Tuesday, November 11, 2008

John 3:5 - What Does it Mean to be, “Born of Water”?

There are some Christian denominations that believe a person must be baptized in order to be saved (a doctrine called, baptismal regeneration). One text they often cite in support of their doctrine is John 3:5:

“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

The fundamental flaw in their argument is the unproven assumption that “born of water” means baptism. I don’t believe it does.

In all of Scripture, the term “born of water” occurs exactly once. Besides this verse, there is no other passage we can examine that might shed more light on the meaning of this term. Consequently, we only have the context of this verse to help us understand what Jesus meant by His statement to Nicodemus.

There are at least 4 possible meanings to the term, “born of water.”

First, is the possibility that it does mean water baptism. There are a few problems with this view. First, the words “baptize” or “baptism” occur approximately 85 times in Scripture. And even though this ritual is frequently mentioned, nowhere is it called, being “born of water.” If someone wants to associate this term with baptism, the burden should be upon them to do so because Scripture doesn’t make the connection.

Furthermore, to say, “one must be baptized and born of the Spirit” is antithetical to the rest of Scripture which says we are saved by grace through faith and not by any outward acts such as good deeds or circumcision (Ephesians 2:8, Romans 4:9-12)

Another possibility is that being “born of water” means being cleansed by the washing of the Word. There are a few passages that could support this idea such as Ephesians 5:26. Consider especially John 15:3 where Jesus said, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” This is reinforced in the scene where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples (John 13:9-10):

"Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all."

If a saved person is considered “washed”, “cleansed”, or “bathed” (or maybe “born of water”), then Jesus’ words to Peter are clear: we never have to be “bathed” again. If we sin – that is, “get our feet dirty” – we only need to be restored by the washing of our feet. We do no need to become saved again.

I think “born of water” fits quite nicely with the idea of being washed in the Word. But we cannot dogmatically insist that it is the same thing. There are still two other ways to interpret this passage that could be equally valid.

A third possible way to understand this passage is to look at the Greek conjunction kai, (Strong's Number 2532, καί). kai can be translated as “and” but it can also mean “even.” In this view, the passage could be translated to say, “you must be born of water, even the Spirit.” This would be similar to point two above where being “born of water” means to be cleansed by the word. Only in this case, Jesus is identifying the Agent of the cleansing as the Holy Spirit.

While these three may all be valid understandings, I believe the most likely meaning is that “born of water” is simply a reference to the physical birth. Even today, the amniotic fluid is referred to as “water” and when we’re born, we’re quite literally “born out of water.” Let’s examine the context of the passage again.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3). It seems obvious that the phrase, “born again” necessarily compares the second birth (the spiritual birth) with the first birth (the physical birth).

Nicodemus apparently made the connection but became confused, thinking Jesus was referring to a second physical birth. John 3:4, “Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?”

Now read the next to statements together (John 3:5-6):

“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

I believe the passage is clear but let me paraphrase: “A person must be born physically AND spiritually. (because) That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

Now, skip forward a little further, Nicodemus is still struggling with understanding the spiritual rebirth. Jesus makes the following statement (John 3:12), “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?”

We see Jesus is again comparing spiritual truths to physical truths. Jesus often explained spiritual truths by comparing them to things we understand. Consider the number of times Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” In this passage, Jesus is comparing the rebirth - the spiritual birth - to the physical birth.

“Born of water” referring to the physical birth also agrees nicely with 1 Peter 1:23, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” So we are first born of corruptible seed (the flesh) and then we are born again of incorruptible seed (the word of God via the Spirit).

I will let the reader decide for himself the meaning of the term. While it seems to me that “born of water” very clearly refers to the physical birth, I can also see that there are other possible ways to understand the term. Furthermore, I believe the “born of water means baptism” explanation is the least likely meaning.


5 comments:

Josue Cruz said...

What about Romans 6:4 for your Option #1? It compares the baptism as a burial and walking in a new life as Christ resurrected from the death.

RKBentley said...

Josie,

Thank you for visiting and for your comments. Romans 6 is a wonderful passage dealing with baptism but I don't see how it equates being born again with baptism. Verse 5 clearly says we are baptized in the "likeness" of His death and resurrection. That is, it is a symbolic act - not a literal rebirth. Do you believe that Jesus, for example, was not already "born again" before His own death and resurrection?

