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Examining the Greek: Emphatic Negations in Matthew 13 (part 4)

This is the fourth  post in a blog series on Emphatic Negations.

In the first post, Justin introduced the text of Matthew 13:1-17 and passive verbs; he pointed out that God foreordained that Jesus’ disciples would have the ability to know the mysteries of the kingdom. In the second post, Justin continued expounding on the text, explaining that one must be born again in order to accept the things of God.

Then, in last week’s post, Justin showed us that Jesus confirmed all of this in John 3. He then proved that the doctrine of the “new birth” is not a NT concept; rather, it was taught in the OT as well.

In today’s post, Justin offers us two more important things to see in John 3 with regard to the spiritual re-birth.


There Is No Relationship With God Apart from the New Birth

2) When Jesus tells Nicodemus that “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” the word “see” in the Greek is ὁράω (horaō), and in addition to it meaning “visually seeing”, it also means “to perceive, understand, comprehend, and experience.” It is the same verb used in Matthew 13:14 that is translated “perceived.” Thus, once again Jesus is presenting the consistent truth that is expressed throughout Scripture, and that is, apart from the “spiritual rebirth,” NO ONE WILL EVER HAVE A TRUE AND ETERNAL RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD!

What Jesus Meant By “Born of Water”

3) The last element to deal with in the passage of John 3:1-8 has to do with Jesus’ reference to being “born of water.” When Nicodemus responded initially to Jesus’ statement that one must “be born again” in order “to see the kingdom of God,” he asked in a very snide manner, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus then responds with the statement, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

This one verse has been greatly misunderstood and traditionally misapplied as though it was referring to water baptism. Or in other words, some have wrongly interpreted this verse to mean that water baptism is a requirement to enter the kingdom of God. However, the reference to “water” in this verse and passage has nothing to do with water baptism as a means by which we are born again. Now, water baptism is certainly important with reference to our testimony to the world that we have believed in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, but it is not a means of salvation. Furthermore, through the outward act of water baptism, we are confessing that through Jesus alone – i.e., through His birth, life, death, and resurrection. It is by faith in this Jesus that we have the assured certainty of the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life with Him in heaven.

However, what we do find in this passage regarding the rebirth is what is called a literary parallelism – that is, Jesus is using what is called a chiastic structure to explain His point. I can illustrate this truth in the following manner, with the ‘a’ and ‘b’ parts being the two different aspects of this chiasmus. However, it must be stated that the springboard for this chiastic approach is the very question posed by Nicodemus: “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus, therefore, is responding to this question of the physical birth raised by Nicodemus, and He does so by directly addressing the physical birth out of a woman’s womb, which is the physical birth of the “flesh,” and it occurs out of an amniotic water sac that has been protecting the baby in the womb:

Because the uterus, or womb, is a muscular sac containing a bag of waters (the sac containing the amniotic fluid) that more or less surrounds the child, contraction of the musculature of its walls should diminish its cavity and compress its contents. Because its contents are quite incompressible, however, they are forced in the direction of least resistance, which is in the direction of the isthmus, or upper opening of the neck of the uterus, and are driven, like a wedge, farther and farther into this opening. In addition to forcing the uterine contents in the direction of the cervix, shortening of the muscle fibres that are attached to the neck of the uterus tends to pull these tissues upward and away from the opening and thus adds to its enlargement. By this combined action each contraction of the uterus not only forces the bag of waters and fetus downward against the dilating neck of the womb but also pulls the resisting walls of the latter upward over the advancing bag of waters, presenting (farthest advanced) part of the child. . . . About the time that the cervix becomes fully dilated, the bag of waters breaks, and the force of the involuntary uterine contractions may be augmented by voluntary bearing-down efforts of the mother. With each labour pain, she can take a deep breath and then contract her abdominal muscles. The increased intra-abdominal pressure thus produced may equal or exceed the force of the uterine contractions. When properly used, accordingly, these bearing-down efforts may double the effectiveness of the labor pains. 13

Thus, Jesus responds with His chiastic, parallellistic answer: “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” – that is, yes, Nicodemus, (a) one must first be born of/out of water (the physical birth out of the amniotic water sac) and (b) secondly of/out of the Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God.

And again, Jesus restates His chiasmus – (a) that which is born of/out of the flesh (i.e., out of “water” from the amniotic water sac in the mother’s womb) is flesh, and (b) that which is born of/out of the Spirit is spirit.

I stress the use of “out of” in both instances because the Greek preposition that governs the two words, “water” and “Spirit,” is ἐξ (ex), and it means “of, out of, from, and out from.” Therefore, that which Jesus is stating is that there is a physical birth that we all must come “out of” in order to enter this physical world, but in order to “enter into the kingdom of God,” one must come “out of” a spiritual rebirth that is generated by the Holy Spirit within a person’s heart and mind, which has been presented from the very beginning in the Old Testament.

(Stay tuned for more next Wednesday!…)

13 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed., vol. 26, s.v. “Reproduction and Reproductive System,” 726.