Re: John 3.5 and the genitive

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sun Mar 16 1997 - 08:30:39 EST

At 9:36 PM -0600 3/15/97, Micheal Palmer wrote:
>At 11:22 PM +0000 3/15/97, Brian E. Wilson wrote:
>>I have been waiting to see if anyone would raise the question concerning
>>John 3.5 whether Jesus was including himself in his statement. Was Jesus
>>himself GENNHQH EX hUDATOJ KAI PNEUMATOJ ? As the statement stands,
>>there is good reason to suppose that Jesus was including himself in it.
>>After all, He of all people was in the kingdom of God. If Jesus
>>included himself in those "born of water", and if, as some B-Greekers
>>are on record as having supposed, hUDATOJ means "semen", it would follow
>>that, on such a view, Jesus had a human father.
>But you can see EX hUDATOU as referring to physical birth without seeing
>any reference to semen. The water probably (despite Carson's claims) refers
>to the water of birth (amniotic fluid). Verse 6 strongly suggests that
>water is parallel to physical birth.
>>I personally think that GENNHQH EX hUDATOJ KAI PENUMATOJ does not allude
>>to human procreation, but refers to baptism in water and being empowered
>>by the Holy Spirit. We know (and I am sure the writer of the Fourth
>>Gospel also knew) that Jesus was baptized in water and was empowered by
>>the Holy Spirit. On this interpretation, Jesus includes himself in his
>>statement in John 3.5 without implying that he had a human father.
>>Brian E. Wilson
>Yes, the writer of the fourth Gospel certainly knew that Jesus was baptized
>in water, but he never mentions that fact anywhere in his Gospel! Where we
>find the story of Jesus' baptism in the other three Gospels, John only
>tells us of an encounter between Jesus and John the Baptist, but never
>mentions that John baptized him. On the other hand, he mentions physical
>birth (3:6) in the very next verse after the one we are discussing.

It appears to me that this discussion of John 3:5, far from moving toward
any consensus, is almost a classic case of the old Latin tag, QUOT HOMINES
TOT SENTENTIAE--everyone has his/her own opinion--or to paraphrase the Book
of Judges, "There was no King in Israel in those days; everyone interpreted
as was good in his/her own eyes." Is the Beloved Disciple laughing at us or
deeply distressed at our obtuseness? hUDATOS has been understood as
amniotic water, as semen, as baptismal water, as = SARKOS, as = hAIMATOS
(by virtue of the parallel in 1 John), even as = PNEUMATOS (in conjunction
with the Ezekiel passage which some see behind it), and even as a 2nd
declension genitive singular, whereby hUDATOS hitherto miraculously
transformed into the body or the blood of Christ, is transformed into

In my last post on this thread (or what perhaps should have been my last,
in this never-ending one) I referred to Raymond Brown's commentary on John,
which does not seem to be very highly regarded these days, although it has
seemed to me that, despite his impeccable Roman Catholic credentials, he is
much more objective in his treatment of the Johannine text than many a
Protestant commentator. Brown does present an argument that the gospel of
John was shaped over the course of three generations in a particular
community of believers, and views the problems of structure and transition
and fragmentary elements in terms of layers of composition and the absence
of a definitive final redaction that would have brought everything into a
wholly satisfying harmony. I noted that Brown weighed alternatives,
including the possibility that hUDATOS is a relatively late and deliberate
addition to the text of 3:5 from WITHIN the Johannine community and among
several additions to the gospel intended to harmonize the gospel of John
with the Synoptic gospels. Bultmann, of course, had gone much farther than
that, supposing that these later additions were the work of an
"ecclesiastical redactor" who was intent on neutralizing some of the
distinctive Johannine emphases such as realized eschatology,
"anti-sacramentalism," and a distinctive soteriology, whereas Brown has
argued rather for these changes being made within the Johannine school as
the Johannine community and the Apostolic community of believers reached a

I hesitated to broach these matters because they involve questions of
historical and textual criticism that are normally tangential to or outside
the domain of B-Greek discussion of texts. Rightly or wrongly, however, I
have done so, partly because I don't think that the questions raised by EX
hUDATOS KAI PNEUMATOS can be fully resolved by analysis of the Johannine
text and its immediate context; I think that additional factors have to be
brought to bear upon understanding this phrase, including, I personally
think, those of Higher Criticism and Canonical Criticism. The question has
been raised whether John's gospel knows of John's baptism of Jesus in
water, and Micheal has just affirmed that surely it does, but that it
doesn't ever mention it, so it is evidently not important to the
evangelist. I think it is pretty clearly implicit in John 1:29-34, even if
it does not refer to the particular OCCASION on which John saw the Spirit
descending onto Jesus. It seems to me fairly clear that John's gospel,
however different it is from the Synoptics in many, many ways, is
nevertheless cognizant of traditions of Jesus' baptism and of John the
Baptist from the Synoptics. This is why I argued in the first place and why
I still believe that hUDATOS (which just possibly may not have been in the
first formulation of the verse but may have been added later) in John 3:5
refers to water baptism.

I noted earlier that Brown "more or less equivocates" when coming to a
conclusion of his lengthy excursus on John 3:5, apparently implying that
the hUDATOS either wasn't in the earliest version of the verse or, if it
was, that it did NOT originally refer to water baptism, BUT that as a
canonical text, i.e. as a Johannine text to be understood within the larger
context of the whole NT and of the whole Bible, it should be understood as
referring to water baptism.

I know that this isn't going to be very satisfying to most (if any) of
those who have participated in this thread, but I think it is really
interesting just how very little consensus this discussion has produced,
and I can't help but believe that the reason is precisely because the Greek
text and its immediate context are not by themselves sufficiently
indicative to resolve the questions.

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

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