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. 151
    Joy says:


    My first inclination is to say #4, but then I read the whole chapter. In verse 31 (NASB, also my preferred version), it says, “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth…”

    This makes me wonder if Jesus’ intended meaning was born “from above,” as He is.

    Also, I’m pondering Nicodemus’ misunderstanding of what Jesus was saying, and then Jesus’ explanation of what He meant — born of the Spirit (verses 5 and 6). Jesus was so often misunderstood.

    Now, this has put me on a rabbit trail of doing a word study of “Spirit.” Going to Ezekiel 37 and Acts 2. So, your rabbit trail is leading to a totally different rabbit trail for me! I wouldn’t have it any other way, because I “dig” this stuff. Pun intended.

    I wish I knew as much Greek as you. Hopefully in a couple of years. I just started my master’s work in Biblical Studies last spring, and I’m currently taking my first semester of Hebrew. And I’m just crazy enough to like it. Hebrew II is next semester, then I do Greek I and II the next year.

    Love to you,
    Joy (Charlotte, NC)

    • 151.1
      Melissa says:


      Thanks for your insight. And I definitely am with you in thinking that the usage in v. 31 should be a significant piece of this conversation.

      Where are you working on your M.A.? I am so pleased you are taking your first semester of Hebrew. The stems can be very fun 😉


      • Joy says:


        I am at Southern Evangelical Seminary. We haven’t yet touched the stems. Aside from the alphabet, we’ve covered vowel points/shewa, the Daghesh Forte/other marks/related rules, accent shift/vowel changes and gender/plural (nouns). We also have vocab words each week. Tonight (yes, my class is on Friday nights) we will start on verbs.

        Words beginning with the Heth are particularly fun to say. 🙂

        Thanks for your ministry to us. Hope to meet you later this year @ the forum!

        • Melissa says:

          Joy, I have an amazing amount of respect for you for going to Hebrew class on Friday night! Blessings to you, girl! Keep in touch. And I hope to see you in November!

  2. 152
    Brittney says:

    I think “born from above” is the more accurate translation. I think Nicodemus got confused and thought Jesus meant “born again”….but Jesus was actually meaning “born from above.” Nicodemus was thinking in the physical realm (because he’s human!) and Jesus was speaking about the spirit!

    That is my opinion….and that along with $4 will get you some Starbucks 🙂

  3. 153
    Heather says:

    My friend Athena, who is from Greece said, The Greek Evangelical community has issues on the freedom that has been taken in translating the New Testament in so many ways and altering ever so slightly the flavor of it.” She says that it should be “from above.”

    The reason why it was done the other way she has no idea, she thought it might make it clearer to the English speaking mind, but it’s not like a physical birth.

    • 153.1
      Heather says:

      Athena added something more, she said that with physical birth we have no choice, but with the spiritual birth we choose to accept Christ. When it says “born again” it implies another physical birth, but the spiritual birth is pivotally different. Our walk is against the effects of the flesh, of having being born once.

  4. 154
    Maria says:

    So…I am glad you took the time to lay this all out. I do think it gives one an appreciation for the complexities of translating. It truly adds to the idea of meditating on the “Word”, which is another great part of being in relationship with Jesus (the Word). Anyway, I will be honest and I didn’t read everything (I’m at work) but I love that you have given me a fresh look at being born from above and that is something I will ponder for awhile and I love that it adds a new depth to the concept of being born again and now I can consider and savor what God intended.

  5. 155
    Abraham's Daughter says:

    OK, I saw the post yesterday, when I knew I didn’t have time to really read it. But I knew would come back because I love tangents–especially word study and cross reference tangents.

    I am a NASB girl, having done Precept studies for years. So I checked the margin notes and found “from above.” Then, I had to check the Amplified because they have the benefit of having more words–an random thought popped into my brain–more words or Moore words–we are siestas, right? Anyway, as I expected the Amplified had all the words.

    And I just have to wonder if Nicodemus actually did get the double meaning and countered with the more concrete, so less viable option.

    And Bible Gateway is now in my favorite places.

    Thanks Melissa!


  6. 156
    Becky says:


    Thank you for making me think today. I was blissfully unaware that this was an interpretation issue; however, I have thoroughly enjoyed thinking about it.

