Written by Paul J. Bucknell on June, 24, 2019
1 John 5:7-8: “The Spirit and the water and the blood”
7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. (1 John 5:7-8, NASB)
Public witness and scripture confirm Jesus as Lord and the Christ, the Anointed One of God the Jews were anticipating to come and save them. Jesus the Christ has come and fulfilled the Scriptures. Creeds are good, but they can be corrupt if built on false premises. These creeds and teaching must address the current issues. John’s audience faced a particular issue with a false cult that had sprung up around them and so targeted his teaching to affirm that this incipient form of Gnosticism that denied God’s Son, the Christ, to have a body. The Gnostics (there were two main forms) typically assert that the Christ came upon and departed from Jesus the person. Their Greek philosophy intruded on the facts, presuming the perfect could not have a body, something like some forms of Hinduism which assert the body as evil.
John, in verses 6-12, proves that the Messiah Christ did not come upon and occupy a man named Jesus but became a human. It is interesting John does not affirm this truth through the incarnation (i.e., the Christmas story) which also affirms Christ taking upon a body, but gives evidence through Jesus’ baptism (water) and death (blood). Perhaps, John took this defensive strategy as Jesus’ baptism and execution happened in public, affirming the reliability of the testimony. John records how God gave public proof that the person whom He (God) anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism was also His Son who died on the cross. John asserts it is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, who came by water and the blood.
The “water” refers to Jesus’ baptism when the Spirit of God came upon Him and testified by the Holy Spirit coming down upon Him:
21 Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)
The people saw God’s anointing from heaven. Christ literally means anointed One so the Spirit, in the form of the dove coming down, is crucial. God affirmed that Jesus was both human and divine with words from heaven proclaiming Him to be the Son of God. (The Son of God is also a very rich term from the Old Testament that we will not here discuss.)
Jesus’ death also serves as a crucial testimony that He the Messiah had a body because He had real blood that spilled out. The Messiah’s death affirms many Old Testament prophetic passages such as Isaiah 53, but He also established the New Covenant through His blood. All this proves that the Messiah died. Jesus blood is only effective if a perfect man died for sinful man. If Jesus was some good Jew, he would still need to die for his own sin, being in Adam’s descendant, but Christ Jesus died (being of special origin through the Spirit and Mary), suffering for mankind that those who believe might find life in His sacrifice for us. Some of those cult members asserted that the Christ left Jesus before he died, leaving Jesus alone to die. Pilate asks, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ” (Mat 27:17)? By dying, it is evident that this same person that God declared to be the Son of God died on the cross. It was not a different person but the same one, Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, in full integrity and identity.
Though John’s words seem a bit esoteric, we find that they focused on defining truths about Jesus as the Christ. God stated it at Jesus’ baptism; people saw His anointing and heard God’s Word affirming Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus’s death was clearly affirmed through Psalm 2 at the interrogation of kings. “And the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed” (Psalm 2:2).
The cult had a false presumption that God could or would not dare take on humanness as they believed the body was sinful and inferior, but John uses public testimony to affirm that Jesus was indeed the Christ, thus affirming the substitutional atonement of Christ death was effective. Below the surface, John was defending the basis of our salvation. If Jesus was not the Christ, then the blood shed would not be effective in creating the New Covenant upon which we are saved. It was for this reason, therefore, that God sent His Son to die for us. But to die, the Word had to take on human form (John 1:12).
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of [l]the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7-8)
Some who suggest that these two verses, namely an expanded version of 1 John 5:7-8, were not part of the original First John letter that John wrote but was later adopted. I have above provided an explanation of the commonly accepted passage and decline, at least at this point, to enter this debate. You can find both sides representing their positions. This passage, as we quoted and commented on, is not debated, since this part is original and not debated. Again, it is the expanded version’s reliability that is doubted, those extra words that describe heaven’s testimony in contrast to earth’s testimony and introduce the trinity. Only that part is questioned by many, often making reference to them only in a footnote.
The commonly accepted (ESV, NASB):
7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.
The expanded (KJ21):
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 on earth: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.
I have included some references in our websites that further describe how one evaluates the original manuscripts as being genuine. This study can get a bit deep.
I focus later in the article on “Lower Criticism,” the discussion on determining the correct original biblical manuscripts.
The discussion of original texts and footnotes is also brought up here.