John 3:5 – Born of Water and of the Spirit

Richard Lloyd Anderson teaches in the Guide To The Life of Christ (FARMS Reprint, 1999):

The Protestant Problem

At the resurrection Jesus sent his apostles with the command to preach and baptize (Matt. 28:19-20), giving the double requirement. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Yet the Protestant reformers taught that grace alone and faith alone brought salvation. Because Christ was baptized and established the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, Protestants generally emphasize these two ceremonies, though not firmly requiring any ceremony as necessary for salvation. Popularly, baptism is explained as “an outward sign of an inward grace,” advisable but not required by God. But Jesus said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Some claim that “born of water” refers to one’s physical birth, coming out of the amniotic fluid of the mother’s womb. According to this interpretation, Jesus only asked Nicodemus to be born of the Spirit after the fluid of physical birth. This is forced however, for it contradicts John’s context, the apostle’s interpretation, and Jewish terminology of the time.

The Baptismal Theme in John, Chapter 3

In Matthew and Mark, John the Baptist preaches repentance and baptism, and Jesus and his apostles preach repentance and the King of God or Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 3:2, 11; 4:17; Mark 1:4, 14-15). John’s Gospel clarifies that preaching the kingdom included baptism as the entrance ceremony to get into it. The outward ministries of John and Jesus were the same: After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized (John 3:22-23). The above verses immediately follow the dialogue with Nicodemus. John has obviously arranged the episodes to show that all had to be baptized, even a member of the elite governing body. John’s Gospel then gives the Baptist’s prophecy that Christ “must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30), which is virtually a statistical statement on baptism, for we are next informed that “Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John” (John 4:1). Thus John’s Gospel clarifies that Jesus’ main preaching of repentance included baptism, and the Nicodemus conversation is there to show that one cannot enter God’s kingdom without it.

Birth “of Water and of the Spirit” in the Early Church

Assignment 3 indicated the close relationship of John’s Gospel and his first letter, both written about the same time and reflecting problems near the end of the first century. From memory and/or records, John’s Gospel reaches back decades to illuminate what Christ said about baptism, the sacrament, and even confirmation. In his first letter, John clearly expressed the triple basis of salvation. There being “born of God” is the combination of “the Spirit, and the water, and the blood” (I John 5:4, 8), meaning the coming of the Holy Ghost after baptism, made effective by Christ’s atonement. John reported the conversation with Nicodemus to show that this teaching came from Christ.

Some decades before John wrote, Paul reminded a fellow-missionary that salvation came through Christ and was made effective “by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). In Greek Paul is using the concept of “born again,” paliggenesia, which combines a term meaning “origin” or “birth” with palin, the simple term for “again.” Current translations of Titus 3:5 make the “born again” image clear, such as “the washing of rebirth” (NIV) or “the cleansing water of rebirth” (NJB). Bible believers should accept both Paul and John. These apostles knew Christ’s words on rebirth to Nicodemus and clearly explained their meaning (p. 36).

I agree with the very last two sentences that Anderson wrote on this full page in the FARMS reprint. But I wish we could discuss our differences on interpreting what John and Paul are communicating about what it means to be born again.

After reading Anderson’s account of Jesus baptizing, I had to check if Joseph Smith changed John 4:2. Sure enough.  Is the KJV John 4:2 a contradiction to LDS?

But before I ask a pertinent question on John 3, let me list for you a sample spattering of evangelical interpretations on John 3:5.

The “water” in John 3:5 means . . .

(1) The amniotic fluid of a mother’s womb or the male semen of the father

Out of the 20+ scholarly evangelical commentaries that I posses on John’s Gospel, none of them propose this position as what they believe.

