Born of God: Getting John 1:11-13 Right!

In the typical debate over Calvinism’s soteriological claims you will often see the non-Calvinist refer to John 1:12 to emphasize man’s responsibility to “receive Him” so as to be given the right to become a child of God.

John 1:12: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,”

One Non-Calvinist wrote this argument to a Reformed Baptist minister, John Samson, of reformationtheology.com:

“It is clear that belief comes first, THEN they receive the right to become children of God. He gave the right to become children of God to those who believe. He did not make those who are already children of God believe. You have reversed the passage. But not only that! He only gave the right to become children of God to those that believe…”

Samson cordially defended his Reformed perspective, saying in part:

“…The very next verse (V.13) of John chapter one actually qualifies the statement about how be become adopted children of God in verse 12. It does this by asserting that this gift does not come about by the will of man but through the new birth or regeneration.

Lets read the whole thing in context:

 “He [Jesus] came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1: 11-13). In other words, we all believe the gospel unto the adoption of God’s children because of the grace of God in regeneration, not because man exercised his unregenerate will. We were born of God, not by the will, but by the Spirit.” (emphasis added by Samson) <link>

This response aptly represents most Calvinist’s interpretation of this passage, but is this what the apostle John actually had in mind when he wrote this? Let’s explore a little deeper.

First, the text says that “He came to His own,” and most commentators agree that “His own” is a general reference to the nation of Israel, the lineage through whom Christ came. We must recognize the contrast between those who rejected Christ (Israel) and those who did receive or believe in Him (“as many as did receive”).[1] This narrative reflects on a similar dichotomy painted by the apostle Paul in Acts 28:23-28:

They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:

 “‘Go to this people and say, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” For this people’s [Israel’s] heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”

Just as the apostle John sets up a dichotomy between those who rejected the Messiah (Israel) and those who received Him (Gentiles), so too Paul draws on this same generalized contrast between these two groups of people (Israel who has “become calloused” and the Gentiles who “will listen.”) John’s point is that God has granted the immoral barbarian Gentiles the RIGHT to be children of God through faith in Christ, though it was believed by many in the first century that this RIGHT was reserved for those of the circumcision alone (Israel).[2]

The Calvinist misinterprets the apostle’s reference to the “will of the flesh,” by applying it to our hyper-individualized modern soteriological conflict over the nature of man’s free will, while ignoring the obvious Jew/Gentile context of the first century.[3] Samson takes the apostle to mean something like, “Man’s will has nothing to do with whether or not they will be born of God,” when clearly that is not the issue the apostle is attempting to address.

Instead, it is quite obvious from this context that the three points the apostle John lists here are in reference to the misconceptions of what Israelites perceived as their given covenantal “RIGHTS”[4] as direct descendants of Abraham:

  • not of blood = being a descendant or blood relative of Abraham (Rom. 9:7)
  • nor of the will of the flesh = being one who “pursued” or “ran after” the law so as to merit righteousness (Rom. 9:31)
  • nor of the will of man [husband’s will] = being married or in anyway connected to the patriarchal head

The apostle is knocking the legs out from under those Jews who think they have the RIGHT to be God’s child because of who their granddaddy is (blood), their law keeping efforts (fleshly running), or by patriarchal headship (husband’s will). John is not attempting to make a soteriological stance on the nature of man’s free will or responsibility in light of the gospel appeal.  However, in another passage Paul does teach us a little more about these matters,

What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. (Rom. 9:30-32)

Notice that Paul is not denouncing the pursuit itself. He is denouncing the manner or purpose of that pursuit. Is righteousness being pursued by works or by faith? Are you running after the law or are you running after Christ? People are responsible to will and to run (1 Cor. 9:24; 2 Tim. 4:7), but if they do so according to the law and the flesh they will never finish the race. They will not attain their goal. If, however, they pursue righteousness by faith in the only righteous One, they will attain it by grace.

Calvinists have mistakenly applied the scripture’s teaching on man’s inability to attain righteousness by means of the law as proof for their erroneous claims that mankind is born morally incapable of attaining righteousness by faith (i.e. “Total Inability” – Calvinist’s belief that man’s morally incapacity of fulfilling the law’s demands equals man’s moral incapacity to trust in the One who fulfilled that law in our stead).

