John 3:5 two births?


So I’m engaged with some protestants who think that the water in John 3:5 refers to being born naturally, and being born of spirit is a different birth. The claim is that Christian baptism is only the spirit and that using water is just a symbol and tradition. This would mean that any passage that talks about baptism being efficacious and needed for our salvation would still work for their argument unless john 3:5 is meaning water baptism. How can we defend the requirement of water in baptism and that a sacrament need be given by a priest?


symbol and tradition

Well, one tract on this site attacks that particular position well:

This [tradition of baptism being entirely symbolic], of course, would be contrary to historical Christian practice. But so is rejecting infant baptism. As we will see, there is no doubt that the early Church practiced infant baptism; and no Christian objections to this practice were ever voiced until the Reformation.


Well, sorry, OP: that one is against infant baptism.

But the link contains more information attacking the position that baptism is literal, not mere symbolism. :thumbsup:


Thank you. Any bit helps :wink:


Two baptisms, water baptism and spirit baptism, like in Acts 8:12-17


…the problem with that premise is that it distorts the Gospels and rejects Jesus’ own Word:

29 And all the people hearing, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with John’s baptism. 30 But the Pharisees and the lawyers despised the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized by him. (St. Luke 7:29-30)

4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (St. Mark 1:4-5)

31b Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him. (St. Matthew 21:31b-32)

4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; (Ephesians 4:4-5)

21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 St. Peter 3:2)

St. Peter cannot be more clear: water, not symbolic but Salvific because we are Baptized in Christ’s death!

Maran atha!



The notion that the water mentioned in John 3:5 refers to natural birth, i.e., to amniotic fluid, is addressed in the Catholic Answer tract, “Are Catholics Born Again?

By the way, anyone can potentially administer a valid baptism, not just priests. See , 1256Catechism of the Catholic Church.


Ezekiel 36:25 And I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness, and I will cleanse you from all your idols.

26 And I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh.

27 And I will put my spirit in the midst of you: and I will cause you to walk in my commandments, and to keep my judgments, and do them.


John 3:5
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.

The first thing to point out is the text itself. The text does not say “unless one is born of water and then born again of the Spirit…”* Note Jesus says you must be “born of water and the Spirit.” This is one event. Baptism.

Second, why would Jesus say unless someone is born of amniotic fluid. Isn’t everyone listening already born that way. Is there another way we can be born that isn’t physical birth that if this were to happen we have no way of being born again because the first birth didn’t count. If he was speaking of natural birth their was no reason to bring it up because there is no other way to be born. To take the verse to mean the first birth would mean Jesus is saying in this verse that the unborn are doomed to Hell.

Third, just look back 2 chapters earlier.

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

Notice here John refers to natural birth as being born of blood not of water.

How about:
Matthew 3:16
16 And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him;

We find that when Jesus was baptized, “the heavens were opened” and the Spirit descended upon him. Obviously, this was not because Jesus needed to be baptized.

Jesus was baptized in order to “fulfill all righteousness” and “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,” according to Scripture
Jesus showed us exactly how the heavens would be opened to us so that the Holy Spirit would descend upon us…*through water baptism.

One last verse that I probably wouldn’t use but it really stuck with me when someone pointed it out to me was:
John 19:34
34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.

Why would St. John point out that both blood and water flowed from Jesus side? This is not a naturally occurring event when we get cut. Therefore, St. John was obviously trying to point out yet another sign of importance in his gospel linking the significance of blood and water.




PNEUMA. Concerning Baptism, you mentioned in post 5 (with emphasis mine) . . .

Two baptisms, water baptism and spirit baptism, like in Acts 8:12-17

Only one Baptism.

The reception of the Holy Spirit in this context is the Sacrament of Confirmation.

ACTS 8:12-20 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. 14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; 16 for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me also this power, that any one on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, "Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!

Bishops have the power to confer this Sacrament (they MAY also designate a ministerial Priest).

That’s WHY Simon Magus wanted POWER to bestow this.

In Baptism (or as Protestants sometimes think – “accepting Jesus into your heart as personal Lord and Savior”) this would be irrelevant for Simon.

Simon Magus wanted to buy the Bishoprick. St. Peter of course rebuked him.

EPHESIANS 4:4-6 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.

There is only one Baptism.

God bless.



