WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson L) 12/23/22

5:7-8 So we have these three witnesses: the voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, the voice from heaven at the Anointed One’s baptism, and the voice before He died. And they all say the same thing: Jesus the Anointed One is God’s Son.

Also, in the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), we read this question, “Since there is but one only divine essence,[1] why do you speak of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” The Answer reads: “Because God so revealed Himself in His Word, that these three distinct persons are the one only true and eternal God.” Then in the footnotes, they list 1 John 5:7 as Scriptural backing for their statement. So even by this medieval date, this verse was not under such suspicion that they chose to delete it.[2]

As a firm spiritual disciplinarian, John Owen (1616-1683) comments that saints have this communion distinctly with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as outlined in verse seven.[3] The Father and Son are mentioned jointly in this communion – the Father solely, the Son also, and the Holy Spirit singerly. The saints’ reward in all worship is manifested to each person – Faith in the Father[4] and love towards Him.[5] So, in prayer and praise, it is likewise with the Son[6] and our communion with the Holy Spirit.[7] The truth is also confirmed. And what is it that they bear witness to? The Sonship of the Anointed One and salvation of believers in His blood.

John is trying to tell how God provided this salvation through blood, water, justification, and sanctification. Now, how do they bear witness, especially as three distinct witnesses? When God witnessed our salvation, it was incumbent on us to receive His testimony. And as He bears witness, so are we to receive it. This validation occurs distinctly as the Father gives His approval, the Son testifies with the cross, and the Holy Spirit verifies with power, for they are three distinct witnesses. So, then, are we to receive their numerous testimonies: and in doing so, have communion with them individually; for in this giving and receiving a testimony consists in no small part to our fellowship with them, In which their distinct witnessing will be declared afterward as valid.[8]

In another paper, Owen says that the sum is that the Holy Spirit is a divine, distinct person and not merely the power nor virtue of God. This manifestation appears concerning Him, for the Spirit is placed in the same series with other celestial beings, without the slightest difference or distinction between them. The Scriptures frequently called Him by that name proper to a heavenly person. Nevertheless, the Spirit also possesses personal properties and is the voluntary author of individual, sacred operations, and the appropriate object of spiritual worship is a distinct supernatural person.[9]

Now, there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences in administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but the same God “works all in all.”[10] Neither makes a denial of His Holy being, and distinct existence leaves any tolerable sense to these expressions. Let’s read the words from the mind of the Socinians[11] and see what can be gathered from them. They render Matthew 28:19, thus, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father is, and of the Son, and the virtue or efficacy of the Father.” Can anything be more assonant[12] from faith and reason than this absurd expression? Yet it is the immediate sense that these heretics put on the words if it is any.

Also, says Owen, they are clear, complete, and distinctly sufficient for faith to acquiesce in immediately, without any other expositions, interpretations, or arguments, beyond our understanding of the naked importance of the words. Such are they, of the Father [and] the Son. For if those into whose name we are baptized are not one in nature, we are by our baptism engaged into the service and worship of more gods than one. For, as being baptized, or sacredly initiated, into or in the name of anyone, does sacramentally bind us to be holy in obedience to Him, and in all things to the avowing of Him as the God whose we are, and whom we serve, as here we are in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit; so if they are not one God, the blasphemous consequence before mentioned must unavoidably be admitted: which it also must upon the Socinian principle, who seem to contend most for one God, are indeed direct polytheists, by owning others with religious respect, due to God alone.[13]

Respected Reformation writer Matthew Poole (1624-1679) says that after mentioning the Spirit’s testifying at the close of verse six, John returns to give us in order, in these two verses, the whole testimony of the truth of Christianity, which he reduces to two witnesses. Their testimony is the same as those born of God that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah. We arrive at this conclusion based on what was said in verses one and five and what is stated afterward in verse nine. What they believe is none other than what these testify. The first three, in heaven, are not said to signify heaven to be the place of their testifying. Though the same thing concerning Jesus is also undoubtedly testified to the glorious inhabitants of that world, that is not the apostle’s present scope. He wants to show why we, who inhabit this world, believe Jesus to be the Anointed One and the Son of God.

In heaven, therefore, refers to three witnesses. The design represents their immediate testifying in a glorious, heavenly, majestic manner from there to us. So, the Father testified of the man Jesus by a direct voice from heaven at His baptism and transfiguration. The eternal Word owned its union with Him, in that glory with which it so eminently clothed His humanity. Thus, it visibly showed through on the holy mount where the Apostle John was a spectator.[14] And the Holy Spirit also testified, descending like a dove in a visible, glorious appearance, at His baptism. And these three agree in their testimony[15] and in the unity of nature: an express testimony of the triune Deity. However, carelessness or ill design was left out of some copies but sufficiently demonstrated by many ancient ones to belong to the sacred text.[16]

A young independent-thinking theological sage, Hugh Binning (1627-1691), a Scottish philosopher and Puritan theologian, points to the Jewish Shema[17] and compares it with verse seven. He calls this the great mystery of godliness.[18] Religion and godliness are a bundle of excellent mysteries, things hidden from the world, yes, from the wise of the world.[19] Not only that but the secrets of these mysteries are kept from saints who are distant and absent from the Lord. There is a depth in them, but you will not know it until you research them, and the more you do, the more profound they become. But there are some mysteries, simple and comprehensive. There are differences between them; all are not of one stature of one measure. For example, the mystery of the Anointed One’s incarnation, death, and resurrection is one of the great mysteries of religion – God is manifest in human flesh. Yet, says Binning, there is a more excellent mystery than it, and of all mysteries in nature or divinity, I know nonequal to this – the Holy Trinity.[20]

