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. 101
    Julie says:

    You make my brain cramp…. however,#4. At times, my kids will be reading and ask me what a word means (can’t think of any of the words right off) and I will have to ask how is it used. The context makes all the difference. There are English words that have 2 different meanings too. In this case, both meaning are correct (in my humble opinion).

  2. 102

    That is so interesting! I was wondering about John 19:23- I didn’t find the word in that verse. Was it maybe John 9:32? I wish I had more time to spend in the study of God’s Word. As a homeschooling mom of 6 I do my best and love my Key Word Study Bible! Thanks for this post. I loved it and after looking up those verses see how really important context is. “from above” seems to really fit in John 3:7 as Jesus immediately talks about wind which would seem to also come from above? Not sure.

    A random question…. I am looking for a book that would capture the interest of my 6-10 graders that gives a good and biblical history of the Jews. I want them to be able to understand God’s plan for the Jews and how Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law. I plan to also apply it to their lives showing them the blessings of obedience and the consequences of disobedience. Any recommendations?

  3. 103

    This is so cool! What a great explanation of something difficult and . . . GREEK! Bravo!

  4. 104
    Laura White says:

    In my opinion, it seems the “bigger picture” meaning is the same regardless of a concrete choice. It was interesting to me that the difference in translations have sparked us to review and study God’s word more than we might have in the past. I think it’s fantastic the way your tangent has gotten me to think about God’s gift first thing this morning. I have a tendency to overthink things, but this was a great way to start my day.

  5. 105
    Stephanie says:

    You are such a Bible nerd, and I love it! I mean, who in their right mind would look up the Greek and Hebrew original texts?!!?! Uh, I don’t know….maybe someone in love with JESUS! (-: I think it is wonderful to compare the different interpretations. I think it’s even more wonderful that they come back to the same meaning. Born again….from above…Praise our King that no matter how you slice it, it’s all points to that 2nd birth.

    Happy Friday!

  6. 106
    Shelly says:

    You are incredibly refreshing! And I will go with “from above” because if that is what the Greek word really means than I will go with that. It makes more sense to me actually as I am teaching Ephesians in SS class and in chapter 1:4″for he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”. So in my very simple mind this makes more sense to me. We are predestined from above then we must be born from above. In my insecurity I almost did not want to respond because obviously I am no scholar! I do LOVE the WORD and love your teachings (and your mom’s) on Greek and Hebrew words and meanings. Love and prayers for you!

    Shelly in FL

    (p.s. tell your mom that my mom was at her simulcast in St. Petersburg when she heard Beth read my blog from last week –about me at the beach. My mom freaked out! lol God is good all the time!)

  7. 107
    Cynthia says:

    How exciting is this post?!!! I almost burned my son’s cinnamon rolls (not a smart thing to do on game day and when he towers over me and can smoosh me like a bug) but I was so interested in what I was reading.

    “again” and “from above” wow got my thoughts rolling!

    I love things like this! Bet I spend much of my drive to the game this afternoon mulling this over!

  8. 108
    Angela H says:

    What resource would you suggest for learning Greek? There are some angry people on the internet that all seem to think each has it wrong! My home-schooled daughter and I just learned the Greek alphabet and want to learn more. But it is a jungle out there-where to begin?

    Perhaps the answer to your question-is again, from above!!!

  9. 109
    Erin says:

    Oh this is awesome! So insigtful! I wish you could do one of these a week or even one a month. It is an awesome challenge, and it really makes you want to seek out the answer. I am not a Bible scholar by any means, but I love how the Lord does things like this. It is so cool to see something in a new light.

    I will be perfectly honest, I agree that in the description of becoming a believer, I think the terms are interchangeable. I guess in the instance of John 3:3, I would see “born again” as being most applicaple simply because of Nicodemus’ reply.

    I have a Ryrie Study Bible, and this is the note it has for that verse:

    “born again.” Lit., born from above (as in 3:31; 19:11), though the word also means “born again” (Gal. 4:9). Both ideas (merged in John’s gospel) are combined in the translation “be born anew.” The new birth, or regeneration (Titus 3:5), is the act of God that gives eternal life to the one who believes in Christ. As a result, he becomes a member of God’s family (1 Peter 1:23) with a new capacity and desire to please his heavenly Father (2 Cor. 5:17).

