Original Research

The water in John 3:5

Willem H. Oliver
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 43, No 1 | a2570 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v43i1.2570 | © 2022 Willem H. Oliver | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 April 2022 | Published: 01 November 2022

About the author(s)

Willem H. Oliver, Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology, College of Human Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


John 3:5 refers to water. This term, within the Nicodemus discourse, is interpreted in many ways. From as far back as the early church and the Church Fathers, most of them have indicated that when Jesus talked about water, he was referring to baptism. This point of view elevated baptism to the level of a conversion, being a precondition for entering the kingdom of God, causing the early church to make baptism a sacrament. After cursorily discussing some viewpoints on the use of the term ‘water’ in John 3:5, this article examines the structure of John 3:3, 5–7. This brings the article to the conclusion that the water in John 3:5 could be a reference to the amniotic fluid that surrounds the baby in the womb and is present at birth. In the light of this, two conditions are put forward in order to see and enter the kingdom of God: one must first be born of the flesh, whereupon one must also be born of the Spirit.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: John 3:5 refers to water. Most scholars, with reference to the Church Fathers, have the conviction that it refers to baptism. According to the structure of John 3:3, 5–7, this article argues that the water refers to the amniotic fluid present at a natural birth.


water; John 3:3; John 3:5; John 3:6; John 3:7; baptism; born of the flesh; born of the Spirit.


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