By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LIX) 01/05/23

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.

Martin Luther’s printed Bible had the same fate as the written text of Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. It passed through numerous improvements and mixed improvements. They modernized the writing system and inflections, obsolete words removed, the division of verses was introduced (first in a Heidelberg reprint, 1568), and the spurious clause of the three witnesses inserted in 1 John 5:7 (first by a Frankfurt publisher, 1574.[1] Luther did not slavishly follow the Greek of Erasmus and, in many places, conformed to the Latin Vulgate based on an older text. Even in his last edition, he omitted the famous interpolation of the heavenly witnesses.[2] The Reformer omitted the forgery of the three witnesses in verse seven of the Greek Testament. He only inserted it under protest in the third edition (1522) because he had rashly promised to do so if a single Greek manuscript could contain it.[3] So this examination of verses seven and eight is not new in Church history, but it may be unknown to many Bible readers today.

Schaff then discusses verse eight. He notes that there are different interpretations of water and blood: First, reference to the miraculous flow of blood and water from the wounded side of the Messiah;[4] Second, the Messiah’s baptism and atoning death; Third, the two sacraments which he instituted as perpetual memorials. Schaff said he would adopt the third view if it were not for “the blood,” which nowhere designates the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and more naturally refers to the shed blood for the remission of sins.[5]

The passage on the three heavenly witnesses in verse seven quoted as proof for the doctrine of the trinity is now generally rejected as a medieval copiest’s note written in the margin as well as external grounds; for John would never have written: “the Father, the Word, and the Spirit,” but “the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.”[6] So then, notes Schaff, Calvin says that the Eucharist is the sacrament of redemption and sanctification. The Messiah “came by water and blood” to purify and redeem. As the third and chief witness, the Spirit confirms and secures the witness of water, blood, baptism, and the eucharist. Augustine called them “the fountain of our sacraments.”[7] It reminds me of the old hymn that reads:

            There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel’s veins.

                And sinners plunged beneath that flood, Lose all their guilty stains:

                Lose all their guilty stains, Lose all their guilty stains.

                And sinners plunged beneath that flood, Lose all their guilty stains.[8]

Anti-evolutionary creationist Gospel preacher, Robert L. Dabney (1820-1898) makes note that the much-contested passage in 1 John 5:7-8 is certainly too doubtful as to its genuineness to use against the adversaries of the Trinity; however, we may believe that the tenor of its teaching is agreeable to that of the Scriptures elsewhere.[9]

After contemplating John’s train of thought, William Kelly (1822-1888) asks, what is the meaning of bearing witness “in heaven?” When you weigh the thought, is it not only unscriptural but pure folly? How could there be such a need or fact as to “bear witness in heaven?” The natural residents in heaven are angels who never needed witnesses brought to them. They were elect and holy. In their case, a witness is unnecessary. The fallen angels are irreparably lost, having left their first estate, some delivered to chains of darkness, yet others allowed, like Satan, to accuse the saints whom they tempt and to deceive the whole inhabited earth. Neither is the witnessing for them. The spirits of the saints gone to rest awaiting their resurrection, what possible witness can they require? On earth, witnesses are needed and are given by God’s grace because worldly people are steeped in darkness and lack the truth. Pilate only expressed the ignorance of all the world in his question, what is truth? He was being impractical and, like most, did not wait for the sure answer. None could find it out unless God gave competent witnesses, and here they are, His three witnesses, “The Spirit, the water, and the blood.”

Kelly then points out that the Apostle John had more to say in a few but pregnant words. “For three are those that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and the three agree in one.” It will be noticed that the order in verse seven is here reversed in verse eight. Historically, it was the blood, water, and Spirit sent from heaven in honor of the Messiah’s redemption to give the saints the abiding Paraclete and spread the glad tidings universally in God’s power, though working through mankind. So, God gives three testifiers, which agree in one testimony, but in spiritual fact, the order is “the Spirit, and the water, and the blood.” Of course, literally speaking, the personal witness is the Holy Spirit, and He too is the present living power. The water and the blood are but figuratively called witnesses and are personified. But the Holy Spirit is a trustworthy person in the Godhead, and one of His special functions, like the Son’s, is to bear witness on earth, He of the Messiah of God and the Father. “And it is the Spirit that bears witness because the Spirit is the truth.”[10]

Familiar with John’s writing style, William B. Pope (1822-1903) states that if the disputed words in verses seven and eight were genuine, they would, in their present position, be unconnected with the context. It would be making a sudden ascent to the testimony borne by the three Persons of the Trinity in heaven or from heaven to the Incarnate Son. First, by the Father generally and at the great crisis of the history of the Redeemer. Then, by the Son to Himself in His exalted estate. Finally, by the Holy Spirit in the administration of redemption. These heavenly Witnesses have but one testimony, to which the testimony of God in verse nine refers. Then the three witnesses on earth in relation to that divine testimony would end up becoming “the witness of mankind.” Their testimony would be to the perfected Gospel of the ascended Lord under the influence of the Spirit. They would also give witness to the baptism of our Lord and our baptism, to the finished atonement and the sacramental commemoration of it. It introduces a very disruptive abruptness into the Apostles John’s narrative.