    (I don’t know what info I need to put for using a direct quote…
    1986, 1994 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; The Ryrie Study Bible: King James Version/Charles Caldwell Ryrie.-Expanded Edition.)

  10. 110
    Kathleen Stewart says:

    It sounds all Greek to Me, Ha Ha just kidding. I know it is so important to be able to translate the meaning of God’s word from those in their time have written. There fore Hebrew and Greek is it. I am so fascinated by it and if I had more time I would be a student of Greek. In the meantime I am so thankful for those like you who can help me out. My opinion,
    I think born again, because it caused Nicodemus to have Jesus explain what it meant to be born again. Hence, the true meaning of being born from above. Keep up the studying Melissa I look forward to these little lessons.

  11. 111
    Susan O'Connell says:

    This also reminds me of the Lord’s prayer where it says”…and lead us not into temptation…”
    We know God does not tempt us, and that greek word for temptatipn can also mean trial, so I often wonder why the translatiopn doesn’t use that word instead?

  12. 112
    carole says:

    Thanks for sharing….I love knowing more about the actual Greek and/or Hebrew meanings for the Bible. It just adds a whole new dimension to God’s living Word! I’m planning on digging into John this afternoon to see what opinion I come up with….

  13. 113
    Cindy says:

    I would say it is simple, and like a precious gem….multifaceted.

    It is both. Simple. We were born once, of woman, and when salvation came to us, we were born again….from above. Born of God, literally, as his child.

    We are his creation, but when we enter into the covenant of salvation, we become his child.

  14. 114
    Kristi B. says:

    Melissa, I enjoyed reading this so much! It’s true a large amount of it is over my head, but that’s okay. We are all blessed with different gifts! Just from reading what you have written, I have to go with option #4. I hope you have a blessed day 🙂

  15. 115
    Lindsay says:

    WEll,goodness my mind is shooting off nuerons that have been dormant all my life! I’m not sure which translation Ilike, but I couldn’t help but get stuck on the “misunderstood” part w/ Nicodemus. That resonated with me…how often does Jesus truly break me and get me to really “see” through my misunderstandings..whether in regards to faith,love or just Him being faithful to provide. How often we put our human translations that are limited on heavenly terms..then Jesus steps in breaking us free from our “misunderstandings” and then He gives us Himself. And then we are paralized with awe, “how did I miss that for so long..” and in our foolishness Jesus time and time again says, No my child this is what I meant…love the post–any chance to turn the picture right side up is good stuff! llj

  16. 116
    Laurie says:

    Well, I totally love all this stuff. Yes, some of it is over my head. However, I would have to I think we are born again from above. As you so aptly pointed out, Nicodemus asks the question, can one go back into the mother’s womb and be “born-again”? No, we cannot be born again from here below, we must be born again from above.

    Thanks, Melissa for all this it is fascinating and takes some time and effort to put this together. I think we are kindred spirits although you are much brighter than me.

    God bless!

  17. 117

    All I can say is….. hugh? I think you lost me 🙁

  18. 118
    Kim says:

    Love having these details explained. Hope to see similar posts in the future!

  19. 119
    pam b says:

    “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

    Born again, but only by the Spirit from above!

  20. 120
    Yanna says:

    Moma Beth, I didn’t wake up as early as planned to delve into your lesson on James (love that you are teaching me how to study the Word). I just have to share this with you. Last night after I had led Beleiving God study a dear friend remained to help me put the room in order. I was sharing with her from your Law of Kindness lesson the survey of 153 countries and Malta and the legacy of kindness. She interrupted me and wanted to know why 153 countries were surveyed. I was like, I don’t know, I just went with the story and didn’t ask questions. She’s a statistic nerd, anyway, I said is there a Bible meaning or something about that number? YES!!! John 21:11 Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. There you go, another God wink.

  21. 121
    savanasu says:

    Melissa you got my tired old brain working this morning! Thank you for your faithfulness and taking the time to share with us. You have inspired me to dig deeper! And I think “from above” sounds awesome. Because what else do we have except “from above”. Praise His Holy Name!!

