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John 3:8 (ESV) states:

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

I don't understand the comparison. It doesn't make much sense. Does Jesus mean that as the path of the wind is a mystery so does the new birth occur?

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The answer to your question comes from Jesus's own words in the following verses (v10 - v16). Jesus came from God. He spoke with God-given authority about things that He had seen and heard in heaven (v11). But the Pharisees could not accept this. They heard the sound of His voice, but they had no idea where He came from (Heaven) or where He was going (the cross - hence verses 14-16).

Nor could they ever believe, unless and until they were 'born of the Spirit' themselves. To understand the words and works of God requires new birth - hence the words of Jesus 'you must be born again'. To those without the Spirit, God's works and words through His earthly servants are like the effects of the wind; visible and audible, but mysterious, unpredictable and inexplicable.

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    – ThaddeusB
    Nov 28, 2015 at 21:23
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“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

  1. πνεῦμα – wind, breath, or spirit. The noun πνεῦμα appears in one form or another some 386 times in the New Testament and it is translated as spirit in every instance except here in John 3:8. This begs the question of 'why'. The word that is usually translated as “wind” in the New Testament is ἄνεμος which is used some 31 times in its various forms.

  2. The word πνεῖ means wind, blow, or breath and occurs only here.

If it can be considered proper to translate πνεῦμα as 'wind' in this one verse when it is never so translated anywhere else in scripture, and if πνεῖ is also properly translated as 'blow' then it may be that Jesus is using the natural phenomenon of wind to explain the inexplicable working of the Holy Spirit. In other words, this rendering of the text would offer such an explanation as that given by Clark's Commentary on the Bible,

“The wind blows in a variety of directions - we hear its sound, perceive its operation in the motion of the trees, etc., 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 everyone 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, Romans 8:16; for, he that believeth hath the witness in himself.” Is there justification for this rendering; perhaps.

However, if we apply the same translation to πνεῦμα that it is given through the rest of scripture (including its later appearance in this same verse) and translate πνεῖ as 'breaths', and render αὐτοῦ as 'he' rather than 'it' then this creates an entirely different understand of this text. “The Spirit breaths where he wishes and you hear the sound of him, but do not know where he comes from and where he is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

Jesus is talking about detection and discernment – we hear but are unable to discern its origin or its destination. This is talking about perception.

How would this relate to those who are born of the Spirit? The force of “even so” draws a comparison between the characteristics of the Spirit and the one who is born of the Spirit. The context is explaining how the Holy Spirit operates in the new birth. In this passage the Lord is suggesting that the Spirit breathes where He wills; His voice is heard (i.e., His inspired words are perceived); “even so,” is one begotten of the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit’s operation through the word of God that initiates the new birth experience 1 Pet. 1:23. The new birth is a passive experience. It is something that is done to us and is linked to two connecting elements – water and Spirit.

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Razvan, you have stumbled across a verse that is key to understanding a theme throughout the Gospel of John. Throughout John’s Gospel is an ambiguity between the physical and spiritual, the earthly and heavenly, darkness and light. This ambiguity makes translating this Gospel difficult. The good translation:

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8, ESV)

can also be translated:

The Spirit breaths where he/it wishes, and you hear his/its voice, but you do not know where he/it comes from or where he/it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

The ambiguity of spirit/breath/wind is common in first-century languages and before. Wishes hints at the duel meaning because the wind doesn’t have a will. Note that φωνή (sound/voice) means voice in John 1:23; 3:29; 5:25,28; John 10:3-5,16,27; 11:43; 12:28,30; 18:37. Only here in this Gospel does it have the meaning sound. We hear the Spirit not as a physical audible voice but with our spiritual ears. While modern meteorology may dispute Jesus’ description of the wind, his objective was describing the Spirit and discussed how we experience the wind without seeing it rather than giving scientific detail. It doesn’t mean we don’t know the Spirit comes from God, although we are to test the spirits (1 John 4:1–3). It means the Holy Spirit is invisible but speaks to our spirit.

Note the dual meanings with σκοτίᾳ/φῶς (darkness/light, John 1:5; 3:19-21; 7:12) κατέλαβεν (overcome/understand = grasp, 1:5); ἄνωθεν (again/above, 3:3), ὕδωρ ζῶν (living/running water 4:10; 7:38); πηγή (well/spring, 4:14); βρῶσιν (food that perishes vs. endures 4:31; 6:27); ἐλευθερώσει/δοῦλός (free/slaves, 8:31-38). This can keep going on.

