Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

John 3:5

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.
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Baptism;   Holy Spirit;   Jesus, the Christ;   Life;   Man;   Nicodemus;   Regeneration;   Salvation;   Symbols and Similitudes;   Scofield Reference Index - Inspiration;   Thompson Chain Reference - Baptism;   Christianity;   Church;   Kingdom, Spiritual;   Necessities, Spiritual;   Requirements, Divine;   Sacraments;   Spiritual;   The Topic Concordance - Holy Spirit;   Kingdom of God;   Rebirth/being Born Again;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Baptism;   Baptism with the Holy Spirit;   Emblems of the Holy Spirit, the;   Holy Spirit, the, Is God;   Life, Spiritual;  
Dictionaries:
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost;   Nicodemus;   Regeneration;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Baptism;   Eternity;   Holy spirit;   John, gospel of;   Kingdom of god;   Life;   Nicodemus;   Regeneration;   Sin;   Teacher;   Water;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Amen;   Baptize, Baptism;   Church, the;   Disciple, Discipleship;   Holy Spirit;   Image of God;   King, Christ as;   Life;   Obedience;   Salvation;   Spirit;   Spirituality;   Water;   Charles Buck Theological Dictionary - Episcopacy;   Holiness;   Holy Ghost;   Knowledge of God (1);   CARM Theological Dictionary - Born again;   Kingdom of god;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Birth;   Nicodemus;   Regeneration;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Amen;   Baptism;   Birth;   Elisha;   Holy Spirit, the;   Jesus Christ;   Nicodemus;   Proselytes;   Son of God;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Bible, Theology of;   Birth;   Holy Spirit;   Infant Baptism;   Nicodemus;   Water;   Wind;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Baptism;   Blessedness;   Children (Sons) of God;   Gospels;   John, Gospel of;   John, Theology of;   Kingdom of God;   Mss;   Nicodemus;   Propitiation;   Regeneration;   Scribes;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Atonement (2);   Authority in Religion;   Baptism;   Brotherhood (2);   Children of God;   Children of God, Sons of God;   Church (2);   Discourse;   Enthusiasm;   Eternal Life (2);   Eternal Punishment;   Eternal Sin;   Good;   Guilt (2);   Heart;   Holy Spirit;   Individuality;   John the Baptist;   John, Gospel of (Critical);   Last Supper;   Man;   Manuscripts;   Mediator;   Mental Characteristics;   Necessity;   Pharisees (2);   Property (2);   Quotations (2);   Reality;   Redemption (2);   Righteous, Righteousness;   Sacraments;   Sanctify, Sanctification;   Teaching of Jesus;   Trinity (2);   Water (2);   Worldliness (2);   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit;   Kingdom, Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven;   Nicodemus ;   The Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary - Regeneration;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - Amen;   Baptism;   Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary - Heart;   Kingdom;   Natural;  
Encyclopedias:
Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia - Tabernacle, the;   Jesus of Nazareth;   Kingdom or Church of Christ, the;   International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Baptism (Non-Immersionist View);   Baptism (Lutheran Doctrine);   Baptismal Regeneration;   Bear;   Ethics of Jesus;   Johannine Theology, the;   John the Baptist;   Laver;   Nicodemus;   Salvation;   Sin (1);   Verily;   Kitto Biblical Cyclopedia - Baptism;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Birth, New;   Holy Spirit;   Nicodemus;  
Devotionals:
Chip Shots from the Ruff of Life - Devotion for November 13;   Daily Light on the Daily Path - Devotion for November 13;   Every Day Light - Devotion for December 4;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

Of water and of the Spirit - To the baptism of water a man was admitted when he became a proselyte to the Jewish religion; and, in this baptism, he promised in the most solemn manner to renounce idolatry, to take the God of Israel for his God, and to have his life conformed to the precepts of the Divine law. But the water which was used on the occasion was only an emblem of the Holy Spirit. The soul was considered as in a state of defilement, because of past sin: now, as by that water the body was washed, cleansed, and refreshed, so, by the influences of the Holy Spirit, the soul was to be purified from its defilement, and strengthened to walk in the way of truth and holiness.

When John came baptizing with water, he gave the Jews the plainest intimations that this would not suffice; that it was only typical of that baptism of the Holy Ghost, under the similitude of fire, which they must all receive from Jesus Christ: see Matthew 3:11. Therefore, our Lord asserts that a man must be born of water and the Spirit, i.e. of the Holy Ghost, which, represented under the similitude of water, cleanses, refreshes, and purifies the soul. Reader, hast thou never had any other baptism than that of water? If thou hast not had any other, take Jesus Christ's word for it, thou canst not, in thy present state, enter into the kingdom of God. I would not say to thee merely, read what it is to be born of the Spirit: but pray, O pray to God incessantly, till he give thee to feel what is implied in it! Remember, it is Jesus only who baptizes with the Holy Ghost: see John 1:33. He who receives not this baptism has neither right nor title to the kingdom of God; nor can he with any propriety be termed a Christian, because that which essentially distinguished the Christian dispensation from that of the Jews was, that its author baptized all his followers with the Holy Ghost.

Though baptism by water, into the Christian faith, was necessary to every Jew and Gentile that entered into the kingdom of the Messiah, it is not necessary that by water and the Spirit (in this place) we should understand two different things: it is probably only an elliptical form of speech, for the Holy Spirit under the similitude of water; as, in Matthew 3:3, the Holy Ghost and fire, do not mean two things, but one, viz. the Holy Ghost under the similitude of fire - pervading every part, refining and purifying the whole.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on John 3:5". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/john-3.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Be born of water - By “water,” here, is evidently signified “baptism.” Thus the word is used in Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5. Baptism was practiced by the Jews in receiving a Gentile as a proselyte. It was practiced by John among the Jews; and Jesus here says that it is an ordinance of his religion, and the sign and seal of the renewing influences of his Spirit. So he said Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” It is clear from these places, and from the example of the apostles Acts 2:38, Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12-13, Acts 8:36, Acts 8:38; Acts 9:18; Acts 10:47-48; Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33; Acts 18:8; Acts 22:16; Galatians 3:27, that they considered this ordinance as binding on all who professed to love the Lord Jesus. And though it cannot be said that none who are not baptized can be saved, yet Jesus meant, undoubtedly, to be understood as affirming that this was to be the regular and uniform way of entering into his church; that it was the appropriate mode of making a profession of religion; and that a man who neglected this, when the duty was made known to him, neglected a plain command of God. It is clear, also, that any other command of God might as well be neglected or violated as this, and that it is the duty of everyone not only to love the Saviour, but to make an acknowledgment of that love by being baptized, and by devoting himself thus to his service.

But, lest Nicodemus should suppose that this was all that was meant, he added that it was necessary that he should “be born of the Spirit” also. This was predicted of the Saviour, that he should “baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire,” Matthew 3:11. By this is clearly intended that the heart must be changed by the agency of the Holy Spirit; that the love of sin must be abandoned; that man must repent of crime and turn to God; that he must renounce all his evil propensities, and give himself to a life of prayer and holiness, of meekness, purity, and benevolence. This great change is in the Scripture ascribed uniformly to the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; Romans 5:5; 1 Peter 1:22.

Cannot enter into - This is the way, the appropriate way, of entering into the kingdom of the Messiah here and hereafter. He cannot enter into the true church here, or into heaven in the world to come, except in connection with a change of heart, and by the proper expression of that change in the ordinances appointed by the Saviour.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on John 3:5". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/john-3.html. 1870.

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Paraphrased, this statement means that unless one obeys the gospel of Jesus Christ by believing in him, repenting of sin, confessing his name, and being baptized into Jesus Christ (no genuine baptism is possible without the three antecedents mentioned here), and as a consequence of such obedience, receives the Holy Spirit, he can never enter God's kingdom, he cannot be saved.

At the time Jesus revealed this teaching to Nicodemus, the great commission had not been given; and the immediate application of the teaching to Nicodemus regarded John's baptism which was mandatory for all the followers of Jesus prior to the resurrection; but the glowing words of this passage anticipated the Great Commission and the baptism therein commanded, thus making the passage equally applicable to all of subsequent ages who would enter God's kingdom. See under John 7:39.

The persistent and ingenious efforts of people to shout baptism out of this passage are in vain, for there is no way it can be made to disappear. "Born of water" refers to baptism; and there is absolutely nothing else connected with Christianity to which it could refer. For centuries after this Gospel was received, "born of water" was never otherwise construed than as a reference to baptism; and, as noted above, in its application to Nicodemus, it pointed to the Pharisaical refusal to submit to the baptism of John; but, by extension, it is even more emphatic in its application to that baptism which is greater than John's, namely, that of the Great Commission.

In the study of this passage, it should be remembered that it is only quite recently in Christian times that interpretations of this verse have been devised to exclude its obvious reference to Christian baptism. John Boys, Dean of Canterbury, renowned preacher and scholar of the Church of England in the 17th century, wrote as follows:

Some few modern divines (Note: Although few THEN, they are many NOW - James Burton Coffman) have conceded that these words are not to be construed of external baptism; because, say they, "Christ taketh water here by a borrowed speech for the Spirit of God, the effect whereof it shadoweth out; and so water and the Spirit are all one!" To this interpretation answer is made: first, that it is an old rule in expounding of Holy Scripture, that where a literal sense will stand, the farthest from the letter is commonly the worst ... (Note: Boys wrote at great length concerning the efforts of men toward "changing the meaning of words," calling such conduct "licentious and deluding," and denouncing it as "perverting the text.")

Origen, Chrysostom, Augustine, Cyril, Beda, Theophylact, Euthymius, in the commentaries on this place (John 3:5), along with Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Ambrose, Hierome, Basil, Gregory, Nyssen, and many more, yea most of the Fathers - Hooker, a man of incomparable reading, openeth his mouth wider, avowing peremptorily that ALL THE ANCIENTS (capitals mine, J.B.C.) have construed this text, as our church doth, of outward baptism.[5]SIZE>

It cannot be denied, therefore, that all interpretations that would edit any reference to baptism out of this text are too late by centuries, to have any weight at all with people who wish to know what the word of the Lord teaches. The warping and distortion of the views of expositors since the Lutheran reformation, who have sought to conform this text to Luther's erroneous theory of justification, were denounced by no less a giant of Biblical exegesis than Alford, who wrote:

There can be no doubt, on any honest interpretation of the words, that [@gennethenai] [@ek] [@hudatos] (born of water) refers to the token or outward sign of baptism, [@gennethenai] [@ek] [@pneumatos] (born of the Spirit) to the thing signified, or the inward grace of the Holy Spirit. All attempts to get rid of these two plain facts have sprung from doctrinal prejudices, by which the views of expositors have been warped.[6]

It is regrettable that Afford injected the jargon of "outward sign" and "inward grace" into his comment; because the relative meaning of these two things, "born of water" and "born of the Spirit" is not under discussion in this passage. It makes no difference what either one of these things is in its relationship to the other, both are absolutely necessary to salvation, that being the unqualified affirmation of this text. Thus, in order to be saved, one must be baptized (born of water) and receive the Holy Spirit (born of the Spirit). Christ joined these entities in this passage; and what God hath joined, let no man put asunder! The opinions of great scholars might be multiplied in support of this interpretation of the text; and, for those who might be influenced by such opinions, reference is made to the Handbook on Baptism,[7] in which fifty of the most notable scholars of the last 200 years are quoted. Only one other will be cited here, namely, Phillip Schaff (1819-1893), Professor of Church History, Union Theological Seminary, New York, President of the American Company of the New Testament Revisers, and one of the greatest Christian scholars of all time. He said:

In view of the facts that John baptized, that Christ himself was baptized, that his disciples baptized in his name (John 4:2), it seems impossible to disconnect water in John 3:5, from baptism. Calvin's interpretation arose from doctrinal opposition to the Roman Catholic over-valuation of the sacrament, which must be guarded against in another way.[8]

Most of the bitterest denunciations against what Jesus taught here are actually directed against a straw man called "baptismal regeneration," in which it is continually affirmed that water cannot save anyone; but, of course, no one supposes that it can. No efficacy was ever attributed to the water, even by the staunchest defenders of what Jesus here clearly made a precondition of salvation. Fulminations against baptismal regeneration might have been relevant in Calvin's day, when that scholar attacked the Medieval superstition that a few drops of water sprinkled religiously upon a dead infant could save a soul; but those arguments by Calvin are not relevant arguments against Christ's promise that "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). And that promise is as good a commentary on John 3:5 as any other (yes, better than any other) that might be brought forward to explain this disputed passage. The importance of the questions raised around the sacred words of Jesus in this place requires that further attention be directed to their study. See "Regarding the New Birth" below.

