Two of the most familiar verses in the Bible are in John 3. But familiarity does not ensure clear understanding. That takes a little work on our part and paying attention to context. The Easter post touched on John 3:16. Here, we look at verses 3 and 7.
Verse 7 is most often quoted as, “you [ye, i.e. plural] must be born again.”
The word translated “again” is anothen [the ‘o’ is omega]. In Greek, ano means “above” and anothen means “from above” (it can also have an earlier time reference).
F.F. Bruce translates it, “You all must be born from above.” Leon Morris in the NICNT uses “anew” as does the ASV. Merrill C. Tenney, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary notes: ‘“Anothen”…in the Johannine writings normally means “from above” and it should be rendered thus here.’
The NICNT* notes that anothen ‘means “from above” in every other place where it occurs in this Gospel.’ It also notes that ‘there is no Aramaic adverb with the meaning “again.”’
The focus of v.3 is on the Kingdom of God and the condition needed to see it (equals ‘enter it’). Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be born from above to see it. Jesus then goes on and emphasizes that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”
This pattern is strikingly similar to many Old Testament verses where the same thought is repeated in synonyms for emphasis.
And then Jesus repeats this pair all over again: v.7, “You all must be born from above,“ v.8, “…born of the Spirit.”
It is the theme with which John began the Gospel–the children of God, those of the Kingdom, are “born…of God.”
“ But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12, 13).
The familiar “again” has often been used in such a way as to have the effect of shifting the emphasis of the focus from God/Spirit/above [i.e. ‘heaven’] to man.
*NICNT New International Commentary on the New Testament