By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LXV) 01/13/23

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 seasoned essayist on the Apostle John’s writings, John Painter (1935) says that the reference to the Spirit bearing witness at this point lends some weight to the view that water refers to the baptism of Jesus. Although the Apostle John does not describe the baptism, he alludes to the sign of the descent and abiding of the Spirit on Jesus at His baptism and to the witness of John the Baptizer identifying “the coming one.”[1] The Spirit of Truth is also referred to as a witness in John’s Gospel.[2] The witness of the disciples is also Spirit-inspired.[3] Here the Spirit is described as the truth. Both the Spirit and the truth are given the definite article, unlike the assertions “God is Spirit;”[4]God is light;”[5] and “God is love.”[6]

Probably this is a variation on the theme of “the Spirit of Truth” and is related to the view that the Spirit is the agent of God’s revealing witness. That witness is to the truth “that Jesus the Anointed One has come in the flesh.” Those making this confession manifest the Spirit of Truth[7] expand from a single witness to three. This act reflects obedience to the testimony law.[8] Witnesses or evidence could be inanimate objects such as a heap of stones[9] or heaven and earth.[10] In John’s Gospel,[11] Jesus’ works bear witness to Him.[12]

Identifying the Spirit, the water, and the blood as three witnesses undermines the attempt to make “water and blood” refer to a single event. Thus, accepting the baptism of Jesus and His death united with the Spirit serves as a witness to His coming in the flesh.[13] The agreement of the witnesses was crucial. Where witnesses disagreed, their testimony was undermined and invalidated.[14] In early Church history, the threefold reference to “the Spirit. the water. and the blood” gave rise to a symbolic interpretation that moved the witnesses out of the context of the ministry of Jesus into the life of the Church.

Thus, with philosophic-theologic intensity, Clement of Alexandria (ca. 200 AD) says in verse six, “There are three that give testimony: the Spirit which is life, the water which is regeneration and faith, and the blood which is knowledge.” A trinitarian interpretation in North Africa identified God as Spirit from the third century on.[15] The Spirit is symbolized by the water flowing in John,[16] and blood comes from the side of the Son. Further, verses eight and nine below mention God the Spirit and the Son. Thus, Spirit signifies the Father, “water” represents the “Spirit,” and “blood” denotes the Son. The Latin trinitarian interpretations arise from affirming that “the three are one.”[17]

Constant searcher for truth and experience of holiness Henry E. Brockett (1936-1994), discussing the purity of the blood of the Anointed One, says that he felt hindered by a theory that the “cleansing from sin” related only to his “standing “before God justified. There was no actual inner cleansing of their heart. According to this theory, the Anointed One’s blood is not applied to the believer’s heart to cleanse away sin. This theory prevented him from seeing the glory of the fullness and depth hidden in that precious phrase, “the blood of Jesus the Anointed One, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.” He prayed earnestly for further insight on this matter, and one morning at about two o’clock, he woke up with the following words powerfully impressed on my mind: “There are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”[18]

In a flash, enlightenment came to him, and he experienced that peculiar unction and blessedness which he felt was of the Spirit. He saw that he could not dissociate the blood of Jesus from the work of the Spirit and the water, which he took to mean the Word of God, as all three agreed in one. The blood of the Anointed One purified the heart because the Spirit of God applied the blood through faith in the truth contained in the Word. That is how that verse spoke to his heart. On the same day, while he was out for a walk, the Spirit of God impressed verse seven on his mind and in his heart in great power. The Spirit gave him such a sweet, blessed assurance that the precious blood of the Anointed One was applied to his heart in all its extraordinary cleansing power that tears of joy came into his eyes.[19]

Ministry & Missions Overseer Muncia Walls (1937) finds that most Bible commentators agree that verse seven (b) and verse eight (a) are missing in original Greek writings. For instance, a man dedicated to freeing Greek texts from corruption, English classical scholar Richard Porson (1759-1808) wrote; “In short, if this verse be really genuine, notwithstanding its absence from all visible Greek manuscripts except two (that of Dublin and the forged one found at Berlin), one of which awkwardly translates the verse from the Latin, and the other transcribes it from a printed book; notwithstanding its absence from all the versions except the Vulgate, even from many of the best and oldest manuscripts of the Vulgate; notwithstanding the deep and dead silence of all the Greek writers down to the thirteenth, and of most of the Latins down to the middle of the eighth century; if, in spite of all these objections, it be still genuine, no part of Scripture whatsoever can be proved either spurious or genuine; and Satan has been permitted for many centuries miraculously to banish the ‘finest passage in the New Testament,’ as Martin calls it, from the eyes and memories of almost all the the Anointed One’s authors, translators, and transcribers.” The decision as to whether this verse is authentic or not will have to wait until that day when we “shall know even as we known. Until that day, we shall line up on either side of this verse, one group denying its authenticity, while the other argues for its authenticity.’[20]