(2) The Word of God

Arno C. Gaebelein in The Gospel of John (Neptune: Loizeaux Brothers, 1965) writes, “Water here is figurative of the Word of God as it is also in the thirteenth chapter, in connection with the feet washing of the disciples, and in Ephesians 5:26: ‘The washing of water by the Word.’ Then there are three passages which show conclusively that the Word of God is meant: I Corinthians 4:15, ‘for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel,’ James 1:18, ‘Of His own will begat He us with the Word of Truth,’ and I Peter 1:23. In the last named passage Peter writes: ‘Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.’ This Petrine statement is sufficient to silence the view that water baptism is an agent in the new birth. . . . The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to bring about the new birth. Faith cometh by hearing and hearing cometh by the Word of God. The Word believed and accepted, the Holy Spirit accomplishes by His power the new birth, and the new nature, the eternal life is received” (62).

Arthur W. Pink in the Exposition of the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1975) writes, “If then the Lord Jesus used the word “water” emblematically in John 3:5, to what was He referring?  We answer, The Word of God.  This is ever the instrument used by God in regeneration” (110).

James Montgomery Boice in The Gospel of John, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 2005, paperback edition) writes, “Water is also a metaphor for the written Word of God, the Bible.  Thus, Ephesians 5:26 says that Christ gave himself for the church “to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”  In I John the same author who composed the fourth Gospel distinguishes between the witnesses to Christ on earth of “the Spirit, the water and the blood” (I John 5:8).  Since he then goes on to speak of God’s written witness to the fact that salvation is in Christ, in this context the Spirit must refer to God’s witness within the individual, the blood to the historical witness of Christ’s death, and the water to the Scriptures.  Psalm 119:9 declares, “How can a young man keep his way pure?  By living according to your word.”  Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3) (201). 

(3) Spiritual seed

Leon Morris in The Gospel According to John: The New International Commentary On The New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971) writes, “. . . we may take ‘water’ and ‘Spirit’ closely together to give a meaning like ‘spiritual seed’ [This is rendered the more likely in that neither noun has the article and the one preposition governs both (216n29)]. . . . Nicodemus was a Pharisee. He was used to this way of speaking. The allusion would be natural for him. We should accordingly take the passage to mean being born of ‘spiritual water’, and see this as another way of referring to being born ‘of the Spirit’. Jesus is referring to the miracle which takes place when the divine activity re-makes a man” (216-218).

(4) John’s baptism

B.F. Westcott in The Gospel According to St. John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, reprint, 1981, originally 1881) writes, “It can then, scarcely be questioned that as Nicodemus heard the words, water carried with it a reference to John’s baptism, which was a divinely appointed rite (i. 33), gathering up into itself and investing with a new importance all the lustral baptisms of the Jews: the spirit, on the other hand, marked that inward power which John placed in contrast with his own baptism. Thus the words, taken in their immediate meaning as intelligible to Nicodemus, set forth, as required before entrance into the kingdom of God, the acceptance of the preliminary rite divinely sanctioned, which was the seal of repentance and so of forgiveness, and following on this the communication of the a new life, resulting from the direct action of the Holy Spirit through Christ. The Pharisees rejected the rite, and by so doing cut themselves off from the grace which was attached to it. They would not become as little children, and so they could not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (50).

G. Campbell Morgan in The Gospel According to John writes, “Then Jesus went on, very beautifully answering him in the realm of interpretation.  Listen to Him.  He said, “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.”  Mark the continuity.  You have been attending the ministry of one who baptized you in water, and told you Another would baptize you in the Spirit.  Except you are born of all that the water baptism signified, repentance: and that which the Spirit baptism accomplishes, regeneration, you cannot enter into the Kingdom of God”(58)

The Bible Knowledge Commentary (SP Publications, 1983) edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, states, “(5) The “water” refers to the repentance ministry of John the Baptist, and the “Spirit” refers to the application by the Holy Spirit of Christ to an individual.  The fifth view has the merit of historical propriety as well as theological acceptability.  John the Baptist had stirred the nation by his ministry and stress on repentance (Matt. 3:1-6).  “Water” would remind Nicodemus of the Baptist’s emphasis.  So Jesus was saying that Nicodemus, in order to enter the kingdom, needed to turn to Him (repent) in order to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit” (281).

