By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LIV) 01/26/23

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.

God insists, says Findlay, upon our believing this witness; it is that in which He is supremely concerned, which He asserts and commends to men above all else. Concerning this, God the Father spoke audibly from heaven, saying at the anointing and again at Jesus’ transfiguration.[1] John listened to those mysterious voices, and they taught him the infinite importance of true faith in the Sonship of Jesus. His resurrection was a crowning vindication of Jesus by the Eternal Father, who thus declared by act and deed that despite – no, because of – His death, He was more than ever the Son of God’s good pleasure.[2] And finally, the descent of the Holy Spirit, bestowed at the request of the exalted Jesus,[3] was a glorious and demonstrative witness of God’s mind concerning His Son Jesus, as the Apostle Peter argued on the day of Pentecost.[4] [5]

With his stately speaking style, William Macdonald Sinclair (1850-1917) declares that any human testimony provided is logically required on our understandings to establish common facts or to prove opinions.[6] Any message that comes from God is to be accepted by us with a readiness infinitely more significant than in the case of mere human testimony. The Apostle John considers God’s threefold witness of His Son to convey a certainty which no human evidence could claim. If any doubted whether the carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth, was God in reality, the Apostle John would refer them to the righteousness and predictions of the Law and the prophets fulfilled in the life and death of the Messiah which spoke for themselves and to manifest inauguration of the reign of the Spirit. Under these three heads would come all possible evidence for Christian truth.[7]

Beyond any doubt, remarks Alonzo R. Cocke (1858-1901), all human testimony is liable to err, yet we accept it and act upon it. If we receive anything upon the testimony of mortals, how can we refuse to receive the infallible witness of God? But we are responsible, seeing that God’s witness is greater. Indeed, God’s witness concerns His Son, Jesus the Messiah. God has uttered his testimony. What will men do with it? The Apostle John now points out the blessed results of receiving this testimony and also the dreadful consequences of rejecting it.[8]

Esteemed ministry veteran James B. Morgan (1859-1942) notes that the sentiment of these verses is similar to that in verse six. And it is that the witness of the Spirit is the truth. In both, there is mention of the threefold testimony of the water, the blood, and the Spirit. Morgan feels that the importance of the subject would justify this repetition, but there also seems to be a difference between the two passages. In the first, the testimony given is of the Messiah personally. So, He is proven the Messiah, the promised Savior, by His baptism and its events. So also, by His death and its accordance with ancient prophecy and the great ends to be accomplished by it, and by the Spirit poured out in remarkable gifts and graces on those who received and proclaimed Him.

Here in verse nine, the testimony is not merely to the Messiah personally, but to the truth of which He was the subject and substance. Verse six was fitted to the time and served the present purpose, but verse nine remains to this hour. It is the standing, unchanging testimony to the Gospel of the grace of God, to Jesus the Messiah as “the power and wisdom of God for salvation.” So, understanding it, we consider the threefold testimony in the order of the text – the Spirit, the water, and the blood, designed to enforce the reception of this clear, satisfactory, and divine testimony. God grant that we may both understand it and obey it.[9]

With characteristic fundamental thinking, Alan England Brooke (1863-1939) agrees that if we accept the testimony of men when it satisfies the conditions of evidence required by the law,[10] how much more are we bound to acknowledge the witness which we possess in this case, for it is God’s witness.[11] Neither here nor in 1 John 4:11 does “if” indicate any doubt. It is known to everyone that we do accept such testimony. Consequently, Divine witness is more significant and, therefore, more worthy of our acceptance because it deals with a subject on which God, and God alone, is fully competent to speak. It concerns His Son. God has borne witness concerning His Son. In this case, the Divine witness alone is “truth” in the complete sense of the term, though other kinds of witnessing may be proper.

However, if the reading of the Textus Receptus[12] is adopted, “this[13] in verse nine must refer to the witnesses already described, namely, the Spirit, the water, and the blood. Or, it might mean the witness of Spirit, who interprets the evidence of the historical facts.

A word witness meant to endorse the truth that Jesus is the Messiah. If “this” (KJV) is accepted, it can be understood three ways: (1) Causal. In this case, “this” must refer to what has preceded the witness already described. Such is the witness. Divine and legally valid, for God bore witness to His Son. By laying the stress on the Greek verb, martyreō (“he had witnessed”), it is perhaps possible to make sense of the passage in this way. But such an interpretation is very harsh and does not conform to John’s style. (2) The witness, namely, maintained His testimony concerning His Son. This use of “that” is not unquestionably established in the Johannine writings, though perhaps we should compare what Jesus said in John’s Gospel.[14] In the present context, it would be intolerably harsh. (3) It is far more natural and in harmony with the author’s style[15] as declarative. There can be no more trustworthy witness than what a father bears to his son, so far as competence to speak is concerned. The essence of the witness is that it is the testimony of God to His Son. In the Gospel, “to witness about oneself” ιs very frequent,[16] elsewhere very rare.[17]

With an eye for detail, David Smith (1866-1932) notes that God’s threefold testimony was valid.[18] He testified concerning His Son through His miracles and especially His Resurrection.[19] The variant “which” is a marginal gloss indicating the relative “whatever,” not the conjunction “that.”  The latter is incapable of a satisfactory explanation. The alternatives are:

            (1) “Because the testimony of God is this the fact that He has testified,” which is meaningless and involves an abrupt variation in the use of “that.” 

            (2) “Because this is the testimony of God, because, I say, He has testified,” which is intolerable.

The Apostle John appeals to his readers to be as reasonable with God as with their fellow men. Our attitude to the Threefold Testimony. If we are willing to trust the testimony of ordinary people, the testimony of God is more credible because this is the testimony, He gave testified concerning His Son. Those that believe in the Son of God have a witness in themselves. Those that do not think so make Him out to be a liar. And this is the testimony that God gave us life eternal, and this life is in His Son. Those who have the Son have eternal life; those who do not have the Son of God have no future life.”[20]

As a spiritual mentor, Ronald A. Ward (1920-1986) points out that everyone knows that we accept the testimony of our fellow citizens, especially in courtroom trials.[21] With that being true, how much more should we respect and accept any testimony inspired by God’s Spirit, who is Truth. So, can anyone reject God’s testimony about Jesus being His Son?[22] [23]

With academic precision, Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) says that the Apostle John concludes his description of the character of the witness to Jesus, as God’s Son and Messiah, by making clear its ultimate origin. So far from this being an interruption of the writer’s thought and added by a redactor, it caps the teaching of verses six to eight by showing that behind the “divine testimony” of “the Spirit and the water and the blood” lies the sovereign being of God. God’s authority is the imprimatur on the truth of the Christian Gospel. So, if we accept human testimony, divine testimony is superior. It is a fact that the faithful witness of others is accepted. The threefold witness of which John has spoken satisfies the conditions of human testimony. More than implied “the threefold divine witness satisfies all legal criteria.”[24] Inspired by Jesus’ words, “go into all the world,”

Edward J. Malatesta (1932-1998) sees the thought advanced by emphatically joining it to the third mention of Jesus that He is the one who came both by water and blood.  The central part of this sub-division introduces the theme of witness: the Spirit who witnesses and is Truth, and the water and blood witness. The witness is God’s witness concerning His Son. The sub-division thus concludes with a mention of the Son, as did the preceding one. John praises God’s witness concerning His Son as more significant than any human witness.[25]

[1] Matthew 3:17

[2] Acts of the Apostles 13:32-35; Romans 1:4

[3] John 14:16; Luke 24:49

[4] Acts 2:32-36

[5] Findlay, George G: Fellowship in the Life Eternal: An Exposition of the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 388

[6] Cf. Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 31:1; Hebrews 10:28-29

[7] Sinclair, William M., New Testament Commentary for English Readers, Charles J. Ellicott (Ec.), op. cit., Vol. 3, pp. 491-492

[8] Cocke, Alonzo R: Studies in the Epistles of John; or, The Manifested Life, op. cit., pp 127-128

[9] Morgan, James B., An Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., Lecture XLIV, pp. 436-437

[10] John 5:36

[11] Ibid. 8:18

[12] Textus Receptus (Latin: “received text”) refers to all printed editions of the Greek New Testament from Erasmus’ Novum Instrumentum omne from (1516) to the 1633 Elzevir edition. It was the most used translation for Protestant Bibles.

[13] New American Standard Bible

[14] John 8:25 (KJV)

[15] Cf. Ibid. 3:19

[16] Ibid. 1:7, 8, 15, 2:25, 5:31, 32

[17] Brooke, Alan E., Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 137-138

[18] Deuteronomy 19:15; cf. Matthew 18:16; John 8:17-18; 1 John 3:20

[19] Romans 1:4

[20] Smith, David: Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1 John, op. cit., p. 196

[21] See John 8;17; Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15

[22] John 5:37

[23] Ward, Ronald A., The Epistles on John and Jude, op. cit., pp. 56

[24] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., p. 283

[25] Malatesta, Edward J., Interiority and Covenant, op. cit., p. 310

About drbob76

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