God bless!

RKBentley

Josue Cruz said...

RKBentley,

Precisely the "likeness" of His death and RESURRECTION, is what I think can equate born again, as you don't literally die, but die spiritually to the old self.

Of course, Jesus was already "born again", however, why did he baptized on something that represented something that happened in his near future. More over, why did John was baptizing before knowing that the baptism represented the death and resurrection of Jesus?

God bless you too.

Josue (not Josie ;) )

Steve Finnell said...

BORN OF WATER JOHN 3:5

There are some who deny water baptism is essential to the forgiveness of sins, by debating the clear meaning of "born of water" found in John 3:5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.


The primary debating point is that born of water refers to natural child birth. Was Jesus telling Nicodemus that one of requirements to enter the kingdom of God, was that he had to exist? That makes no sense. It is obvious if you were never born you could not enter the kingdom of God.


To suggest that "water" in (John 3:5) means embryonic fluid, is at best an unreasonable conclusion.


Jesus said you have to born again to enter the kingdom of God. Being born of flesh the first time is not being born again. Again never means the first time!


When the apostles were preaching the gospel, did they say, in order to enter the kingdom of God, you have to physically exist; that is, you must have been born of embryonic fluid (water)? No they did not.


Jesus said "unless one is born of water he cannot enter the kingdom of God." (John 3:5) Jesus said "has been baptized shall be saved."(Mark 16:16)


THERE IS A WATER AND SPIRIT CONNECTION IN SALVATION.


Titus 3:5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,(The AND cannot be ignored)


WATER BAPTISM: washing of regeneration.
SPIRIT: renewing by the Holy Spirit.
NOTE: It is God our Savior that saves us.(Titus 3:4)


Acts 2:38 ....be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.


WATER BAPTISM: for forgiveness of sins.
SPIRIT: receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.


BORN AGAIN OF WATER AND SPIRIT!


The only way to not understand that Jesus meant water baptism in John 3:5, is by using extra-Biblical sources.


YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http//:steve-finnell.blogspot.com

RKBentley said...

Steve,

You said, “There are some who deny water baptism is essential to the forgiveness of sins, by debating the clear meaning of "born of water" found in John 3:5”

But the meaning isn't “clear.” Where in the Bible does it “clearly” saying “born of water” means “baptism”? Like I said in my post, this phrase is not define (or even used) anywhere else in Scripture so we must use the immediate context to determine its meaning. The word “baptism” doesn't appear anywhere in this passage. In the context what we do see is Jesus repeatedly comparing the Spiritual, second birth to the fleshly, first birth.

You said, “The primary debating point is that born of water refers to natural child birth. Was Jesus telling Nicodemus that one of requirements to enter the kingdom of God, was that he had to exist? That makes no sense. It is obvious if you were never born you could not enter the kingdom of God.”

Yes, obviously. But Jesus isn't making the first birth a prerequisite to salvation. The second birth is what is necessary. Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh (1st birth). That which is born of the Spirit is spirit (2nd birth).” Not everyone born will enter into heaven – that is the flawed theological belief of universalism. Only the people born again will enter the Kingdom. So it's clear that you have to be born of the flesh AND the Spirit – in other words, “born of water and Spirit.”

You said, “The only way to not understand that Jesus meant water baptism in John 3:5, is by using extra-Biblical sources.”

I believe the context of this passage alone makes it clear that, over and over, Jesus compared the Spiritual birth to the physical birth so I do not need to resort to any extra-Biblical source to make that case. Neither have I cited any extra-Biblical sources in this post. However, it is not unreasonable to consider extra-Biblical sources if we wish to have a more clear picture of what Nicodemus would have understood by the phrase “born of water.” If we learned from several sources that it was a common euphemism for child birth, it would be unreasonable to not consider them.

By the way, I have been baptized so your points should be moot in my case. However, it has been my experience that people of your position still believe that I'm not saved even though I have accepted Jesus as my Savior and have been baptized. When I ask why, I usually hear a lot of analogies of getting baptized versus getting “dunked” but I seldom hear Scripture supporting that position. Maybe you could oblige: if I have sincerely accepted Jesus as my Savior and have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, where is there a Scripture that explains I may still not be saved?

Thanks for visiting and for your comments. God bless!!

RKBentley