WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LXI) 01/09/23

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: that Jesus the Messiah is God’s Son.

Internal evidence, however, does not support the retention of the words concerning the falsity of verse seven. The Apostle John’s subject is the inner witness for Christianity in the heart of the believer. That inward witness is the Spirit who manifests Himself by His effects in the human spirit of the Messiah, which He came to impart. Moreover, the introduction of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, bearing witness in heaven to the Savior’s work on earth, introduces an altogether foreign element into the argument.

It is, of course, that submitting such a consideration is not impossible. But anyone accustomed to the subtle laws of logic involving John’s thoughts, and his invariable custom of repeating in a slightly modified form propositions of importance, will feel that this passage is no more entitled to recognition as a part of the Epistle on internal than it is on external grounds. So, this passage should read: “For they who are bearing witness are three, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three speak as one.” The words amplify and explain John’s saying that Jesus the Messiah comes “not by water only, but by water and blood.” Thus, he proceeds, “and it is the Spirit that beareth witness because the Spirit is truth.”

The witnesses converge toward one goal we possess in Jesus the Messiah’s eternal life and even more.  The witnesses not only testify to us of the fact. They concur in producing it – the inward work of the Spirit, the cleansing from sin, and participation in God’s Son’s spiritual and eternal Life. Another point is the word “witness” in the present tense. The three bear witness in each believer’s heart. It is not merely that it is the custom of the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood to bear witness. They are always active, energizing witnesses for the Living God and His Eternal Son, as ever-existent principles, to each human heart capable of receiving their testimony.[1]

A tried and tested biblical scholar who believes in the up-building of the Christian life, Robert Cameron (1839-1904), now addresses these three witnesses – the Spirit, the water, and the blood – giving a testimony. What is their testimony? What have they to say? They all agree and make for one end. They converge on Christ is come in the flesh with the gift of life to impart to us. The whole Gospel, on which they concentrate in their witness, stands for three aspects of the one truth. This truth is (1) that Jesus is the Son of God come in the flesh of man; (2) that the life of the ages can find no channel in which it comes to our hearts except through the death of this Son; and (3) that this life comes to us only when we, owning the depth of our sin, receive this Son of God, whose resources are equal to our imperative and varied needs.

This is the witness which God gives concerning his Son. It is three-fold and satisfies the condition of human testimony. We receive human testimony out of the mouth of two or three witnesses. Human witnesses may be deceptive, and they may mislead us. God can neither deceive nor be deceived, and He speaks through these things to us. Therefore, this witness of God is of greater authority than that of man. It was three-fold, was open and visible to the world, and the One whose mission was attested is a living power in the world today. This is God’s final testimony. If we receive the fallible testimony of man, what possible excuse can we give for refusing the infallible testimony of God?[2]

As a secular and sacred Law enforcer, Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918) figures that the water of John 3:5 must have the same significance as the water of 1 John 5:6, 8. And let us not forget the following words: “There are three who bear witness the Spirit, the water, and the blood.” What, then, does the water signify? No mind steeped in sacramentalism can imagine that in the three-fold “witness of God,” baptism is sandwiched between the Holy Spirit and the blood of the Messiah.

And the attempt to explain the words by the fact recorded in John 19:34 savors of materialism wholly foreign to Christianity. Such an explanation, moreover, is utterly inadequate. Its forceful language states that water and blood characterized the mission and ministry of the Messiah. It was not that at the death of the Messiah, blood and water flowed from His pierced side, but that His coming, regarded as a whole, was “with water and blood.” So, the translators changed the preposition in verse six from “through” in (Greek) to “by” (in our English translation), making it plain and sure.[3] [4]

With his Spirit-directed calculating mind, Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) says that if there is one thing that is certain in textual criticism, it is that this famous passage in verse seven is not genuine. The Revisers have only performed an imperative duty in excluding it from both text and margin. External and internal evidence are alike overwhelmingly against the passage. But there are three facts, which everyone should know alone, to show that the words are an interpolation. (1) They are not found in a single Greek manuscript earlier than the fourteenth century. (2) Not one of the Greek or Latin Fathers who conducted the controversies about the doctrine of the Trinity in the third, fourth, and first half of the fifth centuries ever quotes these words. (3) The words occur first towards the end of the fifth century in Latin and are found in no other language until the fourteenth century. Therefore, the only words which are genuine in this verse are, for there are three that bear record, or more accurately, For those who bear witness are three: “three” is the predicate; for “witness.”[5]