  22. 122
    Holly Sutton says:

    Thank you Melissa! Do you know of any good web resources for lexical study? I’m writing some Bible study lessons for our young women’s Bible study and want to dig deeper into a word study. Any ideas for someone who doesn’t have access/money to buy a lot of books???

  23. 123
    carla says:

    Ok, I was one of the ones that was totally not paying attention when you started the paragragh about that and then I felt bad and read it again ….just for the sake of your mental health. Seriously, often I hear ministers say how straight-forward the Bible is but interpretation is different to different people. I pray for discernment every time before studying God’s Word hoping I interpret it correctly. Thank you for breaking it down so beautifully. Can not wait until the study on James comes out. Work hard Melissa and Miss Beth.

  24. 124
    Jo Ann says:

    It was really exciting to see this blog and to be brought into this thought process! I loved reading John 1-3 with this question in mind, and liked looking at the verse with the “born from above” meaning. Thanks!

  25. 125
    Val in KY says:

    I am going to totally love this study when it comes out. I absolutely love your posts. I love research and the level to which you take it is inspiring. Thank you for always being willing to impart your knowledge to us.

    I’m going to print your post so I can read over the Scriptures and post again.

    Love ya, Val

  26. 126
    Nancy D says:

    My answer: Yes. I know that’s not one of the multiple choice options, but still. Yes, to all of them. And yes to none of them. Yes, because it makes us think about what we REALLY think.

    Reminds me of some soul searching college days when we used to ask questions like: “Is it further to Boston or by bus? What’s the difference between an orange? Do you walk to school or carry your lunch?” All intriguing concepts that, as you said, we’ll never really figure out on this side.

    Thanks for making us think, Melissa.

  27. 127
    Courtney H says:

    If you think about this Melissa.. you can not be born again (from below) but only from above.. Only God can make us born again, and one way of thinking about Him is that He is above us, or from above.. so being born again from above makes perfect sense!

    I love lexical studies! They are always so cool to be.. finding the Greek definition and breaking down the Greek scriptures on our own through the use of lexicon’s is just exciting to me. 🙂

  28. 128
    Kathy B says:

    All right, Ladybug. Please know I’m deeply grateful that you posed this question to us. Just assuming that I could keep up with your post was a compliment to my intellect. An overestimation, perhaps but a compliment nonetheless. Then to actually ask for our input was such a kindness on your part. I’m honored. You surely don’t need my viewpoint on this, and yet you asked for it. Thanks a bunch.

    When I first read your post last night I’d just walked in from session seven of your mom’s Revelation study. I dared not try to answer right then out of pure fear that I’d have vivid dreams of the two witnesses being born again! (Oh, yes they will be). Plus it gave me time to read your suggested context and refrences.

    Here we go: I’m going with option #3: double meaning intended and intentionally ambiguous. Why?

    -it wasn’t as if John didn’t have another word in his vocabulary arsenal to use if his only intention was “again”. He used “PALIN” (#3825 p.1091 The Complete Word Study Dictionary by Zodhiates), repeatedly throughout his gospel to mean just “again”. See Jn 1:35, 4:13, 6:15, 10:17-18, 12:39, 16:16.

    So that leads me to believe his use of “anothen” in Jn 3:3 was very intentional. I loved your quotation from the NET notes about Jesus’ use of the “misunderstood question”. I believe that was His language genius at work, don’t you? The LOGOS, Himself weaving perfection with His powerful tongue.

    And may I say the the use of the words “superfluity” and “supercilious” in the same sentence was just about more than this girl could bear. I laughed my head off. And remembered just how “unsmart I is”.

    OK, my brain hurts. Maybe more caffiene will help, though another cup would surely be superfluous. See I can use words that start with “super” too. And I think you’re Superduper!

    • 128.1
      Kathy B says:

      OK, as if I wasn’t lengthy enough the first time, I have an addendum: On reflection I realized that my reasoning actually supports #4 even better than #3. (and you’re wondering why only now I decide to employ some reflection? I did mention cerebral pain, right?)

  29. 129
    martie says:


    I totally enjoyed reading this entry. My husband is in grad school pursuing a theology degree. He is currently taking 1 of many Greek classes. It was neat to be able to see why the Greek matters. I even sent the blog link to him; this is SO right up his alley!

