Whence and Whither
A Narrative Perspective on Birth a!nwqen (John 3,3-8)*

Karl Olav Sandnes

In John 3,8 birth a!nwqen is illustrated by means of the wind. Its effects can be experienced without knowledge of from whence it comes and whither it goes (ou)k oi]daj po/qen e!rxetai kai_ pou= u(pa/gei). This proverbial analogy, drawing on ordinary experience, asserts the reality of the wind as well as its mysterious nature. John 3,8 is not, however, exhausted by this analogy1. The significance of the whence and whither of the wind will become clear as the story progresses. It merits attention as the entire story in this Gospel is unfolded. The enigmatic identity of Jesus forms a subtext of the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus, and particularly so in John 3,3-8. Wayne A. Meeks sees the language of the descent and ascent, to which the whence and whither of Jesus naturally belongs, as having already been introduced in Jesus' response to Nicodemus in John 3,82. This observation is substantiated and furthered in the present article. The nature of faith is here explored by reference to the language by which Jesus' identity with the Father in heaven is expressed in this literature.
The story guides the readers from Nicodemus' misunderstanding to the proper understanding of birth a!nwqen. As John 3 unfolds, the emphasis will be on the concept "from above" (3,31 cf. 1,12-13)3.

Furthermore, the full meaning of birth from above is progressively elucidated as the Christological significance of whence and whither is developed in the story. Jesus' whence and whither is part of the contrast between "above and below" in the Fourth Gospel. This is also a fundamental structure of what Jesus says about birth a!nwqen. John applies terms which elsewhere describe the mysterious origin of Jesus in order to explore the nature of faith. This is in accordance with the epistemological conviction at work in John 3,3-8, namely "like is known by like": "What is born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is Spirit" (NRSV)4. This article reads John 3,3-8 in the light of the whole narrative as well as this epistemological conviction.

1. The Dialogue with Nicodemus: An Epistemological Setting

In the Prologue a pattern of knowledge/failure to know stands out. This pattern is expressed also in terms of acceptance/rejection or faith/denial. Cognitive terms abound in the prologue and the initial chapters of John's story. According to John 1,10 "the world did not know him". The believers, who are presented as born of God, saw his glory (1,14). The prologue closes by a statement inspired by the Old Testament claim that human beings cannot see God Himself. However, God was made known by Christ (1,18). This closing adds to the epistemological nature of the prologue, and is thereby also a reminder that epistemology is important to the entire story. The prologue tells us that true knowledge of God and Christ sets the agenda for the story told in the subsequent chapters.
The motifs of knowing/making known/not knowing permeate the text about the Jews coming to John the Baptist (1,19-28), most directly expressed in me/soj u(mw=n sth/kei o$n u(mei=j ou)k oi!date (v. 26). In his testimony, the Baptist says that he also did not know (vv. 31.33), but that he had come to see5 (v. 34 cf. v. 32). The whole purpose of his ministry was to reveal Jesus to Israel (v. 31). The story about Jesus calling disciples (1,35-51) closes as follows: "...you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man" (v. 51). This closing is prepared for by references in the immediate context to "seeing", "finding" and "believing" the Messiah. V. 51 makes an explicit reference to Jacob's theophany in Gen 28,12. All disciples are promised a vision like Jacob's. They will thereby truly become Israelites like Nathanael (v. 47). In the light of Philo's well-known etymological explanation of the meaning of Israel (Gen 32,28-30) as "the one who sees God"6, the epistemological interest of John's text becomes even more apparent.
Jesus revealed his glory in Cana, and the disciples believed in him (John 2,11). The narrator makes this comment on the incident and thus turns it into a story about knowing Jesus and his ministry. The steward is caught by surprise when he tastes the wine (ou)k h!|dei po/qen e)sti/n); his statement echoes what Jesus in John 3,8 says about the person who is born a!nwqen. As with the wind, human knowledge cannot understand the mystery; it can only experience it. This illustration thus puts epistemology at the centre of the text. Twice in chapter 2 (vv. 17.22), true knowledge is connected with Scripture.
From this it follows that a teacher of Israel, like Nicodemus, is supposed to have proper knowledge. But his knowledge seems to stop at acknowledging Jesus as "a teacher come from God" (John 3,2). This knowledge falls short of the truth because Nicodemus fails to see that Jesus is from above. Three times in vv. 3-8 Nicodemus asks questions making him as an outsider to the true knowledge of Jesus and his ministry. Jesus says to him: tau=ta ou) ginw/skeij; (v. 10). This is contrasted with v. 11, where the knowledge of the insiders is emphasized. V. 2 introduces the question of knowledge at the outset of this narrative. This is pointed out by Neyrey7, who draws attention to the fact that Nicodemus' statement ("we know...") in v. 2 is challenged by Jesus' response in v. 3 ("unless..."). Nicodemus' claim to know is replaced by his questions to Jesus.
As the dialogue in chap. 3 proceeds, the question of knowledge develops into "entering" the Kingdom of God, "believing" in the Son of Man, "loving" and "coming to the light". This might disturb the epistemological picture given so far. However, in John's Gospel all these terms, including "knowing", are interrelated terms. Jesus' last prayer in chap. 17 demonstrates this. At the beginning of this prayer, the knowledge of Jesus' disciples is in focus (17,3.7-8), but "believing" (17,8.29) and "loving" (17,26) appear as well. In the same way, the dialogue with Nicodemus moves easily between knowing, believing and loving. The epistemological aspect of believing is clearly in focus in 3,12, where pisteu/w sums up both ginw/skw (v. 10) and lamba/nw (v. 11): Here is a claim to have a faith that gives knowledge about things the teacher of Israel failed to understand.
Jesus emphasizes that proper knowledge is beyond the capacity of Nicodemus, as well as that of any human being (3,5-8). The two "unless ..." sentences (3, 5) make birth a!nwqen or birth of water and the Spirit a basic requirement. Nicodemus' incapacity is given general relevance: "You must (dei=) be born a!nwqen" (v. 7)8. This requirement triggers Nicodemus' question: "How can these things be" (v. 9), which was anticipated in v. 4. The entire dialogue sets out to respond to this.
John 3,3-8 emphasizes the contrast between flesh and Spirit, which implies that "like is known by like". The "seeing" or "believing" that Jesus addresses cannot be apprehended by flesh. Flesh is restricted to flesh. Spirit, however, bridges heaven and earth and gives knowledge of heavenly things that the flesh cannot see. Spirit and birth a!nwqen thus correspond to each other. V. 13 claims that Jesus alone has access to heavenly secrets, because he has descended from heaven and ascended there as well (cf. 1,51). His whence and whither is entirely with God. A spiritual transformation, birth a!nwqen, gives the believer a heavenly origin like that of Jesus himself. What the heavenly origin is for Jesus, birth a!nwqen is for human beings. The contrast between flesh and Spirit is overcome by God's love (3,16). Flesh is thus not understood in inimical terms.
The contrast between flesh and the Spirit occurs in 6,62-63 as well. The explicit issue is belief and unbelief, albeit the aspect of understanding might be present in the question "who can accept (a)kou/ein) it" (6,60). The Spirit gives life. Flesh is described as a contrast due to its futility; life does not and cannot spring from flesh. This does not imply that flesh knows flesh only, but that flesh must experience a transformation occasioned by the life-giving Spirit.

