Nicodemus: A Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews, that is, a member of the Sanhedrin. (See Glossary, “Sanhedrin.”) The name Nicodemus, which means “Conqueror of the People,” was well-known among the Greeks and had been adopted by some Jews. Nicodemus is mentioned only in John’s Gospel (Joh 3:4, 9; 7:50; 19:39), and Jesus calls him “a teacher of Israel” at Joh 3:10.—See study note on Joh 19:39.
born again: Jesus reveals to Nicodemus that in order to see the Kingdom of God, a human has to be born a second time. Nicodemus’ response in verse 4 indicates that he understood Jesus’ words to mean experiencing a literal second birth as a human. Jesus, however, goes on to describe this second birth as being “born from . . . spirit.” (Joh 3:5) Those who were “to become God’s children” “were born, not from blood or from a fleshly will or from man’s will, but from God.” (Joh 1:12, 13) At 1Pe 1:3, 23, Peter uses a synonymous Biblical expression, saying that anointed Christians are given “a new birth.” Although most Bibles use the expression “born again,” a number of Bibles say “born from above,” which is also a possible rendering because the Greek word aʹno·then usually means “from above.” (Joh 3:31; 19:11; Jas 1:17; 3:15, 17) Both renderings harmonize with the idea that those who would enter the Kingdom would experience a new birth that is “from God” and thus from above. (1Jo 3:9) But considering Nicodemus’ response, in this context the Greek term has also been understood to mean “again; anew.”
born from water and spirit: Nicodemus was likely familiar with the baptisms performed by John the Baptist. (Mr 1:4-8; Lu 3:16; Joh 1:31-34) So when Jesus spoke about water, it is reasonable to assume that Nicodemus would have discerned that Jesus was referring to water used for baptism. Nicodemus would also have been familiar with the way the Hebrew Scriptures use the term “spirit of God,” that is, God’s active force. (Ge 41:38; Ex 31:3; Nu 11:17; Jg 3:10; 1Sa 10:6; Isa 63:11) Therefore, when Jesus used the word “spirit,” Nicodemus would have understood it to be holy spirit. Jesus’ own experience illustrates the point he made to Nicodemus. When Jesus was baptized in water, holy spirit descended upon him. So he was “born from water and spirit.” (Mt 3:16, 17; Lu 3:21, 22) At that time, God declared that Jesus was his Son, apparently indicating that he had brought forth Jesus as a spiritual son who had the prospect of returning to heaven. A follower of Jesus who is “born from water” is one who has turned away from his former course of life, repented of his sins, and been baptized in water. Those who are born from both “water and spirit” are begotten, or brought forth, by God to be sons of God with the promise of spirit life in the heavens and with the prospect of ruling in the Kingdom of God.—Lu 22:30; Ro 8:14-17, 23; Tit 3:5; Heb 6:4, 5.
spirit: Or “active force.” The Greek word pneuʹma refers here to God’s active force.—See Glossary.
What has been born from the flesh is flesh: The Greek word for “flesh” (sarx) is here used to refer to a living being with fleshly or human heritage, along with its limitations.—See study note on Joh 17:2.
is spirit: Apparently referring to a spiritual son of God, one who is anointed with God’s spirit.
wind . . . spirit: The Greek word pneuʹma, usually rendered “spirit,” occurs twice in this verse. The first occurrence is the only place in the Christian Greek Scriptures where it is rendered “wind,” though the corresponding Hebrew word ruʹach is rendered “wind” some 100 times. (Ge 8:1; Ex 10:13; 1Ki 18:45; Job 21:18; Zec 2:6; see Glossary, “Spirit.”) Both terms generally denote something invisible to the human eye, often giving evidence of force in motion. Jesus uses the expression to teach a deep spiritual truth. At the end of the verse, pneuʹma is used in the expression everyone who has been born from the spirit, that is, who has been begotten by God’s holy spirit, or active force. (See study note on Joh 3:5.) He tells Nicodemus that being “born from the spirit” can be illustrated with the blowing of the wind. Nicodemus could hear, feel, and see the effects of the wind, but he could not understand its source or its final destination. Similarly, those lacking spiritual insight would find it difficult to grasp how Jehovah, by means of his spirit, could cause a person to be born again; nor could they grasp the glorious future that lies ahead for such a person.
