Are You Born Again? What does “Born Again” Mean?
A lot of “bible believing” Christians pass out tracts asking that very question. “Are you born again?” They always list scripture verses that show that you must be born again. The main one cited is John 3:3 and 5.
Here is John 3:1-5:
(1) And there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
(2) This man came to Jesus by night and said to him: Rabbi, we know that thou art come a teacher from God; for no man can do these signs which thou dost, unless God be with him.
(3) Jesus answered and said to him: Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
(4) Nicodemus saith to him: How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born again?
(5) Jesus answered: Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
In verse 5 the “bible believing” Christian tract says that the “water” Jesus is referring to is the water your born from the first time as a baby in your Mother’s womb. How can we be sure that interpretation is correct? We can look to the early Christian writers and see what they said:
Justin Martyr…"As many as are persuaded and believe that what we [Christians] teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, and instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we pray and fast with them.** Then they are brought by us where there is water and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father… and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit** [Matt. 28:19], they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, “Unless you are born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (First Apology 61 [A.D. 151]).
Irenaeus,…"‘And dipped himself,’ says [the Scripture], ‘seven times in Jordan.’ It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but it served as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions; being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’" (Fragment 34 [A.D. 190]).
Tertullian…“When, however, the prescript is laid down that 'without baptism, salvation is attainable by none” (**chiefly on the ground of that declaration of the Lord, who says, “Unless one be born of water, he hath not life.’” **(On Baptism, 12:1 [A.D. 203]).
Recognitions of Clement…“But you will perhaps say, What does the, baptism of water contribute towards the worship of God? In the first place, because that which hath pleased God is fulfilled. In the second place, because, when yon are regenerated and born again of water and of God, the frailty of your former birth, which you have through men, is cut off, and so at length you shall be able to attain salvation; hut otherwise it is impossible. For thus hath the true prophet testified to its with an oath: 'Verily I say to you, That unless a man is born again of water, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. **Therefore make haste; for there is in these waters a certain power of mercy which was borne upon them at the beginning, and acknowledges those who are baptized under the name of the threefold sacrament, and rescues them from future punishments, presenting as a gift to God the souls that are consecrated by baptism. **Betake yourselves therefore to these waters, for they alone can quench the violence of the future fire; and he who delays to approach to them, it is evident that the idol of unbelief remains in him, and by it be is prevented from hastening to the waters which confer salvation. For whether you be righteous or unrighteous, baptism is necessary for you in every respect: for the righteous, that perfection may be accomplished in him, and he may be born again to God; for the unrighteous, that pardon may he vouchsafed him of the sins which he has committed in ignorance. Therefore all should hasten to he born again to God without delay, because the end of every one’s life is uncertain.”(Recognitions of Clement 6:9 [A.D. 221]).