The literary context of 6,62-63 brings to mind the dialogue with Nicodemus. V. 62 echoes the whence and whither of Jesus, and v. 65 is a slightly altered quotation of 3,27.
John 1,18, the peak of the Prologue, paves the way for the principle of likeness. The Son alone could know God because He comes from God and is of the same nature. The unity between the Father and the Son in John's Gospel is, of course, in accordance with this principle9. In John 8,44-47 those who are e)k tou= qeou= are contrasted with those who are not, and this is a difference in terms of understanding versus not understanding (a)kou/w cf. 19). John 11,10 addresses the contrast between darkness and light in a way that recalls traditional ways of illustrating the principle of likeness: Light can only be apprehended by light10. Understanding that Jesus' way to Jerusalem is aimed at bringing life from death is possible only for those who have the light within themselves. John 11,10 sheds some light on the epistemological nature of darkness versus light in the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus. This contrast is clearly seen in 3,2.19-21. These passages do not, however, emphasize the light within, but Christ's role as the light. These two perspectives on the light are, however, integrated in John's Gospel. This is seen in the Prologue where vv. 9-10 in particular echoes 3,19. Jesus as the light implies also illumination of human beings. To ancient readers this was a term of epistemology, which is confirmed in its contrast in 1,10 ("...the world did not know him")11. Furthermore, the contrast between darkness and light in the Prologue (1,9-13) which implies a contrast between man in himself and birth from God, fits the contrast between above and below in chap. 3.
When, in his examination of Jesus (John 18) Pilate asks "what is truth?", he raises an epistemological question. Jesus says that "everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice" (18,37), thus claiming that understanding truth requires a fundamental familiarity with it. The Johannine tradition in 1 John speaks in the same vein (3,1-3; 4,4. 6)12. To summarize so far, I concur with Jerome H. Neyrey who suggests that John 3 "contains a scrutiny of religious epistemology and Christology"13. To Neyrey, John 3 presents Jesus as the revealer of heavenly secrets. The importance of this observation is unquestionable, but vv. 3-8 address a related issue, namely the prerequisite for receiving such revelation. The Christological language of whence and whither is here applied directly (ou#tw) e)sti/n) to the believer. The exegesis of the dialogue must account for the way Christological terminology occurs in the illustration of a person born a!nwqen (v. 8).

2. Like is known by like

We have seen that John 3,3-8 is embedded in an epistemological context in which likeness is foundational. This principle is by no means attested only in John's Gospel; on the contrary it is found also elsewhere at key points in the New Testament14. John 3,3-8 has adopted an epistemological conviction of wide currency in Antiquity. It suffices to give some examples to demonstrate this. Sextus Empiricus (2.-3. century A.D.) may serve as a point of departure. In his work Against the Professors, he mentions the principle "like is known by like" (toi=j o(moi/oij ta_ o#moia ginw/skesqai) as fundamental to all knowledge. He calls this principle an old do/gma handed down from Pythagoras, which is found in Plato15 but stated much earlier by Empedocles (fl. 477-432 B.C.). Sextus quotes Empedocles, who says that earth is "seen" by earth, water by water, air by air, fire by fire, love by love, and hate by hate16. This principle explains, according to Sextus, why Empedocles called himself a god; he kept his mind free from evil, and by the god within him (o( e)n e(autw=| qeo/j) he understood the god outside himself17 (Against the Professors 1.303 cf. Against the Logicians 1.121). In his Against the Logicians 1.92-93, Sextus repeats the quotation without attributing it to Empedocles. Instead he refers to Philolaus, who said that things are understood when a certain sugge/neia is possessed, since things are comprehended by their like (u(po_ tou= o(moi/ou to_ o#moion katalamba/nesqai pe/fuken). Sextus cites Poseidonius as saying very much the same thing in his interpretation of Plato's Timaeus: light is known by light, and sound by hearing since "The nature of all things ought to be apprehended by its kindred reason" (...u(po_ suggenou=j ... katalamba/nesqai tou= lo/gou). In these texts Sextus gives a "map" of the principle "like is known by like". He mentions some important sources, he states both the antiquity and the importance of this epistemological principle. The principle of likeness forms a substratum to Plotinus's logic in his Enneads:

To any vision must be brought an eye adapted to what is to be seen, and having some likeness to it (to_ ga_r o(rw=n pro_j to_ o(rw/menon suggene_j kai_ o#moion poihsa/menon dei= e)piba/llein)18. Never did eye see the sun unless it had first become sunlike, and never can the soul have vision of the First Beauty unless itself be beautiful. Therefore, first let each become godlike and each beautiful who cares to see God and Beauty (Enneads I.6.9)

Antiquity shared a theory that human beings had a light within, streaming forth through the eyes and meeting the light of day. The eye was likened to a light within or a lamp that made perception possible19. This theory of vision developed a principle of perception, an epistemological conviction that like is known by like.

