Born again, or to experience the new birth, is a phrase, particularly in evangelicalism, that refers to "spiritual rebirth", or a regeneration of the human spirit from the Holy Spirit, contrasted with physical birth.
In contemporary Christian usage, the term is distinct from sometimes similar terms used in mainstream Christianity to refer to being or becoming Christian, which is linked to baptism. Individuals who profess to be "born again" often state that they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Greek phrase in the text is ambiguous, resulting in a wordplay in which "born again" is rendered as "born from above" in some translations such as the NET and the NRSV.
The King James Version uses the phrase born again three times, two of them in chapter 3 of the Gospel of John when Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus.
John's Gospel was written in Koine Greek, and the word translated as again is ἄνωθεν ( ánōtʰen), which could mean again, or from above. The New Revised Standard Version prefers this latter translation, and both the King James Version and the Revised Version give it as an alternative in the margins. Hoskyns argues that it is to be preferred as the fundamental meaning and he drew attention to phrases such as "birth of the Spirit ()", "birth from God (cf. ; , , , )" but maintains that this necessarily carries with it an emphasis upon the newness of the life as given by God himself.Hoskyns, Sir Edwyn C. and Davy, F.N.(ed), The Fourth Gospel, Faber & Faber 2nd ed. 1947, pp. 211,212 Ἄνωθεν, anōthen is a double entendre that serves as a plot device to lead the hearer (Nicodemus) and the implied reader to a newer understanding of deep import.James L. Resseguie, " A Glossary of New Testament Narrative Criticism with Illustrations," in Religions, 10 (3) 217), 10-11. Nicodemus chooses the literal meaning (“again”) and wonders how one can enter the mother’s womb a second time (John 3:4). But Jesus intends the figurative meaning (“from above,” John 3:5-7). The double entendre is an effective plot device to further the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. The Pharisee chooses the literal over the figurative meaning and assumes that that meaning exhausts the significance of ἄνωθεν, anōthen.
The final use of the phrase occurs in the First Epistle of Peter, rendered in the King James Version as:
Here, the Greek word translated as "born again" is ἀναγεγεννημένοι ().Fisichella, SJ., Taking Away the Veil: To See Beyond the Curtain of Illusion, iUniverse, 2003, pp. 55-56.
Charles Hodge writes that "The subjective change wrought in the soul by the grace of God, is variously designated in Scripture" with terms such as new birth, resurrection, new life, new creation, renewing of the mind, dying to sin and living to righteousness, and translation from darkness to light.
Jesus 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. The New Testament Greek Lexicon. 30 July 2009. Theologian Frank Stagg cites two reasons why the newer translation is significant:
An early example of the term in its more modern use appears in the sermons of John Wesley. In the sermon entitled A New Birth he writes, "none can be holy unless he be born again", and "except he be born again, none can be happy even in this world. For ... a man should not be happy who is not holy." Also, "I say, a may be born again and so become an heir of salvation." Wesley also states infants who are baptized are born again, but for adults it is different:
The quotation from the Gospel of John has raised some questions about the meaning and authenticity of the phrase "born again". In the chapter, Nicodemus is puzzled and asks Jesus what he means by saying that "Ye must be born again". He questions: "How can a man re-enter his mother's womb?" Scholar Bart D. Ehrman says that this confusion is because in Greek (the language of the gospel) the word again is ambiguous. It might mean again or a second time or from above, which would explain Nicodemus' confusion. However, the Jews at Jesus' time were actually speaking Aramaic, in which there would not have been a double meaning. Ehrman says that this raises questions about the authenticity of the dialogue, the meaning of the words, and, therefore, the use of the phrase.
A Unitarianism work called The Gospel Anchor noted in the 1830s that the phrase was not mentioned by the other Evangelists, nor by the Apostles except Peter. "It was not regarded by any of the Evangelists but John of sufficient importance to record." It adds that without John, "we should hardly have known that it was necessary for one to be born again." This suggests that "the text and context was meant to apply to Nicodemus particularly, and not to the world."LeFevre, CF. and Williamson, ID., The Gospel anchor. Troy, NY, 1831–32, p. 66. 
Catholic commentator John F. McHugh notes, "Rebirth, and the commencement of this new life, are said to come about ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος, of water and spirit. This phrase (without the article) refers to a rebirth which the early Church regarded as taking place through baptism (1 Pet 1.3, 23; Tit 3.5)."John F. McHugh, John 1-4, The International Critical Commentary (New York: T&T Clark, 2009), p. 227
The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that the essential elements of Christian initiation are: "proclamation of the Word, acceptance of the Gospel entailing conversion, profession of faith, Baptism itself, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and admission to Eucharistic communion" (CCC 1229). Baptism gives the person the grace of forgiveness for all prior sins; it makes the newly baptized person a new creature and an adopted son of God (2 Corinthians 5:17; 2 Peter 1:4); it incorporates them into the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:25) and creates a sacramental bond of unity leaving an indelible mark on our souls (CCC 1262-1274). "Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation. Given once for all, Baptism cannot be repeated" (CCC 1272). The Holy Spirit is involved with each aspect of the movement of grace. "The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion. ... Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high" (CCC 1989).
The Catholic Church also teaches that under special circumstances the need for water baptism can be superseded by the Holy Spirit in a 'baptism of desire', such as when die or are martyred prior to receiving baptism (CCC 1260).