I am not a Bible scholar. I would have thought that this water birth was baptism. I am seeing now online that there are other views as to what “born of water” are referring to. I would say that if this is referring to the water of baptism it would be signifying the importance of this step, but wouldn’t mean that baptism is an absolute precursor of eternal life with Jesus if there are extenuating circumstances. I see John 6:53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. I think that the Catholic Church (and others) would say that a baptized toddler who has not received communion could have eternal life although this requirement wasn’t met. Also, someone who was in RCIA who has not received water baptism or communion could also potentially receive eternal life because of their beliefs.

I think of the criminal on the cross with Jesus who Jesus states will be with Him in Paradise. He had not received baptism or communion, but was able to reside with Jesus. I think this shows that God is not absolutely limited to not grant eternal life without these. Of course the criminal on the cross had a very good reason for not receiving baptism and communion. Most of us have ample opportunity to participate in these things and to not participate in these would be disobedience to God.

My understanding of baptism is that it comes after one believes and is filled with the Holy Spirit. This is how baptism is performed over and over in Acts:
Acts 9:17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized,

Acts 10:44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues* and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have**.”

Acts 16:14 *One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. **The Lord opened her heart ***to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.

So baptism signifies the washing away of sins, being buried in the watery grave “with Christ” and rising in a new life following Christ. It isn’t the actual means of salvation, which has already occurred prior to taking this step, but it is an act of obedience and a way to proclaim your decision to follow Christ.*


What you say is not the Catholic understanding of baptism. Catholics believe that Baptism is not simply an ordinance, an empty gesture done out of obedience and devoid of any real power, but rather it is a sacrament, an efficacious sign. It not only signifies the washing away of sins but it is the ordinary means by which our sins are washed away and the ordinary means by which we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God can do and has certainly done those things apart from baptism, as you pointed out, and does them whenever someone manifests perfect love of God but those instances are considered exceptions to the general rule. The usual order is not be filled with the Holy Spirit and then be baptized but “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 2:38) And again, “Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16)


Agreed. I think the best way to sum this up is we are bound by the Sacraments, God is not.

I think you hit the nail on the head here. We need to understand and follow what Jesus has told us to do. Not what we think we should do. As I mentioned above we are bound by God’s sacraments, he is not.

The good thief, St. Dismas, was fortunate enough to have his eyes and heart open before he died. The scriptures actually points out that up until this very moment he had actually mocked Jesus along with the bad thief.

“Those who were crucified with him also reviled him” (Mark 15:32).

Also, Catholic’s profess that baptism can be three forms: by water and Spirit, by desire and by blood (martyred before having water baptism). In St. Dismas’s case, if he had not been baptized by water, he certainly would have been baptized by desire. This desire can be shown by his good work’s while he was dying on the cross. He rebuked the other thief in defense of Jesus and he performed an act of the will, by asking Jesus to remember him.
Luke 23:40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Finally, paradise was not heaven, it was most likely the holding place before the gates of heaven where opened by Jesus. When Jesus was crucified he descended there to preach the good news to those that passed away in old testament times. Most likely St. Dismas heard the good news there and received his eternal reward after hearing the good news.

First, let me state that the only means of salvation is through Jesus death and resurrection. It is by his death and resurrection that Baptism becomes a sacrament of salvation. Baptism is not an empty gesture or an act of obedience it is the ordinary means by which our sins are washed away and we receive the holy spirit. As stated by St. Peter.

1 Peter 3:20-21
20 who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 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,

Jesus also states we are bound by this sacrament in the OP’s verse:

John 3:5
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.

You mention that baptism occurs after one believes and is filled with the holy spirit. Yet the bible shows us that it is through baptism that we receive the holy spirit. Acts 9 does not tell us when St. Paul received the Holy Spirit. It just states Ananias came so he might receive.

St. Peter actually tells us in Acts 2:38 that the Holy Spirit comes after Baptism.
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.


I do agree that baptism washes away sins, even if in a symbolic way. It is certainly not an empty gesture, but the most meaningful step in the Christian walk. I don’t think that if something is a symbol that it has to be devoid of all meaning. I have never known anyone to consider exchanging wedding rings as an empty gesture. The ring ceremony is significant because of what it represent to the couple. They could be married even without the wedding rings, but the rings carry much meaning to most married couples about the commitment they have already made.

I think that the Holy Spirit accompanies the belief and acceptance of Jesus. I first experienced the Holy Spirit as a teenager before I had ever been baptized. This is what removed all doubt about whether Jesus was real for me and caused me to have the faith to take the step of baptism a few weeks later. Many, many people have had a similar experience. My experience wasn’t as dramatic as Cornelius and his family’s experience in Acts 10, but it undeniably and permanently changed my heart and my life.

