John 3


The conversation between Nicodemus and our Lord, about the new

birth and faith in his testimony, 1-15.

The love of God, the source of human salvation, 16.

Who are condemned, and who are approved, 17-21.

Jesus and his disciples come to Judea, and baptize, 22.

John baptizes in AEnon, 23, 24.

The disciples of John and the Pharisees dispute about purifying,


The discourse between John and his disciples about Christ, in

which the excellence, perfection, and privileges, of the

Christian dispensation are pointed out, 26-36.


Verse 1. Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.] One of the members of

the grand Sanhedrin; for such were ordinarily styled rulers among

the Jews. A person of the name of Nicodemus, the son of Gorion, is

mentioned in the Jewish writings, who lived in the time of

Vespasian, and was reputed to be so rich that he could support all

the inhabitants of Jerusalem for ten years. But this is said in

their usual extravagant mode of talking.

Verse 2. Came to Jesus by night] He had matters of the utmost

importance, on which he wished to consult Christ; and he chose the

night season, perhaps less through the fear of man than through a

desire to have Jesus alone, as he found him all the day

encompassed with the multitude; so that it was impossible for him

to get an opportunity to speak fully on those weighty affairs

concerning which he intended to consult him. However, we may take

it for granted that he had no design at present to become his

disciple; as baptism and circumcision, which were the initiating

ordinances among the Jews, were never administered in the night

time. If any person received baptism by night, he was not

acknowledged for a proselyte. See Wetstein. But as Jews were not

obliged to be baptized, they being circumcised, and consequently

in the covenant, he, being a Jew, would not feel any necessity of

submitting to this rite.

Rabbi] My Master, or Teacher, a title of respect given to the

Jewish doctors, something like our Doctor of Divinity, i.e.

teacher of Divine things. But as there may be many found among us

who, though they bear the title, are no teachers, so it was among

the Jews; and perhaps it was in reference to this that Nicodemus

uses the word διδασκαλος, didaskalos, immediately after, by which,

in Joh 1:38, St. John translates the word

rabbi. Rabbi, teacher, is often no more than a title of respect:

didaskolos signifies a person who not only has the name of

teacher, but who actually does teach.

We know that thou art a teacher come from God] We, all the

members of the grand Sanhedrin, and all the rulers of the people,

who have paid proper attention to thy doctrine and miracles. We

are all convinced of this, though we are not all candid enough to

own it. It is possible, however, that οιδαμεν, we know, signifies

no more than, it is known, it is generally acknowledged and

allowed, that thou art a teacher come from God.

No man can do these miracles] It is on the evidence of thy

miracles that I ground my opinion of thee. No man can do what thou

dost, unless the omnipotence of God be with him.

Verse 3. Jesus answered] Not in the language of compliment:-he

saw the state of Nicodemus's soul, and he immediately addressed

himself to him on a subject the most interesting and important.

But what connection is there between our Lord's reply, and the

address of Nicodemus? Probably our Lord saw that the object of his

visit was to inquire about the Messiah's kingdom; and in reference

to this he immediately says, Except a man be born again, &c.

The repetition of amen, or verily, verily, among the Jewish

writers, was considered of equal import with the most solemn oath.

Be born again] Or, from above: different to that new birth which

the Jews supposed every baptized proselyte enjoyed; for they held

that the Gentile, who became a proselyte, was like a child new

born. This birth was of water from below: the birth for which

Christ contends is ανωθεν, from above-by the agency of the Holy

Spirit. Every man must have two births, one from heaven, the other

from earth-one of his body, the other of his soul: without the

first he cannot see nor enjoy this world, without the last he

can not see nor enjoy the kingdom of God. As there is an absolute

necessity that a child should be born into the world, that he may

see its light, contemplate its glories, and enjoy its good, so

there is an absolute necessity that the soul should be brought out

of its state of darkness and sin, through the light and power of

the grace of Christ, that it may be able to see, ιδειν, or, to

discern, the glories and excellencies of the kingdom of Christ

here, and be prepared for the enjoyment of the kingdom of glory

hereafter. The Jews had some general notion of the new birth; but,

like many among Christians, they put the acts of proselytism,

baptism, &c., in the place of the Holy Spirit and his influence:

they acknowledged that a man must be born again; but they made

that new birth to consist in profession, confession, and external

washing. See Clarke on Joh 3:10.

