Context is King

Yesterday I was doing some work on James 1.17: Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow (NASB). I was doing a search on the Greek word ἄνωθεν, which is translated “from above” in the translation above. Somewhere in the middle of all this I got distracted and went off on a tangential search when I saw that the same word, ἄνωθεν, is also used in John 3.3.

The NASB, which is the version I typically use, translates John 3.3:

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

And for the Greek readers out there, the Greek reads:

ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, οὐ δύναται ἰδεῖν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.

So, my question, after looking at the Greek of John 3.3, was, why isn’t John 3.3 translated “Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Then, I started going through the English translations to see if this was something that the various translators offered as a lexical possibility. And, lo and behold, these were my findings:

NIV In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
ESV Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
NASB Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
NET Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
NLT Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
The Message Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.”
CEV Jesus replied, “I tell you for certain that you must be born from above before you can see God’s kingdom!”
NAB Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.
NRS Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
KJV 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.
NJB Jesus answered: In all truth I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.
HCSB Jesus replied, “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

** The English rendering of the Greek word ἄνωθεν is in bold in each instance.

You do NOT need to know Greek in order to be able to see where the interpretive issues are in this verse, all you have to do is make a chart of the various English translations and compare them.  Start asking the question, “where do the translations differ from one another?”  Of course, comparing the translations doesn’t resolve the issue entirely but it can give you a really good idea of what issues are at stake. Learning to ask the right questions is a major part of exegesis.

Sure enough, after glancing at a couple of lexicons, I found that the word ἄνωθεν can mean both “from above” and “again.” BDAG (Frederick William Danker, ed.  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature 3rd Ed (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000), 92), the standard Greek Lexicon, gives the basic semantic range for the word ἄνωθεν as the following:

  • 1. in extension from a source that is above, from above
  • 2. from a point of time marking the beginning of something, from the beginning
  • 3. for a relatively long period in the past, for a long time
  • 4. at a subsequent point of time involving repetition, again, anew

Our verse, John 3.3, is listed under categories 1 and 4. In other words, the immediate context of John 3.3 is suitable for both meanings (1 & 4) and not even BDAG, the Greek Lexicon par excellence, knows, unequivocally, which meaning is best. BDAG says that John 3.3 is “designedly ambiguous.” But what does “designedly ambiguous” mean, exactly? This seems to be the same question that another lexicon has when it says the suggestion that both meanings are meant “is superfluous and unprovable” (Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Vol 1. Translated by Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 378).   But to this ostensible skepticism, J. Gerald Janzen quips, “The charge of superfluity in a gospel that abounds in double-meanings is supercilious” (“How Can a Man be Born when He is Old? Jacob/Israel in Genesis and the Gospel of John,” Encounter 65 (2004): 323-343).

Welcome to lexical study, Siestas.

Isn’t this fun?

As you can see on the chart, the NET Bible translates the word ἄνωθεν “from above.” In a fairly extensive footnote the editor explains to us the reason for the translation:

The word ἄνωθεν has a double meaning, either “again” or “from above”. This is a favorite technique of the author of the Fourth Gospel, and it is lost in almost all translations at this point. John uses the word 5 times, in 3:3, 7; 3:31; 19:11 and 23. In the latter 3 cases the context makes clear that it means “from above.” Here (3:3, 7) it could mean either, but the primary meaning intended by Jesus is “from above.” Nicodemus apparently understood it the other way, which explains his reply, “How can a man be born when he is old? He can’t enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born, can he?” The author uses the technique of the “misunderstood question” often to bring out a particularly important point: Jesus says something which is misunderstood by the disciples or (as here) someone else, which then gives Jesus the opportunity to explain more fully and in more detail what he really meant.

I often recommend the NET Study Bible to people (you can also find the entire text along with notes online), because even if one does not agree with the translation at various points, the notes are plentiful and invaluable. They really give the reader an idea of what is going on in the translation process. Just picture yourself as a little fly hovering on a brittle old papyrus in Daniel Wallace’s office when you read the notes.

