born of water and Spirit” OR “Be born of water and spirit.”
There are sixteen of Jesus’ sermons recorded in the Bible. Jesus taught more “one-on-one.” We find one of these times in John 3:1-21. Nicodemus was one of those who had witnessed the miracles that Jesus had performed in Jerusalem. We find that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews. Others would look upon Jesus as a peasant but not Nicodemus. His wanting to be taught by Jesus shows his humility. Since Jesus was “a teacher come from God” nothing could keep this humble man from wanting to learn from the Master. Social and political forces did not keep Nicodemus from speaking the truth about Jesus. Much has been said about why Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. It may have been he was avoiding detection by the other leaders. We simply do not know.
In discussing the text, one must consider that: (1) Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus. (2) What did the words of Jesus mean to Nicodemus? (3) What was Jesus telling Nicodemus that he must do right then? (4) If Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit here, how was Nicodemus to know this? In John 7:39 it is stated, “(….for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)” Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about something Nicodemus must do in order to be able “to see” and “to enter” the kingdom (reign) of God. Historically, how could this teaching of Jesus be responded to by Nicodemus? How could Nicodemus have understood the reference to water in verse 5? Could the concept of baptism have occurred to him? Assuredly, but whose? What makes more sense, to conclude that Jesus was pointing Nicodemus to Pentecost (Acts 2:38), or to Mark 1:4; “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,” first preached by John the Immerser then by Jesus and His disciples? Further, we should ask, “From what were these sins to be removed?”
The answer is the spirit of man which teaching is in full harmony with that of Peter later in the first century. Cf. 1 Peter 1:22. It was a spiritual renewal that was preached by John and affected by his baptism, and so in the preaching and baptism of Jesus and His disciples. The “new birth” for Nicodemus was before the cross. Before John 3:1-13 in Mark 1:4 we have John’s baptism and after John 3:13 we have John’s baptism in John 3:22 where the Bible says, “and there HE (Jesus) tarried with them, and baptized.” Also in John 3:23 John the immerser was baptizing. WHY? Let the Bible speak! Matthew 3:1-6; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-20; Matthew 11:2-30; John is not in the kingdom but preaching to prepare people for the coming of the kingdom. Luke 7:24-30. They were prepared for the coming of the kingdom by being immersed in water and confessing their sins. They were “born again.” They had a spiritual renewal.
It should be noted that John 3 takes place before Pentecost! So Jesus told Nicodemus to be “born again” so that he could “see” and “enter” the kingdom but Nicodemus had to wait to Acts 2? No, Nicodemus like all the others who obeyed John’s baptism were immersed and confessed their sins. They had a spiritual renewal and were prepared for the kingdom that came on Pentecost of Acts 2. To have a kingdom one must have a KING, SUBJECTS, LAW, and TERRITORY. Who were the SUBJECTS before the Gospel was preached? “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” Acts 2:41. Was Jesus a KING before He had SUBJECTS?
It is interesting to note that the 1611 Edition of the King James Bible says, “…except a man be borne of water and of the spirit…” In verse 5 there is no definite article before pneumatos (spirit) in the Greek text; the preposition ek (out of), used with the genitive case here, governs both the terms water and spirit; the coordinating conjunction kai (and) does not separate water and spirit, rather, it joins them (i.e. a renewal of or pertaining to spirit that takes place of or pertaining to water). Verse 6 continues in explanation of verse 3, in answer to the question Nicodemus in verse 4; Jesus is here contrasting “that which is for flesh” with “that which is of spirit” –human flesh with the human spirit. The occurrences of pneumatos here in verse six used with the definite article is contrasted with sarks (flesh) also used with the definite article. It is “the flesh” of man under consideration here, in contrast, to “the spirit” of man. Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus of the latter (the spirit of man) not the former (the flesh of man) in answer to Nicodemus’ question as to whether a man could experience a new physical birth. Jesus is not speaking of a rebirth/renewal of Nicodemus’ flesh. The Holy Spirit is not under consideration here at all; it is the spirit of man, and in this case; the spirit of Nicodemus. Bobby D. Gayton