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There are many references to the spiritual birth, the 'new' birth, in the New Testament writings but many, if not all, use the verb γενναο to describe that state.

Jesus speaks of the 'birth from above' γενναο/ανοθεν, John 3:7 ; and again he speaks of 'born of water and Spirit', γενναο, John 3:5. Paul refers to 'regeneration', παλιγγενεσια, Titus 3:5. Peter states 'born again', or 'beget again', using αναγενναο both times, 1 Peter 1:3 and 1 Peter 1:23. And John uses γενναο in 1 John 5:1, 'born of God'.

Thus it is from above, it is of water and Spirit, it is of God, it is an again birth and it is a reversal birth (some would say a birth 'anew').

But in 1:18, James uses the verb αποκυεω, a word only twice appearing in the Greek scripture, those twice being James 1:18, here, and James 1:15, previously, see below (1).

James contrasts lust conceiving and 'bringing forth' death - with the Father, of his own will, 'bringing forth' or 'begetting' with the word of truth.

Liddell & Scott give the meaning 'bear young' or 'bring forth' which seems similar to our word 'born' which can mean both the bearing stage and the bringing forth stage. They also show the usage of the noun αποκυησις (never used in scripture) from Plutarch, the context being a completed birth. BDAG also has 'bear/give birth'. I could not find the word in Thayer (4th edition).

Generally, the scripture is more precise about such matters using τικτω for the delivery stage and γενναο for the fulfilled event (a begetting) which agrees with our own English word 'beget' [OED -'to bring a child into existence']. Both John 16:21 (mother grief, then joy) and Luke 1:57 (the birth of John the Baptist) show this precision.

Thus I wonder why James would, so singularly, use this word of more, perhaps, broad meaning in this place in regard to the Father (specifically) and the means of the act (the word of truth).


(1) Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth (τικτω) sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth (αποκυεω) death.

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  • See ἀπό and κύω.
    – Lucian
    Aug 26 at 15:04
  • Good question. +1.
    – Dottard
    Aug 26 at 21:45
  • Using the same word "points to the connection of thought" (Pulpit Commentary) and invites comparison. By your analysis, γενναο has a narrower meaning that would be inappropriate for v. 15, whereas αποκυεω works for both verses.
    – Nhi
    Aug 27 at 14:43
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Genesis, or begetting (gennao) is a matter of a separate entity having come in to the world, starting to live independently. The natural, physical process is shown in John 16:21: "When a woman delivers (tikto) grief she has; but when she begets (gennao) the child, no longer remembers she the tribulation" (EGNT). After the pangs and the travail, the cord is cut; a separate entity is in the world; it is begotten.

But of Jesus' birth, uniquely, it is stated that prior to delivery there is a begetting. It is prior to the separating of a child which, in circumstances of two natural parents, would be a begetting. And this begetting is in her, Matthew 1:20 - "That in her which is begotten..." Joseph was told not to fear to take Mary as his wife, "for that which is in her was begotten of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:20 YLT). And that begotten of the Spirit is holy.

Apply that to the new birth, the second birth, being born again of the Spirit. Unless the gennao is a work of the Holy Spirit, there will be no new, spiritual, holy life. The person is brought to newness of spiritual life by the Holy Spirit - "...did beget us again unto a living hope, through the rising again of Jesus Christ out of the dead" (1 Peter 1:3 YLT) - αναγενναο.

Then, again, in 1 Peter 1:23, "...being begotten again, not out of seed corruptible, but incorruptible, through the word of God - living and remaining - to the age" (YLT) - αναγενναο. In both those verses, James speaks of being begotten again, for a second time. The first, with corruptible seed, the second with incorruptible seed.

But James seems to stick to one event. Begetting sin in verse 15 - αποκυεω, and being begotten by the word of truth in verse 18 - αποκυεω. And perhaps the reason he uses this different word has to do with a vital point in both verses - the desire and the will.

In both verses, James is not wanting to stress the wish to do something, a desire which is an emotional element which leads to consequent action. His stress seems to be on the result of the wish. He uses the word boulomai - the result of the desire (Source 1). With the sinner whose desire is sinful (v.15), that desire 'conceives' sin which 'gives birth to death'. It is the giving birth that has the verb αποκυεω. The begetting is not a work of the Holy Spirit, so there is no new, spiritual, holy life. But in verse 18, God's will leads to the new birth that has the verb αποκυεω. The begetting is a work of the Holy Spirit so there is new, spiritual, holy life.

The point seems to me to be a comparison. In both cases, a symbolic cord is cut; a separate entity has been begotten. In the first instance, the human's own desire has conceived sin and death is the result. In the second instance, God's will has conceived something holy and a new-born child of God is the result. I qualify this answer with the admission that I am not qualified to spout on about Greek, so if I'm wrong, I'd be glad if someone would kindly point out why, and nicely explain in simple terms what is right!


