What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Nicodemus grasps that Jesus is speaking of a birth. The Greek word following "born," anothen—translated in our Bibles as "again," "anew," or "from above"—magnifies his puzzlement. It is this word that he questions when he asks, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" (John 3:4).
As an adult man, he is perplexed by the second occasion of being born. His reply indicates, not that he is contemplating being conceived again and entering his mother's womb, but that he is thinking of the end of the pregnancy, departing the womb in birth. He obviously does not understand that, in God's view, despite being physically alive, he is a spiritually dead man who needs God to resurrect him and give him the spiritual life that he lacks.
He immediately relates Jesus' words to a literal, physical, fleshly birth, thus his thoughts take him in the wrong direction. Jesus' spiritual intent has nothing to do with a second physical birth of a human being. Commentator Albert Barnessuggests that Nicodemus' spiritual prejudices turn Jesus' words into an absurdity, illustrating how disconnected he is from Jesus' spiritual intent.
The Greek term gennao (Strong's Concordance #1080) underlying "born" can be confusing because it broadly means "to procreate" or "to father," and figuratively, to regenerate." It can also be used as "to bear," "to beget," "to be born," "to bring forth," "to conceive," "to be delivered of," "to engender," and "to make." The Greeks used the term for both conception and birth, for the entire gestation process. Therefore other parts of Jesus' and the apostle's instruction must be sought to reveal more clearly which Jesus means.
In his The Complete Word Study New Testament, p. 313, Spiros Zodhiates reveals that gennao in this verse is aorist subjunctive and in the passive voice. Word Pictures in the New Testament, "John," p. 44, confirms that gennao is "aorist passive subjunctive" here. Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, p. 104, relates that, in the passive voice, gennao means "to be born." In addition, the Interpreter's Bible, vol. 8, p. 505, states, "Birth can be considered either from the father's side, in which the verb is to 'beget,' or from the mother's side, in which the verb is to 'bear.' The Johannine metaphor uses the former verb, with the meaning 'beget' (verses 3, 5, 6, 8)." Thus, it is translated grammatically correct in English Bibles as "born," not "begotten."
The American Heritage College Dictionary defines the English word born as "brought into life; brought into existence; created and resulting or arising." In brief, it indicates a beginning, whether that beginning is an actual birth of a human, animal, concept, circumstance, process, or organization.
When anothen (Strong's #509) is combined with gennao, the phrase most strongly indicates a second birth, not a conception. This is why Nicodemus responds by saying in verse 4, "How . . . can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born [also in the passive voice]?" He does not say, "How can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be begotten?"
Another term that needs further thought is "regeneration," Greek paliggenesia (Strong's #3824). As seen above, it is a synonym for gennao anothen. The prefix palin means "again," while the root is genesis, meaning "beginning" or "start." In this context, it means "spiritual rebirth" or "spiritual renovation." It is used twice in the New Testament, once by Jesus in Matthew 19:28 and once by Paul in Titus 3:5. Regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old.
When Jesus uses it, the setting is when He "sits on the throne of His glory." In Paul's usage, the occasion is the beginning of a person's salvation. Both settings indicate new beginnings. The American Heritage College Dictionary states the English meaning of regeneration as "to reform spiritually or morally; to form, construct, or create anew, especially in an improved state; to give new life or energy to; revitalize"—which is almost perfectly synonymous with paliggenesia. It describes a new beginning, a new birth.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part One)
Was Jesus Christ born under the law and thus bound to keep all of the Old Covenant rules and regulations? From this verse, some attempt to show that Jesus Christ was under the law from His birth. They conclude that Christ was duty bound from His birth to do many things that we do not have to do.
However, this assumption overlooks the true meaning of this verse, which is often obscured by the interpretation given by modern translators. The word translated "born" in modern translations is from the Greek word ginomai, which can have many different shades of meaning depending upon the context. It primarily means "to cause to be" or "to come into being." The King James Version translates it: "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law."
Jesus Christ was physically born through the normal process of human birth to the virgin Mary. But God did not inspire Paul to use the Greek word for "born," gennao, in Galatians 4:4 because He wanted to focus on the miraculous conception of Christ and the overwhelming significance of Jesus' sacrifice.
God emphasizes His Son's humanity in this verse. Like all other men, Jesus was born of a woman; He was flesh and blood. Hebrews 10:5 verifies this: "Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: 'Sacrifice and offtering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me.'"
Another point of note is that the original Greek text does not read "the law," but simply "law." The definite article is missing! Paul is speaking of law in general, not specifically the law of God. The apostle thus means that, when Jesus became a man, He was subject to the same terms, forces, and conditions that any other man is. It simply becomes another reference to His humanity like Hebrews 2:10-18.