Pope John Paul II wrote about "the problem of children baptized in infancy who come for catechesis in the parish without receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ" ( Catechesi Tradendae 19). He noted that "being a Christian means saying 'yes' to Jesus Christ, but let us remember that this 'yes' has two levels: It consists of surrendering to the word of God and relying on it, but it also means, at a later stage, endeavoring to know better—and better the profound meaning of this word" (CT 20).
The modern expression being "born again" is really about the concept of "conversion".
The National Directory of Catechesis (published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB) defines conversion as, "the acceptance of a personal relationship with Christ, a sincere adherence to him, and a willingness to conform one's life to his." United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Directory of Catechesis (2005) p. 48 To put it more simply "Conversion to Christ involves making a genuine commitment to him and a personal decision to follow him as his disciple."
Echoing the writings of Pope John Paul II, the National Directory of Catechesis describes a new intervention required by our modern world called the "New Evangelization". The New Evangelization is directed to the Church herself, to the baptized who were never effectively evangelized before, to those who have never made a personal commitment to Christ and the Gospel, to those formed by the values of the secular culture, to those who have lost a sense of faith, and to those who are alienated. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Directory of Catechesis (2005) p. 47
Declan O'Sullivan, co-founder of the Catholic Men's Fellowship and knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, wrote that the "New Evangelization emphasizes the personal encounter with Jesus Christ as a pre-condition for spreading the gospel. The born-again experience is not just an emotional, mystical high; the really important matter is what happened in the convert's life after the moment or period of radical change."
According to the Reformed churches being born again refers to "the inward working of the Spirit which induces the sinner to respond to the effectual call". According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q 88, "the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all of which are made effectual to the elect for salvation." Effectual calling is "the work of God's Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel." Shorter Westminster Catechism, Question 31.
In Reformed theology, "regeneration precedes faith."
"Although many evangelicals allow that conversion can be a process, generally they see it as a specific, identifiable moment of time when a person simply and sincerely trusts in Jesus Christ as savior."Mullen, MS., in Kurian, GT., The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, J. Wiley & Sons, 2012, p. 302. They understand to indicate a requirement of salvation: "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord', and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." So, "to be born again" means "to be saved" because to be saved, one must confess Jesus is Lord with one's mouth and believe it in one's heart. Also, to be born again means to follow that "with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved".Graham, RC. I healed you with my word, Xulan, 2007, p. 414. For some evangelical denominations, it is the beginning of the sanctification of the believer.Justo L. González, Essential Theological Terms, Westminster John Knox Press, USA, 2005, p. 155 For others, it is an opportunity to receive entire sanctification.Roger E. Olson, The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology, Westminster John Knox Press, USA, 2004, p. 319
Catholic Answers says:
On the other hand, an Evangelical site argues:
The Reformed view of regeneration may be set apart from other outlooks in at least two ways.
According to Encyclopædia Britannica:
According to J. Gordon Melton:
According to Andrew Purves and Charles Partee:
The term born again has become widely associated with the Evangelicalism Christian renewal since the late 1960s, first in the United States and then around the world. Associated perhaps initially with Jesus movement and the Christian counterculture, born again came to refer to a conversion experience, accepting Jesus Christ as lord and savior in order to be saved from hell and given eternal life with God in heaven, 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 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America. The term was sufficiently prevalent so that during the year's presidential campaign, Democratic party nominee Jimmy Carter described himself as "born again" in the first Playboy magazine interview of an American presidential candidate.
Colson describes his path to faith in conjunction with his criminal imprisonment and played a significant role in solidifying the "born again" identity as a cultural construct in the US. He writes that his spiritual experience followed considerable struggle and hesitancy to have a "personal encounter with God." He recalls:
Jimmy Carter was the first President of the United States to publicly declare that he was born-again, in 1976.Hough, JF., Changing party coalitions, Algora Publishing, 2006, p. 203. By the 1980 campaign, all three major candidates stated that they had been born again.Utter, GH. and Tru, JL., Conservative Christians and political participation: a reference handbook, ABC-CLIO, 2004, p. 137.
Sider and KnippersSider, J. and Knippers, D. (eds), Toward an Evangelical Public Policy: Political Strategies for the Health of the Nation, Baker Books, 2005, p.51. state that "Ronald Reagan's election that fall was aided by the votes of 61% of 'born-again' white Protestants."
The Gallup Organization reported that "In 2003, 42% of U.S. adults said they were born-again or evangelical; the 2004 percentage is 41%" and that, "African American are far more likely to identify themselves as born-again or evangelical, with 63% of blacks saying they are born-again, compared with 39% of . Republicans are far more likely to say they are born-again (52%) than Democrats (36%) or independents (32%)."
Haiven refers to "born-agains" as having "a type of intolerance". She says, "The instant and thoughtless panaceas of born-again Christianity will be seen as a vast sanctuary by millions of North Americans." She continues, "Is this sanctuary really a recruitment camp for right-wing movements? It would be naive to think otherwise."Haiven, J., Faith, hope, no charity: an inside look at the born again movement in Canada and the United States, New Star Books, 1984, p.218.
The Oxford Handbook of Religion and American Politics, referring to several studies, reports "that 'born-again' identification is associated with lower support for government anti-poverty programs." It also notes that "self-reported born-again" Christianity, "strongly shapes attitudes towards economic policy."Smidt, C., Kellstedt, L., and Guth, J., The Oxford Handbook of Religion and American Politics, Oxford Handbooks Online, 2009, pp.195-196.