In John 1:13 does it grammatically follow that they were born by the will of God, even though the word will θεληματος is omitted or is the word will omitted on the grounds that it’s not the will of God that they are born of but (born) of God?

οι ουκ εξ αιματων ουδε εκ θεληματος σαρκος ουδε εκ θεληματος ανδρος αλλ εκ θεου εγεννηθησαν

  • That’s my whole question Dottard, is it implied? You say yes. But it’s not as obvious as you think it is. Not of blood, meaning not being born into a family and bloodline without any will, not born of the will of the flesh, it’s not a carnal birth, not the will of man, man can’t be born again by his own will, I will it so it happens but of God, it’s a supernatural/divine birth. If the word will is added or implied it means they are born of the will of God, then they are born by God’s decision. Hope you can see the distinction now. Apr 12 at 20:35

5 Answers 5


It does not grammatically follow that the word θελήματος (“will”) is omitted by ellipsis.

οἳ οὐκ ἐξ αἱμάτων οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος σαρκὸς οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρὸς ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ θεοῦ ἐγεννήθησαν

[οὐκ] ἐγεννήθησαν (“were [not] begotten”/ “were [not] born”) is modified by four adverbial phrases, the beginning of each adverbial phrase being indicated by the preposition ἐκ/ ἐξ:

  1. ἐξ αἱμάτων
  2. ἐκ θελήματος σαρκὸς
  3. ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρὸς
  4. ἐκ θεοῦ

Just as we should not infer θελήματος (“will”) before αἱμάτων (“blood”), likewise we should not infer θελήματος (“will”) before θεοῦ (“God”).

In addition, as @NihilSineDeo commented, if the author omitted θελήματος by ellipsis in ἐκ θεοῦ, why did the author include θελήματος in the phrase ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρὸς, a phrase which occurred immediately after θελήματος was mentioned in the phrase ἐκ θελήματος σαρκὸς?

Couldn’t the author have omitted θελήματος by ellipsis in ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρὸς? The fact that the author included θελήματος in ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρὸς suggests that the author included θελήματος only in the phrases where he intended it to be understood. Elsewhere, where it is missing, the author did so purposefully and did not omit it by ellipsis.

The Greek should be fully developed into English as follows:

who were not born of blood, nor born of [the] will of [the] flesh, nor born of [the] will of [the] man, but rather, were born of God.

In what are considered other Johannine works,1 there is never any other occurrence of the phrase “born of the will of God”. On the other hand, the phrase “born of God” occurs several times in at least one of the other Johannine works.2

Aside from the grammatical aspect, obviously to be born of God means to be born by God’s will, as God Himself does not bear/beget what He does not will (want) to beget, unlike a woman who, if she were to be raped, could potentially bear a child that she does not want to bear.

Unless we are to supply by ellipsis the phrase “of the will” for every occurrence of “born of God” (thus, “born of the will of God”), there is no grammatical reason for us to do so in John 1:13. The question itself asked for a grammatical justification, not soteriological or theological.

1 1 John; 2 John; 3 John
2 1 John 3:9 (x2); 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1 (x2); 1 John 5:4; 1 John 5:18 (x2)

Let me render John 1:12 & 13 literally:

However, as many as received Him, He have to them authority to be children of God, to those believing/trusting in the name of Him, who, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of (a) husband, but of God were born.

Notice that this (in English) awkward sentence is better rendered:

... those trusting in His name were:

  • not born of blood
  • nor born of the will of flesh
  • nor born of the will of a husband

but born of God.

Notice that "born" is implied as applying to blood. flesh and husband, but "will" is only applied to flesh and husband. Thus, it is debatable whether "will" is implied before "God" or not.

[While it is grammatically debatable, it is not theologically, but this beyond the scope the question.]

I prefer the naked text without the extra implied "will", and thus, I would leave it as the safest translation.

  • 1
    In Spain, a man can quite properly refer to his wife as his "woman"--a designation that might seem derogatory or offensive elsewhere. However, because one's "woman" can refer to one's "wife," it does not follow that "woman" always means "wife." So it is here with the Greek "andros" (man/male/husband). It means "man" primarily, but can sometimes be used to mean husband. It does not, however, hold the same sense of meaning as would "anthropos" which would refer to mankind more generally (women included). English and Greek are not the same--but it's a stretch to say this should be "husband."
    – Biblasia
    Apr 12 at 23:32
  • @Biblasia - a fine point that does not change any of the argument or conclusions here. However, if we are talking about the normal, legal way that babies are "made", it would be a husband and not any man.
    – Dottard
    Apr 13 at 6:18


The "will of God" could be inferred in the verse from the ellipsis. The verse can be translated like the ISV and TLB to take the discourse aspect of the literature into consideration:

ISV who were born, not merely in a genetic sense, nor from lust, nor from man’s desire, but from the will of God.
TLB All those who believe this are reborn!—not a physical rebirth resulting from human passion or plan—but from the will of God.

