The Letter of the Word

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As I have progressed in my relationship with Jesus, I have found my study habits changing.  I suppose such a thing ought to be obvious but I noticed the change and have wondered at it.  For example, I no longer do those “Read the Bible in a Year” plans.  I do not say there is anything wrong with them.  I have enjoyed making my way through different plans-sometimes historical, sometimes chronological, and seeing different patterns emerge.  And yet, there were times when I would read a particular scripture and it would spark something in me.  I would think about taking time to study it but I could not as I had my plan to adhere to.  I would promise myself to come back to it but another year meant another plan and I didn’t have a great deal of time to devote to one scripture.

I don’t do that anymore.  Now, if I see something I sink down into that passage until the Holy Spirit directs my attention to another.  This happened during my study of John 3:5.  I wrote in a previous post how scripture references and commentaries in my different Bible translations and study materials drew my attention to Ezekiel 36: 25-27.  I commenced a word study on those verses and such vistas opened it was difficult not to travel down some of these new paths and to stay focused on what I was attempting to learn about John 3:5.  While I do not think I am finished with John 3:5 either, I’m ready to take a look at some of these trails I’ve never been down and see what I find.

I was curious about the Hebrew word used for “give” as in “I will give you a new heart”.  The word translated “put” in some of my translations (like the NKJV) as in “I will put a new spirit within you” is the same Hebrew word translated “give” only a few words before.  I wondered if it might not contain the idea of birthing but it does not.  The word is nathan: number 5414 in my copy of The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.  There is a rather long entry for nathan and it’s worth reading through.  In sum, translating nathan as “give” is an accurate translation. 

Now, I find my Strong’s an invaluable resource but there are times merely looking up the Greek and Hebrew and getting a definition is a bit of a let down.  I have other dictionaries and commentaries which can be helpful and I have a Hebrew lexicon coded with Strong’s numbers and arranged so the word and its root are listed together along with every scripture the word is found.  Reading the word in other passages and seeing how it’s used is helpful but I can’t help wondering whether that is all I can learn.

Fortunately, I have a book called The Inner Meaning of the Hebrew Letters by Robert M. Haralick and I have Google.  With these two resources, I am introduced to a world where the Hebrew letters themselves have forms and final forms and meanings that help to show me who God is.

Take nathan: it is written nun, tav, and nun in its final form.  Before I make it passed the Table of Contents in Mr. Haralick’s book, I see that Nun means Emergence and Tav means True Law.  I find that fascinating.  Ezekiel 36:27 says “I will put (nathan) my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”  In looking at the first two letters of nathan I see God at work.  Emergence = He puts or gives and True Law = we walk in his statutes, keep His judgments, and do them.  It’s with a sense of excitement and anticipation that I read the entries for these letters.

Mr. Haralick begins his entry for nun by stating “The fourteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is nun spelled nun-vav-nun.” (I’ve used English spelling-Mr. Haralick uses the Hebrew letters)  He goes on to say that in Aramaic, the word nun means fish while in Hebrew the word is the root to sprout, spread, propagate, or shine.  I am not unfamiliar with the word nun as I’ve read many times “Joshua, the son of Nun” and Mr. Haralick goes on to say, “Every instance of the word nun (spelled nun-vav-nun) in the Pentateuch is in the phrase “son of Nun”.  He includes the scripture references in his footnotes but reviews Deuteronomy 31:23, 1:38, and 34:9 concluding, “That which is in emergence does not immediately accomplish what is to be accomplished for what is to be accomplished takes place later in time.  It is the son of Nun, Joshua, the offspring of Nun, who goes into the land and causes us to inherit it.  The father, Nun, emergence, does not go into the Promised Land.  Therefore, when we are engaging in emergence we are charged to be strong and of good courage for it will take time for our emergence to produce something seeable.  And in emerging, we shall be full of the spirit of wisdom.”  

There are pages more information on nun, its cognates, how its meaning affects other words it is part of, and what its numerical value means.  I also found an online resource (lightedway.org) which has a study on nun so, once again, I find looking into the meaning of anything, even a letter, is no small undertaking.

For now though, I have to pause and reflect on the bit I’ve shared.  I see a picture of Jesus in Mr. Haralick’s words.  Our inheritance, our Promised Land if you will, is in Him.  He is the one that brings us to the Father and restores the relationship.  He is Yeshua, He who saves; the one who brings us into the Holy of Holies through Himself.  He is the one who puts in His life in us yet we do not immediately experience His fullness but rather, are transformed into His image from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).  We can be strong and of good courage because we know that He who began a good work in us will complete it in the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

To Him be the glory unto the Age of the Ages.  Amen.

I drew my last paragraph from the following scriptures:  Hebrews 10:20, Colossians 1:27, John 14:6, Ephesians 1:11-17, Romans 6:23, 2 Corinthians 5:19, and James 1:17

Quotes taken from:

Haralick, Robert M., The Inner Meaning of Hebrew Letters, Jason Aronson Inc. Northvale, New Jersey, 1995, pages 207-208

Rhema

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The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly. John 10:10, New American Standard (NAS)

The Christian life is not automatic. The joy of the Lord, the Peace that surpasses all human understanding, the spirit of power, love, and a sound mind (II Timothy 1:7, NKJV): all of these things are ours in Jesus through the Holy Spirit but we grow into them. Paul writes, “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit”. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NAS). It is the Holy Spirit, living within me who teaches me how to live with joy and peace and stability of spirit but I do not sit passive. I believe with all I am that everything my life in Jesus is, is meant to be, is becoming, comes from Him. I do not earn it. Rather, I live in partnership with what His Spirit is doing in me and that sometimes involves giving myself a good talking to.

