Grace Theological Journal 6.1 (1985) 49-66

                Copyright © 1985 by Grace Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.


                     THE TEXT OF JOHN 3:13


                                   DAVID ALAN BLACK


      Examination of the external and internal evidence for the reading

of John 3:13 indicates that the longer reading (which includes the

clause o[  w}n  e]n  t&?  ou]ran&?) should be regarded as authentic. This

longer reading has extensive external attestation. Furthermore, tran-

scriptional probabilities and John's style and theology lend strong

internal support for this reading. Therefore, John 3:13 is a proof of

the omnipresence of the earthly Jesus.


*  *  *




TEXT-CRITICAL studies on the Gospel of John have concentrated

mainly on the pericope of the adulterous woman, which is placed

in modern editions of the Greek NT between 7:52 and 8:12 (some-

times relegated to the critical apparatus). There is, however, at least

one other major textual problem in John which calls for special atten-

tion.1 The present article examines the text of John 3:13 in which the

final clause, "who is in heaven" o[  w}n  e]n  t&?  ou]ran&?, is lacking in

important Greek witnesses to the text of John. It is argued on the

basis of both external and internal considerations that the words were

original and later were deleted to avoid saying that Jesus was simul-

taneously present in heaven. Hence, the disputed reading in John 3:13

should be allowed to stand as an explicit statement of the omni-

presence of the Son of Man, even as he walked on the earth.


1 An exhaustive list of the more problematic textual variants in John is given by

R. Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St John. trans. K. Smyth (New York:

Herder, 1968) I. 182-87. The author specifies some 53 examples of textual variation "to

give an impression of the need for textual criticism on John" (p. 182). The editorial

committee of the UBS Greek NT has considered 207 places of variation in John, set-

ting forth the reasons for including certain variants in the text and for relegating others

to the apparatus. See B. M. Metzger. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New

Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1971) 195-258. I am grateful to my

col1eague Harry Sturz for bringing this variant to my attention. I also acknowledge a

special debt to past teachers Bo Reicke and Markus Barth for encouraging me to delve

into the textual history of John.


50                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL




The text of John 3: 13 circulated in the early church in two basic

yet quite distinct forms, one which included the words o[  w}n  e]n  t&? 

ou]ran&?, and another which lacked them. The former, which has been

traditionally regarded as authentic, is represented by a diversified

array of witnesses, primarily non-Alexandrine in character. The other

form is attested chiefly by the Alexandrian group of manuscripts, in

particular the uncials x and B, and by early papyrus codices of the

Bodmer collection. This section examines in greater detail the external

textual evidence for and against the reading o[  w}n  e]n  t&?  ou]ran&?.

            With the UBS Greek New Testament2 and Tischendorf's 8th Edi-

tion3 serving as sources, evidence from the manuscripts, versions and

Fathers has been accumulated and segregated under the leading text-

types or groups of witnesses (Table 1).

In assessing the evidence, the following observations can be made.

First, considerations of external evidence clearly demonstrate that

readings (3) and (4) are secondary. The former has only versional evi-

dence in support, while the latter is supported only by two Greek

manuscripts and the Sinaitic Syriac. Each of these readings is an

apparent attempt, each in its own way, to alter reading (I) to avoid

suggesting that Jesus was at once on earth and in heaven.

Variant reading (2) is also supported by a relatively small number

of witnesses. This minority, however, comprises those manuscripts

considered to be of the highest quality (as noted by Westcott4). The

Bodmer papyri p66, 75 attest the shorter reading, as do the fourth cen-

tury uncials Sinaiticus (x) and Vaticanus (B) which are the earliest

and best uncial representatives in John of the Alexandrian text-type.

The testimony of the Coptic and Ethiopic translations, as well as that

of Origen, add further early versional and patristic support to this

important array of Greek manuscripts. Thus, if the traditional read-

ing be accepted as original, some attempt must be made to explain

how the words were omitted in such early and noteworthy witnesses

to the text of the NT.

On the other hand, it is also evident that the shorter reading is

supported by a single text-type. In the Greek manuscript evidence,

the omission is found only in the Alexandrian text-type. However,

other Alexandrian witnesses, most notably several manuscripts of the


2Kurt Aland and others, eds., The Greek New Testament (3d ed.; New York:

United Bible Societies, 1975) 329.

            3C. Tischendorf, Novum Testamentum Graece (8th ed.; Graz, Austria: Akademische

Druck. und Verlagsanstalt, 1965) I. 765.

            4B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St John (reprint; Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1975) 65.


                 Witnesses to the Text of John 3:13 (Black:  John 3:13)


Byzantine                                                   Alexandrian                      Western                      Caesarean

(1)  a]nqrw<pou  o[  w]n  e]n t&?  ou]ran&?     892  copbo mss  Origenlat      it a.aur,b,c,f,ff-2,j,l,q,r2 vg                      Q f1 f13 28 565 arm geo

A*vid (omit w}n)  A cEFGHKMSU          Dionysius                      syrh Diatessarona             Cyril

VGLPY 050 063 (qeou? for                                                        Hippolytus Novatian 

a]nqrw<pou) 1195 1344 1646 Byz                                               Lucifer

Lect Eustathius Jacob-Nisibis

Aphraates Epiphanius Basil

Amphilochius Didymus

Chrysostom Nonnus Thedoret


(2)  omit                                                        p66, 75 xBLTbWsupp    Diatessaron carm, v           Apollinaris Cyril