    I am not a Bible scholar, but I did look up the additional Scriptures, and have decided that Option 2 makes more sense. I will try to explain why I came to that conclusion. The other verses you referenced are describing Jesus as the One who is above all (3:31) and that His power is above all else (19:11). In John 3:2, Nicodemus acknowledges that Jesus has come from God, who is above all else, so it would only make sense to me that Jesus would answer in that same context and say “you must be born from above”.

    My question to you, Melissa, is this: Where is the Greek word in John 19:23? Is it in reference to Jesus’ garment being woven from top to bottom? I could never really see how either “again” or “from above” would work there.

    Thanks again for the opportunity to get a glimpse into the world of exegesis. I’m glad I don’t live there all the time, though.

  7. 157
    Nitsa says:

    Hi Melissa,
    As a Greek, when I hear the word “Anothen”, its meaning is always “from above”. We use the same word today. It comes from the word “ano” which means above, high, over. So, “anothen” means from a height, from above. That is its primary meaning. The word “palin” is more commonly used for “again”. And, as far as the born again experience, the Greek Christians use the word from I Peter 1:23 “anagennao”, “anagenesis” to describe it.
    My understanding of this text is this. Jesus used the word anothen to make a point that salvation originates with God. He is the one who initiates it. Just as Jesus, who was God, couldn’t get into the human race except to be born in it, in order to belong to God’s kingdom we have to be born from above and only God can do that for us. There’s no human alternative. John 1:13.
    I hope I haven’t confused anyone. Thanks for the chance to share.
    Much love,

    PS How do you insert Greek words into your text? I am computer illiterate. Can you tell me how?
    Also, tell your mom that she pronounces the Greek better than most…much better.

    • 157.1
      Melissa says:

      Nitsa, I am so pleased to have your perspective on this post. I have a good friend, Myrto, who is from the island of Cyprus and I adore hearing her speak Greek. Totally different than we are taught to speak it in the states. One time in one of my Greek classes one of our male professors called Myrto, “Merta”, and we have never stopped laughing about it. And I will tell Mom that you said she pronounces Greek better than most. This news will come as a surprise to her, I am sure, since she is from Arkansas 🙂 In order to insert Greek words into my text I have to read it in my computer program but then I cut and paste it from Greek Bible since it is already somehow web friendly. I don’t get it either but it works 😉 Let me know if you figure it out. Warmly, Melissa

      • Nitsa says:

        Thank you so much for responding so fast, Melissa. I will follow your instructions and see what happens.
        Your story about your Greek friend reminded me of an American missionary who worked in my church when I was growing up. He was really struggling with Greek, especially with pronunciation, but was doing well enough to be able to teach us. One day he got up and said, “let’s turn to the book of Milkman” which caused a thunderous laughter from the congregation. You see, Galatians in the Greek, Galatas has the accent on the second syllable (la) and the word for milkman is galatas with the accent on the last syllable(tas). That man got so much ribbing for his bad accent the whole time he was there, but he ministered faithfully and humbly inspite of us merciless Greeks! LOL

  8. 158
    Deborah Stone says:

    Wow! You are an inspiration! Thank you for challenging us to DIG!

    After reviewing the verses, I was struck by the fact that John 3:3 and 3:7 were not only the first uses of this Greek word in the Book of John, but that they were both direct quotes of Jesus. It seems so much like Him to encourage us to use the gift of intelligence He gave us by purposefully using a “double-meaning” word!

    I think He meant that the word should mean BOTH! Our first birth-of earth, physical. Our second birth (or Rebirth)-of the Spirit, spiritual.

    Thanks again for your efforts! You’re stretching us! 🙂

  9. 159
    Sarah says:

    I’ve never heard this, and I like the “From Above” translation!!! Thanks, this was very interesting. I’ve just started with my concordance/lexicon’s/etc…. It’s amazing.

  10. 160
    Karen says:

    I think I’d go with, “born again, from above”….

  11. 161
    Mimeriffic Girl says:

    Wow! I love the fact that studying God’s word is both simple & complex! Thanks Melissa, for doing some serious research – I love tangents! For some reason, both tranlations seemed to be right to me, perhaps in light of how my mind works in terms of symbolism & thought.