I wrapped up a study on John 3:5 where I agreed with the conclusion that being born of water and the Spirit is being born of the word and the Spirit. Which word? The logos (G3056) or the rhema (G4487)? Is there a difference? I found Vines Expository Dictionary a help in distinguishing between the two: “Logos denotes the expression of thought-not the mere name of an object-as embodying a conception or idea…the revealed will of God…Rhema denotes that which is spoken, what is uttered in speech or writing”1

I enjoy doing word studies. A study is never over. As I was looking into John 3:5 I saw many different subjects I want to pursue. I found it difficult not to get sidetracked and looking at “the word” in the New Testament was one such temptation. There is far too much to say for this post so I will limit myself to saying I believe there is and is not a difference. There is no rhema without the Logos-Jesus Himself-and yet the logos is not expressed without the rhema. The Spirit reveals Jesus to me but then I find I need to hear words spoken. I listen to teachers, I read, and I often have to speak to myself. Ephesians 5:18-19 says, “…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs”. While not explicit in this passage, I believe talking to myself is just as important as sharing with others. I hear so many other voices, even when I step away from social media outlets, and few of them are saying edifying things. My thoughts begin to whirl and I must talk to myself, remind myself who Jesus is, and remind myself who I am in Him.

This is one such poem I wrote to remind myself of reality in Christ.

Rhema

What is the source of my joy?

How can I know joy exists

When I see so much adversity?

Because I know the One who is Joy.

What is the source of my peace?

How can I believe in peace

When I see so much tragedy?

Because I know the One who is Peace.

What is the source of knowledge?

How can I see Him

When I see so much death and pain?

Because I know the One who Speaks.

His Spirit is knowing

His Spirit is certain

He is the Source

In the depths of me

Knitted to me

Opening the heart’s eyes

The welling spring

The River of living water

The Fountain of my life

The All in All

The Fear Not

The Living and Enduring Word.

  1. Vine, W.E., Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, 1997, Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1241-1242

Birth or Baptism

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What have I been saying over the last seven weeks?  Am I saying that since I don’t believe John 3:5 is speaking of water baptism that I don’t think water baptism is important?  Not at all.  As I read through the Book of Acts, I find that water baptism was a vital part of the life of a Christian.  I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Vincent that baptism “is a truthful sign only as the sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”1 The reason for this study was my quibble with the statement made on social media that water baptism was a law laid down by Jesus.  A church in my area came across my Facebook feed and, when I checked out their statement of faith, I saw that they said practically the same thing.  The statement of faith used “ordinance” rather than law but that’s merely a fancier way of saying the same thing. 

What’s the big deal?  If people are getting saved and baptized anyway, what does it matter if water baptism and born of water are or are not the same thing? It matters to me.  It matters because I am concerned when leaders start using the word “law” when it comes to the life of Jesus in us.  I am also concerned when the keeping of the law of being baptized in water is put forward as the interpretation of John 3:5 when Jesus goes on to say, “no man can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”  This is serious.  Jesus was serious when he said it.  The true meaning of His words is vital.

That being born of water has to mean something other than water baptism, something that must take place on the inside of a person, is made clear by Luke 17 verses 20 and 21: “Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say ‘Here it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.’” The King James Version has it “the kingdom of God is within you.”  If it is within, then John 3:5 has to be talking about an inward change-the new heart and new spirit God promises in Ezekiel 36-because, on its own, water baptism has no ability to birth anyone into anything other than a denomination. 

I follow a Facebook page called A.W. Tozer-A man of God and this page recently shared an excerpt from his sermon “Spiritual Readiness”.  It struck me when I read “The evangelical church has come through a period when nearly everyone has believed that there is just one prerequisite to readiness: being born again.  We have made being born again almost like receiving a pass to a special event-when Jesus returns we whip out the pass to prove our readiness.”  I feel this way about keeping laws: no one will ever convince me that ticking my Christian box next to water baptism in any way prepares me to “let this same mind be in me that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5, paraphrased), or “to be molded into the image of His Son (and share inwardly of His likeness)” (Romans 8:29).

But then, what about Mark 16: 16; “He who believes and is baptized will be saved: but he who does not believe will be condemned”?  Is this passage talking of water baptism?  Romans 5:9 says “Therefore, since we are now justified (acquitted, made righteous, and brought into right relationship with God) by Christ’s blood, how much more (certain is it that) we shall be saved by Him from the indignation and wrath of God?” Ephesians 1:7 says “In Him we have redemption (deliverance and salvation) through His blood, the remission (forgiveness) of our offenses (shortcomings and trespasses) in accordance with the riches and the generosity of His gracious favor”.  No mention of water baptism.  Perhaps Jesus meant water baptism after believing in Him but, again, there is something that must happen inside us before the water baptism means anything.

John the baptizer said Jesus was the one who would baptize with “the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 2:11).  I want to share two scriptures about fire.  Jeremiah 23:29 says “Isn’t my word like fire, asks Adonai, like a hammer shattering rocks?” The writer to the Hebrews states “our God is a consuming fire!” (Hebrews 12:29)  Perhaps I’m pushing the point too hard but, in doing this study, I am convinced that being born of water and the spirit does mean being born of the Word and the Spirit. Jesus is the Word (John 1:1) and “The Word of the Lord endures forever.  And this Word is the good news which was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:25)  There are so many more beautiful scriptures, some of which I’ve quoted in the previous installments of this study, so I close with this thought.

Maybe I have misunderstood and these leaders don’t really mean law law.  Perhaps all they mean is that baptism is important and I’ve said I don’t disagree.  Here’s my problem: a simple Google search shows people are reaching out and asking whether or not they are saved if they’ve never been baptized.  Is the sprinkling practiced by some denominations enough or do they have to be full on immersed?  What about the baptizing of infants?  I also recently heard that certain denominations recognize the baptism of certain other denominations but not all.  So, in order to be sure I’m saved, I have to be sure I’ve been baptized by the correct denomination?  This sounds like the “doctrines of baptism” spoken about by the writer to the Hebrews (Chapter 6 verse 2).

I wanted to do this study because, when I am looking online, I rarely see anyone pointing out that an inward change is what’s is of paramount importance.  What’s even more distressing to me, is that I rarely see anyone talking about the Holy Spirit.  He’s treated like He’s the icing on the Christian life-nice but not really necessary-or reserved for a certain few who have a deeper life or deeper conversion.

