VINCENT'S WORD STUDIES
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Robertson's Word Pictures in the NT - Greek NT
Named Nicodemus. Literally, Nicodemus, the name unto him. The name means conqueror of the people (nikh, victory, and dhmov, people), though some give it a Hebrew derivation meaning innocent blood.
A ruler. A member of the Sanhedrim.
By night. Through timidity, fearing to compromise his dignity, and possibly his safety. The fact is noticed again, xix. 39 (see on vii. 50). By night, "when Jewish superstition would keep men at home." He could reach Jesus' apartment without being observed by the other inmates of the house, for an outside stair led to the upper room.
Rabbi. The teacher of Israel (ver. 10) addresses Jesus by the title applied by his own disciples to himself - my master (see on i. 38). "We may be sure that a member of the sect that carefully scrutinized the Baptist's credentials (i. 19-24) would not lightly address Jesus by this title of honor, or acknowledge Him as teacher" (Milligan and Moulton).
We know (oidamen). Assured conviction based on Jesus' miracles (see on ii. 24).
Thou art a teacher. According to the Greek order, that thou art come from God as teacher.
From God. These words stand first in the sentence as emphatic. It is from God that thou hast come.
Verily, verily. See on i. 51.
Be born again (gennhqh anwqen). See on Luke i. 3. Literally, from the top (Matt. xxvii. 51). Expositors are divided on the rendering of anwqen, some translating, from above, and others, again or anew. The word is used in the following senses in the New Testament, where it occurs thirteen times:
In favor of the rendering from above, it is urged that it corresponds to John's habitual method of describing the work of spiritual regeneration as a birth from God (i. 13; 1 John iii. 9; iv. 7; v. 1, 4, 8); and further, that it is Paul, and not John, who describes it as a new birth.
In favor of the other rendering, again, it may be said:
Canon Westcott calls attention to the traditional form of the saying in which the word ajnagennasqai, which can only mean reborn, is used as its equivalent. Again, however, does not give the exact force of the word, which is rather as Rev., anew, or afresh. Render, therefore, as Rev., except a man be born anew. The phrase occurs only in John's Gospel.
See (idein). The things of God's kingdom are not apparent to the natural vision. A new power of sight is required, which attaches only to the new man. Compare 1 Cor. ii. 14.
Kingdom of God. See on Luke vi. 20.
Can he (mh dunatai). The interrogative particle anticipates a negative answer. Surely he cannot.
Second time. Nicodemus looks at the subject merely from the physical side. His second time is not the same as Jesus' anew. As Godet remarks, "he does not understand the difference between a second beginning and a different beginning."
Enter into. This more than see (ver. 3). It is to become partaker of; to go in and possess, as the Israelites did Canaan.
Of the flesh (ek thv sarkov). See on ver. 14. John uses the word sarx generally, to express humanity under the conditions of this life (i. 14; 1 John iv. 2, 3, 7; 2 John 7), with sometimes a more definite hint at the sinful and fallible nature of humanity (1 John ii. 16; John viii. 15). Twice, as opposed to pneuma, Spirit (iii. 6; vi. 63).
Of the Spirit (ek tou pneumatov). The Holy Spirit of God, or the principle of life which He imparts. The difference is slight, for the two ideas imply each other; but the latter perhaps is better here, because a little more abstract, and so contrasted with the flesh. Spirit and flesh are the distinguishing principles, the one of the heavenly, the other of the earthly economy.
Where it listeth (opou qelei). On the verb qelw, to will or determine, see on Matt. i. 19. Listeth is old English for pleasure or willeth, from the Anglo-Saxon lust, meaning pleasure. Chaucer has the forms leste, lust, and list.
"Strong was the wyn, and wel to drynke us leste (pleased)." "Canterbury Tales," 752.
"Love if thee lust." "Canterbury Tales," 1185.
"She walketh up and down wher as hire list (wherever she pleases)." "Canterbury Tales," 1054.
" A wretch by fear, not force, like Hannibal, Drives back our troops, and conquers as she lists." Shakespeare, "Henry VI.," Pt. I., 1, 5, 22.