    As for the ““born-from-above-Christians”” I LOVE it!!!


  30. 130
    Cinthia says:

    A dear friend and mentor at my church actually babysat for her Uncle’s kids while he wrote/translated (although I do realize it is not a translation) The New Living Bible. She told me this one day in Bible Study and I just stared at her like she’d grown a third eye right there in the middle of her forehead. I have a copy of that Bible from like, the 70’s and she was in his house while he sat and worked. He and his wife had about ten kids so she needed the help!

    Later, of course, they became Tyndale Publishers. Well, this started us on a wonderful dialogue about translating. She said her uncle suffered so much criticism because he did it alone, which is a big no-no and for good reason, but his intent was to give his children something they could understand (better than the KJV). But she remembers people sitting in church and criticizing her Uncle horribly–calling him Satan and the anti-Christ.

    This small story gave me a tremendous picture of the price anyone will pay when even thinking about translating and how important it is that we do pray for those scholars who attempt such a mighty work. I literally shake in my boots when I think of someone saying, “let’s do a new translation.” Yes let’s, but flat on our faces and praying like mad and having a million people along for the ride. Whew.

    All that said, I like both “again” and “from above.” I think they fit with our experience (although I know experience is not the true test of Scipture). Still, I was born “again”, i.e. a second time and I believe that it was a true birth “again.” But just like Nicodemus if I was born again, then I have to ask from where? Well, “from above.” So, I am literally a new creation because I was born “again” and this time I came “from above.”

    I realize it is a little simple-minded and very visual, but I am so grateful to be included in God’s Kingdom that if Jesus had said that second birth needed to be via a zebra, I’d have said great, I love stripes! (Well, actually they make me look a little bigger than I like, but…. you get the idea.)

  31. 131
    Linda says:

    I am just thrilled to learn that this word can be translated “again” and “from above”. I’ve always read the versions with the “again” in them. I’d never seen the “from above” version. I can’t say with any authority which one I think is right. What’s important to me is that now I know it can be meant both ways. I really like the “from above” interpretation because it adds more in depth meaning to the verse and what Jesus was trying to say in John 3:3. In looking up the 4 additional verses in John, I am perplexed as to how 19:23 fits in. Can you help me understand that one?

    Precepts “University” came to our church a few years back with 3 days full of courses we could choose from. By the end of a full day course on doing this same thing using the Strong’s numbers and lexicons, I was wondering why it was such a struggle for me. The “professor” summed it all up by saying, “Are you the type of person that likes to look at the forest and see all the trees or are you the type who likes to bore into one tree, look at its rings and dissect every molecule? If you’re the latter, Precepts is for you!” Well, that gave me such peace as to why I had been struggling all day. I am in the category of the first…I like to look at the whole forest. So, I get a huge lift from learning that this word has two meanings, but I am lost when it comes to the fine details of digging super deep.

    All this to say, thank you for being the one who likes to dig super deep and share your knowledge and the knowledge of others with us. However, I feel like I am in school in a group assignment and not doing my share of the work, but getting all the benefit. But, the good news is, when I tell my friends and family this new found info, I can give you the credit!

  32. 132
    Jamie says:

    I LOVE this, Melissa! Thank you so much for sharing what you are learning. Using the rest of the gospel of John as well as first, second & third John (even Revelation) to guess what John meant, I think that he purposely wanted a word that would go both ways, but I agree with the ESV translators (my favorite) in this immediate context to go with “again”.

  33. 133
    Linda says:

    Melissa, I forgot to ask you something. I received a Revised Standard Version Bible in college and that’s the version I have most of my verses memorized from. I went to buy another one recently and was told that they don’t print them anymore. Do you know why that might be?


  34. 134
    Rebecca says:

    I love your last line!!! Before I read it, I was going to tell you that I believed the word meant “Born Again From Above!” 🙂 That should take care of it! hahaha Just kidding.

    I love this kind of stuff, Melissa. I’ve never been to Bible college, but I’ve always wanted to know how to really get deeper in the Word. And, sweet sister, you have just shown me a glimpse. Thank you!

    Prayers and blessings,

    p.s. I believe it will take me a little bit to read this and do some studying. My babies are awake and on full throttle right now, so I’ll have to wait until later!

