Question about John 3:5 & salvation

I had a question about John 3:5 & the “water” Jesus is referring to:

"Unless one is born of water & the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God."

When I was being raised Catholic, I was taught that the water refers to the waters of baptism, which means that John 3:5 could just as easily be read:

"Unless one is baptized in water & the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God."

This seems to be Cardinal Arinze’s understanding in this video (starting about 01:15):

youtube.com/watch?v=gkHsl8hl4yo

I was also taught those who didn’t have the opportunity to be baptized, but who would had the desire, but died before they could, were exempt from this & could enter Heaven, like those “baptized by desire” (like the thief on the cross) & those “baptized of blood” (like martyrs). I was also taught that this exemption would also apply to those “invincibly ignorant” (like those in foreign countries who never heard of Jesus or baptism, & therefore couldn’t be baptized).

My question is if these people can get into Heaven without being baptized in water, then wouldn’t that contradict the belief that the water in John 3:5 refers to the waters of baptism?

"Unless one is born of water (baptized in water) & the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God"

I was told that Jesus isn’t bound by the same commands He gives us. But upon reading John Ch.3, Jesus isn’t making a “command,” but rather answering Nicodemus question (“How can one be born again?”) from Jesus’ previous statement (“Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”) Jesus seems to be making a statement on “how” a person “enters the kingdom of God” - being “born again,” or being “born of water & the Spirit.” He’s not actually giving a command. So, since Jesus is making a statement, not giving a command, then “how” can Jesus allow these three groups of people mentioned above (including the thief on the cross) into Heaven without being baptized in water, & without contradicting Himself in John 3:5, 'if" the water refers to the waters of baptism?

Don’t worry, I’m not looking for a debate. I’m just looking for an answer to my question. I even asked this question to the former bishop of the diocese of my former church, & after going back & forth, he said that he couldn’t really give me an answer, & to “just have faith.” That reply didn’t really sit well with me, so I thought I’d ask it here. Hopefully, I’ll get an answer that is based on the specific question I’m asking. Because so far, I’ve gotten nothing, & would really appreciate a satisfying answer, particularly since this verse has to do with salvation.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all, & remember the reason for the season - JESUS!

God bless,
thetazlord

According to this article by Catholic Answers, if I understand it correctly, the answer is actually very simple: John 3:5 speaks of baptism as a requirement, but it’s only talking about what we must do in ordinary circumstances, and doesn’t address extraordinary circumstances. Catholic Answers puts it this way: “the necessity of water baptism is a normative rather than an absolute necessity.” (emphasis in original)

In a statement like “Unless a man does X, Y can’t happen,” I think that can be meant to explain the norm, without going into details about exceptions. And that’s basically what I think is going on in John 3:5: “Unless a man is born of water,” that’s explaining the normal requirement to enter the kingdom of God, but Jesus doesn’t go into details about exceptions in that passage. Other passages supply the exceptions for us. Does that make sense?

Thanks for the reply & the citation, which I read. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really deal with the problem, nor the question I asked. If you actually read John 3:5, especially in the Greek, Jesus isn’t stating that being “born of water & the Spirit” to “enter the kingdom of God” is “ordinary circumstances.” In fact, in John 3:7, Jesus states specifically, “you MUST be born again” not “under ordinary circumstances you should be born again (born of water & the Spirit).” In fact, the Greek word for “must” in that verse means “necessary” or “required,” not “under ordinary circumstances.” Likewise, the Greek words in John 3:5 for “unless” means “except or, if not” & “cannot” means “has no power to.” Therefore, Jesus is saying:

"Except, or if not one is born in water & the Spirit he has no power to enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5)

"You MUST (“it is necessary/required to”) be born again (born of water & the Spirit)" (John 3:7)

Therefore, “if” the water refers to the water of baptism, based on the Greek, Jesus is saying being baptized IN water is the only “necessary/required” means of "entering the kingdom of God - not the “ordinary means.”

So, once again, I’m back to my original question, “if” the water in John 3:5 refers to the waters of baptism, & since Jesus is using EXCLUSIVE wording (“Unless,” “cannot,” “must”) then ‘how’ can these 3 groups in my OP (including the unbaptized thief who Jesus PROMISED “Paradise/Heaven”) “enter the kingdom of God” without being baptized in water, which is “necessary/required” & a “must” according to the Greek.

