Born again (Christianity)

Born again (Christianity)

In Christianity, born again refers to a "spiritual rebirth" (regeneration) of the human soul or spirit, contrasted with the physical birth everyone experiences. The origin of the term "born again" is the New Testament: "Jesus replied, 'Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.'"[Jn 3:3 TNIV][1] It is a term associated with salvation in Christianity. Individuals who profess to be born again often state that they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.[2][3][4]



Throughout most of Christian history, to be "born again" was understood as spiritual regeneration via the sacrament of baptism by the power of water and word. This is still the understanding in Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism and Eastern Orthodoxy. However, beginning sometime after the Reformation, being born again[5] has been predominantly understood by some Protestants (of the "anabaptist" branch) to be an experience of conversion symbolized by water baptism, and rooted in a commitment to one's own personal faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. This same belief is also an integral part of Methodist doctrine,[6][7] and is connected with the doctrine of Justification.[8] Following an interpretation of, for instance, Ezekiel 36:26,[9] many believe that when a person accepts Jesus as the Messiah and receives the Holy Spirit, a radical "change of heart" occurs. This change is marked by an aversion to sin and a passion for obedience to the commandments of Jesus Christ, as outlined in the Christian scriptures. Many associate the term "born again" with the revelation of a new concept, or an experience of conversion, defined as mental assent to the acceptance of Jesus Christ as one's personal Saviour; though some believe that this experience or mental assent (See Gnosticism) is not alone sufficient to merit Christian salvation. Rather, in addition, this is brought about by repentance, the aforementioned "new birth" of the Holy Spirit, and faith in Jesus Christ's propitiation for sins.[10]

Following Acts 2:38:

And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."[Acts 2:38]

this change is believed by some denominations to come from repentance, water baptism, and subsequent receipt of Holy Spirit.However, other denominations believe, following Romans 10:9:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. [Romans 10:9]

that confession of Christ as Lord and sincere belief in his resurrection is sufficient for salvation. The Oxford English Dictionary, finding examples going back to 1961, defines the adjective born-again as:

Of, pertaining to, or characterized by (an experience of) new birth in Christ or spiritual renewal; of a Christian: placing special emphasis on this experience as a basis for all one's actions, evangelical.[11]


Biblical foundation

Most English Bibles contain three uses of the phrase born again. The first is in the Gospel of John, Chapter 3 (John 3), verse 3, used by Jesus while speaking to Nicodemus, a rabbi of the Jewish sect known as the Pharisees, who is referred to as "a ruler of the Jews". Nicodemus says that, because of his miracles, Jesus is known "to be a teacher come from God". Jesus immediately makes the statement (in the King James translation): "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God".

Also, in the same Gospel, in verses 7 and 8, Jesus says:

Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. / The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

The John Gospel was written in Greek, and the Greek word translated as again is ανωΘεν (anothen), which could mean again, or from above.

The third and last mention of the phrase is in the First Letter of Peter (Peter 1), verses 22-23. The King James Bible translates this as:

Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, [see that ye] love one another with a pure heart fervently: / Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

Here, the Greek word translated as born again is αναγεγεννημενοι (anagegennemenoy).


The traditional Jewish understanding of the promise of salvation was that being rooted in "the seed of Abraham" referred to physical lineage from Abraham. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that this doctrine was in error—that every person must have two births—the natural birth of the physical body, the other of the water and the spirit.[12] This discourse with Nicodemus established the Christian belief that all human beings—whether Jew or Gentile—must be "born again" of the spiritual seed of Christ. The Apostle Peter further reinforced this understanding in 1 Peter 1:23.[original research?] The Catholic Encyclopedia states that "A controversy existed in the primitive church over the interpretation of the expression the seed of Abraham. It is [the Apostle Paul's] teaching in one instance that all who are Christ's by faith are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to promise. He is concerned, however, with the fact that the promise is not being fulfilled to the seed of Abraham (referring to the Jews)."[13]

Charles Hodge writes that "The subjective change wrought in the soul by the grace of God, is variously designated in Scripture" with terms such as new birth, resurrection, new life, new creation, renewing of the mind, dying to sin and living to righteousness, and translation from darkness to light.[14]

Jesus Christ used the "birth" analogy in tracing spiritual newness of life to a divine beginning. Contemporary Christian theologians have provided explanations for "born from above" being a more accurate translation of the original Greek word transliterated anōthen.[15] Theologian Frank Stagg cites two reasons why the newer translation is significant:

  1. The emphasis "from above" (implying "from Heaven") calls attention to the source of the "newness of life." Stagg writes that the word "again" does not include the source of the new kind of beginning
  2. More than personal improvement is needed. "...a new destiny requires a new origin, and the new origin must be from God."[16]

An early example of the term in its more modern use is found in the sermons of John Wesley. In the sermon printed under the title of A New Birth, he said "none can be holy unless he be born again", and "except he be born again, none can be happy even in this world. For ... a man should not be happy who is not holy." Also, "I say, [a man] may be born again and so become an heir of salvation." Wesley also states infants who are baptized are born again, but for adults it is different:

... our church supposes, that all who are baptized in their infancy, are at the same time born again. ... But ... it is sure all of riper years, who are baptized, are not at the same time born again.[17]

Denominational positions


At the Council of Trent, on 15 November 1551, the necessity for a second conversion after baptism was delineated:[18]

This second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who, clasping sinners to her bosom, is at once holy and always in need of purification, and follows constantly the path of penance and renewal. Jesus' call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, "sackcloth and ashes," fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion (Catechism of the Catholic Church § 1428 & 1430).

David MacDonald, a Catholic apologist, has written in regards to paragraph 1428, that "this endeavor of conversion is not just a human work. It is the movement of a 'contrite heart,' drawn and moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first."[19]

Public stances

In recent history, born again is a term that has been widely associated with the evangelical Christian renewal since the late 1960s, first in the United States and then later around the world. Associated perhaps initially with Jesus People and the Christian counterculture, born again came to refer to a conversion experience, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in order to be saved from Hell and given eternal life with God in Heaven, and was increasingly used as a term to identify devout believers.[citation needed] By the mid 1970s, born again Christians were increasingly referred to in the mainstream media as part of the born again movement.

In 1976, Watergate conspirator Chuck Colson's book Born Again gained international notice. TIME magazine named him "One of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America."[20] The term was sufficiently prevalent that during the year's Presidential campaign Jimmy Carter described himself as born again, notably in the first Playboy magazine interview of a US Presidential candidate. Modern musicians Rev. Little Richard Penniman,[21] Mark Farner, Dan Peek, Donna Summer, Bob Dylan,[22] Kerry Livgren, Dave Hope, Dave Mustaine, Nicko McBrain, Roger McGuinn, Johnny Cash, Brian Welch, Keith Farley, Cliff Richard, Randy Travis, Alice Cooper and Lou Gramm[23] were artists whose born again conversions had an impact on modern culture. Others such as James Cash Penney, Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, wrestlers Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho and wrestler Sting, Jesse McCartney, Charlie Daniels, Kirk Cameron, and Mr. T are also mentioned as being born again. Former Alabama governor and US presidential candidate George Wallace became born again in the late 1970s, which led him to apologize for his earlier segregationist views.

Chuck Colson

In his book Born Again (1976 and 2008), Watergate conspirator Chuck Colson describes his path to faith in conjunction with his criminal imprisonment and played a significant role in solidifying the "born again" identity as a cultural construct in the US. He writes that his spiritual experience followed considerable struggle and hesitancy to have a "personal encounter with God." He recalls:

... while I sat alone staring at the sea I love, words I had not been certain I could understand or say fell from my lips: "Lord Jesus, I believe in You. I accept You. Please come into my life. I commit it to You." With these few words...came a sureness of mind that matched the depth of feeling in my heart. There came something more: strength and serenity, a wonderful new assurance about life, a fresh perception of myself in the world around me.[24]

Born-again and politics

The first born-again President of the United States was Jimmy Carter in 1976.[25] "In the 1980 campaign, all three of the major candidates ... stated that they had been born-again"[26]

