Skip to main content

John 3:1-21: The Cause of Genuine Faith

Normally I post the text of the passage in the post, but this passage is a little long so I will just link to it, here.

Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus at night. It is hard to say if this was to keep the visit a secret. It may have been. Certainly, as Moloney suggests, it represents movement by Nicodemus from darkness into the light. He was one of those who was attracted to Jesus by his signs. Would it result in genuine faith? We have to wait until later in the narrative to find out, but in the meantime we can learn where true faith springs from.

What did Nicodemus want to ask Jesus? We'll never know, as Jesus cuts him off prior to asking anything.[1] Jesus' response indicates that Nicodemus has misunderstood something. Something is inadequate in his statement in verse 2. What Nicodemus needs is a divine birth, a moral transformation where he shares in God's moral nature.[2] Nicodemus is completely baffled. He thinks Jesus is demanding two births, a physical impossibility. Jesus continues by stressing that he's talking about a different kind of birth all-together, a spiritual birth. Only then can one enter the kingdom of God. God's eschatological salvation will only come to those who possess the Spirit. Jesus expresses his disappointment that one who knew the Scriptures so well could misunderstand him.[3]

Verses 11-12 confirm that there is something inadequate about Nicodemus' faith at the moment.[4] What he failed to understand is that Jesus alone (and presumably those filled with his Spirit) possessed true revelation from God. All encounters with God, whether they be those of Moses or of the various figures like Enoch in apocalyptic literature were qualitatively different than those of the pre-existent Messiah. This means that Jesus alone is authoritative. But the sign of his authority is not what one would expect. His sign will be being placed on a sign, like the bronze serpent.[5] Presumably the resulting salvation of those who place their trust in Jesus also will function as a sign.

Now we come to the most well known passage in the Bible. It was interesting studying it and seeing just how different the meaning is from how it is popularly conceived. If one were to read just verses 16-18 one would get the following picture. Jesus came because of God's love for the world. He did not desire to judge the world but to save it. All one has to do is trust Jesus and she or he will be saved. When we read the following three verses we find that the last sentence needs to be completely revised and we need to fill out the sentence prior a bit more, too. Jesus himself did not come to the world to condemn it. It already stood condemned.[6] It stood condemned because the world was in darkness and was evil, except for a few. Those who were doing good deeds saw Jesus for who he was and had faith. Those who were doing evil rejected him confirming the condemnation that had already been declared. Thus, far from exalting faith alone, this passage fully integrates faith and works or perhaps better put - character - but works are given precedence over faith![7]

[1] This seems to me to be a sure place where editing happened, especially since the words of Jesus don't exactly respond to Nicodemus' earlier comment. They move the discussion onto another plane or dimension.

[2] The way misunderstanding is so heavily relied upon makes me think the NRSV rendering "born from above" is preferable to "born again," which is how Nicodemus understands Jesus. The Greek is ambiguous. Hebrew could not have been here, making it likely (unless Jesus and Nicodemus had this conversation in Greek which is unlikely but not impossible) that this narrative is the invention of the gospel writer (von Wahlde assigns this to the second stage of composition).

[3] Of course one presumes John has Ezekiel 36 in mind here and perhaps channeling that through Jeremiah 31:33-34.

[4] Though certainly he isn't really the target of this critique. It seems to be clearly aimed at those in the synagogue who had interest in Jesus but did not come to full faith.

[5] So, Michaels.

[6] So, Keener, whose comments here and elsewhere in this passage proved immensely helpful to me.

[7] A point Michaels makes clearly.


Popular posts from this blog

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Aquinas and Conclusion

When we reach Aquinas we come to the pinnacle of orthodoxy when it comes to the Trinity and Christology. Christology was important to Aquinas and he dedicated the first fifty-nine questions of Tertia Pars of his Summa Theologiae[1] to the topic. In many ways it is refreshing because he does not treat solely the more philosophical questions of who Jesus was that preoccupied theologians from the third century on. He also spent extended time on Jesus earthly ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification which was a major innovation.[2] Of course every possible topic of Trinitarian and ontological speculation is also probed. For the sake of space we will only hit some highlights.

Aquinas is clearly in step with the tradition that can be traced from Nicea, through Augustine and the Lombard, to the heart of the Middle Ages. One thing to briefly note is that even in his densest argumentation, Aquinas was not trying to prove elements of his theology via rational argument as that…

Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Irenaeus

Starting from Irenaeus, Christology, in some respects, moves on. A big part of this would have been due to the “gnostic” controversies. It became increasingly important to clarify the relationship between Father and Son and to minimize their distinctiveness, while still maintaining Jesus’ full humanity. From this point on, clashes over heresy about the nature of Christ and discussions related to Trinitarian theology dominate Christological discussion to the point that the original emphasis on Jesus’ Messianic identity fades to the background.[1] Maintaining the affirmation that Jesus was both human and divine was critical for Irenaeus and those after him because they saw that as the necessary grounds of salvation.[2]

Of particular interest to Irenaeus was the baptism of Jesus. What happened when he received the Spirit?[3] It was not the means by which the Word entered Jesus. He was not merely human before that point.[4] Rather it was a divinization of the human nature of Jesus, a nat…

End of Summer Review/Update

The school year is now upon us and I'll definitely not be posting the next two months. This summer didn't quite go to plan so I didn't get to do the blogging I was hoping to do. Specifically I was planning on blogging through 2 Thessalonians, but that didn't happen. It may happen late in the fall, but we will see. I may instead decide to pick up a different Pauline letter (perhaps 2 Corinthians). This is my last year of school  and by the fall of next year I should be back on a more regular blogging schedule.

A lack of blogging was not from a lack of productivity (although I'm sure my Pokemon Go playing did cut into my reading time a little bit). I've had a interesting summer learning about Medieval Christianity and specifically focusing on Peter Lombard and Thomas Aqunias. They'll both be featured in my next paper in Exploring the Christian Way which I hope to publish here in late January of 2017. 90% of the reading and 80% of the writing is done for that …