What is a birth? What does it mean to be born? It means a new beginning, a new genesis. In the Bible there are literally hundreds of figures of speech. The words “born” or “birth” are examples.
The phrase “born again” occurs only twice in the writings of Peter. However, many translations include it elsewhere. The best thing to do is to gather all verses that bear of the subject of a spiritual birth and after examining them draw some conclusions. John is the Bible writer who uses the figure of speech born or birth most often. He begins early in his gospel.
But, to everyone who did accept [Jesus] he authorized to become children of God, because they believed in his name. JN1:13 These were born [EGENNETHESAN – Strong's Exhaustive Concordance # 1080], not from blood – that is, from a fleshly desire, or a male desire – but from God. [NCMM]
We note first that in order to have a birth “from God” two things are involved:
The most familiar verses involved in the subject most often called “born again” is in the account about Jesus and Nicodemas.
Now, a man from the Pharisees – Nicodemas was his name – was a ruler of the Jews. JN3:2 This [Jewish ruler] approached [Jesus] at night and said to him: "Teacher, we realize you have come from God. For no one is able to perform these signs that you do if the God was not with him." JN3:3 Jesus responded to him: "I tell you this truth: Unless anyone is born [GENNETHE] from above he cannot experience the Kingdom of the God." JN3:4 But, facing toward [Jesus], Nicodemas asked: "How is a person able to be born when old? He is not able to enter the womb of his mother a second time to be born." JN3:5 Jesus answered him: "I tell you this truth: Unless anyone is born from water and Pneuma he cannot enter into the Kingdom of the God. JN3:6 That which is born from flesh is flesh, and that which is born from the Pneuma is pneuma. JN3:7 Do not wonder because I said, ‘It is a necessity to be born from above.’ JN3:8 The wind blows wherever it wants, and you hear the sound of it, but you have no idea where it came from and where it is going. Just so is everyone born from the Pneuma." [NCMM]
The phrase “born from above” infers a spiritual birth from God. Jesus taught two things were involved in this kind of birth – water and Pneuma [spirit]. People disagree on the exact meaning here. Some see the “water” of a physical birth, while others see “water” of truth. Another view would be the “water” of baptism. In addition God’s Pneuma must also be involved. How is this done? Jesus does not explicitly explain that here, but we can learn a little more as we continue.
We have John’s own comments of such a “birth from above” as in his first epistle he mentions such a birth several times.
If you realize that God is righteous you will also realize that those God-born [or “born from Him” – GEGENNETAI] continue in righteousness.
It is clear from John here that anyone who is God-born [or, “born from Him”] will be characterized by righteousness because the One who causes the birth is righteous Himself. John continues –
Anybody who is God-born [or, “born out of the God” – GEGENNEMENOS] never habitually continues in a sin because God’s seed resides within that person. This is the reason the person is unable to continue in a course of habitual sin because of being God-born [or, “from The God born” – [GEGENNETAI].
Consistent with 1 John 2:29 John continues by explaining that anyone God-born does not practice sin as a habit. This does not mean that the Christian never sins, for John has already admitted such in the earlier part of his epistle. [1 John chapters 1 and 2] John is to describe two kinds of sins in chapter 5 and one of them leads to death. In his first epistle John makes clear where “righteousness” is often display, as well as making clear where “habitual sin” might also become a continued practice. John continues –
My loved ones, let us all continue to have a loving concern for each other, because this kind of loving concern is from God. Every individual who continues to show loving concern is God-born [or, “born out of The God” – GEGENNETAI]. Such a person has an intimate relationship with God.
