John 3:5 – “born of water”

John 3:5 – Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

In the past I have heard John 3:5 explained in a unique way.  When Jesus speaks of begin “born of water” he is speaking of the natural births that we have all experienced from our mother.  The water Jesus is referring to here is the amniotic fluid that surrounds the fetus in the womb.  Amniotic fluid is the watery liquid surrounding and cushioning a growing fetus within the amnion.  This is where we get the concept of a woman’s “water breaking” before delivering a child.  So when Jesus is referring to being born of water – this is what he is referring to.  Others would say that Jesus is referring to baptism – immersion in water – symbolic of dying under the water and being raised again to new life once coming out of the water.  So with these two opinions, I’d like to submit my thoughts.

Is there precedent in Scripture or from the other words of Christ for a normal birth to be called “born of water?”  I haven’t found evidence of that in Scripture, perhaps you are more familiar with it than I am.  I don’t think Jesus is talking about a person simply being born when he says “born of water.” 

John 3:5 – Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

Most often when the Scripture speaks of the natural man or a natural birth it is referred to as “flesh.”  We know Jesus knows how to say the word “flesh” and uses it in this light – he does so in the next verse:

John 3:6 – “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

It seems odd that Jesus would state in the verse before that to be born of water means to be literally born when the common expression for this he uses in the very next verse.  Also, think about what Jesus is saying if the “born of water” phrase means our literal first, fleshly birth.  Jesus would be saying – “you need to be a human”, “you need to have been given life at some point in history”, “you need to have been born in general.” 

Why would he say something like that – is there a thought in Nicodemus’ mind that people who never existed can somehow enter the Kingdom?  That seems silly to me – but I think that is the conclusion one makes if “born of water” means literal birth.

In the same chapter and the next we see Jesus baptizing new disciples (3:22; 4:1-2).  Perhaps the “born of water and spirit” could relate to this and in the early verses of John 3 we get to be a fly on the wall in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus about what Jesus wanted those who follow him to do – get baptized and receive the spirit (ex: Acts 2:38).

One final point to make – I believe Jesus is probably also speaking of a bigger idea in this section as well.  He is making the connection between the prophetic words of Ezekiel in 36:25-27:

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

He is surprised that Nicodemus doesn’t understand this.  Here you have the Messiah speaking about the new covenant promise and this well versed Jewish leader doesn’t remember/understand/get it…etc.  Jesus would then leave this conversation and continue preaching the coming of the Kingdom, repentance in light of that and calling people to be baptized, entering them into the new covenant with Jesus as their Lord, all of which his disciples would continue after his ascension.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this.  I’m open to your thoughts on the “born of water” phrase.


36 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Angela on May 17, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    I LOVE that Ezekiel 36:25-27 Scripture that Victor pointed out! I believe being “born of water” is definitely referring us to being baptized in water. And this Ezekiel Scripture details accurately what happens to us when we do decide to get baptized: our stubborn hearts melt and soften to God and towards His only Son, Jesus….to the point that we quit resisting His tug upon our hearts and our spirit. God wants ALL of us. Why do we fight it so?

    When Jesus was baptized, God boomed out from the heavens above, “I am well pleased.” I think when I made the decision to be baptized, God was well pleased with me, as well! So often, we bible students get caught up in the argument about whether baptism is required for salvation or not. My opinion is…if it would make God happy with me, I’m going to do it!

    The thing that I am learning in my daily walk with my Heavenly Father is that faith w/o works is dead. I must not only read and know my bible, but I must obey the words and do what it says. And I think that is where baptism falls into place. Jesus sets an example that we are expected to follow. Being born of water is symbolic to being born again as a new creation in Christ.
    I have also talked to pastors who have baptized people in their bath tubs, because they were physically incapable of leaving their homes; sprinkled people as they layed on their death beds; and baptized privately, just the pastor present. And of course there is the person on the cross who Jesus declared would be seen in the Kingdom (or paradise) w/out getting baptized!