Again, thank you for the link & attempting to answer it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t answer my question, nor deals with the problem of allowing UNbaptized people into Heaven, without contradicting the interpretation of the ‘water’ in John 3:5 to refer to the waters of baptism, which Jesus states the ‘water’ is a “necessity/requirement” - not an “ordinary means.”

If you can think of anything else, please let me know, because I would love to have a satisfying answer to my question. God bless & Merry Christmas to you! :slight_smile:

I like the Bishop’s answer.

You are all dismissing the Power of Purgatory.
If any of the unbaptised are found worthy,
they will receive this sacrament
in Purgatory, purging them of all error,
including the error of not being baptised.

Mary Christ Mass to you.
Pete.

I assume by “Bishop” you’re referring to Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego from “The Necessity of Baptism” link from CatholicAnswers that the previous poster gave?

catholic.com/tracts/the-necessity-of-baptism

As I mentioned, though, the problem with that response is that based on the Greek in John 3:5 & John 3:7, Jesus isn’t stating that being “born again” or “born of water & the Spirit” is the “ordinary” or “normative” means of “entering the kingdom of God.” According to the original Greek of John 3:5 & John 3:7, Jesus is saying that being “born again” or “born of water of Spirit” is the only way of “entering the kingdom of God,” not the “ordinary” or “normative” way. In fact, I mentioned this in my last post.

So, although I appreciate your reply & the fact that you “like” the Bishop’s answer, unfortunately, it doesn’t really answer my question, nor does it deal with the issue of Jesus’ use of EXCLUSIVE language (“Unless,” “cannot,” “must”) in John 3:5 & 3:7, nor how an UNbaptized person can “enter the kingdom of God” without being baptized IN water, based on ‘water’ in John 3:5 referring to the waters of baptism.

So, if you have any other ideas, please post them, because I’d love to get a satisfying answer that doesn’t contradict Jesus’ exclusive words used in John 3:5 & John 3:7, which I haven’t gotten yet. Thanks again, God bless, & Merry Christmas! :slight_smile:

Purgatory doesn’t really solve the problem either, because Jesus states that “UNLESS one is born of water & the Spirit he CANNOT enter the kingdom of God.”

So “if” the ‘water’ refers to the waters of baptism, then Jesus is saying “UNLESS one is baptized IN WATER, he CANNOT enter the kingdom of God.” Baptism of water is something you do while you’re still alive, not in Purgatory. So, according to that interpretation “If” a person dies without being baptized IN WATER, he can’t get into Heaven. So, the fires of Purgatory can’t “purge” an unbaptized person & “water baptize” them once they are dead. Remember, baptism IN WATER is what the ‘water’ is believed to be in John 3:5.

Thanks for the post, but it doesn’t really answer my question, nor solve the dilemma of John 3:5. God bless & Merry Christmas to you!

You might find Baptism of Desire interesting or useful…

ewtn.com/library/DOCTRINE/BAPTISM.TXT

I must gently correct you their my friend,
You are correct in saying that John Baptised them in the water but Jesus Baptised them with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
It also states that the holy spirit descended upon the waters, meaning Holy Water and to be baptised with this water is to be baptised with the Holy Spirit.
In purgatory those unbaptised but worthy souls will be baptised with the Holy Spirit (still of the water) and with Fire.

John 1:29-34
The next day, John saw Jesus coming to him, and he saith: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sin of the world. This is he, of whom I said: After me there cometh a man, who is preferred before me: because he was before me. And I knew him not, but 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 thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon him, he it is that baptizeth with the Holy Spirit. And I saw, and I gave testimony, that this is the Son of God.

Matthew 3 : 11 (on John)
I indeed baptize you in the water unto penance, but he that shall come after me, is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire. 12Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

Thanks. I read the article, but that explanation still has the same problem that I brought up in the OP. If the ‘water’ in John 3:5 refers to the waters of baptism, then based on the Greek, Jesus is saying that the ONLY way to “enter the kingdom of God” is to “born of water & the Spirit.” So, it’s not that I don’t understand the concept of “baptism by desire” (which I even explained in my OP), but the problem is that that explanation doesn’t really address what I’m asking in the OP.