  35. 135
    Church Lady says:

    This makes my brain hurt! I’m glad that God called other people to do this and not me. But, it did get me to thinking, is not the same God who created Hebrew and Greek the same God who created English? He knew that these things would happen. Perhaps, in His omniscience Jesus said it just the way that He wanted us to hear. No translation necessary.

  36. 136
    Adrienne says:

    It’s odd because I will be reading my verse for today and somehow everything else within the day gets connected.
    Let’s see, I would use born again because in Peter 1:23 Peter uses born again. Born from above does hold a more obvious idea of what Jesus is talking about though.

    • 136.1
      Melissa says:

      Adrienne, I love how the Lord does that, I often notice it in my life too. Just to let you know, Peter uses a different Greek word than John; in 1 Peter 1:23 he uses ἀναγεγεννημένοι and a different form of the same word in 1:3 (ἀναγεννήσας). While there seems to be a conceptual link between the two (or three) verses, it may be that John highlights a different nuance than Peter. Glad you saw the similar wording in 1 Peter, I was waiting for someone to mention it! Warmly, Melissa

      • Bobbie says:

        You and your brain absolutely AMAZE me, Girl! What a gift you have! My brain is now squishy, wondering what I’m trying to make it do—this really has me thinking about this. Thank you for sharing this gift of yours, Melissa.

  37. 137
    glenwood says:

    Christians understand they mean about the same thing but for clarity’s sake I like ‘from above’ best. It is the primary defin. given plus people can say I have been born again and mean something besides what a Christian means. There are some people who are ‘born again’ in their own mind(not Christian)and have done some terrible things.

    I have a question for Melissa or her Mom.
    At revival the pastor asked the congregation if any noticed that Jesus was Jesus Christ before the Cross and Christ Jesus after the Cross. He did not explain much of the whys and wherefores though. That was not his text. How about it? Thanks.

  38. 138
    Heather B says:

    Wow, what a journey. God is amazing. Okay, here goes. My initial hypothesis or opinion was that in the context the better interpretation was option#2, “from above.” This was just basically a hunch or gut intuition on my part and I decided to let the text speak for itself and steer me either toward that hunch or away from it. The first thing I did was begin reading the verse in light of the context from Ch1 (as you mentioned we should do to be safe). I should mention that I used an NIV and Amplified version (because that was what was nearby and I’m still in bed this morning, people!) Before I even finished the ch, it became clear that God was indeed confirming the “from above” interpretation in His Word. However, I felt I needed to get a definition of both meanings, just so I could watch out for opportunities to see those meanings within the text. Thanks be to God for an online dictionary! From the definitions, the meanings & tone that I would be looking for were:
    1.) from above: “higher than, from a position of higher rank or authority, higher in grade or rank than, considered of higher status and worth than”
    2.) again: “another time; once more; returning to a previous position or condition, in addition to, repeat”
    There were several themes in the text that intonated the “from above” meaning…here are themes I picked up on with the supporting words, phrases, or verses.
    Theme: from somewhere else, from above, otherworldly – the Light shines (1:5), true Light coming into the world (1:9); children born not of natural descent, nor of human desicion, or a husband’s will, but born of God (1:13); The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (1:14); I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him (1:32,33) I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. (1:51)

    Theme: of higher rank or authority – Through Him all things were made, without Him nothing was made that has been made(1:3); He who come after me has surpassed me (1:15,30), He is the one…whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. (1:27) He thus revealed His glory (1:11); miraculous signs (1:11,23) Jesus would not entrust himself to mankind, for he knew all men (1:25)

