Regeneration


Regeneration is, therefore, the spiritual change wrought in people’s hearts by an act of God in which their inherently sinful nature is changed and by which they are enabled to respond to God in faith. This definition grows out of the nature of man’s sinfulness. As long as man is in sin, he cannot believe in God. If he is to believe, he will do so only after God has initiated a change by which he may be released from the bondage of his will to sin. Regeneration is that act of God by which a person is thus released and by which he may exercise the dispositions of a freed nature.

Regeneration is, therefore, an act of God through the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit operative in man (Col.2.13), originating in him a new dimension of moral life, a resurrection to new life in Christ. This new life is not merely a neutral state arising out of forgiveness of sin, but a positive implantation of Christ’s righteousness in man, by which he is quickened (John.5.21), begotten (1John.5.1), made a new creation (2Cor.5.17), and given a new life (Rom.6.4).

Regeneration involves an illumination of the mind, a change in the will, and a renewed nature. It extends to the total nature of man, irrevocably altering his governing disposition, and restoring him to a true experiential knowledge in Christ. It is a partaking of the divine nature (2Pet.1.4), a principle of spiritual life having been implanted in the heart.

The efficient cause of regeneration is God (1John.3.9) acting in love through mercy (Eph.2.4-Eph.2.5) to secure the new life in man through the instrument of his Word (1Pet.1.23).

In regeneration, the soul is both passive and active: passive while it is still in bondage to sin and active when it is released. The regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is not conditioned by a prior acquiescence of the soul, but when the soul is released from sin, regenerated, it voluntarily and spontaneously turns toward God in fellowship.——CBB


A supernatural work of the nodetitle in the individual heart in which a new and holy spiritual life is imparted. The actual term occurs only twice in the NT (Matt. 19:28; Titus 3:5 KJV), and in the first of these it refers not to the individual but to the universe. The idea represented by the word is frequent, however (e.g., John 1:12ff.; 3:1-10; Gal. 4:23,29; James 1:15-18; 1 Peter 1:3,23; 1 John 2:29). Moreover, the ideas of spiritual resurrection, new creation, and circumcision of the heart are further figurative expressions conveying the same idea of an act of God involving a decisive break with the past. The language used brings out its supernatural character. There has been controversy as to the relation of regeneration to baptism and to conversion. Evangelicals see baptism as the sign and seal of regeneration while Roman Catholics see it also as conveying the regenerating grace it signifies. Calvinists see regeneration as the cause of conversion (repentance and faith) while Arminians see conversion as the cause of regeneration.


REGENERATION (παλιγγενεσία, G4098, rebirth, regeneration). The Biblical doctrine of the new birth, renewal, and the final restoration of all things.

The Biblical witness.

Jesus’ nocturnal conversation with the pharisee Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, is the most important scriptural witness to the doctrine of regeneration. Representing some faction of the important religious sect of which he was a member, Nicodemus came to Jesus to inquire about the kingdom of God. In addressing Jesus he recognizes Him as a teacher and acknowledges the divinity of His message. No one, he says, could have performed the miracles that Jesus did unless God were with him. Himself a teacher of the Jews, he comes to Jesus, whom he believes will be able to instruct him.

In making His reply Jesus does not deny the truth of what Nicodemus has said about Him. Nevertheless, He shows His dissatisfaction with the assumptions that prompted Nicodemus’ visit by abruptly changing the course of the discussion. Instead of simply giving Nicodemus information, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Surprised at this reply Nicodemus turns in his mind to what is familiar to him, namely, natural childbirth. “How can a man,” he asks, “be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4). In answering Jesus reinforces what He has previously said, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew’” (John 3:7).

Undoubtedly Jesus refers here to the necessity of a new birth. The very abruptness with which he breaks off the thread of the conversation shows that He wanted Nicodemus to realize that his query could not be answered properly by simply adding to his store of information or simply correcting him in one or another respect. It was not sufficient for him to carry on with the life that he already had; it was necessary for him to be born again.

That the newness of this birth is in mind here cannot be questioned; nevertheless, the Gr. word anōthen, which in the KJV rendering of this v. has been tr. “again,” should be tr. “from above.” This rendering is supported by the fact that Jesus proceeds immediately to contrast the natural birth and the new birth as to their origins. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). What is required for entering the kingdom of God is that one be born of water and of the Spirit (3:5). When he refers to regeneration, John always describes it as a birth from God (cf. 1:13). Thus what is in mind is not only the newness of the birth, but also its origin in the supernatural activity of the Spirit.

The source of the new birth, as Jesus’ reference to the inscrutable activity of the wind shows, lies beyond the range of our earthly experience (3:8). It is not enough, therefore, to call this a “new birth”; it is a birth “from above,” by the agency of the creative activity of the Spirit of God. The ideas of “newness,” “regeneration,” and a supernatural origin in the activity of the Spirit are all joined together in Titus 3:5. Here salvation is said to occur by means of “...the washing of regeneration and renewal in the nodetitle.”

