What Does “Water and Spirit” Mean?

by Steve Ray on September 26, 2016

Since we are at the VERY place where Jesus was baptized in water and the Spirit came down, I thought I would share this post again. A while ago a Protestant friend tried to prove that Born Again by “water and Spirit” did not mean baptism. Here is one paragraph that he sent me:

In John, chapter 3, Jesus told Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews and a Pharisee, that one must be born ‘from above’ (Gr. anothen) in order to enter the kingdom of God. Nicodemus asked if one could enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born. But Jesus told him that one must be born ‘of the Spirit’ in order to enter the kingdom of God.

A better translation of John 3.5 would read: “… except a man be born of water—even of the Spirit—he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” The little greek word kai is often translated “even”—which I believe better conveys the Lord’s meaning here. He is contrasting the water of the womb and fleshly birth, with the water of the Spirit and heavenly birth.

Water is often symbolic of the Holy Spirit in scripture (John 4.10-14; 7.37-39; Revelation 22.1, 17; Isaiah 12.3; 44.3; Matthew 3.11; Mark 1.8; Luke 3.16; John 1.33).

So I responded:

Hello Friend

Thanks for your recent e-mail. In reading even the first part of the article you sent I see it is exactly the arguments I used before I realized better and became Catholic. The paragraph referred to is utter nonsense and though the author cites a lot of Scripture, his reasoning and conclusion are blatantly unscriptural. I tried to explain to you the biblical understanding of “born again” when we had lunch but I saw at the time that you either were not listening or it went right over your head — I’m not sure which.

1_9_baptism_lordMy Comments:
First, the Greek word anothen can and does mean both “born again” or “born from above”. They both apply. John frequently uses words with two meanings (eg. pneuma which means both “wind” and “spirit”).

Born of water and the Spirit“: Using the word “even” instead of “and“ is NOT a better translation. It is a cop-out. The little Greek word “kai” is the common word for “and” and only if someone has a Fundamentalist doctrinal bias would they try to slip the word “even” into the translation. It is dishonest and I am surprised you would fall for it.

John 3:5 in the best Evangelical Translations of the Bible
Here are you major Protestant translations. Notice NONE of them cheat and use the word “even”! Why not? Because they know something your web author is being dishonest about. Like you said to me, “Please study carefully with an open heart to the Holy Spirit” (and not to denominational bigots who twist Scripture to teach the doctrines of men). This is just one sampling of how I could decimate the whole article if I considered it worthy of my time — which I don’t.

The King James Version The New International Version Young’s Literal Translation The Revised Standard Version The New Jerusalem Bible The Good News Translation The Contemporary English Version
5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 5 Jesus answered, ‘Verily, verily, I say to thee, If any one may not be born of water, and the Spirit, he is not able to enter into the reign of God; 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. 5 Jesus replied: In all truth I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit; 5 “I am telling you the truth,” replied Jesus. “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 5 Jesus answered: I tell you for certain that before you can get into God’s kingdom, you must be born not only by water, but by the Spirit.

So, if the best translation is of kai is actually “even”, then why don’t the best Protesant translations use “even” instead of “and“? Huh?

The Very First Christians (unanimously!!)
By the way, notice how the very first Christians interpreted John 3:5 below. Look how far you have strayed for the Early Church, the followers of the first apostles and the martyrs and champions of the faith.

St. Justin Martyr (c. 100-c. 165), “Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated [reborn]: in the name of God the Father . . . and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing of water. For Christ said, ‘Except you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ . . . The reason for doing this, we have learned from the Apostles” (The First Apology 1, 61) (Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985],1:183).

St. Theophilus of Antioch (died c. 185 A.D.), who first coined the word “Trinity,” writes, “Those things which were created from the waters [Gen 1] were blessed by God, so that this might also be a sign that men would at a future time receive repentance and remission of sins through water and the bath of regeneration” (To Autolycus 2, 16) (William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers [Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1970], 1:75).

Origen (c. 185-c. 254) “The Church received from the Apostles the tradition [custom] of giving Baptism even to infants. For the Apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of divine mysteries, knew that there is in everyone the innate stains of sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit” (Commentary on Romans 5, 9) (Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, 1:209).

