WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LXVI) 01/16/23

5:7-8 So we have these three witnesses: the voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, the voice from heaven at the Anointed One’s baptism, and the voice before He died. And they all say the same thing: Jesus the Anointed One is God’s Son.

(2) The second significant approach is that of the Protestant reformers and some modern commentators. They link water and blood to baptism and communion. In some detail, Calvin pursues this line of thought, joining the two elements as components of purification and sacrifice under the First Covenant system. The difficulty with this view is that the symbols are entirely inappropriate, for while water obviously may signify baptism, blood does not represent the Lord’s Supper. Instead, it is one of the elements (and even then, only one)?

(3) The third and probably most satisfactory solution is to take “water” as a reference to Jesus’ baptism and “blood” to His death. It is true, that “water” and “blood” remain strange and surprising word symbols for these events. But because they are unknown to us does not mean they were necessarily unfamiliar to John’s readers. Indeed, from his use of them, it appears they were not.

(4) Even though the third of these explanations fits the context well and is otherwise commendable, it is possible that still another view is involved. It must be remembered that in this context, John is talking about the witness of the Father to Jesus, much as Jesus does to Himself in the discourse recorded in John’s Gospel.[1] It is hard to see how this can be adequately done without reference to the Scriptures in which that testimony is given most completely. If this is so, we must ask ourselves at what place such a witness is involved and answer that the only place it can be applied is in the word “water,” which is used as a symbol for the Word of God elsewhere.[2] [3]

Expositor and systematic theologist Michael Eaton (1942-2017) notices that the Apostle John’s next point is that these three events witness the nature of Jesus as the Son of God. Verse one says: For there are three that testify, and verse eight continues, the Spirit and the water and the blood, and the three agree. There are some disputed words in the KJV of the latter part of verse seven and the beginning of verse eight, “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and there are three that bear witness on earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three unanimously agree.” These implanted words are missing in any respected Greek manuscripts!

They were taken from a Latin composition (not a biblical text) by a fourth-century Spanish monk and inserted into the Final Covenant manuscripts. In about 800 AD, they became part of the Latin Vulgate, the official Bible of the medieval church. Later, after the fourteenth century, the words were translated from Latin to Greek and included in a few inferior Greek manuscripts. Erasmus, who first published a printed Greek New Testament, was forced against his will by his opponents to have them in his third edition of the Greek New Testament. So, they appeared in the text used by the KJV translators; they are certainly not original to the Apostle John. The doctrine of the Trinity does not depend on this verse alone. Readers of the KJV should ignore the extra words.

I learned this lesson in 1962 when stationed in the German Secret Service troops’ previous headquarters next door to the Dachau concentration camp. At that time, I was teaching myself by reading one chapter a day out of twelve different books on religion and philosophy. I also included the number of verses in the whole Bible and the New Testament twice in various English Bible translations, calculated to finish in a year.

At that time, I was reading the New American Standard Bible (NASB), published just two years earlier. When I got to 1 John 5:7-8, I immediately noticed that the last part of verse seven and the first part of verse eight was missing. So, I wrote a letter to the publisher, the Lockman Foundation, to see if it was a typo. They graciously wrote back and told much of what was said above. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered this had been known for centuries! I realized then you can learn a lot about today by looking back in time.

Dedicated Great Commission enthusiast David Jackman (1945) points out that the three witnesses assembled in verse seven agree with verse eight. It is an essential ingredient in our confidence in their accuracy. Verse seven begins with “Because” (“For” KJV). It is because there are three witnesses, so united, that we can have certainty since this would provide the most substantial evidence of truth in any court of law. Two or three witnesses were necessary to file a case under Jewish law.[4] It was a principle recognized by Jesus,[5] who supported the ministry of John the Baptizer and the Father who sent Him as authentication of His witness and claims.

