New International Version John 3:

1Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 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.”

Unlike some other Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law, Nicodemus was being humble in meeting Jesus.

3Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. ”

Jesus introduced the concept of born-again. Naturally, Nicodemus wondered what it was about and asked an innocent question.

4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit b gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

After hearing Jesus' answer, Nicodemus still had trouble understanding the concept and followed up with a further innocent question.

9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

Nicodemus did not contradict Jesus. He seemed sincere in his questions. Uncharacteristically, Jesus did not respond graciously.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

You are Israel’s teacher. You should have known.

11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe;

Nicodemus had not expressed unbelief as a spoken statement of fact. He merely raised questions, trying to understand what Jesus said. Jesus was more gracious in his encounter with e.g., the Samaritan woman at the well. Why didn't Jesus elaborate on his answer so that Nicodemus could understand born-again better? In fact, the elaboration would have benefited us.

Related questions:

What was Nicodemus supposed to know from the Old Testament about being born again?

Does the idea of being "born again" have a root earlier than John/Peter (or Jesus)?


My question is more about Jesus' mindset and less about Nicodemus'. Sure, Nicodemus should have known if he were smart and objective. Still, why was Jesus being harsh to his innocent questioning? Nicodemus wasn't being stubborn like other Pharisees. He did believe later.

  • 1
    Does this answer your question? Does the idea of being "born again" have a root earlier than John/Peter (or Jesus)?
    – Dottard
    Jul 17, 2021 at 21:18
  • See also credohouse.org/blog/…
    – Dottard
    Jul 17, 2021 at 21:32
  • NIV missed the grammatical structure in 3;7: Prohibitive Subjunctive This is the use of the subjunctive in a prohibition-that is, a negative command. It is used to forbid the occurrence of an action. The structure is usually μή + aorist subjunctive, typically in the second person. Its force is equivalent to an imperative after μή; hence, it should be translated Do not rather than You should not. The prohibitive subjunctive is frequently used in the NT. Wallace, D. B. (1996). Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (p. 469).
    – Perry Webb
    Jul 18, 2021 at 1:36
  • John 3:7 μὴ θαυμάσῃς ὅτι εἶπόν σοι· δεῖ ὑμᾶς γεννηθῆναι ἄνωθεν. Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.” Wallace, D. B. (1996). Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (p. 469). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
    – Perry Webb
    Jul 18, 2021 at 1:38
  • A rare down-vote to Mr Chan for criticising Jesus of Nazareth.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 19, 2021 at 19:55

7 Answers 7


Jesus knew the Hebrew scriptures inside out and back to front. Nicodemus, a teacher of scriptural law, should have at least known that the concept of new birth was in the Psalms and index-linked Psalm 87 to the strange words Jesus said about 'birth'. Nicodemus would have sung this Psalm, a very short one, expressing God's love for Zion, the city of God. But these verses in particular should have rung a bell, where God himself states:

"I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me - Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush - and will say, 'This one was born in Zion'. Indeed of Zion it will be said, 'This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.' The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: 'This one was born in Zion.'" [emphasis mine]

The NIV Study Bible notes point out that 'Rahab' here refers to Egypt, as in Isaiah 38:7. The other places (Babylon, Philistia, Tyre and Cush) were also noted as being at enmity with God and with Zion, yet this Psalm makes an astounding statement. God will draw out people born in those place, to give them a new registration for their birth-place - Zion.

Yet they never were born literally in Zion! This means that the record of their birth in God's estimation is of spiritual birth - a second birth - a new birth as now being part of God's family.

That as what Jesus spoke of, and that is what Nicodemus ought to have thought of when Jesus startled him into how a person is to "see the kingdom of God" - heavenly Zion.

Nicodemus should also have been familiar with the Hebrew scripture promises of God as to giving a new spirit and a cleansed heart wherein God's laws would be 'written', so that nobody would need to remind that transformed person what they were. (This is mentioned quite a lot in the prophecy of Ezekiel.) So, when Jesus said that a man must be born of water and of the Spirit to see the kingdom of God, Nicodemus should have instantly dropped all thoughts about a physical birth. Jesus was speaking of a new, spiritual birth, without which nobody can see the kingdom of God. And if one cannot even see the kingdom of God, how can they possibly enter it?


Why was Jesus not being more patient with Nicodemus in John 3?

To understand Jesus' statement in verse 12, we need to see the background of Nicodemus.

As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was well versed in the Law. The glossary entry "Pharisees" of the New World Translation-Study Edition states:

A prominent religious sect of Judaism in the first century C.E. They were not of priestly descent, but they were strict observers of the Law in its smallest detail, and they elevated oral traditions to the same level. (Mt 23:23) They opposed any Greek cultural influence, and as scholars of the Law and the traditions, they had great authority over the people. (Mt 23:2-6) Some were also members of the Sanhedrin. They often opposed Jesus regarding Sabbath observance, traditions, and association with sinners and tax collectors. Some became Christians, including Saul of Tarsus.​—Mt 9:11; 12:14; Mr 7:5; Lu 6:2; Ac 26:5. (bold mine)

So as a "scholar of the Law", Nicodemus knew the 'ins and outs' of Law and its application. But as to what Jesus is pointing out to him, Nicodemus just doesn't 'get it'. Jesus' response in verse 12 is akin to a calculus teacher saying to a student "You have studied basic math, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, etc. and you don't understand how this function works?"