REGARDING THE NEW BIRTH

The new birth "of water and of the Spirit" is one birth, not two, despite there being two elements in it. One of these elements "born of water," is water baptism, that being the element of the new birth for which man himself is responsible for the doing of it. Thus, Saul of Tarsus was commanded, "Get thyself baptized" (Acts 22:16).[9] The other element of the new birth, "born of the Spirit," is the reception of the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13,14). Contrasting with what is done by man, this endowing with the Holy Spirit is what is done by God. The great heresy regarding this one birth is the doctrine that people may omit their part, not being baptized, but that God will go ahead, despite that, and endow the believer with the Holy Spirit anyway! John 3:5 teaches that both elements are absolutely necessary in the new birth.

Born of water is a reference to the ceremony of baptism; but there is no magic in water, nor does the ceremony itself contribute anything to sanctification, as often alleged. Millions of faithful Christians can testify that submission to the commandment of baptism did not automatically give them a new nature, the new nature coming through a growth process in consequence of the endowment of the Spirit. Care should be taken to distinguish between "baptism" as a reference to the immersion ceremony, and "baptism" meaning the new birth of which the ceremony is an element. Jesus himself used the word in this latter sense in Mark 16:16.

But if the actual ceremony does not change the nature of the convert, what does it do? (1) It is the last of the preconditions of salvation to be fulfilled by the sinner, the others being: believing, repenting, and confessing Christ; and upon compliance with all of them by the sinner, God forgives all previous sin of the sinner and confers upon him a state of absolute innocence. The fulfilling of the preconditions by the sinner does not merit or earn God's forgiveness, nor provide any class of works that could place God under any obligation other than his own gracious and merciful promise. However, such is the importance of this ceremonial element in the new birth, that it may be dogmatically affirmed that in the history of Christianity there has never been an exception to the proposition that every true believer who repented and was baptized was then and there forgiven of all past sin and endowed with a status of absolute innocence in God's sight. This is accomplished not by the ceremony but by God WHEN the ceremony is obeyed, and not otherwise. This is clear from "Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).

(2) In the second instance, there is achieved in the penitent a clear conscience upon the event of his submission to the ceremony, as affirmed by the apostle Peter (1 Peter 3:1). See my Commentary on Hebrews, Hebrews 9:13,14. There is no way that any man on earth can have a clear conscience without submitting to baptism. That is why even the churches that deny the necessity of baptism have not dispensed with it altogether. Their consciences will not allow it, despite the fact that their doctrine, if heeded, would demand it. The universal rejoicing that attends submission to the ordinance was in New Testament times (Acts 8:39; 16:34, etc.), as now, the certain evidence of a clear conscience.

(3) The ceremony of immersion called baptism is the God-ordained rite of initiation into Jesus Christ; and that status of being the appointed device by which God inducts the penitent into corporate union with the Son of God, that is, into his kingdom, church, or spiritual body - that status uniquely belongs to the baptismal ceremony. As Vine noted, "Baptizing into the Name (Matthew 28:19) would indicate that the baptized person was closely bound to, or became the property of, the one into whose Name he was baptized."[10] Three times the New Testament declares that people are baptized "into Christ," or into his "body" (Galatians 3:26,27; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 12:13). See article, "Jesus Christ Incorporated," my Commentary on Romans, p. 123. It is encouraging to note that present-day scholarship is taking a further look at the importance of the baptismal ceremony. Thus, Beasley-Murray recently assented to the key thesis maintained here, namely, that "Baptism is the occasion when the Spirit brings to new life him that believes in the Son of Man!"[11] This is true; and if, through failure to obey the Lord in baptism the OCCASION never comes, then neither will the new life.

(4) Thus it is clear that the baptismal ceremony is retrospective as regards the past sins of the believer, being the pivot in which he is forever separated from them all and endowed with a new status of innocence. Earned? A million times, No! The new status is a gracious gift of God to the unworthy sinner who penitently took God at his word and obeyed the gospel, the baptized believer being added, not by men, but by God, to the kingdom or church of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:47).

(5) But that is not all. The new baptized convert, having a clear conscience, and being forgiven of all past sins, and having been added to the spiritual body of Christ, RECEIVES THE HOLY SPIRIT, not to make him a member of Christ (his baptism did that), but because he is a member (Galatians 4:6). This is the second element in the new birth. But, is not this latter thing all that matters? In a sense, perhaps, it is; but this all-important thing is connected with the ceremonial element (baptism) and made a contingent of it, a consequence FOLLOWING Christian baptism. That is why both are required, both are essential and that they are not separate births but one new birth. The apostles honored this requirement of both elements before there can be a new birth. On Pentecost, Peter said:

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

Thus, in that passage, the baptism of penitent believers is made to be a prior condition of receiving the remission of sins and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; and in this also appears why the Holy Spirit is called the "Holy Spirit of promise" (Ephesians 1:13).

It will be noted from the discussion above that most of what is said relates to induction into Christ's kingdom, the receiving of forgiveness of past sins, the receiving of a clear conscience, and the receiving of the Holy Spirit - all of these things upon the occasion of baptism and contingent upon obedience to that ceremony - and all of which achievements are accomplished by God and not by the ceremony. What does the ceremony do? It demonstrates and proves that the faith of the believer is of a sufficient degree to save him; it is the sinner's acceptance of Jesus' promise of Mark 16:16; it is therefore his "accepting Christ" by accepting his promise. Those who speak of accepting Christ as if it were some kind of a subjective response are absolutely wrong. Baptism is a renunciation of self in permitting the whole person to be buried under water as a pledge that self shall no longer rule in the life of the convert; it is the successful passing of God's ordained test of faith to determine if faith is sufficient to save; and, as such, it corresponds exactly with Abraham's offering of Isaac upon the altar, whereupon God said, "For now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son" (Genesis 22:12). In that God said, "Now I know," it is equivalent to saying that until that time he did not know (such language is accommodative and anthropomorphic, of course). God did not justify Abraham until he offered Isaac (James 2:21); and, if God did not justify Abraham until he had passed such a test as offering Isaac, how could it ever be imagined that God will justify just any stinking sinner who believes, and purely upon the sinner's assertion of it? Never! Baptism, the water ceremony itself, is the terminator that separates between the saved and the lost; and as long as the faith of any person is insufficient to prompt his obedience to God's universal commandment of baptism, there is no way that such a faith could save. That is why Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16), and, in regard to the quibble which says, "Well, Jesus did not say, `He that is not baptized shall be condemned,'" the answer that thunders from the New Testament is that the meaning is exactly the same as if he had said that!

Now, whereas the operation of the ceremony of baptism itself is retrospective regarding past sins, the second element of the new birth, the reception of the Holy Spirit, is prospective and looks to the perfection of the believer in Christ. It is this progressive work of the Holy Spirit that leads to a greater and greater degree of sanctification in the heart of the saved. For more on sanctification see my Commentary on Romans, Romans 6:22.

When a person is truly baptized (and only believing, penitent, confessing persons can be TRULY baptized), as Christ commanded, God sends the Holy Spirit into his heart (the second element of the new birth); and, when viewed in connection with this divine fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit, baptism is the new birth; but it is not a birth of water only, but a birth of "water and of the Spirit" as Jesus said. On the other hand, when baptism is thought of as the water ceremony only, it is only part of the new birth, nevertheless a vital and necessary part of it. It is proper to use baptism as a synecdoche for the new birth in its entirety; and thus Jesus himself used it in Mark 16:16.

[5] John Boys, An Exposition of the Dominical Epistles and Gospels (London, 1938); quoted from Handbook on Baptism (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1950), p. 322.

[6] Handbook on Baptism, Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1950), p. 320.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., p. 334.

[9] W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1962), p. 97.

[10] Ibid.

[11] G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973), p. 278.

Copyright Statement
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 3:5". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/john-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Jesus answered, verily, verily, I say unto thee,.... Explaining somewhat more clearly, what he before said:

except a man be born of water and of the Spirit: these are, מלות שנות, "two words", which express the same thing, as Kimchi observes in many places in his commentaries, and signify the grace of the Spirit of God. The Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions read, "the Holy Spirit", and so Nonnus; and who doubtless is intended: by "water", is not meant material water, or baptismal water; for water baptism is never expressed by water only, without some additional word, which shows, that the ordinance of water baptism is intended: nor has baptism any regenerating influence in it; a person may be baptized, as Simon Magus was, and yet not born again; and it is so far from having any such virtue, that a person ought to be born again, before he is admitted to that ordinance: and though submission to it is necessary, in order to a person's entrance into a Gospel church state; yet it is not necessary to the kingdom of heaven, or to eternal life and salvation: such a mistaken sense of this text, seems to have given the first birth and rise to infant baptism in the African churches; who taking the words in this bad sense, concluded their children must be baptized, or they could not be saved; whereas by "water" is meant, in a figurative and metaphorical sense, the grace of God, as it is elsewhere; see Ezekiel 36:25. Which is the moving cause of this new birth, and according to which God begets men again to, a lively hope, and that by which it is effected; for it is by the grace of God, and not by the power of man's free will, that any are regenerated, or made new creatures: and if Nicodemus was an officer in the temple, that took care to provide water at the feasts, as Dr. Lightfoot thinks, and as it should seem Nicodemon ben Gorion was, by the story before related of him; See Gill on John 3:1; very pertinently does our Lord make mention of water, it being his own element: regeneration is sometimes ascribed to God the Father, as in 1 Peter 1:3, and sometimes to the Son, 1 John 2:29 and here to the Spirit, as in Titus 3:5, who convinces of sin, sanctifies, renews, works faith, and every other grace; begins and carries on the work of grace, unto perfection;

he cannot enter into the kingdom of God; and unless a man has this work of his wrought on his soul, as he will never understand divine and spiritual things, so he can have no right to Gospel ordinances, or things appertaining to the kingdom of God; nor can he be thought to have passed from death to life, and to have entered into an open state of grace, and the kingdom of it; or that living and dying so, he shall ever enter into the kingdom of heaven; for unless a man is regenerated, he is not born heir apparent to it; and without internal holiness, shall not enter into it, enjoy it, or see God.