St. Augustine (AD 354-430) “Who is so wicked as to want to exclude infants from the kingdom of heaven by prohibiting their being baptized and born again in Christ?” (Pecc. merit. 3, 6, 12) (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publ., 1971], 5:244). “This [infant baptism] the Church always had, always held; this she received from the faith of our ancestors; this she perseveringly guards even to the end” (Sermon 11, De Verb Apost) (Catholic Encyclopedia, ed. Charles Herbermann, et al, [New York: Robert Appleton, 1907], 2:270).

Protestant Commentators
“Even” (no pun intended) scholarly Evangelical commentators will tell you the truth about this verse:

Baptist commentator George Beasley-Murray wrote in one of the most solid Evangelical commentaries on John’s Gospel, “Suggestions like these do not do justice to the text [of John 3:5] and have not commended themselves to scholarly opinion. It would seem that the text relates birth from above to baptism and the Holy Spirit” (Word Biblical Commentary: John, [Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987],36:48).

Protestant commentator R.V.G. Tasker agreed, “In light of the reference to the practice by Jesus of water baptism in verse 22, it is difficult to avoid construing the words ‘of water and of the Spirit’ conjunctively, and regarding them as a description of Christian baptism, in which cleansing and endowment are both essential elements” (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Gospel According to St. John [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publ., 1977], 4: 71).

Look what Martin Luther said!  “Here [John 3:5] Christ is speaking of Baptism, of real and natural water such as a cow may drink. . . . Here Christ also speaks of the Holy Spirit and teaches us to regard Baptism as a spiritual, yes, a Spirit-filled water, in which the Holy Spirit is present and active. . . . And thus the person who has been baptized is said to be born anew. . . . . In this passage Christ declares that whoever is not born anew of the water and the Holy Spirit cannot come into the kingdom of God. Therefore God’s words dare not be tampered with. Of course, we are well aware that Baptism is natural water. But after the Holy Spirit is added to it, we have more than mere water. It becomes a veritable bath of rejuvenation, a living bath which washes and purges man of sin and death, which cleanses him of all sin” (“Sermons on the Gospel of St. John” Luther’s Works ed. Jaroslav Pelikan [St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publ. House, 1957], 22:283).

Keep an open mind Friend! Come home to where you belong.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Anthony S. July 10, 2009 at 6:00 PM


Thank you for this entry. But I’m still curious..what is your interpretation of John 3:5 ? Do you believe that “water” in this context is referring to water baptism?


Steve Finnell July 7, 2014 at 5:35 AM


Before discussing Saul’s conversion we need to establish a point of fact. You cannot become a Christian and have unforgiven sins. If your sins have been forgiven you are a Christian. If you are a Christian then your sins have been forgiven. It is impossible to separate forgiveness, from being in Christ. How could you say I became a Christian last night but my sins were not forgiven? By the same reasoning you could not assert that I had my sins forgiven last night but I am not a Christian.

What is true for us, was true for the apostle Paul.

Acts 9:3-6 As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what to do.”

Saul obviously believed in Jesus at this point, yet he was still not forgiven of his sins; therefore he was not a Christian. Paul was not saved by “FAITH ONLY.”

Acts 9:9-11 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying,

Saul believed that Jesus was Lord.
Saul repented.
Saul fasted and prayed for three days.
After three days on the road to Damascus Saul was still not forgiven of his sins. Saul was not saved by faith alone, Saul was not saved by repenting alone. Saul was not saved by praying and fasting. SAUL WAS NOT SAVED ON THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS.

Acts 22:12-16 “A certain Ananias….13 came to me….16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’

Saul’s sins were forgiven after he was baptized in water, not before.

Galatians 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Saul was not a Christian until he was baptized into Christ.

Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved……

Saul was not saved until he was immersed in water.

Acts 2:38…and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of you sins….

Saul sins where not forgiven until he was baptized in water.

Paul was saved the way all men are saved. FAITH John 3:16—REPENTANCE Acts 3:19—CONFESSION Romans 10:9-19—WATER BAPTISM Acts 2:38



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Steve Finnell July 9, 2014 at 10:39 AM


There are some who deny water baptism is essential to the forgiveness of sins, by debating the clear meaning of “born of water” found in John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

The primary debating point is that born of water refers to natural child birth. Was Jesus telling Nicodemus that one of requirements to enter the kingdom of God, was that he had to exist? That makes no sense. It is obvious if you were never born you could not enter the kingdom of God.