Hence listless is devoid of desire. The statement of Jesus is not meant to be scientifically precise, but is rather thrown into a poetic mold, akin to the familiar expression "free as the wind." Compare 1 Cor. xii. 11; and for the more prosaic description of the course of the wind, see Eccl. i. 6.
Sound (fwnhn). Rev., voice. Used both of articulate and inarticulate utterances, as of the words from heaven at Jesus' baptism and transfiguration (Matt. iii. 17; 2 Pet. i. 17, 18); of the trumpet (Matt. xxiv. 31; 1 Cor. xiv. 8), and of inanimate things in general (1 Corinthians xiv. 17). John the Baptist calls himself fwnh, a voice, and the word is used of the wind, as here, in Acts ii. 6. Of thunder, often in the Revelation (vi. 1; xiv. 2, etc.).
Canst not tell (ouk oidav). Better, as Rev., knowest not. Socrates, (Xenophon's "Memorabilia)," says, "The instruments of the deities you will likewise find imperceptible; for the thunder-bolt, for instance, though it is plain that it is sent from above, and works its will with everything with which it comes in contact, is yet never seen either approaching, or striking, or retreating; the winds, too, are themselves invisible, though their effects are evident to us, and we perceive their course" (iv. 3, 14). Compare Eccl. xi. 5.
So. So the subject of the Spirit's invisible influence gives visible evidence of its power.
Be (genesqai). Literally, come to pass.
Art thou a master of Israel (su ei o didaskalov tou Israhl). The su, thou, is emphatic. A master is more correctly rendered by Rev., the teacher. Not ironical, but the article marks Nicodemus' official relation to the people, and gives additional force to the contrast in the following words. Similarly Plato: "Will you (su, emphatic), O professor of true virtue, pretend that you are justified in this?" ("Crito," 51). On "Israel," see on i. 47. The word occurs four times in John's Gospel; here, i. 31, 47, 49.
Knowest not (ou ginwskeiv). See on ii. 24. Nicodemus is not reproved for the want of previous knowledge, but for the want of perception or understanding when these truths are expounded to him. Rev., better, understandest not.
Testify (marturoumen). Rev., better, bear witness of. See on i. 7.
Earthly things (ta epigeia). Compounded of ejpi, upon, and gh, earth. In Col. iii. 2, the adjective appears in its analyzed form, ta ejpi thv ghv, things on the earth. It is in this literal sense it is to be taken here; not things of earthly nature, but things whose proper place is on earth. Not worldly affairs, nor things sinful, but, on the contrary, "those facts and phenomena of the higher life as a class, which have their seat and manifestation on earth; which belong in their realization to our present existence; which are seen in their consequences, like the issues of birth; which are sensible in their effects, like the action of the wind; which are a beginning and a prophecy, and not a fulfillment" (Westcott). The earthly things would therefore include the phenomena of the new birth.
Heavenly things (ta epourania). Compounded with ejpi, upon or in, and oujranov, heaven. Not holy things as compared with sinful, nor spiritual things as compared with temporal; but things which are in heaven, mysteries of redemption, having their seat in the divine will, realized in the world through the work and death of Jesus Christ and the faith of mankind (v. 14-16). Thus it is said (ver. 13) that the Son of man who is in heaven came down out of heaven, and in vv. 31, 32 that He that cometh out of heaven beareth witness (on earth) of what He has seen and heard; and that, being sent from God, He speaketh the words of God (ver. 34).
