Malankara World

What Shall I Do To Be Saved?

By Rev. Dr. Curian Kaniyamparambil


Question 42. There is an argument about John 3:5- 'Unless you are born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.' - The water referred to here is not material water, but the word or Spirit?

We have seen that 'Baptism' is not only an external act, but gives the recipient many gifts from God. Though this is seen throughout the Bible as a commanded by Christ and the apostles, some-how the critics teach that baptism is just an external act and therefore irrelevant. This argument is to support the view that baptism is only an external act. They quote the following verses to support this view:

  1. 1 Pet 1:23 - "Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible through the word of God which lives and abides for ever."

  2. James 1:18 - "He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of first fruits of his creatures."

  3. John 4:10, 14; 7:37-39

  4. If you knew the gift of God and who it is who says to you ? Give me a drink, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."

Let us examine each of these:

  1. From this verse, the biblical scholars cannot conclude that one is born again the moment one hears the word of God or by just listening to the word of God. 'Peter describes a community through divine grace - i.e. rebirth into the family of God.' (Interpreters, Volume 1-Commentary)

  2. If one is born again by the word of God, then the eunuch from Ethiopia (and others who heard the apostles) need not be baptized. But we know that Philip taught the word of God and baptized him. Those who raise this argument has to think, why Philip took so much effort to baptize him and whether the eunuch would have been a Christian, had he not been baptized?

a) Let us again look at the argument that water means Spirit. If this is true then John 3:5 will be read like this ?Unless you are born of Spirit (water means Spirit) and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.? Does this sentence make sense? Not at all. So water does not mean Spirit! Besides, we will be forced to believe that Jesus commanded to baptize not in water! We know that the apostles did not believe this but used water to baptize.

b) The apostles understood the word water not as Spirit but as water in ordinary sense itself. This is why they used water during baptism.

c) The epistle of Peter was written in AD60-66 and James's in AD 60. Before this thousands of people were baptized in water. Both, those who were baptized and those who baptized, believed that by this act they were born again and they used water to baptize.

d) Peter who wrote "Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible through the word of God" is the same Peter who also wrote "baptism for the remission of sins."

e) When the man from Ethiopia told Philip here is water" Did he mean, here is Spirit?

Only Decenters argue that through baptism one does not receive anything and therefore is futile. Biblical Scholars says, Our Lord again insists that, a new birth is necessary and explains that it must be an inward and spiritual one. It must be not only of water i.e. the reception of the outward rite of baptism without proper appreciation of what membership of Christ's kingdom involves but also of the Spirit. The outward rite will be accompanied by an effusion of the Spirit that will make his baptism a real new birth of water and of the Spirit (P779). Biblical scholar Dummulow: "salvation in the kingdom of God requires a new birth which by an ambiguity of the Greek word is also a birth from heaven a birth not merely in a baptism of water as John the Baptist offers through the operation of the Spirit." (Interpreters 1, vol.1, Page 713.)

Again St. Paul refers water as water not as Spirit:

Acts 10 gives a clear explanation of what the apostles did and believed about baptism. This will keep the believers from getting confused by erroneous teachings.

The Holy Spirit guided Simon Peter to the home of Cornonelius, a centurion of the regiment. Peter arrived there and spoke to the people gathered there. "While Simon Peter spoke these words, the Holy Spirit descended on all who heard the word."  (Acts 10:44) "Then Simon Peter said to them, Can any man forbid water, that these people who have received the Holy Spirit, just as we have, should not be baptized." (Acts 10:47). "And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 10:48)

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