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What does "spirit" mean in John 3:6 (in bold)? Is it referring to the soul?

John 3:6 (ESV)

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Here's the context of the text in question:

John 3:3-7 (ESV)

3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

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1. Question Restatement:

  1. What does "spirit" mean in John 3:6?
  2. Is it referring to the soul?

    • NASB, John 3:6 - 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

2. In John 3 - Jesus is Defining "Spirit" as a "Divine Nature" :

2.1. Jesus' Own Analogy:

In the same sentence - Jesus is actually explaining himself: Jesus is asserting that "Flesh" is analogous to "Spirit" - they are both "Natures".

Paraphrase, John 3:6 - "If a Human child is Human, then a Child of God must be Spirit".

2.2. Spirit is a Divine Nature:

NASB, John 4:24 - God is spirit | Πνεῦμα, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

NASB, John 6:63 - It is the Spirit | πνεῦμά who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit | πνεῦμά and are life.

Interlinear Greek, Pslams 104:4 - He makes his angels spirits, and his servants, flames of fire.


3. In Scripture, Spirit is Consistently Distinguished from Soul:

NASB, 1 Corinthians 15:45 - So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul | ψυχὴν ζῶσαν.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit | πνεῦμα ζῳοποιοῦν.

NASB, 1 Thessalonians 5:23 - Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body | τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ ἡ ψυχὴ καὶ τὸ σῶμα be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

NASB, Hebrews 4:12 - For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit | ἄχρι μερισμοῦ ψυχῆς τε καὶ πνεύματος, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Enoch 22 - 3 Then Raphael answered, one of the holy angels who was with me, and said unto me: 'These hollow places have been created for this very purpose, that the spirits of the souls of the dead should 4 assemble therein, yea that all the souls of the children of men should assemble here.

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In John 6:53, Jesus said to his disciples:

Verily, verily,I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.

For those disciples who stayed to listen further, he went on to say (v. 63):

It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.

Jesus distinguished two aspects of being - spirit and flesh. The flesh represents everything about you that you can locate: arms, legs, kidneys, brain, etc. However, the spirit is not so. Where is YOUR spirit? Where is the HOLY SPIRIT? How do these aspects of being (yours and God's) commune? In verse 8 of the passage you quote, Jesus said:

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

The "spirit" is a mystery. Those who are not born of the spirit don't even recognise they possess such a thing. If it can't be measured, then it doesn't exist, they would contend.

We know, however, from Genesis 2:7,

... the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

The prophet's vision of the valley of bones in Ezekiel 37 reinforces this notion:

So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. ...

So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.

The spirit, the "breath of life", is the engine of the soul. It is the repository of all the things one treasures, and it compels the mind to figure out the ways and means of taking hold of those treasures. It animates us. It causes us to move from where we are to where our treasures can be found.

You ask also, "Is it referring to the soul?" The terms spirit/heart/soul are often used synonymously for this mysterious, unseeable, untouchable, unmeasureable aspect of being. However, Genesis 2:7 says " and man became a living soul (Hebrew: "nephesh"), so, for me, the soul isn't something you have, but something you are.

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  1. The Spirit is the truth. Joh 6:63b
  2. The Lord is the Spirit. 2 Cor 3:17
  3. The words (rhema) of Jesus are spirit and are life. 1 Joh 5:6b

And the Word (logos) appeared in flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, complete of Grace and Truth. Joh 1:14

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God. Lc 1:35 Version [NET]

Consider the impartial understanding for 1 Cor 6:17:

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us insight to know him who is True, and we are in him who is True, in his Son Jesus Christ. This True one is the God and Eternal life. 1 Joh 5:20.

The demonstrative Pronoun “This” is declined in the Nominative, singular, masculine and “Jesus Christ” is declined in the Dative. The word near to the nominative pronoun “This”, that also is in the nominative case is "True", quoted contextually in the verse.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of Water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. John 3:6

In John 4:4,14c,24 - He says:

But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” (Jo 4:14 [NET]) See also Ver 7:17, 21:6, 22:1, 22;17.

