Q: What does “born of water” in John 3:5 mean?

A: Several views exist. Some believe it refers to water baptism, meaning that a person needs to be baptized in water to be saved. However, numerous passages in the New Testament state that sinners are saved by believing on the Lord Jesus as their Savior, placing their faith in Him and His merits, not in baptism or some rite. Further is the example of the thief on the cross, who was saved apart from water baptism.

Others believe that “water” refers to natural birth. An unborn baby is encased in water before birth. In this passage Nicodemus had just asked Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (v. 4). Jesus was logically answering Nicodemus’s question: “Yes, you are born physically, but you must also be born spiritually to have everlasting life.”

Others believe that “water” refers to the Word of God. The Holy Spirit uses the Word to convict people of sin and to bring them to a saving knowledge of Him. People are not saved apart from the influence of Scripture (John 15:3; Ephesians 5:25, 26; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). God’s Word is alive, powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Human works, gimmicks, or any other scheme will not do the job of regeneration.

Still others believe the word “water” is synonymous with the Holy Spirit. But to take this view, one must render the word “and” as “even” in this verse. “Unless one is born of water, even the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Otherwise “Spirit” would be mentioned twice, which wouldn’t make sense. But this word change is legitimate. Spiritual birth is produced by the Holy Spirit the moment a person believes on Jesus Christ as Savior. At this moment a believer is placed into the Body of Christ, and the Holy Spirit indwells that person.

These three latter views have validity. Human works, gimmicks, or any other scheme will not do the job of regeneration. Only God’s Word and the Holy Spirit can accomplish salvation.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send your Bible questions to nolson@garbc.org, or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.