WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LXIV) 01/12/23

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 spiritual mentor, Ronald A. Ward (1920-1986) touches on the controversial section about the six witnesses, three in heaven and three on earth, in favor of Jesus being God’s Son and His Messiah. First, he remarks that the words “in heaven” in verse seven (KJV) and “in earth” in verse eight are not part of the original Greek manuscripts. Instead, they appear to have originated in the Latin Version and began showing up in late Greek manuscript copies in the margin and then in the text. As such, we must not use them as evidence for the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Ward then addresses the subject of the water and the blood and the temptation to see in them as a reference to the two sacraments of water baptism and communion. So, why does John not say “water and wine” instead?[1]

There are many opinions on this. Some people attempt to identify the connection between baptism and communion with the blood and water flowing out of Jesus’ side after being pierced on the cross by the soldier’s spear.[2] However, Jesus’ water baptism occurred at the beginning of His ministry, and the blood flowed at the end. Therefore, it would be wrong to interpret the blood (His death) as coming before the water (His baptism). Blood and water are figures of speech and could apply to cleansing through His blood and consecration through His baptism.

Furthermore, Dr. Neil Lightfoot (1920-2012), a New Testament professor at Abilene Christian College, gives this evidence: “The textual evidence is against 1 John 5:7. Of all the Greek manuscripts, only two contain it. These two manuscripts are of late dates, one from the fourteenth or fifteenth century and the other from the sixteenth century. Two other manuscripts have this verse written in the margin. All four manuscripts show that this verse was copied from a late Latin Vulgate version.”[3]

In a spirited confrontational way, Peter S. Ruckman (1921-2016) expresses that Jesus the Messiah had two natures, including six components. Jesus the Messiah, as “Son of God,” had a divine SOUL,[4] a divine SPIRIT,[5] and a heavenly BODY.[6] In addition to that (as “son of man”), He had a human BODY,[7] a human SPIRIT,[8] and a human SOUL.[9] [10] Some of the scriptural references made by Ruckman may be more of a personal interpretation than many orthodox and evangelical scholars.

With academic precision, Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) says that the Apostle John now enlarges on the character of the spiritual witness to the truth about the divinity and humanity of Jesus. To do this, he appeals to a threefold testimony, “the Spirit, the water, and the blood.” John has earlier referred to the single witness of the Spirit in verse six as the “one who bears witness.” His present reference to “three witnesses” need not be regarded as a contradiction or interpolation; instead, the support for further and associated testimony is now being sought. The opening with “For” in verse seven resumes the thought stated in verse six and is used for emphasis. The Spirit bears witness, John appears to be saying, but He is not alone in this. “For” (in the sense of “indeed”), there are three witnesses (the present tense of “the ones bearing witness” suggests a continuous testimony to Jesus.[11]

An insistent believer in God’s amazing grace, Zane Clark Hodges (1932-2008) states that the object of faith must always be the One who came by water and blood – Jesus the Messiah. It is simplest to take the term “water” as a reference to the baptism of Jesus by which God initiated His public ministry.[12]Blood” would then refer to His death that terminated His earthly mission. John’s insistence that He did not come by water only, but by water and blood, suggests that he was refuting a false notion of the type held by Cerinthus. Cerinthus taught that the divine Messiah descended on the man Jesus at His baptism and left Him before His crucifixion.

Thus, he denied that one Person, Jesus the Messiah, came by water and blood. Cerinthus was doubtless not alone in such views, which John regarded as utterly false and contrary to the true testimony of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, three testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three agree. The Spirit’s witness may be thought of as coming through the prophets (including John the Baptist). Then, the Spirit’s witness was augmented by the historical realities involved in “the water” and “the blood.” Both the baptism and the crucifixion of Jesus are strongly attested to historical facts.[13] All three witnesses – “water,” “blood,” and “Spirit” (are personified) agree that a single divine Person, Jesus the Messiah, was involved in these events.[14]

As a capable scripture analyst, Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) points out that the Apostle John has spoken of one witness, the Spirit.[15] Now, he introduces a corrective. There are, in fact, three witnesses. These are identified in the next verse as the Spirit, the water, and the blood. But users of the Authorized Version will be aware of a form of text which speaks first of three witnesses in heaven and then of three witnesses on earth. The former three are the members of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, while the latter three are the Spirit, the water, and the blood.