However, without these words, the sense runs smoothly. The Spirit now takes precedence as being still the one and the only witness who bears the testimony throughout revelation and in the history of the Christian, He continuously bears witness to the Messiah by facts gathered about His baptism “in water” and “in blood.” The Spirit also testifies to the effects of faith in the Messiah’s name as the dispenser of pardon and spiritual renewal. They have been made three, and two of them personified as witnesses who agree as one on the supreme importance of the anointing of the Messiah’s human nature by the Holy Spirit and the pouring out of His blood. If there is an allusion to the “two or three witnesses” by which truth is established, that allusion is very faint. The apostle hastens to say that the three-fold witness converges to one fact, that Jesus the Messiah is the Son of God, faith in whom overcomes the world.[11]

With precise spiritual discernment, William Alexander (1824-1911) lays aside the controversy of whether verse seven was inserted from the margin or flowed from the Apostle John’s pen. Combining it with verse eight reflects the witnesses that identify Jesus as the Messiah – those in heaven and on earth. No doubt, behind this, are these words of Jesus: “Your laws say that if two people agree on something that has happened, their witness is accepted as fact. Well, I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.”[12] [13] With its apparent obscurity and famous added words, this passage demands some additional notice. As to criticism and interpretation. (1) Critically. Johann Jakob Griesbach (1745-1812), in his celebrated work Diatribe in locum 1 John v. 7, 8, (1806), stated that opinion has become unanimous in agreeing that the words are spurious and should therefore be eliminated from the Sacred Text.

Even the famous Roman Catholic scholar Johann Martin Augustin Scholtz (1794-1882) boldly dropped the disputed passage from the text in his great critical edition of the New Testament (1836). The interpolated passage certainly has no support in any Greek manuscript, ancient version, or Greek Father of the four first centuries. (2) As to interpretation, the faith has lost nothing by the honesty of her wisest defenders. The whole of the genuine passage is intensely Trinitarian. The interpolation is nothing, but an exposition written into the text. The three actual witnesses do point to the Three Witnesses in Heaven.

With meticulous Greek text examination and confirmation, Johann Bengel (1687-1752) expressed the permanent feeling of Christendom, which no criticism can do away with, by saying: “This triune array of witnesses on earth is supported by and has above and beneath it the Trinity, which is Heavenly, representative, fundamental, everlasting.”[14]

With holiness doctrine expertise, Daniel Steele (1824-1914) agrees with the experts who say that the last part of verse seven and the first part of verse eight are not genuine. Not a single Greek manuscript earlier than the fifteenth century, nor quoted by any of the Greek or Latin fathers in the third, fourth and first half of the fifth centuries, when scholars most fiercely debated the doctrine of the Trinity. These verses are first found near the end of the fifth century in the Latin version and occur in no other language until the fifteenth century. It is supposed to have been, at first, a marginal comment. This marginal comment was probably copied innocently by some scribe who assumed they belonged in the text. It is called a “gloss.”

[1] Ibid. Vol. 7, p. 269

[2] Ibid. p. 277

[3] Ibid. pp. 316-317

[4] John 19:34

[5] Hebrews 9:22; cf. Matthew 26:28

[6] Schaff, Philip: History of the Christian Church, op. cit., Vol. 1, pp. 800-801

[7] Ibid., Vol. 8, pp. 478-479

[8] There is a Fountain, written by William Cowper, based on Zechariah 13:1, published in 1772

[9] Dabney, Robert L. Systematic Theology. Unknown. Kindle Edition

[10] Kelly, William: An Exposition of the Epistles of John the Apostle, op. cit., pp. 363-367

[11] Pope, William B., The International Illustrated Commentary on the N. T., Vol. IV, op. cit., p. 38

[12] John 8:17-18; cf. 3 John 1:12

[13] Alexander, William: The Holy Bible with an Explanatory and Critical Commentary, op. cit., pp. 341-342

[14] Alexander, William: Expositor’s Bible: The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 272

About drbob76

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