In salvation, therefore, there is a washing and a renewing, a change in the innermost attitudes and inclinations of man’s heart of such a nature that it can be compared only with the generation and birth of life. Unlike natural birth, however, this birth does not have its origin in the will of man but in the sovereign power of God. It is a birth that is not of the flesh nor of blood but of the Spirit (John 1:13). The analogy of birth shows that regeneration is a radical change, which brings one from an earlier condition of pollution and death to a renewed state of holiness and life.

In the same vein the Bible speaks of one who has been regenerated as a “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). According to Paul (Gal 6:15), what really matters is a new creation. Thus the Christian is exhorted to “put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24). So also the new birth is described as a being “brought forth” (James 1:18), a “quickening” (John 5:21: Eph 2:5 KJV). The believer is said to have been made alive from the dead (Rom 6:13). He is also called “his workmanship” (Eph 2:10).

Having been dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1, 5), blind and unresponsive to the things that pertain to the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2:14), unable to do any work that merits salvation (2 Tim 1:9; Titus 3:5), the person who has been corrupted in all of his powers is re-created in Christ Jesus. Even as a newborn child has himself had nothing to do with his conception and birth, the transformation of the new birth is one that cannot be accounted for by any powers resident within man himself but only by the power of the Spirit that is from above.

The Biblical theological perspective.


The more specific doctrine of the new birth occurs, however, in the context of the broader Biblical teaching concerning renewal. The terms “renew” and “renewing” themselves do not appear often in the Scriptures. In the NT they do not appear at all in the gospels; they occur only in the epistles, where they stand for the Gr. word ἀνακαινου̂ν and its cognate forms (Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 4:16; Eph 4:23; Col 3:10; Titus 3:5; Heb 6:6). That the words themselves do not often appear does not mean, however, that the doctrine is unimportant. The Biblical idea of renewal is taught at all stages of the revelation of God.

In the OT the ideas of cleansing and purification are very prominent. In a great number of cases this cleansing is ceremonial or ritual. That is to say, it is performed as part of a rite whose performance qualified one for something, e.g., for participation in a religious ceremony or for being publicly accepted in the tribe. Examples are the ceremonial purification of the high priest before his entering the holy place (Lev 16:1-4) and the ritual cleansing of a woman after childbirth (Lev 12). These ceremonial cleansings, although they were symbolic and did not necessarily correspond with an inward holiness on the part of the one who performed them, were not purely external and devoid of ethical significance, as liberal theology has claimed. They were symbolic of the righteousness and holiness of the heart which was demanded of the people of God. Thus the prophets denounced the people when these ceremonies became external and were no longer understood in their deeper significance. There was the prophecy of a new day in which the law of God would be inscribed on the heart, when there would be a people who were truly separated to God (Jer 31:33).

Although the element of renewal that is the new birth is not so clearly taught in the OT as it is in the NT, the OT idea of the relationship between God and man requires a perfect standard of righteousness and holiness and its promise of renewal is that of a renewal of the heart. The central meaning of God’s covenant with His people was that He would be a God to them and that they would be His people (Gen 17:1, 7, 8). This meant that they were separated to Him. It was symbolized in their being called out of the nations and their being circumcised. Circumcision signified the covenant with God in its deepest intent (17:10). It meant that they were set apart for Him and for the holiness which was fitting to this union with Him. Union with God was symbolized in terms of the marriage bond, and breaking His covenant was compared with whoredom (Jer 2:2; 3:1; Hosea 1:2, et passim).


In a few passages, as we have observed, the NT speaks of renewal specifically in terms of a new birth by the power of the Holy Spirit. Even in the NT, however, the doctrine of the new birth occurs in the context of the more general teaching of renewal, which includes not only this birth itself but everything which flows out of it, namely the new life in Christ in its entirety. Regeneration in the narrow sense of the new birth may indeed be distinguished from this broader idea of renewal; but it should not be isolated from it.

Doctrinal development.

Considering the fact that there is no elaborate body of teaching about the new birth in the Scriptures and that this teaching is set in the context of a broader teaching concerning renewal, it is not surprising that the term “regeneration” did not immediately have in the Church the more precise significance it later acquired in theology.

In the Early Church the term “regeneration” was used to denote a change intimately connected with the remission of sins. No clear distinction was made between regeneration, the act of God in which man is made holy, and justification, the act of God in which man is declared to be righteous. In his controversy with Pelagius, who taught that man’s will is free to choose the good, the church father Augustine maintained that regeneration is a work of God alone that changes the heart and that makes it possible for one to understand the Gospel and to be converted. There was, however, still no clear distinction made between regeneration and other doctrines pertaining to renewal.

