Thursday, 4 June 2020
And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one. 1 John 5:8
As with the previous verse, there is argument over whether the first clause is genuine or not. Verses 7 and 8 taken together, and from the two varying views, will read –
“For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” (NASB)
“For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.” (NKJV)
Going under the conservative assumption that the NKJV (et al) is correct, John begins this verse with, “And there are three that bear witness on earth.” There is actually an article before “earth.” Thus, it reads, “the earth.” Just as there are three that bear witness in “the heaven,” there are three that witness in “the earth.”
John is again using the precept concerning “two or three witnesses” to establish the truth of His claim. Though this is a precept found in the Law of Moses, it extends beyond that. As noted in the previous verse, Paul uses the precept in the New Covenant as well. Just as the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit witness in the heaven, so on the earth, there are “the Spirit, the water, and the blood.”
What John is referring to here is highly debated. First, unlike the previous verse which said “Holy Spirit,” this one only says, “Spirit.” Thus, if the previous words are not spurious, there could be a distinction between the two. Some say this is speaking of either the gospel, or of the gifts of the Spirit found among believers – the “manifestations of the Spirit.” However, because some texts do not include the “Holy Spirit” in the previous verse, it is claimed that this is referring to the Holy Spirit by some.
From there, “the water” is likewise debated over. Is it Christ’s baptism as some state? Others claim it is Christ’s untainted God-like purity. And “the blood” is claimed by some scholars to be referring to His crucifixion. Others state that it is speaking of the testimony Christ bore to the truth of the gospel.
The point of John’s words is to testify to the truth of God in Christ. John has stressed the nature of Christ again and again. He has shown what the spirit of the Antichrist is – denying that Christ Jesus came in the flesh, meaning that He is fully Man and also fully God. He will continue to speak of the Father/Son relationship in the next verses. Therefore, it is highly unlikely this is referring to Christ’s baptism and His crucifixion. These are things which occurred after His initial entrance into human existence.
Likewise, symbolically representing these things as gifts of the Spirit, or the purity of His life, take something concrete and turn it into something less so. John is referring to Spirit, water, and blood; and they should be considered in that light. These things testify in the earth, and they do so, as John says, in a way that “these three agree as one.”
The Greek literally reads, as Vincent’s Word Studies notes, “are for the one. They converge upon the one truth, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh.” The previous verse showed that the heavenly witnesses are one. This verse states that the earthly witnesses are for the one. Both the heavenly witnesses and the earthly witnesses point to one reality. Jesus Christ is the Subject of the witness.
Understanding this, the Spirit, the water, and the blood are surely referring to what was presented and evaluated in the commentary of verse 5:6, which said, “This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood.”
Jesus Christ came into humanity in the way that all humans come. He was conceived, and His conception and natal period is signified by the water. Therefore, He had real blood as any human does, and He came through the water of birth – just as any human being would. The “Spirit,” then, would refer to the spirit which animates the human. This is why John focused on this aspect of Christ at the moment of His death, using the same phrase, to pneuma, or “the spirit,” as he does here in this verse –
“So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” John 19:30
Just as the previous verse spoke of the deity of Christ, a verse which testifies of this “in the heaven,” this verse testifies of the humanity of Christ “in the earth.” John is not making up a new presentation to consider at all. He is building upon the same presentation that has been given since the first words of the epistle – Jesus Christ is the God/Man. In believing in Him – and in this fact alone concerning His nature – can a person be reconciled to God.
There would be no point if Jesus were only divine, and not truly human. God wouldn’t need to present a “Jesus” at all. The infinite gap would remain. There would be no earthly witness of Him. If Jesus were only human, and not truly divine, then heaven could not bear witness to Him, and no atonement could be effected for man. Again, the infinite gap would remain. But Jesus Christ is both, and both the heaven and the earth testify to this fact.
Life application: In Deuteronomy 19:15 (and as is repeated elsewhere in both the Old and New Testaments) we read, “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.”
John is making a legal case for the Person and work of Jesus, and he is thus refuting any Gnostic heresies which had already developed in his lifetime and which continue today in various cults and sects. John states in the present tense that the three “bear witness.” This means that they testify continuously to the facts that have been and are presented, and as are recorded in the word.
His words that “these three agree as one” are a united front against doctrinal heresy. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” What testifies to this fact? It is that which is recorded concerning Jesus Christ – the God/Man.
Because we have the testimony of these three, and because all matters are to be established by two or three witnesses, then Jesus has provided the infallible proof that He is the God/Man and that His work is the work of the Messiah. If doubts are arising in your mind concerning Jesus and His work, then simply look to the evidence provided. It has legal standing – and not in a mere human court, but in the eternal court of the Living God.
Lord, as doubts arise, we can see that all we need to do is return to Your word and search it for answers. You have not only left us with a testimony of Your work in the stream of humanity, but You have left us with an infallible one. What You have given us is more than reasonable – it is the very legal proof we need! Thank You for this gift, the Holy Bible. Amen.