Philo picks up this theory as well as the Greek notion of the human mind or soul as sharing in a portion of the Divine. With these convictions in mind, he addresses biblical theology. Men alone have knowledge of the invisible God because God breathed into them from above (a!nwqen) His own Deity (Det. 84-90). In Spec.Leg. 4.14 this idea is expressed in terms of men's sugge/neia to God. In Praem. 40-46, Philo speaks of those who can apprehend20 that God is. Philo consciously draws a distinction between God's real nature and the knowledge of His existence. The univocal Biblical testimony on the impossibility of human beings seeing God paves the way for this important distinction. Philo's emphasis that God's existence cannot be apprehended by any human co-operation is probably due to his resistance to the notion of having "god inside", as Empedocles puts it. Those who apprehend God's existence have, according to Philo, advanced from down to up (ka/twqen a!nw) on a sort of heavenly ladder. The analogy with Jacob becomes obvious when Philo says that such a man is Israel, a person who sees God (o(rw=n qeo/n), or more precisely, that He is. By an illustration Philo explains why this is possible:

Do we behold the sun which sense perceives by any other thing than the sun, or the stars by any others than the stars, and in general is not light seen by light? In the same way God too is His own brightness and is discerned through Himself alone, without any co-operating or being able to co-operate in giving a perfect apprehension of His existence( 45).

This brings to mind the well-known quotation from Empedocles, see above. Philo abbreviates this insight in 46, saying that God is known through God (o( qeo_j qew=|) and light by light (fwti_ fw=j).
In Spec.Leg. 1.41-50 these thoughts on apprehending God are repeated in a meditation on Exod 33,13-23. Philo starts from Moses' request that God will reveal Himself to him. According to Philo, Moses asked to understand God's ou)si/a. Moses motivated his request by referring to the principle of likeness: "for as knowledge of the light does not come by any other source but what itself supplies, so too Thou alone canst tell me of Thyself" ( 42). God did not accept Moses' request since this knowledge is not for those who are brought into being by creation. Moses rephrased his request then, and asked to see God's glory, surrounding Him21. This is possible, but reserved not for the eye of the body, but for "the eye of the mind". Throughout this text, Philo speaks of apprehension in terms of lamba/nw, katalamba/nw, and kata/lhyij. In this text it becomes apparent that Exod 33 led Philo to adapt the notion of likeness with reservations. In Mut. 3-4, Philo says that a vision of the Divine is only attainable to "the eye of the soul". The eyes of the body perceive according to the principle of likeness. When it comes to the eyes of the soul, however, this principle is explained in terms of beholding without any assistance or agency, in other words knowledge of a revelatory nature.
Thus the principle of likeness had a wide currency in Antiquity. It was considered ancient and basic, and it was frequently stated. "Like is known by like" was often connected to light being known by light. Apprehension was described by means of cognitive verbs, of which "seeing" played an important role. The term katalamba/nw and cognates occurred often enough to be worth noting. Philo adopted this principle and confirmed all the characteristics of the principle. Of special interest is that to Philo, Exod 33 provided both a bridge and a means of clarifying how to apply this principle in a Biblical context. Furthermore, he drew on Jacob's vision of the heavenly ladder to describe this principle. This applies very well to John's Gospel.
The question of knowing or seeing God (Exod 3334) is at the centre of the Prologue. Apprehending God is not within reach for human beings, but Christ's role can be compared to Philo's o#sa meta_ to_n qeo/n which is attainable (John 1,18). "Seeing God" is in John 1,47-51 presented with Jacob's ladder as subtext. Light in opposition to darkness is among the favourite symbols of this Gospel22. Cognitive terms abound, and John uses katalamba/nw twice in a way that is worth noting. In John 1,5 he says "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (kate/laben)". When this term is used within a context speaking of light in opposition to darkness, we are indeed very close to the ancient material on "like is known by like"23.

Since the prologue prefigures the story to be told in the Gospel, this text should be seen as providing an epistemological perspective on the entire story, and echoing that like is known by like as well. The verb katalamba/nw also occurs in John 12,3524. Once again this verb appears in a text where light and darkness are contrasted (cf. v. 46). The immediate implication is here the struggle between darkness and light that forms an ideological framework for Jesus' ministry. Nonetheless, a cognitive aspect is involved. When darkness seizes power, there is no comprehension, neither of whither Jesus departs nor of the nature of his ministry. The cognitive aspect is emphasized by the citation of Isa 6,10 in the immediate context (12,40). Furthermore, John 12,35 echoes the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3. It is embedded in a context where Jesus' claim from 3,14 to be lifted up, is debated (12,34-36)25. The second part of 12,35 also recalls the dialogue in chap. 3; walking in darkness implies inability to know Jesus' whither: ou)k oi]den pou= u(pa/gei. This is almost a verbatim rendering of Jesus' words about the wind or Spirit in 3,8b. Thus, epistemology and Christology are here combined in a way which brings to mind how Jesus addressed the necessity of being born a!nwqen.

