John 3:1-10
Now 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 him, “Truly, truly, 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, “Truly, truly, 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 its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?

One of the most difficult issues in Bible interpretation is to understand how the New Testament uses the Old. I have in front of me a massive commentary called Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament edited by C.K. Beale and D.A. Carson. It is a great work which seeks to give answers about how New Testament writers used the Old Testament. Sometimes it is very difficult to determine how the Old Testament is being used in the New. When it comes to Christ’s rebuke of Nicodemus in John 3, even the best of New Testament scholars are often perplexed, wondering what Christ meant when he rebuked Nicodemus concerning his ignorance.

In the above passage, Christ is talking about the new birth. To make things as simple as I can, Christ tells Nicodemus that no one can enter God’s kingdom unless he has been born again. This idea of being born again can also mean “born from above.” Nicodemus, though desirous to go against the grain of Jewish leadership and follow Christ, is confused by Christ’s teaching. He takes him quite literally believing that Christ is saying that we must pass through the birth canal twice. He responds with what seems to be a valid question to Christ’s confusing and, seemingly, radical statement. “How can these things be?”

Christ does not miss a beat in lowing the hammer on Nicodemus’ ignorance. “Are you the teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things?” In other words, Nicodemus was the theology professor of the day. He was a leader of the congregation of Israel. He was supposed to know these things! How could he lead without know this basic truth?

Concerning this John Calvin adds to the rebuke:

As Christ sees that he is spending his time and pains to no purpose in teaching so proud a man, he begins to reprove him sharply. And certainly such persons will never make any progress, until the wicked confidence, with which they are puffed up, be removed. . . But still Nicodemus, with all his magisterial haughtiness, exposes himself to ridicule by more than childish hesitation about the first principles. Such hesitation, certainly, is base and shameful. For what religion have we, what knowledge of God, what rule of living well, what hope of eternal life, if we do not believe that man is renewed by the Spirit of God? (Calvin’s Commentaries: John 3:10).

But how was Nicodemus supposed to know these things? Why does Christ come down so hard on him? Was the new birth taught in the Old Testament? If so, where?

These are good questions. The first thing we may try to do is find some parallel with such teaching explicitly taught in the Old Testament. New Testament scholars have offered some possibilities:

Jeremiah 31:33
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer 31:33 ESV)

Ezekiel 11:19
And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Eze 11:19 ESV)

If, indeed, these are the passages that Christ was speaking of then the process of being “born again/from above” would carry the connotation of a “new beginning” (Kostenberger, John, ECNT, 123). However, while I certainly see the redemptive theme present in both these passages, I don’t see the radical idea of being “birthed” again being explicit enough to bring about Christ’s rebuke.

Other passages proposed by scholars include Isa. 29:10, Deut. 30:6, Ps. 51: 6, and Ps. 51:10. I even heard a message from a prominent Old Testament professor who linked this text to Psalm 87:4-7, believing that the new birth is explicitly alluded to there. However, I think it is a bit of a stretch to attempt to find explicit reference to the new birth in any one Old Testament passage. Nevertheless, I am not arguing against Jesus. Nicodemus should have known about the new birth. Nicodemus should not have been surprised. As the “teacher of Israel” his hope and teaching should have been grounded here.

So where do we find the new birth in the Old Testament? I am glad you asked. While I don’t believe that there is any one passage of Scripture we can point to, I do believe there is a theological theme throughout the entire Old Testament that necessitates Christ’s new birth theology. It goes all the way back to the fall. The first time that death is mentioned in the Bible is in Gen. 2:17 where God warns Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” The consequence of eating the tree was death. Just one chapter later, Adam and Eve both ate from the tree, but they did not die. In fact, Adam lived 930 years! How is it that he died “the day” he ate of it?

Theologians have wrestled with this question for some time. It would seem that the best answer we can give is that death entered into the human condition on that day in two ways: 1) Man was forced out of the Garden and no longer had access to the tree of life (Gen. 3:22-23). In this sense, that day they were prevented from eternal life and therefore that day death began. 2) Most importantly for our purpose here, the day they ate of the tree of life they died spiritually. Let me state the obvious: spiritual death is the opposite of spiritual life. Throughout the Scriptures humanity is shown to be in its natural condition spiritually dead. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,” “But God . . . made us alive together in Christ” (Eph. 2:4). Since the spiritual death of the first man, Adam, every human ever born has been still-born spiritually. This is what theologians refer to as “imputed sin.” Because of our connection with the sin and death of Adam, we too have inherited sin and death (Rom. 5:17-19).

Being born again is nothing less that a complete restoration of spiritual life. All of humanity was separated from God in Eden. Through the cross that separation was bridged. In Adam we have the imputation of sin and death. Through Christ we have the imputation of righteousness and life. We are either found death in Adam or alive in Christ.