John Phillips in Exploring The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publication, 1989) writes, “In seeking to ascertain the Lord’s meaning we must observe the law of historical propriety. We must ask ourselves, ‘What would Nicodemus understand by these words?’ Obviously he would not read Christian baptism into them because the Lord had not instituted the ordinance nor would he do so for several years. Water and the Spirit. Who had been hammering at the conscience of Israel, seeking to prepare the people for the coming of king and kingdom, using those two very words? John the Baptist, of course. Nicodemus would think at once of John’s words, ‘I indeed baptize with water, but there comes one who will baptize you with the Spirit.’ That is the key to this otherwise cryptic statement” (66-67).

George R. Beasley-Murray in John: Word Biblical Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1999) writes, “It would seem that the text relates birth from above to baptism and the Holy Spirit. . . . Such a view assumes that entry into the kingdom of God requires baptism of water and of the Spirit. . . . The Evangelist’s setting of the dialogue with Nicodemus alongside a second section concerned with the relation of John’s baptism to that promoted by Jesus (vv 25-30 indicates how he wished the first to be understood: Pharisees like Nicodemus should not stand aloof from the call to repentance for the kingdom of God issued by John the Baptist and by Jesus, for all stand in need of God’s forgiveness and the recreating work of the Holy Spirit, which is as imminent as the kingdom itself” (48-49).

(5) Christian baptism

R.C.H. Lenski in The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Minneapolis:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1943)  writes, “In the Baptist’s sacrament, as in that of Jesus afterward, water is joined with the Spirit, the former being the divinely chosen earthly medium (necessary on that account), the latter being the regenerating agent who uses that medium.  When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, the latter could understand only that the Baptist’s sacrament was being referred to.  This was entirely enough.  For this sacrament admitted to the kingdom as completely as the later instituted sacrament of Jesus.  Therefore Jesus also continued to require the Baptist’s sacrament, 3:22 and 4:2, and after his resurrection extended it to all nations by means of his great commission.  No need, then, to raise the question as to which Baptism Jesus here had in mind, or whether he also referred to his own future sacrament.  It was but one sacrament which was first commanded by God for the use of the Baptist, then was used by Jesus, and finally instituted for all people.  Tit. 3:5 thus applies to this sacrament in all its stages.  Jesus tells Nicodemus just what he asks, namely the “how” of regeneration.  How is it possible?  By baptism!  but Jesus cuts off a second how:  How by Baptism? by using the description of Baptism, “water and Spirit.”  Because not merely water but God’s Spirit is effective in the sacrament, therefore it works the new birth” (237-238).

William Hendriksen in John vol. 1: New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953) writes, “The key to the interpretation of these words is found in 1:22 [misprint – should be 3:22]. (See also 1:26, 31; cf. Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16) where water and Spirit are also found side by side, in connection with baptism. The evident meaning, therefore is this: being baptized with water is not sufficient. The sign is valuable, indeed. It is of great importance both as a pictorial representation and as a seal. But the sign should be accompanied by the thing signified: the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit” (134).

R.V.G. Tasker in John: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960) writes, “But in the light of the reference to the practice by Jesus of water baptism in verse 22, it is difficult to avoid construing the words of water and of the Spirit conjunctively, and regarding them as a description of Christian baptism, in which cleansing and endowment are both essential elements” (71).

Gerald L. Borchert in John 1-11: The New American Commentary (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996) writes, “In such contexts baptism and salvation were clearly linked within the thinking of early Christians. Was the same true for John, who later in the first century was writing reflectively on the significance of the Nicodemus story for his community of believers? In trying to answer this question, we are trying to make silence speak. Yet when we remember that the purpose of the Gospel is not simply to provide a newspaper report of the life of Jesus but to direct the reader’s attention to life in Christ, such a deeper level of application may not be impossible. That the early Christian readers at least would have seen in the Nicodemus story a symbolic reference to the whole process of salvation is quite probable” (175).

Here is my concluding question. “Jesus answered and said unto him [Nicodemus], Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?” (John 3:10).

Where was Nicodemus to read and know about being “born of water and of the Spirit” in the Old Testament?

20 comments

  1. I just now included in the main post, the positions of Arthur W. Pink, James Mongomery Boice, Walvoord & Zuck, G. Campbell Morgan, and R.C.H. Lenski.

