NICODEMUS (Νικόδημος, Nikodēmos). An influential Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin who showed interest in Jesus’ teaching and possibly became a believer.
Nicodemus in the Gospel of John
John is the only Gospel that mentions Nicodemus. Tenney identifies Nicodemus as “a secret disciple whose faith grew slowly” (Tenney, EBC, 186). Nicodemus’ relationship with Jesus develops over three episodes:
• John 3:1–21: Nicodemus comes to Jesus during the night and learns about the necessity of new birth. He honors Jesus by calling him “Rabbi” and acknowledges that Jesus comes from God (John 3:2). Although some scholars suggest that Nicodemus visits Jesus at night (John 3:2) to avoid being seen with him, Borchert says that the imagery of darkness represents Nicodemus’ unbelief or doubt (Borchert, NAC, 170). Nicodemus struggles to understand Jesus’ explanation that he must be born again to enter the kingdom of God: “Birth for him apparently was limited to physical birth” (Borchert, NAC, 173).
• John 7:50–52: Nicodemus somewhat defends Jesus before the Pharisees at the Festival of Booths. When other Pharisees speak against Jesus and seek His arrest, Nicodemus argues that Jesus should receive a fair trial according to Jewish law. The text does not clarify his motives. Borchert suggests that, as a fair-minded member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus is urging just treatment for the accused (Borchert, NAC, 294). Tenney, while acknowledging that Nicodemus’ question “was not an open declaration that he had faith in Jesus,” allows more room for the possibility that Nicodemus sympathizes with Jesus: “Nicodemus may have felt that if he championed Jesus’ cause unequivocally, he would lose his case; but if he raised a legitimate legal objection, he might prevent drastic action” (Tenney, EBC, 88).
• John 19:39–42: Nicodemus brings about 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. The account identifies Joseph of Arimathea as a disciple of Jesus (John 19:38), but it offers no clear statement of Nicodemus’ faith. However, the surprising amount of spice indicates that Nicodemus ultimately recognizes Jesus as king. Borchert says, “it was enough spice to bury a king royally. The Johannine Death Story thus makes clear that Jesus was a King” (Borchert, NAC, 281). Tenney says the extravagant quantity of spice shows not only Nicodemus’ great wealth but also his appreciation of Jesus (Tenney, EBC, 186).