Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)John 1:51), calling attention to the deeper truth which follows; and again the words of authority, “I say unto thee.”
Of water and of the Spirit.—We are here on the borderland of a great controversy. The subject is closely connected with that of the discourse in Capernaum (John 6), and so far as it is a subject for the pages of a Commentary at all, it will be better to treat of it in connection with that discourse. (See Excursus C: The Sacramental Teaching of St. John’s Gospel.) Our task here is to ask what meaning the words were intended by the Speaker to convey to the hearer; and this seems not to admit of doubt. The baptism of proselytes was already present to the thought; the baptism of John had excited the attention of all Jerusalem, and the Sanhedrin had officially inquired into it. Jesus Himself had submitted to it, but “the Pharisees and lawyers” [Nicodemus was both] “rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptised of him” (Luke 7:29). The key to the present verse is found in the declaration of John, “I baptise with water . . . He baptiseth with the Holy Ghost” (John 1:26; John 1:33), and this key must have been then in the mind of Nicodemus. The message was, baptism with water; baptism with water, by which the Gentile had been admitted as a new-born babe to Judaism, the rite representing the cleansing of the life from heathen pollutions and devotion to the service of the true God; baptism with water, which John had preached in his ministry of reformation (comp. Matthew 3:7), declaring a like cleansing as needed for Jew and Gentile, Pharisee and publican, as the gate to the kingdom of heaven, which was at hand; baptism with water, which demanded a public profession in the presence of witnesses, and an open loyalty to the new kingdom, not a visit by night, under the secrecy of darkness—this is the message of God to the teacher seeking admission to His kingdom. This he would understand. It would now be clear to him why John came baptising, and why Jews were themselves baptised confessing their sins. There is no further explanation of the “outward and visible sign,” but the teaching passes on to the “inward and spiritual grace,” the baptism of the Holy Ghost, the birth of the Spirit, which was the work of the Messiah Himself. Of this, indeed, there were foreshadowings and promises in the Old Testament Scriptures (comp., e.g., Ezekiel 36:25 et seq.; Jeremiah 31:33; Joel 2:28); but the deeper meaning of such passages was buried beneath the ruins of the schools of prophets, and few among later teachers had penetrated to it. It is hard for this Rabbi to see it, even when it is brought home to him.
(5) It is believed that the rendering adopted agrees with the whole context, and gives a fuller sense to the words of the great Teacher.Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5. Baptism was practiced by the Jews in receiving a Gentile as a proselyte. It was practiced by John among the Jews; and Jesus here says that it is an ordinance of his religion, and the sign and seal of the renewing influences of his Spirit. So he said Mark 16:16, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." It is clear from these places, and from the example of the apostles Act 2:38, Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12-13, Acts 8:36, Acts 8:38; Acts 9:18; Acts 10:47-48; Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33; Acts 18:8; Acts 22:16; Galatians 3:27, that they considered this ordinance as binding on all who professed to love the Lord Jesus. And though it cannot be said that none who are not baptized can be saved, yet Jesus meant, undoubtedly, to be understood as affirming that this was to be the regular and uniform way of entering into his church; that it was the appropriate mode of making a profession of religion; and that a man who neglected this, when the duty was made known to him, neglected a plain command of God. It is clear, also, that any other command of God might as well be neglected or violated as this, and that it is the duty of everyone not only to love the Saviour, but to make an acknowledgment of that love by being baptized, and by devoting himself thus to his service.
But, lest Nicodemus should suppose that this was all that was meant, he added that it was necessary that he should "be born of the Spirit" also. This was predicted of the Saviour, that he should "baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire," Matthew 3:11. By this is clearly intended that the heart must be changed by the agency of the Holy Spirit; that the love of sin must be abandoned; that man must repent of crime and turn to God; that he must renounce all his evil propensities, and give himself to a life of prayer and holiness, of meekness, purity, and benevolence. This great change is in the Scripture ascribed uniformly to the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; Romans 5:5; 1 Peter 1:22.
