John 3; Water and Spirit

Discussion in 'The Gospels & Acts' started by WrittenFromUtopia, Sep 13, 2005.

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  1. WrittenFromUtopia

    WrittenFromUtopia Puritan Board Graduate

    What is meant by Christ when he sayeth:

  2. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    Water is often used in John as a picture of the Holy Spirit being poured out by Christ (John 1, 4, 7, etc.) in fulfillment of the prophecies like Ezekial 47. That is probably what he means here in John 3. It could be a repetitive description of the Spirit.
  3. WrittenFromUtopia

    WrittenFromUtopia Puritan Board Graduate

    Would you mean passages such as:

  4. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    Matthew Henry:

    Matthew Poole:

    John Calvin:

    John Calvin, Institutes, Book IV, Chap. 16:

  5. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I more or less agree with Patrick. The two (water/Spirit) represent two aspects of the same basic thing--the new birth or birth from above. The water speaks of that washing from sin, the cleansing of our old nature, the "washing of regeneration;" we must be "born" or begun completely over again, not simply dusted off or a new leaf turned. It is no accident that the reader has just encountered the waters of John's baptism back in chapter 1. Born of the Spirit speaks to the quality of the new nature--it has its origin from the Spirit, not the cursed flesh of Adam. I really do think that Titus 3:5 is perfectly parallel to John 3:5, "... he saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit."
  6. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    Good to know I am in good company :) Thanks for the quotes Andrew.

    I've been studying this verse too after a conversation I had with some mormons.

    Gabe, your quote would be another passage that John may have in mind. But I think Ezek. 47 is much more expressive, and if you read Rev. 21-22 you will see John picking up the same imagery again in great detail. John see Christ as the temple in Ezek. who distributes the Spirit, pouring out life to His people, in ever increasing abundance. This fits John's quote of Christ as well where Jesus refers to His own body as "the temple" which would be raised again in 3 days.
  7. WrittenFromUtopia

    WrittenFromUtopia Puritan Board Graduate

    FV'ers I know attribute this to the regeneration of baptism (the water). Why are they wrong?
  8. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    Where does John ever teach about baptism? Just a thought to ponder.
  9. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    It's just their incipient sacramentalism. It is permissible to comprehend baptism on a secondary level, because after all baptism does in fact represent cleansing from sin. But raising baptism to a level of operation as some do is making the passage say something it cannot bear. Christian baptism as a New Covenant sign will not be instituted by Jesus for perpetuity until the Great Commision, so one is hard-pressed to import baptismal efficacy into this passage.
  10. WrittenFromUtopia

    WrittenFromUtopia Puritan Board Graduate

  11. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    It just so happens that I wrote a little paper to respond to a FV advocate who used this text for the purpose which you described.

    Does John 3:5 prove that water is the means of redemption with the Spirit being the power behind it? No. The greek reads "œfrom water and [the] spirit." Where is the indication here that one is the means and the Spirit is the power? Nowhere. Indeed, read literally, the water is just as powerful as the Spirit, and just as important, thus making the spirit as impersonal as water (because it does not read "˜by the water from the spirit´ but from water and spirit).

    This of course is impossible (and heretical since it makes the Spirit a force or power but not the third person of the Trinity). The water is not physical water but with the spirit is a hendiadys: "œA figure of speech in which two words connected by a conjunction are used to express a single notion that would normally be expressed by an adjective and a substantive, such as grace and favor instead of gracious favor." (Online dictionary; compare 1 Corinthians 2:4 where Spirit and power are used in the same sentence. Note the same construction: the preposition is assigned to both spirit and power cf. John 4:24 "spirit and truth" then note in John 14:17 it is "the spirit of truth"). It is "˜spiritual´ water, just as John the Baptist said: "œAnd I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost." (John 1:33) John baptizes with water but Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Indeed water, as used by the apostle John, is often a symbol for spiritual blessings all the while excluding the necessity of the outward sign to accomplish the inward reality (John 4:10,14; 7:38).

    Besides we also have to consider what this would have meant to Nicodemus. Clearly it was something he was supposed to understand (John 3:10). It couldn´t be John´s baptism since he only baptized with water and it was only a baptism of repentance. It couldn´t have been Christian baptism because as Calvin Beisner points out, the rite obviously did not exist at this time (otherwise how could Nicodemus have been responsible for (not) believing in something that wasn´t even being practiced yet?) *

    Rather Beisner is helpful to us here by pointing us to the following OT passages: Isaiah 12:3,35:6,55:1; Ezekiel 36:25; Jeremiah 2:13; Zechariah 14:8 These passages show that the OT teaching which Nicodemus would (should) have been familiar with, was that water is symbolic of the work of the Spirit but not tied to the administration of a rite.

