WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LV) 12/30/22

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.

Orme tells us a writer in The Edinburgh Review[1] was disappointed that the “Fear of the Church of Rome on the one hand, and the Socinians on the other, appears to have persuaded the half-hearted authorities of the Church of England to retain this known interpolation in a version which was to be the sole appeal of the uninformed. And we cannot consider it creditable to our Church, notes Orme, that this spurious passage is annually read to the laity in the Epistle for the First Sunday after Easter and in one of the lessons on Trinity Sunday. Orme then concludes with the following article on “The Ethics of Editorship,” by a writer whose name, he imagined, would command universal respect: [2]

“It is difficult to decide how far a received text ought to be altered upon the discovery of its incorrectness. And with regard to the text of the Scriptures, this question becomes one of great delicacy and importance.… But what shall we say of a passage like 1 John 5:7, in which all competent judges concede that there is an interpolation and which many persons omit when they read the context in public. Do not truth and honesty require that such a passage should be struck out of our English Bibles, a passage which Luther would not express in his translation, and which did not creep into the German Bible until nearly fifty years after his death? Would the shock of its insertion in brackets, or of its disappearance from our version, do as much harm as the display of Christian honesty and of true reverence to the genuine word of God would do good? We suggest that a number of biblical critics of approved character for orthodoxy should move in this matter and demand at least a careful consideration of this text. We cannot but believe that the state of the case is so plain as to admit of but one conclusion. And we cannot think that anything would prevent the change from being effected, but an unworthy timidity, which is neither Christian nor upright.”[3]

In his captivating teaching style, Jewish convert Augustus Neander (1789-1850) says that the Apostle John offers three tokens, by which Jesus as the Son of God has revealed Himself, indicating at the same time three combined relationships, in which Jesus presents Himself to the Christian consciousness, as the One incarnate Son of God. While John offers three tokens, the Spirit, water, and blood by which Jesus as the Son of God is revealed, his object was to combat those who, like Cerinthus, did not recognize the connection of the divine and human in the Messiah. Furthermore, they did not see the unity of His divine person, life, and ministry, thereby severing the union of God and man. Therefore, in their view, the Messiah descended from heaven and was the true redeeming Spirit. Thus, they separated Jesus, who in their opinion was a mere man, and with whom, as a man, this higher Spirit connected itself at His baptism. The dove, which then descended upon Him, they regarded as a symbol or embodiment of this Spirit. Subsequently, this Spirit, through the man Jesus revealed the hidden God and announced divine truth; it bestowed on Him the power of working miracles; but before his Suffering, it forsook Him and withdrew again into its own higher regions.

As to the Jews, says Neander, the crucifixion continued to be an offense. They could not understand the mystery of His sufferings; suffering had, in their conception, no place in the work of redemption. They could acknowledge a divine teacher and minister, but not a suffering Messiah. To them, the life of the Messiah was not a divine-human life form from the beginning. On the contrary, the Divine, whereby distinguishing Jesus from all other messengers of God, had at some definite point of time suddenly taken up its temporary abode in Him and in like manner departed from Him. In the servant form of the incarnate Son – from His birth to the crowning point of passion in suffering and also of His moral glory – was something that they could not comprehend.

Consequently, instead of recognizing the high in the low, they divided the high from the low. To combat such thinking, John declares Jesus the Messiah, as revealed not merely in water at His baptism but also in the blood caused by His Suffering on the cross. By water, we must not here understand, as some have done, the baptism instituted by him. It is the baptism to which he submitted; at which, the dignity of Jesus, as the Son of God, shone forth in the manner described by John in his Gospel. Since the blood has immediate reference to the person of Jesus, being the designation of his Suffering, the water also must designate something which has a personal connection to Himself, namely, His baptism. Accordingly, there is one reference to His baptism and Suffering – that it was the same Jesus who manifested Himself as God’s Son, the Messiah, in His baptism and Suffering. Both must combine to make Him known as God’s Son; both belonged to His redemption work.[4]

After spiritually analyzing John’s conclusions at this point, Gottfried, C. F. Lücke (1791-1855) says that the standard reading of verse seven has been doubted as authentic since the time of Erasmus and Luther and appears to be demonstrably spurious. No result of modern criticism is more specific than that this passage is not part of the Apostle John’s original text since these words are to be found only in two insignificant Greek manuscripts (the Codex Montfortianus or Britannicus). These date from the beginning of the 16th century in the Codex Ravianus, a mere copy of the uncritical text, but do not occur anywhere else, neither in any Greek Manuscript, nor any of the ancient versions, nor even in manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate, which are of an earlier date than the 10th century, In addition, these words are never noticed by any of the Greek fathers, not even the most modern, no, not even by those who never overlooked even the most constrained and unlikely places for the doctrine of the Trinity, and who were satisfied with areas that had no proof force whatever.[5]

