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Comparative Theology, book by H. H. Pope Shenouda III

15- What is the position of water in salvation and the second birth?


(a) Although the word 'water' is not mentioned in the phrases: "brought us forth by the word of truth" and "having been born again... through the word of God", yet it is mentioned plainly in the Lord's saying: "...unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John.3: 5). In this verse, it is clear that rebirth is from water. The water meant is real water and not symbolic. Image: A Coptic Bishop, and Baptism water صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: أسقف قبطي، و مياه المعمودية Image: A Coptic Bishop, and Baptism water

صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: أسقف قبطي، و مياه المعمودية

(b) This is clear when Cornelius and his Gentile followers accepted the faith and were joined to the Church. In this case righteous persons were called to the faith by God: An angel appeared to Cornelius and Peter saw a vision; a Divine command. Then St. Peter preached to them the word of God and the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message (Acts 11: 1) and they spoke in tongues.

Was that sufficient for their second birth? Could St. Peter tell them: "Blessed is this second birth to you all"? Obviously this was not the case, as St. Peter, after he had witnessed the descent of the Holy Spirit on them, said: "'Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptised who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?' And he commanded them to be baptised in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10: 47,48).

The writer of the Book of Acts comments immediately on this event by saying: "...the Gentiles had also received the word of God" (Acts 11: 1), and we have discussed this issue before here on in other pages. Here the importance of water goes alongside the importance of the word, and the word ‘water’ does not mean ‘the word’ as some interpret it in the Epistle to the Ephesians (Eph.5: 26).

(c) Another clear example is the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. When he believed, the Holy Bible says: "Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, 'See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptised?' Then Philip said, 'If you believe with all your heart, you may.' And he answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.' So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptised him" (Acts 8: 36-38).

This was a baptism of water, exactly the same as the baptism of Cornelius and his followers; baptism of actual water was necessary immediately after the preaching of the Word. In this case the water was not the word. If the eunuch were born of the word and washed by the word what then was the need for water?

Concerning this, I would like to speak about an important subject: The importance of water and its symbols in the Holy Bible.

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