The Trinitarian sees a trinity statement here. The Oneness camp sees the Oneness of the Godhead in this verse. The Trinitarian wants the verse to say, “these three persons are one God.” The Oneness view is that John is not referring to three “persons,” but to three witnesses, or manifestations, of the one God. These three, Father, Word, and Spirit, are manifestations of the one God.

We should repeat what the Lord is communicating to us through the pen of John. Some choose to interpret what John says refers to the Anointed One’s baptism, the manifestation of the miracle of the incarnation of the Anointed One, and communion. However, in these two verses, John continues his argument of the three witnesses he employed in verse six. In verse seven, John emphasizes God’s manifestations to bring about mankind’s salvation. As Father, He created man to enjoy fellowship with things eternal. As the Word manifested in the flesh, John highlights the sacrifice the Anointed One made to bring about our redemption and bring us back into fellowship with Himself.

Finally, the Spirit emphasizes the operation in this dispensation, which brings about the new birth experience through which God deals with mankind today. These three elements are present in humans and necessary for them to experience spiritual birth at a natural birth. One without the others would not produce physical or spiritual life. Therefore, the Spirit speaks of the infilling of the Holy Spirit; the water speaks to us of baptism in the Name of Jesus the Anointed One, and the blood talks to us of the cleansing and sustaining element needed to experience the new birth and continue victorious living.[21]

As an articulate spokesman for the Reformed Faith movement, James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) concludes that verse eight introduced one important legal maxim into John’s argument: the principle that a point of fact is to be established by the agreeing testimony of two or three witnesses. Here he introduces another: the witness’ character. It is an essential principle in any system of law. Still, it was imperative in Judaism, where it took the form of a listing of those who were unqualified to bear testimony because of their professions or questionable actions. In this list are found thieves, shepherds (because they seem to have let their sheep graze on other people’s land), violent persons, and everyone suspected of financial dishonesty, including tax collectors and customs officials. The Babylonian Talmud contains a passage about ineligible witnesses.[22]

Boice then offers the following: (1) The reference to water and blood most naturally reminds the student of a similar instance in John’s Gospel in which “blood and water” flowed from the Anointed One’s side after it was pierced with a spear by a soldier at the time of the crucifixion. If the Gospel of John is allowed to interpret the Epistles of John, as it has on other occasions, this would be the logical place to start. Moreover, there are significant similarities at once. In both passages, John seems to put evidence on the blood and water; for another, the idea of testimony is prominent.[23]

[1] John 1:33

[2] Ibid. 15:26

[3] Ibid. 15:27

[4] Ibid. 4:24

[5] 1 John 1:5

[6] Ibid 4:8, 16

[7] Ibid. 4:2-3, 6

[8] Cf. Deuteronomy 17:16; 19:15; See John 8:17

[9] Genesis 31:45-48

[10] Deuteronomy 31:28

[11] John 5:36; 10:25

[12] Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: 1, 2, and 3 John: Volume 18, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[13] 1 John 4:2-3, 6

[14] See Mark 14:56, 59

[15] John 4:24

[16] Ibid. 7:38-39; 19:34

[17] Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: 1, 2, and 3 John: Volume 18, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[18] 1 John 5:8

[19] Brockett, Henry E., The Riches of Holiness, op. cit., pp. 56-58

[20] For the details of the memorable controversy on the passage, the student may consult Frederick Henry Scrivener, “Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament;” Samuel P. Tregelles, “An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament;” John Selby Watson, “The Life of Richard Porson;”  Professor Ezra Abbot, “Orme’s Memoir of the Controversy on 1 John 5:7;” Charles Foster, “A New Plea for the Authenticity of the Text of the Three Heavenly Witnesses,” or “Porson’s Letters to Travis Eclectically Examined,” Cambridge, 1867

[21] Walls, Muncia: Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., pp. 85-87

[22] Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Tractate Sanhedrin, folio 26b

[23] John 19:35

About drbob76

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