    I think we get way too caught up in the logistics, when what is important is the condition of our hearts. How soft and pliable are our hearts, that we would submit to do whatever God is willing us to do for Him? Today, I lay my Isaac down at the alter. Everything I am and have I give back to God. Obedience to our Father is a way we can express our absolute love and devotion to Him. What are we hanging on to, still, that He is asking us to give up for HIM?


  2. Posted by JohnO on May 17, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    I’ll have to take another look at it, but I don’t think born of water = water baptism, because I don’t think Ez 36 is talking about water baptism. I think Ez 36 is talking about the yet-future eschatalogical change at the return of Christ. As a result, I see that the born of water and spirit is one birth (not two; born of water, and born of spirit).


  3. Posted by Angela on May 17, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    Just curious, John O, but do you think God is pleased or displeased when people make the decision to be immersed in water/baptized?


  4. Angela, excellent points.

    John O, I think that you are making a good point when you say “born of water and the spirit” is one thing – not two. Perhaps it is symbolic and inpart at baptism now, and complete and clear in the end? As in we are forgiven/cleansed of our sins now and given the spirit vs. fully cleansed of everything and resurrected then. We have Christ in us via the spirit now – and Christ AND God will be with us in the Kingdom. Also, we have Christ in us via the spirit now, and in the Kingdom we will be just like him.


  5. Posted by Angela on May 17, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    I’ll throw this out… can you have one without the other? Baptism in the spirit v. baptism by water? If they are one, do they happen at the same time?


  6. Posted by Anthony on May 17, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    Always a controversial verse of scripture regarding baptism. There is a figure of speech whereby two things are said, yet one thing is intended. “by water and by spirit” COULD then be understood as “spiritual water”, perhaps referring to water baptism.

    I have a hard time with the “natural birth” idea behind the mentioning of water too. The word water in the Greek comes from the root word for “rain” – natural water – not the fluid discharged by a woman prior to giving birth.
    Typically means water “in pools, fountains, wells, rivers” as well as “the waves of the sea”.

    Symbolically, water has always denoted cleanliness, purity and vital to life itself.
    Not surprisingly, in the end, when “it is done” (Rev 21:6), The Lord God says, “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.” Perhaps Ezekiel verse is still yet a future event? Thanks for reading and may the God of Abraham and Yeshua bless you all.


  7. Posted by JohnO on May 17, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    Angela I am an ardent supporter of water baptism, through much trial lately.


  8. Posted by Dustin on May 17, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    Eph. 4 says that there is one baptism. It uses the noun that always refers to water. HS baptism is therefore something that was not recognised by Paul (at least by those terms).


  9. Dustin, could you explain what you mean by “holy spirit baptism was therefore something that was nor recognized by Paul (at least in those terms)?


  10. Posted by Dustin on May 18, 2007 at 12:30 am

    Well, I dont see Paul talking about anything called “holy spirit baptism” in any passage in Acts or his letters. I dont see what the problem is. People are converted by repentance, intelligent acceptance of the gospel, and water baptism.


  11. Posted by Steve on May 18, 2007 at 1:51 am


    You wrote: “I dont see Paul talking about anything called ‘holy spirit baptism’ in any passage in Acts or his letters”.

    What do you mke of 1 Cor 12:13? “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body”.


  12. Posted by Steve on May 18, 2007 at 2:02 am


    You asked “do they [Baptism in the spirit & baptism by water] happen at the same time”?

    Acts 8:14-16 records an incident when certain Samaritans had been baptised in water but did not receive the Holy Spirit until later.

    Acts 10:44-48 records an incident involving Cornelius’ household which is the converse: they received the Holy Spirit prior to their baptism in water.

    It seems that being baptised in water and receiving the Holy Spirit (which seems to be the meaning of being “baptised with the Holy Spirit” – see Acts 11:15-16) usually hapen around the same time, but not necessarily together and not in any particular order.


  13. Posted by JohnO on May 18, 2007 at 10:46 am

    What do you mke of 1 Cor 12:13? “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body”.