Calvinists seem to think that a man’s inability to “climb a rope to heaven” (works salvation) equals man’s moral incapacity to confess those inabilities and place their trust in the only One who can successfully climb that rope in our stead (grace applied through faith). This moral incapacity to trust in Christ due to the Fall of Adam is simply never taught in the pages of scripture. Nothing in the Bible remotely suggests that the Fall has made mankind morally incapable of responding to God’s own life-giving, inspired, gospel appeal to be reconciled from that Fall!

All agree that we must be born of God to be saved, but no scripture ever teaches we must be born again in order to gain the moral capacity to believe the gospel. We are not given a new heart so as to confess we use to have a bad heart. That is simply getting the proverbial cart before the horse. <more here>  In fact, the apostle John clearly states that God gives new life “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name,” and not to a group of very fortunate individuals chosen for no apparent reason before time began (i.e. “Unconditional Election”).


[1]as many as received Him” – This phrase is equivalent to the pronouns whoever (Webster = “Any one without exception; any person whatever”) or whosoever (Any one; any person whatever) which fling open the door of salvation to both Jews and Gentiles. Sadly this was a truth the Jews had a difficult time accepting in the early church (cf Acts 11:11-3, 15:1, 21:20-23, Gal 2:12-14) for they felt that they had special benefits based on their physical (ethnic) lineage (Abraham, Moses, circumcision, etc). This open invitation (so to speak) is similar to Paul’s declaration (quoting the OT prophet Joel 2:32) that “Whoever will call upon the Name of the LORD (Jehovah) will be saved (cf will be “born of…God” = Jn 1:13).” (Ro 10:13). It follows that calling upon His Name is one aspect of receiving (and believing in) Yeshua the Messiah. It should be noted that throughout Scripture until the very end of His revelation, this “as many as” attitude reflects the Father’s heart toward His rebellious creatures, John recording And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” (Rev. 22:17)

Dr. Bob Utley on “as many as received Him” – This shows humanity’s part in salvation (cf. v. 16). Humans must respond to God’s offer of grace in Christ (cf. Jn 3:16; Ro 10:9–13; Eph. 2:8–9).

Received is aorist tense (at a moment in time, the moment we believed in Jesus) and active voice which implies that this receiving is a volitional choice, a choice of one’s will to believe.

“Received” (2983) (lambano) speaks of a literal taking hold of, obtaining or grasping. John often uses the terms accept/receive (lambano) in a theological sense – (1) Of receiving Jesus, negatively (Jn 3:11, 3:32); positively (Jn 1:12; 3:33; 5:43; 13:20). (2) Of receiving the Spirit, negatively (Jn 14:17), positively (Jn 7:39). (3) Of receiving Jesus’ words, negatively (Jn 12:48), positively (Jn 17:8)

Easton’s Bible Dictionary – Vine on John’s selection of lambano instead of paralambano (as used in John 1:11) – lambano, a simple but spontaneous acceptance from individuals, whether Jews or Gentiles, and so a simpler verb than that used before of the Jewish nation. Web Site: http://www.preceptaustin.org/john_112_commentary

[2] This Jew/Gentile dichotomy is also seen in the parable of the Wedding Banquet recorded for us in Matthew 22:1-14 and again in Romans 11:30-36: “For just as you (Gentile believers) once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their (Israel’s) disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you (Gentiles) they (the believing Jewish Remnant) also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all. (Jews and Gentiles) Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

[3] Dr. James Leo Garrett wrote, “From Augustine of Hippo to the twentieth century, Western Christianity has tended to interpret the doctrine of election from the perspective of and with regard to individual human beings. During those same centuries the doctrine has been far less emphasized and seldom ever controversial in Eastern Orthodoxy. Is it possible that Augustine and later Calvin, with the help of many others, contributed to a hyper individualization of this doctrine that was hardly warranted by Romans 9–11, Eph. 1, and I Peter 2? Is it not true that the major emphasis in both testaments falls upon an elect people—Israel (OT) and disciples or church (NT)?” James Leo Garrett Jr., Systematic Theology: Biblical Historical, and Evangelical, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 500

[4] “The right” – When we believed in the Word, the true Light, we in turn received the privilege of access to God’s family. Paul goes a step further in Romans 5:1-2 explaining what happens when we were justified by faith (received and believed in Jesus) – “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom also we have obtained our introduction (prosagoge) by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom. 5:1-2)

Dr. Bob Utley on the right (exousia) – This Greek term can mean (1) legal authority or (2) right or privilege (cf. Jn 5:27; 17:2; 19:10, 11). Through Jesus fallen mankind can now know God and acknowledge Him as God and Father.

