WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LXIII) 01/11/23

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.

Here, however, says Morgan, we are met with an objection to the Trinity doctrine that is proper to notice before going further. It is said by some who do not receive this doctrine that it appears to them to involve an impossibility. They do not see, they tell us, how it can be said of one being, that is said to be three-in-one. In reply, we are wholly incompetent to speculate about the Godhead. It is not proper to say what is possible or impossible with God. There cannot, we admit, be a contradiction in the nature of the Godhead. But there is no contradiction in our view of the Trinity.

We can point in nature to such a plurality, notes Morgan, where there is such unity. We need not go beyond mankind. He is three and yet one. The prayer of the Apostle Paul for the Thessalonians is that they may be sanctified wholly “in soul, body, and spirit.” There is in mankind a body, visible; a spirit which animates that body, which he possesses in common with the inferior creation; and a soul superadded, rational, accountable, and immortal. There is, therefore, a trinity in the unity of humanity. There is no contradiction in its nature. It cannot be said with reason that the two ideas are incompatible. The fact of mankind’s nature is a plain contradiction to such a statement.

The whole subject of the Trinity simply becomes a question of evidence. Is it taught in the divine Word or not? The question is one of pure revelation. It is a subject on which we can have no knowledge, except as we are taught of God. We must investigate it in this spirit. We should come to the Scriptures resolved to have our judgment determined entirely by their testimony. Let us say now, “this will we do” with divine blessing. We come as learners to the sacred page, and our investigation is what is written upon it?

The best form in which we can arrive at a satisfactory conclusion is historical. We will take the Scriptures and trace the growing light that emanates from them on this subject. For on it, like every other, we are responding to the urge of “searching the Scriptures.”[1] God saw the exercise as suitable for His children. He does not fully unfold any great truth in one place. It is announced in many places, with different measures of clearness, and in various connections. To rightly understand it, all must be consulted and studied. And it is when they are brought together and considered in harmony that we may hope to have just views of the great truth which they all conspire to reveal.[2]

Thinking as a dispensationalist, Arno C. Gaebelein (1861-1945) notes that only in the Apostle John’s Gospel do we find an account of the opened side of our adorable Savior and that water and blood poured out of the pierced side.[3] The sinner needs a cleansing morally and purging from guilt. The water is for moral cleansing; the blood telling of repentance cleanses from guilt. For anyone to suppose here that the baptisms of water and blood imitate the Lord’s Supper is as false as it is ridiculous. It is purification and conciliation as accomplished and provided for in the death of the Messiah for the believer. That is why the Holy Spirit is here on earth.

Notice that the Apostle John does not present his testimony here in these verses, but the Holy Spirit witnesses it. He is on earth for this purpose to bear witness to the Messiah and His work. How awful is any rejection of the Spirit’s witness in the light of these words – that rejection so widespread and pronounced in antichristian modernism! The seventh verse has no business in our Bibles. It is an interpolation, and all historical evidence is against it. The oldest manuscripts do not contain the words we read in verses seven and eight. We notice the connection between verses six to eight by leaving out this inserted text. The Spirit is the abiding witness of accomplished redemption, and He dwells in the believer.[4]

British military chaplain John Kelman (1864-1929) says these disputed verses provide one of the most significant and valuable changes in the habits of theological thinking from the deductive and metaphysical to inductive and psychological methods. In more straightforward language, it was formerly the custom to establish a doctrine apart from our human experience and then conform life and thought to the principle. The rule is to take our human experience with us when we try to adapt our doctrine to it. But it was not in this abstract fashion that the principle initially came. It did not rise from our text, or that text was absent from the original documents and did not appear till the fifth century. On the contrary, because people experienced the one God manifesting Himself to them in three ways, they tried to conceive and state their thoughts of Him accordingly.

Instead, the abstract formulations and controversies were drawn partly from Scripture, partially from the need to combat heresies that stated God’s being in terms that were not true to the Christian experience; and somewhat from the Greek spirit that sought to rationalize harmonize all human knowledge. But none of these was the source of the doctrine. Instead, it arose out of the deepest hours of communion between the souls of believers and God.

