Thursday, January 20, 2011

Baptismal Regeneration – John 3:5

Catholics interpret “born of water” in John 3:5 as baptism and therefore conclude baptism is necessary for salvation. Here’s the passage:

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Born of water has been taken as 1) the Spirit or cleansing work of the Spirit, 2) natural birth or 3) baptism. For now let’s assume it means baptism and see how it plays out.

Would first century Jews have instantly recognized 'born of water' as meaning baptism? Certainly Nicodemus was aware of baptism. John the Baptist baptized people for repentance. Some evidence suggests Jews baptized proselytes and even called it birth.

“Everyone agreed that a Gentile became a Jew through proselyte baptism. The big discussion in Nicodemus' day was the degree of cleanliness. Was he immediately clean as "a little child just born" (Yeb. 22a; 48b; 97b*) and a "child of one day" (Mass. Ger. c. 2*)” (link)

Not only did John baptize, but Christ also baptized via His disciples, just as John the Baptist had predicted He would.

John 1:33 I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’

John 4:1-2Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples)

So if Nicodemus understood ‘born of water’ as baptism, he would have been thinking of John’s baptism of repentance. And the Jewish leadership had personally rejected John and his baptism; though they were unwilling advertise their rejection.

Luke 7:30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.

Matthew 21:24-26 But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.”

But of course John’s baptism is one of repentance and Christian Baptism looks on Christ’s death burial and resurrection. So when Paul found those who were baptized into John’s baptism, he baptized them again in Christ’s name.

Acts 19:1-5 And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Christian baptism had not been established at the time Christ and Nicodemus spoke. Did Christ forget this when berating Nicodemus for not knowing what He was talking about? (John 3:9-10) So clearly Nicodemus would have been thinking about John’s baptism; the baptism he probably personally rejected. Christian baptism simply didn’t exist yet.

So it’s anachronistic to view John 3:5 as teaching Christian baptism is necessary for salvation, since Christ established it after the resurrection. (Matthew 28:19). And no one teaches John’s baptism is or was necessary for salvation, but of course repentance itself is necessary for salvation. So if we take ‘born of water’ as baptism, the most likely conclusion would be that baptism is used for what it represented – repentance.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Dan... just dropping you a line to say that theojunkie's thoughts on theology is defunct... I have not blogged for a long time, and thought that I shut down the account. It appears that the address has been highjacked and "restored"... but that is not me... Hope things are well. Theojunkie

Godismyjudge said...

Hey TJ,

Thanks for the heads up; didn't know what was going on. All is well here. Good to hear from you and hope all is well with you.

God be with you,

christening invitations said...

Very interesting read. I actually never thought of baptism like that. Thanks for clearing up a few things.

Godismyjudge said...


Thanks for the encouraging comments and I am glad you found it helpful.

God be with you,

Gary said...

Your comments reflect a major misconception that evangelicals and the Reformed have of orthodox Christians. Lutherans do not believe that baptism is necessary (mandatory) for salvation. Not even the Roman Catholic Church believes this. All the saints of the Old Testament, the thief on the cross, and thousand of martyrs down through the centuries have been saved without Baptism. Baptism is not the "how" of salvation!

Lutherans believe that baptism is one of several possible "when"s of salvation, it is not the "how" of salvation. The "how" of salvation is and always has been the power of God's Word/God's declaration of righteousness.

A sinner can be saved by the power of God's Word when he hears the Word preached in a church, preached on TV or radio, reading a Gideon's Bible in a hotel room, or reading a Gospel tract that contains the Word. Salvation is by God's grace alone, through the power of his Word alone, received in faith alone. In each of these situations, the sinner is saved the instant he or she believes. Baptism is NOT mandatory for salvation to occur.

However, the Bible in multiple passages, also states that God uses his Word to save at the time of Baptism.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit, using the Word of God, that works salvation in the sinner's spiritually dead soul, according to the second chapters of Ephesians and Colossians, and the third chapter of Romans. Your "decision for Christ" does not save you, neither does your decision to be baptized.

God saves those whom he has elected, at the time and place of his choosing. Sometimes God saves them while hearing a sermon in church, sometimes at home reading the Word, and sometimes by the power of his Word spoken during Baptism.

God does 100% of the saving. The sinner is a passive participant in his salvation. There is no passage in the New Testament that asks sinners to make a decision for Christ. The Bible states that God quickens sinners, gives them faith, and they believe and repent.

The sinner does not decide to be saved. God decides to save the sinner!

Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals