This post continues a study of the letters of St John, most of which are omitted from the three-year Lectionary.

As such, they are perfect additions to my continuing series, Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to our understanding of Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the King James Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and the Revd P G Mathew of Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California, whose sermons I used for my Holy Week posts in 2011. Mr Mathew earned his theological degrees at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia).

1 John 5:7-13

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

 8And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

 9If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.

 10He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.

 11And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

 12He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.

 13These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

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This passage, unusually, mentions the Holy Trinity (verse 7) — ‘these three are one’ — a rare occurrence in the Bible. Some weeks ago I read a Protestant site where the discussion concerned the Hypostatic Union, this divine mystery of one God in three persons. The participants said that it was difficult to evangelise about the Trinity when there was practically no scriptural support. Well, here we have it.

John, the apostle of love, shows more of his former Boanerges — ‘son of thunder’ — personality in this passage, which is direct and hard-hitting.

In ‘Why Must We Study the Holy Scriptures?’ the Revd P G Mathew explains the background to and intensity of John’s letters (emphases mine):

At the same time that John was writing his epistle, the Gnostic heretics were going about and saying, in effect, “John doesn’t know anything, but we do. We know that salvation has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. Rather, it is based on the esoteric knowledge we have.” (This type of knowledge is called “hollow philosophy” by Paul in his letter to the Colossians.) The Gnostics would say, “Yes, we know that John is speaking about Jesus Christ, saying that he is God/man, one divine Person in two natures, and that he died, making propitiation for sinners, and all those things. John teaches that Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work and take away sin. But we know that salvation has nothing to do with Jesus Christ.”

Because of these teachings, the people in the church of Ephesus were thrown into certain confusion. After all, the Gnostics were educated peoplesmart people who functioned as prophets and teachers. How could they be wrong?

John wrote this epistle to help his people so that they could stand on what he had written …

And in ‘Who Makes God a Liar?’:

The apostle John was in charge of the Ephesian church towards the end of the first century. Peter, Paul, and James had been murdered for their faith. Emperor worship and heresies like Gnosticism were spreading throughout Asia Minor. A number of leading members of the Ephesian church rejected the apostolic teaching and tried to corrupt the rest of the church, albeit without success, and eventually had to leave the church. These false people were weeds, false Christians, even though they had been baptized under apostolic oversight ...

Even the Ephesian church, pastored by the apostle John himself, was not a pure church. Though false people had confessed true doctrine initially, later they rejected the central doctrines of Christianity regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ.

According to these heretics called Gnostics, Jesus was the son of Mary and Joseph just like any other son born of human parents. They believed that at his baptism in Jordan, the divine Christ temporarily descended on him, but that this divine being left him before his crucifixion. They therefore rejected the truth that Jesus was the divine person who took upon himself human nature, that Jesus Christ was God/man, one person with two natures. They rejected the truth that this divine human Jesus was born, lived, died, rose again, ascended into the heavens and is seated still as God/man on the right hand of the Father as Lord of all. He ever lives as God/man, but these people rejected that doctrine. Jesus Christ continues to be Jesus Christ, one person in two natures, forever, and the church worked for five centuries to come up with this doctrine and deal with the heresies such as the one that plagued the Ephesian church.

Unfortunately, esoterics and intellectuals are not the only Gnostics. They are also in the Church.  The Revd Gregory Jackson, a retired Lutheran pastor, wrote about this in a recent post of his, lamenting that today’s clergy often disregard Old Testament prophecies about Christ in the same way the Jewish leaders did:

Jesus Himself is the example, washing His disciples’ feet and becoming the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. Those passages were so alien to the popular understanding of the Messiah that the Jewish people did not see the Suffering Servant passages as Messianic. Liberals today always reject that, too.

I once received some Sunday School materials from the LCA which went out of their way to say the Suffering Servant was not Christ. I mailed them back … They said, “That one has been coming back in droves.”

Other denominations, particularly the Anglican Communion, also have their rogue clergymen who deny divine mysteries such as the Trinity, perfectly content to allow Muslims to say that we believe in three gods! These clergy cannot be bothered because it is not as much a priority for them as it is to redress social and financial imbalances, notionally as ‘Christ would have done’. Yet, the whole of the New Testament points to Christ and salvation, not to worldly socio-political solutions.

Note that in verse 7, John is careful to state God the Father, God the Son [‘the Word’, Jesus] and the Holy Spirit are three in one — ‘in heaven’.

In verse 8, John discusses the witness borne on the earth — the Spirit, the water and the blood. What does that mean?

In his sermon ‘Who Makes God a Liar?’ Mathew explains that this is one of the most complex passages in Scripture. That said:

In the Old Testament, the Messiah was called ho erchomenos, the one who comes; here in the Greek text he is called ho elthôn, one who came.

John is speaking about the Messiah who came. In other words, he is speaking about the incarnation of the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ. John says he came through water and blood. This is a difficult phrase, but we can look upon these references to water and blood and learn from Tertullian, one of the church fathers, who said, “Water stands for the baptism of Jesus, and blood stands for the death of Jesus—the two termini of the ministry life of Jesus Christ.” So the emphasis here is that the eternal Son took upon himself human nature. Jesus Christ did not come by water only but by water and blood, meaning he was baptized and he died.

Verse 6, included in the Lectionary, says:

6This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.

