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Regeneration is the spiritual change wrought in the heart of man by the Holy Spirit in which his/her inherently sinful nature is changed so that he/she can respond to God in Faith, and live in accordance with His Will (Matt. 19:28; John 3:3,5,7; Titus 3:5). It extends to the whole nature of man, altering his governing disposition, illuminating his mind, freeing his will, and renewing his nature.

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The word Regeneration is only found in Matt. 19:28 and Titus 3:5. This word literally means a "new birth." The Greek word so rendered (palingenesia) is used by classical writers with reference to the changes produced by the return of spring. In Matt. 19:28 the word is equivalent to the "restitution of all things" (Acts 3:21). In Titus 3:5 it denotes that change of heart elsewhere spoken of as a passing from death to life (1 John 3:14); becoming a new creature in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17); being born again (John 3:5); a renewal of the mind (Rom. 12:2); a resurrection from the dead (Eph. 2:6); a being quickened (2:1, 5).

This change is ascribed to the Holy Spirit. It originates not with man but with God (John 1:12, 13; 1 John 2:29; 5:1, 4). As to the nature of the change, it consists in the implanting of a new principle or disposition in the soul; the impartation of spiritual life to those who are by nature "dead in trespasses and sins." The necessity of such a change is emphatically affirmed in Scripture (John 3: 3; Rom. 7:18; 8:7-9; 1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:1; 4:21-24).

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)


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Regeneration, or new birth, is an inner re-creating of fallen human nature by the gracious sovereign action of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-8). The Bible conceives salvation as the redemptive renewal of man on the basis of a restored relationship with God in Christ, and presents it as involving "a radical and complete transformation wrought in the soul (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23) by God the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5; Eph. 4:24), by virtue of which we become 'new men' (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10), no longer conformed to this world (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9), but in knowledge and holiness of the truth created after the image of God (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10; Rom. 12:2)" (B. B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies, 351). Regeneration is the "birth" by which this work of new creation is begun, as sanctification is the "growth" whereby it continues (I Pet. 2:2; II Pet. 3:18). Regeneration in Christ changes the disposition from lawless, Godless self-seeking (Rom. 3:9-18; 8:7) which dominates man in Adam into one of trust and love, of repentance for past rebelliousness and unbelief, and loving compliance with God's law henceforth. It enlightens the blinded mind to discern spiritual realities (I Cor. 2:14-15; II Cor. 4:6; Col. 3:10), and liberates and energizes the enslaved will for free obedience to God (Rom. 6:14, 17-22; Phil. 2:13).

The use of the figure of new birth to describe this change emphasizes two facts about it. The first is its decisiveness. The regenerate man has forever ceased to be the man he was; his old life is over and a new life has begun; he is a new creature in Christ, buried with him out of reach of condemnation and raised with him into a new life of righteousness (see Rom. 6:3-11; II Cor. 5:17; Col. 3:9-11). The second fact emphasized is the monergism of regeneration. Infants do not induce, or cooperate in, their own procreation and birth; no more can those who are "dead in trespasses and sins" prompt the quickening operation of God's Spirit within them (see Eph. 2:1-10). Spiritual vivification is a free, and to man mysterious, exercise of divine power (John 3:8), not explicable in terms of the combination or cultivation of existing human resources (John 3:6), not caused or induced by any human efforts (John 1:12-13) or merits (Titus 3:3-7), and not, therefore, to be equated with, or attributed to, any of the experiences, decisions, and acts to which it gives rise and by which it may be known to have taken place.

Biblical Presentation

The noun "regeneration" (palingenesia) occurs only twice. In Matt. 19:28 it denotes the eschatological "restoration of all things" (Acts 3:21) under the Messiah for which Isreal was waiting. This echo of Jewish usage points to the larger scheme of cosmic renewal within which that of individuals finds its place. In Titus 3:5 the word refers to the renewing of the individual. Elsewhere, the thought of regeneration is differently expressed.