I agree that the will of is not necessarily inferred for God, however wouldn't object to it.

Ellipsis is common in ancient Greek. David Mathewson writes in Intermediate Greek Grammar 2016, in chapter Discourse Considerations:

13.2. Most discourses, at some level, are meant to be coherent. We assume that the NT authors were trying to make sense and communicate something to readers and that the various units that make up their discourses are meant to be related in some way (in other words, discourses are understandable, as opposed to being a string of unrelated, jumbled statements that make no sense).6 Cohesion refers to the linguistic elements that an author uses to weave a discourse together. Cohesion links something in the text to something that has come before it. These linguistic elements provide signals for readers, showing how the discourse has been constructed and how readers should put it together. According to Young, “cohesion is the glue that holds a discourse together” (254). Various means are used in the NT to provide cohesion.

13.11. Ellipsis. A further important cohesive device is ellipsis. This occurs when the repetition of a word, group of words, or clause can be left out because it is understood to be carried over from a previous clause. To give another English example, if a person answers “Five” to the question “How many deer did you see?” the answer has elided, or left unexpressed, the words “I saw _________ deer.” These words are assumed from the question “How many deer did you see?”

οὐ μόνον δέ, ἀλλὰ καὶ καυχώμεθα ἐν ταῖς θλίψεσιν, εἰδότες ὅτι ἡ θλῖψις ὑπομονὴν κατεργάζεται, ἡ δὲ ὑπομονὴ δοκιμήν, ἡ δὲ δοκιμὴ ἐλπίδα. (Rom. 5:3–4) And not only [do we boast in the hope in God’s glory], but we also boast in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces endurance, and endurance [produces] proven character, and proven character [produces] hope.

Ellipsis is grammatically necessary, but logically unnecessary. It is most common in adverbial clauses like while [I was] taking notes.

John 4:1-2 Therefore when Jesus knew that the Pharisees had heard, "Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John was making" (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but his disciples were baptizing),

See, Gerald Steven's New Testament Intermediate Greek. In the same way, the phrase will of is definitely implied, the author need not repeat will of in every list or sentence of the argument. The argument is about the source of begetting of the children of God, it shows the meaning of being spiritual. It has nothing to do with the determinism or fatalism as in Manichaeanism, of course.

1 Cor 3:9 says, "For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building". Dan Wallace (Exegetical Syntax, 130) sees an ellipsis here, he misinterprets it as, "we are fellow-workers (with each other) for God; however, it's a deliberate interpretation, changing it to possessive genitive; it ignores the context v6-7 that they worked, however, God made them grow, thus, working together with God, as his servants. Paul says, we, the apostles as the co-workers with God working on you the field and building of God. The referent you are is only used with God's building, it is obvious that the same [you are] applies to God's field too. The phrases "my fellow worker" is a different phrase, thus, Mayer refutes,

Θεοῦ συνεργοί] for we, your teachers, labour with God, the supreme Lord and Fosterer of the church, at one work, which is simply the furtherance of the church. The explanation: workers who work with each other for God’s cause (Estius by way of suggestion, Bengel, Flatt, Heydenreich, Olshausen), is linguistically erroneous (see 1Th 3:2; Rom 16:3; Rom 16:9; Rom 16:21; Php 2:25; Php 4:3; 2Co 1:24; 2Ma 14:5; Plato, Def. p. 414 A; Dem. 68. 27, 884. 2; Plut. Per. 31; Bernhardy, p. 171; Kühner, II. p. 172), and fails to appreciate that lofty conception of a δοῦλος Θεοῦ.

  • So you just wanted to say all that without answering the question? Thank you?!? Apr 13 at 20:42
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    But actually it isn’t and it doesn’t make sense that it would be implied. If it were it would not have repeated will after man, nor would it have repeated not/nor for flesh and man as ellipsis would have made it self evident. The fact that the text included both will after man also and nor after it was already clear it’s a negative tense for blood, not once but twice, means this text was deliberately avoiding an ellipsis assumed ready. Apr 14 at 15:59
  • Ok Michael, you want to be right at all cost, show one example where αιματων meant bloodshed. Thank you in advance Apr 14 at 16:57
  • Actually I edited my answer, the ellipsis is more likely for born, as YLT WYC NIV. But it's not so clear, so I can't be so sure. The ref for bloodshed or bloody men is from Bullinger's commentary: blood . It is plural (bloods) for emphasis, ace. to Hebrew idiom, as in 2 Samuel 16:7 ἀνὴρ αἱμάτων , 2 Samuel 16:8 . Psalms 26:9 . studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bul/john-1.html Check the LXX it means murderer.
    – Michael16
    Apr 14 at 17:05
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    So you have nothing Michael16. The Greek αιματων translating the Hebrew הדמים is only idiomatic of murderer if it is used in context alongside the rest of the sentence. On its own no one in the Greek would ever think αιματων refers to murderer. It’s blood in all instances on its own, the context can cause it to refer to bloodshed but it is still not related to the comment earlier in the context of J1:13 bloody men Apr 14 at 17:53

Can God act without willing? Say, man can act without willing, for instance, unwillingly stepping on a banana skin and falling to pieces on an asphalt, granting us an occasion for a laughter. But does God act without willing? No, neither He does, nor He can!

