John 3:8 – The Spirit Breathes

Wayne Jackson
What is the correct interpretation of this widely misunderstood passage?

In his conversation with Nicodemus regarding the new birth, Jesus declared:

“The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the voice thereof, but know not whence it comes, and where it goes: so is every one who is born of the Spirit” (Jn 3:8 ASV).

This passage is frequently appealed to by denominationalists in an effort to prove that the new birth is a mysterious process, like the blowing of the wind, which cannot be explained. It is “better felt than told.” This misunderstanding is due to a faulty translation in our common versions.

The term rendered “wind” in John 3:8 is the Greek word pneuma. It is found 386 times in the Greek New Testament, and it is never rendered “wind” except in this solitary instance.

In fact, the term is used five times within this context. Why should it be translated “Spirit” on four occasions and “wind” only once? The ordinary term for “wind” in the Greek Testament is anemos (cf. Mt. 11:7).

The context here reveals that the Lord was explaining how the Holy Spirit operates in the new birth.

Underline “wind,” and write “Spirit” in your margin, or, if you use the American Standard Version, note the footnote in that edition (cf., W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary_. “Spirit” [a].

The word “bloweth” translates the Greek verb pneo, which can mean to blow or to breathe, depending upon the context. Kindred forms of the word are elsewhere employed of breathing (cf. Lk. 23:46; Acts 9:1; 2 Tim. 3:16).

In this passage, the Lord is suggesting that the Spirit breathes wherever he wills. His voice is heard (i.e., his inspired words are perceived). In this manner (“even so”), is one begotten of the Spirit.

It is the Holy Spirit’s operation through the word of God that initiates the new birth experience (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23).

For a fuller discussion of this point, see What Does It Mean To Be a Born Again Christian? See also Guy N. Woods’ notes on John 3:8 in his commentary, The Gospel According to John (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1981).