The verse does not support the idea that Jesus was bound by the Old Covenant because He was born into it. The deeper meaning of Galatians 4:4 is that Jesus Christ came into being through the divine miracle in which God the Father caused Mary to conceive by the Holy Spirit. Also, by another miracle, God the Father caused Jesus to be placed under the law - under the death penalty - at the time of His crucifixion. Note the King James' rendering of Galatians 3:13: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made [ginomai] a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree."
Jesus Christ was never under the law except at the time of His crucifixion when God the Father laid the entire burden of the sins of the world upon His head (II Corinthians 5:21; Isaiah 53:4-12). He led a perfect life. Therefore, the Old Covenant rules and regulations did not apply to Him because they were designed to remind the people of Israel of their sins and their need for a Savior (Galatians 3:19).
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Was Jesus Christ Born Under the Law?
God creates the "new man." Paul makes this clear when he tells us that God "create[d] in Himself one new man from the two" (Ephesians 2:15). Writing about reconciliation, he defines these two men in verse 11: physical Israelites (the "Circumcision") and Gentiles (the "Uncircumcision"). Just two chapters later, he reiterates that God created the new man; he commands Christians to "put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). Finally, this time in his letter to the Colossian and Laodicean Christians, Paul makes the same point; he tells us to "put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of [God] who created him" (Colossians 3:10).
Clearly, God creates the new man in His own image. This is an important starting-point in understanding what Paul means by the term new man for two reasons:
It strongly argues against the false doctrine that Christians are "born again" when they "accept" Christ. While various denominations hold somewhat different beliefs, a common thread is that the new man, as well as the inward (II Corinthians 4:16) and inner men (Ephesians 3:16), are metaphoric designations for the same thing, a spiritual entitywhich resides within Christians. This entity, they submit, is an invisible, ethereal, eternal being that is the product of the spiritual birth Christ mentions in John 3:3-8. In short, Protestants believe that the new man is born within Christians at the time they are "born again."
A twig this is not! It is a misunderstanding of a major truth in God's Word. It leads those who subscribe to it into one error after another. Notice how Protestant theologians use this misunderstanding to support another lie—that heaven is the reward of the saved. They interpret Christ's statement to Nicodemus that "[N]o man has ascended to heaven" (John 3:13) to mean that no natural man (I Corinthians 2:14) or old man (Romans 6:6) has done so. While they correctly understand these two men to represent the unconverted person, they incorrectly believe Christ was not speaking of the new man. They believe that the new man, whom they confidently proclaim resides within them as a separate spiritual entity, ascends to heaven when they die, there "to be with the Lord." In other words, they understand Christ's words in John 3:13 to refer to the "old man" only.
This simply does not square with Paul's teaching. He sees the new man as created, not born. In fact, not even once does he refer to the new man as born—much less "born again"! The Greek verb translated "create" or "created" in Ephesians 2:15; 4:24; and Colossians 3:10 is ktizo, not gennao. Ktizo can mean "to create" (or as a noun, "creator"), "to form," "to make," "to found," or "to fabricate." New Testament writers use ktizo only fourteen times, and never does it refer to or even imply birth or conception. The idea that the new man is born is not consonant with the Scriptures as a whole.
However, God's use of ktizo tells us something vitalabout the new man. The most specific sense of this Greek verb is "to found originally." Ktizo, whose stated or understood subject in Scripture is always God, refers to "the founding of a place, a city or colony" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
Consider this nuance of meaning as it relates to the new man. A newly founded city or colony is almost always small. If it matures, it will be through the continued efforts of its founder and its rank-and-file citizens over many years. The imagery is important: The new man, when first established in us by God, is immature and inexperienced. As we will see later, we have a responsibility to cooperate with God, the new man's founder, to ensure that he grows and matures.
The fact that God creates the new man is important for a second reason: It argues that the term new man is synonymous with new creation(KJV, "new creature"). Paul uses this term in Galatians 6:15 and II Corinthians 5:17.
Once created in us by God, how does the new man mature and grow? Remember, Paul refers to the new man in Colossians 3:10 as a man "renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him." "Renewed," translated here in the passive voice, comes from the Greek verb anakainoo. It means "to make new" in the sense of "to make different." The new man is different from the old one in that he bears the image of God!
Paul uses a similar verb in Ephesians 4:22-23, where he asks that "you . . . be renewed in the spirit of your mind." That Greek verb, ananeoo, again translated in the passive voice, means "to renew" or "to renovate." Through years of living Satan's way of life before conversion, our mind grows corrupt; even the best parts of it become "like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6).
The apostle provides more details about this renewal process in Romans 12:1-2. Here, he uses the same phraseology—the renewal of a person's mind—in a context that makes his meaning crystal clear: "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
The noun "renewing" (anakainosis) is related to the verb anakainoo. Like anakainoo, it carries the sense of renovation to a different, rather than a younger, state. This attests again that the new man is different from the old.
Choosing the New Man (Part One)
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