Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Water-Flesh-Spirit-Wind-Breath-Newborns

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding John 3:1-17. This text is so well-known that I am really looking for ways to re-visit "anew," so to speak. Your partnership on this journey is welcomed! 

1 ην δὲ ἄνθρωπος ἐκ τῶν Φαρισαίων, Νικόδημος ὄνομα αὐτῷ, ἄρχων τῶν Ἰουδαίων:
Yet there was a man out of the Pharisees, Nicodemus his name, leaders of the Judeans;
ην: IAI 3s, εἰμί,1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. “leaders of the Judeans” seems to modify “Pharisees” rather than Nicodemus, since it is plural.

οὗτος ἦλθεν πρὸς αὐτὸν νυκτὸς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ῥαββί, οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἀπὸ θεοῦ ἐλήλυθας διδάσκαλος: οὐδεὶς γὰρ δύναται ταῦτα τὰ σημεῖα ποιεῖν ἃ σὺ ποιεῖς, ἐὰν μὴ ὁ θεὸς μετ' αὐτοῦ.
The same came to him a night and said to him, “Rabbi, we have known that you have come from God a teacher; for nobody is able to do these signs which you are doing unless the God would be with him.
ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
οἴδαμεν: PerfAI 1p, εἴδω, to perceive to see, i. e. to turn the eyes, the mind, the attention to anything
ἐλήλυθας: PerfAI 2s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
δύναται: PMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by one's own ability, a state of mind, favorable circumstances, permission or custom 
ποιεῖν: PAInf, ποιέω, 1) to make  …  2) to do
ποιεῖς: PAI 2s, ποιέω, 1) to make  …  2) to do
: PASubj 3s, εἰμί,1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present

3 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, οὐ δύναται ἰδεῖν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.
Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen amen I say to you, unless someone is born anew, he is not able to see the reign of the God.”
ἀπεκρίθη: API 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
γεννηθῇ: APSubj 3s, γεννάω, 1) of men who fathered children  1a) to be born
δύναται: PMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by one's own ability, a state of mind, favorable circumstances, permission or custom 
ἰδεῖν: AAInf, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes

4 λέγει πρὸς αὐτὸν [ὁ] Νικόδημος, Πῶς δύναται ἄνθρωπος γεννηθῆναι γέρων ὤν; μὴ δύναται εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ δεύτερον εἰσελθεῖν καὶ γεννηθῆναι;
[The] Nicodemus says to him, “How is a grown man able to be born? Is he able to go into the womb of his mother a second and be born?
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
δύναται (2x): PMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by one's own ability, a state of mind, favorable circumstances, permission or custom
γεννηθῆναι: APInf, γεννάω, 1) of men who fathered children  1a) to be born
εἰσελθεῖν: AAInf, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter 
γεννηθῆναι: APInf, γεννάω, 1) of men who fathered children  1a) to be born
1. The μὴ of the second question is often translated ‘not’, but in a question its purpose is often to show the expectation of a negative answer.

5 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς, Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος, οὐ δύναται εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.
Jesus answered, “Amen amen I say to you, unless someone would be born out of water and spirit, he is not able to enter into the reign of God.
ἀπεκρίθη: API 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
γεννηθῇ: APSubj 3s, γεννάω, 1) of men who fathered children  1a) to be born
δύναται: PMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by one's own ability, a state of mind, favorable circumstances, permission or custom 
εἰσελθεῖν: AAInf, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter 

6 τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τῆς σαρκὸς σάρξ ἐστιν, καὶ τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος πνεῦμά ἐστιν.
The one who has been born out of flesh is flesh, and the one who has been born out of spirit is spirit.
γεγεννημένον (2x): PerfPPart nsn, γεννάω, 1) of men who fathered children 1a) to be born
ἐστιν (2x): PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present