3. The Whence and Whither of Jesus

The introduction suggested that the whence and whither of the Spirit were progressively elucidated in the story until they became a cipher for the identity of Jesus26. It is now time to demonstrate this. The meaning of John 3,8b is based on three constitutive elements:

ou)k oi]daj po/qen e!rxetai kai_ pou= u(pa/gei

We will now trace how these three elements are elucidated in John's story. Failure to know or understand "whence and whither" does not consistently carry theological implications. There are certainly instances where they appear without any claim of conveying anything beyond the simple story-line27. But very often these three elements, and consistently so when they appear together, signal a second level of meaning. They become a means of expressing the mysterious and enigmatic nature of Jesus' ministry and his identity, like in John 2,9: "When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, ou)k h!|dei po/qen e)sti/n", and in John 4,10-11 where Jesus addresses the Samaritan woman by saying ei) h!|deij th_n dwrea_n tou= qeou= and the woman asks him po/qen ou]n e!xeij to_ u#dwr to_ zw=n28. The three elements occur most frequently in disputes with the Jews over the identity of Jesus, the so-called christologische Streitgesprche (chaps. 79), in the introduction of the "hour" in chap. 13, and in Jesus' farewell to his disciples in chaps. 14 and 16.

a) John 7

The celebration of the Festival of Booths forms the framework of the controversy in this chapter, possibly also in the two following chapters. The narrative is introduced by the question of "going up" (u(pa/gw) to Jerusalem (7,3), which 7,8 and 10 repeat in terms of a)nabai/nw, a traditional term for going up to Jerusalem to worship. A reader acquainted with the entire story will here see a reference to Jesus' going up to Jerusalem as initiating his departure to his heavenly Father (e.g. 20,17). This interpretation is also favoured by u#page ei)j th_n 'Ioudai/an (v. 3) being replaced by u(pa/gw pro_j to_n pe/myanta/ me(v. 33), which becomes the crucial point in the controversy. In the light of the role of the "hour" in the story, this double meaning of "going up to Jerusalem" comes as no surprise (see esp. 13,1-3). John 7,30bis a reminder of the "hour", and thus prefigures the Passion and Resurrection. In this context a Christological dispute with the Jews occurs. The controversy is introduced in 7,11 and is carried throughout the entire chapter. From these observations we can tell that the language of whence and whither in vv. 27-29 is associated with Jesus' departure to his Father and is a cipher for true knowledge about Jesus' identity.
Knowing/not knowing the whence and whither of Jesus is essential for understanding who he is. The controversy becomes a question of how this knowledge can be acquired, most expressly stated in the claims in 7,27-29: knowing his identity is to know his whence and whither. The claim of the Jews is: oi!damen po/qen e)sti/n (v. 27). When the Messiah comes, however, no one will have proper knowledge of his identity29. This claim to know from where Jesus comes, is, however, an irony30. The controversy reveals their failure to understand who Jesus is, which will also become increasingly clear throughout the Gospel31 The Jews judge according to appearance (kat' o!yin), an outward judgement according to the flesh (cf. 8,15).
To understand the whence and whither of Jesus, some likeness to him is required. This is pointed out in various ways in the controversy. In v. 29 this claim becomes an epistemological notion in terms of likeness: Jesus knows God because he has been with Him (cf. 1,18). The Jews claim to know the whence of Jesus, but they are wrong because they fail to understand this in the light of the "above below" pattern of the Christology in John's Gospel. In this way they resemble Nicodemus, who also missed this basic pattern; they both falsely claimed to know the identity of Jesus.
The epistemological perspective on the controversy in chap. 7 sheds light on the role of vv. 37-39. These verses are in many ways enigmatic, particularly since the passage seems detached from the Christological controversy that frames it. Following the punctuation of Nestle-Aland 27th ed., we take e)k th=j koili/aj au)tou= to refer to believers. It is objected that Christ as the source of living water is more dominant in the Gospel32. Christ is indeed the giver of the Spirit according to John, but this particular text is not simply reiterating this. Christ's role as the giver of the Spirit is implicit in v. 37: "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me". V. 39 shifts the emphasis to the believers' reception of the Spirit and is a comment on v. 38 by the narrator. Furthermore, the 3rd person singular (au)tou=) is indicative of this. If it was a comment about Jesus himself, we should expect (e))mou=. This can hardly be explained as a supposed quotation33, since v. 38 is a combination of several scriptural passages34. Since it is a paraphrase or a reworking of many OT texts, it is unlikely that v. 38 has preserved the 3rd person singular due to an original setting. There is simply too much "editing" in v. 38 to imply that the 3rd person singular represents a quote.
Vv. 38-39 fits nicely into the controversy on who Jesus is and how it is possible to know his identity. The Spirit, which in 3,3-8 represented the transforming power from above, is now within the believers. Jesus, who is himself the well of living water, makes the disciples become a spring of water as well (cf. 4,11). Similarly, the life that Jesus has in himself (1,4) in 3,15 becomes the life of the believers. Jesus is light, and he also enlightens (1,9). The same movement appears in John 7,38-39: The Spirit is now within the believers. Hence they can also know that the true identity of Jesus is from above.
The explicit references in 7,37-39 are to "coming" to Jesus and "believing" in him. This is not epistemological language, but as noted above, epistemology is integrated into this language in John's Gospel. The believers become a source of spiritual knowledge only after having come to Jesus. Spirit is the prerequisite for understanding the dispute about Jesus' identity in chap. 7. Towards the end of this controversy the knowledge of Scripture becomes the issue. It is in accordance with John's Gospel that only by the Spirit can the Christological implications of the OT be rightly understood35. This conforms to the epistemological aspect of the dialogue with Nicodemus: the Spirit transforms and thus gives new insight.
The principle "like is known by like" is implicit in this Christological controversy. Knowing the whence and whither of Jesus demands having the Spirit associated with Jesus' glorification in John. Vv. 37-39 thus forms the opposite of judging kat' o!yin and is a parallel to 3,6b as well: "What is born of Spirit is Spirit", and therefore also able to understand. The relevance of referring to the dialogue with Nicodemus is justified in the light of 7,50 where he is brought into the controversy. The mention of him works as a flashback; we are reminded of Nicodemus' incipient faith, but also of his failure to comprehend. John 7,25-29 is thus a Christological controversy focusing on the whence and whither of Jesus. This is centred on Jesus' relationship with his heavenly Father, his coming from Him and returning to Him. This controversy has a structure which brings to mind the epistemological character of the dialogue with Nicodemus in John 3,5-8. Only the Spirit can know who Jesus is.

