On pages 31-41 of his book entitled Baptism – Biblical Study (College Press Publishing, Joplin, MO (1989) [7th printing in 2006]), Dr. Jack Cottrell uses John 3:5 to support the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. On page 40 Dr. Cottrell writes:
Finally, we have seen that baptism itself is a (relative) necessity for salvation, since one cannot enter the kingdom without it.
Let me fast-forward to the end of Post 21. John 3:5 reports Jesus’ statement that “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” By the expression “is born of water and the Spirit” John intended to refer his audience to the Old Testament prophesy in Ezekiel 36:25-27. John did not intend to refer to water baptism. Therefore, John 3:5 does not support baptismal regeneration. But, how do we get there?
It is important to appreciate that the broader literary context of John 3:5 is John 3:1-21.
Post 20 presents my observations of John 3:1-21, which reveal two basic aspects. First, Jesus presented several characterizations of the condition of salvation; namely, (1) “is born again” in two occurrences, (2) “is born of water and the Spirit” in one occurrence, and (3) “is born of the Spirit” in two occurrences. In John 3:1-21,
Second, in five occurrences, Jesus taught that belief was the one necessary step to attain the condition of salvation. These five are (1) “whoever believes will in Him have eternal life,” (2) “that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life,” (3) “He who believes in Him is not judged,” (4) “he who does not believe has been judged already,” and (5) “[already judged] because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Let me continue with Post 20.
EXEGESIS OF JOHN 3:5 – PART 1
The Broader Literary Context – John 3:1-21
The broader content of the text (i.e., John 3:5) is John 3:1–21 (NASB95), and it reads:
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”
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. 6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 “But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
Preliminary & Background Issues
To best understand my exegesis of John 3:5, let me reiterate the following hermeneutical principles from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics. ARTICLE XV reads:
We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning which the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text.
ARTICLE XV supports the principle of authorial intent:. On pages 27, 30-31 of Biblical Hermeneutics Five Views, (2012) IVP Academic , Downers Grove, IL, Dr. Craig Blomberg writes:
The grammatico-historical method, on the other hand, refers to studying the biblical text, or any other text, in its original historical context, and seeking the meaning its author(s) most likely intended for its original audience(s) or addresses based on the grammar and syntax. [page 27]
It is very unlikely that originally intended meaning of the message, whether written or oral, could be something that an original audience couldn’t possibly have conceived. [page 30]
What is described as discerning “authorial intent,” moreover, is often really shorthand for discerning the most likely meaning of a given text in light of all that we can recover about its original author(s), audience(s), and the historical and cultural milieus in which they lived. [page 31]
Other relevant hermeneutical principles comprise:
ARTICLE XVII – We affirm the unity, harmony and consistency of Scripture and declare that it is its own best interpreter.
ARTICLE VII – We affirm that the meaning expressed in each biblical text is single, definite and fixed.
ARTICLE XXIII – We affirm the clarity of Scripture and specifically of its message about salvation from sin.
To understand John’s authorial intent we need to know sometime about the background of the person Nicodemus who John described as a man of the Pharisees” and “a ruler of the Jews.” The phrase “a ruler of the Jews” describes the Sanhedrin. See Easton, M. G. (1893). In Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature (pp. 500–501). Harper & Brothers. The Tyndale Bible Dictionary [Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. (2001). The Tyndale Bible dictionary (p. 1165-1166). Tyndale House Publishers] describes the Sanhedrin below:
Character Little is known about the procedure for admission into the Sanhedrin, but because the council had aristocratic roots (and was not truly democratic), appointments were probably made from among the priests, leading scribes, and lay nobility. The Mishnah stipulates that the sole test of membership was rabbinic learning along with true Israelite descent (Sanhedrin 4:4). The council had 71 members (Sanhedrin 1:6) divided into the following three categories: the high priests, the elders, and the scribes.
No doubt, Nicodemus knew the Old Testament including the writing of the prophets like Ezekiel.