Nicodemus was rebuked not because there was a particular passage in the Old Testament that escaped his notice, but because he was unaware of humanities spiritual condition since Gen. 3. Nicodemus should have known that people must be born again in order to inherit eternal life and enter the Kingdom precisely because he should have know that they were dead. The only hope for a dead man is resurrection. The only hope for spiritually dead people is to be born again or “from above.”

While Christ’s rebuke of Nicodemus was harsh, it is nothing less than a rebuke for a failure to acknowledge the utter helpless condition that all of humanity faces outside of Christ. The new birth was just as necessary for people in the Old Testament is it is for all people. 

If I am right and Christ’s rebuke of Nicodemus is due to his theological ignorance, this should serve as a stern warning for many of those out there who see our identification with Adam as something that can be sacrificed. Imputed sin is the reason why we are dead. Our deadness is the reason why we need to be born again. The sad thing is that I believe there are many prominent leaders in the church today who would say to Christ “How can these things be?” due to their neglect of the reality of humanities still-born condition.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    52 replies to "Is the New Birth in the Old Testament? or Why Was Christ So Hard On Nicodemus in John 3:10?"

    • Mike O

      At the risk of answering totally wrong …

      Is the new birth in the old testament? No.

      Why was Christ so hard on Nicodemus? That was his style. If you read the gospels, you will find (I was surprised to find) how unwelcoming Jesus was to those who questioned him or who weren’t in particular need of him. The rich young ruler. His mother and brothers at the door. Pharisees, Saducees, kings, rulers, etc, even those who simply wanted to tend to their affairs before following. Jesus rarely, if ever, gave a kind answer to those who didn’t readily and wholeheartedly follow him. I’m not saying he NEVER did, but if you read the Gospels with an eye to his responses to those who questioned or resisted him, it was typically not very Mr. Rogers.

      But with that said, there is also a pattern in the New Testament of it being difficult for the religiously learned to grasp what Jesus was all about, while the uneducated whores, drunkards, lepers, criples, and outcasts of the system welcomed him (and he welcomed them!).

      Without having thought about it much before reading this blog, I would say Jesus was picking up on a hardness or “religiousness” in Nicodemus’ heart that he wouldn’t have if, say, the widow who gave the penny had asked the same question. I’m not saying Nicodemus wasn’t seeking, but maybe there’s a difference between someone with the religious status questioning from what he already knows, and the outcast asking from what he doesn’t.

      But more likely, I think Jesus’ intent was to show Nicodemus that the answer he sought COULDN’T be found in the old testament. Maybe Jesus was saying, with a bit of a snarky tone, “What? You’ve studied all the scriptures but you still don’t know?? Maybe that’s because this is a new thing, and the answer you seek isn’t in the scripture you know?

      Think old wineskins, new wineskins.

      Short answer: I don’t know, but I don’t think so. And for what it’s worth, I think Calvin missed it on that one. Sorry.

      • Chris

        God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6

      • Sharon Cordelia Wilkins

        I’m absolutely feeling your reply. I, too, think back on some of our Savioir’s biting replies and I think to myself, Christ is not just replying but He is addressing some deeper issue here.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Would I have done any better than the Disciples, than Nicodemus, than even Adam?


      If I knew Satan like I’m aware of him now, I “think” I would have avoided doing what Eve did.

      He’d have to try something else to deceive me. But I’d still be under the authority of Adam. He was created before me and I was designed to be his helper.

    • Spencer Barfuss

      Just thinking through your post, Michael… what about Jesus’ clarification of being born again (or “born from above”), when He says, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” As I understand it, Jesus is restating his previous statement in a way that Nicodemus should understand, being a teacher of Israel. Most people wrongly think that because the verse mentions “water” that it’s referring to baptism, when really the phrase “water and the Spirit” is actually one and the same, born from above, which is through the Spirit. Or, “water, namely the Spirit.” Even now as I’m writing and thinking about what you wrote in regards to you not seeing “birthing” in any of the OT passages used by other scholars, I can see that, I guess. But in Jesus’ mentioning of “water and the Spirit”, I can definitely see a correlation to the Ezekiel 36:25-27 and Jeremiah 31:31 passages. Am I off on that?

      @Mike O. – never thought about that before, but I like you’re thinking on that… could be. You’ve given me lots to think about…

    • jim

      Good answers by all
      In regards to his direct (harsh) words to Nickodemus
      Is it possible that Jesus knew Nickodemus heart and his understanding that Jesus was just a teacher?(Rabbi)
      His coming in the night however shows a searching for answers from Jesus(Or he would not have come at all) but his attempt to hide his meeting with Jesus maybe shows a heart that wasn’t ready to submit to Christ which Christ would see in his heart and actions.