In Catholic teaching, does an unbaptized adult that decides to become Catholic receive the Holy Spirit when they commit to follow Jesus and prepare for baptism? Or not until the baptism occurs months later?


This is Baptist teaching. Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and I don’t know how many others teach that baptism washes away original sin. Luther, due to his iunique personality and psychological state, had a radically different view of justification, and those who follow him remain convinced of it. Did it not occur to anyone that both Catholic and Orthodox, which trace directly to Christ, both think alike in matter of justification? The Catholic is always questioned. The 95+% identical Orthodox? Never. What is up with that?

While this did occur in Acts 10, the normal order of things was reversed, in part, so as to erase Peter’s (and the Apostle’s) doubts that the faith was also for gentiles - this was a huge change. It is clear that the early Church was shocked at the gentile converts - so shocked that Paul had Timothy circumcised!

The normative sequence is baptism to cleanse your soul, then and only then are you ready to be a temple of the Holy Spirit, by the “laying on of hands.” This is enumerated in Acts and in Paul’s writings.

Acts 8:17
Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

Acts 19:6
And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.

1 Timothy 4:14
Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the elders laid their hands upon you.

2 Timothy 1:6
Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands;

The Holy Spirit is given by the laying on of hands, and then by the Apostles and elders.



Hi, Susan!
The Holy Spirit, Being the Third Person of God, can touch us and moved us even in the absence of Belief.

Jesus Reveals to the people exactly that:

And he said: Therefore did I say to you, that no man can come to me, unless it be given him by my Father. (St. John 6:66#

All things are delivered to me by my Father; and no one knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and to whom the Son will reveal him. #St. Luke 10:22#

13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth. For he shall not speak of himself; but what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak; and the things that are to come, he shall shew you. #St. John 16:13)

It is through God’s Holy Spirit that the Devine Calls us and awakens our spirit. So, yes, God does not have to wait till a person is “taught” and “Baptized” to awaken the need of Fellowship with God.

Yet, it is Baptism that ushers in the Kingdom of God and it is through Baptism that we become members of the Mystical Body of Christ!

Maran atha!



…could you clarify what you mean by the highlighted statement?


Maran atha!



Haydock Commentary, John 3:5

Ver. 5. Unless a man be born again of water, and the Holy Ghost. Though the word Holy be now wanting in all Greek copies, it is certainly the sense. The ancient Fathers, and particularly St. Augustine in divers places, from these words, prove the necessity of giving baptism to infants: and by Christ’s adding water, is excluded a metaphorical baptism. See also Acts viii. 36. and x. 47. and Titus iii. 5. (Witham) — Except a man be born again. That is, unless you are born again by a spiritual regeneration in God, all the knowledge which you learn from me, will not be spiritual but carnal. But I say to you, that neither you nor any other person, unless you be born again in God, can understand or conceive the glory which is in me. (St. Chrysostom)

Acts 8:36 And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water: and the eunuch saith; See, here is water, what hindereth me from being baptized?

Acts 10:47 Then Peter answered: Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?

Haydock Commentary

Ver. 47. Can any man forbid water? &c. Or doubt that these, on whom the Holy Ghost hath descended, may be made members of the Christian Church, by baptism, as Christ ordained? (Witham) — Such may be the grace of God occasionally towards men, and such their great charity and contrition, that they may have remission, justification, and sanctification, before the external sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and penance be received; as we see in this example: where, at Peter’s preaching, they all received the Holy Ghost before any sacrament. But here we also learn one necessary lesson, that such, notwithstanding, must needs receive the sacraments appointed by Christ, which whosoever contemneth, can never be justified. (St. Augustine, sup. Levit. q. 84. T. 4.)

***Titus 3:5 ****Not by the works of justice, which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the laver of regeneration, and renovation of the Holy Ghost,

Haydock Commentary

Ver. 5. Not by the works, &c. St. Paul in this verse alludes to the sacrament of baptism. This text is brought by divines to prove that baptism, like every other sacrament, produces its effect by its own power, (or, as it is termed in the schools, ex opere operato) independently of any disposition on the part of the receiver. We are saved, says the apostle, not by the works of justice, or any good works we have performed, but our salvation must be attributed solely to the mercy of our Saviour, God, manifested to us by the washing itself of regeneration and renovation of the Holy Ghost. — By the laver of regeneration, &c.[2] That is, baptism, by which we are born anew the adoptive children of God, by the grace of the Holy Ghost, whom he hath poured, &c. (Witham)

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