Monday, March 5, 2012 7:26 AM

What did Nicodemus not Understand?

Monday, March 5, 2012 7:26 AM
Monday, March 5, 2012 7:26 AM

When Jesus said that Nicodemus did not understand even though he was a teacher; What did Nicodemus not understand? The understanding of the lack of knowledge that Nicodemus had without God, is a wonderful insight.

In John 3, for example, Jesus says that Nicodemus cannot understand earthly things (3:12). This means that he cannot see (v. 3), believe (vs. 12, 15), understand (v. 10), receive (v. 11), come to (v. 20), speak (v. 11), bear witness to (v. 11) know (vs. 8, 11) and do (v. 21). What is it that he cannot understand? He cannot understand-believe-receive the kingdom (v. 3), heavenly things (v. 12), Christ (vs. 15, 18), the name of the only Son of God (v. 18), light (vs. 20–21), what is true (v. 21), and earthly things (v. 12).

 Evidently, the things of the kingdom or “spiritual” things include both earthly and heavenly things; included are light and truth, which in a word means that knowledge is in view, particularly the knowledge of God (Jn. 1:1–18). Nicodemus does not understand birth and the blowing of the wind (3:4–8). He does not understand the lesser (earthly), how much more difficult must it be for him to understand that which is greater (the heavenly). It is so difficult that it is impossible for he is in darkness. He cannot see unless God gives him eyes to see by the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit who works “where he will” (3:8).[1]

Interestingly, Christ enlightens all fallen men (Jn. 1:9), but still no one knows Him (1:10) or receives Him (1:11). Thus, though there is an enlightenment granted to all people, they are in darkness and cannot know either earthly or heavenly things. They are in total epistemological (knowledge) darkness and “how great is the darkness!” (Mat. 6:23).

 The only way out of this darkness, this epistemological (knowledge) darkness, is by making the choice of love for God above all earthly things (Mat. 6:24, “no one can serve two masters, for … he will hate the one and love the other”). The choice of love for God is a choice to serve Him in relation to all earthly things. There can be no sacred-secular compartmentalizing of human life. Then, having met the precondition for knowledge, a sinner has freedom from his former darkness and can understand both earthly and heavenly things. Then, the journey of true discovery begins.[2]


[1] Ostella, R. (2007). Epistemic Circularity, Christian Virtue, and Truth. In R. A. Morey (Ed.), Journal of Biblical Apologetics: Volume 10 (R. A. Morey, Ed.) (63–64). Orange, CA: California Biblical University and Seminary.

[2] Ostella, R. (2007). Epistemic Circularity, Christian Virtue, and Truth. In R. A. Morey (Ed.), Journal of Biblical Apologetics: Volume 10 (R. A. Morey, Ed.) (64). Orange, CA: California Biblical University and Seminary.

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