Cannot enter into - This is the way, the appropriate way, of entering into the kingdom of the Messiah here and hereafter. He cannot enter into the true church here, or into heaven in the world to come, except in connection with a change of heart, and by the proper expression of that change in the ordinances appointed by the Saviour.
I say; and twice repeats the solemn asseveration,
Verily, verily, to show the infallible certainty and importance of what he propounds, that it is a truth worthy of his most serious consideration, and to be embraced with a stedfast belief. After this preface, he declares, If any one be not born of water and the Spirit, to rectify the carnal conceit of Nicodemus about regeneration. In John 3:3 our Saviour compared the spiritual birth with the natural, and with respect to that a reviewed man is born a second time. But in this verse he expresses the cause and quality of the new birth, that distinguishes it from the natural birth, and resolves the vain, carnal objection of Nicodemus. He speaks not of the terrestrial, animal birth, but of the celestial and Divine; that is suitable to that principle from whence it proceeds, the Holy Spirit of God. There is a great difference among interpreters about the meaning of being
born of water. The Romanists, and rigid Lutherans, understand the water in a proper sense, for the element of baptism, and from hence infer the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation; but the exposition and conclusion are both evidently contrary to the truth. Indeed the new birth is signified, represented, and sealed by baptism, it is the soul, and substance of that sacred ceremony; and if our Saviour had only said, that whoever is born of water and the Spirit shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, it might have been congruously understood of baptism; because it is an undoubted truth, that all who are truly regenerated in baptism shall be saved. But our Saviour says, He that is not born of water and the Spirit cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven: the exclusion of the unsanctified is peremptory and universal. And our Saviour shows a manifest difference between an affirmative and negative proposition; when having declared, that whoever believeth and is baptized shall be saved; and coming to the negative, he only adds, but he that believeth not shall be damned, Mark 16:16. The reason why he does not say, Whoever is not baptized shall be condemned, is evident; for without faith it is impossible to be saved; but without baptism, even as the Romanists themselves grant, many have been saved. For if we consider the time when our Saviour spake these words, they acknowledge that believers were not then, obliged to receive the baptism of Christ for salvation; for our Saviour had this conference with him some years before his death; and they hold, that before the death of Christ baptism was not necessary, neither by virtue of Divine command, nor as a means to obtain salvation; therefore the believers that lived then might enter into heaven without baptism. They also declare, that martyrdom supplies the want of baptism; and that persons instructed in the doctrine of the gospel, and sincerely believing it, if prevented by death without being baptized, their faith and earnest desire is sufficient to qualify them for partaking of the heavenly kingdom. But if by water here be meant the elementary water of baptism, the words of our Saviour are directly contrary to what they assert; for neither the blood of martyrs, nor the desire and vow of receiving baptism, are the water of baptism, which they pretend is properly and literally named by our Saviour. And certainly, if as the apostle Peter instructs us, it is not the cleansing of the flesh in the water of baptism that says, 1 Peter 3:21, it is not the mere want of it, without contempt and wilful neglect, that condemneth. 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, Isaiah 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, Ezekiel 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.
