Re: What did Nicodemus hear?

From: Edgar Foster (
Date: Tue Jun 23 1998 - 19:27:53 EDT wrote:

> John 3:3 - GENNHQH ANWQEV - commonly translated "born again," but
> "born from above." It looks to me like "born from above" retaing
the meaning
> of the root and is "more full equivalent" of ANWQEV, but I am
puzzled by
> Nicodemus' response. Why would "born from above" make him think a
> would have to enter a second time into his mother's womb? I suspect
this is
> why "born again" is a popular translation of this word, but is that
what the
> word is really saying? If your answer is theological, I would
appreciate your
> thought's off line, but my question for the GREEKS is, am I missing
> in the word "ANWQEN" that would imply repetition? Or am I hearing
> that isn't there when I hear "born from above?"

Dear Mr. Boyd,

According to Ralph Earle, "the first and basic meaning" of ANWQEN is
"from above." Conversely, Earle cites Josephus who uses the word in a
first century context to denote "again" or "anew." ANWQEN, like many
other terms therefore has an ambiguous semantic nature. Normally, the
context of a word tends to elucidate (or determine) its meaning in a
said application (context is determinative). ANWQEN, however, seems
somewhat obscure in John 3:3.

BAGD (77) notes that ANWQEN in John 3:3 is "purposely ambiguous and
means BOTH born from above and born again."

I note, however, that both J.H. Bernard and B.F. Westcott say that
ANWQEN does NOT mean "mere repetition." Bernard says that GENNHQH
ANWQEN means that one is 'born into a higher life'. Westcott says that
John 3:3 is describing "an analogous process (anew)."

Of course, the question comes up about Nicodemus' reply. There are
multiple answers to this question. Some feel that since Jesus did not
correct Nicodemus, he must have rightly understood Jesus. Others point
out that both the OT tradition and certain Judaistic sects already
used "rebirth" terminology that Nicodemus would have been familiar
with. There is also the possibility that Nicodemus misunderstood the
import of Jesus' question. This is not totally implausible in view of
the context of john 3:3. In the end, I opt with the view that ANWQEN
in John 3:3 either means "again" or "again" and "above."

Much of the information here can be found in Earle's Word Meanings of
the NT. I would also note the discussions on this matter by Raymond
Brown, Gerald Borchert, and GRB Murray.


Edgar Foster

Classics Major

Lenoir-Rhyne College

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