So then, there are the “three witnesses” who were gathered “into one.” In the Apostle John’s experience, as testifying to the truth about the Messiah and His salvation: “the three,” John says, “agree in one,” or more strictly, “amount to the one thing” they converge to this single point. The baptism in Jordan’s river, on Calvary, and in the upper room in Jerusalem was the beginning and the end of Jesus the Messiah’s earthly course, and the new beginning which knows no end. His Divine life and words and works, His propitiatory death, the promised and perpetual gift of the Spirit to His Church ‒ these three cohere into one solid, imperishable witness. The Spirit of God demonstrates these alike in history and personal experience. They have one outcome, as they have one purpose, and it is this, “that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”[5] The revelation of Jesus as the Son of God is complete from the day of Pentecost onwards. The Church from that day repeats the witness of John the Baptizer and John the Evangelist unwaveringly, with an ever-multiplying concert of voices, through the whole earth.[6] [7]

In reviewing what the Apostle John says in this verse, Archibald T. Robertson (1863-1934) notes that the Latin Vulgate inserts words in the Textus Receptus, which are missing in Greek manuscripts, except for two late copies (one hundred sixty-two) in the Vatican Library of the fifteenth century, (thirty-four) of the sixteenth century in Trinity College, Dublin). Jerome did not have it. Cyprian applies the language of the Trinity, and Priscillian has it. Erasmus did not have it in his first edition but rashly offered to insert it if a single Greek manuscript had it, and 34 was produced with the insertion as if made to order. The spurious addition in verse seven is: “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. Then in verse eight, “and there are three that bear witness on earth.”

Perhaps, since the doctrine of the Trinity did not appear in scripture, some Latin scribe took Cyprian’s explanation and wrote it on the margin of his text. And so, it got into the Latin Vulgate and finally into the Textus Receptus by Erasmus’ compromise. Verse eight reads that the Spirit, the water, and the blood are witnesses. The same three witnesses of verses six and seven repeated with the Spirit first. The resumptive article “Agree in one” was for the one thing, to bring us to faith in Jesus as the Incarnate Son of God, the very purpose for which John wrote his Gospel.[8] [9]

Characteristically, Alan England Brooke (1863-1939) states that the witness of Jesus being the Messiah, the Son of God, is trustworthy. It fulfills the conditions of legally valid witness, as laid down in Scripture.[10] The same interpretation must be given to the Spirit, the water, and the blood here as in the preceding verse. The Messiah “came” by water and by blood, and the Spirit bore witness to Him and His Mission. The witness of the Spirit is supported by the witness of the water and the blood. The means by which He accomplished His Mission are minor witnesses to its character. And the witnesses agree. As interpreted by the Spirit, the Spirit and the opening and closing scenes of the Ministry bear similar witness to the Messiah. They are, for one thing, trending in the same direction, exist for the same object. They all work towards the same result, the establishing of the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.[11]

With an eye for detail, David Smith (1866-1932) sees verses seven and eight as the Water (the Lord’s consecrated spiritual and eternal Life) and the Blood (His sacrificial Death) are testimonies to the Incarnation, but they are insufficient. A third testimony of the Spirit is needed to reveal its significance and bring it home to our hearts. The wonder and glory of that incredible manifestation would stay hidden without His enlightenment. It will be as incomprehensible to us as “mathematics to a canine or music to a camel.” Revealing Jesus was the goal for which the Apostle John wrote his Gospel.[12] [13]


[1] John 5:39

[2] Morgan, James B., An Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., Lecture XLIII, pp. 426-428

[3] John 19:35

[4] Gaebelein, Arno C., The Annotated Bible, op. cit., pp. 158-159

[5] 1 John 5:11

[6] 1 John 1:34; 4:14

[7] Kelman, John: Ephemera Eternitatis, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1910, The Spiritual Doctrine of God, Preached on Trinity-Sunday, pp. 144-145, 149

[8] John 20:31

[9] Robertson, Archibald T., Word Pictures of the New Testament, op. cit., p. 1968

[10] Deuteronomy 19:15 Cf. Deuteronomy 17:6; Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; John 8:17

[11] Brooke, Alan E., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 137

[12] John 20:31

[13] Smith, David: Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1 John, op. cit., p. 195

About drbob76

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