Re: John 3:5 and Carson

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Mar 14 1997 - 15:55:38 EST

At 10:45 AM -0600 3/14/97, Paul Dixon - Ladd Hill Bible Church wrote:
>On Fri, 14 Mar 1997, Andrew Kulikovsky wrote:
>> Paul Dixon wrote:
>> > Of course, taking hUDATOS as reference to water baptism is the least
>> > likely, if at all possible, of the options available. The following
>> > parallel (v. 6) suggests the water be taken as the water associated with
>> > physical birth versus spiritual birth as denoted by PNEUMATOS paralleling
>> > "that which is born of the spirit is spirit."
>> >
>> > But, KAI could be taken ascensively or appositionally and the spiritual
>> > cleansing of Ezekiel be in view.
>> Someone mentioned Carson's discussion in "Exegetical Fallacies". I have
>> a copy of this book and checked it out. Very Interesting! (p. 41-42)
>> Carson said he initially accepted the idea that water = amniotic fluid
>> but turned away from this because He couldn't find any other ancient
>> text that spoke about being "born out of water". He then accepted (with
>> some reluctance) that water = semen = natural birth. He was then
>> convinced by a student that this phrase EX UDATOS KAI PNEUMATOS *doesn't
>> refer to 2 births but to one* (he says the fact that both nouns are
>> governed by one prep. favours this view).
>> Therefore v. 3, 5, 6b and 7 are all parallel statements. Water and
>> spirit are linked in Ezek 36:25-27, where the prophet forsees a time of
>> eschatalogical cleansing in which God will sprinkle clean water on his
>> people, making them clean, and will give them a new heart and a new
>> spirit - which Nicodemus should have understood.
>> Therefore the phrase isn't a hendiadys but a reference to the dual work
>> of the spirit (3:6) who simultaneously purifies and imparts God's nature
>> to man.
>> So what does everyone think about this argument? It does seem quite
>> convincing.
>I tend to agree with the Ezekiel cleansing.

So: everybody gets two shots at this one, huh? When I saw Paul's note about
understanding hUDATOS as referring to water baptism as the least plausible
of all the options--since it was the one I represented in my note on this
verse, I figured I'd better rethink it. I do still think that in its
present context the text probably DOES refer to baptism of water and
baptism of spirit, but the Ezekiel reference could very well underly the
JnBpt saying in Mk 1:8 ("I baptized you with water for repentance, but he
will baptize you with holy Spirit ...") which has, I think, already been
adapted to the liturgical practice of the early church.

The problem with the Johannine text is that John is not only contrasting
flesh and spirit, as others have reiterated--and so EX hUDATOS is a phrase
one might want to construe as distinct from PNEUMATOS even though the two
anarthrous nouns are governed by a single preposition--but also there is a
tendency in John to downplay baptism and supper as fundamental rituals of
the church (the centrality of foot-washing in the Johannine last supper).
This is why some interpreters of Mark have found at least some of
Bultmann's argumentation about an emendation of the Johannine text by an
"ecclesiastical redactor" who added bits and pieces here and there
throughout the gospel to make it more compatible with the apostolic
church's traditions.

I thought it might be worth checking Raymond Brown on this matter; I'm
always curiously surprised at finding how sensible and balanced his
treatment of questions like this is. On pages 141-144 he has a lengthy
"addendum" on "The Baptismal Interpretation of vs. 5." Here are some of his
salient points:

" ... there can be little doubt that the Christian readers of John wuld
have interpreted vs. 5, 'being begotten of water and Spirit' as a reference
to Christian Baptism." But that doesn't mean that Brown accepts the
interpretation. That interpretation, he says, depends on the phrase, EX
hUDATOS in vs. 5. And there's a question whether that phrase was part of
the earliest tradition of the scene or whether it was a later addition.
Bultmann, of course, attributes it to the "Ecclesiastical Redactor," but
there's a host of other names supporting this argument, some of which may
mean something to some people, but I won't name them. But why would anyone
think this a secondary interpolation when there's no textual evidence for
such? For one thing, it's the only reference to water in the whole
discourse, and vs. 5 would read more intelligibly as "without being
begotten of the Spirit." A second objection to the originality of EX
hUDATOS, that Nicodemus couldn't possibly have understood it, is weaker
(the real dialogue of the Johannine Jesus is with the reader/listener). The
third objection is based on "the supposed anti-sacerdotalism of the
evangelist"--a view which Brown has already rejected earlier on. "When all
these arguments are weighed, we find no certainty. The baptismal motif that
is woven into the text of the whole scene is secondary; the phrase 'of
water' in which the baptismal motif expresses itself most clearly may have
been always part of the scene, although originally not having a specific
reference to Christian Baptism; or the phrase may have been added tothe
tradition later in order to bring out the baptismal motif."

I think that's enough. Brown considers the alternatives and ultimately more
or less equivocates: the notion of baptism may not have been there in the
original text, but he seems to feel that the text as canon has come to
include that sense.

Is it any wonder that at least three and perhaps more ideas about this EX
hUDATOS have been expressed in this thread? I think there will always be
plenty of grist in John's gospel for everybody's mills. Anyone want to talk
about AGAPAW and FILEW in chapter 21 (count me out!)?

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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