WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XL) 12/09/22

5:6 And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by His baptism in water and shedding His blood on the cross – not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with His testimony.

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XL) 12/09/22

5:6 And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by His baptism in water and shedding His blood on the cross – not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with His testimony.

  • The context requires “water” and “blood” as referring, not so much to anything characteristic in the person, as to some matter of fact in the Apostles of Jesus the Anointed One. If anything of this kind were meant, “water” and “blood” would not have been represented as something independent and distinct from the Anointed One, bearing witness in favor of His dignity. But the facts here alluded to must clearly be of such a nature, that, in conformity with the prophecies of the First Covenant, and with the expectations respecting the “coming One” at the time of the Anointed One, the principal and most essential credentials for the Messiahship of Jesus are contained in them, and, indeed, a particular reference to the Anointed One’s work of atonement or purifying world-overcoming power.
  • By the emphatic addition: “did not come by water only, but by water and blood,” John hinted that he meant such facts in the life of Jesus as were somehow distinct, as facts, each of which contained a Messianic credential, but which, in their import being essentially one, and mutually serving each other as a compliment, only united together and in conjunction with the Spirit could first afford the perfect Spirit of God concerning the Messianic dignity of Jesus the Anointed One.
  • By “water” and “blood,” only such facts can be meant as, in the Christian consciousness of the readers were, by their recollection, both the history of Jesus and the whole tenor by John’s symbolism, easily recognized.[1]

With plain talk, Albert Barnes (1798-1870) notes that the object of the Apostle John in verse six, in connection with verse eight, is to state the nature of the evidence that Jesus is the Son of God. He refers to three well-known things he probably had insisted on in his preaching – the water, the blood, and the Spirit. He says this furnished evidence on the very point he was illustrating by showing that Jesus on whom they believed was God’s Son. “This,” says John, “is the same one, the very Person, to whom the well-known and important testimony bears witness, and to Him alone. The fact these undisputed things relate only to Him, and not to any other who might claim to be the Messiah; and they all agree on the same one point,”[2] that He came by water and blood. But, of course, this does not mean that He was accompanied by water and blood when Mary delivered Him into the world. Still, the idea is that the water and the blood were manifest during His continued appearance, or that they were remarkable testimonials in some way to His character and ministry.

The idea is that the water and the blood were manifest during His appearing on earth, or that they were remarkable testimonials in some way to His character and work. An ambassador might be said to come with credentials; a warrior might return with the spoils of victory; a prince might arrive with the insignia of royalty; a prophet comes with signs and wonders, and the Lord Jesus came with power to raise the dead, and to heal disease, and to cast out devils. But John here fixes the attention on a fact so impressive and remarkable in his view as worthy of special remark that He came by water and blood.[3]

With impressive theological and spiritual vision, Richard Rothe (1799-1867) talks about this faith in Jesus as the Anointed One, which the Apostle John just presented as the only world-conquering power.[4] John now shows that it rests upon the secure witness of God to Jesus as His Son.[5] He also warns about the fearful danger associated with the refusal of the faith in Jesus that is required. To reject this faith, John says, is to make God a liar and renounce eternal life. The witness of God to Jesus is essentially a witness to the fact that God has given us eternal life, namely, in Jesus His Son, in whom alone it is possessed.[6] In verses six and seven, John states the basis on which the assurance is grounded is that Jesus is the Anointed One, the (Messiah).[7]

Consistent with the Apostle John’s way of thinking, Heinrich A. W. Meyer (1800-1873) notes the discussion about the genuineness of the disputed words in verses seven and eight has reached a point where substantially all competent and candid scholars agreed that external and internal evidence is powerful against leaving these words in the text. The introduction of three who bear witness in heaven is unconnected with developing thoughts of the context and the chapter. This thinking, so far as a matter of fact or truth is concerned, is this: Jesus is God’s Son; so far as evidence is concerned, the design of the passage presents the evidence which is brought to mind by the water and blood (for example, by the remarkable facts at the beginning and end of the ministry of Jesus), and by the Holy Spirit working in the soul and bearing testimony to it. The passage speaks to a truth to be seized by everyone in their earthly life and of evidence presented here on earth.

The fact that the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit are three bearing witness in heaven, notes Meyer, and that they are one, does not suggest evidence of the same sort; but, so far as it indicates proof at all, it suggests what is of a different kind. This fact comes to the mind in another way and is understood in its force only after the truth, that Jesus is God’s Son has been accepted and believed. The fact that the first three speak of bearing witness in heaven takes the words out of the passage’s context. In other words, it depends upon the testimony given on earth. Moreover, verse nine strongly diminishes any genuineness of these added words, either because these disputed words, if admitted, make it unintelligible what the Spirit of God’s witness means in this verse. If we regard the witness of God as involving the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the contrast must be with the testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood to mankind. In contrast, this latter is not a human but a divine testimony.

