By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LVI) 01/30/23

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.

A man who loves sharing God’s Word, Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) feels that the Apostle John is arguing from a commonsense conviction concerning our acceptance of a human’s testimony which is less convincing than God’s testimony of His Son being the Anointed One. The word “we” probably refers to people in general in verse nine, although John may have John the Baptizer and First Covenant prophets in mind. They were all humans testifying to divine truths and believed their testimony carried God’s authority.

Witness” is an everyday phenomenon. Christians accept the human testimony of prophets; why would they hesitate to heed God’s confirmation? The importance of the Greek martyria (“witness”) becomes very evident in John’s Gospel, where the noun appears over a dozen times and the cognate verb nearly three dozen times.

As John views life, particularly Jesus’ ministry, he now argues from the lesser to the greater. If (lesser) human testimony is generally accepted as significant – and the Greek clause beginning with (if) implies that John is assuming here it is – then God’s (superior) testimony is all the more inescapable. Therefore, rejecting it is a fateful error, and to oppose it is a futile effort.[1]

Skilled in Dead Sea Scroll interpretation and New Testament writings, Colin G. Kruse (1950) notes that the New International Version (NIV) renders the last half of verse nine as follows: “We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son.” However, the NIV obscures the original text’s meaning, which opens with an incomplete conditional sentence. A literal rendering of the verse would read: “If we accept the testimony of men, then we should accept the testimony of God.”

The first part of the verse is an argument from the lesser to the superior: if we accept human testimony, we should without question accept God’s testimony. What is the human testimony that John alludes to here? It can hardly reference the threefold testimony of Spirit, water, and blood. Is it an allusion to the witness of John the Baptizer?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus refers to the Baptizer’s testimony as “human testimony” and indicates that it is much less important than God’s testimony.[2] Does it refer to the testimony of the eyewitnesses to the Word of life,[3] which, though trustworthy, is not of the same order as God’s testimony? Or is it merely a general statement indicating that God’s testimony is always more important than a human witness? Probably the last is the best alternative, for the first two suggestions create new problems. There are no other allusions to the Baptizer’s ministry in John’s epistle. He would not want to downplay the testimony of the eyewitnesses because he believes that to be an accurate report of the truth of God.[4]

Believing that Christians can fall away from the faith, Ben Witherington III (1951) also points out that the Apostle John uses a “from the lesser to the greater” form of argument to say that if one believes John the Baptizer’s testimony about Jesus[5] or by the Apostle John, how much more remarkable is God’s testimony about His Son?[6] Therefore, the three-fold fold witness of the Spirit, the water, and the blood, is a threefold divine testimony to Jesus.[7]

With her crafted spiritual insight, Judith Lieu (1951) says that the argument that anyone who trusts in human testimony has no reason not to trust in God’s witness is a style of logic that moves from a lesser to a more excellent case. If God is greater and presumably more reliable than humans, so must God’s testimony. In that sense, the reliability of human testimony is a general truth, and “we accept” need not refer specifically to this author and audience. Within this logic, the objection that humankind and the evidence they supply are more tangible and susceptible to testing, are more readily accepted than God, and His testimony would carry little weight.

However, it is more probable that, as elsewhere, John is referring specifically to his audience, who, he knows, do accept human testimony. It would still allow the latter to be a general truth, in which case the “greater testimony” that God gives is to be identified with, or at least includes, the testimony of spirit, water, and blood just mentioned. Alternatively, this threefold testifying may in some sense be “human testimony,” so God’s witnessing is something additional to these. In the former case, “this is the testimony” in the middle of verse nine refers back to the preceding verses; in the latter case, the clause refers forward so that the following two verses elaborate the distinctive form of the testimony that God bears.[8]

Emphasizing the Apostle John’s call to Christian fellowship, Bruce B. Barton (1954) states that since we believe in human testimony, we can trust God’s more worthy testimony. And God has testified about His Son. According to Jewish law, the testimony of one person is not a valid witness. Truth or validity has to be established by two or three witnesses.[9] Since people believe human testimony when validated by two or three witnesses, John explained that they could consider the more remarkable testimony from God. The Gospels twice record God’s explicit declaration that Jesus is His Son – at Jesus’ baptism[10] and His transfiguration.[11] John said that if they believe testimony from people, they can surely rely on the threefold witness of God. The three witnesses described in verse eight are united because God is behind them. All three form a single “testimony from God” that Jesus is the Anointed One.[12]

