In John 3:5, Jesus tells Nicodemus that to enter the kingdom one must be "born of water and the Spirit". How is this phrase understood? Is it a single construct (i.e. one birth of both water and Spirit)? Or are two births in view (one of water and one of Spirit)? And what does it mean to be born of water?
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"Born of water" does not stand alone here, but rather inseparably collocated with "and spirit". Just as "raining cats and dogs" refers to one rain, or "this item is our bread and butter" refers to one mainstay item, "water and the spirit" refers to one birth.
In other words, we are not to take this is "first you must be born of water and then of spirit"; rather, "unless one is born of water and spirit" in v5 is parallel to "unless one is born again" in v3.
To see that the parallelism, lets parse the two verses together (I've highlighted the differences):
Although the phrase "born of water and of the spirit" is not found in the Old Testament, we do see water and spirit both tied to personal and covenantal renewal, notably in Ezekiel 36:25-27:
Here water is used to explicitly symbolize cleansing from impurity, and spirit for the transformation of the heart to full obedience. All that Jesus has done here is add the concept of birth to further explain what he had said in v3.
Actually, after researching this more, there are multiple possible translations of this
1. Christian Baptism
C. H. Dodd reflects this interpretation when he asserts that
Essentially, the idea is being "born of water" would have been immediate recognizable as meaning baptism. And since Jesus had been baptizing, it could be understood as this baptism.
2. John's Baptism
The argument here is that when Nicodemus heard "born of water", he would immediately think of John's baptisms, since he had been causing a stir throughout Israel. Support from this comes from here:
The argument is that John baptized with water but Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit.
3. Natural (Flesh) Birth
This popular and well-thought out argument is supported by the quote from Nicodemus himself as well as later parallelism of Jesus.
The parallels can be drawn directly from Jesus two contiguous sentences:
Clearly, being "born of water and the spirit" relates directly to bineg born of "flesh" and "spirit" in verse 6.
Finally, it gains biblical support in that the term "water" has been used in reference to female organs in Song of Songs 4:12-15.
4. Word of God
This theory maintains that there are two elements required for a person to be "born again": the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.
Support for this theory are found in the following two verses:
5. Double metaphor
Proponents of this theory state that Being "born of the water and of the spirit" are actually two ways to say the same thing. The argument is that Jesus said that you must be "born again" in previous verses and then "born of water and the spirit" in later verses. These two parallels, the argument goes, shows that being "born of water" is simply another way to say being "born again".
This idea states that water and spirit are purification that must take place in order to be born again. This can be illustrated by the use of water in purification rituals. Furthermore, support for this can be found in Ezekiel:
This verse shows the connection between water and the spirit in purification and the new birth.
There are six traditional views of how to view this. Two views stand out as the most likely: The natural birth (#3) and the Purificaiton (#6). These two views have the strongest support for them, both biblically and traditionally. The other views each have strong problems with their views. (I add them solely for completeness.)
Context is the key to interpretation. You’ve heard the mantra in real estate, “location, location, location.” Well in interpretation its, “context, context, context.” The location of a verse matters in its interpretation.
Think of the word “hand,” for instance. What does it mean? Without context “hand” could have quite a few meanings.
we can see the words meaning more clearly in context.
The Immediate Context
The phrase "born of water and Spirit" appears in Jesus’ night-time conversation with Nicodemus. In John 3:3, Jesus says,
Nicodemus is dumbfounded
Jesus then rephrases his earlier statement
The contrast between flesh and spirit in the last verse would seem to indicate that water stands for natural birth.
Beyond the Chapter
But there’s an even broader context to John 3:5 that others pick up on. Two chapters earlier, in John 1:32-33, John the baptist testifies,
Here water and Spirit are linked in the Baptist’s ministry and testimony. John baptizes with water but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. If John 3:5 is linked to this verse, water could refer to baptism (or repentance which John’s baptism is often said to represent).