except a man be born of water and of the Spirit: these are, , "two words", which express the same thing, as Kimchi observes in many places in his commentaries, and signify the grace of the Spirit of God. The Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions read, "the Holy Spirit", and so Nonnus; and who doubtless is intended: by "water", is not meant material water, or baptismal water; for water baptism is never expressed by water only, without some additional word, which shows, that the ordinance of water baptism is intended: nor has baptism any regenerating influence in it; a person may be baptized, as Simon Magus was, and yet not born again; and it is so far from having any such virtue, that a person ought to be born again, before he is admitted to that ordinance: and though submission to it is necessary, in order to a person's entrance into a Gospel church state; yet it is not necessary to the kingdom of heaven, or to eternal life and salvation: such a mistaken sense of this text, seems to have given the first birth and rise to infant baptism in the African churches; who taking the words in this bad sense, concluded their children must be baptized, or they could not be saved; whereas by "water" is meant, in a figurative and metaphorical sense, the grace of God, as it is elsewhere; see Ezekiel 36:25. Which is the moving cause of this new birth, and according to which God begets men again to, a lively hope, and that by which it is effected; for it is by the grace of God, and not by the power of man's free will, that any are regenerated, or made new creatures: and if Nicodemus was an officer in the temple, that took care to provide water at the feasts, as Dr. Lightfoot thinks, and as it should seem Nicodemon ben Gorion was, by the story before related of him; See Gill on John 3:1; very pertinently does our Lord make mention of water, it being his own element: regeneration is sometimes ascribed to God the Father, as in 1 Peter 1:3, and sometimes to the Son, 1 John 2:29 and here to the Spirit, as in Titus 3:5, who convinces of sin, sanctifies, renews, works faith, and every other grace; begins and carries on the work of grace, unto perfection;
he cannot enter into the kingdom of God; and unless a man has this work of his wrought on his soul, as he will never understand divine and spiritual things, so he can have no right to Gospel ordinances, or things appertaining to the kingdom of God; nor can he be thought to have passed from death to life, and to have entered into an open state of grace, and the kingdom of it; or that living and dying so, he shall ever enter into the kingdom of heaven; for unless a man is regenerated, he is not born heir apparent to it; and without internal holiness, shall not enter into it, enjoy it, or see God.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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)John 3:5. Jesus now explains more fully the ἄνωθεν γεννηθῆναι onwards to John 3:8.
ἐξ ὕδατος κ. πνεύματος] water, inasmuch as the man is baptized therewith (1 John 5:7-8; Ephesians 5:26) for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:33; Acts 22:16; 2 Corinthians 6:11), and spirit, inasmuch as the Holy Ghost is given to the person baptized in order to his spiritual renewal and sanctification; both together—the former as causa medians, the latter as causa efficiens—constitute the objective and causative element, out of which (comp. John 1:13) the birth from above is produced (ἐκ), and therefore baptism is the ΛΟΥΤΡῸΝ ΠΑΛΙΓΓΕΝΕΣΊΑς (Titus 3:5; comp. Tertullian c. Marc. i. 28). But that Christian baptism (John 3:22; John 4:2), and not that of John (B. Crusius; Hofmann, Schriftbeweis, II. 2. 12; Lange, who, however, generalizes ideally; and earlier comm.), is to be thought of in ὕδατος, is clear from the Κ. ΠΝΕΎΜΑΤΟς joined with it, and from the fact that He who had already appeared as Messiah could no longer make the baptism of His forerunner the condition, not even the preparatory condition, of His Messianic grace; for in that case He must have said ΟὐΚ ἘΞ ὝΔΑΤΟς ΜΌΝΟΝ, ἈΛΛᾺ ΚΑΊ. If Nicodemus was not yet able to understand ὝΔΑΤΟς as having this definite reference, but simply took the word in general as a symbolical designation of Messianic expiation of sin and of purification, according to O. T. allusions (Ezekiel 36:25; Isaiah 1:16; Malachi 3:3; Zechariah 13:1; Jeremiah 33:8), and to what he knew of John’s baptism, still it remained for him to look to the immediate future for more definite knowledge, when the true explanation could not escape him (John 4:2, John 3:22). We are not therefore to conclude from this reference to baptism, that the narrative is “a proleptic fiction” (Strauss, Bruno Bauer), and, besides Matthew 18:3, to suppose in Justin and the Clementines uncanonical developments (Hilgenfeld and others; see Introduction, § 2). Neither must we explain it as if Jesus were referring Nicodemus not to baptism as such, but only by way of allusion to the symbolic import of the water in baptism (Lücke; Neander, p. 910). This latter view does not satisfy the definite