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September 8, 2021

Born Again (from Alphabetical Analysis)

Attention has been drawn in the Dispensational section of this analysis to the distinction which the Scriptures make between ‘children and sons’ (see article, Children v. Sons1). John, in his Gospel and Epistles, never uses the Greek word huios, ‘son’ to designate the believer’s relationship with God by grace, but the broader term, teknon, ‘child’. The has confused these two words, and care must be exercised before building a doctrine on any one passage. This usage is in complete harmony with the distinctive character of these two ministries.  John is concerned mainly with life, and that the believer shall become one of the family of faith. Such is a child and nothing further is added. Paul freely uses teknon, ‘child’ but goes on to speak of ‘sonship’ and ‘adoption’; which convey the idea of dignity, priority, inheritance, and the like.  (See the article entitled Adoption1). Entry into the family of faith is by birth and with this aspect of truth John is concerned. Paul uses the Greek word gennao, ‘to be born’ or ‘begotten’ in 1 Corinthians 4:15 and Philemon 10 where he uses it figuratively, saying, ‘I have begotten’ you through the Gospel, or in my bonds. Gennao when used actively is translated ‘beget’, but where it is passive, it is translated ‘born’.  The word used in John 3:4 is passive and refers not to the act of begetting but of birth. Nicodemus’s immediate reference to the mother confirms this (John 3:4). This fact settles the question as to the translation of anothen. This adverb can be, and is, translated ‘from above’ in verse 31, but this is because it is associated with the active verb ‘to come’.

Peter supplies us with the two usages of the word in his first epistle. The act of begetting, ‘Blessed be the God and Father which … hath begotten us’ (1 Pet. 1:3). Here the verb is anagennesas, active; and the act of birth, ‘being born again not of corruptible seed’ (1 Pet. 1:23). Here the verb is anagegennemenoi, passive. Those thus ‘begotten’ or thus ‘born’ are called ‘newborn babes’ (1 Pet. 2:2). James uses the Greek word apokueo in 1:15 and 18, ‘Sin… bringeth forth death’, ‘Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth’.  The instrumental causes of this new birth are severally recorded as ‘His own will’, ‘with the word of truth’, ‘not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever’, ‘by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’, ‘of water and of the Spirit’. The only passage that is controversial is this quotation from John 3:5. How are we to interpret ‘water and spirit’? Standard commentaries, like those of Alford and Bloomfield say that there can be no doubt, on any honest interpretation of the words that they refer to the token or outward sign of baptism and to the inward grace of the Holy Spirit. The Companion Bible says of the words, ‘water and spirit’ that it is the figure of hendiadys; that not two things but one is intended, ‘of water — yea, spiritual water’.

The intrusion of water baptism into the Epistles of the Mystery is to be deplored, but so also is the attempt to interpret John 3:5 as though it were on all fours with Ephesians 4:5 or Colossians 2:12. The Saviour’s words as recorded by John were spoken to Nicodemus, a Ruler of the Jews, about entry into the kingdom of God, and that aspect of the kingdom of God, which he, a Jew even though unregenerate, should have known (John 3:10). John the Baptist had baptized in water and spoke of One who should baptize with the Holy Ghost (Mark 1:8) and John 3:5 can be left where it belongs and accepted at its face value.

A word must be given before closing this article on the passage in Titus which speaks of ‘the washing of regeneration’ (Titus 3:5). We cannot believe that Paul would have been less explicit than Peter (Acts 2:38), had he intended to say ‘the baptism of regeneration’ here. He does not use the word ‘baptism’ but ‘laver’, Greek loutron, a word already used by him in Ephesians 5:26, ‘the washing (loutron) of water by the Word’. This involves more than one figure of speech. Washing by water is a plain statement but washing by the water by the Word is figurative. Further loutron does not mean ‘washing’, it refers to the ‘laver’ used in the Tabernacle (Exod. 30:18). When speaking of it and its ordinances, which would include this laver, the apostle refers to ‘divers’ washings and carnal ordinances imposed on them until the time of reformation’ (Heb. 9:9,10). Again, he had revealed that in the unity of the Spirit, there is ‘One Baptism’. What Paul intended us to understand in Titus 3:5, was the cleansing that accompanies regeneration, and makes no reference to baptism in water at all. If readers today were in the place and predicament of Nicodemus, we should have to go into this matter much more thoroughly, but those for whom we write will have arrived at such an understanding of their high calling as to leave Nicodemus where the Scripture places him, and not allow any teaching from other dispensations to lower the standard of their own high calling.