    Bear with me . . . there is a song from a musical called “The Wiz” from years ago. It’s an urban retelling of the story of the Wizard of Oz, featuring Diana Ross, Micheal Jackson, & Lena Horne. In the production, the Dorothy character sings a song called “Home” where some of the lyrics are:

    When I think of home,
    I think of a place,
    Where there’s love overflowing,
    I wish I was home
    I wish I was back there,
    With the things I been knowing . . .

    Everytime I hear this song, I am deeply struck by the longing we all have for “home,” our real home as Believers, because as Scripture says, “we are not of this world,” and within each of us is the desire to get back to the one place we came from. Thus, to me “from above” & “again” are the same, as we came “from” Him who is seated “above”, and then when we come to know Him on this side, of Heaven, we become the “again” because we have come into the full knowledge of where we are from, and where we are headed back to. Both to me seem to be spiritually symbolic terms of what is means to know God – “from above” & “again.” Just my thoughts!


    • 161.1
      A Heart to Know Him says:

      loved what you shared MG….

      Yes indeed we are going back HOME….

      “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. [For all things originate with Him and come from Him; all things live through Him, and all things center in and tend to consummate and to end in Him.] To Him be glory forever! Amen (so be it).” (Romans 11:36 Amplified Version).

      May the Lord bless you.

  12. 162
    Mary Lou says:

    Wow. What an interesting post. You really made me think. Isn’t it just like our God that regardless of which way you translate the word, the meaning is essentially the same? Salvation (re-birth) comes from God above (through Jesus) and only from God. His Word cannot return void. It’s alive, sharp as a two-edged sword. Oh my goodness, even as I’m typing the words, I’m wondering if those phrases from Scripture might contain words with more than one translation.
    By the way, I think meaning #2 is correct although I’m certain #4 is true.

  13. 163
    Kristi Walker says:

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

    I’m heading out the door to get my youngest son his glasses, which he is so NOT happy about by the way, but I had to let you know that you totally made me snort with this last line, girl. Full on, out loud, snort! I’m quite grateful I didn’t have my typical glass of lemon water or a big ‘ole cup of coffee! LOL

    Hope to be back tomorrow to slap my 2cents in. If not, have a Christ filled weekend siestas!

    Kristi 🙂

  14. 164
    Cindy says:

    I don’t usually say much on here–I’m just a quiet observer (but devoted and in love). But this caught my attention because I am currently preparing for mid-term exam in Biblical Interp.

    After some careful study and consulting with dear hubby, I would tend to lean that it means ‘From above”. My hang up is the word again. The first time we are born, we are born here on this earth in sin to live on this earth. The second time we are born, we are born into righteousness–no more sin–we are freed from that (I don’t mean we don’t sin just mean we aren’t enslaved.). Plus we are born to live in heaven. “Again” usually means to repeat–do it again and again and again. Being “saved” is not doing anything “again”. Its doing something brand new and gaining Something new. So that’s just my humble opinion, but I am thankful for the light shed on this phrasing. Thank you, Melissa!

    • 164.1
      Melissa says:

      Hey Cindy, Thanks for adding your voice and insight to the conversation. Where are you taking Biblical Interpretation? My best to you on your midterm and theological journey. -Melis

      • Cindy says:

        I am taking online classes at Piedmont Baptist College which is located in Winston Salem, NC. Made “A”‘s on both exams. God is Good!

  15. 165
    Ann says:

    Love, love, LUV this post. It’s so helpful to me to gain insight into your thought process and HOW to perform this kind of study. Just went to the simulcast last Saturday and reasonated with your statement that you also need to be shown how, not just THAT we need to do something.

    I know you won’t be posting like this regularly, but I will be checking back regularly…hoping that you will have more like this 🙂

  16. 166
    Debbie C says:

    I love the way you and God make us think about this/things. OK here goes my answer to your questions is not choosing which meaning I believe but what the question made me see as the big picture. The word has two meaning and I relate that to my spiritual walk with God. I have two….the before I committed to God and after I gave of myself to a loving relationship with God. This really opens one’s eyes and l can see Gods plan in a way I can relate simply. He gives me what I need when I need it if I choose him. God loves me unconditionally and sees my good times and bad with his hand always on me because I believe and have committed to him and choose him.

