A Study in Baptism: John 3:5 and the Amniotic Fluid Controversy

Updated: Mar 16

Amniotic fluid - A clear, slightly yellowish liquid that surrounds the unborn baby (fetus) during pregnancy.

I recently had a conversation where I found out that a lot of people associate the water mentioned in this passage from the Book of John with amniotic fluid:

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit." - John 3:3-5 NIV

I think a part of the problem with the understanding of this verse is trying to envision being born of Water; Nicodemus had a hard time of it too (John 3:9). The Spirit we easily identify as a being and so can envision being 'brought out from' the Spirit of God. There's plenty of scriptural precedence for this, including the creation of man in Genesis where God breathed His breath into man and made him a living soul. Water though is rarely talked about and the concept is not as readily accessible to our minds. Before diving into why water is essentially water in John 3:5, let's talk about why it would be problematic to infer that the water here refers to amniotic fluid.

The first and most apparent issue would be that Jesus' statement in John 3:5 contains a conditional clause. This clause specifies that in order for the action in the main clause i.e. entering into the Kingdom of God to take place, certain conditions must be met - one must be born of Water and the Spirit. This is the bedrock of the entire passage. So a question is put forward by Nicodemus asking how one can be born again (note that Jesus' response will be answering this), and Jesus responds saying that one must be born of both water and the Spirit - in order to accomplish the main clause action. By responding with this two-condition conditional clause as a pre-requisite to being born again, He implies that there exists people who do not belong to this category; that is, they are neither born of water nor the Spirit. He refers to people in this other category in the following verse (John 3:6) as "born of flesh" - this is the default for all people prior to being born again. If the water was amniotic fluid, it would be excluded from the conditional clause in verse 5 because every person would already possess this attribute. The water would cease to be a stateable requirement.

The second point although culturally subjective, ties in to and clarifies the previous point. We first of all need to understand that although Jesus taught some hard to grasp concepts, He was a master of analogy. In a first century Galilee or Judea, it would be hard to find young women, men and even perhaps older men and women who would immediately come to the conclusion that a reference to "born of water" is referring to amniotic fluid. You would be hard pressed to find people (outside of parents) who know what amniotic fluid is today. The amniotic fluid reference is too ambiguous and is contrary to Jesus' style of easily relatable analogies. But just in case everyone's mind goes to that first and I am an oddity for not thinking that especially in the context of birth, Nicodemus has pre-empted the thought for everyone in verse 4: "'How can someone be born when they are old?' Nicodemus asked. 'Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!'”. To this Jesus responds: "'Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.'" Jesus' response draws a direct parallel to verse 3: "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again". The parallelism in his responses makes two phrases equal to one another: born again = born of water and Spirit. As Nicodemus has already stated for everyone's benefit, one cannot be "born again" of amniotic fluid.

Consequently, the third reason the water in John 3:5 cannot be amniotic fluid is because of the previously mentioned verse 6: "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." Amniotic fluid, in the most literal sense, embodies "flesh gives birth to flesh". It comprises the first birth which every person undergoes. In addition to that, the Spirit of God is diametrically opposed to "the flesh" throughout scripture (see Galatians 5:16-22, Romans 8:1-9). Flesh (amniotic fluid) and Spirit cannot both be requirements together for entry to the Kingdom of God. To the contrary, "the flesh" is excluded from the Kingdom of God. For context, John 3:5 would read as: "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of 'amniotic fluid' and the Spirit."

Now as concerning water baptism, Jesus confers great importance to it not just in John 3:5 but also by His own example.

Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. - 1 John 5:5-10 NIV

Jesus' example in 1 John 5:5-10 is the template by which every son of God is manifested. In the Old Testament, God lays out the criteria by which His Servant, the Messiah would come. The first of those criteria, is He was to be preceded and ushered in by the voice in the wilderness.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” - Isaiah 40:1-6 NIV

The message that would be preached by this messenger is outlined in Isaiah 40:1-3: He would proclaim: "The hard service is over, it is time to turn from the sins of yesterday and to prepare our hearts to receive, the Lord, the Messiah." John Baptist, a preacher of repentance, being that messenger declared of Jesus:

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” - John 1:33-34 NIV

Now we keep in mind that the law and the prophets were until John the Baptist (Luke 16:16) and all things pertaining to the law were a shadow of the heavenly (spiritual) things, providing a physical parallel by which we might understand the spiritual reality.