In OT prophecies regeneration is depicted as the work of God renovating, circumcising, and softening Israelite hearts, writing his laws upon them, and thereby causing their owners to know, love, and obey him as never before (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 31:31-34; 32:39-40; Ezek. 11:19-20; 36:25-27). It is a sovereign work of purification from sin's defilement (Ezek. 36:25; cf. Ps. 51:10), wrought by the personal energy of God's creative outbreathing the personal energy of God's creative outbreathing ("spirit": Ezek. 36:27; 39:29). Jeremiah declares that such renovation on a national scale will introduce and signal God's new messianic administration of his covenant with his people (Jer. 31:31; 32:40).

In the NT the thought of regeneration is more fully individualized, and in John's Gospel and First Epistle the figure of new birth, "from above" (anothen: John 3:3, 7, Moffatt), "of water and the Spirit" (i.e., through a purificatory operation of God's Spirit: see Ezek. 36:25-27; John 3:5; cf. 3:8), or simply "of God" (John 1:13, nine times in I John), is integral to the presentation of personal salvation. The verb gennao (which means both "beget" and "bear") is used in these passages in the aorist or perfect tense to denote the once-for-all divine work whereby the sinner, who before was only "flesh," and as such, whether he knew it or not, utterly incompetent in spiritual matters (John 3:3-7), is made "spirit" (John 3:6), i.e., is enabled and caused to receive and respond to the saving revelation of God in Christ. In the Gospel, Christ assures Nicodemus that there are no spiritual activities, no seeing or entering God's kingdom, because no faith in himself, without regeneration (John 3:1ff.); and John declares in the prologue that only the regenerate receive Christ and enter into the privileges of God's children (John 1:12-13). Conversely, in the Epistle John insists that there is no regeneration that does not issue in spiritual activities. The regenerate do righteousness (I John 2:29) and do not live a life of sin (3:9; 5:18: the present tense indicates habitual law-keeping, not absolute sinlessness, cf. 1:8-10); they love Christians (4:7), believe rightly in Christ, and experience faith's victory over the world (5:4). Any who do otherwise, whatever they claim, are still unregenerate children of the devil (3:6-10).

Paul specifies the Christological dimensions of regeneration by presenting it as (1) a lifegiving coresurrection with Christ (Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:13; cf. I Pet. 1:3); (2) a work of new creation in Christ (II Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10; Gal. 6:15). Peter and James make the further point that God "begets anew" (anagennao: I Pet. 1:23) and "brings to birth" (apokyeo: James 1:18) by means of the gospel. It is under the impact of the word that God renews the heart, so evoking faith (Acts 16:14-15).

Historical Discussion

The fathers did not formulate the concept of regeneration precisely. They equated it, broadly speakin, with baptismal grace, which to them meant primarily (to Pelagius, exclusively) remission of sins. Augustine realized, and vindicated against Pelagianism, the necessity for prevenient grace to make man trust and love God, but he did not precisely equate this grace with regeneration. The Reformers reaffirmed the substance of Augustine's doctrine of prevenient grace, and Reformed theology still maintains it. Calvin used the term "regeneration" to cover man's whole subjective renewal, including conversion and sanctification. Many seventeenth century Reformed theologians equated regeneration with effectual calling and conversion with regeneration (hence the systematic mistranslation of epistrepho, "turn," as a passive, "be converted," in the AV); later Reformed theology has defined regeneration more narrowly, as the implanting of the "seed" from which faith and repentance spring (I John 3:9) in the course of effectual calling. Arminianism constructed the doctrine of regeneration synergistically, making man's renewal dependent on his prior cooperation with grace; liberalism constructed it naturalistically, identifying regeneration with a moral change or a religious experience.

The fathers lost the biblical understanding of the sacraments as signs to sir up faith and seals to confirm believers in possession of the blessings signified, and so came to regard baptism as conveying the regeneration which it signified (Titus 3:5) ex opere operato to those who did not obstruct its working. Since infants could not do this, all baptized infants were accordingly held to be regenerated. This view has persisted in all the non-Reformed churches of Christendom, and among sacramentalists within Protestantism.

J I Packer
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

J. Orr, "Regeneration," HDB; J. Denney, HDCG; B. B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies; systematic theologies of C. Hodge, III, 1-40, and L. Berkhof, IV, 465-79; A. Ringwald et al., NIDNTT, I, 176ff.; F. Buchsel et al., TDNT, I, 665ff.; B. Citron, The New Birth.