But when it comes to verse eight, Plummer notes, “there are three that bear witness on earth.” These words also are part of the spurious insertion. The text of verses seven and eight runs: “For those who bear witness are three, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and the three agree as one.” John says, “those who bear witness,” not simply “witnesses.” They are not witnesses who might be called once to testify but perpetually deliver their testimony. The masculine verb “witness” is evidence of the personality of the Spirit. The Apostle is answering the misgivings of those who imagined that when the last Apostle died, the Church would possess only second-hand evidence and a tradition growing fainter about the Person and Mission of the Messiah. Not so, says John; first-hand evidence is ever-present, and each believer has it in themselves.[6] It is uncertain whether the Trinity is even remotely symbolized. Perhaps John wishes to give the full complement of evidence recognized by law.[7]

Controversies about the doctrine of the Trinity in the third, fourth, and first half of the fifth centuries always quote these words. The words first occurred towards the end of the fifth century in Latin and were found in no other language until the fourteenth century. The only words which are genuine in this verse are, “For there are three that bear record,” or more accurately, For those who bear witness are three: “three” is the predicate for “witnesses,” the Spirit, water, and blood.[8] These, of course, have the same meaning as the Messiah’s Baptism and Death.

The real value of our Lord’s baptism and death, says Plummer, can fully realize the consequences if neither of these took place. That our Lord appeared on His mission without openly professing His reason for coming was for God by submitting to the baptism of John, or He died without notice as others do. The three witnesses agree as one; literally, are united into one or are for the same object of establishing this truth about Jesus. It means either that they joined to become one witness or cooperate in producing one result.

For sure, the trinity of witnesses furnishes one testimony.[9] We should also note that “to become one” or “to turn into one” occurs nowhere in the Final Covenant.  The copyist who wrote this uses the Greek “the one” here as an argument for the genuineness of verse seven. Some say that “the one” plainly implies that “one” has preceded. But this becomes absurd by making “the one” in verse eight mean the same as “the one” in verse seven. Verse seven means “one Substance,” the “Unity in Trinity.” But in what sense can “The spirit, the water, and the blood agree in the Unity in Trinity yield?”[10]

With regal etiquette, Ernest von Dryander (1843-1922) comments that the fact remains that the “water and the blood,” “baptism and death” of our Savior, were not understood. Even for His disciples, His death was something not only terrible but also incomprehensible. That was until that third Witness came – the Witness to Whom our Lord pointed – the Witness Who was to abide with the disciples, who was to bring “all things to their remembrance,”[11] and “guide them into all truth;[12]the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Apostle John adds: “It is the Spirit that bears witness because the Spirit is truth.”

So, it is through the Spirit of God that the dead seed in the Apostles comes alive; through God’s Spirit and they go out into the world to preach the Gospel; through the Spirit, they receive new understanding; they learn how to exercise divine power and wisdom are through the Holy Spirit. Also, they realized that baptism was our Lord’s consecration to the office of Redeemer and that His death was the great sacrifice that He, the High Priest, offered for the reconciliation of the lost world. Through the Spirit, the Image of Jesus, the living Messiah, began abiding in them. It not only makes them His messengers of what He told them but also the witnesses of what they experienced through His Word.


[1] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., pp. 379-385

[2] Camron, Robert: The First Epistle of John, or, God Revealed in Light, Life, and Love, op. cit., p. 235

[3] Cf. Hebrews 2:16

[4] Anderson, Sir Robert: Redemption Truths, op. cit., pp. 54-55

[5] See 1 John 1:2

[6] 1 John 5:10; cf. John 15:26

[7] Matthew 18:16

[8] See on 1:2; 2 Corinthians 13:1; Deuteronomy 19:15; Cf. John 8:17

[9] To be one occurs in John 10:30; 11:52; 17:11, 21, 22, 23; 1 Corinthians 3:23

[10] Plummer, Alfred: The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, N. T., Vol. IV, p. 160-161

[11] John 14:26

[12] Ibid. 16:13

About drbob76

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