It has been urged against the genuineness of the fourth Gospel that the lofty and mystical language which is there ascribed to Jesus is inconsistent with the synoptical reports of His words. That if the one represents truthfully His style of speaking, the other must misrepresent it. Godet's words on this point are worth quoting: "It would be truly curious that the first who should have pointed out that contrast should be the Evangelist himself against whose narrative it has been brought forward as a ground of objection. The author of the fourth Gospel puts these words (iii. 12) into the mouth of Jesus. He there declares that He came down from heaven to bring this divine message to the world. The author of the fourth Gospel was then clearly aware of two ways of teaching adopted by Jesus; the one the usual, in which he explained earthly things, evidently always in their relation to God and His kingdom; the other, which contrasted in many respects with the first, and which Jesus employed only exceptionally, in which He spoke directly, and as a witness, of God and the things of God, always naturally in connection with the fate of mankind. The instructions of the first kind had a more simple, more practical, more varied character. They referred to the different situations of life; it was the exposition of the true moral relations of men to each other, and of men to God.... But in that way Jesus could not attain to the final aim which He sought, the full revelation of the divine mystery, of the plan of salvation. Since His baptism Jesus had heaven constantly open before Him; the decree of salvation was disclosed to Him; He had, in particular, heard these words: 'Thou art my well beloved Son;' He reposed on the Father's bosom, and He could descend and redescend without ceasing into the depths of the Father's fathomless love, of which He felt the vivifying power; and when He came, at certain exceptional moments, to speak of that divine relationship, and to give scope to that fullness of life with which it supplied Him, His language took a peculiar, solemn, mystical, one might even say a heavenly tone; for they were heavenly things which He then revealed. Now such is precisely the character of His language in the fourth Gospel." Compare Luke x. 18, sqq., where Jesus' words take on a character similar to that of His utterances in John.
Hath ascended. Equivalent to hath been in. Jesus says that no one has been in heaven except the Son of man who came down out of heaven; because no man could be in heaven without having ascended thither.
Which is in heaven. Many authorities omit.
Should not perish, but. The best texts omit.
Have eternal life. A characteristic phrase of John for live forever. See vv. 16, 36; v. 24; vi. 40, 47, 54; 1 John iii. 15; v. 12.
The interview with Nicodemus closes with ver. 15; and the succeeding words are John's. This appears from the following facts:
16. The world (kosmon). See on i. 9.
Gave. Rather than sent; emphasizing the idea of sacrifice.
Only-begotten Son. See on i. 14.
Have. See on ver. 15.
This attitude of God toward the world is in suggestive contrast with that in which the gods of paganism are represented.
Thus Juno says to Vulcan:
"Dear son, refrain: it is not well that thus A God should suffer for the sake of men." "Iliad," xxi., 379, 380.
And Apollo to Neptune:
"Thou would'st not deem me wise, should I contend With thee, O Neptune, for the sake of men, Who flourish like the forest-leaves awhile, And feed upon the fruits of earth, and then Decay and perish. Let us quit the field, And leave the combat to the warring hosts." "Iliad," xxi., 461, 467.
Man has no assurance of forgiveness even when he offers the sacrifices in which the gods especially delight. "Man's sin and the divine punishment therefore are certain; forgiveness is uncertain, dependent upon the arbitrary caprice of the gods. Human life is a life without the certainty of grace" (Nagelsbach, "Homerische Theologie"). Mr. Gladstone observes:
"No Homeric deity ever will be found to make a personal sacrifice on behalf of a human client" ("Homer and the Homeric Age," ii. 372).
His Son. The best texts read ton, the, for aujtou, his.
Condemn (krinh). Better, as Rev., judge. Condemn is katakrinw, not used by John (Matt. xx. 18; Mark x. 33, etc.). The verb krinw means, originally, to separate. So Homer, of Ceres separating the grain from the chaff ("Iliad," v. 501). Thence, to distinguish, to pick out, to be of opinion, to judge. See on Hypocrite, Matt. xxiii. 13.
World. The threefold repetition of the word has a certain solemnity. Compare i. 10; xv. 19.
Men (oi anqrwpoi). Literally, the men. Regarded as a class.
Darkness (to skotov). See on i. 5. Rev., correctly, the darkness. John employs this word only here and 1 John i. 6. His usual term is skotia (i. 5; viii. 12; 1 John i. 5, etc.), more commonly describing a state of darkness, than darkness as opposed to light.
Were (hn). Habitually. The imperfect tense marking continuation.
Evil (ponhra). Actively evil. See on Mark vii. 22; Luke iii. 19.
Evil (faula). Rev., ill. A different word from that in the previous verse. Originally, light, paltry, trivial, and so worthless. Evil, therefore, considered on the side of worthlessness. See on Jas. iii. 16.