    • JohnB

      Why is Christ so hard on a man He caused to be born “dead”? It seems odd that he would adominish someone whoes eyes He has not yet opened. But I suppose you find this throughout the Old Testament. God repeatedly rebukes a people who do not have the ability to respond to Him. It is almost as if He thought they did have the ability to respond to His grace. Curious.

    • Antioch

      Great article and comments. ‘You hold yourself up as a teacher but yet you know so very little’. Not that Nicodemus could know these things, but that the pharisees were so proud of their knowledge and had no reason to be because in reality, they knew so little. Apropos for today as well methinks.

    • Jeremy

      I think Spencer hit the nail on the head with his reference of Ezekiel. Jesus explicitly ties washing with water to the new birth which, in turn, explicitly ties the new birth to the OT (via Ezekiel 36, possibly others less directly). In fact, I read this as Jesus rebuking Nicodemus specifically for the not understanding that passage in Ezekiel.

      BTW, you can thank Don Carson for this insight. I believe he paraphrased Jesus words in John 3 to the effect of, “How can you be a teacher of Israel and not know your Ezekiel?!”

    • Hodge

      Yeah, I agree with everyone. I think it may be a “both/and” thing. I definitely think that Christ is trying to humble the Pharisee. Notice how Nicodemus first begins as though the Pharisees are the ones who get to judge who has come from God. I do think Christ is taking him down a notch by pointing out that he doesn’t know the statements concerning renewal found within the prophets.

    • Robert Hagedorn

      I suspect it was a momentary lapse, but the tree of life was not the forbidden tree. The forbidden tree was the other one, the tree of knowledge of good and evil right next to the tree of life, whose fruit Adam and Eve were not forbidden to eat. On the contrary, they were expected to eat from the tree of life. Please do a search: The First Scandal Adam and Eve.

    • Derek

      The whole post was excellent right up to the end until you made the leap to “imputed sin”. There are other ways to make the connect without appealing narrowly to Calvinisric distinctives. You should have kept things broader to include all traditions of orthodox Christianity sins most Traditions do not think in terms of “imputed sin” while they still maintain faithfulness to the motif you accurately portray.

    • Melani Boek

      I would respectfully disagree with the notion that there was regeneration in the OT. That may be a doctrinal necessity for some, but it is not a Biblical reality.

      First, did you ever stop to see that two critical OT passages which point to regeneration are declarations of what God says He will do in the future? Even theologian Wayne Grudem, in his Sytematic Theology, in the chapter on regeneration states, “This sovereign work of God in regeneration was also PREDICTED in the prophecy of Ezekiel. Through him God promised A TIME IN THE FUTURE when He would give new spiritual life to his people” (Grudem, page 699). These texts say, “a NEW SPIRIT I WILL (future) put WITHIN them…” These predictions mean that even Ezekiel was not regenerated, nor was any man prior to Ezekiel. And Ezekiel lived near the end of the OT time period!

      • Chris

        I agree there was no regeneration in OT. The first regeneration happened in John 20:22 “Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” At that point, all believers became born again and every believer after that.

    • Melani Boek

      Note from moderator: Melani, please read the blog rules concerning successive posts. I will approve the posts this time. Thank you for your compliance

      Second, when Jesus Christ walked on this earth, He proclaimed, “The Father is in Me, I am in the Father, and the Father and I are one”. At the time He was the only body of flesh that could make that claim. In the Old Testament, the Father dwelt in the Tabernacle and Temple. Access to the Father was severely restricted in this foreshadowing of the things to come. Yet Jesus Christ was indwelt by the Father, and was one with the Father. Before His death, Jesus prayed for men to also be indwelt by the Father and the Son, to be in the Father and the Son, and to become one with them (John 17). After the blood was shed that could redeem men and cleanse them from all sin (and other significant details), then men began to be indwelt by the Son and the Father (lots of references upon request). Only then were men actually placed “in Christ”. Paul tells us that Jesus came in the fullness of time, to redeem men from the Law, so that they could receive the adoption as sons. There wasn’t even adoption before Christ was sent. Men were always slaves with future promises from God. The death of Jesus Christ inaugurated the eternal inheritance (Heb. 9), and the redemption that He secured made possible the adoption. Adopted sons qualify for the inheritance—the promised new Spirit and the promise of eternal life. “And because you are sons (by adoption) God has sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts” (Gal. 4:6). The life of regeneration comes from the indwelling of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

    • Melani Boek

      Third, Jesus Christ was telling Nicodemus about the new birth, and how it could be. The often neglected context explains, just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up. People stung by the serpents needed to look to the standard to live. In the same way, those stung by the sting of sin must look to the crucified and resurrected Son of God to live eternally. Jesus goes on to say that God sent His Son so that men could have everlasting life. The Apostle John would later declare, “This is the record that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son, He who has the Son has the life, and he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1John 5:11, 12). Note two very important points. The “life” is “in Christ”, and no man was “in Christ” before the cross. And only those who have the Son of God have the life, and no man was indwelt by the Son of God before the cross. Therefore no man had the life (eternal) before the cross.

