Bibliotheca Sacra 147 (1990) 216-230.
Copyright © 1990 by
An Expositional Study of 1 John
Part 9 (of 10 parts):
An Exposition of 1 John 5:1-12
Professor Emeritus of New Testament
Mennonite Brethren Biblical
Beginning with 1 John 4:7 John launched into a discussion of the
centrality of love in the Christian life as a ground for Christian as-
surance. In 4:7-16a he dealt with the nature of redeeming love, and
in 4:16b-21 he presented the results of this love in human experience.
The first five verses of chapter 5 are related to the concluding verses
of chapter 4, for they draw out the relationship between true love for
God and love for God's children. The presence and power of redeem-
ing love assure the believer of his saving relationship with God.
Redeeming Love in the Believer's Relationship to God
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and whoever
loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we
love the children of God, when we love God and observe His com-
mandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His command-
ments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is
born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has over-
come the world—our faith. And who is the one who overcomes the
world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:1-5).
In these verses John showed that the varied relationships of
love are all related to God in the Christian life. He stated the rela-
tionship between saving faith and the experience of love (v. 1), he
noted that love is revealed in obedience to God's commandments (vv.
2-3), and he portrayed the power of saving faith in a life of victory
over the world (vv. 4-5).
An Exposition of 1 John 5:1-12 217
THE REVELATION OF LOVE IN SAVING FAITH (v. 1)
John's assertion, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is
born of God," declares the content and result of Christian faith. The
designation, "Whoever believes" (pa?j o[ pisteu<wn, literally, "ev-
eryone believing"), is personal but includes every individual thus
characterized; it stresses the universal scope of the fact presented.
The present participle denotes that the individual exercises a per-
sistent, continuous faith. The verb, a favorite term with John,1 means
more than intellectual apprehension of a truth or assent to a creed; it
involves an active personal committal to the truth believed. Smal-
ley notes that "such (orthodox) faith is virtually synonymous with
the 'confession' or 'acknowledgment' demanded of the true believer
according to 2:22-23; 4:2, 15."2 It is a faith that intellectually ac-
cepts and actively commits itself to the fact "that Jesus is the
Christ" (o!ti ]Ishou?j e]stin o[ Xristo>j). The name "Jesus" involves
acknowledgment of His true humanity, a fact denied by Docetic
Gnosticism, while "the Christ" refers to Him as "the anointed One,"
the Messiah whose coming was announced in the Old Testament.
Repeatedly John had said that "Jesus" is indeed "the Son of
God" (1:7; 3:8, 23; 4:9, 15). The present tense "is" declares that His
incarnate identity is a continuing, unchanging reality. Acceptance of
Jesus as "the Christ" involves acceptance of all His functions as the
incarnate Christ. It is a faith that accepts the redemptive message
of the Old and New Testaments. John stressed that salvation is not
merely for an elite few believers but is for all who will personally
accept the apostolic message "that Jesus is the Christ." Everyone
who commits himself to this Savior "is born of God" (e]k tou? qeou?
gege<nnhtai, literally, "out of God has been born") The emphatic
"out of God" stresses the source of the believer's birth; the perfect
tense looks back to when God implanted new life in the believer and
portrays his continuing possession of that new life as a member of
God's family. John declared the reality of the believer's new birth,
but, as Westcott observes, "nothing is said of the relation between
the human and the Divine—the faith of man, and 'the seed of God'
(iii. 9)—in the first quickening of life."3
1 The verb "believe" in its varied forms occurs 98 times in the Fourth Gospel; it has
already been used three times before (3:23; 4:1, 16) in 1 John and occurs five times in
5:1-10. The noun "faith" (pi<stij) occurs only in 5:4 in John's epistles, and does not occur
in the Fourth Gospel.
2 Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 51 (
Word Books, Publisher, 1984), p. 266.
Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistles of St John, 3d ed. (1892; reprint,
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1950), pp. 176-77.
218 Bibliotheca Sacra / April–June 1990
John's connective "and" (kai>) inseparably joins this saving faith
with a loving relationship to the Father and His children: "and
whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him." The use of
"whoever" (pa?j o[) again makes this assertion personal but inclusive
of all those so characterized, while the articular participle ren-
dered "loves" (o[ a]gapw?n) pictures the individual as marked by a
continuing love for "the Father" (to>n gennh<santa), the One who as a
definite act begat him and so made him His child.
Since the Father is characterized as a God of love, the child
born of Him is also marked by an attitude of love. His love for the
Father naturally means that he is to "love the child born of Him"
(a]gap%? to>n gegennhme<non e]c au]tou?, "loves the one having been be-
gotten of Him"). John's use of the singular throughout the verse indi-
cates that this God-prompted love operates on an individual basis,
not merely in a group relationship. Each member of the family of
God is born not only to love but also to be loved. This family love is
the outward manifestation that new life has been imparted. "This
love," Hodges remarks, "does not spring from something loveable in
the person himself, but from his paternity."4 It does not necessarily
express itself as a warm emotional reaction toward the one loved, nor
does it always run with the natural inclinations of one's individual
nature, but it does seek the true welfare of the one loved. It reveals
itself in its beneficence toward others.
