John 3; Water and Spirit

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WrittenFromUtopia

Puritan Board Graduate
What is meant by Christ when he sayeth:

3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "œRabbi, 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." 3 Jesus answered him, "œTruly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 Nicodemus said to him, "œHow can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "œTruly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, "˜You must be born again.´ 8 The 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."
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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.
 

VirginiaHuguenot

Puritanboard Librarian
Matthew Henry:

First, The regenerating work of the Spirit is compared to water, v. 5. To be born again is to be born of water and of the Spirit, that is, of the Spirit working like water, as (Matt. iii. 11) with the Holy Ghost and with fire means with the Holy Ghost as with fire. 1. That which is primarily intended here is to show that the Spirit, in sanctifying a soul, (1.) Cleanses and purifies it as water, takes away its filth, by which it was unfit for the kingdom of God. It is the washing of regeneration, Tit. iii. 5. You are washed, 1 Cor. vi. 11. See Ezek. xxxvi. 25. (2.) Cools and refreshes it, as water does the hunted hart and the weary traveller. The Spirit is compared to water, ch. vii. 38, 39; Isa. xliv. 3. In the first creation, the fruits of heaven were born of water (Gen. i. 20), in allusion to which, perhaps, they that are born from above are said to be born of water. 2. It is probable that Christ had an eye to the ordinance of baptism, which John had used and he himself had begun to use, "You must be born again of the Spirit," which regeneration by the Spirit should be signified by washing with water, as the visible sign of that spiritual grace: not that all they, and they only, that are baptized, are saved; but without that new birth which is wrought by the Spirit, and signified by baptism, none shall be looked upon as the protected privileged subjects of the kingdom of heaven. The Jews cannot partake of the benefits of the Messiah's kingdom, they have so long looked for, unless they quit all expectations of being justified by the works of the law, and submit to the baptism of repentance, the great gospel duty, for the remission of sins, the great gospel privilege.
Matthew Poole:

By water then we are to understand the grace of the Holy Spirit in purifying the soul, which is fitly represented by the efficacy of water. And this purifying, refreshing virtue of the Spirit is promised in the prophecies that concern the times of the Messiah, under the mystical expression of water. Thus it is twofold by Isaiah, I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground, Isa 44:3. And this is immediately explained, I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed; and the Divine birth follows, they shall spring up as among the grass. In the same manner the effects of the Holy Spirit are expressed by Ezekiel: I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; and presently after, I will put my Spirit within you, Ezek 36:25,27. Our Saviour instructing a Pharisee, to whom the prophetical writings were known, expressly uses these two words, and in the same order as they are all set down there, first water, and then the Spirit, that the latter might interpret the former; for water and the Spirit, by a usual figure when two words are employed to signify the same thing, signify spiritual water, that is, his Divine grace in renewing the soul; as when the apostle says, in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, to signify the powerful Spirit. Thus John the Baptist foretold of Christ, that he should baptize with the Holy Ghost and fire, that is, with the Spirit, that has the force and efficacy of fire to refine us from our dross and corruptions. Thus our Saviour plainly instructs Nicodemus of the absolute necessity of an inward spiritual change and renovation, thereby showing the inefficacy of all the legal washings and sprinklings, that could not purify and make white one soul, which were of high valuation among the Jews. Entering into the kingdom of God, is of the same import and sense with the seeing the kingdom of God, in John 3:3: that is, without regeneration no man can truly be joined with the society of the church of God, nor partake of the celestial privileges and benefits belonging to it, here and hereafter.
John Calvin:

5. Unless a man be born of water. This passage has been explained in various ways. Some have thought that the two parts of regeneration are distinctly pointed out, and that by the word Water is denoted the renunciation of the old man, while by the Spirit they have understood the new life. Others think that there is an implied contrast, as if Christ intended to contrast Water and Spirit, which are pure and liquid elements, with the earthly and gross nature of man. Thus they view the language as allegorical, and suppose Christ to have taught that we ought to lay aside the heavy and ponderous mass of the flesh, and to become like water and air, that we may move upwards, or, at least, may not be so much weighed down to the earth. But both opinions appear to me to be at variance with the meaning of Christ.

Chrysostom, with whom the greater part of expounders agree, makes the word Water refer to baptism. The meaning would then be, that by baptism we enter into the kingdom of God, because in baptism we are regenerated by the Spirit of God. Hence arose the belief of the absolute necessity of baptism, in order to the hope of eternal life. But though we were to admit that Christ here speaks of baptism, yet we ought not to press his words so closely as to imagine that he confines salvation to the outward sign; but, on the contrary, he connects the Water with the Spirit, because under that visible symbol he attests and seals that newness of life which God alone produces in us by his Spirit. It is true that, by neglecting baptism, we are excluded from salvation; and in this sense I acknowledge that it is necessary; but it is absurd to speak of the hope of salvation as confined to the sign. So far as relates to this passage, I cannot bring myself to believe that Christ speaks of baptism; for it would have been inappropriate.