                                                                  33 1241 copsa.bomss,

                                                                        eth  Origenlat  Didymus


(3)  o{j  h#n e}n t&? ou]ran&?                                                               ite syr c


(4) o[  w{n e}k  tou?  ou]ranou?                                                              0141 80 syrs

52                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


Bohairic dialect, indicate that the o[  w}n  e]n  t&?  ou]ran&? were also

known early in Egypt. Moreover, concerning the patristic evidence,

the testimony of Origen, an Alexandrian Father, indicates only that

he was acquainted with the local text as preserved in Greek witnesses

and versions. Otherwise, ecclesiastical tradition points to the general

acceptance of the phrase as original. Summarizing, then, it appears

that the strongest evidence in favor of the shorter reading is the fact

that the words  o[  w}n  e]n  t&?  ou]ran&? are lacking in the early Alexandrian

manuscripts p66, 75, x and B.

The evidence for the inclusion of the words (reading 1) is as

follows. The phrase is found in nearly all the uncial and minuscule

manuscripts of the NT as well as in nearly every ancient version,

including the Bohairic of lower Egypt. Support for the longer reading

is also found in the great majority of the earliest patristic witnesses,

including Origen5 himself, whose testimony at this point is divided

equally between readings (I) and (2). Moreover, this reading is not

limited to manuscripts of only one geographical area, as is its omis-

sion. The reading was accepted as genuine over a wide geographic

area, encompassing most of the then civilized ancient world: Rome

and the West, Greece, Syria and Palestine, and even Alexandria, the

literary capital of Egypt.

These considerations are significant according to generally ac-

cepted canons of textual criticism which apply to the external evi-

dence of readings. Greenlee, for example, states that any reading

supported by one text-type exclusively is suspect since "no ms. or

text-type is perfectly trustworthy.’”6 Conversely, "a reading which is

supported by good representatives of two or more text-types is gener-

ally preferable to a reading supported by one text-type exclusively.7

This line of thinking favors the longer reading. The external evidence

shows almost the entire ancient tradition supporting the disputed

phrase {including the Old Latin [Itala], which establishes the date of

the longer reading as at least the last quarter of the second century).8

Also significant is the geographical distribution of the witnesses in

support of the longer reading. Being from such a wide geographical


5 "Non dixit qui fuit, sed qui est in caelo" (cited in Tischendorf, Novum Testa-

mentum, I. 765).

6 J. H. Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1972) 119.

7 Ibid.

8 Greenlee (Introduction, 46) dates the origin of the Itala "before the second cen-

tury had passed," while B. M. Metzger (The Text of the New Testament [Oxford:

Oxford University, 1968] 72) places the earliest Latin translations in North Africa

within "the last quarter of the second century," and adds that "not long afterward

translations were also made in Italy, Gaul, and elsewhere."

BLACK: JOHN 3:13                                                53


area, it is highly improbable that there is any genealogical relation-

ship between them. The testimony of the Greek manuscripts, ancient

versions, and Church Fathers thus forms, as it were, a strong three-

cord strand which is not easily broken, If, therefore, the reading

which is both early and supported by independent witnesses from a

wide geographical area is more likely to be original, as Greenlee sug-

gests, then clearly reading (1) should be preferred.

The retreat at this point by many scholars, such as Morris,9 to

the early uncials Sinaiticus and Vaticanus is understandable. The

reading of x and B where they agree, and of B alone where they

disagree, has long been accepted as original in places of variation.

However, despite the acknowledged antiquity and worth of these great

uncials, it has become increasingly common since the days of Westcott

and Hort to question the reading of these witnesses when they stand

alone. Greenlee writes: "The agreement of B N remains one of the

most highly regarded witnesses to the New Testament text, but it is

generally doubted that the text is as pure as W-H believed it to be."10

Metzger concurs:


A s a rule of thumb, the beginner may ordinarily follow the Alexandrian

text except in the case of readings contrary to the criteria which are

responsible for its being given preference in ?eneral. Such a pocedure,

however, must not be allowed to degenerate into merely looking for the

reading which is supported by Band N (or even B alone, as Hort was

accused of doing); in every instance a full and careful evaluation is to

be made of all the variant readings in the light of both transcriptional

and intrinsic probabilities.11


All of this does not mean, of course, that the Alexandrian witnesses

have become less important in the actual practice of textual criticism.

It does mean, however that the readings of x and B: even when sup-

ported by early papyri cannot be accepted prima facie, for the Idea of

Hort's "neutral text" is untenable and no longer should be accepted.

Critics of the text are thus in general agreement that, in the present

state of research, no single group of manuscripts can be given an

absolute preference.12


9"The words 'who is in heaven' are absent from some of the most reliable manu-

scripts and they should probably be omitted" (L. Morris, The Gospel According to

John [NICNT: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971] 224). For a similar judgment see E. F.

Harrison (John. The Gospel of Faith [Chicago: Moody, 1962] 26), who writes, "The

last clause of verse 13 lacks sufficient manuscript authority to be accepted as part of

the text."