“To become” (1096) (ginomai) means to come into existence, to cause to become or come into being and signifies a change of condition, state or place. Ginomai is the root of the verb gennao (used in Jn 1:13) which means to beget, to give birth, to produce offspring (cp our English word – “gen”-erate). Ibid.

9 thoughts on “Born of God: Getting John 1:11-13 Right!

  1. Such an important passage Leighton that the Calvinist clearly has to twist it to suggest that God is not interested in giving everyone an opportunity to seek Him or to suggest that any act of faith does not precede the new birth. I just finished today commenting how I would think any layperson would normally understand what John is saying in these verses.

    John 1:4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. *** Should the reader think “of only some men”… I don’t think so.
    John 1:5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. *** as mentioned and shown in the parallel passage of John 12:35-36, the darkness does not overcome the light from doing its purpose as long as it is available.
    John 1:6-7 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. *** Should the reader think that “only some through him might get the opportunity to believe”… I don’t think so.
    John 1:8-9 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. *** Why do you give light to someone? Why would you think Jesus, the true Light gives light to every man? Light is an opportunity to see things not seen before and to decide accordingly.
    John 1:10-11 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. *** Some of His own did not receive Him… it is interesting that they are called “His own” isn’t it. Do you really think He would not give “His own” an opportunity to receive Him.
    John 1:12-13 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. *** The becoming children by the new birth is after the receiving. God causes the new birth, not man.

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  2. Leighton,

    You wrote the following:

    “The Calvinist misinterprets the apostle’s reference to the “will of the flesh,” by applying it to our hyper-individualized modern soteriological conflict over the nature of man’s free will, while ignoring the obvious Jew/Gentile context of the first century.[3] Samson takes the apostle to mean something like, “Man’s will has nothing to do with whether or not they will be born of God,” when clearly that is not the issue the apostle is attempting to address.”

    Do you honestly believe that John Samson and other Calvinists misinterpret what the “will of the flesh” means in John 1:13? Do you honestly think that Calvinists do not consider the true context? Or is your “context” really just a smoke screen? (see below for explanation)

    You argue that
    * not of blood = being a descendant or blood relative of Abraham (Rom. 9:7)
    * nor of the will of the flesh = being one who “pursued” or “ran after” the law so as to merit righteousness (Rom. 9:31)
    * nor of the will of man [husband’s will] = being married or in anyway connected to the patriarchal head

    You argue that the “will” in these passages refers to “covenantal rights” based upon the “context”.

    You confirm this by saying…

    “The apostle is knocking the legs out from under those Jews who think they have the RIGHT to be God’s child because of who their granddaddy is (blood), their law keeping efforts (fleshly running), or by patriarchal headship (husband’s will). John is not attempting to make a soteriological stance on the nature of man’s free will or responsibility in light of the gospel appeal.”

    Therefore, your argument is that the “will” in these passages refers to a testament (as in covenant, or will). The problem with your argument is that the English word “will” in these passages is translated from the Greek word θέλημα “thelema” which means “will, desire”. It does NOT refer to a testament or covenant! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thelema For your argument to work, the underlying Greek word should have been διαθήκης (testament or will), such as in Matthew 28:28 which says “… my blood of the covenant (or in the KJV “new testament”) that is poured out for you”.