  2. Chris, good humor for my fumble fingers!

    Reminds me of an email sent to me yesterday by a pastor in Wyoming. He told me his email meant to say that his mother-in-law was a wonderful part of the family. But lo and behold, instead of “part”, the email literally said “fart”.

  3. This is one of the most hottly debated topics I have ever seen. When John was talking about the Water and the Spirit he was talking about a full emersion into the water and coming back out. Then the laying on of hands by a priesthood bearer in order to recieve the spirit, or a baptisim by fire. This also usually comes up in the discusion about proxy work in the LDS temples. The reason that proxy baptisms are preformed is so that those who have not had a chance to be baptized on the earth may have that ordinance done so that they may enter the Kingdom of God as instructed by Christ to the Apostles. The reason for this is because God chose Christ’s plan that gave us all free agency and the ability to return to him through the atonement of Christ, without whom all mankind would have been lost.

  4. This is in reference to the words of Christ in John 3:5: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

    Water Baptism is not an agent for the new birth of a totally depraved soul…. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to bring about the new birth .

    Christ said, That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Water cannot be used by God for a person to be born from above by the Spirit for no thing of the flesh can inherit the kingdom of God.

  5. Rev Roy:

    You are using an a priori philosophical argument to refute the plain words of Scripture, found not only here, but throughout the New Testament. Interesting.

    Of course, this often happens whenever anyone brings up the thorough sacramental realism of the New Testament. Not unlike Jehovah’s Witnesses arguing against the fact that Jesus Christ is God the Son.

    Here are just a couple of other places in the New Testament which indicate that baptism in water IS rebirth, IS regeneration:

    Romans 6:3-4

    I Peter 3:21

    Also, here is a blog post which is relevant:

    http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2010/06/04/a-secular-eucharist/

  6. Water baptism in comparison to the Deity of Christ?

    Really Greg?

    I am starting a new study on Sunday mornings. We will be in I Corinthians. And I can’t help but notice Paul’s mission, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel”.

  7. Todd, I was not commenting on the relative importance of the two issues. I was pointing out a similarity in methodology of argumentation. However, that said, Jesus Christ, God the Eternal Son, gave us baptism in water so that we might be regnerated, born again, and incorporated into His body as his very members. Obviously, then, there is a connection.

    Did you read the link? I find it amazing that people can be so passionate about defending the incarnation and bodily resurrection of the Lord, as well they should be, but yet find it so difficult to accept that matter and human activity, water and oil, bread and wine, laying on of hands, should be vehicles of our salvation.

    Also, Paul was the preacher, but his converts were most definitely baptized as the context (and elsewhere) shows.

  8. THE WATER OF JOHN 3 5

    For anyone to hold that the “water” spoken of in the Gospel of John, chapter three, verse five means either baptism in water or the water in a woman’s womb at the time of giving birth, I believe is a wrong interpretation of Scripture. A great heresy within the Baptist denomination called the “Baptist Bride” is the result of primarily the misinterpretation of this word “water” in verse five. It has led to the belief among those of the “Baptist Bride” persuasion that only those members of such a Baptist Church that teaches and preaches that one is not saved unless baptized in water by a Pastor of their persuasion is going to be a part of the Bride of Christ; and is taught in some few seminaries. They further believe that the Holy Spirit is not given to a believer until they are baptized in water. Such belief directly contradicts Ephesians, chapter one, verse thirteen, “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise,” and not contingent on being baptized in water. Also, in Acts, chapter one, verses forty-four thru forty-five, we read that upon the whole house of Cornelius, the Holy Spirit came upon them all that heard Peter preach the Word, and then they were baptized in water. “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.” First they believed and the Holy Spirit came upon them and then they were baptized. Therefore, true Scriptural belief is that everyone must be born of the Word of God, by first hearing it, believing it, and trusting the Lord Jesus as their Savior; at which time one receives the Holy Spirit. However, they don’t believe one is saved or has received the Holy Spirit until baptized in water, pursuant to the “water’ in verse five. Everyone else may be a believer, but they have not the Spirit of God, though they will be in the general assembly and guest at the wedding feast of the Lamb of God with His Bride; which is not only heresy, but to my thinking a ridiculous doctrine, particularly when Paul has said, in Romans, chapter eight, verse nine, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any men have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” and most certainly will not be in Heaven in any way, shape or form.