10 Greenlee, Introduction,86

11 Metzger, Text of the NT, 218

12However, though it claims to be eclectic, there is evidence that the UBS Greek

NT is a text dominated by N and B,as is argued by J. K. Elliott in "The United Bible

54                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


Undoubtedly one's idea of the history of the text and one's

principles of textual criticism will influence his decision in the present

case. My own view, simply stated, is that an early reading supported

by representatives from two or more text-types is preferable to a

reading supported by witnesses of a single text-type, even a text-type

regarded (properly or not) as the best ancient recension. It seems

highly unlikely that such a localized reading could have a better claim

to originality than a reading which is both early, widespread, and

heavily attested. On the basis of external criteria, it therefore appears

that the disputed words are original.

Greenlee's summary of the Alexandrian text is worth quoting for

those who still may have qualms about rejecting the reading of p66, 75, x

and B: “As such, it is probably the best single text of the local texts; but

like the others its readings cannot be accepted uncritically but must be

submitted to the principles of criticism.”13 An important factor militat-

ing against an uncritical acceptance of the early Alexandrian manu-

scripts is that they show a capacity to support readings which-even

in the eyes of the editors of the UBS Greek NT -are likely to be

wrong. For example, in I Cor 2: 10 the reading given in the text of the

UBS Greek NT3 is de< but p46 BI739 Clement read in its place ga<r, a

conjunction which Metzger says "has the appearance of being an

improvement introduced by the copyists."14 Another and more signifi-

cant example is the reading Xristou? in 1 Cor 1:8, which is omitted in

p46 B, as Metzger says, "either accidentally in copying. ..or perhaps

deliberately for aesthetic reasons."15 The short reading of B 1216 in

Matt 13:44 leads Metzger to speak of "the Alexandrian penchant for

pruning unnecessary words.”16 Even in the Gospel of John itself there

are readings in Alexandrian manuscripts which the UBS Greek NT

editors have attributed to scribal error. The omission of  ]Ihsou?j by

p75 x B W in 5:17, of qeou? by p66, 75 B W in 5:44, and of ei] o[ qeo>j

e]doca<sqh e]n  au]t&?  by p66  x* B C* DLW in 13:22, as well as the

substitution of e@ligma for mi<gma by x* B W in 19:39 are but four


Societies' Textual Commentary," NovT 17 (1975) 131ff. Elsewhere Elliott speaks of "the

reluctance of the editors to deviate too far from these hypnotic mss. x B" ("A Second

Look at the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament," BT 27 [1975] 328). If

Elliott's conclusions are correct, one could almost speak of the text of x and B as a

modern "Textus Receptus," the overthrow of which is as difficult today as it was

during the period of the struggle for a critical text.

13Greenlee, Introduction, 86-87.

14 Metzger, Textual Commentary, 546.

15Ibid., 544.

16Ibid., 34.

BLACK: JOHN 3:13                                                55


examples.17 The concurrence of these early witnesses behind doubtful

readings raises questions about their integrity as witnesses to the

original text.

Summarizing, then, in this case it appears that, according to

accepted canons of text-criticism, the reading most likely to be orig-

inal on the basis of external criteria is the one which includes the

words o[  w}n  e]n  t&?  ou]ran&?. The omission, though early and supported

by the chief representatives of the Alexandrian text, is less likely to be

original due to the scarcity and geographical limitation of manuscript

support (as well as the possibility that this text-type may not be as

inherently pure as it was once thought to be). Therefore, there appears

to be no conclusive reason based on external criteria for rejecting the

strong textual and historical testimony in favor of the longer reading.




In assessing the text of John 3: 13, one must also take into con-

sideration internal evidence. This involves two kinds of criteria: tran-

scriptional and intrinsic probabilities. The former involves evaluating

the kinds of mistakes or alterations a scribe may make as he copied a

text while the latter considers what the author was more likely to

have written. Under transcriptional probabilities, four canons are

generally accepted: (1) the more difficult reading is to be preferred;

(2) the shorter reading is to be preferred except where parablepsis

may have occurred or where a "scribe may have omitted material

which he deemed to be (i) superfluous, (ii) harsh, or (iii) contrary to

pious belief, liturgical usage, or ascetical practice”;18 (3) the reading

which is verbally dissident is to be preferred to one which is verbally

concordant with a parallel passage; and (4) the reading which best

accounts for the other variants is to be preferred:


Prefer the More Difficult Reading


Preference for the longer reading established on the basis of

external evidence finds strong internal support in the first of these


17Cf. also the text of 8 L Origen in John 1:26 (sth<kei for e!sthken), the text of p45

x* 8 in 10:18 (h#ren for ai@rei), and the text of p66 x B Q in 20:31 (pisteu<hte for

pisteu<shte). The evidence for 3:13 is much like that for 10:18, where Metzger (Textual

Commentary, 231) writes, "a majority of the Committee judged that its external attesta-

tion was too limited in extent, representing, as it does, only a single textual type (the

Egyptian)." Elsewhere. I have argued along similar lines in relation to the text of

Eph I: I ("The Pecularities of Ephesians and the Ephesian Address," GTJ 2 [1981]


            18Metzger, Textual Commentary, xxvii.

56                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


canons, since it obviously is the more difficult reading. Assuming that

John 3:13 belongs to Jesus' narrative with Nicodemus,19 the longer

reading has Christ saying that he was at that moment present both in

heaven and on earth. The awkwardness of this saying would explain

the origin of readings (3) and (4), which undoubtedly were produced

to make the longer reading less objectionable (it is much more diffi-

cult to assert that Jesus "is in heaven" while speaking to Nicodemus

than to say that he "was in heaven" or that he "is from heaven").

