Friday, July 08, 2011

John 3:5 - Born of water & wind

"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.



Blogger Celal Birader said...

Maybe the clue is in the next verse "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit". Can an inanimate force give birth to anything ? cf John 1:13

7:52 AM, July 09, 2011  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Good point. I have a feeling Nicodemus eventually figured out what Jesus was getting at, but not before going through a serious case of the bumfuzzles.

Thanks for your comments. I don't remember your commenting here before, so welcome to the site, and I hope you come back to visit often.


10:34 AM, July 09, 2011  
Anonymous jeff weddle said...

John 3:8 also adds to the clarity, or perhaps the confusion, by using wind and spirit. Those who are born of spirit are like the wind. Probably Jesus meant wind in 3:5, and explains it further in 8 when He says "the Spirit." It's tough when He's using the same Greek word literally and figuratively to know how to translate it. But I think His general conversation lends clarity to verse 5's wordage.


12:15 PM, July 09, 2011  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

I agree. Good point. Thanks.

12:16 PM, July 12, 2011  
Blogger Celal Birader said...

Hello Milton ... I've had you on my blogroll for some time and check in on what you're posting from time to time. I also like another blog from a church in Tennessee. Must come visit you guys some time ... Blessings.

2:57 PM, July 15, 2011  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Celal, let me know if you're ever on this side of the pond. Mud Creek isn't easy to find, but if you're ever out this way I'll be happy to feed you some beans and cornbread. Peace.

11:27 AM, July 20, 2011  
Blogger Celal Birader said...

Thanks Milton. Lovely offer.

3:35 AM, July 26, 2011  

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