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. 51
    Maria says:

    Okay…I have been on the computer all day and I can hardly see .my brain is too full with info from work….so sorry I am stopping in the middle and will continue to read this tomorrow. Seriously, I love it and cant wait for the James study to be in print!!!

  2. 52
    Amy Sheppard Doss says:

    Beth, you just crack me up! Love your humble, regular, zany, thinking! Being raised in a traditional, liturgical, conservative church setting my entire life, I think that BEING BORN FROM ABOVE – allows we Christians, who are working on digging a little deeper, to grasp that it we are NOT talking about a “revival thing” born of man, in a charismatic environment…which was what I used to think when I heard, BORN AGAIN. I thought, “Oh, that’s for “those people” who jump around in church…raising their arms and talking back to the Pastor…in the Bible belt….” Once I told someone who asked me if I was born again, “Well, no, I was born right the first time~!” Shame on me. Oh, how naive, ignorant and shallow was I, a displaced midwestern gal! Thank you, God and Family of Christ, for bringing me to a place that I understand the difference and have experienced it first hand!(Beth’s teachings have been a big part of my personal growth beyond the sacrimental rites of passage.) Amen and Amen

  3. 53

    Born from above believers, that is annoying and would really confuse people. That would be fun! Um, mostly I was really confused for most of that, which proves maybe I shouldn’t go to bible school, as much as I love the idea about knowing stuff like this. This is sort of a cop-out maybe, but I think both are correct and that’s why it’s so great that we have so many translations to look at and get different things from that are all intended to be understood. Whoa! That was a confusing sentence, but maybe you understand what I mean!

  4. 54
    Melissa Fey says:

    Wow. All I can say is you chased that bunny trail like only a Melissa can… ;P

  5. 55
    twinkle says:

    Fun, Fun, Fun!!!

    IF there is no wrong answer, I’ll play!

    I choose #3.

    Mostly because I see a completely different audience receiving these two teachings from John and James.

    When the word in John is “again,” it narrows down the state of the heart of the hearer. Either he will say “That’s impossible,” or “How?” Christ had total control over this conversation by using the word “again.” “From above” may have opened up more directions for the topic to go.

    “From above” seems to me to be the correct usage in James. It clearly identifies where the gifts we receive come from. The readers of James were Christian Jews needing to understand the difference between earning rewards and simply receiving them by grace from God…from above.

    I didn’t read other comments before posting mine. These are just my thoughts and ponderings.

    I really love the way Jesus always went to the heart of the listener with His responses to their debatable questions. Most were intent on disproving Him. He is so brilliant.

    Melissa, are you sure you’re not Kay Arthur’s daughter? I feel a little like I’ve done an inductive study here! I started to get my highlighters and notepad to start dissecting scripture about Pharisees and their beliefs and comparing the other passages of scripture where Christ spoke on eternal life…Kay crossed my mind!

    One other thing I’m wondering at one Greek word having several meaning…is that like the word “jam?” Depending on how it’s used in the sentence, it could mean a preserved fruit spread OR a traffic block? Could it be the same with this word in Greek?

    Love you, girl!

  6. 56
    Michelle says:

    I do not know and cannot even decide between the two interpretations; however, I do love the study of the greek & hebrew and love when you guys enlighten us with the original language. Blessings!

  7. 57
    Heather says:

    You know, it could be both – for if we are born from above we are born again – new, new creations in Christ. And that can only happen from above. If the woman who attends our Friday Bible study comes tomorrow I will ask her. She is Greek, and brings here Greek Bibles to class, and when there is a question she translates for us. It is an exciting thought about this. Thanks for sharing!

  8. 58
    Janice says:

    This is a very interesting post. I love Word studies and I can thank Beth for getting me hooked. My big word these days is “hesed” from the Ruth study and then again from the Simulcast. That one keeps popping up everywhere I turn it seems.

    However, regarding ἄνωθεν, I think that the only way to be born “again” only comes “from above”. Am I too simple minded?