No.  “But you are not living the life of the flesh, you are living the life of the Spirit, if the Holy Spirit of God (really) dwells within you (directs and controls you).  But if anyone does not possess the (Holy) Spirit of Christ, he is none of His (he does not belong to Christ is not truly a child of God).”  This is Romans 8:9 and I would encourage you to read all of Chapter 8.  I’ll quote verses 14 and 15: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For (the Spirit which) you have now received (is) not a spirit of slavery to put you once more in bondage to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption (the Spirit producing sonship) in (the bliss of) which we cry, Abba! Father!  

If you have been baptized, wonderful.  If you have not, I hope you have the peace to know it doesn’t affect your salvation.  My prayer is that our eyes are opened to see “by (means of the personal agency of) one (Holy) Spirit we were all, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, baptized (and by baptism united together) into one body and all made to drink of one (Holy) Spirit.”  Christ in us, His life in us testified to us by His Spirit, is the water and Spirit that births us into His kingdom. 

Even so, Come Lord Jesus.

  1. Vincent, Marvin R., D.D., Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John, 5. Born of Water and the Spirit, Page 92.

From Whence I Came

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I had planned for this week’s post to close out on my study of John 3:5 but I find there is an interpretation of “born of water” I would be remiss if I didn’t address.  That interpretation is the one that states being born of water is in reference to our physical birth.  I had personally discounted this interpretation because I had no found no scripture using “born of water” to mean physical birth.  I had found “born of a woman” but never “born of water”.  I had looked at various blog posts that discounted this interpretation but was looking up my scripture reference in the Mirror Study Bible and saw that John 3:5 was translated as “unless someone is born out of water (the womb) and Spirit, there would be no possible connection with the realm of God!”  

When I first started this series and was talking it over with my mother, she said she’d always thought being born of water meant physical birth because of the rush of water that announces an imminent birth.  She had been taught so in her church.  While I personally have never heard this interpretation, I’ve also never heard a sermon on John 3:5 so don’t have any idea how prevalent this interpretation might be.  And so, in the interests of being thorough, I am going to take a look at the possibility that being born of water is referencing the physical birth.

At first glance, this interpretation appears obvious.  Nicodemus does ask how it’s possible for a grown man to return to the womb and Jesus does reply with “that which is born of flesh is flesh” (John 3:6).  The Mirror Study Bible translates John 3:6 as, “Whatever originates out of flesh is flesh; but what is sourced in Spirit is spirit” and then has the following commentary: “The Message says, when you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch.  But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit”.

Let us continue in the Mirror Study Bible for two more verses.  John 3:7; “Don’t be so surprised when I say to you [manity – plural!] You couldn’t get here in the flesh unless you got here from above! (See John 1:10 These are the ones who discover their genesis in God beyond their natural conception!  This is not about our blood lineage or whether we were a wanted or an unwanted child – this is about our God-begotteness; we are his dream come true!  We are not the invention of our parents! [You are the greatest idea God has ever had!]) John 3:8; We can observe the effect the wind has and hear its sound whenever it touches objects – yet those objects do not define the wind; it comes and goes of its own accord – if life was not born out of the spirit in the first place, it would not be possible to detect spirit influence at all!  We are spirit-compatible by design! (Spirit is our origin!  Not our mother’s womb!…) 

This confuses me a bit.  What is Mr. du Toit saying here?  Is he saying while the Spirit is our true origin, we must be born into a physical body in order to-he says have a possible connection but other translations say see, enter-the Kingdom of God?  If so, I have a massive question I must lay before my Heavenly Father.  What about all the children who don’t make it through the birth process?

While seeking an answer in scripture to that question, I found I had to ask another: when does life begin?  I’ve heard various people say life begins at birth and others say it begins at conception.  What does the Bible say?  The Bible appears to share a truth so massive my mind can hardly fathom it.  The Writer of the Book of Hebrews, in talking about the Priesthood of Melchizedek, says it is a higher priesthood than that of Levi because “even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him” (Hebrews 7:9-10) This scripture suggests Levi was alive in his great-grandfather decades before his physical birth.  And yet, there is a scripture that takes all of humanity’s origins back further than Abraham because “as in Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 13:22).  The first human made a choice that affected every one of his descendants.  It affected me so I had to be in Adam all those millennia before my actual birth.

The Bible does make clear the fact that God knew us before our physical birth.  God says to Jeremiah, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you: Before you were born I sanctified you” (Jeremiah 1:5).  One of my favorite Psalms contains a passage that echoes God’s words to Jeremiah: “You formed my inward parts: You covered me in my mother’s womb…my frame was not hidden from you…you saw my substance, being yet unformed.  And in your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” (Psalm 139: 13-16) The Gospel of John says “All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made.”  Consider Colossians 1:16: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers.  All things were created through Him and for Him.”  Ephesians 1:4-5 says “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the pleasure of His will”.   

When I meditate on these scriptures, especially Colossians and Ephesians, I think I have not yet begun to fathom my origin.  Regarding John 3:5, I do not agree that “born of water” means a physical birth and then being born of the Spirit is the being born again.  In fact, the Greek word that has been translated again is anothen (G509) and would have been translated more accurately as from above, or anew.  (I’ve addressed this here) I believe born of water and the spirit were meant to explain being born anew and conducting this study has convinced me that the being born from above has nothing to do with water baptism.  Do I think a human has to be born physically and live some time on this earth in order to be then born into the Kingdom of God?

I do think this human existence is of immense value.  I think every life matters to God in a way we humans don’t understand unless His Spirit opens our eyes.  I know death is an enemy but one that is defeated by Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15, Revelation 1:18) therefore I do not believe the death of this body in some way thwarts God.  I do know that “in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth-in Him.” The Amplified Bible puts it beautifully: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. (For all things originate with Him and come from Him; all things live through Him, and all things center in and tend to consummate and to end in Him.) To Him be glory forever!  Amen (so be it). (Romans 11:36)

Amen.

