The Washing Of Water By The Word

by Mark Aites


“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26).

This latter portion of vs. 26 is closely linked to that of Titus 3:5 where Paul wrote of the washing of regeneration.  Both passages are clear references to baptism.  But even so, there has been considerable difficulty in achieving a correct interpretation.

The phrase “washing of water by the word” has caused considerable difficulty.  Some have mistakenly believed that when you read and receive the word of God that you are symbolically cleansed.  But to draw that conclusion Paul would have said, “The washing of the word.” But the text clearly states, “the washing of water by the word.”

What we need to do here is to focus on that qualifying part of the phrase, “by the word.”  Look closely at the preposition.  It can either mean by the agency of, or it can refer to location.  Here is a question; if it’s agency, then the passage is symbolic, as how can a person literally be washed by the Word of God?  If the author intended agency, it would have to be symbolic, but that doesn’t harmonize with other passages which teach that we are baptized or immersed in water for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).  On the other hand, the preposition can also mean location, that the washing of water is located or positioned in the Word of God.  The latter is most certainly in harmony with the teachings of the New Testament.  The Word of God does not wash us, but located within the Word of God is the instruction to be baptized.

He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). “There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).

The washing of water by the word, or washing of regeneration, without doubt, is referring to the baptism of the new birth, the same which saves us today.  It is not a symbolic cleansing, but an actual washing away of one’s sins (cf. Acts. 22:16).