Discussion of the Dialog between Jesus and Nicodemus
The dialog between Jesus and Nicodemus reveals some important factors that impact the interpretation of John 3:5 and relevant verses.
Nicodemus approached Jesus and characterized Him as a God-sent “teacher” per verse 2b, which reads, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Notice that Nicodemus did not ask a question, yet, Jesus answered him with Jesus’ first description of the spiritual condition necessary for salvation:
3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
According to verse 4, Nicodemus expressed his puzzlement at Jesus’ reference that a saved person “is born again.”
As verses 5-8 report, Jesus addressed Nicodemus’ question by multiple times describing the spiritual condition of salvation. One description is “unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Next, Jesus reiterated the condition of being “born again.” Finally, He twice described the spiritual condition necessary for salvation as “is born of the Spirit.”
In summary, at this point in the conversation, Jesus described the spiritual condition of salvation in three ways: (1) “is born again” in two occurrences, (2) “is born of water and the Spirit” in one occurrence, and (3) “is born of the Spirit” in two occurrences.
Verse 9 shows that Nicodemus still didn’t understand. Verses 10-12 report Jesus’ rebuke of Nicodemus because as a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, he should have been aware of the correlation between the necessity of being born above by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and an Old Testament passage like Ezekiel 36:25-27. See the NET Study Bible Full Notes Edition, Note P on page 2001,
Verses 13-15 comprise Jesus’ elaboration upon Nicodemus’ view that Jesus was a God-sent teacher:
13 “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
Jesus confirmed His Messianic mission with these verses. In other words, Jesus made it clear to Nicodemus that He – Jesus – was the Son of Man such that those who believe in Him would have eternal life, i.e., be saved.
Prior to verse 15, even though Jesus had five times described the spiritual condition of salvation, He had not described the necessary step for salvation. Verse 15 was the first occurrence of Jesus describing the necessary step for salvation, i.e., “whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”
Verses 16-21 complete Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus and contain four additional references to belief in Jesus alone as the only necessary step for salvation. These references are: (1) whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life, (2) He who believes in Him is not judged, (3) he who does not believe has been judged already, and (4) [already judged] because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
A study of the dialog between Jesus and Nicodemus shows the following five descriptions of the condition of salvation. These descriptions along with the grammar of the relevant verbs are below.
John 3:3 “is born [gennaō– aorist passive subjective 3rd person singular] again [anōthen]”
John 3:5 “is born [gennaō – aorist passive subjective 3rd person singular] of [ek] water [hydōr] and [kai] the Spirit [pneuma]
John 3:6 “is born [gennaō – perfect passive participle singular nominative neuter] of [ek] the [ho] Spirit [pneuma]
John 3:7 “be born [gennaō – aorist passive infinitive] again [anōthen]
John 3:8 “is born [gennaō – perfect passive participle singular nominative masculine] of [ek] the [ho] Spirit [pneuma]
The dialog between Jesus and Nicodemus shows the following five descriptions of the step necessary to attain the condition of salvation. These descriptions along with the grammar of the relevant verbs are below.
John 3:15 “15 so that whoever believes [pisteuō – present active participle singular nominative masculine]will in [en] Him have eternal life.”
John 3:16 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes [pisteuō – present active participle singular nominative masculine] in [eis] Him shall not perish, but have [echō – present active subjunctive 3rd person singular] eternal life.
John 3:18 18a “He who believes [pisteuō – present active participle singular nominative masculine] in [eis] Him is not judged;
John 3:18b “18b he who does not believe [pisteuō – present active participle singular nominative masculine] has been judged [krinō – perfect passive indicative 3rd person singular] already [ēdē],
John 3:18c “18c because he has not believed [pisteuō – perfect active indicative 3rd person singular] in [eis] the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Post 21 will continue with my exegesis of John 3:5 and other relevant verses.