To be continued…

The Cleansing Word

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In The Grammar of Complexity, I shared the idea that “born of water and the spirit” from John 3:5 means being born of the Word of God and the Spirit of God.  I believe this interpretation because of my personal experience, a baptism story I find in the Book of Acts, and various scriptures throughout the New Testament. First things First.  I have been the recipient of an immersion baptism and it happened like this:

It was only a few years after my devastating car accident.  I’d moved here to Colorado and was feeling somewhat adrift.  What was I supposed to do when the planned on college degree was no longer an option and I still had yet to figure out what being differently-abled really meant?  One of my mother’s old friends came into town to attend a conference given by an evangelist she liked and invited me to go along.  I did so and ended up receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  I attended the church that had hosted the evangelist and was a regular attendee for close to two years before I was baptized.  I did it all backwards if water baptism is supposed to be part of the new birth.  The word in seed form had been planted in me throughout my childhood by various teachers at various times and was sinking roots and growing even though it often times didn’t feel like it, then I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, and finally was baptized in water.  That water baptism was my declaring a change that had already taken place and my commitment to the new life that had been birthed in me.

I imagine you saying, “I’m not concerned with the experience of some random person.  Experience does not theology make.”  I agree which is why I turn your attention to Acts Chapter 10.  There is a fascinating story here about a centurion named Cornelius.  No one among the apostles was looking to baptize Cornelius.  The entire chapter shows God at work bringing about what He wanted.  I encourage you to read it: it’s a wonderful chapter.

In brief, Cornelius was fasting when an angel of God appeared to him and told him to send for Peter.  The angel told Cornelius what city Peter was in and who he was lodging with before departing.  Cornelius sends two from his household in the company of one of his soldiers who, it appears, was also a believer.  They go to Joppa to get Peter and bring him to Cornelius.  While they are traveling, Peter has the great vision of the sheet bound at the four corners descending from heaven filled with all sorts of animals and creatures he’d been forbidden to eat.  The command came from God to kill and eat to which Peter strenuously objected and then came the reply; “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”  This happens three times and then the sheet is taken up to heaven.

While Peter is wondering what his vision means, the Spirit tells him there are some men seeking him.  He goes down to Cornelius’ men, hears why they have come, and the next day he and some of the brethren return with them.  Meanwhile, Cornelius has called together his relatives and close friends in anticipation of Peter’s arrival.  Peter arrives and explains why he came and Cornelius shares his vision.  Peter begins preaching the word that is Jesus coming, crucified, and resurrected and something amazing happens.  The Holy Spirit falls on everyone who heard the word.  The brethren that came with Peter were amazed because the Holy Spirit had been poured out on Gentiles and I imagine a great part of their amazement was because most of these Gentiles were Romans.  It is after this, the word preached and the Holy Spirit poured out, that Cornelius and his household are baptized. 

The lack of water baptism was no hindrance to God.  A metanoia had already happened in Cornelius and how I wish it was described in scripture!  Imagine a man growing up in the Ancient Roman world with its myriad gods coming to know the true God of Jacob.  How did that happen?  I can only imagine.  God Himself had Cornelius send for someone to preach the word to him and his household, then came the outpouring in the Holy Spirit, and then baptism.  It’s all backwards, if indeed water baptism has anything to do with being born again.

In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul addressed some contentions that seem to have arisen due to who had baptized whom. Paul says, “for Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (verse 17).  I am convinced that if “born of water” meant water baptism, and that NOT being baptized in water was serious enough that a person could not enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5), Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles would have looked very different.

In closing this week’s post, I wish to share a few scriptures:

Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures. James 1:18

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him.  1 John 5:1

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever. 1 Peter 1:22-23

Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word. Ephesians 5:25-26

For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, “’This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days,’ says the Lord: ‘I will put My laws into their hearts and in their minds I will write them’ (Jeremiah 31:33), then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more’” (Jeremiah 31:43). Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.  Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Hebrews 10:14-22

To be continued…

Scriptures taken from the New King James Version

Baptize to Repentance

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In this week’s post, I continue looking at John 3:5 and the question; does “born of water” refer to water baptism?  I have yet to be convinced it does because I cannot find anything that suggests water baptism being performed by John would have occurred to Nicodemus in answer to Jesus’ words.  I had hoped I would find an easy answer in the Old Testament thinking that the phrase “born of water” might have been used somewhere and so I looked through my lexicons looking for said phrase.

I couldn’t find it.  I do admit I might have missed it: to be thorough I looked up “born” and, since James 1:18 in the King James Version uses “begat” rather than “birthed” or “born”, I looked up “begat” as well.  There was a great deal of begetting in the Old Testament.  Knowing I may not have read the scripture lists with as detailed an eye as I ought, I went to Google.  The search engine was not able to return a single instance of the phrase “born of water” in the Old Testament.  Just for fun, I looked up “water” and encountered many phrases I’d like to take a look at another time (what does it mean to drink the water of iniquity?) but found nothing that suggested someone intimate with the Old Testament scriptures like Nicodemus would associate the water baptism of John with being born anew/born of water and spirit. 

What was the baptism of John?  Mark 1:4 tells me it was a baptism to the repentance of sins.  I want to take a look at the word repentance because it doesn’t mean in this passage what general usage says it means.  My New World Dictionary defines repentance as “a repenting or being penitent; feeling of sorrow, etc., esp. for wrongdoing; compunction; contrition, remorse.”  Repent is further defined as “to feel sorry or self-reproachful for what one has done or failed to do, be conscious-stricken or contrite, to feel such regret…as to change one’s mind about…”  Repentance is made up of the Latin “re-again” and “poenitere-penitent.”1

There is a word for this in the New Testament: metamellomai (G3338).  It is the word used in Matthew 27:3 where Judas “repented” and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.  It is a word that expresses “a desire that an action might be undone, express regrets, or even remorse, but does not imply an effective change of heart”2.

