What does "Water" mean in 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."
Consistent interpretation will explain this expression in the light of the context. How would Nicodemus understand it? He had the Old Testament and could be blamed for not knowing it. Jesus used words that would be intelligible to Nicodemus. Nicodemus could not be blamed for not knowing about baptism. The Jewish mind would not think He referred to literal water.
Again, all admit that it is a figure. Never once in the New Testament is baptism called "water." The whole matter turns upon this question: Of what is "water" a figure?
If Jesus referred to baptism, He was merely substituting a ceremony for the many ceremonies of Judaism. Other expressions in this conversation emphasize the intensely spiritual nature of the New Birth. It is "out of the Spirit" and "from above." (Greek for "again") .
Whatever "water" means, it is necessary to salvation. Note the words, "except," "must" and "cannot". Why therefore, did Jesus not emphasize it on other occasions if He referred to baptism? The truth is that He always chose a representation of grace that would be understood by His hearers. Note the different figures in John: the water of Salvation in John 6, etc.
To what Old Testament passages would the mind of Nicodemus turn? He would think of Psalm 119:9 which shows the cleansing power of the word. He would recall the wells of Salvation in Isaiah 12:3. He would think of the ceremonial water of Ezekiel 36:25 that tells of the blood of the Lamb. Compare John 15:3 and Ephesians 5:26.
"Water" therefore, pictures the word of the gospel or the blood which is revealed to us in the word of the gospel.
[From West Kentucky Baptist School Voice, Murray, Kentucky, February, 1936, p. 3. Document from Boyce Digital Library On-line, SBTS Archives, Louisville, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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