The new birth which is here spoken of comprehends, not only what

is termed justification or pardon, but also sanctification or

holiness. Sin must be pardoned, and the impurity of the heart

washed away, before any soul can possibly enter into the kingdom

of God. As this new birth implies the renewing of the whole soul

in righteousness and true holiness, it is not a matter that may be

dispensed with: heaven is a place of holiness, and nothing but

what is like itself can ever enter into it.

Verse 4. How can a man be born when he is old?] It is probable

that Nicodemus was pretty far advanced in age at this time; and

from his answer we may plainly perceive that, like the rest of the

Jews, and like multitudes of Christians, he rested in the letter,

without paying proper attention to the spirit: the shadow, without

the thing signified, had hitherto satisfied him. Our Lord knew him

to be in this state, and this was the cause of his pointed address

to him.

Verse 5. Of water and of the Spirit] To the baptism of water a

man was admitted when he became a proselyte to the Jewish

religion; and, in this baptism, he promised in the most solemn

manner to renounce idolatry, to take the God of Israel for his

God, and to have his life conformed to the precepts of the Divine

law. But the water which was used on the occasion was only an

emblem of the Holy Spirit. The soul was considered as in a state

of defilement, because of past sin: now, as by that water the body

was washed, cleansed, and refreshed, so, by the influences of the

Holy Spirit, the soul was to be purified from its defilement, and

strengthened to walk in the way of truth and holiness.

When John came baptizing with water, he gave the Jews the

plainest intimations that this would not suffice; that it was only

typical of that baptism of the Holy Ghost, under the similitude of

fire, which they must all receive from Jesus Christ: see Mt 3:11.

Therefore, our Lord asserts that a man must be born of water and

the Spirit, i.e. of the Holy Ghost, which, represented under the

similitude of water, cleanses, refreshes, and purifies the soul.

Reader, hast thou never had any other baptism than that of water?

If thou hast not had any other, take Jesus Christ's word for it,

thou canst not, in thy present state, enter into the kingdom of

God. I would not say to thee merely, read what it is to be born of

the Spirit: but pray, O pray to God incessantly, till he give thee

to feel what is implied in it! Remember, it is Jesus only who

baptizes with the Holy Ghost: see Joh 1:33. He who receives not

this baptism has neither right nor title to the kingdom of God;

nor can he with any propriety be termed a Christian, because that

which essentially distinguished the Christian dispensation from

that of the Jews was, that its author baptized all his followers

with the Holy Ghost.

Though baptism by water, into the Christian faith, was necessary

to every Jew and Gentile that entered into the kingdom of the

Messiah, it is not necessary that by water and the Spirit (in this

place) we should understand two different things: it is probably

only an elliptical form of speech, for the Holy Spirit under the

similitude of water; as, in Mt 3:3,

the Holy Ghost and fire, do not mean two things, but one, viz.

the Holy Ghost under the similitude of fire-pervading every part,

refining and purifying the whole.

Verse 6. That which is born of the flesh is flesh] This is the

answer to the objection made by Nicodemus in Joh 3:4.

Can a man enter the second time into his mother's womb and be

born? Our Lord here intimates that, were even this possible, it

would not answer the end; for the plant will ever be of the nature

of the seed that produces it-like will beget its like. The

kingdom of God is spiritual and holy; and that which is born of

the Spirit resembles the Spirit; for as he is who begat, so is he

who is begotten of him. Therefore, the spiritual regeneration is

essentially necessary, to prepare the soul for a holy and

spiritual kingdom.

Verse 8. The wind bloweth] Though the manner in which this new

birth is effected by the Divine Spirit, be incomprehensible to us,

yet we must not, on this ground, suppose it to be impossible. The

wind blows in a variety of directions-we hear its sound, perceive

its operation in the motion of the trees, &c., and feel it on

ourselves-but we cannot discern the air itself; we only know that

it exists by the effects which it produces: so is every one who is

born of the Spirit: the effects are as discernible and as sensible

as those of the wind; but itself we cannot see. But he who is born

of God knows that he is thus born: the Spirit itself, the grand

agent in this new birth, beareth witness with his spirit, that he

is born of God, Ro 8:16; for,

he that believeth hath the witness in himself, 1Jo 4:13; 5:10;

Ga 4:6. And

so does this Spirit work in and by him that others, though they

see not the principle, can easily discern the change produced; for

whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world, 1Jo 5:4.