It’ll be fun. Kind of? I mean, if you like this sorta thing.

Just in case you got bored and/or distracted but are somehow still reading out of compassion for my mental health, the bottom line is that we do not know whether the word in John 3.3 should be translated “from above” or “again” or if the word is providentially ambiguous in light of its double meaning.

The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology says, “The meaning of anothen in John 3.3, 7 has been a matter of debate among scholars. It can mean that a person must be born “again,” but it can also mean that one must be born “from above.” Perhaps we do not need to choose between the two, for when we are born from above (i.e. born from the Spirit of God), we experience rebirth (i.e., we are born again)” (Verlyn D. Verbrugge, ed.  New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 56).   Similarly, William D. Mounce says “the ambiguity in the word beautifully covers both concepts” (William D. Mounce, ed. Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 274).  Sounds to me like a very nice way to say, “Get a grip, folks. Stop bickering about minutiae because both renderings end up meaning exactly the same thing.”

But, then again . . .


So, just to clarify, here are the major interpretive options:

1) In the context, the meaning of ἄνωθεν is probably “again.”
2) In the context, the meaning of ἄνωθεν is probably “from above.”
3) In the context, the double meaning of ἄνωθεν is intended; it is intentionally ambiguous (I am not sure how these folks would translate the verse into English since they can still only choose one English word)
4) Considering the context, it really does not matter if ἄνωθεν means “from above” or “again” because ultimately the theological meaning of being born again and being born from above is exactly the same.

So, who do you think is right?

This is just one (relatively insignificant) example of the issues translators have to deal with on a regular basis.  Perhaps we should pray for them.  For real.  I recognize that this is fairly tedious at some points, but I really want to know what you think. Given the data, what do you think is the best interpretive option for John 3.3? Try to carefully examine the immediate context of John 3 (I would read all of John 1-3 to be safe).  As the exegetical pundits like to say, Context is King.  What does the immediate context tell us?  There are things about the immediate context that support the translation “again” but there are also things that support “from above.”  What are they?  Also, don’t forget to survey the four additional verses in John’s gospel where the word ἄνωθεν is also used: 3:7; 3:31; 19:11; 19:23.   What do these additional usages tell us, if anything?

And, oh yeah, I am not going to tell you what I think.  Mostly because I am totally open to your persuasion.

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers.

{Actually, let’s be honest, there is a right or wrong answer, but none of us are going to know it on this side of eternity}

Talk to me.

P.S. I think I’m going to start calling Christ followers “born-from-above-Christians” just to be annoying.


357 Responses to “Context is King”

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  1. 1
    JR says:

    I pick option 4.

    **I just finished reading through an NASB and then started NKJ with the book of John and one of them had a foot note about the interpretation of that word – but I can’t remember which 🙂

    PS I think it’s totally cool that you are reading/typing greek. Glad to know it’s not just a couple of old guys somewhere doing all the translating – that there are other folks checking in to make sure they got it right (or close to right!).

  2. 2
    jackie says:

    i LOVE this sort of thing and if i hadn’t just bopped over to the LPM website while i am waiting for my computer program to compile, i would certainly take the time to read and form my opinion. great job melissa! hopefully i will get the chance later!

    blessings to all you gals at LPM!

  3. 3
    Michele says:

    I LOVE THIS!!!!!

    Let me dig in a bit, then I’ll offer my take.

  4. 4
    Sara R says:


    As I was reading everything, I was thinking: “We are made physically by God from above, and He begets us again when we are spiritually reborn.” And then you wrote this sentence: “Perhaps we do not need to choose between the two, for when we are born from above (i.e. born from the Spirit of God), we experience rebirth (i.e., we are born again)” (Verlyn D. Verbrugge, ed. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 56)”.. So I think it would probably be either/or, seeing as how the Greek word can mean either “from above” or “again”. Personally, however Jesus was wanting to use this word, obviously He made His point, whether we can figure out what His original intent was, because He reveals Himself to Nicodemus that He is the Saviour of the world.

