Water and Spirit


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In John 3:5, Jesus says to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” This has been a passage that has figured very prominently in discussions regarding baptism, within certain denominations. Some have interpreted Jesus’ words here to mean that water baptism is the means by which the Spirit unites us to Christ. If so, then baptism would be necessary for salvation. The unbaptized would be unregenerate.

Countless people have been taught this dogma. Many denominations have perpetuated it. And a myriad of parents and grandparents have felt pressured to baptize their newborns, for fear that, should the infants face an untimely death, they would perish forever in hell. However, I think this understanding of baptism is incorrect. I’ve never been convinced that it is biblical.

So what then was Jesus getting at when he said the words, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit…”?


To answer this, let me first explain why I don’t believe “water” here is a reference to “baptism.” First of all, if baptism was the referent, it seems odd to me that it is not mentioned elsewhere in this chapter. After all, this chapter is basically an explanation of how to gain eternal life. Jesus does, however, say things like this: Continue reading