WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XLVIII) 12/21/22

5:6 And Jesus the Messiah 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.

In his unorthodox Unitarian way, Duncan Heaster (1967) comments that the Lord Jesus “came” and that the water and blood flowing from His side represented the gift of Spirit; for by this He “comes” to us.[1] He still testifies by three things – His Spirit [making alive the believer], the water [baptism cleansing us], and the blood [atoning for our sins]. The choice of “three” things doesn’t refer to a trinity – instead, is it the principle of requiring two or three witnesses.[2] The water and blood are mentioned together, and the Spirit is added as if “two or three.” And note how inanimate things are spoken of as giving witness[3] – the three that bear witness don’t refer necessarily to three persons, as the trinity wrongly states. Those things which the Lord enabled, and witnessed through us today, provide the witness to the fact that He “came” in the past and “comes” to us today, in the sense that He “comes” to us through the gift of the Spirit.[4] “Not with the water only” may be a reminder that water baptism alone will not save us; we must be born of water and spirit.[5] [6]

Bright scholarly seminarian Karen H. Jobes (1968) notes that the Apostle John stated that God has given “us” the Spirit,[7] and in both occurrences, the presence of the Spirit confirms to the believer that God lives in them and they in God. The presence of the Spirit is evidenced when the believer listens to and accepts the apostolic witness as the truth;[8] any other truth claims inconsistent with that witness are deemed not of God and are, therefore, false. In this way, God’s genuine presence is identified with an objective set of knowledge. The idea of the Spirit living in us originated with Jesus. It was then made a doctrine in the testimony of apostolic witnesses, such as the beloved disciple of John’s gospel and the elder of the Johannine letters. In this sense, the Spirit is the truth, and any truth claim apart from the apostolic teaching cannot be of the Spirit of God. Therefore, the Spirit is the one who bears witness to an individual that the apostolic teaching of the Gospel is accurate and trustworthy.[9]

5:7-8 So we have these three witnesses – the Spirit, the water, and the blood – and all three agree.

EXPOSITION

First, let us look at what has caused much controversy among Bible scholars for centuries. The King James Version (KJV) renders these two verses this way: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” Meanwhile, the New International Version (NIV) reads: “For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” The highlighted part in the KJV is missing in the NIV for a very good reason.

It is commonly referred to as the Johannine Comma because it is one of those few passages in the Textus Receptus from which they translated the King James Version (KJV). It has a weak confirmation from other Greek manuscripts in many scholarly circles. The evidence that this passage is missing in most modern English versions of the Bible is primarily due to being found only found in eight out of the five hundred Greek manuscripts that contain the fifth chapter of First John.  Modern textual critics unanimously regarded it as a later scribal revision.

There are well-known and little-known scholars on both sides of the line who impressively argue for inclusion or exclusion.  But history teaches us that the inclusion of this verse was never controversial until translations after the King James Version in 1611. To those who claimed that the Word of God is inerrant and should not be changed, thus knowing that a verse not written by the author of a gospel or epistle could cause serious doubt in the reader’s mind that this verse is the accurate word of God. But this attitude is built mainly on translations rather than the original Greek text.

The only question of whether or not to accept this verse as part of the original writing needs consideration is this: how it affects the belief that the Spirit inspires all Scripture. The truth expressed in this verse is solid and well-founded. Also, it would not be out of character for the Apostle John to write such an endorsement, especially since he began his gospel by saying that in the beginning was the Word. Nevertheless, some critics object to this verse being authenticated as part of the original because it gives a crystal-clear imprimatur to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

While this may be used as a basis for eliminating it from the text in modern translations, it certainly does not mean it should be eliminated from the margin or as a footnote.  There are far too many other Scriptures that make it clear that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three and that they all have their abode in heaven. Otherwise, Jesus would never have ascended back into heaven so He could ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit to earth to take His place.

This verse has been the source of contention by those representing the “one God” (Unitarian) view, such as the Jews, the United Church of God, the United Pentecostal Church, etc. A biblical scholar who approached the Bible not as the infallible Word of God, but as the record of revelation written by fallible humans Arthur Samuel Peake (1865-1929), the first holder of the Rylands Chair of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis in the University of Manchester, makes this comment: “The famous interpolation after ‘three witnesses’ is not printed in Revised Standard Version (RSV 1901) and rightly [so]… No respectable Greek [manuscript] contains it. Appearing first in the late 4th century Latin text, it entered the Vulgate [the 5th-century Latin version, which became the common medieval translation] and finally the NT [New Testament] translation of Erasmus [who produced newly collated Greek texts and a new Latin version in the 16th century].”[10]