    So I guess my bottom line answer is I choose God. This is my first post and I cannot end it without thanking you all. The Moore girls rule….at any given post they make us laugh, cry, think, relate and make us feel humble and oh so loved and Blessed. Please keep up the good work…me and God command it Please!!

  17. 167
    Becca says:

    I lean toward the side that it means both… that it means “again”, as in beginning something new… but there is also more depth to it. You are being born anew AS A RESULT OF being born “from above”. Omitting one facet is to not embrace the fullness of the applied definition.

    Let’s be honest. Jesus knew that Nicodemus wouldn’t “get it” right away. He knew we wouldn’t either. But he had eternal purpose in choosing to state it in the way he did. And I think it’s kind of fun like that :-).

    If we were publishing “Becca’s Translation”, I probably would have written “…you must be born again (in other words, from above. You know, from heaven. But Nick didn’t understand the latter part of the definition yet, so we’ll cut him some slack).”

    Which is probably why there is no “Becca’s Translation.” 🙂

  18. 168
    Claudia Villatoro says:

    Hi Melissa, thank you for such a DEEP interpretation of this verse, you made me put my thinking cap on. All I could say was WOW!!! It really makes a difference to the whole context when you see it in its original layout.

    God Bless You!!!

  19. 169
    Rosa says:

    Great exegesis Melissa. I haven’t had a chance to review all your references but this is exactly the meaty type of word study I enjoy. I will try to come back and post my thoughts! Blessings … Rosa

  20. 170
    April Garcia says:

    Totally LOVE this stuff!!!

    Based on the info you’ve given, I think it means…

    born AGAIN…but…FROM ABOVE

    LOL LOL right??

  21. 171
    Priscilla says:

    I DO love this sort of delving. Love this post.

    I have learned that answering my children’s questions has helped me simplify some knotty topics. For, unless I can explain in terms a child can understand, it’s possible I don’t really grasp a subject. (Granted, of course, deeper understanding is always to be desired.) I’ve also developed something of a very simplistic understanding of some matters, even while enjoying complex discussion and study.

    So, that said, BIRTH, to me, is ALWAYS “from above,” since life is from the Father. DEATH is “from below,” from Satan. (And I’m speaking of TRUE death, not just cessation of breathing of the fleshly body.) So, to me, birth, almost by definition, whether for the first or second time, is always “from above.”

    I’m interested to learn that John enjoyed ambiguity – for expansion, not obfuscation. It strikes me also that this may be one of the “jot and tittle” matters over which God maintains controls so that we always get the message — “from above.”

  22. 172
    Suzy says:

    Sounds like the Greek language is a little like the English language, in that one word can have subtle variations in meaning. So your title says it all – context IS everything.

    My vote is that both are true – we ARE born again (first physical birth, second a spiritual birth). But what IS spiritual birth, except a gift that comes from above?

    By the way, the NT was written in Koine Greek – so that may be a little different than modern Greek (I’m not a scholar, so don’t know – but thought I would throw that out there.)

    I have much hope for this generation after reading this serious discussion – young people grounded in the Word will change the World. But I should have known – God always has a remnant…..

    • 172.1
      Melissa says:

      Suzy, You are right that Koine Greek is different from modern Greek but it is fun to speak to modern Greek readers and speakers who also thoroughly know Koine Greek because they have a special insight. They can tell you where modern Greek now differs from Koine Greek, etc. It is really fun to hear them speak Greek as well because they pronounce it differently than we are taught in the States.

  23. 173
    Suzy says:

    Sorry about another comment, but you got me thinking….

    You know Jesus often used what some would call “ambiguous” language to communicate (but I would call “picture language”). (…lest they should hear with their ears and turn from their sin and be saved).

    Jesus said unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no part in me. (Yummmm?)

    He is the door (really?? a door??)

    He is the light (as in sun? or Son?).

    So much of what He said was (and is) misunderstood because people do not have ears to hear.

    So why would we think it unusual that He say we must be born again? He talks in pictures so that those of us less scholarly, but still spirit-born, can understand. As a child…..

    But I’m glad there are those – like you – who have the brains, to keep teaching us!