b) John 8

John 8 progressively repeats the argument of chap.7. Jesus claims to be "the light of the world" (v. 12). His followers do not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. "Walking" brings to mind ethics and lifestyle, but the controversy gives emphasis to knowing Jesus. This epistemological aspect is implicit in v. 12b about "having the light of life", which describes the result of the illumination mentioned in 1,9. The believers have faith as a source of light in themselves; i.e. the movement from christology to anthropological implications noted above in 7,37-39.
Once again, understanding Jesus is a question of knowing whence he comes and whither he goes. Jesus' confidence in being sent by his Father is expressed in this terminology: oi]da po/qen h]lqon kai_ pou= u(pa/gw (v. 14). The whence and whither strongly emphasize his dependence on the Father. Jesus has not taken this ministry upon himself, it has been given him from above (cf. v. 28). The unbelief of the Pharisees is presented as a marked contrast: u(mei=j ou)k oi!date po/qen e!rxomai h@ pou= u(pa/gw. They are unable to know Jesus or to follow him whither he departs (vv. 21-23). This is due to their judging by human standards (v. 15). Their failure to know whence and whither, due to sa/rc, brings to mind the Nicodemus dialogue. So too does Jesus' pointed remark in v. 23 about human inability to gain access to the place of his origin and destination: "You are from below (e)k tw=n ka/tw I am from,) above (e)k tw=n a!nw)" (cf. v. 44). Knowledge depends on being from below or from above (cf. 3,31). This is an implicit claim to the principle of likeness: "like is known by like".
An epistemological contrast marks the whole controversy. The "seeing" and "speaking" of Jesus is contrasted with that of the Jews (v. 38), while He is from above and they from below. This is exactly the contrast made in the dialogue with Nicodemus36. The principle of likeness is voiced: "You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also" (v. 19). The question of "knowing the truth" (v. 32) echoes 18,37, witnessing to the principle which according to 8,47 is foundational: o( w@n e)k tou= Qeou=, ta_ r(h/mata tou= Qeou= a)kou/ei: dia_ tou=to u(mei=j ou)k a)kou/ete, o!ti e)k tou= Qeou= ou)k e)ste/. The following contrasts appear:

A. Pharisees/the Jews


B. Jesus

Walk in darkness


He is the light

Judge according to flesh


Judges no one or makes true judgment

They are from below


He is from above

They are earthbound/from this world


He is not earthbound/not from this world

The Devil is their Father


He is from God

A less visible, but still present contrast is also at work. Believers are contrasted with the Pharisees and likened to Jesus. We have seen that John 8,12 speaks of the follower of Jesus who has the light, thus paving the way for applying the Christological pattern to believers generally (24, 30-31 cf. v. 46)37. According to 8,44, the Jews were children of the Devil since they did not have truth in them; the believers, however, will know the truth (28,32). Since what one understands is solely dependent upon what is within so runs the theory of vision this contrast to the Pharisees and likeness with Jesus follows naturally. It can easily be inferred that the believers have God as their Father, and this is actually spelled out in v. 47. The immediate context indicates that "hearing God's word" here applies to the believers. The Christological pattern is made relevant to the believers. The pattern is not worked out fully, but the contrasts to A and the similarities with B38 are sufficient to be worth noting; particularly so since the points of convergence are identical with the fundamental points in the logic of chap. 8: followers/believers both (1) have the light and (2) are from God.
Jesus is the one person who is from above, but the believers participate in his identity a!nw while still being ka/tw. This paradoxical truth is crucial in chap. 17 where a distinction is made between being in the world and belonging to the world (17,13-14.16), also voiced in 8,23. Like Jesus, the believers do not belong to the world, but unlike Him, they are in the world: "The perception of who Jesus is, brought about by the mysterious work of the Spirit (3,7-8), entails being e)n tw|= ko/smw| but not e)k tou= ko/smou"39. Thus chap. 8 brings out the likeness of the believers with Jesus, but also the distinction between them and Him.
Is there a flashback to the Nicodemus dialogue in this dispute? As noted above, there are significant points of convergence bridging the distance between the two episodes. Both instances are about teachers of Israel, both of whom are unable to comprehend. The Pharisees walk in darkness; Nicodemus came at night (cf. 3,19-21). The Pharisees judge according to human standards, while Nicodemus is implicitly said to be born of flesh. At the centre of both texts is the vertical axis (earth heaven), explicitly voiced in 8,33 and more implicitly in chap. 3 but nevertheless not to be overlooked (cf. 3,13-14.31). The Pharisees and Nicodemus are presented within the same epistemological pattern, which implies the principle of likeness. What they fail to know is described in similar terms, the whence and whither of the mystery of faith and the whence and whither of Jesus himself. Finally, in both chapters "birth" sums up what is at stake. In 3,3-8 this is obvious, but the response of the Pharisees implies that the question of birth is involved: "We are not illegitimate children (gegennh/meqa)" (8,41)40.