    The Spirit baptizes us into the body. In this verse we aren’t baptized with the spirit, rather the body.


  14. Posted by Dustin on May 18, 2007 at 10:01 pm

    1 Cor 12:13 is clearly a reference to conversion. Remember Jesus saying that “the words that I speak to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).

    Note the smiluarity in Gal. 3:27

    “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

    Note also Acts 2:41

    “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.”

    Seems that the water baptism is what “added” them to the body. Upon baptism you are now “in Christ”, which 2 Cor 5:17 says makes you a new creature. New creature=born again.


  15. Posted by JohnO on May 18, 2007 at 11:04 pm


    So your point is that Spirit in the above verse is not referencing the holy spirit, but rather ?


  16. Posted by Dustin on May 18, 2007 at 11:31 pm

    Sorry to be confusing. I think you get the spirit upon conversion, not some time after. Acts 8 is a special circumstance which cannot be reproduced and should not be set as the norm. I strongly feel that water baptism is part of conversion.

    This wouldnt even be an issue if we wouldnt seperate water baptism from conversion.

    Funny, Jesus got the spirit at baptism (cf. Acts 2:38), why would we be any different?

    Hope that clears things up.


  17. Posted by Steve on May 19, 2007 at 1:57 am


    You asked “Jesus got the spirit at baptism (cf. Acts 2:38), why would we be any different?”

    The case in Acts 8:14-16 that mentioned above clearly shows that some believers received the Holy Spirit after their baptism while Acts 10:44-48 demonstrates that other believers received the Holy Spirit prior to baptism.

    You wrote as though conversion, baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit are a single event (perhaps I’ve misunderstood you). However, I’d see these things more as a process. Conversion rarely happens in a single moment, although there well may be a single event which acts as a catalyst. The Holy Spirit is involved in conversion (convicting of sin, for example) and water baptism should happen as soon as possible after conversion, in my opinion, but the exact order and the nature of the process will vary from person to person.


  18. Posted by JohnO on May 20, 2007 at 5:57 pm


    As far as process goes, in the state of the world now – I’d have to agree. While the Gospel moved to people in and around Israel (even Gentiles) they are familiar with all of these concepts of Kingdom and Messiah, and even possibly in some areas baptism from John. Moreover, the Gospel moved to initially faithful people (in most cases Jews) that they may grow in truth (Acts 19, they are called disciples, merely lacking knowledge). So we would see momentary conversions often. As the Gospel moved, and even in early Christian writings we see they begin to have a process of teaching for three years. I think we can all agree that is a bit excessive.


  19. Posted by Patty on May 23, 2007 at 9:05 pm

    Man does the water baptism, if Jesus gets involved then the spirit may be imparted, if Jesus imparts the spirit with out the water, then man can do the water part. But it is obvious to me that there are two parts, occuring together and also separately in varying order. That is what the scriptures say , why should we argue about it? If it doesnt make sense to some to have two parts should we rely on our selves what makes sense or should we defer to what is written? Ez 36 has two parts. I also think that Baptism may be able to be used as describing someone being figuratively involved into something 1co 12:13 but I am not sure about that. The spirit gets us totallyInvolved in the one body. It blends us in together.


  20. Patty, what do you think Jesus is saying when he says to Nicodemus that “unless you are born of water and the spirit, you can not enter the Kingdom of God?”


  21. Posted by Patty on May 25, 2007 at 12:59 am

    We can only safely believe that there are two parts water and spirit , considering the evidence from acts, people were water baptized and also received the token of spirit. Why would I get rid of the water? There does not seem to me to be a good reason to eliminate it, considering the gravity of what he said to Nicodemus. To ask a different question when are we born again ? Is Jesus talking about a future event as in Ez 36 and is a sprinkling of water enough to be considered a birth? With all these questions and the uncertainty of the answers, we know in part, I think it is unwise to deviate from his basic intructions.I suppose that some may say its spiritual water we are to be born of and not literal water or the water is spiritual and when baptism takes place the spirit is involved. All I can see are the eg. in acts etc. The common thing is that both elements water and spirit are involved One is at the will of man and the other has to do with God.