This established, let us establish another crucial thing:

Can we be born of God, without Him acting and this willingly, as established above? For instance, I can get rich by showing for money a sleeping Hollywood actress, say, Scarlet Johanson, to a public. I am getting rich through her, and she is neither acting, nor noticing, nor willing. Thus, can I be born from God, without Him noticing it or willing it? - Impossible! Thus, can we establish the second point that if we are born of God, then it is necessary that He acts, knows and wills us to be born? Yes, we can establish this, and moreover, must do it enthusiastically!

If those two above things are adamantly established, then the only conclusion will follow that whether you write "of will of God" or "of God" the absolutely the same meaning and the same reality obtains. Like, it is absolutely the same to say "Wind, through its blowing, broke a huge tree" and "Wind broke a huge tree", for wind can break trees only through blowing, not through threatening from afar those trees.

  • Very good point about wind. I wrote the same thing in my answer about being born of God can only mean by his will, nobody is born of God without his will. But the question is more about the textual linguistic part. So, it is not necessarily implying that will of includes with God as well. Although the interpretation about will of God is right but that's not what the author intended necessarily, he's just stating the source of the birth.
    – Michael16
    Apr 14 at 17:26
  • Thank you Levan, the question is not does God will, obviously He wills otherwise the new birth would never happen. The question is, does it say, born of God’s will or does it say, born of God. Because they are NOT the same thing even if there is implied overlap in both cases. Being born of the will of God places the emphasis on who decides/contributes to the decision, born of God places the emphasis on the substance/properties of the new birth, not carnal but spiritual. Hope this clarifies the question because your answer is purely a linguist answer from definitions not from the context Apr 14 at 17:45
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    @NihilSineDeo Thanks for the comment! Actually, it depends what meaning you put in the notion of "will": "will" is not always a decision and an actualized initiative, for instance, even in God, there was always will to create universe, but it was not always actualized, for the world is not co-eternal to God. Also, will of God can not be actualized if hindered by our created will (or rather un-will). Further, the initiative-type will of second birth does never start with us, but always preceded by invitational will of God. So, again the same obtains, birth from God means birth from will of God. Apr 15 at 6:13
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    @Michael16 Thanks for the feedback. Purely textually, I would opt for simply "from God", as it is in original. The less interpretation on the part of a translator - the better! Apr 15 at 6:27

The question being born by the will of God or inferred takes on a different direction if one considers "Who" is being born of God?

I thought I'd throw this into the mix for your consideration as I found this interesting from the Concordant commentary.

An ancient reading, preserved by one of the early Father's, is exceedingly apt and suggestive. It has "Who was begotten" and refers this statement to the incarnation of the Word, rather than to the spiritual birth of believers.

This is what I found on an internet search.

Several ancient witnesses, chiefly Latin (itb Irenaeuslat Tertullian Origenlat Ambrose Augustine Ps-Athanasius), read the singular number, “[He] who was born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (the Curetonian Syriac and six manuscripts of the Peshitta Syriac read the plural “those who” and the singular verb “was born”).

All Greek manuscripts, as well as the other versional and patristic witnesses, attest the plural number. (Several minor variant readings occur within the verse: D* and ita omit oi[, thus leaving the verse without grammatical connection with the preceding sentence; other variants in the verse are mentioned in the following entry.)

Although a number of modern scholars (including Zahn, Resch, Blass, Loisy, R. Seeburg, Burney, Büchsel, Boismard, Dupont, and F. M. Braun) 3 have argued for the originality of the singular number, it appeared to the Committee that, on the basis of the overwhelming consensus of all Greek manuscripts, the plural must be adopted, a reading, moreover, that is in accord with the characteristic teaching of John. The singular number may have arisen either from a desire to make the Fourth Gospel allude explicitly to the virgin birth or from the influence of the singular number of the immediately preceding auvtou/. https://www.bibliaplus.org/en/commentaries/428/a-textual-commentary-on-the-greek-new-testament-by-bruce-m-metzger/john/1/13

In looking at the controversy over "Who" was begotten shed different takes on the outcome of the verse.

Looking at the whole context of John 1-18, one can see it is all about the Word becoming made flesh and being begotten of God.

It may read something like this.

Yet as many as obtained It to them It gives the right to become children of God, to those who are believing into Its name, Who was begotten, not of bloods, neither of the will of the flesh, neither of the will of a man, but, but of God. And the Word became flesh. John1:12:-14

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