I have always believed that when Jesus said that a person must be born again, that He was referring to something that happens when one first believes in Him. Many Christians hold this view. But when I studied the born again passages lately, I don't see any connection between born again and initial faith in Jesus. I suspect I had accepted my belief based on group-think rather than careful exegesis.

From John 3, what is the biblical basis that you get born again at the point when you first believe in Jesus?

Please be careful of prior assumption, that is, of making "born again" mean something you already believe it means, and show me from the scriptures that it is tied up with initial faith in Christ, if that's the case.

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6 Answers 6


The connection between belief and being born again seems quite evident from John 1:12–13, in which it is written,

12 But all those who received him, he gave them power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

ΙΒʹ ὅσοι δὲ ἔλαβον αὐτόν ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς ἐξουσίαν τέκνα θεοῦ γενέσθαι τοῖς πιστεύουσιν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ΙΓʹ οἳ οὐκ ἐξ αἱμάτων οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος σαρκὸς οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρὸς ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ θεοῦ ἐγεννήθησαν TR, 1550

The author makes a direct correlation between “those who believe in his name” (τοῖς πιστεύουσιν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ) by further describing them as those “who were born...of God” (οἳ...ἐκ θεοῦ ἐγεννήθησαν ).

“To be born of God” (γεννᾶσθαι ἐκ θεοῦ) is synonymous with “to be born again” (γεννᾶσθαι ἄνωθεν). Man is first born of his mother,1 thus flesh of flesh,2 and when he believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, he is born of God, the Father who is spirit,3 thus spirit of spirit.4 When he is born of God, he is born again. They are identical.

To reiterate, a man is born of God by believing in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, per John 1:12-13, and to be born of God is to be born again.


1 John 3:4. Nicodemus correctly heard the Lord Jesus Christ when he said “born again,” which is obvious when he asked the Lord Jesus Christ how it was possible for a man to enter his mother’s womb a second time. He simply did not understand how a man must be born again. That is, a man must not enter his mother’s womb a second time to be born, i.e. be born again physically. Rather, he must be born of God; the second birth is spiritual, rather than physical.
2 John 3:6a: «τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τῆς σαρκὸς σάρξ ἐστιν», “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.”
3 John 4:24
4 John 3:6b: «τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος πνεῦμά ἐστιν», “that which is born of the spirit is spirit.”


You're right, in John 3:1-12, there's nothing said about the reference of a needed faith in Christ in order to be "born again/born from above."

At John 3:13, the text begins to change. It can be argued that Christ is no longer talking to Nicodemus. From 3:13-18, the passage becomes about the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16, KJV)

At John 3:19, the text issues out a verdict.

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19, KJV)

In John 3:22, the disciples are now in Judea, where they're talking to John the Baptist about his baptisms and the baptism of Christ and John explains the difference between himself and Christ. The chapter ends with John explaining the importance of faith.

"He that believeth on the Son has everlasting life and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God abideth in him." (John 3:36, KJV)

So far, the text has moved from a conversation about being "born again/born from above" (which is the baptism of the holy spirit), to faith in Christ as a necessity for salvation, to men refusing to have faith in Christ and being condemned, to baptism and how John is not the messiah (anointed one; a reference to the holy spirit baptism), to faith. Either there is a recurring coincidence or there is a common thread.

There are a number of passages throughout the tanach and the Christian bible, outside of John 3, that are related to being "born again/born from above." They start in Genesis and end in Revelation. They refer to "spirit" and "water," "breath" and "water," "breath," "living water," and the "kingdom of heaven."

  • You lost me at "born from above" (which is the baptism of the holy spirit)". How do you justify equating being "born from above" with a baptism of the holy Spirit? The passage seems to offer even less support for that notion than for the idea that being born from above is equivalent to initial faith in Christ. That is at least supported by the surrounding context.
    – P. TJ
    Apr 15, 2017 at 15:56

"I have always believed that when Jesus said that a person must be born again ..."

Actually Jesus never said that a person must be born again.

