1 John 5:7-8
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.…
We dismiss, without any misgiving, the clause respecting the heavenly Trinity from 1 John 5:7. The sentence is irrelevant to this context, and foreign to the apostle's mode of conception. It is the Church's victorious faith in the Son of God, vindicated against the world (1 John 5:1-5), that the writer here asserts, and to invoke witnesses for this "in heaven" is nothing to the purpose. The contrast present to his thought is not that between heaven and earth as spheres of testimony, but only between the various elements of the testimony itself (vers. 6-10). (For this manner of combining witnesses, comp. John 5:31-47; John 8:13-18; John 10:25-38; John 14:8-13; John 15:26, 27) The passage of the three heavenly witnesses is now admitted to be a theological gloss, which crept first into the Latin manuscripts of the fifth century, making its way probably from the margin into the text: no Greek codex exhibits it earlier than the fifteenth century. "This," the apostle writes in ver. 6 — this "Jesus" of whom we "believe that He is the Son of God" (ver. 5) — "is He that came through water and blood — Jesus Christ." By this time "Jesus Christ" and "Jesus the Son of God" had become terms synonymous in true Christian speech. The great controversy of the age turned upon their identification. The Gnostics distinguished Jesus and Christ as human and Divine persons, united at the baptism and severed on the Cross, when Jesus cried, "My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" St. John asserts, therefore, at every turn the oneness of Jesus Christ; the belief that "Jesus is the Christ" he makes the test of a genuine Christianity (1 John 5:1;comp. 1 John 2:22; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:9, 3, 15). The name thus appended to ver. 6 is no idle repetition; it is a solemn reassertion and reassumption of the Christian creed in two words — Jesus Christ. And He is Jesus Christ, inasmuch as He "came through water and blood — not in the water only." The heretics allowed and maintained in their own way that Jesus Christ "came by water" when He received His Messianic anointing at John's baptism, and the man Jesus thus became the Christ; but the "coming through blood" they abhorred. They regarded the death of the Cross, befalling the human Jesus, as a punishment of shame inflicted on the flesh, in which the Divine or Deiform Christ could have no part. Upon this Corinthian view, the Christ who came through water went away rather than came through blood; they saw in the death upon the Cross nothing that witnessed of the Godhead in Jesus Christ, nothing that spoke of Divine forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:7, 9), but an eclipse and abandonment by God, a surrender of the earthly Jesus to the powers of darkness. The simple words, "that came," are of marked significance in this context; for "the coming One" (ὁ ἐρχόμενος, Matthew 11:3; John 1:15, 27; John 11:27; Hebrews 10:37; Revelation 1:4, 8, etc.) was a standing name for the Messiah, now recognised as the Son of God. "He that came," therefore, signifies "He who has assumed this character," who appeared on earth as the Divine Messiah; and St. John declares that He thus appeared disclosing Himself through these two signs — of blood as well as water. So the beginning and the end, the inauguration and consummation of Christ's ministry, were marked by the two supreme manifestations of His Messiah-ship; and of both events this apostle was a near and deeply interested witness. When he speaks of the Lord as "coming through water and blood," these are viewed historically as steps in His glorious march, signal epochs in the continuous disclosure of Himself to men, and crises in His past relations to the world; when he says, "in the water and in the blood," they are apprehended as abiding facts, each making its distinct and living appeal to our faith. This verse stands in much the same relation to the two sacraments as does the related teaching of chs. 3 and 6 in St. John's Gospel. The two sacraments embody the same truths that are symbolised here. Observing them in the obedience of faith, we associate ourselves visibly with "the water and the blood," with Christ baptized and crucified, living and dying for us. But to see in these observances the equivalents of the water and blood of this passage, to make the apostle say that the water of baptism and the cup of the Lord's Supper are the chief witnesses to Him and the essential instruments of our salvation, and that the former sacrament is unavailing without the addition of the latter, is to narrow and belittle his declaration and to empty out its historical content. Nearer to St. John's thought lies the inference that Christ is our anointed Priest as well as Prophet, making sacrifice for our sin while He is our guide and light of life. To the virtue of His life and teaching must be added the virtue of His passion and death. Had He come "in the water" only, had Jesus Christ stopped short of Calvary and drawn back from the blood baptism, there had been no cleansing from sin for us, no witness to that chief function of His Christhood. This third manifestation of the Son of God — the baptism of the Spirit following on that of water and of blood, a baptism in which Jesus Christ was agent and no longer subject — verified and made good the other two. "And the Spirit," he says, "is that which beareth witness" (τὸ μαρτυροῦν, "the witnessing power"): the water and the blood, though they have so much to say, must have spoken in vain, becoming mere voices of past history, but for this abiding and ever active Witness (John 15:26; John 16:7-15). The Spirit, whose witness comes last in the order of distinct manifestation, is first in principle; His breath animates the whole testimony; hence He takes the lead in the final enumeration of ver. 8. The witness of the water had His silent attestation; the Baptist "testified, saying, I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and it abode upon Him," etc. (John 1:32, 33). "It is the Spirit," therefore, "that bears witness"; in all true witness He is operative, and there is no testifying without Him. "For the Spirit is truth," is "the truth" — Jesus called Him repeatedly "the Spirit of truth" (John 14:17; John 15:26; 1 