By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LV) 01/27/23

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.

As a capable scripture analyst, Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) asks, what is this testimony given by God? Scholars have suggested three possibilities, and it is not easy to decide between them. First, it is natural to assume that John is referring in another way to the threefold testimony which he has just been describing.[1] However, it is difficult for this view that the tense in verses six through eight is present, whereas here, in verse nine, it is perfect. Nevertheless, this is not an insurmountable obstacle. In verse six, we have seen that the historical acts were a witness to Jesus as the Son of God during His earthly ministry.  Through these, it could be said, God was bearing witness to his Son.[2] There is, however, a further problem. Jesus refers to various testimonies concerning himself:[3] His testimony, His works, John the Baptizer, and the Scriptures. The testimony of God appears to be distinct from these others, although God stands behind the other witnesses.

So, it can be argued a divine witness other than the threefold witness of the Spirit, water, and blood is meant here. Since, however, it is the Spirit who is the essential witness, testifying through the water and the blood, and since the Spirit is God’s instrument of revelation, it seems perfectly possible that John is simply speaking of the Spirit’s testimony in a different way. Commentators who do not accept this point must suggest a second interpretation of God’s testimony. They argue that John has not told us what this testimony is; he is content to record the fact of it.

The best that can be suggested is that it relates to the stories and sayings of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel.[4] Unfortunately, this is not very helpful. Still less valuable is the suggestion that God’s testimony is nothing but the event of faith itself.[5] A third possibility is that John speaks of the “inner witness” of the Spirit. He dwells in the heart of the believer as a witness to the truth of what is being heard in the proclamation of the Word. But this understanding is exposed to the difficulty that John is here speaking of a past act of God; furthermore, John does not elsewhere use the term “testimony” to refer to an inward witness by the Spirit.[6] It seems best, therefore, to accept the first interpretation.[7]

As a seasoned essayist on the Apostle John’s writings, John Painter (1935) states that a piece of proverbial wisdom now carries the Apostle John’s argument. So pronounced is the conclusion that it is not mentioned. Instead, John simply says: “The witness of God is greater.” We have already learned that God is more significant than our hearts,[8] that the Spirit “who is in you” is greater than the Spirit in the world.[9] That the witness of God is greater than the witness of human beings is reminiscent of where Jesus appeals to the witness of His Father,[10] the witness more excellent than the human witness of John the Baptizer. When John says that God’s witness is greater than the witness of human beings, it is not likely he has in mind the three witnesses here in verses six to eight. The contrast in John’s Gospel[11] makes the witness of the Baptizer a possibility.

Indeed, John the Baptizer is portrayed as a witness,[12] and Jesus says He has a witness more worthy than the Baptizer,[13] namely “the works that the Father has given me to completeand the Father who sent me has borne witness concerning me.[14] This would make good sense if the opponents appealed to the witness of John to the Spirit’s descent on Jesus the Messiah His baptism. But the problem is that the reference is to the “witness of human beings.” Thus, it seems that here John is making a more general statement true to the proverbial form.[15]

Ministry & Missions Overseer Muncia Walls (1937) notes that the Jewish law said that the testimony of two or three witnesses would prove a matter to be true or false. People were accustomed to hearing witnesses testify at a trial. John is here saying that if we accept what others have to say about any given subject, how much more should we be willing to take what God has to say about an issue, for His witness is far greater than ours. The witnesses that John has just been speaking about in the preceding verses were witnesses made manifest by God Himself.

Because Jesus the Messiah lived and walked among us, His hands manifested many miracles. By the fact that though He died on the cross, He rose victorious over the grave and death, all these facts should be witness enough that He indeed is the Messiah. During Jesus’ ministry, from His baptism, God audibly declared that Jesus the Messiah was indeed His Son. Jesus, on more than one occasion, declared that He was God manifest in the flesh. These witnesses should be evidence enough for those who were honest and sincere that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.[16]

Expositor and systematic theologist Michael Eaton (1942-2017) says we should notice that the “witness” was to the historical events. The Apostle John says that if we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is more remarkable, for this is the testimony of God which He gave concerned His Son. The Gospel involves human testimony. The apostles insisted on some historical events which they witnessed. A generation of apostles made emphatic claims about the circumstances in which they were involved. Luke wrote his gospel while keeping in touch with “eyewitnesses.”[17] John’s Gospel was written by one who claimed to be “bearing witness to these things.”[18] Paul claimed special authority because he met with Jesus personally: “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” he would ask.[19] Peter could insist that he had seen the glory of the Messiah when he went with Jesus at the time of His transfiguration: “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty… we heard His voice… we were with Him.[20] [21]

