John 1:19-3:36

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Home > The New Testament > John > Chapters 1b-12 > Chapters 1b-3
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Summary[edit]

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Discussion[edit]

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  • John 2:13-17. Only in John does the “cleansing of the temple” occur at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry: the other three Gospels place it as one of the last of Jesus’ actions before his arrest. This may be because A) there really was only one cleansing, which occurs later, but John mentions it earlier in order to use it as a symbol of Jesus’ entire mission, or B) there were two cleansings: an early one that John describes (but that Jesus “got away with”) and a later one that finally provoked action from the high priest, whose anger toward Jesus had been festering for some time.
  • John 2:23: Passover. The best description of Passover is found in Exodus 12-13 and is celebrated in commemoration of the children of Israel exiting from Israel. It was also celebrated by Joshua and the people of Israel upon entering the land of Canaan (Joshua 5:10-12) connecting it to the arrival of Israel to the Promised Land. In Exodus Passover is portrayed as a family observance taking place primarily in the home. Immediately following the Passover was the seven day feast of unleavened bread and on the seventh day of that feast a pilgrimage to a holy place is made. The two occasions appear to have been separate events, though directly concurrent and related.
In Deuteronomy 16:1-8, Passover becomes an event requiring pilgrimage. "Thou mayest not sacrifice the passover within any of thy agates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee but at the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt." (Deut 16:5-6) It is in this fashion that Hezekiah (2 Chr 30) and Josiah (2 Chr 35:1-19) performed the Passover, and the way in which it appears to have performed in the New Testament. It is this latter procedure which Christ follows in the New Testament and his apparent purpose for coming to Jerusalem during this time. During this time many of the people would have been gathered in Jerusalem and would have been a prime time for ministering.
Passover is an important event, but it is not, as believed by some, the most important event of the year. That distinction belongs more to the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) than to Passover. Even so, Passover plays a prominent role in NT scripture associated with the sacrifice of Christ himself. (see John 13:1; 19:14, 31, 42).
(see Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, ed. David Freedman, pg. 1013-1014).
  • John 3:1: Nicodemus. The name “Nicodemus” means “conqueror” and it was a common name. We know little about Nicodemus. We know that he was a Pharisee because this verse tells that he was. We know that he was some kind of ruler, though we don’t know what kind, because this verse tell us that he was. Many have speculated that Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, but we have little evidence for that speculation and we know little about the Sanhedrin. If he was a member of the Sanhedrin, then he was a member of the ruling body of Jerusalem, a Pharisee, and a teacher (scribe). He was the height of what most people would have taken to be a good Jew, and he probably would be one of those referred to in John 12:42.
  • John 3:1: Man. Notice the use of this term at the end of the previous chapter, John 2:25.
  • John 3:5: Born. The Greek word gennao seems to have a connotation of conversion for Jews.
  • John 3:5: Again. The Greek word anwyen can mean either "above" (particularly relating to God) or "again."