Son of man: See study note on Mt 8:20.
so the Son of man must be lifted up: Jesus here likens his being executed on the stake to the placing of the copper serpent on a pole in the wilderness. In order to live, the Israelites bitten by the poisonous serpents had to gaze at the copper serpent put up by Moses. Similarly, sinful humans who desire to gain everlasting life must look intently at Jesus by exercising faith in him. (Nu 21:4-9; Heb 12:2) To many, the fact that Jesus was put to death on a stake made him appear to be an evildoer and a sinner; according to the Mosaic Law, a person hung on a stake was considered cursed. (De 21:22, 23) Quoting from this passage of the Law, Paul explains that Jesus had to be hung on a stake to release the Jews “from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse instead of [them].”—Ga 3:13; 1Pe 2:24.
loved: This is the first occurrence of the Greek verb a·ga·paʹo (“to love”) in the Gospel of John. This Greek verb and the related noun a·gaʹpe (love) are used in his Gospel a total of 44 times—more often than in the other three Gospels combined. In the Bible, a·ga·paʹo and a·gaʹpe often refer to unselfish love guided, or governed, by principle. This is shown by its use in this verse, since God is spoken of as loving the world, that is, the world of mankind in need of redemption from sin. (Joh 1:29) The noun is used at 1Jo 4:8, where John says “God is love.” Love (a·gaʹpe) is listed first as an aspect of “the fruitage of the spirit” (Ga 5:22), and it is described at length at 1Co 13:4-7. The way the word is used in the Scriptures shows that love often involves more than an emotional response to another person. In many contexts, it is broader in scope; this type of love is often expressed more thoughtfully and deliberately. (Mt 5:44; Eph 5:25) Therefore, the love cultivated by Christians should include a moral sense that takes into account duty, principle, and propriety. However, it is not without feeling, since it often includes warm personal affection. (1Pe 1:22) This is shown in the use of the term in John’s Gospel. When John wrote “the Father loves the Son” (Joh 3:35), he used a form of the word a·ga·paʹo, but when he recorded Jesus’ statement describing this same relationship, he used a form of the Greek verb phi·leʹo (“to have affection”).—Joh 5:20.
the world: The Greek word koʹsmos is closely linked with mankind in secular Greek literature and particularly so in the Bible. (See study note on Joh 1:10.) In this context, koʹsmos refers to the entire world of redeemable mankind who at Joh 1:29 are described as being guilty of “sin,” that is, sin inherited from Adam.
only-begotten Son: The Greek word mo·no·ge·nesʹ, traditionally rendered “only-begotten,” has been defined as “the only one of its kind; one and only; unique.” In the apostle John’s writings, this term is exclusively used of Jesus. (Joh 1:14; 3:18; 1Jo 4:9; see study note on Joh 1:14.) Although the other spirit creatures produced by God were called sons, Jesus alone is called the “only-begotten Son.” (Ge 6:2, 4; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:4-7) Jesus, the firstborn Son, was the sole direct creation of his Father, so he was unique, different from all other sons of God. They were created, or begotten, by Jehovah through that firstborn Son. The Greek word mo·no·ge·nesʹ is used in a similar way when Paul says that Isaac was Abraham’s “only-begotten son.” (Heb 11:17) Though Abraham fathered Ishmael by Hagar and several sons by Keturah (Ge 16:15; 25:1, 2; 1Ch 1:28, 32), Isaac was “only-begotten” in a special sense. He was Abraham’s only son by God’s promise as well as the only son of Sarah.—Ge 17:16-19.
exercising faith in him: Lit., “believing into him.” The Greek verb pi·steuʹo (related to the noun piʹstis, generally rendered “faith”) has the basic meaning “to believe; to have faith,” but it can express different shades of meaning, depending on context and grammatical constructions. The meaning of this term often goes beyond mere belief or recognition that someone exists. (Jas 2:19) It includes the idea of faith and trust that lead to obedient action. At Joh 3:16, the Greek verb pi·steuʹo is used together with the preposition eis, “into.” Regarding this Greek phrase, one scholar noted: “Faith is thought of as an activity, as something men do, i.e. putting faith into someone.” (An Introductory Grammar of New Testament Greek, Paul L. Kaufman, 1982, p. 46) Jesus obviously refers to a life characterized by faith, not just a single act of faith. At Joh 3:36, the similar expression “the one who exercises faith in the Son” is contrasted with “the one who disobeys the Son.” Therefore, in that context, “to exercise faith” includes the idea of demonstrating one’s strong beliefs or faith through obedience.
