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