  24. 174
    Amanda says:

    I happen to really like the Complete Jewish Bible. I have done some study on the Jewish religion and their customs because I want to know more about where my Savior is from and the things he knew, places he saw, and traditions he would have participated in. In saying all of that… I feel that we lose so very much in the translation of the bible and our translators get bogged down with details and sometimes forget about content and context. PLEASE DON’T HEAR ME SAY OUR TRANSLATIONS ARE BAD. They are not. They are wonderfully done. I personally believe the Jewish one is more accurate. The translation for this verse is: 3 “Yes, indeed,” Yeshua answered him, “I tell you that unless a person is born again from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (CJB)
    I really like how this is written. I hope this will help some of you as you read and study more. It is such an encouragement and blessing to see so many of you truly studying the word of God. I thank God everyday for you ladies. You are a wonderful reminder that I do not have to walk this walk alone.

    May I bless God with my comments,


    • 174.1
      Lynne says:

      Amanda ~ I LOVE that translation as well . . so many times I find David Stern’s most able translation makes the scriptures’ meaning so much clearer for me. Plus like you I appreciate having the context of Yeshua’s culture permeating what I am reading.


      • Amanda says:

        If you have any references on the Jewish culture or study helps please share. I love to learn about how things were. It makes the bible so real. I appreciate your comments so very much!!

        I bless God for you!!


    • 174.2
      dixie says:

      Dear Amanda,
      You certainly blessed me with your comments tonight! I have never heard of the Complete Jewish Bible, until I read your response tonight. I found a copy on line and read the first three chapters of Genesis and was thrilled~~Thank you so much! A leather bound, engraved copy is on it’s way to me tonight! My husband is Jewish, and my prayer is someday he will also be born from above! In the meantime, I love incorporating more of the original Hebrew into my own life~~Thank you again, God’s blessings on you, my friend! Dixie

      • Amanda says:

        I am so excited for you!! I have not ordered my own copy yet I use the online version for everything but there is something so special about holding it in your hands. I may just do that shortly. It truly changed my life when someone told me that Jesus wasn’t a Christian. From that point forward I have been trying to absorb as much information about the Jewish culture as I can find the time for. I am so thankful that someone could benefit from the information. You will be in my prayers.

        I bless God for you!!


        • dixie says:

          Dear Amanda,
          I just had to write you a little note and tell you that you will never believe how significant the Jewish bible is for me! I received it yesterday, and tore it out of the box, but wanted to wait until my quiet time this morning to begin reading/studying the bible. It was wonderful! But before I left for work, my husband asked me if I was going to temple with him tonight, as there was a Simchat Torah festival going on tonight. I perhaps knew what Simchat Torah was, once upon a time, but had forgotten. It is the celebration of the Torah, and they begin reading their Torah passages from this day forward, for the year!! The exact same day I began myself! I was just so floored that God would orchestrate all the things to show me how intimate He really is with us! I am blown away! Thank you again, what a treat this whole thing has been and that is because of you!!! I am just smiling like crazy!! Love to you, Dixie PS I wrote an earlier chat back to you, but don’t think it came through!

          • Amanda says:

            I just had a chance to get back on today and read your post and I just want to cry. It has made me so happy that you shared this with me. I had only written once before and wasn’t sure that what I had to say would benefit anything in such a deep subject but I am so glad I took the time!!! The more I study and the more I learn the more at peace I become within my relationship with Christ and it is just wonderful!! I’m glad I listened to the leading of the Spirit that day and became a part of your experience!!

            I’m so excited for you!!!

            With love,


  25. 175
    Dorothea Warman says:

    Maybe the reason the scripture in many translations starts verily verily… or truly truly is because we must be born… again..and..from above! So I think to be annoying I will say “born again from above Christians”!

  26. 176
    Anastasia says:

    Hi Melissa……right up my alley girlfriend. I have only taken one semester of Greek, because of time constraints so I agape phileo all kinds o’ love learning from you! The fist thing our instructor told us in translation there are 3 rules to follow,; context, context and context! It is really rather scientific so I appreciate your mind on these matters.
    (I am secretly living vicariously through your scholarly astuteness. It is good to be in the body, whew. There it is now out in the open!

    In the Beloved,

    You are a kick, thanks for bringing it to us.

  27. 177
    Leslie Leonard says:

    I agree, there is no right or wrong answer. Context is always an important consideration, but either word does not contradict the truth of what the new birth is. In Nicodemus’ mind, the term born from above would definitely help him more, I think. He is questioning what “again” really means. Jesus definitely goes on to explain what he means so no reader could really question that he means “again” and “from above”.