The failure to distinguish between regeneration and justification had adverse effects in scholastic theology. Justification came to be regarded as the more inclusive notion; it was supposed to include regeneration and to be an act in which God and man cooperated. According to the dominant view, that of Thomas Aquinas, justification was first an infusion of grace, i.e., the birth of a new creation (regeneration) and, based upon it the forgiveness of sins and the removal of guilt. In the Roman Catholic Church there is still a certain confusion of regeneration and justification. The declarative nature of justification is lost to sight and justification is regarded to be an act or a process of renewal in which man’s subjective life is changed. Man is, in the opinion of the Roman church, not declared to be just but is made just.

Like the Church Fathers, the Reformers, including both Luther and Calvin, employed the term “regeneration” in a broad sense. Calvin used it to designate the entire process by which man is renewed, including not only the divine act by which the new life comes into being in the Christian, but also the conversion and sanctification which flow from it. This broad use of the word continued on even in the followers of the Reformers. It led, however, to confusion. Gradually, therefore, there arose a stricter use of the term “regeneration” and it came to be distinguished from conversion.

Turretin distinguished two types of conversion, namely, “habitual” or “passive” conversion, which is the production of a habit or disposition of the soul and “actual” or “active” conversion, in which this inner disposition comes to expression in repentance and faith. The first, he said, might more aptly be called “regeneration.” Thus the meaning of regeneration became restricted and was distinguished from the broader conception of renewal. The word “regeneration” is presently often used to denote only the implantation of a new life, apart from any manifestation of it.

In the theology which arose in the wake of the rationalism of the Enlightenment, there was a denial that regeneration was an act of God renewing the heart of man unto salvation. Rationalism, to be exact, secularized the Christian view of regeneration. That is to say, the idea that the Holy Spirit re-creates the innermost life of man was transformed into the notion that there is in every man an unspoiled creative source of reason. The need for an inner renewal of human life was eliminated. Man was supposed to have a pure spring of truth and goodness already within himself. It was only necessary to let this reason come to expression. Indeed, reason had to disentangle man from the web of irrational circumstances surrounding his life; but it itself, at the very heart of man’s personality, had no need of regeneration. Of itself, reason was supposed to be able to change man, to redirect his will and his emotions.

In reaction to the intellectualism of rationalism theological liberalism found a place again for the idea of regeneration. Friedrich Schleiermacher, who has been called the father of modern theology, is supposed to have reintroduced the idea of regeneration into theology. In Schleiermacher’s theology individual understanding is no longer at the center. What is now central is the divine life as it is manifested in Jesus Christ. Through man’s encounter with Christ, there is the birth within man of a new religious personality. His weak and suppressed God-consciousness is strengthened and made dominant, there is a break with his old situation, and there is the beginning of a new life of personal communion with God. Schleiermacher thought of regeneration as being this critical point, where the old life breaks off and a new life begins.

Although Schleiermacher broke with the rationalism and intellectualism of modernism regeneration is for him still nothing more than strengthening and making dominant something that is already present in man. The encounter with Jesus Christ simply awakens the slumbering consciousness of the divine.

The theology of neo-orthodoxy, which developed between the two world wars, protested that liberal theology had been man-centered and had allowed no real place for regeneration as truly a work of God. A point was sought from which regeneration could be viewed as a new creation, from a source which transcended anything in man. It had to be something more than a projection of man’s own possibilities.

Karl Barth’s theology of the word maintains that whenever the word of God is present, in distinction from the mere words of men, there is revelation and a radical change from death to life. Man is transformed by the word, which uses the words of men breaking in as grace onto the level of human life.

Barth believed that he had corrected the man-centeredness of liberal theology and had developed a position that allowed for the radical change from death to life of the new birth. The focus is supposed to have shifted from man and his possibilities to God’s electing love in Christ. God’s grace is triumphant, making all things new.

Barth, however, has always insisted that when the saving Word of God enters history it invades a realm that is foreign to it. It must transform the all too human words of men into the Word of God. As soon as it has entered history, it has already taken a form that is at man’s disposal. It is no longer the Word of God; it has become the words of men. God’s saving revelation can be only from moment to moment. Nothing can simply be said to be the Word of God; the Word of God must always become the Word of God.

Similarly the new birth is supposed to have a transcendent source. As soon, however, as it is thought to impart a new disposition or qualities that would serve to distinguish one individual or group from another, it has become self-sufficient, Barth thinks, and is in conflict with the living confrontation with God and His revelation. To think that regeneration effects such a change is to deny the freedom of God and His revelation and to place them at man’s disposal.

This view brings Barth into sharp opposition to the position of orthodoxy. The latter saw no difficulty in holding at one and the same time to the sovereignty of God in His revelation and to the idea that regeneration implants new dispositions, principles, tastes, etc., that underlie and determine the character of a man and all of his acts. To accept the traditional position means for Barth to have reverted to the notion that man can be something in and of himself, apart from His relationship to God and from his dependence upon Him. For Barth the traditional position involves a denial of the Biblical teaching of justification by faith. In so far as the believer is thought to live by virtue of something he possesses as a quality of his life, he lives by sight and no longer by grace through faith. There is an observable, describable principle within him that is supposed to result in a nearly mechanical fashion in his sanctification.

