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John 3:13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.

What is the meaning of this verse?

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This is indeed a puzzling passage. First of all, although "who is in heaven" is found in the great majority of early manuscripts, it is omitted in five Alexandrian manuscripts. Because they are so widely attested, these words are generally accepted as authentic, although a minority of scholars dispute them. Some modern Bibles omit or italicise these words, while the New English Bible (NEB) interprets them, saying "home is in heaven".

The UBS versions 3 accepted uncertainty by giving this a C-decision, "there is a considerable degree of doubt. This vote is altered to a B-decision in the UBS fourth edition, which means the short version was considered "almost certain". David Alan Black ('The Text of John 3:13') supports the long version, including "who is in heaven", and says (page 65):

Although much can be said for certain arguments in favor of the shorter reading" in my judgment the inclusion of the disputed words is the best solution since it is supported by significant external and internal evidence and retains a great deal of John's original use of the term "Son of Man." Given the strength and diversity of the external attestation, the improbability of an accidental omission, and the intrinsic probability favoring the inclusion of the phrase, I suggest that the longer text which includes [these words] deserves to be taken more seriously by the editors of the UBS Greek NT.

One answer to the current question can therefore be that the fourth Gospel did not originally include these words, and that they were subsequently added to emphasise the divinity of Jesus, unaware of the impact of these words on the longer passage.


Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges provides a good summary of several views (reformatted for clarity):

which is in heaven]
- These words are omitted in the best MSS.
- If they are retained, the meaning is ‘Whose proper home is heaven.’
- Or the Greek participle may be the imperfect tense (comp. John 6:62, John 9:25, John 17:5), which was in heaven before the Incarnation.
- It is doubtful whether in this verse we have any direct allusion to the Ascension, though this is sometimes assumed.

Others say that John 3:13 demonstrates the omnipresence of Jesus.

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    Given the strength and diversity of the external attestation, the improbability of an accidental omission, and the intrinsic probability favoring the inclusion of the phrase, I suggest that the longer text which includes [these words] deserves to be taken more seriously... I totally agree. As to the demonstration of the omnipresence of Jesus yet He was in still in flesh w'd be a bit of a stretch. My observation is that this enigma has to do with His being the 'Branch of the LORD' who simply grows out of His place but doesn't quite 'leave it'. – Witness Sep 12 '16 at 4:58
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This verse is connected to what Jesus had been telling Nicodemus, although the connection is not immediately obvious. The verse is cited in the Ante-Nicene commentaries of Tertullian, Hippolytus, Novatian, Archelaus, and is also included in the ancient Syriac Diatessaron of Tatian.

Nicodemus understood Christ to be a great teacher and perhaps a prophet because of the miracles he had performed (John 3:2). In verse 13, Jesus is extending his dialog with Nicodemus to reveal that He is much more than a prophet. No mere man, he says, hath ever ascended up to heaven as he will.

Theophylact (11th century Byzantine commentator) summarizes the Patristic interpretation of this verse as follows:

Because Nicodemus thought Jesus was a teacher and prophet, the Lord now says to him, "Do not imagine that I am an earthly prophet sent by God. I came down from heaven as Son of God, and I am not from the earth. No prophet hath ascended up to heaven.* I alone shall ascent, as I descended."

When you hear that the Son of man came down from heaven, do not imagine that flesh came down from heaven. (Apollinarius taught this heresy: Christ came down from heaven in the body and entered the world through the Virgin as through a channel.) Since Christ has two natures united in one hypostasis, or person, the names that refer to His human nature may also be addressed to God the Word; conversely, the names that refer to the divine Word may be addressed to Christ as man. Thus, in this verse, Christ calls Himself the Son of man, Who came down from heaven.

The Lord adds the words Who is in heaven for a specific reason: "When you hear Me say that I came down to earth, do not imagine that I am no longer in heaven. I am here in the body on earth, and at the same time co-enthroned there with the Father in my divine nature.

- Explanation of the Gospel of John; Chrystopher Stade, trans. (Chrysostom Press, 2007), p. 51

It also may be worth pointing out that Christ is no longer speaking to Nicodemus only, but to all Jews. When He begins his discourse, he addresses Nicodemus only - in the singular:

Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι
Verily, verily, I say unto thee

In the same sentence, though, he shifts to the plural:

οὐ λαμβάνετε
and ye receive not our witness.