    I think it’s fun to talk about the complexities of translation. I believe it really helps folks to understand that it isn’t as simple and clear as most folks think. Yes, let us pray for translators worldwide. So many people groups do not have an understandable translation. I have good friends, missions, in Asia doing translating work. It is a rewarding work, because their labor will last for generations. God bless them. Great post.

  28. 178
    Kelly says:

    I love ‘born again from above’ because it so clearly communicates the gift of God pursuing us. ‘From above’ not just our decision to be made new. Love the reminder of where it ALL originates….born again not just by my act of free will..but first from above.

  29. 179
    Amy says:

    You are so darling, Melissa! Thank you for the challenge. I am going to put in my vote for “born from above.” Why? Your mom taught me, scripture teaches scripture. Check out Ephesians 2:6 and Phil 3:20. We are citizens of heaven first. God’s word is so exciting! By the way, I couldn’t find the word used in John 19:23.
    God bless you and your wonderful family. I thank Jesus for the anointing that rests on you Moore’s!

    • 179.1
      Melissa says:

      Amy, Thanks for asking about John 19.23. In that particular verse, ἄνωθεν is used to refer to the tunic that was woven from the top in one piece (i.e. without a seam). For example, in ESV it says, When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. Hope that helps and that you have a great weekend! Peace.

  30. 180

    You gave away your own vote, Melissa!
    Otherwise you’d be calling people “RENEWED Christians” just to be annoying! 🙂

    For the record, I agree with “from above.”

    I also think I should have put “Get a Masters in Biblical Studies” on the 4-item dream list so many Siestas posted about a couple of weeks ago. Digging so deep into the precious Word must be a blast!

    • 180.1
      Melissa says:

      Jennifer, you may have a point. I think 80% of me thinks the phrase should be “from above” BUT there is always that other 20% that is open to persuasion 😉 And remember, you don’t have to have a M.A. in Biblical Studies to dig in the Word! Blessings to you, girl!

  31. 181
    Patrice says:

    The best statement, “born from above Christians”. 🙂

  32. 182
    Roxanne Worsham says:

    So thankful that is you and not me!
    Wow! My head hurts just reading all of that.
    But you go, GIRL!!!

    More power to you!
    I appreciate all you do!!!

  33. 183
    sisterlynn says:

    It is thrilling my nerdy word loving heart to read all these comments. Thanks for plunging us into this word study Melissa! Blessings! Sister Lynn

  34. 184
    Teri Sawyer says:

    Born from Above seems so cool and so perfect because….

    Our names were written in the book of life Before The Earth Was Created! We are God’s children….born of Him. Though we surrender to him and become a new creation here on earth…we are physically born already having our name in His Book.

    In other words….God conceived us and wrote our names in His book before this place was even created! Where was God when this happened? Above!

    It’s too wonderful for me to understand.

  35. 185
    Amy says:

    I’m not sure which one is “right,” but I do know one thing…I seriously love your posts.

  36. 186
    Nikki L' says:

    I normally read the New King James but when I want to see what the Greek/Hebrew meaning is I look to The Amplified Bible to get a description in detail. Here is what it says “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.”

    I am no scholar but I get very worked up when a weak translation loses it’s power and meaning by being broken down into modern language:)

    Why do you choose the NASB? Just curious, that was actually my very first bible and I got frustrated my it’s inaccuracy. I have been told by many people that New King James is most accurate but you must have been told something else. I would certainly respect your opinion with all your knowledge and education.

    Thanks for the challenge!

    • 186.1
      Nikki L' says:

      I got so sidetraced with my question I forget to mention my observations about the context. From my Amplified Bible, every single one of those verses that you told us to compare with the same word were directly using from above!! I was very surprised to see this, all except for 19:23 which I don’t clearly see the word used. So I would have to say my answer is from above. That is the first time that the NKJ has made me question, since they use again:))

  37. 187
    Maryellen says:

    Melissa, I picture you and your friends like that scene from “Yentl” when all the Jewish men are arguing about what one word in the Torah meant and they would be screaming at each other over the meaning. I just love it! Except you don’t have the beard or the hat thingy…

    I love “again” and think that is what the true meaning is. JMHO! xoxo

  38. 188
    Beth Mason says:

    I have sent this to my “scholarly” daughter! You two would be great friends if you ever got to meet one another. There is nothing like listening to the Sunday sermon, looking over, and she has her Hebrew/Greek text out reading along! You girls are amazing!

