Nicodemus (Νικόδημος, conqueror of the people), a Pharisee, a ruler (ἄρχων ', the usual title for a member of the Sanhedrim) of the Jews, and teacher (the article in ὁ διδάσκ. is probably only generic, although Winer and bishop Middleton suppose that it implies a rebuke) of Israel (Joh 3:1,10), whose secret visit to our Lord was the occasion of the discourse recorded by the evangelist. The name was not uncommon among the Jews (Josephus, Ant. 14:3, 2), and was no doubt borrowed from the Greeks. In the Talmud it appears under the form נקדימון, and some would derive it from נקי, innocent, דם, blood (i.e. "Sceleris purus"); Wetstein, N.T. 1:150. In the case of Nicodemus ben-Gorion, the name is derived by R. Nathan from a miracle which he is supposed to have performed (Otho, Lex. Rab. s.v.). Nicodemus is only mentioned by John (yet some German rationalists have sought or rather forced a comparison with the rich young man of Mr 10:17-24), who narrates his nocturnal visit to Jesus, and the conversation which then took place at this the evangelist may himself have been present. A.D. 26. The high station of Nicodemus, and the avowed scorn under which the rulers concealed their inward conviction (Joh 3:2) that Jesus was a teacher come from God, are sufficient to account for the secrecy of the interview. A constitutional timidity is discernible in the character of the inquiring Pharisee, which could not be overcome by his vacillating desire to befriend One whom he knew to be a Prophet, even if he did not at once recognize in him the promised Messiah. Thus the few words which he interposed against the rash injustice of his colleagues are cautiously rested on a general principle (Joh 7:50), and betray no indication of his faith in the Galilaean whom his sect despised. Even when the power of Christ's love, manifested on the cross, had made the most timid disciples bold, Nicodemus did not come forward with his splendid gifts of affection until the example had been set by one of his own rank and wealth, and station in society (19:39). See Hase, Leben Jesu, p. 106 sq.; Volbeding, Index Programmatum, p. 32.
In these three notices of Nicodemus a noble candor and a simple love of truth shine out in the midst of hesitation and fear of man. But Niemeyer (Charakt. 1:113 sq.) has endeavored to show that the apparent timidity of Nicodemus was but reasonable prudence. We can easily believe the tradition that after the resurrection (which would supply the last outward impulse necessary to confirm his faith and increase his courage) he became a professed disciple of Christ, and received baptism at the hands of Peter and John. All the rest that is reported of him is very uncertain. It is said. however, that the Jews, in revenge for his conversion, deprived him of his office, beat him cruelly, and drove him from Jerusalem; that Gamaliel, who was his kinsman, hospitably sheltered him until his death in a country house, and finally gave him honorable burial near the body of Stephen, where Gamaliel himself was afterwards interred. Finally, the three bodies are said to have been discovered August 3, A.D. 415, which day was set apart by the Romish Church in honor of the event (Phot. Biblioth. Cod. p. 171; Lucian, De S. Steph. inventione).
If the Nicodemus of John's Gospel be identical with the Nicodemus ben- Gorion of the Talmud (see Delitzsch ill the Zeitsckr.f. luth. Theologie, 1854, p. 643 sq.), he must have lived till the fall of Jerusalem, which is not impossible, since the term γέρων, in Joh 3:4, may not be intended to apply to Nicodemus himself. The arguments for their identification are that both are mentioned as Pharisees, wealthy, pious, and members of the Sanhedrim (Taanith, f. 19, etc.); and that the original name (altered on the occasion of a miracle performed by Nicodemus in order to procure rain) is said to have been בוני, Bonay, which is also the name of one of five rabbinical disciples of Christ mentioned in Sanhed. f. 43, 1 (Otho, s.v. Christus). Finally, the family of this Nicodemus are said to have been reduced from great wealth to the most squalid and horrible. poverty, which, however, may as well be accounted for by the fall of Jerusalem as by the change of fortune resulting from an acceptance of Christianity.