More recently Barth has emphasized the positive relation that pertains through grace between God and man. By the inner logic of his own position Barth has come to the view that all men are already elected in Christ. They are already in Christ; they must simply come to recognize that fact. As the more positive side of Barth’s theology has gotten the upper hand, as the theme of divine judgment has been consciously subordinated to the theme of the triumph of grace, the radical change from death to life of the new birth has become indistinct. It has faded into the difference between those who do and those who do not yet acknowledge the fact that they already have been elected in Christ.

Barth believes that he has truly interpreted the Scriptural teaching concerning the grace of God which is new every morning. However, this has been impossible for Barth because of his unwillingness to accept the true authority of Scripture. Instead, he has established a sanctuary for human autonomy, which can dictate how the saving revelation of God and the work of the Spirit are to appear in history.

In spite of Barth’s intentions he cannot obtain, therefore, a view of regeneration that has in affect the very heart of human existence. In his autonomous critical powers and in his historical cultural activity man is neutral. He has no need of regeneration. Indeed, here regeneration is not allowed to touch him. Human autonomy is allowed to establish a realm into which the saving revelation of God cannot penetrate directly.

In contrast, the Scriptural position is that man was created in the image of God and in his pristine goodness was given the task of subduing the world to the glory of God; that he sinned, becoming corrupted in all of his powers; and that he is in need of a regeneration that affects the very heart of his existence, a renewal that will re-establish him in the service of his creator with all of his heart, his soul, and his mind.

Doctrinal formulation.

A survey of the idea of regeneration in the Scriptures shows that it is not sharply defined. It warrants, however, making a distinction between regeneration in the sense of the initial act by which God through the power of His Holy Spirit re-creates one into the new life in Christ and regeneration in a broader sense which includes conversion, sanctification, and the final restoration of all things. Regeneration in the narrower sense it has assumed in theology should not be considered in isolation from this broader context. It is indeed, first of all a new birth; but it also has to do with the entire process of renewal both in its personal and in its cosmic dimensions.

The reason for this double meaning is likely that regeneration in the narrow sense of the new birth is not simply an act which can be set off rigidly from other acts. Instead, it is a renewal at the very root of human existence whose significance must extend to everything that falls within the scope of divine salvation. This radical change, at the very heart of the creation, must manifest itself, therefore, throughout its entire extent. The purpose of God is the salvation of the entire man and with him the entire cosmos over which he was made the vicegerent.

This insight was grasped and elaborated clearly by the Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper. For him regeneration was more than one link among others in the chain of salvation. It became a universal theological principle of palingenesis (παλιγγενεσία, G4098). Kuyper grasped the radical nature of sin. He understood that it affected the cosmos at its root and that from this center corruption spread into all of its parts. Kuyper, therefore, was able to give an equally central and decisive place to the recreation of the cosmos in Christ Jesus. It became necessary for the Christian not only to be concerned with the question of personal holiness but also with the principles that should guide the regenerated mind in all of its activities, in society as well as in the Church.

When it is viewed in this fashion regeneration is not thought to add any new part to man. It does not endow him with any new function. Regeneration is a renewal of man in his heart, a renovation in the deepest center of his existence. As such it differs from justification. The latter is a judicial declaration that the sinner is righteous on the basis of the righteousness of Christ which has been imputed to him. One must, however, take into consideration not only the guilt, but also the pollution of sin. It is not only necessary for one to be declared righteous, but also to be made holy. This is effected by regeneration. A principle of holiness is injected into the center of one’s being. This holiness, to be sure, is not complete; nevertheless it introduces into one’s life the renewing power whose principle is nothing less than the perfect righteousness and holiness of God. The Apostle John can say of the one who has been regenerated, “No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9).

Because regeneration affects the very heart of human existence, neither its place nor its effects can be localized. One cannot ask where it takes place, if one means one part of man in distinction from another. As the Scriptures teach, the work of the Spirit is inscrutable. It can be observed only in its effects. Jesus Himself taught this, employing the wind as an analogy. The wind blows where it will. One observes its effects; but he cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So, Jesus says, is everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:8). Likewise the scope of regeneration may not be limited. The entire man, in his intellectual, volitional, and emotive nature, has been corrupted by sin; therefore the entire man must be renewed according to the image of Christ.

If one understands the central meaning of regeneration, if he recognizes that it cannot be localized either as to its place or its effects, he will see that the difference between the regenerate and the unregenerate appears in an antithesis which runs through all of life. On the one hand, there will be a regenerated consciousness that seeks to subject everything to the Lordship of Christ; on the other hand, there will be a consciousness which, in the spirit of apostasy, will attempt to place man in his supposed independence from God at the center. One will then be obliged to bring this regenerated consciousness to bear upon all of life and its activities, not only on the study of the Bible and of theology but also on science, education, politics, etc.