  • John 3:5: Symbolism of water. Water here may refer to a number of scriptural symbolic metaphors: baptism; the fountain of life; the Red Sea and Jordan River, both of which have important symbolic meaning in the Old Testament; water which quenches thirst during a drought; water that causes things to grow; ritual cleansings (incl. Namaan's being healed by bathing in the River Jordan); the waters referred to in creation. See also Ezek 36. This may also be related to mikvah in Judaism.
  • John 3:5: Water and Spirit. Water is an important element in physical birth, so the reference here may be to the birth of our spirit occurring in a way that is analogous to our physical birth. However, scholars seem to favor reading "water and Spirit" together rather than separately. That is, in order to be born from above ("again" in verse 7), one must be born of both water and the Spirit: being born of water and the Spirit is a restatement of being born again. (See this comment on Jim F.'s Sunday school lesson.) This might also be echoing the way that the Spirit of God is described as brooding on the water in the creation account(s).
  • John 3:6: Flesh is flesh. This may just mean "don't set your heart on the world," or this may refer to genealogical superiority as expressed in Matt 3:9 and Luke 3:8. (See also the cross-references in the questions above.)
  • John 3:8: Spirit and wind. The word-play between "spirit" and "wind" (see question above) also seems to be used in Eccl 11:4ff, Isa 44:3-4, and Ezek 37:1-14. The passage in Ecclesiastes seems to emphasize the necessity of faith in the face of uncertainty: a farmer who waits for the perfect moment to plant so the wind won't blow away the seed, may never plant the seed because he is always waiting for the perfect moment!
The wind-spirit word play here may be emphasizing the unpredictability of the Spirit, the idea that no matter how much we study and think and plan, if we are truly to be born again, we must be responsive in the very moment the Spirit calls us, to whatever it calls us to do, no matter how absurd that call may be (e.g. to sacrifice our favorite son like Abraham, or to cut off someone’s head like Nephi, etc.). This seems to complement nicely Paul’s phrase “the law/letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life” in 2 Cor 3:6. There may also be significance to the fact that the Spirit is heard and not seen, since looking for signs is usually set in contrast to those who hearken to the Spirit and exercise faith (see, for example, Alma 32:17ff). Also, this may be an oblique reference to the way in which Elijah and Melchizekek seem to appear and disappear whenever and wherever they want.
  • John 3:13: Interpretational gloss? See comments 8-9 on Jim F.'s Sunday school post regarding the possibility of this being an interpretational gloss.
  • John 3:16, 18: Only begotten. The Greek word, monogenes, translated as "only begotten" in verses 16 and 18 is used to refer to Christ in the New Testament only in the Gospel of John. Elsewhere in the New Testament, as in Luke 8:42, monogenes is used to refer to an only son or daughter. The Greek word carries a strong connotation of uniqueness, and modern translations often used often use "unique son" or "one and only son" in translating these verses. However, the phrase "only begotten son" captures a sense of the Greek that is missing in some of the modern translations. The word monogenes can stand alone, as it does in John 1:14, to mean an only child. By using both monogenes and huios (translated as "son"), John is using redundancy to place an emphasis on the sonship of Jesus. Thus it may be safe to assume that when "only begotten son" is used in modern revelation (often written in an English style patterned after the King James Version) that there is an emphasis on Jesus being the son of God in both a unique and a real sense.

