the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. First Biblical Sense (Eschatological)
2. Second Biblical Sense (Spiritual)
1. In the Old Testament
2. In the Teaching of Jesus
3. In Apostolic Teaching
I. The Term Explained.
The theological term "regeneration" is the Latin translation of the Greek expression παλινγενεσία ,
1. First Biblical Sense (Eschatological):
In Matthew 19:28 the word refers to the restoration of the world, in which sense it is synonymical to the expressions ἀποκατάστασις πάντων ,
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
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 Titus 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 πνευματική ,
II. The Biblical Doctrine of Regeneration.
1. In the Old Testament:
It is well known that in the earlier portions of the Old Testament, and to a certain degree all through the Old Testament, religion is looked at and spoken of more as a national possession, the benefits of which are largely visible and tangible blessings. The idea of regeneration here occurs therefore - though no technical expression has as yet been coined for the process - in the first meaning of the word elucidated above. Whether the divine promises refer to the Messianic end of times, or are to be realized at an earlier date, they all refer to the nation of Israel as such, and to individuals only as far as they are partakers in the benefits bestowed upon the commonwealth. This is even true where the blessings prophesied are only spiritual, as in Isaiah 60:21 , Isaiah 60:22 . The mass of the people of Israel are therefore as yet scarcely aware of the fact that the conditions on which these divine promises are to be attained are more than ceremonial and ritual ones. Soon, however, great disasters, threatening to overthrow the national entity, and finally the captivity and dispersion which caused national functions to be almost, if not altogether, discontinued, assisted in the growth of a sense of individual or personal responsibility before God. The sin of Israel is recognized as the sin of the individual, which can be removed only by individual repentance and cleansing. This is best seen from the stirring appeals of the prophets of the exile, where frequently the necessity of a change of attitude toward Yahweh is preached as a means to such regeneration. This cannot be understood otherwise than as a turning of the individual to the Lord. Here, too, no ceremony or sacrifice is sufficient, but an interposition of divine grace, which is represented under the figure of a washing and sprinkling from all iniquity and sin (Isaiah 1:18; Jeremiah 13:23 ). It is not possible now to follow in full the development of this idea of cleansing, but already in Isaiah 52:15 the sprinkling of many nations is mentioned and is soon understood in the sense of the "baptism" which proselytes had to undergo before their reception into the covenant of Israel. It was the symbol of a radical cleansing like that of a "new-born babe," which was one of the designations of the proselyte (compare Psalm 87:5; see also the tractate
The turning of Israel to God was necessarily meant to be an inward change of attitude toward Him, in other words, the sprinkling with clean water, as an outward sign, was the emblem of a pure heart. It was Isaiah and Jeremiah who drew attention to this (Isaiah 57:15; Jeremiah 24:7; Jeremiah 31:33-35; Jeremiah 32:38-40 , et passim ). Here again reference is made to individuals, not only to the people in general (Jeremiah 31:34 ). This promised regeneration, so lovingly offered by Yahweh, is to be the token of a new covenant between God and His people (Jeremiah 31:31; Ezekiel 11:19-21; Ezekiel 18:31 , Ezekiel 18:32; Ezekiel 37:23 , Ezekiel 37:24 ).
The renewing and cleansing here spoken of is in reality nothing else than what Deuteronomy 30:6 had promised, a circumcision of the heart in contradistinction to the flesh, the token of the former (Abrahamic) covenant (of circumcision, Jeremiah 4:4 ). As God takes the initiative in making the covenant, the conviction takes root that human sin and depravity can be effectually eliminated only by the act of God Himself renewing and transforming the heart of man (Hosea 14:4 ). This we see from the testimony of some of Israel's best sons and daughters, who also knew that this grace was found in the way of repentance and humiliation before God. The classical expression of this conviction is found in the prayer of David: "Create in me a clean heart,
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 (John 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" (John 3:3 , the Revised Version margin "from above," Greek ἄνωθεν ,
These words are a New Testament exegesis of Ezekiel's vision of the dead bones (Ezekiel 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 purify . As God is pure and sinless, none but the pure in heart can see God ( Matthew 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; Job 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" (Luke 19:10 ); "I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly" (John 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" (John 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" (John 6:63 ). This life can be received on the condition of faith in Christ or by coming to Him (John 14:6 ). By faith power is received which enables the sinner to overcome sin, to "sin no more" (John 8:11 ).
