5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus interrupted Nicodemus and went straight to his spiritual issue. This religionist thought that he was entitled to the kingdom. But, to his shock, he could not enter that kingdom without spiritual birth.
5 Jesus answered,
Jesus replied to Nicodemus’ confusion about spiritual birth in verses 5-8. Nicodemus’ misunderstanding gave Jesus an opportunity to explain more fully what being born again meant. This time He gave a more precise statement as to what it means to be born from above or again.
For the second time in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, He made a statement of certainty. The literal words for “most assuredly” (amen, amen) always alert us to something very important that is about to be said. Jesus wanted Nicodemus’ undivided attention for the subject He was about to announce.
I say to you [singular],
Jesus now elaborated on what it means to be “born again.” His emphasis was on the need for spiritual birth as over against physical birth.
unless one is born of water and the Spirit,
The phrase “born of water and the Spirit” is difficult to interpret, no matter which viewpoint one holds. It seems to me the best way to take this phrase in context is to interpret “water” to mean natural or physical birth. “The Spirit” would be spiritual birth.
Another possibility is to take “water” as an allusion to the ministry of John the Baptist to repent about the Messiah. “Spirit” would be the Holy Spirit’s work on the individual. However, in light of the fact that Jesus was attempting to explain to Nicodemus the nature of spiritual regeneration in the light of his misunderstanding of how could a man be born physically the second time, “water” would be better applied to the first option. First a person is born physically and, second, he is born spiritually.
Some people make the assumption that Jesus referred to water baptism (an unbiblical concept) by the term “water.” However, there is nothing to indicate in the immediate context about water baptism. Nicodemus would not have understood Christian baptism at this point in his experience. Comparison to physical birth is clearly set forth in the next verse (Jn 3:6).
The word “and” can be taken as translated this way—”even the Spirit.” In other words, water and the Spirit are one entity.
The upshot of “water and the Spirit” is that they mean “eternal life.” This is what one receives when he is born from above or born again.
he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
A person must have a spiritual birth to enter eternal life.
Some interpretations of Scripture should not be taken dogmatically.
No one can be dogmatic about the interpretation of the phrase “water and the Spirit” because the text does not give enough specificity. The only way to determine its meaning is from contextual relationships. Solid interpretation requires that we take meaning from clear passages over the unclear and the majority of passages over the minority. This phrase is both unclear and there are not any parallels that could clarify meaning. It would be best to hold humility when it comes to the interpretation of this verse.
Could the term “water” apply to the word of God? The “washing of water by the word” Eph. 5:26.
As the gospel message used by the Spirit, in power, to cleanse of sin and convert 1Thess. 1:5?
Just a thought and question I’ve had. May be against the context!????? Is it against comparing verses with verses?
George, yes, that is one of the possible interpretations. In fact, it is the position that I held for a number of years.
the term “born of water” could you apply John 4:14 to it?
Don, the 4:14 passage is in a different context. It may be erroneous to connect two place separate contexts together.
For “water” to mean physical birth has always seemed less than convincing. It seems equated much easier with “washing” in the sense of Titus 3:5, or as you explained washing/regeneration for 1 Cor 6:11b. There is renewal and rebirth. What is born of the Spirit is spirit.
You’re not too far from this when you state, “In other words, water and the Spirit are one entity.”
Adam, no interpretation can be definitive since there is not enough context or specificity for a clear conclusion.
Another preacher correlates “born of water and the Spirit” with “twin blessings of the Gospel that we find throughout the Bible: A new cleansing and a new creation.” You must be washed, you must be made new.
I understand your reply that no one interpretation can be insisted upon without sufficient specificity and context; it is one of those passages.
But I do like another thing pointed out — here is the diagnosis, if you will, and the solution is the Gospel. Jesus goes on speaking to Nicodemus, and John 3:14-15 is at the heart of the Gospel. It is the one true cure for a person.
I appreciate your response. You replied to a comment I put elsewhere a couple years ago, and I’m glad to see your commentary work continues.
Dear Brother Grant,
Verse 3 says “See” (the kingdom of God) and verse 5 says “enter” (the kingdom of God). Is there any significance in the usage of the terms “see” and “enter”? Is there an eternal state where we can “see” the kingdom of God and not “enter”?
Muthu, the word “see” in verse 3 means to perceive by sight or to know something, whereas “enter” in verse 5 means to move into a space. In the first case, the idea is that the person does not have an adequate perception of the kingdom and what is required to enter it. In the second case in verse 5, the thought is he cannot enter into the space of salvation, that is, the kingdom of God. “Enter” is aorist tense (at a point), active voice (the subject produces the action, that is, the subject cannot enter the kingdom), and an infinitive (to accomplish the purpose of entering the kingdom).