During the dialog between Jesus and Nicodemus there is an interplay between the two meanings of the Greek phrase γεννηθη ανωθεν, which can mean either "born again" or "born from above". Jesus intends the latter meaning, whereas Nicodemus understands the former. A footnote to the English translation of the commentary by the Byzantine Theophylact of Ohrid explains:

The two basic meanings fo the Greek word ανωθεν are: "from the top, from above"; and "from the beginning." It is frequently used in the New Testament to mean "from heaven." (See verse 31 later in this same chapter: He that cometh from above is above all; he that is of the earth is earthly.) It is clear that Christ is speaking of spiritual birth from above, from heaven, and from God, and that Nicodemus misunderstands Him to mean being born physically a second time.

The Explanation of the Gospel According to St. John (tr. Chrysostom Press, 2007), pp.48-49n

Theophylact's commentary itself explains:

Nicodemus is astounded by these words which transcend all human teaching, and asks, with the weakness characteristic of human nature, "How can this be?" This is a sure sign of disbelief: it is the skeptic that objects, "Why is this?" and "How is that?" Christ's words appear ridiculous to Nicodemus because he was not thinking of spiritual words, but birth from a mother's womb. When he heard the words, Except a man be born from above [ανωθεν], he understood ανωθεν to mean "from the beginning, a second time." He thought Christ was saying, "Unless a man be born a second time." This is why he asks, "How can a man ... when he is old ... enter the second time into his mother's womb?"


To your original question, I am not sure how someone arrives at that conclusion.

Jesus says, one can not see, in the Greek it means to know, or perceive. Strongs G1492 in the following manner: know (281x), cannot tell (with G3756) (8x), know how (7x), wist (6x), misc (19x), see (314x), behold (17x), look (5x), perceive (5x), vr see (3x), vr know (1x).

How can a person understand that they are a sinner, and they need a savior, and that savior is Jesus Christ without being regenerated by the Holy Spirit first? They can not. But I am not going to put God in a box, He can regenerate and put this knowledge in their heart, and they can believe in their heart and confess with their mouth in a split second. See 2 Cor 4:6. However, I do not think He does this all the time. You have seen people seeking for the truth after God has shined the light into their heart and regenerated them, they go from a totally dark and wicked heart, and God shines truth into their heart, and they start searching. At God's appointed time they accept and possess the faith in Jesus Christ that was a Gift from God (God is the source of our faith, He has given it to us, Ephesians 2:8). Praise God for His work of Salvation!!

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    – Steve
    Jun 15, 2016 at 2:54

In John's Gospel, Jesus sometimes tricked those who opposed him, by using double meanings that left his opponents confused. John 3:1-13 is an example of this. The trick depends on two of the quite different meanings that ἄνωθεν (anóthen) can have in the Greek language:

Strong's 509: from above, from the beginning, again

Tom Thatcher says ('The Riddles of Jesus in Johannine Dialogues', Jesus in Johannine Tradition, page 275) the Greek term anóthen is intentionally ambiguous, as it can reasonably mean 'again' or 'from above'. Nicodemus chooses the former, but the correct answer is 'from above', which here establishes the difference between 'born of flesh' and 'born of spirit'. He says it is doubtful that Nicodemus could understand Jesus' elaborate answer (John 3:11-21). I would add that this entire riddle could not have taken place in Aramaic.

When Jesus says (John 3:3) "Except a man be born anóthen, he cannot see the kingdom of God," he means born from above, but Nicodemus interprets Jesus as saying he must be born again. The translators of the New American Bible recognised this, and managed to convey the meaning:

John 3:3-4 (NAB): 3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." 4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother's womb and be born again, can he?"

The translation into English is difficult, and other Bibles consistently use one meaning for anóthen, or the other, as does the KJV:

John 3:3-4 (KJV): 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. 4 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?

To the amusement of the Greek-speaking reader, Jesus repeats that a man must be born from above, and again Nicodemus is confused:

John 3:7 (NAB): Do not be amazed that I told you, 'You must be born from above.'

Finally, in John 3:13 we see clearly in the English language that Jesus was talking of being born from heaven above, even as he had been:

John 3:13 (NAB): No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.
John 3:13 (KJV): And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.

