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Monday, December 7, 2015

From Above

Nick at Night
You probably have most of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus memorized.  At the very least you are familiar with the scene.  Nicodemus comes to Christ in the night to find out more about this teacher.  The whole “born again” thing that was so big in the 70’s comes out of this passage.  There is a slight problem…
From Above

From Above not Again
The Greek is γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, literally born from above.  Matter of fact, in many of the other places ἄνωθεν occurs, it is translated from above, Mark 15:38; John 3:31, 19:11; James 1:17, 3:15, 3:17 are a few examples.  Working through the passage initially I thought that the committees translated ἄνωθεν again because of Nicodemus’ response in John 3:4, but as Robinson points out, Nicodemus’ confusion does not determine the meaning of Jesus’ words (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Jn 3:3).

So What
In the context both usages of “born from above” are passive.  That means the action is done to the person being born, it is not their action but someone else’s.  I have often pondered John 3:8 and wondered about the wind analogy.  It makes more sense if we translate γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, born from above.  We do not control the wind, we only see its effect.  Same thing with being born from above by the Spirit.  We do not control that process either.  It is the work of the Father, Son, and the Spirit.

That theme is consistent in John.


  1. Great point! Sadly, most English Bibles translate it as "born again". Even ESV and NASB95, although with a footnote. Only Lehxam English Bible and NRSV and The Message preferred "born from above".

    As I've been using Russian Synodal Translation (RST) for years, this point was always clear to me being translated as "born from above" -- a rare occasion I like RST for.

    Thanks for mentioning Robertson's "Word Pictures in the NT". I will skim through this resource's introduction of the 2 Peter.

  2. It seems like our undying commitment to our own abilities in helping with our salvation creeps in all over the place, even in our Bible translation process. We just don't like the thought that we don't have any single smidgen to "bring to the table."