7 μὴ θαυμάσῃς ὅτι εἶπόν σοι, Δεῖ ὑμᾶς γεννηθῆναι ἄνωθεν.
May you not marvel that I said to you, ‘It is necessary to you to be born anew.’
θαυμάσῃς: AASubj 2s, θαυμάζω, 1) to wonder, wonder at, marvel 
εἶπόν: AAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Δεῖ: PAI 3s, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten
γεννηθῆναι: APInf, γεννάω, 1) of men who fathered children  1a) to be born
1. This verse is translated by the ESV as “Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'” I have two problems with that simple translation. First, to “marvel” (θαυμάζω) is not in the imperative, but is an aorist active subjunctive. It may take on the force of an imperative, but I think a translation ought to save the imperative voice for imperatives.
2. Second, when the verb δέω (“it is necessary for”) is translated as “must” is also gives the feeling of an imperative. However, I feel that there is a difference between “You must be born anew” and “It is necessary to you to be born anew.” δέω indicates – from its origin in “binding” or “fastening” – that there is a kind of necessity by an unnamed power at work. That unnamed power at work is actually the subject, not ‘you.’ Unlike the spirit – which is described in v.8 as “blowing where it will,” the persons to whom Jesus are speaking are not free to blow around at will, but are fastened to this destiny of being born anew. And, in v.14, Jesus is described as being tied to the destiny of being ‘lifted up.’ δέω is used 9x in John.
3. The word “you” is plural, so this conversation is directed at more than Nicodemus.

8 τὸ πνεῦμα ὅπου θέλει πνεῖ, καὶ τὴν φωνὴν αὐτοῦ ἀκούεις, ἀλλ' οὐκ οἶδας πόθεν ἔρχεται καὶ ποῦ ὑπάγει: οὕτως ἐστὶν πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος.
The spirit blows where it wills, and you hear its voice, but you have not known whence it comes and whither it goes; likewise is every one who is born out of the spirit.”
θέλει: PAI 3s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend
πνεῖ: PAI 3s, πνέω, 1) to breathe, to blow  1a) of the wind 
ἀκούεις: PAI 2s, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf  2) to hear 
οἶδας: PerfAI 2s, εἴδω, to perceive to see, i. e. to turn the eyes, the mind, the attention to anything
ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
ὑπάγει: PAI 3s, ὑπάγω, 1) to lead under, bring under  2) to withdraw one's self, to go away, depart 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
γεγεννημένος: PerfPPart nsm, γεννάω, 1) of men who fathered children  1a) to be born
1. Some interpretive/translation choices in this verse come out of the word πνεῦμα and the related verb πνέω. πνεῦμα can signify wind, spirit, or breath. Hence, this sentence could read “the breath breathes where it will” or “the wind blows where it will” or “the spirit inspires where it will” or any mixture of the above. On the one hand, “wind/blows” works because the point is that we hear it, but cannot see/perceive its origin or destination. On the other hand, the last phrase “born out of the spirit” has gained resonance in the Christian tradition – due to the way this verse has typically been translated.
2. The word οἶδας is in the perfect tense, a past completed tense. Here, it almost assumes that human ‘knowing’ is dependent primarily on ‘seeing’ as opposed to ‘hearing.’ We hear the wind/spirit/breath, but have not perceived its origins or destiny.

9 ἀπεκρίθη Νικόδημος καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Πῶς δύναται ταῦτα γενέσθαι;
Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How is it able these things to happen?”
ἀπεκρίθη: API 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
δύναται: PMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by one's own ability, a state of mind, favorable circumstances, permission or custom 
γενέσθαι: AMInf, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
1. Since this is a ‘rough translation’ I will let the awkwardness stand for now. The verb “able” is singular, but the noun “these things” is plural. Hence, I am making the implied “it” the subject of “able.” In the end, I would smooth it out.

10 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Σὺ εἶ ὁ διδάσκαλος τοῦ Ἰσραὴλ καὶ ταῦτα οὐ γινώσκεις;
Jesus answered and said to him, “You are a teacher of the Israel and do not know these things? (or “Are you a teacher …? or “… do you not know?)
ἀπεκρίθη: API 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἶ: PAI 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
γινώσκεις: PAI 2s, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel
1. When Jesus calls Nicodemus a ‘teacher,’ he is circling back to the language that Nicodemus bestowed on him when he began the conversation (v.2).