Without using complicated language, Albert Barnes (1798-1870) states that no passage of the Final Covenant has given rise to so much discussion regarding its genuineness as verse seven. The supposed importance of this verse on the doctrine of the Trinity has driven the debate to a degree of consequence for examining the authenticity of no other passage of the Final Covenant. On the one hand, the clear testimony that it seems to bear to the doctrine of the Trinity has made that portion of the Christian church, which holds the principles in the highest degree, hesitant to abandon it. But, on the other hand, the same clearness of the testimony to that doctrine has made those who deny it not less reluctant to admit the genuineness of the passage. Hence, it is not consistent to go into a full investigation of a question of this sort.

The Apostle John briefly examines the question, “are they real?” [The disputed portions of the passage are in brackets] in the following quotation, as it stands in the standard editions of the Final Covenant: “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, the water, and the blood; these three agree as one.” Therefore, if we omit the disputed passage as spurious, the whole verse will read, “For there are three that bear record, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.” Thus, the reason for omitting the spurious bracketed passages should not be regarded as a part of the inspired writings are briefly the following:[6]

Barnes then points out the portion, “And there are three that bear witness in earth.” We must omit part of the text if the reasoning above is correct. There is no reference to the fact that it is done “on earth.” And these three agree on one thing; they make the same point that Jesus is God’s Son. God appoints all as witnesses of this fact, and all harmonize in the testimony given. John does not say that there are no other witnesses to the same thing, nor does he even say that these are the most important or decisive. However, he says these are essential witnesses and are entirely harmonious in their testimony.[7] [8]

With impressive theological vision, Richard Rothe (1799-1867) suggests we consider two things when interpreting verse seven: first, what thought is expressed, and second, how this verse is related to verse six. As to the opinion expressed, it largely depends on how we take the particle connecting the two clauses of the verse. If we translate verse six, “and the Spirit bears witness that the Spirit is the truth,” we have a clear and correct thought. (the idea, namely, that the Spirit has the immediate and absolute certainty of its truth and reality), but which does not fit in at all with the context. For what John says here as having witness borne in its favor is not the reality of the Spirit, but that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. If, however, we translate, “and the Spirit bears witness, that the Spirit is truth,” the clause fits in admirably with the context. It states the reason why the Spirit can provide a valid testimony. The reason assigned, moreover, is a literal truth. In virtue of this idea, the Spirit alone is an actual spiritual being.[9]

Hence John writes, “it is the truth.” Being thus the truth, the Spirit, which Christians find experimentally in themselves, is the ultimate anchorage of their absolute certainty as to this Christian consciousness. It is as such that John presents it here precisely the same way we have already found him doing in other parts of the Epistle.[10] The Spirit spoken of here is the Holy Spirit, which the believing Christian has received from God,[11]  and the Messiah,[12] or more specifically, has been born in them by their being born of God. This Spirit is an actual (not a pretentious) spirit. Hence John here, with a perfect right, names it “the Spirit” and speaks of divine energy as being possessed only by believing Christians and not by the unregenerated.


[1] The Edinburgh Review, or The Critical Journal, was a Scottish magazine published from 1802 to 1929, and contributed to the development of modern periodical and standards of literary criticism.

[2] Orme, William: Memoir of the Controversy respecting the Three Heavenly Witnesses, 1 John 5:7, pp. 1, 207

[3] The Rev. Theodore D. Woolsey, D.D., President of Yale College, in the New Englander for August, 1852

[4] Neander, Augustus: The First Epistle of John, Practically Explained, op. cit., pp. 285-287

[5] Lücke, Gottfried C. F., A Commentary on the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 268

[6] Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., 1 John 5, p. 4879

[7]Spirit” John 15:26; Acts of the Apostles 2:2-4; 2 Corinthians 1:22; “water” 1 Peter 3:21; “blood” Hebrews 13:12

[8] Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., 1 John 5, pp. 4882-4883

[9] See John 4:21

[10] Cf. 1 John 3:24; 4:13

[11] Ibid. 4:13

[12] Ibid. 3:24

About drbob76

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