Born Again

21 Dec

Is Justin Martyr the origin for the phrase “born again”?

Και γαρ ο Χριστος ειπεν· Αν μη αναγεννηθητε, ου μη εισελθητε εις την βασιλειαν των ουρανων.

For Christ also said: Unless you are born again, you shall not go into the kingdom of heaven.

– Justin, First Apology 1.61.4

The above bolded phrase is literally “reborn”. Contrast this with what’s found in John 3:

3 απεκριθη ιησους και ειπεν αυτω αμην αμην λεγω σοι εαν μη τις γεννηθη ανωθεν ου δυναται ιδειν την βασιλειαν του θεου

3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

This part is a bit trickier. The phrase here γεννηθη ανωθεν::gennithi anothen has a double meaning that makes sense of Nicodemus’ confusion. It can mean both “born again” and “born from above”. In the entire canonical New Testament, this is one of two times that ανωθεν is used to mean “again”. All other times it’s used to mean “from above”. Off the top of my head, the only other time is in one of Paul’s letters where he complains about having to do something “all over again”, as in from the beginning (don’t feel like looking it up right now lol).

So poor Nic is confused about what it means to be “born again” since you can’t crawl back into your mother’s womb to be born a second time. Jesus replies “You idiot, I meant anothen as in from above; as in from the spirit”. If John had Jesus say αναγεγεννημενοι as 1 Peter says (1:23), then the context in John wouldn’t have made sense.

So it seems as though John had a literary/entertainment reason for having Jesus say “born again/from above”. But it can go either way – did John reappropriate this from Justin and put it in a literary context, or did Justin fub and simply recall this “saying” from John? Surely an educated philosopher like Justin would have remembered the context of the phrase “born from above”.

Another odd thing is that “kingdom of heaven” is a phrase only found in Matthew.

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Posted by on December 21, 2009 in born again, gospel of john, justin martyr


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