Copyright Statement
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on John 3:5". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/john-3.html. 1999.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

of water and of the Spirit — A twofold explanation of the “new birth,” so startling to Nicodemus. To a Jewish ecclesiastic, so familiar with the symbolical application of water, in every variety of way and form of expression, this language was fitted to show that the thing intended was no other than a thorough spiritual purification by the operation of the Holy Ghost. Indeed, element of water and operation of the Spirit are brought together in a glorious evangelical prediction of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36:25-27), which Nicodemus might have been reminded of had such spiritualities not been almost lost in the reigning formalism. Already had the symbol of water been embodied in an initiatory ordinance, in the baptism of the Jewish expectants of Messiah by the Baptist, not to speak of the baptism of Gentile proselytes before that; and in the Christian Church it was soon to become the great visible door of entrance into “the kingdom of God,” the reality being the sole work of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:5).

Copyright Statement
These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.
Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on John 3:5". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/john-3.html. 1871-8.

John Lightfoot's Commentary on the Gospels

5. Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

[Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit.] He tells him, that the Jew himself cannot be admitted into the kingdom of the Messiah unless he first strip himself of his Judaism by baptism, and then put off his carnal and put on a spiritual state. That by water here is meant baptism, I make no doubt: nor do I much less question but our Saviour goes on from thence to the second article of the evangelical doctrine. And as he had taught that towards the participation of the benefits to be had by the Messiah, it is of little or of no value for a man to be born of the seed of Abraham, or to be originally an Israelite, unless he was also born from above.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Lightfoot, John. "Commentary on John 3:5". "John Lightfoot Commentary on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jlc/john-3.html. 1675.

People's New Testament

Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Jesus does not reply directly to the question of Nicodemus, but proceeds to give a more explicit statement concerning the new birth. One must be born of water and of the Spirit. Whatever this may mean, it will be admitted by all (1) that no one is a member of the kingdom of God until he is born again; (2) that the Savior declares the impossibility of one entering who is not born of water and of the Spirit. All agree that the birth of the Spirit refers to the inward, or spiritual change that takes place, and all candid authorities agree that {born of water} refers to baptism. So Alford, Wesley, Abbott, Whitby, Olshausen, Tholuck, Prof. Wm. Milligan, the Episcopal Prayer Book, the Westminister Confession, the M. E. Discipline, and M. E. Doctrinal Tracts, and also the writers of the early Church all declare. Alford says: "All attempts to get rid of this have sprung from doctrinal prejudices." Abbott says: "We are to understand Christ as he expected his auditor to understand him. John the Baptist baptized both Jew and Gentile as a sign of purification by repentance from past sins. Nicodemus would then have certainly understood by the expression, 'born of water,' a reference to this rite of baptism."

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Original work done by Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
Johnson, Barton W. "Commentary on John 3:5". "People's New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pnt/john-3.html. 1891.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Of water and the Spirit (εχ υδατος και πνευματοςex hudatos kai pneumatos). Nicodemus had failed utterly to grasp the idea of the spiritual birth as essential to entrance into the Kingdom of God. He knew only Jews as members of that kingdom, the political kingdom of Pharisaic hope which was to make all the world Jewish (Pharisaic) under the King Messiah. Why does Jesus add εχ υδατοςex hudatos here? In John 3:3 we have “ανωτενanōthen ” (from above) which is repeated in John 3:7, while in John 3:8 we have only εκ του πνευματοςek tou pneumatos (of the Spirit) in the best manuscripts. Many theories exist. One view makes baptism, referred to by εχ υδατοςex hudatos (coming up out of water), essential to the birth of the Spirit, as the means of obtaining the new birth of the Spirit. If so, why is water mentioned only once in the three demands of Jesus (John 3:3, John 3:5, John 3:7)? Calvin makes water and Spirit refer to the one act (the cleansing work of the Spirit). Some insist on the language in John 3:6 as meaning the birth of the flesh coming in a sac of water in contrast to the birth of the Spirit. One wonders after all what was the precise purpose of Jesus with Nicodemus, the Pharisaic ceremonialist, who had failed to grasp the idea of spiritual birth which is a commonplace to us. By using water (the symbol before the thing signified) first and adding Spirit, he may have hoped to turn the mind of Nicodemus away from mere physical birth and, by pointing to the baptism of John on confession of sin which the Pharisees had rejected, to turn his attention to the birth from above by the Spirit. That is to say the mention of “water” here may have been for the purpose of helping Nicodemus without laying down a fundamental principle of salvation as being by means of baptism. Bernard holds that the words υδατος καιhudatos kai (water and) do not belong to the words of Jesus, but “are a gloss, added to bring the saying of Jesus into harmony with the belief and practice of a later generation.” Here Jesus uses εισελτεινeiselthein (enter) instead of ιδεινidein (see) of John 3:3, but with the same essential idea (participation in the kingdom).

Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on John 3:5". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rwp/john-3.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

Born of water and the Spirit

The exposition of this much controverted passage does not fall within the scope of this work. We may observe,

1. That Jesus here lays down the preliminary conditions of entrance into His kingdom, expanding and explaining His statement in John 3:3.

2. That this condition is here stated as complex, including two distinct factors, water and the Spirit.

3. That the former of these two factors is not to be merged in the latter; that the spiritual element is not to exclude or obliterate the external and ritual element. We are not to understand with Calvin, the Holy Spirit as the purifying water in the spiritual sense: “water which is the Spirit.”

4. That water points definitely to the rite of baptism, and that with a twofold reference - to the past and to the future. Water naturally suggested to Nicodemus the baptism of John, which was then awakening such profound and general interest; and, with this, the symbolical purifications of the Jews, and the Old Testament use of washing as the figure of purifying from sin (Psalm 2:2, Psalm 2:7; Ezekiel 36:25; Zechariah 13:1). Jesus' words opened to Nicodemus a new and more spiritual significance in both the ceremonial purifications and the baptism of John which the Pharisees had rejected (Luke 7:30). John's rite had a real and legitimate relation to the kingdom of God which Nicodemus must accept.

5. That while Jesus asserted the obligation of the outward rite, He asserted likewise, as its necessary complement, the presence and creating and informing energy of the Spirit with which John had promised that the coming one should baptize. That as John's baptism had been unto repentance, for the remission of sins, so the new life must include the real no less than the symbolic cleansing of the old, sinful life, and the infusion by the Spirit of a new and divine principle of life. Thus Jesus' words included a prophetic reference to the complete ideal of Christian baptism - “the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5; Ephesians 5:26); according to which the two factors are inseparably blended (not the one swallowed up by the other), and the new life is inaugurated both symbolically in the baptism with water, and actually in the renewing by the Holy Spirit, yet so as that the rite, through its association with the Spirit's energy, is more than a mere symbol: is a veritable vehicle of grace to the recipient, and acquires a substantial part in the inauguration of the new life. Baptism, considered merely as a rite, and apart from the operation of the Spirit, does not and cannot impart the new life. Without the Spirit it is a lie. It is a truthful sign only as the sign of an inward and spiritual grace.

6. That the ideal of the new life presented in our Lord's words, includes the relation of the regenerated man to an organization. The object of the new birth is declared to be that a man may see and enter into the kingdom of God. But the kingdom of God is an economy. It includes and implies the organized Christian community. This is one of the facts which, with its accompanying obligation, is revealed to the new vision of the new man. He sees not only God, but the kingdom of God; God as King of an organized citizenship; God as the Father of the family of mankind; obligation to God implying obligation to the neighbor; obligation to Christ implying obligation to the church, of which He is the head, “which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all things with all things” (Ephesians 1:23). Through water alone, the mere external rite of baptism, a man may pass into the outward fellowship of the visible church without seeing or entering the kingdom of God. Through water and the Spirit, he passes indeed into the outward fellowship, but through that into the vision and fellowship of the kingdom of God.

Enter into

This more than see (John 3:3). It is to become partaker of; to go in and possess, as the Israelites did Canaan.

Copyright Statement
The text of this work is public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on John 3:5". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/vnt/john-3.html. Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit — Except he experience that great inward change by the Spirit, and be baptized (wherever baptism can be had) as the outward sign and means of it.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Bibliographical Information
Wesley, John. "Commentary on John 3:5". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/john-3.html. 1765.

The Fourfold Gospel

Jesus answered, Verily, verily1, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water2 and the Spirit3, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God!

  1. Verily, verily. See .

  2. Except one be born of water. By far the vast majority of scholars consider the word "water" in this verse as a reference to Christian baptism. The Cambridge Bible says

    "the outward sign and inward grace of Christian baptism are here clearly given, and an unbiased mind can scarcely avoid seeing this plain fact. This becomes clearer when we compare John 1:26,33, where the Baptist declares, "I baptize in water," the Messiah "baptizeth in the Holy Spirit." The fathers, both Greek and Latin, thus interpret the passage with singular unanimity."

    Men would have no difficulty in understanding this passage were it not that its terms apparently exclude "the pious unimmersed" from Christ's kingdom. But difficulties, however distressing, will justify no man in wrestling the Scriptures of God (2 Peter 3:16; Romans 3:4).

  3. And the Spirit. Water and Spirit are joined at Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38; Acts 19:1-7; Titus 3:5.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website. These files were made available by Mr. Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton. "Commentary on John 3:5". "The Fourfold Gospel". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tfg/john-3.html. Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1914.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Если кто не родится от воды и Духа. Это место истолковывалось по-разному. Одни думали, что здесь говорится о двух отдельных частях возрождения, и под водой разумеется совлечение ветхого человека, а под духом – новая жизнь. Другие видели здесь скрытый антитезис, словно воду и дух, то есть чистые и светлые элементы, Христос противопоставляет земной и грубой человеческой природе. Посему они понимают эту фразу иносказательно: Христос как бы повелевает нам совлечься этой грубой и обременительной плоти, и стать подобными воде и воздуху, дабы стремиться ввысь, или, по крайней мере, не тянуться к земле. Однако и то, и другое мнение мне кажется далеким от того, что имел в виду Христос. Златоуст, с которым согласна большая часть толкователей, относит слово «вода» к таинству крещения. Тогда смысл будет таким: мы входим в царствие Божие через крещение, поелику тогда нас возрождает Дух Божий. Отсюда возникло мнение о том, что для надежды на вечную жизнь необходимо крещение. Однако, даже если мы допустим, что Христос говорит здесь о крещении, Его слова не следует искажать таким образом, что Он якобы помещает спасение во внешний символ. Скорее Он потому соединяет воду с Духом, что этим видимым символом запечатлевается и удостоверяется новизна жизни, которую только Бог производит в нас Своим Духом. Верно, что пренебрежение крещением удерживает нас от спасения, и в этом смысле я признаю, что крещение необходимо. Однако дурно возлагать спасительное упование на внешний символ.

