"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." - John 3:5 (KJV)
If you've been studying the Bible for a while, you're probably familiar with the ambiguity of "water" in this verse (Does it mean amniotic fluid, baptism, spiritual cleansing, the Word of God, or some combination?). That's confusing enough, but there's at least as much ambiguity regarding what, in translation, seems very straightforward: "the Spirit."
First of all, in the original, Greek language of the New Testament, the word for spirit is pneuma
. In addition to what we think of as "spirit," pneuma
can also mean breath or a movement of air
. The best example of this biblically less common use of pneuma
occurs a mere three verses later, when Jesus says, "the wind [pneuma
] bloweth where it listeth." The KJV is usually helpful in italicizing words added to the English translation but not present in the original manuscripts. That's what they did, for example, with of
in John 3:5. Yet in this same verse, the KJV and most other English translations insert another word: the
, right before "Spirit."
And why does any of this matter? It matters because most English translations (the NET Bible & LEB among the few exceptions) obscure the intense ambiguity in Jesus' use of pneuma
in John 3:5. If pneuma
can mean wind, and there was no "the" in front of it, then Jesus, in effect, told Nicodemus, "unless someone is born of water and wind, he can't enter the Kingdom of God
." Now, that's confusing.