So, thanks, but the article really doesn’t help. Merry Christmas & God bless. :slight_smile:

Thanks. I’ve actually read those verses, but if you look carefully, John the Baptism is actually contrasting water baptism of repentance & the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The “fire” he’s talking about it’s talking about the “fires” of Purgatory. He’s foreshadowing the birth of the Church at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit Who descended like “tongues of fire” & the Church began to speak in tongues (known foreign languages they didn’t speak before).

So, good attempt at using Scripture, but it still doesn’t address the problem “how” can a person "enter the kingdom of God’ without being baptized IN WATER, based on the ‘water’ in John 3:5 referring to the waters of baptism.

No other ideas…the Bishop’s (especially my former, now retired, Bishop) words work for me…I have no problems with mysteries, and the need of faith to accept them without full knowledge or understanding, especially coming from a man of the Apostolic line, such as the good Bishop Brom.

Peace and all good!

I don’t believe he is contrasting them at all, I think he is saying that he can baptise with water and with the Holy spirit but Christ Baptises with the Holy spirit and with Fire, It is the Holy, of the water that baptises not the water alone. On earth you shall be baptised by the Holy spirit through water, In Purgatory those who have been baptised by the Holy Spirit through water will then be purged, and those who are un-baptised but found worthy will be baptised by the Holy Spirit through Fire. The line “Unless one is born of water & the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” is still correct, If you have the means to be baptised in such a way whilst on earth and you turn it down, would that make you worthy. So water baptism is what must be done by those who can. Those who can’t will be baptised by fire.

The command was for those on earth who have the chance to do this, must take up this offer or face the fall of their own accord. water baptism whilst on earth is the only way acceptable for those with the opportunity, the water is an outward sign that shows ones willingness to listen to the Lord, The Holy Spirit is internal and baptises you. Those rare few who cannot be water baptised but are worthy, will be given the opportunity to become baptised later.

I should point out that this is just my opinion, I am not brilliantly versed in scripture. etc…

Mary Christ Mass :christmastree1:

For what reason do you resist this teaching? The church, east and west, has understood Jesus’s words from the beginning to mean that He desires baptism, just as He desires our repentance, just as He desires our faith-none of them are forced upon us. Baptism is intended to be our first formal profession of faith, which is why it’s called the sacrament of faith. And remember that professing our faith in Jesus is also a requirement (Rom 10:9-10), and this is done with the baptismal vows. We’re simply to obey, not argue fruitlessly over a verse or two, which admittedly can have more than one plausible meaning but which can never be perfectly resolved by personal interpretation/exegesis.

**Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Mark 16:16

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38**

In the end neither faith nor any works save us but the gift of the Holy Spirit, man communing with God, apart from Whom we can do nothing, saves us, all accomplished by grace. He employs whatever means He deems appropriate to get us there. Our job is to obey-and cooperate, working out our salvation with He who works in us.

Must respectfully disagree,
If you have no Faith then you have rejected the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
and one would not obey and co-operate if one did not believe.

Mary Christ Mass my friend.

I first of all want to than you, OP, for your calmness and politeness despite most (or in fact all) of these replies not answering your question. It is greatly appreciated.

Also, thank you for asking questions about difficult things… instead of just following the advice of the bishop, which is like sticking one’s head in the sand. That will not impress non-Catholics at all but give them a reason to not take your faith seriously.

And while my follow-up response may also fail to answer your question, I hope you won’t stop seeking the truth… even if the truth is that baptism is not necessary for salvation or something radical like that. But of course such radical ideas must be carefully scrutinized. Even the less radical ideas must be carefully scrutinized (such as the idea that baptism is necessary, the idea you are currently scrutinizing).

My question is if these people can get into Heaven without being baptized in water, then wouldn’t that contradict the belief that the water in John 3:5 refers to the waters of baptism?

It might contradict it, but I don’t think it MUST contradict it. I don’t think that if people can enter the kingdom of heaven without baptism, then John 3.5 cannot refer to waters of baptism. It still can.

You are right that Jesus is making a statement, but there is an implicit command in the statement. He might also say, “Unless you love others, you will not enter the kingdom of God.” It’s a statement, but he implies that he is commanding you to love IF you want to enter the kingdom of heaven.

