b. Baptism is very much in the context. John 1:19 ff. discusses the baptism of John. Indeed, in 1:26, John the Baptist says “I baptize with water” and in 1:33, John says that Jesus “will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” This is, of course, parallel with “born of water and Spirit” (although John the Baptist speaks disjunctively – it’s water or it’s Spirit) whereas Jesus is speaking conjunctively (which is closer to the church’s traditional understanding but not how John the Baptist spoke). Immediately after the account of Jesus with Nicodemus, we read in 3:22 that Jesus and his disciples went to the countryside and baptized with water.
c. There is no evidence that the Jews thought of water as an element of or symbol for physical birth. Indeed, John’s earlier references to natural physical birth speak of being “born of blood.” John 1:12-13. In both cases, “of” is the same preposition, ‘ek. One commentator who sought evidence that the Jews used “water” to refer to physical birth came up with considerable evidence of water being a Jewish metaphor for conception, but nothing for associating water with physical birth. Continue reading