Three Witnesses Establishing Truth
The next few verses in 1 John 5 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 to explain this.
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 as follows,
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 Wycliffe 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 fifth-century commentator 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 a 15th century Bible, and the scholars who wrote The Wycliffe Bible Commentary apparently found a similar passage in a 14th century Bible. None of them have ventured a guess as to who was truly responsible for inserting it into John’s actual text.
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 churchmen would use his notes in later centuries.
Whenever I encounter 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. Changing even a single letter destroys these patterns.
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.” John mentions the third witness later, but when he lists all three together, the Spirit is the first of the three: “the Spirit, and the water, and the blood.” These three agree in their testimony, or witness, that Jesus is the Son of God.
The Spirit’s Witness
The Spirit witnessed of this truth by Jesus’ supernatural conception by the Holy Spirit, saying in Matt. 1:18,
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
Apparently, Mary had not told Joseph about her encounter with the angel Gabriel, so he was surprised when he learned that she was pregnant. But Mary’s encounter was genuine, as the angel later informed Joseph. Luke 1:35 records Mary’s story, saying,
35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.”
Hence, the first witness (regarding Christ’s conception) was given to Mary herself. Joseph seems to have been unaware of this revelation, because when Mary was seen to be pregnant, he thought that she had committed adultery. Matt. 1:19 says,
19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly.
Joseph was the victim of Mary’s perceived sin, and he recognized that by the Law of Victims Rights, he had the right either to have her stoned or to forgive her and “put her away secretly.” Matthew tells us his decision, for he was “a righteous man.”
In other words, he did not do wrong in refusing to have her stoned or even to disgrace her. He was well within his lawful rights to grant her mercy and grace.
But then he too received revelation from God. Matt. 1:20 says,
20 But when he had considered [enthymeomai] this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
The word enthymeomai comes from thumos, or thymus, which means “passion, anger, heat, indignation.” To say that Joseph merely “considered this” situation is a huge understatement. He was in great turmoil over it, perhaps being conflicted by love, anger, and frustration. In the midst of this, however, an angel appeared to him in a dream, testifying (as in a court of law) the truth behind her pregnancy.
Such was the witness of the Spirit to both Mary and Joseph before and after Jesus’ conception. The importance of this witness is that first it establishes the virgin birth of Christ, and second, it establishes the pattern of sonship for all of us who aspire to become sons of God.
The Water Witness at Christ’s Birth
The water may be viewed either in terms of His birth or of His baptism, both of which are “by water.” In both cases there was a supernatural testimony concerning Him. 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 accompanies the birth of a child.
When He was born, an angel appeared to some shepherds, bearing witness that “Christ the Lord” had been born in Bethlehem that night (Luke 2:9-11). Hence, this was the water witness, identifying Jesus once again as the Christ, the Son of God.
The Water Witness at Christ’s Baptism
When Jesus was thirty years old, He was baptized in water, and again His identity was witnessed, this time by John the Baptist’s revelation. We read his testimony in John 1:32-34,
32 And John testified, saying, “I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 And I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen, and have given testimony that this is the Son of God.”
Hence, even as the Spirit gave witness twice concerning Jesus’ supernatural conception (to Mary and later to Joseph), so also the water witness had its own double witness. First the shepherds bore witness at Jesus’ birth, and later John bore witness of Him at His baptism.
Drawn from Water
There is also an underlying comparison here between Moses and Christ. Moses’ name means “drawn from water,” or “born of water.” Hence, when Jesus said in John 3:5 that unless one is bornof water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” He was telling us in a veiled way that one must be born in two ways to inherit the Kingdom.
To be born of water can refer either to a natural birth (with amniotic fluid) or to come forth through the law of Moses. Either way, such birth is insufficient, for it lacks the double witness that establishes all things. In order to enter the Kingdom, we need the One prophesied in Deut. 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, even though not all who are begotten are actually brought to live birth. Yet God recognizes them and gives them identity from the moment of conception (Jer. 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. By this way of looking at it, our three witnesses are:
1. Blood (being begotten by blood[line], John 1:13)
2. Water (natural birth or through Moses and the Old Covenant)
3. Spirit (being begotten by the Spirit)
We may also view this in another way:
1. Blood (justification by the blood of Jesus)
2. Water (sanctification by baptism)
3. Spirit (glorification by transfiguration)
In other words, ultimately it takes these three witnesses to complete the process of salvation in our lives. These correlate with the three main feasts: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. While we yet remain in the realm of Pentecost, we can say that we were saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. There are three steps toward full Sonship.