    Keep writing! I loved it!

    Sara R

  5. 5
    Hannah says:

    Oh Melissa!! You are speaking my love language and I don’t even know it (Greek, that is). It makes me giddy to no end to dig into footnotes, study Bible notes, etc. and see comments on the original language. I, myself, have not had the opportunity to study Hebrew or Greek, but somehow, I think if I was ever able to, I wouldn’t begrudge it for a second (as some of my seminary friends have).

    Anywho, as for your question, my two cents are that the rebirth Jesus speaks of is a spiritual rebirth; therefore, wouldn’t a spiritual rebirth have to come “from above”?? And, I’m so glad you mentioned the NET – not one I’ve had a lot of exposure too. Might have to look into that.

    Also, randomly, I love your brain. You think about some deep stuff, and that, my friend, is awesomeness.

  6. 6
    Rebekah says:

    honestly melissa, i got lost about halfway through that and i’m so thankful that there are Bible scholars out there who study these things so that the rest of us can know our Creator better.

    what i find funny is the verse you started off this post with – james 1.17. i was commenting on a blog this morning and wanted to use the scripture reference but didn’t know what scripture it was. i looked it up.

    then on my lunch break, i was doing some ‘homework’ in kelly minter’s ‘no other gods’ and this verse came up again.


    i think it doesn’t really matter whether it’s from above or again, because in that verse…they basically mean the same thing.

    i do think God wanted me to remember, today particularly (although i don’t know why) that every good and perfect thing is from Him.

    thanks 🙂

    • 6.1
      Eposi says:

      Hey Rebekah! How are you, Twin? Just want to let you know that I still think of and pray for you when you come to mind.

      • Rebekah says:

        Hey Eposi!!! I’m good 🙂 I still think of you and pray for you too! I was actually thinking about you Tuesday…at least I think it was Tuesday. I was just sitting at lunch and thinking about the blog and you came to mind! And how I never got around to answering the last Ruth study post. Our group met like 2 weeks late 🙁 BUT a lot of us lived victoriously through the summer so that. is. awesome. 🙂

        Thanks for ‘finding’ me again 🙂 and for the thoughts and prayers 🙂 They’ve been felt 🙂

  7. 7
    Taylor says:

    I’ll be back later with some thoughts, but just laughed at “born from above Christians”… This is fun, Melissa! Talk to you soon.

  8. 8
    jar of clay says:


    I totally dig that kind of thing because it adds such depth to God’s Word when you know the original language. I love it—I’m not smart enough to study it like you, bug I love it just the same. So basically, I’m glad people like you can read it, digest it, analyze it and regurgitate it out for the rest of us.


    • 8.1
      Melissa says:

      Stephanie, I promise you it is not about being “smart.” Anyone can learn the languages- it just takes time! Blessings to you, girl!

  9. 9
    Deb Owen says:

    OK. This is so right up my alley I’m actually giddy.

    However, I’m gonna give it a little study and prayer and get back to ya. 😉

    (Coupled with the fact that I gotta run!)

    Thanks for this!

  10. 10
    Nesha says:

    Girl, this is why we love you so, no really! Love how you put a different light on thinking. I added the NET version to my computer. Thanks!

    • 10.1
      Melissa says:

      Nesha, I think you’ll find the NET version to be a great resource, even if it doesn’t take the place as your primary translation.

  11. 11
    Ems D says:

    I think having thought about it for a few minutes, I am going for option 4) “Considering the context, it really does not matter if ἄνωθεν means “from above” or “again” because ultimately the theological meaning of being born again and being born from above is exactly the same.”

    What did strike me reading this though is how complicated (and therefore how easy to misunderstand) so much of the bible. I just feel so grateful that we have the Holy Spirit to guide and convict and to lead.