The parables of Jesus further illustrate this doctrine. The prodigal is declared to have been "dead" and to be "alive again" (Luke 15:24 ). The new life from God is compared to a wedding garment in the parable of the Marriage of the King's Son (Matthew 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' (Matthew 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 Jesus Christ" (John 17:3 ). This seems to be an allusion to the passage in Hosea (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:
It may be said in general that the teaching of the apostles on the subject of regeneration is a development of the teaching of Jesus on the lines of the adumbrations of the Old Testament. Considering the differences in the personal character of these writers, it is remarkable that such concord of views should exist among them. Paul , indeed, lays more stress on the specific facts of justification and sanctification by faith than on the more comprehensive head of regeneration. Still the need of it is plainly stated by Paul. It is necessary to salvation for all men. "The body is dead because of sin" ( Romans 8:3-11; Ephesians 2:1 ). The flesh is at enmity with God (Ephesians 2:15 ); all mankind is "darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God" (Ephesians 4:18 ). Similar passages might be multiplied. Paul then distinctly teaches that thus is a new life in store for those who have been spiritually dead. To the Ephesians he writes: "And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1 ), and later on: "God, being rich in mercy,... made us alive together with Christ" (Ephesians 2:4 , Ephesians 2:5 ). A spiritual resurrection has taken place. This regeneration causes a complete revolution in man. He has thereby passed from under the law of sin and death and has come under "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:2 ). The change is so radical that it is possible now to speak of a "new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15 , margin "new creation"), of a "new man, that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth" (Ephesians 4:24 ), and of "the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him" (Colossians 3:10 ). All "old things are passed away; behold, they are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17 ).
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 (Romans 8 ); by Him we are proved to be the "sons" of God (Galatians 4:6 ); we have been adopted into the family of God (νἱοθεσία ,
Regeneration is to Paul, no less than to Jesus, connected with the conception of purity and knowledge. We have already noted the second New Testament passage in which the word "regeneration" occurs (Titus 3:5 ): "According to his mercy he saved us, through the washing (margin "laver") of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour." In 1 Corinthians 12:13 such cleansing is called the baptism of the Spirit in agreement with the oft-repeated promise ( Joel 2:28 (in the Hebrew text Joel 3:1 ); Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; Acts 1:5; Acts 11:16 ). There is, of course, in these passages no reference to mere water baptism, any more than in Ezekiel 36:25 . Water is but the tertium comparationis . As water cleanseth the outer body, so the spirit purifies the inner man (compare 1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Peter 3:21 ).
The doctrine that regeneration redounds in true knowledge of Christ is seen from Ephesians 3:15-19 and Ephesians 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 Colossians 3:10 ). The church redeemed and regenerated is to be a special "possession," an "heritage" of the Lord (Ephesians 1:11 , Ephesians 1:14 ), and the whole creation is to participate in the final redemption and adoption (Romans 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 ( James 1:2-4 ), the spiritual enlightenment (James 1:5 ) and purity (James 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" (James 1:18 ). It is supposed by some that these words, being addressed "to the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion" (James 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 Romans 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" (James 1:21; compare 1 Peter 1:23 ) stands parallel to the Pauline expression, "law of the Spirit" (Romans 8:2 ).
