Born Again?

adapted from "The Roman Catholic Faith and The Bible", written by Father Gerardo R. Tapiador

Jesus answered: In all truth I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. John 3:3

Some translations of the bible have the verse as 'without being born again'. To address this issue, we go back to the original Greek of John 3:3. The Greek text reads as follows, 'Ean me tis gennethe anothen, ou dunatai idein ten basilean tou Theou.' or 'unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God'. The Greek word for 'again' is 'palin' and we find that John never uses it here. Instead he uses 'anothen', which means 'from above'. Although some translations state that 'again' is the same as 'from above', in the English language they are hardly considered synonymous. The same is true in Greek.

Some translators justify the use of the expression 'born again' by saying that the understanding of Nicodemus was that Jesus was speaking of being 'born again' as he questions Jesus in John 3:4. However, looking at the original Greek text, ' Pos dunatai anthropos gennethenai geron on? Me dunatai ten loilian tes metros autou deuteron eiselthein kai gennethenai.', a more exact translation would be ' How can a man be born, being an old man? He cannot enter into the womb of his mother a second time and be born.' Here, 'palin' is never used with 'gennethenai'(to be born). Rather, 'deuteron' is used here which means 'second' or in this context ' a second time'. 'deuteron' is used with the concept of entering the mother's womb for a second time-a concept which indicated that Nicodemus clearly misunderstood what Jesus was saying about being born from above. Hence, translators who used the expression 'born again' here applied the misunderstanding of Nicodemus into the discourse of Jesus-a clear indication that just like Nicodemus they also misunderstood what it means to be 'born from above'.

On our part, to be born from above would mean to be a child of God. This happens when Jesus states in John 3:5 'no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit'. This event is something that clearly happens to us in our baptism-when we also become 'temples of the Holy Spirit and heirs to heaven'.

However, some may object, 'How can you be born of the Spirit when you were baptised as an infant and could hardly be aware of what was happening?'. This time the answer is clear in John3:7-8 where Jesus tells Nicodemus,' Do not be surprised when I say: You must be born from above. The wind blows where it pleases; you can hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.'. Here, Jesus makes it clear that the work of the Spirit is far greater than our own limited human awareness, so that the one who is baptised in spite of his being an infant does not have to be aware of the work of the Spirit in his life.

Hence, the Roman Catholic church does not limit the grace of baptism only to those who can be aware of what is happening to them but rather extends it to all, whether infant or adult. In this sense, the Church fulfills the mission entrusted to her by Christ, 'Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the comands I gave you. And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.' (Matthew 28: 19-20).