This position, set forth by Abraham Kuyper and developed by others, provides a theological foundation for understanding the Biblical doctrine that the entire creation participates in redemption. The entire creation eagerly awaits the redemption of the sons of God (Rom 8:19-23). Both the human and the sub-human creation is to be renewed in a new heaven and a new earth. That does not mean that every individual will be saved; nor does it mean that the works of darkness will not be judged. Nevertheless, all things—that is, every aspect of the creation—will participate in salvation. All things will be renewed in the new heaven and the new earth.

Bibliography

G. Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, 2nd ed. (1889); J. V. Bartlet, “Regeneration,” A Dictionary of the Bible, ed. James Hastings (1902); B. B. Warfield, “On the Biblical Notion of ‘Renewal’,” Biblical Doctrines (1929), 439-463; A. Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (1941), 293-332; L. Berkhof, “Regeneration and Effectual Calling,” Systematic Theology (1941), 465-479; J. Murray, “Regeneration,” Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (1955), 119-129; R. D. Knudsen, “The Nature of Regeneration,” Christian Faith and Modern Theology, ed. Carl F. H. Henry (1964), 307-321.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

re-jen-er-a’-shun, re-:

I. THE TERM EXPLAINED

1. First Biblical Sense (Eschatological)

2. Second Biblical Sense (Spiritual)

II. THE BIBLICAL DOCTRINE OF REGENERATION

1. In the Old Testament

2. In the Teaching of Jesus

3. In Apostolic Teaching

III. LATER DEVELOPMENT OF THE DOCTRINE

IV. PRESENT SIGNIFICANCE

LITERATURE

I. The Term Explained.

The theological term "regeneration" is the Latin translation of the Greek expression palingenesia, occurring twice in the New Testament (Mt 19:28; Tit 3:5). The word is usually written paliggenesia, in classical Greek. Its meaning is different in the two passages, though an easy transition of thought is evident.

1. First Biblical Sense (Eschatological):

In Mt 19:28 the word refers to the restoration of the world, in which sense it is synonymical to the expressions apokatastasis panton, "restoration of all things" (Ac 3:21; the verb is found in Mt 17:11, apokatastsei panta, "shall restore all things"), and anapsuxis, "refreshing" (Ac 3:19), which signifies a gradual transition of meaning to the second sense of the word under consideration. It is supposed that regeneration in this sense denotes the final stage of development of all creation, by which God’s purposes regarding the same are fully realized, when "all things (are put) in subjection under his feet" (1Co 15:27). This is a "regeneration in the proper meaning of the word, for it signifies a renovation of all visible things when the old is passed away, and heaven and earth are become new" (compare Re 21:1). To the Jew the regeneration thus prophesied was inseparably connected with the reign of the Messiah.

We find this word in the same or very similar senses in profane literature. It is used of the renewal of the world in Stoical philosophy. Josephus (Ant., XI, iii, 9) speaks of the anaktesis kai paliggenesia tes patridos, "a new foundation and regeneration of the fatherland," after the return from the Babylonian captivity. Philo (ed. Mangey, ii.144) uses the word, speaking of the post-diluvial epoch of the earth, as of a new world, and Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (xi.1), of a periodical restoration of all things, laying stress upon the constant recurrence and uniformity of all happenings, which thought the Preacher expressed by "There is no new thing under the sun" (Ec 1:9). In most places, however, where the word occurs in philosophical writings, it is used of the "reincarnation" or "subsequent birth" of the individual, as in the Buddhistic and Pythagorean doctrine of the transmigration of souls (Plut., edition Xylander, ii.998c; Clement of Alexandria, edition Potter, 539) or else of a revival of life (Philo i.159). Cicero uses the word in his letters to Atticus (vi.6) metaphorically of his return from exile, as a new lease of life granted to him.

See ESCHATOLOGY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, IX.

2. Second Biblical Sense (Spiritual):

This sense is undoubtedly included in the full Biblical conception of the former meaning, for it is unthinkable that a regeneration in the eschatological sense can exist without a spiritual regeneration of humanity or the individual. It is, however, quite evident that this latter conception has arisen rather late, from an analysis of the former meaning. It is found in Tit 3:5 which, without absolute certainty as to its meaning, is generally interpreted in agreement with the numerous nouns and verbs which have given the dogmatical setting to the doctrine of regeneration in Christian theology. Clement of Alexandria is the first to differentiate this meaning from the former by the addition of the adjective pneumatike, "spiritual" (compare anapsuxis, Ac 3:20; see Refreshing). In this latter sense the word is typically Christian, though the Old Testament contains many adumbrations of the spiritual process expressed thereby.

II. The Biblical Doctrine of Regeneration.

1. In the Old Testament:




2. In the Teaching of Jesus:

In the teaching of Jesus the need of regeneration has a prominent place, though nowhere are the reasons given. The Old Testament had succeeded--and even the Gentile conscience agreed with it--in convincing the people of this need. The clearest assertion of it and the explanation of the doctrine of regeneration is found in the conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus (Joh 3). It is based upon

(1) the observation that man, even the most punctilious in the observance of the Law, is dead and therefore unable to "live up" to the demands of God. Only He who gave life at the beginning can give the (spiritual) life necessary to do God’s will.

