|Gospel of John|
The first part of the chapter begins with Nicodemus, said to be a member of the ruling council, coming to talk with Jesus, whom he calls Rabbi. Jesus's "miraculous signs" have convinced him that Jesus is "...from God". In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." Nicodemus, confused and skeptical, asks, "How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus then talks of what it means to be born again and the path to heaven. "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." (5-6) Jesus speaks of himself as the Son of Man and how belief in him is the path to eternal life. This is summed up in one of the most famous passages from the bible, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." This chapter is intended to show the importance of the belief in Jesus as the son of God. Jesus is shown here already proclaiming himself the Messiah and laying out aspects of Christian theology, in contrast to Mark for instance, where Jesus seems to try to keep the fact of his divinity secret until his final trip to Jerusalem.
In the second part of the chapter John contrasts Jesus' talk of being born again with a scene of Jesus baptizing. Jesus goes into Judea with his disciples and baptizes. John the Baptist is also baptizing people nearby, at Aenon. John's disciples tell John that Jesus is also baptizing people, more than John it seems. John replies that "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.' The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less." He finishes by saying "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." This passage is meant to show John's acceptance of Jesus's superiority as well as a further emphasis on belief in him as the path to eternal life/heaven.
John was trying to show to his presumably Jewish audience that John himself knew that Jesus was the Messiah and that baptism into Christianity, not John's group, is the true path to God. There is a group still surviving today, the Mandaeans, who claim John as the greatest prophet. Verses 31-36 are largely a restatement of material in the first half. This had led scholars to speculate that this part, and much else in John such as material in chapter 6, 14, 16 and chapter 21 was the work of a redactor who added sections to the original writing to perhaps make it less radical and include material the person thought was left out of the original account.
Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament Doubleday 1997 ISBN 0-385-24767-2
John 3 NIV
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