WATER AND SPIRIT KEY CONSIDERATIONS
-There is just one thing under consideration in these words. It is the event of the New Birth.The phrase “of water and of the Spirit" is the rendering of the King James version. The ASV translates "of water and the Spirit", and the RSV follows the ASV, leaving out the word "of”. The reason this word is omitted is because it does not appear in the original. Omitting the second "of” is correct. And the conclusion is a most important one. Since there is just one preposition, it governs the entire phrase and points to the fact that the words water and Spirit are to be regarded as one thing, and not as two separate things. Both of these things joined together as one are essential to bring about the new birth. While the easiest reading of this text would lead the average person to this conclusion, the grammatical usage of the one preposition makes this conclusion absolutely and technically valid.
-This one thing under consideration has two sides to it. The one side is water and the other side is Spirit.It is only fair now to point out that while there is just one thing under consideration, this one thing has two sides. As you look at one side you see water, and as you look at the other side you see Spirit. In other words there are two aspects to this one thing, and they work together. They do not work separately. The aspect of water not only stands first, but it works first so far as the nature of the case is concerned. Spirit not only stands second, but it operates second so far as the nature of the case is concerned. But it is not to be thought that these two things work separately from one another. The water is primary and fundamental. The working of Spirit is pursuant and completing. In this respect these two things work together to bring about the complete event of New Birth.
-These two sides are both on the same level or in the same sphere. They are joined by the coordinate conjunction “and"."And" is a conjunction that joins two things that belong to the same level or to the same sphere. By this we mean that these two things must be either material or they must be spiritual. One cannot be material and the other spiritual.
As you know, the most common interpretation is that the water refers to the material side of the new birth and the Spirit refers to the spiritual side of the new birth; that is, water refers to baptism in water, and Spirit refers to the immaterial side of new birth by the action of Spirit. But this cannot be the case, if we are determined to follow the clear grammatical structure of the phrase. Note then several things. First, even though the text does say water, the word baptism does not appear. Second, if this does refer to baptism in water, is this Jewish, John's, Jesus, or Christian baptism? Christian baptism is yet three years in the future. And if it is Christian baptism, it must be the right kind: trine immersion, single immersion, sprinkling, or pouring. What mode of the various forms that exist will satisfy this text?
If it is still insisted that water refers to the material element of baptism, then the word Spirit should also be interpreted to refer to some material element. In the material sense, it must then refer to wind, for the same word is translated by the word wind in verse 8. Do we wish to conclude that Jesus is declaring that the new birth is accomplished by means of water and wind? My opinion is that most Christians would recoil from such a suggestion.
Of late a rather desperate effort has been made to tie the word water to some material element. So there is an interpretation that water refers to the first birth. That is, that the serum in which the embryo resides during the formation in the womb is meant. Those who hold this argue that a person must be born the first time and the second time to experience the Kingdom of God. The answer to this rather novel approach is that Christ would hardly have suggested such thing to able man like Nicodemus. But in addition this would have made one birth on the material level and the other on the spiritual level. And the grammatical construction of the text forbids it.
It would seem far better, since both of these things must be in the same realm or on the same level, to understand that there two things, water and wind, are symbols of immaterial or spiritual things. The water symbolizes something that cleanses, and the wind something that quickens. And on this point, the scriptures are very clear, and provide abundant evidence for this fact, Here are two things that combine in the spiritual realm to bring about the miracle of new birth.
-These two sides are definitely Qualitative in nature. This is demonstrated by the absence of the definite article.Here another technical item of grammar is brought to bear on the meaning of the text. Where the definite article "the" is absent the noun is qualitative in nature. The KJV omits the article before the word water, but includes it with the word Spirit.
But in the original Greek the definite article does not appear before either of these nouns. So then they should read - "of water and Spirit". The absence of the article means that these two words are to be considered from the standpoint of their nature and function.
The nature and function of water is to cleanse, and as such it serves as a remarkable symbol for the instrument which brings about the new birth. Since Jesus declares in this same book that the word of God cleanses, we do not need to look elsewhere for its meaning. "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you" (John 15:3. Paul declares the same thing. "That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water in the word" (Eph. 5:26). This cleansing is judicial in character. It leads one to the realization that he is a sinner and only the blood of Christ can take away the penalty for sin. Once this spiritual operation is performed the Spirit of God imparts new life. That is why James declares that the word of God is the instrument in bringing about the new birth. “Of his own will begat he us by the word of truth” (James 1:18).
The nature and function of wind is to give breath, and as such it serves as a remarkable symbol for the personal agent in bringing about the new birth. The Bible is absolutely clear in naming the Spirit of God as the personal agent in new birth. His particular nature and function is to quicken, make alive, and impart life. Several chapters later in the Gospel of John Christ declares – “It is the Spirit that quickeneth" (John 6;63). From Genesis to Revelation when the immediate source of life is set forth, it is always the Spirit of God that performs that function.
But there is an affinity, of the word of God and the Spirit of God. Both are said to be living. Since they are it is not surprising that they both function together in the miracle of regeneration. In almost the same breath when stating that the Spirit makes alive, Jesus went on to say – “the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life" (John 6:63). To clinch this fact in relation to the New Birth, permit me to call to your attention another passage of scripture from the pen of Peter, where both of these things are declared to be operative in the new birth. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever"(1 Pet. 1:23). The incorruptible seed is the Holy Spirit. Here, the Spirit of God is placed first, which indicates that priority of time is not the issue in John 3:5. And after all, the word of God is the word of the Spirit.
-These things are revealed in the Old Testament and should have been known to Nicodemus.Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Art thou a teacher in Israel and knowest not these things"? (John 3:10). In this statement Jesus was gently reprimanding this famous teacher. One so popular and highly acclaimed a teacher of the Old Testament should have been acquainted with the references in the Old Testament to the fact of the new birth. This is indeed a tragedy. Here was a man who was supposed to be expert in the understanding and interpretation of the Old Testament. Yet here was one who ignorant of one of the primary and fundamental doctrines of that discipline committed to his trust. Upon him rested the responsibility to direct the people of Israel and safeguard their spiritual welfare, yet he himself did not know this important truth.
Six centuries before, when the spiritual fortunes of Israel were at their lowest ebb because of the sin and wickedness of the people, when they were suffering the judgment of God from Babylonian captivity, God promised this very thing. This was a promise definitely associated with the Kingdom. "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you" (Ezek. 36:25-27).