July 23: John 3:5-8, 34 etc

We bring this current series of notes to a close with a brief study on the references to the Spirit in the Gospel and Letters of John. All of these references were discussed previously, at considerable length, in the earlier study series “…Spirit and Life”. Here they will be discussed only briefly, in summary fashion, in terms of the development of traditions regarding the Spirit of God in early Christianity.

This question of development is complicated in the case of the Gospel of John, due to the nature and character of the Discourses of Jesus. On the one hand, the Johannine Discourses are rooted in authentic historical traditions regarding the words and teachings of Jesus; on the other, they also evince signs of having been shaped (and interpreted) within a distinctive literary and theological framework. This framework may be called “Johannine”, referring to the Community of believers within which the Gospel and Letters were produced and disseminated. That there was some definite literary and theological shaping of the Discourses is confirmed by the close similarities in thought and expression—the language, style, etc—between the Discourses and First John.

Thus, insofar as the Discourses reflect the genuine sayings/teaching of Jesus, they represent the beginning of the process of development; insofar as they reflect the Johannine thought-world at the time the Gospel was composed/completed, they represent a relatively late stage in the process. Most (critical) commentators would date the Gospel and Letters to the end of the first century (c. 90-100 A.D.), while the historical traditions drawn upon by the Gospel may have taken shape decades earlier. A proper study of the Discourses requires that both aspects of the critical question be kept clearly in view.

An objective analysis and survey of the references to the Spirit yields the following results:

1. The life-giving character of the Spirit, as symbolized by water. This traditional association of the Spirit with water is used by Jesus in his famous dialogue with Nicodemus (3:5ff), the discourse with the Samaritan woman (4:10-14, 21-24), and his declaration in 7:37-38 (where the Gospel writer explains that this is a reference to the coming of the Spirit, v. 39). The Johannine writings are unique in the way that they specifically associate the Spirit with “water and blood” —that is, the blood of Jesus, meaning his sacrificial death. This can be glimpsed in three passages:

    • The ‘Eucharistic’ allusions in the Bread of Life discourse of chapter 6, with the comparable reference to drinking Jesus’ blood in order to quench one’s thirst—vv. 35, 53-57. In the context of this discourse, we find Jesus’ climactic words to his disciples stating that, in reality, it is the Spirit that gives life (6:63), rather than some sort of concrete (sacramental) eating and drinking, and that this Spirit is communicated to believers through Jesus’ own words.
    • The reference to “blood and water” coming out of Jesus at his death (19:34) must be understood in the context of his allusion to the giving of the Spirit at the moment of his death (v. 30).
    • The famous declaration in 1 John 5:6-8ff; cf. my earlier notes for a detailed study on this passage.

2. The coming of the Spirit as the mark of a ‘New Age’ for the people of God. This is another traditional theme, deriving ostensibly from the Prophetic writings of the 6th century B.C., and continuing down into the New Testament period. According to this line of tradition, in the New Age God will ‘pour out’ his Spirit upon the people as a whole, marking a new and restored relationship (or covenant) with YHWH. We saw how this idea received a unique development among early Christians, expressed throughout the early chapters of the book of Acts, and given an even deeper theological treatment, for example, by Paul in his letters. It may well be that the basic line of interpretation, among the earliest Christians, stems from Jesus’ own teachings, though there is relatively little evidence for this in the Gospels. However, it is certainly suggested by Jesus in his discourse with the Samaritan woman (esp. 4:21-24), as well as by the place of his references to the Spirit within the “realized” eschatology that dominates the Discourses—cf. the following note on the ‘Paraclete’ passages.

3. Jesus as the means by which the Spirit is given to God’s people. This belief regarding Jesus’ role in communicating God’s Spirit is rooted in early Gospel tradition—most notably, the saying of John the Baptist in Mark 1:7-8 par. That saying relates to an identification of Jesus as God’s chosen/anointed representative (Messiah), who will appear at the end of the current Age and usher in the New Age for the people of God. This Messianic association with the Spirit is a bit unusual, but not entirely unprecedented, when one considers the development of Messianic thought from its Prophetic roots, and as it is attested, for example, in a number of the Qumran texts (cf. my earlier article on the Holy Spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls). In the Gospel tradition, the saying of the Baptist is tied to the manifestation of the Spirit during Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:9-11 par)—all of which the Gospel of John records, in its own way (cf. 1:29-34).

Even more significant, along these same lines, are the references to the Spirit in the Discourses. In addition to the ‘Paraclete’ passages of the Last Discourse (cf. the discussion in the note following), we have:

    • The key statement (by the Gospel writer?) in 3:34-35
    • The idea of Jesus giving the Spirit under the symbolic figure of water4:10, 13-14; 7:37-38 (cf. above)
    • The allusion to his giving the Spirit at his death (19:30, cp. verse 34)
    • The giving of the Spirit to his disciples following his resurrection (20:22)
    • The statements in 1 John 3:24; 4:13

4. The role of the Spirit in a “new birth” for believers as sons/children of God. The roots of such birth imagery, in connection with the Spirit of God, are probably to be found (a) in the general sense of the Spirit’s life-giving power (manifest at creation, etc), and (b) the Prophetic imagery that depicted the restoration of God’s people with the motif of new life from the dead (i.e. resurrection, in a figurative sense). Both aspects are naturally tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the resurrection-motif is especially prominent in the Gospel of John (5:25-29; 6:39-40ff; chapter 11 [esp. verses 23-27]).

A comparable matrix of ideas developed around the symbolism of the baptism-ritual, which entailed (i) the believer’s participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and (ii) the life-giving presence of the Spirit. Both of these aspects serve to effect our union with Christ (the Son), and, at the same time, with God the Father. Paul draws out the connection of the Spirit with the divine sonship of believers, in the context of the baptism symbolism, in Galatians 4:4-7 and Romans 8:9-17 (discussed in prior notes).

The Johannine writings similarly emphasize the role of the Spirit in the experience of the “new birth” that allows believers to realize their identity as sons/children of God. The Gospel and Letters use the term te/knon (plur. te/kna), “offspring” for believers as children of God, reserving the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) more or less exclusively for Jesus (the Son). For instances of this usage, cf. Jn 1:12; (11:52); 1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2. Even more common in the Johannine writings is the idiom of “coming to be (born) of God”, with its distinctive use of the verb genna/w (“come to be, become”)—Jn 1:13; 1 Jn 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, etc. In First John, believers are often referenced as such through the use of a substantive perfect participle—i.e., “the (one) having come to be (born)”, cf. 3:9; 5:1, 4, 18.