Jesus goes on further to basically say "how do you expect to understand more spiritual matters if you don't grasp the basics?"

So, Jesus is not necessarily showing impatience but more trying to help Nicodemus understand that his knowledge and understanding needed further instruction if he was to continue learning more about what Jesus was teaching.


One would think that Nicodemus would have remembered Israel's beginning of how Abraham's seed came about.

Genesis 18:13

13And the LORD asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Can I really bear a child when I am old?’ 14Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you—in about a year—and Sarah will have a son.”

Meyer's NT Commentary

John 3:9-10. The entire nature of this birth from above (ταῦτα) is still a puzzle to Nicodemus as regarded its possibility (the emphasis being on δύναται); and we can easily understand how it should be so to a learned Pharisee bound to the mere form and letter. He asks the question in this state of ignorance (haesitantis est, Grotius), not in pride (Olshausen). Still, as one acquainted with the Scriptures, he might and ought to have recognised the possibility; for the power of the divine Spirit, the need of renewal in heart and mind, and the fact that this renewal is a divine work, are often mentioned in the O. T. Jesus therefore might well ask in wonder: Art thou the teacher, etc.? The article ὁ διδάσκ. and the τοῦ Ἰσρ. following designate the man not merely in an official capacity (Ewald), which would not mark him out individually from others, but as the well-known and acknowledged teacher of the people. See Bernhardy, p. 315; Winer, p. 110 [E. T. p. 143]. Hengstenberg puts it too strongly: “the concrete embodiment of the ideal teacher of Israel;” comp. Godet. But Nicodemus must have held a position of influence as a teacher quite inconsistent with this proved ignorance; there is in the article a touch of irony, as in the question a certain degree of indignation


There are two aspects here both based around the classic rabbinic teaching method which shared some similarities with the Socratic method - two people (teacher and pupil) asking questions of each other - each question designed to advance understanding more than knowledge.

Jesus was reminding Nicodemus about numerous OT passages that should have shown him about the necessity of a new heart and by extension, a new way of living. Here is a sample:

  • Deut 6:5 - "And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength". (See also Deut 10:12, 16, 11:18, etc.) This combined with many other passages such as Ps 51:5 showed that we need a new heart to serve God.
  • Job 33:24, 25 - Spare him from going down to the Pit; I have found his ransom,’ then his flesh is refreshed like a child’s; he returns to the days of his youth.
  • Ps 51:10 - Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
  • Jer 24:7 - I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the LORD. They will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with all their heart.
  • Jer 31:33 - But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD. I will put My law in their minds and inscribe it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they will be My people.
  • Eze 11:19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
  • Eze 18:31 - Cast away from yourselves all the transgressions you have committed, and fashion for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, O house of Israel?
  • Eze 36:26 - I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Thus, Nicodemus should have been aware of OT teaching about the need for divine regeneration of the heart in order to serve God.


I think you are taking the whole passage as a verbatim word for word conversation when it is not. The conversation with Nicodemus ends with verse 10, and then the statement from 11 is said to the general group of audience. Verse 14-21 is certainly John's own narrative. John may insert his own narrative, or a general teaching to the audience from a different occasion at any point; because it is his narrative. We shouldn't assume that any conversation is strictly written as verbatim. Furthermore, if you judge according to the oversensitive standards of modern westerners then every single word Jesus spoke was racist and abusive. The standard of political, cultural, social sensitivity is very different.


Luke 12:48

But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

This verse applies to Nicodemus who has been given a lot of talents by God.

John 3:10.

“Jesus answered, saying to him, ‘Are you the teacher (ὁ διδάσκαλος) of Israel and you do not understand these things?’”

Nicodemus is THE teacher,

James 3:1

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

Nicodemus is an authoritative rabbi and is blessed with a lot of talents. Jesus expects more from him. That's why Jesus has more patience with the Samaritan woman than with him. He should have understood the idea of being born again quickly instead of doubting the words of Jesus.


It's simple, the higher someone's position, the more responsibility he has, and if things go wrong, the more damage he can do.

Nicodemus as a spiritual teacher of the Law should have known the answer to Jesus' question as he should have already developed a better connection/ relationship with God's Spirit instead of asking things like a novice. You also see this in,

  • In the New Testament, an elder person of 60 years old should live a more decent life (1 Timothy 5:5-10)
  • An elder must live a respectable life even his children must be good (1 Timothy 3:2-13)
  • A fully grown fig tree without fruits will be cursed (Mark 11:13-14)

So in other words, think twice before wanting a 'higher up' position in leadership, it has responsibilities. It looks hard, but it's reasonable.

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    – agarza
    Mar 24 at 14:04

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