First John chapter 5, part 2
Mar 12, 2018
The next few verses contain an addition from the 15th or 16th century and were not part of John’s original text. This addition is found at the end of 1 John 5:7 and the beginning of verse 8. Because the NASB only adds to the confusion by dividing up verse 6 into 6 and 7, we will use different versions.
First, the problem is set forth in the King James Version. I have underlined the portion that is not found in any of the early Greek manuscripts. 1 John 5:6-8 KJV reads,
6 This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. 7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.
The Wyclif Bible Commentary tells us,
7. The text of this verse should read, Because there are three that bear record. The remainder of the verse is spurious. Not a single manuscript contains the trinitarian addition before the fourteenth century, and the verse is never quoted in the controversies over the Trinity in the first 450 years of the church era.
According to Dr. Bullinger’s notes on this passage,
“The words are not found in any Gr. MS before the sixteenth century. They were first seen in the margin of some Latin copies. Thence they have crept into the text.”
This is confirmed by Benjamin Wilson’s notes in The Emphatic Diaglott, where he says,
“This text concerning the heavenly witness is not contained in any Greek manuscript which was written earlier than the 15th century. It is not cited by any of the Greek ecclesiastical writers; nor by any of the early Latin fathers, even when the subject upon which they treat would naturally have led them to appeal to its authority. It is therefore evidently spurious; and was first cited (though not as it now reads) by Vigilius Tapsensis, a Latin writer of no credit, in the latter end of the fifth century; but by whom forged, it is of no great moment, as its design must be obvious to all.”
In other words, the words underlined above—in precisely that form—first appeared as marginal notes in a Latin Bible in the 14th or 15th or 16th century. But even then, the wording had been altered somewhat from an earlier commentator (1000 years earlier) who had written something like this in his marginal notes of the Latin Bible.
Some say that it was Erasmus who was responsible for canonizing this passage in the early 16th century, presumably intending to lend support to Trinitarian doctrine. Perhaps this was Dr. Bullinger’s unstated opinion, since he found no manuscripts with the passage in it prior to the 16th century, that is, during the time of Erasmus.
However, Wilson apparently found the passage in the 15th century, and the scholars who wrote The Wyclif Bible Commentary apparently found the passage in the 14th century. None of them have ventured a guess as to who was truly responsible. In the end, it does not matter, for it dates back to the fifth century, when “Vigilius Tapsensis, a Latin writer of no credit,” first wrote his notes in the margin of his Bible. He could not have known how later churchmen would use them.
Whenever I run across doubtful passages or alternate wording, I appeal to Dr. Ivan Panin’s Numeric New Testament. He studied the entire New Testament from the perspective of Bible numerics, discovering that every sentence and paragraph were numerically sound and exhibited mathematical patterns that authenticate divine inspiration.
Only the Bible appears to contain these patterns, and whenever even a single letter is changed, these patterns are destroyed. Dr. Panin was able to sort out all of the conflicting passages by learning which version retained the mathematical patterns. Hence, he published his Numeric New Testament in 1914. Panin’s version renders 1 John 5:6-8 this way:
6 This is he that came by water and with the blood. 7 And it is the Spirit that witnesses, because the Spirit is the truth. 8 Because the witnessing ones are three: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and the three agree in one.
Once we have settled on the text itself, we can then discuss what John was telling us.
The Three Witnesses
First, Jesus “came by water and with the blood.” The Spirit is the third witness. To come “by water” is a reference to something John wrote earlier in his gospel. In John 3:5, 6 we read,
5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born [gennao] of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born [gennao] of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born [gennao] of the Spirit is spirit.
The term gennao, as used above, seems to be used in a generic manner. How to translate it is not clear. It could be either “begotten” or “born,” but because water is mentioned, Jesus was probably referencing birth. It is well known that a burst of water (amniotic fluid) normally precedes the birth of a child. But that is not our present focus.
Our point is that Jesus “came by water,” and that this referred to his natural birth. In other words, His natural birth was the first of three witnesses that were in agreement. The water witness is presented in contrast to being born/begotten of “the Spirit.” Hence, it is clear that spiritual birth is a second (distinct) witness, and yet there is a close comparison (and agreement) between the two. We have already shown how this relates to our two identities—fleshly and spiritual.
However, there is more to this first witness than meets the eye. There is also an underlying comparison here between Moses and Christ. Moses’ name means “drawn from water,” or “born of water.” Hence, Jesus was telling us in a veiled way that one must be born in two ways to inherit the Kingdom, but that one’s Moses birth is insufficient in itself.
To be born of water, i.e., come forth through the law of Moses, is insufficient, for it lacks the double witness that establishes all things. In order to enter the Kingdom, we need the One prophesied in Deuteronomy 18:18 as the second witness:
18 I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.
Acts 3:22 quotes this prophecy and applies it to Jesus Himself.
So what does this mean?
It is obvious that one must be begotten and born naturally by the flesh in order to qualify for the second begetting (or birth). More precisely, one qualifies by being begotten, because not all who are begotten are actually brought to live birth. Yet God recognizes them and gives them identity from the moment of conception (Jeremiah 1:5).
Everyone must be identified with the flesh man first in order to inherit the need for a second birth. We cannot be begotten by the Spirit except that we first are begotten by the flesh.
But John tells us that Jesus’ natural birth was the first witness of the Truth. He was begotten by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin. We ourselves cannot claim this in the same way, because we were conceived naturally with corruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23). Hence, our first witness was lost when Adam sinned and when his descendants continued to be conceived with seed bearing death (mortality).
In a sense, then, we bear just two witnesses (the blood of Jesus and the Holy Spirit), whereas Jesus came by three witnesses. The lack of a third witness in our lives is not critical, because the law states clearly that “Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Paul, in 2 Corinthians 13:1). Two witnesses is sufficient for us to enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Another layer of meaning is that the water relates to baptism. Baptism by water signifies death and resurrection (Romans 6:3, 4, 5). The water itself plays a multiple role. It is obviously an agent of cleansing, for that is how it was often used in the law. But when we dig deeper into the mechanics of cleansing, we see that it cleanses us by removing the sin or uncleanness (“dirt”). In essence, the water takes our sin upon itself, even as (in the natural) a bath creates dirty water.
Baptism itself is a witness in the law, as seen in Leviticus 14 in the case of a leper who has been healed of his disease. The healed leper was supposed to appear before the priest (Leviticus 14:2, 3) to be inspected by him. If the priest bore witness that the leper had been healed, then he was to be baptized for cleansing (Leviticus 14:7).
His baptism did not heal him. He was already healed by the time he showed himself to the priest. The priest simply bore witness of his healing, so that the ex-leper was allowed to rejoin society, that is, the church. So also, when Jesus healed the lepers, He told them to “go and show yourself to the priest… just as Moses commanded, for a testimony [witness] to them” (Luke 5:14).
So we see that water baptism is called a “witness.” In Leviticus 14 we clearly see how the priest was called to bear witness of the ex-leper’s healing.
Jesus came not only by the witness of water (birth by a virgin), but also by blood. His blood witness was presented at the cross through His death.
(to be continued)
This is part 26 of a series titled "Studies in First John." To view all parts, click the link below.