    Coupled to this point is the fact that regeneration was part of the spiritual rebirth that God granted from the beginning. We read in Galatians 4:29 that Isaac was born from the Spirit whereas Ishmael was born after the flesh. What is particularly insightful about this text is that they both, as covenant children, received circumcision. And, if we remember the OT teaching, the rite or sacrament of circumcision, like baptism, stood for or was the sign of regeneration (Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Romans 2:28-29). So we may rightly conclude that receiving the sign of regeneration, whether it be circumcision or baptism does not ensure regeneration nor enact it, for Ishmael had the sign but not the thing signified. Indeed as Paul says in Colossians 2:11, the reality is not a circumcision done by hands, so why would baptism be any different? (vs. 12)

    Furthermore, Jesus says being born of the spirit is the opposite of being born of the flesh. And it is freely administered by the Spirit (John 3:8) which certainly cannot, therefore, be tied to the rite of baptism, administered in time and space by men. These things are heavenly things, not earthly things (John 3:12) The Spirit comes from the heavens (as per the words "˜born again´ or "˜born from above.´ The Spirit is not tied or limited to baptism, though we may properly say that baptism is a visible sign of His work. The reference to water, however, helps Nicodemus (and us!) to understand the work of the spirit: a cleansing of sins and more particularly here, the revivifying work of the Holy Spirit (regeneration). Just as water brings life to dead or parched ground, so too the Holy Spirit brings us from death to life.


    [Edited on 9-14-2005 by poimen]

    [Edited on 9-14-2005 by poimen]
  12. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    We must also remember that the sacraments often speak as though the sign and the thing signfied are inseparable, whereas in practice they are not.


    John 6:53-58 Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. "For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. "As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. "This is the bread which came down from heaven -- not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever."

    Unless we want to believe in transubstantiation we must understand that Christ is saying that we do have to partake of Him and yet not in the earthly manner in which his hearers heard those words. Indeed the explanation is found in vs. 63 "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life." Spirit or 'spirtual' words; physical signs with a heavenly meaning. Such is the constant way of Jesus in His teaching about the kingdom of God; use physical imagery to impart the spiritual meaning.

    And so in John 3:12 Jesus says "If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?" Water itself or even in the hands of the Spirit is not the instrument of regeneration but it helps us to understand the work of the Spirit in regeneration.

    [Edited on 9-14-2005 by poimen]
  13. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Gabe: I recommend that you read through the link I provided above. Beisner gives some very helpful interpretations of key texts in regards to those who teach 'baptismal regeneration.'

    [Edited on 9-14-2005 by poimen]
  14. andreas

    andreas Puritan Board Sophomore

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

    "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" John 4:14.

    "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water."john 7:37-38 .

    "Water" is not to be understood literally. The word "water" in John 3:5,has a symbolic meaning.

    What is the meaning? The Word of God. This is the instrument used by God in regeneration.

    "For Thy word hath quickened me." Psalm119:50

    "I have begotten you through the gospel." 1 Cor,4:15 .

    "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth". James 1:18.

    "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" 1 Pet. 1:23.

    The new birth, then, is by the Word of God,applied to the heart by the spirit of God
  15. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Let me ask a question. Could Jesus be speaking and then expounding on what he is saying.

    In other words why can't water be referring to the flesh? Why does it have to equal baptism? We are all born in water. Literally. When a womans water breaks we are born. Why can't it be that Jesus is expounding on what he just said for clarification so that we don't interpret it to mean baptism?

    [Edited on 9-14-2005 by puritancovenanter]
  16. Texas Aggie

    Texas Aggie Puritan Board Freshman

    I'm with Randy on this one. I do not think this has to do with baptism. We are all born of water (flesh); however, not all are born of the Spirit. Christ makes the explanation in vs. 6.

    I think the more significant question lies in verses 3 and 5. Is there a difference between "seeing" and "entering" the kingdom.

    Matthew 7:21 is also very interesting in relation to "entering."
  17. Puritanhead

    Puritanhead Puritan Board Professor

    I think being born of water hints at the natural process in our first birth... not baptismal regeneration. Everyone is born of water through a natural birth...
  18. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    Your interpretation certainly has a precedent in history but I don't think it really fits with how John uses the illustration of water elsewhere in his gospel, as a picture of the work of the Spirit. You are correct though, it doesn't refer to physical baptism. Though baptism certainly does picture much the same thing that John is describing here.
  19. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Can't the usage of a word be used in different contexts and in different ways. I know you look at literature that way. A writer doesn't always use a word in the same way or for the same purpose of illustration.
  20. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    Yes, but the context is similar every time John uses the analogy of water. It's in reference to the giving and sustaining of life. See John 4 and 7 also. And when viewed with the OT prophecies in mind like Ezek. 47, or John's use in Rev. 21-22, it just seems to fit the theme. I could be wrong of course :)
  21. Scott

    Scott Puritan Board Graduate

    I would see "water" as referring to baptism. I don't see this as all that different from Titus 3:5ff, which the confession uses as a proof text for baptism. "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. . ." See WCF 28.1, for example.

    Now, I don't think this implies Martin Luther's understanding of baptism. But I think it highlights the importance of the sealing function of baptism.
  22. WrittenFromUtopia

    WrittenFromUtopia Puritan Board Graduate

    I'm not sure I see a connection between Titus 3:5 and John 3, as far as baptism is concerned.
  23. Scott

    Scott Puritan Board Graduate

    It is an analogy. Some people are uncomfortable connecting Titus 3:5 baptism because they think it would imply a Lutheran understanding of baptism (the "washing of rebirth" is baptism). I think that for the same reason some avoid connecting the water described by Christ with baptism is a similar discomfort. Yet Titus 3 is perhaps even stronger.
  24. WrittenFromUtopia

    WrittenFromUtopia Puritan Board Graduate

    I believe Titus 3 refers to baptism incidentally. I would disagree that John 3 does as well.
  25. Scott

    Scott Puritan Board Graduate

    " would disagree that John 3 does as well."

    It looks like there are allot of good people who agree with you. To me, John 3 seems properly connected to the baptism of Christ, which involved water and Spirit.
  26. BlackCalvinist

    BlackCalvinist Puritan Board Senior

    I'm with Randy as well. Nicodemus understood 'born again' to include the first birth - which he first erroneously thought would happen again. Jesus then told him that which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of spirit is spirit. Born of water and born of the Spirit.

    Born once, die twice. Born twice, die once.
  27. Scott

    Scott Puritan Board Graduate

    Are you saying that "born of water" means "born of flesh?" If so, is there any evidence of this kind of terminology being in use at the time?
  28. Scott

    Scott Puritan Board Graduate

    Looking at Titus 3:5 again, it seems to me that the John 3 passage is pretty clearly connected to Titus 3:5. Titus 3:5 reads: "he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. . ."

    The "washing of rebirth" is here referring to baptism. So it makes sense to connect the born of water and born of Spirit statement in John 3 to baptism. In his commentary on Titus, Calvin agrees that Titus 3:5 concerns baptism:

    I do find it interesting that Calvin did not see John 3 as referring to baptism. To me that does not make sense. Calvin did mention that he was going against the weight of commentators he respected like Chrysostom.

  29. Steve Owen

    Steve Owen Puritan Board Sophomore

    The following is an extract from an article that I wrote some time ago:-
    J.C.Ryle has a lengthy but most helpful note on this question in his Expository Thoughts on John Vol.1. John Murrays, Redemption is also good, if memory serves (I couldn't find my copy when I looked just now!)

    [Edited on 9-16-2005 by Martin Marprelate]

    [Edited on 9-16-2005 by Martin Marprelate]
  30. Brian

    Brian Puritan Board Freshman

    John 3 and CT

    I have often wondered if Jesus' talk to being born again (v. 3), born of water and Spirit (v. 5), and that what is born of Spirit is spirit, and how that relates to Covenant theology.

    It is duly noted that all of God's covenants are made between the individual and their seed. Is this a veiled reference to this?

    Jesus Christ is the federal representative - head - of the New Covenant. We are made his seed when we are born again, born of water and spirit, epexegetically saying whatever is born of Spirit is spirit.

    John 3:13 - 15, I think, relate to two OT concepts. v. 15 is fairly obvious, when Moses raises the bronze serpent in the wilderness, and all who look on the emblem are saved. In v. 13, however, I think of several allusions. Is Christ referring to Deuteronomy - Paul references it in Romans 10:5ff - where we are not to ascend into heaven, or descend? Or is he rather thinking of a Jacob's ladder/Daniel 7 descension of the Son of Man? If the latter, does this place the emphasis of John 3:11 first person plural "we" as the Trinity?

    Finally, this brings us to John 3.16 - 17, where if what I am saying is right, would make the emphasis that "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Seed" just like Abraham.


    For our Covenant God,
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