I was told that Jesus isn’t bound by the same commands He gives us.

I think a better way to put this is… God is not constrained by the precepts He has laid down in Judaism and the Church. In other words, it’s not like He can’t save someone unless that person is baptized… God can still do what is necessary to cleanse the person without baptism… He didn’t even have to institute baptism… but He chose to use that as a means to cleanse people of original sin and bring them into His church.

We can see this if we think say, of Catholics who might be put into a concentration camp. They are there for such a long time, they miss Mass for years, they don’t take communion for years, they don’t receive confession. God is not constrained by that–He cans till provide graces and strength to these Catholics although they are unable to receive the sacraments. God is not going to hold them accountable for what is outside their control.

Also, we can see this when Jesus tells the story of David eating the showbread.

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? (Matthew 12:1-8 ESV)

God had said in the Torah, Keep the Sabbath, don’t eat showbread unless you are a priest… but in times of necessity He does not hold people accountable to these commands–when someone is hungry, and must choose between going hungry or eating showbread–or pork or shrimp–(for there is nothing else available) then it is not a violation of the command to eat those things.

Even though in Exodus 29.33 God says outsiders “shall not eat” the showbread.

“They [Aaron and his sons] shall eat those things with which atonement was made at their ordination and consecration, but an outsider [presumably non-priest] shall not eat of them, because they are holy.”

This is command, but David breaks this command out of necessity and Jesus (whom many consider God incarnate) does not find this problematic. He acknowledges that necessity changes the binding of some commands.

“how” can Jesus allow these three groups of people mentioned above (including the thief on the cross) into Heaven without being baptized in water, & without contradicting Himself in John 3:5, 'if" the water refers to the waters of baptism?

The same CAN, thought it doesn’t NECESSARILY, apply to baptism (in particular the wording of John 3.5). Just because Jesus says “must” does not mean this is absolutely necessary and NO exceptions can be made. I think that it is an error to take Jesus completely and utterly strict here, to assume that He is also taking into account the thief on the cross when He is saying “unless you are born of water and spirit.” What he is saying is indeed necessary, is indeed binding, for all people. But only to the same extent as the command of Exodus 29.33 and the showbread. When EXTRAORDINARY circumstances come into play, such as the circumstance as the thief on the cross, or a hungry David, God is not going to hold people accountable to commands they cannot keep. He releases the binding of some commands on those who are incapable of following them–like those hypothetical Catholics in the concentration camp.

Yes, as Trent says, it all begins, from mans side at least, with faith. But grace precedes faith, along with any other gift or act that we’re prompted to do by God. But the gift of God, Himself, His Spirit dwelling within, is what effects our righteousness; this is what constitutes our salvation. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are distinct from the gift of the HS spoken of in Acts 2:38 BTW.

Mysteries are all fine. But it’s not the mystery I’m concerned about. What I’m concerned about is that on one hand, Jesus says you MUST be born of water & the Spirit, or you CAN’T enter the kingdom of God. And in Greek, these underscored words mean “there is no other way,” while the bishop says, “yes, there is.” That’s why it doesn’t sit well with me. The Greek Scripture of what Jesus is saying is pretty clear. Thanks for the effort though.

Peace & all good to you as well. :slight_smile:

Actually, John the Baptist never says he “baptizes with the Holy Spirit & with fire.” He says he comes to baptize with water for repentance. He then says Jesus comes to baptize with the Holy Spirit & with fire (Matthew 3:11). In context, the Baptist is talking to the Pharisees & Sadducees (v.7), who he says will “burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (v.12). He wasn’t talking about the fires of Purgatory applying to them. In this verse, he’s talking about hellfire. And, as previously mentioned, there is no baptismal water in the fires of Purgatory. Water baptism occurs on earth, not after death. So, Jesus’ statement & answer to Nicodemus is that a person must be born of water & the Spirit (ie: born again) or they can’t “enter the kingdom of God.” So, again, Purgatory can’t help, because there is no baptismal water in the fires of Purgatory that a person must be baptized IN, to “enter the kingdom of God.” So, again, “how” do these 3 groups of people “enter the kingdom of God” without being baptized IN water, “if” the ‘water’ in John 3:5 refers to the waters of baptism, without contradicting these statements of Jesus?

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