John 3:5—Does this verse teach baptismal regeneration?
Problem: Jesus told Nicodemus that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Does this mean a person has to be baptized to be saved?
Solution: Baptism is not necessary for salvation (see comments on Acts 2:38). Salvation is by grace through faith and not by works of righteousness (Eph. 2:8–9; Titus 3:5–6). But baptism is a work of righteousness (cf. Matt. 3:15). What then did Jesus mean when He referred to being “born of water”? There are three basic ways to understand this, none of which involve baptismal regeneration.
Some believe Jesus is speaking of the water of the womb, since He had just mentioned one’s “mother’s womb” in the preceding verse. If so, then He was saying “unless you are born once by water (at your physical birth) and then again by the “Spirit” at your spiritual birth, you cannot be saved.”
Others take “born of water” to refer to the “washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26). They note that Peter refers to being “born again ... through the word of God” (1 Peter 1:23), the very thing John is speaking about in these verses (cf. John 3:3, 7).
Still others think that “born of water” refers to the baptism of John mentioned (John 1:26). John said he baptized by water, but Jesus would baptize by the Spirit (Matt. 3:11), saying, “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 3:2). If this is what is meant, then when Jesus said they must be “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) He meant that the Jews of His day had to undergo the baptism of repentance by John and also later the baptism of the Holy Spirit before they could “enter the kingdom of God.”
See All Problems
This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.