11 ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι ὅτι ὃ οἴδαμεν λαλοῦμεν καὶ ὃ ἑωράκαμεν μαρτυροῦμεν, καὶ τὴν μαρτυρίαν ἡμῶν οὐ λαμβάνετε.
Amen amen I say to you, ‘That which we have known we are speaking and that which we have seen we are witnessing, and our witness you are not receiving.
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
οἴδαμεν: PerfAI 1p, εἴδω, to perceive to see, i. e. to turn the eyes, the mind, the attention to anything
λαλοῦμεν: PAI 1p, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak 
ἑωράκαμεν: PerfAI 1p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know 
μαρτυροῦμεν: PAI 1p, μαρτυρέω, 1) to be a witness, to bear witness
λαμβάνετε: PAI 2p, λαμβάνω, 1) to take … 1d1) to admit, receive  1d2) to receive what is offered
1. Again,  my phrasing may be a bit awkward, but I am trying to keep clear the differences between the perfect and present tenses at work in this verse.

12 εἰ τὰ ἐπίγεια εἶπον ὑμῖν καὶ οὐ πιστεύετε, πῶς ἐὰν εἴπω ὑμῖν τὰ ἐπουράνια πιστεύσετε;
Since I said earthly things to you and you are not believing, how if I were to say to you the heavenly things would you believe?
εἶπόν: AAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
πιστεύετε: PAI 2p (2x), πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed 
εἴπω: AASubj 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
1. εἰ could be translated “if”, but when it is followed by an indicative verb, it is more like ‘since.’
2. One question is whether the binary ‘earthly and heavenly’ here is the same as the binary ‘flesh and spirit’ of v.6, or ‘water and spirit’ of v.5, or ‘going up into heaven and coming down from heaven’ of v.13, or ‘perish and have life of the ages’ in v.16 or ‘condemn and save’ of v.17. And maybe more. There seem to be many binary categories at work (‘believe and not believe’ in this verse), but it is not clear whether they are different ways of expressing the same essential idea or if they are different topics.

13 καὶ οὐδεὶς ἀναβέβηκεν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν εἰ μὴ ὁ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς, ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.
And nobody has gone up into the heaven except the one having come down out of the heaven, the son of man.
ἀναβέβηκεν: PerfAI 3s, ἀναβαίνω, 1) ascend  1a) to go up  1b) to rise, mount, be borne up, spring up
καταβάς: AAPart nsm, καταβαίνω, 1) to go down, come down, descend 
1. The term “son of man” is often associated with the synoptics, but it appears 12 times in John as well.  It is often associated with Jesus at his death and that’s where this text is going now.

14 καὶ καθὼς Μωϋσῆς ὕψωσεν τὸν ὄφιν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, οὕτως ὑψωθῆναι δεῖ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου,
And just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so it is necessary for the son of man to be lifted up.
ὕψωσεν: AAI 3s, ὑψόω, 1) to lift up on high, to exalt  2) metaph.  2a) to raise to the very summit of opulence and prosperity  2b) to exalt, to raise to dignity, honor and happiness
δεῖ: PAI 3s, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten  1a) to bind, fasten with chains, to throw into chains
ὑψωθῆναι: APInf, ὑψόω, 1) to lift up on high, to exalt 
1. V.13 just made reference to the son of man having ‘gone up’ into the heavens. Now we have a reference to things that are ‘lifted up.’ John changes the verb from ἀναβαίνω in v.13 to ψόω here. ψόω could be a simple physical elevation or a metaphorical exaltation. The comparative “just as” is an indicator that the meaning here is determined by one’s reading of the story from Numbers 21:4-9. In the NRSV translation below, it simply says that Moses put the bronze serpent on a pole, indicating a physical elevation.
2. Again the word δεῖ, meaning “it is necessary.”  It is worth asking whether this necessity is written into the ages from the beginning to more of a necessity that arises because of something else that has happened. (That oughtta get the old-time Presbyterians going!)  