(2) Man has fallen from his virginal and divinely-appointed sphere, the realm of the spirit, the Kingdom of God, living now the perishing earthly life. Only by having a new spiritual nature imparted to him, by being "born anew" (Joh 3:3, the Revised Version margin "from above," Greek anothen), by being "born of the Spirit" (Joh 3:6,8), can he live the spiritual life which God requires of man.

These words are a New Testament exegesis of Ezekiel’s vision of the dead bones (Eze 37:1-10). It is the "breath from Yahweh," the Spirit of God, who alone can give life to the spiritually dead.

But regeneration, according to Jesus, is more than life, it is also purity. As God is pure and sinless, none but the pure in heart can see God (Mt 5:8). This was always recognized as impossible to mere human endeavor. Bildad the Shuhite declared, and his friends, each in his turn, expressed very similar thoughts (Job 4:17; 14:4): "How then can man be just with God? Or how can he be clean that is born of a woman? Behold, even the moon hath no brightness, and the stars are not pure in his sight: how much less man, that is a worm! and the son of man, that is a worm!" (Job 25:4-6).

To change this lost condition, to impart this new life, Jesus claims as His God-appointed task: "The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost" (Lu 19:10); "I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly" (Joh 10:10). This life is eternal, imperishable: "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand" (Joh 10:28). This life is imparted by Jesus Himself: "It is the spirit that giveth life; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life" (Joh 6:63). This life can be received on the condition of faith in Christ or by coming to Him (Joh 14:6). By faith power is received which enables the sinner to overcome sin, to "sin no more" (Joh 8:11).

The parables of Jesus further illustrate this doctrine. The prodigal is declared to have been "dead" and to be "alive again" (Lu 15:24). The new life from God is compared to a wedding garment in the parable of the Marriage of the King’s Son (Mt 22:11). The garment, the gift of the inviting king, had been refused by the unhappy guest, who, in consequence, was `cast out into the outer darkness’ (Mt 22:13).

Finally, this regeneration, this new life, is explained as the knowledge of God and His Christ: "And this is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even nodetitle" (Joh 17:3). This seems to be an allusion to the passage in Hosea (4:6): "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me."

3. In Apostolic Teaching:


Paul is equally explicit regarding the author of this change. The "Spirit of God," the "Spirit of Christ" has been given from above to be the source of all new life (Ro 8); by Him we are proved to be the "sons" of God (Ga 4:6); we have been adopted into the family of God (huiothesia, Ro 8:15; Ga 4:5). Thus Paul speaks of the "second Adam," by whom the life of righteousness is initiated in us; just as the "first Adam" became the leader in transgression, He is "a life-giving spirit" (1Co 15:45). Paul himself experienced this change, and henceforth exhibited the powers of the unseen world in his life of service. "It is no longer I that live," he exclaims, "but Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me" (Ga 2:20).


The doctrine that regeneration redounds in true knowledge of Christ is seen from Eph 3:15-19 and 4:17-24, where the darkened understanding and ignorance of natural man are placed in contradistinction to the enlightenment of the new life (see also Col 3:10). The church redeemed and regenerated is to be a special "possession," an "heritage" of the Lord (Eph 1:11,14), and the whole creation is to participate in the final redemption and adoption (Ro 8:21-23).

James finds less occasion to touch this subject than the other writers of the New Testament. His Epistle is rather ethical than dogmatical in tone, still his ethics are based on the dogmatical presuppositions which fully agree with the teaching of other apostles. Faith to him is the human response to God’s desire to impart His nature to mankind, and therefore the indispensable means to be employed in securing the full benefits of the new life, i.e. the sin-conquering power (1:2-4), the spiritual enlightenment (1:5) and purity (1:27). There seems, however, to be little doubt that James directly refers to regeneration in the words: "Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures" (1:18). It is supposed by some that these words, being addressed "to the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion" (1:1), do not refer to individual regeneration, but to an election of Israel as a nation and so to a Christian Israel. In this case the aftermath would be the redemption of the Gentiles. I understand the expression "first-fruits" in the sense in which we have noticed Paul’s final hope in Ro 8:21-32, where the regeneration of the believing people of God (regardless of nationality) is the first stage in the regeneration or restoration of all creation. The "implanted (the Revised Version margin "inborn") word" (Jas 1:21; compare 1Pe 1:23) stands parallel to the Pauline expression, "law of the Spirit" (Ro 8:2).