Verse 9. How can these things be?] Our Lord had very plainly

told him how these things could be, and illustrated the new birth

by one of the most proper similes that could be chosen; but so

intent was this great man an making every thing submit to the

testimony of his senses that he appears unwilling to believe any

thing, unless he can comprehend it. This is the case with

many-they profess to believe because they comprehend; but they are

impostors who speak thus: there is not a man in the universe that

can fully comprehend one operation, either of God or his

instrument nature; and yet they must believe, and do believe,

though they never did nor ever can fully comprehend, or account

for, the objects of their faith.

Verse 10. Art thou a master of Israel, &c.] Hast thou taken upon

thee to guide the blind into the way of truth; and yet knowest not

that truth thyself? Dost thou command proselytes to be baptized

with water, as an emblem of a new birth; and art thou unacquainted

with the cause, necessity, nature, and effects of that new birth?

How many masters are there still in Israel who are in this respect

deplorably ignorant; and, strange to tell, publish their ignorance

and folly in the sight of the sun, by writing and speaking against

the thing itself! It is strange that such people cannot keep their

own secret.

"But water baptism is this new birth." No. Jesus tells you, a

man must be born of water and the Spirit; and the water, and its

effects upon the body, differ as much from this Spirit, which it

is intended to represent, and the effects produced in the soul, as

real fire does from painted flame.

"But I am taught to believe that this baptism is regeneration."

Then you are taught to believe a falsity. The Church of England,

in which perhaps you are a teacher or a member, asks the following

questions, and returns the subjoined answers.

"Q. How many sacraments hath Christ ordained in his Church?"

"A. Two only, as generally necessary to salvation, that is to

say, baptism and the supper of the Lord."

"Q. How many parts are there in a sacrament?"

"A. Two. The outward visible sign, and the inward spiritual


"Q. What is the outward visible sign, or form, in baptism?"

"A. Water, wherein the person is baptized, In the name of the

Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

"Q. What is the inward and spiritual grace?"

"A. A death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness; for

being by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath, we are

hereby made the children of grace."

Now, I ask, Whereby are such persons made the children of grace?

Not by the water, but by the death unto sin, and the new birth

unto righteousness: i.e. through the agency of the Holy Ghost, sin

is destroyed, and the soul filled with holiness.

Verse 11. We speak that we do know] I and my disciples do not

profess to teach a religion which we do not understand, nor

exemplify in our conduct. A strong but delicate reproof to

Nicodemus, who, though a master of Israel, did not understand the

very rudiments of the doctrine of salvation. He was ignorant of

the nature of the new birth. How wretched is the lot of that

minister, who, while he professes to recommend the salvation of

God to others, is all the while dealing in the meagre, unfruitful

traffic of an unfelt truth! Let such either acquire the knowledge

of the grace of God themselves, or cease to proclaim it.

Ye receive not our witness.] It was deemed criminal among the

Jews to question or depart from the authority of their teachers.

Nicodemus grants that our Lord is a teacher come from God, and yet

scruples to receive his testimony relative to the new birth, and

the spiritual nature of the Messiah's kingdom.

Verse 12. If I have told you earthly things] If, after I have

illustrated this new birth by a most expressive metaphor taken

from earthly things, and after all you believe not; how can you

believe, should I tell you of heavenly things, in such language as

angels use, where earthly images and illustrations can have no

place? Or, if you, a teacher in Israel, do not understand the

nature of such an earthly thing, or custom of the kingdom

established over the Jewish nation, as being born of baptism,

practised every day in the initiation of proselytes, how will you

understand such heavenly things as the initiation of my disciples

by the baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire from heaven, if I should

proceed farther on the subject?

Verse 13. No man hath ascended] This seems a figurative

expression for, No man hath known the mysteries of the kingdom of

God; as in De 30:12; Ps 73:17; Pr 30:4; Ro 11:34. And

the expression is founded upon this generally received maxim: That

to be perfectly acquainted with the concerns of a place, it is

necessary for a person to be on the spot. But our Lord probably

spoke to correct a false notion among the Jews, viz. that Moses

had ascended to heaven, in order to get the law. It is not Moses

who is to be heard now, but Jesus: Moses did not ascend to heaven;

but the Son of man is come down from heaven to reveal the Divine


That came down] The incarnation of Christ is represented under

the notion of his coming down from heaven, to dwell upon earth.