15 ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ἐν αὐτῷ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
In order that anyone who believes in him will have life age-during.
πιστεύων: PAPart nsm, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed  1a1) to credit, have confidence  1b) in a moral or religious reference 
ἔχῃ: PASubj 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold  1a) to have (hold) in the hand, in the sense of wearing, to have  (hold) possession of the mind (refers to alarm, agitating  emotions, etc.)
1. I am following Young’s Literal Translation by translating ζωὴν αἰώνιον as “life age-during”. It’s awkward, to be sure, but it also avoids all of the conjecturing about the best way to translate “αἰώνιον.” One lexicon, for example, says it means “without beginning or end,” which makes it curious that the same lexicon speaks of the phase “πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων,” which it interprets as “before the beginning of time.” In that case, αἰωνίων cannot mean “without beginning” if there is a “before” connected to it. I suspect that the popularization of the Greek notion of the immortality of the soul has influenced how this word has been translated into “eternal,” instead of keeping some reference to “the ages” (αἰών), which is not quite the same thing (to me, anyway). Frankly, I agree with Paul Tillich that the Christian theological concept of “eternal” is a spatial/temporal symbol, meaning “outside of time itself” instead of “time on and on.”
2. Besides, how could this mean 'eternal qua without beginning' if one is born into it? 

16 Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ' ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
For in this way God loved the world, that [God] gave the only-born son, in order that anyone who believes in him would not be destroyed but have life eternal.
ἠγάπησεν: AAI 3s, ἀγαπάω, 1) of persons  1a) to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly  2) of things  2a) to be well pleased, to be contented at or with a thing
ἔδωκεν: AAI 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone  2a) of one's own accord to give one something, to his advantage
πιστεύων: PAPart nsm, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed  1a1) to credit, have confidence  1b) in a moral or religious reference 
ἀπόληται: AMSubj 3s, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy 1a) to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to ruin 1b) render useless 1c) to kill 1d) to declare that one must be put to death 1e) metaph. to devote or give over to eternal misery in hell  1f) to perish, to be lost, ruined, destroyed 2) to destroy 2a) to lose
ἔχῃ: PASubj 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold  1a) to have (hold) in the hand, in the sense of wearing, to have  (hold) possession of the mind (refers to alarm, agitating  emotions, etc.)
1. Some modern translations begin this verse, “God loved the world so much…” , but I think that is a mistaken way of translating of oὕτως. It can mean ‘so,’ as the KJV and NRSV translate it, but ‘so’ not in the sense of “so much” as in the sense of “in this way.”
2. The word μονογενῆ would be transliterated mono-genes. The phrase “only begotten son” in the KJV is more accurate than the “only son” in the NRSV, because it is rooted in the same word as γεννάω, which is used in vv.3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. The topic throughout this pericope is ‘born’ which in this verse it now qualified as ‘only-born.’
3. There are two types of historical contexts at play in the phrase “only begotten son.” One is the Roman context of John’s day, when various Caesars – dead or alive – would be declared a “son of God.” (See John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan Reed’s In Search of Paul for a very good discussion of this issue.) The second historical context is the Christian theological tradition over this phrase. The exegete needs to be aware of this ongoing conversation when consulting lexicons and other tools. The “lexicon” in greattreasures.org, for example, has an extended definition of this term which goes far beyond word study and argues for and against certain post-biblical interpretations. I have no problem with people commenting on the meaning of words (I’m doing it!), I just want to be clear that lexicons are not exempt from theologizing and opinionizing. They may be very well-informed opinions, but there are times when they seem to be grinding an axe that is not necessarily in the text itself.
4. Likewise, why does the NRSV set this sentence apart as a separate paragraph? As endeared at this verse has become since the late 20th century, there is nothing in the text that suggests a change of topic.
5. The verb πόλλυμι is in the middle voice. It is contrasted with having life eternal. If we think about it, ‘having’ is something of a middle voice also (although technically it is active). The customary use of a middle voice might suggest, “destroys himself”, but some lexicons insist Paul and John use this to mean the passive, “be destroyed.”
6. Unlike the verb δέω in v.14 above, the verbs γαπάω and δίδωμι have a subject – God. God loves, God sends, but does God require that Jesus be lifted up on the cross?

