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John 3:3-5 ”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of **water** and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
I’ve often heard it said that when Jesus says “unless you are born of water”, He is talking about the preaching of the Gospel or Scriptures. As opposed to saying that water baptism is the normative means of regeneration. It’s an interesting way to look at it. But I think that taken on its own with the surrounding context, it seems rather unlikely that is what Jesus meant. The following are just some reasons why.
The connection of Christ as the new creation and baptism, is seen at the beginning of John’s Gospel. John intentionally arranges his phrasing and narrative in a way that illustrates this well. Let’s look at some of the parallels.
Genesis 1:1-4 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.”
John 1:1-5 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
So we see in both passages similar themes. Both deal with creation. Both include God (the Father), His Word, Light and Darkness. John further identifies the light (verse 9) and the Word (verse 14) with Christ Himself. Who is sent forth into the world in order to bring about the new creation by his incarnation. Just as He was sent from the beginning to establish the old creation. However, just as one does not speak words without breath, so too the Father works by His Word, through His Breath (which in Hebrew is the same word for Spirit).
“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
he puts the deeps in storehouses (Psalm 33:6-7).
“And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:9-10).”
From the very beginning of Genesis, we see the Spirit brooding over the water. And it’s from this water that when the Word is sent forth, life comes out on the fifth day. With 5 in scripture being the number of grace and redemption. This parralles baptism, where by pronouncing the Word (in the name of the Father etc), grace (the Holy Spirit’s operation) brings about spiritual life to the one baptized. Interestingly, Orthodoxy has long had the practice of consecrating the baptismal water with oil. So we see there that the Spirit is present (brooding) in the water before the Word is sent forth.
John then goes on to give a series of 7 days consummating in a wedding. Just as the beginning of Genesis gives the 7 days, then finishes with the union of Adam and Eve.
– John Chapter 1
Day One (vs19) “Now this was John’s testimony…”
Day Two (vs29) “The next day…”
Day Three (vs35) “The next day…”
Day Four (vs43) “The next day…”
Day Seven (three days later) John 2:1 “On the third day…”
– The Wedding
Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
John 2:2 “On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.”
-The first Adam, heeding the voice of Eve, the Woman, leading to dishonour. While the second Adam, Jesus, heeding the voice Mary, the Woman (John 2:4, Revelation 12) and second Eve, leading to the God being glorified. And his disciples to believe. The first involving a fruit, the second involving wine from grapes. The first fruit leading to death, the second symbolizing the cup of the new covenant, which one partakes in, leading to life.
Genesis 3:12, 17
“The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
“To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.”
” When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman,[a] why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
We see then the strong imagery of Genesis being used here in John. Before the discourse of John 3, all reference to water means physical water. Before the discourse, John is baptising, Jesus Himself gets baptised. Right after the discourse, Jesus goes to baptise with his disciples.
“After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing (John 3:22-25).”
The context is immersed and awash with water! John is also very clear in the Gospel when Jesus is using figure of speech. Either Christ Himself explains it, or John does by commentary.
One final note on a verse which seems to say that regeneration is not baptismal. “And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33).” It seems to say that John only has water, but Jesus will use the Spirit. This doesn’t however exclude baptism. Even in the New Testament, Christ commands us to baptise. And as his body, he still baptises individuals through members of his Church. So certainly John did not mean to say that Christ won’t baptise with water at all. Or at least, we cannot take it to mean that. Rather I think it’s saying that while John’s baptism is symbolic and merely water, Christ will bring about the fulfillment of this baptism by the Holy Spirit: regeneration. It doesn’t specifically say here that water is included, but we know it doesn’t rule it out. So I see no reason, given the context of John alone, in order to think Water means anything other than water. Then given John’s usual clarification of allegory, and the further clarification of other Biblical text, I don’t see a reason to deny Baptismal generation. Other than holding an already Baptist notion of the sacraments, which demands that I read it as such.
God’s power in baptism gives a forestate of creation’s future redemption .So often salvation is depicted as having a better after life. As primarily concerned with the realm of the spirit. If you don’t want to go to hell or rather if you want to be saved and go to Heaven when you die, here is what you need to do. Is often the context in which countless Gospel presentations are given. There comes about a mindset of “we are trying to get out of here and take as many people with us as we can.” But that is not the Gospel. The Gospel is about God’s kingdom breaking into history, consummating in the redemption of all creation. About the recreation of this fallen and broken world, not just at the end, but continually. His kingdom may not have borders, but it’s no less real. God already own’s the world and everyone in it. But He want’s their hearts. And he will progressively bring about his kingdom as man cultivates the world and makes it a mirror of heaven on earth. This mission involves culture and bringing God’s love and presence to the world. This cultivation and rulership was God’s intent for Mankind in the beginning. And this process which was halted when the first Adam fell, is started back up again by the Second Adam; Jesus Christ. But the future world won’t just be this natural creation running smoothly. It will be matter defied by God’s power and presence (known in Orthodoxy as the uncreated energies of God). In other words, Gods glory will literally fill all creation. The physical and spiritual realities will merge, each retaining its fundamental identity, but operating together in a new way.
The sacraments of the Church are thus this new future reality, being manifest into the present. Because Christ is the beginning of this new creation, this new humanity. So being united to Christ in baptism and being renewed by partaking of his flesh and blood in the Eucharist, we are participating in this new creation reality. And are by virtue of this mystical union, one with Christ, and one with each other, thus one body. Baptism, is where a physical element is used by God to bring about a spiritual good, because in the future, nature and spirit will always work as one.