    • Melani Boek

      Fourth, what other “kind of life” does the Bible talk about other than the life we are given in the flesh when we are born of the flesh, and eternal life which we are given when we are born of the Spirit? There is no other “kind of life” taught about in the Bible. Yet the doctrine which needs regeneration in the OT, also needs another “kind of life”: some kind of “life” given in regeneration to enable belief, and eternal life which is given some time after a person exercises the faith given to him in regeneration. When a man is born of the eternal Spirit, by the eternal Word of God, he is given eternal life. A man is regenerated when He is made alive with Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:5). Can a man be “made alive with Jesus Christ” apart from having Jesus Christ dwelling in him? Also, Paul explicitly states, “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit IF THE SPIRIT OF GOD DWELL IN YOU. And if any man HAVE NOT THE SPIRIT OF CHRSIT HE IS NONE OF HIS.” (Rom. 8:9).

      Fifth, we are born again THROUGH THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST FROM THE DEAD (1Peter 1:3). Can a man be born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ before Jesus Christ actually rose again from the dead?

    • Melani Boek

      Sixth, God sent His Son to save men from their sins. Men are saved by His life (Rom. 5:10). Paul says that men are saved by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). And Paul also tells us that when a person is made alive with Jesus Christ they HAVE BEEN SAVED (Eph. 2:5). Now we know that a person must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ before he will be saved. He must call upon the name of the Lord before he is saved. God gives him the gift of salvation when He sends the gift of His Son into a man’s heart to give him the gift of eternal life. He is saved THROUGH faith. Even founding Reformed documents clearly place man’s exercise of faith before both salvation and eternal life (even though they have another kind of life given in regeneration to enable faith). Jesus dwells in our hearts THROUGH faith (Eph. 3:17). We receive the promise of the Holy Spirit THROUGH faith (Gal. 3:14). Men had faith long before Jesus died on the cross, but they were not “in Christ” yet, they did not have eternal life yet, nor did they have the salvation that Christ would come to give, yet.

    • Melani Boek

      Before John Calvin was ever born, regeneration was erroneously redefined to be a work that God did upon a man to enable him to believe (supposedly giving a new spiritual nature for spiritual perception, new eyes to see and new ears to hear the gospel, and new heart for new spiritual desires, a new mind for spiritual understanding, etc…) . The Bible never teaches that. For hundreds of years the church also taught that men were regenerated when they were baptized as babies. The Bible never teaches that, and many have come to understand that it is an unbiblical teaching. All of these teachings have served to obscure a crucial understanding: that men are regenerated when Jesus Christ comes to live in their hearts to give them the gift of eternal life, the gift of salvation. And as long as this truth is obscured, men will be vulnerable to unbiblical doctrines.

      Sola Scriptura,
      Melani Boek

    • ScottL

      I’ve never really thought much about the ‘swift’ rebuke of Jesus towards Nicodemus. The Gospels summarise many things. So we don’t have every detail present.

      But I do wonder if this conclusion from your article is a bit too much.

      Nicodemus was rebuked not because there was a particular passage in the Old Testament that escaped his notice, but because he was unaware of humanities spiritual condition since Gen. 3. Nicodemus should have known that people must be born again in order to inherit eternal life and enter the Kingdom precisely because he should have know that they were dead. The only hope for a dead man is resurrection. The only hope for spiritually dead people is to be born again or “from above.”

      Could it not be that Jesus’ statement in John 3:10 is in response to Jesus explaining things right there in the conversation (3:3-8). So Jesus was rebuking Nicodemus for not understanding what Jesus just taught right then and there?

      • Bill

        I have always looked at Nicodemus, who is evidently a learned scholar of the Old Testament, as a bit guilty for another reason. I believe there are enough prophecies in the OT (Ezek., Joel, Jer. etc.) which clear state that there will be a future work of the Spirit (and often connecting that with God’s dealings with Israel). Thus, Nicodemus should have known that God was going to do a future work with Israel, and give a New Covenant, and give people (future) a new heart, and even give the Spirit of God. Thus when Jesus shares about that coming truth, Nicodemus should have been aware that such a time was coming. It came after He died, was raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven to then send His Spirit into the hearts of men to permanently dwell in them.

        I think people are afraid to give anyone credit for anything good that happened through OT saints if the Holy Spirit did not permanently live in them (through the new birth). Yes all glory must go to God, and it does and will. But in the end God will even judge us believers for our reward based on our lives. The righteous, before the cross and full NT realities in Christ, could have lived in faith as best as they could without the constant indwelling of the H/S. I think all men are dead in the sphere of their sins and trespasses, but especially by have a new relationship with God through faith in Him, in the OT, one could begin to live for Him. Yes His Spirit, who is God, worked with them, but we cannot say definitively through the new birth of the Holy Spirit based on the biblical data.

