Fathers on: Born Again of Water & Spirit


A commenter made a case for why John 3 is NOT talking about baptism. Nicodemus asks, “How can a man be born again?” and Jesus replies: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. You can see his case for his interpretation
on my post How Was Baptism Administered in the Early Church?

You may be the judge of how well he makes his case. But the problem with it is, historically that is not how Christians understood or interpreted John 3. Since, we have seen how much division is caused by differing interpretations in Protestantism and stubborn insistence upon a certain interpretation to the point of leaving a church and starting another, I say to myself:

How did the people in the early Church interpret this passage?

That is much more likely to be the true interpretation and much closer in time to when Jesus taught. And, I also ask myself:

What Church has been in existence since Jesus founded His Church on Rock?

I have found the answer to both questions in the Catholic Church Here is what Justin who died for his faith said in 151 A.D.

“As many as are persuaded and believe that what we [Christians] teach and say is true . . . are brought by us where there is water and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God the Father . . . and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit [Matt. 28:19], they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, ‘Unless you are born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:3]” (First Apology 61).

Around 190 A.D., Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons, wrote, “And [Naaman] dipped himself . . . seven times in the Jordan’ [2 Kgs. 5:14]. It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [this served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions, being spiritually regenerated as newborn babes, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:5]” (Fragment 34).

In the year 252 A.D., Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, said that when those becoming Christians “receive also the baptism of the Church . . . then finally can they be fully sanctified and be the sons of God . . . since it is written, ‘Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’ [John 3:5]” (Letters 71[72]:1).

Augustine wrote, “From the time he [Jesus] said, ‘Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:5], and again, ‘He that loses his life for my sake shall find it’ [Matt. 10:39], no one becomes a member of Christ except it be either by baptism in Christ or death for Christ” (On the Soul and Its Origin 1:10 [A.D. 419]).

Augustine also taught, “It is this one Spirit who makes it possible for an infant to be regenerated . . . when that infant is brought to baptism; and it is through this one Spirit that the infant so presented is reborn. For it is not written, ‘Unless a man be born again by the will of his parents’ or ‘by the faith of those presenting him or ministering to him,’ but, ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit’ [John 3:5]. The water, therefore, manifesting exteriorly the sacrament of grace, and the Spirit effecting interiorly the benefit of grace, both regenerate in one Christ that man who was generated in Adam” (Letters 98:2 [A.D. 408]).

I do not trust myself to infallibly interpret scripture. I don’t trust you either, no offense. I trust the Church founded by Jesus 2000 years ago. If I am wrong, I also trust the mercy of God. But He knows I honestly sought the truth and went where it led me….even to the Catholic Church. Have you read my conversion story? Click–>My Conversion I did NOT want to become Catholic. But, I had to follow where TRUTH led me.

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