Wednesday, September 10, 2014


By Ed Cardwell
John 3:3

What is fascinating and thrilling about delving into the original languages of the Bible is that it illuminates the Scriptures in a way and to a degree that any one translation is not able to do.  Being able to see the Scriptures in the environment of the original Greek and Hebrew is like being able to peer through and beyond the veil of the temple gazing, as it were, into the inner Holy of Holies.  There are precious nuggets of truth just lying there waiting for discovery.
Greek is the language of specificity.  Greek words are intended to convey a mental picture from the speaker to the hearer.  All language should have this innate ability, but as we can see, English is an agglomeration of languages with words whose meanings have been so obfuscated and diversified that clear communication is almost impossible.  The answer for the serious Bible student is to go to the numerous works available that elucidate the original words and their contextual meanings throughout Scripture.  There is even a better way – study and master the original languages.
There is however a supreme prerequisite for any serious Bible student, a tool absolutely necessary for deep inquiry into the mind and heart of the author: an unshakeable adherence to the immutable unchanging word of the living God.  It has to do with one’s understanding of Biblical inspiration.  Paul used this word ‘inspired’ when he wrote to Timothy, his fellow worker in the Gospel, in 2Tim 3:16:

“All Scripture is inspired by God.”

The Greek word for ‘inspired’ is qeo,pneustoj (theopneustos).  It means ‘God-breathed’ – in other words ‘straight from the heart and mouth of God’.  That is essentially the meaning of all the terms used to describe the orthodox view of inspiration: verbal, plenary, infallible, inerrant.

The following is an excellent working definition of Biblical inspiration that has served well when searching out the true meaning of the word of God:

Inspiration is a special act of the Holy Spirit in which He guided the writers of the Scriptures in such a way that what they wrote was exactly what He wanted and thus they are free of error of fact, doctrine, and judgment.  (This definition refers only to the original writings, not copies, translations, or commentaries.)

Only with the full confidence that every word in the original is the intent of the Holy Spirit is one able to mine the infinite treasures of the Scriptures.

Of course one might be accused of heresy if he were to alter revered translations.  Some might even consider it desecration of the highest order.  But I suggest that looking beyond the musty curtain of the ‘Authorized’ version(s) sometimes allows us to penetrate the limitations that these versions have proscribed to reconsider the intent of the author.

How much deeper our understanding of the Gospel might be if only we would lay aside the tradition of men (and the bias of the translators) and discover the intent of the true author of Scripture.  How much richer would be our appreciation for the heart and mind of the living God.

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So, let us look at one of the most quoted and revered passages of Scripture:  JOHN 3:3.  The KJV and NAS versions are listed first, followed by the original Greek.

John 3:3

KJV Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

NAS Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

GNT avpekri,qh VIhsou/j kai. ei=pen auvtw/|( VAmh.n avmh.n le,gw soi( eva.n mh, tij gennhqh/| a;nwqen( ouv du,natai ivdei/n th.n basilei,an tou/ qeou/Å

 The phrase translated ‘born again’ in both the KJV and the NAS are the English translation for the Greek words ‘gennhqh/| a;nwqen(gennêthêi anôthen) - in bold and underlined above.
A review of these two words in reverse order will prove useful:
The word ‘again’ in John 3:3 is translated in the KJV and the NAS from the Greek word a;nwqen (anôthen).  a;nwqen is an adverb of location meaning specifically ‘from above’ – the basic stem is a;nw (ano) meaning ‘up’, or ‘above’ - and the adverb suffix –qen signifies ‘from where/whence’.   a;nwqen does not mean a repetition.
There is a common Greek word for ‘again’, meaning ‘repeated action’.  It is pa,lin (palin).   This word appears 141 times in 136 verses in the NT and is translated ‘again’ on every occasion.   However, pa,lin does not appear here in John 3:3.  But regrettably this is the meaning commonly accepted by the casual reader of many of the English translations.  Such a translation is unspecific and causes one’s mind to default to an English unspecific picture, one of simply a repeated action. But the word a;nwqen is very specific, emphasizing the source of this new life in our verse here.  Thankfully the NRS (New Revised Standard), the NAB (New American Bible), and the YLT (Young’s Literal Translation) translate it correctly – ‘from above’. 
a;nwqen appears 13 times in the New Testament.  To visualize how improbable it is to translate a;nwqen as ‘again’, all of the following New Testament passages where it occurs appear below.  First are listed the verses from the KJV, then the verses from the NAS.  The translation of a;nwqen is given in bold, underlined, and italicized:

KJV Matthew 27:51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;

KJV Mark 15:38 And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.

KJV Luke 1:3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,

KJV John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

 31 He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.

KJV John 19:11 Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.

 23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.

KJV Acts 26:5 Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.

KJV Galatians 4:9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? *

KJV James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

KJV James 3:15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

*[Note:  Gal 4:9 needs some explanation.  The regular Greek word for ‘again’ (pa,lin) , meaning ‘repeated action’, is used twice in this verse.   The word  a;nwqen, meaning ‘from above’ appears here also but is not actually translated in the KJV by itself.  It has been incorporated with the 2nd  pa,lin to mean ‘all over again’, which is exactly the translation given in several other versions, including the NAS.]

Now we look at those 13 verses in the NAS (New American Standard):

NAS Matthew 27:51 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split,

NAS Mark 15:38 And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

NAS Luke 1:3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;

NAS John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

7 "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'

31 "He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.

NAS John 19:11 Jesus answered, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin."