        Let’s just leave it at that and let God tell us more in heaven about this subject.

    • Jeff Ayers

      When answering the question for myself many years ago “Were people born again in the old testament, if not why did Jesus rebuke Nicodemus for his ignorance of the subject? … “if yes, where is being born again found in the OT?”.
      4 possible answers are:
      1. Jesus was referring to the nation of Israel being born again. “Art thou a master of ISRAEL and knowest not these things?”. At the Second Advent Israel will be born “at once”, in one day. (Is 66:8). The nation will be brought back to the land and restored (Jer 32:37-41). All Israel will be saved when Christ fulfills his covenant with Israel and Jacob (Rom 11:26,27). And this NEW Covenant will be implemented with the house of Israel and the House of Jacob (none of which is implemented now cf Jer 31:31-34. Being born of water and the spirit is explicitly tied with Ezekiel 36:25 Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. 26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. Thus ONLY the nation of Israel will be born again at the Second Advent.

      2. Jesus was referring to individual regeneration and this truth is found in the fact that the first born sons of the patriarchs were rejected as fleshly and the second born child was considered the one born of the spirit and of promise. Abraham being the father of those who receive eternal life by faith are the “sons of Abraham” (Gal 3:3-9; 16; 26-29). The firstborn son Ishmael was the son of the flesh, whereas Isaac was the son of Promise. So too, those who are born once are as “Ishmael”; and those who are born again are as “Isaac”. (Gal 4:22-31) This principle was repeated with Isaac’s sons Esau being the son of the flesh and Jacob being…

    • Jeff Ayers

      3. The third option is Christ was referring prophetically to his upcoming death burial and resurrection. (as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so must the son of man be lifted up). No one was born again in the OT, nor could be born again. Yet the mystery of the Gospel (The death burial and resurrection of Christ) was found in the OT. And a new birth, or life being imparted via substitutionary atonement was a mystery for those in the OT, yet a “master” (teacher should have known it.). The resurrection of Christ would allow all those that Christ saved to be born again and become the sons of God. The new birth is a New Testament phenomenon. Since prior to the death of the testator the Spirit was not yet given. The blood which gives eternal life was not shed. The resurrection had not occurred to justify those who believed on Christ.

      4. The fourth option and the most biblical answer are both options 1 and 2. As most Old Testament prophecies had an Already/ Not yet aspect to their fulfillment (fulfilled partially now upon those who hear/ but also to be fulfilled completely upon a future date). So, likewise, Jesus was telling Nicodemus as an individual that he needed a new birth, namely life from above, since he was dead in trespasses and sins. And secondly, Christ was referring prophetically to the nation of Israel being born again and thus fulfill so many of the OT promises/ prophecies as found in Prophets. The new birth was necessary for those who are dead in trespasses and sins to be quickened and given life. This was achieved by “receiving Him, even to those who believe on his name”. Which was expounded two chapters earlier in John (1:12) and fully explained in John 3 by both Jesus (John 3:15-18) and John the Baptist (John 3:36). Namely, that all who believe on Christ have everlasting life (John 5:25, 6:40 and 6:47 etc).

    • Jeff Ayers

      Lastly, option 3 (the erroneous notion that NO one is born again in the OT) is to be rejected outright since all those born of Adam and sinned, died spiritually (Rom 7:9). If they died without being brought to life spiritually, then they died in their sins. Eternal life is the cure for those in both the OT and the NT. That eternal life was obtained by believing in the Lord for eternal life (Gen 15:7; Rom 4; John 6:47 etc.) Just because the Holy spirit did not INDWELL (John 7:37-39; 14:16,17 ) those in the OT, in no way prevents eternal life from being imparted to those who believe on Christ (John 5:24, John 11:25,26 etc. eternal life was a present possession for those who believe on Christ PRIOR to the death of Christ). Since there is clearly a difference between the Spirit of Christ and the Holy Spirit , one must understand Rom 8:9 (if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his) with 1 peter 1:11 (the Spirit of Christ which was IN them). There being a distinction between the giving and indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Christ which is in all who are “His”. Jesus told Nicodemus, during the OT, under the law that HE had to be born again. Jesus did not say that if you die before the cross, you do not need to be born again. (But then after the cross he would need to be born again). There is no exegetical reason to believe that the requirement to be born again was only binding under a new dispensation.
      By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (for eternal life), based on the Scriptures alone for the glory of God alone,
      Jeff Ayers

    • John

      This ignores the possibility that he is referring to the baptism and repentance taught by John the baptist. Shouldn’t Israel’s teacher know about John’s prophetic teachings? Of water and the spirit as taught by John?

    • mbaker

      I think repentance requires a recognition of personal sin, which is where we all need to get before we know there is need for a real change. So in that respect, perhaps Nicodemus just thought he was okay because he was just going by the teachings of his religious day, which was what the Pharisees and Sadducees said it was.

      I think perhaps Christ was challenging him on a personal level to rethink his priorities, because Nicodemus thought he was okay simply because he was adhering to the popular religious opinions of the day, as many modern Christians do now as well.

      Certainly food for thought.

    • mbaker

      Oh, and just to keep on topic with the question “Is the new birth in the OT?” The question to explore, which I think deserves a whole other post, is i. e.: How was it specifically defined by GOD, before Christ?

    • Jeff Ayers

      Johns water baptism had NOTHING to do with Jesus statement about being born of water and the spirit. Contextually water baptism is NOT anywhere to be found and would be pure eisegesis.

      The ONLY two exegetical possibilties of what the “water and the spirit” are is:

      1. The water refers to the natural birth in water. This understanding is derived from Jesus statement “that which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of spirit is spirit.”

      2. The water is the washing of water by the WORD. comparing scripture with scripture: Ephesians 5:26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of WATER BY THE WORD, and Titus 3:5 washing of regeneration.

      Either one is acceptable to a regeneration that occurs prior to the cross by simple faith in Christ (John 3:15-18, 3:36 etc)

      Lastly, it is worth pointing out the BIBLE definition of John the Baptists “Baptism of repentance”:
      Acts 19:4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should BELIEVE on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.

      NO Water in John’s “Baptism of Repentance”; his definition is that they should “BELIEVE ON HIM that should come after, that is on christ Jesus.
      (BTW this “baptism of REPENTANCE” has nothing to do with turning from sin or forsaking sin.) … I will trust Paul who tells me dogmatically and authoritatively what Johns Baptism of repentance is.


      Jeff Ayers

    • MShep2

      Quote: ScottL “Could it not be that Jesus’ statement in John 3:10 is in response to Jesus explaining things right there in the conversation (3:3-8). So Jesus was rebuking Nicodemus for not understanding what Jesus just taught right then and there?”

      I think this is the correct answer. Nicodemus believed that his physical birth as a Jew and “son of Abraham” guaranteed him a place in heaven. (Many Jews of the day believed that Abraham sat at the gate of hell to keep any Israelite from accidentally going there.)

      I think this can be seen in the parallelism between John 3:5—”Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.'” and John 3:6—“’That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.'” Nicodemus thought having a physical birth that made him a part of God’s chosen race guaranteed him a place in heaven. Jesus corrected him by saying his physical birth (“born of water”) only made him a part of the human race (“flesh”). He therefore needed to be “born again” (“born from on high”) by God’s Spirit in order to become a part of God’s spiritual race.

    • Melani Boek

      I have some questions.

      1. Do you believe that men were “born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”, before Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead?

      2. Jeff Ayers said, “If they (OT believers) died without being brought to life spiritually, then they died in their sins.”

      Do you believe that men’s sins were dealt with in the OT such that men did not “die in their sins”? How was this possible? There was no sacrifice that could take away sins (Heb. 10:4) before the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who came to take away sins. Paul also states, “If Christ be not raised then you are still in your sins” (1Cor. 15:17). In the OT the blood which could cleanse men from all sins had not been shed, and Christ had not been raised, so how were the sins of the OT believers taken away?

      3. If men could have their sins dealt with before the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then why did Jesus need to come to this earth to die?

      Sola Scriptura,

    • Melani Boek

      4. Jeff Ayers said, “…eternal life was a present possession for those who believe on Christ PRIOR to the death of Christ).”

      If men were given eternal life in the OT, then why did the Father need to send His Son to be lifted up? Why did Jesus tell Nicodemus, “,,,even so must the Son of Man be lifted up IN ORDER THAT whoever believes may ‘in Him’ have eternal life.” (John3:14, 15).

      If eternal life is “in Him” or “in His Son” (see also 1John 5:11; 2Tim. 1:1) how could any man have eternal life before men began to be placed “in Him”? Jesus doesn’t even pray for men to be “in Him” until John 17. And men are not baptized into Christ, baptized into His Body until Acts 2.

      If eternal life was already being given in the OT, then what did John mean when he said, “In Him was LIFE” (John 1:4)? What kind of “life” was in Jesus Christ? Again we see,
      “For as the Father hath LIFE in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have LIFE in himself” (John 5:26). What “kind of life” is in the Father and the Son that is unique to them if men already possessed eternal life? Paul states, “Christ is our LIFE”, and, Jesus claimed to be the LIFE (John 11:25, 14:6). What is the significance of His claim if men already had eternal life too?

