Did Jesus Speak About The Necessity of Being "Born Again?" [revised version]

The Gospel of John was composed in Greek, yet Jews in Jesus’ day spoke Aramaic, so Nicodemus and Jesus in conversation (John 3) would most likely have been speaking Aramaic rather than Greek to one another. And that means Nicodemus would not have been confused as to the double-meaning of the Greek word “anathon,” which could mean either “again” or “from above,” and which Nicodemus heard as “Ye must be born AGAIN” but which Jesus used in the sense of “Ye must be born FROM ABOVE.” Neither is there any word in Aramaic with such a double meaning according to Bart Ehrman, who told me that the Aramaic word for “again” does not also mean “from above,” nor does the Aramaic word for “from above” mean “again.” So why was Nicodemus confused? Probably because the conversation was invented by the Greek speaking author of the Gospel of John.

In an email rec’d 9/4/11, Ehrman added, “The conversation makes much better sense as hinging on a mistaken double entendre, as happens, in fact, in the very next chapter where the woman thinks that Jesus’ reference to “living water” means “running water” (since that is how it is normally described in Greek), when in fact he means “water that gives life.” Both conversations proceed by a double entendre, misunderstood, leading to a re-explanation. That works only if there is in fact a double entendre, possible in Greek but not Aramaic.”

Furthermore, the author of the Gospel of John utilizes certain dualistic ideas and characteristic phrases which first appear in the author’s lengthy prologue as well as in the mouth of John the Baptist, as well as in the mouth of Jesus such dualisms include:

“earthly and heavenly things”

“flesh and spirit”

“darkness and light”

“truth and lies”

“eternal life and death”

and the conversation in John 3 is no exception. It appears like the author of the fourth Gospel invented this conversation as one more of his dualistic sermons about things earthly and heavenly, and so he employed the Greek word, anothen, with its dual meaning, as well as the Greek word pneuma with its dual meaning since pneuma could refer to either “wind” or “spirit,” and a third dualistic phrase as well, all in the same “dialogue with Ncodemus.”

Now read John, chapter 3, below with the above in mind:

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again/from above.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked [picking up on the “again” meaning of anothen, but ignoring the “from above” meaning]. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again/from above.’

Jesus continues by applying another double meaning:

The wind [=pneuma, the same Greek word for spirit] blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit [=pneuma, spirit/wind in Greek]. “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

Nicodemus is confused a second time by the author’s use of a Greek word with a dual meaning that applies both to earthly and heavenly things, “wind,” and “spirit,” but unlike the previous case the word pneuma had the same dual meaning in Greek as well as Aramaic and Hebrew, meaning both “wind” and “spirit” in all three languages, since the wind appeared invisible and mysterious/spiritual to all ancient cultures (viz., the “spirit/wind, or even breath” [of life]).

Jesus continues by applying a third double meaning:

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? [my emphasis] No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up [the same Greek word for lifted up also means exalted] the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up [the same Greek word for “lifted up” also means “exalted,” a third play on words], that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” [end of John 3:3-15]

The author continues in that same chapter in dualistic fashion by teaching that you either

“believe in the name of God’s one and only Son,” or,
you are “condemned already,”

and

you either “love the light” or,
you “love the darkness.”

This is not the Jesus of the synoptics who taught that one’s deeds mattered more than what one believed about Jesus, and who said people could be forgiven even if they blasphemed the son of man.

John 3:16-21, the tagline one might say to the conversation with Nicodemus, but note that in the NIV there are no quotation marks around this paragraph, so not even the editors of the NIV assume that Jesus spoke these words, rather these words appear to be the author’s–his tagline to the story of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, just like the lengthy prologue to his Gospel which also were the author’s words, not Jesus’:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

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5 Comments

  1. Todd Moody - July 1, 2013, 12:34 pm

    Two questions:

    1. Why couldn’t Nicodemus be confused by “born from above”? If you tell a person already born and old that he must be born, from above, below, or sideways, isn’t that confusing?

    2. What do you mean by “dualism”? I’m familiar with the term in Greek philosophy, but the passages you cite don’t all seem to point to that kind of dualism.