Influenced by his Arminian view of salvation, Daniel Whitby (1638-1726) wants to know why the Apostle John separated the Father, Son, and Spirit from the water, blood, and Spirit. For, after all, these three also are one in their testimony, that they confirm this fundamental truth, that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Son of God. It is especially true if we consider what is implied in verse six. Therefore, only the Spirit is called a trustworthy observer out of these three witnesses.[21] The water testifies because while Jesus was in the water, the Spirit descended on Him, and the blood assures us because He was the Lamb of God who came to shed His blood to wash away the world’s sins.[22] [23]

Expert on textual criticism, Joannis Millii aka John Mill (1645-1707), English theologian, in his long note at the end of the Apostle John’s first epistle, observes that verse seven is missing in all the ancient Greek manuscripts of the Final Covenant except for a few that have come down to us. Likewise, it is lacking in the first Syriac and other older versions, particularly the Coptic, Arabic, and Ethiopic, and in many present Latin manuscripts. Concerning quotations from early church Fathers, Mill acknowledges that few Greek writers who lived before the council of Nice have cited this verse. The same he observes concerning those who, after that council, wrote in defense of the Trinity, which he thinks shows that this verse was not in their copies.[24]

From his strategic viewpoint as a biblical expositor and educational pioneer, William Burkitt (1650-1703) believes that the three in heaven who bear witness are the same three who testify here on earth, namely, the three persons in the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit. The Father bore witness both at the Anointed One’s baptism and transfiguration also, when with an audible voice He declared, this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. The Word bore record of Himself, frequently affirming, plainly, and directly, that He was the Son of God and making it manifest that He came from the Father by His doctrine and miracles. The Spirit bore witness to this, by descending on the Anointed One at His baptism in the shape of a dove and by descending on His apostles during the feast of Pentecost in the figure of fiery tongues.[25]

First, we learn that it was not easy to believe the truth of our Savior’s mission and miracles and that Jesus the Anointed One was the essential Son of God. Though every established truth is by the mouth of two or three witnesses, in verse eight, we have no less than three earthly witnesses. Then comes the mystery – these three are one, one in testimony, say the adversaries of the Trinity, but not one in essence. One in both, say we, as one in testimony, so one in essence. But suppose that we grant that the oneness spoken of in the text means united in testimony, agreement,  will, yet will it prove the Godhead of the Anointed One, and the Holy Spirit; for in free agents, where there is the same will, there is a similar nature. With people, it is the same. But with God, because there is only one God, it must be the exact nature. Secondly, we learn that there are three persons, but one God, that bear witness to the divinity of the Anointed One and the gracious redemption He made possible.[26]


[1] Deuteronomy 6:4

[2] Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 8, Question 24

[3] Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, Ephesians 2:18

[4] 1 John 2:15; cf. Malachi 1:6

[5] John 5:9-10

[6] John 14:1

[7] 1 John 5:7

[8] Owen, John: Of Communion with God: op. cit., pp. 14-15

[9] Matthew 28:19; 1 John 5:7; 1 Corinthians 12:3-6

[10] 1 Corinthians 15:28

[11] Socinian, is a member of a Christian group in the 16th century that embraced the thought of the Italian-born theologian Faustus Socinus. The Socinians referred to themselves as “brethren” and were known by the latter half of the 17th century as “Unitarians” or “Polish Brethren.” 5: They accepted Jesus as God’s revelation but still a mere man, divine by office rather than by nature; Socinians thus rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. One of the Socinians’ doctrines was that the soul dies with the body but the souls of those who have persevered in obeying Jesus’ commandments will be resurrected. The Socinians also advocated the separation of church and state, stressed the importance of moral living, minimized dogma, and held that all Christian doctrine must be rational.

[12] Assonant (also called homophone) having the same sound (especially the same vowel sound) such as bare/bear; bore/boar; there/their/they’re; pray/prey; ascent/assent; chord/cord; hoard/horde; peek/peak; allowed/aloud, etc.

[13] Owen, John: The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Person and Satisfaction of Christ, op. cit., pp. 49-50; 53-54

[14] John 1:14

[15] See 1 John 5:8

[16] Poole, Matthew. Commentary on the Holy Bible – Book of 1st, 2nd & 3rd John (Annotated), Kindle Edition.

[17] See Deuteronomy 6:4

[18] 1 Timothy 3:16

[19] 1 Corinthians 2:6

[20] Binning, Hugh: The Common Principles of the Christian Religion, Lecture XII, The Unity of the Divine Essence, and the Trinity of Persons, p. 64

[21] John 15:26

[22] Ibid. 1:29

[23] Whitby, Daniel: Critical Commentary and Paraphrase, op. cit., p. 471

[24] Mill, John: Novum Testamentum Græcum, Bibeldrucke der Württembergischen Landesbibliothek Stuttgart, 1710, p. 578

[25] Acts of the Apostles 2:1

[26] Burkitt, William: Expository Notes, op. cit., Vol. II., p. 736

About drbob76

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