Что же касается настоящего места, я не вижу оснований полагать, будто Христос говорит здесь о крещении. Это было бы весьма неуместно. Ибо всегда надобно иметь в виду намерение Христа, о котором говорилось выше. Он хотел побудить Никодима к обновлению жизни, поскольку тот не мог воспринять Евангелия, не став прежде новым человеком. Итак, утверждение Христа едино и весьма просто: дабы быть сынами Божиими, нам надлежит родиться заново целиком, и Святой Дух есть автор этого второго рождения. Поскольку Никодим мог подумать здесь о пифагорейской палингенесии [перерождении; – прим. пер.], Христос, дабы предостеречь его от этого заблуждения, добавил в качестве толкования Своих слов, что второе рождение не происходит естественным образом, как первое, и не связано с повторным вхождением в тело. Люди возрождаются тогда, когда по благодати Духа обновляются разумом и душой. Поэтому под водою и Духом Он разумеет одно и то же. И толкование это не должно казаться нам натянутым и грубым. Когда Писание говорит о Духе, оно часто и вполне обыденно соединяет с Ним упоминание о воде или огне для изображения Его силы. Мы уже встречали несколько таких случаев. Христос есть Тот, Кто крестит Духом Святым и огнем. Огонь здесь означает то же самое, что и Дух, но показывает при этом, какое воздействие Он на нас производит. Тот факт, что Христос на первом месте упоминает воду, никак не меняет дело. Более того, такая фраза звучит лучше, чем звучала бы другая с иным порядком слов. Ведь здесь за иносказанием следует открытое и понятное утверждение. Христос как бы говорит: никто не станет сыном Божиим, покуда не обновится водою. Вода же эта есть Дух, очищающий нас и силой Своей вдыхающий в нас плодовитость небесной жизни, хотя по природе мы совершенно бесплодны. Дабы упрекнуть Никодима в незнании, Христос вполне уместно избрал привычную для Писания форму речи. Посему Никодим должен был признать: сказанное Христом, выводится из общего учения всех пророков. Итак, слово «вода» означает не что иное, как внутреннее очищение и насаждение Святого Духа. Добавим к этому, что вполне уместно толковать соединение двух слов в экзегетическом смысле: так что второе слово объясняет первое. И контекст также подтверждает мое толкование. Ведь Христос вскоре укажет на причину, почему нам надлежит родиться заново. Тогда Он, не упоминая о воде, скажет, что возрождение совершается одним лишь Духом, производящим новизну жизни. Откуда следует, что воду не следует отделять от Духа.

 

 

 

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 3:5". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/john-3.html. 1840-57.

Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books

Ver. 5. "Jesus answered: Verily, verily, I say unto thee that except a man is born of water and of spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

The words, of water and spirit, substituted for ἄνωθεν (from the beginning) indicate to Nicodemus the new factors, and consequently the totally different nature of this second birth. The first term: of water, agrees better with the idea of a new birth, than with that of a heavenly birth. Spiritualism, embarrassed by the material character of this first means, has often sought to unite it with the second. Thus Calvinparaphrases the expression of water and spirit by the term aquae spiritales; he finds support in the expressionbaptism of the Spirit and of fire (Luke 3:16). But the spiritual sense of the word fire could not be questioned in that phrase.

It was otherwise with the word water in the saying with which we are occupied, especially at the time when Jesus was speaking thus. The baptism of John was producing at that time an immense sensation in Israel, so that the thought of Nicodemus, on hearing the words, birth by water, must have turned immediately to that ceremony; as it was celebrated in the form of a total or partial immersion, it quite naturally represented a birth. Jesus, moreover, at the moment when He thus expressed Himself, was in a sense coming out from the water of baptism; it was when completing this rite that He had Himself received the Holy Spirit. How, in such circumstances, could this expression:Born of water, have possibly designated on His lips anything else than baptism? Thus, also, is explained the negative and almost menacing form: Except a man ...Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and we know that the Pharisees had refused to submit to John"s baptism (Luke 7:30); this saying contained, therefore, a very real admonition addressed to Nicodemus. Weiss, laying stress upon the absence of the article before the word water, rejects this special allusion to the rite of baptism. He sees in the water only an image of the purification of sin effected by the new spiritual birth. But the absence of the article simply makes prominent the quality of the means, and does not prevent us from thinking of the special practical use which was made of it by John at that time. Nicodemus must learn that the acceptance of the work of the forerunner was the first condition of entering into the new life.

This first term, therefore, contained a positive invitation to break with the line of conduct adopted by the Pharisaic party towards John the Baptist. But what is the relation between baptism and the new birth (John 3:3)? Lucke makes prominent in baptism the subjective element of repentance ( μετάνοια). He thinks that Jesus meant to say: First of all, on the part of man, repentance (of which baptism is the emblem); afterwards, on the part of God, the Spirit. But the two defining words are parallel, depending on one and the same preposition; the one cannot represent something purely subjective and the other something purely objective. The water also contains something objective, divine; this divine element in baptism is expressed in the best way by Strauss. "If baptism is, on the part of man," he says, "the declaration of the renunciation of sin, it is, on the part of God, the declaration of the pardon of sins." The baptism of water, in so far as offered and administered on the part of God and in His name, contains the promise of pardon, of which it is the visible pledge, in favor of the sinner who accepts it.

In this sense, Peter says on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:38 : "Be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the pardon of sins; and [following upon this pardon] you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." And it must, indeed, be noticed that he says: "The pardon of sins," and not of his sins. For it is the idea of baptismin itself, and not that of its individual efficacy, which Peter wishes to indicate. Baptism is, indeed, the crowning-point of the symbolic lustrations of the Old Testament; comp. Psalms 51, 4, 9, "Wash me from mine iniquity...Cleanse me from my sin with hyssop; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow." Ezekiel 36:25, "I will sprinkle upon you clean water, and you shall be clean." Zechariah 13:1, "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness." Water is, in all these passages, the emblem of the expiatory blood, the only real means of pardon. Comp. 1 John 5:6, where the water, the blood and the Spirit are placed in connection with one another; the water, on the one hand, as the symbol of the blood which reconciles and, on the other, as the pledge of the Spirit which regenerates. To accept the baptism of water administered by John was, therefore, while bearing witness of one"s repentance, to place oneself under the benefit of the promise of the Messianic pardon. The condemnation being thus taken away, the baptized person found himself restored before God to his normal position, that of a man who had not sinned; and consequently he found himself fitted to receive from the Messiah Himself the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit: Here is the active, efficient principle of the new birth, of the renewal of the will and of the dispositions of the heart, and thereby even of the whole work of sanctification. Jesus sums up, therefore, in these two words: Of water and spirit, the essential principles of the Christian salvation, pardon and sanctification, those two conditions of entrance into the divine kingdom.

In the following verses, no further mention of water is made, precisely because it has in the new birth only a negative value; it removes the obstacle, the condemnation. The creative force proceeds from the Spirit. The absence of the article with the word spirit, is explained in the same way as with the word water. The question is of the nature or quality of the factors co-operating in this supernatural birth. The expression, εἰσελθεῖν (to enter), is substituted here for the term ἰδεῖν (to see), of John 3:3. The figure of entering into, is in more direct correspondence with that of being born. It is by coming forth from ( ἐκ) the two elements indicated, in which the soul is plunged, that it enters into ( εἰς), the kingdom. The reading of the Sinaitic MS.: "the kingdom of heaven," is found also, according to Hippolytus, among the Docetae of the second century; it is found in a recently discovered fragment of Irenaeus, in the Apostolical Constitutions, and in Origen (transl.). These authorities are undoubtedly not sufficient to authorize us to substitute it for the received reading, as Tischendorf does. But this variant must be extremely ancient. At all events, it overthrows the objection raised against the reality of the quotation of our passage in Justin, Apol. 1.61. (See Introd., p. 152, 153.)

In speaking thus to Nicodemus, Jesus did not think of making salvation depend, either in general or in each particular case, on the material act of baptism. The example of the thief on the cross proves that pardon could be granted without the baptism of water. But, when the offer of this sign has been made and the sinner has rejected it, the position is different; and this was the case with Nicodemus. By the two following sentences, Jesus demonstrates the necessity (John 3:6 a), and the possibility (John 3:6 b), of the new birth, by leaving aside the water, to keep closely to the Spirit only.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on John 3:5". "Frédéric Louis Godet - Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gsc/john-3.html.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Ver. 5. Be born of water, and the Holy Ghost] That is, of the Holy Ghost working like water, cooling, cleansing, &c. In allusion, belike, to that first washing of a newly born babe from his blood, Ezekiel 16:4. Or else to those Levitical washings, and not without some reference to Nicodemus and his fellow Pharisees, who placed a great part of their piety in external washings, as do also the Mahometans at this day. Every time they ease nature (saith one that had been among them) they wash those parts, little regarding who stands by. If a dog chance to touch their hands, they wash presently; before prayer they wash both face and hands, sometimes the head and privates, &c.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on John 3:5". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/john-3.html. 1865-1868.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

John 3:5. Jesus answered, Verily, verily, &c.— Jesus replied, that he was not speaking of a natural, but of a spiritual regeneration; Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a "man be born of water, that is, be baptized, the only appointed means of admission into the visible church; and of the Spirit, that is, have a new nature given him by the Spirit, and shew forth in his life the fruits of that new nature; he cannot be a subject of God's kingdom here, nor have a share in his glory hereafter." Our Lord did not mean that baptism is, in all cases, absolutely necessary to salvation; for in the apostles' commission, Mark 16:16 notwithstanding faith and baptism are equally enjoined upon all nations: not the want of baptism, but of faith, is declared to be damning. Besides, it should be considered that this is a mere ceremony, which in itself has no efficacy to change men's natures, or to fit them for heaven; and that in some circumstances it may be absolutely impracticable; nevertheless, as the washing with water in baptism fitly represents the purification of the soul necessary to its happiness, this ceremony is very properly made the rite by which we publicly take upon ourselves the profession of the Christian religion, the dispensation preparatory to heaven. Wherefore, the receiving of this rite is highly necessary in all cases where it can be had. If so, persons who undervalue water baptism, on pretence of exalting the baptism of the Spirit, do greatly err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the commandment of Christ.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on John 3:5". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/john-3.html. 1801-1803.

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

Nicodemus not rightly understanding Christ's meaning in the former verse, our Saviour is pleased to explain himself in this, and tells him, That the birth he spake of was not natural, but spiritual, wrought in the soul by the Spirit of God, whose working is like water, cleansing and purifying the soul from all sinful defilement.

Learn hence, That the regenerating change is wrought in the soul by the Spirit of God, which purifies it from its natural defilement, and renews it after the divine likeness and image. We never understand divine truths aright, till Christ opens our understandings; till then they will be denied, nay, perhaps derided, even by those that are profoundly learned.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on John 3:5". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wbc/john-3.html. 1700-1703.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

5.] Our Lord passes by the question of Nicodemus without notice, further than that this His second assertion takes as it were the ground from under it, by explaining the token and means of the new birth.

There can be no doubt, on any honest interpretation of the words, that γεννηθῆναι ἐξ ὕδατος refers to the token or outward sign of baptism,— γ. ἐκ πνεύματος to the thing signified, or inward grace of the Holy Spirit. All attempts to get rid of these two plain facts have sprung from doctrinal prejudices, by which the views of expositors have been warped. Such we have in Calvin: “spiritum, qui nos repurgat, et qui virtute sua in nos diffusa vigorem inspirat cœlestis vitæ;”—Grotius: “spiritum aquæ instar emundantem;”—Cocceius: “gratiam Dei, sordes et vitia abluentem;”—Lampe: “obedientiam Christi;”—Tholuck, who holds that not Baptism itself, but only its idea, that of cleansing, is referred to;—and others, who endeavour to resolve ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος into a figure of ἕν διὰ δυοῖν, so as to make it mean ‘the cleansing or purifying Spirit.’ All the better and deeper expositors have recognized the co-existence of the two, water and the Spirit. So for the most part the ancients: so Lücke (in his last edition), De Wette, Neander, Stier, Olshausen, &c.

