Born Again or Born from Above?
There was a pharisee who was the reason we have today the phrase “born again”. This pharisee named Nicodemus was one of the rulers of the Jews in the first century Judea; he was a member of the Sanhedrin. He came to Yeshua by night, for he was his secret follower, and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from Elohim, for no man is able to do these signs you do, if Elohim is not with him”.
But Yeshua answered Nicodemus, saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he is unable to see the kingdom of Elohim” (John 3:3). This answer views this verse as telling us that if one is not born again, he or she will not see the heavenly kingdom, and therefore, will not go to heaven but to hell. But is this what Nicodemus asked Yeshua?
Besides, from the plain reading of the text, we see that Nicodemus did not ask any question, for what Nicodemus said was a plain statement of fact of the miracles he had witnessed: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from Elohim, etc.” These words of Nicodemus were also a statement of faith that he believed Yeshua was the prophet promised by Mosheh (see Deu 18:15-20). That was why he came to him that night. Yet, Yeshua answered and said to him that one must be born again otherwise he would be unable to see the kingdom of Elohim. How did this answer address Nicodemus’ plain statement?
When reading this peculiar passage in the gospel, a careful reader may come to the point to ask the following question: “Do we misunderstand something in the passage, or perhaps we misread the translation?” Because we indeed read a translation of the dialogue between Nicodemus and Yeshua. With that said, in the following, we would like to posit another way to look at this peculiar moment in the encounter of Nicodemus with Yeshua, as the wording ” unless one is born again” is capable of two interpretations.
But what is intriguing in his words is that he said something even more than just acknowledging the obvious, namely, that “no man is able to do these signs, if Elohim is not with him”. When Nicodemus therefore being one of the pharisees said “we know”, who were the “we” he referred to who knew that Yeshua had come from above? From the narratives of the gospels, we know that they (the pharisees and the people) witnessed those signs and believed. Therefore, the “they” are the “we” in Nicodemus’ speech. We should now recall that both the pharisees and the commoners asked Yochanan (the one who immersed Yeshua in water) the question: “Who are you? … Are you Eliyahu or the Prophet Mosheh bade us to await?” This question comes to tell us that there were expectations in the first century Judea, that the long-awaited prophet Mosheh bade the people to listen to might have come to fruition. We have already pointed out in other places and in the article Revealing Yeshua Secretly Guarded by the Rabbis that this was indeed so, and even more that some rabbis believed that Yeshua was that prophet and Mashiach.
Then, what Nicodemus said to Yeshua makes little sense, “How is a man able to be born when he is old? Is he able to enter into his mother’s womb a second time and be born?” (Joh 3:4). What Nicodemus said was that no one was able to do the miracles Yeshua had done unless the Most High was with him. But what he received in return, “unless one is born from above, etc.” made him marveled as to what Yeshua had just said.
Nicodemus’ bewildered question has led to Yeshua’s further answer, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Ruach, he is unable to enter into the kingdom of Elohim …” (Joh 3:5-8). With this we have come to the point to face the dilemma: either Nicodemus seemingly did not understand Yeshua’s words or Yeshua replied out of place. Can we rethink the whole section of the text?
If the “New Testament” is a continuation of the Hebrew Scripture (Tanach), and if God has inspired His prophecies in Hebrew, the language of creation, why did He not inspire the “New Testament” in Hebrew but in Greek? Indeed, Yeshua and Nicodemus spoke Hebrew, not Greek that night, but what we read is Greek. What does Greek read then?
The Greek word ἄνωθεν, anoten, which appears in the Greek text of John 3:3, can mean both “above” and “again” and works both ways in the Greek mindset. This is how anoten is used throughout of the Greek text of the Apostolic Writings to mean,
above, Joh 3:31, Joh 19:11, Jas 1:17, Jas 3:15, Jas 3:17,
top, Mat 27:51, Mar 15:38, Joh 19:23,
above or again, Joh 3:3, Joh 3:7,
again, Gal 4:9.
This however may work in Greek but does not work in Hebrew, which has two distinct words to express “from above” and “again”: מֵעָל meial, and עוֹד od, respectively. The Hebrew languages thus allows a distinct interpretation, as the critical reader will see below.
Since Yeshua and Nicodemus (being Hebrews) must have spoken Hebrew, not Greek, the story must have been written in Hebrew too with the meaning of either “from above” or “again”. Which one did Yeshua use? Because we see that the translators felt it was necessary to render the word in question as “born again”. As we are thus facing the dilemma, the inevitable question as to what Hebrew word Yeshua used in his reply is raised before the reader: meial, “from above” or od, “again”?
If the Hebrew text of John reads מֵעָל meial, as this word is found in Gen 27:39 with the meaning “the heavens from above”, then what is this that Nicodemus did not understand, when Yeshua said, “unless one is born from above, he is unable to see the kingdom of Elohim”. A teacher like Nicodemus must have known very well the concept of creation of man and being born from above, from heaven.
But since, Nicodemus’ puzzling seems out of place with what Yeshua has said, we are coming to the conclusion that the Hebrew text must have read עוֹד od, “again”, as we found this word in Gen 4:25, “Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son”. This was said after the murder of Chevel by Kayin, a new son was born to Adam with whom the mankind was renewed. In this case, however, Nicodemus looks indeed naïve to ask such a question as to how one could enter his mother’s womb a second time in old age. A teacher like him must have not asked such a question, either.
So, what did Yeshua really say to Nicodemus: “from above” or “again”? We intend to address this in the next study, as we shall pause here for a moment to return to it later.
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