Friday, May 24, 2024

The Vision (5.24.24): The Three Heavenly Witnesses


Image: Christ RBC Meeting House, Louisa, Virginia

Note: Below is the full manuscript for last Sunday's sermon on 1 John 5:6-9.

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one (1 John 5:7).

So much of 1 John is dedicated to the horizontal aspects of the Christian life: Man’s relationship to man; believer’s relationship to believer. All this is epitomized in the call to love one another based on the New Commandment of Christ (John 13:34-35; see 1 John 4:11).

This is not to say, however, that John has not been concerned with the vertical. With man’s relationship to God. He twice declares God is love (4:8, 16).

John is especially interested in Christology, the doctrine of Christ. John is Christ-centered and Christ-focused. As noted, he is battling those who denied the full humanity of our Lord, that he had come in the flesh (4:2-3).

John piles up various key titles for Christ.

He is an Advocate with the Father (2:1);

He is Jesus Christ the righteous (2:1);

He is the propitiation for our sins (2:2; 4:10);

He is the Saviour of the world (4:14).

He is the Son of God (3:8b; 4:15; 5:5).

That was where our passage last Sunday had concluded in v. 5 with the question: “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (cf. 3:23; Peter’s confession in John 6:69: “And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the son of the living God.”; and the Eunuch’s confession in Acts 8:37: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”).

That interest in theology and Christology is going to continue in our passage today.

We can think of the background for John’s remarks here as being like a trial. The declaration that the Lord Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God is being tested, tried, and examined.

John is going to bring forward two sets of three witnesses.

There are three heavenly witnesses (v. 7) and three earthly witnesses (v. 8), and they all speak with one voice.

And we are in the jury left to draw our own conclusion and render our own verdict as to who this man Jesus really is.

I.                   Exposition:

V. 6 begins, “This is he that came by water and blood….” Matthew Poole’s commentary suggests that water and blood represent Christ’s purity (water) and his suffering (blood). Another source, suggests they represent his baptism (water) and his passion (blood) (MacArthur’s Study Bible).

We might also consider these as references to his birth as a true man, since this has been disputed by false prophets and antichrists in the church to which John was writing (see 1 John 4:2-3). John is here saying that Christ did not appear out of thin air. He was conceived in the womb of the virgin in an extra-ordinary manner, and he was born in an ordinary manner.

In his conversation with Nicodemus Christ contrasted being born by water (natural birth) and being born of the Spirit (supernatural birth (John 3:5). Likewise, in John 1:12-13 the Evangelist distinguishes between those born merely “of blood” and those born by the power of God to become “the sons of God.”

Coming by water and blood are both signs of the real human birth and, thus, the true humanity of Christ. It is estimated that 60% of the human body consists of water, and that 7-8% of a human body’s weight is blood.

Christ was a flesh and blood man. When the Roman soldier thrust his spear into Christ’s lifeless side after his death on the cross what came out? Blood and water (John 19:34).

John continues in v. 6, “not by water only, but by water and the blood.” Christ did not have just one aspect of a human body but all. It was his shed blood, in particular, that held atoning significance. See 1 John 1:7: “…and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” He is “the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2; cf. 4:10). In the upper room at the Last Supper with his disciples, Christ declared, “This cup is the new testament in my blood” (1 Corinthians 11:25). Paul, in Hebrews 9:22, affirmed, “without shedding of blood there is no remission.”

If Christ was not a real man with real blood, but only a phantom, a spirit, a Docetic Christ, there is no true salvation.

The scene again is like a courtroom. John speak of those that bear witness to Christ. In the moral law, the ninth commandment forbids the bearing of false witness. Furthermore, in Deuteronomy 19:15 it says, “at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established” (cf. Matthew 18:16 where Christ applied this standard to working out difficulties among brethren in the church). John will in this passage bring forward multiples witnesses to affirm that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

John begins with the witness of the Holy Spirit: “And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth” (v. 6b). In John 15:26, Christ said, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto your from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.”

Along with the testimony of the Spirit, John is going to add supporting witnesses. He gives two sets of three witnesses: Three heavenly witnesses (v. 7) and three earthly witnesses (v. 8). In each of these sets of three the Spirit is listed as one of the witnesses.

We look first at the three heavenly witnesses (v. 7). John says, “There are three that bear record [the verb is martyro-ō] in heaven….”

Heaven or the heavens, are, of course, the abode of God. It is his dwelling place. As Psalm 115:3 says, “But our God is in the heavens; he has done whatsoever he has pleased.” The three heavenly witnesses are the witness of God in heaven Himself. Here are the three persons of the divine Godhead.

