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Do John 3:5 And Titus 3:5 Prove Baptismal Regeneration?

  • Be Sure Check Out This Detailed Expository Paper On Baptismal Regeneration By Stephen C. Halbrook:
          V. John 3:5 and Titus 3:5
Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” (John 3:5)
he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:5)
1. Right off the bat, we most note that neither of these passages mention baptism in connection with “water” (in John 3:5) or “washing” (in Titus 3:5). Thus right away we must question the insistence of baptismal regenerationists that these texts are even about water baptism.
To insist that “water,” “washing,” and any related words must refer to physical water is arbitrary and absurd. Can we honestly say that the following texts refer to physical water?:
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”
(1 Corinthians 3:6)
“These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.”
(2 Peter 2:17)
“and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:9)
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8)
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)
Regarding John 3:5 in particular, when one insists “water” self-evidently must refer to physical water, one faces a serious problem in the very next chapter:
“but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)
Also consider another nearby chapter:
“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”’” (John 7:37-38)
Now, to consistently maintain his argument that the word “water” self-evidently refers to physical water, will one who holds to baptismal regeneration really argue that Jesus is saying salvation depends on drinking physical water, which will literally become a physical spring within one’s insides “welling up to eternal life,” or will literally become physical rivers flowing from one’s heart?

No, to avoid appearing foolish a baptismal regenerationist must equivocate and say, “well, the meaning of water must depend on the context.” Once he does this, he surrenders any hope that the context of John 3:5 demands a baptismal regeneration reading.
2. Let us focus specifically on Titus 3:5. Again, it reads:
he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:5)
Again, the only hope for a baptismal regenerationist reading is that “washing” refers to physical water—but nothing in the context demands this to be the case. Now here are two reasons within the text itself why a baptismal regeneration reading is impossible:
A. It says, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness ….”

The Bible considers water baptism a work, since:

(1) Romans 4:1-12 considers circumcision a work. If circumcision is a work, so is water baptism, since both are external marks of the church, with water baptism replacing circumcision in the New Covenant era.

(2) Consider also Matt. 3:14, 15:

John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented.”
Jesus considered His water baptism as part of fulfilling all righteousness. Is not fulfilling all righteousness works? Compare “fulfill all righteousness” with he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness,” in
Titus 3:5.

Thus, Titus 3:5 denies water baptism’s role in salvation even before the verse gets to “the washing of regeneration.”

B. Now, as far as “the washing of regeneration” is concerned, consider the following from Gordon Clark:

“if [water] baptism caused, or was, regeneration, the phrase would have been ‘the regeneration of washing.’ The actual phrase ‘the washing of regeneration’ indicates that regeneration washes, not that washing regenerates.” (Gordon Clark, Commentary on Titus, http://www.trinityfoundation.org/PDF/192a-FalseShepherd.pdf )

In short, Titus 3:5 does not teach that external washing (from water baptism) causes regeneration, but that regeneration causes an internal washing: One is saved by “the [spiritual] washing of regeneration”—not by “the regeneration of washing [by water baptism].”  Gordon Clark writes, “The washing effected by regeneration is the renewal, that is, the renewing the Spirit does to us” (Ibid.).

3. Now we move on to John 3:5, which reads:
“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’”
We have already demonstrated the absurdity of insisting this passage must speak of water baptism simply because it mentions “water.” We only need to go to the very next chapter (John 4:14) to show this.

There are several proposed interpretations of this text, and since the Bible uses the word “water” with more than one meaning, we have already cast in doubt the interpretation that says water baptism saves.

Moreover, it should be enough that from front to back the Bible teaches salvation by grace through faith and not by works (cf. Romans 4:1-12 and Ephesians 2:8, 9), so unless we want to say the Bible contradicts itself, we must rule out immediately any salvation by water baptism interpretation.

But beyond this, all we need to do is examine the surrounding context of John 3:5 to rule out such an interpretation.

A. Just three verses after John 3:5, we read:
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:8).
On this passage Robert L. Reymond writes:

From the analogy which he drew between the wind’s natural operation and the Spirit’s regenerating work (John 3:8), Jesus taught, in addition to the facticity (“The wind blows”) and the efficacy (“and you hear the sound of it”) of the latter, both the sovereignty (“The wind blows wherever it pleases”) and the inscrutable mysteriousness (“you cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes”) of the Spirit’s regenerating work. (Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p. 720).

This makes clear man cannot be born again because of his water baptism. He cannot have water sprinkled or poured upon himself, or immerse himself into water, and expect the Holy Spirit to save him as a consequence. The new birth is a sovereign act of God, on God’s timetable; the new birth cannot be programmed by water baptism.

