6 Jan 2013 – thoughts on John 3:8

Okay, so the promised study breakdown is below. First, though, a couple of disclaimers. One, if you want to have a proper look through this in depth, it will take a little while – it’s a lexical, more than devotional study (don’t worry, not in a hard-to-understand theoretical sense!). If that isn’t much use right now, feel free to jump to the bottom, where I’ve got a brief “thought-for-the-day”, instead!

Two, this isn’t something I’ve spent months looking at. It’s one short study, not fully explored, and so not a ‘finished meal’ to take away as complete. Just sharing some thoughts inferred as I looked into a verse.

The study:

So I’m going through John at the moment, and was looking at chapter 3 and verse 8. It says, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (KJV)

Before anything else, I should explain the context. Lots of thoughts had come out from the verses surrounding this one, and the below might make more sense if you at least have a look at the previous 7 (see ‘chapter 3’ link above). But to summarise, Jesus is talking to Nicodemus. Nicodemus has come to talk to Jesus furtively by night, and before really stating His purpose is given instruction on what’s needed to “see” and to “enter” the kingdom of God; rebirth. A concept which seems rather impossible to him (and would have to me, I’m sure).

So back to verse 8. It was the “so is” bit that first got me thinking. The sentence, “‘A’ is like this; so is ‘B’” means that what follows “so is” is the same as the thing that came before it, or shares the characteristic described in “is like this…“.

So we would then take the sentence to mean, “Everyone that is born of the Spirit (is the same as the wind) in that he/she) bloweth, or blows where (he/she? the wind?) listeth (i.e. wants). But you can’t tell where they are (or the wind is) coming from, or going…”

Okay, it already seems complicated, but stick with me! I then started digging a little deeper, and looked at the Strong’s definitions for words in the text. Here’s the text again, with the words I looked at in bold:

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

(“Spirit” is underlined for a different reason, which I’ll come to later!)

Rather than copying and pasting the whole Strong’s (STR) definition for each of these words (and making this entry even longer!), I’m going to link to the STR entries and just include some of the main points I got from them. Click the bold titles to see the Strong’s:

Wind:

  • I noticed that this word can be used to refer to the Holy Spirit. Very interestingly, the word translated “Spirit” at the end of the verse is exactly the same Greek word. (Yes, that was the reason for underlining it – came to it sooner than I thought!)
  • I noticed also that it can refer both to His personality and character and to His work and power.
  • It was interesting to note that, according to Strong’s, the Holy Spirit is never referred to as a depersonalised force (although that’s really for another study).
  • I wondered whether there was any significance in the fact that the meaning actually referring to the literal wind was number five out of five definitions, although I didn’t look much into this. (Afraid the Strong’s edition I’ve linked to doesn’t seem to have the numbered bullet structure; let me know if interested in info about some software/apps that do.)
  • The ‘wind’ definition also had a sub-definition, “breath of nostrils or mouth”. Gen 2:7 came to mind…
  • According to the KJV usage count, of the 385 times this Greek word appears, it translates to something relating to God’s Spirit or the Holy Spirit over 200 times, to something related to a spirit of another type (eg human) over 130 times, and to ‘miscellaneous’, into which category I assume “wind” here falls, just 21 times.
  • I had a note here to look at Ps 104:4, and compare the Strong’s for “angels” and “spirits”. Won’t go into that here, but there’s another bit to look at!

So in short, it seemed pretty significant that “wind” could also be translated “(person of the) Holy Spirit” or “(power of the) Holy Spirit”. And that the very same Greek word was translated to Spirit just a few words later. Which led me to reason that the verse could be written as:

The Spirit (OR wind) bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and wither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit (OR wind).

Bloweth:

  • This is a root word, pneo, and more specifically is the word which “wind” (pneuma), looked at above, comes from.
  • It also translates, “to breathe”. Again, Gen 2:7.

