WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LVII) 01/03/23

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.

As a noted Christian intellectual, Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885) mentions that the earliest author by whom these words in verse seven are clearly cited is Vigilius Thapsensis (born 370 AD)[1] at the close of the Fifth Century. Further evidence is added in a statement of the evidence on this subject in the editions of Johann Jakob Wettstein (1693-1754, Johann Jakob Griesbach (1745-1812), Johann Schulz (1730-1823), and Konstantin von Tischendorf (1815-1874). But no one needs to be disturbed by their non-appearance in new translations. Many other Scriptures have established the Doctrine of the Trinity, and by the unanimous voice and practice of the Church, especially in the administration of the Sacrament of Baptism. Jesus ordered that all be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[2] [3]

With an inquiring mind, Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885) states that most Bible scholars agree that the last half of verse seven and the first half of verse eight are not genuine, being a late insertion and not the words of the Apostle John. They are omitted in all Greek manuscripts before the sixteenth century, all the Greek fathers, and many Latin fathers. They are lacking in the early editions of the Latin Vulgate. The text was never used by the Orthodox fathers of the early Church in defending the doctrine of the Trinity against Arius. That doctrine was established in the Church without any aid from this text. It is not needed for that purpose now, and it cannot be justifiably quoted as proof in that discussion.

Whedon also notes that the three words, Spirit, water, and blood, are masculine, implying persons, indicating thing or substance. Therefore, it is no uncertainty about the reason that Augustine found an indication of the Trinity in these words. The Greek words “My Father and I are one” are similar, where “one” is neuter. For Augustine, the water represents the Father, the author of our regeneration; the blood epitomizes the atoning Son; and with the Spirit, witness on earth to the Messiahship of Him that came. These three are also ever-present witnesses in the Church through the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist.

Then John, by saying these three agree as one in the original Greek are, “the three into the one they are” converge into a unit. It can hardly be questioned that there is an intended correspondence between these words and those in John’s Gospel.[4] There, John states with great emphasis that he beheld and testified that marvelous blood and watercame from the Savior’s side. He viewed that water and bloodas witnesses to the fact that the dying Jesus was indeed a Savior by atoning blood and purifying water. Similarly striking are John the Baptizer’s words attesting to the Spirit’s testimony of the divine Sonship. “I saw and bare record that this is the Son of God.”[5] We derive solemn proof from all this that the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper are a perpetual institution of the Church, bearing recordwith the Spirit that Jesus is our permanent propitiation and sanctification. The Eucharist “shows forth the Lord’s death until He comes.” And the baptismal commission extended “to the end of the world.”[6] [7]

In line with Apostle John’s conclusion, Henry Alford (1810-1871) notes questions about the genuineness of the words read in at the end of verse seven have been discussed, as far as external grounds are concerned. The debate made it clear that unless pure impulse is to be followed in the criticism of the sacred text, there is not the shadow of a reason for supposing them to be genuine. Even the supposed citations of them in early Latin Fathers have now, on closer examination, disappeared. But, nevertheless, something remains to be said on internal grounds, on which we have full right to enter now that the other is secured. And on these grounds, it must appear, on any fair and impartial consideration, that the words are 1) alien from the context: 2) in themselves incoherent and betraying another hand than the Apostle John’s.

We must appreciate the context employed in presenting the reality of the substance of the faith which overcomes the world, even of our eternal life in Jesus the Son of God. First, it is shown by a threefold testimony, subsisting in the revelation of the Lord Jesus, and subsisting in us His people. And this testimony is the water of baptism, the blood of atonement, and the Spirit of truth, concurrent in their witness to the one fact that He is God’s Son and that we have eternal life in Him. Now by the insertion of the words “For there are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one,” who cannot see unless prejudice has blinded their eyes, that the context is disturbed by the introduction of an irrelevant matter?[8]

As a faithful and zealous scholar, William Graham (1810-1883) points out that the three heavenly and earthly witnesses mentioned in the seventh and eighth verses form the celebrated text and are subject to fierce and bitter discussion. Graham then states convictions. 1) Nothing can be proved out of the internal evidence either for or against its genuineness. The passage seems packed and perfect without these words, yet, when inserted, the meaning is scriptural and apostolical. The apostle might have written them, for they contain nothing which cannot be proven from other passages of sacred Scripture. Therefore, I’m afraid I altogether must disagree with the dogmatism and presumption of Lücke, who says, “Either these words are spurious, and the rest of the epistle a genuine production of John, or they are genuine, and the epistle belongs to a much later period.” 2) There is insufficient ground for retaining these words in the sacred text. So far as it is known or examined, the evidence is entirely against their genuineness. Therefore, our jealous adoration for the Word of God should make us reject them, at least until they produce new confirmatory evidence.

