What Does “Born of Water” Mean?
In John 3:5, Jesus said, “EXCEPT A MAN BE BORN OF WATER AND OF THE SPIRIT, HE CANNOT ENTER INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD.”
If a person cannot enter into the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and of the Spirit, it is of the utmost importance that we know and understand exactly what this new birth really is. Jesus doesn’t mince words here; if we’re not born of water and of the Spirit, we’re not getting in. Let’s start with “born of water.”
Some people claim that “born of water” refers to the water in the mother’s womb associated with natural childbirth. First of all, not one verse of Scripture supports that theory. John the Baptist was the greatest prophet born of a woman, not born of water. When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son made of a woman, not made of water. Nowhere in Scripture is any reference made to natural childbirth as any birth of water. Secondly, if “born of water” referred to natural childbirth, then natural childbirth would become a condition of salvation that must be met by every adult person. But let’s go ahead and rewrite the verse to see how it works – “Except a man be born of natural childbirth…he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” This renders the statement an absurdity.
In John 3:3, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Like many today, Nicodemus didn’t understand and, in verse 4, he tried to make the new birth a natural, physical birth. In verse 5 Jesus dealt with Nicodemus’ misunderstanding, saying, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” There are two prepositional phrases used as adverbs and both modify the verb “be born.” “Except a man be born (How?) of water and of the Spirit.” One new birth – two elements.
It is commonly taught that the “flesh” of verse 6 explains the “water” of verse 5: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” However, only verse 5 defines the elements of the new birth. In verse 6, Jesus simply states that flesh begets flesh and Spirit begets spirit. Moreover, for their concept to be true, they have to either knowingly or subconsciously rewrite the verse to read, “That which is born of water is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
To get a true understanding of what it means to be born of water in John 3:5, we would have to find the record of someone actually being born into the kingdom and see if water plays a part and whether it is regular water or amniotic fluid.
Some say the birth of water is water baptism. Well, we could consider that. What is baptism for? Is there a specific biblical way to perform baptism? Let’s see what Jesus and the apostles taught about baptism, beginning with the Great Commission given in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
The Great Commission
In Matthew 28:19, Jesus told His apostles to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
Mark 16:15-16 is another account of that same Commission. Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
Luke 24:47 records a different aspect of the Great Commission. Jesus actually spells out what He wants the apostles to teach and preach to the whole world. He told them that “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name (Jesus) among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
Let’s loosely state the whole Commission Jesus gave to the apostles. He said to “Preach the gospel of repentance and remission of sins in His name to the whole world, beginning at Jerusalem. Those who believe that gospel and are baptized in the name shall be saved; those who reject that gospel shall be damned. But tarry in Jerusalem until you receive the promise before beginning to preach.”
Jesus did not speak those words directly to you and me; He gave them to His apostles to give to us. How did the apostles respond to His instructions? How did they preach repentance and remission of sins in Jesus’ name? How did they baptize people in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost? We must turn to the book of Acts to follow through and find out how they obeyed the “Great Commission” Jesus gave them in Matthew 28:19, but we must remember that Mark and Luke are a part of that Commission. Matthew doesn’t stand alone, the Bible cannot contradict itself, and the apostles were chosen to show us the way.
In the second chapter of Acts we find that, after the Holy Ghost fell on the Day of Pentecost, Peter stood with the other apostles and preached the first sermon of the New Testament Church. Peter had the keys of the kingdom (the church), the keys to unlock the door of salvation. Jesus is the door, but He gave the keys to Peter, and He told Peter back in Matthew 16 that He would stand behind what Peter preached. Near the end of Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:37), the people believed Peter’s words and were convicted in their hearts. The believers asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” That’s a logical response to the message of Christ. And what were Peter’s straightforward instructions?
Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).
This deserves careful consideration. Peter told the believers to REPENT, (And what else?) AND BE BAPTIZED (Who?) EVERY ONE OF YOU (How?) IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST (What for?) To identify with other believers? As an outward sign of an inward activity? To join a local church? No, FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS. And what was promised to these believers? The same Holy Ghost that those had received in the upper room.
Did Peter obey the command Jesus gave in Matthew 28:19? Yes, he did. If you read Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16, and Luke 24:47 and then turn over and read the first two chapters of Acts, you will see a perfect flow of events. You will also see how Peter wrapped up Matthew, Mark, and Luke in Acts 2:38. He did not just repeat the command; he obeyed it. But he did not tell the people to be baptized in the TITLES Father, Son and Holy Ghost. He told them to be baptized in THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST.
Did Peter know what he was doing? Absolutely. In the first chapter of Acts, we are told that after His resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days with the apostles, teaching them everything they needed to know about the kingdom of God. Plus, in Luke 24, Jesus opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures. While Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone, the church is founded on the apostles and prophets.