  12. 12
    Sherry says:

    I think they both mean the same thing. By saying “You must be born again” he is saying to be born in a different way from the way you were born as an infant and that different way is to be “born from above”.

  13. 13
    Ally says:

    I think that out of the interpretive options, it’s the 3rd one you listed – the double meaning is intented and it is intentionally ambiguous. If the entire Bible itself has layer upon layer of meaning and significance, I think it could be assumed that one word out of the Bible could have layered/double meaning as well! As I’ve heard many times, we’ll never really get to the end of it and it won’t contradict itself. 🙂

    Thanks for getting us thinking! 🙂

  14. 14

    This all goes right over my head, but I find it fascinating!! I got into a discussion about C.S. Lewis once with a friend who is very theological in her ways of thinking. I tried explaining that as much as I would love to understand philosophy, it’s just not how my brain functions. Show me pictures, show me diagrams, spell it out in layman’s terms. I just don’t go deep.

    I tried reading Timothy Keller once, and it took me three days just to understand the first two pages of the Introduction 🙂 I’m not a stupid sister, I just don’t think the same way! <3 Thank the Good Lord we all have different gifts to bring to the Kingdom 🙂

    • 14.1
      Melissa says:

      Leslie, It would be terribly boring and monotonous if we all thought the same way. I always love hearing from you, girl.

    • 14.2
      Siesta OC says:

      When I start to share what the LORD is doing and showing me, my mom starts to make this face that I now know translates to, “Ok, kind of not getting it, but thrilled for you!”

    • 14.3
      Church Lady says:

      I’m with you sister! We all don’t process things the same way. But, that doesn’t make us visual learners stupid.

  15. 15
    Tami says:

    This was cool!!

  16. 16
    sisterlynn says:

    Hi Melissa!

    My thought is that born “from above” is a better translation (slightly). It more literally conveys what is needed for salvation. We must be born from the Spirit of God, that is, from above. While there is a common understanding that “born again” means the same thing – literally, it doesn’t. I like the explanation of the deliberate ambiguity to illicit a further question and teaching.

    Nothing like a little Word study on a Thursday afternoon!
    It is my dream to be able to study Greek and Hebrew enough to read Scripture in the originall… til that dream is fulfilled I look forward to posts like this!!

    Blessings, friend! – Sister Lynn

  17. 17
    Yanna says:

    Oh Beth! I have been in three studies today, so my mind is hummmm-mmm-ing! with God. Eyes so wide open I need eye drops to last a lifetime one squirt each. I am just blown away! So wish I could call and tell you personally the spark you ingnited in me and how my life is evolving through Him. I am going to stop and breath, be still, and then “early in the morning” when I can be alone and fresh re-read your post from today. Soak it all in without all the other grand lessons I have soaked in today. I want to dwell with Him through how you are teaching me in this post to grow in my studies. Please Lord allow Beth to feel from the depths of her soul what through You she has started in me. In Jesus Name I pray. Amen.

    • 17.1
      Warm in Alaska says:

      What a beautiful prayer at the end of your post, Yanna! May God keep increasing your love for Him and His Word! — I always love to see your smiling face next to your name on the blog! 🙂

  18. 18

    What’s NASB? I’m not all up with the version lingo…I am good with NIV…what’s the difference?

    You know I’ll take a look at this further…I would LOVE to learn Greek/Hebrew translation, being the English student I am…I am ALL about that stuff…I just did a paper in school with the difference b/w “agape”and “phileo” love when it comes to my life in Christ. It was for my World Religions class…:)

  19. 19

    #4 I think. I’m not sure… I kind of zoned out there for a minute in all of that discussion.


    Just wanted to tell you about how my 9 year old daughter already sees the value of having different translations to look at in Bible study. She has NIV and NKJV so far and would love to acquire others. She loves to compare.

  20. 20
    Kara says:

    I would say born again b/c it is asked of Jesus how a man can physically be reborn. It doesn’t suggest he was trying to figure out how to be born from above as much as he was trying to figure out how a man can literally be rebirthed by his mother.

