29 Sep 2013

The Most Important Failure to Communicate Ever

Religious 13 Comments

I was reading the story of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, which leads to the famous John 3:16 verse (which you’ll see cited at baseball games etc.). But on this reading I was struck by how Jesus and Nicodemus barely seem to be talking to each other; each response seems to have little do with what came before it:

1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 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.”

3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”

10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.[a] 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but[b] have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

13 Responses to “The Most Important Failure to Communicate Ever”

  1. Yosef says:

    Well the confused dialogue may come from the writer misremembering things a bit, as is the case when you write down a conversation after. Who wrote it, Jesus or Nicodemus?

    • Travis says:

      Biblical scholars don’t know exactly who wrote John’s Gospel. When I was in grad school, my New Testament professor would have us all respond together when he rhetorically asked who wrote a certain Gospel account: “We don’t know.” It was most likely written by someone who was learning from the Apostle (someone in the Johannine community) or possibly even by St. John the Theologian himself.

  2. John Dougan says:

    The dialog reminds me greatly of discussions between Major Freedom and “Lord Keynes”

  3. Ken B says:

    This passage is cited in discussions of the born again vs born from above translation issue. It’s also a very gnostic sounding passage. Pagels has an interesting book on gnostic stuff in John.

    • Travis says:

      The Gnostics did indeed take passages from the Gospel accounts – including the Gospel according to St. John. That said, the Gnostics emphasized special, secret knowledge passed down from Christ to a select group that one needed in order to be saved. The debate between the Gnostics and the Catholics (or Orthodox) would eventually culminate with St. Irenaeus of Lyons’ refutation of the Gnostics in his work “Against Heresies”.

      • Ken B says:

        There’s some very gnostic stuff in Mark. Jesus explicitly keeps secrets so the multitude won’t understand.
        It’s not quite accurate to say the Gnostics “took” passages. There was a wide range of differing early chritian communities, and some were what we call gnostic. There is no warrant for denigating them in favor of any other faction.
        Eventually the faction we call the orthodox, such as Irenaeus, suppressed or otherwise won out.

        • Travis says:

          Taken out of context, there are several passages in the New Testament that can be called “gnostic”. That’s why the Gnostics used those passages to support their arguments. One of the major arguments against the ancient Gnostics from the Catholics (or Orthodox) was that scripture can be taken out of context, so it must be read within the life of the Church, which is open to everyone. St. Irenaeus emphasizes the importance of the life of the Church in “Against Heresies” as well as the importance of Apostolic succession. You may also find a lecture by Fr. John Behr, currently the Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, to be interesting. It’s titled “The Shocking Truth about Christian Orthodoxy” and can be found on youtube.

          • Ken B says:

            1. Parts of Mark sound gnostic in context.
            2. There were a lot of differing christian groups, and each had their own books, differing from group to group. Like the gospel of Thomas for instance. We don’t have the earliest sources; Q was probably written and is lost, and many of the sources were oral. It’s just wrong to assume that all those communities divided cleanly into orthodox and gnostic. Orthodoxy is one interpretation of a restricted set of the sources we do have. It corresponds to what became the core of christianity but thta does not mean it’s the only lens theough which we should read the sources or prejudge conclusions.

            • Travis says:

              I don’t buy your claim that passages of the New Testament are Gnostic in context. Make all the baseless assertions you wish, but even within the context of each book, there is no explicit gnosticism. Some groups may have read the passages/books that way, but on its face, it is not the case that scripture contains gnosticism. Full stop. And yes, there were more than two groups and books/letters that were not taken as part of the Canon (or outright rejected), but the fact that there were more than two competing Christian communities is irrelevant. Whether there were two or ten, it doesn’t matter. If you want to skip merrily down the road of historical relativism, you’re free to do so, but the fact that the Catholics prevailed in the end doesn’t mean they were wrong. I’m tempted to go on a rabbit trail here about how today’s brand of Liberal Protestantism goes hand in hand with this argument and why the assumptions behind their ideas are disastrous, but it will suffice to say that given the historical record, scripture, the life of the Church, Apostolic succession, and accepted texts that remained outside the Canon, not to mention the coherency of Orthodox Christology, the burden of proof is absolutely not on the Catholics/Orthodox. The burden, rather, is on those who wish to undermine historical/Orthodox/Catholic Christianity.

  4. Innocent says:

    I suppose I misread this set of passages. I would suggest that Christ seems fairly Cryptic in his responses, but I think you have to remember that he is supposedly speaking to a very learned man. Perhaps the Cryptic portion was meant to spur the Nicodemus to seek things to be, to understand things that were, and as others have said, I do not believe this was written right when spoken.

    Nor do we have what we would have today, the witness of the person Nicodemus to counteract the words that were written.

    By the same token you have to remember that when these things were written, and spoken, the people of that time WERE there they had heard what Christ said, both those for him and against him. So the question is, is what has survived 100% accurate. No. It is a mish mass of remembrances and the portions that have survived the years. Yet still it is truth, if you choose to look at it as such. The Epistles are a little better than the Gospels in being able to reconcile things. I mean they were from the Authors and can be directly attributable to them.

    Now the real question is do the passages mean anything and do they hold truth?

    Yes and No, I feel that today evil is done very much in the open. However, you need to take a look at what it means in the context of when it was said. More than anything it draws parallels to the concepts that Christ is like the serpent with Moses, that there is process by which people can know Christ, and that in the end belief is needed to start said process. For just as people of old refused to look at the staff and be ‘saved’ in so simple a form, so to do we need to have enough belief to ‘test’ if the Son of God has come to this world…

    Just my thoughts. I agree with everything else everyone posted about it though. Especially LK and MF…

    Was it the actual discussion, I doubt it. I mean if two people come and meet with one another and the exchange is so short, well I simply do not think this is an accurate representation of the whole meeting, more bullet points.

  5. ABT says:

    I always wondered why people always quote John 3:16 because reading the entire encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus it seems the most applicable and rich passage is John 3:19-21.
    I guess to each their own….

    “each response seems to have little do with what came before it”
    So what do you make of this back and forth then Bob?

  6. BZ says:

    I don’t get the confusion. Here’s the same from the official BZ edition:

    Nicodemus: Dude, you do amazing stuff.
    Jesus: That’s because I’m “born again” and have God hitting cleanup for me!
    Nicodemus: Huh, what? “born … AGAIN”?
    Jesus: Yea, like becoming a new person after babtism and confession! That puts the big man in charge, and then he’s in your bullpen!
    Nicodemus: I’m dense; elaborate.
    Jesus: “Yea, you are dense. Listen, it’s like this: God sent me down here for a good reason, so that you can throw away the shit you are born with and carry around, be “born again” and hang with me, and thereby get with God.”

    • BZ says:

      As a P.S. — I really am confused by the confusion, but that may be a difference in background. I was raised Penticostal, which is like Southern Babtist on meth. Different sects of Christianity put differing amounts of emphasis on different passages. In my case, great emphasis was placed on the first part of that conversation — it’s meaning and importance drilled into my head from the POV of that sect. Until you said something, it never occurred to me it was confusing. And (due to my upbringing no doubt), I still don’t.

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