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What is the meaning of "water" in John 3.5?

We have no hesitation in stating that water in the verse cited does not refer to baptism. In the religious world it is taught, and generally accepted, that baptism is the ordinary means of regeneration. This is an assertion utterly destitute of Biblical evidence. "Water" in John 3.5 is a figurative expression often used in Scripture as a clear symbol of the Word of God applied to the soul, in power, by the Holy Spirit of God. A reference to other Scriptures in the New Testament will show this. Compare the expression we are considering in John 3.5, "born of water", with James 1.18 where we read: "Of his own will begat he us by the word of truth", and with 1 Peter 1.23 which says "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever". Finally, turn to Ephesians 5.26 where we find the water definitely identified with the Word in the expression "the washing of water by the word". These texts are plain enough.

Water also purifies; hence by the use of the symbol more is conveyed than if it had been simply said "born of the word". It includes the effect produced as well as the instrumentality used of God in this, the beginning of all His ways with us in grace. The Holy Spirit applies the Word to the conscience and by this mighty operation of sovereign grace we are truly born anew. The Psalmist says: "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word" (Ps 119.9). Here again we have the effect in us of the power of the Word that results in cleansing from all sin.

John J Stubbs

Please explain the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11.19 "For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you".

Verses 17-19 of 1 Corinthians 11 are concerned with divisions and heresies in the assembly at Corinth. The words "I praise you not" (v.17) stand in marked contrast to those of v.2 "I praise you". The gatherings of the Lord's people should always be for the benefit of all the believers but, at Corinth, instead of their comings together being to the glory of God and the mutual edification of the saints, "for the better" (v.17), they were actually dishonouring to the Lord and detrimental to themselves, expressed in the words "for the worse" (v.17).

The phrase "first of all" (v.18) indicates what was uppermost in Paul's mind. There was no unity when the Corinthians came together. Indeed, Paul had heard that there were divisions or factions among them; there were cliques or parties based upon racial and social distinctions. Paul was prepared to accept these reports as being to some extent true, "I partly believe it" (v.18), though, as always, all that one hears cannot necessarily be taken at full face value. Reports of such troubles tend to become exaggerated.

He then adds "There must be also heresies among you" (v.19). The word "heresies" (Gk hairesis) implies a choice or an option, so that if "divisions" draws attention to the rifts among them, then "heresies" indicates their self-willed choice that it should be that way. The word "must" does not imply that it was a moral necessity but rather that, owing to the carnal conditions in the assembly, it was inevitable that factions would result. Hairesis is frequently translated "sect", especially in the book of Acts. "A sect is 'a division developed and brought to an issue'; the order 'divisions, heresies' in 'the works of the flesh' in Galatians 5.19-21 is suggestive of this" (Vine). A heretic, in the language of the New Testament, is a person who is concerned about gathering adherents to himself and maintaining some sectarian line of truth.

God graciously overrules in such circumstances to bring forward and reveal those described as "approved" (1 Cor 11.19). The approved are evidently those who resist such divisive action. The heresies thus become a test of faithfulness; departure from the ways of God always becomes a test of loyalty.

David E West


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