ASK FR. JOE
“Could you discuss John 3:5-8 concerning being born again?”
This passage is part of a longer conversation that Jesus has with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. He would meet with Jesus at night (probably out of fear of being persecuted by others) and discuss different things. John 3:1-6 is my favorite passage to read when I do an infant baptism, because it describes precisely what happen at a baptism.
To understand this passage, we need to take a closer look at the phrase that Jesus says in both verse 3 and in verse 6, “born from above”. The original Greek phrase (which is the language John wrote in) can mean either “born from above” or “born again”. Jesus means the first example, but Nicodemus seems to misunderstand and thinks Jesus means the second. Looking at it this way, we can perhaps understand Nicodemus’ confusion. From a scientific point of view, being “born again” is impossible! As Nicodemus says, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he? (v. 4)” Jesus is talking about something much deeper than the physical body. He is talking about our eternal soul.
Jesus explains in verse 5 that we must be born of water and Spirit before we can enter the Kingdom of God. Scholars agree that Jesus is talking about baptism. Water by itself is able to cleanse and is necessary for physical life. The Holy Spirit is able to bless us and sanctify (bless) us. But together, water and Spirit allow us to be born from above. We receive a Sacrament that cleanses our souls of sin, helps us avoid sin in the future, and makes us sons and daughters of God. Exactly how this works or how this is even possible is still a mystery of our faith. Jesus uses an analogy of wind in verse 8: just as we do not know where the wind comes from or where it is going, so also we do not know where the Spirit might lead us once He enters our lives. That verse is also a play on words because the Greek word for “wind” also means “spirit”.
I often tell couples who are having their newborns baptized, that we are essentially celebrating another birthday for them. We should all celebrate our baptismal day. If you do not know the date of your baptism, I encourage you to look it up. It is worth remembering the day we were born from above.