I am careful whenever I find someone using the word repentance.  It’s critical to understand what is being said.  Is repentance being used to mean “to be afflicted in mind”, “to be troubled for our former folly”…”a being displeased for what we have done”?Is repentance being used to mean performing penance over and over again?  If so, then it is not the same repentance used in accordance with the baptism of John.  The Greek word used there is metanoia (G3341) and “where there was a difference made (in meaning), metanoia was the better word, which does not properly signify the sorrow for having done amiss, but something that is nobler than it…metanoia and its verb refer to a true change of heart toward god.”4

I found an article online that said that baptism was used for ritual cleansing of Gentile proselytes and that John applied it to the Jews themselves: all needed to have a true heart change toward God.  No wonder that the Pharisees refused to step into the water! (See Mathew 3:5-9).  And, this is why I am convinced that Jesus never meant baptism when he spoke to Nicodemus about being born of water and spirit.  I doubt that it ever would have occurred to Nicodemus-religious leader and teacher of Israel-that he needed to have a change of heart toward God.  

I must also take into consideration the fact that Jesus could not have meant water baptism because John’s baptism was a forerunner to what did not yet exist.  Christian baptism is the physical demonstration of the identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and has a much deeper significance than the baptism of John (See Acts 18:24-26, 19:1-5).  I cannot agree with Dr. Vincent when he says “Jesus’ words included a prophetic reference to the complete ideal of Christian baptism”5.

Yet I do agree Jesus clearly expected Nicodemus to know what He meant.  Nicodemus’ place among the upper echelons of the Pharisees meant he could not be in ignorance of all that had happened in recent years.  Consider first the coming of the wise men as related in Chapter 2 of Matthew’s gospel.  Their appearance troubled Herod the king and all Jerusalem (verse 3) and Herod had to call the chief priests and scribes to him to inquire where the Christ was to be born (verse 4).  Here’s a thing that blows my mind: the priests and scribes are called into the presence of the king to answer the wise men, they quote the prophet Micah, and then what…go their way?  No one seemed the least bit curious.  Selah!  (pause, and calmly think of that!)  Then comes the devastating slaughter of the children in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18, Jeremiah 31: 15).  Then there is John the baptizer.  He quotes Isaiah and declares he is “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘make straight the way of the Lord’” (John 1:23, Isaiah 40:3). 

I wonder if Jesus expected one so familiar with the prophets and not ignorant of what had been happening in the region, to recognize who he was meeting at night.  I wonder if that is what Jesus meant when he asked, “are you the teacher of Israel and do not know these things?”  I wonder if when Jesus said “you must be born of water” he wasn’t thinking of His own words to Jeremiah when He called Himself the “fountain of living waters (Jeremiah 2:13, 17: 13) and of his words to Ezekiel when He promised a new heart and His own Spirit. 

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13)

To be continued…

1.  Guralnik, David B. Editor in Chief, Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, Cleveland * New York, William Collins + World Publishing Co., Inc., 1976

2. New Koine Greek Textbook Series Supplements, 2nd Edition, Richard Chenevix Trench’s Synonyms, Repent, 2018, 145-146

3. New Koine Greek Textbook Series Supplements, 2nd Edition, Richard Chenevix Trench’s Synonyms, Repent, 2018, 145-146

4. New Koine Greek Textbook Series Supplements, 2nd Edition, Richard Chenevix Trench’s Synonyms, Repent, 2018, 145-146

5.  Vincent, Marvin R., D.D., Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John Chapter 3:5. Born of Water and the Spirit, Page 92

A New Heart

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Conducting a word study on a passage is an undertaking most fascinating.  Sometimes, as I trace the words to their roots in the original language, a picture forms that makes the scripture leap off the page.  Other times, while the original meaning doesn’t reveal anything surprising, the words usage-or lack thereof-in other scriptures proves to be fascinating.  Such proved to be the case with my word study on Ezekiel 36: 25-27.

A quick recap: I decided on the word study when I was referred back to this passage by several different sources I used in my study of John chapter 3.  I found it fascinating that both the sources that assured me that the “born of water” in John 3:5 did mean water baptism as well as those that assured me it did not referenced me back to Ezekiel 36.  I decided to see for myself.

I do try not to undertake any study with preconceived ideas as to the meaning of scripture.  This is not easy as I have been a Christian all of my life and still find I carry ideas picked up from my church going days that are based on a doctrinal tradition rather than scripture.  The Holy Spirit is steadily rooting those out but, during this study, I caught myself mentally linking scriptures together that do not necessarily mean what I think they mean.

What do I mean?

It’s probably obvious by now that I do lean towards the interpretation that “born of water” does not mean water baptism but does, rather, mean an inward working of Jesus through the Holy Spirit.  (See last week’s post)  My study of Ezekiel 36: 25-27 seemed to bear this out.  God does say He “will sprinkle clean water” and “will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.”  Despite this, I do think it’s a stretch to infer water baptism from this passage and even more of a stretch to think Jesus would have expected Nicodemus to make the association.  There is no mention of the ritual cleansing established in the law in all of chapter 36. The cleansing mentioned in my study scriptures is an intention of God and comes from the hand of God.  Verse 22 states “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake…” John’s baptism was to the repentance of sins and I intend to go into this in more depth next week.  Suffice for this post, the Greek word translated repentance is metanoia (G3341) and means a change of mind1.  Important, necessary, but I do not see how such a baptism is synonymous with Jesus’s expounding on what it means to be born anew in John 3:5.  I am becoming convinced such a thing is a work of God inside of us rather than an outward immersion in water and these verses in Ezekiel seem to make this clear. However, I am not interested in bending scripture to support my own conviction:  I want to know the truth and am open to my word study showing me otherwise.