    For the readers of this blog who are skeptical that a layman such as myself may not be correct about this… then consider the following passages of scripture that use the Greek word θέλημα “thelma” (translated “will” in English”)…

    “Your kingdom come, your will (θέλημα, or desire) be done, on earth as it is in Heaven…” Matt 6:10

    “For whoever does the will (θέλημα, or desire) of my Father in heaven in my brother and sister”. Matt 12:50

    “‘Which of the two did the will (θέλημα, or desire) of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” Matt 21:31

    “And the servant who knew his master’s will (θέλημα, or desire) but did not get ready or act according to his will (θέλημα, or desire), will receive a beating.” Luke 22:42

    “He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will ((θέλημα, or desire).” Luke 23:25

    “… who were born, not of blood nor of the will (θέλημα, or desire) of the flesh nor of the will (θέλημα, or desire) of man, but of God.” John 1:13

    Leighton, are you going to continue arguing that “will” in John 1:13 is not a reference to man’s free will but instead to covenant rights? If so, then please explain how all of the passages above refer to “covenant rights”? Please explain why (θέλημα, or desire) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thelema is never translated “covenant” or “testament” throughout the Bible.

    Now consider the following passage where the word “will” actually refers to covenantal rights as in a husband’s will or testament… διαθήκη (diatheke) in Greek…

    “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant (διαθήκη – diatheke), so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant (διαθήκη – diatheke). For where a will (διαθήκη – diatheke) is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will (διαθήκη – diatheke) takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant (διαθήκη – diatheke) was inaugurated without blood.” Hebrews 9:15

    The English word “will” and “covenant” in Hebrews 9:15 are interchangeable because they are translated from the same Greek word διαθήκη (diatheke). This condition is true when the Greek word διαθήκη (diatheke) is used instead of θέλημα (desire) as it is used in John 1:13.

    John 1:13 clearly shows that the children of God are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. The will of man cannot save. The will of man cannot conjure up faith to believe. The will of man is like Luther said… a bondage.

    Luther said, “As to why some are touched by the law and others not, so that some receive and others scorn the offer of grace…[this is the] hidden will of God, Who, according to His own counsel, ordains such persons as He wills to receive and partake of the mercy preached and offered.” http://www.reformationtheology.com/2005/12/martin_luther_on_the_bondage_o_1.php

    It is high time that we give God ALL of the glory for salvation. There is nothing else, not even the tiniest portion of the will of man, that can precipitate, induce, or invite salvation. All of the glory is due unto His name. Amen.

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    1. Huh? I never attempted to argue that “the will of the flesh” meant anything other than “desire” or “striving after” or “longing” or “running after”.

      You may need to re-read my article. The pursuit of meritorious righteousness by the mosaic law through works took much will power (desire, striving, running), but it isn’t a means to attain righteousness and those who pursue the law won’t be born of God. I thought that point was clear but maybe it wasn’t?

      Maybe others can weigh in?

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  3. “Huh? I never attempted to argue that “the will of the flesh” meant anything other than “desire” or “striving after” or “longing” or “running after”.”

    Then why did you write, “The Calvinist misinterprets the apostle’s reference to the ‘will of the flesh,’ by applying it to our hyper-individualized modern soteriological conflict over the nature of man’s free will, while ignoring the obvious Jew/Gentile context of the first century.[3] Samson takes the apostle to mean something like, ‘Man’s will has nothing to do with whether or not they will be born of God,’ when clearly that is not the issue the apostle is attempting to address.”

    Then you tried to explain what the apostle was attempting to address…

    “Instead, it is quite obvious from this context that the three points the apostle John lists here are in reference to the misconceptions of what Israelites perceived as their given covenantal “RIGHTS”[4] as direct descendants of Abraham:

    not of blood = being a descendant or blood relative of Abraham (Rom. 9:7)
    nor of the will of the flesh = being one who “pursued” or “ran after” the law so as to merit righteousness (Rom. 9:31)
    nor of the will of man [husband’s will] = being married or in anyway connected to the patriarchal head”

    “Quite obvious”, correct?

    Your conclusion that the will of man refers to “being married or in anyway connected to the patriarchal head” is certainly “not obvious”. Rather it appears to be a convenient invention to detract from what θέλημα “thelema” really means.

    You can’t have it both ways. Either θέλημα “thelema” means “desire”, “striving after”, or “longing” or “running after”, i.e, a reference to the free-will of man, or it means “being married or in any way connected to the patriarchal head”.

    Which is it?

    Are the Calvinists misinterpreting John 1:13, or are you the misinterpreter?