  21. 21
    Tara G. says:


    I enjoyed this a lot! Occassionally my husband and I enjoy looking up verses in our Ukrainian Bible when doing a word study just to see how the translators worked it there- sometimes the nuances are simply amazing. I justlooked up John 3:3 and it says, “…коли хто не народиться згори…” Translated: When someone is not born from above… “згори” actually contains the word for hill/mountain in it.

    Happy studying! 🙂

  22. 22
    Rebecca says:

    I just love this. I would love to study along side you.
    That is once I get a job with your mom. HEHE or at least coffee!!

    But seriously, I am struggling with what bible version to use and I enjoyed every word you had to say. Love it, just love it.


    • 22.1
      Rebecca says:

      P.S. Melissa,
      Would you consider the ESV as good as the NASB?

      Siestas, I think I need help.

      • Melissa says:

        Rebecca, From what I know about the ESV, it is comparable to the NASB, but apparently a little better from an English perspective. I think ESV would be a good place for you to start. Just make sure you look at other translations as well– Bible Gateway is your friend 🙂

        • So is Blue Letter Bible. I often look up original hebrew & greek there.

          • bridget says:

            Don’t you just love Blue Letter Bible?! They just released the HD version (still free) for the ipad; in the morning I am sad when the clock flies by sooo fast as I’m researching and learning and hyper-linking all over. Another good one is Olive Tree – they have all sorts of books and Bibles for the electronic devices.

          • 1gleaner says:

            And I just recently discovered E Sword. Can’t have too many computer sources either!

      • Rebecca says:

        Thanks Melissa,
        You are a doll!

  23. 23
    Kim says:

    I love the “born from above” translation. I like the “clearer” meaning – seeing as how they both in reality mean the same thing. I just think that gives a clearer impression of what we mean when we say born again. But the intentional ambiguity makes for a great post! Thanks 🙂 <3 Kim

  24. 24
    Amanda Waller says:

    after a few paragraphs I commented to myself “this has to be Melissa writing this” and after scrolling back up.. sure enough, it was. I love the way your brain works…. keep going girls… we (born-again-from- above-siestas) can’t wait till the study is published! 🙂

  25. 25
    Cara says:

    I loved reading your thoughts. When my day quiets I want to take the time and form an opinion. However, I have to admit that I kept reading in hopes there was a recipe at the end of the post for the bisquit stuff you showed a picture of over the weekend 🙂


    • 25.1
      Melissa says:

      Cara, I will try and post the recipe soon. I’m making some changes to the recipe before I post it. There was a bit too much baking powder in the first recipe I used although it was still great. I’ll keep you posted.

  26. 26
    Rebecca says:

    I pick option 3
    My reason is this, we as Christians understand the meaning born “again” because we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. This proves to me that I have done what God requires of me to be his child, to be a believer in what Christ did for me.

    Since Jesus was talking to a nonbeliever at that time, being born “from above” would have made since to him, not having the Holy Spirit to guide him. He would have to had understood that he needed to be reborn into Christ.
    Thanks for making me think and seek today, loved it.

  27. 27
    Amy says:

    I think it is excellent that there is a word that would mean both because I think it does mean both and NOT either or. Because we have two births one physical and one spiritual, born again would work because in both cases it is a birth. But born from above would work because it is speaking specifically of the spiritual birth. So my answer is BOTH and that English can not cover its meaning entirely. For translation you would have to do something like “a second, spiritual birth”

  28. 28

    Born-from-above-….I love it…!

    Beautifully Awkward

  29. 29
    Siesta OC says:

    First off, Smarty-pants, I think it is fascinating that I started the study Jesus: The One and Only last night, so I am thrilled by GOD’S placing me here with the reading. So appropriate and thrilling!

    I find that John 1-3 is woven with threads of all four meanings of the Greek word “from above.”