The main Johannine passage associating the Spirit with this “birth” of believers, is the famous discourse with Nicodemus (3:3-8, cf. my earlier notes). In 1 John, the key references to the Spirit (3:24; 4:13; 5:6ff) occur within the context of a discussion centered around the identity of the (true) believer as one who has come to be born of God—i.e., the child/offspring of God—using the terminology mentioned above.

Due to the special importance of the ‘Paraclete’ references in the Johannine writings, these will be treated in a supplemental note.

“…Spirit and Life”: 1 John 5:20

1 John 5:20

This is the last note in this series dealing with First John. It treats what may be regarded as the final word of the letter (verse 21 functioning as a coda), though the declaration in 5:20 is actually part of a sequence of three statements, each beginning with the expression oi&damen o%ti (“we have seen that…”), and each dealing with the idea of being born of God:

    • V. 18: “We have seen [oi&damen] that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God…”
    • V. 19: “We have seen [oi&damen] that we are out of God…”
    • V. 20: “And we have seen [oi&damen] that the Son of God reached (us)…”

The verb ei&dw means both “see” and “know” (i.e. perceive, recognize), and is interchangeable with ginw/skw (“know”); especially in the Johannine writings there is a close (theological) relationship between “seeing” and “knowing”. The way the verb is used here in vv. 18-20, it has two levels of meaning:

    1. What believers have known and recognized from the beginning (1:1ff), ever since they first heard the Gospel message of Jesus, and experienced his presence through the Spirit.
    2. What the author has established for his audience throughout the letter.

The rhetorical thrust (“we have seen…”) essentially includes the readers into the author’s own sphere—the implication being that they will certainly agree with him and confirm, in their own hearts and minds, the truth of what he has said to them in the letter.

I have discussed verse 18 extensively in the three previous notes (July 5, 8, and 9). It uses the expression genna/w (“come to be [born]”) + e)k [tou=] qeou= (“out of [i.e. from] God”)—an expression which was used repeatedly in both the Johannine Gospel and First Letter (Jn 1:13 [also 3:3-8]; 1 Jn 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4). The verb genna/w, used in this symbolic sense of a (spiritual) “birth” from God, always applies to believers; it is thus worth revisiting briefly the text-critical question surrounding the second occurrence of the verb in v. 18. The phrase involved is:

a)ll’ o( gennhqei\$ e)k tou= qeou= threi= au)to/n
“but the (one) coming to be (born) out of God keeps watch (over) him”

It is also possible to read the last word as au(to/n or e(auto/n (as in some MSS), in which case the subject of the phrase is definitely the believer:

“but the (one) coming to be (born) out of God [i.e. the believer] keeps watch (over) himself

In other manuscripts, the reading is not a verbal participle (gennhqei/$), but the related noun ge/nnhsi$ (“[a] coming to be [born]”, i.e. “birth”), which would mean that it is the spiritual “birth” from God itself which protects the believer. This reading, while making good sense, is almost certainly not original, but was likely introduced as a way of explaining the text. In my view, contrary to a number of commentators, the expression o( gennhqei/$ most probably refers to Jesus. The Johannine fondness for wordplay and dual-meaning makes this all the more likely. It may also relate to the idea expressed in 3:9, which is otherwise very close in form and thought to 5:18, where it is stated that “His [i.e. God’s] seed remains/abides in him [i.e. the believer]”. The “seed” (spe/rma) is best understood as the living and abiding presence of Jesus (God’s Son), through the Spirit. This would seem to be confirmed again by what follows here in verse 20. A thematic outline may help establish the connection:

    • Verse 18—The relation of the believer (the one born of God) to Jesus (the one born of God); this relationship (and identity) protects and preserves the believer from sin.
    • Verse 19—The contrast between this identity of the believer (born of God) and “the world” which is dominated by sin and evil—i.e., what we are, and what we are not.
    • Verse 20—The nature of this identity of the believer, and our relationship to Jesus (as the Son of God).

Let us examine verse 20 more closely:

“And we have seen that the Son of God reached (us) and has given to us a thorough mind [dia/noia], (so) that we might know the (One who is) true, and (indeed) we are in the (One who is) true—in His Son, Yeshua (the) Anointed. This is the true God and (the) Life of the Age.”

The principal statement is bracketed by references to Jesus as God’s Son; this is vital to an understanding of the verse, as it governs the structure of the statement, which I outline here as a chiasm:

This outline may be summarized:

This is very nearly a perfect epitome of Johannine theology, conforming to everything we find in both the Gospel and the First Letter. Somewhat more difficult is the concluding statement of the verse:

ou!to/$ e)stin o( a)lhqino\$ qeo\$ kai\ zwh\ ai)w/nio$
“This is the True God and (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal Life].”

Particularly problematic is the relation of the demonstrative pronoun ou!to$ (“this”) to the previous sentence, as well as the predicate statement which follows. There are several possibilities:

    • The pronoun identifies the substantive o( a)lhqino/$ (“the true [one], the [one who is] true”) as God the Father—i.e., “this (one) is the true God“—who is also “the Life of the Age”.
    • It identifies “the One who is True” as God the Father (the True God), and His Son (Jesus) as “the Life of the Age”.
    • It identifies Jesus as both “the True God” and “the Life of the Age”.
    • It summarizes the entire Gospel message about both God the Father and Jesus (the Son)—i.e., “this is (the message of) the True God and Eternal Life”.

Sound arguments can be made for each of these four interpretations, and I find it almost impossible to make a conclusive choice. Most likely, based on Johannine usage, the expression “the Life of the Age” should be understood in relation to Jesus; he is identified as “(the) Life”, and the immediate source of Life for believers, in numerous places (Jn 1:4; 5:26; 11:25; 14:6; 1 Jn 1:1-2; 5:11-12, etc). Yet it is also entirely appropriate to refer to the Gospel message as “Life” in a similar way (cf. Jn 6:63; 12:50; 17:3; 20:31). The opening words of 1 John (1:1-2) seem to play on both of these meanings of “the Life”, and it is likely that a similar dual-meaning is present in the closing words of the letter as well.

Many commentators question whether Jesus would have been identified directly as “the true God”. While there is no doubt that, in both the Gospel and First Letter, the essential deity of Jesus (including his pre-existence and union with the Father) is clearly expressed, his identification as o( qeo/$ (“the [one true] God”) is less certain. Note, for example, the careful wording in John 1:1c (qeo/$ without the definite article). I have discussed the famous textual question in Jn 1:18 on a number of occasions (cf. the most recent treatment). As the textual evidence between qeo/$ (“God”) and ui(o/$ (“Son”) is rather evenly divided, one cannot simply read qeo/$ without futher ado. Even so, most manuscripts also read qeo/$ without the definite article in verse 18, for whatever that might signify (and it remains much disputed).