This form of wording appears in no reputable modern version of the Bible as the actual text; most editions adopt the same practice as in the NIV of relegating the extra words to a footnote, while some (such as the RSV and NEB) ignore them. The words occur in none of the Greek manuscripts of 1 John, except for a few late and worthless ones, and are not quoted by any early church writers, not even by those who would have joyfully seized upon this clear biblical testimony to the Trinity in their attacks on heretics. These words probably owe their origin to some scribe who wrote them in the margin of his copy of 1 John. Later they were erroneously regarded as part of the text. Beyond any shadow of any doubt, the wording of the NIV text represents what John wrote. We must, therefore, confine our attention to the three witnesses of whom John did write, the Spirit, the water, and the blood.[16]

As a capable scripture analyst, Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) says it is hard to see why past events cannot continue to bear witness, in the same way as the First Covenant Scriptures can still bear witness to Jesus; we may perhaps compare Abel who “still speaks, even though he is dead.”[17] We would, therefore, maintain that in this verse, the water and the blood have the same meaning as in verse six. Some commentators who think that the present tense excludes this interpretation maintain that John refers to the Christian sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These sacraments may be regarded as abiding witnesses to the historical baptism and death of Jesus respectively; through them, the saving power of the Son of God is mediated to believers, and thus, they find confirmation in their experience of the truth about the person of Jesus.

Such a view is open to the objection that there is nothing to indicate a change of meaning from verse six. It is also possible to complain that using “blood” to mean the Lord’s Supper is unparalleled. Furthermore, it is difficult to see how Christian baptism testifies to the reality of Jesus’ baptism. There are thus difficulties with this view, although the fact that it has such widespread support among commentators prevents us from ruling it out altogether as a possible interpretation. John was possibly speaking of the historical water and blood of Jesus’ baptism and death, symbolized in the water of Christian baptism and the wine of the Lord’s Supper.[18]

With a Jewish convert’s enthusiasm for the Christian Messiah, Messianic writer David H. Stern (1935) states that a person cannot claim to accept the witness of the Holy Spirit if they reject the witness of the water and the blood to the true character of Yeshua, as outlined in verse six. Following the Textus Receptus, the KJV has: “For there are three that bear record 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, the water, and the blood: these three agree in one.” Concerning this uniquely clear reference to the Trinity,

The quintessential Presbyterian elder, scholar, and gentleman, Bruce M. Metzger (1914-2007) was one of the foremost New Testament textual critics of the 20th century and writes: “That these words are spurious and have no right to stand in the Final Covenant is certain.”[19] His reasons: (1) the passage is absent from all but four Greek manuscripts, none earlier than the fourteenth century AD, (2) it was unknown to the Greek fathers, who would otherwise have seized on it in the fourth-century Trinitarian controversies, (3) it is not found in versions or quotations of any kind prior to the fourth century, (4) if the passage were original, no good reason can be found to account for its omission, and (5) the passage makes an awkward break in the sense.[20]


[1] Ward, Ronald A., The Epistles on John and Jude, op. cit., pp. 54-55

[2] John 19:34

[3] How We Got the Bible by Neil R. Lightfoot: Published by Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1963, pp. 100-101

[4] God the Father; cf. Acts 2:31; see Psalm 16:10

[5] John 3:34; Hebrews 1:9

[6] John 3:13; 6:19; Acts of the Apostles 2:31

[7] John 4:6; 19:20-21; Hebrews 5:7-8

[8] John 11:33; Mark 2:8; see Luke 23:46

[9] Matthew 26:38; Isaiah 53:10-11; see Luke 23:46

[10] Ruckman, Dr. Peter S., General Epistles Vol. 2 (1-2-3 John, Jude Commentary), op. cit., loc. cit. Kindle Edition

[11] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., p. 281

[12] Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22

[13] Cf. John 1:32-34; 19:33-37

[14] Hodges, Zane C. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 901

[15] 1 John 4:2-3

[16] Marshall, Ian Howard: The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 235-236

[17] Hebrews 11:4

[18] Marshall, Ian Howard: The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 237-239

[19] Metzger, Bruce, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, New York: United Bible Societies, Corrected Edition 1975, pp. 715-717

[20] Stern, David H., Jewish New Testament Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition.

About drbob76

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