  9. 59
    kerry says:

    I’m with Hannah and her comment

    Being born from above assumes a Spiritual action. A spiritual birthing.

    But I have to grin when I think of how my Jesus used the greek term with Nicodemus so as to coax him into further questioning and thus debate. My God is so awesome. And I’m so proud to be HIS. We Win

  10. 60
    karen says:

    Goodness gracious – what I wouldn’t give to have a mind like yours! Mine is so simple and right about now I’m trying desperately to resist the urge to feel like a cotton-headed ninny muggins (Buddy the Elf). BTW, do you still enjoy cooking and if so, any cool recipies to share? Just wondering!

  11. 61
    Deborah Menning says:

    So . . . I’m thinkin’, “Wait. In what language would the John 3:3 conversation have occurred?” At first, I answered, “Aramaic.” I scurried to Google to see if I could find the passage in Aramaic with an English translation. Yup, right there at under Yukhanan Ch. 3:3 (speaking of tangents: Would the diminutive of Yukhanan be Yuk? LOL!!!). “Sho nuf” the “again” in the passage has a footnote that reads: “Literally, from the start (over again).”

    Then, it hit me: Would Jesus and Nicodemus have been speaking in Aramaic or Hebrew? I don’t know! Again, Google offered up some interesting things. Here’s one of them from

    “But there are two other considerations. First, does Jesus really mean only that he must be born from above? That is highly unlikely, since word-plays are John’s stock-in-trade and he often, if not usually, means BOTH things. So, Nicodemus could well have understood Jesus partially, but not fully. And John is thus giving hints to the reader that a double meaning is in view, only one of which could have been known to Nicodemus.

    Second, it is not at all impossible that the conversation actually took place in Greek. More and more NT scholars are coming to the conclusion that Jesus often taught in Greek. And there is significant evidence that even in Jerusalem–even among the Pharisees, which Nicodemus was–Greek was the only language spoken by them. Thus, we really can’t say that this conversation did not occur in Greek. What we can say is that John has accurately, if selectively, portrayed it and that the double meaning he uses was most likely intended to have its full force on the readers. That is, Nicodemus needed to be born again AND born from above.”

    Hmmm . . . it’s hard for me to imagine this Nicodemus, this scholarly Pharisee, would speak in Greek in a private conversation with a rabbi from Galilee. ???

    As if this isn’t enough, I also found a long discussion of John 3:3 which contends Nicodemus only had the Old Testament as a point of reference; therefore, this can’t be the Christian “born again” OR “born from above.” I’ll include one of the many points given on this website:

    “The fourth point to understand is that Jesus was not offering the New Birth to Nicodemus as if he could have gotten born again in a Christian sense right then and there. The New Birth as Christians experience it was not available before the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. It was then that for the very first time in history the gift of holy spirit was actually “born” inside a person. Even the apostles had to wait until the Day of Pentecost to be filled with holy spirit (Acts 1:8; 2:4), so Jesus could not have been offering the New Birth to Nicodemus.”

    Whoa! About this time, I decided I shouldn’t be using Google to research God’s Word. Now, I’m completely confused, so please, Melissa, give us your opinion! (and that recipe 😉

  12. 62
    Hollie says:

    Wow, Melissa. I went to seminary, too, but I did not retain and apply like you know how to retain and apply. You’re a true scholar, and I’m so glad you’re using this blog to stir up some deep-thinking conversations like this.

    My vote is for “from above” b/c it points our thoughts toward the vertical relationship we must have with God in order to experience a spiritual birth. And, I like it b/c Eugene Peterson went with that translation in his version 🙂

  13. 63
    Patti says:

    Melissa, I love ya but sometimes you’re just way over my head. But that’s a good thing. You’re blessed with a brilliant brain. You’re too smart for me.

  14. 64
    Shannon Costanzo says:


    I seriously had no idea there were that many English translations. I am a NIV Life Application Study Bible gal, but wish I knew greek and Hebrew.