Syntactically, in 5:20, it is worth noting that the most proximate reference for ou!to$ would be Jesus, as the phrase “…His Son Yeshua the Anointed” immediately precedes the demonstrative pronoun. However, this is by no means a certain indicator of the pronominal relationship; consider the example of 2 John 7:

“…the ones not giving common account of [i.e. confessing] Yeshua (as hav)ing come in the flesh. This [ou!to/$] is the (one speaking) false(ly) and the (one who is) against the Anointed [i.e. ‘antichrist’]!”

Clearly, in this case, ou!to$ refers back to “the ones not confessing Jesus…” rather than to “Jesus”. Based on this syntax, ou!to$ in 1 Jn 5:20 would more likely refer back to “the One who is True” (i.e. God the Father), rather than to Jesus. At the same time, the syntax in 2 Jn 7 would suggest that both the pronoun and the two expressions (“the True God” and “the Life of the Age”) refer to a single subject, in which case, Jesus is the more probable subject.

Despite the many difficulties in deciding between the options listed above, I am inclined to favoring the second and fourth, or, perhaps, some combination of the two:

    • The two expressions “the True God” and “the Life of the Age” relate back to the two subjects—God the Father (“the One who is True”) and Jesus Christ (His Son), respectively.
    • As the concluding declaration of the letter, the pronoun ou!to$ also effectively summarizes the entire content of the letter; parallel with the opening words (1:1-2), it refers to the Gospel message, of what (the true) God has done for us through his Son Jesus, which leads to eternal Life for those who believe.

“…Spirit and Life”: 1 John 5:16-18

1 John 5:16-18

“If any (one) should see his brother sinning sin (that is) not toward death [mh\ pro\$ qa/naton], he will ask and (God) will give him life—(that is,) the (one)s not sinning toward death. There is sin toward death, and about that (sin) I do not say that he should make (such a) request.”

Verses 16-18 are among the most notoriously difficult in all the New Testament to interpret. They have challenged commentators and theologians for centuries. We must presume that the language and point of reference would have been more readily understandable to the original audience than for us today. At this distance removed, it is virtually impossible to establish the context and background of the passage with any certainty. There are two points which have been especially difficult to understand:

    1. The statement in verse 18, to the effect that believers (those “born of God”) do not sin, when elsewhere it is recognized that believers do sin (v. 16, etc)
    2. The distinction between sin that is “toward death [pro\$ qa/naton]” and sin that is not so.

The latter is especially significant since the reference to “death” (qa/nato$) would seem to relate to the giving of “life” (zwh/) mentioned in verse 16. However, since both points above are important for an understanding of the statement(s) in verse 16, it is necessary to discuss each of them in some detail. It will be helpful, I think, to begin with first point—the statement in verse 18.

1 John 5:18

“We have seen [i.e. known] that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not sin [ou)x a(marta/nei]…”

I have intentionally stopped after the first clause, since it is this particular statement which has proven difficult to interpret, from a theological standpoint. First, the perfect participle (with the article)—o( gegennhme/no$, “the one having come to be born” (i.e. born “…out of God“)—is used by the author as a descriptive title for believers (also in 3:9). The verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”) is used repeatedly this way (2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4; cf. also Jn 1:13; 3:3-8). This statement essentially repeats the earlier declarations in 3:9

“Every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not do/make sin [i.e. act sinfully]…”

and also in the prior v. 6:

“Every (one) remaining in him does not sin…”

At the same time, it is quite clear that believers in Christ do sin (1:8-10; 2:1-2, etc). How is this evidence to be reconciled? There are several possibilities:

    • The statements in 3:9 & 5:18 reflect prescriptive, rather than descriptive, language—i.e., expressing how things ought to be, the ideal, rather than how things actually are.
    • The present tense of the verb a(marta/nw in 3:6-9 and 5:18 specifically indicates a practice of sinning—i.e. continual or habitual. According to this interpretation, true believers do sin, but do not continually sin.
    • The “sinlessness” of believers expressed in 3:6, 9 and 5:18 reflects the essential reality of our union with Christ, but not necessarily the daily life and practice of practice of believers, which entails the regular dynamic of both sin and forgiveness.

There are, perhaps, elements of truth in all three of these interpretive approaches. The first option is the simplest, but, in my view, is something of an artificial (modern) distinction. Probably the majority of commentators (and translators) adopt the second option, but, again, there is little clear indication of such a distinction in the text itself. The use of the present tense of a(marta/nw scarcely need be limited to the idea of repeated or continual sin; much more likely is a simple distinction between past sins (cleansed upon coming to faith in Jesus) and present sins committed during the time now that one is a believer.

In my view, the third option above best fits the thought (and theology) of the letter, and is likely to be closest to the mark. Note, in particular, the way that the “sinlessness” is worded and qualified:

    • “the one having come to be born of God…”
    • “the one remaining/abiding in him…”

To understand this better, let us examine the context of each of the statements in 3:6, 9, and 5:18.

1 Jn 3:6. The statement is: “Every one remaining in him does not sin”. This is contrasted with the parallel statement in v. 6b: “every one sinning has not looked upon [i.e. seen] him and has not known him”. The combination of these statements would suggest that, if a believer commits sin, then he/she has not seen/known Christ, and (thus) is not a true believer. However, that is not quite the logic of the verse; consider the structure of it, outlined as follows:

    • The one remaining in Christ [i.e. the believer]
      —does not sin [i.e. characteristic of the believer]
      —the one who does sin (“sinning”) [i.e. characteristic of the unbeliever]
    • The one who has not seen/known Christ [i.e. the non-believer]

The thrust of the statement is the kind of dualistic contrast so common in Johannine thought and expression—seeing/not-seeing, knowing/not-knowing, believer/non-believer. How, then, should we regard the similar contrast between not-sinning and sinning? This is made more clear when we look at the prior statements in vv. 3-5, working backward:

    • “in him [i.e. Jesus Christ] there is not (any) sin” (v. 5b)
      —this is a fundamental statement of Jesus’ sinlessness; the “sinlessness” of believers must be understood first, and primarily, through this.
    • “and you have seen/known that that (one) [i.e. Jesus] was made to shine forth [i.e. revealed], (so) that he might take up [i.e. take away] sin” (v. 5a)
      —a central aspect of Jesus’ mission and work on earth, esp. his sacrificial death, was to “take away” sin (cf. Jn 1:29, etc); it is through this work of Jesus that we (believers) are cleansed from sin (1 Jn 1:7).
    • “The one doing sin does/acts without law [a)nomi/a], and sin is (being/acting) without law [a)nomi/a]” (v. 4)
      —on the surface, this seems simply to reflect the traditional principle that “sin” entails the violation of religious and ethical standards (“law”, “commandments”); however, the Gospel and Letters of John understand and interpret the “commandments” (e)ntolai/) for believers in a distinctive way (cf. especially the two-fold ‘commandment’ in 1 Jn 3:23-24). If “sin” is defined as being “without the commandments” then, here in the letter, this essentially means being without (real) trust in Jesus and without (true) love.
    • “Every one holding this hope upon him makes himself pure, even as that one [i.e. Jesus] is pure.” (v. 3)
      —this statement focuses more on the attitude and behavior of believers, with the expression “makes himself pure” (a(gni/zei e(auto\n); it functions as an exhortation for believers to live and act according to their true identity (in Christ). Paul does much the same thing when he exhorts his readers, e.g., “If we live in/by the Spirit, we should also ‘walk in line’ in/by the Spirit” (Gal 5:25).
    • “Loved (one)s, (even) now we are offspring [i.e. children] of God, but it is not yet made to shine forth [i.e. revealed] what we will be…” (v. 2)
      —this declaration is vital to an understanding of the author’s perspective here in the letter; it reflects the two aspects of a “realized” and “future” eschatology, applying it to our identity as believers (“children of God”). Already now, in the present, we are “born of God”, yet this will not be experienced fully for us until the end time. Thus, while we partake of the sinlessness of Christ, we do not act sinlessly at every point of our lives on earth.

1 Jn 3:9. At first glance, throughout verses 2-6ff, the author seems to be speaking generally about “sin”, and it is easy to insert a conventional religious and ethical sense of the word, as though he were simply summarizing traditional immorality such as we see in the Pauline “vice lists” (Rom 1:29-31; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21, etc). Yet, a careful reading of the letter itself indicates that this really is not what he is describing. Indeed, apart from 2:15-17 and (possibly) 5:21, there is very little evidence of traditional ethical teaching in the letter. Which is not to say that the Johannine congregations were careless about such things; however, the emphasis in the letter is specifically on the two-fold “commandment” for believers stated in 3:23-24, etc—of (proper) trust in Jesus and (true) love for fellow believers. We must keep in mind the rhetorical background of the letter, which is directed against the would-be believers (“antichrists”) who have separated from the Johannine congregations. The author views them as breaking both of these “commandments”, and are thus sinning in a fundamental way that the remainder of the faithful are not.

In verse 10, the author begins transitioning his discussion toward the two-fold commandment, beginning with the duty to love one another, according to Jesus’ own example (Jn 13:34-35, etc). This is prefaced by the dualistic contrast of righteousness/sin and God vs. Devil, sharpening and intensifying the line of rhetoric. These characterize true believers, against those who are not (e.g. the Johannine separatists):

    • “the one doing justice/righteousness” vs. “the one doing sin” (vv. 7-8a)
    • “(the works of God)” vs. “the works of the Devil” (v. 8b)
    • “the one born out of God” vs. “the one (born) out of the Devil” (vv. 8a, 9a)

It is thus not merely a question of committing (or not committing) particular sins, but of attributes and qualities characterizing two different “groups” of human beings (and supposed Christians). Again, it is the purity and sinlessness of Jesus himself, the Son of God, by which we come to be made pure and ‘without sin’—i.e. “born of God”, “offspring of God”. The essence and character of this fundamental identity is clearly expressed in verse 7:

“the (one) doing justice is just, even as that (one) [i.e. Jesus] is just”

Doing justice does not make a person just; quite the reverse—the believer’s “just-ness” in Christ results in his/her acting justly. Note how this is expressed in verse 9; it will be useful to look at each component in the verse:

    • “Every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not do sin”
      • “(in) that [i.e. because] His seed remains in him”
      • “and he is not able to sin”
        • “(in) that [i.e. because] he has come to be (born) out of God”

This is one of the most elliptical statements in the letter:

    • “the one having come to be born out of God”
      —”he does not sin”
      ——”His seed remains in him”
      —”he is not able to sin”
    • “he has come to be born out of God”

Central to the “sinlessness” of believers is the essential reality that God’s seed (spe/rma) remains/abides [me/nei] in us. We may fairly interpret this “seed” as the living/abiding Spirit of His Son (which is also His own Spirit). Just as there is no sin in the Son, even so there is no sin abiding/remaining in us.

This brings us again to the statement in 1 Jn 5:18; let us now examine the verse in its entirety:

“We have seen that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not sin, but (rather) the (one) coming to be (born) out of God keeps watch (over) him, and the evil does not attach (itself) to him.”

The difficulty of the wording (and meaning) is reflected by several key variant readings, which I discussed briefly in an earlier Saturday Series study. The main question is whether the second occurrence of the verb genna/w (aorist pass. participle, gennhqei/$) refers to Jesus, as the Son of God, or the believer as child/offspring of God. Commentators and textual critics are divided on this question, which involves three different major variants, two involving the object pronoun, and one involving the form of the verb:

    • o( gennhqei\$ e)k tou= qeou= threi= au)to/n
      “the (one) coming to be (born) out of God keeps watch (over) him”
    • o( gennhqei\$ e)k tou= qeou= threi= e(auto/n
      “the (one) coming to be (born) out of God keeps watch (over) himself”
    • o( ge/nnhsi$ e)k tou= qeou= threi= au)to/n
      “the coming to be (born) [i.e. birth] out of God keeps watch (over) him”

It would seem that the first reading best explains the rise of the other two, and, in my view, is more likely to be original. Though the verb genna/w, used in a symbolic or spiritual sense, otherwise always applies to the believer rather than Jesus (Jn 18:37 refers more properly to his physical/human birth), the emphasis in the letter on Jesus on the Son of God, and on that as the basis for our being “born of God”/”offspring of God”, makes it highly likely that the author is playing on such a dual-meaning here. This would also seem to be confirmed by 3:9 (cf. above), which speaks of God’s “seed” (i.e. son/offspring) abiding in the believer. It is this seed, this “offspring” born of God, which guards believers, keeping and protecting us from evil.