The non-Johannian character of the Father and the Word expression is worthy of consideration. In connection with the external evidence, the extreme improbability that such a formal statement involving the doctrine of the Trinity, if initially contained in the Epistle’s text, could have disappeared from all Greek manuscripts from the fourth to the fifteenth century.[8]

According to Robert Jamieson (1802-1880), Andrew Fausset (1821-1910, and David Brown (1803-1897) we should note that “He” at the beginning of verse six refers to Jesus God’s Son at the end of verse five. The Apostle John wants to validate the claim He is God’s Son by pointing out that He came with water and with blood. He did not come by water only. No, Jesus came by both water and blood. And the Spirit of Truth tells us that this is true. Thus, they tell us that – “by water,” refers to His ministry being inaugurated by baptism in the Jordan, and He received the Father’s testimony to His Messiahship and divine Sonship.[9]

He also came by “bleeding on the cross.[10] It was His shed blood that first gave water baptism its spiritual significance. John adds the Holy Spirit as an additional witness.[11] The Spirit attested these truths at Jesus’ baptism by descending on Him and throughout His ministry by enabling Him to speak and do what no one ever said or did before. The Spirit continues to serve as a witness that the Anointed One is now permanently in the Church: both in the inspired Scriptures, and in the hearts of believers, by spiritual reception of baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. His essential truth gives the Spirit’s witness such infallible authority.[12]

With noticeable spiritual comprehension Henry Cowles (1802-1881) believes that “water” is related to the spiritual life is universally the symbol of moral cleansing; “blood” of the propitiation[13] wrought by the Anointed One’s atoning death. Most fundamental scholars believe no other interpretation is acceptable. The usage of the Scriptures – First Covenant and the Final alike – goes solid in support of this simple construction and application of these words. The Spirit of Truth bears witness to these great facts as to the work of the Anointed One. His mission is to teach these truths and impress them on human hearts. His witnessing agency came after the Anointed One’s ascension, in and after the scenes of the great Day of Pentecost.[14]

With a spiritually activated inquiring mind, Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885) states that this Jesus is the great “He that came.” He was God’s predicted messenger, and His coming was Advent. And the fact that He came is attested by two tokens divinely appointed, namely, water and blood. There are many fanciful interpretations of “water” and “blood.” Still, the best commentators now agree that the water was the Anointed One’s baptism and the blood the redeeming blood of His crucifixion. These two elements symbolize the commencement and the end of our Lord’s ministry. “He came” refers not to His birth but to His office and earthly life, which are one extended coming. Yet John uses the past tense “is come” to denote that definite historical fact, not any continuous spiritual coming through the ages. The preposition “by” should be “through,” meaning that He was manifested to prove He was God’s Son and Messiah by these two attesting tokens.

We note that John the Baptizer came by water only, not blood. His water would have been of no avail but for the Redeemer’s blood. It was the blood with the Sufferer’s divine self-sacrifice and reconciling power that gave value to the water. So, the Greek prepositions here before water and blood are neither by nor through but are expressively changed to in the water and in the blood. Thus, John beholds the mystical coming, as the coming of His person, enveloped in these elements.

Then concerning the Spirit as a witness, Whedon points to Jesus’ baptism where the descending Spirit, in the form of a dove, identified Him as the Son in whom God was “well pleased.” The same Spirit was secured by His death to be the witnessing heritage of the Church, commencing his work on the memorable day of Pentecost. The same goes for the Spirit as the Truth. The Spirit is authentic and truth itself, even as God is Love. The Spirit’s testimony gives force to the tokens, “water” and “blood,” which elevates and transforms them into witnesses, which means the witnesses are three.[15]

In line with Apostle John’s theological conclusions, Henry Alford (1810-1871) points out that the word “This” at the beginning of verse six is the same person spoken of in verse five, Jesus. “This,” which most commentators maintain, asserts the identity of the Son of God with the historical Jesus, not the converse. It is validated on two grounds: 1) the fact that Jesus came by water and blood needed no proof even to Heretics: 2) that on the ordinary interpretation, the following words, “of Jesus the Anointed One,” are altogether unneeded.  But to these, it is quickly replied, a) that although the fact might be confessed, it was not acknowledged which fact provided testimony, namely, that Jesus who came in the flesh was the Son of God. b) that the appositional clause “of Jesus the Anointed One” is by no means redundant, being only a solemn reassertion of our Lord’s Person and Office as testified by these signs.[16]


[1] Lücke, Gottfried C. F., A Commentary on the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 253

[2] 1 John 5:8

[3] Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., 1 John 5, pp. 4875-4876

[4] See 1 John 4:1ff

[5] Cf. 1 John 5:6-10

[6] Ibid. 5:11-21

[7] Rothe, Richard: Exposition of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., The Expository Times, April 1895, p. 326

[8] Meyer, Heinrich A. W., Critical Exegetical Handbook New Testament, op. cit., Vol. 10, p. 814

[9] Cf. 1 John 5:5 with John 1:33-34

[10] See Hebrews 9:12

[11] Cf. 1 John 5:7

[12] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, New Testament Volume, op. cit., p. 729

[13] Propitiation means, “A payment that satisfies,” From a sermon I heard by Dr. Bruce Frank, Lead Pastor of the Biltmore Church in Asheville, N. C, preached on Sunday, July 18, 2021, at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.

[14] Cowles, Henry: The Gospel and Epistles of John: with Notes, op. cit., p. 355

[15] Whedon, Daniel D., Commentary on the New Testament, op. cit., pp. 277-278

[16] Alford, Henry: The Greek Testament, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 499

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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