c) John 9

The narrative starts out as a miracle story. Jesus makes the man born blind see (9,1-7). Throughout the text a)nable/pw, ble/pw, a)noi/gw tou(j o)fqalmou/j are repeated. The incident takes place on a Sabbath and hence the narrative becomes a dispute on the identity of Jesus and his authority to perform the healing. It becomes a controversy with the Pharisees and Jews on who Jesus is (vv., very much in line with the preceding chapters, but with increasing hostility. The miracle is called a sign (v. 16), thus indicating a second level of meaning. The reader is guided to this level in two ways. In the first place, vv. 4-5 presents Jesus as the "light of the world" as opposed to darkness. Since Jesus is himself the light, he can make the blind man see41. Vv. 4-5 echoes John 11,9-10 where "having the light within oneself" is a reference to the disciples' understanding the implications of his departure (u(pa/gw) for Jerusalem.
Furthermore, John 9,39-40 appears as Jesus' final comment on the whole incident. He alludes to Isa 6,10, cited also in John 12,40, where "seeing" has an obvious spiritual reference. Jesus also blames the Pharisees for their blindness, a clear circumlocution for their lack of understanding (9,40-41). Thus "v. 39...reflects the transformation that occurs within the narrative; 'sight' has now taken on a symbolic value rather than the literal sense of the opening scene"42.
At the centre of the dispute is the understanding of who Jesus is. Within the narrative two opposite movements with regard to knowledge are discernable. The rejection on the part of the Pharisees hardens; they prefer "sinner" (v. 24) for "this man is not from God" (v. 16) as a proper description of who Jesus is43. They claim to know (h(mei=j oi!damen) (vv. 24.29), which in John's language is, as we have seen, a recurrent sign of irony. This becomes apparent within the story itself. They claim the support of Moses, a view that is rejected elsewhere in the Gospel (John 5,45-46). When it comes to the crucial question, the whence of Jesus, they say: ou)k oi!damen (vv. 29-30). The man born blind, however, moves from ou)k oi]da (vv. 11, 25) to believe in Jesus (vv. 36-38). At the end of the narrative he has gained sight, both in a physical and spiritual sense. He declares his faith and has gained sight fully.
Does this incident in any way shed some light on the dialogue with Nicodemus and birth from above in particular? Generally, both texts deal with Jewish teachers who fail to understand Jesus and his ministry. Both texts centre on the theme of light or seeing vs. darkness and blindness. Within this pattern some special features worth noting appear. Nicodemus' comment in 3,2 is echoed in the question of the man born blind: "How can a man who is a sinner perform suchsigns?" (9,16b cf. 9,31.33). The blind expresses his surprise in a way (u(mei=j ou)k oi!date po/qen e)sti/n, kai_ h!noice/n mou tou_j o)fqalmou/j) (9,30) which brings to mind Jesus' ironic statement to Nicodemus: "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?" (3,10)44.

Birth plays a key role in both passages. The occurrence of genna/w in John's Gospel is concentrated in chaps. 3 and 9. Some exceptions affirm this impression (1,13; 8,41), and the other three instances are not relevant here45. Within John 3,3-8 genna/w appears 8 times and in chap. 9 five times. This invites some comments. According to chap. 3 Nicodemus was unable to understand that Jesus spoke not of physical birth but birth from above. A similar movement is assumed in chap. 9 as well. In all occurrences of genna/w in this chapter the reference is to physical birth, but 9,34 is different. The Pharisees say to the man born blind: "You were born entirely in sins, and you are trying to teach us". This refers to his refusal to accept their judgement on Jesus46. They saw nothing but sa/rc in him. Of course, the irony here is blatant. The accusation implies that more than a physical birth is at stake in this controversy. The contrasting of fleshly and spiritual birth seems to lie behind John 947.
From a narrative perspective it can easily be inferred not only that the man born blind gained spiritual sight, but also that he was born a!nwqen, since the story is designed to convince the reader that the judgement uttered by the Pharisees in v. 34 is an absolute misunderstanding. Actually, things look exactly the opposite from the perspective of the narrator. This depends, of course, on the reader's ability to combine chap. 3 and 9; but the narrative in chap. 9 is certainly paving the way for this to happen.

4. Bringing the findings together

The dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus is not an isolated incident in John's story. This narrative, and 3,3-8 in particular defines what is necessary to understand Jesus, his ministry and faith in him adequately. The dialogue is fundamental to the question of "knowing", a concern permeating the entire Gospel. Since men have no capacity to know heavenly things, a transformation is required. This transformation is understood in terms of the contrast between flesh and Spirit, earthly and heavenly, and is, therefore, expressed in the principle that "like can only be known by like". The required transformation is abbreviated in the notion of birth a!nwqen. The fact that knowledge is due to this required transformation forms a point of departure for comprehending both misunderstandings and irony in the Gospel. Readers without this transformation will fail to understand. This demonstrates the importance of this dialogue for the entire story.
The scholarly debate on birth a!nwqen has been too limited to the lexical alternatives (anew/again or from above). Arguments for both alternatives can be gleaned from John's Gospel48. John explores here the ambiguity of the Greek term, and this article suggests that the implications of birth a!nwqen must be drawn from the entire story, and in particular the Christological cipher of the whence and whither of Jesus. This language, which abbreviates or codifies the kernel of John's Christology, hardly appears by accident in 3,8. Accordingly, the precise meaning of a!nwqen should take into consideration the Johannine style of progressive unfolding of topics. A lexical approach hardly accounts for this. ou!twj e)sti/n in 3,8 involves a comparison which looks beyond the analogy of the wind.
In commenting on birth a!nwqen in John 3, Udo Schnelle says that: "...Christus und die Seinen sind ihrem Ursprungsort nach wesensverwandt"49. Otfried Hofius protests vehemently: "Der Vierte Evangelist ist kein Gnostiker!"50. The German "wesensverwandt" is misleading here, but some sugge/neia between Jesus and the believers is suggested. This is implicit in the required transformation and the principle of likeness. It is certainly a question how far one can take this "likeness". To be "born from above" establishes a new connection with the Son of God, who is from above, but it by no means eliminates all distinctions between people and Christ. People see the light, but they themselves do not become the light in the same way as Christ is. The believers are ascribed an identity from above, but this does not mean that they have descended from above; that is reserved exclusively for the Son of Man. They participate in the sphere above while still being in the world. Although their identity is heavenly, it is only Christ who has heaven as his place of origin. But Christ "holds out the possibility of birth a!nwqen in a derivative sense to humankind"51. Although Gnosticism is slippery to define, I take these reservations to imply that the likeness addressed in this article does not in any way justify labelling Johannine thinking as "Gnosticism".
John explores the nature of faith or birth a!nwqen with the help of the disputes about Jesus' identity, and thus brings out some anthropological implications of his christology. With the Nicodemus dialogue as the point of departure, the following observations hold true both for Jesus' identity and the believer's faith:
Both are mysterious and enigmatic. There is something elusive52 about Christ in John's Gospel, and this is connected to his whence and whither. The nature of faith is similarly mysterious; it is beyond human capacity to comprehend it. The whence of faith is explained by help of the equally mysterious whence and whither of Jesus.
The mysterious whence and whither both of Jesus and faith implies a given. The identity of Jesus is explained in terms of given, not taken. This is implied when faith in chap. 3 is compared with the whence and whither of the wind as well as of Christ.
From this follows that both Jesus and faith are dependent solely on God or the Father.
The whence and whither of both Jesus and faith are, finally, a reference to God in Heaven. That is where the origin, with the mentioned reservations in mind, of both is to be found. This corresponds very much with birth a!nwqen as being born from above.
As the story progresses, the parabolic saying about the wind (3,8), which pointed out both its reality and the mysterious nature, takes on a new level of meaning. The story led us to the Christological disputes in chaps. 79 with emphasis on the divine origin of both Jesus and faith. Finally, this is confirmed in chap. 13 and the following chapters where the "hour" of departure has arrived. Hence u(pa/gw is now in focus. This verb now refers to Jesus' return to his Heavenly Father (13,3.33.36; 14,4.5.28; 16,5.19). The verb is combined with prepositional phrases like pro_j to_n pate/ra/pro_j to_n qeo/n/pro_j to_n pe/myanta/ me. This final phrase includes the whence of Jesus, which is also the case in 13,3 where po/qen is replaced by a)po_ qeou= e)ch=lqen. Jesus' identity and ministry is a divine affair from beginning to end. Such is also the mysterious nature of faith.



