Born again (Christianity)
In Christianity, to be born again is to undergo a "spiritual rebirth" (regeneration) of the human soul or spirit from the Holy 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 NIV] 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.
- 1 History and usage
- 2 Denominational positions
- 3 Disagreements between denominations
- 4 Public stances
- 5 Born-again and US politics
- 6 Criticism
- 7 Names inspired by the term
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
History and usage
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Many historic church denominations understood being "born again" as spiritual regeneration via the sacrament of baptism by the power of water and word. This understanding persists in Roman Catholicism, in some parts of Anglicanism, in Lutheranism and in Eastern Orthodoxy. However, beginning sometime after the Reformation, Evangelical Protestants have predominantly understood being born again as an experience of conversion, and then symbolized by deep-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, and is connected with the doctrine of Justification.
Such " 'Rebirth' has often been identified with a definite, temporally datable form of 'conversion'." Its effects vary with the type of person involved:
With the voluntaristic type, rebirth is expressed in a new alignment of the will, in the liberation of new capabilities and powers that were hitherto undeveloped in the person concerned. With the intellectual type, it leads to an activation of the capabilities for understanding, to the breakthrough of a "vision". With others it leads to the discovery of an unexpected beauty in the order of nature or to the discovery of the mysterious meaning of history. With still others it leads to a new vision of the moral life and its orders, to a selfless realization of love of neighbour. ... each person affected perceives his life in Christ at any given time as “newness of life.” 
According to Melton:
Born again is a phrase used by many Protestants to describe the phenomenon of gaining faith in Jesus Christ. It is an experience when everything they have been taught as Christians becomes real, and they develop a direct and personal relationship with God.
According to Purves and Partee, "Sometimes the phrase seems to be judgemental, making a distinction between genuine and nominal Christians. Sometimes ... descriptive, like the distinction between liberal and conservative Christians. Occasionally, the phrase seems historic, like the division between Catholic and Protestant Christians." Furthermore, the term "usually includes the notion of human choice in salvation and excludes a view of divine election by grace alone".
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.
The King James' Version uses the phrase born again three times. Two appear in chapter 3 of the Gospel of John. Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, a Pharisee described as "a ruler of the Jews", who says that, because of his miracles, Jesus is known "to be a teacher come from God". Jesus immediately replies: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."[Jn 3:3]  A few verses later the Gospel quotes Jesus as saying:
- 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.[Jn 3:7]
John's Gospel was written in Greek, and the Greek word translated as again is ανωΘεν (anothen), which could mean again, or from above. The New Revised Standard Version prefers this latter translation, and both the King James Version and the Revised Version give it as an alternative in the margins. Hoskyns argues that it is to be preferred as the fundamental meaning and drew attention to phrases such as "birth of the Spirit (v.5)", "birth from God (cf. Jn 1:12-13; 1Jn 2:29, , , )" but continues that this necessarily carries with it an emphasis upon the newness of the life as given by God himself.
The third and last mention of the phrase occurs in the First Letter of Peter. 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.[1 Peter 1:22-23]
Here, the Greek word translated as born again is αναγεγεννημενοι (anagegennemenoy).
The traditional Jewish understanding of the promise of salvation is interpreted as being rooted in "the seed of Abraham"; that is in the 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. 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. 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)."
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.
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. Theologian Frank Stagg cites two reasons why the newer translation is significant:
- 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
- More than personal improvement is needed. "...a new destiny requires a new origin, and the new origin must be from God."
An early example of the term in its more modern use appears in the sermons of John Wesley. In the sermon printed under the title of A New Birth he writes "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.
For American Christians, The Oxford Handbook of Religion and American Politics notes: "The GSS ... has asked a born-again question on three occasions ... 'Would you say you have been 'born again' or have had a 'born-again' experience?" The Handbook says that "Evangelical, black, and Latino Protestants tend to respond similarly, with about two-thirds of each group answering in the affirmative. In contrast, only about one third of mainline Protestants and one sixth of Catholics (Anglo and Latino) claim a born-again experience." However, the handbook suggests that "born-again questions are poor measures even for capturing evangelical respondents. ... it is likely that people who report a born-again experience also claim it as an identity."
The catholic.com site has:
Regeneration (being "born again") is the transformation from death to life that occurs in our souls when we first come to God and are justified. ...
The anti-baptismal regeneration position is indefensible. It has no biblical basis whatsoever. So the answer to the question, "Are Catholics born again?" is yes! Since all Catholics have been baptized, all Catholics have been born again.
The site catholic education.org  adds:
How, then, should a Catholic answer the question, “Have you been born again?” An accurate answer would be, “Yes, I was born again in baptism.” Yet leaving it at that may generate even more confusion. ... The Catholic, then, should do more than simply point to his baptism; he should discuss his living faith, trust and love of Christ; his desire to grow in sanctity and conformity to Christ; and his total dependence on Christ for salvation. These are integral to the new life of the Holy Spirit that baptism bestows. When the Fundamentalist sees the link between baptism and the Holy Spirit in the life of his Catholic neighbor, he may begin to see that St. Paul was more than figurative when he wrote, “You were buried with Christ in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col 2:12).