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    1. Hi David… perhaps there is some misunderstanding because even among Calvinists there is no agreement as to the meaning of the last of the three in vs 13 – “the will of man”. Calvin saw it as identical to “the will of the flesh”, but most Calvinists, in agreement, it seems, with Leighton, seeing “the will of the flesh” as the individual’s own desire, but then seeing “the will of man” as the desire of another, producing the false premise that many believe, that someone else can make a person a child of God either by adoption, marriage or sacrament.

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  4. Thank you, Brian, for your response, and thank you for your help in trying to clear up misunderstandings.

    Your comment that most Calvinists seem to agree with Leighton on this issue is a big surprise. I have been looking into this, and have had trouble finding Calvinists that agree with Leighton’s position… Could you provide some of the names of the Calvinists you are talking about? i.e., those who see “the will of man” in John 1:13 as referring to the desire of another person to make a person a child of God either by adoption, marriage or sacrament?

    I did a search of commentaries by Calvinists regarding John 1:13, and found that only 1 of the reformers (John Lightfoot) had an interpretation that may have a connection to what you are talking about… He wrote, the “will of man” refers to the “coveting of many proselytes to admit them into the religion of the Jews, and so into covenant and sonship of God”… The only commentary that I could find that matches something quite close to what you are talking about is from the John Phillips Commentary Series. Phillips wrote the following:

    “It is not of human desire (1:13b). It is not “of the will of the flesh.” No amount of wishful thinking makes me a child of God. I might wish I were the child of a millionaire but that does not make me one. I may even live in a fantasy world where I convince myself that I am the son of a millionaire, but to do so is folly.

    It is not of human design (1:13c). It is not “of the will of man.” No amount of parental or personal resolve can make me a child of God. My parents may have me baptized as a baby, but that does not make me a child of God; that is only “the will of man.” I may use all my strength of character to live a good life, perform religious duties, achieve spiritual goals, but those things will not impart new life. It is a birth. We are “born of God,” according to the three spiritual laws given in verse 12.”

    A close examination of Phillip’s doctrinal statement on his website gives very little indication that he is a Calvinist. https://drjohnphillips.com/english/about/doctrinal-statement/

    To the contrary, among the Calvinistic commentaries I found regarding John 1:13, it is remarkable how most all of them seem to be consistent with each other and in agreement.

    Consider the following:

    Calvin’s interpretation…

    “The will of the flesh and the will of man appear to me to mean the same thing; for I see no reason why flesh should be supposed to signify woman, as Augustine and many others explain it. On the contrary, the Evangelist repeats the same thing in a variety of words, in order to explain it more fully, and impress it more deeply on the minds of men. Though he refers directly to the Jews, who gloried in the flesh, yet from this passage a general doctrine may be obtained: that our being reckoned the sons of God does not belong to our nature, and does not proceed from us, but because God begat us willingly, (James 1:18,) that is, from undeserved love. Hence it follows, first, that faith does not proceed from ourselves, but is the fruit of spiritual regeneration; for the Evangelist affirms that no man can believe, unless he be begotten of God; and therefore faith is a heavenly gift. It follows, secondly, that faith is not bare or cold knowledge, since no man can believe who has not been renewed by the Spirit of God.”

    Calvin then addresses the same issue that Leighton brought up at the top of his post…

    “It may be thought that the Evangelist reverses the natural order by making regeneration to precede faith, whereas, on the contrary, it is an effect of faith, and therefore ought to be placed later. I reply, that both statements perfectly agree; because by faith we receive the incorruptible seed, (1 Peter 1:23,) by which we are born again to a new and divine life. And yet faith itself is a work of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in none but the children of God. So then, in various respects, faith is a part of our regeneration, and an entrance into the kingdom of God, that he may reckon us among his children. The illumination of our minds by the Holy Spirit belongs to our renewal, and thus faith flows from regeneration as from its source; but since it is by the same faith that we receive Christ, who sanctifies us by his Spirit, on that account it is said to be the beginning of our adoption.”

