WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XLV) 12/16/22

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 soldier was not entirely sure that the Anointed one was dead. So, to make sure, he thrust his spear into the Savior’s side. The stream of blood and water that followed proved the reality of His death. Thus, a rude soldier’s violent act confirmed our Lord’s death. And this, we are confident, was the reason why the incident was recorded. In the text, there is an expression, which is fatal to the fanciful interpretation. The critical statement is, “this is He that came by water and blood.”

How did the Anointed One come in that manner? It is the question to be determined by the interpreter. The history of our Lord furnishes the answer. He came by water when John the Baptist baptized Him and blood when the soldier stabbed Him. And this view is confirmed by the additional circumstance in the text – “it is the Spirit that bears witness.” For it shows that the subject in John’s mind is the testimony given about the Anointed One, and this, he states, is threefold, His baptism, His death, and the Holy Spirit.[1]

In reviewing what the Apostle John says in this verse, Archibald T. Robertson (1863-1934) states that the Apostle John refers to the Incarnation as an actual historical event. First, the preexistent Son of God was sent from heaven to do God’s will. The use of the Greek genitive preposition dia (“by”)[2] water (at His baptism) and blood (as on the Cross) John signifies in the statement that the Anointed One has come. These two incidents in the Incarnation are singled out because, at Jesus’ baptism, He was formally set apart for His Messianic work by the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Him and by the Father’s audible witness. Then at the Cross, His ministry reached its culmination when He said, “It is finished!”[3]

Other theories, notes Robertson, do not agree with the language and the facts. It is true that at the Cross, both water and blood came out of Jesus’ side when pierced by the soldier’s spear.[4]  Thus, 1 John 5 is a complete refutation of the Docetic denial of an actual human body for Jesus and of the Cerinthian distinction between Jesus and the Anointed One. There is thus a threefold witness to the fact of the Incarnation, but John repeats the twofold witness before giving the third. The repetition of Greek prepositions dia and en[5] (“by”) in verse six argues for two separate events, emphasizing the blood which the Gnostics made light of or even denied. It is the Spirit that bears witness. Thus, the Holy Spirit is the third and chief witness at Jesus’ baptism and all through His ministry. Jesus spoke of “the Spirit of truth[6] (whose characteristic is truth). Here John identifies the Spirit with truth as Jesus said of Himself[7] without denying the Holy Spirit’s personality.[8]

Characteristically, Alan England Brooke (1863-1939) says that out of the many suggested interpretations of this passage, only three deserve serious consideration: (1) First, a reference to the two Christian Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist naturally suggested itself to many interpreters of the Epistle, especially in view of the fourth and sixth chapters of John’s Gospel. But it is open to more than one fatal objection. If “water” can be satisfactorily explained by Baptism, “blood” is missing in the Final Covenant as a designation for Communion. And secondly, the form of the sentence, “is come by water and blood,” almost necessitates a reference to definite historical facts in the life of the Anointed One on earth, which we could regard as peculiarly characteristic of the Mission which He “came” to fulfill. If the Apostle John intended to refer to the Christian Sacraments, he must have said, “is come.” It is hardly necessary then to point out that one interpretation referring to a rite instituted by the Anointed One, and the other to something which happened to Him (such as the Christian rite of baptism and the atoning death on the Cross), is even less satisfactory.

(2) The reference to the spearing incident recorded by John was also natural,[9] considering the stress laid upon it by John in his Gospel and the exact language in which he records the result of the piercing of the Lord’s side. This incident gives a definite fact that would justify the use of the aorist “is come.” And the difference in the order of “water” and blood” or “blood and “water” offers no real difficulty. It is easily explained as a consequence of John’s desire to throw special emphasis on the “blood,” which he develops further in the next clause, “not come by water only, but by water and blood,” which made an impression on him. It had suggested to him the significance of “blood” and “water,” symbolizing two distinctive aspects of the Lord’s work, cleansing and life-giving. But the incident itself could hardly be thought of as the means whereby He accomplished His work. Therefore, as an explanation of the actual words used, it fails to satisfy the requirements of the case.

(3) Thus, we go back to the explanation of Tertullian, Theophylact, and many modern commentators, who see these as references to Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptizer when He was consecrated to His Messianic ministry and received the gift of the Spirit descending upon Him. And then, His death on the Cross by which His work was consummated. The terms used definitely refer to the historical manifestation of the Son of God and compel us to look for significant characteristic events in that history which means it could be said that His mission was accomplished, His “coming” achieved. The two significant events at the ministry’s beginning and end satisfactorily fulfill these conditions. At the Baptism, He was specially consecrated for His public work and endowed with the Spirit, which enabled Him to carry it out. And His work was not finished before Calvary. The Death on the Cross was its consummation, not a mere incident in the life of an ordinary man after the Higher Power had left Him, which had temporarily united itself with His human personality for His mission of teaching.[10]