  39. 189
    Krista says:

    Yes, this is fun 🙂 Thanks for this thought-provoking post! I don’t have an opinion yet as to which translation, but I’m going to be thinking about that and looking up the other verses. And this does make me realize that we should be praying for those who translate the scriptures for us!

  40. 190
    Charlotte says:

    Hey Melissa, I read this yeserday after I got home from work and wanted to take some time to read over the scriptures and study some commentary before I gave my answer on this. I love this by the way; reading our Saviors’ great word and learning from it is my most favorite thing to do. After reading, researching and pondering, I think my answer is “born again”. There was something I read from an online commentary this morning that said “being born again and renewed” that really spoke to my heart; I’m terrible at remembering alot of what I read so this is not a direct quote but it’s just the part that stood out to me and led me to my answer. To me the words “born again” makes it more clear that we are renewed and made a new creation by our loving, heavenly Father when we are saved. Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts on this. Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this subject. God Bless, Charlotte

  41. 191
    Jeanette says:

    Sounds good to me… 🙂

  42. 192
    Rebecca says:

    How would one go about studying Greek? Would you have to go to seminary or could you do it on your own within reason?

    This is just so much fun–we need to do this more often!! This kind of thing should definitely be a routine post! 🙂

    Prayers and blessings,

  43. 193
    Jen Cybart says:

    This is great Melissa (I have a question for you)! I love it! I agree “from above” is my favorite. So, how can we use this kind of in depth study of Greek and Hebrew for apologetics, to defend our faith? Plus, can you add the element of Aramaic too and how this works?

    I woke up from a strange dream this morning about living in a polygamist household (prego hormones plus TLC’s new commercial about their upcoming show). Ugh! I should write sci-fi! Anyway, I was witnessing in my dream and thought about how do we use the Hebrew and Greek to speak to other false religions like Mormonism. They can’t even do an in-depth study on their “original” Book of Mormon because it’s written in ancient Egyptian that Joseph Smith claimed to have seen on the golden plates but destroyed since he was the only one given this ability to read in the 1800s. Anyway, let me know your thoughts and it truly is a blessing to get such insight into God’s Word with the original languages. Thank You!

  44. 194

    It wouldn’t suprise me at all if the meaning is intentionally ambiguous so that one would have to stop and think about the true meaning. How is one to be born from above? How is one to be born a second time? Being born isn’t in our control. We can’t even remember being born. It seems impossible to the person who is strictly thinking about it in a physical context.

    I recently did a study on marriage with a friend and we had a similar issue with 1 Corinthians 7:1. We had been reading the NIV for several years and couldn’t understand why Paul said it was good for men NOT to marry. If God said what He created was GOOD, then it seemed like Paul was contradicting God. After digging into it, we realized Paul wasn’t saying that at all. It made me want to learn Greek and Hebrew and read from the original texts themselves. It also made me wonder how many other verses I have misunderstood because of the issues with translation from Greek to English.

  45. 195
    Carrie Anderson says:

    I prefer “from above” but agree that both end up with the same translation. I just think that “from above” helps the modern reader understand what “again” means.

    Ahhhh, I LOVE exegesis! One of my undergraduate degrees was in Biblical Literature. Exegesis became my favorite activity – a place I felt my spirit coming alive. As I’ve been working on my master’s in counseling, I sadly had not been spending time in exegesis. But I changed that last week. I am now studying Isaiah – I love that book and the beautiful truth of God’s passion to set captives (like me) free.

  46. 196
    Shelly says:

    Is it wrong that I got a little giddy this Saturday morning reading a reference to BDAG and Mounce here?

    Loved the post and the challenge 🙂

  47. 197
    Sharen says:

    Thanks Melissa for the wonderful discussion. It has been fun to read the comments, too. Even though I study primarily out of the NIV, I have always taken what Jesus was saying to mean “from above” because of the context of the statement. I was taught that context is very important in reading because that is where the meaning comes from, not from the words. So the discussion of the breakdown of the word has been very interesting.