The Fourth Witness
Witnesses may testify either for or against someone. Deut. 19:15 demands two or three witnesses to prove truth when accusing someone of sin. But this law also works in a positive context. Jesus presented three witnesses in a positive manner to prove truth.
Hence, when Jesus explained the purpose of His crucifixion and resurrection to the disciples, He presented “(1) the Law of Moses (2) and the Prophets (3) and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). The law prophesied of Christ, the prophets bore witness and clarified the law, and the Psalms (songs) set forth the law and prophets through music, which gave it timing (rhythm, beat, or cadence). The witness of timing can be very helpful in clarifying the law and the prophets.
But John 5:36 speaks of a fourth witness, saying,
36 But the testimony which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.
Jesus’ works were the fourth witness. Miracles are a fourth witness, which can be useful but should not be necessary to prove the truth. In fact, His miracles did not really convince anyone who had not already believed the first three witnesses. If men could not receive the witness of Spirit, water, and blood, then it is highly unlikely that Jesus’ miracles would produce faith in their hearts.
Those who believe the three witnesses and who know that Jesus is the Son of God become additional witnesses. In Jesus’ final words to His disciples, He said to them in John 15:26, 27,
26 When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, 27 and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.
The same Spirit of Truth, which bore witness of Jesus Christ, has also come upon us, whereby we too are His witnesses. As a body, we can be viewed as a fifth witness. Hence, among Jesus’ last words before His ascension, He said, “you shall be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
We are His witnesses because we have the same Spirit that was upon Jesus. We have been begotten from above, even as He was. We have entered into His experience and therefore are the sons of God.
False Witnesses Call God a Liar
Not everyone believes our testimony, however. 1 John 5:10 says,
10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made [called] Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning His Son.
One cannot contradict the witness of the Spirit without making God out to be a liar. If the Spirit of God says that Jesus is the Son of God, but men say, “No, he is not,” they cannot both be right. Each calls the other a liar for bringing false testimony into the divine court. The commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness” (Deut. 5:20). The penalty for bearing false witness is given in Deut. 19:16-19,
16 If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, 17 then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days. 18 And the judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.
If we apply this law to the dispute over the Son of God, we see that those who reject Jesus as the Son of God will receive an appropriate judgment suited to their false testimony. The judgment is that these false witnesses will not be sons of God. They forfeit sonship for denying sonship to the true Son of God. This is the negative side to the message of Sonship.
Of course, as with all sin and judgment, this penalty (debt to sin) is not permanent, for the law of Jubilee overrides all debt in the end. Nonetheless, when men stand before the Great White Throne, this dispute will be settled. All will then recognize the truth of the matter. Yet all who had disputed Jesus’ calling and position as the Son of God will lose any position of sonship that they might have thought was theirs. The inheritance will be delayed until the Creation Jubilee.
This goes back to 1 John 2:22, which says,
22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.
This dispute has a universal application, of course, but because John related it to “the antichrist,” we know that he was speaking of the Jews who denied that Jesus was the Christ. As we have seen already, Absalom was the primary type of antichrist when he claimed to be the rightful heir of the throne.
John concludes by writing in 1 John 5:11, 12,
11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal [aionian] life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.
“This life” and “the life” is aionian life, that is, age-abiding life, or life in The Age. In other words, when this dispute is resolved at the Great White Throne, and when those who are judged to be false witnesses are condemned to lose the blessing of sonship, such people will “not have the life.” Instead, as Jesus said in John 5:28, 29, they will receive “a resurrection of judgment.”
They will have to serve their sentence in the final Age, not having that quality of life that they could have enjoyed had they borne witness that Jesus is the Son of God. The issue is not about whether or not one is of the natural seed of Abraham. It is not a question of biology. The issue is about believing that Jesus is the Son of God.
Those who bear false witness against Jesus will “not have the life” in the final Age to come but will have to serve their sentence in a lesser condition until the great Jubilee sets all of creation free into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Rom. 8:21).