What it means to be “Born of Water and the Spirit”

Some have taught that being born of water means baptism (implying baptismal regeneration) and some others have interpreted it as physical birth. To find out, we need to take a look at the entire teaching of the New Testament.

John 3:3, 5 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again … Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”

If this text alone implied that baptism was a key prerequisite to entering the Kingdom of God, then Jesus would have made it a requirement of salvation, but this is not so.

Now, if baptism is not the New Birth, to what does the word “water” in John 3:5 refer? Let us look elsewhere and see what are the agents and instruments by which the work of regeneration is wrought:

1 Peter 1:23 “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

James 1:18 “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

1 Corinthians 4:15 “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.”

Titus 3:5 “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

In these passages we see that regeneration or rebirth is wrought by the word of God and Spirit of God. We are born again by the Word of God and the Spirit of God.

Now in John 3:5, we have the Spirit directly mentioned but can the “water” be taken to mean “the word” without forcing the language? First, let’s compare it to Ephesians 5:25, 26:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”

Indeed, the Greek word translated “word” here in Ephesians (rēmati) is a different word from the Greek word translated “word” (logos) when the Word of God is spoken of. But in 1 Pet. 1:25 (“… And this is the word that was preached to you”), the same rēmati that is translated “word” in Eph. 5:26, is used twice of “the Word of God,” and that, too, is direct connection with regeneration by the Word.

In John 15:3, Jesus said: “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” See also John 17:17 “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”

But some may ask why did not Jesus say plainly, without a figure in John 3: “Except a man be born of the word and the Spirit”? The answer to this is very simple.

The whole passage is highly figurative. The word translated “the Spirit” (Pneuma) is itself figurative: means literally “wind” and is without the definite article.

Literally translated the passage would read, “Except any one be born out of water and wind.” In this, the wind symbolizes the vivifying element, the Holy Spirit. (Compare Ezekiel 37:9, 10.) Naturally, therefore, “the water” symbolizes the cleansing element, the “word.” (Compare John 15:3).

The passage thus reduced to non-figurative language would read, “Except any man be born of the word of God and the Spirit of God.” Thus we would have Jesus teaching the doctrine afterwards taught by Paul and James and Peter.

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Does the Bible Endorse Slavery? (II)

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One of the common charges levied against the Bible is that, since the New Testament writers exhorted slaves to obey their masters in the Roman social system, the Bible actually approves of slavery and has contributed to inhumanity and oppression.

First of all, the atheist has no moral or logical ground to stand on to condemn slavery. If our actions are determined by random collisions of molecules in our brain – as many atheists believe – then slavery cannot be morally wrong. It would be an expression of natural selection.

Unbelievers vainly boast that humans, not God, put an end to slavery in America while the slave traders justified their dehumanization with some Bible verses. The fact is, the abolitionists were Christians, and they appealed to the Bible to support their anti-slavery stance.

The chancellor of Protestant University, William Wilson, stated that slavery was “at war with the image of God in which man was created” as it treats other humans as less than human as God created him and lowering the person to property.

On the other hand, the biblical texts the pro-slavery advocates were able to cobble together were weak, astutely wrenched and tortured paths.

These men were simply a bunch of wicked, racist and bigoted folks who used the Bible to rationalize their atrocities. That didn’t mean the Bible was really on their side.

Even the most well intentioned religious text can be misinterpreted and misused by people for their own advantage. Interestingly, the Western slave masters and modern atheists are united in their absurd misinterpretation and mutilation of the Bible. They approach the Book the same way a butcher approaches a hog!

It’s not enough for skeptics of all stripes to quote some extracted Bible verses (often to “prove” their preconceived notions), we must examine the complete testimony and see the big picture.

Of course, the dogmatic Bible hater will derisively dismiss this, but once their false assertions are refuted, their propaganda collapses into a pile of pixie dust.