    The Lexical definitions perked my ears: I believe the greek word meaning ‘from above,’ means all four definitions and thus leans me to #4.

    1. in extension from a source that is above, from above
    2. from a point of time marking the beginning of something, from the beginning
    3. for a relatively long period in the past, for a long time
    4. at a subsequent point of time involving repetition, again, anew

    GOD has all time in HIS Hands, so before the foundations of the earth, Jesus was slain and risen for the sins of those who are yet born until His coming? In Him is the beginning and the end…We have been born again in the Mind of the Almighty for a long time, from the beginning, and yet in the moment HE draws us, it is new birth.


    -John 1:12-13 – We are given the right by Jesus to be born of no other way than GOD.

    -In John 1:29, 35 – Jesus is spoken of as the ‘Lamb of GOD’ speaking of both the past and the future of our way of being born again.

    -v.42 Peter name is knows by Jesus, which seems to suggest that Peter’s name and purpose has been known for all time.

    -v.51 Speaks of Jacob’s ladder, an OT reference in the fullfillment stages of the NT and in Jesus.

    And in John 2:24 – Jesus knew all men, showing His knowledge of all eternity.

    This was an unreal challenge for me, to read a full, hearty piece of Scripture. But I adored it Melissa, thanks!

    Peace out Saint!

  30. 30

    Who do I think is right?

    GOD – when He spoke it the first time in His language!!

    Thanks for the lesson, Melissa! You done good in diggin’ DEEP!

    Choosing JOY, Stephanie

  31. 31
    Christine says:

    Melissa, I *LOVE* this sort of thing!!! I’ve often thought I’d like to learn the ancient languages so I can read the original text, like you! I loved your Mom’s comment on Saturday when she mentioned being at church and glancing over at your Bible! My 2 cents…I prefer ‘again’. ‘From above’ doesn’t give me the clarity I need. I feel it could easily be misconstrued (by those who would argue such a point) as a reference to God’s activity in our original birth.

  32. 32
    Country Wife says:

    Oh man, that would be annoying!:)

    Great lesson, and to think of being ‘born from above’ is a a wonderful concept to ponder. Thank you for sharing with us!

  33. 33
    Shirlea says:

    Okay, I love you and I love what you write, but seriously, girl, just how much coffee did you have? Just asking…….

  34. 34
    HarborMom says:

    God Bless Ya, Melissa! God gave you a hunger for His word! I was just looking up greek words for my own lesson today and was thrilled with how the word was translated different ways in the different translations. I settled on the one that made my heart jump with excitement. I think the variety gave the scripture such a richer meaning! For a good ol’ NIV girl, that KJV can be so FABULOUS!

    As for my opinion, which I am sometimes too eager to give out: I think “from above” is my preference. The “above” word directs my thinking heaven-ward.

    Happy James studying. It’s such a good book. (I like Barklay’s commentary on it, too)

  35. 35
    Deirdre says:

    Melissa I adore you. What would be wrong with our just going forward with the understanding that Greek is better than English. they can pack more meaning into a single word that we can handle.


  36. 36
    Eposi says:

    Wow, Melissa, I totally dig this kind of stuff! I was just thanking the Lord during my study this morning for the NET Bible and its notes after coming upon a difficult passage. I also thanked Him for men and women who have given themselves to researching and studying the word, making it so much easier for us today. You can imagine how delighted I was then to come to the blog this afternoon and see your post.

    I am reading through the Bible (began as a 90-Day deal but has long turned into a 100+ and counting deal because I can’t help getting off on tangents like you). Although this time I am using the NIV, I read with with several other translations (including my French Bible [which I only partially understand]) spread all over my bedroom floor. I am frequently comparing one with the other to get a better sense of what a passage is saying. Got into the habit after reading “Living by the Book” by Howard & William Hendricks some years ago. I love Howard Hendricks! They suggested different ways to study the Bible, including the advise to use a variety of translations.