Otherwise, instead of saying “The wind blows where it wishes,” it would say, “The wind blows where man wishes” (i.e., the Holy Spirit must save man out of compliance with man’s wish to be water-baptized). And, instead of saying “but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes,” it would say, “but you do know where it comes from or where it goes” (since in this scenario man would know exactly when he is regenerated: right after his water baptism).
B. Verses 6-8 rule out water baptism by emphasizing only the Holy Spirit. Sam Storms writes (this is not an endorsement of Storms himself, as we disagree with some of his theology).

Just as v. 5 is explanatory of v. 3, vv. 6-8 further develop the idea set forth in v. 5. But note: in vv. 6-8 “water” is conspicuously absent; there is mention only of the Spirit. Note again in v. 6 and v. 8b – why just “born of the Spirit” and not “born of water and the Spirit”? The answer is that “Spirit” is fundamental and “water”, whatever it means, must be subsumed under or defined as an elemental part of the operative work of the Spirit in regeneration. Had our Lord regarded “water” as an independent agency in regeneration and important in itself (i.e., as distinct from the agency of the Spirit), he surely would have mentioned it again and given it more prominence. Instead, he describes the birth “from above” as effected by the Spirit alone and wholly outside the sphere of the “flesh” (v. 6).
http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/john-35-part-i/

This is consistent with John 1, which likewise describes regeneration as an act solely by God, outside the realm of man and man’s works:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12, 13)
Here we have it: there is nothing man can do to cause the new birth. Hence he can neither “will” himself to be born again by getting water baptized, nor “will” himself to cause others to be born again by baptizing them in water.  Contrast the denial of man’s will in causing the new birth in John 1: 12, 13, with the affirmation of the Holy Spirit’s will in causing the new birth in John 3:8.

Moreover, John (the author) regularly describes the new birth as an act solely of God. Storms writes,

“John typically describes regeneration not in terms of repetition but as a divine birth, something that finds its source or origin in God. It is of God, being heavenly; not of man, who is earthly (cf. John 1:13; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18).”
http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/john-35-part-i/

C. One cannot make an inseparable relationship between water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism in John 3:5. Consider this: The only two possible water baptisms John 3:5 can refer to (if it does at all) are Christian baptism or John’s baptism. However,

1. It cannot refer to Christian baptism, since it wasn’t instituted until the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). Sam Storms writes, “Would Jesus have rebuked Nicodemus for ignorance of an ordinance about which nothing had yet been said?” (John 3:10). http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/john-35-part-i/

2. It cannot refer to John’s baptism, since, as Sam Storms writes, “the text clearly coordinates water and Spirit whereas John uniformly contrasts his baptism, which is in water, with the baptism of the Messiah, which is in Spirit (cf. Mt. 3:11)” (Storms, Ibid.)
On the unitary nature of “water and Spirit” in John 3:5, Storms also writes:

The “begetting” or regeneration of which Jesus speaks is unitary, that is to say, there are not two births experienced, each with its respective agency, one by water and another by the Spirit, but one birth “by water and Spirit” in which the Spirit is the dominant factor. The text does not say “born of water and of Spirit” but “born of water and Spirit.” One preposition (ek) governs both nouns. It is a single “water and Spirit” birth.[2] Hence “water” is to be understood as coordinate with the “Spirit” rather than independent of or contrasted with it. (Storms, Ibid.)

And one cannot argue that those who received John’s baptism would in time inevitably receive Holy Spirit baptism. Prior to Holy Spirit baptism which commenced at Pentecost, it was believers—not those baptized by John—who were promised Holy Spirit baptism:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39)
D. The Jesus in John 3:5 is the same Jesus who saved people without requiring them to be baptized in water. Consider the following:
“And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.’”(Matthew 9:2)
“ ‘Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faithhas saved you; go in peace.’” (Luke 7:47-50)
“And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’” (Luke 19:8-10)
And so the question is, if Jesus teaches salvation by water baptism in John 3:5, is this a different Jesus in the passages above, since he saves these people without water baptism? Of course not. Jesus saves without water baptism, as the passages clearly indicate. And by implication, the passages rule out the view that John 3:5 teaches salvation by water baptism.
We must note how the Luke 19 passage above mentions, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Jesus did not baptize Zacchaeus in water. And yet Jesus saved him.

In light of this consider that John 4:2 says, (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), …” One would think that if water baptism is necessary for salvation, then Jesus would have baptized those He saved during His earthly ministry.

But the way Jesus sought and saved men during his earthly ministry (as well as today) is through the internal cleansing of the word, not external cleansing of water baptism. Jesus says in John 15:3: Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you”—He does not say, “Already you are clean because of water baptism.”

When we miss this important distinction between internal and external cleansing, we are no better than blind Pharisees. As Jesus scolded the Pharisees of His day:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:25, 26)


This post first appeared on Rational Christian Discernment, please read the originial post: here

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Do John 3:5 And Titus 3:5 Prove Baptismal Regeneration?

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