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Scripture terms by which this work of God is designated:

Proof that there is such a thing as is commonly called regeneration.

Proofs that believers are subjects of supernatural, or spiritual illumination.

Proof of the absolute necessity of regeneration


Catholic Information

(Latin regeneratio; Greek anagennesis and paliggenesia). Regeneration is a Biblico-dogmatic term closely connected with the ideas of justification, Divine sonship, and the deification of the soul through grace. Confining ourselves first to the Biblical use of this term, we find regeneration from God used in indissoluble connection with baptism, which St. Paul expressly calls "the laver of regeneration" (Titus, iii, 5). In His discourse with Nicodemus (John 3:5), the Saviour declares: "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." In this passage Christianity from its earliest days has found the proof that baptism may not be repeated, since a repeated regeneration from God is no less a contradiction than repeated physical birth from a mother. The idea of "birth from God" enjoys a special favour in the Joannine theology. Outside the Fourth Gospel (i, 12 sq.; iii, 5), the Apostle uses the term in a variety of ways, treating "birth of God" as synonymous now with the "doing of justice" (1 John 5:1, 4 sq.), and elsewhere deducing from it a certain "sinlessness" of the just (1 John 3:9; 5:18), which, however, does not necessarily exclude from the state of justification the possibility of sinning (cf. Bellarmine, "De justificatione", III, xv). It is true that in all these passages there is no reference to baptism nor is there any reference to a real "regeneration"; nevertheless, "generation from God", like baptismal "regeneration", must be referred to justification as its cause. Both terms effectually refute the Protestant notion that there is in justification not a true annihilation, but merely a covering up of the sins which still continue (covering-up theory), or that the holiness won is simply the imputation of the external holiness of God or Christ (imputation theory). The very idea of spiritual palingenesis requires that the justified man receive through the Divine generation a quasi-Divine nature as his "second nature", which cannot be conceived as a state of sin, but only as a state of interior holiness and justice. Thus alone can we explain the statements that the just man is assured "participation in the divine nature" (cf. 2 Peter 1:4: divinæ consortes naturæ), becomes "a new creature" (Galatians 5:6; 6:15), effects which depend on justifying faith working by charity, not on "faith alone" (sola fides). When the Bible elsewhere refers regeneration to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3) or to "the word of God who liveth and remaineth forever" (1 Peter 1:23), it indicates two important external factors for justification, which have nothing to do with its formal cause. The latter text shows that the preaching of the Word of God is for the sinner the introductory step towards justification, which is impossible without faith, whereas the former text mentions the meritorious cause of justification, inasmuch as, from the Biblical standpoint, the Resurrection was the final act in the work of redemption (cf. Luke 24:46 sq.; Romans 4:25; 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:16). To the above-mentioned ideas of regeneration, generation out of God, participation in the Divine nature, and re-creation, a fifth, that of Divine sonship, must be added; this represents the formal effect of justification and is crowned by the personal indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the justified soul (cf. Romans 5:5; 8:11; 1 Corinthians 3:16 sq.; 6:19, etc.). Since, however, this Divine sonship is expressly described as a mere adoptive sonship (filiatio adoptiva, ouiothesis; cf. Romans 8:15 sqq.; Galatians 4:5), it is evident that "regeneration from God" implies no substantial emerging of the soul from the nature of God as in the case of the eternal generation of the Son of God (Christ), but must be regarded as an analogical and accidental generation from God.