In this passage, Jesus is certainly talking of the need for faith, as we can see in verse 11, where Jesus accuses the Pharisees of not accepting his testimony and then, most importantly, in verse 15:

John 3:15 (NAB): so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

Jesus was telling Nicodemus he must be born from above - a spiritual birth - perhaps "born again", but not literally as Nicodemus had thought:

John 3:6 (NAB): What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit.

  • Thank you for answering. This sounds like an argument aiming toward a previously believed position. The flow of thought of vv1-16 doesn't indicate initial faith in Jesus makes one born again. (I see verses in John 3 to the contrary.)
    – Steve
    Jun 14, 2016 at 13:37
  • You're right that I previously knew what anothen meant and that I have previously studied this passage. I also agree, as you appear to note, that until we get to vv 15-16, there is no suggestion that faith is involved. Although explaining the anothen passage, these verses do seem as if the author did not have this in mind at first - who knows? Jun 14, 2016 at 21:27
  • I have added a citation (Professor Thatcher) that agrees that John 3 intentionally faces Nicodemus with a riddle - Jesus says 'from above' and Nicodemus thinks 'again' Jun 15, 2016 at 8:24
  • It is presumptive to conclude that Nicodemus misunderstood what Jesus said. If a man is born from above, is it not true they will be born a second time, once by natural means and a second time by some other means? Dec 25, 2016 at 18:30
  • @DickHarfield—It is unlikely the conversation occurred in Greek, but Aramaic. Aramaic does not have an equivalent word with an ambiguous meaning like ἄνωθεν. Even if it were not in Aramaic, but Greek, one need not come to the conclusion that Jesus meant “from above” because Nicodemus misunderstood him. Yes, Nicodemus certainly misunderstood him, but it is because he thought a man must be born again physically (i.e., a second time from one’s mother).
    – user862
    Feb 6, 2017 at 20:34

If I understand your question correctly, you are asking if a person is "born again" at the moment they believe in Jesus. John is telling Nicodemus that he must be born again, that he must be born from above, but based on a statement from Jesus I believe Jesus is trying to get Nicodemus to see something else. The statement is in verses 7-10, Jesus is surprised that a Pharisee doesn't understand about the new birth because the prophets spoke about it. Jesus alludes to the wind blowing which should have struck a cord with Nicodemus and drew him back to what Ezekiel prophesied about in Eze. 36-37. I won't go into detail, but Eze. 36 is picturing a new birth and this is what Jesus is saying is necessary to enter the kingdom of God. A spiritual birth is needed, because what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Eze. 37 shows the valley of dry bones that came to life when the wind (Spirit) blew upon them. It's important to note the change from singular to plural in verse 12. Notice in verse 12 that the “you” is plural. Once again Jesus is broadening his teaching to apply to all the Jews. Since Jesus is referring to all the Jews and how they cannot comprehend the earthly things, the “earthly things” is not a reference to his previous analogy of being born again. Jesus is referring to the whole of his teachings. Particularly, return to John 2:23 and John 3:1. People are “believing” because of the signs Jesus is performing. But the belief is incomplete because it is not causing a spiritual reformation and total life transformation. Here’s Jesus’ point: if I am performing miracles and all of you Jews are not believing with the faith that leads to life transformation, then can’t expect all of you to come to me when I teach spiritual truths? Their unbelief is perpetuating their spiritual ignorance. If you won’t believe from the miracles and signs, then you will not believe based on his teachings. John 3 teaches that a spiritual birth is necessary but nowhere is it teaching that one is born again simply by believing that Jesus is the son of God.

  • (-1) Please have another try at this answer - right now it is a wall of text, and is difficult to read. By making clearer use of paragraphs and formatting tools, this could potentially be a helpful answer. Also, "I won't go into detail" is not normally a helpful way to do exegesis: basically you're asking the end-user to "trust you" that you got your exegesis of the other passage right, rather than demonstrating why your interpretation is natural and correct.
    – Steve can help
    Apr 17, 2017 at 11:29

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