Note:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe. (John 6:63-64, ESV)

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  • Good answer. +1 :)
    – Rajesh
    Mar 14 at 23:46
  • @Steve But, αὐτοῦ is the same form for masculine and neuter. Just because spirit is neuter in Greek doesn't mean the Spirit is an it. For example, you are one of τὰ τέκνα τοῦ θεοῦ. That does not mean you are neuter. Thus, it is interpretation no matter how you translate 3:8.
    – Perry Webb
    Mar 15 at 0:27
  • @Steve I edited to he/it to show the possible translations.
    – Perry Webb
    Mar 15 at 9:00
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LITV Joh 3:8 The Spirit breathes where He desires, and you hear His voice; but you do not know from where He comes, and where He goes; so is everyone having been generated from the Spirit.

YLT Joh 3:8 the Spirit where he willeth doth blow, and his voice thou dost hear, but thou hast not known whence he cometh, and whither he goeth; thus is every one who hath been born of the Spirit.'

πνεῦμα pneúma; a current of air, that is, breath (blast) or a breeze; by analogy or figuratively a spirit

That word is used 385 X's in the New Testament KJV. 384 X's it is translated in the KJV as Spirit, Spirits, Spiritual, Spiritually, Ghost, life ONE time it is translated in the KJV as wind.

I have read many commentaries over the years and some 'honest' ones (memory escapes me which) have said the literal translation does not make sense to them so they prefer the KJV and similar translations. To those who have had 'Pentecostal' experiences it makes perfect sense and as such this is one of many examples where "Interpreters" bring their subconscious 'doctrinal leanings' into THEIR interpretations and thus I always recommend and prefer literal translations.

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What does John 3:8 mean?

John 3: 3-8 (NASB)

Nicodemus finds it difficult to understand spiritual truths.

3 "Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born [b]again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”4 Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

To make things clearer to Nicodemus, Jesus uses the wind as an example Vs 8

6 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born [c]again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

The wind is real, Nicodemus could feel, notice its effects, but could not know its origin or where it is going. Likewise, those lacking spiritual insight will find it difficult to understand how God by means of his spirit could cause a person to be born again, let alone know and understand the destiny of such one would be.

With the help of the Bible writers which were inspired by the spirit of God, to write to us his message in the Bible, one can comprehend such matters:

John 16:13 (NASB)

13 "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak, and He will disclose to you what is to come.

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It can have several significances of unfathomable depth and wisdom. One of them is that the Lord Jesus Christ indicates to the Personhood of the Spirit, for wind cannot wish anything, for it blows automatically, while when "wind" is used metaphorically as referring to the Spirit, it indicates that birth in Spirit is not automatic, but it is based on reciprocation of the born - man - and the Birthgiver - the Spirit, Who blows where He wishes.

Moreover, the wind is not restricted by anything, and so a person who will be born in Spirit will live a new type of life when he will do what he wishes, for the transforming work of Spirit in him will turn him into such a person that desires good things and is no more a moral person, that is to say, a person who restricts his vile desires for the sake of moral laws, but whose vile desires are transformed into desires towards God and His Eternal bliss-creating things, and such a person is already immoral person in a superlative way, because for such there is no Law (Gal.5:23).

Therefore, the sentence "and so with everyone who is born of Spirit" can have this meaning as well: only the Spirit-endowed man is really free and "blows", that is to say, speaks and acts without being influenced by tyranny of fears, sinful passions, earthly/limited interests or rigid ideological mindset; since such a man possesses the Spirit, that is to say the Mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), then his words and actions are strange to the world, ununderstandable and even hateful for the latter. But a Spirit-endowed man is totally free and acts at will, or rather co-acts with his inspiring Spirit, for where is the Spirit of God there is freedom (1 Cor. 3:17).

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There is no doubt Jesus is referring to the Holy Spirit. Just like the Wind, the Spirit of the LORD can move anyone to His kingdom regardless of their status in lives or race. We cant tell who will be save or who will be called by the LORD.

The the LORD said:

Romans 9:15 ~For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

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