Daily Archives: April 1, 2014

Life From Above


I was looking through some old posts of mine, searching for the word ἄνωθεν::anothen that’s used in the double meaning in John 3 but I couldn’t find what I was looking for. The closest I had was this post on Justin Martyr’s use. I assume I must have written what I’m about to write here in an IRL letter to someone instead of on my blog.

Anyway, anothen is defined at Perseus as meaning “from above, from on high”. The author of John uses this word as a double entendre in John 3.3, 16; evidencing that the conversation must have occurred in Greek since such a double meaning doesn’t exist in any other language. Here it is, in the author’s context:

John 3

3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.

3 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ: ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, οὐ δύναται ἰδεῖν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.

I had done a word search of the word anothen in the NT that returned only 13 results; and in the vast majority of instances it is used to mean “from above”. Like in Mark 15.38 // Matt 27.51, where the curtain of the temple rips in two from top to bottom (εἰς δύο [ἀπ’] ἄνωθεν ἕως κάτω). Three are used in the epistle attributed to James to mean “from above” as well. Five of them are found in John, three in chapter 3 and two in chapter 19; the three in chapter 3 are used in the double meaning sense. The ones in chapter 19 are meant in the from above sense.

Paul uses anothen to mean “from the beginning” in Galatians 4.9, and Luke/Acts uses it in the same manner at Luke 1.3 and Acts 26.5. This fits the evidence that Luke and Acts were written by the same hand, and maybe even had some sort of relationship to Paul… though that would be irresponsible to conclude that just from the use of this one word.

I suppose the English metaphor “taking it from the top” fits how anothen was used in antiquity; it could mean literally taking it from somewhere really high up or starting from the beginning. The metaphor might even be due to the nature of writing itself. If you read this blog post from the top you are also reading it from the beginning, and I assume that ancient Greek playwrites also wrote from the top to the bottom and is why the word anothen has both meanings in Greek.

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Posted by on April 1, 2014 in greek

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