JESUS' AND NICODEMUS' CONVERSATION
In addition to the translation "born again" in 1 Pet. 1:23 being incorrect and misleading, the same is true in the other two uses of the expression "born again"—in John 3:3, 7. In both cases gennao should be translated "begotten" instead of "born," as an examination of John 3:1-13 will show; and the Greek word anothen, translated "again," would better in both cases be rendered "from above" (see margin, Rotherham, Young, Berkeley, Williams, Beck, Diaglott). Accordingly, in both cases the rendering should be "begotten from above" and not "born again."
The conversation of Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3:1-13 is the outstanding Scripture passage on (1) Spirit-begettal and the Spirit-begotten condition and (2) Spirit-birth and the resultant Spirit-born condition. We must carefully notice which of these two conditions is referred to or the conversation will not make good sense to us. It is evidently only partially recorded, the main points being mentioned, from which we may gather the drift of it all. We suggest the following as an explanatory paraphrase. Note carefully how Jesus clearly distinguishes between the "begotten from above" (translated "born again") condition and the "born of the Spirit" condition, the resurrected, "born from the dead" state.
Nicodemus: "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God." Yet some of your statements seem very inconsistent to me, and I come to ask an explanation. For instance, you and your disciples go about proclaiming "The kingdom of heaven is at hand"; but you have no army, wealth or influence, and to all appearances this claim is untrue, and in this you seem to be deceiving the people. The Pharisees generally regard you as an impostor, but I am sure there must be some truth in your teachings, "for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." The object of my visit is to inquire of what kind, when and from where is this Kingdom you proclaim? and when and how is it to be established?
Jesus: Your request to have a full understanding concerning the Kingdom of heaven cannot now be answered to your satisfaction; not that I do not know about it fully, but that in your present condition you could not understand or appreciate it, even if I would fully explain. "Except a man be begotten from above, he cannot see [Greek, eidon, know, or be acquainted with] the kingdom of God."
Even my disciples have as yet very indistinct ideas of the character of the Kingdom they proclaim. I cannot tell them, for the same reason that I cannot tell you; and they could not understand, for the same reason. But, Nicodemus, one peculiarity of God's dealings is that He requires obedience to the light already possessed before more light is given; and in the selection of those who shall be accounted worthy to share the Kingdom, a manifestation of faith is required. They must be such as are willing to follow God's leading, step by step, often seeing only the one advance step clearly. They must walk by faith and not by sight.
Nicodemus: But I do not understand you. What do you mean? "How can a man be begotten when he is old? Can he enter [which is always by begettal] a second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" (This response by Nicodemus shows that he understood Jesus in v. 3 to refer to being "begotten from above.") Or do you mean that the repentance preached by John the Immerser and signified by baptism in water, is somehow a symbolic birth? I notice that your disciples preach and baptize similarly. Is this the new birth necessary to those who would see or enter your Kingdom?
Jesus: Our nation is a consecrated nation, a covenant people. They were all baptized into Moses in the sea and in the cloud when they left Egypt. God accepted them in Moses, the Mediator of their Law Covenant, at Sinai; but they have forgotten their covenant—some are living as publicans and as sinners, and many others are self-righteous hypocrites. Therefore the preaching of John and my disciples is repentance—a return to God and to a recognition of the covenant made; and the baptism of John signifies this repentance and reformation of heart and life, and not the new birth. But unless you have more than this, you will never see the Kingdom.
Except in addition to the reformation symbolized by John's baptism you receive a begetting by the Word of God and birth of the Spirit ("be born of water and of the Spirit"), you cannot understand or enter into my spiritual Kingdom. Repentance will bring you back to a typically justified condition; in that condition you will be able readily to recognize me as Messiah, the antitype of Moses; and by consecrating you will be begotten of the Father to a new life and the Divine nature, which, if it develop, become quickened and make proper growth, will insure your being born a spirit being, in the First Resurrection; and as such you will not only see but also enter and share my Kingdom.
The change to be wrought by this birth of the Spirit is truly great, Nicodemus; for that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (see also 1 Cor. 15:48). Wonder not, then, at my first statement, that you must be begotten from above before you can understand, know and appreciate the things of which you inquire. "Marvel not that I said [in v. 3] unto thee, Ye must be begotten from above." The difference between your present condition, born of the flesh, and the condition of those born of the Spirit, who shall enter into or constitute the Kingdom I am preaching, is very great.
THE WIND AS AN ILLUSTRATION
Let me give you an illustration by which you will gain some idea of the beings who, when born of the Spirit, will constitute this Kingdom: "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." As the wind blows here and there, you cannot see it, though it exerts an influence on you and all about you. You know not whence it comes nor where it goes. This is as good an illustration as I can give you of those born of the Spirit, in the resurrection, those who "enter into" or constitute the Kingdom which I am now preaching. They will all be as invisible as the wind, and humans, who are not born of the Spirit, will neither know from where they come nor where they go.
Nicodemus: How can this be?—invisible beings!
Jesus: "Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?"—that spirit beings can be present, yet invisible? Have you, who attempt to teach others, never read about Elisha and his servant, or about Balaam's ass and the many other instances in the Scriptures which illustrate this principle, that spirit beings can be present among men, yet invisible? Furthermore, you are of the Pharisees, who professedly believe in angels as spirit beings. But this illustrates what I told you at first: Except a man be begotten from above, he cannot see (know, become acquainted with, or understand as reasonable) the Kingdom of God and the various things connected with it.
