Born From Water And Spirit
By Jonathan Mitchell

Jesus made an enigmatic statement to Nicodemus in Jn. 3:5. Let us read the immediate context and then search for clues in other Biblical writings that may give us a key that will lead us to an understanding of the phrase under consideration in this short study.

3. Jesus considered, and replies to him, saying, "Certainly it is so, I am saying (= I now point out) to you, unless anyone (or: someone) may be born back up again to a higher place (or: can be brought to birth again; or: would be given birth from above), he continues having no power (or: he is continuously unable) to see or perceive God's reign, sovereign influence/activity, or kingdom."

4. Nicodemus says to Him, "How does a man continue being able to be born, being an old man? He is not able (or: He remains powerless) to enter into his mother's womb (cavity; belly) a second [time] and be born!"

5. Jesus decisively replies, "Certainly that is so. I am now saying (laying it out; = pointing out) to you, unless anyone (or: someone) may be born forth from out of water and spirit (or: - as well as Breath-effect and attitude -) he continues being unable (he remains having no power) to enter into God's realm (or: reign; kingdom; sovereign activity and influence).

6. "The thing being birthed, having been born forth from out of the flesh, is flesh (or: from the estranged human nature, continues being the estranged human nature; or: = from out of flesh system is a flesh system), and the thing being birthed, having been born forth from out of the Spirit, is spirit (or: what is birthed out of the Breath-effect continues being Breath-effect; or: what is born from the Attitude is an attitude).

7. "You should not be amazed (or: begin to marvel; at some point be filled with wonder; suddenly be astonished; or: Don't be surprised) that I said to you, 'It is necessary and binding for you folks to be born back up again to a higher place (or: for you people to be given birth from above).'

Jesus is obviously speaking of two kinds of births in this conversation. In vs. 4 Nicodemus' reply to Jesus' statement of vs. 3 shows that Nicodemus is thinking only of natural, physical birth. But is Jesus speaking of a natural birth in either of the two births to which he refers? I suggest that He is not. I have included vs. 7 in the context for the purpose of pointing out a key to the meaning of Jesus' phrase,

"born forth from out of water and spirit."

Jesus uses a plural, personal pronoun in His conclusion to Nicodemus in this verse. He said, "you folks." He was speaking corporately concerning Israel. We find "birth" language with regard to the nation of Israel in Isa. 66:8b-11,

"Shall a land be in travail in one day? Should a nation be born at one time? When she travails, already Zion gives birth to her sons. Shall I bring the breaking and not bring the birth? - saying is Yahweh. If I am the One bringing the birth, would I restrain it? - says your Elohim.... Rejoice with Jerusalem... Be elated with her... That you may suckle and be satisfied from the breast of her consolations... and find pleasure from the rich bosom of her glory."

Then we find the birth metaphor in Jn. 1:13,

"who are born (or: were given birth) not out of bloods (or: [flows] of blood), neither forth from the will of flesh (or: from the intent of a flesh [ceremony]), nor yet out of the will (purpose; intent) of an adult male, but to the contrary, from out of the midst of God"

Being born "from out of the midst of God" identifies what Jesus meant by being born "from out of the Spirit." This was in contrast to a birth that was "out of bloods" (e.g., natural lineage from Jacob, which made a person an Israelite in the flesh) and to a birth "from the will of flesh" (e.g., by becoming a proselyte and undergoing circumcision) and to a birth "out of the will of an adult male" (this could refer to either "natural birth" or to the patrilineal system of male dominance). Jesus, in Jn. 3:3-7 was referring to Israel being birthed anew in the heart, which Paul further explained in Rom. 2:28-29,

"for you see, the Jew is not the one in the visibly apparent or outwardly manifest (or: For not he in the outward appearance is a Jew), neither [is] circumcision that [which is] visibly apparent (outwardly manifest) in flesh (= in body), but rather, a Jew [is] the one within the hidden [place] (or: [that which is] in the concealed [realm]) and circumcision [is] of [the] heart (= core of our being) - in union with Breath-effect (or: within [the] spirit; in attitude), not in letter - whose praise (applause; full recommendation; [note play on words: Jew is a derivative of "Judah," which means "praise"]) [is] not from out of mankind (humanity), but rather from out of God."

Peter also used the birth metaphor in 1 Pet. 1:23,

"being folks having been born again (been regenerated; been given birth back up again), not from out of a corruptible (or: perishable) seed that was sown, but rather from an incorruptible (imperishable; undecayable) one: through God's continually living and permanently remaining Word (or: through a message or expressed thought of [the] continuously living and constantly abiding God; or: through means of a living and dwelling Thought, Idea and Logically laid out Expression and Communication, which is God)."

Here, the "corruptible, perishable seed" could refer to human birth or to a lineage through the "seed of David," through which the Jews of the 1st century laid claim to being God's people. In contrast to this is the birth "through God's continually living and permanently remaining Word (etc.)," which is a "spiritual" birth - for Christ's words are spirit and they are life (Jn. 6:63b - where in 6:63a He informs us that "The flesh continues being of no help or benefit to anything"). Being born a Jew through natural birth, which led to the many ceremonial "washings" in water, was insufficient for participation in the kingdom of God and for being an active part of His sovereign reign.

