Home > Kingdom of God, Theology > Jesus and Nicodemus – what is being born again?

Jesus and Nicodemus – what is being born again?

In John 3 we read the story of Nicodemus visiting Jesus. This is another very misunderstood passage, and a whole born-again theological sandcastle is built on the wrong interpretation.

Nicodemus comes at night, he doesn't want to be seen being associated with Jesus. Is he afraid of being seen with him? Isn't he hypocritical?

He wants to find out about Jesus because of the signs he performs. That prompts Jesus telling him about the necessity of the new birth: "you all must be born again", referring to the Pharisees, on whose behalf Nicodemus attempted to spy out Jesus.

Jn 3:3 Jesus answered him, "Most assuredly, I tell you, unless one is born anew (or "born again"), he can't see the Kingdom of God.";

The Kingdom of God, aka "Olam Haba" ("the Age to Come") is the key concept in the gospels. Jesus is telling Nicodemus how one may enter it. Jesus is not introducing a new concept here. He says, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand (or know) this?" Thus, it was available under Judaism, and Nicodemus should have known what Jesus was talking about.

Jesus says, entry into the Kingdom is by being "born of water and spirit". Some believe that "water" refers to physical birth and "spirit" to receiving the Spirit at conversion, when one believes in Jesus. This interpretation, however, has a problem, for this would have been a new concept unknown to Nicodemus, and referring to physical birth by the term "water" makes no real sense, because Jesus is referring here to choice one has to make.

The other, and in my view correct interpretation is that "water" represents water baptism, which is symbolic of repentance, and the "spirit" refers to obedience.

Consider the following passage, that uses similar language:

1John 5:6 This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood.

John says, Jesus came by water and blood, that is, baptism and the cross (obedience to death) marked his ministry. Indeed, repentance and obedience was available in Judaism and Nicodemus should have known it – however, the self-righteous Pharisee thought he were OK.

"Born again" in Judaism is a dramatic change in one's life with new situation and new responsibilities – and there is no going back -, such as marriage, becoming a king or high priest, etc. Nicodemus thought he was too old to have another one, but he, being self-righteous, ignored the one Jesus spoke about. This is why Pharisees were not baptised by John the Baptist.

Now let us consider another "born again" passage:

1Pet. 1:22 Seeing you have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth through the Spirit in sincere brotherly affection, love one another from the heart fervently: 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which lives and remains forever.

So what is the "word of God"?

This is another term most Christians misunderstand. We may have a few options here, I just deal with them all.

1. Jesus is the "word of God"
Can we really derive the meaning of the term from Revelation, the book written the very last?

Rev 19:13 He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.

Is the "word of God" really Jesus? Shall we use a symbolic passage to ever derive literal truth from it and read it back into literal passages? This kind of interpretation is back-to-front.

2. The "word of God" is the Bible
Of course, Christians use this term to refer to the Bible, and KJV Only advocates even read it back into the Tanakh (OT), this method it utterly wrong. We should never ever take a very recent definition and read it back, even Jesus referred to the holy writings as "law", "prohets" and "psalms", while others simply called them "scriptures".

3. The "word of God" is God's laws/instructions into righteousness
This interpretation has strong strong support from the Tanakh and even today this is how Jews refer to the law.

Isa. 1:2 It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, 3 and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Ps. 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (knowing right from wrong – "by the Law is the knowledge of sin")

Ps. 119:160 All your word is true; all your righteous laws are eternal.

Ps. 105:7 He is the LORD our God; his judgments are in all the earth. 8 He is mindful of his covenant for ever, of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations.

Peter, himself a Jew, says, the "word of God", that is, the law of God, which is good and perfect, and by which is the knowledge of sin, lives and remains forever. Take away the law, and you no longer have the knowledge of sin; and you end up with law-lessness.

We need to answer why the mostly Jewish writers of NT would redefine this term without notifying the reader. My opinion is that they didn't. Christian theologians did.

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Categories: Kingdom of God, Theology
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