23 The soldiers therefore, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece.*

NAS Acts 26:5 since they have known about me for a long time previously, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.

NAS Galatians 4:9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?

NAS James 1:17 Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.

NAS James 3:15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.

17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

*[Note:  For Gal 4:9 see note above.  For John 19.23 the NAS loosely translates the Greek phrase ‘evk tw/n a;nwqen u`fanto.j diV o[lou’ as ‘woven in one piece’, but it is literally ‘woven from the top throughout’.  The ESV translates it:  ‘woven in one piece from top to bottom.’]

To expand this visualization of the specificity of a;nwqen one can check the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) where this word appears 23 times.  In each case the English translation is ‘above’, ‘from above’, and is true to the context.  To save space those verses are omitted here.

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In all of the NT only in John 3:3 and John 3:7, a companion and follow-up text, both of which are crucial in comprehending the nature of this new life of which Jesus speaks, is the word  a;nwqen translated ‘again’, as if a repeated action was the point of Jesus’ words.  The original language makes it clear that this new life comes ‘FROM ABOVE’.  The obvious distinction is that this is not a repeated action, but a whole new creation - the source of this new life is ‘out of this world’.   Based upon the clear meaning of the original, no other conclusion seems reasonable.
One wonders what bias the translators must have had to make such a departure.  Even Vine in his Complete Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words mentions that the NRV makes the correction in translation.  He points out also the inconsistency of both the KJV and the NAS by their correct translation of   a;nwqen in verse 31 of the same chapter.
It must be emphasized that the word ‘again’ is misleading where a;nwqen is used.  Yes, ‘again’ does imply another event in this context, but if that had been all that was implied, pa,lin, meaning a repetition, would have sufficed.  But the Greek is specific.  This life comes not out of the flesh, but from heaven above.  The Greek says it clearly.  The translators have regrettably obscured the meaning and clear intent of the author.

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Now we look at the word gennhqh/| translated ‘born’ in both the KJV and NAS in the phrase gennhqh/| a;nwqen (‘born again’) in John 3:3:


There are several Greek words that in some way relate to conception, regeneration, birth, the birth process, the birth event, and the general concept of bringing a human being into the world.
1. ti,ktw  (tikto)  appears 19 times in the NT in 18 verses.  This word focuses on the actual event of birth, the delivery, and often includes the accompanying pain and sorrow.  It means ‘to produce fruit from the seed’, ‘to bring forth’, ‘to deliver’, specifically of women giving birth.  This word does not appear in our text.
2.  avpokue,w (apokueo) appears 4 times in the NT in 2 verses.  This word means ‘to bring forth’, as in ‘produce’.  This word does not appear in our text.
3.  sullamba,nw (sullambano) appears 16 times in the NT in 16 verses.  Dr. Luke uses this word eleven out of the 16 times in the N.T.  He alone in the N.T. has it for conceiving offspring.  It is translated in the KJV as:  arrest(3), arrested(4), became pregnant(1), conceive(1), conceived(3), help(2), seized(1), taken(1).  This is a compound word meaning literally ‘to take or receive together.  This word does not appear in our text.
4.  genna,w  (gennao) appears 105 times in the NT in 65 verses.  On almost half of those occasions it is translated ‘begat’ and a third are translated ‘be born’.  It is also translated on few occasions as ‘bear’, ‘gender’, ‘bring forth’, ‘be delivered’.  This word is associated with our English words ‘gene’, ‘genetic’, ‘generate’, ‘generation’, ‘engender’, etc.  Its precise meaning in the NT is best determined by the context.  This is the word translated ‘born’ throughout the passage from John 3:3-8. 
As we know that life begins at the very time of conception, not at the time of the actual delivery of the child, we can understand why this word was used instead of ti,ktw, #1 above.  As has been stated before - that the Greek language is specific - it seems logical, therefore, that this word in John 3:3 through John 3:8 would be better translated as ‘begotten’, or ‘conceived’.
In John 3:4 Nicodemus, using the same word genna,w, interprets the ‘conception’ of which Jesus speaks as a repeated event – one involving the flesh - since he is ignorant of the spiritual birth.  Jesus then goes on to explain the true nature of this life ‘from above’ using somewhat cryptic language (to Nicodemus, at least) about ‘water’ and the ‘spirit’ and distinguishes between the life that is out of the flesh from the life that is from the Spirit.  Other Scriptures help to clarify His meaning:
“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” NAS Titus 3:5
NAS Ephesians 5:26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
NAS John 15:3 "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
NAS Ephesians 1:13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again (avnagenna,w)[ avna + genna,w] {upwards + begotten} unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  KJV 1 Peter 1:3
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It must be admitted that interpreting the words of Jesus in John 3:3,7 has always proved somewhat difficult, but the task would have been made far easier if the words had been translated more accurately.
The term ‘born again’ has been hijacked by an ignorant media and has come to be meaningless through the whims of overuse and misuse.  Perhaps it has served the godless community well through the vagueness of the translations.  If the translation had been accurate, at least the hearers would be directed toward the nature and source of this ‘rebirth’ – conceived from above.  It would be difficult to avoid the clarity of that truth.

Ed Cardwell is my friend and former co-worker at Baptist Christian School in Hemet, CA.


  1. This is good. Does (1) mean that there will be more coming soon?

  2. Ralph: Yes, Ed is working on some others. I don't know how many, but I plan to publish them as soon as he gets them to me. His knowledge of the biblical languages certainly enables him to write from a very biblical perspective.


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