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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Born again from above

John 3:1-12 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. 9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

Jesus's words to John -- "born again" -- have been the fodder for many a theological discussion. One of the discussions is whether "again" (Gk. anĂ´then) means "again/a second time" or "from above" (some translations use "anew"). I have always thought it meant "again/a second time". According to Strong's Concordance anothen is translated "above" 5 times, "again" twice, and a couple of other ways. The person speaking to Jesus face to face -- who spoke the language in which they were conversing -- understood the word to mean "a second time". Jesus did not correct the "numeric succession". In verse 4 it is recorded that Nicodemus asked, "How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" The puzzled question of Nicodemus shows that he thought Jesus meant "again" (Cf. deuteron, verse 4). Nicodemus did not understand the spiritual concept, but why imply he did not understand the meaning of the word itself? Jesus responds "numerically" in His explanation -- there are two births, "That which is (1) born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is (2) born of the Spirit is spirit. That does not contradict the fact that the birth was also "anew" and "from above".

It is quite common today to teach that anothen means and should be translated "from above".* I was intrigued by a new angle I read brought into this discussion recently -- that the "again" reading is problematic for those who oppose abortion. Assuming the salvation of infants, if the births were to be numbered sequentially, babies aborted from their mothers' wombs are never born "again" (i.e., spiritually being the second time). So, it is said, their spiritual birth must be a birth "from above" and cannot be a second (numerically sequential) birth. The "second birth" (so to speak) of aborted babies would be when the body is expelled from the mother's womb.

Do you believe life begins at conception? If so, do you think the "again/second time" understanding of John 3:3-7 creates any difficulty in reconciling Jesus's words with a pro-life position? Perhaps this is more about using the pro-life position to discredit the "again" wording?

* Nevertheless the Greek is evidently sufficiently ambiguous that many standard translations (older and newer than the KJV) use or keep the "again" reading -- English Standard Version, Geneva Bible, Holman Christian Standard, New American Standard, New International Version, Phillips, Wycliffe. The Greek alone, without context, is insufficient to determine the definition.

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