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  3. gary - July 17, 2013, 9:53 am

    Isn’t it odd that if the Baptists and evangelicals are correct that their “born again experience” is the true and ONLY means of salvation, the term “born again” is only mentioned three times in the King James Bible? If “making a decision for Christ” is the only means of salvation, why doesn’t God mention it more often in his Word? Why only THREE times? Isn’t that REALLY, REALLY odd?

    Why is it that the Apostle Paul, the author of much of the New Testament, NEVER uses this term? Why is this term never used in the Book of Acts to describe the many mentioned Christian conversions? Why is this term only used by Jesus in a late night conversation with Nicodemus, and by Peter once in just one letter to Christians in Asia Minor?

    If you attend a Baptist/evangelical worship service what will you hear? You will hear this: “You must be born again: you must make a decision for Christ. You must ask Jesus into your heart. You must pray to God and ask him to forgive you of your sins, come into your heart, and be your Lord and Savior (the Sinner’s Prayer). You must be an older child or adult who has the mental capacity to make a decision to believe, to make a decision to repent, and to make a decision to ask Jesus into your heart.”

    It is very strange, however, that other than “you must be born again” none of this terminology is anywhere to be found in the Bible! Why do Baptists and evangelicals use this non-biblical terminology when discussing salvation?

    Maybe…making a “decision” for Christ is NOT the manner in which sinners are saved!

    Gary

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

  4. gary - July 17, 2013, 6:14 pm

    Five questions that Baptists and evangelicals should ask themselves:

    1. Does the Bible state that a sinner is capable of choosing righteousness/choosing God?

    The Bible states that the sinner must believe and repent, but are these actions initiated and performed by man of his own intellectual abilities, or are faith, belief, and repentance a part of the entire “package” of salvation? Are faith, belief, and repentance part of the “free gift”? Does God give you faith, belief and repentance at the moment he “quickens” you, or does he require you to make a decision that you want them first, and only then does he give them to you.

    2. Is there any passage of Scripture that describes salvation in the Baptist/evangelical terms of: “Accept Christ into your heart”, “Make a decision for Christ”, “Pray to God and ask him to forgive you of your sins, come into your heart, and be your Lord and Savior (the Sinner’s Prayer)”. Is it possible that being “born again” is something that God does at a time of his choosing, and not something that man decides to do at a time of his choosing? Is man an active participant in his salvation in that he cooperates with God in a decision to believe, or is man a passive participant in his salvation; God does ALL the work?

    3. Is the Bible a static collection of words or do the Words of God have real power, real supernatural power? How does the Bible describe the Word? Is it the meaning of the Word that has power or do the words themselves have supernatural power to “quicken” the souls of sinners, creating faith, belief and repentance?

    4. Does preaching the Word save everyone who hears it or only the “predestined”, the “elect”, the “called”, the “appointed” will believe when they hear the Word?

    5. WHEN does the Bible, if read in its simple, plain, literal rendering, say that sins are forgiven and washed away?

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

  5. gary - July 26, 2013, 12:51 am

    How many steps did you complete to receive the “free gift” of Salvation?

    Is this a “free gift”?

    I tell my child that I have an incredible gift for him. However, in order for the gift to be his, he must:

    1. apologize for his bad behavior and sincerely mean it.
    2. he must commit to change his ways and follow MY ways for the rest of his life.
    3. he must make a decision that he WANTS my gift.
    4. he must then approach me, hold out his hands, ask me for the gift, and cooperate with me, as I place the gift into his hands.

    If he does all this, he will receive his gift. But…if he chooses to reject my gift, I will damn him to HELL!

    Now is this “gift” really a gift…or a REWARD for making the right decision?

    No, that is NOT a gift!
    .
    This is a gift: “Dear Son, I have a gift for you. Here it is. I love you more than words can describe”, and then I place the gift in my son’s lap. No strings attached. The gift is his. He did nothing to receive it. I did everything.

    THAT is a free gift!

    So what is God’s free gift? It is the whole salvation package: faith, belief, repentance, forgiveness of sins, atonement, and eternal life. It is ALL free… to those whom God has predestined, before the world existed, for reasons we do not know, to be his children.

    Gary

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

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