John 3:3 ἄνωθεν

Semantic Range, Lexicography, and other approaches to word meaning - in general, or for particular words.
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Scott Lawson
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John 3:3 ἄνωθεν

Post by Scott Lawson » May 10th, 2014, 10:22 am

John 3:3 "...ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, οὐ δύναται ἰδεῖν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ..."

The following comment from Bart Ehrman has sparked my interest:

"This conversation with Nicodemus is predicated on the circumstance that a certain Greek word has two meanings (a double entendre). Absent the double entendre, the conversation makes little sense. The problem is this: Jesus and this Jewish leader in Jerusalem would not have been speaking Greek, but Aramaic. But the Aramaic word for “from above” does not also mean “second time.” This is a double entendre that works only in Greek. So it looks as though this conversation could not have happened—at least not as it is described in the Gospel of John."-JESUS, INTERRUPTED pg. 164

In conversation elsewhere with Barry Hofstetter he made the point that the confusion of Nicodemus does not hinge on a double entendre but rather just on ἄνωθεν meaning again. Thus, the conversation of Jesus and Nicodemus could have been in Aramaic, Hebrew as well as Greek. Ehrman would seem to be shortsighted here.

Nicodemus asks: "...μὴ δύναται εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ δεύτερον εἰσελθεῖν καὶ γεννηθῆναι;"

So it seems that Nicodemus understands ἄνωθεν to mean something like "again/anew/a second time". The only other place in the NT that ἄνωθεν seems to mean "again" is at Galatians 4:9 where it is strengthened (?) by πάλιν. But BDAG also indicates that ἄνωθεν can mean "from the beginning" so it seems like πάλιν ἄνωθεν at Gal. 4:9 could mean something like "from the beginning again". So when did ἄνωθεν gain the meaning "again/anew"? Except at John 3:3 I'm not sure we have any clear examples of ἄνωθεν meaning "again/anew". The Gospel of John was evidently written around 98 C.E. so I wonder if ἄνωθεν had the meaning "again/anew" in 30 C.E. or before. Or does it in fact have the meaning of "again/anew"? Could Nicodemus have understood it to mean "from the beginning"? And thus his puzzled question.

BDAG gives some references for ἄνωθεν definition (4) but 2 are from Epictetus and Josephus which would be written about the time John was written. And one is from Pla., Ep. 2 p. 310e which I don't have the slightest idea how to look up but which seems to have the phrase ἄνωθεν ἀρξάμενος. Really, how common is it for ἄνωθεν to be used to mean "again" since πάλιν is so well suited for it?
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Scott Lawson

Jason Wenger
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Re: John 3:3 ἄνωθεν

Post by Jason Wenger » May 10th, 2014, 11:53 am

The Josephus quote (Antiquities 1:263) is as follows:
Ἰσάκῳ μὲν οὖν ἀκμάζειν συνέβαινε τὴν ἰσχὺν ὑπὸ μεγέθους πραγμάτων Ἀβιμέλεχος δὲ κατ᾽ αὐτοῦ φύεσθαι νομίζων τὸν Ἴσακον ὑπόπτου μὲν αὐτοῖς καὶ τῆς συνδιαιτήσεως γενομένης ἐπ᾽ οὐ φανερᾷ δὲ ἔχθρᾳ τοῦ Ἰσάκου ὑπεκστάντος δείσας μὴ τῆς προτέρας αὐτῷ φιλίας οὐδὲν ὄφελος γένηται πρὸς ἄμυναν ὧν ἔπαθεν Ἰσάκου τραπέντος φιλίαν ἄνωθεν ποιεῖται πρὸς αὐτὸν ἕνα τῶν στρατηγῶν Φίλοχον ἐπαγόμενος
Whiston's 1828 translation gives "he therefore renewed his friendship with him" for "φιλίαν ἄνωθεν ποιεῖται πρὸς αὐτὸν."
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Barry Hofstetter
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Re: John 3:3 ἄνωθεν

Post by Barry Hofstetter » May 11th, 2014, 8:38 am

Short of doing a search in the TLG or the Perseus Classical Collection, I know of no way to answer the question on the frequency of the usage. That it was so used is easily established.
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N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
Χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ πάντοτε· πάλιν ἐρῶ, χαίρετε

Scott Lawson
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Re: John 3:3 ἄνωθεν

Post by Scott Lawson » May 11th, 2014, 11:14 am

Thank you Barry!
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Scott Lawson

George F Somsel
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Re: John 3:3 ἄνωθεν

Post by George F Somsel » May 12th, 2014, 1:33 am

I have no doubt that this works only in Greek and not in Hebrew or Aramaic, but I also think that ἄνωθεν here is indeed a double entendre. I think the NRSV is correct when it renders it as "from above", but this is clearly not how Nicodemus understands it (He understands "again"). It was posited by Bultmann that the gospels were formed from the kerugma of the early Church which was largely Greek in some areas so the wordplay would have been appreciated. Today a large portion of the churches understand this as being born again in keeping with Nicodemus' misunderstanding whereas Jesus was saying that one must not only be born physically but spiritually (from above) as well.
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Stephen Hughes
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παλιγγενεσία is used to describe γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν

Post by Stephen Hughes » May 14th, 2014, 6:26 am

Scott Lawson wrote:Really, how common is it for ἄνωθεν to be used to mean "again" since πάλιν is so well suited for it?
George F Somsel wrote:Today a large portion of the churches understand this as being born again in keeping with Nicodemus' misunderstanding whereas Jesus was saying that one must not only be born physically but spiritually (from above) as well.
Perhaps in the past too, There is a word παλιγγενεσία to describe being born again.
1 Timothy 3:5 wrote:κατὰ τὸν αὐτοῦ ἔλεον ἔσωσεν ἡμᾶς, διὰ λουτροῦ παλιγγενεσίας καὶ ἀνακαινώσεως πνεύματος ἁγίου,

If one was forced to make a distinction between them, my general impression is that the prefix ἀνα- has a repeated sense whereas παλιν- has more of the sense of doing something once again.
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