(1Jo 3:8-10 ESV) 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
In the last post, we considered the meaning of “righteousness.” Now we need to consider the meaning of “seed” and “born of God.”
“Born” is most literally defined as “of men begetting children” by Thayer’s. And this fits better with “seed,” which translates sperma, meaning either seed or the male element in reproduction. The ambiguity arises from the way the ancients understood sex. They considered the man to “plant” his “seed” in the “fertile” woman. They figured sex works like farming. Therefore, the semen was imagined as a type of seed.
The context on v. 9 seems to be all about begetting. We are “begotten” by God! Really?
(1Pe 1:22-24 ESV) 22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
Again, “born again” in the Greek is literally “begotten again.” We have been re-fathered. Indeed, the language is an allusion t0 —
(Psa 2:6-9 ESV) 6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
This is an coronation psalm regarding the anointing of a king over Israel. When a man becomes a king, he is re-begotten and God becomes his father in a new and special way.
But it’s also an allusion to becoming a part of the spiritual Israel —
(John 8:41 ESV) You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born [begotten] of sexual immorality. We have one Father — even God.”
(Deu 14:1a ESV) “You are the sons of the LORD your God.”
You see, to become citizens of God’s kingdom, to be among the elect, we must be re-fathered, that is, given a new birthright, a new inheritance, and a new nature. After all, much of our natures come from our parents.
In a sense, we become like Jesus. He is Son of God. We are sons of God. He is the King. We are kings. He is a Priest after Mechizedek. We are a holy priesthood. He was begotten a second time by God. So are we. We are Christ-like.
And thus our task on earth is to be like Jesus — personally and corporately. We are to continue the ministry he began. And so, this is where righteousness comes in. Under the new covenant, righteousness is being like Jesus. That is covenant faithfulness.
And so, John concludes the passage by saying that the “children of God” are those who are righteous and who love their brothers. They are, of course, the same thing. It’s just that “righteousness,” with its rich history in the Law and the Prophets, hangs a lot of meat on the bones of “love.” Those who love are righteous.
One additional note: The translators tend to prefer “born again,” which is possible but not the most natural use of the Greek and ignores the allusion to Psalm 2, which permeates the New Testament. And it matters. You see, “born again” sounds to us like “given a fresh start” whereas “begotten again” means “transformed into the image of our Father.” Both are true, of course, but the emphasis in these passages is ethical. John says we won’t continue to sin because of our new begetting — because of our new nature.
Now, it’s also important to note that this begetting has two elements. The first is the gospel, as 1 Peter 1:22-24 plainly teaches. But the other is the Spirit —
(John 3:5-8 ESV) 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born [begotten] of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born [begotten] of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born [begotten] of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born [begotten] again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born [begotten] of the Spirit.”
The Spirit changes us so that God is our Father and we take on his characteristics. The gospel allows us to draw close enough to God so that we can be re-conceived and re-shaped by his hands.
And here’s an interesting verse — which may be the root of the doctrine —
(Deu 32:18 NAS) “You neglected the Rock who begot you, And forgot the God who gave you birth.
In the Hebrew, God is picture as both Father (“begot”) and Mother (“gave you birth”) of the nation of Israel. The Septuagint translates the final verb as “made you grow” or “nourished you” — removing the difficulty (to the Hellenistic Jews who translated the LXX) of imagining God as female. The idea of God re-begetting his people goes back to the Torah, but he actually claims to be more than Father. He is both Father and Mother. They come solely from him — and no one else.
In a world filled with male and female deities, it only makes sense for God to claim both roles, eliminating any place for a female consort of YHWH — making him quite different from Baal and the other gods of Canaan.