By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LXII) 01/10/23

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.

Thus, this same Spirit bears witness in the assemblies of the faithful and teaches that the Son of God is indeed the Redeemer of the world; He guides the arrow of God’s Word to penetrate the conscience of mankind. The Holy Spirit stimulates spiritually dead souls to yearn for peace and the need for salvation. It is the Holy Spirit. Who makes the Messiah present in the preaching of His Word and the Blessed Sacrament – it is the Spirit of truth. So, there are three which bear record on earth – the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and only in the power of the Spirit do the other witnesses come alive and convincing. Not only that, but “these three agree in one” – namely, they have one shared object: declaring Jesus the Messiah as God’s Son and Redeemer of the world.[1]

A prolific writer on the New Testament Epistles, George G. Findlay (1849-1919), says that he dismisses, without misgiving or regret, the clause respecting the heavenly Trinity from verses seven and eight of the received text. The rejected sentence is a striking statement of the Trinitarian creed of the early Church, to which the Apostle John might have subscribed in due season and form. But it is irrelevant to this context and foreign to the Apostle’s mode of conception. What John asserts here and seeks to vindicate against the world is the Church’s victorious faith in God’s Son. To invoke witnesses for this “in heaven” would add nothing to the purpose. The contrast is not between “heaven” and “earth” as spheres of testimony but the various elements of the testimony. The passage of the Three Heavenly Witnesses is now on all hands, an admitted theological gloss. It first appears in two obscure Latin writings of the fifth century and made its way probably from the margin into the text of the Latin Version; no Greek codex of the Final Covenant exhibits it earlier than the fifteenth century.[2]

With his stately speaking style, William Macdonald Sinclair (1850-1917), an eminent Anglican priest and author asserts that the text of verse eight is correct, “For there are three that bear witness; the Spirit, and the water, and the blood.” It is a repetition of verse six for emphasis. The fact that the three that bear witness are in the masculine gender bears out the interpretation given; they imply the Holy Spirit, the author of the Law, and the author of Redemption. It also explains how verse seven crept in as a gloss. John then adds that these three agree in one. – Literally, “make for the one.” The old dispensation, of which John the Baptizer’s preaching was the last message, had no other meaning than the preparation for the Messiah. The sacrifice on Calvary was the consummation of the Messiah’s mission; the kingdom of the Spirit, starting from that mission, was the seal of it. Now, these three witnesses to the Messiah have their counterparts in the Christian’s soul. First, baptism, which is not putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God. Second, the “blood,” which purges our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. And thirdly, the “Spirit,” which is the baptism of the Holy Spirit and with fire.”[3] [4]

Undoubedly, says Charles Gore (1853-1932) we must say something about the unfortunate interpolation in verses seven and eight. In the standard authorized version (KJV), the text reads: “There are three that bear record [or “witness”] in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood.” The words in bold are an undoubted interpolation. They do not exist in the Greek manuscripts, except in two very late and worthless ones, apparently translated from Latin. They were not in Jerome’s Latin translation or the old versions. What happened was that the “three witnesses agreeing in one” suggested the idea of the Trinity.

This suggestion, probably first written on the margin, found its way into the text at the hands of a pious copyist, probably innocent of any intention to deceive. As a text of John’s epistle, its first occurrence is in the writings of Christian martyr Spaniard Priscillian (340-385 AD).[5] The inserted words are: “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three which bear witness on earth.” These words passed from copy to copy of the Latin Bible as part of the authoritative text. But they interrupted the context and were not original.” So, the text says, “There are three which bear witness: the Spirit, the Water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.”[6]

Beyond any doubt, remarks Alonzo R. Cocke (1858-1901), it is useless to speak concerning this verse, save to say every available historical evidence proves it an interpolation. In verses seven and eight, these inserted words are not in ancient Greek manuscripts, ancient versions, or the early Greek Fathers. The Apostle John now condenses his statement. These three utter the same testimony and agree thoroughly. Neander gives a beautiful term to the Greek by his translation: “And the three have reference to the one.” They all speak of Jesus the Messiah, the fountain of eternal life.[7]

Esteemed ministry veteran James B. Morgan (1859-1942) says that doubts have long been entertained respecting the authenticity of verses seven and eight. They are lacking in many of the early Greek manuscripts of the Final Covenant. He says we must wait for additional light before being convinced of its divine inspiration. As to the doctrine representing the three persons in the unity of the Godhead seen in these verses, there is a mass of scripture evidence to sustain it. Anyone receiving the Scriptures as the Word of God cannot reasonably dismiss it.