THE REVELATION OF LOVE IN OBEDIENCE TO GOD (vv. 2-3)
In verse 2 John insisted that true love operates in two directions:
"By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love
God and observe His commandments." In 4:20-21 he insisted that true
love for God also involves love of one's brother in Christ. Now John
stressed the converse truth; every instance of love and obedience to
God is assurance that one loves His children. Unfortunately at times
the tense relations between believers raise the question whether
they truly love each other. John now pointed out reassuring evidence
that true believers do "love the children of God." Because of the
very nature of Christian love, believers have evidence of love for
God's children "when we love God and observe His commandments."
The temporal particle "when" (o!tan, better, "whenever") points to
the repeated occasions when they are aware that they do indeed
"love God and observe His commandments" (to>n qeo>n a]gapw?men kai>
ta>j e]ntala>j au]tou? poiw?men) . These two present tense verbs5 are
4 Zane C. Hodges, "1 John," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament,
ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983), p. 901.
5 The use of the subjunctive mode with the indefinite temporal particle indicates
An Exposition of 1 John 5:1-12 219
contemporaneous with the preceding verb "we know" (ginw<skomen);
the conscious experiences of a person's love for God offer assurance
that he does love His children. A Christian in fellowship with the
Father naturally loves His children. As Plummer remarks, "Love to
God and love to the brethren confirm and prove each other. If either
is found alone it is not genuine. Fellowship with God and fellowship
one with another (i. 3, 7) necessarily exist together."6
The nature of love for God is given a double statement: it consists
in love for Him and obedience to His commandments. A Christian
shows his love for God in each conscious effort to do His known will.
The plural "His commandments" suggests that God has given various
statements of His will for His people which relate to various aspects
of Christian living. The present tense verb "observe" (poiw?men) de-
notes the repeated occasions when they deliberately act to do God's
will. Elsewhere in this epistle John used the verb "keep" (thre<w) in
connection with "the commandments" (2:3, 4; 3:22, 24; 5:3), suggesting
the exercise of diligent care to carry out what God enjoined. The
Greek manuscripts are divided in their use of the verb here.7
The opening "For" (ga<r) of verse 3 introduces a further comment
on the last clause of verse 2: "For this is the love of God, that we keep
His commandments." "This" (au!th) looks forward to the following
"that" clause, which gives a pithy definition of "the love of God" (h[
a]ga<ph tou? qeou?). The definite article "the" "indicates that John
has in mind the particular selfless love that has been under discus-
sion throughout the epistle."8 The genitive "of God" is clearly objec-
tive, denoting one's love for God as revealed in the fact "that we
keep His commandments" (i!na ta>j e]ntola>j au]tou? thrw?men9). As
Stott remarks, "Love for God is not an emotional experience so much
as moral obedience."10
The added words, "and His commandments are not burdensome,"
explain the impact of these commandments in the experience of the
that the time of these experiences is indefinite; they do not occur according to a prear-
ranged time schedule.
6 A. Plummer, The Epistles of S. John,
7 For the textual evidence see United Bible Societies, The Greek New Testament, 3d
ed. (New York: American Bible Society, 1975). On a scale of A to D the editors rate
the reading (poiw?men) as C. It is probable that this unusual term was changed in some
manuscripts to harmonize with John's usage elsewhere in the epistle.
8 Donald W. Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle: An In-Depth Commentary
(Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), p. 345.
9 The subjunctive mode of the verb is due to the i!na construction.
10 John R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), p. 173.
220 Bibliotheca Sacra / April–June 1990
believer. Love-prompted obedience is not a crushing burden that ex-
hausts the believer's strength and destroys his sense of freedom in
Christ. He finds that the new life in Christ makes obedience possible
and has implanted in him a desire to do the will of God; for he real-
izes that God has given His laws for the believer's own protection
and highest welfare. He finds in them guidance concerning "what the
will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom.
12:2). For him "the statutes again become songs, and the command-
ments prove to be the stepping-stones to freedom."11 As Dodd points
out, John "does not mean that God's demands upon us are less exacting
than we supposed, but that they are accompanied by the assurance of
power to fulfil them."12 God's commandments become burdensome
whenever a Christian desires to do something inconsistent with His
directives; when a believer attempts to carry out his own will, God's
commandments seem cruel and restrictive and fellowship with God is
broken. Then he finds that he must come back to a loving obedience.