Thus Metzger, writing on behalf of the minority of the UBS Greek

NT editorial committee, remarks, "If the shorter reading. ..were

original, there is no discernible motive which would have prompted

copyists to add the words o[  w}n  e]n  t&?  ou]ran&?, resulting in a most

difficult saying.”20 On the whole, therefore, preference should be given

to reading (I) as the more difficult of the four variants.


Prefer the Shorter Reading


Because scribes were more prone to add words than to omit

them, the shorter reading is generally to be preferred. This fact,

coupled with the assumed quality of the external attestation, was no

doubt decisive in the decision to relegate o[  w@n e]n  t&?  ou]ran&? to the

apparatus in all three editions of the UBS Greek NT. However, it

may be that the omission of these words falls under the recognized

exceptions to this canon of textual-criticism. This canon states that

the shorter reading is to be preferred unless the scribe either acci-

dentally omitted material due to parablepsis, or else intentionally

omitted material on stylistic, grammatical, liturgical or doctrinal

grounds. Thus, one needs to take these other considerations into

account in order to decide which reading should be considered


On the one hand, it is difficult to see how the words o[  w}n  e]n 

t&?  ou]ran&? could have been omitted accidentally. The well-known

phenomena of homoioteleuton, homoioarcton and haplography do


19That in 3: 13 we have the words of Jesus and not the meditations of the evangelist

is argued persuasively by R. Brown, The Gospel According to John (I-XII) (AB;

Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1966) [49.

20Metzger, Textual Commentary, 203. The possibility exists, of course, that the

disputed words are to be taken in an atemporal sense, resulting in the translation, "who

was in heaven," as suggested by M. Zerwick (Biblical Greek [Rome: Pontifical Biblical

Institute Press, 1963] 92, par 274; 129, par 372). This rendering, however, would not

account for the objectionable nature of the reading which probably led to its modifica-

tion or omission in the first place. Apparent[y early copyists understood the participle

as referring to "real" or present time rather than a timeless quality, although the latter

understanding may indeed be true in the case of Jesus.

BLACK: JOHN 3:13                                                57


not apply in this case,21 nor can the omission be explained on the

basis of an error of the ear, memory or judgment. The possibility of

an intentional omission, however, remains a viable option. Certain

scribes may have found the expression either superfluous, too diffi-

cult, or objectionable for doctrinal reasons. A change in the opposite

direction would be possible but less probable, especially in view of the

tendency to remove or tone down a reference to Jesus' deity as seen in

readings (3) and (4). Despite Metzger's assertion that the longer read-

ing may reflect "later Christological development,"22 there are no

discernible reasons why copyists would have introduced the words at

this point in John's Gospel. Indeed, Metzger's Commentary shows

that a minority of the committee agreed that the longer reading,

"having been found objectionable or superfluous in the context, was

modified either by omitting the participial clause, or by altering it.”23

In view of this possibility, the longer text deserves serious considera-

tion even on the basis of this canon of criticism.24


Prefer the Verbally Dissident Reading


Schnackenburg25 considered the words o[  w@n e]n  t&?  ou]ran&? to be

a later gloss added on the model of 1:18, as did Hort26 before him.

However, the statement in 1:18 is neither directly parallel with 3:13

nor does it belong to the same literary and historical context as the dis-

course in John 13. John 1:18 refers to the time after the ascension of

Jesus. There, as John looks back from his own period of history to

the revelation of God which has already taken place, he states that

the Father and the Son enjoy the most intimate communion. In 3:13,

however, the words o[  w}n  e]n  t&?  ou]ran&? are uttered by the earthly

Jesus and express his omnipresence at the very time the historical

revelation was being made. It therefore seems unnecessary to suppose

that the disputed phrase is a comment made from the same stand-

point as 1:18.


21Homoioteleuton is possible only with reading (4) which concludes with the words

e]k  tou?  ou]ranou?. a phrase found earlier in v 13, but this reading is clearly secondary, as

shown above.

22Metzger, Textual Commentary, 204.


24Recently J. M. Ross has shown the unreasonableness of simply following the

Alexandrian uncial manuscripts or, when in doubt, automatically selecting the shorter

reading. He would assign greater weight to transcriptional and intrinsic probabilities in

judging between NT variants. See his article, "Some Unnoticed Points in the Text of

the New Testament," NovT25 (1983) 59-72.

            25 John, I. 394.

            26"The character of the attestation marks the addition as a Western gloss, sug-

gested perhaps by i 18" (B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, The New Testament in the

Original Greek [London: Macmillan and Co., 1896] 75).

58                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


Prefer the Reading Which Best Accounts for the Others


Had either reading (3) or reading (4) been original, there is no

reason why scribes would have altered the text. If, however, the longer

text is original, one can easily understand the other variants as

attempts to modify or to remove completely a difficult expression.

Readings (3) and (4) are most easily explained as modifications of

reading (1) which includes the words o[  w}n  e]n  t&?  ou]ran&?. The absence

of the words in the Alexandrian witnesses would be due either to

accidental omission (though this is improbable) or to their rejection

because they were found objectionable for some reason. This is more

likely than Schnackenburg's explanation that the longer reading is

attributable to the work of a glossator. Therefore, the longer reading

best accounts for the rise of the other readings.