Unanswered questions[edit]

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  • John 2:24-25. What do these two verses mean? It seems to have to do with God knowing the hearts of men, but beyond that, I'm not sure what is really meant.

Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • John 1:47. In verse 1:47 it sounds like GUILE is a negative thing which Nathanael was free of, and yet in verse 46 it sounds like Nathanael was critical of the town of Nazareth and anybody who came from there. Still, in Alma 18:23, it sounds like Ammon's catching Lamoni "with guile" is a bad thing, yet he's doing a good thing in teaching him the gospel. How is GUILE being using here as it applies to Nathanael?
  • John 2:6. What was the water set aside for? Why would the author include this detail?
  • John 2:10. How do the governor’s (i.e. master of ceremonies) words play into the symbolism in verse 6?
  • John 2:11. The author states that this was the beginning of the miracles that Jesus performed. (Note: he does not say that it was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, which, of course, had already begun: Jesus had been baptizing.) How is this an appropriate way and occasion to begin his miracles? Note: Jesus expounds on this theme in Luke 4:26.
  • John 2:14. Why were there merchants selling animals and changing money in the temple?
  • John 2:19. What is significant about Jesus’ comparison of the temple to his body? How is Jesus’ body like the temple in Jerusalem? (See also verse 21.)
  • John 3:1. What do we know about Nicodemus? How does this affect the way we read this story?
  • John 3:2: By night. Why might Nicodemus have come to Jesus by night? Is Jesus doing something during the day that might have made it easier for Nicodemus to come at night? Is Nicodemus doing something during the day that might have made it easier for him to come at night? Might he have been trying to protect himself? Might he have been trying to protect Jesus? Is there any symbolic significance to the fact that Nicodemus came to Jesus out of the night. (Think about other ways that John uses the night in his gospel.)
  • John 3:2: Rabbi. Why does Nicodemus call Jesus “Rabbi”? The word “rabbi” is a transliteration of a Hebrew term meaning “great.” In Jesus’ time it was used as a term of respect and it was primarily applied to the scribes—those who taught from and interpreted the scriptures—by their followers. Thus, “rabbi” was a term of respect that one used for one’s teacher. What is Nicodemus saying by calling Jesus a teacher? Why does Nicodemus us the plural, “we,” rather than the singular, “I”?
  • John 3:2: Miracles. How does Nicodemus claim to know that Jesus has come from God? Do miracles prove that the person who works them has a divine origin? Is it relevant that, during the tempation in the desert, Jesus refused to work miracles as a proof of his divinity and power? Does Nicodemus’s confession help us understand him any better than we might without it?
  • John 3:2: From God. What does Nicodemus mean when he says that Jesus has come from God? How does Jesus give him a different understanding of what it means to come from God?
  • John 3:3: Jesus's response. How do you explain the disconnect between Nicodemus’s greeting in verse 2 and Jesus’ response in this verse? Is he rebuking Nicodemus for misunderstanding Christ’s mission, admiring Christ’s miracles but not seeing that he himself must be born again? Or, is Jesus responding to an unuttered question in Nicodemus’s heart?
  • John 3:3: Verily, verily. Why does Jesus begin what he says with “verily, verily,” or—literally “amen, amen”? The word “amen” is used by both individuals and the community as a whole in the Old Testament, and it is used to confirm the acceptance of a task given to human beings by God (e.g., 1 Kgs 1:36), to confirm the application of a divine curse (e.g., Num 5:22; Deut 27:15ff.; Jer 11:5; and Neh 5:13), and to verify the praise of God (e.g., 1 Chr 16:36 and Neh 8:6). Thus “amen” means that which is sure and valid (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1:335).
  • John 3:3: Again. The Greek word translated “again” could have been translated “from above.” It is an ambiguous word. How does that ambiguity effect the conversation that follows?
  • John 3:3: Kingdom. The Greek word translated “see” could also be translated “know.” As in Matt 3:2, the word translated “kingdom” could also be translated “reign.” How do we know the reign of God? Must we wait for death or the Second Coming? What are the types and shadows on this earth of that reign? What does Jesus tell us must happen for us to know the reign of God?
  • John 3:3: Seeing. Nicodemus has seen Christ’s miracles (verse 2), but he has not seen the Kingdom of God (verse 3). What does that teach us?
  • John 3:4: Nicodemus's misunderstanding. How does Nicodemus misunderstand what Jesus has said to him? What does the sheer grotesqueness of his Nicodemus’s interpretation of Jesus’ remark tell us about Nicodemus?
  • John 3:4: Nicodemus's birth. Did Nicodemus believe that his first birth had conveyed spiritual advantages on him? What have the Pharisees said to John the Baptist about their birth? (Compare Matt 3:7, Luke 3:8, and the JST version of Luke 3:8.) Might that explain Nicodemus’s misunderstanding? If Nicodemus does believe that his first birth gave him a spiritual advantage over others, why would Jesus’ teaching have been shocking?
  • John 3:5: Comparison to verse 3. Are the differences between what Jesus says here and what he said in verse 3 important? Does he say something new here?
