It is written:
John 3:5-Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Critics of Jesus’ teaching on baptism being part of the plan of salvation claim that the phrase “born of water” in John 3:5 does not have reference to baptism, but to the water of physical birth.
What shall we say to this?
First, the context of John identifies what the “water” is that is under discussion.
John 3;23-Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized.
Clearly, this is a reference to baptism.
Second, in the context of John 3, Jesus used a common Jewish expression to refer to physical birth.
John 3:6-That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
When Jesus spoke of physical birth in this context, He used the common Jewish expression “born of the flesh.”
Third, the phrase “born again” and “born of water” had specific reference in the first century to baptism. Proselytes (those who were converted from other religions to Judaism) were required to undergo baptism in Jesus’ day. The Rabbis used the phrases “born again,” “born from above,” and “born of water” to have reference to baptism.
“That baptism was absolutely necessary to make a proselyte is so frequently stated as not to be disputed (See Maimonides, u. s.; the tractate Massekheth Gerim in Kirchheim’s Septem Libri Talm. Parvi, pp. 38-44 [which, however, adds little to our knowledge]; Targum on Ex. 12: 44; Ber. 47 b; Kerith. 9 a; Jer. Yebam. p. 8d; Yebam. 45 b, 46 a and b, 48 b, 76 a; Ab. Sar. 57a, 59 a, and other passages). …The waters of baptism were to him in very truth, though in a far different from the Christian sense, the ‘bathof regeneration’ (Titus 3: 5). As he stepped out of these waters he was considered as ‘born anew’, in the language of the Rabbis, as if he were ‘a little child just born’ (Yeb. 22 a; 48 b, as ‘a child of one day’ (Mass. Ger. c. ii.). But this new birth was not ‘a birth from above’ in the sense of moral or spiritual renovation, but only as implying a new relationship to God, to Israel, and to his own past, present, and future. It was expressly enjoined that all the difficulties of his new citizenship should first be set before him, and if, after that, he took upon himself the yoke of the law, he should be told how all those sorrows and persecutions were intended to convey a greater blessing, and all those commandments to redound to greater merit. More especially was he to regard himself as a new man in reference to his past. Country, home, habits, friends, and relation were all changed. The past, with all that had belonged to it, was past, and he was a new, man the old, with its difilements, was burried in the waters of baptism.” (Alfred Edersheim, Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah, 26919-26943 (Kindle Edition))
Jesus used commonly known expressions from His day to refer to baptism.
Fourth, if it is objected that the phrase “born of water” could not have reference to Christian baptism since such did not exist when Jesus spoke with Nicodemus, we need only remember that Jesus often spoke of His coming kingdom (the church) during His ministry. As an example, Jesus spoke clearly of His death on the Cross with Nicodemus long before He died (John 3:16). He also often spoke of the church/kingdom long before He established it (Matthew 16:18-19). While He was in the world, Jesus began preaching and teaching for the way things would be under the New Testament:
Luke 16:16- The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.
Finally, the Christians from the time of the Apostolic Age until the last few hundred years clearly understood John 3:5 to be a reference to baptism. Indeed, when you study the writings of the church fathers, you will learn that John 3:5 is one of the most often referenced verses about baptism!
Have you been born of water and the Spirit?
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.