    I think we must be “Born from Above”(The Spirit)Without the “Above” God, what is the point of being born. He is our purpose.

    Thanks for making me think! It makes me more thirsty for God’s word.
    Have a great day 🙂
    Kissimmee, Florida

  15. 65

    Awesome post! I almost squealed with delight when I began reading it…something to dig into after tucking the kids into bed this evening.

    I agree with point number 4 but feel that ‘born from above’ seems so much clearer an answer, like almost an answer to the how does one become born again…by being born from above.

    I think Jesus’s reply in John 19:11 to Pilate is very clear from where Pilate received his authority.

    I feel silly to ask but can’t figure out how this word is used in John 19:23…maybe it’s just late and I’ll see it in the morning. 🙂

    Hope you post again soon Melissa!

    michelle in VT

    • 65.1
      Michele says:

      Michelle – it is where they are talking about Jesus’ tunic – woven in one piece from the top – top is the word anothen.

  16. 66
    Emily says:

    Melissa, this is awesome! I’m just starting Greek this semester (woot!), and this is exactly why! I have absolutely no authority for saying this, and I’m going to keep looking at this one (thanks for the challenge!), but I think in context, “again” seems to be a (for lack of a better word) “thorough” translation in this case.

    OH, and thanks for the tip about the NET Bible! 🙂

  17. 67
    Michelle says:

    So I had to wait until getting my kiddos to bed before really sitting down and reading this. Wow! I had never noticed any notes on this subject and I love “from above” — I agree with you and a lot of the commenters that the duality and ambiguity is awesome – we do have to be born again…from above! Also, I noticed that Nicodemus told Jesus that it was obvious He’d come from God (v. 2) – which would mean that Nicodemus knew Jesus had come from above, right? So, Jesus would answer saying that we all needed to be born from above. I don’t know. Over my head a bit, but thank you so much for putting this out there. It does a mind good to have something to get excited to study!

  18. 68
    Melanie says:

    I think it means that we are born again , from above. That is the only way to be born again , By the power of God , which necessarily means it is from above.It’s not of our human doing , it is by His power.

    Thank you Jesus.

  19. 69
    Heisfaithful says:

    It’s been almost 15 years since I graduated from the seminary and did an exegetical outline. Now that my children are all in full time school, it’s something I’m hankering to get back to but I’m just so rusty…I think I’ve forgotten how to do one well. And…I’m completely reliant on commentaries and dictionaries.

    I signed up for Greek 3 times and dropped out each time!!! How I regret it now! I wish I had stuck with it but, at the time, my Ph.D program in psychology was my focus and just didn’t have the time to devote to learning Greek. And now…after being home with my children for 15 years…I wish I had paid attention more to my theology classes. I never did finish my Ph.D either. I just have 2 unused and very expensive M.A.s.

    I so enjoy your blogs…they’re always a delight. There are times I can’t even tell if it’s you writing or your mom until I get to the end. You’re so gifted and anointed. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love your serendipidous discoveries and I’m looking forward to reading more of your thoughts! So excited about the study of James you are doing!!! Very much looking forward to it.

  20. 70
    becca banana says:

    I’m going with “from above”.

  21. 71
    Diana A says:

    Melissa thank you for sharing yourself.
    I am one of the very few who got lost. I am ok with that. I just want to cling to “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” – stick me in the baby bear chair!
    I am thankful for those whose minds and abilities bring the translation to the best possible answer. I am blessed that there are no overtly wrong answers here, and I am quite content to view this passage as ‘born from above’, it is new to me and I like the image that it provokes.

  22. 72
    Lisa says:

    If I ever fantasized about working at Living Proof and working with you and your mom and sister now I have a newfound respect for your work and honey, I’m ready for the mailroom or shipping out the bible studies or washing your feet during the foot washing ceremonies,(haha,spa days of course! :o) with all the wonderful servants at LP. ! Kidding aside, you are the beast! (and not in the Revelation way either!) I appreciate all that you to in your ministry and work at LP! To God be the glory !!!!

    luvs and prayers for the family!

