[this essay first appeared as a response to a statement made on the Brisbane RF forum several years ago]
Good morning, Guys.
John 3:1-8 is often appealed to by RF pastors as a proof-text which supports their notion that baptism by immersion in water, followed by the Holy Spirit, will lead to 'tongues' (which, to the RF, equals 'being born again'). But how many pastors and 'folk' have read into this passage their own beliefs, rather than letting the passage inform and shape their beliefs?
I'd like to briefly comment on this passage, even though it was discussed in a previous thread in the open forums. My corrective comments there were removed, apparently because what I had to say disturbed the faithful! So I will now open the meaning of this important text to discussion on this forum.
First, we need to know a little about the way John wrote if we're to grasp what he sought to record. One of the literary devices that he frequently crafted into his Gospel was that of the 'misunderstood statement': Jesus says something but the hearer doesn't quite catch the meaning, which then allows Jesus to expand and further develop both the point he originally intended along with the theology underpinning it. The current passage is just one such example (another one which is related by theme and content to this one, is to be found later in the discussion between Jesus with the woman at the well).
"Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?' 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. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.'" (John 3:3-8, KJV)
Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born 'from above'. The Greek word he used was anothen (Gr. 509, anothen: 'from above'; by analogy 'from the first'; by implication 'anew.' KJV: 'from above, again...'). Nicodemus, being just a little obtuse, heard the word and automatically assumed the word's secondary meaning. Consequently, he understood Jesus as saying, "...you must be born again." But Jesus had sought to distinguish between the natural and the supernatural/regenerate state (see verse 6). He even pointed out that the natural man wouldn't be able to perceive ('see' Gr. 1492 'eido': ...'to see [literally, or figuratively]; by implication [in the perfect only], 'to know') the Kingdom of God. To Jesus the Kingdom, and it's implications, were completely beyond the grasp of unspiritual people.
The entire passage uses puns based on sophisticated wordplays in the Greek language to bring out the Jesus' teaching, so it's just about impossible to try and explain this passage without referring to the underlying Greek text at critical points. And we shouldn't be scared of the Greek in any case, given that it was in Greek that the God chose to record his New Testament in Christ.
After Nicodemus categorically proved that he was still in a natural/carnal state (note verse 4) Jesus proceeded to use Nicodemus' misunderstanding to further develop his theme and message. He said to Nicodemus, who is identified as 'THE Teacher of Israel', that a natural man simply can't enter into the Kingdom of God unless he's been born of water and wind. The first part of the pun is that both water and wind come from above (i.e. the Greek word anothen). As just about everyone knows, wind and spirit translate the same Greek word, which forms the second part of the pun: yet further confusion based on a natural inability to perceive the proper context of Jesus' message. We know that Jesus meant to liken the Spirit to wind because he described how it "blows where it wants". The principle point being that Jesus emphatically declared a person must be born from above, and that only such people would understand the implications of this given that only such people were truly spiritual.
So what exactly does the reference to water and wind mean? Well it certainly isn't a reference to baptism, but a clear reference to the Holy Spirit. The Greek phrase hudatos kai pneumatos forms what is referred to in Greek grammar as a hendiadys: that is, a construction where two words joined by a conjunction (e.g. 'and') express the one intended referent. A hendiadys involves the second of a pair words pointing back to and reinforcing the first word. In English our passage should be translated, "...by water/Spirit". This fact then frames the third part of the pun: Jesus pointed out that the Spirit comes from above, and as such, can be likened to water (this point becomes important later, when we consider the Old Testament passages that Jesus expected his words would cause Nicodemus to remember and reflect upon).
So, can we expect that Nicodemus would've somehow made a link from Jesus' words to the unusual practice of non-proselyte Jewish baptism that John the Baptist had recently introduced? I'd suggest that it isn't likely. Jesus called Nicodemus 'THE teacher of Israel'. He had been discussing the Kingdom of God, something eagerly anticipated by the Jews of the time. So given Nicodemus' position in Israel, Jesus was fully justified in expecting him to make the obvious connection to several prominent Old Testament passages that dealt with his theme, the clearest among being: Isaiah 44:3-5, and (especially!) Ezekiel 36:24-28 and 37:9-10.
In my reading of the articles published at this site, I noticed that pastor Brad Smith has continued an old RCI myth in appealing to the "...hearest the sound thereof..." of verse 8 as a direct reference to 'tongues'. But this is silly nonsense, and isn't to be found anywhere in the text. Appeals to meaning Strong's Concordance invariably fall over at this point, and for several reasons. First among them is that the meaning of the *text* has been directly subordinated to a perceived *theology*. Further, Strong's is wholly inadequate in expressing the complete range of meaning for the Greek words phone (Gr. 5456) and akouo (Gr. 191). For example, Strong's reference for phone is but a scant four lines long. Bauer's Lexicon, the academic standard for NT Greek, devotes an entire column and a half to this word, and quotes scores of references spanning the Greek translation of the OT through to the NT, and to sources contemporary to the NT. What comes to light as a consequence is that the word has a far broader range of meaning than Brad Smith claims, or that Strong's infers. For example, the word could also be used to refer to music produced by instruments (so Plato's Republic 3. 397a). This meaning has carried across into the NT as well (e.g. Matthew 24:31, 1 Corinthians 14:7, and Revelation 8:13). So contrary to Brad's claims, John 3:8 is NOT the only occasion where phone has been translated as something other than 'voice' at all.
But even if one wishes to maintain that this is the word's principle meaning, the claim that 'tongues' is in view can be disqualified. Unfortunately for Brad and others like him, attention has been directed to the wrong word! I now refer you all to Vine's Expository Dictionary, s.v. 'HEAR, HEARING' on pages 534 and 535 in my handy Nelson's edition (1997 ed). Vine is a little more useful, and honest, a reference than is Strong's when quoted by the non-Greek reader, as he provides a useful measure of the grammatical information needed to ensure that the proper context is maintained when reviewing biblical texts. But he also expects a little more understanding on the part of the reader as to the way language works as well. In our case, Dr Vine discusses several passages, highlighting the very *real* difference in meaning that a difference in grammatical case effects. Vine describes the difference in outcome that results should the genitive case appear in contrast to the accusative, by commenting on an apparent contradiction between Acts 9:7 and 22:9. Here, he writes: "The former indicates a hearing of the sound, the latter indicates the meaning or message of the voice (this they did NOT hear)."
I will now quote what he has to say about our current passage: "In John 5:25, 28, the genitive case is used, indicating a 'sensational perception' that the Lord's voice is sounding; in 3:8, of hearing the WIND the accusative is used, stressing the 'THING PERCEIVED.'" The point missed by Brad Smith in his article, the point missed by RF apologists the world over who seek to prove their nonsense from our passage is this: akouo (Gr. 191) doesn't automatically mean to hear something AUDIBLY at all! It can also mean to perceive SPIRITUALLY, which is precisely what Jesus intended in John 3:8!
Nicodemus demonstrated that he was natural/carnal. Consequently, he didn't have the insight that comes from being spiritual; he completely missed what Jesus was saying to him because he was looking at the matter from a purely natural angle! You fellows, might I add, have done precisely the same thing.
John 3:8 doesn't teach baptism by water followed by the Holy Spirit will lead to the 'voice' of 'tongues' at all. What it does prove; however, is that natural, unregenerate man will invariably and completely miss the point that Jesus made between earthly/natural understanding, and spiritual/supernatural perception. Think about it ;)