  22. I’m not so sure it’s accurate to say we have a two-part baptism (i.e., water and spirit). There isn’t any Scripture that says that as far as I know. The “one baptism” in Ephesians 4:5 is the baptism in the name of Jesus christ, which is done with water. It would not be referring to the holy spirit, because “one spirit” was already mentioned in verse 4.
    When you think about it, the only places where “baptism in the holy spirit” is referred to are those verses where John (and later Jesus) contrasted his baptism in water with the baptism in holy spirit that Jesus would do. The phrase “baptism in the holy spirit” doesn’t occur anywhere else but those five or six verses. It seems more likely that it is used as a figurative term to compare receiving the spirit with baptism, while contrasting it with literal water. And it is one of a number of different phrases that describe receiving the spirit.
    While receiving the spirit often occured in conjuction with baptism, it is usually not referred to as baptism in spirit. So we have one baptism in water, and the receiving of holy spirit was called a baptism only a few times as a figurative comparison. This eliminates the confusion over whether the word “baptism” when used by itself refers to water or spirit.


  23. Posted by Patty on June 4, 2007 at 11:27 pm

    Interesting Iwill think about this.


  24. Posted by Patty on June 5, 2007 at 9:44 pm

    could you explain what you mean by figurativel comparison. How do you deal with the phase he will baptize you(Jesus) How does he do that does he in some way help you under the water? In acts was he involved when only the water was involved and then later when conditions were right “baptized and spirit and in truth” Isnt it plain that he was not involved until the spirit was given which is not to say that both could not occur simultaneously. I still think there are two parts of one complete baptism. REpent and be baptized and you shall receive the spirit. Which doesnt necessarily mean this is the only order that can occur, but to me it does imply that it is not complete if both elements at some time are not included. Even if this is not true why would one leave the water out when special attention is made to include it when they received the spirit first.If you are saying that the spirit part is called a baptism because it is associated very closely with the water and really isnt a distinct baptism then I can tend to see thatas being true. It is one baptism ,that has physical and spiritual components.


  25. The word baptism in its normal usage implies water. When John said that Jesus would baptize with the holy spirit, he was comparing holy spirit with water. Holy spirit is not a physical substance that one can literally be immersed in. Receiving it is figuratively called a baptism in order to draw a comparison with literal immersion in water, yet at the same time the spirit is contrasted with water showing its superiority. But it is only used in this way in those six verses which contrast the baptisms of John and Jesus.
    Because of its intangible nature, a number of different figurative terms are used to refer to the receiving of the holy spirit. ‘Baptize’ is only one of them. The scriptures also speak of people receiving it, being given it, anointed with it, having it come upon them or fall on them, being filled with it, having it poured out, etc. (‘Filled with’ and ‘full of’ are also used to refer to instances when the holy spirit works in a person in a specific way.)
    Since ‘baptize in the holy spirit’ is only one of several figurative expressions, and is only used in those few verses which make a point of comparing and contrasting it with baptism in water, and since in the vast majority of its occurrences, the word ‘baptize’ in the NT refers to baptism in water in the name of Jesus Christ, we can conclude that the “one baptism” referred to in Ephesians 4 is the baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, which is baptism in water. As I mentioned, the previous verse in Ephesians 4 refers to “one spirit,” showing that the “one baptism” is not talking about the spirit.
    The baptism in water in the name of Jesus Christ was usually accompanied by the RECEIVING of the holy spirit, but notice that it is not called “baptism in the holy spirit” in those references. Jesus pours out, or administers the spirit, but it is not always called a baptism. It was only called that to compare and contrast it with literal baptism in water.
    So rather than having a baptism with two parts (which isn’t stated in the Scriptures), I think it is more accurate to say, as Paul does in Eph. 4, that we have one baptism, in water, and we have one spirit, the receiving of which is described in a number of ways, one of which is a “figurative” baptism.
    I hope this helps.