    However, suddenly the question of “again” or “from above” is not as clear in the verses following 3:3, where Nicodemus specifically asks about being born again. That is, physically born again. But, then Christ Himself clears it up in His response. So the text is designedly ambiguous??? Yes, I see it now!!!!!! We know that Nic interprets what Christ said to Him as being born again. The definition of the word “again” implies going back to one’s previous condition or doing the same thing over, which is not like the definition of “from above,” which implies something that far outranks or surpasses what already is. Christ goes out of his way to explain that this something different from a physical birth. (So, the verse is not complete without the “from above” meaning, but it could stand alone without the “again” meaning since we all pretty much realize we can’t be physically born again. Thankfully, the from above meaning comes through clearly in the translations where the word “again” is used precisely because of the context, and therefore makes it a richer interpretation…um… just as your NET footnote describes.) THAT IS SO COOL! Yes, now I see and understand your amazement at this stuff! Okay, I always have known how cool it is, but its twice as cool to get to share the coolness with others!!
    Evenso… both meanings together provide the most clear and precise picture (sorry, I’m just catching up with your post here!) Just read it in the amplified version: “Jesus answered him, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that unless a person is born again (anew, from above), he cannot ever see (know, be acquainted with, and experience) the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 Amp)
    We must be born anew from a higher authority. That is the obvious point the author (ultimately our Lord) is trying to make in the broader text because He clearly identifies Jesus as not only coming from above, but also far surpassing anything or anyone worldly in the first 2 chapters. (Still catching up.) That is not to say that the “again” definition does not work here, it just doesn’t seem to provide the most precise wording as well as the “from above” wording. If only one could be chosen, I would say the “from above” is the most precise in this specific verse, but… then again…. it doesn’t provide the richest meaning in light of the context.

    Thank you for this! I had a wonderful time learning something new – namely designedly ambiguousness and double meanings. I also just enjoyed my time in the Word being reminded of Christ’s authority and glory (which is ultimately the point, right?!) and I was absolutely amazed at how just plain COOL God is. You are right, it really is fun (albeit time-consuming) to try to understand this, even if its only at a layman’s level for me.

  39. 139
    Dianne says:

    I’m smarter now! Thanks Melissa! Yes studying the Word is fun! I love how you go from one scripture and end up at another one! There is a Red Line that is woven throughout it and there is no variation! Thanks for your insight!

  40. 140
    Julie says:

    Unlike the others, I do not totally “dig” this, but I am so glad you do! I mean if it was up to me to figure all that out, well, it just wouldn’t be done!

    My husband proposed to me using James 1:1-4. It was good!!!I know you are passed that now that you are on verse 17 but if you want me to share it with ya’ll I will!

    • 140.1
      Melissa says:

      Julie, don’t worry, my best friend read half of it and was too bored to go on! Different things for different people. Very cool that your husband proposed with James 1.1-4!

  41. 141
    Hilda says:

    It’s obvious to me that Nicodemus took Jesus’ meaning as “born again”; thus, his query about returning to his mother’s womb to be born a second time… Thanks for the “brain exercise”, Melissa! Interesting, your world!

  42. 142
    Rachel in Arizona says:

    Boy do I feel dumber after that. LOL! I think it’s #1, but maybe I’m just saying that to be ornery. I don’t have any real reason for picking that one except like you said, context is king. Two meanings, but only one acceptable translation in this context.

    I’m glad to see someone else goes on little tangents about the seemingly minute details. Sometimes a word or a phrase gets me thinking and I have to grab my Strong’s concordance to look it up. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

  43. 143
    Kari Flick says:

    Now, that was alot to think about!! I just started listening to audible reading of The Word….I have made my own schedule of readings … variety!…anyways, I came by today to thank you for your answer to Gods’ call on your life and ministry. A few years ago I ran as fast as I could away from you! My heart just was torn and I frankly did not want to open it up. With Gods’ timing, I am opening up to Him again. I even am a nusiance and send short mp3 messages to some whom God puts on my heart. I just love you and your message, your not fake, you are real. My husband has struggled for years with God…he is such a sincere man and wants to be 100% plus onfire…but he stumbles over his lack of connection with God in Prayer….he prepared for the ministry..we have been open to any leading for years…we are both RN’s now, he is in ER…grandparents, the whole deal…and we are prepared … but the dryness resounds in his heart and life…his desire is real…the waiting has been long…. he has never found an answer as to how to know the will of God….and then his unanswered prayers…he is a loving, Godly man….can you help us?…this is not spoken of to others, so don’t think I go everywhere seeking advice!…
    I am no scholar….just with love and kindness as my guide I am so glad we have the written Word to ponder born again in our hearts or born from above……how beautiful that is!! Truly sending God’s blessings to you and yours!! Kari S Flick

  44. 144
    Shawna says:

    What I love about this is how struck I am that God enters into our language and masters it. Meaning, I believe that Christ masterfully used this term specifically because both meanings convey what he was saying at the time. And part of that mastery was the provocation that he knew would confuse Nicodemus into actually contemplating how a grown man could be literally “born” a second time. And I think Jesus loved that!

