If an “exclusive” Greek term is used does that mean that whatever its referred to cannot happen any other way? For example John 3:5 where the exclusive terms “unless” one is born etc. Does Greek grammar require what comes after that term to be the only possible way for something to take place regardless of context?
A good family friend of mine is here who understands Biblical Greek. I am letting him give an answer:
Are you asking if these terms are excluding a possibility or if the terms are exclusive to the subject or something of that matter? An “exclusive” term is one that “participates” and a “non-exclusive” term is simply one that does not, often with the subject matter at hand. Even if this is what you are referring to, I am not sure how this has any bearing on the text itself. Outside of Classical and Attic Greek, I have not heard of Koine Greek described in with such terminology.
The expression you mark out as “unless” is actually composed of two separate words, the conjunction “if” and the adverb “not.” The word for “if” is “ean” in the Greek and literally means “if possibly.” This word suggests that something is possible.
The next word, “not,” comes from the Greek word “me.” It simply means “no” or “not.” When put together this negates or rules out any possibility implied by the use of “ean” except under the conditions of “gennēthē,” or being “born” or begotten.
So the word “unless” comes from two Greek words saying two different things that rely on an outside condition to be met in order to “enter the Kingdom of God.” (The Greek structure is simply “unless this condition is met this does not happen” and can be used about any subject, not just the discussion at hand.) Since Greek is an inflectional language, context changes everything, even the spelling of a word.
Don’t forget, however, that since Jesus was speaking with a Jewish leader, the conversation was likely NOT happening in Koine Greek. It is more likely they were speaking in Hebrew-Aramaic. If that is the case then the Greek is only translating the story. Instead of looking for help in the syntax and grammatical rules, you should look at the subject itself. Jesus is telling Nicodemus that one must be begotten from God to enter “the Kingdom” which all Jews believed they were entitled to inherit on the basis of being descendants of Abraham. This confuses Nicodemus who thinks that Jesus is saying that a second birth from a different forefather is necessary. Jesus corrects him and explains that one is not “born again” as from another father but “born from above” by God who through “water and Spirit” brings a person into the Kingdom. One inherits the Kingdom by a special act of God’s grace and not merely by being a child of Abraham. The subject is not what constitutes being born in this way as much as that inheritance into the Kingdom Abraham foresaw and was promised is not a birthright.–Compare verses 6 thru 8 where Jesus describes the process of being born from above in transcendent and inexplicable terms.
Thank you so much for this! The reason I ask is I’m arguing with a protestant who is saying that according to the Greek Jesus is using “exclusive” terms when he says “unless” and “cannot” in John 3:5 and that because of this he’d be saying the only way to enter the kingdom would be water baptism and that baptism of desire and blood would be contradicting this statement. Of course he doesn’t believe the passage refers to water baptism but hes say that if we translate it that way the exclusive terms means under no circumstance could one enter the kingdom of God without water baptism.
You mentioning the likelihood of them speaking Aramaic I think will help a lot
I understand now what the person is saying. They are very incorrect in what they are saying about Greek.
An “exclusive” term is a word that has a participating connection with another word. The term your Protestant friend is trying to say is “exclude.” The English words “unless” and “cannot” are terms that EXCLUDE a possibility, but the original Greek terms are not “exclusive.” An “exclusive” term is part of older Greek dialect language rules, a grammatical term referring to words that “belong” or act (participate) alongside another word to complete a meaning. Your Protestant companion should actual say that “unless” and “cannot” are words suggesting “exclusion,” which is not a grammatical term.
The argument has nothing to do with Greek language itself. The argument is a theological one, not one of grammar. Jesus is discussing what constitutes entry into the Kingdom of God, something Jews generally see as a birthright being natural descendants of Abraham, and not what constitutes the Sacrament of Baptism. Nicodemus had no concept of the future sacramental act of Christianity and so they could not be discussing what constitutes and what does not constitute a valid baptism. They are discussing Jesus statement that a different birth “from above” is needed for entry into the Kingdom instead of natural descent from Abraham. Because of this one cannot use the passage to claim that Jesus was teaching Nicodemus what constitutes a valid baptism. In fact the word “baptism” or a derivative thereof never occurs in this part of John neither does Jesus ever hint to Nicodemus that he is speaking of baptism. One has to interpret Jesus words to mean this here (and the Church does) but without such interpretation there is nothing in the text itself that suggests any form of baptism is directly being spoken of (though Jesus is referring to two different types here, namely by water and by the Spirit). Baptism is only inferred. It is the rebirth that comes after both that is being discussed and not the manner in which this rebirth gets administered by the Church.
Oh thank you for that explanation. So this passage is not about water baptism what does the “water” in it refer to? And it seems a lot of apologists use this verse in support of water baptism. Are you saying this passage isn’t useful to show water baptism as necessary and if so what passages would be helpful. And what’s the churches teaching on John 3:5?
My friend is not here anymore but I did ask him about this.
His reply is that Jesus is of course making reference to being born via water baptism and baptism with the Holy Spirit. What this is not, he explained to me, is an instruction on how to carry out either baptisms. The word baptism never even occurs.