      5. John specifically states “…he who has the Son has the LIFE (eternal), and he who has not the Son of God has not the life” (1John 5:12). In what way did the OT believers “have the Son”?

      6. Do you believe that faith precedes the life given in the new birth, and is eternal life the life given in the new birth?

    • Dave Alan

      “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.” Gen 15:6.

      did Abraham die in his sins? Was there atonement for them?

    • […] Is the New Birth in the Old Testament? or Why Was Christ So Hard … […]

    • cherylu


      Regarding comment #13 and your note there:

      Are you aware that at this time there is no blog rule posted that forbids consecutive comments? I just reread them this a.m. They are numbered from 1-6. However, #4 is missing.

    • Melani Boek

      “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted (or imputed) unto him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). This is an accounting term. Abraham had sin in his account, but God, seeing faith, accounted him as righteous. Righteous men in death awaited the redemption of their SOULS from Sheol/death (Ps. 49:15; 89:48; Hos. 13:14).

      “But NOW, AT THE CONSUMMATION HE HAS BEEN MANIFESTED TO PUT AWAY SIN BY THE SACRIFICE OF HIMSELF… so Christ also having been offered once to take up the sins of many” (Heb. 10: 26, 28).

      On the other hand, after the cross, after the shedding of the blood that can cleanse men from all sins, and the High Priestly work of Christ, baptizing men into His body, we find a whole new work of God. Men who were made sinners by Adams transgression are born living and walking in sin (Col. 3:7; Eph 2:2, 3). Men who have trusted in Christ are baptized into Christ’s death, united to the likeness of His death, where the body of flesh (where sin dwells) is put to death (Rom. 6:2-6). Joined to Christ in His death, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin (1John 1:7). Jesus is the one sacrifice that can take away sin (10:4), and cleanse the conscience (Heb. 9:14). In this “spiritual death” the body of sin is destroyed (Rom. 6:6), and for this small fraction of an instant, this man is now literally “dead being in the sins and the uncircumcision of his flesh” (Col. 2:13). In baptism he is then circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the putting off of the body the body, the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11), and, “buried with Him in baptism” (Col. 2:12).

    • Melani Boek

      cont… The man is then “made alive with Jesus Christ” when Jesus comes to live inside of him to give him eternal life. In this baptism he is also raised up with Him, and seated with Him in the heavenly (Col. 2:12; Eph. 2:6). Now as Paul tells us, “You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). He is now “in Christ”, and Christ is dwelling in His heart. This man is also now a holy (pure) temple of God (1Cor. 3:17). God the Father has come to dwell in this man with His Son (1John 2:23, 24, 4:15, 16). Paul tells us, “If Christ is in you the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Rom. 8:10). “And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you…” (Rom. 8:11).

      Can you tell me, was any individual a holy temple of God in the Old Testament? No, God came to dwell among men then, not in them. These good things to come were foreshadowed in the Old Covenant.

      Jesus told us that no man would come to the Father except through Him. We have a vivid picture in the Old Covenant, the veil which separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies. The writer to the Hebrews said that while it was standing the way into the Holy place had not yet been disclosed, because the sacrifices and offerings could not make the worshipper perfect in conscience (Heb. 9:6-14). Jesus Christ as high priest entered the holy place made without hands through His blood. Add to this, Christ’s death on the cross gave sin in the flesh a death sentence (Rom. 8:3). Men not only needed the blood to be shed that would cleanse them from all sin, but they also needed the work of Jesus as High Priest to baptize them into His death burial and resurrection, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit to make them holy (“sanctification into eternal life” (Rom. 6:22)). Thereby they can become the temple of God.

    • Melani Boek

      I tried to be concise. If you can edit this without loosing any essential element of truth, that would be fine with me.

    • Gary K


      Not sure I understand the question “if men were saved in the OT, why did God need to send Jesus?”

      Like Abraham, people in the OT had faith in the One that would save them.

      God fulfills His promise in that Savior. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Eph 1:4

      Aside from fulfilling His promise, wasn’t it also His plan.

      Kindest regards,

    • […] I do think Jesus was alluding to the Ezekiel 36 passage in John 3:5, but I agree with the main point that C. Michael Patton over at the Parchment and Pen explores: […]

    • Rod Snyder

      I don’t think Jesus was particularly hard on Nicodemus. I hear a lot of love and patience in His words during this discussion. Jesus was extremely hard on the other Pharisees. There are certainly a lot of references to the new birth in the New Testament, and even ways to evaluate if it has occurred. However, it’s been my experience that many professing Christians don’t seem to know much about the new birth. Until a person has actually experienced the new birth, until they have passed from death to life and been sealed with the Holy Spirit until the day of promise, it is still a mysterious concept, in spite of all the Bible has to say on the matter. I’m sure that after Nicodemus was baptized with the Holy Spirit, his eyes were opened and the mystery of the new birth revealed.