First, God the Father bears witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. In John 5:31 Christ said to the unbelieving skeptics, “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.” He added that there was another witness, John the Baptist, whom he calls “a burning and shining light” (vv. 32-35). He then states that he has a “greater witness than that of John” (v. 36), adding, “And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me” (v. 37).

Second, God the Word [Logos] bears witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is of interest that the word “Son” is not used here but “Word [Logos], in keeping with an emphasis of John the Evangelist. His Gospel starts, “In the beginning was the Word [Logos], and the Word [Logos] was with God, and the Word [Logos] was God” (John 1:1). See also John 1:14, “And the Word [Logos] was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

Third, God the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit was there descending upon him “in a bodily shape like a dove” upon him at his baptism (Luke 3:21).

John concludes v. 7 with the statement: “and these three are one.” This is a declaration of the divine oneness. There are not three gods, but one true God. The Muslims says, You Christians are tri-theists, worshipping Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One plus one plus one equals three. We respond that  one times one times one equals one. We worship one God who is from all eternity Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. There is one God in three persons, the same in essence, equal in power and glory.

1 John 5:7 has long been recognized as one of the great explicit proof texts for the Trinity within the New Testament. There are three such explicit proofs in the New Testament with one placed in each its three major divisions:

First, in the Gospels and Acts: In Matthew’s Great Commission of Matthew 28:19: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

Second, in the Pauline letters:  In Paul’s benediction to his second letter to the church at Corinth: 2 Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.”

Third, in the General Letters and Revelation: 1 John 5:7: “For there are three that bare record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”

It is also no surprise to learn that the authenticity of this passage has been challenged in the modern era. The great Reformed theologian Francis Turretin (1623-1687) noted that “heretics” in his day were attacking the authenticity of this verse (see Elenctic Theology 1:115).

John is saying in this verse that the triune God Himself bears witness in heaven that the Lord Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God, and that he came in the flesh, by water and blood.

At the IRBS Conference held in Texas on May 17, 2024, Richard Barcellos cited Thomas Aquinas as saying of Christ’s incarnation: “He made himself small, not by putting off greatness, but by taking on smallness.”  Barcellos added, “We need a ‘womb to tomb’ righteousness, and in our Lord alone, we get this.”

In perfect literary parallelism, we have in v. 8 the three earthly witnesses (with the Spirit repeated as one of the three). Notice the chiasm in vv. 7-8:

(a)  Father, (b) Word, (c) Spirit;

(c’) Spirit, (b’) water, (a’) blood.

These three earthly witnesses are:

First, the Spirit. How does the Spirit bear witness to the Lord Jesus Christ? God’s Spirit is indeed here on earth making present to us in this realm the reality of the one God in three persons. Christ is now in heaven, seated at the Father’s right hand until he comes again in power and glory to judge the living and the dead, but by the Spirit he is now present with us. Christ had promised his disciples that he would send them the “Comforter” to teach them all things and bear witness to them (cf. John 14:26; 15:26-27). In 1 Corinthians 2:10 Paul told the believers that God has revealed his wisdom to them “by his Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”

Second, the water. How does water bear witness to the Lord Jesus Christ? We noted that it is a reminder of Christ’s true humanity (v. 6), but perhaps this witness is to the water of baptism. We know that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God, because we see that he continues to make disciples from among the nations, who confess their faith in and submit unto him in baptism, as did the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:37).

Third, the blood. How does blood bear witness to the Lord Jesus Christ? This takes us to the cross. It brings before us Christ’s five bleeding wounds. It recalls his propitiation (cf. again the “blood language” of 1 John 1:7; 2:2; 4:10).

John ends by saying, “and these three agree in one” (v. 8b). One will note that the wording here is similar to v. 7b, but slightly and significantly different. While in v. 7b John says the Father, Word, and Holy Spirit are one (the same in essence), here he says the Spirit, water, and blood agree in one (a prepositional phrase). The work of the Spirit, the testimony of baptism, and the preaching of the blood-drenched cross act in harmony to compel sinners to confess that Jesus is Lord!

John ends our passage in v. 9 first by a comparison between the witness of men and the witness of God. We believe or trust many things because of the witness of men. I’ve never been to Cuba but I recently met a man from Cuba who was describing it to me. I trust his witness and that of others to the existence of a place called Cuba, though I have never been there and seen it with my own eyes. Life requires a lot of trusting in men. I think of this every time I get on an airplane for a trip. I must trust the engineers who designed the plane, the pilot who flies it, the air-traffic controllers who direct it, and the stewards who serve it.

I also trust the witness of the apostles in the Gospels to the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, even though, unlike Thomas, I have not yet seen our Lord with my eyes (cf. John 20:29).

