WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LIV) 12/29/22

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

As the words stand in our copies, there is indeed a most abundant concurrence of divine testimonies to the Person and doctrine of the Messiah, pointed out most compactly and energetically. However, it cannot be expected that a question, which has long gained the attention of the most learned scholars in Christendom, be settled so quickly. Even after assigning the above reasons in favor of the authenticity of verse seven, confesses Scott, I am very doubtful whether they are sufficient to counterbalance the arguments of those who think otherwise. We need not, however, be anxious on the subject, as we have scriptural evidence in abundance, without this text, to confirm our faith in one God, subsisting in three co-equal Persons: “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” into whose names we have been baptized.[1]

At age fifteen, a potential young theologian, Joseph Benson (1749-1821), who started his ministry by preaching in cottage prayer meetings, understands that the Apostle John is speaking of the offices of the Messiah, exhibited as emblems by water and blood and of the witnesses in heaven and earth, that bear testimony to Him and His offer of salvation. It is well known that the authenticity of the additions to verse seven has been a subject of much controversy. Arguments on both sides of the question are taken from ancient Greek Manuscripts, versions, and quotations made by the early church fathers. It applies to the vital doctrine concerning the Messiah, the Son of God, and salvation through Him, with the Spirit, the water, and the blood as witnesses. 

The spirit here, distinguished from the Holy Spirit in verse six, seems to mean – First, that influence of the Spirit, which, peculiarly, attended the preaching of the Gospel by the apostles and first ministers of the Word at that early age of Christianity: together with the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, which remained with the church for a considerable time. Second, the inspired writers of the apostles and evangelists bearing witness to the doctrine of the Messiah, including the predictions uttered by holy men of old as they were moved by the Holy Spirit concerning the coming and character of the Messiah fulfilled in Him.

They include the predictions uttered by the Messiah concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the calamities coming on the Jewish nation. Several other predictions, particularly those concerning the coming of false Messiahs and false prophets, were already accomplished when John wrote this epistle, and the rest, he knew, would soon come to pass. Indeed, the inspired Scriptures, including the prophets’ predictions and the Messiah and His apostles, sealed by their accomplishment, are one grand proof on earth of the truth of Christianity and the doctrine of salvation contained in them.

Christianity is not a forgery but a divine institution. As the water and blood here imply the testimony, the Messiah bore the truth of the Gospel. One of the most important is that Jesus was God’s Son. So, it may represent testimony delivered as the truth by the sufferings of those who sealed it with their blood in different ages and nations. It was strong proof of the conviction they had of its truth and importance and the virtue and excellence of that religion that enabled them to do so. And these three agree in one in bearing the same testimony, namely, that Jesus the Messiah is God’s Son, the Messiah, the only Savior of sinners. Through Him alone, the guilty, depraved, weak, and miserable children of the world can obtain spiritual and eternal life; the testimony specified.[2]

Straightforward preacher Charles Simeon (1759-1876) advises that anyone who might preach on this subject can use their discretion about the mode of introducing it. If they are perfectly convinced that the highlighted words: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: 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,” have been added, they can state their views and adopt the text, to show, that, though the words themselves are not authentic, the truths contained in them are scriptural and essential: or they can skip verses seven and eight and go from verse six to verse nine for their text.

There is no record so well proven, worthy of acceptance, or necessary to be believed as God has given for His Son. Upon receiving or rejecting its eternal welfare, all mankind depends on its authenticity. The riches of wisdom, love, and mercy surpass all the comprehension of humans or angels. Concerning its truth, every species of testimony that could be given by friends or enemies, by angels from heaven, by people on earth, yes, even by devils, has been provided in the most abundant degree. But it has been confirmed by other testimony, even by the Three Persons in the most Holy Trinity. How exalted must be the glory which believers will enjoy in heaven!