With an eye for detail, David Smith (1866-1932) hears the Apostle John tell his readers, “This Jesus is God’s Son, the Messiah whom the prophets foretold and who ‘came’ in the fulness of the time.” His Advent is no longer an unfulfilled hope but a historical event. He not only “came through” but continued “in water and blood,” for example, His ministry included both the baptism of the Spirit and the Sacrifice for sin. Perhaps, however, the Greek prepositions “dia” and “en” (“by”) are interchangeable.[11] Jesus identified Himself as “the Truth,[12] and the Spirit came in His place, His alter ego.[13] The Threefold Testimony to the Incarnation: This is He that came through water and blood, Jesus the Anointed One; not in the water only, but water and blood. And it is the Spirit that testifies because the Spirit is the Truth. Because these three testify the Spirit and the water and the blood, and the three are of one accord.[14]

A spiritual mentor, Ronald A. Ward (1920-1986) admits that verse six by the Apostle John has caused much perplexity among Bible scholars, not so much through lack of understanding of its general meaning as through uncertainty as to the explanation of the grammar and vocabulary. First, we should notice the literal translation. “This one is He who did come through water and blood – Jesus the Christ, not in the water only, but in the water and the blood; and the Spirit it is that is testifying because the Spirit is the truth,”[15] We must remember that John is dealing with a local situation (probably Ephesus)[16] and that his language may be that of local controversy. However, most scholars accept “water” as a reference to water baptism and “blood” as His shed blood on the cross. John has been giving his testimony, but the Spirit is the pre-eminent Witness because He is the truth part of Jesus’ Gospel.[17] Truth must witness, and this is the function of the Spirit.[18] Jesus witnesses to the Father and the Spirit, who testifies to Jesus.[19] [20]

With academic precision, Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) mentions that in verse five, the Apostle John described the content of orthodox Christian belief as faith in Jesus as the Son of God. In verse six, he proceeds to present the witnesses to the truth of that confession and begins by revealing their character.[21] Thus, verse six needs to be joined with verse eight, since, in both contexts, there is a cryptic allusion to “water and blood,” which presumably needs to be interpreted in the same way, “He is the one who came by water and blood, even Jesus the Anointed One.” The demonstrative “He” or “this” links verse six firmly to the second part of verse five and directs our attention to the end of the present sentence. This Jesus came, and He is “the Anointed One.”[22] [23]

A dynamic speaker, H. P. Mansfield (1933-1987) notes that here in verse six, we have another statement in which the Apostle John says, “the Spirit is truth.” So, if we walk according to truth, we are walking in agreement with the Spirit. And those words of the Spirit will give us life eternal. Let’s listen to the Apostle Peter, who said, “You have been born again. This new life did not come from something that dies. It came from something that cannot die. You were born again through God’s life-giving message that lasts forever.”[24]So there is that which will give us incorruptibility. Not something that we got at birth, but something which must develop. Do you remember what the Lord Jesus the Anointed One said: “You must be born again?”[25] And do you remember that He said we must be born of water and the spirit, or we won’t enter the kingdom of God?[26] So being spiritually reborn is not something that we inherit at birth; it’s a new birth. And I submit to you, says Mansfield, that if you carefully read what Peter goes on to say, you will find nothing there that will set before you that proposition.[27] [28]

As a capable scripture analyst, Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) says we may wonder whether what the Apostle John said here in verse six is what John meant. It is tempting to think of the activity of the Spirit in the life of Jesus. At His baptism, the Spirit came upon Him, and it was this fact that convinced John the Baptizer that Jesus was the Son of God.[29] In the other Gospels, the baptism of Jesus was accompanied by a heavenly voice that declared that He was God’s Son.[30] The Gospel writers certainly did not believe that this meant that God adopted Jesus as His Son at this point, and there is no evidence that their predecessors held this view. Instead, it was a sign that the One being baptized was already God’s Son.


[1] Morgan, James B., An Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., Lecture XLII, pp. 415-416

[2] Cf. Galatians 5:13

[3] John 19:30

[4] Ibid. 19:34

[5]dia” in Strong’s Concordance is G1223, and “en” is G1722

[6] John 15:26

[7] Ibid. 14:6

[8] Robertson, Archibald T., Word Pictures in the New Testament, op. cit., pp. 1967-1968

[9] John 19:34

[10] Brooke, Alan E., Critical and Exegetical Commentary of the Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 132-137

[11] Cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4-8; Hebrews 9:12, 25

[12] John 14:6; 18:37

[13] Ibid. 5:16-18

[14] Smith, David: Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1 John, op. cit., pp. 194-195

[15] The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Covenants, Literally and Idiomatically Translated out of the Original Languages by Robert Young, Published by A. Fullarton & Company, Edinburgh, 1863, 1 John 5:1

[16] Cf. 1 John 2:18ff

[17] John 14:6

[18] Ibid. 15:26

[19] Ibid. 8:18; 16:14

[20] Ward, Ronald A., The Epistles on John and Jude, op. cit., pp. 54-55

[21] See 1 John 5:7-9

[22] Cf. Ibid. 2:22; 2 John 1:7

[23] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., p. 277

[24] 1 Peter 1:23

[25] John 3:3

[26] Ibid. 3:5

[27] 1 Peter 3:20-22

[28] Mansfield, H. P., The Truth Vindicated, First Debate February 12, 1962, pp. 19-20

[29] John 1:32-34

[30] Mark 1:11

About drbob76

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