  23. 73
    Laura says:

    Love this……
    So, I gather the NET Bible is the thing I am coming up with in a Google search?
    Never heard of it, glad I read the blog tonight Melissa!!!!

  24. 74
    Karen says:

    This sort of thing is right up my alley! I wish I had time right now to research this out but I’m knee-deep in researching and writing some Bible study material. I have my initial thought as to what makes sense after having read your post. But I’ll have to hold off on sharing until I can look into the matter more. 🙂

    I really love that you shared this post with us! I am big on looking up Greek and Hebrew. Just this week in my studying, I looked up the Greek in a passage and was really surprised to learn the meaning of a few of the words used. It totally threw a spin on the passage that I had not seen just by reading the passage alone. God’s Word is absolutely amazing!

  25. 75
    Kim says:

    I think we should refer to all Christians as “born again from above followers of Christ”!

    Thanks for the wonderful discussion of context and words…contented sigh…you are speaking my love language Miss Beth! And since my birthday is just a few days hence, I will consider this my precious present from my Beloved, for I am His and He is mine. I am born again from above!

  26. 76
    Beth Herring says:

    i totally love the “born from above” – it really just says it all to me. we are indeed born from our Creator but i also really love being ‘born again’ because it symbolizes my death to my old self and the new mercy and grace given to me in my rebirth.

  27. 77
    Marie says:

    Boo-yah! I looooooooove studies like this. Can’t wait to get to my Greek and Hebrew classes next semester.

    If I had to choose one, I’d go with “from above,” but I’d actually like to combine options 1 and 4, putting it all together and saying that one must be born “again from above”. This to me makes it clear that becoming a Christ-follower truly is a new birth: justification, regeneration, adoption, sanctification. At the same time, this second birth can only be accomplished by the work of the One from above; it involves the Spirit descending from above to dwell in the believer, making him or her new.

    That’s my two cents. 🙂

  28. 78
    Kelly Jo says:

    o my word I need an aspirin!!!!!! I love your brain and I have no idea what I just read!!! But I did read it!! I love you 🙂

  29. 79
    Kathy says:

    I am soooo glad you have been gifted with this ability, oh keep it up young Siesta!- I love your common sense coupled with you brilliant mind- Yes, I agree with you “If you are born again it has to be from above” could not be any other way- it is a spiritual rebirth and the spiritual seems to me a dimension we cannot “nail down” in the physical and/or emotional realm- (I actually got that from Dr. Evans message and it makes complete sense to me) I like how the bible just plain astounds us- Thank you for this post

  30. 80
    karen lipford says:

    #4 either way.

    have you tried using the ‘again’ translation in the james 1:17 verse?
    Obviously God is always sending down His good a perfect gifts so maybe it could also mean that ‘once again’ He is sending it down.

  31. 81
    Danielle says:

    I just found your website from 5 bees in a triangle. What an awesome post! I would love to learn to really study the Bible…not just read it.

    The question you pose is an interesting one. I think I would lean toward “from above” because I think it more accurately reflects from WHERE we are born, rather than simply being born again, as in born, take 2. It seems to have a little more impact to me. However, that might just be because it’s different than the translation I typically read.

    Thank you for a thought provoking post!

  32. 82
    Allison C. Lee says:

    ” From Above” Is my vote…mainly because I love the way it sounds. I want to be “from above” rather than “again” anytime. Hows that for deep thought;) What I realy want to know is how upset you are about Starbucks messing with the size chart….I cant handle it. I’m ready when you are Lord, lets all go home(to the above)
    Allison Lee
    aka the4leegirls

  33. 83
    Jacqueline says:

    Wow, Melissa. Thanks for sharing this info because I always thought it did sound confusing “born again,” but the thought of “from above” makes more sense to me. I will look up all those verses and start looking at the NET Study Bible w/the commentary. I so look forward to the day that I can sit and do a Bible study that you have put together for us to do. It will be an enjoyable “wild ride!” I do enjoy (and can I say love) reading your blog entries. Thanks again!