* I owe thanks to Craig R. Koester for valuable and helpful criticism on a first draft of this article.
1 Thus also P. JULIAN, Jesus and Nicodemus. A Literary and Narrative Exegesis of Jn. 2,233,36 (European University Studies, Series XXIII Theology 711; Frankfurt am Main etc., 2000) 66, but he does not elaborate this.
2 For the importance of the descent and ascent of Jesus, see W.A. MEEKS, "The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism", JBL 91 (1972) 44-72, esp. 60-63); G.C. NICHOLSON, Death as Departure. The Johannine Descent-Ascent Schema (SBLDS 63; Chico, CA 1983) 10-12, 21-23.
3 The replacement of "born a!nwqen" by "born of water and Spirit" militates against the meaning "born again", since "born of water and Spirit" implies more than a second physical birth. Thus also T.G. BROWN, Spirit in the Writings of John (JSNTSS 253; London New York 2003) 119. From a narrative perspective the question of baptism has been overemphasized in the exegesis of birth a!nwqen; see e.g. O. HOFIUS, "Das Wunder der Wiedergeburt. Jesu Gesprch mit Nicodemus Joh 3,1-21", Johannesstudien. Untersuchungen zur Theologie des vierten Evangeliums (eds. O. HOFIUS H-C. KAMMLER) (Tbingen 1996) 33-80, esp. 41-43. OT expectations of spiritual renewal in terms of water and Spirit (e.g. Ezek 36,25-27; Zech 13,1; Joel 3,1-2 ) accord with the narrative itself. In a narrative perspective it hardly makes sense for Jesus to blame Nicodemus for not understanding a rite that never appears in the story.
4 Few commentaries pay attention to this principle; see, however, C. TALBERT, Reading John. A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles (New York 1994) 77, 98. Cf. B.E. GRTNER, "The Pauline and Johannine Idea of 'To Know God' Against the Hellenistic Background", NTS 14 (1967-8) 209-231 and W.C. GREESE, "'Unless One is Born Again': The Use of a Heavenly Journey in John 3", JBL 107 (1988) 677-693.
5 Since e(w/raka is here used without an accusative, it takes on the meaning of "I have come to understand".
6 For Philo references, see J.H. NEYREY, "The Jacob Allusions in John 1:51", CBQ 44 (1982) 586-605, esp. 592, n. 30.
7 J.H. NEYREY, "John III A Debate over Johannine Epistemology and Christology", NT 23 (1981) 115-127. See also C.S. KEENER, The Gospel of John. A Commentary (Peabody, MA 2003) I, 234-247.
8 Dei= carries the meaning of divine necessity or plan; see e.g. John 3,14.30; 4,20; 20,9.
9 See e.g. John 6,46; 10,38; 14,10.20; 17,21.
10 C.R. KOESTER, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel. Meaning, Mystery, Community (Minneapolis 2003) 163 on this particular text: "The ability or inability to see depended not only on a person's external circumstances but on one's internal condition one's belief or unbelief".
11 See KOESTER, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, 148-149.
12 The principle of likeness is found elsewhere in the New Testament as well; e.g. Acts 17,27-28; 1 Cor 2,6-16; 15,50.
13 NEYREY, "John III A Debate over Johannine Epistemology and Christology", 115. See NICHOLSON, Death as Departure, 104 who says that John 3,1-10 "revolves around the question of who Jesus is and what must happen before a person can adequately understand him".
14 L.A. JARVIS, "Becoming like God through Christ: Discipleship in Romans", Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament (ed. R.N. LONGENECKER) (Grand Rapids, MI Cambridge U.K. 1996) 143-162.
15 Sextus probably had in mind Timaeus 45B-D, where Plato says that "seeing" takes place through the principle of o!moion pro_j o!moion, and Protagoras 337C-338A where he speaks metaphorically of the "sanctuary of wisdom" (to_ prutanei=on th=j sofi/aj) in which the wise men among the Greeks live since they know the nature of things which is to_ o!moion tw|= o(moi/w| fu/sei suggene/j e)stin.
16 This fragment was quite popular in Antiquity; see e.g. Aristotle, Metaphysics 1000b21; Hippolytus, Refutatio 6.11-12 (138.3-9). These references are taken from B. INWOOD, The Poem of Empedocles. A Text and Translation with an Introduction (Toronto Buffalo London 1992). He mentions an apophtegm attributed to Empedocles: "To the man who said, 'I cannot find a wise man', Empedocles said, `that is because he who looks for a wise man must first be wise himself` (159)". Diogenes Laertius 9.20 attributes this saying to Xenophanes.
17 Greek philosophy shared the thought of the intellect as divine; gods and humans share a rational nature; see JARVIS, "Becoming like God through Christ: Discipleship in Romans", 145-147.
18 The translation is taken from S. MACKENNA, Plotinus. The Ethical Treatises (The Library of Philosophical Translations 1; London 1917). Greek text, see P. HENRY H.-R. SCHWYZER, Plotini Opera, Tomus I, Enneades I-III (Oxford 1964).