  26. 4. And a certain Rabbi (Nicodemus) came unto him by night for fear of the Jews, and said unto him. How can a man be born again when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born again ?
    5. Iesus answered, Verily I say unto you except a man be born again of flesh and of spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.


  27. Victor,

    To answer your question, what Jesus means is that unless we are baptized in water and the spirit – two separate baptisms- we will not reign in the Kingdom He is setting up when he returns.

    We can see the kingdom by being born again – which comes by confession of Jesus as Lord – as Christ. But to enter in this context requires obedience to His commandments. Not only does Jesus expect and require obedience from His servants, but by disobeying the command to be baptized in water and spirit one would be at a distinct disadvantage in the ability to overcome and reign with Him. When we are water baptized our old man is crucified wih Him, being baptized into His death (Romans 6). When we speak in tongues we have the evidence of holy spirit both upon and in us, to the end that we might worship God in spirit and in truth, edifying the inner man. Tongues is the key and the foundational gift or mainfestation that the devil does not want us doing. It is also one that God uses as a litmus test to see who will obey, since of all the gifts, it is the most foolish to us. It attacks our pride, which is why many reject it. In so doing they will be rejected – not from salvation- but from reigning.

    God continues to emphasize this in the latest word of prophecy I received from John Kropf –

    “Only walking by faith and obeying the truth may you receive of My Spiritual kingdom in this life and enter into My physical kingdom without being kicked out only seeing what you have lost. If you are born again you can see My kingdom. To enter into My kingdom you must be born of water and the Spirit. Repent of your picking and choosing the parts of My truth that you want to obey. Fear the one who can kill and send you into hell.”


    I have posted many times regarding this to this blog and to my own. I will not judge my brethren but we will be without excuse if we continue to pick and choose which of Christ’s commandments to obey.


  28. Posted by JohnO on October 5, 2007 at 11:36 am

    Steve, which of us in this dialog have “picked and choose[n]”? We have all been dunked, and filled 🙂


  29. John,

    I didn’t intend to point a finger at you or anyone else here but…..I’ve made my point elsewhere on this subject. There are many we fellowship with who don’t believe water baptism was practiced by the 1st century church. To them I disagree. There are also those who believe that being spirit-filled comes with being water baptized following repentance and belief in the gospel. To them I would say, if that’s the case, why did Paul ask the Ephesians in Acts 19 if they had received the Holy Spirit after they believed? Answer – receiving the Holy Spirit to Paul and the other apostles meant seeing it in manifestation by speaking in tongues.

    When Bro. John gives a prophecy from the Lord, I test it. When the prophecy reiterates Jesus words and sternly warns us that those who are not born of water and the spirit will not enter the kingdom of God, I take it very seriously. I know God wants to be taken seriously.

    Are we automatically qualified to reign with Christ because we’ve been water-baptized and born of the spirit, speaking in tongues by which we edify the inner man? No – but it’s part of the steps to overcoming. Now what about the reverse – are we automatically disqualified from reigning because we refuse one or the other? That’s a question each of us should ask because I truly believe there will be some who weep and gnash their teeth in sorrow and disappointment on account of this one issue. I don’t want that happening to brethren I know on my watch.

    As I said before, I won’t judge my brethren – that’s the Lord’s job and I have my own issues and pet sins to overcome. But the word also says that if we would judge ourselves now, we wouldn’t be judged with the world later.

    I hope you can receive this in the spirit I’m writing it – not to condemn – but to warn others and encourage and help one another to be overcomers.

    I’ll be away from computer and internet for a few days so if you reply to this I’ll reply when I return next week.

    God bless –



  30. Posted by JohnO on October 5, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    I understand the spirit of your words. I only wonder why they keep showing up here, since you’ve admitted this isn’t the audience intended for them. We fight the same fight concerning baptism.


  31. Posted by finney on October 5, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    May 18th, 2007 at 12:30 am
    People are converted by repentance, intelligent acceptance of the gospel, and water baptism.

