John says that believing in Jesus the Christ is a sign of being born of God (5:1) and that those who believe in Jesus as Son of God overcome the world (5:4-5). How do we know that Jesus is Christ and Son of God? John’s answer is that faith means trusting “witnesses” (5:7-9).
“This is He who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. . . .” (1 John 5:6-12).
Before we look at this passage, we need to deal with a textual problem. Some of your Bibles don’t have the statement about “three that bear witness in heaven.” The reason is that your Bibles use different texts. Without going into detail, the evidence is strongly against this verse. It appears in the Vulgate (Latin Bible), but only in medieval Greek manuscripts. None of the early Greek fathers cite it, though it would have been a very useful verse in Trinitarian debates. The only explanation is that they didn’t have this verse to quote.
WATER AND BLOOD
John’s reference to “water and blood” has several dimensions. Jesus’ ministry was framed by two “baptisms,” the water baptism where the Father identified Him as Son (v. 9; cf. Matthew 3:17) and His “blood baptism” on the cross (cf. Mark 10:38-39). Jesus’ status as Christ and Son is revealed not only in the ecstatic moment of His baptism but also in the anguish of the cross. When the soldier pierced Jesus’ side, “water and blood” flowed out (John 19:34-35), revealing Jesus as the new Adam, the new Eden, the new Rock, the new Temple. John is also referring to the continuing witness of “water and blood” in the work of the church, the water of baptism that makes us sons of God and the blood of the Supper by which we renew covenant.
SPIRIT OF TRUTH
These witnesses gain force through the work of the Spirit, who was given to Jesus at His baptism (John 1:32-34) and in whom He offered Himself in sacrifice (cf. Hebrews 9:14). The water of baptism and the blood of the Supper are effective witnesses to Jesus because the Spirit is at work in and through them. The witness of the Spirit can be trusted because the Spirit is truth (v. 7) and because the Spirit’s witness is the witness of God (v. 9).
LIFE IN THE SON
When we trust God’s witness in Spirit, water, and blood, we have life, eternal life. Of course, eternal life is not just a life of endless duration (cf. John 17:1-3). But it is that. And that makes a great deal of difference. For many, life holds little joy because death always looms on the horizon. Such people don’t really live at all (v. 12). For those who trust in the witness of God, life, abundant life, stretches out endlessly. When we live in hope of an everlasting future life, we can live an abundant present life.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Monday, January 29, 2007 at 7:54 am
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