Listeth:

  • This is an archaic English term, meaning to ‘please,’ ‘suit’, as in intend or desire to do something.
  • Every single definition in the Strong’s entry relates to some sort of intent, desire, or ‘liking’ of the action in question. I.e., this can only be applied to the literal wind through personification, as the wind is not a sentient entity, and does nothing because it ‘pleases’ or enjoys doing so.

The main point in this one is in the last bullet point above. Conversely, though, one of the meanings given is “to take delight in” doing something. I loved the image that gives if we take “wind” as the alternative translation of “Holy Spirit”; the Holy Spirit delighting in breathing where He chooses, and on us. Taking great pleasure in comforting, teaching, healing, working on, working through and giving us power. Wow!

Sound:

  • So compare this entry to the STR for Gen 3:8. They’re not the same word, since one is Hebrew and the other Greek (:P), but there are a lot of similarities, e.g. both referring to a voice, sound, or noise as in of musical instruments. Both also translate to “voice” seriously more often than “sound” in the KJV. Again; personification is needed for the more common “voice” definition to apply to the wind.

I haven’t really gone into the bit about what I got from “thou hearest the sound thereof“. It was also pretty cool, but I think is a bit of a side-track from the main focus of this, so won’t go into it here, although it’ll come out in the summary point at the end.

Tell:

  • This one dealt with ideas such as, “to see”, “to perceive” (not just with the eyes), “to notice, discern, discover”, “pay attention to, observe”, “know”, “examine”. It included the idea of being skilled in, i.e. have an understanding of, also.

Thoughts on this to come out in the summary, also.

And the conclusion of the matter? (Summary)

So, bearing in mind the context mentioned above, John 3:8 is a repetition of verse 6, but this time using the direct application, stating the plain case alluded to in the previous verse. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (verse 6) makes a clear point; then Jesus breaks it down, restates His case, getting even more to the point, with, ‘the Spirit is like this; so is everyone born of the Spirit’. Like father, like son.

As the Spirit breathes, working where He decides, intends and delights to, and you hear the sound of His voice*, but cannot see, perceive, discern, discover, look into or search out where He comes from, or where He’s going**, so are those who are born of Him.

The paradox is, spiritual things are spiritually discerned; unless you’ve experienced the new birth of letting the Holy Spirit make a spiritually receptive, spiritually discerning new you, you cannot understand the very explanation of why you cannot understand, of the vital thing you are lacking! You can’t even desire to look into it more, or see anything but another piece of literature if you do. This is the whole point, the whole tragedy of what Jesus is describing. Thankfully, it’s still not hopeless! Jesus gives the answer when He says, “come unto me,” and when He promises that any who receive Him will receive power to get that rebirth, and grow in Him (see a couple of chapters back in John 1, verses 12 and 13).

So what’s the point? (Thought)

Well, apart from the huge point in the summary thoughts above ( 🙂 ), the additional “thought-for-the-day” I wanted to share was how great it was to look into this, and break it down. It’s so amazing when you first look at a text, and think, “Huh?!?!”, and then, sending up a prayer, and keeping on with it, looking up this thing, or trying this cross-reference, see amazing results within one short study. I don’t mean a ground-breaking new doctrine; I’m sure I could have read more than one commentary giving this same breakdown, but it wouldn’t have stuck as much, or meant as much. And I wouldn’t have had the faith-reinforcing experience of praying through the, “why am I bothering?!”, and suddenly seeing a flood of “wow” moments. To the point that two hours later you can’t even get through all the ‘leads’.

So, yeah. I’m not challenging the wind analogy, or bringing something earth-shatteringly new to the table. Just wanted to share that I had an amazing study and give a taste of what struck me so much about it!

Have a great day!

T 🙂

* I.e. you see the results of His work, you see lives changed, you hear the unashamed testimony of others. And so on!

** That is, you cannot search Him out, know His ending or beginning, ‘master’ Him as you would a field of knowledge, write a thesis explaining Him or ‘know’ His ways. He’s a beautiful, loving mystery!

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