It didn’t do so. Verse 26 states “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.”  Here I find that same dual action of God described in John 3:5.  I was so excited!  “I get it!” I exclaimed to myself and my mind was flooded with other scriptures.  This is what metanoia must look like because Proverbs 23:7 says “as he thinks in his heart so is he” so this change in heart would of course result in a change of mind.  And then, thought I, Matthew 5:1 says “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” and I just bet that “See God” in this passage is the same as “See the Kingdom of God” in John 3:5. 

I do not wish to get into an argument over translations of the Bible, i.e. which is better/more accurate/most useful.  What I do wish to say here is that, just because a translator used the same English words in different passages, does not mean they are the same words in the original languages.  The words translated “see” in these two passages in the King James Version are not the same in the Greek.  The Hebrew word translated “heart” in my study scriptures is not the same as the Hebrew word translated “heart” in Proverbs 23:7.  Does this mean I am wrong in my assumptions?  Not necessarily.  What it does mean is that there are layers of meanings in these scriptures not immediately evident when I read them in English and are thus worthy of more study.  It also shows me how important it is to lay aside all my preconceived notions and focus only on what’s in the text.  It is supremely exciting to see that there is something new to discover.  Word studies do feel a bit like unearthing buried treasure.

And so, what treasures did I find in Ezekiel 36: 25-27?  As I conducted my study, I couldn’t help verses from Psalm 51 from coming to mind.  On a whim, I took a look at the words for “clean”, “heart”, and “spirit” in Psalm 51:10 and compared them to the same words in Ezekiel.  They were, each one, the same Hebrew.  Perhaps such a thing ought to be obvious but, since I found other Hebrew words translated “clean”, “heart”, and even “spirit” in other passages, I thought it best to verify. 

Do you know Psalm 51:10?  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  This is a cry of David’s heart after the fiasco with Bathsheba.  It has been the cry of my heart many times.  As my study unfolded, it seemed to me that the promise of God in Ezekiel 36 was in answer to David’s plea in Psalm 51.  David cries out for a clean heart and right spirit and God promises a new heart and spirit.  Indeed, He promises His spirit (verse 27).

That’s all well and good, I imagine some of you saying, but what does that have to do with the material point?  Not a thing.  Nothing in this study led me to the conviction that these verses in Ezekiel ought to have suggested the water baptism being performed by John to the mind of Nicodemus. Still, I find I cannot unequivocally say that “born of water” in John 3:5 does not mean baptism.  There is still study I need to perform.

To be continued…

  1. Vine, W.E., Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, 1997, Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson, Inc., 952.  

The Grammar of Complexity

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In last week’s post I one, mentioned my study of John 3:5 was pointing me to Ezekiel chapter 36: 25-27 and two, I quoted the commentary for John 3:5 from The Jewish Study Bible.  I am currently doing a word study on Ezekiel 36.  I am taking notes and also noting ideas I hope to share in later posts.  For this week, I wish to address hendiadys. 

The last sentence of The Jewish Study Bible’s commentary on John 3:5 says “…the grammatical construction (hendiadys) indicates that “water“ is a descriptor of the Spirit, as in Ezekiel 36:25-27”1.  I had to look up hendiadys.  I shared a link to the definition in last week’s post but am including it here from dictionary.com:  hendiadys =  a figure in which a complex idea is expressed by two words connected by a copulative conjunction: “to look with eyes and envy” instead of “with envious eyes.”  That must mean then that being born of water and the spirit are one and the same thing and no inference to baptism can be made.   

And yet the commentary by Dr. Vincent states that “We are not to understand with Calvin, the Holy Spirit as the purifying water in the spiritual sense: ‘water which is the spirit’”2.  Dr. Vincent then goes on to make his case for water baptism, portions of which I’ve quoted before.  I cannot speak with any authority on the beliefs of Calvin.  I’ve got books on religion on my shelves which I’ve had time to do little more than peruse and thus know little more than the broad strokes of Calvin’s beliefs.  And so–for the sake of argument and this post, I set all these authorities aside and am supposing that being born of water does NOT mean water baptism and instead seek to know if the grammatical structure IS saying that born of water and the spirit expresses a single complex idea. 

Bear with me…

The commentary on John 3:5 in The Passion Translation says that the water in John 3:6 is “the water of the Word of God that cleanses and gives us life” and directs me to Ephesians 5: 25 and 26, James 1:18, and 1 Peter 1:23.  Ephesians 5:26 does indeed say “that He might sanctify and cleanse her (the Church) with the washing of water by the word.  James 1:18 says “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures”. 

J. Preston Eby quotes 1 Peter 1:23 in his teaching on John 3:5:  “Scripture abounds in figures, and Jesus always spoke in symbolic terms.  When He said, “Except ye eat my flesh and drink my blood, ye have no life in you,” He certainly was not advocating cannibalism!  He was using a natural figure to illustrate a spiritual truth.  So when He says one must be “born of water” do not understand water to mean what we are accustomed to think of as the natural water that men drink or wash in.  It is a figure of THE LIVING WORD OF GOD.  New birth ever, and only, is by the Word of God and by the Spirit of God.  These are the only two agents directly involved in the new birth throughout the scriptures.  “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (I Pet. 1:23).  Some have thought the water to mean baptism.  But there is no mention of baptism in chapter three of John, nor is baptism ever connected anywhere in the New Testament with the new birth. A man can no more be born again by coming up out of natural water than he can be born again by entering the second time into his mother’s womb.  Both are physical, natural, earthly, temporal and corruptible things.  They are not agents of the spiritual world at all.” The Kingdom of God-Part 6

In the first post of this series, I listed scriptures used for reference by Dr. Vincent; namely Psalms 51:2&7, Ezekiel 36:25, and Zechariah 13:14.  Zechariah 13:1 says, “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.”  When I quoted this in the first post, I remembered the story of the woman at the well told in the 4th chapter of John’s Gospel where Jesus said to her, “If you had only known and had recognized God’s gift and Who this is saying to you, Give Me a drink, you would have asked Him [instead] and He would have given you living water”. Jesus says in verse 14: “But the water that I will give him shall become a spring of water welling up (flowing, bubbling) [continually] within him unto (into, for) eternal life” and then in Chapter 7 verses 38 and 39: “’He who believes in Me [who cleaves to and trusts in and relies on Me] as the Scripture has said, From his innermost being shall flow [continuously] springs and rivers of living water’. But He was speaking here of the Spirit…” (Amplified)

Does being born of water mean being born of the living word of God? If so, are they separate but equal agents? Does born of water mean the living water that Jesus gives which is the spirit? Am I failing to grasp a concept which is, really, quite simple?

