Saturday, June 30, 2007

Baptismal Regeneration 5 -- John 3 Redux

In my first post on John 3 I did not address John 3:5. It says, "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."

I think the water spoken of here is baptism. This cannot be proven beyond a shadow of doubt. But I think the best reading of this text is that it speaks of baptism.

  • The grammar of 3:5 speaks of one birth -- a birth that involves water and spirit. The construction does not mean two births.
  • Contextually, just a few verses later Jesus is making disciples -- i.e., bringing people into the Kingdom -- by baptizing them.
  • The consensual reading of the text by ancient interpreters holds it is about baptism.

One interpretation I have heard is that water means amniotic fluid. This could be so, especially if one parallels 3:5 with 3:6, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." The problem is the grammatical construction of 3:5. If water is amniotic fluid then Jesus is speaking of two births -- natural and spiritual. But the grammar of 3:5 won't allow that.

Another reading is that water itself is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit. This has good contextual strength because in John Jesus uses water as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit. This is a stronger argument for me. But then one is faced with the problem that Jesus is saying one must be born of the Holy Spirit and, well, born of the Holy Spirit in 3:5. Why would he be redundant?

The notion of one birth effected by water and spirit makes most sense to me. The best candidate for where this birth takes place is in baptism.

More later....


DiscuZion said...

Hey Fr. Peter,

Can I propose a 3rd option? Could John be linking this new birth to Ezekiel 36? That is, that Jesus is refering to the New Covenant of the heart as described in that prophetic passage?

Either way, this does not neccesarily deny efficacious Baptism, as water is a constant creation/new creation concept throughout the Bible:
º The Spirit hovering over the waters in Gen 1;

º the "new creation" that results from the Flood (1 Peter 3:18-22);

º the dividing of the Red Sea in the Exodus, and so on.

Samuel Lago, Anglican brother in Christ, from Chile.

Peter said...

A strong argument can be made that John 3 echoes Ezekiel 36 -- and I agree with that argument.

Wasn't Ezekiel 36 commonly linked to John 3 and seen as a typology for baptism in the early church Fathers?

I will be getting into typology in later posts and will definitely examine Ezekiel 36.


Matthew J. Perkins said...

wow Peter, your posts have been very interesting to read. I'm realizing that to some extent I have held the typical evangelical view of baptism/new birth. I know I read an interpretation of that John passage at one time to mean amniotic fluid so everytime I've read that passage that's been what I've seen. I think your view makes more sense, especially if supported by Patristic interpretation.