What, then, is the meaning of the passage, asks Graham? It is this; there are three witnesses to the divine sonship or Messiahship of Jesus. They stand in perpetuity as memorials and monuments to the truth of the Christian religion. They are the Spirit, water, and blood. The mention of water applies to the ordinance of baptism, which He instituted, as a standing memorial of His truth. Next, we find accompanying evidence in His command to baptize all nations in the name of the blessed Trinity as the promise of His perpetual presence. Then with blood also as a witness, we see His atoning death on Calvary as a testimony to the truth and reality of His Messiahship and its blessings sealed in the believer’s heart. Furthermore, in the ordinance of the Last Supper to all ages and nations are His unspeakable love to mankind. Thus, we have the Holy Spirit with His signs, wonders, and manifold operations, along with the water and the blood proclaiming the fulness and completeness of the work of redeeming love by God’s only Son.[9]

With the zeal of a scriptural text examiner, William E. Jelf (1811-1875) states that the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the Divine mission of our Lord as God’s Son ties in with the circumstances of His baptism and death points to His character as a witness. If the Holy Spirit had not given this witness, the baptism and death would only have been facts in our Lord’s work. But now His baptism, in which He solemnly was dedicated to the task, and His death, whereby He accomplished the work of redemption, testify to His Divine office as the redeeming Son of God. Christians may use it to confirm their faith in this doctrine. If John had not baptized Him, He might have taken this office on Himself instead of being sent by the Father. If He had not suffered on the cross as He did suffer, the work of redemption might have been the result of His teaching on each man’s soul, and therefore personal trust in Him as the atoning Redeemer would not have presented itself to the Christian’s soul.

The real value of our Lord’s baptism and death may be estimated by our Lord appearing on His mission without openly professing His mission from God in submitting to the baptism of John and dying quietly as other men died. We should then understand why John emphatically speaks of them as corroborative witnesses to His divine mission, the primary evidence, however, of which is the witness of the Spirit. Whether we look at the beginning of Jesus’ mission or the working of the Spirit in His miracles, the Divine character of His person and mission is definitely and distinctly presented to us to produce the faith that overcomes the world. Jelf then adds that the words “these three agree in one” in verse eight either express their unity or the aim or purpose or “tend to one thing.” The latter perhaps is the better of the two, unless the disputed words in this passage are retained, when the former will be more suitable to the context.[10]

Highly respected for his service to understanding Greek biblical manuscripts, Frederick Henry Ambrose Scrivener (1813-1891) was a New Testament Textual critic and a member of the English New Testament Revision Committee (1881-1885). He says candidly, “It is hard to believe that 1 John 5:7 was not cited by Cyprian;”[11] and again, “The African writers Vigilius of Thapsus (at the end of the fifth century) and Fulgentius (circa 520) in two places expressly appeal to the three heavenly Witnesses.”[12]

After checking the text closely, Richard H. Tuck (1817-1868) notes that verse seven is appropriately omitted in the King James Version (1611). It was probably inserted to meet the difficulties of the Trinitarian controversy. “By water and blood” – are distinguishing marks of evidence. Water symbolizes our Lord’s baptism, blood, of our Lord’s cross, passion, and sacrifice. Observe, these stand at the beginning and close of His ministry and present us with His whole life. He was declared the Son of God by the Divine voice at His baptism. He was reported to be God’s Son by His resurrection when His ministry on earth was completed. So, these two things become the grounds of our faith in Him.


[1] Vigilantius was a presbyter of Comminges (region in Southern France) and Barcelona, Spain, known for his protests of superstitious practices in the Roman Catholic Church.

[2] Matthew 28:19

[3] Wordsworth, Christopher: New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Vol. II, p. 123

[4] John 19:34-35

[5] John 1:34

[6] Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:26

[7] Whedon, Daniel D., Commentary on the New Testament, op. cit., p. 278

[8] Alford, Henry: The Greek Testament, op. cit., Vol. IV, pp. 503

[9] Graham, William: The Spirit of Love, op. cit., pp. 323-324.

[10] Jelf, William E., Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John, pp. 72-73

[11] Cyprian was a bishop of Carthage and an early Christian writer, many of whose Latin works are extant. 

[12] Tertullian, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3, by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, op. cit., p. 859

About drbob76

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