1 John 5
6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: [the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, (KJV)] the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
On April 19, 2011, The New Yorker published an interview between Lauren Porcaro Dorment and James B. Stewart entitled, “James B. Stewart: How Perjury Affects Society.” It was a fascinating interview with one who has researched the pervasiveness of lying in court and what this means for our society. Here are some interesting excerpts that highlight Stewart’s basic argument.
Perjury is “threatening to become an epidemic,” James B. Stewart, a staff writer at the magazine, writes in his new book, “Tangled Webs,” which appears today. “The broad public commitment to telling the truth under oath has been breaking down.” Drawing on new interviews, full court transcripts, and hundreds of investigative notes that have remained private until now, Stewart meticulously and startlingly reconstructs the cases of Martha Stewart, Scooter Libby, Barry Bonds, and Bernard Madoff—and scrutinizes how lying by each of these figures affects the American justice system, and society as a whole…
What’s the difference between perjury and obstruction of justice?
They’re related, but different. Perjury is lying under oath. Obstruction is broader, anything that hinders law enforcement’s ability to determine the truth, such as destruction of evidence. Martha Stewart’s attempt to erase a critical email message is classic obstruction (she ordered it restored, so she wasn’t charged.) Saying she didn’t remember getting such a message mere days after trying to erase it was a lie, as a jury determined…
You chronicle episodes of arrogance: Martha Stewart furious at receptionists; Barry Bonds’s behavior as a young athlete exhibiting “a mix of defiance and entitlement;” Bernard Madoff describing an S.E.C. investigator as a “total [expletive]” and “an idiot.” Is there a common thread or personality trait among the central figures here that induces them to lie?
Yes. It turns out that some highly successful people, especially celebrities, may be more prone to lie than others. They see themselves as above the law. They are surrounded by sycophants and enablers who reinforce that impression.
Did studying these cases illuminate the distinction between loyalty and friendship?
The major justification for lying I encountered in these stories was loyalty. Stock broker Peter Bacanovic may have lied out of loyalty to Martha Stewart; Scooter Libby may have lied to protect vice present Cheney; trainer Greg Anderson initially lied, then refused to testify to protect Barry Bonds; Frank Di Pascali lied to protect Madoff, who’d hired him as an impressionable teenager, then enlisted him in his Ponzi scheme. Anderson’s fellow inmates gave him a standing ovation when he was released. To me, that pretty much says it all: to elevate loyalty above truth is to submit to the code of the prison yard or the mafia—not civilized society…
Public distrust in government and media veracity seems to be at a particularly high level today—a twenty-four-hour news cycle that no one seems to believe. How does this climate affect high-profile trials, and will it get better or worse?
When people at the top lie—people like those in my book— it filters down throughout society. They’re role models. President Clinton admitted he lied under oath. President Bush commuted the sentence of Libby, a convicted perjurer. The president is the nation’s highest law enforcement officer, not to mention a huge role model. What message does this send? Is it any wonder this is approaching a crisis?
I hope my book is a wake-up call. Our judicial system rests on an honor code: “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Perjury is not acceptable behavior. It has vast, harmful consequences. The law must be enforced, and the guilty tried and punished. We all need to insist upon a basic standard of truth from our elected officials, community leaders, business associates, friends, and families. We must cultivate a commitment to truth among our young people and children. It has to start with us. I hope these stories help.
How fascinating and how very sad: there is an epidemic of perjury, of lying under oath, that threatens to compromise the integrity of our legal system. In short, justice hinges on testimonies and on witnesses that are true and are committed to the truth. At the end of the day this widespread erosion of solid testimony and truthful witnesses leads us to wonder if anybody is telling the truth at all? Is there any testimony that we can trust?
In 1 John 5:6-12, John draws upon these legal concepts of testimony and witness. This text is concerned with the truthfulness of the testimony that the Church had received about Jesus Christ. In this text, John appeals to ancient standard of testimony verification as evidence that what the Church had been told about Jesus was, in fact, true.
The threefold witness of Spirit, water, and blood.
Verses 6-8 are intriguing verses for two reasons. First of all, they contain one of the more notorious problems of textual criticism and secondly they contain the enigmatic idea of the threefold witness of Spirit, water, and blood.
6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: [the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, (KJV)] the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.
Let us deal first with the italicized portions of the middle of verse 7 through the first half of verse 8. I have provided the King James rendering of this disputed section since it is not present in translations like the English Standard Version that depend upon a different family of manuscripts. This italicized portion of text is known as the “Comma Johanneum” or the “Johannine Comma.”