A 2003 Gallup poll reported that "Forty-one percent of Americans say they are 'born-again'"[citation needed]. "The percentage of whites who are born-again and identify as Republicans is 48%, compared with only 12% of born-again blacks. Almost two-thirds of born-again blacks are Democrats."[citation needed]


Biblical arguments

The quotation from the Gospel of John has raised some questions about the meaning and authenticity of the phrase "born again". In the chapter, Nicodemus is puzzled and asks Jesus what he means by saying that "Ye must be born again". He questions: "How can a man re-enter his mother's womb?" Bart D. Ehrman says that this confusion is because in Greek (the language of the gospel) the word again is ambiguous. It might mean again or a second time or from above, which would explain Nicodemus' confusion. However, the Jews at Jesus' time were actually speaking Aramaic, in which language there would not have been a double meaning. Ehrman says that this raises questions about the authenticity of the dialogue, the meaning of the words, and, therefore, the use of the phrase.[27]

A 19th century source notes that the phrase was not mentioned by the other Gospellers, nor by the Apostles except Peter. "It was not regarded by any of the Evangelists but John of sufficient importance to record." And, without John, "we should hardly have known that it was necessary for one to be born again." This suggests that "the text and context was meant to apply to Nicodemus particularly, and not to the world." Otherwise, it would have been mentioned more often. [28]

Names inspired by the term

The idea of being "born again in Christ" inspired some common European forenames: French René/Renée (also used in the Netherlands), Dutch Renaat/Renate, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Renato/Renata, Latin Renatus/Renata, which all mean "reborn", "born again".

See also

  • Altar call – invitation to become a Christian; given at a church service or event.
  • Baptism – referred to in Jesus' born-again discourse with Nicodemus ("born of water and spirit")
  • Born-again virgin – a person who, though not still a virgin, chooses to live as one.
  • Dvija, or twice-born – in Hinduism, a person who has formally taken on the roles of one of the first three castes.
  • Evangelism – practice of sharing about Christianity to those who are not Christians.
  • Holy Spirit – referred to in Jesus' born-again discourse with Nicodemus ("born of water and spirit")
  • Monergism – belief that being born again is entirely God's work (and not the believer's work)
  • Sinner's prayer – the prayer of a person seeking forgiveness and wanting to become a Christian.
  • Justus Velsius – 16th century Dutch dissident who promoted the view that through new birth man could become like Christ


