Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The adverb ανω (ano) means upwards (when combined with verbs of motion) or aloft, on high, up and upper (when combined with static verbs) or above (when combined with the genitive). Still, the ancients had a different sense of relativity than we moderns do, and their use of the idea of height, or the proverbial top, rarely had something to do with physical elevation, but often (literally, not metaphorically) spoke of a high point in time (a very important ancestor or patriarch, his legacy or commands or anything "coming down" or being "handed down" from history), a political high point (a capital city, the temple), a fundamental truth or rule from which a lot of secondary conclusions and legislations derive (and see Matthew 7:12 for one of those), and even the beginning (or rather the core motivation) of a story or mission of other such effort.
Said somewhat more curtly: when Jesus said, "I am from above" (John 8:23), he didn't mean to say he was from outer space, or even from the top of the mountains or a castle in the clouds or something like that (Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Luke 17:21). Instead, he referred to the fundamental law that creates, governs and maintains the whole universe (Colossians 1:16-17), which can be known by reasonable man (Romans 1:20, Colossians 2:3), in which case it (he) becomes the Word in the Flesh (John 1:14), which in turn embodies the Creator (John 17:26, Hebrews 1:3).
Etymologically, our adverb ανω (ano) is related to the familiar prefix ανα (ana), meaning on, and the identical verb ανω (ano), meaning to come to an end, accomplish or finish (this verb isn't used in the New Testament). This adverb is used 9 times, see full concordance, and from it come:
- Together with the otherwise unused noun γαια (gaia), ground (but see γη, ge, earth, and γαιω, gaio, to rejoice): the noun ανωγεον (anogeon), literally meaning off-ground, or extra-terrestrial if you will, but practically referring to a room on the first (or higher) floor (Mark 14:15 and Luke 22:12 only). In a world that was predominantly agrarian, an upper room, or a room that was lifted off the earth, was a rather special affair and understandably associated with spiritual realities (see Colossians 3:2, which uses ανω (ano), or James 3:15, which uses ανωθεν, anothen, see next).
- The adverb ανωθεν (anothen), meaning from the top or originating in a higher, earlier or more fundamental place. This adverb is formed by postfixing the parent adverb ανω (ano), above, with the localizing -θεν (-then), meaning "from" (comparable to the English "-ian"). Our adverb certainly doesn't merely speak of a physical elevation, but may mean: from the heartland of a country, from a certain ancestor, from more basic or universal principles (John 19:11, James 1:17), from the most important point of a story, from the chronological beginning of a story (Luke 1:3), or the entirety (from the very beginning) of a certain sequence.
The familiar, albeit much abused, term "born-again" (John 3:3), uses our adverb. In our article on the Hebrew noun שחר (shahar), meaning eclipse [of the sun], we argue that one's first birth is one's awakening into the "solar" consciousness of reason and intellect. One's second birth or "birth-from-above" comes with the perfection of one's Theory of Mind: the understanding that one's own solar ratio is limited and thus incomplete, and must be willfully eclipsed in order to be able to consult the "stellar" consciousness of one's community.
Few commentators emphasize that being born again, also implies an additional gestation period prior the birth, during which a lot can go wrong and often does. A physical human is first conceived (and read our article on Stephen for more on that particular miracle), and then for nine months is woven together in the womb of her mother (Psalm 139:13). If all goes well, the baby is born, but has no clue what's going on. All the baby "knows" is that suddenly her world fills up with noise and bright light (and cold and pushing and shoving) that will take her weeks to months to get used to. Only years later she will realize that she is a child who came out of the body of her mother, and that she will one day be as big and mature as her mother.
Being born-from-above has nothing to do with one's physical birth (although you have to have been born physically to be able to be born spiritually), and everything with a being woven together within the figurative womb of a social network. In the social "womb", the spiritual embryo learns language and social skills with which to communicate, and practical skills to serve and be of use. When the spiritual embryo has matured up to a certain point, it's born-once-more as an autonomous spiritual being within the world at large. Then, upon being born-once-more, it will take the baby many years to achieve any kind of spiritual fluency and spiritual maturity (1 Corinthians 3:1).
People who are born-once-more simply go about living their life-upon-life (playing their spiritual role in the living economy of ideas and words and concerns that sits on top of their biological role in the living economy of breathing, eating and procreating). People who go about proclaiming they are "born-again", almost certainly are not (and are still in the womb), and almost certainly proclaim their tribal allegiance, which is a biological pursuit, very common among the animals. In the world of words and ideas and learning, there is only one creation and only one Creator; only the Oneness of all things and no tribes (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).
Our adverb ανωθεν (anothen), from the top, is used 13 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the preposition επι (epi), meaning on or upon: the adverb επανω (epano), meaning on top of, or high upon. It's used 20 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the preposition υπερ (huper), meaning over or beyond: the adverb υπερανω (huperano), meaning far over or far above (Ephesians 1:21, 4:10 and Hebrews 9:5 only).