This detailed study should, I think, shed some light on the author’s thought and mode of expression. Still, it does not entirely explain the statement at the beginning of verse 18. A clearer understanding requires that we now turn to the second interpretive difficulty highlighted above—namely, the meaning of the expression “sin(ning) toward death” in vv. 16-18. This will be discussed in the next note.

“…Spirit and Life”: 1 John 5:6-8 (conclusion)

1 John 5:6-8 (concluded)

This discussion continues that of the last several notes in this series, focusing specifically on the relation of the Spirit to the “water” and “blood” in verses 6-8. It is possible to treat all three verses as a single sentence, and this is probably the best way to render them:

“This is the (one) coming through water and blood—Yeshua (the) Anointed—not in water only, but in water and in blood; and the Spirit is the (one) giving witness (of this), (in) that [i.e. because] the Spirit is the Truth, (so) that the (one)s giving witness are three—the Spirit and the water and the blood—and the three are (together) into one.”

The statement as a whole can be divided into two parts:

    • The one coming—Yeshua the Anointed—in water and blood
    • The one giving witness—the Spirit—(together with) water and blood

In the previous note, I explored the initial statement(s) regarding the Spirit in verse 6b. I also pointed out three aspects which needed to be examined:

    • The relationship of the Spirit to Jesus in the Johannine Gospel and Letters
    • The connection between the Spirit and water, especially as a symbol of birth and life for those who trust in Jesus
    • The connection between the Spirit and the death (i.e. blood) of Jesus

We will touch briefly on each of these in turn.

1. The relationship of the Spirit to Jesus

In the Gospel of John, this can be summarized as follows (for more detail on these passages, see the earlier notes in this series):

(An asterisk marks passages which clearly draw upon early Tradition shared by the Synoptics)

    • 1:32-33*—The Spirit comes down (lit. “steps down”) upon Jesus and remains on/in him (cf. Mark 1:10 par)
    • 1:33b (also v. 26)*—It is said that Jesus will dunk (i.e. baptize) people “in the holy Spirit” (cf. Mark 1:8 par)
    • 3:5-8—Those who trust in Jesus “come to be (born) out of the Spirit” (cf. below)
    • 3:34—It is said that Jesus “gives the Spirit” (i.e. to believers); he does not give it “out of (a) measure”, rather, in a new, complete way, different from how the Spirit was given previously to prophets and chosen ones. Verse 35 indicates that the Spirit is given to Jesus (the Son) by the Father.
    • 4:23-24—The context (verses 7-15ff) suggests that the “living water” Jesus gives is associated with the Spirit
    • 6:63—Jesus states that the Spirit gives life (“makes [a]live”), and, again, that he gives the Spirit to his disciples, etc. The Spirit is identified specifically with the words (“utterances”) Jesus speaks (i.e. his life-giving power as the Living Word).
    • 7:39—The Gospel writer explicitly identifies the Spirit with the “living water” of which Jesus is the source for believers (vv. 37-38). It is stated that the Spirit did not come unto the disciples until after Jesus was given honor (‘glorified’), i.e. by the Father, through his death and resurrection.
    • 14:16-17, 25-26—God the Father will send the Spirit (“Spirit of Truth”) to believers, at Jesus’ request and in his name
    • 15:26-27; 16:7ff—Jesus will send the Spirit (“Holy Spirit”, “Spirit of Truth”) to believers from the Father
    • The Spirit continues Jesus’ work with believers, teaching them, speaking Jesus’ own words and giving witness about him (14:26; 15:26; 16:12-15)
    • 19:30—The description of Jesus’ death likely carries a double-meaning in the context of the Gospel, alluding to his giving the Spirit (“…he gave along the pneu=ma [breath/spirit/Spirit]”)
    • 20:22—After his resurrection, Jesus specifically blows/breathes in(to) the disciples; it is clear that he is giving them the Spirit (“Receive the holy Spirit”)

This Johannine portrait thus entails three primary aspects: (a) Jesus receives the Spirit from the Father (indicated specifically [1] at the Baptism and [2] following the Resurrection); (b) Jesus gives the Spirit to believers (described variously); and (c) the Spirit represents the abiding presence of Jesus in and among believers. This is generally confirmed by the references in 1 John, though the emphasis is on the Spirit as a witness, testifying and declaring the truth about Jesus to (and through) believers (3:24; 4:1-6, 13; and here in 5:6-8).

2. The connection between the Spirit and Water

For a summary of the Gospel passages, cf. the previous note. The primary emphasis is on the symbol of water as a source of life, with life-giving properties and power. This is expressed by two basic motifs:

  • Drinking—i.e. the quenching of thirst and the preservation/restoration of life to the human body and soul. Especially important is the traditional expression “living water” (* below), which, in the ancient semitic idiom, originally referred to the flowing water of a natural spring or stream (note the play on this idea in 4:6-12), but is used by Jesus in a symbolic sense. Here are the relevant references (those which explicitly mention the Spirit are marked in bold):
    • 2:6-9—the drinking of water/wine (note the possible allusions to 6:51-58 and 19:34)
    • 4:7-15ff—water which Jesus gives that results in (eternal) life (vv. 10-11*, reference to the Spirit in vv. 21-24)
    • 6:53-56—drinking Jesus’ “blood” which he gives (eucharistic allusion, reference to the Spirit in v. 63)
    • 7:37-39—the “living water” (v. 38*) which Jesus gives is identified with the Spirit by the Gospel writer (v. 39)
  • Birth—water is naturally associated with the birth process, and this image is utilized by Jesus in the discourse-dialogue with Nicodemus in chapter 3 (vv. 3-8). Here it is applied specifically to the “birth” of believers, a motif which appears elsewhere in the Gospel (1:13) and frequently in the First Letter (3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18). In these references the expression is “come to be (born) out of God [e)k {tou=} qeou=]”, while in Jn 3:3-8 we find “…out of the Spirit” and “…from above”; for the most part, these expressions are synonymous. The verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”), used in this spiritual/symbolic sense, is always related to believers, with the lone exception, it would seem, of the second occurrence in 1 Jn 5:18, where many commentators feel it refers to Jesus (the Son).
    • If we are to recognize the secondary motif of Baptism, it probably should be understood in terms of this same birth-symbolism, at least in the context of the Gospel and letters of John. Birth imagery is embedded in the early Gospel tradition of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:11 par; Jn 1:34 MT), i.e. Jesus as God’s “Son”, and is marked by the presence of the Spirit (1:32-33). Also, insofar as Jesus “baptizes” believers in the Spirit (1:33 par), the author(s) of the Gospel and Letters would likely associate this with the idea of being “born of God” or “born of the Spirit”, though it is not clear the extent to which there is an allusion to Baptism in Jn 3:3-8.
3. The connection between the Spirit and the Death (“Blood”) of Jesus

In the Gospel Tradition, there is little, if any, clear relationship between the Spirit and Jesus’ death. The closest we come is the basic idea, expressed both in Luke-Acts and the Gospel of John, that the Spirit would come to believers only after Jesus’ resurrection and “ascension” to the Father. There is then an implicit (though indirect) association between Jesus’ death and the coming/sending of the Spirit. The Gospel of John, in particular, blends together the two aspects of death and exaltation, joining them into at least three different images: (1) descent/ascent, (2) “lifting up/high”, and (3) “giving/granting honor” (i.e. “glorify”). All three of these Johannine motifs can refer variously (or at the same time) to Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension/return to the Father.