After scrutinizing the Apostle John’s subject theme, William Loader (1944) hears the Apostle John alluding to the common practice of accepting human evidence. Here is another example of John using a general truth about the human community. John mentions a similar fact about parents’ love for their children to illustrate God’s love for His children.[22] It is preferable to see this as accepting human testimony rather than an allusion to specific human testimony about Jesus than figures of speech. By that, says Loader, the traditions that record Jesus’ birth and death (water and blood) or the testimony of John the Baptizer (water baptism), which has not even received mention thus far. The Gospel of John indeed tells of Jesus describing John the Baptizer’s testimony as human testimony[23] and, in doing so, exhibits a similar play with the imagery of court procedures to what we find here, but the issues are different.[24]

Great Commission practitioner David Jackman (1945) notes that the Apostle John reminds us that if we accept the testimony of others, God’s testimony is indeed preferable. We realize that God is infinitely superior to finite, mortal humans. Because of its content, John wants to convey the greater trustworthiness of God’s testimony and its significant importance and value. It is the testimony of God, which He has given about his Son. Probably the focus of that testimony to which John wants to direct our attention is the baptism of Jesus. There the Father’s voice and the Spirit’s descent unite the Trinity in powerful witness that Jesus is the Son of God. That is the content of the Christian gospel. It is stated and authenticated by God and confirmed by his three witnesses. How can we refuse to accept the divine if we would accept human testimony under such circumstances (and we most certainly would)? [25]

After studying the context surrounding this verse, John W. (Jack) Carter (1947) points out that the term that the Apostle John uses for “witness” refers to those who are called upon to give binding testimony in a court of law. The Mosaic Law requires two or three witnesses,[26] and Jewish tradition prefers three. John has drawn his defense team from two sets of three witnesses, three witnesses from men, and three witnesses from God. By calling upon the importance of God’s witness of the Son, John works to destroy the false doctrines of the heretics who deny the truth of Jesus’ nature and purpose.  His use of the three earthly witnesses certainly holds more authority than the heretics since the former witnesses are giving first-hand testimony.  However, John does not stop there. He also notes that what God revealed to us through the Trinity is also a witness to the true nature and purpose of Jesus, and testimony from God certainly has greater authority than both the heretics and the first-hand human witnesses.[27]

[1] Ignatius, Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2

[2] Schnackenburg, 22; cf. Ignatius, Letter to the Magnesians 9f

[3] John 5:31-40

[4] For the same point of view, see Marinus de Jonge (1925-2016), pp. 122–124; Balz, p. 151f. Bruce, 17 and n. 11, notes that we cannot be sure that the views of Cerinthus are exclusively in John’s mind and refers to R. M. Grant’s view that possibly Menander of Antioch is in mind (A Historical Introduction to the New Testament, New York/London, 1963, p. 233). The account of Menander’s teaching in Irenæus, AH 1:23:5, however, shows no clear contact with the heresy opposed by John. Wengst, p. 37, argues that John’s opponents were not Docetists since they did not deny that Jesus was a real man; rather they attached no theological importance to Jesus and laid all the weight on the heavenly being, Christ. This produced the same theological effect as Docetism, but the manner of expression was different.

[5] Weiss, Konrad, “Orthodoxie und Heterodoxie im I. Johannesbrief,” ZNW 58, 1967, 247–255. 36. K. Weiss, “Die ‘Gnosis’ im Hintergrund und im Spiegel der Johannesbriefe,” in K.-W. Tröger (Editor), Gnosis und Neues Testament, Gütersloh, 1973, 341–356.

[6] Weiss, Konrad, “Die ‘Gnosis’ im Hintergrund und im Spiegel der Johannesbriefe,” in K.-W. Tröger (Editor.), Gnosis und Neues Testament, Gütersloh, 1973, 341-356

[7] Marshall, Ian Howard: The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 239-240, 256

[8] 1 John 3:20

[9] Ibid. 4:4

[10] Ibid. 3:31-33

[11] Ibid. 5:33-38

[12] Ibid. 1:7, 15, 19, 32

[13] Ibid. 5:36

[14] Ibid. 5:37

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

[16] Walls, Muncia: Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., p. 87

[17] Luke 1:2

[18] John 21:24

[19] 1 Corinthians 9:1

[20] 2 Peter 1:18

[21] Eaton, Michael; Focus on the Bible, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., p. 184.

[22] 1 John 5:1

[23] John 5:31-33

[24] Loader, William: Epworth Commentary, The First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 69-70

[25] Jackman, David: The Message of John’s Letters, op. cit., pp. 151-152

[26] Deuteronomy 19:15

[27] Carter, Dr. John W. (Jack). 1,2,3, John & Jude: (The Disciple’s Bible Commentary Book 48), op. cit., pp. 124-125

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s