John 3:5, “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Through my years of reading and studying God’s Word and my efforts to serve the Lord’s precious people, some questions have been asked more than others. And even though I have been asked many questions about verses of scripture, none is asked anymore often than, “What is the water in John 3:5?” In this short effort, I will labor to interpret what the Lord meant when He said “water” in John 3:5.
(1) It’s important for us to consider context. If we begin reading in verse one and continue to the end of the Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus, it is easily concluded that baptism is NOT under consideration. The Lord, at no point in this dialogue, told Nicodemus to go to John the Baptist and be baptized with water. I certainly believe it to be the will of God for His children to submit to water baptism and be faithful members of the visible Kingdom, but this is NOT the context of John 3:1-21. At this present time, I cannot think of one verse of scripture that depicts baptism as a birth. Baptism is taught in scripture as a death, burial and resurrection. In John 3:1-21, the Lord is teaching Nicodemus about Regeneration (being born again), which is the appointed time of the Lord when He calls His covenant, elect child from death in sins to vital life in Him. Jesus Christ said, “Except a man be BORN of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (emphasis mine).
(2) It’s important to consider what the Apostle John says about “water” in this divinely inspired book of God’s Holy Word. When the Apostle John uses the word water, he is not referring to the amniotic fluid that surrounds the infant in the womb. Even though it is made up of bodily fluids, the phrase “her water broke” is really a figure of speech. Amniotic fluid is made up of more than water. Some have declared that John intended “water” in John 3:5 to be interpreted as natural birth and the “Spirit” to be interpreted as to be “born again.” Those who hold this position generally say the new birth is the second birth. But if we consider children of God like John the Baptist (Luke 1:15, 41) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), this position cannot be validated, because these two were born again (or born from above) before they were born naturally of their mother.
In John chapter 7 we read about Jesus Christ talking with people at the Feast of Tabernacles in the region of Galilee. In verses 37-38 “Jesus stood and cried, saying, “If a 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.” In the next verse, John 7:39, Jesus tells us what He meant by the “water” in the verse 38. John 7:39, “(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)” In this portion of scripture, the word “water” is synonymous with “Spirit”, and even though the context of John 7:37-39 is regarding fellowship and not the new birth, this does not change the fact that Jesus used the word “water” in this manner.
In 1 John 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.” In this verse John is referring to three that agree. The subject is Jesus being the Eternal Son of God. The “water” – His Deity; the “blood” – His perfect humanity; and the “Spirit” – the Holy Spirit with Whom He is One (1 John 5:7; John 3:34). These three have the same testimony, this is the Eternal Son of God. 1 John 5:9 reads, “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.”
(3) It’s important for us to consider how the Lord in the Old Testament employs the word “water” to refer to Himself. Consider Jeremiah 2:13, “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” Jeremiah 17:13, “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.” Isaiah 32:2, “And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as a shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” Isaiah 44:3,”For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thy offspring.” Ezekiel 36:25-27, “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. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judg-ments, and do them.” In these, and others that could be cited, the Lord refers to Himself as water. When John says “water” in John 3:5 he is saying the same.
(4) Notice the word “and” in our study verse, John 3:5. The word “and” in this text is translated from the Greek Kai (Strongs 2532). The word means the same as “even”. I could interpret the verse as saying “water even of the spirit” and interpret the verse correctly. A few examples: (1) Titus 2:13, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;…” Paul is not saying that our Saviour is separate from our God, but rather our Saviour is our God (see Titus 1:3 and Titus 2:10). (2) Philippians 1:20, “According to my earnest expectation and my hope,…” Paul is stating the same two different ways., my expectation even my hope.
It will benefit us to also consider Titus 3:5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” This verse uses the Greek Kai (Strongs 2532) in the same manner and teaches the same as John 3:5. The “water” in John 3:5 is referring to the Spirit of God that takes His abode in the heart of the elect child of promise the instant that they are born again. When Paul says, “washing of regeneration”, he is saying the same as Jesus when He said “water” in John 3:5. When an elect child is born again, The Spirit is the only one who is able to take away the sinful heart and create a new heart, which is the Lord irresistibly taking abode within the elect child of grace.
If the reader would permit, I would like to offer a few interpretations of John 3:5 by using my own words. (1) Unless one is born of God by the direct work of the Spirit, he or she cannot experience the joys of God; (2) Unless a person is born of the Spirit, by the Spirit, he or she cannot go to heaven; (3) Except a person is born from above, by the vital work of the Holy Ghost, he or she cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Elder Ronnie B. Loudermilk