Summary: Are we true witnesses to the true faith?
The Persuading Witness of Jesus
John in His gospel says that he wrote it to persuade people that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in His name (John 20:31). This is very similar to what we study here in his first epistle and demonstrates that these tow works were written at nearly the same time. John desires that people might come to faith in Jesus. But how does one come to believe that Jesus is the Christ? This passage sheds light upon this. God has presented many witnesses to persuade us to believe on Jesus and come to eternal life.
This passage is an elaboration of what is said in verse 5 or how comes to believe in Jesus and acquire a faith which overcomes the world. God has provided a variety of witnesses to bring believers to the new birth in Christ. First He says there is the witness of the water AND the blood, that Jesus came by both. We discussed this in the previous sermon, but the context shows that Jesus was fully human. He was baptized and shed His blood on the cross. But to this witness, a third witness is added, the witness of the Holy Spirit. Of the Spirit, John says “the Spirit is the truth.” This is a truly reversible proposition. It can equally be said “The truth is the Spirit” as both have the definite article in Greek. Therefore, John is equating the Spirit with Jesus. Jesus in John 14:6 is also called “the truth.” The definite article does not allow for two truths but one truth which is in a category by itself. So the only was the Spirit can be called “the truth” is in the Trinitarian relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which is One God in Three persons.
Because this is a reversible proposition, John is not saying something like “The truth is spiritual, because the article with Spirit forbids this.” Neither is it talking about the truthfulness of the Spirit’s testimony. This would be true enough, but the Spirit’s witness is true because the Spirit is truth himself. It is interesting that this reversible proposition is overlooked, and another verse in the epistle is treated as one which is not, that “God is love.” There is no article with love, and makes love an attribute of God. God is love, but love is not God as some assert.
In the King James version, verse 7 begins with “there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.” This is a truly Trinitarian statement which would have for all purposes ended the Trinitarian controversy at Nicaea. The fact that it is not quoted at the early church councils and does not appear in any of the old Greek or Latin manuscripts makes it difficult to establish here. Erasmus did not want to include it in His Greek testament. It also breaks up to “oti” clauses and seems to break up John’s argument of the testimony of the threefold witness of the water, blood and Spirit. As the statement itself is theologically true, I don’t say that these words are wrong but simply that there is little evidence that they belong here.
Verses 7 and 8 would read without this clause: “There are three who bear witness, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and their testimony is in complete agreement.” Notice that originally, the water and the blood are brought up, to which the Spirit’s witness is added. Here the testimony of the Spirit comes first. This is an arrangement which is a form of chiastic development. The item in the middle, in this case the Holy Spirit is given special emphasis. When we think that the believers had not had the privilege that John and the other Apostles had in seeing, hearing, and touching the human Jesus, this witness has special prominence. John has said that this witness of the Holy Spirit affirms Scripture and this apostolic witness. The Word and Spirit each mutually testify of each other. In the mouth of two or three witnesses, the truth of a matter is established. Here these three witnesses of the truth come together to persuade of the truth of Christianity.
Verse nine sets up the witness of Jesus by God Himself. Here John argues from the lesser to the greater. People are asked to evaluate the truth of earthly matters through the examination of evidence. They are asked to discern the truth from the testimony of fallible human witnesses to arrive at the truth. But the infallible God has testified that He had sent His Son. The importance here is highlighted by saying that it is testimony in a general sense but “THE” testimony. We know in the gospel that God the Father testified of the Son at Jesus’ baptism. Here, the testimony of God the Holy Spirit seems be in mind here. As the Holy Spirit is the truth, His testimony is to be believed in its own right as infallible. The evidence of the Word helps the believer to determine that the Spirit that speaks is the Spirit of God because it testifies about the Father and the Son. John has already reminded us that any spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.