Born of water and the spirit


Many times, when I mention the early Church father’s interpretation of John 3:5, I get a reaction like: “So what? That was his interpretation.” Even if I mention that they were closer to the early Church and were much more capable of understanding the original meanings of Christ’s words, some *still *scoff at the Church fathers.

I am wondering if it is better to ask them what it actually means to be “born of” something. This is a phrase that is not commonly used. The only time I say the phrase “born of” is whenever I recite the Creed:

“He was born of the Virgin Mary…”

Note that the use conveys that she was born of the Virgin Mary and not her amniotic fluid. Another thread reminded me of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and how that play used the phrase “born of”

Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth. Macbeth Act IV, Scene I

Thou wast born of woman.
But swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn,
Brandish’d by man that’s of a woman born. Macbeth Act V, Scene VII

Anyone who knows Macbeth is familiar with what “born of” meant. In Shakespeare’s time (and King James’ time) to say “I was born of my mother,” actually meant “my mother gave birth to me.” Macbeth thought he was invincible against Macduff because he believed that Macduff’s mother gave birth to him. However, Macduff was not “born of woman” or “of a woman born”, he was taken from his mother’s womb via c-section.

So what does “born of woman” have to do with “born of water”? For one thing, it can be proven somewhat that if “born of woman” indicates that “my mother gave birth to me” then “born of water” cannot mean the same thing. In these examples, the word “of” indicates a causation. My mother and any woman who has gone through the pangs of labor can testify that amniotic fluid did not give birth to me or cause my birth - my mother gave birth to me or caused my birth.

Catholics believe that a sacrament of Baptism is a *visible *sign of God’s grace, which is *invisible. *The waters of Baptism gives birth as the Holy Spirit gives birth, hence we are born of water and the spirit. It was too bad for Macbeth, just as it is too bad for some other Christians, that the phrase “born of” in not understood properly. It’s also too bad we have to look to Shakespeare’s wierd sisters in order to clarify wierd interpretations.

What do you think? Maybe Shakespeare was Catholic afterall!:shrug:


I’ve yet to see anyone provide an example of Greek usage of “Born of water” referring to amniotic fluid.



Well, I’d suggest that we simply read the text of John 3 in a plain manner…

  1. There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
  2. The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

This explains the setting – Nicodemus came to see Jesus at night, and believed that he was divine.

  1. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Okay, so Jesus says “be born again”. This verse by itself might be confusing, but fortunately, the gospel writer goes on to explain it to us.

  1. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

Nicodemus clearly doesn’t understand Jesus, and compares this second birth (being “born again” as Jesus said) to being just like the first, a physical birth from his mother’s womb.

  1. Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Jesus responds in line with this parallel, explaining the difference between the two. The first birth (physical) is of water (perhaps not totally scientifically accurate, but it’s how people understood it in that era). The second birth is spiritual, not physical.

Note here, that the first birth (of water) cannot refer to baptism. Why? Check out verse 3 – Jesus said to be born again, not to be born again twice. Nor did Jesus use any wording which should indicate these two components are in any way representing the same birth.

  1. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Jesus continues. Again, he compares the first birth (of flesh) to this second birth (of spirit).

  1. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

Finally, Jesus concludes, making it clear that his overall analogy was to explain the differences between the physical birth (which Nicodemus confused being “born again” with) and this new birth, which is spiritual.

If you read the rest of the chapter, you see several more comparisons of fleshly, earthly things versus spiritual, heavenly things.

The comparison is clear, and does not in any way speak of baptism. Can anyone here actually make a case for John 3 speaking of baptism, while taking the rest of the context of the chapter into account?


During my journey from the Independent Fundamental Baptist tradition to Catholicism, I refused to use John 3:5 as proof for baptismal regeneration. I believed in baptismal regeneration, I just could not bring myself to overcome what I thought was the plain (and thus only) meaning of the whole conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Besides, there was evidence aplenty elsewhere in the NT supporting baptismal regeneration. Eventually I realized just how much Jesus, the Word and master wordsmith, used all kinds of grammatical and literary devices to emphasize or more fully explain a point. After that I came to think that John 3:5 is a double entendre.



That’s a very narrow comparison especially when matched up with the rest of scripture (Rom. 6:3–4; Col. 2:12–13; Titus 3:5). As I said in my OP, the sacrament of baptism involves the earthly action of washing with water and the spiritual action of washing with the Holy Spirit.

I would check out this site that talks about the phrase “born of woman” in scripture and in Greek use:

The phrase appears twice (in parallel) in the gospels. First, Matthew 11.11:Αμην, λεγω υμιν, ουκ εγηγερται εν γεννητοις γυναικων μειζων Ιωαννου του βαπτιστου, ο δε μικροτερος εν τη βασιλεια των ουρανων μειζων αυτου εστιν.Amen, I say to you, there is not greater than John the baptist among those born of women, but the lesser in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than him.