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).
In The Encyclopedia of Protestantism, JG Melton writes: "While often associated with Evangelical Christianity, the [born again] phenomenon is common across the entire spectrum of Protestant churches." He continues: "In churches that emphasize evangelism, the 'born-again' experience tends to become the norm, and everyone is expected to recount such an experience."
The only mention of the phrase in the 39 Articles of the Church of England is in article XV, which is headed "Of Christ alone without Sin". In part, it reads: "sin, as S. John saith, was not in Him. But all we the rest, although baptized and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things: and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."
Evangelical Protestants employ the KJV translation of John 3:3 as "born again" rather than "born from above". "Although many evangelicals allow that conversion can be a process, generally they see it as a specific, identifiable moment of time when a person simply and sincerely trusts in Jesus Christ as savior." They understand Romans 10:9 to indicate a requirement of salvation: "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord', and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." So, "to be born again" means "to be saved" because to be saved, one must confess Jesus is Lord with one's mouth and believe it in one's heart. Also, to be born again means to follow Romans 10:10 that "with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved".
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that individuals do not have the power to be born again, because it is God who calls and selects his followers. This follows from the verse in John 6:44, "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." (King James Version) They consider that when Jesus said in John 3:5 that one has to be born from "water and the spirit" to enter the kingdom of God, it was not a command but a necessity, because the text states "Ye must be born again". On this point, their publishing organisation, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, prefers the translation: "should be born from above". They write: "Thus, according to that alternate rendering, the new birth originates 'from above'—that is, 'from heaven,' or 'from the Father.' ... Yes it is caused by God."
For further evidence, Jehovah's Witnesses note that in Mark 1:9-10, after Jesus was baptised in water by John the Baptist, he was baptised by the spirit symbolised by a dove. Also, in Acts 1:5, Jesus assured his disciples that they too would soon be baptised in holy spirit: "For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence." (KJV) The Watchtower states: "Note that Jesus first got baptized with water. Then he received the holy spirit. Similarly, the early disciples had first been baptized in water ... and then they received the holy spirit." This occurred "On the day of Pentecost in the year 33 C.E."
Disagreements between denominations
The term "born again" is used by several Christian denominations, but there are disagreements on what the term means, and whether members of other denominations are justified in claiming to be born again Christians.
A Catholic website says:
Catholics should ask Protestants, "Are you born again—the way the Bible understands that concept?" If the Evangelical has not been properly water baptized, he has not been born again "the Bible way," regardless of what he may think.
On the other hand, an Evangelical site argues:
Another of many examples is the Catholic who claims he also is "born again." ... However, what the committed Catholic means is that he received his spiritual birth when he was baptized—either as an infant or when as an adult he converted to Catholicism. That's not what Jesus meant when He told Nicodemus he "must be born again" (Jn 3:3-8). The deliberate adoption of biblical terms which have different meanings for Catholics has become an effective tool in Rome's ecumenical agenda.
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. 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." The term was sufficiently prevalent that during the year's Presidential campaign, most notably with Democratic party nominee Jimmy Carter describing himself as "born again" in the first Playboy magazine interview of an American Presidential candidate. Modern musicians such as Little Richard, Mark Farner, Dan Peek, Donna Summer, Bob Dylan, Kerry Livgren, Dave Hope, Dave Mustaine, Nicko McBrain, Roger McGuinn, Ted Nugent, Kanye West, Carrie Underwood, Johnny Cash, Brian Welch, Keith Farley, Cliff Richard, Charlie Daniels, Randy Travis, Alice Cooper, Steven Tyler, Mariah Carey, Nick Cannon, and Lou Gramm were artists whose born again conversions had an impact on modern culture. Others such as department store magnate James Cash Penney, Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, actor/martial artist Chuck Norris, wrestlers Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, AJ Styles, Ted DiBiase and Sting, and actors Jesse McCartney, Kirk Cameron, and Mr. T are also mentioned as being born again. Born-again athletes like former New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and former Rams Super Bowl XXXIV winning quarterback Kurt Warner, Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones, boxer Katie Taylor and Houston Rockets player Jeremy Lin. Former Alabama governor and American presidential candidate George Wallace became born again in the late 1970s, which led him to apologize for his earlier segregationist views.
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.
Born-again and US politics
The first President of the United States to publicly declare that he was born-again was Jimmy Carter in 1976. "In the 1980 campaign, all three of the major candidates ... stated that they had been born-again"
Sider and Knippers state that "Ronald Reagan's election that fall [was] aided by the votes of 61% of 'born-again' white Protestants."
