WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LVI) 01/02/23

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: Jesus the Messiah is God’s Son.

Rothe then goes on to verse eight and points out that we must reject the standard English text words between verses seven and eight. They are lacking in more significant Greek manuscripts. Luther omitted them in his German translation, and they found their way into some editions a considerable time after his death. Exegetical reasons also are decisively opposed to their authenticity. They break the connection of the whole passage, which becomes apparent as soon as we remove them.

Nevertheless, these confirming elements furnish a convincing authentication of the Messiahship of Jesus. John shows this is the case by pointing to the fact that there are three legitimate witnesses (the number required before a human court).[1] Indeed, there are three thoroughly harmonious witnesses. He means that the testimony he appeals is, even when regarded in a human manner worthy of the credit went, attested to by three witnesses who thoroughly agree.[2]

A staunch crusader against immorality, Henrich A. W. Meyer (1800-1873) quotes Martin Luther, who said about verse seven: “It appears as if this verse was inserted by the orthodox against the Arians, which, however, cannot suitably be done because both here and there John speaks not of witnesses in heaven, but of witnesses on earth.” With this, most modern commentators agree. If we consider the contents of the whole Epistle, connecting the three heavenly witnesses with the three earthly ones may depend on something that appears in the Epistle. Still, it does not follow that the concept is suitable or even necessary for this. It is not the case here; neither what follows nor immediately precedes is connected by “that bear record.” There is not the slightest reference to such a witness of the Trinity.

There are clear and intelligible grounds in the preceding verse for presenting the three witnesses: Spirit, water, blood, but not for putting forward the three witnesses: the Father, Word, and Holy Spirit; this trinity appears quite unprepared to be such witnesses in heaven. But the sequel is also opposed to it, making it incomprehensible. What is meant by the “witness of God” in verse nine?” Is it the three in heaven or the three on earth? We might add that these two different classes of witnesses appear somewhat unconnected. Indeed, it is said these three witnesses agree in one, but not in what relationship the three in heaven and three on earth have to one another. Besides, however, the idea is utterly obscure, for what are we to understand by a witness in heaven?[3]

According to Robert Jamieson (1802-1880), Andrew Fausset (1821-1910), and David Brown’s (1803-1897) way of thinking, verses seven and eight are a treasure chest full of genuine and imitation gems. It involves those made in heaven and on earth. First, they examine the heavenly jewels – three witnesses that tell us about Jesus: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. These three witnesses agree. It is more than an idea; the Law requires two or three witnesses to constitute adequate testimony. So, they examined Greek manuscripts in search of the words “in heaven,” the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one. They found the words “in heaven” written as a marginal comment to complete the sense of the text. Then, as early as the eighth century, it was introduced into the text of the Latin Vulgate. The testimony, however, need only be carried out on earth but not in heaven. The marginal comment, therefore, that inserted “in heaven” was inappropriate. Here on earth, the context requires the witness of the Spirit, water, and blood. No one in heaven needs convincing that Jesus is God’s Son, the Messiah.[4]

With noticeable spiritual comprehension, Henry Cowles (1802-1881) says we should note that the words put in brackets: “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.” are unquestionably illegitimate. No other important manuscript contains them; none of the ancient versions have them. They utterly lack the authority required to place them in the sacred text. No modern critic, versed in such questions, defends them as genuine. These words lack external (historical) authority and are entirely out of place in the Apostle John’s argument. He is here producing the testimonies for the Messiah, which are manifest on the earth, before human eyes; not those which supposedly might be spoken in heaven. For, it may well be asked, what have his readers to do with the latter? And how can it be pertinent to ask them to believe in Jesus on the strength of witnessing testimonies to Him which are seen or heard only in heaven?[5]

With his lifework well-illustrating, the biblical and reformation ideal of the pastor/theologian Robert S. Candlish (1807-1873) notes that the faith, which is “the victory that overcomes the world,” has for its object Jesus, viewed as God’s Son. However, this faith does not simply contemplate Jesus as the Son of God, dwelling exclusively on His original and eternal sonship manifested in His human nature. It must deal with His work as well as with His person. It deals with him as “come in the flesh into the world.” And in particular, it involves two accompaniments of His coming, two distinguishing features characteristic of the manner of His coming and its design. First, He arrived through the elements, not of water only but also blood.