VERY IMPORTANT IF YOU BELIEVE IN BAPTISMAL REGENERATION
Finally, let me quote gotquestions.org (lonk: https://www.gotquestions.org/baptism-Mark-16-16.html ):
If you believe in baptismal regeneration, you would do well to prayerfully consider whom or what you are really putting your trust in. Is your faith in a physical act (being baptized) or in the finished work of Christ on the cross? Whom or what are you trusting for salvation? Is it the shadow (baptism) or the substance (Jesus Christ)? Our faith must rest in Christ alone. “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
Please read and take to heart what I write in the section entitled “IF YOU ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN.”
IF YOU ARE UNSURE ABOUT YOUR SALVATION
If you are unsure about your salvation, you need to check out my book The Salvation Meter: Biblical Self-Diagnostic Tests to Examine Your Salvation and Spiritual Growth (book link at Xulon Press: https://www.xulonpress.com/bookstore/bookdetail.php?PB_ISBN=9781662828638 ). At Amazon the book link is https://www.amazon.com/Salavation-Meter-Biblical-Self-Diagnostic-Spiritual/dp/1662828632 . I also have a website in which I am updating the content in the book. The link to my website for the book is https://thesalvationmeter.com .
IF YOU ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN
… please (1) read through “God’s Plan of Salvation” so you can understand what God did for you through His only unique Son, Jesus Christ, and (2), from the bottom of your heart, pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” meaning every word. If you do, you will be reconciled to God – saved – through Jesus Christ.
God’s Plan of Salvation
In the beginning, God, who is holy, created the entire universe. As a part of His creative actions, He made humans in His image to know Him. For a while, everything was right between God and our ancestors, Adam and Eve. But Adam sinned, and his sin was passed down to all of humankind whereby we became separated from God. Nothing we could do on our own could bridge that separation so that without God’s intervention, hell would be our eternal destination.
Fortunately for us, in His great love and mercy God provided humankind with the only means of salvation, which is through Jesus Christ who is God’s only unique Son. While retaining His deity, God the Son became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law Himself and taking on Himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever repent and trust in Him for their salvation. Jesus rose from the dead, showing that God the Father accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us has been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and trust alone in what Christ did to save us.
If we repent of our sins and completely trust in Christ alone that He died for our sins and rose to life from the dead, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.
Scripture References: Genesis 1:1, 27, 31; Habakkuk 1:13; Genesis 2:7, 18, 21-25; Genesis 3:1-7, 23-24; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:19-20, 23; 5:17-19; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 6:23; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 John 4:10; John 3:16-18; Mark 1:15; Romans 1:4; 4:25; John 3:5-8; 1 Peter 1:3.
Lord, Jesus Christ, the only unique Son of God, thank You for Your free gift of eternal life. I know I’m a sinner who cannot save myself no matter what I do, and I deserve to spend eternity in hell. But, I know that because You loved me so much, You voluntarily died on the cross for me taking my sins upon Yourself, and You physically bodily rose from the grave showing that Your sacrificial death was sufficient payment to give me eternal life in Heaven. I now repent of my sins and trust alone in what You did for my eternal salvation. Please take control of my life as I now receive You as my Lord and Savior. Thank You so much for saving me. I am now Yours forever! (Scripture references: John 1:1-4, 11-14; John 3:16; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:21-26; Isaiah 53:4-6; Mark 1:15; Acts 16:31; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9-10, 13; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; John 10:27-29).
Upon your salvation, you must find a spiritually solid Bible-believing church that (1) teaches that the sixty-six books of the Bible are the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God, (2) believes in the doctrine of the Trinity, which means that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and each Person is fully God, and (3) teaches that salvation is by grace through faith and not by works (e.g., water baptism by immersion).
ONE CAUTIONARY POINT. Please do not make the mistake of thinking that once you become a Christian, your life will become easy. Most likely, it will become more difficult. God’s blessing of salvation and life’s difficulties are not mutually exclusive. Jesus told His disciples, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” John 15:18 (NLT). Always keep in mind that you have an eternal home in heaven waiting for you per John 14:2–4 (NLT):
2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.”
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