Christ talks with a woman of Samaria, and reveals himself unto her

4 But he had to pass through Samaria. 5 Now he came to a Samaritan town called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, so Jesus, since he was tired from the journey, sat right down beside the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone off into the town to buy supplies.) 9 So the Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you – a Jew – ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said to him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water? 12 Surely you’re not greater than our ancestor Jacob, are you? For he gave us this well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” 16 He said to her, “Go call your husband and come back here.” 17 The woman replied, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “Right you are when you said, ‘I have no husband,’ 18 for you have had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband. This you said truthfully!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But a time is coming – and now is here – when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

God is a spirit, and not a body, or a corporeal substance. The nature and essence of God is like a spirit. See the Greek construction in Septuagint 2 Ki 9:4; Psa 78:5; Amo 5;6; Jer 4;4; Dat 2;35 and Jam 3:6.

What does "spirit" mean in John 3:6 (in bold)?

Repost: The nature (theotes) and essence (hypóstasis) of God. See Cl 2:9 and Heb 1:3.

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What does “spirit” mean in John 3:6 (in bold)? Is it referring to the soul?

No, since the soul is distinguished from the spirit.1

6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. NKJV, ©1982

We can observe flesh being born of flesh with our eyes, thus the first clause is not difficult to understand. However, we cannot observe spirit being born of Spirit with our eyes, which makes it difficult for some to understand the meaning of the second clause.

The first clause refers to being born (begotten) the first time, where a human child is birthed by its mother nine months after being conceived by its mother and father. It is how all of us came into existence.

The second clause refers to being born (begotten) the second time—“born (begotten) again”—by God,2 who Himself is spirit (as opposed to corporal).3

Being born again begins by receiving “the implanted word,”4 for Christians are “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever.”5 This is the word preached in the gospel,6 for the gospel is the words of the Lord Jesus Christ,7 and his words “are spirit, and they are life.”8

Being begotten (again), like human conception, is not instantaneous, but a developmental process,9 which culminates upon the return of the Lord Jesus Christ when Christians are changed while alive or resurrected from the dead into their spiritual bodies.

In summary, “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” refers to the spiritual regeneration10 of the spirit in humans by God.


Footnotes

1 1 Thes. 5:23; Heb. 4:12
2 John 1:13, etc.
3 John 4:24
4 Jam. 1:21
5 1 Pet. 1:23
6 1 Pet. 1:25
7 cf. 1 Cor. 4:15
8 John 6:63
9 2 Cor. 3:18
10 “rebirth,” “being born again,” “being begotten again”

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What does “spirit” mean in John 3:6?

John 3:6 (ESV)

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Is "spirit": Refers to a spiritual son of God, one who is anointed with God’s spirit.

2 Corinthians 1:21 (NASB)

21 "Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God."

Luke 4:18 (MEV)

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind to set at liberty those who are oppressed."

Acts 2:3-4 (NASB)

3 "And there appeared to them tongues as of fire [a]distributing themselves, and [b]they [c]rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance."

2 Corinthians 3:5-6 (NABRE)

5 "Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God, 6 who has indeed qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life."

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The Spirit is when the Lord make his home in you. When we repent and are born of the water,we can always ask Jesus to give us His Spirit.If you are not sure,if you have the Spirit ask Jesus to give you a sign.For whoever don't have the Spirit of Christ do not belong to Him.

We are not born with the Spirit,there are billions of unbelievers who do not love Jesus,only those who love Jesus receive the Spirit. Sinners are dead for they don't have the mind of Christ(The Spirit) but believers live because Jesus lives.Those who love Jesus can ask for the Spirit and they will be resurrected at the last day if they endure and stay faithful.

Loving the Lord in order to receive

Jesus replied, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. John 14:23

Receiving the Spirit in you

The Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.John 14:15

Living because of the Spirit in you

Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. John 14:19

For, "Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:16

Not having the Spirit in you

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. John 6:63

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Romans 8:9

When you receive the Spirit,you know that the Lord is with you.It isn't a philosophical knowledge but a real presence and love.

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The most common interpretation I have read is that: He that is born of human nature is entirely of that nature, body, soul and spirit is of a 'fleshly' or 'sinful' nature. Therefore anyone of mere natural birth is sinful entirely and can't even see God's Kingdom let alone enter into it. He that is born of the Spirit of God is born with a heaven or spiritual nature that is far different from an earthly nature. In other words spirit is a 'spiritual life' born of the Spirit of God and sustained and nurtured by the Spirit, in contrast to the natural sinful nature of the flesh. The New Testament teaching is that the spirit life will eventually fully resurrect spirit, soul and body, so the use of 'spirit' versus 'flesh' is not to be understood as the body versus the soul but rather sinful nature versus a holy one. The holy nature is tagged onto the spiritual part of men because they are first inwardly saved then the body is resurrected later.