Therefore, it cannot be conceived that the three Persons of the Godhead would devise such an excellent plan of salvation if the end were not exceedingly glorious. Indeed, all that the Father’s love can formulate, all that the blood of the Messiah can purchase, all that the Holy Spirit can impart, is prepared for us in the eternal world and will be bestowed on us according to our need and capacity to receive it. Yes, in heaven, we will see God as He is and have the brightest discoveries of His glory while we have the wealthiest enjoyment of His presence and love. For we will be witnesses for Him, how far His mercy could reach, what tremendous changes it could bring about, and what blessedness it can bestow on the most unworthy of mankind.[3]

Considering everything the Apostle John has said so far, Adam Clarke (1774-1849) diagrams verses seven and eight this way “For there are three that bear record [in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: 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.” But, unfortunately, says Clarke, it is most likely that this rendering in the King James Version is not accurate since it is missing in every Greek manuscript of this epistle written before the invention of printing. So, as anyone can see by examining the words if those included in the brackets, which are considered inauthentic, there is still no lack of connection. And as to it making sense, it is complete and perfect without them, and, indeed, much more than with them.[4]

Not everyone agreed with Clarke’s views on this subject. In response to a letter from Mr. Adam Boyd in 1817, Clarke stated that he had settled the point on the three heavenly Witnesses. He wrote, “After I had written my note on 1 John 5:7, and my dissertation at the end of that Epistle, I looked over Richard Porson’s (1759-1808) work;[5] but I found nothing essential to add to what had been said. I have, however, quoted him and have examined authorities which he never saw.”[6] [After reading the Preface to Mr. Porson’s book, I find it very informative on this dispute among British Bible scholars].

So it is evident that Adam Clarke was not afraid of what others thought on touchy subjects such as the seventh verse. He mentions his comments at the end of this chapter. They are too lengthy to quote here, but which begins this way: The seventh verse of the fifth chapter of 1 JOHN has given rise to more theological disputes than any other portion of the sacred writings. Advocates and antagonists have arisen in every quarter of the civilized world: but the argument has been principally confined to the Unitarians of all classes and those called Orthodox, the former asserting that it is an interpolation and the latter contending that it is a part of the original text of St. John. It is contended that (one excepted, which shall be noticed by and by) all the Greek MSS. written before the invention of printing omit the passage in dispute.[7]

Clarke follows this with his comments on verse eight concerning the Spirit, the water, and the blood. Clarke that this verse is supposed to mean “the Spirit” – in the Word confirmed by miracles; the water – in baptism, wherein we are dedicated to the Son, (with the Father and the Holy Spirit,) typifying His spotless purity, and the inward purifying of our nature; and the blood – represented in the Lord’s Supper, and applied to the consciences of believers: and all these harmoniously agree in the same testimony, that Jesus the Messiah is Divine, the complete, the only Savior of the world.”[8]

William Orme (1787-1830), a noted Scotch clergyman born at Falkirk, Scotland, wrote a book on the subject of the heavenly witnesses in heaven. He begins by saying that the controversy over verse seven in chapter five of the Apostle John’s First Epistle has been ongoing from the commencement of the Reformation. It involves whether the testimony of the three heavenly witnesses from a theological, critical, or literary point of view is crucial. It involves one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, embraces some of the most outstanding issues in biblical criticism, and has brought scholars with the most exceptional talents and learning into the field. But, happily, Bible scholars now discuss the subject objectively. Both opposers and supporters of the disputed passage agree that whichever conclusion is come to, the doctrine of the Trinity remains unaffected.


[1] Scott, Thomas: Commentary on the Holy Bible, pp. 407-408

[2] Benson, Joseph: Commentary on the Old and New Testament, op. cit., p. 346

[3] Simeon, Charles, Horae Homileticæ, Vol. XX, Discourse 2465, pp. 531-537

[4] Clarke, Adam: Wesleyan Heritage Commentary, op. cit., Hebrews-Revelation, pp. 395-397

[5] Porson, Richard: Letters to Mr. Archdeacon Travis, in answer to his defense of the Three Heavenly Witnesses, 1 John V. 7, T. and J. Egerton, Whitehall, London, 1790

[6] Clarke, Adam, Supplement of Illustrative Passages from Dr. Clarke’s Correspondence, Ch. 30, The Three Witnesses, p. 390

[7] Clarke, Adam, Commentary on the New Testament, Hebrews to Jude, op. cit.,

[8] Clarke, Adam, Wesleyan Heritage Commentary, op. cit., Hebrews-Revelation, p. 397

About drbob76

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