In addition to practicing righteousness, avoiding habitual sinning, the person God-born [or, born from God] is characterized by consistent love for others. This is part of God’s commandment. [1 John 3:23] John has already explained how this love manifests itself in chapters 2 and 3. John continues –
Every individual who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been God-born [or, “born out of The God” – GEGENNETAI]. Every individual who loves the One born, Jesus, also loves Him that caused his Son’s birth. … 1JN5:4 because every person God-born [or, “born out of The God – GEGENNEMENON] is victorious over the world. … 1JN5:18 We realize that every God-born [or, “born out of The God – GEGENNEMENOS] [Christian] does not habitually sin. (The Son), the One God-born [or, “born out of The God – GENNETHEIS], protects every Christian so that the Wicked One cannot lay a hand on them. 1JN5:19 We are aware that God is our Source, but the entire world lies in the grasp of the Wicked One.
As he has written in John 1:12, 13 here John confirms that in order to be God-born one must believe Jesus is the Messiah and continue to love him. In addition, the God-born are triumphant or victorious over the world. John has already mentioned what he may mean by this in 1 John 2:15-17.
So, John mainly describes the attributes or characteristics of the God-born in order to identify such. We may find something of a parallel between John 3:3-8 and 1 John 5:6-8, for here John describes how Jesus came into the world as God’s Son. He mentions water, spirit and blood. We may believe that the Son was first manifest by his water baptism, followed by his spirit-anointing. [Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21, 22] In addition, in the case of Jesus, his poured out blood is a further witness that he was the Son of God. Note Romans 1:4 where Jesus Christ the Nazarene was finally the definitive “Son” by virtue of his resurrection. We may also believe that upon his ascension to heaven and God’s throne he was again declared God’s Son. [Psalm 2:6, 7; Acts 13:33]
How is it that a person born into this world of humankind in a fleshly manner [John 1:13] can achieve a new beginning, a new genesis, or born afresh? Two other inspired disciples help us determine this.
First James describes a “birth” though he uses a different word from the apostle John. He says –
Having willed it, [the Father] gave birth [or, conceived, pregnant from, born from the womb – Strong's Exhaustive Concordance # 616 APO-KUEO] to us by the Word of Truth so that we might become a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
Here James echoes John 1:12, 13 but he involves “the Word of Truth” in the process of a new birth, a new spiritual beginning. So one could not be born again without the Word. [John 17:17] This is because it is only through the Word that we can even begin to know, and thus accept, our Master Jesus Christ. Peter says something similar –
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy, has [given us] a New Genesis [or, born again, born anew, new birth – ANAGENNESAS] unto a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1PE1:4 unto an incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading inheritance. … . 1PE1:23 For you have been ‘born again’ [or, born anew, new birth] [John 3:3], not of corruptible seed, but incorruptible [seed] by means of the Word ‘of a Living and Abiding God’.
This is the only place were the Greek word would literally permit the phrase “born again.” It is a composition of again [or, re-] and a genesis or birth. Peter has agreed with James that “the Word of a Living and Abiding God” is inseparable from a rebirth. This rebirth or new genesis is based upon the hope of a resurrection after the manner of Christ Jesus. So being “born again” also involves a new hope – a heavenly one. This can only be learned by a reading of the Word.
Paul does not really use this phrase “born again” or “born from above” or “born from God”. However he does mention a spiritual birth in the case of Jacob. He writes: “But, just as it was then, the one born in a fleshly manner [John 1:13] began persecuting the one who was born [GENNETHEIS] spiritually, so it is the same now. [or, born in accordance (with the) spirit; spirit born]” [Galatians 4:29 NCMM] Jacob’s spiritual birth was because of Jehovah’s promise to Abraham and Isaac. Paul draws a parallel between Esau and Jacob and the Jews and Christians of his time. So in a manner of speaking he alludes to such a spiritual birth in accordance with God’s promise.
So what can we conclude about the subject of being “born again”? Such a spiritual new beginning must involve –
Thus, when a Christian is baptized the figure of speech can be used of him or her as someone “born again” as a Child of God. [Romans 8:15-17] Having such a new beginning the “born again” Christian must then continue to be characterized by –
As those who have accepted Christ and continued to believe in him as part of God’s “eternal purpose” we can rejoice in our childhood and call out. “Abba!”
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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