This being then recognized, to what does ὕδωρ refer? At that time, two kinds of baptism were known: that of the proselytes, by which they were received into Judaism,—and that of John, by which, as a preparatory rite, symbolizing repentance, the people were made ready for Him who was to baptize them with the Holy Ghost. But both these were significant of one and the same truth; that namely of the entire cleansing of the man for the new and spiritual life on which he was to enter, symbolized by water cleansing the outward person. Both were appointed means,—the one by the Jewish Church,—the other, stamping that first with approval, by God Himself,—towards their respective ends. John himself declared his baptism to be incomplete,—it was only with water; One was coming, who should baptize with the Holy Ghost. That declaration of his is the key to the understanding of this verse. Baptism, complete, with water and the Spirit, is the admission into the kingdom of God. Those who have received the outward sign and the spiritual grace, have entered into that Kingdom. And this entrance was fully ministered to the disciples when the Spirit descended on them on the day of Pentecost. So that, as spoken to Nicodemus, these words referred him to the baptism of John, which probably (see Luke 7:30) he had slighted. But they were not only spoken to him. The words of our Lord have in them life and meaning for all ages of His Church: and more especially these opening declarations of His ministry. He here unites together the two elements of a complete Baptism which were sundered in the words of the Baptist, ch. John 1:33—in which united form He afterwards (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:16) ordained it as a Sacrament of His Church. Here He speaks of spiritual Baptism, as in ch. 6. of spiritual Communion, and in both places in connexion with the outward conditions and media of these sacraments. It is observable that here, as ordinarily (with a special exception, Acts 10:44 ff.), the outward sign comes first, and then the spiritual grace, vouchsafed in and by means of it where duly received.

εἰσελθεῖν εἰς is more than ἰδεῖν above, though no stress is to be laid on the difference. The former word was perhaps used because of Nicodemus’s expectation of teaching being all that was required: but now, the necessity of a real vital change having been set forth, the expression is changed to a practical one—the entering into the Kingdom of God.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on John 3:5". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/john-3.html. 1863-1878.

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

John 3:5. Jesus now explains more fully the ἄνωθεν γεννηθῆναι onwards to John 3:8.

ἐξ ὕδατος κ. πνεύματος] water, inasmuch as the man is baptized therewith (1 John 5:7-8; Ephesians 5:26) for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:33; Acts 22:16; 2 Corinthians 6:11), and spirit, inasmuch as the Holy Ghost is given to the person baptized in order to his spiritual renewal and sanctification; both together(152)—the former as causa medians, the latter as causa efficiens—constitute the objective and causative element, out of which (comp. John 1:13) the birth from above is produced ( ἐκ), and therefore baptism is the λουτρὸν παλιγγενεσίας (Titus 3:5; comp. Tertullian c. Marc. i. 28). But that Christian baptism (John 3:22; John 4:2), and not that of John (B. Crusius; Hofmann, Schriftbeweis, II. 2. 12; Lange, who, however, generalizes ideally; and earlier comm.), is to be thought of in ὕδατος, is clear from the κ. πνεύ΄ατος joined with it, and from the fact that He who had already appeared as Messiah could no longer make the baptism of His forerunner the condition, not even the preparatory condition, of His Messianic grace; for in that case He must have said οὐκ ἐξ ὓδατος ΄όνον, ἀλλὰ καί. If Nicodemus was not yet able to understand ὓδατος as having this definite reference, but simply took the word in general as a symbolical designation of Messianic expiation of sin and of purification, according to O. T. allusions (Ezekiel 36:25; Isaiah 1:16; Malachi 3:3; Zechariah 13:1; Jeremiah 33:8), and to what he knew of John’s baptism, still it remained for him to look to the immediate future for more definite knowledge, when the true explanation could not escape him (John 4:2, John 3:22). We are not therefore to conclude from this reference to baptism, that the narrative is “a proleptic fiction” (Strauss, Bruno Bauer), and, besides Matthew 18:3, to suppose in Justin and the Clementines uncanonical developments (Hilgenfeld and others; see Introduction, § 2). Neither must we explain it as if Jesus were referring Nicodemus not to baptism as such, but only by way of allusion to the symbolic import of the water in baptism (Lücke; Neander, p. 910). This latter view does not satisfy the definite γεννηθῇ ἐξ, upon which, on the other side, Theodore of Mopsuestia and others, in modern times Olshausen in particular, lay undue stress, taking the water to be the female principle in regeneration (the Spirit as the male)—water being, according to Olshausen, “the element of the soul purified by true repentance.” All explanations, moreover, must be rejected which, in order to do away with the reference to baptism,(153) adopt the principle of an ἓν διὰ δυοῖν, for water and Spirit are two quite separate conceptions. This is especially in answer to Calvin, who says: “of water, which is the Spirit,” and Grotius: “spiritus aqueus, i.e. aquae instar emundans.” It is further to be observed, (1) that both the words being without the article, they must be taken generically, so far as the water of baptism and the Holy Spirit are included in the general categories of water and Spirit; not till we reach John 3:6 is the concrete term used;—(2) that ὕδατος is put first, because the gift of the Spirit as a rule (Acts 2:38) followed upon baptism (Acts 10:47 is an exceptional case);—(3) that believing in Jesus as the Messiah is presupposed as the condition of baptism (Mark 16:16);—(4) that the necessity of baptism in order to participation in the Messianic kingdom (a doctrine against which Calvin in particular, and other expositors of the Reformed Church, contend) has certainly its basis in this passage, but with reference to the convert to Christianity, and not extending in the same way to the children of Christians, for these by virtue of their Christian parentage are already ἅγιοι (see on 1 Corinthians 7:14). Attempts to explain away this necessity—e.g. by the comparative rendering: “not only by water, but also by the Spirit” (B. Crusius; comp. Schweizer, who refers to the baptism of proselytes, and Ewald)—are meanings imported into the words.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on John 3:5". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hmc/john-3.html. 1832.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

John 3:5. ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος, of water and the Spirit) Jesus renders His speech the more difficult, in order to try [discipline] Nicodemus, and at the same time declares the difference between birth from above, and birth from a mother: and He defines birth from above by communion with [the partaking of] Himself and with [of] the Spirit (for He speaks concerning Himself and concerning the Spirit also at John 3:11, “we speak that we do know”). Comp. 1 Corinthians 6:11, “Ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” No one can enjoy God without the Son and His Spirit. Water denotes the baptism of John into [preparing for] Christ Jesus, John 3:22-23 [Jesus tarried in the land of Judæa with His disciples, and baptized: “John was also baptizing in Ænon,” etc.]; which baptism the colleagues of Nicodemus, by omitting, John 3:1, despised the counsel of God: Luke 7:30, “The Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of John;” when nevertheless the Jews were accustomed to baptisms: Hebrews 9:10, “divers washings.” And Nicodemus himself appears to have entertained not sufficiently exalted views of John and his baptism, as being one who had wrought no miracle. Comp. John 3:2 [where he emphasises the ‘miracles’ of Jesus; thus forming a contrast to John]. Nor is communion needful with Christ only, but also with His Spirit: Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized—in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” And because the same Spirit glorifies Christ, for this reason, the mention of water being presently after omitted, mention is made of the Spirit alone, of whom we are to be born again: nor does He say at John 3:6, that which is born of water is water. Therefore the necessity of regeneration primarily, and of baptism secondarily, is here confirmed (comp. a similar καί, and, ch. John 6:40, every one which seeth the Son and believeth on Him): otherwise there would be but little hope of infants dying without baptism. Comp. as to water and the Spirit, Titus 3:5, “Not by works which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”— εἰσελθεῖν, enter) Answering to the word enter [a second time into his mother’s womb] of the previous verse. The severity of His expression increases: comp. see, John 3:3. He cannot even enter, much less see. He must enter a house, whoever wishes to see thoroughly its internal structure. That which is not born, uses neither eyes nor feet.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on John 3:5". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jab/john-3.html. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

To excite his spirit and attention, our Saviour again expresses the authority of his person,

I say; and twice repeats the solemn asseveration,

Verily, verily, to show the infallible certainty and importance of what he propounds, that it is a truth worthy of his most serious consideration, and to be embraced with a stedfast belief. After this preface, he declares, If any one be not born of water and the Spirit, to rectify the carnal conceit of Nicodemus about regeneration. In John 3:3 our Saviour compared the spiritual birth with the natural, and with respect to that a reviewed man is born a second time. But in this verse he expresses the cause and quality of the new birth, that distinguishes it from the natural birth, and resolves the vain, carnal objection of Nicodemus. He speaks not of the terrestrial, animal birth, but of the celestial and Divine; that is suitable to that principle from whence it proceeds, the Holy Spirit of God. There is a great difference among interpreters about the meaning of being

born of water. The Romanists, and rigid Lutherans, understand the water in a proper sense, for the element of baptism, and from hence infer the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation; but the exposition and conclusion are both evidently contrary to the truth. Indeed the new birth is signified, represented, and sealed by baptism, it is the soul, and substance of that sacred ceremony; and if our Saviour had only said, that whoever is born of water and the Spirit shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, it might have been congruously understood of baptism; because it is an undoubted truth, that all who are truly regenerated in baptism shall be saved. But our Saviour says, He that is not born of water and the Spirit cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven: the exclusion of the unsanctified is peremptory and universal. And our Saviour shows a manifest difference between an affirmative and negative proposition; when having declared, that whoever believeth and is baptized shall be saved; and coming to the negative, he only adds, but he that believeth not shall be damned, Mark 16:16. The reason why he does not say, Whoever is not baptized shall be condemned, is evident; for without faith it is impossible to be saved; but without baptism, even as the Romanists themselves grant, many have been saved. For if we consider the time when our Saviour spake these words, they acknowledge that believers were not then, obliged to receive the baptism of Christ for salvation; for our Saviour had this conference with him some years before his death; and they hold, that before the death of Christ baptism was not necessary, neither by virtue of Divine command, nor as a means to obtain salvation; therefore the believers that lived then might enter into heaven without baptism. They also declare, that martyrdom supplies the want of baptism; and that persons instructed in the doctrine of the gospel, and sincerely believing it, if prevented by death without being baptized, their faith and earnest desire is sufficient to qualify them for partaking of the heavenly kingdom. But if by water here be meant the elementary water of baptism, the words of our Saviour are directly contrary to what they assert; for neither the blood of martyrs, nor the desire and vow of receiving baptism, are the water of baptism, which they pretend is properly and literally named by our Saviour. And certainly, if as the apostle Peter instructs us, it is not the cleansing of the flesh in the water of baptism that says, 1 Peter 3:21, it is not the mere want of it, without contempt and wilful neglect, that condemneth. By

water then we are to understand the grace of the Holy Spirit in purifying the soul, which is fitly represented by the efficacy of water. And this purifying, refreshing virtue of the Spirit is promised in the prophecies that concern the times of the Messiah, under the mystical expression of water. Thus it is twofold by Isaiah, I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground, Isaiah 44:3. And this is immediately explained, I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed; and the Divine birth follows, they shall spring up as among the grass. In the same manner the effects of the Holy Spirit are expressed by Ezekiel: I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; and presently after, I will put my Spirit within you, Ezekiel 36:25,27. Our Saviour instructing a Pharisee, to whom the prophetical writings were known, expressly uses these two words, and in the same order as they are all set down there, first water, and then the Spirit, that the latter might interpret the former; for water and the Spirit, by a usual figure when two words are employed to signify the same thing, signify spiritual water, that is, his Divine grace in renewing the soul; as when the apostle says, in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, to signify the powerful Spirit. Thus John the Baptist foretold of Christ, that he should baptize with the Holy Ghost and fire, that is, with the Spirit, that has the force and efficacy of fire to refine us from our dross and corruptions. Thus our Saviour plainly instructs Nicodemus of the absolute necessity of an inward spiritual change and renovation, thereby showing the inefficacy of all the legal washings and sprinklings, that could not purify and make white one soul, which were of high valuation among the Jews. Entering into the kingdom of God, is of the same import and sense with the seeing the kingdom of God, in John 3:3: that is, without regeneration no man can truly be joined with the society of the church of God, nor partake of the celestial privileges and benefits belonging to it, here and hereafter.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on John 3:5". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/john-3.html. 1685.

