What does John 3:5 mean?
ESV: Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
NIV: Jesus answered, 'Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.
NASB: Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
CSB: Jesus answered, "Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
NLT: Jesus replied, 'I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.
KJV: 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.
Jesus introduces His comment by twice repeating the word amen. This repetition is frequently translated as "verily, verily," or "I assure you," or "I tell you the truth." Amen is actually an Aramaic word that was kept intact in the Greek, Latin, and many other languages. It literally means, "faithful," or "believe," and is most simply translated as "truly." This is why the term is often used at the end of a prayer or other statement. Putting it at the end of a phrase suggests—or hopes—that what was said is true or sure. Putting the word amen at the beginning of a statement is a way of claiming that this is the speaker's own personal declaration. Jesus is claiming that His statement is absolutely true, and that He has absolute, direct, personal knowledge of its truth.
Jesus makes this comment specifically to Nicodemus, in response to his question about being "born again." There are several possible ways to interpret His comment that only those born of water, and of the Spirit, can enter the kingdom of God. Being born of the Spirit is clearly a reference to accepting Christ, but the aspect of water is less sure. The most reasonable interpretation is that water refers to baptism, but in the context of repentance—this is why John the Baptist's ministry of baptism was a precursor to Christ. In other words, faith in Christ is an absolute requirement for salvation. The physical ritual of baptism is not (John 3:16; John 3:36; Ephesians 2:8–9; Titus 3:5).
John 2:24–3:15 describes a meeting between Jesus and a Pharisee. The last two verses of chapter two highlight the fact that Jesus knew men better than they knew themselves. Nicodemus was the ancient equivalent of a politician, priest, and professor all rolled into one. Jesus proves that this man doesn’t understand religion as well as he’d like to think. In contrast to the loud, public spectacle of clearing the temple, this encounter is a private, night-time meeting. Their actual conversation was probably longer than the brief summary recorded here.
John chapter 3 is one of the most important in the entire gospel. Many crucial ideas are explained in this passage, including the role of Jesus as Savior. After the loud, public commotion at the temple, John transitions to a quiet, nighttime discussion. These verses make it clear that Christ—and Christ alone—is the means of salvation for the entire world. This text also states that those who reject Jesus are rejecting God.
The gospel of John is meant to prove that Jesus is God. Chapter 3 contains some of the most direct, most important concepts in Christianity. The ideas of spiritual rebirth, and the need to believe in Christ, are reinforced by the rest of the information in this gospel. John continues to use contrast, moving from the loud and public temple cleansing to the quiet of this conversation. After Jesus injects humility into a powerful leader, chapter 4 will transition again, as Jesus gives dignity to an outcast stranger.
The gospel of John was written by the disciple John, decades later than the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The author assumes that a reader is already familiar with the content of these other works. So, John presents a different perspective, with a greater emphasis on meaning. John uses seven miracles—which he calls “signs”—in order to prove that Jesus is, in fact, God incarnate. Some of the most well-known verses in all of the Bible are found here. None is more famous than the one-sentence summary of the gospel found in John 3:16.
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