What does John 3:4 mean?
ESV: 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?”
NIV: How can someone be born when they are old?' Nicodemus asked. 'Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born!'
NASB: Nicodemus *said to Him, 'How can a person be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born, can he?'
CSB: "How can anyone be born when he is old? " Nicodemus asked him. "Can he enter his mother's womb a second time and be born? "
NLT: What do you mean?' exclaimed Nicodemus. 'How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?'
KJV: Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
Verse Commentary:
Nicodemus doesn't actually misinterpret Jesus, or take a physical, literal view of His reference to being "born again." The reason he asks the question is because he knows this is not what Jesus meant, but he is confused. Jesus is in fact referring to birth, but not a physical one. Rather, this is a spiritual birth.

The term "born again" can become a cliché, but it's an important metaphor. Parents endure pain, so that their child can be changed and inherit their attributes. God endured our pain, in the form of Jesus on a cross, in order to give us a new birth. According to verse 3, being "born again" is an absolute, universal requirement for salvation. The gospel is exclusive—meaning restricted to only a certain group—even though it is offered to everyone. Only those who put their faith in Christ are saved, a concept which the gospel of John will repeat several times (John 3:5; John 3:18; John 3:36; John 14:6).
Verse Context:
John 2:24–3:15 describes a meeting between Jesus and a Pharisee. The last two verses of chapter two highlight the fact that Jesus knew men better than they knew themselves. Nicodemus was the ancient equivalent of a politician, priest, and professor all rolled into one. Jesus proves that this man doesn’t understand religion as well as he’d like to think. In contrast to the loud, public spectacle of clearing the temple, this encounter is a private, night-time meeting. Their actual conversation was probably longer than the brief summary recorded here.
Chapter Summary:
John chapter 3 is one of the most important in the entire gospel. Many crucial ideas are explained in this passage, including the role of Jesus as Savior. After the loud, public commotion at the temple, John transitions to a quiet, nighttime discussion. These verses make it clear that Christ—and Christ alone—is the means of salvation for the entire world. This text also states that those who reject Jesus are rejecting God.
Chapter Context:
The gospel of John is meant to prove that Jesus is God. Chapter 3 contains some of the most direct, most important concepts in Christianity. The ideas of spiritual rebirth, and the need to believe in Christ, are reinforced by the rest of the information in this gospel. John continues to use contrast, moving from the loud and public temple cleansing to the quiet of this conversation. After Jesus injects humility into a powerful leader, chapter 4 will transition again, as Jesus gives dignity to an outcast stranger.
Book Summary:
The gospel of John was written by the disciple John, decades later than the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The author assumes that a reader is already familiar with the content of these other works. So, John presents a different perspective, with a greater emphasis on meaning. John uses seven miracles—which he calls “signs”—in order to prove that Jesus is, in fact, God incarnate. Some of the most well-known verses in all of the Bible are found here. None is more famous than the one-sentence summary of the gospel found in John 3:16.
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