γεννηθῇ ἐξ, upon which, on the other side, Theodore of Mopsuestia and others, in modern times Olshausen in particular, lay undue stress, taking the water to be the female principle in regeneration (the Spirit as the male)—water being, according to Olshausen, “the element of the soul purified by true repentance.” All explanations, moreover, must be rejected which, in order to do away with the reference to baptism, adopt the principle of an ἓν διὰ δυοῖν, for water and Spirit are two quite separate conceptions. This is especially in answer to Calvin, who says: “of water, which is the Spirit,” and Grotius: “spiritus aqueus, i.e. aquae instar emundans.” It is further to be observed, (1) that both the words being without the article, they must be taken generically, so far as the water of baptism and the Holy Spirit are included in the general categories of water and Spirit; not till we reach John 3:6 is the concrete term used;—(2) that ὕδατος is put first, because the gift of the Spirit as a rule (Acts 2:38) followed upon baptism (Acts 10:47 is an exceptional case);—(3) that believing in Jesus as the Messiah is presupposed as the condition of baptism (Mark 16:16);—(4) that the necessity of baptism in order to participation in the Messianic kingdom (a doctrine against which Calvin in particular, and other expositors of the Reformed Church, contend) has certainly its basis in this passage, but with reference to the convert to Christianity, and not extending in the same way to the children of Christians, for these by virtue of their Christian parentage are already ἅγιοι (see on 1 Corinthians 7:14). Attempts to explain away this necessity—e.g. by the comparative rendering: “not only by water, but also by the Spirit” (B. Crusius; comp. Schweizer, who refers to the baptism of proselytes, and Ewald)—are meanings imported into the words.
 Weisse, who does not regard the rite of baptism by water as having originated in the institution of Christ, but considers that it arose from a misapplication of His words concerning the baptism of the Spirit, greatly errs when he declares that to make regeneration depend upon baptism by water “is little better than blasphemy” (Evangelienfrage, p. 194).
 Krummacher, recently, in the Stud. u. Krit. 1859, p. 509, understands by the water the working of the Holy Spirit. How untenable! for the Spirit is named as a distinct factor side by side with water.John 3:5. Ἀμὴν, ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῆ ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος, οὐ δύναται εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν β. To remove as far as possible the difficulty of Nicodemus as to the πῶς of the second birth our Lord declares that the two great factors in it are “water” and “spirit”. Calvin thinks this is a ἐν διὰ δυοῖν, and that the two names cover one reality. “Spiritum et aquam pro eodem posuit.” “Aqua nihil aliud est quam interior Spiritus sancti purgatio et vegetatio.” And he defends this by a reference to the Baptist’s announcement that the Messiah would baptise with the spirit and fire. Grotius takes the same line, but cautiously adds: “Si quis tamen malit ista decernere, ut aqua significet mali fugam, spiritus vero impetum ad optima quaeque agenda, inveniet quo hanc sententiam fulciet”. Lk. (Luke 7:30) tells us that the Pharisees, to whom belonged Nicodemus, were not baptised of John; their reason being that to submit to the same rite as Gentiles and acknowledge the insufficiency of their Jewish birth was a humiliation they could not suffer. To receive the Spirit from the Messiah was no humiliation; on the contrary, it was a glorious privilege. But to go down into Jordan before a wondering crowd and own their need of cleansing and new birth was too much. Therefore to this Pharisee our Lord declares that an honest dying to the past is as needrul as new life for the future. To be born of the Spirit involves a dying to the past, and therefore it is only the Spirit that is spoken of in the subsequent verses; but it is essential that our past be recognised as needing cleansing and forgiveness. These two factors, water and spirit, are not strictly co-ordinate. Water is not an actual spiritual agency in the second birth; it is only a symbol. But in every true second birth there is a negative as well as a positive side, a renunciation of the past as well as a new life created. The same idea is found in Titus 3:3-5, “We were [of the flesh] but He saved us by the bath of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Ghost”. The same combination is found in 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.” The water, then, is considered as that which cleanses from sin: the Spirit as the principle of the new life.5. of water and of the Spirit] Christ leaves the foolish question of Nicodemus to answer itself: He goes on to explain what is the real point, and what Nicodemus has not asked, the meaning of ‘from above:’ ‘of water and (of the) Spirit.’ The outward sign and inward grace of Christian baptism are here clearly given, and an unbiassed mind can scarcely avoid seeing this plain fact. This becomes still more clear when we compare John 1:26; John 1:33, where the Baptist declares ‘I baptize with water;’ the Messiah ‘baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.’ The Fathers, both Greek and Latin, thus interpret the passage with singular unanimity. Thus once more S. John assumes without stating the primary elements of Christianity. Baptism is assumed here as well known to his reader, as the Eucharist is assumed in chap. 6. To a well-instructed Christian there was no need to explain what was meant by being born of water and the Spirit. The words therefore had a threefold meaning, past, present, and future. In the past they looked back to the time when the Spirit moved upon the water causing the birth from above of Order and Beauty out of Chaos. In the present they pointed to the divinely ordained (John 1:33) baptism of John: and through it in the future to that higher rite, to which John himself bore testimony.John 3:5. Ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ Πνεύματος, of water and the Spirit) Jesus renders His speech the more difficult, in order to try [discipline] Nicodemus, and at the same time declares the difference between birth from above, and birth from a mother: and He defines birth from above by communion with [the partaking of] Himself and with [of] the Spirit (for He speaks concerning Himself and concerning the Spirit also at John 3:11, “we speak that we do know”). Comp. 1 Corinthians 6:11, “Ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” No one can enjoy God without the Son and His Spirit. Water denotes the baptism of John into [preparing for] Christ Jesus, John 3:22-23 [Jesus tarried in the land of Judæa with His disciples, and baptized: “John was also baptizing in Ænon,” etc.]; which baptism the colleagues of Nicodemus, by omitting, John 3:1, despised the counsel of God: Luke 7:30, “The Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of John;” when nevertheless the Jews were accustomed to baptisms: Hebrews 9:10, “divers washings.” And Nicodemus himself appears to have entertained not sufficiently exalted views of John and his baptism, as being one who had wrought no miracle. Comp. John 3:2 [where he emphasises the ‘miracles’ of Jesus; thus forming a contrast to John]. Nor is communion needful with Christ only, but also with His Spirit: Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized—in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” And because the same Spirit glorifies Christ, for this reason, the mention of water being presently after omitted, mention is made of the Spirit alone, of whom we are to be born again: nor does He say at John 3:6, that which is born of water is water. Therefore the necessity of regeneration primarily, and of baptism secondarily, is here confirmed (comp. a similar καί, and, ch. John 6:40, every one which seeth the Son and believeth on Him): otherwise there would be but little hope of infants dying without baptism. Comp. as to water and the Spirit, Titus 3:5, “Not by works which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”—εἰσελθεῖν, enter) Answering to the word enter [a second time into his mother’s womb] of the previous verse. The severity of His expression increases: comp. see, John 3:3. He cannot even enter, much less see. He must enter a house, whoever wishes to see thoroughly its internal structure. That which is not born, uses neither eyes nor feet.Verse 5. - Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man (any one) have been born (out) of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. This memorable utterance has been the occasion of much controversy, arising from the contested sanction thus supposed to be given to the opus operatura of baptism, and to the identification of water baptism with Spirit baptism. Expositors have asserted that the rite of water baptism is not merely regarded as the expressive symbol and prophecy of the spiritual change which is declared to be indispensable to admission into the kingdom, but the veritable means by which that baptism of the Spirit is effected. Now, in the first place, we observe that the sentence is a reply to Nicodemus, who had just expressed his blank astonishment at the idea that a fundamental change must pass over a man, in any sense equivalent to a second birth, before he can see the kingdom of God. Our Lord modifies the last clause, and speaks of entering into the kingdom of God rather than perceiving or discerning the features of the kingdom. Some have urged that ἰδεῖν of ver. 3 is equivalent to εἰσελθεῖν εἰς of ver. 5. The vision, say they, is only possible to those who partake of the privileges of the kingdom. But the latter phrase does certainly express a further idea - a richer and fuller appreciation of the authority and glory of the King; just as the "birth of water and of the Spirit" conveys deeper and further thought to Nicodemus, than did the previously used expression, γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν. The first expression was dark in the extreme; the latter pours light upon