It is also possible that there is a more direct association between the Spirit and Jesus’ death in the Gospel of John. I note three verses:

    • 7:39—The Gospel writer states: “For the Spirit was not yet [i.e. had not yet come], (in) that [i.e. because] Yeshua was not yet glorified”. The verb doca/zw, “regard with honor, give/grant honor”, “glorify” is usually understood in reference to Jesus resurrection (and ascension to the Father), but, in the Gospel of John, it applies equally to Jesus’ death. In other words, the statement could be taken to mean, essentially, that it is Jesus’ sacrificial death which makes it possible for the Spirit to come.
    • 19:30—The description of Jesus’ death generally follows the Gospel tradition in Mark 15:37b; Matt 27:50b; Luke 23:46. However, in light of the important Johannine theme of Jesus giving the Spirit, it is possible (even likely) that there is a dual meaning to the words pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma:
      —”…he gave along the [i.e. his] spirit/breath”
      —”…he gave along the Spirit”
      I might note in passing, that there is a fascinating similarity of wording between Luke 23:46 and John 20:22; though coming via different Gospels, this is another interesting (possible) connection between Jesus’ death and the giving of the Spirit.
    • 19:34—Many commentators have interpreted the “blood and water” which come out of Jesus’ side (and the importance the Gospel writer gives to this detail) as containing at least an allusion to the Spirit. The close connection between water and the Spirit, and of Jesus as the direct source of this “living water”, increases the likelihood that such an allusion may be intended. If so, then it is likely that there is an association between the Spirit and Jesus’ blood as well.

It will help to consider the other references to “blood” (ai!ma) in the Gospel and Letters of John:

    • John 1:13—Here blood is set parallel with flesh (specifically “the will of the flesh”), in the context of human birth. Both “blood” and “flesh” signify (ordinary) human life and birth, which is contrasted with being “born out of God” (= “born out of the Spirit“). For a similar parallel between “flesh” and “blood”, cf. 1 Jn 4:2-3 and here in 5:6-8.
    • John 6:51-58 (vv. 53-56)—Here, as part of the great Bread of Life discourse, Jesus, in eucharistic language and imagery that is similar to Mark 14:23-24 par, speaks of drinking his “blood”. The (believer) who “eats” his body and “drinks” his blood holds “the Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life); this body/blood is the “bread” which Jesus gives, sacrificially, for the life of the world. While there may be a sacramental allusion (to the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist) in these verses, the overall emphasis of the Bread of Life discourse is spiritual. This is confirmed by what follows (esp. verse 63).
    • 1 John 1:7—The author declares “…the blood of Yeshua cleanses us from all sin”. This echoes the sacrificial character (and power) of Jesus’ death—and, specifically, the blood he shed (Jn 19:34)—expressed in the Gospel tradition of the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:24 par). In the context of the letter, it is uniquely tied to the Johannine theme of sin/righteousness in terms of obedience to the two-fold command of trust in Jesus and love for one’s fellow believer (3:23-24, etc). There is no direct reference to the Spirit here, but there is a definite allusion in verse 8, “the Truth…in us”.
Conclusion

If the “water” and “blood” in 5:6ff represent two aspects of Jesus’ human life—his birth/life and death, respectively—then, in light of the examination above, in what sense does this water and blood “give witness” along with the Spirit?

Water—Based on the principal themes and associations outline above, it is possible to identify:

    • Drinking—Elsewhere in the New Testament, believers are said to “drink” of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:13), just Jesus describes in Jn 4:10-14; 7:37-38. This is experienced symbolically, through the sacraments of baptism and the eucharistic cup (cf. the context of 1 Cor 10-12), but not only in this limited way. Rather, through the Spirit, we experience the very presence of Jesus, including his human life which he sacrificed for us. It is a spiritual presence, which Paul likewise associates with the motif of drinking in 1 Cor 10:4.
    • Birth—As a result of trust in Jesus, believers experience a new birth (Jn 3:3-8ff). We come to be born “out of [i.e. from] God” (“from above” vv. 3, 7); this birth is spiritual, taking place through the power and presence of the Spirit, as indicated by the parallel expression “out of the Spirit” (vv. 5-6, 8). Just as ordinary human birth takes place “out of water” or “in/through water”, so this new birth for believers occurs through the “living water” of the Spirit. Certain Baptismal language and imagery preserves this same “new birth” motif.

Blood—This symbolic aspect of Jesus’ death has three important associations:

    • The coming/giving of the Spirit takes place through, and as a result of, Jesus’ sacrificial death (cf. Jn 7:39; 19:30, 34, and the discussion above)
    • Believers “drink” Jesus’ blood in a symbolic and spiritual sense (his life-giving presence), expressed in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
    • According to the sacrificial aspect of Jesus’ death, his “blood” cleanses believers of sin (1 Jn 1:7). Similarly, the Spirit (as “water”) cleanses us, as indicating by the baptism and washing imagery in John 1:26ff and 13:5-11. There is also a cleansing aspect associated with the Spirit as the Living Word of God and Christ (cf. 15:3).

If I may summarize. The life-giving power and presence of Jesus is communicated to believers through the presence of the Spirit. This divine and eternal (spiritual) Life which Jesus gives includes his human life which he sacrificed on our behalf, transformed through his resurrection and exaltation (glorification). It is specifically the real human life of Jesus (his birth, life, and death) which the author of 1 John is emphasizing, against the apparent “docetic” view of Jesus held by the separatists (“antichrists”). The Spirit bears witness to us of the human life Jesus sacrificed in order to give us Life, and along with this, the very essence (“water” and “blood”) of this life testifies to us. Through the Spirit, we experience this testimony, not only through symbolic rituals of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but at all times, and in all aspects of our life in Christ.