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

родится от воды и Духа Здесь Иисус ссылался не на воду буквально, а на необходимость «очищения» (например, Иез. 36:24-27). Когда в Ветхом Завете вода используется образно, она обыкновенно говорит об обновлении или духовном очищении, особенно при использовании в сочетании с «духом» (Чис. 19:17-19; Пс. 50:11, 12; Ис. 32:15; 44:3-5; 55:1-3; Иер. 2:13; Иоил. 2:28, 29). Таким образом, Иисус сделал ссылку на духовное омовение или очищение души, совершенное Духом Святым через Слово Божье во время покаяния (ср. Еф. 5:26; Тит. 3:5), требуемое для принадлежности к Его царству.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on John 3:5". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/john-3.html.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

Born of water and of the Spirit; purified by the Holy Spirit; of which baptism by water is a divinely appointed symbol.

Enter into; become a member inwardly, and not merely in an outward way.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on John 3:5". "Family Bible New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fam/john-3.html. American Tract Society. 1851.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

5.Jesus now proceeds to tell the

how. Of water and of the SpiritOf water, as the external indication of the external kingdom; of Spirit, as the internal induction into the internal kingdom. The former supposes the latter as its previous condition, and is its external profession or sign. Those who refuse to perform and accept the sign, do wilfully exclude themselves from the kingdom of God. Yet, although the conditional duty, it does not stand on the same ground of an absolute condition without which salvation is in itself impossible, as is the case in being born of the Spirit. This we see intimated in Mark 16:16, where baptism is required; but there is a careful avoidance of saying that he that is not baptized shall be damned. Baptism may in many eases be impossible. There are many, however, who by gross negligence or for other reasons stay out of the Christian Church; abandoning thereby the ordinances of God both of baptism and communion, and yet suppose themselves to be justified Christians. For aught they do the rites of baptism and the Lord’s Supper would die out. How they will answer this contempt of the solemn requirements of Christ at the judgment-day, is for themselves to answer. Except a man be born of water as well as of Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

The term regeneration is seldom used in the Bible; but the words that express it are used often. All those expressions that embrace the idea of renovation, renewal, being created anew, being begotten anew, come under the collective term regeneration. As being born again is here spoken of water, there is some excuse for the early Fathers who called baptism regeneration, and spoke of baptismal regeneration; provided the water regeneration be not confounded with that real regeneration, of which the water regeneration is but the symbol.

 

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 3:5". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/john-3.html. 1874-1909.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

‘Jesus answered, “In very truth I tell you, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingly Rule of God.’

Jesus replies that He is speaking about a birth “of water and Spirit” without which entry under the reign of God is impossible. The connection of water with Spirit may possibly, but not certainly, look back to John’s baptism in the writer’s mind, but it is not strictly of baptism that Jesus is thinking. He is thinking of the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Spirit like the rain. Baptism is but the symbol. The need is for a work of the Spirit, as symbolised by John’s baptism, the Spirit being poured out ‘from above’ like rain on the dry ground.

Like most Jews Nicodemus was looking forward to the coming of “the Kingly Rule of God” understood in their own terms, which the Jews saw as a time when God’s king would rule over the world and bring a time of plenty and prosperity, especially for the Jews. But Jesus stresses that coming under God’s rule requires a work of the Spirit, for it must be spiritually appreciated. Human birth will only bring human understanding, a spiritual relationship with God requires spiritual birth (compare John 1:12-13).

But what does Jesus mean by being “born of water” and being “born from above” (or born anew)? . The phrases link back to the preaching of John the Baptiser and to the prophets. John spoke of fruits meet for repentance, of ripened grain that would be harvested, of trees that produced good fruit, and of one who would ‘drench (baptizo) with the Holy Spirit’. These were all pictures of when the land came alive again after the dry season, when the dead land lived again, when it was ‘born again’

There is good Old Testament precedent for this. In Psalms 72 the psalmist is praying for the king of Israel. He prays that he will be just and wise, and he clearly has especially in mind the future king, for he speaks of his world wide dominion and the fact that all nations would call him blessed (John 3:8; John 3:17). This king will be “like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth”, for in his days righteousness will flourish, and peace will abound. The water from above has done its work.

The thought is taken further in Isaiah 45:8 where righteousness (i.e. vindication, being ‘put in the right’) ‘rains down’ like showers, and deliverance and righteousness ‘sprout forth’ from the earth, and in Isaiah 32:15 where a period of desolation is followed by ‘the Spirit’ being ‘poured upon us from above’ resulting in fruitfulness and deliverance. In Isaiah 44:1-5 the promises are more personalised. “I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and streams upon the dry ground. I will pour my Spirit upon your children and my blessing upon your offspring.” (Isaiah 44:1-4). The people will flourish like grass at the coming of the rainy season, like willows planted where there is abundant water, and the result will be a full-hearted dedication to the Lord (Isaiah 44:5).

This vivid picture speaks most forcefully to those who live in hot countries like Israel. There they are used to the long hot summer when everything dries up, the grass withers, the ground is barren and fruitless, the bushes die. Life appears to have gone. But then the rain comes, and everything changes. The ground is almost immediately covered with the beginnings of luxurious vegetation, the bushes spring to life and the trees grow and flourish. It has to be seen to be believed. It is an apt picture of spiritual renewal. They are born again, born from above!

Isaiah 55:10-13 takes it even further. “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, making it bring to birth (The Hebrew is yalad in the hiphil, almost exclusively used of the birth of living creatures) and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth, it will not return to me empty. It will accomplish what I purpose and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” Here we have the clear idea of new birth from above, and it is here connected with the going forth of the word of God. God speaks and the Spirit acts (compare Isaiah 34:16 where God’s word precedes the action of His Spirit). And now, says John, the Word of God has come (John 1:1-18) and the Spirit is acting.

Hosea 6:1-3 adds, ‘He has torn and He will heal us, He has smitten and He will bind us up, after two days he will revive us, on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him --- he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.’ This would again seem to be a picture of a raising again to life connected with showers of rain.

A further passage in the Old Testament which illustrates the new birth by the Spirit is Ezekiel 36:25-27. Here God promises His people that “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you will be clean”. The fact that the water is sprinkled indicates that it is seen as water purified by the ashes of sacrifice for those who have touched what is impure (Numbers 19:7-20). There would appear to be no other reason for stressing that it is CLEAN water.

The result of this sprinkling is that “a new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you. I will take away the heart of stone from your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my ordinances and carry them out”.

While Ezekiel, thinking as a priest, has apparently illustrated the idea of rain with the priestly sprinkling of water purified with the ashes of a heifer, he soon moves on to the idea of fruitfulness and plenty (John 3:29-30). It would be difficult to conceive of a better picture of the new birth. So here the new birth is linked with purification through the shedding of sacrificial blood.

So when Jesus speaks of being born of water, born from above, He has every reason to think that Nicodemus will understand Him, and to chide him for failing to do so. It is possible that there is in the back of His mind John’s baptism, but if so His vision is filled with that baptism’s significance as a picture of the life-giving rains pouring down, transforming the earth and producing a cleansing, regenerating work of God and ‘fruits meet for repentance’. The new work of the Spirit, begun in embryo by John the Baptiser and continuing with Jesus, is bringing new life into the hearts of those who ‘put their trust in Him’ so that they ‘might not perish but have the life of the age to come’ (John 3:15). And Nicodemus is in danger of missing out!

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on John 3:5". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/john-3.html. 2013.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Again Jesus prefaced a further affirmation with the statement that guaranteed its certainty. Entering the kingdom and seeing the kingdom ( John 3:3) seem to be synonymous terms, though the former may be a bit clearer. There are several views of the meaning of being born of water and the Spirit. The verse and its context contribute much to our understanding of this difficult phrase.

Whatever its meaning, "born of water and the Spirit" must equal being born "again" or "from above" ( John 3:3) since Jesus used this phrase to clarify the new birth for Nicodemus. Second, the definite article translated "the" before "Spirit" is absent in the Greek text. The English translators have inserted it to clarify their interpretation of "spirit" (Gr. pneuma) as the Holy Spirit. A more literal translation would be simply "born of water and spirit." Third, the construction of the phrase in the Greek text indicates that the preposition "of" governs both "water" and "Spirit." This means that Jesus was clarifying regeneration by using two terms that both describe the new birth. He was not saying that two separate things have to be present for regeneration to happen. It has but one source. Fourth, Jesus" criticism of Nicodemus for not understanding these things ( John 3:10) indicates that what He taught about the source of regeneration was clear in the Old Testament.

The only view that seems to be consistent with all four of these criteria is as follows. The Old Testament often used water metaphorically to symbolize spiritual cleansing and renewal ( Numbers 19:17-19; Isaiah 55:1-3; cf. Psalm 51:10; Jeremiah 2:13; Jeremiah 17:13; Zechariah 14:8). God"s spirit (or Spirit) in the Old Testament represents God"s life ( Genesis 1:2; Genesis 2:7; Genesis 6:3; Job 34:14). God promised that He would pour out His spirit on people as water ( Isaiah 32:15-16; Joel 2:28-29). The result of that outpouring would be a new heart for those on whom the spirit came ( Jeremiah 31:31-34). Thus the revelation that God would bring cleansing and renewal as water by His Spirit was clear in the Old Testament. Jesus evidently meant that unless a person has experienced spiritual cleansing and renewal from God"s spirit (or Spirit) he or she cannot enter the kingdom. This is what He meant by being born from above or again (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:11). [Note: Carson, pp191-96; cf. Hugo Odeberg, The Fourth Gospel, p50; ad Morris, pp191-93.]

Another view proposed by many scholars is that "water" is an allusion to the amniotic fluid in which a fetus develops in its mother"s womb. Other scholars see it as a euphemistic reference to the semen without which natural birth is impossible. In either case "water" refers to physical or natural birth while "spirit" refers to spiritual or supernatural birth. [Note: E.g, Wiersbe, 1:295.] They claim that Jesus was saying that natural birth is not enough. One must also experience supernatural birth to enter the kingdom. However this use of "water" is unique in Scripture. Moreover it assumes that two births are in view whereas the construction of the Greek phrase favors one birth rather than two. If two were in view, there would normally be a repetition of the preposition before the second noun.

Another popular view is that "water" refers to the written Word of God and "spirit" refers to the Holy Spirit. This figurative use of "water" does exist in the New Testament (cf. Ephesians 5:26), but it is uncommon in the Old Testament. It is unlikely that Nicodemus would have associated water with the Word of God, and it would have been unfair for Jesus to rebuke him for not having done so. This view, as the former one, also specifies two separate entities whereas the Greek text implies only one as the source of regeneration.