My confusion clears when I consider John 14:16 which says: “And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Comforter…”  The Greek word for another is this passage is allos (G243). Vine’s Expository Dictionary says there are two words for “another” in the Greek: allos and heteros.  “ALLOS and HETEROS have a difference in meaning, which despite a tendency to be lost, is to be observed in numerous passages.  Allos expresses a numerical difference and denotes another of the same sort: heteros expresses a qualitative difference and denotes another of a different sort.  Christ promised to send “another Comforter” (allos, another like Himself…)”5

Perhaps the grammatical structure of John 3:5 is expressing something that can that only be understood by the Spirit and that is the very being of God. Father, Son, Spirit: They are Three and They are One. Hendiadys.

To be continued… 

Some extra study links:

Living Water

  1. The Complete Jewish Study Bible, 2016, Peabody Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers Marketing LLC, Gospel of John, Commentary, 3:5, Page 1524
  2. Vincent, Marvin R., D.D., Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John, 5. Born of Water and the Spirit, Page 91
  3. https://www.godfire.net/eby/Kingdom6.html   
  4. Vincent, Marvin R., D.D., Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Peabody Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John Chapter 3:5. Born of Water and the Spirit, Page 91
  5. Vine, W.E., Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1997, Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Another, Page 52

The Mind of a Man

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A fun photo I thought reminiscent of meeting at night

This week’s post continues my looking at John 3:5.  I have asked myself if “born of water” in this verse really does mean water baptism.  I spent some time on the internet since last week’s post and have seen the same number of blog posts insisting it does mean water baptism as there are posts that insist it does not.  This week, I return to the reference materials I have at hand in attempts to answer the question to my own satisfaction.  As always, I thank the Holy Spirit for being my guide and teacher and opening my eyes to what He would have me see.  Then, I open Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament and begin to read.

I must begin by saying the commentary for Born of Water and the Spirit is beautiful.  Dr. Vincent says wonderful things about baptism which I may end up sharing in future posts.  I must also say that I don’t disagree with anything he says about baptism, especially; “baptism considered merely as a rite, and apart from the operation of the Spirit does not and cannot impart new life.1”  Despite this, I still have a quibble with the assumption that water baptism is what Nicodemus should have realized. 

In order to look at John 3:5, I have to back up to John 3:3 where Jesus says “…unless a person is born again…”  Dr. Vincent expounds on the meaning of the word “again” listing its usages and translations in the New Testament.  Again is translated “From the Top” (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, John 19:23), “From above” (John 3:31 & 19:11, James 1:17 & 3:15, 17) “From the Beginning” (Luke 1:3, Acts 26:5), and “again” (Galatians 4:9)2.  Dr. Vincent concludes his exposition of this verse by stating the closest rendering of this phrase is “except a man be born anew”; a rendering which would explain Nicodemus’ confusion. 

I do find there is agreement on one thing: that Jesus’ words in verse 5 are His explaining what He meant in verse 3.  Being “born of water and the spirit” is synonymous with being “born again or anew.”  Dr. Vincent says, “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)3

Before I go any further, I must ask consider Nicodemus himself.  Was he someone genuinely seeking answers from Jesus-the “anxious inquirer”-or did he come to Jesus as a member of the Pharisees as a class who, anxious to keep their leadership in religion, desired to discover whether they could come to an understanding with this new teacher?4  I am not ready to declare myself certain one way or another.  What I do say with certainty is Jesus expected Nicodemus to understand what he was saying and I find these arguments for water baptism rely heavily on the New Testament.  It may be too easy for us, partakers of the New Covenant, looking at scripture from the finished work of Christ, to infer meanings that simply would not have been in the mind of a 1st century Pharisee.  To suggest that Jesus was speaking prophetically of the ideal of Christian baptism and then to chastise Nicodemus for not understanding when Jesus was not only at the beginning of His ministry but no one knew for certain what was happening; does make Jesus appear a bit unreasonable.  Even writing that last sentence I know I too am referencing the New Testament-2 Corinthians 2:8 in fact-and so I resolve to forget the New Testament for a moment.

Nicodemus would have had the scriptures called the Old Testament in my bibles.  As a teacher of Israel (John 3:10), Nicodemus would have been familiar with them in a way I can only imagine.  Is it possible, then, for me to get inside the mind of this man?  Not without help certainly and, for that, I turn to The Complete Jewish Study Bible.

When I look up my study text, I find an article entitled ‘“Born Again” John 3:3’.  This article tells me what the concept of being born again might have meant to Nicodemus.  The article states Nicodemus had reached the age of a senior citizen and had already met the Pharisee requirements of being “born again”, that there were six ways of being “born again” in Pharisaic Judaism, that Nicodemus was already qualified in four of those ways, and that the other two would have been impossible for him.  The two this article says were impossible for him were 1, a Gentile was said to be “born again” if he converted to Judaism and 2, Nicodemus would have to have been crowned as king. 