17 οὐ γὰρ ἀπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν υἱὸν εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἵνα κρίνῃ τὸν κόσμον, ἀλλ' ἵνα σωθῇ ὁ κόσμος δι' αὐτοῦ.
For God did not send the son into the world in order that [God] might judge the world, but in order that the world might be made whole through him.”
ἀπέστειλεν: AAI 3s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed  2) to send away, dismiss  2a) to allow one to depart, that he may be in a state of  liberty  2b) to order one to depart, send off  2c) to drive away
κρίνῃ: AASubj 3s, κρίνω, 1) to separate, put asunder, to pick out, select, choose  2) to approve, esteem, to prefer  3) to be of opinion, deem, think, to be of opinion  4) to determine, resolve, decree  5) to judge 
σωθῇ: APSubj 3s, σῴζω, 1) to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction  1a) one (from injury or peril)  1a1) to save a suffering one (from perishing), i.e. one  suffering from disease, to make well, heal, restore to health  1b1) to preserve one who is in danger of destruction,  to save or rescue
1. My phraseology is a bit wooden here, but it is an attempt to pick up on the subjunctive verbs, which often follows “in order that” (ἵνα). The subjunctive mood speaks of possibilities, rather than declarations of fact (like this indicative mood).
2. Personally, I find this verse to be as important as the previous one.


6 comments:

  1. It strikes me that being "born of water and the spirit" harkens back to the Baptism of Jesus, in which he gives the example of going under the water and coming back above it into new life, followed by the dove representing the spirit coming to rest on his head.

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  2. It strikes me that being "born of water and the spirit" harkens back to the Baptism of Jesus, in which he gives the example of going under the water and coming back above it into new life, followed by the dove representing the spirit coming to rest on his head.

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  3. I appreciate your translation of verse 17 - especially "that the world might be made whole through him." Eugene Peterson translated this as "He came to help, to put the world right again." Sin has flipped this world and its people wrong way up. Jesus comes to restore, heal, help us begin again, and especially to be born anew.

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  4. Hi, I'm Hazel. I am the Unknown respondent above. I reset my blogger profile.
    In reference to Eugene Peterson's The Message, I notice he translate the 'so' of verse 16 in sense of how much not as in this way. I also agree that verse 15 leads directly into verse 16 keeping it in the same paragraph.

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  5. Thanks, Sharon and Hazel, for the comments. Hazel, I'm glad you recovered your identity.
    I'm loathe to disagree with Peterson, since I appreciate his writings and his translation of The Message very much, but I do think "in this way" is a better rendering of Οὕτως than "how much."

    Thanks for your note regarding v.17. Nicely put.

    Sharon: One unresolved question in my mind is whether John is deliberately inscribing sacramental theology into his text or not. So many references to water, wine, bread, etc. are scattered throughout without explicitly connecting them to the practices of the early church. But, at times, they seem to be so obviously sacramental references. At other times, I wonder if we are reading sacramental references into them. In this case, I wonder if 'born of water' is more of a reference to the water that breaks at childbirth. I have no idea if the 1st century communities made reference to water breaking commonly or not. Or, it could be a baptismal reference. Or, it could be deliberately ambiguous. I just can't speak with conviction about it very often. In this case, it seems to me that the water reference is about birth itself. I could be wrong.

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  6. Great post : " Water-Flesh-Spirit-Wind-Breath-Newborns ". I found it very useful and informative.
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