The archaic King James English preserves the distinction between the singular and plural forms of "you" ("thee" and "ye", respectively). The distinction is lost in modern translations.



* The editors of the English translation of Theophylact's commentary point out that although Elijah was taken up by God in his chariot, Christ will ascend through His own will and power.

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  • thanks for your effort. The editors of the English translation of Theophylact's commentary point out that although Elijah was taken up by God in his chariot, Christ will ascend through His own will and power, much of what you have given about Him is true, does this section answer what the verse means then? – Witness Sep 12 '16 at 5:07
  • I'm not sure I exactly understand your question. The meaning of the verse is an explanation that Christ is more than a mere man, and even more than a prophet. Maybe I should edit to make this explicit. – user15733 Sep 12 '16 at 13:05
  • @Non-theologian, Messiah is not a mere man, granted, and for which the many elements about Him and His works, and as to how He was born, could suffice as an explanation. However, He says what He said here while that one fact is already common knowledge. My question is what did He mean by it? Your answer addressed the fact that He isnt as men are in many aspects, but not quite about that particular verse. – Witness Sep 12 '16 at 13:48
  • Ok. I re-read my answer and I can't think of what else to add. What he meant by the verse was that Nicodemus should not think of him as only a teacher or even a prophet, at least according to a Patristic interpretation. – user15733 Sep 12 '16 at 14:32
  • The meaning must be seen along those lines I accept. It's just that its hard to agree upon. What closest explanation there's is, its in what Paul says of us to be 'seated with Him in Heavenly places' as His 'branches', while in flesh, and if so for us much more Him who was the "Branch of the LORD:. The book of Job alludes to this idea of a branch of man very often, that is, what happens to it in the context of that man being sinful or righteous. To me this is the strongest case I could make for what Messiah meant in the verse. – Witness Sep 12 '16 at 14:44
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John 3:13 American Standard Version

And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven.

Interestingly, the New American Standard Bible drops the phrase "who is in heaven".

"No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.

The verse shows the two natures of Jesus: divine and human. Being human, he didn't completely abandon his divine nature.

John 17:5 declares His glory:

And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

As believers, we experience a type of this dual nature.

2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

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What is meant in John 3:13 by the son of man who's in Heaven yet He still says 'He came down from Heaven'?

John 3:13 NET

13 No one[a] has ascended[b] into heaven except the one who descended from heaven—the Son of Man.[c]

Some translators have added the words “which [or, who] is in heaven.” Those additional words suggest that Jesus was in heaven and on earth at the same time​. That added phrase appears in a few manuscripts from the fifth and tenth centuries C.E. However, its omission in the earlier Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts has led many modern translators to remove the phrase. This clears up confusion about the identity of Christ and harmonizes with the rest of the Scriptures. Rather than being in two places at the same time, Jesus had come from the heavens and would soon return to the heavens, "ascending to" his Father.​

John 20:17 NET

17 Jesus replied,[a] “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

John 16:28 NET

28 I came from the Father and entered into the world, but in turn,[a] I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”[b]

John 14:28 NET

28 You heard me say to you,[a] ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad[b] that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I am.[c]

Footnotes [C] John 3:13 NET You may read full details on the merits of adding or not the expression "who is in heaven" to the verse.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+3%3A13&version=NASB;NET

The reading “who is in heaven” thus seems to be too hard. All things considered, as intriguing as the longer reading is, it seems almost surely to have been a marginal gloss added inadvertently to the text in the process of transmission. For an argument in favor of the longer reading, see David Alan Black, “The Text of John 3:13, ” GTJ 6 (1985): 49-66.sn See the note on the title Son of Man in 1:51.

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  1. Jesus was a man 'heaven' sent by his Father - who IS heavenly. Heaven/heavenly can describe the state of being 'holy and righteous' as well as a 'place'.

  2. 'who is in heaven'? We can safely understand that it is not Jesus speaking from v13, but John as narrator. John is speaking of what has already transpired - at this stage, Jesus WAS in heaven at the Father's right hand.

