From: Iver Larsen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Mon May 14 2001 - 03:10:06 EDT
> >I'm needing to know the Greek tense (if that would answer my question).
> >In John 3:3-5 when Jesus said you must be born of the water (and the spirit)
> >what is the "water" referring to? Some say the amniotic fluid of the
> >physical birth - others of us say it refers to water baptism which is
> >accompanied by the Holy Spirit.
> >Is the grammatical construction of that sentence referring back (past tense)
> >to a physical birth of those to whom he spoke, or to a future event
> >(baptism) involving two elements?
> (3) APEKRIQH IHSOUS KAI EIPEN AUTWi: AMHN AMHN LEGW SOI, EAN MH TIS
> GENNHQHi ANWQEN, OU DUNATAI IDEIN THN BASILEIAN TOU QEOU. (4) LEGEI PROS
> AUTON [hO] NIKODHMOS: PWS DUNATAI ANQRWPOS GENNHQHNAI GERWN WN? MH DUNATAI
> EIS THN KOILIAN THS MHTROS AUTOU DEUTERON EISELQEIN KAI GENNHQHNAI? (5)
> APEKRIQH IHSOUS: AMHN AMHN LEGW SOI, EAN MH TIS GENNHQHi EX hUDATOS KAI
> PNEUMATOS, OU DUNATAI EISELQEIN EIS THN BASILEIAN TOU QEOU.
> (a) The Greek simply says EX hUDATOS, "from water": which is to say: the
> Greek gives no clue as to how one is to understand what we clearly
> understand the Greek to mean by "from water" (or "out of water"). I
> personally am inclined to think that the water of baptism is most likely; I
> recall reading a lengthy discussion of this in Raymond Brown's commentary:
> I suggest that you do that also and then make up your own mind (certainly
> if you wait for other opinions, you're going to hear more than one!).
Let me add my two cents' worth from a contextual viewpoint. The tense of the verbs does
not solve the problem. I am aware of the following suggested interpretations, but there
may be more or combinations of them:
1. Hendyadis, making "water and spirit" refer to one concept together
2. Water refers to the water used in baptism
3. Water refers metaphorically to the (living) Word of God
4. Water refers metaphorically to physical birth (possibly a metonymy)
One way to approach is to try to start with a blank slate and not presume anything about
the meaning of "out of water". When we read the verses, including at least verses 6-7 not
quoted above, while putting a blank where it says "water", does the context give us any
clue to the meaning?
Jesus often introduced a dialogue with a brief enigmatic saying, challenging the other
person to think about it so that together the two would arrive at an answer. How does the
dialogue develop here?
First, J. says in my paraphrase (please check the Greek text yourself): "To get into God's
Kingdom, you need to be born again."
Nicodemus is one big question mark: "How can a human being be born a second time?" It is
clear that N. is thinking of physical re-birth, an absurdity.
Since N is puzzled, one would expect that Jesus would come back and try to explain the
enigma in clearer terms, and especially respond to N.'s misunderstanding that this might
refer to physical re-birth.
So J. says: "To get into God's kingdom, you need to be born of X and Y. What is born in a
physical, human way (EX THS SARKOS) becomes a physical, human being (SARX ESTIN) and what
is born in a spiritual way (EK TOU PNEUMATOS) is a spiritual being (PNEUMA ESTIN). Do not
misunderstand me when I said that you need to be born again."
Since verse 6 clearly contrasts two kinds of births: the normal, human, physical birth and
a new concept: spiritual birth, I draw the following conclusion from the intent of Jesus
in this dialogue: Since N. misunderstood "spiritual birth"= "being born gain" as if it was
of the same kind as physical birth, let me explain that there are two different kinds of
birth, physical and spiritual.
If we see v. 6 as a longer elaboration of the short "born of water and spirit" in v. 5,
then it is possible to suggest from context that "born of water" is co-referential to
"born of the flesh" and "born of spirit" as co-referential to "born of the spirit."
The result is that "born of water" could be a metaphor for physical birth, possibly by way
of metonymy, where the water comes out just before the child comes out. In this metonymy
the EK would have the literal meaning "our of". The child emerges from the water it has
been enveloped in. It is hard for us to see this meaning because we don't have such a
metaphor or metonymy today.
This, by the way, can be supported by the only other place in the GNT where "water" - not
"living water" - is used metaphorically.
That is in 1 John 5:6: hOUTOS ESTIN hO ELQWN DI' hUDATOS KAI hAIMATOS, IHSOUS CRISTOS, OUK
EN TWi hUDATI MONON ALL' EN TWI hUDATI KAI EN TWi hAIMATI.
Since one of the main themes in 1 John is to show that Jesus was truly a human being, not
just a spirit who lived for a time in another human, then it makes good sense to see
"coming through/by/in water" as referring to actual physical birth. This would correspond
to the other metaphor "coming through/by/in blood" which refers to physical death.
Although the conception of Jesus was supernatural, his actual birth was associated with
the breaking of water just as any other human birth. His death was accompanied by real
blood, just as the death of any other human being.
I know this interpretation is not generally accepted, but I think it has more contextual
merit than what is normally given to it.
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