While you can use this text to show that baptism by both water and Spirit are necessary for entry into the Kingdom, the discussion between Nicodemus was not about baptism. The subject was the Kingdom that the Jews were waiting for. First century Jews were expecting the Mesiah to free them from Roman rule and return them to independent political sovereignty as a free state under a restored Davidic dynasty.
Jesus’ reply was that the Kingdom was a spiritual one that required birth not from Abraham but “from above” and was not an earthly government. Jesus briefly mentions that getting to see the Kingdom come was limited to those who are “born from water and the Spirit,” but he doesn’t say more than this because Nicodemus is not asking how to perform a baptism. Nicodemus is asking about the promised Kingdom under the Messiah.
Baptism is a side point to all this, my friend told me. While it is very correct to use this to prove that the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are the ordinary means to this rebirth, one cannot teach that this verse explain how either sacrament should be administered. The verse is not instruction on what constitutes either, but neither does this part of John teach that baptism isn’t being mentioned. It just isn’t the central theme of this particular discussion, which is rebirth for entry into the spiritual Kingdom of God.
But… Baptism is rebirth for entry into the Kingdom of God. “Water and the Spirit” identifies what the heck this rebirth is that Jesus is talking about - that He’s talking about Baptism.
We know Jesus got baptized in the Jordan, and there was water and there was God speaking; and the breath and the shekhinah glory of God the Father talking = the Spirit.
John is very definite about the story in John 1:29-33 –
The next day, John saw Jesus coming to him, and he says, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sin of the world. This is he, of whom I said, ‘After me there comes a man who is preferred before me, because he was before me.’ And I knew him not; but so that he may be made manifest in Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.”
"And John gave testimony, saying: “I saw the Spirit coming down, as a dove from heaven, and he remained upon him. And I knew him not; but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon him, he it is that baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”
Water and the Spirit equals baptizing. Not too hard a reference, and it’s only two chapters back.
However, the point for your argument is that all ordinary Christians are commissioned to be able to baptize with water and the Holy Spirit. We get that power from Jesus. Even while He was still on earth, He generally sent out His disciples to baptize, and we barely hear about Him baptizing anybody.
John 3:22 – “After these things Jesus and his disciples came into the land of Judea: and there he abode with them, and baptized.”
John 3:26 – “And they came to John, and said to him, “Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond the Jordan, to whom you gave testimony, behold he baptizes, and all men come to him.””
John 4:1-2 – “…the Pharisees had heard that Jesus makes more disciples, and baptizeth more than John (Though Jesus himself did not baptize, but his disciples)…”
So it sounds like Jesus probably baptized some of the apostles and disciples, and then He had them doing all the baptizing afterward.
Okay… so Jesus commissioned His disciples and apostles to baptize using His Own power as God. But He still was God, and He didn’t give away all His power. God has power to save any way He likes, although His ordinary means is the Church baptizing people, etc.
Jesus told the Good Thief he’d be with Him that day in Paradise. How did He baptize Him? He couldn’t even reach the Thief with spit, and it wasn’t raining yet by the time the Romans killed the two Thieves who were still alive, to prevent Passover annoyance.
So He baptized him by desire.
Jesus “descended into hell,” and preached to the patriarchs in Sheol, and saved them and brought them to heaven. I doubt there was any water in Sheol, so how did He baptize the patriarchs? By desire.
In case my Greek scholar friend is being misunderstood (and I hope he forgives me if I make a mistake here):
The original question was not about if the subject was dealing with baptism but if there was anything in the Greek that acted as a technicality to prevent something such as baptism of blood or desire such as Catholics believe in. A Protestant was attempting to claim that due to Greek language rules the word “unless” made anything except “water” baptism valid.
My Greek scholar friend pointed out that there were no technicalities regarding what constituted a valid baptism as the subject from Nicodemus was not how one should be baptized but regarded Jesus’ identity as the Messiah hoped for by the Jewish nation. While Jesus mentions rebirth by water and Spirit, unlike what the Protestant suggested, Jesus was not setting down rules as to what constituted a valid baptism.
The argument from the Protestant is that John 3.1-15 has some technicality in the Greek language which forbids anything but a “water” baptism. But if you read the text, Jesus is not discussing what needs to occur in order for a baptism to be valid, but that baptism in water and Spirit are means to seeing the Kingdom of God, not what Nicodemus and the other Jews were expecting (i.e., being a physical descendent of Abraham entitled one to the Kingdom). The Protestant is incorrect on two points:
- There is nothing in Bible Greek that limits the possibility of being “born from above” to water baptism.
- The discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus is not about HOW to carry out a valid baptism or what constitutes a valid baptism; it is about what is necessary to enter the Kingdom,
Though baptism is what is necessary to entry into the Kingdom, the Protestant was arguing that this part of John could be employed to teach what does and does not constitute baptism acceptable to God. The Protestant is incorrect because no such procedures are discussed.
The subject does, as we know, make reference to baptism, but it is in passing and never by name. There is nothing in the Greek or even the subject matter of the discussion to suggest that Jesus is detailing the procedures involved and restricting to water baptism and nothing else. John chapter 3 is not an instruction manual detailing what constitutes a baptism that saves, which is what the Protestant was trying to claim. The Protestant’s view was that the word “unless” meant that only baptism using literal water could save because of what is written in John 3.