There are many so-called Christians today who believed that water baptism can also “saved” us. They use at least eighteen pet passages in which one of these mentions about being “born of water” in John 3:5. So what does “born of water” mean in Jesus’ context? Many are saying that this is a clear proof text that supports the need for water baptism to enter the kingdom of God and be saved thus becoming “member” of a church.
The phrase “born of water” is interpreted by those who believed “water baptism” is needed in order to be saved. Is this the right interpretation for this passage?
In order to understand salvation in the writings of John we need to study the overall meaning of it in the whole Johannine literature. There are many passages in the book of John alone that informs a person is saved by believing in Jesus Christ. This is not to discount the fact regarding the transformation. Some of the following passages can be seen below:
- A person becomes a child of God by just believing in Christ even without being water baptized yet.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right 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. – John 1:12-13
- A person will have eternal life immediately once he believes in Christ even without being water baptized yet.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. – John 3:36
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:40
- A person will not be condemned once he believes in Jesus Christ even without being water baptized yet.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. – John 3:18
- A person will surely live once he believes in Christ even without water baptism yet.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, – John 11:25
- A person will surely be in the light once he believes in Christ even without being water baptized yet.
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. – John 12:46
There are no legitimate passage that tells us that believing in Christ must be accompanied by water baptism for a person to experience eternal life. The closest passage perhaps that they can quote will come from Mark 16:16 that says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” However, there are valid reasons why we cannot take this passage to mean that water baptism can save a person. First, what damns a person is his denial not his being not water baptized. Second, this passage from Mark 16:9-20 is not present in the earliest manuscripts.
Many would like to believed that the phrase “born of water” can also be understood as the “word of God” because of Paul’s explanation below.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. – Ephesians 5:25-27
I understand that “water” can be a symbol for God’s word in the Ephesian context of Paul. However, there is another meaning for the phrase “born of water” in Jesus’ context. And this could refer to the amniotic fluid of a pregnant mother since Nicodemus reasoned,
“How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” – John 3:4
The Lord Jesus Christ was explaining to Nicodemus that a person needs to be physically born with amniotic fluid and spiritually born by the Holy Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God.
The practice of water baptism is not for a person to be a member of a church. Although this has been the traditional practice and understanding of many. The practice of water baptism in the context of the disciples is to declare to the public that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose again from the grave.
Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; – John 12:42
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, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. – Romans 6:3-5
The truth is water baptism cannot saved but as saved believers who wanted to follow Christ’s example then who are we not to do it? After all, this is one way to publicly declare what Jesus Christ did for us.
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 good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 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 good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, – 1 Peter 3:21-22
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21