“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5, ESV).
Jesus often made use of a linguistic/grammatical tool called parallelism. It is a colorful and repetitious communication that God employs throughout Scripture in order to aid our comprehension of spiritual things.
In the case of John 3:3-5, there is a very important parallelism we want to explore. In conversation with Nicodemas, Jesus said:
“Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
In order to see the parallel, let’s break the statement down into four easy phrases:
1) Truly, truly I say to you,
2) unless one is born again,
3) he cannot see
4) the kingdom of God
This sentence is about as ambiguous as they come. If you didn’t know anything else about the New Testament, you would have responded as Nicodemas did: “How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4).
After Nicodemas asked this question, Jesus responded with what seems to be the same words. But in reality, he changed the terminology just slightly, utilizing parallelism:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
The differences between verse 3 and verse 5 are slight but very intentional and important. I’ve stacked the parallel phrases in verses 3 and 5 so we can easily see them here:
-unless one is born again (v.3)
-unless one is born of water and the Spirit (v.5)
-he cannot see (v.3)
-he cannot enter (v.5)
The second set of phrases are the easiest to understand. See and enter are parallels. They refer to the same thing. “Enter” conveys the concept of gaining access, and “seeing” involves spiritual perception.
But then there’s the first two phrases. These are phrases that are more difficult to cipher, and a full understanding of how to interpret them, and thus come to an understanding of what the phrase “born again” means, does not come from these two verses alone. More evidence from other Scriptures must be supplied before we can draw a certain conclusion.
We tackle that in the next article.