“…Spirit and Life”: John 3:7-8

John 3:7-8

Today’s note continues with the second half of Jesus’ exposition in Jn 3:5-8, part of the discourse covering verses 1-21. The first half (vv. 5-6) was discussed in the previous daily note. Both portions are meant to explain the central saying of Jesus in verse 3. If we consider each verse, or statement, of the exposition in its place, we see the following outline:

    • Verse 5—Re-statement of the central saying, explaining “from above” (a&nwqen) as “out of [i.e. from] the Spirit” (e)k pneu/mato$)
    • Verse 6—Contrast between being born “out of the flesh” (ordinary human birth) with being born “out of the Spirit” (birth from above)
    • Verse 7—Identification of “(born) out of the Spirit” back again with “(born) from above”
    • Verse 8—Illustration from the natural world, helping to explain “born out of the Spirit”

There is a certain parallelism between the two portions of this exposition:

    • Identification “from above” = “out of the Spirit” (v. 5)
      • Contrast between ordinary human birth and spiritual birth (v. 6)
    • Identification “out of the Spirit” = “from above” (v. 7)
      • Example illustrating how spiritual birth differs from ordinary birth, etc (v. 8)

The entire tone of vv. 7-8 is parabolic, beginning with the statement in verse 7:

“Do not wonder that I said to you (that) it is necessary (for) you to come to be (born) from above”

This sets the stage for the illustration in verse 8. As in the many parables of Jesus recorded in the Synoptic Tradition, simple illustrations from the natural world and daily life are used to convey deeper spiritual truth. Jesus himself makes this especially clear in Mark 4:11 par (addressed to his close followers): “To you has been given the secret [musth/rion] of the kingdom of God; but to those th(at are) outside, these (thing)s come to be (for them) in parables [lit. (saying)s cast alongside]”. A similar sort of example, taken from observation of the natural world, is given to Nicodemus:

“The blowing [i.e. of the wind] blows where it wishes and you hear its voice, but (yet) you have not seen where it comes (from) and where it leads (itself back) under—so (it) is (for) every one having come to be born out of the blowing (of God)”

This illustration involves a bit of wordplay in the Greek which is virtually impossible to capture in English translation. I have tried to preserve it here by translating pneu=ma in its fundamental sense of “(something) blowing” (i.e. wind, breath). In the first half of the saying, pneu=ma refers essentially to the wind, and the verb pne/w to the blowing of the wind. As mentioned previously, in ancient thought, the wind was often described as the breath of God, so the wind naturally serves as a correlative image for describing the Spirit of God. The main point of the illustration, often obscured in translation, is between hearing and seeing:

    • “you hear [a)kou/ei$] the voice [i.e. sound]” of the wind, but
    • “you have not seen [ou)k oi@da$] where it comes from”, etc

This contrast is precisely parallel to the ancient theophany experienced by Israel, whereby the people did not see God (YHWH) himself, but only heard his Voice (cf. Deut 4:12, 33ff). The expressions po/qen e&rxetai (“where it comes [from]”) and pou= u(pa/gei (“where it leads [itself] under [i.e. goes back]”) both refer to the source of the wind—i.e. coming and going back. In terms of the Spirit, obviously the source is God (the Father = YHWH). The upshot of the illustration is made explicit in the conclusion of the verse—”so it is (for) every one coming to be (born) out of the Spirit”. The emphasis is not so much on the mysterious (invisible) manner of the birth, but on the source of it—from God (i.e. “from above”). This same emphasis was made already in the Prologue, when the Gospel writer refers to the (spiritual) birth of believers:

“…to them he gave the authority to come to be (the) offspring [i.e. children] of God, to the ones trusting in his name, th(e one)s who, not out of blood and not out of the will of (the) flesh and not out of the will of man—but out of God—came to be (born)” (1:12-13)

Even though God the Father is the source of the Spirit, it comes to believers through the Son (Jesus)—he is the subject of vv. 12-13. The same idea, drawing upon the ancient Sinai theophany, is expressed at the conclusion of the Prologue (v. 18):

“No one has seen God, at any time, (but) the only (born) Son, the (one) being [i.e. who is] in the lap of the Father—that (one) has led Him out (to us)”

The Son’s revelation of the Father is closely tied to the giving/coming of the Spirit to believers—a connection which begins to become clear in the Last Discourse (chapters 14-17).

There is perhaps a special significance to the idea of hearing the voice of the wind (i.e. the Spirit of God). In Exodus 20:19, we have the tradition that the people were unable to bear hearing the voice of God (sounding like terrifying thunder). This, too, is referenced several times in the Johannine discourses, most notably in 5:37:

“And the Father (hav)ing sent me—that (One) has given witness about me; and his voice you have not heard at any time, and you have not seen his visible (form)…”

This lack of hearing/seeing God the Father, while drawing upon the Old Testament tradition, in the context of the discourse actually refers to the disbelief of the people—their failure (or unwillingness) to trust in Jesus:

“…and his Word you do not hold remaining in you, (in) that [i.e. because] the (one) whom that (One) [i.e. God the Father] se(n)t forth—in that (one) you do not trust!” (v. 38)

These same motifs of hearing and seeing run through the Gospel of John. We will encounter them again during the upcoming notes in this series.

“…Spirit and Life”: John 3:5-6

The first occurrences of the noun pneu=ma (“Spirit”) in the Gospel of John are in 1:32-33, part of the testimony of John the Baptist (vv. 19-34). The specific testimony in vv. 29-34 involves the Baptism of Jesus, presented in the Fourth Gospel only indirectly, by way of a description/narration by the Baptist. The references to the Spirit in vv. 32-33 draw upon early Gospel traditions shared generally by the Synoptic Gospels. While the introduction to the Spirit is important (including use of the expression “Holy Spirit” in v. 33), these references should little specific development or uniquely Johannine thought regarding the Spirit. I will not be discussing them here in these notes, but would direct the interested reader to the earlier series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”, in which the Baptism of Jesus is discussed in considerable detail. Instead, I will turn to the next passage using the word pneu=maJn 3:5-8, part of the famous discourse with Nicodemus in chapter 3.