Peter uses, in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, the words "refreshing" ( Acts 3:19 ) and "restoration of all things" (Acts 3:21 ) of the final completion of God's plans concerning the whole creation, and accordingly looks here at God's people as a whole. In a similar sense he says in his Second Epistle, after mentioning "the day of God": "We look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13 ). Still he alludes very plainly to the regeneration of individuals (1 Peter 1:3 , 1 Peter 1:13 ). The idea of a second birth of the believers is clearly suggested in the expression, "newborn babes" (1 Peter 2:2 ), and in the explicit statement of 1 Peter 1:23 : "having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth." It is in this sense that the apostle calls God "Father" ( 1 Peter 1:17 ) and the believers "children of obedience" (1 Peter 1:14 ), i.e. obedient children, or children who ought to obey. We have seen above that the agent by which regeneration is wrought, the incorruptible seed of the word of God, finds a parallel in Paul's and James's theology. All these expressions go back probably to a word of the Master in John 15:3 . We are made partakers of the word by having received the spirit. This spirit (compare the Pauline "lifegiving spirit," 1 Corinthians 15:45 ), the "mind" of Christ (1 Peter 4:1 ), is the power of the resurrected Christ active in the life of the believer. Peter refers to the same thought in 1 Peter 3:15 , 1 Peter 3:21 . By regeneration we become "an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" in whom divine virtues, "the excellencies of him who called you" (1 Peter 2:9 ), are manifested. Here the apostle uses well-known Old Testament expressions foreshadowing New Testament graces (Isaiah 61:6; Isaiah 66:21; Exodus 19:6; Deuteronomy 7:6 ), but he individualizes the process of regeneration in full agreement with the increased light which the teaching of Jesus has brought. The theology of Peter also points out the contact of regeneration with purity and holiness (1 Peter 1:15 , 1 Peter 1:16 ) and true knowledge (1 Peter 1:14 ) or obedience (1 Peter 1:14; 1 Peter 3:16 ). It is not surprising that the idea of purity should invite the Old Testament parallel of "cleansing by water." The flood washed away the iniquity of the world "in the days of Noah," when "eight souls were saved through water: which also after a true likeness (the Revised Version margin "in the antitype") doth now save you, even baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation (the Revised Version margin "inquiry," "appeal") of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection (-life) of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3:20 , 1 Peter 3:21 ).
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 John 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
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 John 3:10 , 1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:13 , etc.). This regeneration is "eternal life" (1 John 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 John 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 John 5:4 ); it is purity (1 John 3:3-6 ) and knowledge (1 John 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" ( John 8:6 ), has made "purification of sins" (John 1:3 ). In contradistinction to the first covenant, in which the people approached God by means of outward forms and ordinances, the "new covenant" (John 8:13 ) brought an "eternal redemption" (John 9:12 ) by means of a divine cleansing (John 9:14 ). Christ brings "many sons unto glory" and is "author of their salvation" (John 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" (John 5:13 , John 5:14 ).
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 (1 Timothy 2:4 ) and, as it is clearly stated that some fall short of it (John 5:40 ), it is plain that the fault thereof lies with man. God requires all men to repent and turn unto Him (Acts 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 (Romans 8:10; 1 Corinthians 6:17; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 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' (Psalm 51:10 ); 'Ye must be born again' (John 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' ( 2 Corinthians 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 (Ephesians 1:14 ). The Spirit of God, dwelling in man, witnesses to the state of sonship (Romans 8:2 , Romans 8:15 , Romans 8:16; Galatians 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 (Colossians 1:26 , Colossians 1:27 ). 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 (John 8:32; James 1:18; 1 Peter 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 (John 14:6 ) and who has become the motive power of regenerated life (Galatians 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 .
New Testament Theologies by Weiss, Beyschlag, Holtzmann, Schlatter, Feine, Stevens, Sheldon, Weinel. Textbooks on Systematic Theology: articles "Bekehrung" by R. Seeberg; "Wiedergeburt" by O. Kirn in Hauck-Herzog RE3 ; "Regeneration" by J. V. Bartlett in
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Regeneration'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​isb/​r/regeneration.html. 1915.