Which is in heaven.] Lest a wrong meaning should be taken from

the foregoing expression, and it should be imagined that, in order

to manifest himself upon earth he must necessarily leave heaven;

our blessed Lord qualifies it by adding, the Son of man who is in

heaven; pointing out, by this, the ubiquity or omnipresence of

his nature: a character essentially belonging to God; for no being

can possibly exist in more places than one at a time, but HE who

fills the heavens and the earth.

Verse 14. As Moses lifted up] He shows the reason why he

descended from heaven, that he might be lifted up, i.e. crucified,

for the salvation of man. kind, and be, by the appointment of God,

as certain a remedy for sinful souls as the brazen serpent

elevated on a pole, Nu 21:9, was for the bodies of the

Israelites, which had been bitten by the fiery serpents in the

wilderness. It does not appear to me that the brazen serpent was

ever intended to be considered as a type of Christ. It is possible

to draw likenesses and resemblances out of any thing; but, in such

matters as these, we should take heed that we go no farther than

we can say, Thus it is written. Among the Jews, the brazen serpent

was considered a type of the resurrection-through it the dying

lived; and so, by the voice of God, they that were dead shall be

raised to life. As the serpent was raised up, so shall Christ be

lifted up: as they who were stung by the fiery serpents were

restored by looking up to the brazen serpent, so those who are

infected with and dying through sin are healed and saved, by

looking up to and believing in Christ crucified. These are all the

analogies which we can legitimately trace between the lifting up

of the brazen serpent, and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The

lifting up of the Son of man may refer to his mediatorial office

at the right hand of God. See Clarke on Nu 21:9.

Verse 15. That whosoever believeth] Bp. Pearce supposes that

this verse is only the conclusion of the 16th, and that it has

been inserted in this place by mistake. The words contain the

reason of the subject in the following verse, and seem to break

in upon our Lord's argument before he had fully stated it. The

words, μηαποληταιαλλα, may not perish but, are omitted by some

very ancient MSS. and versions.

Verse 16. For God so loved the world] Such a love as that which

induced God to give his only begotten son to die for the world

could not be described: Jesus Christ does not attempt it. He has

put an eternity of meaning in the particle ουτω, so, and left a

subject for everlasting contemplation, wonder, and praise, to

angels and to men. The same evangelist uses a similar mode of

expression, 1Jo 3:1:

Behold, WHAT MANNER of love, ποταπηναγαπην, the Father hath

bestowed upon us.

From the subject before him, let the reader attend to the

following particulars.

First, The world was in a ruinous, condemned state, about to

perish everlastingly; and was utterly without power to rescue

itself from destruction.

Secondly, That God, through the impulse of his eternal love,

provided for its rescue and salvation, by giving his Son to die

for it.

Thirdly, That the sacrifice of Jesus was the only mean by which

the redemption of man could be effected, and that it is absolutely

sufficient to accomplish this gracious design: for it would have

been inconsistent with the wisdom of God, to have appointed a

sacrifice greater in itself, or less in its merit, than what the

urgent necessities of the case required.

Fourthly, That sin must be an indescribable evil, when it

required no less a sacrifice, to make atonement for it, than God

manifested in the flesh.

Fifthly, That no man is saved through this sacrifice, but he

that believes, i.e. who credits what God has spoken concerning

Christ, his sacrifice, the end for which it was offered, and the

way in which it is to be applied in order to become effectual.

Sixthly, That those who believe receive a double benefit: 1.

They are exempted from eternal perdition-that they may not perish.

2. They are brought to eternal glory-that they may have

everlasting life. These two benefits point out tacitly the state

of man: he is guilty, and therefore exposed to punishment: he is

impure, and therefore unfit for glory.

They point out also the two grand operations of grace, by which

the salvation of man is effected. 1. Justification, by which the

guilt of sin is removed, and consequently the person is no longer

obnoxious to perdition. 2. Sanctification, or the purification of

his nature, by which he is properly fitted for the kingdom of


Verse 17. For God sent not, &c.] It was the opinion of the Jews

that the Gentiles, whom they often term the world, olmah,

and omoth haolam, nations of the world, were to be

destroyed in the days of the Messiah. Christ corrects this false

opinion; and teaches here a contrary doctrine. God, by giving his

Son, and publishing his design in giving him, shows that he

purposes the salvation, not the destruction, of the world-the

Gentile people: nevertheless, those who will not receive the

salvation he had provided for them, whether Jews or Gentiles, must

necessarily perish; for this plain reason, There is but one

remedy, and they refuse to apply it.