If you would enter into and become a joint-heir with me of that Kingdom which I am announcing, you must follow the light, step by step. As you do so, more light will come, and this as rapidly as you will be prepared for it. I have been preaching these things now due which you can understand, and I have been performing miracles, and you acknowledge me to be a teacher come from God, but you have not acted out your faith and openly become my disciple, my follower.
You must not expect to see more, until you live up to all you do see; then God will give you more light and evidence for the next step. "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen, and ye [Pharisees] receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?" It would be useless for me to attempt to tell you of heavenly things, for you would not be convinced, and my preaching would seem the more foolish to you.
If what I have taught, which has been of an earthly character and illustrated by earthly things, which you can and do understand, has not brought conviction enough to your mind to lead you openly to become my disciple, my follower, it would be even less convincing to you if I were to tell you of heavenly things, of which you know nothing; for no man has ever ascended into heaven, hence none could corroborate my testimony. I, who descended from heaven, am the only one on earth who understands heavenly things. "No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man [the words 'which is in heaven' are not found in the most ancient and reliable manuscripts]." A knowledge of the heavenly things can be received only after the begetting of the Spirit, and the heavenly things themselves only when born of the Spirit, in the resurrection.
"SO IS EVERY ONE … BORN OF THE SPIRIT"
Thus the Scriptures make a sharp distinction between the terms "begotten from above" (translated "born again" in the KJV) and "born of the Spirit," though the two expressions are related. Also, Jesus' illustration in John 3:8 makes it very clear that the born-of-the-Spirit condition is in the resurrection, and not in the earthly lifetime of God's spiritual elect. We read, "The wind bloweth where it listeth [will, ASV], and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." Those who are born (in contradistinction to being begotten) of the Spirit are here likened to the wind. The wind is (1) powerful and (2) invisible. So are those who are born of the Spirit, as well as those who were created as spirit beings—the angels. They can be present but invisible, unless miraculously revealed (2 Kings 6:17). They have awesome strength and powers of locomotion.
Note that Jesus was not here comparing inability to comprehend the new birth with inability to understand the movements of the wind. Those miss the point entirely who claim that the wind refers to the Christian's "new mind," which can freely without hindrance go back and forth as it searches out deep, hard-to-understand spiritual things that are incomprehensible ("invisible") to the natural man (1 Cor. 2:9-16). And obviously no one can reasonably claim that physically he or she is able to move freely and invisibly as the wind while in a human body!
Other Scriptures in which gennao is mistranslated "born," out of harmony with the Bible context, are John 1:13; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18. In addition to the reasons already presented, since God (masculine) through His Word is the active agent in all these cases, the translation obviously should be "begotten" instead of "born."
The obscurity surrounding the two Greek words — gennao and prototokos — will disappear if we remember that the new creature was begun by the begettal of the Spirit, which occurred at the time God accepted the individual believers consecration, or dedication, as one of the spiritual elect, and finds its completion in the resurrection, which is the Spirit-birth (2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Cor. 15:20, 23, 42-54; Rev. 20:4-6).
To confuse these two ideas is akin to confusing the begettal and birth in the natural sphere, which in the case of humans occur 9 months apart. As we have seen, the Scriptures liken the beginning and development of the new creature to the beginning and development of the human embryo. In both the natural and spiritual spheres there is first a begettal, followed in due time by a birth, unless there be a miscarriage.
TEXTS ALLEGEDLY PROVING THAT SOME ARE
"BORN AGAIN" IN THIS LIFE EXAMINED
If it is incorrect from the Bible standpoint to speak of oneself as being "born again" in this life, how are we to understand Scriptures which refer to Christians in this life as "children," "babes," "sons," etc., such as Rom. 8:14-17; Heb. 5:13; 1 Pet. 2:2; 1 John 3:1, 2?
While the spiritual elect are in this life actually Spirit-begotten, embryo new creatures, nevertheless they are reckoned by God (Rom. 4:17) as being born new creatures. Therefore in these Scriptures they are called "children," "sons," etc., in this life.
A comparison of two literal passages will show this: "Now are we [reckonedly] the sons of God" (1 John 3:2). "We ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for [hoping for actual] sonship [see Rotherham, Berkeley, Weymouth and the Diaglott], to wit, the redemption [deliverance in the resurrection] of our body [the Church, the Body of Christ—Eph. 1:22, 23]. For we are saved by hope [anticipatorily, therefore reckonedly]: but hope that is seen [experienced, realized—Luke 2:26; Psa. 90:15; Heb. 11:5] is not hope: for what a man seeth [experiences], why doth he yet hope for?" (Rom. 8:23-25; see also 6:10, 11; Eph. 1:13, 14).
The harmony between 1 John 3:2 and Rom. 8:23-25 can be found only in the understanding given in the bracketed comments. 1 John 3:2 must refer to God's dealings with the saints as if they were already sons though not actually such, because Rom. 8:23 clearly shows the Church waiting to receive their actual full sonship in the resurrection. Notice that in 1 Pet. 2:2 the word as is used, showing the similarity, but not the actuality.
Bible types also show the two standpoints: The begotten condition is represented by Isaac's condition in Sarah's womb, and his birth represents the First Resurrection—full sonship (Rom. 9:9; Heb. 11:11). The reckoned condition as sons of God is represented by Isaac after his birth, e.g., in his circumcision, weaning, persecution by Hagar and Ishmael, offering up by Abraham, etc. (Gal. 4:28-31; Heb. 11:17-19).
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