Here is another installment in the highly acclaimed (by at least a half a dozen readers) and hopefully enlightening series known as Bible Misunderstandings.
Today, I want to tackle another passage that is a personal favorite of mine. I have seen this passage brought up and used incorrectly a couple of times just this past month. I am referring to John 3, specifically to verse five. Here is the verse in context:
3In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
4“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
5Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? (John 3:3-12)
Verse five in this passage gets ripped out of context all of the time as some kind of proof text for baptism. Let me just patiently say that every mention of water in the Bible is not a reference to baptism. This one would be much better understood if it is left to stand with the verses around it. In verse four, a puzzled Nicodemus asks Jesus how it is possible for a grown man to “reinter the womb” to be born again. Jesus says that “no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” Remember that Jesus is talking about being born twice. The first birth is water, which is human physical birth and the second birth is Spirit, which is birth into God’s family. Further proof of this is found in verse six, where Jesus explains that flesh gives birth to flesh and Spirit gives birth to Spirit. If Jesus were intending to speak about baptism in verse five, verse six would make no sense whatsoever. Verse eight corroborates this as Jesus only mentions the need to be born “of the Spirit” when speaking about those who are “born again.” The water in this passage has nothing to do with the “second birth,” it speaks of the “first birth.” Further proof comes in verse nine through twelve. When Nicodemus expresses some confusion, Jesus explains that He can’t explain the Spiritual until Nicodemus grasps the natural, earthly things.
There is plenty of great teaching about baptism in the Bible, but verse five in John is not part of it. Jesus is just making a distinction between a natural birth and a Spiritual one.