Second, Luke 7.28:Λεγω υμιν, μειζων εν γεννητοις γυναικων Ιωαννου ουδεις εστιν, ο δε μικροτερος εν τη βασιλεια του θεου μειζων αυτου εστιν.I say to you, no one is greater than John among those born of women, but the lesser in the kingdom of God is greater than him.These two verses use the Greek adjective γεννητος, born.

So, In Matthew and Luke, Jesus referred to birth using the phrase “born of women”. So, if your assumption is correct, why then in the Gospel of John did he refer to physical birth as being “born of water”? when in the other Gospels he referred to it as “born of women.”

It seems inconsistent, doesn’t it? Even with the rest of scripture:

Job 14.1
Βροτος γαρ γεννητος γυναικος ολιγοβιος και πληρης οργης.
For a mortal born of woman is short-lived, and full of wrath.

Job 15:14
Τις γαρ ων βροτος οτι εσται αμεμπτος, η ως εσομενος δικαιος γεννητος γυναικος;
What is a mortal that he should be blameless, or one born of woman that he would be just?

Job 25:4
Πως γαρ εσται δικαιος βροτος εναντι κυριου, η τις αν αποκαθαρισαι εαυτον γεννητος γυναικος;
How then is a mortal just before God? Or who born of woman can cleanse himself?


No, Jesus is not describing the difference between natural birth and spiritual rebirth, but He’s describing rebirth, since Nicodemus misunderstood it. He’s saying that rebirth is “being born of water and of the Spirit.”

Note here, that the first birth (of water) cannot refer to baptism. Why? Check out verse 3 – Jesus said to be born again, not to be born again twice.

And of course he’s not talking about “being born of water” and “being born of the Spirit.” He’s talking about “being born of water and of the Spirit.”

Nor did Jesus use any wording which should indicate these two components are in any way representing the same birth.

That’s what the words mean. You’re just reading your own theology into it. To be born “of water and of the spirit” means one birth, comprised of two components, water and spirit, not two births, which is your interpretation.

Again, if you want to try to convince anyone of your interpretation, you must show other Greek authors who used the term “born of water” to refer to natural birth. As long as you cannot do so, your interpretation is simply an anachronism.



Not even close… Can you prove this someway, somehow?

The people of that era knew that amniotic fluid wasn’t water.

If you can’t prove the people thought that amniotic fluid was indeed water, does that change your interpertation of this scripture?


“Honey…my water broke!”

No wife says, “Honey, my amniotic fluid broke!”

This came from somewhere at sometime…

Every wife/mother knows amniotic fluid is not water yet the word “water” is used to describe it.


Consider the other point I raised – why would Jesus go on to explain that things which are born of flesh are fleshly, and things born of spirit are spiritual, if not as a comparison between the two births? And if this is so, why shouldn’t we assume this to be his point all along.

As for proof that being born of water is the same as being physically born – I don’t have anything concrete at the moment, but I’ll be looking into it.

However, as you guys are starting with the preconceived notion that baptism is essential to salvation, and are reading that into scripture, I somehow doubt any proof I could find would make any difference.


Good point about people not being born of the amniotic fluid. Born with it, or in it, yes. But not of it.

And then there’s the whole question of why Jesus would say, as some claim, that one must be born (of woman) at all. What had Nicodemus asked:
“How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?”

He is asking how a man (that is, a person who has in fact been born) can be born again.

So why would Jesus answer “you must be born (of woman) and the spirit”? Nicodemus already stipulated that he was asking about those who had been born of woman. Why would Jesus stipulate that which was already stipulated by Nicodemus?


I’ve yet to see an example of amniotic fluid being water, period. It’s not water, it’s amniotic fluid. And I’m more than sure that Jesus knew the difference, He created it, you know.


Yes, but even in the bible when describing being born, you were born of your mother or born of woman. The usage of “of” implies a causation of some sort. See the previous post of how the Bible, and even Jesus’ words speak of birth of being born of woman.

Supposing Jesus meant born naturally and then born spiritually, he would have said “unless a man be born of a woman and the spirit.” They knew that women bring physical life into this world, water did not bring physical life.


Well, we’re not exactly born of (from) the holy spirit either. We’re indwelt with it. But it’s just an analogy. It’s not actually a birth (a beginning of existence, before which you did not exist at all).

And how is baptism being “born” of water? I mean, by the Roman Catholic perspective, I suppose you could see baptism as cleansing you, but it doesn’t exactly mark birth, I think.