We must always keep in remembrance the design of Christ, which we have already explained; namely, that he intended to exhort Nicodemus to newness of life, because he was not capable of receiving the Gospel, until he began to be a new man. It is, therefore, a simple statement, that we must be born again, in order that we may be the children of God, and that the Holy Spirit is the Author of this second birth. For while Nicodemus was dreaming of the regeneration (paliggenesi>a) or transmigration taught by Pythagoras, who imagined that souls, after the death of their bodies, passed into other bodies, 5 Christ, in order to cure him of this error, added, by way of explanation, that it is not in a natural way that men are born a second time, and that it is not necessary for them to be clothed with a new body, but that they are born when they are renewed in mind and heart by the grace of the Spirit.

Accordingly, he employed the words Spirit and water to mean the same thing, and this ought not to be regarded as a harsh or forced interpretation; for it is a frequent and common way of speaking in Scripture, when the Spirit is mentioned, to add the word Water or Fire, expressing his power. We sometimes meet with the statement, that it is Christ who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost and with fire, (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16,) where fire means nothing different from the Spirit, but only shows what is his efficacy in us. As to the word water being placed first, it is of little consequence; or rather, this mode of speaking flows more naturally than the other, because the metaphor is followed by a plain and direct statement, as if Christ had said that no man is a Son of God until he has been renewed by water, and that this water is the Spirit who cleanseth us anew and who, by spreading his energy over us, imparts to us the rigor of the heavenly life, though by nature we are utterly dry. And most properly does Christ, in order to reprove Nicodemus for his ignorance, employ a form of expression which is common in Scripture; for Nicodemus ought at length to have acknowledged, that what Christ had said was taken from the ordinary doctrine of the Prophets.

By water, therefore, is meant nothing more than the inward purification and invigoration which is produced by the Holy Spirit. Besides, it is not unusual to employ the word and instead of that is, when the latter clause is intended to explain the former. And the view which I have taken is supported by what follows; for when Christ immediately proceeds to assign the reason why we must be born again, without mentioning the water, he shows that the newness of life which he requires is produced by the Spirit alone; whence it follows, that water must not be separated from the Spirit.
John Calvin, Institutes, Book IV, Chap. 16:

25. Another passage which they [Romanists] adduce is from the third chapter of John, where our Saviour's words seem to them to imply that a present regeneration is required in baptism, "Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). See, they say, how baptism is termed regeneration by the lips of our Lord himself, and on what pretext, therefore, with what consistency is baptism given to those who, it is perfectly obvious, are not at all capable of regeneration? First, they are in error in imagining that there is any mention of baptism in this passage, merely because the word water is used. Nicodemus, after our Saviour had explained to him the corruption of nature, and the necessity of being born again, kept dreaming of a corporeal birth, and hence our Saviour intimates the mode in which God regenerates us"”viz. by water and the Spirit; in other words, by the Spirit, who, in irrigating and cleansing the souls of believers, operates in the manner of water. By "water and the Spirit," therefore, I simply understand the Spirit, which is water. Nor is the expression new. It perfectly accords with that which is used in the third chapter of Matthew, "He that cometh after me is mightier than I;" "he shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire" (Matt 3:11). Therefore, as to baptise with the Holy Spirit, and with fire, is to confer the Holy Spirit, who, in regeneration, has the office and nature of fire, so to be born again of water, and of the Spirit, is nothing else than to receive that power of the Spirit, which has the same effect on the soul that water has on the body. I know that a different interpretation is given, but I have no doubt that this is the genuine meaning, because our Saviour's only purpose was to teach, that all who aspire to the kingdom of heaven must lay aside their own disposition. And yet were we disposed to imitate these men in their mode of cavilling, we might easily, after conceding what they wish, reply to them, that baptism is prior to faith and repentance, since, in this passage, our Saviour mentions it before the Spirit. This certainly must be understood of spiritual gifts, and if they follow baptism, I have gained all I contend for. But, cavilling aside, the simple interpretation to be adopted is that which I have given"”viz. that no man, until renewed by living water, that is, by the Spirit, can enter the kingdom of God.
 

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."
 

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.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Gabe,
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.
 

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.

*http://www.rickross.com/reference/icc/ICC122.html#john3

[Edited on 9-14-2005 by poimen]

[Edited on 9-14-2005 by 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.

Example:

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]
 

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]
 

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
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
Jesus answered, "œTruly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
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]
 

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."
 

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...
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Originally posted by puritancovenanter
Jesus answered, "œTruly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
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]
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.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
Originally posted by puritansailor
Originally posted by puritancovenanter
Jesus answered, "œTruly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
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]
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.
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.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Originally posted by puritancovenanter
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.
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 :)
 

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.
 