    • 83.1
      Jacqueline says:

      may I just add, I actually look forward to the day I can sit at His feet and hear Him share/teach/speak…oh, just to look at Him will be an amazing feeling/sight. 🙂

  34. 84
    Robin says:

    I’ve never commented on here before. However, the thoughtfulness of your post inspired me to write. I printed out your post to read/study, and then I read some more and some more! For what it is worth….a random strangers two tiny copper coins….I have to believe that the most complete translation would be “from above.” For at least two reasons:
    1. We are first born from flesh…into flesh. Then as a new creation in Christ, we are born from above…into the Spirit when we accept Christ and are baptized in his blood. To say we are “born again” would seem to imply being born a second time…in the same way. Yet, we are born not from woman the second time, we are born from above. We are not born into the world…we are born into eternity. Oh Hallelujah!

    2. “Born again” also seems to have an element of time to it. Since the God of the heavens and the earth is outside of time…and He created time…the idea of “again” is an earthly term. To enter eternity…outside of time…we would have to be born “from above”…independent of time. (I’m a science geek…what can I say?)

    Ok..with that said, before you have the Spirit within you, you cannot even see the kingdom of God, or understand His amazing mysteries….so…”born again” is a way we can understand this eternal concept with our earthly brains. We understand that with a new birth comes new life. We must enter into a new life to see the Kingdom of God! So…although I believe, Christ, being fully God would have meant more completely “from above” he has again provided such a beautiful way for us to understand Him and His Word. How amazing is that? Oh…so many gorgeous layers!

    I love His Word more and more everyday. Thank you, Melissa, for this beautiful little glimpse at something I would not have seen otherwise. I responded to return the encouragement you gave me today. Blessings to you!

  35. 85
    Johnnie Harper says:

    Thanks for this very interesting challenge… I just LOVE this sorta thing too! There is no sweeter time when I’m studying God’s Word and the Holy Spirit takes me off down a rabbit trail. When we get to the end I’m usually left with my jaw dropping open and praising Him for His awesomeness!! I believe God has a great sense of humor and have seen several times in Scripture where He has used a play on words to get His point across.
    In answer to your question I am leaning more to the “from above” camp. I don’t want this to be too lengthy so I’ll try and jot some thoughts down and hopefully you can follow my reasoning: I happened to pick up an ESV Bible and read John 1-3 and one of the ideas that jumped out at me was in Chapter 1—the testimony and witness of John the Baptist. In vss. 1:19-22, the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask John, Who are you? This scene made me think of the passage in Luke 7:18-23 when John was in prison and he sent two of his disciples to Jesus saying, Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another? Jesus’ responded in v. 22 by saying, Go and tell John what you have seen and heard … I found it fascinating that in John’s early ministry he was a witness and testimony of Jesus and at the end of John’s ministry he really had decreased to the point that Jesus was now a witness and sent a testimony back to John of His own wondrous miracles that proved God had sent Him.
    Secondly, the fact that Pharisees were specifically mentioned in Luke 7:30 (but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves…) and John 1:24 (now they had been sent from the Pharisees). Fast forward to Chapter 3:1—Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus… Was Nicodemus possibly among the crowd watching and listening to John the Baptist as he said, I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God? (Jn. 1:34) Nicodemus was seeking the truth and he approached God as we all do, wanting to know more about who He is and how we can know Him. I believe Jesus may have used this ambiguous meaning of being born “again” or “from above” to draw Nicodemus in closer—to test the sincerity of his heart for Jer. 29:13 says You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. But we cannot truly understand spiritual things unless God reveals them to us (John 3:27). John 3:12-13 tell us Jesus had “descended from heaven” and was telling Nicodemus of “heavenly things”. In John 3:2 Nicodemus recognized that Jesus was a teacher come from God [from above]—but he needed Jesus to make the connection that He IS God.
    Fun stuff, indeed!