19 H.D. BETZ, "Matthew VI.22f and ancient Greek theories of vision", Text and Interpretation. Studies in the New Testament presented to Matthew Black (eds. E. BEST R.McL. WILSON) (Cambridge 1979) 43-56; D.C. ALLISON, Jr., "The Eye is the Lamp of the Body (Matthew 6.22-23=Luke 11.34-36)", NTS 33 (1987) 61-83.
20 Twice in this text Philo has katalamba/nein and its cognate noun.
21 According to Post. 129, Exod 33 implies that God Himself is beyond apprehension (au)to_j mo/noj a)kata/lhptoj); what is attainable is, however, o#sa meta_ to_n qeo_n cf. Fug. 164-165 and Mut. 9.
22 KOESTER, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, 141-173.
23 For katalamba/nw in the sense of comprehending, see BAGD s.v. and LSJ s.v. and KOESTER, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, 143-144. The theme in John 1,5 is continued in vv. 9-10 where the cognitive aspect is clearly voiced; rather than being known, the light was rejected.
24 In John's Gospel lamba/nw also sometimes takes on a cognitive meaning; see e.g. 3,11.27.32; 14,17.
25 The lifting up of the Son of Man occurs also in 8,28, but the statement in 3,14 is the first appearance of this in the Gospel and is also verbally closer to 12,34.
26 This is pointed out also by NICHOLSON, Death as Departure, 53-55.
27 E.g. John 1,48; 4,16; 6,27; 9,11; 11,31.44; 18,8; 21,3. It may be difficult to ascertain if a second level of meaning is at hand; e.g. John 11,8, cf. 7,3. The disciples ask Jesus if he will again go to (u(pa/gw) Jerusalem, since they have already attempted to kill him there. Jerusalem and the death of Jesus are crucial for understanding the whither of Jesus in John's story. A narrative reading, therefore, throws some doubt on an immediate reading of 11,8.
28 See also John 4,22.32; 5,3; 15,1.
29 A reference to the hidden Messiah; see R.E. BROWN, The Gospel according to John I-XII (AncB; London etc.,1971) 53. John has adapted this to his own thought on the mysterious Christ.
30 JULIAN, Jesus and Nicodemus, 90 says that "...on the lips of the Jews, the verb oi!damen is, almost always used ironically" with reference to John 3,2; 6,42; 7,27; 9,24. 29.
31 So also MEEKS, "The Man from Heaven", 60.
32 Thus e.g. WAI-YEE NG, Water Symbolism in John. An Eschatological Interpretation (Studies in Biblical Literature 15; New York etc. 2001) 78-81.
33 Pace BROWN, Spirit, 156.
34 This is admitted also by BROWN, Spirit, 156.
35 See John 2,22; 5,46-47; 12,16; 14,17.26; 15,26; 16,7.13-55; 19,28; 20.9. This is emphasized by C. HOEGEN-ROHLS, Der nachsterliche Johannes. Die Abschiedsreden als hermeneutischer Schlssel zum vierten Evangelium (WUNT II/84; Tbingen 1996) 39, 68-69, 214. She demonstrates that 7,38 looks back to 1,50-51 and leads on to farewell speeches where Jesus speaks of "...der nachsterlichen Dimension des 'Grsseren'". There is no mention of the Spirit in the story between 7,39 and the farewell discourses.
36 Thus also NICHOLSON, Death as Departure, 81.
37 According to John 8,28 knowledge of Jesus' identity will come when the Son of Man is lifted up (cf. 3,14). This corresponds to the narrative aside in 7,39.
38 V. 52 and v. 55 also juxtapose Jesus and the believers in a way worth noticing.
39 NICHOLSON, Death as Departure, 111.
40 The textual criticism question involved here does not affect this fact.
41 Since readers know from several passages (e.g. 1,9; 8,12) that Jesus is the light of the world, the miracle signals a new level of meaning; KOESTER, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, 163.
42 D.A. LEE, The Symbolic Narratives of the Fourth Gospel. The Interplay of Form and Meaning (JSNTSS 95; Sheffield 1994) 170, 179.
43 Similarly KOESTER, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, 161.
44 See the margin of NESTLE-ALAND's 27th edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece.
45 This verb occurs twice in John 16,2, a proverbial analogy where emphasis is on joy not birth, while 18,37 speaks of Jesus himself.
46 The accusation is polemically formed, while Jesus in chap. 3 simply speaks of the inability of men to comprehend what is from above.
47 Suggested also by BROWN, Spirit, 121.
48 For an overview of opinions held, see e.g. JULIAN, Jesus and Nicodemus, 82-84.
49 U. SCHNELLE, Antidoketische Christologie im Johannesevangelium. Eine Untersuchung zur Stellung des vierten Evangeliums in der johanneischen Schule (FRLANT 144; Gttingen 1987) 201; see also his Das Evangelium nach Johannes (THNT 4; Leipzig 2000) 69. GREESE, "Unless One is Born Again", 689 similarly speaks of "becoming like Christ".
50 HOFIUS, "Das Wunder der Wiedergeburt", 43, n. 50.
51 NICHOLSON, Death as Departure, 111.
52 This term has been coined by M.W.G. STIBBE, John's Gospel (New Testament Readings; London New York 1994) 6, 15, 21, 23, 24, 29.