Even God wants “to confirm the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of His promise,” with an oath involving two unchangeable things in which God cannot lie.[6] Here, the three witnesses agree that Jesus is the Son of God, just as John testified at His baptism[7] and the centurion testified at His death.[8] So, whenever that same Spirit brings the truth to light in our lives today, we must confess Jesus as Savior, Lord, and God. Yet human witness is less significant than God’s divine witness of the Spirit, who is Truth.[9]

Some deny the nature of the Holy Trinity simply because the word “trinity” does not appear anywhere in the biblical narrative. However, this is merely a word used to refer to the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, described many times in Scripture. Verse seven is one of these. John again refers to witnesses to the nature and work of Jesus the Anointed One. By referring to all three persons of the Trinity, John states that God is a witness to the truth of Jesus. The nature and glory of God are vastly beyond the greatest of our imaginings, yet God has revealed Himself to us in some ways that we can understand.  God reveals parts of Himself in each person of the Trinity so that we can turn to Him in faith and have a relationship with Him for which He created us. Again, John is stating that God bears witness to the truth of the identity and purpose of Jesus the Anointed One.

After studying the context surrouding this verse, John W. (Jack) Carter (1947) says that using the same logical structure, John continues to gather witnesses to the true nature of Jesus the Anointed One. When John writes in his Gospel about Jesus’s character, he states, “We beheld His Glory.”[10]  Many Apostles and disciples witnessed the life and ministry of Jesus, the Anointed One. The heretics who were teaching a different gospel did not personally know Jesus.  However, John reminds us that many did. They saw the birth and baptism of Jesus and witnessed the work of the Holy Spirit through Him.  They witnessed His death and resurrection from the grave and his last forty days of ministry that preceded their witness of His ascension into heaven. John is one of those many people, though probably few remain, who had a first-hand witness of Jesus the Anointed One, yet that witness still exists.[11]

A man passionate about sharing God’s Word, Robert W. Yarbrough (1948), sees the Apostle John stating the basis for commending to his readers this Jesus, the Anointed One, came by water and blood and was testified to by God’s Spirit. The opening of verse seven with the word “For” signals the explanatory nature of the two-verse unit. John is backing up what he just wrote, not breaking new ground. Although “water and blood” refer to past events, John should use the present participle construction “witness” to describe them since their testimony is ongoing and current in conjunction with the Spirit. Readers cannot evade the Anointed One’s relevance for them because authoritative attestation to his rule is not a relic of the past but a component of the present due to the persistence of testimony to it.[12]

Skilled in Dead Sea Scroll interpretation and New Testament exposition, Colin G. Kruse (1950) notes that in both Covenants, important issues were decided with the testimony of two or three witnesses.[13] Here in this context, the Apostle John cites three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, to the truth he affirms. What it means here for the Spirit to testify seems reasonably clear. First, the Spirit confirms to believers the validity of the message about Jesus that they heard from the beginning.[14]

It is more difficult to discern how the water and the blood make up the second and third witnesses. Usually, it is one witness’ word concerning another. However, in the Fourth Gospel, when people would not accept Jesus’ testimony about Himself, He points them to His works, for these, too, bears witness, though silent witness, to the truth about Him.[15] It may be, then, that in this verse, the author is suggesting that alongside the Spirit’s witness concerning Jesus, there stands the silent witness of Jesus’ work as the baptizer and the one who made an atoning sacrifice – the witness of the “water” and the “blood.”[16]

Believing that Christians can fall away from the faith, Ben Witherington III (1951) comments on the Apostle John’s three witnesses, not just two (as would be required if “water and blood” refer to the death of Jesus) seems decisive against such a correlation with what John said in his Gospel.[17] Here in verse eight, we are told that “the three are for the One.” It is an all-for-one kind of statement. There is one particular the Anointed One’s truth to which these three witnesses are testifying. The idea is not that simple unanimity in the witnesses’ word, but their convergence on the one Gospel of “the Anointed One is come in the flesh,” which is eternal life.[18]


[1] Ibid. 5:16-45

[2] Psalm 119:9; Ephesians 5:26; John 15:3

[3] Boice, James Montgomery: The Epistles of John, An Expository Commentary, op. cit., pp. 132-134

[4] Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15

[5] John 5:31-37

[6] Hebrews 6:17-18

[7] 1 John 1:34

[8] Matthew 27:54

[9] Jackman, David: The Message of John’s Letters, op. cit., p. 150

[10] John 1:14

[11] Carter, Dr. John W. (Jack). 1,2,3, John & Jude: (The Disciple’s Bible Commentary Book 48), op. cit., pp. 122-124

[12] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 283-284

[13] Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; Matthew 18:6; John 8:17; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28

[14] Cf. 1 John 2:24-27

[15] Cf. John 5:36; 10:25

[16] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[17] John 19:34-35

[18] Witherington Ben III, Letters, and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, 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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