The four requirements Nicodemus already fulfilled were:

  1. When a Jewish boy becomes bar mitzvah at thirteen, he is said to be “born again”.  Nicodemus was well beyond the age of thirteen, had already experienced his bar mitzvah and was thus already “born again”. 
  2. Marriage.  When a Jewish man married he was said to be “born again.”  A member of the Sanhedrin must be married so Nicodemus already fulfilled this requirement since he was already a member of the Sanhedrin. 
  3. A Jew could be “born again” when ordained as a rabbi.  Jesus calls Nicodemus rabbi/teacher (verse 10). 
  4. The head of a rabbinical school was said to be “born again”.  Jesus said Nicodemus “held the office of teacher in Israel” (verse 10) which meant he was already head of a school.5

I found this article fascinating but perhaps it doesn’t really move me toward answering my material question of equating water baptism with being born of water.  The Complete Jewish Study Bible has some commentary on verse 5: “Born from water and the Spirit”.  In Judaism, immersion in water is directly linked to ritual cleansing of the body, while the Spirit enables people to turn from sin and live a holy life.  “Born from water” in its grammatical construction refers to the Holy Spirit (Ezekial 36:25-27; John 7:38-39).  There is no necessary reference to the mikveh (ritual cleansing bath) here.  Rather, the grammatical construction (hendiadys) indicates that “water” is a descriptor of the Spirit, as in Ezekiel 36:25-27.6

This is not the first time I’ve been pointed to Ezekiel 36:25-27 from both sides of the argument.  I have learned to pay attention when the same verse or concept keeps popping up and, thus, I will continue this study next week.

  1.  Vincent, Marvin R., D.D., Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John, 5. Born of Water and the Spirit, Page 92.
  2. Vincent, Marvin R., D.D., Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John, 3. Be born again, Page 90.
  3. Vincent, Marvin R., D.D., Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John, 5. Born of Water and the Spirit, Page 92.
  4. Eiselen, Lewis, Downey, The Abingdon Bible Commentary, 1929, The Abingdon Press, Inc., John Chapter II, the Interview with Nicodemus, Page 1069.
  5. The Complete Jewish Study Bible, 2016, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, Gospel of John, Supplementary Article “Born Again” John 3:3, Page 1525.
  6. The Complete Jewish Study Bible, 2016, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, Gospel of John, Commentary, 3:5, Page 1524

Born of Water

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I began a word study on John 3:16 over the weekend because I have been thinking about the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt”.  While I don’t feel contempt for scripture-far from it!-I have been thinking about certain verses and how familiarity with them can definitely breed complacency.  This is especially true with John 3:16.  I can’t count how many times I’ve heard it quoted and have quoted it myself.  It can be found on t-shirts, hats…it is one of the most widely known verses in the Bible.  With this in mind, I asked myself: am I sure I know what this verse is saying?  Can I be certain I know what it means?  That answer is, of course, no: the Holy Spirit always has something more to reveal.  And so, I started a word study on John 3:16.

I begin any study on scripture with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of my understanding and then I open my Comparative Study Bible and reference books.  I use many references when doing a word study.  I want to know as much as I can about how the word I’m looking at was used elsewhere in scripture, how was it used in the vernacular of the day, and what interpretations there have been by other teachers past and present.  I started with looking up the words in both the Strong’s and Young’s concordances and then took a look at the commentaries I have.  While I did find a few interesting things I hope to share at a later time, my attention was diverted off my selected verse.  I’d prayed about John 3:16 but the Holy Spirit turned my attention to a word study I’d done a few months ago on baptism.  The teacher during Sunday morning’s Zoom church message spoke about the beauty of baptism which made me realize I needed to take a second look at that previous study.  Thus, this post will not be about John 3:16 but rather John 3:5.  Again, I expected one answer from God and He pointed me toward something else. 

I’d first done the study on John 3:5 because of a social media post I’d seen talking about the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist.  I didn’t disagree with anything the post had said about the importance of baptism and the Eucharist but I wasn’t sure I agreed that baptism was the subject of John 3:5.  Curious, I did a word study, made some notes, and then put them aside until last night when I picked up one of my reference books.  Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament said “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 sins”.  The scriptures listed by Dr. Vincent for reference are Psalms 51:2&7, Ezekiel 36:25, and Zechariah 13:11

Psalms 51:2 states “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” while verse 7 says “Purge me with hyssop that I shall be clean: wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”  Zechariah 13:1: In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.”  The Amplified Bible has Ezekiel 36:25-27 as a reference scripture for John 3:5 so I’m including the passage in its entirety rather than merely verse 25: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness: and from all your idols will I cleanse you.  A new heart 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 give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall heed My ordinances and do them.”

I wholeheartedly agree these scriptures speak of a cleansing that comes from the hand of God; a washing for which immersion was symbolic.  I also wholeheartedly agree Nicodemus was aware of John the Baptizer.  Doctor Vincent says as much and references the sending of priests and Levites to question him as related in John 1:19-282. The statement I question is “water naturally suggested to Nicodemus the baptism of John”.  Dr. Vincent says “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 accept3.” 

Very well.  That sounds plausible.  Except, Nicodemus is still confused.  He asks in John 3:9, “how can all this be possible?” Nicodemus was missing something and I seem to be missing it too.  It got me wondering: if Jesus meant baptism, why didn’t he say baptism? 

Turning to the Greek words, “Water” in John 3:5 does mean “water”(Strong’s reference G5204) and “born” carries the definition of “to procreate, regenerate, be born, bring forth (G1080).  There is nothing here about baptism.  The word translated baptize in other scriptures does not appear anywhere in the chapter and is not, in fact, a word that has been translated at all.  The Strong’s reference number is G907 and the word is baptizo.  It would have been very simple for this passage to clearly say baptism if indeed baptism is what Jesus meant.

Why is this important to me?  Let me share verse 5 in the Amplified Bible:  “Jesus answered, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, unless a man is born of water and (even) the Spirit, he cannot (ever) enter the kingdom of God.”  This is a serious statement.  It’s of solemn importance I understand what this means.  All I know for certain at this time is that small word study I did months ago did not go nearly deep enough.

I will continue this study next week.

  1. Vincent, Marvin R., D.D., Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John Chapter 3:5. Born of Water and the Spirit, Page 91
  2. Vincent, Marvin R., D.D.,Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John Chapter 3:2. Rabbi, Page 89
  3. Vincent, Marvin R., D.D., Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John Chapter 3:5. Born of Water and the Spirit, Page 91