Some say Acts is a book of transition, but the apostles started and finished with the same message. The four gospel accounts might show somewhat of a transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, but the book of Acts is clear and consistent.
In case there’s any doubt that Acts 2:38 was Peter’s very plan of salvation, consider Acts 2:40. Peter said, “Save yourselves…” (a call for action on the part of the believers). In Acts 2:41, “… they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” Added how? Obedience to Peter’s call to be baptized. The colon after “baptized” is simple, yet ample proof: that which follows the colon explains that which precedes it. Verse 42 says they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine. The only apostles’ doctrine recorded up to this point is spelled out from Acts 2:14 to Acts 2:41. Finally, verse 47 specifically says people were added to the church. The book of Acts is the only book in the Bible with the record of people actually gaining admittance into the church, being born again into the kingdom. Not the book of John. Not Romans. Only Acts.
Is there a contradiction between Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38? Absolutely not. Acts 2:38 fulfills Matthew 28:19: “Teach….baptizing…in the name.” If there were a contradiction, then we would have to pick and choose one portion of Scripture over another. That would place us as the final authority. Who would dare to say, “I’ll take Matthew 28:19 over Acts 2:38,” or vice-versa? To say, “I’ll take Jesus’ words over Peter’s words,” is tantamount to saying the apostles got it wrong and cannot be trusted. Either Jesus told the apostles to baptize in the titles and they rebelled, or Jesus told them to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and they accurately understood that name to be Jesus.
If there appears to be a contradiction in the Bible, we must study until we find any other related passages that will make everything agree or harmonize. The Bible does not contradict itself. It is the Word of God, and we’d better not try to change it, but rather, find out exactly what it says and conform our opinions to that.
Old Testament Symbols of Water Baptism
Did the apostles think a person could be saved without being baptized? NO! Listen to Peter as he emphasizes to the church what baptism is all about. 1 Peter 3:20-21 tells about Noah’s ark: “Few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. (21) THE LIKE FIGURE WHEREUNTO EVEN BAPTISM DOTH ALSO NOW SAVE US.” The salvation of Noah was a direct example of how baptism saves us today. Vain wrangling about whether Noah got his feet wet is moot; the Bible says Noah was “saved by water,” and “baptism doth also now save us.”
Remember what Jesus said in Mark 16:16 – “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” There are two “he’s.” One will be saved and one will be lost. The “he” that believeth not shall be damned. Okay, which “he” will be saved? The “he” that BELIEVETH AND IS BAPTIZED.
The Ark was God’s plan of salvation for Noah. Noah passed through the water and escaped the judgment of God. The other people represented sin. The same water that Noah passed through washed away the other people. And only eight persons were saved. Everyone else received God’s judgment. All the people of every single religion were destroyed, no matter how sincere. Those who lived in remote places and never heard of the ark were destroyed. Even if there were experienced sea captains with great ships, they too would have perished. There was only one plan of salvation: “And few there be that find it.” We are baptized for the remission of sins.
There are many such examples in the Scriptures. The children of Israel passed through the Red Sea on their way to Canaan. When the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all washed away. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 that this was done as an example for the New Testament Church. The children of Israel were baptized unto Moses. How? In the cloud (Spirit) and in the Sea (water). Believers pass through the water, but sin cannot follow. The same water that saves believers washes away sin.
But doesn’t the blood of Jesus take away our sins? Sure it does, but the question is how is the blood appropriated? We can’t dunk ourselves in a vat of Jesus’ blood. Where in the gospel of the apostles was there a way to have sins taken away by His blood? Water baptism in the name of Jesus. That’s where the blood is applied.
In the Tabernacle of Moses, the priest had to wash his hands in the laver of water after the altar of sacrifice but before entering into the presence of the Spirit of the LORD. This was a “type” of baptism. And it was essential, too. Had the priest failed to wash in the water, he would have died. If we are not washed in the waters of baptism, we also will die.
God took a rib from Adam’s side to make his wife, but to obtain the bride of Christ, when Jesus, the second Adam, was pierced on the cross, there came out of his side “blood and water.” In 1 John 5:8, we are told, “There are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” No wonder you can’t get into the kingdom of God without being born of water. Baptism is where the sacrificial blood of Jesus is mingled with water to wash away sins. And with sins washed away, removed from God’s record book, we are “born again” to start a new life with a clean slate.
Philip and Paul
When the Samaritans “Believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). From this we know that the crux of the gospel of Christ that Philip preached was water baptism. When they believed – they were baptized. Believed, what? What he preached. Preached, what? Obviously, Jesus-name water baptism. How did Philip baptize the people? In the name of the Lord Jesus, just like Peter did (Acts 8:16). Neither the titles nor the “believe-only” doctrine were a part of Philip’s gospel.
How was the apostle Paul converted? Was baptism a necessary part of his salvation? Since over half of the New Testament came to us by Paul, we need to take a close look at his conversion experience.