The teaching of John is very closely allied with that of Jesus, as we have already seen from the multitude of quotations we had to select from John’s Gospel to illustrate the teaching of the Master. It is especially interesting to note the cases where the apostle didactically elucidates certain of these pronouncements of Jesus. The most remarkable apostolic gloss or commentary on the subject is found in Joh 7:39. Jesus had spoken of the change which faith in Him ("coming to him") would cause in the lives of His disciples; how divine energies like "rivers of water" should issue forth from them; and the evangelist continues in explanation: "But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believed on him were to receive: for the Spirit was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified." This recognition of a special manifestation of divine power, transcending the experience of Old Testament believers, was based on the declaration of Christ, that He would send "another Comforter (the Revised Version (British and American) "advocate," "helper," Greek Parakletos), that he may be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth" (Joh 14:16,17).

In his Epistles, John shows that this Spirit bestows the elements of a Godlike character which makes us to be "sons of God," who before were "children of the devil" (1 Joh 3:10,24; 4:13, etc.). This regeneration is "eternal life" (1 Joh 5:13) and moral similarity with God, the very character of God in man. As "God is love," the children of God will love (1 Joh 5:2). At the same time it is the life of God in man, also called fellowship with Christ, victorious life which overcomes the world (1 Joh 5:4); it is purity (1 Joh 3:3-6) and knowledge (1 Joh 2:20).

The subject of regeneration lies outside of the scope of the Epistle to the Hebrews, so that we look in vain for a clear dogmatical statement of it. Still the epistle does in no place contradict the dogma, which, on the other hand, underlies many of the statements made. Christ, "the mediator of a better covenant, which hath been enacted upon better promises" (8:6), has made "purification of sins" (1:3). In contradistinction to the first covenant, in which the people approached God by means of outward forms and ordinances, the "new covenant" (8:13) brought an "eternal redemption" (9:12) by means of a divine cleansing (9:14). Christ brings "many sons unto glory" and is "author of their salvation" (2:10). Immature Christians are spoken of (as were the proselytes of the Old Testament) as babies, who were to grow to the stature, character and knowledge of "full-grown men" (5:13,14).

III. Later Development of the Doctrine.

Very soon the high spiritual meaning of regeneration was obscured by the development of priestcraft within the Christian church. When the initiation into the church was thought of as accomplished by the mediation of ministers thereto appointed, the ceremonies hereby employed became means to which magic powers were of necessity ascribed. This we see plainly in the view of baptismal regeneration, which, based upon half-understood passages of Scripture quoted above, was taught at an early date. While in the post-apostolic days we frequently find traces of a proper appreciation of an underlying spiritual value in baptism (compare Didache vii) many of the expressions used are highly misleading. Thus Gregory Nazianzen (Orations, xi.2) calls baptism the second of the three births a child of God must experience (the first is the natural birth, the third the resurrection). This birth is "of the day, free, delivering from passions, taking away every veil of our nature or birth, i.e. everything hiding the divine image in which we are created, and leading up to the life above" (Ullmann, Gregor v. Nazienz, 323). Cyril of Jerusalem (Cat., xvii, c. 37) ascribes to baptism the power of absolution from sin and the power of endowment with heavenly virtues. According to Augustine baptism is essential to salvation, though the baptism of blood (martyrdom) may take the place of water baptism, as in the case of the thief at the cross (Augustine, De Anima et Eius Origine, i.11, c. 9; ii.14, c. 10; ii.16, c. 12). Leo the Great compares the spirit-filled water of baptism with the spirit-filled womb of the virgin Mary, in which the Holy Spirit engenders a sinless child of God (Serm. xxiv.3; xxv.5; see Hagenbach, Dogmengeschichte, section 137).

In general this is still the opinion of pronounced sacrmentarians, while evangelical Christianity has gone back to the teaching of the New Testament.

IV. Present Significance.

Although a clear distinction is not always maintained between regeneration and other experiences of the spiritual life, we may summarize our belief in the following theses:

(1) Regeneration implies not merely an addition of certain gifts or graces, a strengthening of certain innate good qualities, but a radical change, which revolutionizes our whole being, contradicts and overcomes our old fallen nature, and places our spiritual center of gravity wholly outside of our own powers in the realm of God’s causation.

(2) It is the will of God that all men be made partakers of this new life (1Ti 2:4) and, as it is clearly stated that some fall short of it (Joh 5:40), it is plain that the fault thereof lies with man. God requires all men to repent and turn unto Him (Ac 17:30) before He will or can effect regeneration. Conversion, consisting in repentance and faith in Christ, is therefore the human response to the offer of salvation which God makes. This response gives occasion to and is synchronous with the divine act of renewal (regeneration). The Spirit of God enters into union with the believing, accepting spirit of man. This is fellowship with Christ (Ro 8:10; 1Co 6:17; 2Co 5:17; Col 3:3).

(3) The process of regeneration is outside of our observation and beyond the scope of psychological analysis. It takes place in the sphere of subconsciousness. Recent psychological investigations have thrown a flood of light on the psychic states which precede, accompany and follow the work of the Holy Spirit. "He handles psychical powers; He works upon psychical energies and states; and this work of regeneration lies somewhere within the psychical field." The study of religious psychology is of highest value and greatest importance. The facts of Christian experience cannot be changed, nor do they lose in value by the most searching psychological scrutiny.