  • John 3:5: Born of water. We understand “born of the water” to refer to baptism. To what else might it refer? How would we decide between these possible meanings? Does the fact that what the King James version translates “again” in verse 3 could also have been translated “from above” help us decide? Do we need to decide between them? How is the teaching of this verse connected to John the Baptist’s teaching (Matt 3:11, Mark 1:8, and Luke 3:16)?
  • John 3:5: Begotten? The word “born” can also be translated “begotten”: “Except a man be begotten of water and of the Spirit.” What does it mean to be begotten of the water? of the Spirit? Does Ps 2:7 shed any light on what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus?
  • John 3:5: Cannot enter. “He cannot enter” translates a Greek phrase that means “he has no power to enter.” By what power do we enter the kingdom of God?
  • John 3:5: Enter the kingdom of God. What does it mean to “enter the kingdom of God”? Is there more than one meaning? If you can think of more than one possible meaning, consider each meaning and ask yourself when, according to each meaning, one enters the kingdom or reign of God.
  • John 3:7-8: Thou vs. y'all. Why does Jesus use the plural of “you” rather than its singular in verse 7? (We don’t distinguish the two, but Greek does.) Why does he switch back to the singular “you” in verse 8? How are the ideas of these two verses connected?
  • John 3:7-8: New lineage? We can understand the phrase “be born again” to mean “get a new lineage or genealogy.” What is the genealogy of one born of the Spirit?
  • John 3:7-8: Spirit and wind. In both Aramaic (the everyday language of Palestine during Jesus’ time) and Greek (the language in which the gospel of John was written), the word translated “Spirit” can also be translated “breath” or “wind.” It can refer to the breath of God, given to Adam (Gen 2:7). What does it mean to say that the wind/Spirit/breath goes where it desires or wills? How does the desire of the Spirit differ from the desire of the flesh? How is the nature of the Spirit’s desire relevant to the rebirth that Jesus says must occur?
  • John 3:7-8: Nicodemus's beliefs. What is Jesus teaching Nicodemus? How does that teaching compare to what Nicodemus, as a Pharisee, believed? How does that teaching apply to us? Compare what Jesus says in verse 8 with Eccl 11:5.
  • John 3:9-10: How can these things be? When Nicodemus says “How can these things be?” he is asking “How can this happen?” or “How are these things possible?” What does he find astonishing?
  • John 3:9-10: Teacher and teachee. The word translated “master” might be better translated “teacher.” It is a form of the same word translated “disciple.” The relation between the two words in Greek is comparable to “teacher” and “teachee” in English. Nicodemus has addressed Jesus as a teacher, taking the part of a disciple. Is Jesus doing the same thing here? If not, why does he point out that Nicodemus is a teacher? If he is, why and what does he mean? Where does Jesus suppose that Nicodemus would have learned the things that Jesus is teaching? Does Jesus believe that the teachings he has just rehearsed to Nicodemus are hidden or new? What criticism is Jesus making of Nicodemus by calling him a teacher and asking the question of verse 10? To what does “these things” refer?
  • John 3:9-10: New birth. The idea that the metaphor of birth describes conversion seems to have been part of Jewish thinking at the time of Jesus, as these two sayings from first- or second-century Judaism show: “When someone brings a man under the wings of the Shekinah [i.e., converts him to Judaism], it is counted as though he had created and fashioned and formed him” (from Midrash on the Song of Solomon); also: “A proselyte just converted is like a child just born” (from the Babylonian Talmud; see Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 1:666.) Nicodemus would surely have known this. So what would he have found surprising in Jesus’ teaching? Is it the same thing that the Pharisees who went to John the Baptist found surprising (Matt 3:7, Luke 3:8, Luke 3:8)?
  • John 3:9-10: Astonished at miracles. We can infer from verse 2 that Nicodemus marveled at—was astonished at—the miracles that Jesus performed (cf. Matt 8:27; Matt 9:8, 33; Matt 15:31; Matt 21:20; Mark 2:12; Luke 5:26, Luke 9:43), but Jesus said nothing about that. Here, however, he tells Nicodemus not to marvel: "don’t marvel at the teaching that you must be born again." Why shouldn’t he be astonished at that teaching? Does the story of the tempation of Christ (Matthew 4) perhaps help explain why Jesus has nothing to say about Nicodemus’s astonishment at the miracles but responds to his astonishment at the teaching about spiritual rebirth?
  • John 3:16. "So loved the world" could be read as “loved the world to such a degree” or “loved the world in this way.” What difference does this make?
  • John 3:21: Do works precede conversion? It seems this verse suggests that works precede conversion. That is, the phrase "he that doeth truth cometh to the light" suggests that those that come to the light are those that are already doing what is right (cf. verse 19 where "men loved darkness . . . because their deeds were evil"). Doesn't this suggest a circularity problem regarding conversion, that only those that do good will receive the light, and yet only by receiving the light can we do good (cf. Ether 4:12; see also a similar circularity problem in Alma 36:4-5 regarding Alma's unworthiness and his coming to a knowledge that he was unworthy to receive)?
  • John 3:33. What does this mean "set to his seal that God is true"?

Resources[edit]

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Notes[edit]

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