    I surely do not have the answer for your question but will give it a try. I lean towards Option 4. John 1:12-13 talks about children of God, who are “born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Since our first birth was by “human decision” (i;e, we are “children of men), it will appear to make sense that we need to be “born again” to be children of God. And since this second birth is only possible by the will/act of God, it will appear to make sense that this birth can only come “from above” where the One who gives “birth” to this new life lives. So, to me it is basically the same thing. That is my VERY feeble attempt of an answer :).

    Thanks for this, though. I enjoyed it.

    • 36.1
      bridget says:

      thanks for that verse Eposi – I really love that reference and thought you put into it! And I’m with you – the various translations give depth to the passages. I LOVE my iphone and ipad applications like Blue Letter Bible and Olive Tree where i have several loaded and can easily switch between them – powerful tools for study and blessing!

    • 36.2
      Warm in Alaska says:

      How great you’re on a 90 Day+ effort to read thru the Word! You must feel so absolutely blessed! Proud of you ~

  37. 37
    Ruth C says:

    Thanks, Melissa, for the lesson and the challenge to ponder it on our own.

    Maybe you could say “born again from above Christians” just to cover all the bases, unless you’re giving away your position with this? :o)

    • 37.1
      Melissa says:

      I’m totally not giving myself away–“born from above” deserves its own slogan since it is not as well known! 🙂

  38. 38
    cara says:

    Hi Melissa!

    Thanks for sharing with us your diggings! The Word is definately an endless mine of treasure that we can’t get to the bottom of, and I’m kind of glad we can’t 🙂 This is fascinating and fun. Please post more of these!

    I was just thinking the other day how “born again” is just one of those Christian phrases I rather not use. So I think I’ll be “annoying” and use “born from above” phrase from now on too!

    Have a blessed day!

  39. 39
    FloridaLizzie says:

    I’m with Cara who posted at 4:09 pm still wanting the Chicken and Fluffy Biscuits Recipe from a few days ago. After all, the Word says “And do not forget to do good and share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased,” Heb. 13:16. Come on, Siestas, please do good and share that recipe with us!

    As for John 3:3, I believe Jesus meant to use a word with two meanings that would intentionally provoke curiosity in Nicodemus. Yes, the word can be taken either way, and that opened the door to an amazing theological discussion that opened the mind of a man who probably thought he already knew it all. Nicodemus thought Jesus meant “again” in verse 4, based on the question he asked. Jesus explained the nature of that second birth in verses 5-8, showing it isn’t a physical birth. Then he referred to heavenly things and things lifted up (“from above”) in verses 11-15. All I know is, Nicodemus is seen next in John 19:39-40 bringing 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes to help Joseph of Arimathea (a secret believer) wrap the body of Jesus respectfully for burial. Whatever way Jesus used the word, it started Nicodemus on a journey of faith.

    Now isn’t that just like Jesus? His words are life, and we don’t even have to understand all the depth of layers of meaning to receive it. Jesus’ words are just as beneficial to everyone who hears and believes today as they were to a man named Nicodemus long ago.

    • 39.1
      Warm in Alaska says:

      Thanks, Floridalizzie, for sharing! Appreciated what you sd about Nicodemus – and your use of Scripture to ask for a recipe!

  40. 40
    Mitzi says:

    Thanks for the word study Melissa. I’ve been in Kay Arthur’s studies for about a year now and am just learning to do word studies which I find enjoyable. I haven’t yet, nor do I think I’ll ever get to your exhaustive study capabilities. I am in awe of all that you found in your study or born again and from above. Keep up the good work and feel free to “teach” us some more. I love it!!

  41. 41
    Julie says:

    I love this sort of thing – don’t always understand it, but the original verse James 1.17: Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow (NASB).

    If “every perfect gift is from above”, then think about being born again from above! I thought about that and for me that is awesome! The past months have been filled with so much darkness and I”ve questioned everything from my salvation to “why am I doing what I’m doing”!!!

