I explained last week how I came to see that the unanimous testimony of the early church -- in fact of Christianity until the time of the Reformation -- supported a sacramental view of baptism.
As historian J.N.D. Kelly writes in his classic Early Christian Doctrines, baptism was "always held to convey the remission of sins.... [It is that washing with] water which alone can cleanse penitents and which, being a baptism with the Holy Spirit, is to be contrasted with Jewish washings."
Now, with this historical truth in mind -- and mulling over what Catholic apologist Mark Shea had said about apostolic tradition functioning as a lens through which the light of God's revelation in scripture can come into focus for us -- I returned to the New Testament.
I wanted to read it as though for the first time. Look at it in the light of what I'd learned.
I began with the classic passage John 3:3-5:
'I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.' 'How can a man be born when he is old?' Nicodemus said. 'Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?' Jesus answered, 'tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God...'
Baptists of course say no. On the contrary, Jesus is drawing a contrast between natural birth (water) and supernatural rebirth (Spirit). In fact, a common interpretation is to take "water" to be a reference to the waters of birth -- amniotic fluid. Others say, no, water is a metaphor for Spirit. When Jesus says we must be born of "water and the Spirit" he's just saying the same thing in two ways.
Whatever he's saying, he most certainly isn't talking about baptism.
But then, the Catholic scripture scholars I was reading encouraged me to consider the context of these verses. When I did, I saw some things I'd never seen before.