    The belief that it means the water of a woman’s womb at the time of giving birth is also taught by some seminaries, and it started years ago. I first heard it when a guest preacher preached it in a message at my church about 40 years ago. It sounded ridiculous to me, and I wondered how anyone could believe such a thing. Study in the Word of God for over 35 years now has confirmed me in the belief that it is a wrong interpretation of Scripture. The amniotic fluid in the womb is liquid, but it isn’t water. I would venture to say that the part that is water is mixed with all sorts of the stuff of life. Some who have come out of a seminary that were taught some bit of heresy or a wrong interpretation of Scripture hang on to that because some learned Professor taught them that. The learned Professor may not have even been saved, and yet teaching in the seminary. Whereas, I have had but one teacher: the Holy Spirit. “Whom shall he teach knowledge? And whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.” (Isaiah 28:9) And not, “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts, and attendeth a seminary, taught by some professor. I am not wanting to belittle an education in a seminary, but whatever a Professor taught should be searched out in the Scripture like a good Berean to see if whether or not what he is teaching is the truth or not. That is when you pray about it and let God be your teacher through His Holy Spirit as you search the Word of God. I have had to change my mind as God has taught me over the years about a number of things. For instance, that the USA is the apple of God’s eye, it isn’t and that is for sure. There is only one nation that is the apple of His eye and that is Israel, but they have been left desolate and will remain desolate (that means without God) until the time He converts all of Israel. That conversion may only come after many more have passed from this life into an eternity without God. That is a nice way to say that they will all be in Hell. All the Jews that have died without a Savior since the day Christ uttered these Words, will be turned into Hell. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Not that they could not, but would not) Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. (Matthew 23:37-39)

    Now let’s get back to John, chapter three, verse five. First, as Nicodemus stood listening to our Lord, he didn’t have to be told that he first had to be born of a woman in order to be born again; he certainly knew that he was already in this world. It just doesn’t make sense that the Lord would have meant that. It goes without saying; common sense tells us that if we are in this world, we were born of a woman. That couldn’t possibly be a pre-requisite to a second birth. So the Lord was not telling him that he had to be born of a woman, using the word “water” as a symbol of the amniotic fluid in the womb, in order to be born again. Besides in John, chapter one, verse twelve thru thirteen which says, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God;” the Lord then in these two verses had already stated that the natural birth, arising out of the will of a man and woman has nothing whatever to do with being born of God, or in other words “born again.

    Secondly, Peter tells us the same thing very specifically in 1 Peter, chapter one, verse twenty-three that to be “born again,” is to be “…born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. The corruptible seed is without a doubt the seed of the man fertilizing the egg in the woman’s ovary; while the incorruptible seed is the Word of God. So He would not have prefaced being born again with any reference to the corruptible seed of man there in verse five. Therefore, the “water” is not the water of the womb containing the corruptible seed, but the “water’ is symbolic of the Word of God. So the Lord was prefacing His statement of being born of “water” in verse five upon how to be “born again” with what He had already spoken of in verse three preceding verse five. So if we let Scripture interpret Scripture, Peter is telling us in no uncertain words that the new birth or being born of God is hearing the Word, believing it, trusting in it, and asking Christ to be your Savior.

    That then accomplishes what God intended long before Christ came into the world; when in Isaiah, chapter fifty-five, verse eleven He said, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” We know that to be the case, because the Lord said to the Father, in John, chapter seventeen, verse eight: “For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me,” for the Apostle Paul said, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17) No one can be saved without hearing the Word of God. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:13-17) Then we read this about the Word of God in John, chapter six, verse sixty-three, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” The flesh cannot be spoken of in connection with the new birth or to be born again, because “the flesh profiteth nothing.”

