way, which explains his reply, “How can a man be born when he is old? He can’t enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born, can he?” The author uses the technique of the “misunderstood question” often to bring out a particularly important point: Jesus says something which is misunderstood by the disciples or (as here) someone else, which then gives Jesus the opportunity to explain more fully and in more detail what he really meant.
[3:3] 10 sn What does Jesus’ statement about not being able to see the kingdom of God mean within the framework of John’s Gospel? John uses the word kingdom (βασιλεία, basileia) only 5 times (3:3, 5; 18:36 [3x]). Only here is it qualified with the phrase of God. The fact that John does not stress the concept of the kingdom of God does not mean it is absent from his theology, however. Remember the messianic implications found in John 2, both the wedding and miracle at Cana and the cleansing of the temple. For Nicodemus, the term must surely have brought to mind the messianic kingdom which Messiah was supposed to bring. But Nicodemus had missed precisely this point about who Jesus was. It was the Messiah himself with whom Nicodemus was speaking. Whatever Nicodemus understood, it is clear that the point is this: He misunderstood Jesus’ words. He over-literalized them, and thought Jesus was talking about repeated physical birth, when he was in fact referring to new spiritual birth.
[3:5] sn Jesus’ somewhat enigmatic statement points to the necessity of being born “from above,” because water and wind/spirit/Spirit come from above. Isaiah 44:3-5 and Ezek 37:9-10 are pertinent examples of water and wind as life-giving symbols of the Spirit of God in his work among people. Both occur in contexts that deal with the future restoration of Israel as a nation prior to the establishment of the messianic kingdom. It is therefore particularly appropriate that Jesus should introduce them in a conversation about entering the kingdom of God. Note that the Greek word πνεύματος is anarthrous (has no article) in v. 5. This does not mean that spirit in the verse should be read as a direct reference to the Holy Spirit, but that both water and wind are figures (based on passages in the OT, which Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel should have known) that represent the regenerating work of the Spirit in the lives of men and women.
[3:6] 14 sn What is born of the flesh is flesh, i.e., what is born of physical heritage is physical. (It is interesting to compare this terminology with that of the dialogue in John 4, especially 4:23, 24.) For John the “flesh” (σάρξ, sarx) emphasizes merely the weakness and mortality of the creature – a neutral term, not necessarily sinful as in Paul. This is confirmed by the reference in John 1:14 to the Logos becoming “flesh.” The author avoids associating sinfulness with the incarnate Christ.