A Look to the Whole Book
But there’s still a greater context which defines the meaning of water. Water isn’t simply mentioned in these two scenes. It's used everywhere in John as a metaphor and a symbol.
With the exception of John’s baptism and Jesus walk on water, these references do not appear in Matthew, Mark or Luke. They are entirely unique to John.
Each of these scenes plays a crucial role in revealing the water’s intended meaning. John develops this meaning early in his gospel, contrasting water that is used in ritual and tradition with a higher, heavenly water offered in Jesus.
John the Baptist’s Testimony (1:19-34): John says Jesus' baptism in the Holy Spirit surpasses his baptism in water. Water here is the medium of a traditional ritual of purification. But Jesus' in a comparative and a contrasting sense baptizes with the Holy Spirit (i.e water from above).
Jesus Wedding Miracle (2:1-11): Jesus’ “water-turned-wine” is better than the choice wine/water which came before. The water which becomes wine is drawn from containers used for ritual purification. Though Jesus could presumably have reused the empty wine jars, he instead has the servants fill six waterpots which John says were “set there for the Jewish custom of purification.” Jesus surpasses this ritual water by transforming it into wine (spirit water) which the headwaiter testifies surpasses the wine that came before.
Jesus Conversation by the Well (4:4-26): Jesus’ living water is greater than Jacob's well. The well itself is a traditional site analogous to the Samaritan’s worship on the mountain. The woman points to the greatness of the well by pointing to “father” Jacob as the source and user of the water. The word “father” is again used when the topic of conversation moves from well to worship. Just as ‘father” Jacob gave the well, the Samaritan “fathers” had given them worship on the mountain. When Jesus offers the woman living water she responds by asking if he is “greater” than Jacob who gave them the well. Jesus indicates that it is by contrasting the limitations of the well water with the never-ending life-giving water he supplies. His water is "Spirit" like the true worship God seeks.
His Healing by the Pool of Bethesda (5:1-9): Jesus’ healing is greater than the troubled water in the pool of Bethesda. Once again the waters of Bethesda are linked with tradition. While the tradition mentioned in 5:3 may not be original to John, it appears to be in line with John's repeated use of water. While the man looks to the traditional water to heal him, he is powerless to reach it. Because Jesus reaches the man at his need, His power is revealed to be greater than the stirred water’s of the pool.
Jesus’ Invitation to Drink (7:37-39): Jesus' “living water” is greater than the feasts water ceremony. Jesus invitation occurs on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. On this day the High Priest poured water out in the temple as a symbol of the later day river that would flow from the temple (Ez. 47:1-12; Zech. 14:8). Jesus’ invitation and reference indicates that he is the scriptures true fulfillment. The water here is explicitly connected with the Holy Spirit (John 7:39).
The cumulative effect of these scenes indicates that there's more than one meaning given to water. Sometimes water is simply a clear physical liquid used for washing, drinking etc. However when associated with Christ, water signifies the Spirit (i.e. "living-water or water from above).
A contrast between two waters (higher and lower) fits within John's narrative's dualism. Many of John's metaphors and symbols have natural polarity. For instance John employees the imagery of light and darkness, life and death, above and below, true and false. Each refers to a separation between tangible world in which we live and the intangible realm of the Spirit. Because it's immaterial, the world “above” is separate from the world “below." For instance in John 3:12, Christ distinguishes between “earthly things” and “heavenly things” and in 8:23 He separates Himself from His opponents, stating, “You are from below I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.” The higher world represents an intangible reality which man cannot perceive. The prologue asserts “No one has seen God at any time” (1:18). Yet, it also goes on to equally claim that Jesus’ physical presence “explained” or “made known” the invisible God (1:14, 18).
Through metaphors and symbols, John constructs a ladder of understanding from the lower physical world to the higher world of the Spirit. A symbol, according to ordinary sense, is “that which represents something else by virtue of an analogical relationship.” H. Levin describes it simply as “a connecting link between two different spheres.” The symbol, “points beyond itself”, and in some way “embodies that which it represents.” Thus, John takes tangible images and infuses them with a higher connotation in order to define the imperceptible world of God.