    Taking the above verses together with what the Lord said to the Disciples at the foot washing, and we can readily see that the Word of God that he sent forth way back there in Isaiah is likened by God to “water” for its cleansing power. “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.” (John 13:10) He said that because Peter wanted Him to wash his hands and head too. Then later we read Him saying in John, chapter fifteen, verse three, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” Then, parallel with John 3:5 we read this in Titus 3:5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;” Without fear of contradiction, being clean in God’s sight is synonymous with being saved. If God sees in one’s heart, upon hearing the Word, then believing in and trusting in Christ, they are saved. Then the Holy Spirit comes to seal them onto the day of redemption. With the sealing the process is complete. Just like Cornelius and his household were saved upon hearing the Word of God. (Acts 10:44)

    So what did He mean by telling Nicodemus that he had to be born of “water” and the Spirit or he could not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven? “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.” When we consider that the New Testament had not been written yet, the only thing Nicodemus could and perhaps should have understood is water being symbolic of the Word of God from his knowledge of Ezekiel, chapter thirty-six, verse twenty-five, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.” The clean water that God is going to sprinkle everyone with is the Gospel; hearing, believing, and trusting in the Gospel is the only way to be made clean in God’s sight, unless one is a little child and God takes them home as a little child. Little children of Jews and little children of at least one believing parent today are looked upon as “clean” in God’s sight; and thus they are not in need of Christ as their Savior for God looks upon them as clean already because they had at least one believing parent. A clean child though can only come out of a clean parent made clean by the blood of the Lamb, by believing the Word, and trusting in Christ. Scripture says, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” (1 Corinthians 7:14). To be “clean” is made synonymous with being “Holy” and being “Holy” is what it takes to see God; “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord; or in other words to be saved. That is, the child is saved, if God elects to take the child out of this world before the age accountability. (You may read about the cleanliness of little children of the both the Jew and a parent that is a believer in Christ in my dissertation entitled “The Church, The Rapture, And Israel,” which is now at the top on page six of the Chapel.

    Another place Nicodemus should have known about, being “…a master (or a teacher) of Israel…,” (John 3:10) and I believe that Jesus remonstrated with him for not knowing, is the cleansing of Naaman the leper in 2 Kings, chapter five, verses thirteen thru fourteen, “And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” The prophet’s word was none other than the Word of God. If Naaman’s servant had not talked him into obeying the Word of God spoken by the Prophet, he never would have been made clean. It was not the water he went down into that cleansed him; it was his obedience to the Word of God that made him clean, and “…and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” Therefore, the water in John, chapter three, verse five is symbolic of the Word of God and not the baptismal water or the water of a woman’s womb.

    That is exactly what Paul in all of his epistles teaches us also. We have already looked at Titus 3:5, an eact parallel with John 3:5, now lets look at Ephesians, 5:25-26, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” This verse goes hand and hand with the Lord’s own statements about the cleansing effect of the Word of God. “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” (John 15:3) Now, let us see one last place to see the cleansing effect of the Word of God.

    For instance, the same Lord Jesus Christ that spoke the word “water” in John 3:5, also spoke the words “living water” in John 4:10; and I quote, “Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” Well as it turned out she did ask, and what did she receive? Did she and the men of the city, having first heard about Him from her, and then hearing Him themselves, receive the Holy Spirit? No indeed, for the Holy Spirit had not yet been given to them that heard the Word and believed on Him, (John 7:39) as the Holy Spirit was not given to those that believed on Him until the day of Pentecost. Did she and the men of the city, after two days of listening to His preaching, receive anything from the Lord that can be even remotely referred to as “living water?” After all, He said that all she needed to do was to ask and she would receive, that very much implies right then and there when she asked. You can’t read into it that He meant some months or years from then. So, if she and the men of the city did not receive the Holy Spirit after she in, particular, asked for the “living water,” what did she receive, if anything? I am sure that the Lord delivered on His promise to give her “living water;” so, let’s examine the passage and see what it was that He gave her, especially since she asked Him for it. Scripture says that “…every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Luke 11:10) That was said way over there in Luke; is it, therefore, applicable to the woman at the well, for it is out of the immediate context of John 4:10? Yes, because all Scripture is to be interpreted in context with the whole Bible. What God has said in one place has bearing on what is said elsewhere in the Bible, and Scripture must be interpreted by Scripture and not by a man’s intellect, and especially if unaided by the Holy Spirit.