Some commentators take the "water" as an allusion to water baptism and the "spirit" as referring to the Holy Spirit. [Note: E.g, R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John: Introduction, Translation and Notes, 2:139-141.] According to this view spiritual birth happens only when a person undergoes water baptism and experiences regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Some advocates of this view see support for it in the previous reference to water baptism ( John 1:26; John 1:33). However, Scripture is very clear that water baptism is a testimony to salvation, not a prerequisite for it (cf. John 3:16; John 3:36; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). In addition, this meaning would have had no significance for Nicodemus. He knew nothing of Christian baptism. Furthermore Jesus never mentioned water baptism again in clarifying the new birth to Nicodemus.

Others have suggested that the "water" could be a reference to the repentance present in those who underwent John"s water baptism and the "spirit" an allusion to the Holy Spirit. [Note: F. Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John, with a Critical Introduction, 2:49-52; Marcus Dods, The Gospel of St. John, 1:713; Westcott, 1:108-9; Blum, p281; Tenney, " John," p47.] In this case, repentance as a change of mind is necessary as a prerequisite for salvation. According to advocates of this view Jesus was urging Nicodemus to submit to John"s baptism as a sign of his repentance, or at least to repent. The weakness of this view is that the connection between water and repentance is distant enough to cause misunderstanding. Nicodemus" response ( John 3:9) expressed lack of understanding. If the connection between water and John"s baptism were that clear, he would not have responded this way. It would have been simpler for Jesus just to say "repentance" if that is what He meant. Repentance in the sense of the fruit of a mental change is not necessary for salvation since by that definition repentance is a meritorious work.

Some scholars believe that "water" refers to the ritual washings of Judaism and "spirit" to the Holy Spirit. They think Jesus was saying that Spirit birth rather than just water purification was necessary for regeneration. However, Jesus was not contrasting water and spirit but linking them.

Finally at least one writer understood that when Jesus said "spirit" He meant it in the sense of wind (Gr. pneuma) and used it as a symbol of God"s life-giving work. [Note: Zane C. Hodges, "Water and Spirit- John 3:5," Bibliotheca Sacra135:539 (July-September1978):206-20.] This view holds that the wind is parallel to the water that also symbolizes God"s supernatural work of regeneration. However this is an unusual though legitimate meaning of pneuma. In the immediate context ( John 3:6) pneuma seems to mean spirit rather than wind. This fact has led almost all translators to render pneuma as "spirit" rather than as "wind" in John 3:5, even though it means "wind" in John 3:8.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 3:5". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/john-3.html. 2012.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

John 3:5. Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except any one have been born of water and spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. The answer is a stronger affirmation of the same truth, with some changes of expression which made the words no easier of acceptance, save as the new terms might awaken echoes of Old Testament language, and lead the hearer from the external to an inward and spiritual interpretation.

The first words have given rise to warm and continued controversy. Many have held that the birth ‘of water and spirit; can only refer to Christian baptism; others have denied that Christian baptism is alluded to at all. The subject is very important and very difficult. Our only safety lies in making the Evangelist his own interpreter. We shall repeatedly find, when a difficulty occurs, that some word of his own in the context or in some parallel passage brings us light. (1) First, then, as to the very peculiar expression,’ of water and spirit.’ We cannot doubt that this is the true rendering; no direct reference is made as yet to the personal Holy Spirit. The words ‘water and spirit’ are most closely joined, and placed under the government of the same preposition. A little earlier in the Gospel (chap. John 1:33) we find the same words—not, indeed, joined together as here, but yet placed in exact parallelism, each word, too, receiving emphasis from the context. Three times between chap. John 1:19 and chap. John 1:33. John speaks of his baptism with water; twice there is a reference to the Spirit (John 1:32-33); and in John 3:33. John’s baptizing with water and our Lord’s baptizing with ‘holy spirit’ (see the note) stand explicitly contrasted. It is very possible that this testimony was well known to others besides John’s disciples, to all indeed in Judea who were roused to inquiry respecting the Baptist and his relation to Jesus. (2) It is possible that the Jews of that age may have been familiar with the figure of a new birth in connection with baptism. It is confessedly difficult accurately to ascertain Jewish usages and modes of thought in the time of our Lord. The Talmud indeed contains copious stores of information, but it is not easy to distinguish between what belongs to an earlier and what to a later age. We know that converts to the Jewish religion were admitted by baptism to fellowship with the sacred people. The whole tenor of the law would suggest such a washing when the uncleanness of heathenism was put off, and hence no rite could be more natural. Yet we have no certain knowledge that this was practised so early as the time of our Lord. There is no doubt that, at a later date, the proselyte thus washed or baptized was spoken of as born again. Here again, therefore, we have some confirmation of the view that in the words before us there is in some sort a reference to baptism,—at all events, to the baptism of John. (3) But what was John’s baptism? We see from chap. John 1:25 how peculiar his action appeared to the rulers of the people. Even if proselytes were in that age baptized, a baptism that invited all, publican and Pharisee alike, would but seem the more strange. John’s action was new and startling; and from chap. John 1:21-25 it appears that the leaders of Jewish thought beheld in it an immediate reference to the time of Messiah. It seems very probable that John’s baptism was directly symbolic, a translation into visible symbol of such promises as Ezekiel 36:25, which looked forward to the new spiritual order of which he was the herald. To the sprinkling with clean water, the cleansing from all filthiness, of which Ezekiel speaks, answers closely John’s ‘baptism of repentance for the remission of sins’ (compare also Ezekiel 36:31). To the promise which follows, ‘A new spirit will I put within you. ... I will put my spirit within you,’ answers just as closely John’s testimony to Jesus, ‘He it is that baptizeth with holy spirit.’ (4) The two contrasted elements in the baptisms of chap. John 1:33 are—(a) the covering and removal of past sin; and (b) the inbreathing of a new life. In that verse ‘holy spirit’ is the gift and not the Giver. The Giver is the Holy Spirit; but the gift, that which is the essential element in the new baptism, is the bestowal of ‘holy spirit,’ the seed and the principle of a holy spiritual life. (5) These two elements were conjoined in the Christian baptism instituted afterwards: the cleansing of forgiveness through Christ’s death and the holiness of the new life in Christ are alike symbolized in it. Here, therefore, our Lord says that no man can enter into the kingdom of God unless he have been born anew, the elements of the new birth being the removal by cleansing of the old sinful life, and the impartation by the Holy Spirit of a new holy principle of life.—If this view of the words is correct, there is error in both extremes of which mention has been made. There is no direct reference here to Christian baptism; but the reference to the truths which that baptism expresses is distinct and clear.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 3:5". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/john-3.html. 1879-90.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

John 3:5. , , , . To remove as far as possible the difficulty of Nicodemus as to the of the second birth our Lord declares that the two great factors in it are “water” and “spirit”. Calvin thinks this is a , and that the two names cover one reality. “Spiritum et aquam pro eodem posuit.” “Aqua nihil aliud est quam interior Spiritus sancti purgatio et vegetatio.” And he defends this by a reference to the Baptist’s announcement that the Messiah would baptise with the spirit and fire. Grotius takes the same line, but cautiously adds: “Si quis tamen malit ista decernere, ut aqua significet mali fugam, spiritus vero impetum ad optima quaeque agenda, inveniet quo hanc sententiam fulciet”. Lk. (Luke 7:30) tells us that the Pharisees, to whom belonged Nicodemus, were not baptised of John; their reason being that to submit to the same rite as Gentiles and acknowledge the insufficiency of their Jewish birth was a humiliation they could not suffer. To receive the Spirit from the Messiah was no humiliation; on the contrary, it was a glorious privilege. But to go down into Jordan before a wondering crowd and own their need of cleansing and new birth was too much. Therefore to this Pharisee our Lord declares that an honest dying to the past is as needrul as new life for the future. To be born of the Spirit involves a dying to the past, and therefore it is only the Spirit that is spoken of in the subsequent verses; but it is essential that our past be recognised as needing cleansing and forgiveness. These two factors, water and spirit, are not strictly co-ordinate. Water is not an actual spiritual agency in the second birth; it is only a symbol. But in every true second birth there is a negative as well as a positive side, a renunciation of the past as well as a new life created. The same idea is found in Titus 3:3-5, “We were [of the flesh] but He saved us by the bath of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Ghost”. The same combination is found in Ezekiel 36:25-27, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” The water, then, is considered as that which cleanses from sin: the Spirit as the principle of the new life.

 

 

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on John 3:5". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/john-3.html. 1897-1910.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Unless a man be born again of water, and the Holy Ghost. Though the word Holy be now wanting in all Greek copies, it is certainly the sense. The ancient Fathers, and particularly St. Augustine in divers places, from these words, prove the necessity of giving baptism to infants: and by Christ's adding water, is excluded a metaphorical baptism. See also Acts viii. 36. and x. 47. and Titus iii. 5. (Witham) --- Except a man be born again. That is, unless you are born again by a spiritual regeneration in God, all the knowledge which you learn from me, will not be spiritual but carnal. But I say to you, that neither you nor any other person, unless you be born again in God, can undestand or conceive the glory which is in me. (St. John Chrysostom)

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on John 3:5". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/john-3.html. 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

of water, &c. = of water and spirit. No Art. Figure of speech Hendiadys (App-6). Not two things, but one, by which the latter Noun becomes a superlative and emphatic Adjective, determining the meaning and nature of the former Noun, showing that one to be spiritual water: i.e. not water but spirit. It is to be rendered "of water-yea, spiritual water". Compare Ephesians 5:26, and See John 7:38, John 7:39 and Ezekiel 36:25-27 for the "earthly things" of John 3:12.

enter. Showing what the Lord meant by "see", in John 3:3.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on John 3:5". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/john-3.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, [ ex (Greek #1537) hudatos (Greek #5204) kai (Greek #2532) pneumatos (Greek #4151)] - or, more simply, 'of water and the Spirit,'

He cannot enter into the kingdom of God. We have here a two-fold explanation of the new birth, so startling to Nicodemus. To a Jewish ecclesiastic, so familiar with the symbolical application of water, in every variety of way and form of expression, this language was fitted to show that the thing intended was no other than 'a thorough spiritual purification by the operation of the Holy Spirit.' Indeed, this element of water and operation of the Spirit are brought together in a glorious evangelical prediction of Ezekiel 36:25-27, which Nicodemus might have been reminded of had such spiritualities not been almost lost in the reigning formalism. Already had the symbol of water been embodied in an initiatory ordinance, in the baptism of the Jewish expectants of Messiah by the Baptist, not to speak of the baptism of Gentile proselytes before that; and in the Christian Church it was soon to become the great visible door of entrance into "the kingdom of God," the reality being the sole work of the Holy Spirit.

In this way of viewing the two elements - "water" and "the Spirit" - we avoid the unsatisfactory interpretation of the "water," as if our Lord had meant no more than 'Except a man be regenerated by the ordinance of baptism and by the Holy Spirit.' We call this unsatisfactory, because, as the ordinance of baptism was not instituted until Jesus was on the wing for glory, we think it harsh to suppose any direct allusion here to that institution. But neither is it to be reduced, with Lampe, etc., to a mere figure for the truth. It is undoubtedly the cleansing or purifying property of water which is referred to, in conformity with the familiar ideas of the Jewish ritual and the current language of the Old Testament. But since this was already taking form in an initiatory ordinance, in the ways just mentioned, it would be unreasonable to exclude all reference to baptism; although it would be nearer the truth, perhaps, to say that Baptism itself only embodies in a public ordinance the great general truth here announced-that a cleansing or purifying operation of the Spirit in everyone is indispensable to entrance into the kingdom of God.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on John 3:5". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/john-3.html. 1871-8.