Matthew Henry offers a lengthy analysis involving various Greek translations of this passage which will interest those in theology as well as evangelists. For our purposes, Henry writes that we should examine verses 6, 7 and 8 together in context:

In the witness that attends him, and that is, the divine Spirit, that Spirit to whom the perfecting of the works of God is usually attributed: And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, v. 6. It was meet that the commissioned Saviour of the world should have a constant agent to support his work, and testify of him to the world. It was meet that a divine power should attend him, his gospel, and servants; and notify to the world upon what errand and office they came, and by what authority they were sent: this was done in and by the Spirit of God, according to the Saviour’s own prediction, “He shall glorify me, even when I shall be rejected and crucified by men, for he shall receive or take of mine. He shall not receive my immediate office; he shall not die and rise again for you; but he shall receive of mine, shall proceed on the foundation I have laid, shall take up my institution, and truth, and cause, and shall further show it unto you, and by you to the world,” Jn. 16:14. And then the apostle adds the commendation or the acceptableness of this witness: Because the Spirit is truth, v. 6. He is the Spirit of God, and cannot lie

If we admit v. 8, in the room of v. 7, it looks too like a tautology and repetition of what was included in v. 6, This is he that came by water and blood, not by water only, but by water and blood; and it is the Spirit that beareth witness. For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, the water, and the blood …

As only this apostle records the history of the water and blood flowing out of the Saviour’s side, so it is he only, or he principally, who registers to us the Saviour’s promise and prediction of the Holy spirit’s coming to glorify him, and to testify of him, and to convince the world of its own unbelief and of his righteousness, as in his gospel, ch. 14:16, 17, 26; 15:26; 16:7-15. It is most suitable then to the diction and to the gospel of this apostle thus to mention the Holy Ghost as a witness for Jesus Christ.

In verse 9, John segues from truths about the Holy Trinity and Christ to the false teachers — the ‘antichrists’ — of 1 John 2:18-29 and 1 John 4:1-6. John counsels his faithful that no matter what men might teach, the word of God is always the message to focus on and believe. God foretold us — witnessed — of His Son.

Henry wraps verses 6 through 9 together:

The antitrinitarian opposers of the text will deny that either the Spirit, or the water, or the blood, is God himself; but, upon our present reading, here is a noble enumeration of the several witnesses and testimonies supporting the truth of the Lord Jesus and the divinity of his institution. Here is the most excellent abridgment or breviate of the motives to faith in Christ, of the credentials the Saviour brings with him, and of the evidences of our Christianity, that is to be found, I think, in the book of God … the text is worthy of all acceptation.

In the first part of verse 10, John returns to a familiar theme distinguishing the faithful: the spirit of God present within them because of their faith. We read about this in the last part of 1 John 4.

Mathew states:

God’s Holy Spirit testifies within us also that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior.

John then goes further in the same verse, stating boldly that whoever denies God in effect makes Him a liar because that person does not believe what God has foretold of His Son. It’s a powerful verse. As such, Henry says we should not be surprised that He condemns unbelievers for eternity:

No wonder if the rejector of all this evidence he judged as a blasphemer of the Spirit of God, and be left to perish without remedy in his sins.

John explored the heinous sin of unbelief in his Gospel: John 8:21-30, John 8:48-59, John 9:39-41, John 10:37-42 and John 12:39-41 — when Jesus finally turns his back on the unbelieving Jews.

In verses 11 and 12, John states the Christian truth: ‘this is the record’. God guarantees us eternal life through our belief in His Son Jesus Christ. Those who believe in Christ have eternal life now and forever. Those who do not believe in Him lack eternal life.

Mathew says:

In other words, salvation is not found in any other religion or in any other person. That is why we are to proclaim the gospel. That is the reason for missions. We are to go into all the world, because salvation cannot be found in any other religion, in any other person, but in the person of Jesus Christ.

Some may say, ‘Well, that’s fine for the future, but we have troubles in this life right now’, to which Mathew replies:

In 1 John 5:1-5 we learned that true Christians are overcomers. Instead of being the most miserable, depressed, and confused people on the face of the earth, they are bold and confident, victorious and triumphant. They are triumphant because of four things: their new birth, their new faith, their new power, and their new obedience. It is true in the world we have troubles, but Jesus says, “Take courage, because I have overcome the world.” His triumph is our triumph, and we live in triumph daily because we are in him daily.

Faith helps us overcome our temporal trials and look forward to a greater future. Faith steers us away from chronic sin and worry. I personally know people who say that faith in God — they never mention Christ, even further away in their minds — is juvenile and unsophisticated.

In response to such people, Jackson points out:

A child-like faith means grasping the truths of Scripture as the mysteries of God …  

The Gospel of John is the easiest to read with the simplest vocabulary, but it is also the Evangel with the deepest message.

A child-like faith means letting people make fun us for believing what the Bible says, mocking us for not having an adult understanding of everything.

The modern theologians and philosophers like to be adults. They are up to date with the latest thoughts, but they still use the old words when convenient. They just turn them around, to sanitize them and make them nonembarrassing. So these things are hidden from the wise but revealed to children.

In verse 13, John exhorts his faithful to have the assurance of salvation — ‘know that ye have eternal life’ — and the certainty to believe without a doubt in the truth of Jesus Christ.

This message was as important to the Ephesians in the 1st century as it is to us in the 21st.

Next week: 1 John 5:14-21