While on the road to Damascus, he was knocked down and blinded by a bright light. A voice spoke out of the light saying, “Saul, Saul, (Paul’s original name) why persecutest thou me?” Paul only knew one God. Jehovah, whom he knew as the Father, was his God. He asked (in the Hebrew tongue), “Who art thou, Lord?” (Who art thou, Jehovah?). And the Lord said, “I am Jesus” (Acts 9:5).
Paul became a believer right then. He accepted Christ as his own personal Savior. Was he automatically born again? Nope. He asked Jesus what he had to do, but Jesus sent him to wait for a preacher who would answer his question. Jesus revealed Himself to Paul, but He had given Peter the keys of the kingdom, and Paul would have to hear and obey that same gospel just like the Samaritans and everyone else. There’s only one way to be saved. Three days after Paul’s personal encounter with Jesus, Ananias came and prayed for Paul, for two things–that he might receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
Now, Paul is a believer. He has received the Holy Ghost and he has been healed. But look what happens next. Ananias said to Paul, “Why tarriest thou? ARISE, AND BE BAPTIZED, AND WASH AWAY THY SINS, CALLING ON THE NAME OF THE LORD” (Acts 22:16). What was the name of the Lord that had just been revealed to Paul? Jesus. What name did Peter use to obtain remission of sins? Jesus. Did Paul get his sins washed away by calling on the titles Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? No, he was told to call on the name, invoke the NAME.
Can you have your sins forgiven other than by water baptism? The apostle Paul couldn’t. After he believed and repented, after he received divine healing, after he accepted Christ, and after he received the Holy Ghost, he still had to be baptized in the name of Jesus to have his sins washed away. This is significant. Had he died on the way to the river to be baptized, he would have died in his sins. Had he made it to the river but been baptized in the titles, he would still have died in his sins. The Trinitarian formula simply serves no purpose in New Testament water baptism.
Did Paul go, then, and preach that same message? Look at the 19th chapter of Acts. Paul met twelve disciples at Ephesus. He identified them as believers. Paul knew they were believers, but he did not know if they were born again, so he asked them if they had received the Holy Ghost since they believed. They answered that they had not. Paul didn’t say, like some preachers today, “Oh, you got the Holy Ghost when you first believed and accepted Jesus as your personal Savior. You were born again the moment you prayed the sinner’s prayer.” No! He knew that just believing was not the same thing as obeying the gospel, not the same thing as being born OF WATER and OF THE SPIRIT.
The first thing Paul did was check out their water baptism, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” (not by whom, but by what method). They answered, “Unto John’s baptism.” Paul said that John truly did baptize unto repentance, but that the people should believe on Jesus Christ, and then he re-baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus. The only difference in Paul’s baptism and their previous baptism was the name called over them as they went down in the water. Paul recognized only one method of baptism. Did Paul repeat the command of Matthew 28:19? Did he say the titles Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? Absolutely not; he baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus like Peter, Philip, and Ananias did. Then they received the promise and spoke in tongues just like the first converts did on the Day of Pentecost approximately twenty years earlier.
Did Paul preach it differently later on? Did he proclaim a different gospel to other Gentiles…to you and me? Did he later come up with a salvation not requiring water baptism? Of course not. Read what Paul wrote in Galatians 1:8-9: “Though we (the apostles), or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you (in the book of Acts), let him be accursed.” If a mighty angel, or a preacher, or even Paul himself comes to you, saying that you can get into the kingdom, the New Testament Church, without being baptized in Jesus’ name, Paul said to let him be accursed. So much for Paul changing his gospel with the Pauline epistles. So much for the Roman Road philosophy.
Is Water Baptism Essential to Salvation?
The covenant of circumcision God made with Abraham in the Old Testament was an everlasting covenant. That means it can never be broken. We are adopted into the family of Abraham. We must also be circumcised. But how? In the second chapter of Colossians, Paul tells us that when we are buried with Christ in baptism, we are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands (circumcision of the heart).
In the Old Testament, those not of the circumcision were cut off from God, not partakers of the covenant. Today Jesus tells us, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” A person not baptized in the name of Jesus is no better off than an uncircumcised Philistine and not a partaker of the covenant. That person is lost.
Many people go around saying they’re in the body of Christ. Well, how does one get into that body? Just by believing? According to Romans 6:3, we are baptized into Christ. Some say Paul is talking about Spirit baptism, but verse 4 says, “we are buried with him by baptism into death.” Verse 5 goes on, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:” No, this is water baptism. And notice the “if.” That means it’s conditional. It goes without saying that if you’re NOT planted in the likeness of His death (water baptized), then you won’t be in the likeness of His resurrection.