Water function within this dualism.
Reading John 3:5 in light of its context
Returning to John 3:5 we can see how this repeated contrast between two different waters fits into the phrase "born of water and the Spirit."
Most interpretations hold that water and Spirit exist as two distinct elements in the process of rebirth. The English word “and” implies two distinct things. This would certainly fit the apparent contrast between the lower water and the Spirit (higher water) in the scenes outlined above. But these scenes also make a comparison between water and Spirit and unlike the English translation, the Greek may suggest that water and Spirit are one thing and not two. C.H. Talbert states,
Though Talbert appears confident in this translation, J. Ramsey Michaels counters with a more moderate approach. He states,
Given room to maneuver, immediate context points to water symbolizing the Spirit. “Born of water and Spirit” occurs as a reiteration of John 3:3’s phrase “born again”. The word, “again” possess two meanings. Though Nicodemus translates the word as “a second time,” the word also means “from above.” It is this later interpretation, which Jesus seems to intend. Thus Jesus, in John 3:3 and 3:5, speaks of one birth from above. According to the freedom granted by both grammar and context, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be “born of water from above, which is the Holy Spirit.”
I intended this to be in the "comments" section in response to Ray's comment ("The assumption that "water" is "flesh" and "spirit" is "spirit" lacks support"), but I exceeded the allotted 500+ characters.
Ray makes a good point in regards to Nico should have known. Could it be that Jesus' remark Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? a key clue that in order for us to understand what Jesus means by "water and Spirit" we must understand what Nico should have understood (i.e. Jewish rituals, laws, writings, etc)?
This led me to search the OT in this context and found an interesting term in the book of Numbers - the term being Water of Separation (Numbers 19:9,13,20, and 21)
It appears as though water of separation was some type of purification deal - in Num 19:9 it says ... it is a purification for sin (KJV).
I am very curious if Jesus was alluding to this "water of separation" knowledge that Nico should have had being a head-honcho typa teacher of the Pharisee's.
If there is a connection with "water of separation" and the "water" that Jesus speaks of here in John 3, then I think we have very helpful insight that "water and Spirit" is speaking of one "spiritual" event as opposed to two events - i.e. water=natural birth and Spirit=spiritual birth.
Sorry if I'm going down a separate rabbit-hole here, but I can't help but think of the 1 John 5:6-8 that Jack Douglas brought into that conversation. In attempt to make a connection with John 3 and 1John 5 in regards to the "water" term, it seems to flow very well when you think of water and blood in the perspective of the Jewish ceremonies - purification (water) and sacrifice (blood).
To clarify my main point - Jesus' comment in John 3:10 leads me to believe that we must read John 3 in the mindset and perspective of how a Pharisee would infer the term "water" to mean.
To be born of water, consider:
It's the Word of God that is the water that washes us, even converting the soul. Therefore its the Word & the Spirit. How can an external thing such as water baptism cause one to be born? Its the Word & Spirit that converts the soul, not water baptism; water is used figuratively in this sense.
I believe scripture makes a division here between two distinct births...
John 1:12-13 (ESV):
Here we see "born of God" and, in conjunction with the meaning of "born again" (gennao anothen - "born from above") in John 3.3, being born again (or born from above) addresses being born of God, while "born of water" (referring to water baptism) is another matter.
"And what does it mean to be born of water?"
To be "born of water" is to be water baptized. Now, some people do not like that, but in order to enter the Kingdom of God one MUST be water baptized.
An answer in the simplest terms. In the Greek "born of water and of the Spirit" is whats known as a "Hendiadys." Water and Spirit are in fact the same thing. Jesus was preparing Nicodemus to understand that the new birth is not one of flesh but one of the spirit. We are already born of water in the natural birth. So Jesus adds the condition "unless" which is also an indicator that he is not talking about a Mikvah or water baptism ritual.