The Bible Study New Testament

5. Unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Whatever Jesus means here, all will agree, that: (1) no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born again; (2) only being born of water and the Spirit makes it possible. All will agree that the birth of the Spirit points to a spiritual change. The majority of scholars see in water the rite of Christian baptism. See Ephesians 5:26; Hebrews 10:22. Alford (Greek Testament) says: “All attempts to get rid of this have sprung from doctrinal prejudices.” We view Christian baptism [in contrast to John’s baptism] as a reaching out through faith to seize the sacrifice of Christ and make ourselves part of it. Compare notes on Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21.

 

 

 

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on John 3:5". "The Bible Study New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/john-3.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(5) It is believed that the rendering adopted agrees with the whole context, and gives a fuller sense to the words of the great Teacher.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on John 3:5". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/john-3.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
born
3; Isaiah 44:3,4; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Matthew 3:11; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:4-7; 1 Peter 1:2; 3:21; 1 John 5:6-8
and of
1:13; Romans 8:2; 1 Corinthians 2:12; 6:11; 1 John 2:29; 5:1,6-8
cannot
Matthew 5:20; 18:3; 28:19; Luke 13:3,5,24; Acts 2:38; 3:19; Romans 14:17; 2 Corinthians 5:17,18; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:4-10; 2 Thessalonians 2:13,14
Reciprocal: Matthew 5:18 - verily;  Matthew 7:21 - shall;  Matthew 11:21 - repented;  Matthew 19:23 - enter;  Matthew 21:43 - The kingdom;  Mark 10:23 - enter;  Mark 14:18 - Verily;  Luke 10:9 - The kingdom;  Luke 10:13 - repented;  Luke 11:13 - being;  John 1:33 - the same;  John 1:51 - Verily;  John 3:11 - verily;  John 3:12 - earthly;  John 6:26 - Verily;  John 6:53 - Except;  John 13:8 - If;  John 13:16 - Verily;  Acts 8:36 - See;  Acts 14:22 - enter;  Romans 2:29 - spirit;  Romans 8:8 - they that;  1 Corinthians 12:13 - by;  2 Corinthians 1:20 - Amen;  Galatians 4:29 - after the Spirit;  Hebrews 10:22 - our bodies;  1 Peter 1:23 - born;  Revelation 11:3 - clothed

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on John 3:5". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/john-3.html.

Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ver. 5. "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

The Lord repeats, against the contradiction of Nicodemus, what He had said before; but m such a manner that He more distinctly indicates the factors of the new life, which is the irremissible condition of a participation in the kingdom of heaven. There are decisive reasons for the supposition, that by the water, which is mentioned as one of these factors, is to be understood the water of baptism. Already, in ver. 22, we find the disciples of Jesus baptizing under His commission; and it is natural to suppose that the doctrinal basis is here given for this activity. In John 1:33, moreover, water and Spirit are likewise mentioned, and the water is that of baptism. The same is true also of Matthew 3:11, and of ver. 16: as Jesus went up out of the water, the Spirit of God descended upon Him. What there occurred to Christ, is emblematic for believers. In Acts 2:38, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost,"—in the same manner, water and Spirit, baptism and Spirit, are connected with each other. As here water appears as one of the factors, and as a fundamental condition of regeneration, so in a very similar relation appears baptism, in the passage closely connected with our text. Titus 3:5, where it is designated as λουτροῦ παλιγγενεσίας καὶ ἀνακαινώσεως πνεύματος ἁγίου. Now, if these reasons decidedly forbid that we should here separate water from baptism (cf. besides, Ephesians 5:26, καθαρίσας τῷ λουτρῷ τοῦ ὕδατος), there are again other reasons as distinctly in favour of the view, that the water here has a symbolical character, and typifies the forgiveness of sins. Water, as here used, is not to be distinguished from the water in a whole series of passages in the Psalms and prophets, in which it signifies the forgiveness of sins, which was already typified in the symbolism of the Mosaic law by material purification. David says, in Psalms 51:2, "Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin." The prayer is for the forgiveness of sins. The further unfolding of this prayer is given in vers. 9-11. In vers. 12-14 the impartation of the second thing is then prayed for, which necessarily follows from the granting of the first, the impartation of the sanctifying grace of God. As here, so also there, water and Spirit are in close connection with each other. If water there signifies the forgiveness of sins, then here also it has this meaning. In Isaiah 3:15, "So shall He sprinkle many nations," the sprinkling evidently has the signification of absolution from sin. In Ezekiel 36:25 it is said, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols (filth), will I cleanse you." We have in substance the meaning of this passage in Jeremiah 31:34, "For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." To this first benefit is added, in ver. 26, as the second, "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh." Here also water in the sense of forgiveness, and the impartation of the Spirit, go hand in hand. In Zechariah 13:1 it is said, "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness." It is evident that here also water signifies the forgiveness of sins.

How now are these two views, that water, according to the one series of reasons, must signify baptism, and according to the other, the forgiveness of sins, to be united? The answer is: Water is baptism, and at the same time the embodied forgiveness of sins. For the essence of baptism consists in this, that it brings with it the forgiveness of sins. The water of baptism signifies the forgiveness of sins, but not in such a manner that this exists independently of it; and is only typified by it (as Olshausen is of opinion, that the water does not refer to the sacrament, but to the idea of baptism, to the inward occurrence of repentance in the soul), but so that the forgiveness of sins is connected with the water. The water appears in like manner with the Spirit as a factor of the new life. When this seems, in ver. 6, to be derived from the Spirit alone, we must supplement to this from ver. 5, that the Spirit, which is the positive factor of the new life, presupposes the water, as already in the Old Testament the forgiveness of sins is represented as the really fundamental benefit. The water is the seal of access to the Spirit. When the Berleburger Bibel thus paraphrases the sense: "If one should rely solely on his baptism by water, if he should neglect the new birth, and should not allow the renewing of the Holy Spirit to take place within him, then he could not enter into the kingdom of God," this is not to unfold, but to tenfold, in the spiritualistic interest. The water is not here to be depreciated, but to be recommended with respect to the baptism shortly to be accomplished, and to be designated as the vehicle of the forgiveness of sins, the necessary precondition and the sure guaranty of the impartation of the Spirit.

That the declaration of the Lord now before us, which was referred to baptism already with perfect confidence by Justin, Apol. i. 61, is opposed to the doctrine of the Reformed Church concerning baptism, is seen from the manifold attempts of. Reformed expositors, even of the best and most pious, to explain the water otherwise,—attempts on which the stamp of worthlessness is already impressed by the fact, that they have never been able to arrive at any agreement. According to Calvin, e.g., the water is the Holy Ghost Himself, who is thus named from His purifying and animating power; according to Lampe, it is the obedience of Christ, etc. Buddeus did not make use of too strong an expression when he called these expositions frivolas plane atque ahsonas.

The prominence of the water must have been a fatal blow to the Pharisee in Nicodemus. Nicodemus was to reflect, remarks Anton, "for what purpose natural water is used, namely, for washing; and thus further to recognise what that filth must be, which must be first washed away."

Our declaration does not lose its practical importance, even for those who have already attained to regeneration of water and Spirit. "It is this new birth," remarks Quesnel, "which gives us the right to turn unceasingly to the author of our new existence, and to the principle of our new life, and on every occasion to desire from Him His new Spirit."

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on John 3:5". Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/heg/john-3.html.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

5.Unless a man be born of water. This passage has been explained in various ways. Some have thought that the two parts of regeneration are distinctly pointed out, and that by the word Water is denoted the renunciation of the old man, while by the Spirit they have understood the new life. Others think that there is an implied contrast, as if Christ intended to contrast Water and Spirit, which are pure and liquid elements, with the earthly and gross nature of man. Thus they view the language as allegorical, and suppose Christ to have taught that we ought to lay aside the heavy and ponderous mass of the flesh, and to become like water and air, that we may move upwards, or, at least, may not be so much weighed down to the earth. But both opinions appear to me to be at variance with the meaning of Christ.

Chrysostom, with whom the greater part of expounders agree, makes the word Water refer to baptism. The meaning would then be, that by baptism we enter into the kingdom of God, because in baptism we are regenerated by the Spirit of God. Hence arose the belief of the absolute necessity of baptism, in order to the hope of eternal life. But though we were to admit that Christ here speaks of baptism, yet we ought not to press his words so closely as to imagine that he confines salvation to the outward sign; but, on the contrary, he connects the Water with the Spirit, because under that visible symbol he attests and seals that newness of life which God alone produces in us by his Spirit. It is true that, by neglecting baptism, we are excluded from salvation; and in this sense I acknowledge that it is necessary; but it is absurd to speak of the hope of salvation as confined to the sign. So far as relates to this passage, I cannot bring myself to believe that Christ speaks of baptism; for it would have been inappropriate.

We must always keep in remembrance the design of Christ, which we have already explained; namely, that he intended to exhort Nicodemus to newness of life, because he was not capable of receiving the Gospel, until he began to be a new man. It is, therefore, a simple statement, that we must be born again, in order that we may be the children of God, and that the Holy Spirit is the Author of this second birth. For while Nicodemus was dreaming of the regeneration ( παλιγγενεσία) or transmigration taught by Pythagoras, who imagined that souls, after the death of their bodies, passed into other bodies, (58) Christ, in order to cure him of this error, added, by way of explanation, that it is not in a natural way that men are born a second time, and that it is not necessary for them to be clothed with a new body, but that they are born when they are renewed in mind and heart by the grace of the Spirit.

Accordingly, he employed the words Spirit and water to mean the same thing, and this ought not to be regarded as a harsh or forced interpretation; for it is a frequent and common way of speaking in Scripture, when the Spirit is mentioned, to add the word Water or Fire, expressing his power. We sometimes meet with the statement, that it is Christ who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost and with fire, (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16,) where fire means nothing different from the Spirit, but only shows what is his efficacy in us. As to the word water being placed first, it is of little consequence; or rather, this mode of speaking flows more naturally than the other, because the metaphor is followed by a plain and direct statement, as if Christ had said that no man is a son of God until he has been renewed by water, and that this water is the Spirit who cleanseth us anew and who, by spreading his energy over us, imparts to us the rigor of the heavenly life, though by nature we are utterly dry. And most properly does Christ, in order to reprove Nicodemus for his ignorance, employ a form of expression which is common in Scripture; for Nicodemus ought at length to have acknowledged, that what Christ had said was taken from the ordinary doctrine of the Prophets.

By water, therefore, is meant nothing more than the inward purification and invigoration which is produced by the Holy Spirit. Besides, it is not unusual to employ the word and instead of that is, when the latter clause is intended to explain the former. And the view which I have taken is supported by what follows; for when Christ immediately proceeds to assign the reason why we must be born again, without mentioning the water, he shows that the newness of life which he requires is produced by the Spirit alone; whence it follows, that water must not be separated from the Spirit

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on John 3:5". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/john-3.html. 1840-57.