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What the Bible says about Born or Begotten
(From Forerunner Commentary)

John 3:6

Some have mistakenly used this verse as proof that an individual is not born again until he is composed of spirit. However, Jesus is not considering a person's bodily composition at all. A Bible student can be misled by abruptly abandoning Jesus' use of spiritual imagery and returning to a literal interpretation. Like the rest of the context, verse 6 must be understood spiritually and figuratively.

The verse states why the new birth is necessary. Flesh can continue to give birth only to what it has always produced: flesh. Yet, Jesus states clearly in John 6:63, "The flesh profits nothing." In John 8:15, He accuses the Jews of judging Him according to the flesh rather than using God's Word—which is Spirit—as their evidence. In both of these cases, Jesus is also speaking figuratively.

In Greek, "flesh" is sarx (Strong's #4561). Jesus and Paul commonly use the term as a metaphor for sinful man's nature, sometimes also described as "carnal." Used in this way, sarx is morally negative, even though by creation a person's flesh is not intrinsically negative. Figuratively, it symbolizes the unregenerate moral and spiritual state of man that almost continuously generates sinful acts. "Flesh," then, represents the inward, carnal inclination rather than muscle, skin, and bones—disposition rather than composition.

Paul writes in Romans 7:18, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells," meaning nothing good spiritually. Later, in verse 25, he admits that his "flesh [serves] the law of sin." In Galatians 5:15-17, he positions the Holy Spirit as the opposite of the flesh, declaring that these two are at war:

But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

Biblically, the term "born" or "birth" is used, not only to indicate coming from the womb as in mammalian birth, but also to describe the source or beginning of a thing, an event, or series of events. For example, we speak of the birth of a nation, an institution, or a concept. The "womb" of those births was an event or series of events that triggered the inception of a new direction, manner of life, activity, or thought.

This is how Jesus is using "born" or "birth" in John 3. He is not speaking of the birth of a human child but the birth of a new nature. The events triggering this birth are the calling of God, repentance from sin, justification through faith in Christ's death, and the receipt of God's Holy Spirit. All of these are effects of the acts of the spiritual God.

Conversely, human nature gives birth to more human nature and thus more of human nature's sinful works. It cannot do otherwise. As Job 14:4 says, "Who can bring a clean thing out of any unclean? No one!" Paul makes the same point theologically:

For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:6-8)

The flesh expresses itself, produces, and gives birth to the works of the flesh and thus to immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, and other evils, as Galatians 5:19-21 details. Though the flesh is capable of doing some good things (Matthew 7:11), in relation to God and His way, the evil will always dominate. The natural, fleshly condition of man will always exhibit the same propensities. In contrast, the Holy Spirit gives birth to and is expressed by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, etc. (Galatians 5:22-23). Therefore, a change must take place from a life dominated by the natural human heart to one motivated by God's Spirit—or a person will never be prepared for the Kingdom of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Two)

John 6:63

It is God's Holy Spirit by which we are made alive and birthed from our spiritual deadness in sin. God the Father opens a person's mind by His Spirit, giving the newly called individual insight into and understanding of His Word and an awareness and appreciation of God and His purpose, the importance of Jesus Christ, and a sense of guilt regarding sin to a degree he never had before. God's Holy Spirit cleanses us from the effects of our dreadful past.

Paul writes of the unconverted in Ephesians 4:18, "Having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart." That ignorance and blindness begins to be lifted by means of the new birth through God's miraculous infusion of His Holy Spirit, not by the waters of baptism.

This new creation follows the same pattern as shown in Genesis 1:2-3: "The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, 'Let there be light', and there was light.'" In the new creation, the spiritual creation, the sinner is perceived by God as dead and in spiritual darkness, then God sends forth His Spirit to draw the sinner to Christ and into spiritual life and light (John 1:4; 6:44; 8:12), making the sinner His child. It is God, by means of His Holy Spirit, who produces the new birth.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Two)

Galatians 4:26

Some will contend that Galatians 4:26—"but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all"—proves that a Christian is a fetus conceived by the Holy Spirit, and by analogy, is being carried in the womb of the church, awaiting birth into the Kingdom of God at the resurrection when Christ returns. This cannot be so on several counts. The first is Paul's use of the term "mother." In context, it indicates that the "mother" is not carrying a fetus, but rather, she has already delivered a child—actually many children, the born-again Christians who make up the membership of the church.

The second problem begins with a fact that several commentators assert: Neither Paul nor any other of the apostles ever once equate the church with "Jerusalem above." Growing out from this truth is that Paul specifically states that "Jerusalem above . . . is the mother of us all." However, the church is on earth. Paul is using Jerusalem figuratively in his illustration, in the sense of a homeland from which people spring (Galatians 4:25). It is as if the homeland gives birth to the children in question.

In the passage, the apostle is comparing the weakness and slavery of the earthly Jerusalem with the freedom and power of the heavenly one. The children of God spring from the heavenly because that is where our spiritual Father is located. From there, we are governed, our blessings flow, our rights are secured, and our interests are promoted (Ephesians 1:3). Jerusalem above is the city in which our names are registered (Hebrews 12:23) and our citizenship held (Philippians 3:20). Heavenly Jerusalem, which will come down to earth following the Millennium, is the place we all aspire to be when that magnificent event occurs.

There is no scriptural way that this verse can be made to say that the church is our mother and that we are fetuses in its womb. Besides being unscriptural, it is illogical. Are not the members of the church simultaneously also the children of God? How, then, can the children also be the mother? Can a child be carried in its own womb and then give birth to itself? God does not use such strange, illogical illustrations.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Three)

Philippians 3:20

Our citizenship is already registered in heaven, the headquarters of the Kingdom of God. Does any nation confer citizenship on the unborn, those merely conceived? Nations register children after they are born, not while still in the womb.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part One)

1 Peter 1:22-25

Although gennao can technically mean "begotten," the weight of Scripture is heavily on it meaning "born" rather than "begotten," even in scriptural areas far removed from the John 3 controversy.

In I Peter 1:23, the phrase "having been born again" is anagennao, which comes from gennao, and means "to beget or (by extension) bear (again)." The apostle makes quite clear in I Peter 2:1-2 that he considers those he is writing to as already born, rather than unborn and within a womb. Only a child already born would feed on milk, or Peter's metaphor would be totally wrong.

A similar circumstance appears in Hebrews 5:13-14:

For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Again, the metaphor pictures an already-born child who eats and drinks.

Paul castigates the members of the Corinthian congregation because of their spiritual immaturity, describing them as babies who needed milk:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able. (I Corinthians 3:1-2)

The metaphor of eating and drinking only works if we are considered already born spiritually. We were spiritually begotten by the Father at some point in the past through His calling, but we have progressed beyond that begettal to a spiritual birth long before the resurrection of the dead. There is not a single verse that shows us to be begotten but not yet born.

The analogy of being begotten and in the womb of the church is not only scripturally wrong, it is totally inadequate when God commands us to do practical activities normal to Christian life. A child in a womb cannot pray, study, fast, serve, consider, choose, sacrifice, humble himself, repent, forgive, be merciful, walk in the Spirit, rejoice, love, use wisdom, be discreet, intercede, or bring glory to God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Three)


 




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