The following texts are often quoted to “prove” that the NT upholds slavery:

“Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord” (Colossians 3:22).

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ” (Ephesians 6:5)

Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative” (Titus 2:9).

1. Jesus Christ had already pointed to the mission of freedom from all forms of slavery: spiritual, mental and physical. Quoting Isaiah 61:1-2, He declared:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed (Lk. 4:18).

The practical application of this verse is what led to the elucidation of freedom and the denunciation of forms of slavery.

2. The church was born into an already existing secular social world. Christianity didn’t come with a social reform programme for Israel and Rome, because that is not how the kingdom of God – which is inward, rather than geographical – works.

Therefore, when apostle Paul exhorts slaves within the Roman systems to behave themselves, he is not promoting or advocating the situation they were in, but was calling for good conduct while in such an already existing predicament in the hopes that their masters would see such good conduct and convert to Christianity and be saved (Titus 2:10). It was for the benefit of people’s eternal salvation.

3. The apostles weren’t revolutionaries and the early Christians were minorites. The older religions within the Roman Empire (Heathenism, Mystery Religions, State religion) should have borne a higher responsibility of emancipation of slaves because they had greater political might.

As for Eph. 6:5 what did unbelievers expect Paul to say? Should he incite Christian slaves to defy their Roman masters? What do they think happened to insubordinate slaves under Roman law? Did they even bother to think that far?

Under Roman law, a runaway slave was often mercilessly dealt with:

“He could be scourged branded, mutilated, or fitted with a metal collar, perhaps even be crucified, thrown to beasts, or killed. (Joseph Fitzmyer, The Letter to Philemon, Doubleday Publishing, 2000, p. 28).

I am sure that if the NT had admonished Christian slaves to rebel against their Roman masters, modern atheists would still find a way to gripe over that. If believers walked by the Tiber, cynics would still say they walked because they couldn’t swim.

4. Paul exhorts slave masters to treat their slaves well. He commands those who are slave masters in this existing social system to be good to and not threaten their slaves.

Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your hearts. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free” (Eph. 6:6-8)

5. Paul affirmed freedom over slavery

Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so” (1 Cor. 7:21).

Gleason Archer has shown that while Paul exhorted slaves to obey their masters, he said that slaves should do do all in their ability to purchase their own freedom. (Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan, 1982, p. 87).

6. The Bible does not support Slave and Master casses

Slavery runs on the cultural machinery of racial, political, religious and social-economic superiority. But the Bible elevates man as created in the image of God and affirms the equality of all men. This conflicts with the idea behind slavery.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).

“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven” (Colossians 4:1)

Here, apostle Paul affirms both slaves and masters are equal having a true master in heaven, and that masters on earth must not mistreat their slaves.

7. The Bible condemns slavery and the slave trade

We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers,for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:9-10).

Notice that slavery is included in the list of vices here and slave traders are grouped together with murderers and ungodly people.

In Revelation 18:10-13 Babylon is rebuked and judged in the context of trafficking slaves and greedily making wealth with merchants:

And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore … cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.”

Most unbelievers are fond of selectively citing bible passages and neglecting cross-references, hence giving a distorted picture. And the most arrogant part is how they believe they know the Bible more than Christians who have spent the whole of their lives studying it.

Does the Bible Endorse Slavery? (I)

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Whenever the topic of Islam-approved slavery is brought up by a Christian, a typical tu quoque (“you too”) response of Islam’s apologists is to point to some places in the Bible where slavery is allegedly endorsed – a response that ignores the fact that Christianity predates Islam by 6 centuries.

Slavery-in-the-bible also constitutes one of the garden variety arguments used by Atheists to virulently attack the God of the Bible. The “glue” binding both groups of Bible bashers – Muslims and atheists – is the dollop of emotional blackmail infused into their (mis)perception of slavery.

Whenever biblical slavery is mentioned by such people, it is often deployed to incite an emotional reaction connected with the racist slavery of the American south in the 18th and 19th centuries, or other brutal instances of slavery in the ancient world.

