Nicodemus the Man

June 3, 2015

Good interpreters remind us that the chapter divisions in Scripture are not inspired. They certainly are useful—it’s much easier to find things! But when interpreting the Bible, we shouldn’t make the mistake of stopping or starting at a chapter break without thinking about the connections.

John 2–3 is a case in point.

In John 2, Jesus performs the water-into-wine miracle in Cana, and then goes to Jerusalem and cleanses the temple. These are both “signs” (albeit, of different sorts to our eyes, as the former is what we typify as “miracle,” while the latter is not), and many people believe on Jesus as a result of His signs (2:23).

The word believed in 2:23 is episteusan, from pisteuo, the Greek verb corresponding to pistis, the noun we generally render faith. Over against their believing in Him, however, John 2:24 says that Jesus did not “believe in them” (ouk episteuen … autois), did not entrust Himself to them. Another way of saying that is that He didn’t (yet) count them faithful.

Why? Because He didn’t need anyone to explain to Him what was in man (tou anthropou); for He Himself knew what was in man (to anthropo).

Straight away at the beginning of chapter 3, we get this: “Now there was a man from the Pharisees, Nicodemus by name….” And then of course, during the interchange between Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus makes it clear that unless “you all” (plural in the first instance) and “a man” (third person singular later on) get born “from above”/”again,” by water and Spirit, there is no seeing or entering the kingdom.

The point is that right at the outset of this new pericope, John’s Gospel relates Nicodemus to the untrustable “man” of 2:24. God has given His Son to take men out of “man” so that His Son can give Himself to them—entrust Himself to them. In order for that to happen, they must be reborn.