Psychological analysis does not eliminate the direct workings of the Holy Spirit. Nor can it disclose its process; the "underlying laboratory where are wrought radical remedial processes and structural changes in the psychical being as portrayed in explicit scriptural utterances: `Create in me a clean heart’ (Ps 51:10); `Ye must be born again’ (Joh 3:7 the King James Version); `If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new’ (2Co 5:17 the King James Version), is in the region of subconsciousness. To look in the region of consciousness for this Person or for His work is fruitless and an effort fraught with endless confusion. Christian psychology thus traces to its deep-lying retreat the divine elaboration of the regenerated life. Here God works in the depths of the soul as silently and securely as if on the remotest world of the stellar universe" (H. E. Warner, Psychology of the Christian Life, 117).

(4) Regeneration manifests itself in the conscious soul by its effects on the will, the intelligence and the affections. At the same time regeneration supplies a new life-power of divine origin, which enables the component parts of human nature to fulfill the law of God, to strive for the coming of God’s kingdom, and to accept the teachings of God’s spirit. Thus regenerate man is made conscious of the facts of justification and adoption. The former is a judicial act of God, which frees man from the law of sin and absolves him from the state of enmity against God; the latter an enduement with the Spirit, which is an earnest of his inheritance (Eph 1:14). The Spirit of God, dwelling in man, witnesses to the state of sonship (Ro 8:2,15,16; Ga 4:6).

(5) Regeneration, being a new birth, is the starting-point of spiritual growth. The regenerated man needs nurture and training. He receives it not merely from outside experiences, but from an immanent power in himself, which is recognized as the power of the life of the indwelling Christ (Col 1:26,27). Apart from the mediate dealings of God with man through word and sacraments, there is therefore an immediate communication of life from God to the regenerate.

(6) The truth which is mentioned as the agent by whom regeneration is made possible (Joh 8:32; Jas 1:18; 1Pe 1:23), is nothing else than the Divine Spirit, not only the spoken or written word of God, which may convince people of right or wrong, but which cannot enable the will of man to forsake the wrong and to do the right, but He who calls Himself the Truth (Joh 14:6) and who has become the motive power of regenerated life (Ga 2:20).

(7) Recent philosophy expressive of the reaction from the mechanical view of bare materialism, and also from the depreciation of personality as seen in socialism, has again brought into prominence the reality and need of personal life. Johannes Muller and Rudolf Eucken among others emphasize that a new life of the spirit, independent of outward conditions, is not only possible, but necessary for the attainment of the highest development. This new life is not a fruit of the free play of the tendencies and powers of natural life, but is in sharp conflict with them. Man as he is by nature stands in direct contrast to the demands of the spiritual life. Spiritual life, as Professor Eucken says, can be implanted in man by some superior power only and must constantly be sustained by superior life. It breaks through the order of causes and effects; it severs the continuity of the outer world; it makes impossible a rational joining together of realities; it prohibits a monastic view of the immediate condition of the world. This new life derives its power not from mere Nature; it is a manifestation of divine life within us (Hauptprobleme der Religionsphilosophie, Leipzig, 1912, 17 ff; Der Kampf um einen geistigen Lebensinhalt, Leipzig, 1907; Grundlinien einer neuen Lebensanschauung, Leipzig, 1907; Johannes Muller, Bausteine fur personliche Kultur, 3 volumes, Munchen, 1908). Thus the latest development of idealistic philosophy corroborates in a remarkable way the Christian truth of regeneration.

See also CONVERSION.

LITERATURE

New Testament Theologies by Weiss, Beyschlag, Holtzmann, Schlatter, Feine, Stevens, Sheldon, Weinel. Textbooks on nodetitle: articles "Bekehrung" by R. Seeberg; "Wiedergeburt" by O. Kirn in Hauck-Herzog RE3; "Regeneration" by J. V. Bartlett in HDB; "Conversion" by J. Strachan in ERE; George Jackson, The Fact of Conversion, London, 1908; Newton H. Marshall, Conversion; or, the New Birth, London, 1909; J. Herzog, Der Begriff der Bekehrung, Giessen, 1903; P. Feine, Bekehrung im New Testament und in der Gegenwart, Leipzig, 1908; P. Gennrich, Die Lehre yon der Wiedergeburt, Leipzig, 1907. Psychological: W. James, Varieties of Religious Experience, 189-258; G. Stanley Hall, Adolescence, II, 281-362; G. A. Coe, The Spiritual Life, New York, 1900; E. D. Starbuck, Psychology of Religion, New York, 1911; G. B. Cutten, Psychological Phenomena of Christianity, London, 1909; H. E. Warner, The Psychology of the Christian Life, New York, 1910; H. W. Clark, The Philosophy of Christian Experience, London, 1906; Harold Begbie, Broken Earthenware, or Twice-Born Men, London, 1909; M. Scott Fletcher, The Psychology of the New Testament, London, 1912.

John L. Nuelsen