There remains now the matter of intrinsic probabilities of what

the author was more likely to have written. In this regard one must

take into account (I) a reading's harmony with the author's teaching

elsewhere; and (2) a reading's harmony with the author's style and



The Author's Theology


Although readings (3) and (4) are consistent with Johannine

theology (cf. John 1:1, 14), it is more difficult to determine if the

expression o[  w}n  e]n  t&?  ou]ran&? (which teaches the omnipresence

of Jesus during his earthly ministry) is consistent. The absence of

parallels to this clause is explained by varying theological emphases

John stresses in different contexts, by the gaps in the writer's nar-

rative, and by the uniqueness of this nocturnal dialogue with the

Pharisee Nicodemus recorded in 3:1-21 (elsewhere Jesus is engaged

only with "the Jews" or "the Pharisees"). Nevertheless, the theological

theme discussed here makes an important contribution to the theology

of the Fourth Gospel. The Johannine Jesus is not only the preexistent

Word (1:1) and the post-resurrection exalted Christ (20:28), but also

the Revealer and Savior who remained "with God" while present in

the "flesh" (1:1, 14). The apparent anomaly of having God explain

God (cf. 1:18) is reconciled in John's doctrine of the incarnate Logos.

In the person of Jesus Christ, heaven has come to earth and earth has

been linked with heaven. The Word which became flesh did not cease

to be what he was before, for the flesh assumed by the Logos at the

incarnation was the "tabernacle" (to use John's expression in 1:14) in

which God was pleased to dwell with men.27 Thus the witness who


27Cf. E. M. Sidebottom (The Christ of the Fourth Gospel [London: SPCK, 1961]

124): "The Son of Man does not, for example, cease to be divine by 'descending'," and

BLACK: JOHN 3:13                                                59


apprehended the divinity of the eternal Logos in and in spite of the

flesh could testify, "And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-

begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (1:14).

One could also point in this connection to 1:51, where the

expression "Son of Man" is first used in John: "You shall see the

heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending .

upon the Son of Man." Commenting on this verse Wright says,


This is a record, in pictorial and allegorical language, of the signal

manifestations, to be witnessed by the disciples during the Ministry of ,

Jesus, of the unique communion with God which he knew. The passage ,

is expressive of that intercourse between heaven and earth which was

manifest throughout the whole Ministry of Him who was truly man28


In 3:13 John is giving expression, in a similarly dramatic way, to .

the consciousness of Jesus, who himself "ascends" and "descends.”29

Jesus insists that he is the only one who can speak of heavenly realities

because his association with heaven is much more profound than that

!of any other man. "Who has ascended to heaven and come down?

Who has gathered the wind in his fists?" (Prov 30:4). The answer, of

course, is this Jesus who, whether spoken of as the Christ, the Son of

God or the Son of Man, came from "above," from God, where he

preexisted as the Logos (1:1). The Son of Man is the only authentic

revealer of God, since he alone has come down from above. These

exalted claims of Jesus, that he is the preexistent Son, whom John

has called the "Word," and that because of his Sonship he has author-

ity to reveal what he has seen with the Father, show that Jesus is not

only the revealer but the revelation itself. Salvation comes from the

acceptance of him, the only-begotten Son of God, sent into the world

because of God's love to save the world (3:16). John has recorded this

"good news" so that people may come to believe in this revelation,

confess Jesus as the Christ, and thus come to eternal life (20:31).

In view of all this, it is difficult to understand Wright's assertion

that the words o[  w}n  e]n  t&?  ou]ran&? "express a more developed, or


"The descent from 'above' to 'below’ is not a simple passage from one sphere to the J

other, but the unification of the two. "

28C. J. Wright, Jesus. The Revelation of God (London: Hodder and Stoughton,

1950) 73 "

29Cf. P. Ricca (Die Eschatologie des Vierten Evangeliums [ZUrich: Got~helf, 1966]

95): "Die Bedeutung von I, 51 wird in 3, 13f. und 8, 28 naher bestimmt: Das

Herabkommen des Menschensohnes ermoglicht es dem Menschen, mit ihm in den

Himmel zu steigen, denn er ist der Weg, der die Erde mit dem Himmel verbindet"

("The meaning of 1:51 is more closely defined in 3:13f and 8:28: the descent of the Son

of Man enables man to rise with him into heaven, for he is the Way who binds earth

with heaven").

60                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


more speculative, Christo logy than is found in the Gospel.“30 Every

essential attribute of deity is predicated of Christ in this gospel which

makes several distinct contributions to Christology.31 The greatest

body of evidence to Christ's deity-the seven signs (shmei?a) of his

earthly ministry selected by John from among many others-is further

supplemented by the Lord's own assertions (cf. 5:16-18; 10:30-39)

and by apostolic testimony ascribing to the earthly Jesus the attributes

of omniscience (1:48-50; 4:29; 16:30; 20:24-28; 21:17), omnipotence

(5:19; 20:30-31) and omnipresence (1:48). As with the signs, these

statements were designed to demonstrate that "Jesus is the Christ, the

Son of God" (20:31). Even the Lord's reference to himself as o[  ui[o<j

tou?  a]nqrw<pou ("the Son of Man") is an inescapable implication of

deity (cf. Dan 7:13). Although this title is only used of Jesus in his

human state, it in no way excludes the idea of John's use of "the Son

of God," which speaks of Jesus' union with the Father before, during

and after the incarnation.

