WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LII) 01/24/23

5:9 We believe people who witness in our courts, and so unquestionably, we can believe whatever God declares. And God says that Jesus is His Son.

With the zeal of an expert scripturla tex examiner William E. Jelf (1811-1875) comments that “the witness of God is greater” may be taken in two ways: It may express merely a general principle that men, who receive human testimony on any subject as a sufficient ground of belief, cannot consistently refuse to accept the testimony of God given by the three witnesses  because the point to which these provide witness objectively and subjectively to itself in every man’s heart. And this is the usual interpretation of the whole passage, but it seems relatively weak. A better explanation is to take the “witness of men” as the objective testimony, from whom the early Christians generally received the facts of our Lord’s baptism and crucifixion and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

John goes on to point out that this is not the only ground for the Christian’s belief, for he has a witness direct from God in his mental power molded as faith. His belief in Jesus the Messiah is evidence of the Messiah being the Son of God. The faithful Christian who is in the full possession of faith does not depend only or chiefly on the testimony of others, though, of course, he both needs and has this also. The more substantial evidence is a result of the lower, but still, something besides and beyond it. First, the grounds of faith are evident in our Lord’s life as the foundation of belief; and, secondly, experimental, in that the existence of this faith is “for this is the witness of God” gives the reason why John introduced the preceding clause about God’s testimony being superior. Therefore, “this” can refer to verse six, where the Messiah is called God’s Son.

John impressed this divine sonship of the Messiah, says Jelf, as a great truth with abundant proof. What some call experimental evidence except for the Messiah’s Divinity. For John’s readers to receive the Apostles’ evidence to the facts that testify that doctrine. It is in harmony with the general principles of psychology and the laws of belief, as with the standard mode of God’s dealings. Teachers used such instruments to influence people’s hearts rather than impressing the doctrine on their intellect. Thus, our Savior worked by miracles, God positioning the hearts of those in whom He agreed to work to receive the truth to which His wonders offered proof.

Meanwhile, those whose souls, owing to their hardness of heart and obstinate refusal of God’s Spirit, are blinded to seeing the force of such miracles. It is not that the Christian believes without any external evidence, for this would be enthusiasm, but the external evidence finds they have a willing and favorable outlook. The objective or external evidence is enough to produce faith unless the hardness of the heart prevented the Jews from receiving the Messiah. But when objective proof in the eye creates trust, internal subjective evidence in the soul confirms, strengthens, and revitalizes it.[1]

After observing the Apostle John’s attention to detail, John Stock (1817-1884) feels it is strange that human testimony is unconditionally accepted while questioning divine testimony. If someone without reason claims with self-revelation to be the Messiah’s representative on earth and sustains things altogether subversive of the truth, and at enmity with it, is subserviently listened to, reverenced, and obeyed: while the ever-blessed God, whose word alone is truth, and counter to which no doctrine is to be received or to be ordained, is not believed or enforced as necessary for salvation.  God was earnest when He said, “All day long, I stood ready to accept those who turned against Me. But they kept doing whatever they wanted, and everything they did was wrong.”[2]

Somehow, mankind favors what God prohibits and chooses it with no preference for God. They choose lies because living without God is their desire. But where a person’s testimony is good and just and is received as it should be, surely the same should apply to the greater witness of God. God is the embodiment of truth. God cannot lie; by excellent counsels, acts, and deeds, God has borne witness to the truth, who says, “Everything I said will happen just as I said it would.”[3] [4]

With an inquiring spiritual mind, Johannes H. A. Ebrard (1819-1893) asks, is it not a known fact that we (before a human tribunal) accept the testimony given by others? The Apostle John’s use of the first person “men” (KJV) plural serves to express the idea of the German word “menschen” (“people”). Granted, we are accustomed to receiving the testimony of people; how much more must we receive the testimony of God? God’s word is more excellent in value, dignity, and certainty. However, John expresses it concisely “God’s testimony is greater.” Therefore, we should prefer to receive and believe it rather than mankind’s word, which is prone to error.[5]

After contemplating John’s train of thought, William Kelly (1822-1888) questions, what is so good, wise, and sure? What is as satisfying as God’s witness? So, if we accept the witness of ordinary people, the witness of God is more precious. After all, He knows all truth and has given His Son both to declare it and make us capable of receiving it in a new life; after redemption, His Spirit is divine power both to enjoy it and make it known to our fellowman. Therefore, one can understand the weight of such words as “the witness of God” is sufficient to handle all difficulties. This triple witness of God- Spirit, water, and blood, is that the guaranteed spiritual and physical death facing all humanity was taken by Him who drank the dregs of the bitter cup, thereby issuing life without sin for us. He did not need it Himself. That eternal life did not require any work on our part. Our state of sin and death needed His death for victory over all evil to God’s glory.

