Due to the large number of comments on the Share page regarding this verse, I’ve started this post and moved the comments here. Please try to keep the Share page for short questions, links and comments.
Mike Sangrey asked that I put this on the Share page for response:
τὸ πνεῦμα ὅπου θέλει πνεῖ, καὶ τὴν φωνὴν αὐτοῦ ἀκούεις, ἀλλ’ οὐκ οἶδας πόθεν ἔρχεται καὶ ποῦ ὑπάγει· οὕτως ἐστὶν πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος. (SBLGNT)
The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (NET)
Most Bibles translate it, and most people understand it, as saying that this is how people are born of/by/from the Spirit – i.e., the Spirit works like the wind – but the Greek seems to say that people who are born of/by/from the Spirit move and operate like the Spirit moves and operates (i.e., like the wind), not that the Spirit births people the way the wind moves.
That makes no sense to me as an interpretation, but it seems to be the most straightforward reading of the Greek. And if it’s true, then I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has been born of/from/by the Spirit.
EricW asked recently about John 3:8. I’d like to expand the discussion to John 3:1-8 (though we can take all of 3:1-21 into account as needed). EricW inquires about the οὕτως of 3.8: is it saying that everyone born of the Spirit is likewise unpredictable as the Spirit, or is it that the Spirit-birth is unpredictable? [At least, I think that’s his question]
I have my own question on this passage, though. How are we to understand words such as: born, flesh, water, and spirit in this passage? What are the possible interpretations, including the wrong ones Nicodemus might have had?
I’d like for us to look specifically at whether water connects with spirit or with flesh in this passage. I’ve heard convincing arguments both ways.
@EricW. Interesting question. I’m hoping one of the bloggers here can pick this up and cobble together some kind of post to focus our discussion.
Personally, I’ve wondered if there is a solid, semantic connection between verse 8 and 31-34. The entire chapter seems to be a coherent, interpretive unit. Could 31-34 be a further explanation of what 8 is saying? It’s too foggy to me right now, but I think it’s worth exploring.
@Gary, A couple of interesting (at least I find them interesting) and quick thoughts that might play into Eric’s question, too.
1. Apparently, Nicodemus misunderstood. However, Jesus’ expectation was that any “teacher of Israel” should have understood. So, the point Jesus was making appears to be a readily available OT point. This evidence takes some of the wind out of the sails suggesting some esoteric, Christian only, post Acts 2, understanding. That, along with Eric’s observation of the Greek, surprises our theological assumptions.
But, regarding our assumptions, please note that David Ker’s response to Eric concerning a more idiomatic understanding of the Greek can easily be correct. I think I’m much more comfortable exploring out-of-the-box thinking than a lot of people. Just know that because I explore, doesn’t mean I move into a different neighborhood. I hold onto the truth tenaciously; I just do so with an open hand.
2. The passage starts with a “Rabbi, we know that you…” I’ve read something, somewhere about the dialog between Jesus and Nicodemus following a Rabbinical method of argumentation (that is, between two Rabbis). So, this may have been a specific genre that followed a specific protocol. John’s incorporating Nicodemus (a Rabbi) using the address of Rabbi when he started speaking to Jesus, and the phrases like: ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι (Literally: Jesus answering, “Amen, amen, I tell you…”) appear to suggest the protocol.
Eric, your thought seems to me very profound, that believers in Jesus ought to move like the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it should be that just as the HS moves where the HS wills, so believers should move where the HS wills – and not where non-believers can predict.
You may be right. Maybe we’ve wrongly interpreted Jesus’ statement by making it less “spiritual.” I knew of one estoteric/New-Agey type writer who interpreted it that way, with no knowledge of Greek but just from reading the KJV: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” I.e., this is how people born of the Spirit operate.
On the other hand, Nicodemus seems to be asking how one can be born of the Spirit, not what Spirit-born people are like. Actually, though, it’s not totally clear exactly what he’s asking; he asks “How can these things be?” or “How are these things to happen?” – which could include several things.
It’s interesting, per the οὕτως discussion at BBB, that what is perhaps the most commonly cited/used verse in the New Testament (at least at football games) may not be properly understood by most or many Christians, include a lot of us here. Perhaps add John 3:8, too.
EricW: I hope you didn’t mind me summing up your question! I thought I’d do that and save you the trouble, since I had a similar question. Apparently we were both typing at the same time, though.
Mike: As for your first thought, I’m not so sure that Jesus’ response “and you call yourself a teacher of Israel?” necessarily implies that the interpretation was straightforward enough from OT precedent that it would be understood simply on those grounds.
It may be that Jesus thought the Jewish Rabbi Academy of Jerusalem was teaching all the right courses but Nicodemus simply didn’t pass muster in Jesus’ eyes, or it might be that Jesus thought the academy itself didn’t teach anyone properly — perhaps they neglected certain course studies and Jesus was frustrated with what passes for a “teacher of Israel” in general. So, I would be more open to an obscure-to-Nicodemus interpretation, including a post-Christian one.