What Moloney has written of the Johannine Son of Man is

apropos at this point of our discussion: "The Johannine Son of Man

is the human Jesus, the incarnate Logos; he has come to reveal God

with a unique and ultimate authority and in the acceptance or refusal

of this revelation the world judges itself.”32 In other words, the role of

the Son of Man in John can only be understood when one correctly

understands his relationship with God. Because he has come from

God and indeed is God, he can reveal him with ultimate authority.

Thus Jesus, by designating himself as the Son of Man who is also in

heaven, reveals that he is conscious of the divine glory and the unique

authority which he has with the Father even while walking the earth

in the base form of a servant.

The Son of Man, then, was "with God" (1:1) and "in heaven"

(3:13) while standing before his interlocutor, revealing the e]poura<nia

("heavenly things") and speaking "of what he knows." Nicodemus,

within limitations, is prepared to see Jesus as a Rabbi "from God," a

prophet like the great men of Israel and a teacher par excellence, but. he

cannot or will not understand the message of salvation-condemnation

brought by this revealer who has come into the world. The message

involves e]poura<nia, and can be fully understood only by one who has

seen it and knows it, and who has come from heaven to tell what he

has seen and heard. As a representative of the Jewish authorities

Nicodemus confessed to a belief in Jesus which was insufficient, and

in spite of his professional knowledge of the OT remained incredulous


30Wright, Jesus, 134.

31See W. R. Cook, The Theology of John (Chicago: Moody, 1979) 54-59.

32F. J. Moloney, The Johannine Son of Man (Rome: LAS, 1978) 220.

BLACK: JOHN 3:13                                                61


of the truth of the new birth. But what Nicodemus had failed to

understand, John the Baptist had properly grasped-there is a birth

a@nwqen ("from above") because Jesus is o[ a@nwqen e]rxo<menoj ("the

one who comes from above," cf. 3:31), This could only be understood

 through Jesus himself, in whose earthly existence heavenly things

become visible and comprehensible.33


The Author s Style


The issue here is not whether John. could have written these

word; an author most be granted the privilege of using rare forms on

occasion as the subject matter requires, Yet a general knowledge of

the characteristics of an author's style and vocabulary often will help

determine whether a variant reading is in harmony with the rest of

the author's writings.

The picture of John's literary style is admittedly incomplete.

There is nothing in it, however, which requires us to place the words

o[  w@n e]n  t&?  ou]ran&? outside his own literary capabilities. The clause

contains features which, taken at face value, seem faithfully to reflect

the apostle's characteristic style, grammar, and vocabulary, A check

of Moulton and Geden's Concordance34 reveals that six of the eleven

occurrences of o[ w@n with a prepositional phrase appear in the Fourth



Matt 12:30     o[ mh>  w}n  met ] e]mou?  kat ]  e]mou?  e]sti<n

Luke 11:23     o[ mh>  w}n met ] e]mou?  kat ]  e]mou?  e]sti<n

John I: 18        o[  w]n  ei]j to>n  ko<lpon tou?  patro<j

John 3:31        o[ mh>  e]k th?j  gh?j  e]k  th?j  gh?j  e]sti<n

John 6:46       ei] mh>  o[  w}n  para>  tou?  qeou?

John 8:47        o[  w}n  e]k tou? qeou?  ta>  r[h<mata  tou?  qeou?  a]kouei<

John 12: 17     o[ o@xloj  o[  w}n  met ]  au]tou?

John 18:37     pa?j  o[  w}n  e]k  th?j  a]lhqei<aj

Rom 9:5          o[  Xristo>j  to>  kata>  sa<rka  o[  w}n  e]pi>  pa<ntwn

2 Cor 11:31   o[  w}n  eu]loghto>j  ei]j  tou>j  ai]w?naj

Eph 2:4           o[ de>  qeo>j  plou<sioj  w}n  e]n  e]le<ei


33 One cannot help but see Nicodemus, "a ruler of the Jews," as representing a

Judaism which fails due to its incomplete faith, its unwillingness to go beyond the

e]pi<geia ("earthly things"'), and its disregard for the message of rebirth from above in

the Spirit (cf. H. Leroy, Ratsel und Missverstandnis: Ein Beitrag zur Formgeschichte

des Johannesevangeliums [BBB 30; Bonn: Hanstein, 1968] 124-36). Because the Baptist

has correctly understood the mystery of Jesus, he has become the model of one who is

open to "heavenly things," as the evangelist points out in 3:31-36.

34W. F. Moulton and A. S. Geden, A Concordance to the Greek Testament

(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975) 279-81.

62                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


The construction in Rom 9:5 and the six constructions in John

are exactly parallel to the variant o[  w}n  e]n  t&?  ou]ran&? in John 3:13.

Thus, it appears that this usage is not only Johannine but almost

exclusively so in the NT. This fact points to the appropriateness of a

more detailed examination of this construction in John.