judged: Or “condemned.”—See study note on Joh 3:17.
the light: The first occurrence of “light” in this verse indicates that Jesus personified light in his life and teachings and that he reflected understanding and enlightenment from Jehovah God. Jesus is also figuratively referred to as “the light” at Joh 1:7-9.—For the expression come into the world, see study note on Joh 1:9.
he . . . was baptizing: It seems that the baptizing was done under Jesus’ direction, since Joh 4:2 states that “Jesus himself did no baptizing but his disciples did.”
baptizing: Or “immersing.” The Greek word ba·ptiʹzo means “to dip; to plunge.” The Bible indicates that baptism involves complete immersion. This account tells us that John was baptizing at this location “because there was a great quantity of water there.” (See study note on Aenon in this verse.) When Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, they both “went down into the water.” (Ac 8:38) The same Greek word is used in the Septuagint at 2Ki 5:14 when describing that Naaman “plunged into the Jordan seven times.”
Aenon: A place having a great quantity of water available. It was near the apparently better-known place named Salim. The exact locations of these places are uncertain; however, Eusebius indicates a location in the Jordan Valley about eight Roman miles (12 km; 7.5 mi) S of Scythopolis (Beth-shean). In this area is Tell Ridgha (Tel Shalem), tentatively identified with Salim. Nearby are several springs that might fit Eusebius’ description of the place called Aenon. In the Bible, these two locations, Aenon and Salim, are mentioned only here.
across the Jordan: Or “on the other [eastern] side of the Jordan.” The places mentioned at Joh 3:23, Aenon and Salim, were on the western side of the Jordan, whereas John baptized Jesus at “Bethany across the Jordan,” that is, on the eastern side.—See study note on Joh 1:28 and App. B10.
the friend of the bridegroom: In Bible times, a close acquaintance of the bridegroom acted as his legal representative and played a key role in making arrangements for the marriage. He was viewed as the one who brought the bride and bridegroom together. On the wedding day, the bridal procession would arrive at either the house of the bridegroom or that of his father, where the marriage feast would be held. During this feast, the friend of the bridegroom would be happy when he heard the voice of the bridegroom as he talked with his bride, since the friend would feel that he had successfully done his duty. John the Baptist likened himself to “the friend of the bridegroom.” In this case, Jesus was the bridegroom and the disciples as a class made up his symbolic bride. Preparing the way for the Messiah, John the Baptist introduced the first members of “the bride” to Jesus Christ. (Joh 1:29, 35; 2Co 11:2; Eph 5:22-27; Re 21:2, 9) “The friend of the bridegroom” accomplished his objective by making successful introductions; he was then no longer a principal figure. Likewise, John said of himself in relation to Jesus: “That one must keep on increasing, but I must keep on decreasing.”—Joh 3:30.
The one who comes from above: The words at Joh 3:31-36 seem to be those of the Gospel writer, the apostle John, not a continuation of the quoted words of John the Baptist or a direct quotation of Jesus’ words. The context indicates that Jesus’ words to Nicodemus end at Joh 3:21 and are followed by the apostle John’s narration of events, continuing to Joh 3:25. Beginning at Joh 3:26, a conversation between John the Baptist and his disciples is recorded, and his words to them end at Joh 3:30. Although the words of Joh 3:31-36 are not presented as spoken by Jesus, they undoubtedly represent truths that Jesus taught the apostle John.
has put his seal to it: Or “has confirmed.” The Greek word for “to seal; to put a seal on” is here used figuratively and conveys the idea of confirming a statement as being true, or truthful, just as a seal certifies that a document is authentic. A person who accepts the Messiah’s witness, or testimony, acknowledges that God is true—in this case, regarding his prophetic word about the Messiah.—Compare Ro 3:4.
exercises faith . . . disobeys: See study note on Joh 3:16.