12 April 2010

John 3:1-8

"How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" (v.5)


The image of being 'born again' is one which produces much controversy and misunderstanding. The popular press will use the phrase 'born-again Christian' in a negative sense, implying a fanatical and extreme believer who is perhaps a danger, and who is in some way to be avoided.

Interestingly in today's reading, describing a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) does not use that phase to translate the words of Jesus.

Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews, was a seeker after truth and sensed that Jesus had significant insights to give. In the course of the conversation Jesus told him that in order to see the kingdom of God it was necessary to be "born from above" (NRSV main text) or "born anew" (NRSV footnote). Clearly more than one translation is possible - but perhaps both images have something to say to us.

The phrase "born anew" conveys an idea of the new start of the radical reversal of values that is implied when a seeker after truth accepts the values of God's kingdom and begins to align their life to those values. For some this experience of a new birth happens in an instant; for others, a longer and sometimes difficult journey is involved. Accepting the invitation to discipleship offered by Jesus means a new beginning, which is as dramatic and significant as the one that takes place at the birth of a baby. The image of being born again or born anew is therefore a very important one.

However, the idea of being "born from above" is also significant because it reminds us that this new beginning is not something that we can achieve in our own strength, but that it is actually a gift given to us by a gracious god. Nicodemus' question "Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" leads to the answer "No"! Men and women cannot be reborn physically - but neither can we be born spiritually by our own efforts. We need to receive the experience of new beginnings as a gift of grace from God. To do that will involve meeting with Jesus and, like Nicodemus, being a 'seeker after truth'.

To Ponder

In what ways do the phrases "born from above" and "born anew" relate to your understanding of the invitation to "see the kingdom of God"?

How can you continue, or begin, to be a 'seeker after truth'?

Bible notes author

The Revd Chris Blake

Chris Blake is a Methodist minister and principal of Cliff College in Derbyshire. His background is as a biochemist, and he has previously served in Barking and Dagenham as an industrial chaplain, in Dorset in the Wimborne Circuit and as chair of the Cornwall Methodist District.