The six occurrences in John are distributed fairly evenly over the

gospel. Three of them refer directly to Jesus (1:18; 6:46; 8:47). A

decisive element in the choice and formulation of this construction

appears to be how useful and significant the texts were for John's

Christology. This is clear from 1: 18, which is a pronouncement of the

evangelist. The metaphorical expression o[  w}n ei]j  to>n  ko<lpon  tou? 

patro<j simply renders "with God" of 1:1 in another way. Thus, at

the end of his prologue the author affirmed once more the relation-

ship of the Son of God to the Father which never ceased during his

earthly ministry. In so doing, John prepared the ground for his sub-

sequent account of the revelational discourses of Jesus in which

Christ's existence is said to be e]n  t&?  ou]ran&? (3:13),  para>  tou?  qeou?

(6:46), and e]k tou?  qeou? (8:47). Hence, the construction in 3:13 forms

a link between the Logos-hymn and the discourses of Jesus presented

in the Gospel. John 1:18 explains the eternal mode of existence of the

divine Son of God (i.e., one of intimate fellowship with the Father),

while 3:13, 6:46 and 8:47 explain his mode of existence as the incar-

nate Son of Man who remains with the Father even after being sent

by him. These four occurrences could, therefore, be based on the con-

sistent theological conception of Jesus' heavenly origin (6:46; 8:47)

and his constant communion with the Father (1: 18) even while on

earth (3:13).

A different appraisal is called for in the three remaining texts.

John 3:31 may be the words of the Baptist or the kerygmatic discourse

of the evangelist on the preceding incident. But here again Jesus

is pictured as the one who is "above all men" (e)pa<nw  pa<ntwn)

because, as the heavenly witness and revealer, he "comes from above"

(o[  a@nwqen  e]rxo<menoj). The expression "he who is from the earth" (o[

w}n e]k th?j  gh?j) means men in general, who are inferior to him and

completely dependent upon his revelation. Since they are "earthly"

(e)k  th?j  gh?j) in origin, they are also earthly in nature, oriented in

thought and language to earthly things (ta>  e)pi<geia), as was Nico-

demus. By virtue of origin and nature, "he who is from above" is

superior to them in principle, absolutely and unrestrictedly. But here

it is not a matter of contrast but of degree. The "heavenly" one

surpasses the "earthly," but was also sent by the Father as the salva-

tion of the world which he loved (3:16). This "dualism" is far from

being Gnostic in nature, for here the heavenly envoy comes to earth

and gives the earth-born that which is necessary to become "children

BLACK: JOHN 3:13                                                63


of God" (1:12) and partakers of the heavenly world when they are

"born from above" (3:3, 5).

At first sight, there appears to be nothing significant about 12:17,

which speaks of the crowd that was with Jesus (o[ o@xloj  o[  w}n  met ]

au]tou?) when he called Lazarus out of his grave. But the explanation

given by Barrett allows an application of this text also to the ascending

and descending Son of Man motif.35 The crowd that greeted Jesus as

o[  e]rxo<menoj (v 13) had been stirred by the raising of Lazarus openly

to hail Jesus as the Messiah. For the Pharisees this meant that at best

they must postpone their plans to kill Jesus until after the Passover

(cf. Luke 19:47-48), or at worst it meant the complete failure of all

their plans. Some of them felt the latter to be the case, and in a burst

of deep despair cried out, "Behold, the world [o[ ko<smoj] is gone after

him" (12:19). Barrett sees in this Semitic idiom (o[ ko<smoj; meaning

"everyone") an allusion to John 3: 16-17, where it is stated that Jesus

was sent into the world (o[  ko<smoj) to save the world, including

Gentiles (although one need not suppose that this motley crowd of

enthusiasts included actual Gentiles). The Gospel of John presents

the idea of the spiritual character of the Kingdom, although men

think its advent will be earthly and political in nature. Not only was

Nicodemus and the crowd blind to this spiritural truth, but even the

apostles themselves had not yet come to see the real significance of

Jesus' pronouncement that the Kingdom of God is within men's

hearts. Could not the "crowd" that thronged about Jesus be a sym-

bolic representation of this unbelieving, uncomprehending attitude?36

The final occurrence of the phrase in John appears in 18:37,

where Jesus informs Pilate, "Every one who is of the truth [pa?j  o[] a] w}n

e]k  th?j  a]lhqei<aj] hears my voice," a statement which prepares the

way for Pilate's infamous inquiry, "What is truth?" (v 38). Theolog-

ically, the saying is important. Because Jesus himself is the sole means

of access to God who is the source of all truth and life, he is in

himself the truth and the life for men. As the opening hymn of the

gospel sees in the bodily presence of the Logos among men the escha-

tological fulfillment of God's presence among men (1:14),37 so here

Jesus is pictured as the eternal reality which is beyond and above the

phenomena of the world. Life, truth and access are characteristic


35 See C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St John (London: SPCK, 1960) 349-


36 Ibid., 350.

37 In I: 14 Jesus is said to be "full of grace and truth," where "truth" (a]lh<qeia prob-

ably is to be taken in an ontological sense to mean "divine reality" (cf. Schnackenburg,

John, 1.273).