And then there’s the whole question of why Jesus would say, as some claim, that one must be born (of woman) at all. What had Nicodemus asked:
“How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?”

He is asking how a man (that is, a person who has in fact been born) can be born again.

This is exactly why Jesus responded the way he did. John frequently takes the methodology of explaining things to the audience (which is good), and this makes perfect sense – all verses are speaking of two births…one physical (our fleshly, human birth), and one spiritual (our salvation).

Nicodemus already stipulated that he was asking about those who had been born of woman. Why would Jesus stipulate that which was already stipulated by Nicodemus?

He said “born again”, to which Nicodemus was confused. So, Jesus elaborated. To paraphrase, he said “you see, you were first born of water (from your mother’s womb, as you mentioned), but you must also be born (in this “born again” that I mentioned) of the spirit”. He then explained “what is born from the flesh (your natural birth that you spoke of) results in flesh (that is, your physical body), but what is born of the spirit is spiritual”.

It fits perfectly, and is the most plain reading of the text by far. Inserting baptism in here simply doesn’t work.


We do not have a preconceived notion about this. Ours is the constant teaching of the Church from apostolic times. It is the clear meaning from scripture. Scripture even tells us in the gospel of John just how the Jews viewed natural birth.

John 1:12-13 says:
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not **of blood **nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Natural child birth is not referred to as being born of water and there is “nothing” in the New or Old Testaments that suggests that the Jews understood it that way. We do, however, have a clear passage in John’s gospel ahead of the meeting with Nicodemus that tells us just how they did view natural child birth as opposed to being born of God.

I hope this helps.


Scripture disagrees with you. It says that a man must be born anew/again. Jesus then explains what this means by saying that being born anew is by water and spirit. There is nothing metaphorical. This is a true birth in the spirit. Other scripture help to clarify this. They are as follows:

ACTS 2:38
And Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

ACTS 10:48
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

ACTS 19:1-7
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve of them in all.

ACTS 22:16
And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

JOHN 3:5
Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

MARK 16:16
He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

ROMANS 6: 3-4
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ;
and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead

one Lord, one faith, one baptism,

TITUS 3:4-8
but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,

Heb 10:22
let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

1 PETER 3:21
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

OT-- Baptism prefigured
Ezk 36:25-28
I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.


Because Jesus was not comparing the two births. As someone said, he was explaining what born again (or born from above) was.

The Greek adverb anothen means both “from above” and “again.” Jesus means “from above” (see John 3:31) but Nicodemus misunderstands it as “again.” The NAB translates all of the uses of anothen as “from above.” However, the KJV translates John 3:5 use as “again” yet, it translates John 3:31 as “above” why the KJV and even the NIV do this is beyond me.

The KJV:
“He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.”

The NIV:
“The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.”

Because it was never his point all along. Like I said and linked in my OP, the first Christians did not differentiate being born again and being baptized. And as far as “interpretation” goes, there was no “interpretation”, they just did as the Apostles did and believed as the Apostles did. However, this does not convince Christians because for some reason which escapes me, they think that their 21st century understanding is better than a 2nd century Christian’s understanding. My only recourse is to show that even from a 21st century reading, the proper interpretation is that Jesus meant that to be born again was to be born of the waters of baptism.

What preconcieved notion. The Church didn’t believe that baptism is essential to salvation and then look at the Bible to see what it said. The belief was there as the Gospel of John was being written and thus the first readers or “interpreters” of the Gospels in the second century believed the same thing. The “preconcieved notion” was the notion was that the Church was wrong on baptism, therefore we must find something to justify or beliefs. If anyone was reading into the interpretation, it was the first guy who thought he could be “born again” without being baptised.


Baptism does mark your Christian birth. The Book of Revelation has an interesting counterpart to the mark of the beast. Rev 7:3-4that says:

“Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads. And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel,”

Likewise, Eph 1:13-14 says:

“In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

And Eph 4:4 says:
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

And 2 Tim 2:19 says:
"But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,”

We receive the seal or mark when we receive the Holy Spirit. We receive the Holy Spirit at baptism.

I hope this helps.


Was Shakespeare a Catholic “to be or not to be” that is the question? :blush:


Idiom :slight_smile:



Can’t you find even one Greek author who used “born of water” to mean “natural childbirth”? Just one, in order to justify your understanding of John 3?

Just because something’s an idiom in one language doesn’t mean it’s an idiom in another language. You’ve already stretched the idiom in English: I don’t think anyone would naturally use the phrase “born of water” in English to describe natural childbirth. But apart from that, the use of the term “water” to refer to amniotic fluid must be shown to be a Greek idiom for your claim to be any sort of reasonable. And you’ve yet to show that.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit