WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LIII) 01/25/23

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.

After sufficient examination of the Greek text, Brooke F. Westcott (1825-1901) states that since the threefold witness of which the Apostle John has spoken satisfies Torah’s conditions for valid human testimony, how much more than does the triune divine witness of the Spirit, the water, and the blood meet all criteria. Thus, the witness concerning the Messiah is greater than the witness of men regarding its authority.[1] However, John’s form of argument is irregular. Instead of completing the sentence on the same type as he began, “We accept human testimony,” John states that which is the ground of this conclusion, “God’s testimony is greater.”

This triple witness looks backward and forward as a testimony of God concerning His Son: this is the final form of God’s witness. The witness was open and visible to the world about the Messiah’s death and the pouring out of the Spirit: so much was unquestionable. The first conjunction (because) does not give the ground of the divine witness’s superior authority, which is taken for granted, but the foundation for appealing to it. Such a witness is given, and therefore we appeal to it.[2]

Like a spiritual farmer planting the seed of God’s Word, Henry A. Sawtelle (1832-1913) says it is only logical that if we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is more significant. And therefore (argument from a minor to a major point) ought even more ready to be received, for this is God’s witness. More correctly is this rendering, “for the testimony of God is this.[3] In the warmth of writing, John becomes length-wise compressed. “And why,” he says silently, “do I speak of the testimony of God? This is because this harmonious testimony of the water, blood, and Spirit is nothing short of being God’s testimony.” He has (an admitted and well-known fact) testified of (concerning) His Son. That testimony still (perfect tense) exists and calls for the implicit faith of all.[4]

Noting the Apostle John’s doctrinal implications, John James Lias (1834-1923) suggests that the Apostle John’s words here in verse nine about God’s witness greater than man’s witness might, at first glance, be a reference to God’s testimony in heaven in verse seven. But further examination does not sustain such a view. Instead, the witness of the Spirit, the water, and the blood is God’s witness of His Son while He was here on earth. Moreover, we are accustomed to receiving such testimony in earthly matters.[5] How much more then should we rest with confidence on the Divine testimony we find at work within us to specific spiritual facts?

There are three ways of translating the Greek pronoun hoytos (“that”) of the Sinaitic and Alexandrian Manuscripts. We may either (1) take KJV for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son, or (2) we may translate for this is the witness of God because He has witnessed concerning His Son, or (3for the witness of God is this, that He has born witness concerning His Son. (1) and (2) would refer to what has gone before, while (3) refers to what follows. The best translators prefer example three. But the sense of the passage is, in the main, the same, whichever of them is taken. What the Apostle would say is this: that if we seek proof of the truth of our faith, it is to be found in the Presence of the Son, through the Spirit, within us. The commentators here have hardly kept in view the whole drift of the passage. John has passed from the idea of love in verse one to that of obedience in verse three.[6]

Famous evangelist and publisher Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) says that someone might ask: “How am I to get a love-warmed heart?” The answer is simple, “by believing.” You did not receive the power to love and serve God until you believed.[7] Human interaction would grind to a standstill if we did not accept anyone’s word. How could we function in the regular communication of life, and how would commerce operate if we disregarded people’s evidence? Things social and commercial would result in a deadlock within forty-eight hours! This concept is the theme of John’s argument here. God is a witness to His Son Jesus the Messiah, and if we can accept the word of our fellowman who frequently tells untruths and whom we are constantly finding unfaithful, why should we not take God at His word and trust His testimony? Faith is a belief in testimony. It is not a leap in the dark, as some suggest. That would be no faith at all. God does not ask anyone to rely on His word without giving them something to hold on to. You might as well ask a person to see without eyes, to hear without ears, and walk without feet as to bid them to assume without giving them some reason.[8]

A tried and tested biblical scholar who believes in the up-building of the Christian life, Robert Cameron (1839-1904) also addresses God’s threefold witness concerning His Son, which satisfies the conditions for human testimony. We accept human testimony out of the mouth of two or three. But human witnesses may be deceived, and they may mislead us. God can neither deceive nor be deceived, and he speaks through these things to us. Therefore, this witness of God is of greater authority than that of mankind. It was three-fold, was open and visible to the world, and the One whose mission was attested is a living power in the world today. It is God’s final testimony. If we receive the fallible witness of humans, what possible excuse can we give for refusing the infallible word of God?[9]

With his Spirit-directed calculating mind, Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) comments on the witness’s trustworthiness. It depends on two facts: (1) that it is God’s witness, and (2) that it is a witness concerning the Messiah. The consequence is that we should surrender ourselves to it with perfect confidence.