64                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


themes of John's gospel, and are marvelously linked together in the

Lord's statement in 14:6: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one

comes to the Father except by me." However, only those who are "of

the truth" can see and follow and live. Truth stood before Pilate and

yet he did not know it. Like Nicodemus, Pilate for all his interest in

Jesus' case is not of the truth; he is of the world. Asking the question,

"Quid est veritas?", he is ignorant that "Est vir qui adest," as the

Ifamous anagram puts it.38

When the similarities between 3:31,12:17 and 18:37 are taken into

account, the notion of a characteristic pattern based on the participial

form of ei]mi< becomes less speculative. Each of the passages provides a

supplement for the others, but all together are also apparently delib-

erate references on the part of the evangelist to the "heavenly-earthly"

motif drawing from his latent interest in Christology. The multitudes

which follow Jesus are, like Nicodemus and Pilate, of "earthly" origin,

unresponsive to "he who is from above." Perhaps the expression e]k

th?j  gh?j in 3:31 is not as negative as e]k  tou?  ko<smou; but the distance

is great enough. The earthly realm is populated by men who reveal an

earthly way of thinking, who seek out Jesus but fall short of faith in

him, who openly hail Jesus as a great man but choose darkness in

preference to the light. The reflections of 3:31 and 18:37 on this

enigmatic rejection of "the truth" are occasioned, at least in part, by

Jesus' personal effort to seek to explain how, in spite of all God's

efforts to save and in spite of the clear and unquestionable revelation

of the Son, men could still close their hearts to the light. Their

inexplicable "hatred" (3:20; 15:24) rises up from the abyss of a heart

darkened by sin and corrupted by pride. Faith, however, overcomes

all objections and recognizes the divine origin of Jesus in spite of his

earthly lowliness. The one who throws away his doubts and proclaims

his faith in Jesus as the Messiah is permitted to witness the glory of

the Son of God. The conduct of Nathaniel of Cana is but one

illustration of a heart ripe for receiving Jesus as Messiah (1:45-51).

Such a man, in contrast to Nicodemus, the crowd and Pilate, is "a

true Israelite, a man with nothing false in him" (1:47), a man "who is

of the truth" (18:37).

It would therefore seem a fair conclusion, based on the above

considerations, that the author of the Fourth Gospel was not un-

acquainted with both the theological content and the grammatical

form of the expression o[  w@n  e]n  t&?  ou]ran&?.  Indeed, he is given over to

the repetition of such a phrase. On the whole there does not appear to

be any theological or linguistic evidence why John could not have


            38Cited in A. T. Robertson, The Divinity of Christ in the Gospel of John (reprint;

Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976) 141.

BLACK: JOHN 3: 13                                               65


written these words. Since the longer reading is intelligible as it stands,

it is preferable to conclude that it is an integral part of the Gospel.




Although much can be said for certain arguments in favor of the

shorter reading" in my judgment the inclusion of the disputed words

is the best solution since it is supported by significant external and

internal evidence and retains a great deal of John's original use of the

term "Son of Man." Given the strength and diversity of the external

attestation, the improbability of an accidental omission, and the

intrinsic probability favoring the inclusion of the phrase, I suggest

that the longer text which includes the words o[  w@n  e]n  t&?  ou]ran&?

deserves to be taken more seriously by the editors of the UBS Greek

NT.39 The cumulative effect of the data can hardly be ignored; and

the individual arguments present a strong prima facie reason for

examining the matter again.

This witness to Christ's deity, on this reading of the evidence, is

thus not a mere theologoumenon handed down by the church, but a

witness deriving from Jesus himself, from his own teaching about his

person, and verified in the testimony of John the apostle. His record

is that the Son of Man, who has come from heaven, speaks truthfully

about heavenly realities as a man may speak about his own home,40

for the incarnation did not-indeed could not-denude heaven of the

Son's presence. It is in this context that Augustine, who sounds very

Johannine when writing of the Son of Man, could inquire of his



Ecce hic erat et in caelo erat: hic erat in carne, in caelo erat divinitate,

natus de matre, non recendens a Patre--Miraris quia et hic erat et in



39Perhaps the editors themselves are heading in this direction. The omission of 6

o[  w@n  e]n  t&?  ou]ran&?  received an "A" rating in the UBS Greek NT1, signifying that this

reading is "virtually certain" (Metzger, Textual Commentary, xxviii). In subsequent

editions the omission is given a "C" rating, meaning that "there is a considerable degree

of doubt whether the text or the apparatus contains the superior reading" (Ibid.).

40 It will hardly do, however, to render the disputed clause "whose home is in

heaven," as is found in the NEB. This is especially surprising in a translation which

claims to be "a faithful rendering of the best available Greek text" (The New English

Bible New Testament [Oxford: University Press, 1961] v). Such a rendering can hardly

be in keeping with the import of Christ's statement.

41"Behold, he was here and he was in heaven: he was here in his flesh, he was in

in his divinity, born of a mother, never leaving the Father-Why do you marvel

he was both here and in heaven?" (cited in E, W. Hengstenberg, A Commentary

on the Gospel of St John [reprint; Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1980], I. 178). Calvin

writes, "But since, for the sake of the unity of person in Christ, it is frequent and

66                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


common to transfer the property of the one nature to the other, we need not look for

another solution. Hence Christ, who is in heaven, put on our flesh that, by stretching

out a brotherly hand to us, He might raise us to heaven along with Himself" (J. Calvin,

The Gospel According to St John (1-10), trans. T. H. L. Parker [Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1959] 72).




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