John 3:5 (ESV):

5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

According to Jesus, a person must be "born of water and the Spirit" as a necessary condition to enter the kingdom of God. When exactly does this event (or set of events, or process) happen during a person's lifetime?

Related: Does the phrase “born of water and the Spirit” refer to one, or two births?

  • Who says it’s one event?
    – Steve
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 23:20
  • @user48152 - good point, question edited.
    – user38524
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 23:21
  • I wonder if this would be better on SE-C. It is not a matter of hermeneutics; the language is not problematic. It is a matter of interpretation in regard to the whole of the doctrine of Christ : the baptism of repentance, the work of the Spirit in conviction, the experience of justification, the timing of conversion. These are all matters of doctrine and interpretation, I would suggest.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 0:37

2 Answers 2


There are 2 major interpretations (plus a few minor ones) on what "water" means in this verse:

  1. "Born of water" refers to natural birth (water referring to the amniotic fluid in the mother's womb)
  2. "Born of water" refers to Christian baptism, or less commonly to John the Baptist's baptism

Because there are 2 meanings of Christian baptism, we have a total of 3 chronologies:

  1. In meaning #1:
    "born of water" (natural birth) is before "born of the spirit" (when the believer receives a new life through faith).

  2. In meaning #2, baptism as sacrament:
    "born of water" is simultaneous with "born of spirit" during baptism

  3. In meaning #2, baptism as public declaration only:
    "born of water" (baptism) is after "born of spirit" (when the believer made a personal act of faith in his/her heart)

  • Are there compelling arguments to prefer one interpretation over the others? Or is this one those topics that are bound to be a matter of opinion?
    – user38524
    Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 1:22

John 3:

1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Nicodemus thought of 2 distinct kinds of birthing.

5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh,

The first kind is physical as a baby is being born of flesh. This is a physical reality. This happens when a person comes out of his mother's womb.

and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

The second kind is a spiritual event happening in the spiritual reality.

7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Born of the Spirit is a distinct event separate from being born of water. It happens when the Holy Spirit functions as the Paraclete and dwells in the person by connecting with that person's spirit.

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