    • Cary Driscoll

      Glad to have found this. It seems that many miss Jesus’ statement that being born again is a requirement for all who are lost to be saved, from the beginning of the world till the end, not just for the times following Jesus’ death. God doesn’t change. Neither do the means by which He saves us. One cannot claim that the new birth is only for the time after Christ’s death without implicitly arguing that God changes.

      My own understanding is that we are born suffering from the consequences of Adam’s sin, not with the guilt of that sin imputed to us (Deut 24:16; Eze 18:20). However, we all end up choosing to sin as a result. Thus we can have our names removed from the book of life where they start out, but never have our names added to it.

    • David thompson

      What about carnally minded death where our thoughts are separated from God’s thoughts? In this death our thoughts are self-oriented. When God renews our minds, we understand things from God’s viewpoint. It’s a new birth! We think with the mature mind of Christ. We are then conformed to the image of Christ. Christ is thus formed in us as per Galatians 4:19
      Adam and Eve died carnally, not spiritually. Our spirits are immortal. They come from God and return to God as per eccl. 12:7

    • David

      Born again does not mean born from above .It means re-born , born a second time. YOU (as a whole , spirit soul body
      must be born again , not your spirit must be born again ) spirit soul body (flesh) , born again then spirit soul body(spiritual) Once born again (from incorruptible seed ) one will be incorruptible , imperishable , immortal – which
      is not the case now.

    • boyscout

      Ezekiel 37:1:14 explicitly spoke about rebirth.

      • Thomas

        Well, it did talk about your sins being forgiven. But one important part of being born again is repenting from sins, and Ezekiel 37:1:14 doesn’t really talk about repenting from sins.

    • Dr Neil Whitehead

      I’m very late entering this, but wonder whether a few OT examples might have, through anticipatory and clouded faith in Jesus’ sacrifice to come, had something like a new birth. David after repenting over Bathsheba wrote Ps 51 which is so profound that he probably experienced something like a complete new life.

    • Dale Little

      I just cannot see Jesus basically saying to Nicodemus, “How can you possibly not understand the need to be born again when you are a teacher of Israel,” if there were not specific passages that indicated that need. Two of the verses which I think clearly indicates that are very similar to some you mentioned. Ezekiel 36:26 repeats the thought of Ezekiel 11:19 about God removing the hard heart of stone and replacing it with a soft heart of flesh. Also Jeremiah 24:7, I think makes it clear that we cannot know God without letting God do a work in us where we have a new heart and new spirit. I personally don’t see why any student of the Bible could not see that is talking of a new spiritual birth. What else could those verses possibly be talking about?

    • Raphael Lucas

      Hey beloved your take on the genesis account is very interested. I will take that into consideration. But as I was searching out this matter it seems as if the born again subject just may be in the Hebrew Scriptures. When you read the Joel 2 account on outpouring of the spirit (Joel 2:28:32), to me it seems as if it lines up pretty much close the the John 3:3-16 passage. In particular john3:5-7 which was Christ first few words of his response to the question of “how can a man be born when he is old”. See the Joel account looks as if it’s speaking of salvation/deliverance while the account with nicodemus is speaking of being born again I.e., salvation, deliverance, also magnified in Joel 2:32 & john3:16. I believe this deliverance is spiritual & puts one in position on physical deliverance in last days. The Joel account also seem to the connect with the Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Book of Hebrews account on new covenant.

    • James R Brown

      Jesus was not being harsh with Nicodemus, but instead he was causing him to think. It is quite easy for minnow theologians today to state the obvious, but if they had been there with Nicodemus, they would have asked the same questions. Nicodemus already knew (and stated such) Jesus to be a prophet sent from God, and thus what he was being told was absolute truth. Nicodemus also knew God never changes his ways, as the Old Testament so states, and thus he knew ‘this born-again spiritual experience’ that Jesus was telling him would have existed since the fall of man. Based upon historical writings of the early church, Nicodemus, a Pharisee, was recognized as a born-again believer. The Christ whom he was speaking to had come so that all men might be saved, even all the generations of Adam through this very day, and the impartation of the Holy Spirit existed in the Old Testament as well, to all those whose paths were being directed by him.

    • Charlie Gilmer

      Let us also remember Peter who was a different man after Pentecost. Did Jesus have to go away so that the Comforter would come and rebirth would begin?

    • Showyan

      I have wrestled with this question for 40+ years. “No one can see God’s kingdom without being born again, or enter God’s kingdom without being born of the Spirit and water”, so, this utterance from the Lord Jesus should apply to believers in old covenant, BUT HOW? Maybe Hebrew 11: 39-40 provided the answer – “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised , since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect”.

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