“Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). This is one of the most well-known, yet most misunderstood, texts in all the Bible. Folks who miss it are in good company because Nicodemus did not understand it. But Jesus explained Himself in verse 5, yet many still do not understand.
One reason for this error is the failure to recognize the language. Verse 5 teaches the exact same thing as verse 3. There is not one birth in verse 3 and two in verse 5 as many allege. The word “born” in verse 5 is singular, meaning there is one birth, consisting of both water and Spirit, by which one is born again as in verse 3.
We also understand this to be true because the blessing found in each verse is the same. When a text uses similar language and the result is the same, those things should be understood as being the same. For example, in Acts 2:38, Peter said that repentance and baptism were both requisites for receiving remission of sins. But in Acts 3:19 he said it this way, “Repent and be converted that your sins might be blotted out…” Both statements are teaching the same thing.
Thus, in verse 3, Jesus says one must be born again to see the kingdom of God. In verse 5 He says one must be born of water and Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. Seeing the kingdom of God and entering the kingdom of God are the same thing. So, there is only one birth here under consideration, and it involves both water and Spirit (cf Eph 5:26).
Another stumbling block for most to properly grasp the text is the general disbelief in the necessity of water baptism in order to be saved, even though there are a multitude of Scriptures that so teach (e.g., Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16). In rejecting of the clear teaching of Scripture, many have invented fanciful explanations of what “water” means in today’s text. Many have opined that the water of John 3:5 is amniotic fluid, what we speak of when a pregnant woman’s “water” breaks. Though such is called water, it is not water. The Bible never uses the word water to describe amniotic fluid. Jesus said “water” and that is exactly what He meant, else what did John mean later in this same chapter when he wrote that John baptized at Aenon because “there was much water there (v 23)?
Let the text teach what it teaches.