Who Was Nicodemus In the Bible?

Nicodemus is one of the most fascinating people in the New Testament. The Gospel of John records a powerful one-on-one conversation that he had with Jesus that has impacted him and the lives of millions and millions of readers over the centuries. Later, he shows up in a surprising moment in the Gospels.

Nicodemus is best known for his nighttime conversation with Jesus Christ about being reborn. He was a Jew who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees. He was also a member of the Sanhedrin and a teacher of Scripture. Nicodemus also helped care for Jesus’ body after his crucifixion.

What can readers know about Nicodemus based on his conversation with Jesus? What important role did he have in the Jewish community in the first century? What did Nicodemus and Jesus discuss? What questions did he ask Jesus? What did Nicodemus do after Jesus’ crucifixion? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Also, see Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus? to learn more.

Jesus Christ and Nicodemus
What was the Sanhedrin? See below

What Does the Bible Say About Nicodemus?

In Nicodemus’ famous conversation with Jesus, the reader gets insight into who he was and what he believed. John 3:1-21 records their dialogue.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee

According to John, Nicodemus was a member of the religious sect of Pharisees. “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews” (John 3:1, ESV).

“Pharisee” means “separate one,” which refers to living according to the Law, unlike people around them. They held to a strict interpretation of Scripture, which leaders among them taught diligently. The first-century Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote there were about 6,000 Pharisees in Jesus’ day.

In the Gospels, they oppose Jesus. They often argue with him about his identity and actions and defend their interpretation of Scripture. The Pharisees grow increasingly hostile toward Jesus. Some falsely accused him during his trials, which led to his crucifixion on the cross.

Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin

When John wrote that Nicodemus was “a ruler of the Jews,” he meant that he was a member of the Sanhedrin (John 3:1b). The Sanhedrin, which the high priest presided over, was the Jewish ruling council in Jesus’ day, acting similar to a Supreme Court. It had 71 members, and Nicodemus was one of them.

In the Gospels, the Sanhedrin influenced Jesus’ crucifixion. For example, John 11:47 reads, “So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, ‘What are we to do? For this man performs many signs'” (ESV). Another describes the conspiracy as “a meeting of the Sanhedrin” (NIV).

After the authorities arrest Jesus, they take him to the council, which some translations call the “Sanhedrin” (CSB). In the scene, they falsely accuse Jesus of crimes (Matt. 26:59-60), and Pilate agrees to crucify him (Mark 15:1-15). To be clear, the Gospels don’t mention Nicodemus taking part in Jesus’ trials.

Nicodemus was an interpreter of Scripture

Later in the conversation, Jesus describes Nicodemus as a prominent teacher in Israel. He asked, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:10, ESV). Nicodemus wasn’t only a member of the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin, he was a distinguished teacher of Scripture.

New Testament scholar D.A. Carson writes, “Jesus’ response projects the blame in sharp focus: Nicodemus in his role as Israel’s teacher should have understood these things. The article with this expression (lit. ‘the teacher of Israel’) suggests he was a recognized master, an established religious authority. ‘You are the Reverend Professor Doctor, and you do not understand these things?'” (emphases Carson’s) [1]

Also, see Who Was Melchizedek in the Bible? to learn more.

Jesus' crucifixion
What questions did Nicodemus ask Jesus? See below

What Did Jesus and Nicodemus Discuss?

John mentions that Jesus’ and Nicodemus’ conversation occurred at night (John 3:2). Some believe it was a long conversation that lasted until after sunset. Others believe that John mentions the time of day to imply that the conversation was secret, as Nicodemus didn’t want others to see them meeting.

Jesus’ words dominate the conversation as John records it (John 3:1-21); Nicodemus never speaks again after verse nine. Nevertheless, he makes one statement and asks Jesus two questions in the scene.

Nicodemus’ Statement“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” (v. 2).
Jesus’ reply“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3).
Nicodemus’ First Question“How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (v. 4).
Jesus’ reply“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (v. 5; see v. 5-8)
Nicodemus’ Second Question“How can these things be?” (v. 9)
Jesus’ reply“Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony” (v. 11; see v. 10-21)

Their conversation also includes the most well-known verse of the Bible. Part of Jesus’ response to Nicodemus’ second question is: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).

About John 3:16, John commentator Gary Burge writes, “The work of Christ is God at work, God saving the world, God extending himself into the condition of our humanity and bringing about reconciliation.” He adds, “God himself is on our side. God himself is at work on our behalf… God himself came to the cross and suffered in order to bring his beloved creation back to himself.” [2]

Also, see Who Was Balaam in the Bible? to learn more.

Jesus and Nicodemus
How does Nicodemus care for Jesus’ body? See below

Did Nicodemus Become a Follower of Jesus?

John mentions Nicodemus in two scenes that occur after their nighttime conversation. Nicodemus defends Jesus in the first scene and helps care for his body in the second. Though the Gospels don’t explicitly say that Nicodemus became a follower of Jesus, some readers think he did according to these stories.

Nicodemus defends Jesus

The first piece of evidence that Nicodemus may have become a follower of Jesus is when he defends him to members of the Sanhedrin. As Jesus’ continued his ministry, controversy about him grew, and opposition against him increased.

When members of the Sanhedrin discussed what to do about Jesus, Nicodemus argued that he should receive a just hearing.

“Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?’ They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee'” (John 7:51-52, ESV).

Interestingly, the other authorities accuse Nicodemus, a teacher of the Law, of not knowing the Law.

Nicodemus puts Jesus’ body in a tomb

After Jesus died on the cross, Joseph of Arimathea received permission from Pilate to take Jesus’ body down from the cross and place it in a tomb. Nicodemus helped prepare Jesus’ body for burial.

“Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” (John 19:39-40)

Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead (Matt. 28:1-10).

Also, see Who Was Cain in the Bible? to learn more.

[1] The Gospel According to John by D.A. Carson. PNTC. p. 198.
[2] John by Gary Burge. NIVAC. p. 132.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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