Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Meaning of the Phrase ‘Born of Water and Spirit’ in John 3:5

Jesus’ statement in John 3:5—“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God!”—is an amplification of Jesus’ prior statement to Nicodemus in 3:3 concerning the condition for seeing the kingdom of God. The equivalent of being born again or being born from above is literally being born of water and spirit. In the context of John 3:6, 8, where Jesus is arguably talking about the Holy Spirit, it makes sense to translate the phrase born of water and spirit (γεννηθῇ ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος) in John 3:5 as born of water and the Spirit, where Spirit indicates the Holy Spirit.

To be born of water and the Spirit means, therefore, to experience Spiritual regeneration, which ultimately is the work of God. This is the primary idea in John 3:5, but a question remains concerning to extent to which the term water in John 3:5 indicates water baptism. In regard to this issue, the structure of the phrase of water and spirit, where two co-ordinate nouns are governed by a single preposition (i.e., ἐξ), suggests a close connection between water and Spirit. Since Gentile converts to Judaism were considered to become like newborn children through proselyte baptism (which was performed in order to cleanse them from their Gentile impurity), it is quite likely that the word water would have conveyed the idea of baptism, or at least some kind of ceremonial washing, to a Jewish audience, including Nicodemus. Elsewhere in John’s writings where the concepts of spirit and water are placed in close proximity, namely, in 1 John 5:8, spirit refers to the Holy Spirit, and water to Jesus’ baptism.

Jesus’ mention of water and spirit is also to be understood (as it most likely would have been in a Jewish context) in the light of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the new covenant age. The Old Testament prophets foresaw a time when God would work through his Spirit to bring Israel back to himself in covenant obedience (see Deut 30:6; Jer 31:31–33; Ezek 36:24–27). In particular, Ezekiel 36:24–27 pictures the future work of the Spirit as being like water sprinkled upon Israel to cleanse her from her uncleanness. Therefore, understanding the phrase born of water and spirit in John 3:5, in conjunction with the idea of the kingdom of God, on Jesus’ lips, in a Jewish context, leads us to take the phrase born of water and spirit to be referring to conversion or baptism by the Holy Spirit.

But it should be noted at this point that baptism in the Holy Spirit was viewed by the early church as ordinarily taking place at the point of Christian (water) baptism (e.g., Acts 2:38; 1 Cor 12:13; Tit 3:5), following the model of Jesus’ baptism, in which there was a conjunction of water and the Spirit (Luke 3:21–22). Exceptions to the rule of the conjunction of water and the Holy Spirit in baptism only happened at special stages in God’s plan of salvation, such as at Pentecost (Acts 1:15), at the conversion of the Samaritans (Acts 8:14–18), and at the conversion of the first Gentiles (Acts 10:24–48), matching the pattern of the evangelistic mandate in Acts 1:8, where the gospel was to be preached in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (i.e., to the Gentiles). Apart from these exceptions, at least as far as adult converts were concerned, baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit were considered in the early church as taking place together. This led to the view in the early church that the eschatological gift of the Spirit was received through faith at the time of conversion, i.e., at the point of Christian baptism.

It is most likely, therefore, that John’s audience, both Christian and non-Christian, would have understood the phrase of water and spirit in connection with Christian baptism, which marked the point of conversion to Christianity. Conversion to Christianity is the necessary condition for entering the kingdom of God, where entering the kingdom of God is itself a metaphor for coming into the possession of salvation, which involves having the right to live in the presence of God and to experience his blessing. All in all, the significance of Jesus’ teaching in John 3:5 is that Christian conversion, which formally takes place at Christian baptism, which marks the official reception of the eschatological gift of the Holy Spirit on the part of the baptizand, is necessary in order for individuals to experience salvation in the kingdom of God.

1 comment:

Steve Finnell said...


Before discussing Saul's conversion we need to establish a point of fact. You cannot become a Christian and have unforgiven sins. If your sins have been forgiven you are a Christian. If you are a Christian then your sins have been forgiven. It is impossible to separate forgiveness, from being in Christ. How could you say I became a Christian last night but my sins were not forgiven? By the same reasoning you could not assert that I had my sins forgiven last night but I am not a Christian.

What is true for us, was true for the apostle Paul.

Acts 9:3-6 As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" 5 And he said, "Who are You Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what to do."

Saul obviously believed in Jesus at this point, yet he was still not forgiven of his sins; therefore he was not a Christian. Paul was not saved by "FAITH ONLY."

Acts 9:9-11 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am Lord." 11 And the Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying,

Saul believed that Jesus was Lord.
Saul repented.
Saul fasted and prayed for three days.
After three days on the road to Damascus Saul was still not forgiven of his sins. Saul was not saved by faith alone, Saul was not saved by repenting alone. Saul was not saved by praying and fasting. SAUL WAS NOT SAVED ON THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS.

Acts 22:12-16 "A certain Ananias....13 came to me....16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.'

Saul's sins were forgiven after he was baptized in water, not before.

Galatians 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Saul was not a Christian until he was baptized into Christ.

Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved......

Saul was not saved until he was immersed in water.

Acts 2:38...and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of you sins....

Saul sins where not forgiven until he was baptized in water.

Paul was saved the way all men are saved. FAITH John 3:16---REPENTANCE Acts 3:19---CONFESSION Romans 10:9-19---WATER BAPTISM Acts 2:38