John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 3:3, Born Again

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.

//Here’s a conversation in the book of John that probably didn’t really happen. Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus how to enter the kingdom of God. But scholars doubt the conversation’s historicity on linguistic grounds.

It’s predicated on a play of words, a double entendre. The Gospel was written in Greek, and the Greek word for “again” in verse three carries two meanings: It can mean born a second time, or it can mean born from above. So the conversation continues:

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus assumes the first meaning, and Jesus corrects him to convey the second meaning. Problem is, Jesus didn’t speak in Greek; he spoke in Aramaic.


  1. Michelle Cadwell

    What do you think he meant by saying “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit” ? .. And, what does it mean.. “be born of water and of the spirit” ?

  2. Lee Harmon

    Hi Michelle! This quote comes from John’s Gospel, and John puts an emphasis on a Spirit-led congregation. Baptism by water is not a new thing, Jews immersed themselves in ritual cleansing baths long before Christianity took hold, but when Christians came along, they claimed the presence of the Spirit. This was an astounding claim, since the arrival of the Spirit was not expected by the Jews until the age of the Messiah…so you can see that Christians were claiming Jesus as the world’s Messiah, claiming the age of God’s rule had begun. So, while there are lots of opinions about just what it means to be “born of the Spirit,” in its oldest form, it just means to come under the rule of the governing Spirit (what most call the Holy Spirit) and become a part of the new age of God’s rule.

  3. “Problem is, Jesus didn’t speak in Greek; he spoke in Aramaic.” This is debated. ABout 8 miles from Nazareth was a Greco-Roman city, whose name escapes me at the moment, and Joseph and his son(s?), as a TEKTON, could have worked there and been exposed to Greek and Latin. It is possible jesus was at least bilingual, and what do I know? I wasn’t there.

  4. Lee Harmon

    Yes, it’s possible Tiberias had an influence and that Jesus grew up bilingual, but I also think it an unlikely conversation, being with a Pharisee and being witnessed (presumably) by Galileans. But I wasn’t there either. 😉

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