As regards the use of the term in Catholic theology, no connected history of regeneration can be written, as neither Christian antiquity nor medieval Scholasticism worked consistently and regularly to develop this pregnant and fruitful idea. At every period, however, the Sacrament of Baptism was regarded as the specific sacrament of regeneration, a concept that was not extended to the Sacrament of Penance. Irenæus repeatedly interprets the Pauline term "re-creation" as the universal regeneration of mankind through the incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. The idea of regeneration in the sense of individual justification is most conspicuous in the writings of St. Augustine. With an unrivalled keenness, he evolved the essential distinction between the birth of the Son of God from the substance of the Father and the generation of the soul from God through grace, and brought together into an organic association regeneration, with its kindred ideas, and justification (cf. e.g. "Enarr. in Ps. xlix", n. 2 in "P.L.", XXXVI, 565). Like the Church, St. Augustine associates justification with faith working through charity, and refers its essence to the interior renewal and sanctification of the soul. Thus, St. Augustine is not only the precursor, but also the model of the Scholastics, who worked mainly on the ideas inherited from the great doctor, and contributed essentially to the speculative understanding of the mysterious process of justification. Adhering strictly to the Bible and tradition, the Council of Trent (Sess. VI, capp. iii-iv, in Denzinger-Bannwart, "Enchiridion", 10th ed., 1908, nn. 795-6) regarded regeneration as fundamentally nothing else than another name for the justification acquired through the Sacrament of Baptism. A characteristic view was that of the German Mystics (Eckhart, Tauler, Suso), who prefer to speak of a "birth of God in the soul", meaning thereby the self-annihilation of the soul submerging itself in the Divinity, and the resulting mystical union with God through love.

In Protestant theology, since the time of the Reformation, we meet great differences of opinion, which are of course to be referred to the various conceptions of the nature of justification. In entire accordance with his doctrine of justification by faith alone, Luther identified regeneration with the Divine "bestowal of faith" (donatio fidei), and placed the baptized infant on the same footing as the adult, although he could give no precise explanation as to the way in which the child at its regeneration in baptism could exercise justifying faith (cf. H. Cremer, "Taufe, Wiedergeburt und Kindertaufe", 2nd ed., 1901). Against the shallow and destructive efforts of Rationalism, which made its appearance among the Socinians about the end of the sixteenth century and later received a mighty impulse from English Deism, the German "Enlightenment", and French Encyclopedism, a salutary reaction was produced by the Pietists during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Leaving far behind the old Protestant view, the Pietists (Spener, A. H. Francke, Zinzendorf) referred regeneration to the personal experience of justification in union with a sincere conversion to a new life, consisting especially in charitable activity. German Pietism, systematically cultivated by the so-called Hernhuter, exercised a beneficial effect on English Methodism, which went about securing and strengthening regeneration in "methodical fashion", and which undoubtedly performed good service in the revival of Christian piety. Especially those sudden conversions--such as are even today striven for and highly prized in Methodist circles, the American revivals and camp meetings, the Salvation Army, and the German Gemeinschaftsbewegung, with all its excrescences and eccentricities--are preferentially given the title of regeneration (cf. E. Wacker, "Wiedergeburt und Bekehrung", 1893). Since Schleiermacher the variety and confusion of the views concerning the character of regeneration in learned literature have increased rather than diminished; it is indeed almost a case of everyone to his own liking. The greatest favour in Liberal and modern Positive theology is enjoyed by the theory of Albert Ritschl, according to which the two distinct moments of justification and reconciliation hold the same relation to each other as forgiveness and regeneration. As soon as resistance to God is done away with in justification, and lack of trust in God--or, in other words, sin--is overcome in the forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God and regeneration enter into their rights, thus inaugurating a new life of Christian activity which reveals itself in the fulfilment of all the obligations of one's station.

Turning finally to the non-Christian use of the term, we find "regeneration" in common use in many pagan religions. In Persian Mithraism, which spread widely in the West as a religion of the soldiers and officials under the Roman Empire, persons initiated into the mysteries were designated "regenerated" (renatus). While here the word retains its ethico-religious sense, there was a complete change of meaning in religions which taught metempsychosis or the transmigration of souls (Pythagoreans, Druids, Indians), in these the reincarnation of departed souls was termed "regeneration". This usage has not yet entirely disappeared, as it is current among the Theosophists (cf. E.R. Hull, "Theosophy and Christianity", Bombay, 1909; and in connection therewith "Stimmen aus Maria-Laach", 1910, 387 sqq., 479 sqq.). This view should not be confounded with the use dating from Christ Himself, who (Matthew 19:18) speaks of the resurrection of the dead on the last day as a regeneration (regeneratio).

Publication information Written by J. Pohle. Transcribed by Karli Nabours. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

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