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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.