Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

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