    And then Calvin concludes that everything in the process of salvation is ascribed to God alone…

    “Another solution, still more plain and easy, may be offered; for when the Lord breathes faith into us, he regenerates us by some method that is hidden and unknown to us; but after we have received faith, we perceive, by a lively feeling of conscience, not only the grace of adoption, but also newness of life and the other gifts of the Holy Spirit. For since faith, as we have said, receives Christ, it puts us in possession, so to speak, of all his blessings. Thus so far as respects our sense, it is only after having believed — that we begin to be the sons of God. But if the inheritance of eternal life is the fruit of adoption, we see how the Evangelist ascribes the whole of our salvation to the grace of Christ alone; and, indeed, how closely soever men examine themselves, they will find nothing that is worthy of the children of God, except what Christ has bestowed on them.”

    Arthur Pink’s interpretation…

    “and the taking place of the new birth is “not of blood,” that is to say, it is not a matter of heredity, for regeneration does not run in the veins; “nor of the will of the flesh,” the will of the natural man is opposed to God, and he has no will Godward until he has been born again; “nor of the will of man,” that is to say, the new birth is not brought about by the well-meant efforts of friends, nor by the persuasive powers of the preacher; “but of God.” The new birth is a Divine work. It is accomplished by the Holy Spirit applying the Word in living power to the heart.”

    C.H. Surgeon’s interpretation…

    “To receive Christ, a man must be born of God. It is the simplest thing in all the world, one would think, to open the door of the heart, and let him in; but no man lets Christ into his heart till first God has made him to be born again, born from above.”

    Matthew Henry’s interpretation…

    “It is not produced by the natural power of our own will. As it is not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, so neither is it of the will of man, which labours under a moral impotency of determining itself to that which is good; so that the principles of the divine life are not of our own planting, it is the grace of God that makes us willing to be his. Nor can human laws or writings prevail to sanctify and regenerate a soul; if they could, the new birth would be by the will of man. But, 2. Positively: it is of God. This new birth is owing to the word of God as the means (1 Pet. i. 23), and to the Spirit of God as the great and sole author.”

    Tyndale’s interpretation…

    “Here it is denied that natural procreation is the way people become children of God. This is reinforced by the words that follow, which deny that children of God are born ‘of human decision’ (lit. ‘of the will of flesh [sarx]) or of a husband’s will’. In John the word ‘flesh’ (sarx) often means ‘human being’ (1:14; 3:6; 8:15; 17:2), so to be born of ‘the will of the flesh’ means to be born because of the desires of human parents as the NIV indicates. [Vol 4: Jn p. 69] Those who become children of God, the evangelist says, are ‘born of God’. In this context he does not offer any explanation of what this means. For that we must wait until chapter 3, where Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about being born of the Spirit, something as mysterious as the wind, and yet occurs in conjunction with belief in Jesus.”

    Westcott’s interpretation…

    “The spring of the new life to which the believer has “right” lies solely in God. The beginning of it cannot be found in the combination of the material elements, by which physical life is represented, nor in the natural instinct, in obedience to which beings are reproduced, nor in the will of the rational man. This appears to be the meaning of the threefold negation. The progress is from that which is lowest in our estimate of the origin of life to that which is highest. At the same time the three clauses naturally admit a moral interpretation. The new birth is not brought about by descent, by desire or by human power.

    blood Lit. bloods. The use of the plural (ἐξ αἱμάτων, Vulg. ex sanguinibus) appears to emphasize the idea of the element out of which in various measures the body is framed.

    flesh…man… These two clauses differ from the former by referring the beginning of life to purpose; and they differ from one another in that the first marks the purpose which comes from the animal nature, and the second that which comes from the higher human nature (ἀνήρ).”

    John Piper’s interpretation…

    “We need to be born. We need to have spiritual life. That is what God does according to John 1:13 without any help from us—”not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God.” We are born of God by a free act of sovereign grace. He chooses us before we choose him.

    But when God does that, what we now have is a newborn sinner. The spiritual life is present, but so is sin, and a whole history of sin! In this condition we would have no right to take our place in the house of God—no authority, no empowerment. Except for one thing. God not only provided the regeneration by which we are born again, but also the authorization by which we can lay claim to our inheritance as children, even though we are sinners.

    And that is precisely where Jesus comes in. The moment you believe in Jesus, the moment you receive him for who he really is, in that moment he gives you not only new birth, but the right and authority, as a sinner, to lay claim to your inheritance as a child of God—to become legally, as it were (with due authority), what you are by virtue of new birth—because you were “born of God.”

