Exegeting John 3 – Part 1

The first post I did, Exegeting Scripture without Learning Greek, covered an introductory look at exegesis of scripture without extensive knowledge of original biblical languages.  In this simple version of the Historical Grammatical method there are 5 questions that are asked.  I will list them here again:

  1. Who is speaking or writing?
  2. Who are they speaking or writing to?
  3. What is the subject that is being presented?
  4. At what time was it said or written?
  5. What is the occasion for the speaking or writing?


In this post we are going to start walking through John 3:1-21.  This is the record of the meeting between our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the Pharisee Nicodemus.

I had mentioned that looking back a little in chapter 2 would help.  In fact, we will eventually go back to the beginning of the book to grab some other verses that help us understand chapter 3.

John 2:23-25 sets us up for the meeting with Nicodemus.  It tells us that many believed in his name when they saw the miracles, but He, that is Jesus, did not commit himself to any of them.  They believed because of the miracles, this is important to remember.  Jesus did not commit himself unto them because He knew all nmen, and didn’t need anyone to testify of men, because He knew what was in man.  You need to carry this thought in your mind as you read the rest of the Gospel of John, especially since this Gospel is going to show how Christ interacts with men from the beginning to end.

This brings us to John 3:1.

(1)  There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:

First off we see that we have ‘a man’.  So right off the bat, we know that Jesus knows all about this guy before he gets to Jesus.

Next, he was a Pharisee.  Taking my own advice, let’s see what John Gill says about about this:

John 3:1  There was a man of the Pharisees,…. The Syriac version adds, “there”; that is, at Jerusalem; and who was among those that believed in the name of Christ, upon seeing the miracles he did at the feast of the passover, in that place. This man was not a common and ordinary man, but a man of note and eminence, of dignity and figure; and who was of the sect of the Pharisees, which was the strictest sect for religion and holiness, among the Jews; and which, as corrupt as it was, was also the soundest; as having not only a regard to a Messiah, and to all the writings of the Old Testament, but also believed the doctrines of angels and spirits, and the resurrection of the dead, which the Sadducees denied; but yet they were implacable enemies of Christ; and therefore it is the more to be wondered at, that such an one should come to him, and desire a conversation with him:

With that commentary note, we now have some background concerning what a Pharisee was, and a little more insight into this meeting.  I read more in Gill’s commentary and found that Nicodemus being a ‘ruler of the Jews’ indicated that he was a member of the Sanhedrin which consisted of doctors (wise men), priests, Levites and elders of the people.  So let’s put this information to use for us:

  1. Nicodemus is a Jew, that makes him a descendant of Abraham in the flesh.
  2. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, this makes him a strict religious man that believes in angels, spirits, and the resurrection.
  3. Nicodemus is a ‘ruler’, or  a member of the Sanhedrin, that makes him extremely knowledgeable of the Old Testament Scriptures and a big wig.


John 3:2
The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.


Let’s nail down our setting then, it is part of our 5 questions, and it helps us interpret what the scripture is teaching us:

  1. It is night, so it is really, really dark.  No street lights back in the day.  Is Nicodemus hiding his desire to talk to Jesus from his own people?  Some commentators seem to think so.
  2. The one coming to Jesus, has a deep and profound respect for Christ, so we can even see the sincerity Nicodemus’ inquiry.  Rabbi is a term of respect (cf Matt 23:8-10).  Something is going on with Nicodemus.  A man of his position giving such respect to a humble carpenter from Nazareth.


When we get into the exchange portion of the meeting in the next few verses, you will see Jesus appeal to Nicodemus’ status as a ruler in Israel.  So it is an important fact as we walk through John 3.

So now let’s split up what Nicodemus said to Christ and glean from it what he is saying to the Lord.

  1. We know – Notice the use of the plural pronoun.  What is being revealed here?  It seems that there is an acknowledgement among the Jewish leadership, those that Nicodemus talked with, of who Jesus was.
  2. Come from God – In this phrase we see the readiness, as Gill says, to hear what Jesus has to say.  To declare that Jesus was a teacher sent by God, says “I want to hear what you have to say because it has to be from God, the miracles that you have done prove to me(us) that you are a prophet of God.
  3. No man can do these miracles except God be with Him – This is the summary statement to Nicodemus’ apologetic for coming to Christ that night.


I know that I am going to sound repetitive.  I am willing to take that criticism.  I want to build my case like Columbo.  Line upon line, with all verses in the exchange dependent upon one another to make sense.  If my conclusion doesn’t make any sense with what has been established as fact, then I have either my facts incorrect or I have lost my bearing and have ended up in the wrong port.  So I want to constantly go back and reiterate what we know, and build upon what we already know to be true.  Be ready to ask yourself, “How did I get here?”.

So, Who is talking?  Nicodemus.  Who is he talking to?  Jesus.  What is the time, occasion and subject?  It is night and Nicodemus wants to hear from the One who has been sent by God.

In our next post, the “Who is talking” positions will switch places a couple times.  It is good to keep up with who is saying what.  Knowing who is speaking makes a difference, especially if you are studying the book of Job.

We will try to get through John 3:3-8 in part 2.  At this moment, I am convinced we won’t get through it all in one post, but we will see.


God bless.




About prchrbill

Bill Conover has written 9 post in this blog.

I am married and am the father of six children. I have spent the majority of my life in the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement, preaching in their pulpits and earning a 'degree' in Pastoral Theology from one of their schools. I no longer consider myself as IFB. I am recovering. I would hold to the 1742 Philadelphia Confession of Faith and to the Doctrines of Grace.

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