  1. ^ or "born from above" according to some other translations
  2. ^ Robert M. Price (1993). Beyond Born Again: Toward Evangelical Maturity. Wildside Press. Retrieved 30 July 2011. ""I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." If you are an Evangelical Christian you can remember saying these words probably more times than you can count. If on the other hand you are not "Born Again," you may have heard this phrase from an Evangelical inviting you to establish such a relationship with Christ." 
  3. ^ Erica Bornstein (2005). The spirit of development: Protestant NGOs, morality, and economics in Zimbabwe. Stanford University Press. Retrieved 30 July 2011. "A senior staff member in World Vision's California office elaborated on the importance of being "born again," emphasizing a fundamental "relationship" between individuals and Jesus Christ: ". . . the importance of a personal relationship with Christ [is] that it's not just a matter of going to Christ or being baptized when you are an infant. We believe that people need to be regenerated. They need a spirtual rebirth. The need to be born again . . .You must be born again before you can see, or enter, the Kingdom of Heaven."" 
  4. ^ A. B. Lever (2007). And God Said.... Retrieved 30 July 2011. "From speaking to other Christians I know that the distinction of a born again believer is a personal experience of God that leads to a personal relationship with Him." 
  5. ^ "born-again." Good Word Guide. London: A&C Black, 2007. Credo Reference. 30 July 2009
  6. ^ Samuel Fallows (Bishop); Herbert Lockwood Willett (1901). The popular and critical Bible encyclopædia and scriptural dictionary, fully defining and explaining all religious terms, including biographical, geographical, historical, archæological and doctrinal themes, to which is added an exhaustive appendix illustrated with over 600 maps and engravings. Chicago, Howard-Severance Co.. Retrieved 19 October 2009. "The New Birth. Regeneration is an importantant Methodist doctine, and is the new birth, a change of heart. All Methodists teach that "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." It is the work of the Holy Spirit and is a conscious change in the heart and the life." 
  7. ^ Charles Spencer Smith, Daniel Alexander Payne (1922). A History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Johnson Reprint Corporation. Retrieved 19 October 2009. "Whatever the Church may do, and there is much that it can and should do, for the betterment of man's physical being, its primal work is the regeneration of man's spiritual nature. Methodism has insisted on this as the supreme end and aim of the Church." 
  8. ^ Robert Southey; Charles Cuthbert Southey (16 March 2010). The Life of Wesley: And the Rise and Progress of Methodism. Nabu Press. Retrieved 5 July 2011. "Connected with his doctrine of the New Birth was that of Justification, which he affirmed to be inseparable from it, yet easily to be distinguished, as being not the same, but of a widely different nature. In order of time, neither of these is before the other; in the moment we are justified by the grace of God, through the redemption that is in Jesus, we are also born of the Spirit; but in order of thinking, as it is termed, Justification precedes the New Birth." 
  9. ^ "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh"
  10. ^ fundamentalism. (2010). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  11. ^ Oxford English Dictionary.
  12. ^ Emmons, Samuel B. A Bible Dictionary. BiblioLife, 2008. ISBN 9780554891088.
  13. ^ Driscoll, James F. "Divine Promise (in Scripture)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 15 Nov. 2009 <>.
  14. ^ Hodge, Charles. "Regeneration." Systematic Theology-Volume III. Web: <
  15. ^ The New Testament Greek Lexicon. July 30, 2009. Online:
  16. ^ Stagg, Evelyn and Frank. Woman in the World of Jesus. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978. ISBN 0-664-24195-6
  17. ^ Wesley, J., The works of the Reverend John Wesley, Methodist Episcopal Church, 1831, pp. 405–406.
  18. ^ Ross Thomas Hindman (21 September 2008). The Great Divide. Retrieved 19 October 2009. "Session 14 (November 15, 1551): The necessity of a "second conversion" after baptism is confirmed. According to the Catechism: "This second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who, clasping sinners to her bosom, is at once holy and always in need of purification, and follows constantly the path of penance and renewal" (Catechism § 1428)." 
  19. ^ David MacDonald (2003). "Are Catholics Born Again?". Retrieved 19 October 2009. "I think that greater common ground can be found if we compare the Evangelical "Born Again" experience to the Catholic "Second Conversion" experience which is when a Catholic surrenders to Jesus with an attitude of "Jesus, take my will and my life, I give everything to you." This is a spontaneous thing that happens during the journey of faithful Catholics who "get it." Yup, the Catholic Church teaches a personal relationship with Christ: The Catechism says: 1428 Christ's call to conversion continues to resound in the lives of Christians. This second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who, "clasping sinners to her bosom, [is] at once holy and always in need of purification, [and] follows constantly the path of penance and renewal." This endeavor of conversion is not just a human work. It is the movement of a "contrite heart," drawn and moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first. 1430 Jesus' call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, "sackcloth and ashes," fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. The Pope and the Catechism are two of the highest authorities in the Church. They are telling us to get personal with Jesus." 
  20. ^ The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.
  21. ^ White, Charles (2003), p. 83 (see text under photo on opposite page). The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Authorised Biography. Omnibus Press.
  22. ^ Cott (ed.), Dylan on Dylan: The Essential Interviews, 279–285
  23. ^
  24. ^ Colson, Charles W. Born Again. Chosen Books (Baker Publishing), 2008.
  25. ^ Hough, JF., Changing party coalitions, Algora Publishing, 2006, p. 203.
  26. ^ Utter, GH. and Tru, JL.,Conservative Christians and political participation: a reference handbook, ABC-CLIO, 2004, p. 137.
  27. ^ Ehrman, B.D., Referred to in Edward T. Babinski The "Born Again" Dialogue In the Gospel of John (Another Reason To Doubt Its Authenticity) from Accessed 25 Feb 2011.
  28. ^ LeFevre, CF. and Williamson, ID., The Gospel anchor. Troy, NY, 1831–32, p. 66. [1]

External links

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