Does the “water” in John 3:5 refer to the amniotic fluids of a physical birth?

Over the past several months I have received multiple questions regarding the “water” to which Jesus refers in John 3:5. Specifically, the questions pertain to a relatively new position that denies the presence of water baptism in John 3:5. This teaching suggests that Jesus is referring to the “water” of a physical birth when He says, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Though this position has only been around since the late 20th century, it has grown in popularity in recent years. Does it have any merit?

Here is the text in question:

John 3:3-10 Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (4) Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" (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. (6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (7) Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' (8) 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." (9) Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" (10) Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?

A least three points from the text should make clear to us that the “waters” of a physical birth are not intended by Jesus.

1. The subject at hand is SPIRITUAL BIRTH. Verse 3 introduces the subject that is continued and expanded in verse 5. In each verse, Jesus is explaining how to have entrance into the kingdom of God. The parallels are clear (see below).

Verse 3

Verse 5

“Truly, Truly, I say to you”

“Truly, Truly, I say to you”



“one is born”

“one is born”

“again” or “from above”

“of water and the Spirit”

“he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

“he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

To how many “new” births (“again” or “from above”) did Jesus refer in verse 3? One birth or two? Clearly only one. It is this subject of new birth at Jesus is addressing in verse 5. To enter the kingdom of heaven requires ONE new birth involving TWO elements (water and spirit).

Jesus is not talking about two births (a physical birth and a spiritual birth), but one birth involving two elements: water and the working of the Spirit. Jesus is also not talking about two baptisms (water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism), but what the Holy Spirit accomplishes AT the one, water baptism. This same imagery is used elsewhere in scripture (while the usage of “water” to refer to physical birth is not to be found anywhere in scripture):

Titus 3:4-7 “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, (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, (6) whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, (7) so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Acts 2:38 “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

Furthermore, in 1 Peter 1 this washing (purification) is connected with with the “living and abiding word of God” as the means by which the Spirit works.

1 Peter 1:22-23 “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, (23) since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God...

2. To view “water” as physical birth undermines the point Jesus is making. Nicodemus was focused on the physical, while Jesus emphasized the spiritual and was trying to get Nicodemus to think in spiritual terms.

Try and put yourself in Nicodemus’ shoes: he was born a Jew and in his mind he was born into the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Israel, which was a physical kingdom. No wonder he says, “How can I be born again?” But Jesus explains it is a spiritual birth into a spiritual kingdom!

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” (v6a) Jesus is essentially saying, “Yes, you’ve been born into the kingdom of Israel, but that is a fleshly birth.”

“That which is born of the spirit is spirit.” (v6b) Jesus continues by emphasizing that if you want to be part of the Kingdom of God you must be born from above (or again), which is a spiritual birth of water and the spirit.

If Jesus is discussing a physical birth in verse 5, why is it included as necessary to gain entrance into the SPIRITUAL kingdom of heaven? Jesus’ very point was that Nicodemus was viewing things from a PHYSICAL perspective when he needed to see the kingdom from a SPIRITUAL perspective. An obscure reference to a physical birth in verse 5 would not just confuse, but undermine the point Jesus is making. Physical birth is NOT how one enters HIS kingdom, but SPIRITUAL REBIRTH (be “born again” or “from above”) is.

3. The context of the rest of John 3 deals with baptism and Jesus’ spiritual mission. In John 3:22-36, John the Baptist is answering a controversy about baptism. John says Jesus is the one “from above” v31, using the very same word translated “again” or “from above” in verse 3. This connection shows the emphasis of Jesus’ mission and kingdom: it is spiritual in nature.

The need for PHYSICAL BIRTH to enter his SPIRITUAL Kingdom has nothing to do with Jesus’ message in John 3 or elsewhere. Jesus spoke of one “new birth” with two elements (water and the Spirit) that was needed in order to enter into the Kingdom of God. The one who suggests that Jesus is speaking of two births (physical and spiritual) as necessary to enter the Kingdom has the burden of proof of showing where, in the context, He speaks of such.