To summarize this argument as an outline, we must begin with the fact that the middle parts of verses seven and eight in the KJV) are spurious. A scribe added those words. Today, scholars agree that those omitted words are not part of the Bible. Therefore, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) accurately translates this scripture passage.

In 1 John 5, the Apostle John is trying to express and prove that Jesus is really the “Messiah”. He is the son of God.

The Spirit, the water, and the blood are three things that testify to this fact.  We can not rely on the testimonies of fault-prone humans to prove who Jesus is.  That is why John chose three things that are from God to be a witness of Jesus’ true identity. In this verse, John points out that they all say the same thing, “…and these three agree.”

The order in which John listed these is chronological. At his baptism, Jesus received the Holy Spirit. The water is relevant during His ministry; the blood came at the end of his life when Jesus sacrificed everything on the cross. Let’s look specifically at each one.

The Spirit: John refers to the Holy Spirit that swooped down like a dove and landed upon Jesus at His baptism.[8] From that point on, Jesus used the power of the Holy Spirit to perform miracles and proclaim God’s message. The descending of the Holy Spirit at His baptism marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

The Water: The water, in this case, does not refer to literal water. However, in scripture, water represents a cleaning agent that can bring salvation by cleansing our sins. Consider the following verses for how Jesus’ words brought this living water to the world during his ministry.[9] These scriptures show that “water” is the word that Jesus spoke during his time here on earth.

The Blood:  The blood here is for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. There, He gave His life as a ransom for mankind to pay for our sins. The writer of Hebrews tells us that “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.”[10] John supports this with “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.”[11]

The Apostle John chose the Spirit, the water, and the blood as three iconic properties to prove, from a heavenly standpoint, that Jesus was the son of God.[12]

Unfortunately, in many churches today, these significant points are skipped over in favor of emotionalism and a “feel better” popular theology. For instance, seeing a sizeable priceless diamond on a ring in the jewelry store may evoke exclamations like “Oh, that is so beautiful” or “My goodness, I’d love to have that on my finger.”  However, had you been with the miner and observed all the work involved in getting to that diamond, your appreciation would rise even higher.

The same is true when you fully understand the role of water and blood in our salvation and granting of eternal life. But, sadly, for many, it is a case of “let’s get this over with” when it comes to baptism and communion. Jesus, forgive us for such an attitude regarding your priceless gifts from the Cross, the Grave, from Heaven, through Your divine messenger, the Holy Spirit.

[1] Dryander, Ernst von: A Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John in the Form of Addresses, op. cit., XV, The Invulnerability of Faith, p.201

[2] Findlay, George G: Fellowship with the Life Eternal: An Exposition of the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., pp. 380, 388

[3] Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16

[4] Sinclair, William M., New Testament Commentary for English Readers, Charles J. Ellicott (Ed.), op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 491

[5] Priscillian was an early Christian bishop who was the first heretic to receive capital punishment. A rigorous ascetic, he founded Priscillianism, an unorthodox doctrine that persisted into the sixth century. His teaching was much the same as Gnosticism and Manichaeism in its dualistic belief that matter was evil and the spirit good. He also taught that angels and human souls emanated from the Godhead, that bodies were created by the devil, and that human souls were joined to bodies as a punishment for sins. These beliefs led to a denial of the true humanity of the Messiah.

[6] Gore, Charles: The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 198

[7] Cocke, Alonzo R: Studies in the Epistles of John; or, The Manifested Life, op. cit., p. 127

[8] Matthew 3:16-17

[9] Isaiah 12:3; John 4:9-14; 7:37-39; 15:3

[10] Hebrews 9:22

[11] 1 John 1:7

[12] Provided by Chicago Bible Students

About drbob76

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