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When considering John 3:5, many interpret the passage as involving a hendiadys where "born of water and the Spirit" does not refer to two births, but instead sees water as a symbol for God's Spirit.

Matthew Miller's answer shows that water appears very frequently in John's Gospel. Did John originate this symbol, or was it used by others before him? I am specifically interested in the use of this symbolism in the Hebrew Bible (both in Hebrew and in the Greek Septuagint) and in other early literature with which John may have been familiar.

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Great question. I can't answer now, but actually this symbolism was not something Jesus and His followers invented. This was a (the?) Jewish view as well. (cf. Isa. 44:3) –  Jas 3.1 Dec 7 '13 at 16:46
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I'm torn on this question. It seems like a very good question, but at the same time it also seems to be fishing for verses rather than seeking to understand a specific text. Even so, 'fishing' can be helpful in understanding this passage, so I'm inclined to receive this question favorably. I'll think about it. –  Daи Dec 7 '13 at 23:53
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I made an edit to your question so that it is primarily focused on understanding the symbology in John 3:5, rather than primarily hunting/fishing for Bible references. I did it in such a way that you should receive the same outcome, i.e. a good answer should supply numerous references supporting (or negating) the use of this symbol in other earlier Biblical texts and related literature with which John may have been familiar. Keep in mind that if this is not an acceptable edit, you may roll it back or change it. However, I think this edit helps ensure the main goal is to understand John 3:5. –  Daи Dec 7 '13 at 23:59
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2 Answers

Answer to a part of your question.

It could well be that John had access to what is now known as the Community Rule of the Dead Sea Scrolls as it was old enough, dating from the 2nd century BCE. In the third part it says:

"He shall be cleansed from all his sins by the spirit of holiness uniting him to His truth . . . And when his flesh is sprinkled with purifying water and sanctified by cleansing water, it shall be made clean by the humble submission of his soul to all the precepts of God."

It does seem as if there was a pre-existing concept that linked water to the spirit of God at least amongst the community of Qumram.

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Thanks, that's a good find! –  curiousdannii Dec 10 '13 at 0:39
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While we all begin in the water of our mothers’ wombs, at creation there were the earth’s and heaven’s waters. Water seems to have been used as a symbol for the Spirit in Genesis and Ezekiel.

Gen 1:1-2, 6-8 1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. …6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. 7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. (KJV)

Later the waters from heaven would cleanse the earth via the Great Flood.

Ezekiel also seems to have water as a symbol of the Spirit.

Ez 36:25-26 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. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. (KJV)

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How does water symbolise God's Spirit in Genesis? Moving over the waters doesn't really seem to associate them together in my mind. –  curiousdannii Dec 7 '13 at 23:15
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The way I see it, in Ezekiel the clean water and Spirit will cleanse. In Genesis, the Spirit isn't merely between the waters; there the clean water and Spirit from heaven will cleanse the earth with the Great Flood. –  John Martin Dec 8 '13 at 3:54
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There may be something here (I happen to think there is) but this answers fails to make a convincing case. The Genesis connection is especially tenuous. Can you give us something more textual and compelling for why these would be connected imagery? –  Caleb Dec 10 '13 at 8:28
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