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.
 

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.
 

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.
 

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?
 

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:

By the washing of regeneration I have no doubt that he alludes, at least, to baptism, and even I will not object to have this passage expounded as relating to baptism; not that salvation is contained in the outward symbol of water, but because baptism tells to us the salvation obtained by Christ. Paul treats of the exhibition of the grace of God, which, we have said, has been made by faith. Since therefore a part of revelation consists in baptism, that is, so far as it is intended to confirm our faith, he properly makes mention of it. Besides, baptism "” being the entrance into the Church and the symbol of our ingrafting into Christ "” is here appropriately introduced by Paul, when he intends to shew in what manner the grace of God appeared to us; so that the strain of the passage runs thus: "” "œGod hath saved us by his mercy, the symbol and pledge of which he gave in baptism, by admitting us into his Church, and ingrafting us into the body of his Son."
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.

Scott
 

Steve Owen

Puritan Board Sophomore
The following is an extract from an article that I wrote some time ago:-
There are two main reasons why I do not believe that the phrase Water and Spirit can refer to baptism. Firstly, if baptism is intended by this phrase then that ordinance is absolutely necessary for salvation. "˜Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God´. On that basis, the thief on the cross is damned; likewise such groups as the Quakers and the Salvation Army, who do not practise baptism, are, every single one of them, utterly lost. Yet there is no other Bible text that teaches this. On the contrary, two verses (1Peter 1v23; James 1v18) ascribe the New Birth not to baptism, but to the Word. Moreover Paul (1Cor. 1v17) wrote that, "˜Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel´, a strange thing to say if baptism is so very necessary to salvation.

Secondly, I cannot believe that our Lord would be reinforcing what is the chief error of Pharisaism; the idea that outward purification can bring about inward cleansing. As we have seen, Pharisees like Nicodemus spent all their time in ritual washings and cleansings. Is it really likely that the Lord Jesus would be saying to him, "œWhat you need, Nicodemus, more than anything else, is another ritual washing"? If that was our Lord´s meaning, then why was Nicodemus so dumbfounded by it? More ceremonial, outward cleansings would have been right up his street, water off a duck´s back in more ways than one! No, Nicodemus´ problem was not on the outside but the inside. "œFor from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness" Mark 7v21f). Can an external washing purify a man from inward sin and depravity? Of course not! "œWoe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. ........ For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men´s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matt. 23v25ff). In the Shakespeare play, Lady Macbeth cries out, "œWill these hands ne´er be cleansed?" No matter how many times she washed them, the blood of her sin still seemed to stain her hands. No outward washing could make her inwardly clean. The cleansing she needed would have had to deal with her guilt within.

So if the expression Water and Spirit does not mean baptism, what does it mean? As usual, our clue lies in our text: "˜Jesus answered and said to him, "œAre you the teacher of Israel, and do you not know these things?"´ (John 3v10). What our Lord is saying is that if Nicodemus was such a great Old Testament teacher, he would know what He was talking about instead of being so totally confused. Therefore there must be some reference in the Hebrew Scriptures to the New Birth and to Water and Spirit which would have helped Nicodemus to understand. With this in mind let us consider the following verses:-

"˜For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take your heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgements and do them´ (Ezek. 36v24ff).

"œBehold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. Purge [N.I.V., cleanse] me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow ........Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51vs6,7,9,10).

Here, in these two texts, we surely get a preview of the work of God, the Holy Spirit, in the New Birth. It is a two-fold work of water and Spirit: an inward cleansing from sin and idolatry, and a renewal of the heart and spirit for future obedience. That it is a spiritual cleansing rather than baptism that is meant in these passages is indicated by the mention of hyssop in Psalm 51. This is not some ancient Hebrew soap, as I first thought when I read the Psalm as a very young Christian, but rather the sprig of a plant. On the day of the Passover, the Israelites were instructed (Exod.12v22) to dip the hyssop in the blood of the slain Passover lamb and sprinkle it on the lintel and the doorposts of their houses. Therefore, to be cleansed with hyssop is to be washed in the blood of the Lamb (Heb.9v11ff; Rev. 7v14). No outward ablution could ever cleanse us from moral "˜filthiness and idolatry´. We need a cleansing which works from within.

In the New Testament, one gets an inkling of this two-fold process in verses such as 1Cor. 6v11 or Eph. 5v26, but the clearest expression is found in Titus 3vs4-5: "˜But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit´. What is the nature of the New Birth? It is a birth of Water and Spirit; the washing away of sins, and renewal by God, the Holy Spirit.
This is obviously a most profound change. Paul writes, "œTherefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new' (2Cor. 5v17). What has happened? A new principle of life has taken hold.......
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]
 

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.

Thoughts?

For our Covenant God,
BRIAN
 
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