Problem Passages in the Gospel of John Part 3: Water and Spirit—John 3:5 -- By: Zane C. Hodges

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 135:539 (Jul 1978)
Article: Problem Passages in the Gospel of John Part 3: Water and Spirit—John 3:5
Author: Zane C. Hodges


Problem Passages in the Gospel of John
Part 3:
Water and Spirit—John 3:5

Zane C. Hodges

[Zane C. Hodges, Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

One of the best known interpretive problems in the Gospel of John is found in the Savior’s famous dictum that, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The commentary tradition on the Fourth Gospel is deeply divided as to whether or not this assertion contains a reference to baptism and strong opinions have been held on both sides of the question.

The importance of the issue hardly needs to be stressed. This statement by Jesus occurs in the Gospel’s first major exposition of eternal life and Hoskyns was quite right in affirming that the conversation with Nicodemus “is not a discourse, but The Discourse, the subject-matter of which is repeated in all subsequent discourses.”1 Obviously, therefore, any misunderstanding of the Lord’s words can lead to a misunderstanding of one of the most basic conceptions in Christianity—the doctrine of new birth. In a day when the expression “born again” has been popularized by the extensive attention it has received in the media, there is ample justification for looking again at what the Bible really teaches on this fundamental theme.

The Sacraments in John’s Gospel

One of the issues that has divided commentators on John’s Gospel is actually larger than the question about the statement in 3:5. It is the issue of whether the fourth Evangelist makes any

reference at all to the so-called Christian sacraments or ordinances—that is, to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Of course, reference is certainly made to baptism as such, both that of John the Baptist (e.g., John 1:25–27) and that by the disciples of Jesus (3:22; cf. 4:1–2). But there is no explicit reference to baptism in the post-Pentecostal situation which is to follow the glorification of the risen Lord and there is no command to practice it. Equally pointed is the omission of any account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper in John. Needless to say, various conclusions have been drawn from this data and many expositors see numerous allusions to the sacraments despite the absence of any direct mention of them.

By way of bringing into focus an extended discussion of this problem...

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