Friday, July 28, 2006

Born Again, part 2

Now, for another misconception from the passage in John 3.

When we hear the phrase “born again,” we think of something very specific, how a person “
becomes a Christian.” But that is clearly not what Jesus has in mind here.

First, let’s look at the phrase. “Born” can mean “born of a mother” or “begotten of a father.” “Again” can mean “again” or “from above.” (In John’s gospel words often have double meanings.)

So here’s the context: Nicodemus says, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

As I mentioned in the previous post, Nicodemus has just made what he considers a generous statement. There has been much debate about “where Jesus has come from.” Some have argued that Jesus could not come from God because he does not follow the rules of the Pharisees. So Nicodemus expects Jesus to respond in gratitude to this acknowledgement.

But Jesus turns the tables on Nicodemus. He twists his words around and uses them against him. He says, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again (from above).” (Notice the repeat of “no one” and “can.”)

So what does Jesus mean? Does he mean that Nicodemus needs to pray the “sinner’s prayer” and “ask Jesus into his heart”? Doesn’t make much sense, does it? The atonement has yet to be made. The New Covenant has yet to be established in the blood of the Messiah.

What Jesus is telling Nicodemus is something more generic. He is saying that no one knows the first thing about the kingdom of God unless he has been enlightened to spiritual realities. And that can only happen through the work of the Spirit. (Later, Christian theologians would analyze the process of spiritual transformation and identify various stages they would name “regeneration,” “sanctification,” and “glorification.”)

Nicodemus has come to check out Jesus, and Jesus has put him on the defensive. Jesus has told him that he doesn’t know the first thing about the kingdom of God. (See verse 10.)

Bonus: Your Bible probably has verses 16–21 in quotations. The original Greek text did not have such things as quotation marks. In fact, the idea of a direct quotation is a very modern idea. It is my opinion that this paragraph is a commentary by John, not a quotation from Jesus. These words make much more sense from the pen of John after the death and resurrection of Jesus than they do from the mouth of Jesus near the beginning of his ministry.

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”

1 comment:

Tiber Jumper said...

I appreciate your effort to revisit being "Born again." In our American christian culture we have come to believe that "born again" christians are a separate class. Yet, in the earliest years of the church up until about 200 years ago, there were no "born again christians." The early church always and still considers this to refer to the waters of Baptism. All the church fathers of the post apostolic times referred to John 3 as representing baptism.
From the early 2nd century Justin Martyr writes:"As many as are persuaded and believe that what we [Christians] teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly . . . are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, ‘Except you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:3]" (First Apology 61 [A.D. 151]).

It is only relatively recently in salvation history that the concept of born again christians "asking Jesus into your heart" has emerged. The words "Personal lord and savior" don't exist in the Bible.