it. "Birth of water" points at once to the method so frequently adopted in Jewish ceremonial, by which a complete change of state and right before God was instituted by water. Thus, a man who had not gone through the appropriate and commanded lustrations was unfit to present his offering, to receive the benediction sought by his sacrificial presentment; the priest was not in a fit state to carry the blood of the covenant into the holy place without frequent washings, which indicated the extent and defilement of his birth stain. Nicodemus for probably thirty years had seen priests and men thus qualifying themselves for solemn functions. So great was the urgency of these ideas that, as he must have known, the Essenes had formed separate communities, with the view of carrying out to the full consummation the idea of ritual purity. More than this, it is not improbable that proselytes from heathen nations, when brought into covenant relation with the theocratic people, were, at the very time of this conversation, admitted by baptismal rites into this privilege. To the entire confusion of Pharisee and Sadducee, John the Baptist had demanded of every class of the holy people "repentance unto remission of sins," a demand which was accepted on the part of the multitudes by submitting to the rite of baptism. The vastly important question then arises' - Did John by this baptism, or by any power he wielded, give to the people repentance or remission of sins? Certainly not, if we may conclude from the repeated judgment pronounced by him self and by the apostles after him. Nothing but the blood and Spirit of Christ could convey either remission or repentance to the souls of men. John preached the baptism of repentance unto remission, but could confer neither. He taught the people to look to One who should come after him. He sharply discriminated the baptism with water from the baptism of the Spirit and fire. This discrimination has been repeatedly referred to already in this Gospel. Thus the Fathers of the Church saw distinctly that there was no regenerating efficacy in the water baptism of John, and the Council of Trent elevated this position into a canonical dogma. It is most melancholy that they did not also perceive that this judgment of theirs about the baptism of John applied to water baptism altogether. Christ's disciples baptized (not Christ himself, John 4:2) with water unto repentance and remission; but even up to the day of Pentecost there is no hint of this process being more than stimulus to that repentance which is the gift of God, and to the consequent pardon which was the condition of still further communication of the Holy Spirit. The great baptism which Christ would administer was the baptism of Spirit and fire. The references to the baptism of the early Church are not numerous in the New Testament, but they are given as if for the very purpose of showing that the water baptism was not a necessary or indispensable condition to the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius and his friends received the sacred bestowment before baptism. The language of the Ethiopian ennuch shows that he had received the holy and best gift of Divine illumination and faith before baptism. Simon Magus was baptized with water by Philip, but was in the gall of bitterness and un-spirituality. There is no proof at all that the apostles of Christ (with the exception of Paul) wore ever baptized with water, unless it were at the hands of John. Consequently, we cannot believe, with this entire group of facts before us, that our Lord was making any ceremonial rite whatsoever indispensable to entrance into the kingdom. His own reception and forgiveness of the woman that was a sinner, of the paralytic, and of the dying brigand, his breathing over his disciples as symbolic of the great spiritual gift they were afterwards to receive, is the startling and impressive repudiation of the idea that Christian baptism in his own name, or, still less, that that ordinance treated as a supernaturally endowed and divinely enriched sacrament, was even so much as referred to in this great utterance. But the entire system of Jewish, proselyte, and Johannine baptisms was in the mind of both Nicodemus and Christ. These were all symbolic of the confession and repentance, which are the universal human conditions of pardon, and, as a ritual, were allowed to his disciples before and after Pentecost, as anticipatory of the great gift of the Holy Spirit. No baptism, no "birth out of water," can give repentance or enforce confession; but the familiar process may indicate the imperative necessity for both, and prove still more a prophecy of the vital, spiritual transformation which, in the following verse, is dissociated from the water altogether. Calvin, while admitting the general necessity for baptism, repudiates the idea that the rite is indispensable to salvation, and maintains that "water" here means nothing different or other than "the Spirit," as descriptive of one of its great methods of operation, just as "Holy Spirit and fire" are elsewhere conjoined.