To suggest that “water” in (John 3:5) means embryonic fluid, is at best an unreasonable conclusion.

Jesus said you have to born again to enter the kingdom of God. Being born of flesh the first time is not being born again. Again never means the first time!

When the apostles were preaching the gospel, did they say, in order to enter the kingdom of God, you have to physically exist; that is, you must have been born of embryonic fluid (water)? No they did not.

Jesus said “unless one is born of water he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) Jesus said “has been baptized shall be saved.”(Mark 16:16)


Titus 3:5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,(The AND cannot be ignored)

WATER BAPTISM: washing of regeneration.
SPIRIT: renewing by the Holy Spirit.
NOTE: It is God our Savior that saves us.(Titus 3:4)

Acts 2:38 ….be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

WATER BAPTISM: for forgiveness of sins.
SPIRIT: receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.


The only way to not understand that Jesus meant water baptism in John 3:5, is by using extra-Biblical sources.

YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http//:steve-finnell.blogspot.com

Rhonda L. George July 26, 2014 at 2:20 PM

I sat through a funeral today at a Baptist Church in Wharton, Texas.
The Pastor repeatedly told the mourners that you do not need to be baptized to be saved.
He repeatedly stated that asking Jesus into your heart was all that was necessary. He explained that being born of water meant amniotic fluid. I was stunned. I have never heard a Christian say this before. I was very upset. I wanted to walk out….I was angry that he was misleading these people. I had no idea this
view existed. apparently after a few googles it does. I’m still very speechless and angry that the Gospel is being so sadly distorted. Lies…so sad.

Mark September 26, 2016 at 9:41 AM

If one really wants to see how butchered this verse has become and all the desperate and “different” arguments used against the fact that John 3:5 means baptism by water, just go read through all the various fundamental dispensationalist blogs and commentaries and you will be shocked. I’ve debated these types of people for over three years now and they just keep inventing new interpretations.

I’ve seen “water” as meaning a) amniotic fluid; b) the physical flesh of the boy; c) a metaphor for having faith; d) a physical body containing organs; e) the Catholic Church added the word “again” to the verse; f) “Jesus never used the word ‘again’, therefore you have to go by what Jesus said; g) baptism means the filling of the Holy Spirit and not water; h) water baptism was only used as an outward symbol to designate someone as part of the community of believers; i) water baptism is magical if you think it washes away sin; etc, etc., and many more.

Nathaniel September 27, 2016 at 4:37 PM

Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t the Gospel translated into other languages by the apostles and the early church? What I’m getting at is, if our fundamentalist friends want to make the claim that Kai means “even”, let them show us some old Latin, Syriac, Coptic or Armenian manuscripts that translate it that way. If not they have no reason to translate it anything other than the way the Church always translated it.
Besides, if we’ve really been using a false translation all these centuries what does that do to Christs promise that “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away”?

Greg October 2, 2016 at 5:47 PM

Jesus said: "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me."

Jesus also said that he did nothing except what he saw his Father doing.

Jesus told the man on the cross next to him that he would be with Jesus.

The man had appealed to Jesus'mercy. Plus nothing.

That standard established at the cross, by Jesus, the founder of Christianity, is my standard.


There’s a saying from a wise man a century ago “To Be Deep in History Is to Cease Being a Protestant.” There’s a great amount of truth in this because many Christians today have their own opinion of what the Bible means and failed to consider how Christians have understood the Bible for the last 2000 years With an emphasis on the very first Christians who are disciples of Jesus and the apostles.

No pun intended but your theory would hold no water until the late last 100 years of American Christianity. Step back out of that and you’ll find yourself in a totally different world with very little relation to your private interpretation of today.

Greg October 2, 2016 at 9:42 PM

A due respect, it's not my theory.
I dont see where the Christians that understood the Bible for the last 2000 years disagree.
“For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament” (CCC 1259).

STEVE all caps are a HERE: my point is, that all Christians from the beginning have believed that baptism was necessary for salvation. However, God is not bound by the sacraments and can bring about salvation through a baptism of desire or baptism of blood. I would suggest to get my book Crossing the Tiber which demonstrates that all Christians from the very beginning until the protestant revolt all believed the same thing. “Water in spirit” means water baptism and that’s how one gets bored again.

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