Jesus speaks of "born of water " as recorded in John 3:5.
What is this water? Is it literal water or a figurative expression?
Regenerative water in John 3:5
Literal H20 ?
Metaphorical H20 ?
The interesting fact is that the Bible never speaks of a literal water as the source of the new birth. Rather, other texts shows that the it is only the Triune God who makes someone born again by grace through faith alone in Christ by hearing the word about Christ (i.e. the Good News).This is monergism in itself.
According to the context of the text in question, the water Jesus speaks of is not a literal water because he is talking about a spiritual birth.
Water does not give birth to anything.The Holy Spirit effectuates the rebirth, new birth or regeneration.
Therefore, the expression "born of water" in John 3:5 should mean a mere abstract symbol of spiritual cleansing which is in actuality, a concrete work of God in a believer.
Water is eternal life, which is bestowed upon us by the Holy Spirit (Jn 6:63). This water "washes" spiritual death away, and so we are cleansed from our spiritual death. The result is new life, because we are no longer spiritually dead, but spiritually alive. In that sense, we are born afresh (or we can say born again).
So, sins are removed with the shedding of blood (Heb 9:22). That is, blood atones for sin. The shedding of blood removes the condemnation. However, spiritual death still remains, which must be "washed away" as well, but by eternal life. In other words, blood does not take away death. (The blood is death.) Only eternal life takes away death. So, if the shedding of the blood of Jesus on the cross had left him in the grave, and he had stayed dead in the grave, then his blood sacrifice would have been in vain (1 Cor 15:14-17). In other words, eternal life takes away death, not blood. Blood takes away sin.
So we have sins, which are washed away by the blood, and spiritual death, which is washed away by water, which is eternal life (Tit 3:5). The Holy Spirit administers this eternal life to believers, and so we are born again "through water and spirit" (Jn 3:5)
Thus in the Old Testament, believers had righteousness by faith, but they did not have the gift of eternal life. (People did not speak of going UP to heaven when they died, but going DOWN into the grave.) In the New Testament, believers still are justified by faith, but with that faith comes eternal life and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which are two aspects of the New Covenant.
First I would like to congratulate the other members that have answered, it appears that many get close to the meaning, however the direct answer comes from understanding Jesus and his use of metaphors. Then it becomes obvious what he means.
The original perspective of the word Spirit
The old translators where wise in there decision to translate pneuma as spirit for it was translated this way to help the people realize the new attitude that one would accomplish by the birth into the "breath".
Lets substitute the word breath for the word spirit to see how this is true
Paul uses the word pneuma many times in Romans 8, and although every instance of the word pnuema can get replaced with the word breath to give a clearer understanding of what the Bible means. I choose Romans 8 since he uses it a lot here and space to give a detailed analysis would overwhelm the patience of the moderators.
In English we know these Greek words through Today's Medical Expressions
Also from air tools
Most likely all the original writers and their original audience would understand that pneuma meant breath based on their experience with the Greek language. We can create a similarity in English if I said, "Everybody on this team wear a blue hat" then later it got translated to "Everybody on this team wore the colored hat". You would understand that I meant blue when I told you blue. Sure blues a color, just as a spirits a breath. Yet also orange is so a color, and ghosts are so a spirit. Yet hearing blue they would not thought of orange, just like hearing breath they would not thought of ghosts.
The attitude of Love!
Now to establish this Love!
For the words that Jesus was speaking was both spirit and life. And it's the spirit that teaches us all things not words not taught by human wisdom. And the Spirit was poured on all flesh. Now here we can taste some logic if all things learned come from the spirit, and people obviously understand different things then we have a proof that everyone has the spirit!
The Spirit and Understanding
Now in truth many have understanding, and the spirit has given that understanding to all those that have understanding. So how does one gain even more understanding!?!