  3. He speaks of being born again in John 3 - flesh cannot enter the 'kingdom' - another euphemism for holiness. Believers are born again at their resurrection, giving them a bodily spirit life. Then, they may enter the kingdom and be with God - having been cleansed completely. With the change to sprit life, we are reborn to our Father God. (previously, we were of the 'father' of the world - in nature, unholy)

  4. Clearly, also no man has gone to heaven - having been made righteous as Jesus was the epitome of, under the Father. All men are dead, awaiting their resurrection at their appointed time. Jesus was also dead until the Father raised him. Acts 2:32,Rom 10:9

  5. The act of being 'sent' is a heavenly decree from God - He sent Moses just as much as He sent Jesus John 8:42, 17:3. John the Baptist was sent, the spirit is sent Gal 4:6 etc. God sends 'heavenly' gifts

James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Mal 3:10 I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour down a blessing

Jesus was sent - 'came down' or 'descended' is simply expressing WHO he came from, sent by God who is not in a place, but a realm of heavenly qualities - this is where Jesus came from when he was conceived in Mary by God the Father.

The point is centred on who Jesus is as the son of God, but also as there have been many sons of God previously, Jesus is the only one without sin - not of this world, but the heavens and able to be the perfect Lamb, the sacrifice for the world.

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Linguistic Approach:

If you take the literal meaning. Jesus is saying no man has ascended to Heaven except He that came down from heaven (referring to himself), even (explicitly declaring) the Son of man in heaven.

This means the Son of man (who was in Heaven at the time Jesus talked to Nicodemus) either (depending on how you interpret the word even):

A: Did not ascend to Heaven or come down from Heaven yet (exclusive meaning of even).

OR

B: Can and has ascended/descended to and from Heaven but was at that time in Heaven (inclusive meaning of even).

My Answer:

Jesus is quite possibly referring to a Son of man which is not Himself that was and still might be in Heaven.

Jesus was referring to Himself when he said "except the one which descended from heaven".

He further implied that He was not referring to Himself as the Son of man by declaring the Son of man to still be in Heaven.

This view does not create any theological contradictions. Rather it creates only one question:

Who is the Son of man Jesus refers to in this verse?

The Language Problem:

Other translations seem to remedy this linguistic approach by removing the ambiguity through truncating the verse or outright changing it. This changes the meaning of the verse for a very straightforward implication. That Jesus was referring to Himself as the Son of man in this particular verse.

Examples:

NIV: No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man

It omits which is in heaven and implies the Son of man as Jesus.

NLV: No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven

It reverses the meaning of the statement which is in heaven and says came down from heaven and implies the Son of man as Jesus.

Clearly, which is in heaven (which means currently in heaven) is a direct opposite of came down from heaven (which means currently not in heaven).

Analysis:

These examples demonstrate an attempt at resolving this seemingly strange puzzle by omission or outright changing the meaning of the verse.

The result of both viewpoints (literal vs omission) leads to two different answers. Both viewpoints leave the reader unsatisfied.

One makes the reader wonder why so much was changed to arrive at this conclusion, the other makes the reader wonder who Jesus is talking about.

Summary:

The simple explanation might have been Jesus is referring to another Son of man unknown to us.

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  • The problem with doing exegesis from KJV instead of the Greek or modern translations is that one needs to understand old English. The Oxford Universal Dictionary explains one of the senses of "even" as "namely". There is no word for "even" in the Greek text. So if we translate KJV into modern English it could be: "he that came down from heaven, namely the Son of Man." There is no evidence for the claim that "Son of Man" should be anyone but Jesus. – Iver Larsen Dec 30 '20 at 6:14
  • Son of man is a term used to describe the prophet Ezekiel and Jesus. In this particular verse I am stating that perhaps Jesus is referring to another Son of man. I understand you concern with critically analyzing text that is not the source material, but the Question here is referring to a KJV interpretation. So I analyzed the KJV text. And if you read my answer again, I consider the definition of "even" to be "namely/chiefly". I consider that the inclusive meaning of "even" (B). But using KJV you cannot resolve the phrase "which is in heaven" unless you consider there is another Son of man. – Serpent Dec 30 '20 at 13:26
  • And you provide a translation as: "he that came down from heaven, namely the Son of Man". Yet you omitted the phrase "which is in heaven". Again my answer already clarified why your approach resolves one question yet adds another. If we just omitted every part of KJV that confused us, would that be the correct resolution? And again my answer does not create any theological contradictions by suggesting that in this one verse, Jesus may be referring to another Son of man. The only question created is "Who is it?". – Serpent Dec 30 '20 at 13:40
  • You are right in that I did not address the other problem in my short comment. But that was alsready addressed by other answers. We do not know if the words "the one being in Heaven" are original or added later. I agree with the majority in saying that they are probably not original. – Iver Larsen Dec 30 '20 at 14:10

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