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.

  • 2
    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
    Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 16:46
  • 2
    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.
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 23:53
  • 2
    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.
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 23:59
  • 1
    Nicodemus was a Jew and obviously, from the context of the conversation, did not understand water as Spirit but as natural birth. Otherwise Jesus said you must be born of water (spirit) and the Spirit. Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 23:04

3 Answers 3


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.


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)

  • 3
    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
    Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 23:15
  • 1
    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. Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 3:54
  • 2
    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
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 8:28
  • Hi John, I notice a while back, that you gave an answer to this question,hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/5020/… also notice that you deleted your answer.I have recently offered a bounty on the said question.I would like to see you un-delete your answer and have another go at it,by adding more information to your answer so i can understand your reasoning.Thanks.
    – Bagpipes
    Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 13:53
  • @Bagpipes Ok. Thanks for contacting me. I went through this again and completely changed my approach and answer... hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/6304/2873 Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 21:07

This is a play on words using Notarikon.

Notarikon is first demonstrated in the gospels. Without getting into a discussion about which book came first, it can be demonstrated that John was proficient in the use of it.

John uses the first three words of Ge 1:1 to derive his theology of Jo 1:1-4.

The word 'bara' הרא is translated 'created', but because God spoke when he created , it is also interpreted as 'the word which creataed'.

The word 'bereshith' בראשית, translated 'in the beginning' contains 'bara' ברא so he says: In the beginning was the word.

Bara is next to God אלהים , so he says: and the word was with God.

Bara ברא is broken into 'bar-a' בר א which is 'the son who spoke and created the heavens and the earth. John says: the word was God [the creator]

Elohim has three puns: אלחים 'alo khoom' - not אל dark חום, the light. John says He is the light.

לחם 'lechem' - bread לחם. John says he is the bread.

אלחיים God's אל life הים. John says he is the life.

(see https://sensusplenior.net/wiki/Ge_1:1 for a complete breakdown)

John further demonstartes his competency in notarikon in 1 Jo 5:7,8

1Jo 5:6 ¶ This is he that came by water and blood, [even] Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.

1Jo 5:8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

Heaven שמים is the Father מ the Word ם and the Spirit ש and has gematria =3.

Earth ארץ is the Spirit (a secondary metaphor of the aleph: the Spirit hovered over the face of the water when God spoke and created the heavens and the earth.), the water ר, and the blood ץ. Earth ארץ has gematria = 3.

John was proficient in notarikon. It is likely that Jesus taught it in the temple when he was 12. The teachers had 18 years to pervert his teaching, evidenced with the perversion of his teaching with the confrontation concerning the woman with seven husbands. Jesus then called them liars rather than misinformed teachers, because they had perverted his teaching. Eliezer was cast out of Judaism as a heretic, even though his teaching is still one of the most revered. Again it is likely, that he became a Christian. This paragraph is speculation based on circumstantial evidence presented only to show the plausibility of how he derived it from the teaching of the apostles.

Waters is מים . This is creation י in the Father מ and the Son ם.

The shin represents the Spirit which gives life ש

Put the together and you get heaven שמים .

One must be born of the water מים and the Spirit ש to be in 'heaven' שמים.

With this saying, and the others above, it might be argued that John is teaching notarikon.

The Greek church abandoned the use of Notarikon even before they knew it, eliminating the Hebrew text in favor of the Septuagint.

Obviously here, the Hebrew play on words is being expressed in Greek.

  • What evidence do you have to say that John and his readers would have understood Notarikon?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 23:22
  • What's the earliest explicit dating of Jews using Notarikon? I see that it's in "Baraita on the Thirty-two Rules", but even if it was actually written by Eliezer ben Jose that's considerably after John, and in a different religious community.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 23:39
  • The evidence is in the NT itself. John 1:1-4 is from the notarikon of Ge 1:1. 1 John 5:6-8 is a direct reference. Mt 1:23 is a reference. Same as 1John 4:8.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 20:57
  • I don't understand. What do any of those verses have to do with the first letters of words/initialisations?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 23:06
  • "I don't understand"... then please engage properly through questions. At first you denied that words could get their meaning from the letters. You have not engaged the resources I provided.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 21:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.