They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” - Hebrews 8:5 NIV

We also need to keep in mind that in being baptized, Jesus was fulfilling the righteousness of the law.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. - Matthew 3:13-15 NIV

As soon as He was baptized in water, the witness was made complete by the descent of the Holy Spirit. He had the first witness: God's blood (called the child of the Holy Ghost and born of a virgin, Isaiah 7:14), the second witness: water (baptized by John), and the third witness: the Holy Spirit. As soon as all three witnesses came in agreement, Jesus was declared to all the World to be the Son of God. His authority of Sonship came into recognition to both the physical and spiritual realms.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” - Matthew 3:16-17 NIV

The template that Jesus follows is illustrated in the temple/tabernacle as well (Exodus 25-31, 35-40). In the outer court, which is the most easily accessible and to which the masses would assemble to worship, there was the bronze altar and the bronze laver (basin). At the bronze altar, animal sacrifices were offered for the sin of the people. After the blood was shed, the priest would then proceed to the laver (a basin filled with water) and wash to cleanse himself before proceeding to the inner court of the temple. In the inner court, also called the Holy place, was the seven-lamp golden candlestick (menorah), the table of showbread with 12 loaves of bread changed out weekly, and the golden altar of incense upon which prayers were offered. Finally, in the innermost court, the Holy of holies was the ark of God's covenant and the Mercy Seat covering it. This progression through the tabernacle is illustrative of the stages of witness. We have in the outer court, first the blood, then the water, then the Spirit in the inner court (see candlestick in Revelation 5:6) before induction into the Holy of holies.

In coming to earth and offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice, Jesus fulfilled the priestly duty that was required to make the way to the Holy of holies open. He was the Way (that's the gate to the outer court), the Truth (that's the door to the inner court) and the Life (that's the veil leading to the innermost court). At His death, the way to life (as opposed to death brought on by sin) is manifested by two signs: the rent in the veil and the resurrection of the saints.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." - John 14:6 NIV
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. - Matthew 27:50-52 NIV

In the same manner that the begotten Son of God was declared by the witness of three, all who are born, that is, baptized into Him are conducted into God's Kingdom by the witness of the three. If we think about the analogy of birth and being born again, we see Jesus on the cross bringing forth the Bride, His Church, as water and blood bled out of Him.

But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. - John 19:33-34 NIV

As illustrated by the creation of the first ever bride in the Bible:

So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” - Genesis 2:21-23 NIV

When one believes and confesses Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they encounter the Way and their sins are remitted by His shed blood on the cross (Hebrews 9:22). They are made partakers of Jesus' blood in that moment and continually on after that through repentance and the breaking of bread. It is at this point that the believer is empowered to "become" a son of God.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which 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 KJV

The believer is then baptized in water, which is the second witness. Water baptism is not a ritual and is not powerless; the act itself is powerful and carries spiritual weight for the effectual birthing of the sons of God. It is empowered by the commandment of Jesus and by the testimony of the word of God laying out the manner of birth for the sons of God throughout the Old Testament. Water baptism continues to be a part of the believer's life through the integration of God's Word.

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
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, - Matthew 28:18-19 NIV
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, - Ephesians 5:25-26 NIV

These two, the blood and the water, make up the outer court and are readily accessible to everyone.

I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshipers. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. - Revelation 11:1-2 NIV

As we pursue Truth and integrate the Word of God more deeply, the way into the inner court is revealed to us. Without Truth, we cannot access the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that we have access to the former without God's direct help, on the contrary, it is by His blood that we are redeemed and by the Water from His side that we are baptized. He is directly involved in both, and without Him, both would be powerless. By God's wisdom and design, He has made the outer court widely accessible to everyone. The inner court, however, is a place of greater intimacy than the outer court. The book of Acts lays out the example of a man named Simon who was in pursuit of power and money as opposed to Jesus who is Truth.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” - Acts 8:18-23 NIV

If instead of getting saved to escape hell fire, or soothe our emotions, or obtain a pain free, problem free life we posture our hearts and go on to pursue Jesus, we seek to understand the nature of God's love toward us, and we dedicate ourselves to learning to see with His eyes, He reveals Himself to us in increasing measure. The revelation of Truth and the consequent baptism of the Holy Ghost naturally flow out from that heartfelt pursuit. This baptism does not occur just the once, but occurs continually as we pursue Truth and consume God's Word (table of showbread).

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. - Jeremiah 29:13 NIV
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ - Matthew 22:37 NIV
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. - Matthew 6:33 KJV
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. - Acts 4:31 NIV
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. - Ephesians 5:18-20 NIV

It is from here that we are then prepared to minister before God and to stand in His presence. From out of our encounter with God's Spirit, true worship springs forth. Worship causes the presence of God to be manifested and we are then conducted through the veil of Life. Behind that veil is the ark of His power, containing all the elements of His covenant: His Word written on the tablets of our hearts so that His righteousness and love is not a chore and is not something we consciously enact as the shadow of the law demonstrated but rather is evident through God's Salvation in Jesus Christ; the rod of His power, that is, the demonstration of God's supernatural ability in signs, miracles, and wonders; and God's manna which is God's provision not of only things or even things we want through the will of the natural mind, but the provision of our education in God's Kingdom, the provision of the gifts that God's Spirit has given to us, the provision even of the things that are needed and have been apportioned to every person, individually, by the will of God's Spirit to sustain physical life. And in all these things, God's Kingdom is made manifest to us.

It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God. - 2 Chronicles 5:13-14 KJV
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. - John 4:23 KJV
Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. - Luke 17:21 KJV

Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power through the witness of blood, water, and God's Spirit. We also are declared to be the sons of God through the witness of His blood (we are partakers of God's blood through Jesus), His water (through baptism with water and the washing of the Word of God), and the Holy Spirit (the initial and continual filling of the Holy Spirit). It is after all three that we are "born again" and able to "see the Kingdom of God".

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