  36. 86
    Amber Burger says:


    you know im a sucker for this kinda stuff.
    although it has been 9 years since ive darken the door of greek class and sadly have lost most if not all of the language, i think ol’ dr. rodney reeves (my greek prof) would be proud to know that i would lean strongly towards the double meaning. the intentional usage of it is very much like the author and well, very much like Jesus as shown to us by John. I love that John continues to use the word in its “intended” meaning AFTER the story of Nicodemous. Almost as a retelling of the Nicodemous story, a harkening back of his misunderstanding so the reader hears & remembers the importance of being born “from above.” As a narrative, i LOVE the book of john. its fascinating. seriously.

    oh man it would be fun to sit with yall and have a good discussion like this over coffee! the joneses, the fitzpatricks the burgers and the moores. for real. lets do this.

  37. 87
    Ruthie says:

    Melissa: Rocks!
    LOOOOVE all of this. Thank you for trusting us to share it with us. While I was reading through, I was struck more with the FACT of your posting this than the issue at hand. What a gift to us Siestas to be walked through your study of this particular word and these ideas and principles, Melissa. Knowing that this is the likes of what goes on behind the scenes of the anointed teaching of your Mama, her study, yours, other commentators, etc, it is important to see this.
    Even if one were not inclined to embark on such exegetical analysis, peering behind the curtain and gaining a better sense of what it entails is, in my opinion, critical for us Believers (born again from above). Moreover, Melissa, your straightforward presentation is so clear that it helps to demystify what can be rather intimidating to some of us!!
    Bless you, Siesta!! Thank you for honing your gifts to serve so many!! Prayers, indeed!!

  38. 88
    Mollie says:

    Melissa, keep challenging us! I love how you think and talk to yourself. I’ve been in a place of asking Father God about all the translations, translators and His word. I believe Him and trust Him but struggle with the different choices. I’d be lost without His help in all this and yet somehow dig all the questions that keep coming up. I’m thinking about learning Hebrew. Never thought that possible but He has me serving in Japan for now and if I’m learning Japanese, then anything is possible! Please keep on us and encourage us to explore and dig and expand! You go girl!

  39. 89
    Deanna says:

    My initial response is “from above”…but really I’m okay with a both/and rather than an either/or.

    I think the reason I lean more toward born from above has a lot to do with some of the teaching I received early on where there was so much talk about being born again but always so tightly tied to a legalistic check list. I’ve done the list top to bottom and back up again but its only been what I’ve received “from above” that has saved me, healed me, delivered me. So I think it’s more my background that weighs in on this pretty heavily.

    That’s just my initial thought on this

    I love reading your posts. Your passion and excitement in studying the scriptures is so evident in your posts.

  40. 90
    Anna Scantlan says:


    I keep wondering why we have to pick only one English word in the place of this Greek word that could possibly mean both things. (Is there a rule?)

    Was wondering if we could be “born again, from above believers.” Just a thought. 🙂

    I LOVE this type of thing, btw. I will be forever thankful Beth directed us to the Key Word study bible several years ago. I have it in the NASB and the NIV and I just love them both.

    I’ll have to sleep on it to be able to offer much in the way of intelligent thought though. 🙂

    Thanks for stretching our minds. Really cool insight.


  41. 91
    Sparki2003 says:


    You sure know how to make a “girl” think … But, then again, like mother, like daughter … 🙂