Verse 18. He that believeth] As stated before on Joh 3:16.

Is not condemned] For past sin, that being forgiven on his

believing in Christ.

But he that believeth not] When the Gospel is preached to him,

and the way of salvation made plain.

Is condemned already] Continues under the condemnation which

Divine justice has passed upon all sinners; and has this

superadded, He hath not believed on the name of the only begotten

Son of God, and therefore is guilty of the grossest insult to the

Divine majesty, in neglecting, slighting, and despising the

salvation which the infinite mercy of God had provided for him.

Verse 19. This is the condemnation] That is, this is the reason

why any shall be found finally to perish, not that they came into

the world with a perverted and corrupt nature, which is true; nor

that they lived many years in the practice of sin, which is also

true; but because they refused to receive the salvation which God

sent to them.

Light is come] That is, Jesus, the Sun of righteousness, the

fountain of light and life; diffusing his benign influences every

where, and favouring men with a clear and full revelation of the

Divine will.

Men loved darkness] Have preferred sin to holiness, Belial to

Christ, and hell to heaven. chashac, darkness, is frequently

used by the Jewish writers for the angel of death, and for the

devil. See many examples in Schoettgen.

Because their deeds were evil.] An allusion to robbers and

cut-throats, who practise their abominations in the night season,

for fear of being detected. The sun is a common blessing to the

human race-it shines to all, envies none, and calls all to

necessary labour. If any one choose rather to sleep by day, that

he may rob and murder in the night season, he does this to his own

peril, and has no excuse:-his punishment is the necessary

consequence of his own unconstrained actions. So will the

punishment of ungodly men be. There was light-they refused to walk

in it. They chose to walk in the darkness, that they might do the

works of darkness-they broke the Divine law, refused the mercy

offered to them, are arrested by Divine justice, convicted,

condemned, and punished. Whence, then, does their damnation

proceed? From THEMSELVES.

Verse 20. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light] He who

doth vile or abominable things: alluding to the subject mentioned

in the preceding verse.

The word φαυλος, evil or vile, is supposed by some to come

from the Hebrew phalas, to roll, and so cover oneself in

dust or ashes, which was practised in token of humiliation and

grief, not only by the more eastern nations, see Job 42:6, but

also by the Greeks and Trojans, as appears from Homer, Iliad

xviii. l. 26; xxii. l. 414; xxiv. l. 640; compare Virgil, AEn. x.

l. 844; and Ovid, Metam. lib. viii. l. 528. From the above Hebrew

word, it is likely that the Saxon ful, the English foul, the

Latin vilis, and the English vile, are derived. See Parkhurst

under φαυλος.

Lest his deeds should be reproved.] Or discovered. To manifest

or discover, is one sense of the original word, ελεγχω, in the

best Greek writers; and it is evidently its meaning in this place.

Verse 21. Wrought in God.] In his presence, and through his

assistance. This is the end of our Lord's discourse to Nicodemus;

and though we are not informed here of any good effects produced

by it, yet we learn from other scriptures that it had produced the

most blessed effects in his mind, and that from this time he

became a disciple of Christ. He publicly defended our Lord in the

Sanhedrin, of which he was probably a member, Joh 7:50, and, with

Joseph of Arimathea, gave him an honourable funeral, Joh 19:39,

when all his bosom friends had deserted him. See Dodd.

Verse 22. Came-into the land of Judea] Jerusalem itself, where

Christ held the preceding discourse with Nicodemus, was in Judea;

but the evangelist means that our Lord quitted the city and its

suburbs, and went into the country parts. The same distinction

between Jerusalem and Judea is made, Ac 1:8; 10:39; and in 1

Macc. 3:34; and in 2 Macc. 1:1, 10. See Bp. Pearce.

And baptized.] It is not clear that Christ did baptize any with

water, but his disciples did-Joh 4:2; and what they did, by his

authority and command, is attributed to himself. It is a common

custom, in all countries and in all languages, to attribute the

operations of those who are under the government and direction of

another to him by whom they are directed and governed. Some

however suppose that Christ at first did baptize; but, when he got

disciples, he left this work to them: and thus these two places

are to be understood:-1. this place, of Christ's baptizing before

he called the twelve disciples; and 2. Joh 4:2, of the baptism

administered by the disciples, after they had been called to the

work by Christ.