So, in His coming, He is “Jesus the Messiah, the Anointed Savior,” and it is our faith in Him as the Son of God coming by or with water and blood, which is the victory that overcomes the world. This triumph was proven when they pierced His side on the cross, and “out came blood and water.” (As mentioned before, Candlish unadvisedly attributes this event as part of the Messiah was seen coming by water and blood. He could not have come by blood – signifying the crucifixion before His baptism). So, therefore, “He [John] that saw it bare record, and his record is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth so that you might believe.”[6] So John writes in his Gospel, very emphatically giving us his testimony, as an eyewitness, for a ground of our faith.

The Apostle John is cautioning us, believers, to beware of the temptation of evil spirits. Instead, receive the testimony of the Spirit of truth. These thoughts and misgivings, so dishonorable to God, impede the purpose of grace and harm everyone whose return to God they arrest. They are from the father of lies and are as false as he is. He may give them some air of plausibility so that, if possible, he may confuse more and more the question of a person’s relationship with God and the footing on which we are in union with God to make us give up the care of our salvation as hopeless. But we must see that they are contrary to the plain testimony of the water and the blood, for these witnesses speak emphatically to the fullness of God’s grace and the foundation He established for our peace and holiness.

So, even when we are tempted to yield to the inferences of Satan, are we not conscious of other thoughts? Sometimes we don’t realize that this hesitating and halting unbelief is an unworthy way of greeting God’s overtures so that we might at least make it possible for our soul to depend on His faithful promises. It is the Spirit of Truth that bears witness. Therefore, put the matter to an experimental test; commit yourself to the Messiah, of whom the Spirit testifies, as having blood, precious blood, to take away all guilt and water from His wounded side to wash away all guilty stains.[7] For it is in this way of actual trial that you will have the witness of the Spirit, which is the witness of God. Consequently, the peace that flows from the settlement of this controversy by a simple acceptance of His mercy brings relief that we are justified in His sight.

It follows then; we can lay aside all reservations and entrust our way, in darkness and distress, to Him by surrendering our soul, body, and spirit into His hands. Furthermore, by His love in our hearts, the growing clearness of our views of His character, and the enlargement and elevation of our soul for His service, we will understand with increasing clarity the consenting testimony of the three witnesses: the Spirit, water, and blood.  Then through faith in that testimony, we will overcome the world. For no commandment of God will ever be a burden to us if it comes to us in the power of the Spirit and through the channels of the water and blood.[8]

Without overlooking crucial points, Johann E. Huther (1807-1880) says that through the witness of the Spirit, water and blood also attain witnesses’ position, in order by the weight of this threefold testimony to confirm the truth that the Son of God, who is identical with Jesus, is the Messiah. The connection with this revelation is explained by the fact that the circumstance strengthens the truth of the statement of the Holy Spirit that it is not He alone that bears witness, but that with Him the water and blood bear witness also to the atonement.

As several commentators suppose, it is uncertain whether the Apostle John brings out this triplicity of witnesses with reference to the well-known legal rule. It is not to be deduced from the present that water and blood are things still at present existing, and hence the sacraments; for by means of the witness of the Spirit the whole redemptive life of the Messiah is permanently present so that the baptism and death of Jesus – although belonging to the past – prove Himself constantly to be the Messiah who makes atonement for the world. Huther continues by pointing out the participle (witnessing), instead of the substantive (the spirit and the water and the blood,) emphasizes more strongly the activity of the witnessing and that (these three are one). All these three expressions have the same meaning.[9]


[1] Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; Matthew 18:16

[2] Rothe, Richard: Exposition of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., The Expository Times, April 1895, pp. 327-328

[3] Meyer, Heinrich A. W: Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, op. cit., loc. cit.

[4] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, New Testament Volume, op. cit., p. 729

[5] Cowles, Henry: The Gospel and Epistles of John: with Notes, op. cit., Lecture XXXVIII, p. 356

[6] John 19:34-35

[7] Isaiah 1:18

[8] Candlish, Robert S., The First Epistle of John Expounded in a Series of Lectures, op. cit., pp. 460-473

[9] Huther, Johann E., Critical and Exegetical Handbook on the General Epistles, op. cit., pp. 610-611

About drbob76

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