The Gallup Organization reported that "In 2003, 42% of U.S. adults said they were born-again or evangelical; the 2004 percentage is 41%." Also, "Black Americans are far more likely to identify themselves as born-again or evangelical, with 63% of blacks saying they are born-again, compared with 39% of white Americans. Republicans are far more likely to say they are born-again (52%) than Democrats (36%) or independents (32%)."
Haiven, in speaking of "born-agains", refers to them having "a type of intolerance". She says, "The instant and thoughtless panaceas of born-again Christianity will be seen as a vast sanctuary by millions of North Americans." She asks, "Is this sanctuary really a recruitment camp for right-wing movements? It would be naive to think otherwise."
The Oxford Handbook of Religion and American Politics, referring to several studies, reports "that 'born-again' identification is associated with lower support for government anti-poverty programs." It also notes that "self-reported born-again" Christianity, "strongly shapes attitudes towards economic policy."
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?" Scholar 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.
A 19th-century source notes that the phrase was not mentioned by the other Evangelists, 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. 
Names inspired by the term
The idea of "rebirth in Christ" has inspired some common European forenames: French René/Renée. Αlso used in Belgium the Netherlands and Great Britain, Dutch Renaat/Renate, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Renato/Renata, Latin Renatus/Renata, which all mean "reborn", "born again".
- 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")
- Baptismal regeneration – overview of doctrinal debate about the effect of the baptism rite.
- 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
- Or "born from above" according to some other translations
- Robert M. Price (1993). Beyond Born Again: Toward Evangelical Maturity. Wildside Press. ISBN 9781434477484. 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."
- Erica Bornstein (2005). The spirit of development: Protestant NGOs, morality, and economics in Zimbabwe. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804753364. 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 spiritual rebirth. The need to be born again. ...You must be born again before you can see, or enter, the Kingdom of Heaven.""
- A. B. Lever (2007). And God Said.... ISBN 9781604771152. 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."
- See the section on Anglicanism in Baptismal regeneration
- "born-again." Good Word Guide. London: A&C Black, 2007. Credo Reference. 30 July 2009
- 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 important Methodist doctrine, 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."
- 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."
- 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."
- Encyclopædia Britannica, entry for The Doctrine of Man (from Christianity), 2004.
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- Hoskyns, Sir Edwyn C. and Davy, F.N.(ed), The Fourth Gospel, Faber & Faber 2nd ed. 1947, pp. 211,212
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- The Oxford Handbook of Religion and American Politics, OUP, p16.
- Ross Thomas Hindman (21 September 2008). The Great Divide. ISBN 9781606476017. 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)."
- Melton, JG, The Encyclopedia of Protestantism, Infobase publishing, 2009, p. 100.
-  Accessed 8 April 2012.
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- Watchtower, BORN AGAIN What Does It Mean?: THE NEW BIRTH A Personal Decision?, www.watchtower.org, Accessed 8 April 2012.
- Watchtower, BORN AGAIN What Does It Mean?: THE NEW BIRTH How Does It Take Place?, www.watchtower.org, Accessed 8 April 2012.
- McMahon, TA, The "Evangelical" Seduction, , Accessed 10 Feb 2013.
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- "Lou Gramm Knows What Love Is - CBN TV - Video". Cbn.com. Retrieved 2012-08-11.
- Colson, Charles W. Born Again. Chosen Books (Baker Publishing), 2008.
- Hough, JF., Changing party coalitions, Algora Publishing, 2006, p. 203.
- Utter, GH. and Tru, JL.,Conservative Christians and political participation: a reference handbook, ABC-CLIO, 2004, p. 137.
- Sider, J. and Knippers, D. (eds), Toward an Evangelical Public Policy: Political Strategies for the Health of the Nation, Baker Books, 2005, p.51.
- "Winseman. A.L., ''Who has been born again'', Gallup, 2004". Gallup.com. Retrieved 2012-08-11.
- Haiven, J., Faith, hope, no charity: an inside look at the born again movement in Canada and the United States, New Star Books, 1984, p.218.
- Smidt, C., Kellstedt, L., and Guth, J., The Oxford Handbook of Religion and American Politics, Oxford Handbooks Online, 2009, pp.195-196.
- 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 http://etb-biblical-errancy.blogspot.com/2012/04/born-again-dialogue-in-gospel-of-john.html Accessed 25 Feb 2011.
- LeFevre, CF. and Williamson, ID., The Gospel anchor. Troy, NY, 1831–32, p. 66. 
- Oxford Dictionary of First Names
- Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary, W. & R. Chambers (1954) p.1355
- The New Birth, John Wesley, sermon #45. Wesley's teaching on being born again, and argument that it is fundamental to Christianity.
- Monergistic Regeneration? (Calvinist/Reformed) - discusses monergism, the view that the new birth is entirely the work of God (as opposed to synergism which teaches that the believer is also active to some extent.)
- New Birth, a 16th-century work by anabaptist preacher Menno Simons, c. 1537, revised c. 1550