Nicodemus

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Nicodemus helping to take down Jesus' body from the cross, Michelangelo Pieta.
For other uses, see Nicodemus (disambiguation).

Saint Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus, according to the Gospel of John, showed favour to Jesus. He appears three times in John. Nicodemus visits Jesus one night to discuss his teachings with him.(John 3:1–21); The second time Nicodemus is mentioned, is when he states the law concerning the arrest of Jesus during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (John 7:45–51). The last time Nicodemus appears in the Bible is Crucifixion, when he assists Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the corpse of Jesus for burial.(John 19:39–42)

The discussion with Jesus is the source of several common expressions of contemporary Christianity, specifically, the descriptive phrase born again used to describe the experience of believing in Jesus as Saviour, and John 3:16, a commonly quoted verse used to describe God's plan of salvation. An apocryphal work under his name — the Gospel of Nicodemus — was produced the mid-4th century, and is mostly a reworking of the earlier Acts of Pilate, which recounts the harrowing of Hell.

Though there is no clear source of information about Nicodemus outside the Gospel of John, the Jewish Encyclopedia and many Biblical historians have theorized that he is identical to Nicodemus ben Gurion, mentioned in the Talmud as a wealthy and popular holy man reputed to have had miraculous powers. Christian tradition believes that Nicodemus was martyred sometime in the 1st century.

Nicodemus in the Bible[edit]

Jesus and Nicodemus, Crijn Hendricksz, 1616–1645.
Nicodemus (left) talking to Jesus, by Henry Ossawa Tanner

As is the case with Lazarus, Nicodemus does not belong to the tradition of the Synoptic Gospels and is only mentioned by John, who devotes more than half of Chapter 3 of his gospel, a few verses of Chapter 7 and lastly mentions him in Chapter 19.

The first time Nicodemus is mentioned, he wishes to meet Jesus "at night," intrigued by the miracles performed by Jesus:

Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.

—John 3:2

Then Jesus has a conversation with Nicodemus about the meaning of being born again / born from above and mentions the "kingdom of heaven" (very rare in the Johannine texts.) Jesus is surprised to see that "Israel's teacher" does not understand the doctrine of spiritual rebirth.

Then, in John Chapter 7, against the advice of "the chief priests and the Pharisees," Nicodemus defends Jesus, advising his colleagues to hear and investigate before making a final judgment against Jesus. It is implied that Nicodemus was a Galilean by their mocking response.

Finally, when Jesus is buried, Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about 75 pounds, for the embalming of Jesus' body according to Jewish custom (John 19:39).

Since the other gospels do not provide details about Nicodemus, these are the only canonical sources that are available.

Veneration and liturgical commemoration[edit]

Nicodemus is venerated as a saint in the various Eastern churches and in the Roman Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches commemorate Nicodemus on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers, celebrated on the Third Sunday of Pascha (i.e., the second Sunday after Easter) as well as August 2, the date when tradition holds that his relics were found, along with those of Stephen the Protomartyr, Gamaliel, and Abibas (Gamaliel's second son). The traditional Roman Catholic liturgical calendar lists the same feast of the finding of their relics on the following day, August 3.

In the current Roman Martyrology of the Catholic Church, Nicodemus is commemorated along with Saint Joseph of Arimathea on August 31. The Franciscan Order erected a church under the patronage of Saints Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea in Ramla.

Nicodemus in art[edit]

Entombment, by Tizian

Nicodemus figures prominently in medieval depictions of the Deposition in which he, and Joseph of Arimathea are always shown removing the dead Christ from the cross, often with the aid of a ladder.

Like Joseph, Nicodemus became the object of various pious legends during the Middle Ages, particularly in connection with monumental crosses. He was reputed to have carved both the Holy Face of Lucca and the Batlló Crucifix, receiving angelic assistance with the face in particular and thus rendering the works instances of acheiropoieta.[1]

Both of these sculptures date from at least a millennium after Nicodemus's life, but the ascriptions attest to the contemporary interest in Nicodemus as a character in medieval Europe.

In popular culture[edit]

Nicodemus (right) talking to Jesus, by William Brassey Hole, (1846–1917)

In August 16, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. references Nicodemus needing to be born again, a metaphor about the United States needing a revolution to address social and economic inequality. The speech was called “Where Do We Go From Here?,” and delivered at the 11th Annual SCLC Convention in Atlanta, GA.[2]

Nicodemus was portrayed by Laurence Olivier in the Franco Zeffirelli television miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977). In the miniseries, Nicodemus tries to warn Jesus that he might be arrested, and is there to watch the Crucifixion. He speaks the famous words "And with His wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).

Nichole Nordeman's song To Know You includes the lyrics: "Nicodemus could not understand how You could truly free us. He struggled with the image of a grown man born again. We might have been good friends, 'cause sometimes I still question too how easily we come to You."

The song Help Yourself by The Devil Makes Three contains multiple references to Nicodemus and his interactions with Jesus.

Christus und Nicodemus, by Fritz von Uhde (1848–1911)

Other references include songs from the Christian band For Today, in which one song entitled "Nicodemus (The Seeker)" contains lyrics hinting at his biblical legacy.

Also, in many books there are names used as Nicodemus to represent him.

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are the central characters in the Biblical historical fiction book "Nicodemus' Quest" by Bill Kincaid. The two men are Pharisees and members of the Sanhedrin who investigate whether Jesus might be the Messiah foretold by Jewish prophets. Although the book is fiction, it is consistent with the biblical narrative while giving a wealth of details about Jewish customs and events, Messianic prophesies, Jewish and Roman laws that were ignored in the trials of Jesus, and details about the crucifixion.

In the Biblical, historical fiction, "Nicodemus" by Keith Ballard Farris, the life of Jesus is told from the point of view of Nicodemus. The story begins in Bethlehem, where the life of a young Nicodemus first collides with the changes and challenges that will tear apart his family.

Nicodemus is the leader of the rats in the book "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH."


The stoner rock band Om, refers to Nicodemus in the song Gethsemane,

"Nocodemus awaits in vigil weeping,
The Arahat rising and the healing ghost descends,
Lamentations cease enter rarefied light prevails,
Devekut gleams sing freedom from tamasic field."

Notes[edit]

  • Cornel Heinsdorff: Christus, Nikodemus und die Samaritanerin bei Juvencus. Mit einem Anhang zur lateinischen Evangelienvorlage (= Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte, Bd.67), Berlin/New York 2003

References[edit]

  1. ^ Gertrud Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art. Volume 2. The Passion of Jesus Christ. Janet Seligman (tr.), Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1972: 144–5, 472–3.
  2. ^ http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/documentsentry/where_do_we_go_from_here_delivered_at_the_11th_annual_sclc_convention/

External links[edit]

Nicodemus
Preceded by
Temple Cleansing
New Testament
Events
Succeeded by
Samaritan Woman
at the Well