    Wayne Grudem’s interpretation…

    “But in the work of regeneration we play no active role at all. It is instead totally a work of God. We see this, for example, when John talks about those to whom Christ gave power to become children of God—they “were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Here John specifies that children of God are those who are “born…of God” and our human will (“the will of man”) does not bring about this kind of birth.

    The fact that we are passive in regeneration is also evident when Scripture refers to it as being “born” or being “born again” (cf. James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3; John 3:3–8). We did not choose to be made physically alive and we did not choose to be born—it is something that happened to us; similarly, these analogies in Scripture suggest that we are entirely passive in regeneration.

    This sovereign work of God in regeneration was also predicted in the prophecy of Ezekiel. Through him God promised a time in the future when he would give new spiritual life to his people:

    A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ezek. 36:26–27)”

    All in all, a very interesting subject!

    I would be very interested to know which Calvinists you are referring to that are seemingly in agreement with Leighton on this subject.

    Have a good night.

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    1. Thank you, David, for your response. It is obvious that you wisely take the opportunity to look up what grammar and context evidence others have shared, or their opinions, instead of just responding off the cuff. I appreciate that, and I also enjoy when I am encouraged to keep looking for interpretation evidence.

      I like Biblehub.com for getting a quick look at the interlinear of a verse, especially the parsings for Greek words, and also to get a quick look at some old standard commentaries. That is where I saw that Calvin suggested that “will of the flesh” and “will of man” mean the same thing… Which I think is jumping to a wrong conclusion.

      Here’s what else I saw of those who agreed with Leighton, as I especially was looking of each commentator’s view of “born of man”… on Biblehub.com, which show’s a number of them on one page… though there are links to other commentators readily at hand.
      Albert Barnes – “Nor of the will of man – This may refer, perhaps, to the will of man in adopting a child, as the former phrases do to the natural birth; and the design of using these three phrases may have been to say that they became the children of God neither in virtue of their descent from illustrious parents like Abraham, nor by their natural birth, nor by being “adopted” by a pious man.”

      Matthew Poole – “Nor of the will of man; nor from a power in man’s will, or men’s free act in adopting other men’s children. To be born, signifieth to receive our principle of life: those who are the children of God hard not the principle of their life, as they are such, from the motions of nature, nor from the will of men.”

      John Gill – “…nor of the will of man: of the best of men, as Abraham, David, and others; who, though ever so willing and desirous, that their children, relations, friends, and servants, should be born again, be partakers of the grace of God, and live in his sight, yet cannot effect any thing of this kind: all that they can do is to pray for them, give advice, and bring them under the means of grace; but all is ineffectual without a divine energy.”

      I also saw Bengel and Lange with views similar to yours and Calvin’s, and I saw others who didn’t discuss if there was any distinction between “will of flesh” of “will of man”, which I also noted about Piper’s quote that you gave. And I thought your quote from Tyndale actually supported Leighton’s view. But I appreciated that you revealed other commentators that you found that did agree with Leighton. I was probably a little premature, and doing some wishful thinking, when I said “…most Calvinists, in agreement, it seems, with Leighton.” Thanks for calling me out on that 🙂 !

      You and I agree that the new birth is a monergistic work of God, not “caused” (as a necessary cause) by anything but the Sovereign will of God. We disagree, however, that it was His sovereign plan to give the new birth to all those that freely respond to His enlightenment which enables every man, not irresistibly, to choose to seek Him and trust Him or to reject. Thanks again for the conversation.

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  5. Dr. Flowers writes, “Calvinists have mistakenly applied the scripture’s teaching on man’s inability to attain righteousness by means of the law as proof for their erroneous claims that mankind is born morally incapable of attaining righteousness by faith (i.e. “Total Inability” …”

    I believe this is wrong. The Calvinist position is, “…mankind is born morally incapable of attaining righteousness EXCEPT by faith…” People are not born with faith – faith is received by a person consequent to one hearing the gospel (but not all who physically hear the gospel preached actually “hear” the gospel). Thus, an individual is morally incapable of attaining righteousness until he receives faith with faith being the catalyst to one attaining righteousness.

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