The exposition of this much controverted passage does not fall within the scope of this work. We may observe,
1. That Jesus here lays down the preliminary conditions of entrance into His kingdom, expanding and explaining His statement in John 3:3.
2. That this condition is here stated as complex, including two distinct factors, water and the Spirit.
3. That the former of these two factors is not to be merged in the latter; that the spiritual element is not to exclude or obliterate the external and ritual element. We are not to understand with Calvin, the Holy Spirit as the purifying water in the spiritual sense: "water which is the Spirit."
4. That water points definitely to the rite of baptism, and that with a twofold reference - to the past and to the future. Water naturally suggested to Nicodemus the baptism of John, which was then awakening such profound and general interest; and, with this, the symbolical purifications of the Jews, and the Old Testament use of washing as the figure of purifying from sin (Psalm 2:2, Psalm 2:7; Ezekiel 36:25; Zechariah 13:1). Jesus' words opened to Nicodemus a new and more spiritual significance in both the ceremonial purifications and the baptism of John which the Pharisees had rejected (Luke 7:30). John's rite had a real and legitimate relation to the kingdom of God which Nicodemus must accept.
5. That while Jesus asserted the obligation of the outward rite, He asserted likewise, as its necessary complement, the presence and creating and informing energy of the Spirit with which John had promised that the coming one should baptize. That as John's baptism had been unto repentance, for the remission of sins, so the new life must include the real no less than the symbolic cleansing of the old, sinful life, and the infusion by the Spirit of a new and divine principle of life. Thus Jesus' words included a prophetic reference to the complete ideal of Christian baptism - "the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5; Ephesians 5:26); according to which the two factors are inseparably blended (not the one swallowed up by the other), and the new life is inaugurated both symbolically in the baptism with water, and actually in the renewing by the Holy Spirit, yet so as that the rite, through its association with the Spirit's energy, is more than a mere symbol: is a veritable vehicle of grace to the recipient, and acquires a substantial part in the inauguration of the new life. Baptism, considered merely as a rite, and apart from the operation of the Spirit, does not and cannot impart the new life. Without the Spirit it is a lie. It is a truthful sign only as the sign of an inward and spiritual grace.
6. That the ideal of the new life presented in our Lord's words, includes the relation of the regenerated man to an organization. The object of the new birth is declared to be that a man may see and enter into the kingdom of God. But the kingdom of God is an economy. It includes and implies the organized Christian community. This is one of the facts which, with its accompanying obligation, is revealed to the new vision of the new man. He sees not only God, but the kingdom of God; God as King of an organized citizenship; God as the Father of the family of mankind; obligation to God implying obligation to the neighbor; obligation to Christ implying obligation to the church, of which He is the head, "which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all things with all things" (Ephesians 1:23). Through water alone, the mere external rite of baptism, a man may pass into the outward fellowship of the visible church without seeing or entering the kingdom of God. Through water and the Spirit, he passes indeed into the outward fellowship, but through that into the vision and fellowship of the kingdom of God.
This more than see (John 3:3). It is to become partaker of; to go in and possess, as the Israelites did Canaan.
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