This used to be a kind of flagship verse when teaching the total depravity of mankind by Christians. In other words if you are born of the flesh then your whole nature is fleshly.

The same concept is found in Paul's letters where he says the same thing but more clearly as Jesus usually taught in parables:

5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.(The New International Version. (2011). (Ro 8:5–10). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.)

The totality of the sinful nature is also stated by Paul:

18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. (The New International Version. (2011). (Ro 7:18). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.)

Here is one of many samples from expositers that understand it this way:

The passage relates not only to a proceeding of the moral nature and life from the Spirit of God (Meyer), but to a transformation of the whole person himself by the operations of the Spirit.—Is spirit. That is: Is determined in its whole nature by the Spirit as its principle, growing towards entire spiritualization, as that which is born of the flesh is determined by the flesh as its principle, and in its abnormal development sinks into carnality, Rom. 8:5. Evidently the whole sentence applies to the whole human race (not, as Kuinoel holds, to the Jews alone), and expresses: (1) The contrast between the old man and Christ as the Son of Man; (2) The contrast between the unregenerate and the regenerate (see Rom. 5). Meyer: “In the conclusions respectively, the substantives σάρξ and πνεῦμα stand significantly and strongly [comp. 1 John 4:8] for the adjectives σαρκικός and πνενματικός, and are to be taken qualitatively.” (Lange, J. P., & Schaff, P. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: John (p. 129))

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To answer the question, what is the spirit mentioned in John 3:6, we have to understand that Jesus is replying to the question hidden in the non-question statement of Nicodemus: “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

Is there really a question in that statemen? Sure, Nicodemus is being coy, and what he really wants to know is what Jesus's intention is.

Jesus tells him he is not surprised that Nicodemus cannot understand his motives, because only those who have been baptised by the Holy Spirit and fire, like his disciples, can understand and access the Kingdom of God, which He has ushered in.

These are the steps that are gone through, to access the Kingdom, the motifs which are seen in both the Old, as well as the New, Testament.

Believers confess that selfish living is harmful, come out of Egypt, are willing to consider the alternative provided by God. This alternative is to live selflessly, and safely, because God is involved, His finger is in the situation:

Exodus 8:19 Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.

Luke 11:20 But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

When believers see the great work of God, they SEE the Kingdom of God, God working with humans to subdue creation, cause it to turn to God, thus being blessings to the world. This is how this submission works :

Joshua 2:11"When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.

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John 3:1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs You are doing if God were not with him.”

Those who receive this insight bury it deep in their hearts, so that it takes root and grows to have faith, so that when they hear God's voice, they will not be like Israel, who because of lack of faith, did not enter the Kingdom.

Let us regroup:

Those who have been baptised by the Holy Spirit and with fire are shown great works of God working with believers, and understanding of how this helps them become blessings to the world. They have a choice to neglect these revelations and understandings and not believe, or nurture them so that they will have greater faith, have a different spirit, be born again, so that when they hear God's voice, they can obey and be blessings to the world.

Numbers 14:24But because My servant Caleb has had a different spirit and has followed Me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he has entered, and his descendants will inherit it.

Now let's form the conclususion:

This is how the giving of the Holy Spirit leads to the formation of a spiritual believer, just as living in the world, flesh, leads to the formation of a worldly believer.

Nicodemus, in turn, needs to first believe Jesus is the Messiah, as taught by John the Baptist, so that he can be given the baptism in the name of Jesus, leading to the giving of the Holy Spirit, in turn witnessing God working with humans, to subdue creation. Only then can his worldly self be reborn spiritually, depending on how he nurtures the revelation, the word, the communication from God.

Luke 8:8“Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He would call out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”9His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. 10And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND.

11“Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. 12“Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. 13“Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. 14“The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. 15“But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.

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Matthew 23:24“And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. 25‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’

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Matthew 25:3“For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.

All Scripture from the NASB.

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