John 4:6; comp. John 4:23, 24) — truth in its substance and vital power is lodged with Him; in this element He works; this effluence He ever breathes forth. Practically, the Spirit is the truth; whatever is stated in Christian matters without His attestation, is something less or other than the truth. Such, then, are the "three witnesses" which were gathered "into one" in the Apostle John's experience, in the history of Jesus Christ and His disciples: "the three" he says. "agree in one," or more strictly, "amount to the one thing" (καὶ οἱ τρεῖς εἰς τὸ ἔν εἰσου, ver. 8); they converge upon this single aim. The Jordan banks, Calvary, the upper chamber in Jerusalem; the beginning, the end of Jesus Christ's earthly course, and the new beginning which knows no end; His Divine life and words and works, His propitiatory death, the promised and perpetual gift of the Spirit to His Church — these three cohere into one solid and imperishable witness, which is the demonstration alike of history and personal experience and the Spirit of God. They have one outcome, as they have one purpose; and it is this — viz. "that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son" (ver. 11). The apostle has indicated in vers. 6-8 what are, to his mind, the proofs of the testimony of Jesus — evidences that must in the end convict and "overcome the world" (ver. 5). So far as the general cause of Christianity is concerned this is enough. But it concerns each man to whom this evidence comes to realise for himself the weight and seriousness of the testimony which confronts him. So St. John points with emphasis in vers. 9 and 10 to the Author of the three-fold manifestation. "If we receive the witness of men" — if credible human testimony wins our ready assent "the witness of God is greater." The declaration of the gospel brings every soul that hears it face to face with God (comp. 1 Thessalonians 2:13). And of all subjects on which God might speak to men, of all revelations that He has made, or might conceivably make, to mankind, this, St. John feels, is the supreme and critical matter — "the testimony of God, viz., the fact that He has testified concerning His Son." The gospel is, in St. Paul's words, "God's good news about His Son." God insists upon our believing this witness; it is that in which He is supremely concerned, and which He asserts and commends to men above all else. Let the man, therefore, who with this evidence before him remains unbelieving, understand what he is about; let him know whom he is rejecting and whom he is contradicting. "He has made God a liar" — he has given the lie to the All-holy and Almighty One, the Lord God of truth. This apostle said the same terrible thing about the impenitent denier of his own sin (1 John 1:10); these two denials are kindred to each other, and run up into the same condition of defiance toward God. On the other hand, "he who believes on the Son of God," "hearing from the Father and coming" to Christ accordingly (John 6:45), he finds "within himself" the confirmation of the witness he received (ver. 10a). The testimony of the Spirit and the water and the blood is no mere historical and objective proof; it enters the man's own nature, and becomes the regnant, creative factor in the shaping of his soul. The apostle might have added this subjective confirmation as a fourth, experimental witness to the other three; but, to his conception, the sense of inward life and power attained by Christian faith is the very witness of the Spirit, translated into terms of experience, realised and operative in personal consciousness. "The water that I will give," said Jesus, "will be within him a fountain of water, springing up unto life eternal" (John 4:14). It is thus that the believer on the Son of God sets to his seal that God is true. His testimony is not to the general fact that there is life and troth in Christ; but "this is the witness, that God gave to us life eternal, and this life is in His Son"? (ver. 11). This witness of God concerning His Son is not only a truth to be believed or denied, it is a life to be chosen or refused; and on this choice turns the eternal life or death of all to whom Christ offers Himself: "He that hath the Son, hath life; he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life" (ver. 12). Life appears everywhere in St. John as a gift, not an acquisition; and faith is a grace rather than a virtue; it is yielding to God's power rather than the exerting of our own. It is not so much that we apprehend Christ; rather He apprehends us, our souls are laid hold of and possessed by the truth concerning Him. Our part is but to receive God's bounty pressed upon us in Christ; it is merely to consent to the strong purpose of His love, and allow Him, as St. Paul puts it, to "work in us to will and to work on behalf of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). As this operation proceeds and the truth concerning Christ takes practical possession of our nature, the assurance of faith, the conviction that we have eternal life in Him, becomes increasingly settled and firm. Rothe finely says, "Faith is not a mere witness on the man's part to the object of his faith; it is a witness which the man receives from that object...In its first beginnings faith is, no doubt, mainly the acceptance of testimony from without; but the element of trust involved in this acceptance, includes the beginning of an inner experience of that which is believed. This trust arises from the attraction which the object of our faith has exercised upon us; it rests on the consciousness of a vital connection between ourselves and that object. In the measure in which we accept the Divine witness, our inner susceptibility to its working increases, and thus there is formed in us a certainty of faith which rises unassailably above all scepticism." The language of St. John in this last chapter of his Epistle breathes the force of a spiritual conviction raised to its highest potency. For him perfect love has now cast out fear, and perfect faith has banished every shadow of doubt. "Believing on the name of the Son of God," he "knows that he has eternal life" (ver. 13). With him the transcendental has become the experimental, and no breach is left any more between them.
(G. G. Findlay, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.