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Written by Sylvester Hassell   

The Gospel Messenger—October 1885

WILSON, N. C., July 27, 1885

Elder D. Bartley, Crawfordsville, Ind—Dear Brother—the exact translation of John iii. 3, is—“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, if one be not born from above (or anew), he can not see the kingdom of God.” Christ’s language in John iii. 5, is, I think, an enlarged repetition of the same thought. The exact translation of the latter expression is—“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, if one be not born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” The word “man,” used in the King James Version, is not in the original Greek of either verse. And the words “of” and “the” used immediately before “Spirit” in the fifth verse, in the King James version, are not in the original. There is thus shown to be, I think, a close and inseparable connection between “water” and “Spirit.” An equivalent expression is found in Titus iii. 5 –“The washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” The numerous washings in the Mosaic law made water familiar to the Jews as an emblem of purification. John himself tells us in vii. 37—39, that by the term “water,” Christ meant the “Spirit.” The same fact is shown in Isa. xliv. 3, and Ezek. xxxvi. 25—27. By “water and Spirit,” it seems to me, that Christ meant “purifying Spirit,” or “Holy Spirit.” A similar expression is found in Matt in 11—“He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire.” The preposition, as in John iii. 5, is not repeated. Both fire and water are purifying and powerful principles, and are used to represent the Holy Spirit. In reference to fire being thus used, see Exod. iii. 2—11, xiii. 21, 22, xxi v.17; Isa. iv. 4: Ezek. i. 4, 27; Dan. vii. 9;  Mal. iii. 2, 3, &c.; Acts ii. 3, 4. I believe that both Matt. iii. 11 and John iii. 5, are instances of hendiadys, a figure, not uncommon in Latin and Greek, by which an idea is expressed by two nouns connected by and, instead of being expressed by a noun and a limiting adjective, or genitive—the two expressions meaning “the fire of the Holy Ghost,” “the water of the Spirit”—that is, “the puri­fying power of the Spirit.” I think that literal water baptism is no more alluded to in John iii. 5 than literal fire baptism in Matt. iii. 11. In describing the heavenly or spiritual birth, water is not used in John i. 13, or in iii. 3, 6, 8. In the latter verse, “wind” is used to represent the Spirit, just as water is used in the fifth verse. The term “water” in John iii. 5, seems to be used in contrast to the term “blood” in John i. 13. The first, or natural birth, of a human being, is of the “flesh” (John iii. 6), or of “blood” (which contains all the elements of the flesh or body), and of “the will of the flesh” (natural desire), and of “the will of man” (natural volition); but, in total contradistinction, the birth necessary for an entrance into the kingdom of God is, not from such corrupt sources, but “of water,” from a pure source, “from above,” “of the Spirit,” “of God.”

The profound spiritual mind of John, the especially beloved and last surviving apostle, the last inspired teacher of the human race, eagerly drank in and retained and recorded the deepest words of his Divine Master. His gospel, “the golden sunset of inspiration,” is the most spiritual production in human literature. He begins it with a reference to the first of Genesis, but he goes back to a more ancient beginning even than Moses—a beginning before all creation, when God alone, Father, Son, and Spirit, filled eternity with his presence. And so Christ’s expression in John iii. 5, seems to carry our minds back to Gen. i. 2, when the Spirit of God, in a vivify­ing and illuminating manner, moved upon the face of the waters. Thus the incarnate God tells the Jewish ruler, and tells us all, that no fleshly descent, or advantage, or effort, will prepare us for admission into his kingdom; we must go beyond self, beyond salvation, beyond Adam, beyond all creature power, to the eternal and omnipotent Creator, who, in the beginning created the heavens and the earth, and who alone, can new-create the poor, dead sinner, in the spiritual image of God, and prepare him for entrance into his holy, heavenly, and eternal kingdom.


Yours in love,



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