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,”
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.