  48. 198
    Michele says:

    Thank you so much, this was so fun! I got so charged reading your post, but my problem is that when I sit down to investigate things like this, I ALWAYS get lost chasing Scripture Rabbits. Anyone else have trouble with them? (Obviously yes – wasn’t this whole thing a rabbit from James?) Haha

    And I was SO EXCITED that I could read the Greek! 😀 Not fast, and didn’t know the meaning of every word offhand, but could sound everything out! That makes me so happy and encourages me to get back to studying Greek! And I am so thankful for my Logos software that I could track your research because I have all those resources. I love this stuff!

    Okay, one thing I looked at was what Greek words are translated as “again.” By far, the most common word is παλιν, which DBL defines as involving repetition. My thought on that is that the birth is not a repetition, it is new, born of the Spirit, as opposed to the first birth of flesh, as Jesus described in the passage, so departing from the standard παλιν makes sense.

    One interesting detail I noticed was that Strong’s labels παλιν as an adverb, but labels ανωθεν as an “adverb of place.” Would that intrinsically carry the directional component? If so, does it negate the repetitive aspect? Hmmmm…..

    Louw-Nida notes Jn 3:3 is a parallel to Jn 1:13, which explains the concept using both of our definitions, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. (Jn 1:12-13).

    Another thing I do, which I admit I have no idea if this is even valid research, but I dig back through Strong’s Lexicon, tracing where each word came from. Ανωθεν derives from 507 ανω, which while heavy on the “above” side, “In Gal. 4:26 the word could refer to either place or time.” Ανω derives from 473 αντι, translated as “for,” “before,” or “ in place of.” So in my head (which can get swirling) I am thinking about those things along with the other places ανωθεν is used; referring to the temple curtain, Jesus’ garments, God-ordained authority, good and perfect gifts, wisdom, and Jesus himself; and it just all seems to make sense in a way that does not easily come out through a concise English sentence. Yes, Jesus came before us, from above, from God, took our place, for us, we are made new (reborn) in him, a new creation, because he is now in us.

    So, my answer is – 3, especially because of the way you worded 4. I believe every detail in God’s Word matters. And I believe there is no language on earth – at least since Babel, that can adequately describe God or his ways. I agree with what you said – it will bring us to the same place, but I think God was very deliberate and I bet he loves making us scratch our heads, desperately searching and straining to understand his Word, and through the process drawing us closer to himself. Praise you, Lord!

    Wow, I could do this all day! And I only stayed in the NT, ανωθεν is used 23 times in the LXX! I love this stuff, but don’t have anyone to study Greek/Hebrew with. If anyone would like to direct connect to talk about things like this occasionally, let me know!

    Thank you Melissa, I love you!

  49. 199
    Rebecca says:

    Melissa what a wonderful post this is going to be my bible study
    later at less the start of it I use mostly the NLT tanslation. But I have
    alot of different translations. Anyway I just wanted to tell you I love
    your blogs please sent more. In christ love

  50. 200
    Kristi Walker says:

    I think that the most relevant point may come from who Jesus was speaking to. Nicodemus…a ruler of the Jews, a member of the Sanhedrin. As I understand it, they were the “supreme court” of Jewish life. They made the rules, and as happens in many of these situations, they were corrupt in many ways. Yet, here stands a member of the Sanhedrin who NEEDS to understand who Jesus is (just like we all do). Even if he must come at night.

    After reading the passages, and the commentary that I have (which is probably fairly pithy compared to you ladies…LOL), I think that the “most” correct interpretation is “anew” or “from above”. I think that Nicodemus needed to think about what Christ was saying. I think it’s a very special trait of Jesus’ throughout the scriptures that He makes those He encounters think, and really dig into their own hearts. It’s common for all of us to accept what we “think” as absolute truth. It takes the shake down that only Christ can do to actually make us “see”. I think Nicodemus knew something was missing from his life, even though outwardly he probably looked like he had it all. He, like all of us, knew he needed something “anew” and “from above”.

    Frankly, the Gospel still blows my mind, and we’ve got the whole revelation of Christ’s redeeming blood! I bet Nicodemus wandered off thinking his head was going to explode…but, that just maybe his heart had found it’s home. 🙂

    Enjoyed the post, Melissa. 🙂

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