First, it concerns God’s Witness. This is the basis of our faith. We believe in Divine testimony. We even give credence to our fellowmen on points which we believe them to be well-informed. How much more should we believe in Him who cannot lie and be deceived? There can be no doubt, to those who do not willfully shut their eyes to facts, that it is a Divine witness. For not only are there the objective facts (1) of the resurrection of Christ, a fact which no human ingenuity has been able to disprove, and (2) of the marked change which from the date of that fact has come over the world, but there is also (3) the witness within, the consciousness that a Divine life is imparted to the soul, that it does convey a sense of pardon and joyous energy of resistance to the powers of evil, and a manifest fellowship in the Messiah, a fact of which we are hourly conscious when we are united to Him by faith.

Then, it concerns God’s witness for His Son. It is proven by the Divine characteristics displayed in the life of the Messiah – His power, in the realm (a) of nature, (b) of grace, His purity,[10] His authority,[11] and His love. Belief in the Son of God is the secret that overcomes the world.[12] And that rests upon a Divine testimony, outward, conveyed to us, that is, by others, and inward, borne in, that is, upon our own inward being to the Divine essence as visibly present to the world in Christ.

Finally, it concerns our depending on witnesses. This is John’s main object, to lead us to put our whole trust in the revelation of God in Jesus the Messiah. For this reason, he appeals to testimony. He bids us listen to the voice of the Spirit and points out the effects of reconciliation. John rests on the evidence that these things are supported by the Voice of God within us and the Presence of His Son around us. He gives us confidence amid all the doubts and distresses that assail us, all the temptations that beset us. Our trust is in God, and He will save those who put their trust in Him.[13]

But Plummer has more to say. If we receive the witness of mortals, how much more should we receive the testimony of a God who so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for our sins?[14]The argument reads like an echo of the Messiah’s words to the Pharisees, in your Law, we read, the testimony of two witnesses is a fact.”[15] So, how much more should we accept the witness of the Father and the Son? Nevertheless, something is evidently to be understood. His testimony consists of His having borne witness about His Son.

Here are some modern translations: “It is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son.” (NIV); “The testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son.” (NASB); “Testimony that comes from God. And God has testified about His Son.” (NLT); “For this is God’s testimony which He gave about His Son;” (NJB). So, according to these various renderings about God’s witness, we should appeal to the testimony of God because He is God even though He testified about His Son. Moreover, the perfect tense of “He has witnessed” indicates the permanence of the testimony.[16]

A prolific writer on the New Testament Epistles, George G. Findlay (1849-1919) believes that the Apostle John told us in verses six through eight that, to his mind, the proofs of the testimony of Jesus – evidence that must, in the end, convince and “overcome worldliness.[17] So far as the general cause of Christianity is concerned, this is enough. But it involves each person to whom this evidence comes to realize for themselves the weight and seriousness of the testimony meeting him. The Apostle John points, with a sincere emphasis in verses nine and ten, to the Author of the threefold manifestation. The Gospel’s declaration brings every man who hears it face to face with God.[18] And of all subjects on which God might speak to people, of all revelations that He has made or might conceivably make, this, St John feels, is the supreme and critical matter ‒ “the testimony of God, that is to say, the fact that He has testified1concerning His Son.” Apostle Paul’s words, the Gospel is “God’s good news about His Son.”[19]


[1] See John 5:36; cf. 3:20; 4:4

[2] Westcott, Brooke F., The Epistles of St. John: Greek Text with Notes, op. cit., pp. 185-186

[3] 1 John 5:9 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

[4] Sawtelle, Henry A., Commentary on the Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 57-58

[5] See John 5:31-47; 8:17

[6] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., pp. 385-388

[7] 1 John 5:9

[8] Moody, Dwight L: Way to God, op. cit., p. 46

[9] Cameron, Robert, The First Epistle of John (1899), op. cit. p. 235

[10] John 8:46; Hebrews 4:15

[11] Mark 1:27

[12] 1 John 5:5

[13] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., pp. 383-386

[14] See 2 John 1:10

[15] John 8:17

[16] Plummer, Alfred: The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, N. T., Vol. IV, p. 162

[17] 1 John 5:5

[18] Cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:13

[19] Romans 1:2-3

About drbob76

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