Text: John 3:2(ESV) & (3:1-21)

"This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”


In John 3:2, we are aware from V1 that Nicodemus is alone because he comes to Jesus at night - he clearly did not want others to know of his interview.

So, in V2, why is οἴδαμεν (= we know) plural. Does the "we refer to:

  1. Just Nicodemus and those with whom he had recently discussed things?
  2. The Pharisees specifically mention in V1?
  3. Jewish leadership, say, the members of the Sanhedrin?
  4. "Thinking" people more generally (whatever that means)?
  5. Jews most generally?

The simple answer is - we are not told. Grammatically, the most likely candidate is option #2, the Pharisees as it provides a specific antecedent. #5 is almost certainly untrue. #4 is equally unlikely. #1 is also too vague.

This leaves us with #2 & #3 as the most likely. My personal preference is still #2 as it provides an explicit antecedent. Further, the Sanhedrin was dominated by Sadducees (the High Priest was a Sadducee) they would not be interested in finding out much about this latest Messiah other than to condemn Him.

Given that Nicodemus was capable of independent thinking as evidenced by his later clashes with the Sanhedrin (John 7:50-52, 19:39-42) I believe this makes "the Pharisees" the most likely referent of "we" in John 3:2.

  • (Not related to the question.) How do you know that the High Priest was a Sadducee ? (+1 for the answer.)
    – Nigel J
    Jul 23 '20 at 8:04
  • Joseph Caiaphas was the Jewish high priest during the time of Jesus’ ministry (see John 11:48-50). He was the son-in-law of Annas, the former high priest. Caiaphas was also a member of the Sadducees. Sadducees were often wealthy men of high position and, as they sought to appease their Roman rulers, were heavily involved in politics. They held the majority seat in the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court, over which Caiaphas ruled for the 18 years he served as high priest. Source: gotquestions.org/Caiaphas-in-the-Bible.html
    – Lesley
    Jul 23 '20 at 9:17
  • Thanks, @Lesley. That saved me the trouble
    – Dottard
    Jul 23 '20 at 9:20
  • @NigelJ - see Lesley's answer above.
    – Dottard
    Jul 23 '20 at 9:20
  • @Dottard You are most welcome (+1 for the answer)
    – Lesley
    Jul 23 '20 at 9:22

Your first question: Who were the "we"?

Berean Study Bible John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.

It mentions this progressively bigger groups of people:

  1. Nicodemus
  2. leaders of the Jews
  3. Pharisees

The "we" comes from these groups with the minimum including, of course, Nicodemus himself. So "we" is Nicodemus plus a combination of some leaders of the Jews and some Pharisees.

Your 2nd question: Was the interview on friendly terms?

2 He 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.”

This is the first recorded encounter of Jesus and a Pharisees in John. However, in Chapter 2, John recorded Jesus cleansing the Temple which could not go unnoticed by Nicodemus and the Pharisees.

Nicodemus was a Rabbi and he called Jesus Rabbi, a respectable title. He acknowledged Jesus' miracles. He acknowledged that Jesus came from God. Let me stress this: Jesus, a man, came from God. Nicodemus said and believed this incredible statement. And it was not just he, but he and his close set of friends of some leaders of the Jews and some Pharisees. The beginning of the interview started with a very friendly gesture from Nicodemus.

How did Jesus respond to this opening gesture?

3 Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Jesus went right to the heart of his mission: Born again. Then later on, He gave him the most cited verse in the Bible:

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

After the preamble in verses 1 & 2, in the rest of the interview, Nicodemus only asked a couple of questions. That's it. He didn't accuse Jesus of anything. He did't make any negative statement. He didn't argue with Jesus as other Pharisees did in later chapters. Jesus was objectively being quick to the point in logic because Nicodemus was an expert of the Hebrew Scripture. (I talk to my kids and my colleagues very differently.) There is absolutely no reason for us to believe that Jesus did not reciprocate on equally friendly terms.

  • He was a member of the Sanhedrin, so could "we" include, if not all, but most colleagues ?
    – Sam
    Jul 24 '20 at 3:29
  • My guess is that most were sitting on the fence at the time of the interview. They wanted to wait until after hearing Nicodemus' report.
    – Tony Chan
    Jul 24 '20 at 11:49

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