Source 1 - The Companion Bible Appendix 102, p147, Bullinger

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  • Up-voted and accepted as answer. Much appreciated.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 26 at 9:02
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English Standard Version James 1:

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth [G616] death.

brings forth [G616] a transitive result: death

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth [G616] by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

brings forth [G616] a specific result: firstfruit

ἀπό: from, away from
G616 ἀποκυέω: to give birth to something

G616 appears only twice in the Bible. It means to give birth to some result. ESV translates it as "bring forth". It has a sense of the transitive verb in English.

On the other hand, transitivity is not implied in John 3:

7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born [G1080] again.’

No explicit resulting object is mentioned here.

G1080 appears 97 times compare to 2 times. It has a more general usage and a wider range of meanings. It is not necessarily transitive.

Thayer's Greek Lexicon

STRONGS NT 1080: γεννάω

  1. properly: of men begetting children ...
  2. metaphorically, ...
    a. universally, to engender, cause to arise, excite ...
    b. in a Jewish sense, of one who brings others over to his way of life ...
    c. after ...
    a. formally to show him to be the Messiah ...
    b. to be the author of the divine nature which he possesses ...
    d. peculiarly, in the Gospel and First Epistle of John, of God conferring upon men the nature and disposition of his sons, imparting to them spiritual life, i. e. by his own holy power prompting and persuading souls to put faith in Christ and live a new life consecrated to himself

Why does James use the verb αποκυεω (1:18 - 'begat') not γενναο?

By using αποκυεω, James wished to imply some specific result was to follow after the birth.

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  • It has a more general usage and a wider range of meanings. It is not necessarily transitive. Could you please quote your source for this. And what do you suggest is the 'specific result' that 'was to follow' ?
    – Nigel J
    Aug 26 at 17:24
  • Good questions. I added :)
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 26 at 18:52
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With Jesus statement:

Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι,* ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, οὐ δύναται ἰδεῖν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ. (John 3:3, NA28)

Jesus was talking about the beginning of a new life in him, not the product of being born again/anew/from above. James is taking about the result of birth in 1:15, and 1:18. This is especially true of 1:15, which implies still birth ἀποκύει θάνατον, i.e. born dead. It is an end product, not a beginning.

ἀποκυέω 1 aor. ἀπεκύησα (because the aor. is found in this form [not ἀπέκυσα] Js 1:18, 1:15 should be accented ἀποκυεῖ, without reference to the collateral form ἀποκύω; ... give birth to, bear in our lit. only fig. of sin, personif., ἡ ἁμαρτία ἀ. θάνατον sin brings forth death Js 1:15. But it is not confined to the female principle (cf. Herm Wr. 1, 9); of God (cf. γεννάω) ἀπεκύησεν ἡμᾶς λόγῳ ἀληθείας he has brought us into being through the word of truth Js 1:18.... -- Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1979). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature : a translation and adaption of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur (p. 94). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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The meanings of ἀποκυέω and γεννάω can clearly overlap.

ἀποκυέω

ἀποκυέω (according to BDAG) means "to give birth to", ie, of delivery of that with which one has been pregnant (only in James 1:15, 18) and used only figuratively in the NT, ie, "brings forth", especially in V15.

The primary emphasis here is what is brought forth at the completion of a process - the birth brings the pregnancy to an end.

γεννάω

By contrast, γεννάω has a wider meaning that encompasses three different uses in the NT according to BDAG.

  1. become the parent of, beget by procreation, eg, Matt 1:2-20, Acts 7:8, 29, etc. This meaning emphasizes the initial act of literal insemination (in modern terms).

  2. to give birth to, bear, eg, Luke 1:13, 57, 23:29, John 16:21, Gal 4:24, Acts 7:20, etc.

  3. to cause something to happen, bring forth, produce, cause, 2 Tim 2:23. Again this emphasizes the act of initiation and causation.

Thus, James' choice of ἀποκυέω is far better suited than γεννάω, especially in James 1:15 where "sin, when full-grown, gives birth to death". Another word would be awkward [γεννάω emphasizes the initiation and creation of life]. Actually, James in V15 has quite a good grasp of of a variety of words around the whole process of procreation and birth:

  • συλλαμβάνω - to become pregnant, conceive
  • τίκτω - bear, bring forth, gives birth
  • ἀποκυέω - give birth, bring forth

In James 1:18 we have another subtlety, "Having willed [it], He brought us forth [birthed us] by [the] word of truth ..." That is, it was the Father's (V17) will that we be chosen and the "pregnancy" was brought to fruition (birthed) through the "word of truth"

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