Lest his works should be reproved (ina mh elegcqh ta erga autou). Rather, in order that his works may not be reproved. Elegcw, rendered reprove, has several phases of meaning. In earlier classical Greek it signifies to disgrace or put to shame. Thus Ulysses, having succeeded in the trial of the bow, says to Telemachus, "the stranger who sits in thy halls disgraces (elegcei) thee not" ("Odyssey, xxi. 424). Then, to cross-examine or question, for the purpose of convincing, convicting, or refuting; to censure, accuse. So Herodotus: "In his reply Alexander became confused, and diverged from the truth, whereon the slaves interposed, confuted his statements (hlegcon, cross-questioned and caught him in falsehood), and told the whole history of the crime" (i. 115). The messenger in the "Antigone" of Sophocles, describing the consternation of the watchmen at finding Polynices' body buried, says: "Evil words were bandied among them, guard accusing (elegcwn) guard" (260). Of arguments, to bring to the proof; prove; prove by a chain of reasoning. It occurs in Pindar in the general sense of to conquer or surpass. "Having descended into the naked race they surpassed (hlegxan) the Grecian band in speed ("Pythia," xi. 75).
In the New Testament it is found in the sense of reprove (Luke iii. 19; 1 Timothy v. 20, etc.). Convince of crime or fault (1 Cor. xiv. 24; Jas. ii. 9). To bring to light or expose by conviction (Jas. iii. 20; Eph. v. 11, 13; John viii. 46; see on that passage). So of the exposure of false teachers, and their refutation (Tit. i. 9, 13; ii. 15). To test and expose with a view to correction, and so, nearly equivalent to chasten (Hebrews xii. 5). The different meanings unite in the word convict. Conviction is the result of examination, testing, argument. The test exposes and demonstrates the error, and refutes it, thus convincing, convicting, and rebuking the subject of it. This conviction issues in chastening, by which the error is corrected and the erring one purified. If the conviction is rejected, it carries with it condemnation and punishment. The man is thus convicted of sin, of right, and of judgment (John xvi. 8). In this passage the evil-doer is represented as avoiding the light which tests, that light which is the offspring of love (Apoc. iii. 19) and the consequent exposure of his error. Compare Eph. v. 13; John i. 9-11. This idea of loving darkness rather than light is graphically treated in Job 24 and runs through vv. 13-17.
In God. The element of holy action. Notice the perfect tense, have been wrought (as Rev.) and abide.
Tarried (dietriben). The verb originally means to rub, hence to wear away, consume; and so of spending or passing time.
Baptized (ebaptizen). The imperfect tense agrees with the idea of tarrying. He continued baptizing during His stay.
Aenon, near to Salim. The situation is a matter of conjecture. The word, Aenon is probably akin to the Hebrew ayin, an eye, a spring. See on James iii. 11.
Much water (udata polla). Literally, many waters. Probably referring to a number of pools or springs.
Came - were baptized. Imperfects. They kept coming.
Question (zhthsiv). Rev., more correctly, questioning. Question would be zhthma, always in the sense of a question in debate. The word here represents the process of inquiry.
Between (ek). Rev., correctly, on the part of. Literally, proceeding from. The rendering of the A.V. does not show with which party the discussion originated. The Greek distinctly states that the question was raised by the disciples of the Baptist.
The Jews. The best texts read Ioudaiou, with a Jew. Possibly one who asserted that John's baptism might now be dispensed with.
Purifying. Probably not about the familiar ceremonial purifications, but as to whether the baptism of Jesus or of John had the greater purifying power.
Baptizeth - come. The present would be better rendered by is baptizing, are coming.
Be given (h dedomenon). Rev., more correctly, have been given.
From heaven. Literally, out of heaven (ek).
Friend of the bridegroom. Or groomsman. The term is appropriate to Judaea, the groomsmen not being customary in Galilee. See Matt. ix. 15, where the phrase children of the bridechamber is used. (See on Mark ii. 19). In Judaea there were two groomsmen, one for the bridegroom, the other for his bride. Before marriage they acted as in