Nicodemus

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      James
      Keymaster

      Most translations of John 3:2 miss something important. When one understands what being Born-Again really means, surely Jesus couldn’t have said something so absurd. Various translations quote Jesus as saying things like, “Don’t be surprised when I say you must be born again” or “Don’t be amazed or astonished that I have told you that you must be born again.” Occasionally someone translates it, “Don’t wonder that I said…” The King James Version says, “Marvel not…” It’s as if many years ago someone mistranslated this verse along these lines and everyone since then has simply followed suit, instead of thinking it through, or asking the Holy Spirit if Jesus could have really said this. It’s like translators have tunnel vision and can’t see any other possibilities.

      Notice in this passage that Nicodemus acknowledges Who Jesus is. He has heard Jesus speak. He’s heard others talking about what Jesus has been saying. So, like He always did, Jesus jumped straight to the point and told him that he must be born again. If I had been standing there, I would have been shocked. How am I supposed to do that? But, Nicodemus immediately hits Jesus with two questions.

      The difficulty that Jesus faced was that He was trying to explain a heavenly reality using human words and concepts. Being born again wouldn’t make much sense at that point in history. Such a thing was not only unimaginable, it was impossible. Nicodemus was a respected rabbi. As far as he was concerned, it WAS impossible, so instead of simply believing Jesus, which is all that God ever wants, he challenged Him on that impossibility.  

      Most translators render verse 7 as Jesus saying something like, “You shouldn’t be surprised that I tell you that you have to be born again.” It is amazing to me that they can pass over the first part of that sentence. The Greek text doesn’t say, “Marvel not” or “Don’t be surprised, don’t be amazed, don’t be astonished.” Jesus absolutely would NOT have said, “Don’t be shocked.” It’s ridiculous. Think about it. Being born again is utterly amazing. Wow! Yet, Nicodemus never even paused to consider it.

      My translation and expanded interpretation of the passage in verse 7, in the light of the whole conversation, is as follows. Instead of reading this as, “Don’t be surprised when I tell you that you have to be born again,” I understand Jesus to be saying, “You haven’t stood in awe and first pondered this matter before asking me a bunch of questions. Wow. What are you thinking? Why are you asking more questions? The words I have spoken to you are amazing! Let them sink in. Be amazed. Ponder them. They are full of treasures.”

      What Jesus said was actually a startling correction of this highly educated and respected Pharisee. This guy definitely had a heart for God yet was caught up in the same thinking as many believers today. He was seeking to know and understand before he would even consider believing what Jesus had said. So, rather than answer his question, which would not have helped Nicodemus in the least, Jesus zeroed in on his believing (v.11, 12).

      When Nicodemus ignored what He said and pressed on with another question, Jesus responded, “Nicodemus, you’ve heard what I’ve been saying everywhere, and you are even a teacher of Israel, yet you don’t know these things. But, we’ve been talking about what we know and have seen, and you won’t take our word for it. We’ve been telling you about pretty basic stuff and if you won’t take my word for this, how will you take my word about heavenly things?”

      Most translations report that Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You won’t accept (or receive) our message.” “Accept” is closer to the original, but the Greek word actually means “to take.” This word refers to an act of faith. God says it and we take it because He said it, not because we understand it. And, this was Nicodemus’ problem. His intellect couldn’t handle what Jesus said and he was trying to understand before he was willing to say, “Okay Jesus. If I need to be born again, then how do I do that.” He should have responded like Mary did to Gabriel when she heard she was going to have a child. “How can this be since I don’t yet have a husband?” The angel explained. Then she said, “Okay, let it be so.”

      In short, Jesus went on to tell Nicodemus, “Stop trying to understand. Just agree with me. I promise you’ll understand later. I won’t let you be deceived.”

      Jesus knew that Nicodemus knew the Proverb, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t lean to understanding.” He was telling him to believe. “Nicodemus, I’m giving you treasure. Take it. Hold it close to you and fix your attention on it. It will grow on you.”

      If we insist on understanding before we are willing to say yes to God, it is unlikely we will ever say yes. True understanding comes after saying “yes,” not before.

      If you are interested in the technical aspects of some of my translating of this passage, you can find it at “Surprised” in John 3:7.

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