Similarly, Galatians 3:27 states: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” In verse 28, Paul says…“Ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” How does he say we become one in Christ Jesus? By being baptized into Christ. Finally, in verse 29, Paul says that’s how we become Abraham’s seed and heirs of the promise. Baptism. This ties in perfectly with Colossians 2:11-12: “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: (12) Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. ” Read these two passages from the Word of God and then see if you can reconcile them to the baptism-is-not- essential-to-salvation philosophy.
Does your preacher twist Mark 16:16 around to read, “He that believeth only is automatically saved, and baptism has nothing to do with salvation?” If he is telling you that you can be saved without being baptized, he is openly contradicting the words of Jesus. Jesus tells us, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”
The Name Used in Water Baptism
Does your church baptize in the titles the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost instead of in THE NAME of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost called for in Matthew 28:19? Matthew 28:19 certainly does not tell us to be baptized in the titles. Millions of people around the world are relying on one verse, Matthew 28:19, to validate the triune formula of baptism but, as the following diagram clearly shows, the verse simply does not support it.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
This is basic grammar. “In the name” is an adverbial prepositional phrase that modifies the verb “baptizing.” Baptizing, how? In the name. That’s it–no other word or phrase tells HOW to baptize. That settled, we move on to the prepositional phrases “of the Father,” “of the Son,” and “of the Holy Ghost.” These phrases are adjectives and do not modify “baptizing;” they modify only the singular noun “name.” And adjectives answer the question which one, what kind, or how many? Which name?
The Scriptures cannot contradict themselves. Matthew, Mark, and Luke must agree with each other and with the book of Acts–REPENT, AND BE BAPTIZED EVERY ONE OF YOU IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS…
Can you be saved and baptized in the titles of the Trinity? No, my friend. Not only did Peter say in Acts 2:38 that water baptism was for the remission of sins, but in Acts 10:43, Peter said that believers receive remission of sins THROUGH THE NAME OF JESUS, not the titles. After Jesus ascended, the apostles never mentioned the titles in regard to water baptism, and Paul had to invoke the name of Jesus in water baptism to wash away his sins.
Nobody in the New Testament was ever baptized with the titles Father, Son, and Holy Ghost called over them. Without exception, the converts were always baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Search your Bible. Not one person was ever baptized with the Trinitarian formula. Trinitarian baptism is a post-scriptural, man-made doctrine. Even history records that nobody was baptized in the titles until a couple hundred years after Christ. At the Council of Nicaea, after the Church of Rome joined forces with Constantine, they stopped preaching one God and started preaching three gods wrapped up in transparent tape. That’s when they established the whole Trinitarian philosophy.
There is a Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, but these are three offices or manifestations of the same person, the same God. I am a father, son, and husband, but I am not three persons. Father is not my name and son is not my name. These are just titles, offices, or terms of relationship.
God is a Spirit and God is holy–Holy Spirit. God is ONE. He was the Father in creation, He took on humanity (the Son) to reconcile the world unto HIMSELF, and He lives in our hearts as the Holy Ghost. Three offices – ONE GOD. The name Jesus, brought down by the angels, literally means Jehovah Savior or Jehovah is become salvation.
The Son was just the Lamb, the physical body employed by God to manifest Himself and redeem mankind. God the Father–not God the Son. Jesus was never called God the Son in the Bible. He was both man and God. The Son (humanity) was a man. The Spirit (the Divinity dwelling inside the Son) was Jehovah Savior, the Eternal God. Two natures, not two persons. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is ONE LORD!”
Jesus (the man), speaking to the Father (omnipresent Spirit), said, “I have manifested thy name.” (John 17:6). What name did He manifest? Jesus. Jesus said He would send the Holy Ghost in His own name. He also said, “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you.” Then, there is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Who is in you when you receive the Holy Ghost? Who is the Spirit of the departed Christ? Jesus. Peter actually did baptize the people in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and that name is Jesus.
We cannot be “saved” apart from having our sins forgiven. Not one apostle ever preached that just believing or confessing Jesus as your personal Savior would wash away your sins. They all preached that baptism in the name of Jesus washes away sins. Nothing else. Walking to the front of the church won’t take away sins. Reciting the sinners prayer won’t. They taught only one way and explained how the examples of the Old Testament led up to New Testament, Jesus-name water baptism.
The New Testament Church is the kingdom of God on the earth in the last days. This is not to be confused with the millennial kingdom that will be set up in Israel after the Lord’s physical return. To be “in Christ” is to be in the body of Christ, which is to be in the Church, which is synonymous with being in the kingdom.
Finally, from the birth of the church on the Day of Pentecost throughout the historical record of the church in the Bible, when people were “born again” into the kingdom of God, neither the titles nor amniotic fluid were ever mentioned. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter never mentioned natural childbirth or the titles. Neither did Philip, Ananias, or Paul ever mention them, but they all preached Jesus-name water baptism for the remission of sins.