Verse 23. In AEnon] This place was eight miles southward from

Scythopolis, between Salim and Jordan.

There was much water] And this was equally necessary, where such

multitudes were baptized, whether the ceremony were performed

either by dipping or sprinkling. But as the Jewish custom required

the persons to stand in the water, and, having been instructed,

and entered into a covenant to renounce all idolatry, and take the

God of Israel for their God, then plunge themselves under the

water, it is probable that the rite was thus performed at AEnon.

The consideration that they dipped themselves, tends to remove the

difficulty expressed in Clarke's note on "Mt 3:6". See the observations

at the end of Mark.

Verse 25. John's disciples and the Jews] Instead of ιουδαιων,

Jews, ABELS. M. BV, nearly 100 others, some versions and

fathers, read ιουδαιου, a Jew, which Griesbach has admitted into

the text. The person here spoken of was probably one who had been

baptized by the disciples of our Lord; and the subject of debate

seems to have been, whether the baptism of John, or that of

Christ, was the most efficacious towards purifying.

Verse 26. And they came unto John] That he might decide the


Verse 27. A man can receive nothing, &c.] Or, A man can receive

nothing from heaven, unless it be given him. I have received, not

only my commission, but the power also by which I have executed

it, from above. As I took it up at God's command, so I am ready to

lay it down when he pleases. I have told you from the beginning

that I was only the forerunner of the Messiah, and was sent, not

to form a separate party, but to point out to men that Lamb of God

which takes away the sin of the world: Joh 3:28.

Verse 29. He that hath the bride] The congregation of believers.

Is the bridegroom] The Lord Jesus-the Head of the Church. See

Mt 22:2, &c., where the parable of the

marriage feast is explained.

The friend of the bridegroom] The person whom the Greeks called

the paranymph-there were two at each wedding: one waited on the

bride, the other on the bridegroom: their business was to serve

them, to inspect the concerns of the bridechamber, and afterwards

to reconcile differences between husband and wife, when any took

place. John considers himself as standing in this relation to the

Lord Jesus, while espousing human nature, and converting souls to

himself: this is the meaning of standeth by, i.e. ready to serve.

See the observations at the end of the chapter. See Clarke on Joh 3:36.

Verse 30. He must increase] His present success is but the

beginning of a most glorious and universal spread of

righteousness, peace, truth, and good will among men.

I must decrease.] My baptism and teaching, as pointing out the

coming Messiah, must cease; because the Messiah is now come, and

has entered publicly on the work of his glorious ministry.

Verse 31. Is above all] This blessed bridegroom, who has

descended from heaven, Joh 3:13, is above all, superior to Moses,

the prophets, and me.

He that is of the earth] John himself, who was born in the

common way of man.

Speaketh of the earth] Cannot speak of heavenly things as Christ

can do; and only represents Divine matters by these earthly

ordinances; for the spirit and meaning of which, you must all go

to the Messiah himself.

Verse 32. And no man receiveth his testimony.] Or, And this his

testimony no man taketh up. That is, the testimony which John had

borne to the Jews, that Jesus was the promised Messiah. No man

taketh up.-No person is found to tread in my steps, and to publish

to the Jews that this is the Christ, the Saviour of the world. See

this sense of the original fully proved and vindicated by Kypke in


Verse 33. Hath set to his seal] That is hath hereby confirmed

the truth of the testimony which he has borne; as a testator sets

his seal to an instrument in order to confirm it, and such

instrument is considered as fully confirmed by having the

testator's seal affixed to it, so I, by taking up this testimony

of Christ, and proclaiming it to the Jews, have fully confirmed

it, as I know it to be a truth; which knowledge I have from the

immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit. See Joh 1:33, 34.

Verse 34. For God giveth not the Spirit by measure] He is the

most perfect of all teachers, as having received the Holy Spirit

as none before him ever did. Without measure-not for a particular

time, people, purpose, &c., but for the whole compass of time,

and in reference to all eternity. Former dispensations of the Holy

Spirit made partial discoveries of infinite justice and mercy; but

now the sum of justice, in requiring such a sacrifice, and the

plenitude of mercy, in providing it, shall, by that Spirit with

which he baptizes, be made manifest to all the children of men. It

is worthy of remark that this was fully done after the outpouring

of the Spirit on the day of pentecost, Ac 2:1, &c., as may be

clearly seen in all the apostolic epistles. The Jews observe, that

the Holy Spirit was given only in certain measures to the

prophets; some writing only one book, others two. So Rab. Acba.

Verse 35. All things into his hand.] See Clarke on Mt 11:27. A

principal design of John is, to show that Christ was infinitely

above every teacher, prophet, and Divine messenger that had ever

yet appeared. The prophets had various gifts: some had visions,

others dreams; some had the gift of teaching, others of

comforting, &c.; but none possessed all these gifts: Christ alone

possessed their plenitude, and is all things in all.

Verse 36. Hath everlasting life] He has already the seed of this

life in his soul, having been made a partaker of the grace and

spirit of him in whom he has believed. See Clarke on Joh 3:8.

He that believeth not] Or, obeyeth not-απειθων: from α,

negative, and πειθω, to persuade, or πειθομαι, to obey-the

want of the obedience of faith. The person who will not be

persuaded, in consequence, does not believe; and, not having

believed, he cannot obey.

Shall not see life] Shall never enjoy it: there being no way to

the kingdom of God, but through Christ Jesus, Ac 4:12. And none

can expect to enter into this kingdom but those who obey him; for

to such only he is the author of eternal salvation, Heb 5:9.

But the wrath of God abideth on him] οπγη, the displeasure of

God. I should prefer displeasure to wrath, because the common

acceptation of the latter (fury, rage) is not properly applicable

here. Perhaps the original word is used in the same sense here as

in Ro 2:5; 3:5; 13:4, 5; Eph 5:6; 1Th 1:10; 5:9; where it

evidently means punishment, which is the effect of irritated

justice. Taken in this sense, we may consider the phrase as a

Hebraism: punishment of God, i.e. the most heavy and awful of all

punishments; such as sin deserves, and such as it becomes Divine

justice to inflict. And this abideth on him-endures as long as his

unbelief and disobedience remain! And how shall these be removed

in a hell of fire! Reader! pray God that thou mayest never know

what this continuing punishment means!

THERE are many very important topics brought forward in this

chapter; the principal of which have been already illustrated in

the notes: the subject in the 29th verse Joh 3:29 is of great

consequence, and requires some farther explanation.

The friend of the bridegroom is the person called among the Jews

shoshabin; and παρανυμφος, paranymph, among the

Greeks. Several matters are found in the Jewish writings relative

to these, which may serve to throw light, not only on the

discourse of John, but also on other passages of Scripture.

1. There were generally two shoshabinim; one for the bride,

another for the bridegroom: though in many instances we find the

shoshabin of the bride only mentioned.

2. These officers were chosen out of the most intimate and

particular friends of the parties:-a brother might be shoshabin or

paranymph to his brother.

3. Though it is probable that such persons were not always found

in ordinary weddings, yet they were never absent from the

marriages of kings, princes, and persons of distinction.

4. The Jews believe that this was an ordinance appointed by God;

and that he himself was shoshabin to Adam. But in Bereshith Rabba

it is said, that God took the cup of blessing and blessed the

first pair; and that Michael and Gabriel were shoshabins to Adam.

5. So important was this office esteemed among them, that it was

reckoned one of the indispensable works of charity: much depending

on the proper discharge of it, as we shall afterwards find.

6. Those who were engaged in this office, were excused, for the

time, from some of the severer duties of religion, because they

had so much to do about the new-married pair, especially during

the seven days of the marriage feast.

These shoshabinan had a threefold office to fulfil, viz. before,

at, and after the marriage: of each of these in order.

I. Before the marriage: it was the business of the shoshabin:-

1. To procure a husband for the virgin, to guard her, and to

bear testimony to her corporeal and mental endowments; and it was

upon this testimony of this friend that the bridegroom chose his


2. He was the internuncio between her and her spouse elect;

carrying all messages from her to him, and from him to her: for

before marriage young women were very strictly guarded at home

with their parents or friends.

II. At the wedding: it was the business of the shoshabin, if


1. To vindicate the character of the bride.

2. To sleep in an apartment contiguous to the new-married pair,

to prevent the bride from receiving injury.