    So yes, I pray for those that work in translation – as it is powerful and important. As well as marvel at a God who gave Adam the responsibility of naming animals, and whose humanity that he oversights develops language and meanings that God enters into and uses in more fascinating and deeper ways than at times we can comprehend.

    God’s like that neighbor kid who could take your plain old box of legos — and create a full scale rendering of the Empire State building – while you, who had been playing with them for months, couldn’t build a rudimentary house that wasn’t lopsided… : )

    Just my thoughts — great post Melissa

  45. 145
    LuAnn says:

    Melissa ~ Wow, that was a lot to wade through. I love that you can be doing that kind of digging and still know about cooking up a good chicken recipe!! I love this kind of thinking and digging it’s awesome to know others out there are compelled to study God’s word from many different translations. I was unaware of the NET translation. –I’m so excited about it Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and challenging us to think about it!
    So here is what I think, I think it’s both. Mostly because if we just used the term “from above” it would leave it open for to much interpretation and a watering down of the orginal intent. So I like born again from above. But now as I type it out am I making that decision based on what I believe OTHERS will do and think, not what Christ would want us to read in it there? Only God knows for sure, it’s like lots of other things, if you don’t have a relationship with God & Jesus at the core of everything you do it’s easy to get off base.
    Sheesh Brain drain! – here is what I know, you must love Jesus, accept what he did for us on the cross and I choose to live life the best I can as an act of sacraficial love to him and our havenly father for all they have done for us!
    Blessings to you & all @ Living proof, thanks for challenging us to be MORE in Christ.

  46. 146
    WorthyofLove says:

    OK, so I’ve been thinking. I think I would still choose #1. When Nic replied, he was answering or asking about being “born again”. I think it is fun to think about being born from above…but it doesn’t convey the power of newness or freshness that being born again does. You get another chance or a fresh start. I guess you could draw all that out of being born from above, but not everyone has an idea of what “above” really is. Most people know deeply what “again” means. Not sure that makes sense, but it is what I think.

    Thanks for giving us something to chew on.


    • 146.1
      Buddy says:

      Funny, Michelle, I had the opposite reaction. My first impression is that “from above” would be the possibly, maybe, more better answer. ;+) And here is my reasoning: As sons of Adam, we are born in the “natural” or in the “first” birth as sinners. If we were to do the birth “again”, the result would be the same. So I would want something different than being “born again” if it meant I wouldn’t be made “new”. (Although, the natural birth is also “from above”, too, hmmm…ok I’m going to go ahead and get off my rabbit trail!!!)

      But please don’t ask me to pick between “born anew” and “from above”…yet…but before I get ahead or behind myself, I better study it more…;+)

      Fun adventure, though! Thanks…

  47. 147
    Dayra says:

    I LOVE that the word also means ‘from above’, I prefer that to ‘born again’, however I do think that Jesus meant to say ‘born again’, the reason is because of the question Nicodemus then poses to Jesus. This tells me that Jesus said it to be interpreted as ‘born again’, and in so doing he was being intentionally ambiguous.

    This is the kind of stuff that makes bible study exciting!
    I recently bought the book ‘Living By The Book’ by Howard Hendricks and it is teaching me how to have fun while I study the bible, and I am having a really great time learning.

    Anyways, thanks for the lesson, great way to start the weekend!

    God Bless!!

  48. 148
    Lori says:

    Phew! You wore me out, Melissa! I’m going to need an extra cup of coffee to mull this one over. And I thought my stack of insurance claims was going to be tough to get through today.

  49. 149
    Lynn says:

    Personally, I LOVE this KIND of STUDYING!!! I too track words through other verses and then wonder where all my time went! and are great helpers. Thanks for sharing your love of word studies! Trek On!

  50. 150
    Melanie says:

    Melissa: I think that the answer is in how Jesus answered. In answer to Nicodemus, He went on to explain that one must be born again, from above.

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