However, to read such concepts into Old Testament Israelite servanthood or the foreign slavery which the Bible permits, would be absolutely inaccurate and deceptive.

In this article, the stark differences between OT servanthood and American chattel slavery will be highlighted and passages often used by Bible haters will be explained. In the next article, we will examine passages pertaining to slavery in the New Testament.

1. It might interest skeptics to know that the terms “slave” and “master” used in the OT are not the best translations of Hebrew words ‘ebed and ‘adon. The word ‘ebed simply means “employee” or “servant” and should not be translated “slave.”

Old Testament scholar, John Goldingay, noted that “there is nothing inherently lowly or undignified about being an ‘ebed.” Instead it was an honourable and dignified term” (John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, Intervarsity, 2009, Vol. 3, p. 460).

The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon of the OT notes that ebed can refer to “servant of a household” and cites Exodus 21:2 which will still be examined later in this piece.

Mounce’s Dictionary also defines the word as a “servant.” An ‘adon in Hebrew was a “boss” or “employer” in these contexts and “master” is a bit too strong of a translation.

2. The language used in the OT hardly suggests slavery, but rather a formal contractual agreement to be fulfilled. They were more of debt-servanthood arrangements.

When a family incurred debt or experienced a disaster, such as crop failure, an individual could voluntarily enter into a contractual agreement (that is, “sell” himself) to work in the household of another and pay off his debt. This is stated in Lev. 25:47 “one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells himself.”

A scholar explains:

“Even when the terms buy, sell or acquire are used for servants/employees, they don’t mean the person in question is ‘just property’ . . .  Rather, these are formal contractual agreements, which is what we find in the Old Testament servanthood/employee arrangements. One example of this contracted employer/employee relationship was Jacob’s working for Laban for seven years so that he might marry his daughter Rachel.” (Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Baker Books, 2011, p. 125).

3. In addition to what was clarified above, indentured servitude existed primarily as a means of debt payment. These employees lived with and worked for a family for economic sustenance (Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:1, 12).

It was like enlisting in the army where you forgo certain freedoms you had as a civilian to enjoy compensatory benefits. The OT affirms God ordained servitude for people as a means of survival when all other means were exhausted.

4. OT slavery was never chattel slavery like the American South was. Indentured servants had certain rights and protections accorded to them by the Mosaic law:

“The ancient Hebrews as a people knew slavery in their Egyptian bondage (Exod. 1:10-14; 5:5-14), from which they eventually were led to be free people under Moses (Exod. 12:37-42). Because of that experience, Mosaic legislation developed certain rules about the keeping of slaves: ‘Remember that once you were salves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you; that is why I give you this order today’ (Deut. 15:15; cf. Lev. 25:42-45, 55).

“Even though slavery as a social and economic institution was recognized in ancient Israel, there was a clear attempt to humanize it in a way that set Israel apart from its neighbors. The social and economic structure of ancient Palestine was not, therefore, built on slavery, as it often was in other contemporary cultures and lands.” (Joseph Fitzmyer, The Letter to Philemon, Doubleday, 2000, p. 29).

This stands in contrast to American slavery. The agrarian economy of the old South was labour-intensive. Slaves were used as an easy source of cheap, mass labour.

5. OT servants were more like live-in butlers or nannies. They did not walk around with chains around their neck, enduring racism, or being worked to death like in the old South. Lifelong slavery was even forbidden.