3. It was his office to see that neither the bride nor

bridegroom should be imposed on by each other; and therefore it

was his business to examine and exhibit the tokens of the bride's

purity, according to the law, De 22:13-21. Of their office, in

this case, the rabbins thus speak: Olim in Judea paranymphi

perscrutati sunt locum (lectum) sponsi et sponsae-ad scrutandum et

officiose observandum ea, quae sponsi illa nocte fecerint: ne

scilicet alter alteri dolo damnum inferat: ne sponsus sanguinem

virginitatis agnoscat, illum celet aut tollat: et ne sponsa pannum

sanguine tinctum secum inferat.

4. When they found that their friend had got a pure and chaste

virgin, they exulted greatly; as their own character and the

happiness of their friend, were at stake. To this the Baptist

alludes, Joh 3:29,

This my joy is fulfilled.

5. They distributed gifts to the new-married couple, which, on

their marriage, were repaid either by their friend, or by his

father. The same thing is done at what are called the biddings, at

marriages in Wales, to the present day.

6. They continued with the bride and bridegroom the seven days

of the marriage, and contributed variously to the festivity and

hilarity of the occasion.

III. After marriage.

1. The shoshabin was considered the patron and advocate of the

wife, and in some sort her guardian, to which the apostle alludes,

2Co 11:2. He was generally called in to compose any differences

which might happen between her and her husband, and reconcile them

when they had been at variance.

2. They appear to have had the keeping of the marriage contract,

which in certain cases they tore; when they had reason to suspect

infidelity on the part of the woman, by which the marriage was

dissolved; and thus the suspected person was prevented from

suffering capitally. Schoettgen produces a case like this from R.

Bechai, in legem, fol. 114. "A king visited foreign parts, and

left his queen with her maids: they raised an evil report on her,

and the king purposed to put her to death. The shoshabin hearing

of it, tore the matrimonial contract, that he might have it to

say, the marriage is dissolved. The king, having investigated the

case, found the queen innocent: she was immediately reconciled to

her husband, and the shoshabin was directed to write another


3. Schoettgen very modestly hazards a conjecture, that, if the

husband had either abandoned or divorced his wife, the shoshabin

took her, and acted to her as a brother-in-law; which is probable

from the place to which he refers, Jud 14:20:

But Samson's wife was given to his companion, whom he had used

as his friend: or, as both the Syriac and the Targum have it,

she was given, shoshebeeneyah, to his paranymph; which

is agreeable to the Alexandrian copy of the Septuagint, και


And Samson's wife dwelt (or cohabited) with his paranymph, who had

been his companion. The same reading is found in the Complutensian


From the preceding particulars, collated with the speech of John

in Joh 3:29, and with the words of St. Paul, 2Co 11:2, it is

plain that Christ is represented as the BRIDEGROOM: the Church, or

his genuine disciples, the BRIDE: the ministers of the Gospel, the

SHOSHBEENIM, whose great and important duty it is to

present to the bridegroom a pure, uncontaminated virgin, i.e. a

Church without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, Eph 5:27,

alluding evidently to the office of the paranymph, on whom the

bridegroom depended to procure him, for wife, a chaste and pure

virgin. Hence that saying of St. Paul, who considered himself the

paranymph to Jesus Christ: I am jealous over you with godly

jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may

present you as a chaste virgin to Christ, 2Co 11:2.

From all these particulars, we see that the office of the

shoshabin, or paranymph, was a very important one among the

Jews; and that, to it, some interesting references are made in the

New Testament, the force and true meaning of which passages cannot

be discerned without considering the character and office of the

Jewish paranymph. See several good observations on this in

Lightfoot's notes on Joh 2:1, and

Schoettgen, on Joh 3:29.

As the Christian Church was now to take place of the Jewish, and

the latter was about to be cast off because it was polluted, John,

by using the simile of the bride, bridegroom, and paranymph, or

friend of the bridegroom, points out, as it were prophetically,

of what kind the Christian Church must be: it must be as holy and

pure as an uncontaminated virgin, because it is to be the bride or

spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ: and God honours the Baptist by

making him the paranymph; and indeed his whole preaching and

baptism were excellently calculated to produce this great effect,

as be strongly proclaimed the necessity of a total reformation of

heart and manners, among all classes of the people. See the notes

on Mt 3:8-12, and on Lu 3:10-14. He heard the bridegroom's

voice-he faithfully communicated what he had received from heaven,

Joh 3:27, and he rejoiced exceedingly to find that he had got a

people prepared for the Lord. The success of John's preaching

greatly contributed to the success of that of Christ and his

disciples. For this purpose he was endued with power from on high,

and chosen to be the paranymph of the heavenly bridegroom.

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