Joh 3:5 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. (KJV)
Joh 3:5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (NET)
Joh 3:5 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. (CEV)
All of the English translations of John 3:5 cited above miss the point of what Jesus said because not one of them has taken account of the presence of an important figure of speech, hendiadys, that is quite clearly present in the text.
In order to properly understand the Bible, you must become familiar with the figures of speech used in the Bible.
This reflects Rule 3 of my Rules of Interpretation found linked at the right side of this page in the archives for October of 2010. There you will find 24 rules I have outlined that are necessary to follow to arrive at the correct interpretation of what the Bible teaches. This material is also given in my book, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge in the notes for 2 Peter 1:20 found on pages 1484 and 1485. This list of rules is also given in The Ultimate Cross Reference Treasury at 2 Peter 1:20.
Here is Rule 3:
(3) When you encounter figurative expressions in the Bible, look for the literal truth they are intended to convey or emphasize. Sometimes the immediate context will indicate a non-literal interpretation must be understood (“trees clapped their hands,” Isa 55:12). In such cases watch for the literal truth or meaning which is being figuratively expressed. Figurative language is used to emphasize what is literally meant.
When this rule is applied to (John 3:5), we are helped greatly to understand what Jesus said:
“Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit,”
The question is, are two things mentioned (water and spirit) or just one thing (spirit)?
Because of the figure of speech hendiadys, we know that two words are used but only one thing is meant. The idea can be expressed “born of water, even the Spirit.” The reference, therefore, is NOT to ritual water baptism, but to being born again by the Holy Spirit.
Further proof in context that this is the case can be seen by the question Nicodemus asked, “How can these things be?” in verse 9 (John 3:9), and the response Jesus gave in the form of a question, “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?” What Jesus had declared to Nicodemus is a matter expressly taught in the Old Testament.
Here is my note of explanation given at John 3:10,
and knowest not. Since Jesus expected Nicodemus as a “master in Israel” to know these things, clearly they must be taught in the Old Testament, and in fact they are. Being “born of water” is taught in Eze 36:25, “sprinkle clean water,” and being “born of the spirit” is taught in Eze 36:26, 27, “a new spirit will I put within you,” both expressions in Ezekiel pertaining to the spiritual awakening required for Israel to be restored to God’s favor in order to receive the promised theocratic kingdom in the land of Israel (Eze 36:28). Since the three elements “water,” “spirit,” and promised “kingdom of God” appear together in both passages in precisely the same connection, it is unnecessary to look elsewhere for the proper explanation of Jesus’ words.
In John 3:5, therefore, Jesus was not asserting the need of water baptism to Nicodemus, but the absolute need for a personal spiritual rebirth as what it takes for every person to enter the kingdom of God.
For those willing to take time to study this issue further, here are the cross references and notes I have furnished for John 3:5 in the Ultimate Cross Reference Treasury:
Verily. Joh 3:11, +Joh 1:51; Joh 6:26; Joh 6:53; Joh 13:16, +Mat 5:18, 2Co 1:20.
I say unto thee. Mar 14:18.
Except. FS184C, +Mat 4:9, Joh 6:53.
a man. Luk 11:13, Gal 4:29.
born. *Joh 3:3, *Isa 44:3; *Isa 44:4, *Eze 36:25, 26, 27, *Mat 3:11; Mat 28:19, *Mar 16:16, +*Act 2:38, +*Rom 6:3; +*Rom 6:4 note. **Eph 5:26, *Tit 3:4, 5, 6, 7, *1Pe 1:2; *1Pe 1:23; *1Pe 3:21, 1Jn 5:6, 7, 8.
of water. Joh 1:33; Joh 7:38, 39; Joh 13:10, *Psa 119:9; *Psa 119:11, **Eze 36:25, 26, 27, Mar 16:16, +*Act 1:5; +*Act 2:38; Act 8:36; Act 10:47; Act 11:16; +*Act 22:16, *Eph 5:26, Tit 3:5, 6, +*Heb 10:22, 1Pe 1:23; *1Pe 3:20; *1Pe 3:21, 2Pe 3:5, 6, 1Jn 5:6; 1Jn 5:8, Rev 22:1; Rev 22:17.
and. FS93A, +Gen 1:26, Hendiadys; or, Two for One F/S 657, Two words are used (water, Spirit), but one thing is meant (Spirit). By this figure water and spirit are joined by “and.” There is no of in the Greek, supplied here by the translators. There is no article to either of the two nouns. This figure gives the meaning, “born of water, even the spirit.” That only one thing is meant by the two words is clear from verses 6 and 8 (Joh 3:6; Joh 3:8), where only the Spirit (the one thing) is mentioned. The figure may also be understood to mean “born of spiritual water,” where the “spiritual water” is, by the figure Metonymy, put for the Holy Spirit Himself, as is clear from Joh 7:38, 39, The reference is to the real baptism by the Holy Spirit which is the one indispensable condition of entering the kingdom of God (Rom 8:9, 1Co 12:13), not to the water of ritual baptism (Act 1:5 note).
of the. *Joh 1:13; *Joh 6:63, Mat 3:11, Mar 16:16, Rom 2:29; Rom 8:2; Rom 8:10, *1Co 2:12; *1Co 6:11, *1Jn 2:29; *1Jn 5:1; *1Jn 5:6, 7, 8.
Spirit. Gr. pneuma, FS121A1, +Luk 1:17 note. Joh 1:33; Joh 6:63, Gen 1:2 note. Psa 51:10, **Eze 36:26; **Eze 36:27, **Mat 3:16, +*1Co 12:13; 1Co 15:45, Gal 4:6; Gal 4:29, Tit 3:5.
cannot enter. Joh 3:3, Joh 13:8, *Mat 5:20; +Mat 7:21; *Mat 11:21; *Mat 18:3; Mat 19:23; Mat 28:19, Mar 10:23, Luk 10:13; *Luk 13:3; *Luk 13:5; *Luk 13:24, Act 2:38; +*Act 3:19; +*Act 14:22, Rom 8:8; *Rom 14:17, +**1Co 6:9; +**1Co 6:10, *2Co 5:17; *2Co 5:18, *Gal 6:15, Eph 2:4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 2Th 2:13, 14, Rev 21:27; Rev 22:14, 15.
the kingdom. +*Joh 3:3, +*Mat 8:11; +*Mat 8:12; +*Mat 21:43, Luk 10:9.