In La Bible Du Semeur (BDS, French translation) there is a curious translation of John 3:5. It reads:
Vraiment, je te l’assure, reprit Jésus, à moins de naître d’eau, c’est-à-dire d’Esprit, personne ne peut entrer dans le royaume de Dieu.
“Really! I assure you”, continued Jesus, “unless born of water, that is to say of Spirit, a person cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” *
In Jn. 3:5b ex hydatos kai pneumatos/ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος is usually translated “of water and Spirit” under the assumption that the conjunction kai means “and.” This is true of other French translations such as Nouvelle Edition de Genève (NEG1979), Louis Segond (LG), and Louis Segond 21 (LG21) where the translators opted for d’eau et d’Esprit. I was curious as to why the BDS translators decided to provide such an interpretive translation (all translation are interpretive, but this is more so). This is the footnote they provided:
En grec, la conjonction traduite habituellement par et peut aussi avoir le sens de c’est-à-dire. Jésus semble se référer à la prophétie d’Ez 36.25-27 où la purification par l’eau est une image de l’œuvre de l’Esprit. Autre traduction: naître d’eau et d’Esprit.
In Greek, the conjunction is usually translated and though it can also have the sense of that is to say. Jesus seems to refer to the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:25-27 where the purification of the water is an image of the work of the Spirit. Other translation: born of water and of the Spirit. *
In other words, the BDS translators understood kai to mean “even,” “of water, even of Spirit.” Their rational is that it seems that Jesus’ words are adopted from Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NASB):
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
What do you say? First, do you think Jn 3:5 is echoing Ezek. 36:25-27? Second, would it be better to provide a simple translation or one that points the reader to intertextual echoes that the translator may find present? I don’t mind this translation since it provides a clarifying note.
* Pardon my French translation, since I am a novice. If there are any errors please let me know.
New covenant references to old covenant text are obviously interesting. This connection gets overlooked. I wasn’t aware of it until you posted this just now.
It’s certainly a reasonable suggestion.
If we check the few other times Jesus speaks of ‘water’ in GJohn, he consistently uses ‘water’ as a metaphor for the spirit. This at least makes it plausible within GJohn by itself, even without the cross reference to Ezekiel.
Would we venture to say that the Fourth Gospel aimed to consolidate baptisms?
I’m not seeing this “Jesus seems to refer to the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:25-27 where the purification of the water is an image of the work of the Spirit” in the passage from Ezekiel. The passage from Ezekiel reads more like “and” and not “that is to say”, imo.
I agree, the conjunction between vv. 25-26 does seem to allow for the interpretation that the water and the spirit are not one and the same, or one that follows the other. That doesn’t mean it isn’t connecting the symbols more closely, but it isn’t obvious that it has to be read like the BDS editors suggest.
Also, FWIW, Greek Ezekiel is as vague as the Hebrew, and as vague as John, using merely kai to connect the two blocks of thought.
I believe Jesus alludes here to Ezekiel as Ezekiel is often used in Johannine corpus (cf. the living water streaming from the believer or the Temple visions of Apocalypse). Ezekiel prophesied the regeneration of the sinful nation, purification with water and giving of God’s Spirit into the hearts of Israelites. So Jesus reminds Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, about it: you can’t enter the kingdom of God just as you are, it’s not enough for you to be the sons of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, because what’s born of the flesh is the flesh, which ends up in the valley of dry bones. Then the answer is an ambiguous Pneuma, ambiguous both in John and in Ezekiel: not sure if a wind blowing from the corners of the earth or the Spirit of God – or both. The Spirit regenerates, resurrects, purifies the true Israelites. And another indication that the Ezekiel is in the background is the fact that the conclusion of John 3 is the discussion about purification between disciples of John and the Jews – purification of baptism in water and Spirit.
Very helpful insight. Do you know of any articles or charts tracing the parallels b/t Ezek. and Jn?
Brian asked “Would we venture to say that the Fourth Gospel aimed to consolidate baptisms[?”
There’s a couple of things that suggest so.
Comparing and contrasting the Johannine gospel with the Synoptic gospels what stands out is the personality of the author (of the Johannine gospel). To be transparent about my presuppositions I must concede up-front that I don’t believe John wrote the Gospel credited to him (by latter tradition), rather I believe the disciple who Jesus loved [John 11:2-3,5] Lazarus wrote the book; the same Lazarus who Jesus raised from the dead (and became something of a celebrity because of this [John 12:9])
The Synoptic gospels mostly takes place in Galilee with minority references to Jerusalem.
The Johannine gospels mostly takes place in Jerusalem with minority references to Galilee.
(That the authors of the Synoptic gospels associated their experience with the Messiah in Galilee suggests they may have lived there, while the Johannine author may have lived in Jerusalem).
The grammar, syntax and theological references of the Synoptic gospels is mostly basic and concentrate on the person of the Messiah.
The grammar, syntax and theological references of the Johannine gospels are sophisticated and contain many references to old covenant theology and content (such as John 1 which paraphrases the Messiah’s role as creator paralleling the Genesis creation account). This author was preoccupied with a theological explanation of the Messiah.
This suggests that the authors of the synoptic gospels were uneducated whereas the author of the Johnnine gospel was not only educated but may even have been a Pharisee.
The writers of the Synoptic gospels are ambivalent about their own identity and appear to stand apart from the powerful in Jerusalem.
The writer of the Johannine gospel appears to mask his identity and appears to be very knowledgeable even familiar with the elite in Jerusalem.
The fourth gospel with its theological slant and apparent connection to the elite is the only gospel to document the importance baptism had to Yeshua’s ministry. For example [John 3:22] records that Jesus “baptised” a large number of people, so much so that his ministry of baptism began to eclipse the widely popular ministry of John the Baptist. Likewise [John 4:2] records that Jesus did not actually baptise anyone himself; rather he authorized His disciples to perform baptism on his behalf. But even if Jesus did not personally conduct baptisms, it is clear from the Gospel of John that baptism in water was important in the ministry of Jesus.
I don’t recall any specific work on the subject. Here’s some attempt to find parallels between Ezekiel and Apocalypse: http://planetpreterist.com/content/revelations-extensive-use-sequence-ezekiel-part-one And here’s, well – what the title says http://www.logos.com/product/7949/echoes-of-a-prophet-the-use-of-ezekiel-in-the-gospel-of-john-and-in-literature-of-the-second-temple-period I’d add to this a proposition from Scott Hahn that “many rooms” in the Father’s house from John 14 are the chambers of the Temple prophesied by Ezekiel. However I did not find a full study of this topic, I rely mostly on my own observations.
Oh, and the source for S. Hahn is here: http://www.scotthahn.com/download/attachment/3449 p. 114
On this one based on how Nicodemus has sounded, Jesus’ use of “born of water” makes more sense to me as “natural birth “. It just fits with me. Nicodemus even responds with the ludicrous , “do I go back in my mother’s womb”? question in response to the “born again” statement.
I generally agree with the allusions to the OT text, maybe not this time though. The immediate context sure seems to be a dichotomy between spiritual and physical births.
Thank you for sharing those. I’ll make sure to look at them.
But does Nicodemus’ answer suggest that we should understand “water” to be birth or that he misunderstood Jesus?
Comments are closed.