    To have a vision of being “born again from above” is mind-boggling! No one can orchestrate that except our Lord of Lords and King of Kings!

    (Just my thought for the day – and where I’m at at this particular point in my walk.)


  42. 42
    Denise says:

    Enjoy reading your comments but this makes my brain hurt …
    I just have to trust the translators, and the Lord, that I’m understanding my Bible.

    You said: “I often recommend the NET Study Bible to people (you can also find the entire text along with notes online)”

    Where is the website for this? Thanks!

  43. 43
    Anne says:


    I agree with Sister Lynn that “born again” and “born from above” are not precisely the same thing. They are not, however, mutually exclusive. There is so much word-play in John’s Gospel, that I think we are quite safe in assuming both meanings of the word. After all, think about all the possible meanings for “logos.” When John calls Jesus the Logos must we assume that only one of the definitions for that word in the lexicon applies to Him, and all others must be rejected? Or are we to think that a complex word is necessary to grasp some of the infinite complexity of Christ’s divinity?

    One thing I wondered – the word translated “born again” seems to carry the idea of extending from or returning to a source. Perhaps, one significance is that we are to be recreated by the same One who created us in the beginning. That only the one who formed us in our mother’s wombs can regenerate us to eternal life.

    (Sorry. You gave me the opportunity to be pedantic!)

  44. 44
    bridget says:

    Melissa – thanks for posting this challenge – I plan to look into it – I’ve been using the Blue Letter Bible (FREE research program, and iphone and ipad application!) and that is a perfect thing to search for on that tool with the concordance and Greek, and linking to the other uses of the word.

    I agree with you – anyone can learn this Greek / Hebrew thing with perseverance, and I have been blessed beyond compare by your mom’s introduction to the rich depth of the Greek language, and now this challenge – LOVE IT!

  45. 45
    Judi says:

    Melissa, I truly love the original languages because they convey so much more meaning than our English does.
    I honestly don’t have an opinion on which meaning is the correct one, but I do want to thank you for pointing out the double meaning of the word. I think Jesus was having a little fun with Nicodemus and getting him to use his brain instead of just taking for granted what he already knew. Just like he did with the woman in John 4 when He asked her if SHE would give HIM a drink. It’s like he was telling her a riddle and knew she would be blown away by the answer to it!
    Now…after having said that I don’t have an opinion, I will throw my two cents worth in by saying that in the immediate context (v.2), Nicodemus declares to Jesus that he knows He’s a teacher who has come FROM GOD. So I think Jesus was responding to Nic’s reference to being sent from God, but wanted him to see that believing in Jesus’ origin was not enough – he had to undergo a complete transformation, which can only be done through the Spirit (v.6)
    Thanks for challenging and stretching our minds – have you considered teaching as a profession?????

  46. 46
    Geri says:

    First of all, I have to say Thank you Thank You Thank you for inserting some humor into your post. I find all this exegesis stuff so interesting but it aint easy, that is for sure. So the humor helped me keep reading.

    And land sakes, those Greek letters look nothing like A,B, or C, how in the world did you ever learn to read all that?? I stand in awe.

    I will leave answering your question to the more scholarly bunch, but thank you for taking time to teach us… I really do feel blessed by it.


  47. 47
    Heather F says:

    Born from above! A new way of living out my identity in Christ! I am not sure I will be able to think of “born again” the same way ever again! Your intellectualism is just what this stay-at-home-mama who needed a bit of a break from Golfish and Sesame Street.

  48. 48

    To answer your question, YES, this is totally fun. And I’d love to spend the time to read it again and comment more, but have homework to do for my Greek class! Which I am loving and is sinking in–since I could read the Greek text you included! Maybe I could get extra credit?

    Love your scholar’s heart, Melissa. And the photos from the last post. What app does that cool border?


  49. 49
    Redeemed says:

    I guess whatever language God spoke it into being is ‘right’….it’s all greek to me! 🙂

  50. 50
    Hilary says:

    Born again comma from above. 🙂

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