The word and the breath
In opposition to an earlier decree of 120 years because we rejected him. And when we stop "rejecting him" we can get gathered together and Be of one mind. Therefore we can see that to Be born of the spirit means that we have joined him and we are in him and he in us since Christ within us.
Then what does the water mean?
Now the metaphor water gets split into two categories. The one of God, and one not of God. To Be born of the water means to Be born of the water that comes from both God and not from God and to trust that God will sort it out. The adversarial sayings and the loving sayings of correction.
Two types of water IN : One type of water OUT
All have the spirit, however what defines one as having the "Holy Spirit" its that out of our mouth we speak only clean things. This can only occur when the water of Jesus's words has been consumed. For until the water gets consumed we rejected the testimonies of what was seen and known. For those that do what Jesus told them and listen will hear and see what takes place because what was spoken learning the difference between the fresh water and the salt. Thereby not releasing the speech of error, and instead binding it within ourselves. Freeing us from the curse of the discernment of Function and Error.
Jesus tells us to be of good salt we listen to the salt water, and we hear the salt water. Some when they do not understand choose to reject the word and find error in what was said to maintain their level of pride. Then they say what they see as error losing the salt within themselves. However Jesus explains that for peace we should bind up the statement of error and burn it away.
Directly earlier then his explanation with the parable of the weeds. He explained the casting out of demons (the statements of errors). It started with the Pharisees claiming that by the power of the prince of demons he had this power. He responds that disagreement with the self leads to collapse and acting like an adversary to your adversary never gets the self to understanding. Then to get the speakers understanding into the head of the "self adversarial head", we must first "bind up the strong man" then we can "successfully get through"(διά) and "seize"(ἁρπάζω) the speakers understanding. For the one who's against the word's spoken to them are against the word, and he who does not gather in the understanding given by the word scatters the word.
The Direct concept of Being Born of the Spirit and the Water
That when any words get spoken to us we should breath, resist the urge to say error about the correction that what was said, we should contemplate what was told to us, and try to understand.
Exposition of John 3:3-21
Only when one thinks again about what was spoken to them, will they have the chance to gain understanding. Only when a person remains silent and considers what was told to them will they even get the chance to understand what was told to them, that without this contemplation they will not see the understanding. That which gets thought out using the mouth comes from the mouth, and that which gets thought out in the mind comes from the mind. The mind can think in any direction that it wants, and we can hear the sound of the mind when it's spoken, yet none can know the thoughts in this direction or in that unless told. We speak of what we know and what we have seen yet what we say gets rejected. If said things about what was seen got rejected, how can a person accept my understandings?. No one ever looked and read my mind, the only one that understands are the words that I send out of my mouth. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must what gets said be lifted up. That who believes what comes from my mind to my mouth will receive everlasting life. That the thought loved the world and sent the thought out as a spoken word that whoever believes in what was said should not perish but have eternal life. For the thought spoke into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes what was said is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only birth of the thought. And this is the judgment, that the thought has been revealed into the world, and men loved confusion rather than the understanding, because their deeds were in error. For every one who does wrong hates the understanding, and does not come to the understanding, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the understanding, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in thought.
Receiving the Holy Spirit through belief in the Name
As God pointed out there are many passages that deal with people receiving the Holy Spirit. So I'll do my best to appeal to God, yet in Love for the other listeners perhaps he will allow a list of mentioning of verses found here.
Now here we find an important concept since so many people got "born of the spirit" and have died and Jesus said that if they has this they would never die. How does this resolve itself without making Jesus to look like a liar?
So all those people may have been born of the spirit but they did not remain or continued to get birthed into the spirit over and over again. Otherwise they would be alive. For we all must be a living sacrifice, and sacrifice our son of man or said not so nicely we all need to shut up and listen to what God tells us and believe him to the perspective, which I do not have time to describe, but God will give.
protected by Community♦ Sep 3 '13 at 6:16
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