    I have been told that my thinking before my sweet salvation in Christ Jesus [7 years ago, now] was almost identical to what Nicodemus thought… “Born again Christian, what is that ?” But, then again, I was raised in a Christian church, and even enjoyed going to church most of my life, but was always confused when someone used those words. However, I am not sure if it would have made any more sense to me to have had them say “born from above”, either … For me, the timing was literally
    “everything”. I had been doing my very best to study God’s Word for the past 6 to 7 months beforehand; almost dragged “kicking & screaming” to “try out Believing God” online [even though I lived in NW Houston and taught school up 290 a ways farther than that at the time] with the first group of “Siestas” online. I only say that I was nearly “dragged kicking and screaming” into Bible study because I literally had never done so before September 2002; and had only heard our dear Miss Beth’s name once or twice before on KSBJ radio on my way to school. [And, I just have to mention this… 🙂 The first time that I heard Miss Beth’s name on the “morning show” was when she was playing a game where she was literally trying to spit watermelon seeds farther than another person somewhere in downtown Houston ! If that wasn’t hilarious, I don’t know what is! 🙂 ]

    However, the more I tried to study the Bible, the more I wanted to know and learn … AND, I pray that this sweet “hunger” NEVER goes away ! But, along with His precious Word and Miss Beth’s teaching [online, live in Houston, then my 3rd study was “Breaking Free” via audio-tapes]; He chose to use genuine SILENCE to cause me to think more than talk… And, yes, I honestly believe that our Lord forced and used 10 days of severe laryngitis with me to bring me to asking specific questions of Him … I had never been more confused in my entire 35 years of life. [And, in all honesty, looking back, I now know that I was truly just a very frightened, and “lost” sinner, searching for answers I knew nothing about.]

    However, once the Lord Jesus brought me to Himself, I practically felt as if I were so “free” that I could nearly “walk on air”; the pure joy and peace that came into my heart and life were completely “over-whelming me”, in the best way possible; and I praise God for that ! The fear and confusion were gone, instantaneously ! And, I was so awe-stricken by the Spirit of the Living God entering my heart, mind, and soul, that I was speechless once again… But, only until He showed me other people whom I worked with at school the following day to talk to; and then I nearly had to “force myself” to stop talking about it ! After all, I was supposed to be teaching children there [in a public school]. And yet, I think that some of my students could tell that “something extremely joyous” had happened to me …

    And, 7+ years later, that precious Bible that I used during “Believing God” fell apart, page by page, just a couple of months ago now…. Thus, I have dubbed that particular Bible “my Velveteen rabbit Bible” … And, goodness forbid, I have had to use a different Bible since then, and I can’t find anything in it without searching the table of contents for it; oh my ! 🙂

    So, in answer to your question, I think both of the translations fit for me … BUT, please understand, Y’all, that there are many people out in “the world” like Nicodemus and me, who still have “no clue” what is truly meant by either translation… So, be ready to help others to make sense out of them …. And, PLEASE, PLEASE, drag them “kicking and screaming” to Bible studies !

    They are likely just as I was, simply afraid that I wouldn’t understand His Word during a simple study, much less 2-1/2 in-depth Bible studies like Miss Beth’s… [which is simply how He worked things through with me] …

    And, although life is definitely not “easy” for me right now, I know that I know at least 3 things: 1)that the One and Only True God LOVES me; 2) that His Holy Spirit took up residency inside of my heart the exact second that I invited Him in; and, 3) that I continue to have peace and joy in my heart, regardless of how incredibly awful this world can be to me, and/or to others whom I love … HALLELUJAH !

    In Jesus’ Most Precious Name,

    Jennifer Olmstead

    Janesville, Wisconsin

  42. 92
    Katherine says:

    I’m not sure which one I’d pick…probably go with #4. I just love the imagery of “born from above.” Glad you shared this!

    I’ve been wanting to get a new translation to go along with my NIV (whenever I can get around to afford it) and was thinking of The Message. But maybe I’ll look into the NET.


  43. 93
    Tami says:

    I think it means “from above,” parented this time by God Himself.

  44. 94
    Texas in the Mountains says:

    It’s late, I don’t have time to follow the assignment, but KEEP DOING POSTS LIKE THIS!!!
    I prefer ‘born from above’; but it appears that for Nicodemus to say what he did, it translates as ‘again’.