Deuteronomy 15:16 shows servants often truly loved the leaders of the household and thought of them as family. Leviticus 25:53 says such servants were to be treated as men “hired from year to year” not “rule[d] over ruthlessly.” According to a reference work:

“Slaves were afforded a degree of legal protection in Israel. The Covenant Code stipulated three basic measures: beating a slave to death would necessitate an unspecified punishment (Ex. 21:30); if a master permanently injured a slave, release of the slave was required (21:26f.); and masters were required to provide the sabbath rest for their slaves (23:12) …

“Besides these general regulations, the law afforded Hebrew slaves further protections. They could be held for only six years (Ex. 21:2ff.; Dt. 15:12; but see Lev. 25:39f.). The Deuteronomic Code further stipulated that the master would have to provide the freedman with animals, grain, and wine (Dt. 15:13f.). They were not returnable to foreign owners if they succeeded in running away (23:15f.)…” (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. Goeffrey Bromiley, Eerdmans, 1988, Vol. 4, p. 541).

All of these facts destroy the emotional reaction atheists wish to evoke in people when telling them that “the bible endorses slavery.” It’s simple mindedness to meld narratives of slavery in history with this biblical servitude.

On Exodus and Slavery

A favourite passage Bible bashers use to play up their card is Exodus 21:20-21

When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.”

Notice that according to verse 20, the murder of servants is strongly prohibited and was punishable by death. Of course, unbelievers often ignore this truth because it doesn’t go with the grand plan.

In vs. 21, the boss is given the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t intend to murder the servant but was disciplining him for doing some moral wrong he wasn’t supposed to. In that case the boss would not be put to death since it would be ruled accidental.

This didn’t mean bosses should discipline their servants so cruelly that they died after two days or that this was somehow endorsed. That’s not what the text is saying.

It’s simply saying if such an accidental death occurs after a disciplinary punishment, the boss did not deserve death. Life for a life applied only when there was a wilful intent to murder.

God didn’t allow physical abuse of servants. If an employer’s disciplining his servant resulted in immediate death, that employer (“master”) was to be put to death for murder (Exo. 21:20) – unlike other ancient Near Eastern codes (see Christopher Wright, Old Testament Ethics and the People of God, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2006, p. 292).

Infact, Babylon’s Hammurabi’s Code permitted the master to cut off his disobedient slave’s ear.

Some skeptics gripe over the end of vs. 21 which says, “for the slave is his money,” a remark that seems to suggest the servant was his master’s property. Such distortion of the text to fit the narrative of the bible basher is understandable. We call them skeptics for a reason.

The Hebrew doesn’t say “the slave is his money.” What it says is, “that is his money.” Ancient Near East scholar, Harry Hoffner, has shown in his work, Slavery and Ancient Slavery in Haiti and Israel, that based on the context of Exodus 21:18-19 the text should be rendered, “the fee is his money” in the sense that the fee the boss would pay for medical treatment for the soon-to-die injured servant was money.

From its Hebrew context, the text is saying that the death was accidental and the boss tried to save the servant by paying for medical treatment thus, the boss should not be executed since his punishment or “fee” for this tragic accidental death was money he paid in trying to save the servant.

Finally, another “troubling passage” is Exodus 21:7-11 which makes mention of a man selling his daughter as an ‘amah, rendered “slave” or “servant.”

Here is what an Old Testament scholar has to say:

“This paricope pertains to a girl who is sold by her father, not for slavery, but for marriage. Nonetheless, she is designated a ‘servant’ (‘amah, v. 7). Should the terms of marriage not be fulfilled, it is to be considered a breach of contract, and the purchaser must allow the girl to be redeemed; she must not be sold outside that family (v. 8). Always she must be treated as a daughter or a free-born woman, or the forfeiture clause will be invoked” (Walter Kaiser, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan, 1990, Vol. 2, p. 430).

Once the entire historical and linguistical context of the passage is grasped, the shrill assertions of the critic evaporate into thin air.

Sadly, in their seething rage to attack the Bible, unbelievers never pause to consider that the “50 bad bible verses” they cite (usually gleaned from a village atheist) consist of misinterpreted texts, context butchered, idioms or meanings of words vastly misunderstood, rudimentary, elementary exegetical and hermeneutical principles spat upon and scornfully dismissed.