    Consequently, after asking for the “living water,” she then tells Him that she knew that the Messiah was coming who would tell them all things. What did he then give her? He gave her His Word, “I that speak unto thee am He,” and she received it. So He delivered on His promise to give her “living water” He gave her His Word, which she believed and by which she was saved right then and there. Do you suppose that Nicodemus would have believed Him if He had told Him that He was the Messiah? I think not. He had to figure it out for himself, after hearing more about the Lord and His ministry.

    In conclusion, something was given to her, but it was not the Spirit of God. She didn’t receive the Spirit until after the Disciples received it at Pentecost. I think that she and the men of the city received the Holy Spirit simultaneously with the Disciples at Pentecost, but she was saved long before that. She was saved that day at the well when the Lord gave her the Word of God, the “living water.” Perhaps, she had to wait on the day she received the Holy Spirit before “living waters” really began flowing out of her, but she was half way there, for she had already started witnessing to the men of the city. I really believe that the Holy Spirit is very closely allied with the Word of God and that the two are very close to being one and the same, except that they are separate. As the Holy Spirit is a living entity, so is the Word. “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” Only the Holy Spirit though can seal one onto the Day of Redemption; He only can place one into the Body of Christ. Lastly, only through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can the Father and the Son indwell us also. Finally, if the Lord saw fit to use “living water” as a symbol for His Word in John 4:10, that is the best interpretation for “water” in John 3:5; it was symbolizing His Word. Thus it is by hearing the Word and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit that a man or woman is finally and irrevocably saved.

    To reiterate, “Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” That the Spirit of God is not what is meant here, but rather the Word of God, because the woman did ask and what she received was His Word: “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did.” (John 4:39) That it was not the Spirit of God the Lord primarily meant is also seen by what transpired with the townsmen of Samaria after the Lord had preached to them. “And many more believed because of his own word; and said unto the woman, now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world. (John 4:41-42) So then, I hope that this dissertation will help you to see just what the Lord meant by using it in John, chapter three, verse five. Was it the water in the womb, baptismal water, or was it the Word of God that He sent forth. “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

  9. i agreed with the school of thought which said THE WATER SIGNIFIES THE WORD

  10. By the first century the Jews were using baptism as a conversion ceremony. Nicodemus should have seen this connection right away, as a Jew period, much more a teacher.

    “The baptismal water (Mikveh) in rabbinic literature was referred to as the womb of the world, and as a convert came out of the water it was considered a new birth separating him from the pagan world. As the convert came out of these waters his status was changed and he was referred to as “a little child just born” or “a child of one day” (Yeb. 22a; 48b; 97b).”

    See http://www.haydid.org/ronimmer.htm

  11. Hello and thanks for seeking to spread Christ through your web site.

    You stated above, “the new birth or being born of God is hearing the Word, believing it, trusting in it, and asking Christ to be your Savior.”

    But where could I find any person in the NT “asking Christ to be his Savior”? If we truly wish to let the Bible lead our thoughts, we should look to the answer given when the penitent sinners who killed Jesus asked Peter what they should do to be saved (Acts 2:38-39).

    The “sinner’s prayer” is a man-made doctrine without even a shred of support in the Scriptures.

    If you are truly a seeker of truth, I challenge you to provide, from the Scriptures, the passages showing that non-Christians were being told by the apostles or early Christians to say a “sinner’s prayer” to receive salvation.

    Grace and peace,
    Jason

  12. One has to explain this part, by strictly remembering that Nicodemus had nil knowledge of the new testament bible verses and no where in the OT, water has been equated with the Word of God. The reference to water in OT can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit.

    Next: the part has to be explained based on the prevailing situation and context, which was easily understood by a common Jew listening to the teachings of Jesus at that particular time.

    Just ask this question to yourself; What could Nicodemus have understood by the word ” water”? because, this time he does not ask a doubt.

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