Notice the neuter (or, neutral) term thing that is used in vs. 6. The word flesh is feminine, so if He were speaking about a person here he should have used a masculine or perhaps a feminine form of the definite article. But He used the neuter. He was speaking of a corporate entity: Israel. Israel was born "out of water" when they emerged from passing through the Red Sea, during their Exodus from Egypt. Paul makes reference to this in 1 Cor. 10:1-2,

"our fathers (= ancestors) were all continually existing under the cloud, and everyone passed completely through the midst of the sea, and so they all immersed themselves into Moses (or: got themselves baptized [other MSS: were baptized] unto Moses), within the cloud and within the sea."

Immersion (baptism) is a figure and a symbol of birth. Israel had already been born (as a nation and as an ethnic group) in this way, but now Jesus says, 'It is necessary and binding for you folks to be born back up again to a higher place (or: for you people to be given birth from above).'

The second time that He used "the thing" was when speaking of that which was born forth from out of the Spirit, and it is a spiritual "thing." I suggest that He was referring to the new creation: a new humanity that was the result of the union of Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:15). In this new "thing" there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28). The new "thing" was the body of Christ that is born from "the Jerusalem above is (continues being) free, who is (or: which particular one continues being) our mother" (Gal. 3:26). Jesus refers to this neutral, corporate entity as being "born forth from out of the Spirit," and the term "spirit" is a neuter/neutral word in the Greek language. Jesus spoke of this situation in Mat. 19:28,

"It is true (or: Truly; Amen), I now am saying to you men, In the rebirth - when the Son of the Man (mankind's Son; = Adam's son; [or: the eschatological messianic figure]; or: the human) can sit upon the throne of His glory (or: the throne of his good reputation and manifestation which calls forth praise) - you yourselves, the ones following Me, will continue sitting down..."

Note that the "rebirth" speaks of a corporate situation. Then in Mat. 22:30 he instructs us,

"You see, within the resurrection folks are neither repeatedly marrying, nor are they constantly being given in marriage. To the contrary, they constantly exist as agents (or: messengers) - within the atmosphere (or: heaven)."

Keep in mind that Jesus described Himself as "the resurrection" (Jn. 11:25), and in Jn. 15:4, 5 and 7 He instructs us to

"abide (dwell; remain) IN"

Him. We are called up, to dwell in the resurrection life where,

"He jointly roused and raised (or: suddenly awakens and raises) [us] up, and caused [us] to sit (or: seats [us]; = enthroned [us]) together within the things situated upon [thus, above] the heavens" (Eph. 2:6).

The writer of Hebrews referred to this as a place where we are right now,

"you folks have approached so that you are now at Mount Zion - even in a city of a continuously living God; in 'Jerusalem upon heaven'" (Heb. 12:22a)

Returning to Jesus' teachings in John, we find Him speaking in the following chapter of the new situation being

"in spirit and in truth (or: reality)" (Jn. 4:23, 24).

This describes the new corporate reality (or: truth). It speaks of the new heavens and the new earth where He is,

"presently making all things new (or: habitually creating everything [to be] new and fresh; progressively forming [the] whole anew; or, reading panta as masculine: periodically making all humanity new; progressively creating every person anew; constantly constructing [as corporate being] all people fresh and new; continuously renewing everyone)!" (Rev. 21:5a).

We have John speaking of water once again in 1 Jn. 5:6,

"This is the One at one point coming through water and blood and breath (or: spirit; Breath-effect), Jesus Christ. Not within the water alone (or: not in only water), but rather within the water and within the blood (or: in union with water and in union with blood; [other MSS add: and within spirit; note: figure of a human birth, or natural lineage]), and then there is the breath - that which is continuing to give evidence (or: and the Spirit {Breath-effect} continuously exists being the One repeatedly testifying), because the breath is (or: Spirit or Breath-effect exists being) the Truth and Reality! (or: and the spirit is the One {or: one} continuously witnessing that the Spirit is The Truth! or: the breath is that which constantly gives testimony that the Breath-effect is reality)."

One explanation of the phrase

"coming through water and blood"

is that he is speaking here of His natural birth and lineage. Jesus was an Israelite. But not only did He submit to water baptism under John the baptizer, but the Spirit descended upon Him and inaugurated His ministry as the Messiah. Yet we are instructed in Hebrews 5-8 that His ministry transcended lineage (a requirement for priesthood in the old covenant) and was designated a Priest of the order of Melchisedec.

Other layers of perception can be uncovered as we contemplate Jesus' enigmatic statements in the above passage of Jn. 3. But I suggest that the central point of His contrast of the birth from water to the birth from spirit was a parable that set the new covenant and the new creation in contrast to those of the old. As Paul put it,

"Consequently, since someone [is] within Christ (or: So that if anyone [is] in union with [the] Anointed One; or: And as since a Certain One [was] in Christ), [there is] a new creation (or: [it is] a framing and founding of a different kind; [he or she is] an act of creation having a fresh character and a new quality): the original things (the beginning [situations]; the archaic and primitive [arrangements]) passed by (or: went to the side). Consider! New things have come into existence (have been birthed; or: It has become new things; or: He has been birthed and now exists being ones of a different kind, character and quality)" (2 Cor. 5:17).


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