    Recently I’ve been wrestling w/ ‘tempted’ vs. ‘tested’. I heard an online sermon from the pastor (that we know and trust) who said the section of the Lord’s Prayer: “lead us not into temptation” (implying that God is leading us and we need to pray that he doesn’t!?!) should really read “lead us not into testing”, as in “Lord, make us the kind of people who don’t need to be tested, because we respond quickly to your Spirit.”
    Then, my son’s youth pastor posted on FB “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
    Is the Greek translation tested or tempted?
    Yikes, now it’s really late. G’Night!

  45. 95
    Jackie says:

    Thanks for the plug for Bible translators. Living in Nigeria for 6 years we got to love them. So faithful to the power of the Word. Long discussion once about the use of “Allah” in translating as that is what other faiths call their god by name but it means “God”. Like our lower case distinguishes but what do you do when the name is known upper cased Allah? Lots of decisions to make in translating. Praise God for His Spirit that teaches. And for your diligence and joy shared and inspired here.

  46. 96
    Michelle says:

    Would it be cheating to want to toss both meanings in there at the same time? ……born again from above……This is so much fun! Thanks!

  47. 97
    Warm in Alaska says:

    What a great post.

    “So, who do you think is right?” – Both renderings; but if I had to come down on one side, I’d say “from above.”

    “What do you think is the best interpretative option for John 3:3?” – #3 and #4. I think “it really does” matter – and I think the double meaning, while perhaps not the original intent, is true and it works. It makes us keep probing and doing a lot more thinking / asking / wondering than we probably would do if it was obviously one option or the other. Consequently, I think it’s a place the Spirit wants us to intentionally stop and stare; ponder and consider.

    “What does the immediate context tells us?” – From John 1-3 in a nutshell it seems to be primarily a contrast between “heavenly things” vs. “earthly things” – ie. how the heavenly things – or, “things from above” impact and change and highlight aspects of things “from the earth.” I suppose one could say it’s about how heaven changes earth; or how things from above break into and disrupt things of the earth; or, what happens when the Light from heaven shines into the darkness of earth.

    Sorry I’m not going to have time to weigh in on your final three questions. Thanks, though, Melissa! How fun to do Greek Bible study on blog tonight! Yay!!

    (Also, I had a recent chat with my wonderful pastor and he said he believes in this generation, one of the most important “battles” believers will need to be prepared and willing to face and fight is the ability to cogently and persuasively defend our understanding of Scripture and the validity of how we have had Scripture passed down to us. I found his perspective remarkable. He underscored so strongly that each generation really needs to have it’s committed and convincing textual scholars; that there will be a real frontal assault, if you will, on us as believers on the validity of the Text. I found his comments so curious – he’s not a man given to emotionalism; he made his remarks gravely and assuredly. I don’t know if you’ll have time when you’re reading thru the comments, but at some point I’d be curious to know your thoughts on this… assuming I’ve made myself clear).

  48. 98

    Thanks for sharing in your studies. I love this! I’m such a ‘Word’ person (talk about a double meaning!) that I constantly use to compare translations/commentaries etc and when I’m writing I love using to examine word meanings, and the thesaurus for making sure I express myself clearly. Would our Heavenly Father feel any less diligent or committed to the clearest communication to us through His Word?!?! He Is The Living Word! So I opt for #3 because He knows we are stimulated and edified by cognitive challenges and clarifications! Just as He demonstrates multiple meanings and dimensions of WORD!!!

    Blessings, Deb

  49. 99
    Tammy says:

    Seeing that I went back to “Middle C” and purchased the hebrew-greek key word study bible, you gave me the opportunity to really look at my first study word. I tend to agree with #4 that “from above” and “again” are the same. Thank you Melissa.

  50. 100
    Whitney says:

    well considering it’s 5am and I haven’t had my first cup of coffee yet, I am not qualified to form an opinion on anything. But I can say that the its so cool that no matter how much we study the Bible or the Lord, the deeper we think we go, the Lord has already gone deeper still. Its like we think we are getting a grip and are able to wrap our minds around him- and BAM, he goes and shows off with double meanings and stuff.

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