Jesus told the unbelieving Jews through Nicodemus, “You people do not accept our testimony.”[6] A person must be born anew; otherwise, they cannot learn anything about God’s kingdom. Faith in God’s Word alone leads to being taught about God. Like the Lord, the Church should have been a faithful and true witness. But, over time, its state has become such as to make it is untrustworthy. What unfailing comfort then, especially for the believer to have God’s witness “in themselves!” But here, there was an absolute need, whereby grace, we have “the witness of God.” So, how barefaced, and faithless it is for any Church to call on any soul to “hear our church!” The same Word of God, which shows the Church’s calling to be in the world, equally indicates that the Church would fall into all sorts of disorder.

How remarkable it is in the Apostle Paul’s the two Epistles to Timothy these two views are posted. In the first Epistle, the church is in order, “the pillar and pedestal of truth.[7] In the second Epistle, the Church is in a state of sad disorder.[8] But the church is not the truth which the Christian is bound to hear and receive, though the corporate witness to it, like the Christian, is the individual witness. Both the Church and Christians are warned to hear nothing but the authoritative Word of God as the truth. In the second epistle, we learn that the Christian profession has become like a great house full of vessels to honor and dishonor.[9] Therefore, when the leaven was accepted and enforced instead of being eradicated,[10] it became a question of purging oneself out from these radically settled evils to be a vessel unto honor. Yet it is not for isolation, but “with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”[11]

Familiar with John’s writing style, William B. Pope (1822-1903) points out that the three witnesses – Spirit, water, and blood – suggest the perfection of human testimony. The Apostle John supposes that we receive the testimony of credible witnesses as a general truth. But he does not set the Divine witness against mortals: the human and the Divine concur, the divine being “greater” as accompanying and rendering infallible the human witness to the Savior’s Messiahship and salvation. For, the entire series of attestations carried in the First Covenant and evangelists and apostles in the Final Covenant is one grand attestation of God, who witnesses one thing only, that all His witness by human agency is concerning His Son. But the Divine testimony is given through the Spirit; ‘we are witnesses of these things, and so is also the Holy Spirit concerning His Son is sublimely central. What the witness is we find afterward: here it is declared that all the objective testimony of revelation has but one object, the establishment of the claim of the Son of God to human faith.[12]

With precise spiritual discernment, William Alexander (1824-1911) notes that the Apostle John says we do accept the testimony of another human, especially an eye-witness unless proven otherwise. But when it comes to God’s assurances, they are more significant because God doesn’t lie. Therefore, sending His Son with His personal message for unbelievers showed that He means what He says. An individual’s evidence is studied with the principle of rational, common sense. But the affirmation of the Gospel not only uses the same mental process but by being God’s child, we have the mind of the Messiah and the help of the Holy Spirit. Too often, something is accepted because it looks right or sounds good. But when it comes to the Bible, these things are secondary after it is proven to have God’s witness supporting it.[13]

With holiness doctrine expertise, Daniel Steele (1824-1914) proclaims that here we have an echo of the Messiah’s words, “the witness of two is true.”[14] How credible, therefore, must the two witnesses be when they are Father and Son? The following clause should be reversed and connected with the pursuing verse thus: The witness of God is this: He that believes in the Son of God has the witness in Himself. To “believe on,” a phrase occurring nearly forty times in John’s Gospel and elsewhere in the Final Covenant only about ten times, expresses the most reliance and trust. We may believe a person’s word without trusting them, but we put our property or lives in their hands when we do.[15]


[1] Jelf, William E., Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., pp. 73-74

[2] Isaiah 65:2; cf. Romans 10:21

[3] Isaiah 46:11

[4] Stock, John: An Exposition of the First Epistle General of St. John, op. cit., p. 424

[5] Ebrard, Johannes H. A., Biblical Commentary on the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., pp. 331-332

[6] John 3:11

[7] 1 Timothy 3:15

[8] 2 Timothy 3:1-9

[9] Ibid. 2:20-21

[10] See 1 Corinthians 5

[11] Kelly, William: An Exposition of the Epistles of John the Apostle, op. cit., p. 373

[12] Pope, William B., The International Illustrated Commentary on the N. T., Vol. IV, op. cit., pp.38-39

[13] Alexander, William: The Holy Bible with an Explanatory and Critical Commentary, Vol. IV, op. cit., p. 342

[14] John 8:17

[15] Steele, Daniel: Half-Hours with St. John’s Epistles, op. cit., p. 137

About drbob76

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