A scholar who truly inspires Christian missionaries, Daniel L. Akin (1957) notes that the Apostle John continues his parade of witnesses, calling to the stand at this point the most decisive witness of all: God the Father. The Father’s “testimony” repeatedly resounds in verses nine and ten as the apostle employs a “lesser to greater” argument. In everyday life, “we accept people’s testimony.” In the Jewish context, the testimony of two or three witnesses was necessary and sufficient to confirm something as accurate.[13] If so, how much more should we believe God, mainly when He has just supplied His threefold witness of the Spirit, water, and blood in verse eight? The testimony of God is preferred – superior in source, status, and significance – then the testimony of any person. It is more reliable and trustworthy because it comes from God, who cannot lie.[14]

Akin thinks that John is saying that the abiding testimony of Jesus’ baptism, crucifixion, and that of the Holy Spirit is God’s historical witness that Jesus is His Son. Never did God give such a witness concerning anyone else in all of history. The Father’s witness concerning His Son is singular and unique. Therefore, it demands a response from each one of us. Neutrality and indecision are not an option. In fact, to not believe that Jesus is God’s Son is not to believe God and to make Him out to be “a liar,” because [you have] not believed in the testimony God has given about His Son.[15] John says that believing in Jesus as the Son of God is equivalent to accepting God the Father’s testimony about His Son. To reject Jesus as God’s Son is equal to charging God with perjury. It is that simple, and John is that straightforward.[16]

With a classical thinking approach to understanding the scriptures, Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) points out that three consecutive references to testimony continue to emphasize both its foundational significance and the necessity of the faithful to abide by “the testimony of God that He has testified concerning his Son,” if we receive the testimony of men. The passage continues to feature nicely its pointed, concluding interest in the essential place of fitting testimony. Elsewhere in the Epistle, to “receive” is “to acquire or to take” in the sense of accepting it as a valid matter.[17] In verse one, its subject, “us,” has inclusive force here, as does “we” here in verse nine.

To begin, John envisions human testimony compared to God’s Word. John’s thinking moves “from the lesser to the greater.” If, for any reason, ours is the practice of regularly accepting the testimony of our fellowman, how is one to regard the testimony of our God? Is not the testimony of the one whose devotion to us all was so great that he gave into death on the cross His one and only Son – is not this one’s testimony “greater?”[18] Is not this one’s testimony the testimony of the three witnesses, the most credible, reliable, and essential of all? If in any sense, the testimony of men is worthy of our taking it to heart, the testimony of God “surpasses that of all and any other testimonies.”[19]

An expert in highlighting the crucial part of a biblical message, Marianne Meye Thompson (1964) makes note that now the Apostle John’s attention is on the origin of the confession that He came by water and blood. It was not a figment of human imagination; rather, the Spirit testifies. Although in evoking the Spirit’s testimony, John stresses the ultimate source of this confession. He may well be with an eye on the dissidents, whom no doubt claimed their views to be equally inspired,[20] even if they defied the interpretations that John and his community held “from the beginning.”[21]

[1] Yarbrough, Robert W.. 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., p. 285

[2] John 5:33-36

[3] Ibid. 1:1

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

[5] John 5:33-35

[6] Cf. Ibid. 5:36

[7] 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

[8] Lieu, Judith: A New Testament Library, I, II, & III John, op. cit., pp. 216-217

[9] Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15

[10] Matthew 3:16-17

[11] Ibid. 17:5

[12] Burton, Bruce B., 1, 2, & 3 John (Life Application Bible Commentary), op. cit., p. 111

[13] Deut 17:6; 19:15

[14] Hebrews 6:18

[15] 1 John 5:10

[16] Akin, Dr. Daniel L., Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[17] See 1 John 2:27; 3:22; cf. John 3:11, 22, 32, 33; 5:34

[18] See John 5:33-36

[19] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, 1-3 John, op. cit., op. cit., p. 539

[20] 1 John 4:1-6

[21] Ibid. 1:1-4; 2:20-25

About drbob76

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