John 3:5-8

The Jesus’ discourse (with Nicodemus) in chap. 3 is the first of the great Johannine Discourses, which follow a basic format:

    • Narrative setting/introduction, which is based upon a specific (historical) tradition, such as an encounter episode (chs. 34) or miracle story (chs. 56).
    • A central saying or statement by Jesus
    • Reaction to this saying by those around him, reflecting some degree of misunderstanding
    • Response by Jesus, in which he explains/expounds the true, deeper meaning of his words

The structure of saying-reaction-exposition is sometimes developed or expanded into a more elaborate dialogue-discourse format. All of the great Discourses in the Gospel are developed in different ways. The discourse of Jn 3:1-21 may be divided as follows:

    • Narrative setting/introduction (vv. 1-2), establishing the encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus
    • Central Saying by Jesus (v. 3)
    • Question (misunderstanding) by Nicodemus (v. 4)
    • Initial Exposition by Jesus (vv. 5-8)
    • Second Question by Nicodemus (v. 9)
    • Exposition by Jesus, divided into two parts:
      • Witness of Jesus as the Son of Man (vv. 10-15)
      • Jesus as the Son of God (vv. 16-21)

The references to the Spirit are found in the initial exposition of vv. 5-8 and are central to it. This exposition may be divided into two pieces:

    • The Saying about coming to be born of the Spirit (vv. 5-6)
    • An explanatory illustration regarding the Spirit (vv. 7-8)
John 3:5-6

The saying in vv. 5-6 cannot be understood apart from the context of the discourse, where it is intended to explain and clarify the central saying in v. 3:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, if any(one) should not come to be (born) from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God”

Nicodemus’ misunderstanding (v. 4) involves the Greek word a&nwqen (“from above”), which can be understood as in the English idiom “from the top”, “again”—that is, in a temporal, rather than spatial, sense. Nicodemus apparently thinks Jesus is saying that a human being must be born (physically) a second time, whereas Jesus is actually speaking of a kind of heavenly/spiritual birth “from above” (i.e. from God). This is what he clarifies in verse 5, a saying that is almost exactly parallel with that of v. 3 (differences in italics):

“Amen, amen, I say to you, if any(one) should not come to be (born) out of water and (the) Spirit, he is not able to come into the kingdom of God”

Clearly “out of water and (the) Spirit” (e)k u%dato$ kai\ pneu/mato$) is parallel to “from above” (a&nwqen). The main interpretive question involves the relationship between “water” and “(the) Spirit”. There are three possibilities:

    1. “Water and Spirit” is a hendiadys (two words representing one thing)
    2. The expression is a parallel image—utilizing water as a symbol of the Spirit
    3. There is a developmental contrast between water and Spirit—i.e. the Spirit in addition to water.

1. The first option is preferred by those who see here primarily a reference to (Christian) baptism. This might be called the sacramental interpretation, in which water and the Spirit represent two aspects of the same ritual. The close connection between Baptism and the Spirit is certainly found in many New Testament passages, going all the way back to early Gospel tradition (Mark 1:8ff par). It is also a distinctly Christian view of baptism (Acts 2:38; 18:25; 19:2ff; 22:16, etc), which Paul, in particular, expresses most vividly in reference to its spiritual aspect (1 Cor 12:13, cf. also Rom 6:3-4; Gal 3:27; Col 2:12). However, while early Christians might naturally read Jn 3:5 in terms of Christian baptism, this would have been essentially unintelligible to someone like Nicodemus. If we accept the authenticity of Jesus’ saying here, in any meaningful sense, it is hard to see how anything like a Christian view of Baptism could be the primary meaning.

2. The second option above is more plausible in this regard. For one thing, water (as a visible symbol) is used to represent the invisible Spirit (of God) frequently in ancient religious thought. This imagery is found a number of times in the Old Testament, both with a specific reference to “water”, as well as the idea of the Spirit being “poured out”—cf. Prov 1:23; Isa 32:5; 44:3; Ezek 39:29; Joel 2:28-29, also Neh 9:20; Zech 12:10. The association the Spirit of God with cleansing can relate to water as well as fire—on the former, see e.g., Ezek 36:25-27, and passages from subsequent Jewish writings, closer in time to the Gospels, such as Jubilees 1:23-25 and the Qumran 1QS 4:19-21. The motif of God creating a new heart/spirit in the believer begins to approximate the idea of being born. The reference from Jubilees makes this more or less explicit: “I will create in them a holy spirit… I will be their Father and they will be my children”. In Ezek 36:25ff, this “new spirit” in humankind is identified with (or is the result of) God’s own Spirit that is placed within.

The fact that both “water” and “Spirit” are governed under the same preposition (e)k, “out of”) suggests that the terms should be understood as parallel images or expressions of some sort.

3. There is, however, much to be said for the third option above, in which there is a contrast between Spirit and water. The contrast is best viewed as supplemental or developmental—i.e. born out of the Spirit in addition to being born out of water. The context of vv. 3-8, taken as a whole, would argue in favor of this view. I note the following points:

    • The sayings in vv. 3 and 5 both indicate that human beings must undergo a different kind of birth from that of one’s ordinary physical birth.
    • The use of the term a&nwqen (“from above”) suggests a dualistic contrast—above vs. below—found elsewhere in the Gospel (3:31; 8:23; 19:11, etc).
    • The discourse in chapter 4 plays on the contrast between ordinary water and “living water” which is associated with the Spirit. This will be discussed further in an upcoming note.

Perhaps the strongest argument is to be found in the continuation of Jesus’ exposition in verse 6:

“the (thing) having come to be (born) out of the flesh is flesh, and the (thing) having come to be (born) out of the Spirit is spirit”

It is hard to imagine a more direct and emphatic contrast, which, taken together with verse 5, suggests the following parallelism:

“born out of water” = “born out of flesh”
(i.e. ordinary human birth)
vs.
“born out of (the) Spirit”

A final, difficult point of interpretation involves the two occurrences of pneu=ma in verse 6: “the (thing)…born out of the Spirit [e)k tou= pneu/mato$] is spirit [pneu=ma/ e)stin]”. Propriety requires that the second pneu=ma be translated in lower-case (“spirit”), to avoid the confusing (and impious sounding) idea that it is God’s own Spirit that is being born. Yet, in a sense, that is what is intended here. Use of the lower-case “spirit” can create the even more misleading impression that it is simply the normal life-force (“spirit/soul”) in a human being that is involved. Nowhere else in the Gospel of John is the noun used this way, except, to some extent, in 11:33, 13:21, and 19:30; but these (especially the last) are special cases, involving the person of Jesus, which must be examined separately. There can be no doubt that both occurrences of pneu=ma in verse 6 essentially refer to the Spirit of God.

The second part of Jesus’ exposition, in verses 7-8, with the illustration involving the Spirit (and the meaning of the word pneu=ma) in v. 8, will be discussed in the next note.