Recall, however, that Christ said there is a “greater witness” than that of men (like John the Baptist, John 5:36). God’s witness to Christ is greater than that of men. I believe the Gospel witness to Christ, not because they were written by reliable men, but because they were breathed out or inspired by God Himself (2 Timothy 3:16).

They provide various and constant witness to Christ:

God the Father bore witness to Christ:

At this birth, God sent his holy angel to proclaim, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

At his baptism, God’s voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

At his transfiguration that same voice declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Mathew 17:5).

God the Son bore witness to Christ:

As the incarnate Word, Christ declared a series of “I am” sayings, echoing the divine self-revelation of the LORD to Moses at the burning bush as the great “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14).

So, Christ said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35); “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12); “I am the door” (John 10:9); “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11); “I am the resurrection and life” (John 11:25); and “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). He also declared, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), and when asked in his trial before the high priest if he was the Son of the Blessed, he replied, “I am” (Mark 14:62).

God the Spirit bore witness to Christ:

The Spirit descended upon him at his baptism, and then was poured out on his disciples at Pentecost so that they might boldly proclaim him (Acts 2).

John concludes this passage, “For this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son” (v. 9b).

II.                Spiritual Application:

We affirm today that there is one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This one God bears witness in heaven that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Why do we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Because the triune God says he is.

We are in the jury box. What verdict will we reach in the face of this witness?

Jeffrey T. Riddle, Pastor, Christ RBC, Louisa, Virginia


Anonymous said...

Too bad this sermon is based on a fraudulent interpolation not found in any early Greek manuscripts.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Anon, interesting that you posted this anonymously without sharing your identity. Very courageous act of integrity. Your characterization of this passage is incorrect. We receive it as Scripture and are willing to do so under our own name.

Steve said...

That was my comment not “Anon”. Just stating the FACT that the trinitarian interpolation in 1 John 5:7 isn’t found in any early Greek texts. For that reason reputable modern translations do not contain it. We must not “add to” the inspired word of God (Rev. 22:18).

Andrew said...

Great review of facts on this passage. Some detractors of the Bible only show their true colors when it comes to passages like this because they are simply too powerful, so for that reason don't let it get to you when they do.

I am always reminded by this passage in 1 John 5:6-9 just how my faith rests on my trust in God, and I know it's the same for others too. The reason I say this is because the world very clearly comes out against this part of God's word. It reserves the greater part of its bitterness and anger in covert form until the moment that verse 7 or certain other particular passages are quoted. And they've certainly given each other the green light to go no holds barred against it. But I am reminded in this situation all the more about the fact that it's not just this verse, but it is really the whole Bible that I've accepted by faith as being the voice of God. 1 John 5:7 helps me see that so clearly. Recall what Christ said in John 18:37b. "Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice." And as we know from John 8:47, he that is of God hears God's words. That's how I arrived at the Bible in the first place, and I know it's the same for other believers. It's something that I was convinced of and believed in, and still is. Just as I don't need a council of men to tell me what to accept or reject as Scriptures, it's the same as it is here with this word of God. The illusion that it's otherwise breaks down when I can see never more clearly that it is, but all the world meanwhile rages openly saying it isn't, when it comes to this one point. The usual pretenses are gone. I believe it is, just as I believe the whole Bible is inspired by God and I know who it came from. It makes equally as much sense to say I believe the Bible as a whole is inspired because I am fully persuaded by it, as it does for me to say the same of this verse.

I'm honored to be a believer in this passage, this pericope, and in the whole Bible.

On your article, if I may be so privileged as to nominate a few more good passages for proving the Holy Trinity, I would nominate Genesis 1:26, Psalm 33:6, John 14:16-17, 14:26, 15:26 and 16:13-15. These should be self-evident as to why. As for passages in the New Testament epistles similar to 2 Cor. 13:14 which you noticed, we could also add First John 5:10 (the witness is the Spirit of God, see First John 2:27, 5:6) and Titus 3:4-6. Possibly also Colossians 2:2 if you take both conjunctions as additive (as in Galatians 1:1 and Titus 1:4) and not explicative (as in 1 Cor. 15:24 or Rev. 1:6 for example). In addition to what you mentioned, Jeff, I do like all of these for very similar reasons. Thanks again!

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Posting a negative comment under just a first name (withholding a last name and full identity) and not providing access to your profile is the same as staying anonymous.

Regardless your post is still wrong. Please provide me a list of all the papyri (often the earliest Greek evidence) of 1 John chapter 5 that omit v. 7.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for the encouragement and insights. Thanks also for pointing to the other passages that affirm the Trinity. I agree there are many more, but the three I called attention to seem to me to stand out. Interesting that in the Gallic Confession (1559) the three prooftexts listed for the Trinity are Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; and 1 John 5:7.