Born Again or Born from Above?

by Mike Ratliff

Jesus answered and said to him, amen amen I say to you, except one is born again, he is not able to see the Kingdom of God. (a personal translation from the Greek Text of John 3:3)

ἀπεκρίθη ᾿Ιησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, οὐ δύναται ἰδεῖν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ Θεοῦ. (John 3:3 GNT)

In John 3:3 (above) is a term that is unique to Christianity and is not well understood even by those have been γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν. The word translated above as “again” is  ἄνωθεν or anōthen, which is comprised of ἄνω or anō, “above, upwards,” and the suffix θεν or then, which denotes “from.” 

“The most significant use of anōthen occurs in Jn. 3:3, 7 when Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be “born again” (or does it mean “born from above”?). We really do not need to choose between these two options, for when we are born from above (i.e. born of the Spirit of God), we experience rebirth (i.e. we are born again). The ambiguity in the word beautifully covers both concepts.” – Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, page 274.

The word translated as “born” is γεννηθῇ the aorist tense, subjunctive mood, passive voice form of γεννάω or gennaō. We get our English words generation and genetic from this word. Literally it speaks of men begetting, but in the metaphorical sense we find its usage in passages like John 3:3 in which God is begetting in a spiritual sense. This consists in regeneration, sanctifying, quickening anew, and ennobling the powers of the natural man by imparting to him a new life and a spirit in Christ (1 John 5:1). That is what it means to be “born of God” (1 John 3:9) and being the “sons of God” (Romans 8:14).

Peter used another word that we translate as “born again” in 1 Peter 1:23. Here is that passage from the Greek, “ἀναγεγεννημένοι οὐκ ἐκ σπορᾶς φθαρτῆς, ἀλλὰ ἀφθάρτου, διὰ λόγου ζῶντος Θεοῦ καὶ μένοντος εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.” Here is my translation, “having been born again not from corruptible seed but incorruptible through the abiding Word of the living God.” The words translated here as “having been born again” is one Greek word, ἀναγεγεννημένοι the perfect passive participle form of ἀναγεννάω. This verb form describes a state brought about by the finished results of the action. The passive form tells us that Christians are “born again” as a work of God not by our own works. The word ἀναγεννάω could easily have been translated here as “begotten us again.” Our new birth unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (paraphrased from 1 Peter 1:3).

My brethren, we have new life in Christ because we have been born from above, we have been begotten again. Can we say glory hallelujah?

Soli Deo Gloria!







31 thoughts on “Born Again or Born from Above?

  1. Amen Mike and I thank God it wasn’t from a ‘decision’ I made.
    Just as the Israelites didn’t ‘choose’ God, He alone chose them, in spite of who they were and would always be…

    “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
    Deuteronomy 7:6 (English Standard Version)
    If that doesn’t sum up the Sovereign One I don’t know what would.
    I guess today, in the post Old Testament age many don’t think it ‘right’ that God still has all authority in all of His creation to do the ‘choosing’ without the help or ‘decision’ from His created beings.
    Born from above? Thank Him alone.

  2. Glory hallelujah, Mike!:-)

    This came up in our class at church a couple of weeks ago in our lesson on salvation. Our instructor asked us how someone is saved. There were lots of answers given….you believe in Jesus as the only way to salvation, it’s by God’s grace, you can’t do good works to get into heaven, etc. I mentioned this passage and I think people agreed with me but no one said anything except the instructor. He only said Amen. I wish it would have been explained a little bit more. It must be vital if it is a requirement to enter the kingdom of God. I wonder if people get that it is something done to you and not something you control…as Jesus explains in verse 8. I think it is crucial we understand this, since Jesus said NO one can see or enter into the kingdom of God unless this happens to him. It is a supernatural thing that the Holy Spirit does, not just me committing my life to Jesus or making a decision to follow Jesus’ teachings, or deciding to love my neighbor as myself or anything I do. We must be born from above.

    Thanks for this, Mike, and may the Lord bless you.

  3. Thanks for this explanation, Mike! I heard this over at, Pastor Jim McClarty’s website. He has a little church down in Smyrna, Tenn. It was in his study on John, which is just amazing. I never could understand some of the things Jesus said in John but he explains them beautifully and part of that includes language study. He explained, like you did, the passive tense used in the passage. I don’t recommend very many people to listen to, but he is a really good teacher. Well worth a listen.

  4. You are very welcome Pam. Your description of Pastor’s McClarty’s church as little is not surprising. It is sad though what he is teaching is the truth. The Natural Man simply refuses to believe this truth. Look a Nicodemas’ initial response in John 3.

  5. Thanks Mike, I am stuck in english, and even looking up greek word translations, I miss the total picture. I would like to offer a comment to Diane . In the discussion on salvation, my perspective is that we often stop at the process without reference to what the results look like. In 2 Cor. 5:14-17, what takes place is a whole new outlook on life. We no longer view people from a world’s perspective , but see people from a spiritual perspective. (VS 16). Being born from above results in vs 17: Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new.