Simply put, these italicized words do not appear in the oldest and best manuscripts of 1 John that we have. They appear to be a scribal insertion or something like it to promote the doctrine of the Trinity. What is unfortunate about this, is that the doctrine of the Trinity in no way hinges on the Johannine Comma. It is also possible that this apparent insertion of words may have been intended to clear up the notoriously enigmatic idea of the threefold witness of “the Spirit and the water and the blood.”
What is clear from the text is that John was appealing to the Jewish concept of testimony and witness being essentially ratified as true if there were two or three witnesses in agreement on the point. You find this, for instance, in Deuteronomy 17.
6 On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.
Likewise, we see this in Deuteronomy 19:15.
15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.
Jesus appealed to this understanding of testimony and witness in John 8.
17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true.
The idea is fairly basic in its logic: the more people who bear witness to an idea the less likely it is that the idea is being lied about. Put another way, a major punishment like the death penalty should not depend upon a single witness but could depend upon the strengthened testimony of two or three witnesses.
John is arguing that the identity and work of Jesus Christ have just such a strengthened testimony backing them. Specifically, John says that there are three witnesses to Jesus: “the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” This is quite fascinating and quite difficult to reach a consensus concerning. What does John mean by the Spirit, the water, and the blood?
A number of ideas have been put forward over the years as to possible meanings. One idea is that the references to water and blood refer to the water and blood that flowed from Jesus’ side when he was pierced by the spear as He hung upon the cross. New Testament scholar Andreas Kostenberger explains.
This most likely alludes to the affirmation in John’s gospel that a flow of “blood and water” emanated from Jesus’ dead body when pierced by the soldier’s spear subsequent to the crucifixion (John 19:34). Apparently, there and here the statement serves to underscore that Jesus died in a fully human body, which was required for him to offer an atoning sacrifice for sin.
David Rensberger notes that some throughout Christian history have seen in the references to water and blood the concepts of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
“Water and blood” is often though to refer to the Christian sacraments of baptism and eucharist, at least in verses 7-8…This is unlikely, since “blood” alone is never used to refer to the eucharist. Yet in a Christian context “water” must surely refer in some way to baptism; given the resemblance to the testimony of John the Baptist in John 1:32-34, the most likely reference is to Jesus’ baptism. The opponents may have held that the divine, spiritual Christ or Son of God descended or began to be revealed (John 1:31) at that moment…Thus, the “water only” had significance for them as a revelation of divine Spirit.
I think Rensberger is correct. The water is likely a reference to the baptism of Jesus but the blood is probably not a reference to the Lord’s Supper. What, then, does the blood mean in this context? It is most possible that it is a reference to the blood of Christ shed on the cross. This is the position put forth in the ESV Study Bible
John indicates that there are in fact “three that testify,” namely, the witness of the Spirit (cf. note on v. 6), the water baptism of Jesus (including the “Spirit descending on him like a dove” and the voice of the Father from heaven; Mark 1:10–11; cf. John 1:32–34), and the blood (which “cleanses us from all unrighteousness”; 1 John 1:7).
Thomas Johnson observes that some see this reference to water as referring to the birth of Jesus, but then rejects it by noting that John’s appeal to these three witnesses has a polemic intent against the false teachers who had left the early congregation of believers. In other words, the historical context of the passage can help guide us to the conclusion.
While water can refer to birth…it is more likely a reference to Jesus’ baptism…One early Christian tradition identifies the opponents of the Elder with Cerinthus and his followers, who believed that “the Christ” came upon Jesus at this baptism but left him before the cross. They denied that the divine Christ could be truly human or suffer. Both the Elder and his secessionist adversaries accepted that the baptism of Jesus, the water, witness to his being “the Son of God” (John 1:34), but the Elder, and emerging orthodox Christianity with him, against the schismatic heretics, also affirmed that the Son of God came by, i.e., was divinely and savingly present through, his suffering and death on the cross, the blood.
I believe this is the right approach. Essentially, we might summarize this as a likely hypothesis: there were people in the early Church who had adopted false views of Jesus. These views seemed to be that Jesus became divine or something like divine when the Spirit came upon Him at His baptism. However, the Spirit of God departed from Jesus just before the crucifixion. Thus, in their minds, the cross is inconsequential. The blood of Christ does not matter and the cross is not our salvation. There were undoubtedly nuances to this and numerous other ideas associated with it, but this appears to be what the false teachers were saying.