As a matter of fact, verse seven may be regarded as one of the main propositions of the Epistle – that the eternal Son of God is identical to the historical Jesus. The phrase “water and the blood” in verse eight has been given widely differing interpretations. It would be tedious and unprofitable to enumerate all of them. When John’s Gospel[11] is used to support the idea of this being an interpretation of John’s statement, it becomes “the most perplexing incident in the Gospel,” which will probably influence our understanding of this “most perplexing passage in John’s Epistle.” In verse eight, we don’t find a reference to the piercing of the Anointed One’s side and its results, as we see in verse six. Yet, both passages teach similar spiritual truths, for example, the ideas that underlie the two sacraments and guide them by referencing facts in the life and death of Jesus the Anointed One. But the facts are not the same in each case. It is difficult to believe that this passage contains any definite and immediate allusion to what John said in his Gospel. Why, in that case, the marked change of order, “water and blood” instead of “blood and water?” And if some scholars think that this is explained by saying that the Epistle is “the mystical subjective order,” the Gospel “the historical and objective order,” and that whichever one can be used in either place, has not put an end to the difficulties.

If the Apostle John is referring to the outpourings from the Anointed One’s dead body, what can be the meaning of “not in water only, but water and blood”? It was the water, not the blood, that was especially astonishing. And “in,” in this case, seems a strange expression to use. We should have expected instead, “not shedding blood only, but blood and water.” Moreover, how can blood and water flowing from the Lord’s body be spoken of as His “coming through water and blood?” The most straightforward interpretation refers to the baptism of water to which He submitted and passed on to His disciples, raising it from a sign to a sacrament. John the Baptizer came baptizing in water only, [12] but Jesus came baptizing in water and blood, namely, in water which washed away sin through the effectiveness of His blood.

Jesus achieved His work through the baptisms of water and blood, and it is by baptism in these elements that He comes to His followers. Moreover, this interpretation harmonizes with the critical purpose of the Epistle, that is, to invalidate the errors of Cerinthus. Cerinthus taught that the Divine Logos or the Anointed One descended upon Jesus at the baptism and departed again when Jesus was arrested. Cerinthus argued that a natural human was born of Mary, and a mere man suffered on the cross. John assures us that there was no such severance. The Divine Son Jesus the Anointed One came not only by water at His baptism but also by blood at His death. Besides these two abiding witnesses, a third is still more convincing. And that is the Holy Spirit that bears witness (to the Divinity of the Anointed One); because the Spirit is truth. There can be no higher testimony than that of the truth itself.[13]

Perhaps the witness of John the Baptizer and Matthew is the most open and shut case for believing in the Trinity. There we read that John talked about seeing the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending from heaven and resting upon Jesus. I didn’t know he was the one,” John said again, “but at the time God sent me to baptize, He told me, ‘When you see the Holy Spirit descending and resting upon someone ‒ He is the one you are looking for. He is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ I saw it happen to this man, and I, therefore, testify that He is the Son of God.”[14] And Matthew adds a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, and I am wonderfully pleased with Him.”[15] So here we have the Father speaking out of heaven, His Son has just come out of the water, and the Spirit landed on His shoulder.

Furthermore, after the 120 in the Upper Room received the Holy Spirit and began speaking in languages they didn’t know, those who heard it kept asking, what is this? What does this mean? That’s when Peter stood up before them and said this is all about Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. God raised Him from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. Even now, He (Jesus) sits on the throne of highest honor in heaven, next to God (the Father). And just as promised, the Father gave Him (Jesus) the authority to send the Holy Spirit – with the results you are seeing and hearing today.[16]

And the author of Hebrews asks, do you think we can risk neglecting this latest message, this magnificent salvation? First of all, it was delivered in person by the Master, then accurately passed on to us by those who heard it from Him. Then, all the while, God was validating it with gifts through the Holy Spirit, all sorts of signs and miracles, as He saw fit.[17]

Anyone with an open heart and open mind will not need any more information than this. But it must all be accepted by faith since God honors faith more than the demand for evidence.  Isho’dad of Merv put this in perspective from his point of view by saying that these three witnesses agree because they all came together in the Anointed One.[18]  This idea, when extrapolated, shows there is only one sacrifice, one Savior, one way to the Father, one truth, and one giver of eternal life.


[1] John 14:18

[2] Deuteronomy 19:15

[3] Genesis 31:45-48; Deuteronomy 31:8

[4] John 14:18

[5] Ibid. 3:3-5

[6] Heaster, Duncan. New European Christadelphian Commentary: op. cit., The Letters of John, p. 70

[7] 1 John 3:24; 4:13

[8] Ibid 4:6

[9] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament Series Book 18), op. cit., p. 221

[10] A Commentary on the Bible by Arthur Samuel Peake, 1919, p. 1038

[11] John 19:34

[12] John 1:31, 33

[13] Ibid. 14:17; 15:26; 16:13

[14] John 1:32–34

[15] Matthew 3:17

[16] Acts of the Apostles 2:32-33

[17] Hebrews 2:3-4

[18] Isho’dad of Merv: Commentaries, loc. cit.

About drbob76

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