Nicodemus has often had what may be called a bad press among preachers and Bible commentators. He has been accused of timidity, even cowardice, on two chief grounds: first, that he came to Jesus by night instead of in broad daylight, and second, that he was a disciple in secret, failing to identify himself publicly with Jesus Christ until His crucifixion and death. For instance, Clovis G. Chappell says that “his timidity was at least part of the reason for his coming by night” (Questions Jesus Asked). A. Leonard Griffith says, “We cannot escape the conclusion that for obvious reasons Nicodemus did not want to be seen either by the common people or by his colleagues of the Sanhedrin” (Encounters With Christ). J. D. Grey speaks of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea as “two outstanding men [who] having failed to stand up for Christ during his life, came to shed their tears too late after his death” (Epitaphs For Eager Preachers).

But this idea that Nicodemus was timid and even cowardly is certainly open to question. Take first the matter of his coming to Jesus by night. It may not have been due to fear at all; there are several other possible explanations. For example, Raymond Calkins says that Nicodemus came by night “simply because he could not wait for day.… Some wonderful word of Jesus had entered into this man’s heart” (Religion and Life).

Another possible explanation is that only at night would he have the opportunity for the calm and unhurried conversation he wanted. Or it may have been caution rather than cowardice that compelled Nicodemus to come by night. After all, he occupied a highly important and influential position among his fellow Jews: Clovis Chappell quotes a description of him as “at once the equivalent of ...

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