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In Christianity, being born again represents a spiritual and metaphorical rebirth, accepting Jesus as the Messiah and receiving the Holy Spirit. 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.'"

These terms are frequently used by Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Pentecostal, and some Mainline branches of Protestant Christianity. It is sometimes associated with non-denominational individuals, groups and churches. In modern Christianity, the act of baptism is often regarded as a physical representation of the process of being spiritually born again.

The term "born again" gained new popularity in society in the 1970s through a very publicized conversion-to-Christianity experience by Watergate conspirator Charles Colson and a very public self-description of being a "Born-Again Christian" by then U.S. Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter.


According to , Jesus originated the term "born again" (alternately translated "born from above") while teaching Nicodemus, a rabbi of the Jewish sect known as the Pharisees. The traditional Jewish understanding of the promise of salvation was that being rooted in "the seed of Abraham" referred to physical (genetic) lineage from Abraham. 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).Driscoll, James F. "Divine Promise (in Scripture)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 15 Nov. 2009 />. 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 regenerated spirit. Jesus' 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.

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:
  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."

Recent 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 an intense conversion experience, 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 Jimmy Carter described himself as born again, notably in the first Playboy magazine interview of a U.S. Presidential candidate. Modern musicians Rev. Little Richard Penniman, Mark Farner, Dan Peek, Donna Summer, Bob Dylan, Kerry Livgren, Dave Hope, Dave Mustaine, Nicko McBrain, Roger McGuinn, Johnny Cash, Brian Welch, Keith Farley, Randy Travis, Alice Cooper and Lou Gramm were artists whose born again conversions had an impact on modern culture. Others such as James Cash Penney, founder of Chick-fil-A, Truett Cathy, C. S. Lewis, Charlie Sheen, wrestlers Shawn Michaels and Sting, Jesse McCartney, Charlie Daniels, and Mr. T are also mentioned as being born again. Former Alabamamarker governor and U.S. presidential candidate George Wallace became born again in the late 70s, which led him to apologize for his earlier segregationist views.

From Watergate conspirator to Born-Again Christian

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 "Born Again" identity as a cultural construct in the U.S.

He writes that his spiritual experience followed considerable struggle and hesitancy to have a "personal encounter with God." While this is Colson's testimony of his own encounter with Jesus Christ, it is not to imply that any certain pattern or model must be followed by others seeking a "Born Again" salvation relationship with Jesus. There is no formula for what to say nor certain experience to be anticipated. It is one's own way of professing faith in Christ as "savior," placing the whole of one's trust in Christ for eternal salvation.

Implications for converts to Christianity

Does Hebrews 6:4-6 mean one can lose their salvation, after they had been "born again"? The following passage is understood by some to mean that "falling away" from an active commitment to Christ─to include becoming an atheist, agnostic, member of a religion not centered on Jesus Christ, or even passively deny Christ by not actively following him─may cause one to lose their salvation, after they had been "born again":

This is said to be one of the Bible’s most difficult passages to interpret. However, three conservative Bible scholars do not believe the passage says a truly "Born Again" Christian losing salvation.

  • One interpretation holds that this passage is written not about Christians but about unbelievers who are convinced of the basic truths of the gospel but who have not placed their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. They are intellectually persuaded but spiritually uncommitted. The phrase "once enlightened” (verse 4) may refer to some level of instruction in biblical truth. "...have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away..." could be a reference to those who have tasted the truth about Jesus but, not having come all the way to faith, fall away from even the revelation they have been given. The tasting of truth is not enough to keep them from falling away from it. They must come all the way to Christ in complete repentance and faith.

  • A second interpretation holds that this passage is written about Christians, and that the phrases “partakers of the Holy Ghost,” “enlightened,” and “tasted of the heavenly gift” are all descriptions of true believers. Some passages, including and , are taken by some tp suggest that a 'saved' person can lose their salvation. Others see them as severe warnings which do not include the loss of salvation, but in many cases fiery judgment for those who were never saved and only playing at Christianity.Herrick, Greg. "Assurance of Eternal Security." Oct. 10, 2009. />

  • Finally, theologian David DeSilva writes that "Many interpreters are driven to treat this passage as either a 'problem passage' or crux for a specific theological or ideological conviction." DeSilva agrees that the passage cannot refer to ‘saved’ individuals since the author of Hebrews views ‘salvation’ as the deliverance and reward that awaits the faithful at the return of Christ. Those who have trusted God’s promise and Jesus’ mediation are ‘those who are about to inherit salvation’ which comes at Christ’s second coming. He believes the passage refers to people who have received God’s gifts, who have benefited from God’s generosity (God’s ‘grace’). DeSilva urges perseverance to the end of the journey begun at their conversion and baptism.

Secular uses of the term

The term born-again was originally confined to the context of evangelical Christianity, to mean "converted," hence a born-again believer. Because of the recent popularization of that term in society at large stemming from its Christian roots, it is now often used generally to refer to a conversion to any cause or belief, particularly when accompanied by extreme enthusiasm or fervour, such as a born-again conservationist, born-again post offices with refurbished premises.

Names inspired by the term

The idea of being "born again in Christ" inspired some common European forenames: French René/Renée, Italian and Spanish Renato, Latin Renatus/Renata, which all mean "reborn", "born again".

See also


  1. "born-again." Good Word Guide. London: A&C Black, 2007. Credo Reference. 30 July 2009
  2. Emmons, Samuel B. A Bible Dictionary. BiblioLife, 2008. ISBN 9780554891088.
  3. The New Testament Greek Lexicon. July 30, 2009. Online:
  4. Stagg, Evelyn and Frank. Woman in the World of Jesus. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978. ISBN 0-664-24195-6
  5. The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.
  6. White, Charles (2003), p. 83 (see text under photo on opposite page). The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Authorised Biography. Omnibus Press.
  7. Cott (ed.), Dylan on Dylan: The Essential Interviews, 279–285
  9. "Does Hebrews 6:4-6 mean we can lose our salvation?" Got Questions Ministries. Oct. 10, 2009.
  10. DeSilva, David A. "Hebrews 6:4-8: A Socio-rhetorical Investigation (Part 1)", Tyndale Bulletin’ 50.1 (1999) 33-57.

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