    Are you using the word ‘converted’ in such a manner that ‘saved’ could be substituted for it without doing damage to the meaning of the sentence?


  32. Posted by james on March 31, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t this section referring to ressurection?

    What specifically in Jesus’ discourse leads you to the positive conclusion that Jesus was talking/thinking about baptism at all in this conversation?


  33. James, thanks for writing. What leads you to the view of this section on Resurrection? That might help me understand what you’re saying a bit more.


  34. Posted by james on March 31, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Read through 1 Cor 15: 35 – 58. I think you’ll see that Paul’s lettter here is a parallel to Jesus’ late night conversation with Nicodemus in John 3.

    Specifically notice the parallel between John 3:5-6(the verse we’re talking about on this thread) and 1 Corinthians 15: 49 – 50.


  35. Posted by james on April 1, 2008 at 1:52 pm


    This quote may be a help in clarifying my earlier statements. I thought this gentleman said it better than I could myself.

    “Jesus often introduced a dialogue with a brief enigmatic saying, challenging the other
    person to think about it so that together the two would arrive at an answer.

    How does the dialogue develop here?

    First, Jesus says in my paraphrase (please check the Greek text yourself): “To get into God’s
    Kingdom, you need to be born again.”

    Nicodemus is one big question mark: “How can a human being be born a second time?” It is
    clear that N. is thinking of physical re-birth, an absurdity.

    Since N is puzzled, one would expect that Jesus would come back and try to explain the
    enigma in clearer terms, and especially respond to N.’s misunderstanding that this might refer to physical re-birth.

    So J. says: “To get into God’s kingdom, you need to be born of X and Y. What is born in a
    physical, human way (EX THS SARKOS) becomes a physical, human being (SARX ESTIN) and what
    is born in a spiritual way (EK TOU PNEUMATOS) is a spiritual being (PNEUMA ESTIN). Do not
    misunderstand me when I said that you need to be born again.”

    Since verse 6 clearly contrasts two kinds of births: the normal, human, physical birth and
    a new concept: spiritual birth, I draw the following conclusion from the intent of Jesus
    in this dialogue:

    Since N. misunderstood “spiritual birth”= “being born gain” as if it was of the same kind as physical birth, let me explain that there are two different kinds of birth, physical and spiritual.

    If we see v. 6 as a longer elaboration of the short “born of water and spirit” in v. 5,
    then it is possible to suggest from context that “born of water” is co-referential to
    “born of the flesh” and “born of spirit” as co-referential to “born of the spirit.”

    The result is that “born of water” could be a metaphor for physical birth, possibly by way
    of metonymy, where the water comes out just before the child comes out. In this metonymy
    the EK would have the literal meaning “our of”. The child emerges from the water it has
    been enveloped in.

    It is hard for us to see this meaning because we don’t have such a metaphor or metonymy today.

    This, by the way, can be supported by the only other place in the GNT where “water” – not
    “living water” – is used metaphorically.

    Since one of the main themes in 1 John is to show that Jesus was truly a human being, not just a spirit who lived for a time in another human, then it makes good sense to see “coming through/by/in water” as referring to actual physical birth. This would correspond to the other metaphor “coming through/by/in blood” which refers to physical death.
    Although the conception of Jesus was supernatural, his actual birth was associated with
    the breaking of water just as any other human birth. His death was accompanied by real
    blood, just as the death of any other human being.

    I know this interpretation is not generally accepted, but I think it has more contextual
    merit than what is normally given to it…especially in light of Paul’s very similar discourse in 1 Corinthians 15: 35 – 58.”

    ~Iver Larsen


  36. James, thanks for your comments. My apologies for not getting back to you sooner. I see from your first post the parrallel of John 3 and I Cor 15 as being resurrected – is that what you were pointing out?

    As to your second post – do you think that Jesus was trying to make the point to Nicodemus that in order to be a part of the Kingdom of God you have to be literally born at one point in history? Do you think there was a need to clear that up?

    Looking forward to your thoughts.


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