Against these heretics John was saying, “On the contrary. There are three witnesses that confirm that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to save us: the baptism of Jesus, the cross of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. You are wrong to discard the truth about Jesus. You are wrong to say that the cross is not the saving work of God. You are wrong to suggest that Jesus was merely a man who took on a godlike status for a period of time. Jesus is God-with-us and the cross is where He redeems us from our sins.”
It is a powerful rebuttal and a powerful statement! Yes, the Spirit of God descending upon Jesus at His baptism does give testimony that Jesus is the Son of God, but the cross gives that testimony as well and must not be jettisoned. The whole life of Christ bears witness to the power of the Spirit of God that rested on and in Jesus, the Son of God, God incarnate, and nowhere is the power of the Spirit more evident than in the resurrection of Jesus.
Thus, Jesus bears the authority of the threefold witness of water, blood, and Spirit.
The weight of divine testimony.
And what is the value of such a divine testimony? According to John, it has the greatest weight that any testimony can possibly have.
9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.
Simply put, John is saying that God does not lie. If there are any circumstances in which we can trust the testimony of fallen humanity as true, certainly it is the case that we can always trust the testimony of God as true! God does not lie! However, as John says, if we do not believe the testimony of God about Jesus, then we are calling God a liar.
What is behind the Church’s claim about Jesus? The character and holiness of God Himself. We believe that when we say, “Jesus is Lord!” we are not offering a mere opinion but rather the claim of God Himself.
To modern ears, this will sound insufferably narrow minded. In our day, the belief that anything is definitively true is seen as imperialistic and arrogant. William F. Buckley, Jr. saw this many years ago. He made the following comments in a speech delivered before his classmates at Yale on June 11, 1950:
Certainly civilization cannot advance without freedom of inquiry. This fact is self-evident. What seems equally self-evident is that in the process of history certain immutable truths have been revealed and discovered and that their value is not subject to the limitations of time and space. The probing, the relentless debunking, has engendered a skepticism that threatens to pervade and atrophy all our values. In apologizing for our beliefs and our traditions we have bent over backwards so far that we have lost our balance…
There is wisdom here. The Church must not allow modernity’s aversion to the idea of truth to erode our confidence in the basic creed of Christianity: Jesus is Lord! This is a settled issue for us and one on which we will not compromise. Certainly this was the conviction of John who felt that the divine testimony backing the claim ended all real debate on the matter.
Put bluntly, we believe Jesus is the Lord because the Father has said He is! This is what fueled the confidence of the early Church and the courage of the martyrs. It is what fuels the Church and the Church’s martyrs to this very day!
The content of the divine testimony.
And what is this testimony?
11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Here are the components of the divine testimony that is backed by the Word of God and that bears the threefold witness of Spirit, water, and blood:
- God gave us eternal life.
- This life is in his Son.
- Whoever has the Son has life.
- Whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
That, John says, is the rock-solid foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the truth. It is settled. It is the confession of the Church, the body and bride of Jesus. It bears the full weight of the authority of God Himself. It is no mere opinion. It is no mere guess. It is not a nice hypothesis.
In a day of rampant uncertainty in which the very notion of truth is questioned, this is the fact upon which we can base our entire lives!
Whoever has the Son has life.
Whoever does not have the Son does not have life.
There is a profoundly counter-cultural bluntness to this, but it is blunt in the way that raw facts tend to be.
“Reality,” Flannery O’Conner once said, “does not depend upon our ability to stomach it.” And for that we must be thankful. For if reality hinged upon the emotional and psychological proclivities of this or that age then truth itself would become fluid and subject to the fickle whims and caprices of the mob.
In reality, however, we do not get to determine the truth. Outside of the gracious revelation of God, we do not even know the truth. For some it will actually require courage to dare to believe that we can know the truth and that the truth is situated with laser-like precision on the person and work of Jesus Christ. In a world of fog, He is clarity itself. In a world of perpetual question marks, He is an exclamation point! In a world of uncertainty, He is the way, the truth, and the life.
This is the truth with no mixture of error: Jesus is Lord!
 Andreas J. Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), p.270.
 David Rensberger, 1,2 &3 John. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1997), p.132.
 Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 154412-154415). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.
 Thomas F. Johnson, 1,2,&3 John. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993) https://books.google.com/books?id=ZEMa7AMLO0cC&pg=PT87&dq=water+spirit+blood+1+John&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiMwJyc4qTQAhVExGMKHXvbA9U4ChDoAQgsMAM#v=onepage&q=water%20spirit%20blood%201%20John&f=false
 William F. Buckley, Jr. Let Us Talk of Many Things. (Roseville, CA: Forum, 2000), 5.