  6. If we get this verse, we get Christianity. To me if there was a “greatest truth” this one would be it!! Glory hallelujah!!
    And if there was a “greatest lie” it would be that “we all have the divine within”.
    This verse is “life” to us, Diane, and it ought to spark some real enthusiasm and amazement!
    Great post Mike! God Bless you all…very encouraging comments.

  7. They reject the truth and do not “receive” eternal life because all men are born dead in trespasses and sin. People die in their sins not because God decrees it, but because they reject the truth and refuse to believe the Gospel. Read the Gospels of the witness of our Lord over and over and over. The Pharisees and Saducees and multitudes rejected Him and the Gospel truth and died in their sins. When did people from these groups begin to believe? After our Lord prayed for God to forgive them as He was dying on the Cross, not before. Our salvation is totally in His hands.

    Our job is to preach the Gospel, Jesus Christ and Him Crucified for the sins of the elect. Those who God elected from the foundation of the World (Ephesians 1) will believe as God gifts them with the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8,9) when they hear THIS GOSPEL AND NO OTHER. This is all Biblical. On the other hand, I have never had anyone object to this from any stance other than, “but that’s not fair” or “what about those not elected.” Well, God is sovereign and we are not.

  8. I understand the concept of Jesus coming to the Jews and they rejecting Him. But what about those ‘Gentiles’ who did not, do not and will not hear about His salvation message?

    Does God only have eternal damnation for them?

  9. I don’t know, why don’t you ask Him? The plan is clearly given to us at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. We are to go to make disciples FROM all nations. That is the “what about them.” You re trying to apply a “man-based value system” or “human-basec value system” to God. He does not anything according to those things. He does not do anything that we would perceive as being “FAIR.” Do you understand. Until you “get it.” You will never understand the Sovereignty of God and you will always think that you know what is best instead of Him. Well, forget that…

  10. What I meant was … Biblically speaking is God entirely dependent on humans telling His salvation message?

  11. God is not ‘dependent’ on anything. Why? He is Creator, Which simply and logically means He needs nothing… He created all things for Himself not because He needed anything… it was for His pleasure.
    We get to proclaim His truth, God is truth and He will be glorified by man, His creation.

  12. Thanks Mike for continually to proclaim His truth.
    God ‘uses’ human beings, they are His to use for ‘good’ and ‘bad’ (in our lame understanding of those words)
    You might understand that to God, all things are permissable.. He will use one group of peoples to kill another, help another, slave another… ( like in the Old Testament) or in the ‘Church’ age ( which simply means: The Called Out Ones or the Elect of God to proclaim His truth to another…but we don’t get to ‘judge’ Him, we just don’t get to do that because we are His creation, not his Judge. Does you dog or cat get to understand what your ‘higher’ understanding is for him?
    Read the account of God’s dealings with Job ( again, His creation ), His ‘righteous’ servant.
    Look what God does to Him on purpose to Job and many others for God’s own purpose and realize that it is His perfect plan, whether we can clearly see it or not. I think those who He has gifted with His Spirit do understand it and those who don’t have His Spirit just don’t understand it and make judgements on God and are in danger of His judgement for it.
    Anyone who doesn’t believe on Jesus is damned… they were born into sin and they have no remission for it.
    God doesn’t apologize for men’s sins and He doesn’t owe man anything.
    He gifted men with the sacrifice of Himself and those who die in thier sins are damned and without hope.
    That is why we proclaim His ‘Good News’ because He has chosen us in spite of who we (SINNERS) are to believe His truth and be saved by His grace!
    That is something to shout about! His GREAT LOVE FOR HIS PEOPLE!
    Gentiles Hear the Good News (Acts 10)
    34So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ ( he is Lord of all), 37you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

  13. wellwateredgarden…your questions are good. Mike is right when he says to ask God. These are the questions of the heart that Christ had in mind when he said, “ask and is shall be given, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door will be opened”. We can tell you the answers but you don’t get the same “greater picture” that you get when you really seek Him for the answers. There are no “pat answers”…just getting to know God and his Word. And the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. It just keeps getting more addicting (and that is a good addiction).
    My short answer to your question about whether God is dependent on man? Absolutely, emphatically, No! But some people might think he is until they start reading. Keep seeking, keep knocking…people sell themself short by wanting the “short answer”.

  14. oops. I didn’t see Brent’s comment until I posted mine. His answer is good…certainly not a pat answer because it glorifies God.
    Brent, Amen!

  15. I thought I’d “chosen” God 36 years ago when I responded to an “altar call”. I drifted away not soon after, but came back after my husband got “saved”. Fast forward another 23 years..I was working in my church. Children’s ministry, choir, etc. I was actually praying for an upcoming outreach when God began dealing with me about my salvation. The Holy Spirit exposed the shallow, empty profession of the past, and brought me to true repentance and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. No altar call, no emotional appeal; just the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit! I’m so glad He never gave up on me!! P.S. My husband had the same experience, and now we’re serving the Lord and learning His word together.

  16. wellwateredgarden, you are forgetting THE FALL. Before that everything was different. After that, we have Two Ways, the way to salvation through Christ and the way to eternal destruction that is the default way. You are trying to place human understanding of fairness on God. Forget it.

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