THE REVELATION OF LOVE IN OVERCOMING FAITH (vv. 4-5)
That God's commandments are not burdensome is because of the
faith-inspired victory that the new birth brings into one's life: "For
whatever is born of God overcomes the world." The neuter
"whatever" (pa?n to>) presents the victory impersonally, stressing not
"the victorious person" but rather "the victorious power."13 And the
perfect passive articular participle (to> gegennhme<non), "that which
has been begotten") presents this power as the abiding result of the
new birth. The passive turns the attention from the believer himself
to the God who wrought the new birth in him. This God-implanted
power is the true dynamic that "overcomes the world" (nik%? to>n
ko<smon). The present tense verb presents this victory as a continuing
experience gained through continuing struggle against "the world."
The term "gathers up the sum of all the limited, transitory powers
opposed to God which make obedience difficult"14 for the believer.
The new birth enables him to recognize the evil nature of the world
and "all that is in the world" (2:16) and to reject its allurements. In-
cluded in this victory was the successful struggle of the believers
against the heretics that had arisen in their midst (2:18-29).
11 R. E. O. White, Open Letter to Evangelicals: A Devotional and Homiletic Com-
mentary on the First Epistle of John (
1964), p. 126.
12 C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, The Moffatt New Testament Commentary
(New York: Harper & Row, 1946), p. 126.
13 Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 157 (italics his).
14 Westcott, The Epistles of
An Exposition of 1 John 5:1-12 221
John identified this victorious power: "and this is the victory
that has overcome the world—our faith" (5:4b). The demonstrative
pronoun "this" (au!th) looks forward to the appositional designation
"our faith," placed emphatically at the end of the statement. The
noun "the victory" (h[ ni<kh) occurs only here in the New Testament,
but the term was common in the contemporary Greek world. John's
expression, "the victory that has overcome" (h[ ni<kh h[ nikh<sasa,
literally, "the victory, the one which overcame") indicates that
this victory has the character of a specific, decisive conquest. The
articular aorist participle, appositionally describing "the victory,"
points to some specific victory gained in the past.
The nature of this victory has been differently understood. Some
take it as a reference to Christ's once-for-all victory over Satan (John
12:31-32; 14:30) and the world (16:33) through His work on the cross.
Then the believer's victory is gained by appropriating the victory
already won by Christ. Thus
sus has been victorious is to have the power that enables us also to
win the battle, for we know that our foe is already defeated and
therefore powerless."15 Others insist that the victory in view here
is not Christ's victory but the believer's victory, since John described
it as "our faith" (h[ pi<stij h[mw?n).16 If "our" refers to believers, the
victory in view would be gained over the heretics, causing them to
withdraw (1 John 2:18-19). More natural is a reference to the conver-
sion of the individual believer, his confession of faith in Jesus as the
Son of God being seen as "part of the assault which inflicts defeat on
the world."17 Clearly the picture is of the believer exercising ag-
gressive, personal faith in overcoming the world. But since John at
once pointed out that the one who thus overcomes the world has
placed his faith in "Jesus" as "the Son of God" (5:5), he made it clear
that the believer's victorious faith derives its true power from his
union with the victorious Christ. Each victory gained by the be-
liever over his old self, the world, and Satan is realized through an
appropriation of the power of Christ.
In verse 5 John's question turns from the principle of victory to
the victorious individual: "And who is the one who overcomes the
world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" The inter-
rogative "who" (ti<j) asks for the personal identification of the one
the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), p. 229.
16 So Burdick, The Epistles of John the Apostle, pp. 346-47; Kenneth Grayston, The
Johannine Epistles, The New Century Bible
Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), p. 134.
17 Grayston, The Johannine Epistles, p. 134.
222 Bibliotheca Sacra / April–June 1990
characterized as overcoming the world. Instead of leaving it as an
independent question (as in the NIV rendering), John continued with a
suggested answer: "but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?"
(ei] mh> o[ pisteu<wn o!ti ]Ihsou?j e]stin o[ ui[o>j tou? qeou?, more liter-
ally, "if not the one believing that Jesus is the Son of God"). The im-
plication is that if the one so described is not victorious over the
world, then no one is. John closely combined the victory of the be-
liever with what he believes. No one who denies the apostolic
teaching that "Jesus is the Son of God" can claim true victory over
the world, which is characterized by its rejection of the Son'of God
(John 1:10-11). To deny that Jesus is the Son of God is to deny the fact
of the Incarnation. This article of faith underlies all the other parts
of the Christian message; to destroy this truth is to destroy the
whole gospel and effectively to nullify God's provision for victory
over sin and the world. Acceptance of the apostolic message that
"Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God" (20:31) gives the believer per-
sonal assurance and sure victory in his conflict with the forces of evil.
Assurance from the Witness of the Spirit
This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the
water only, but with the water and with the blood. And it is the Spirit
who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three
that bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three
are in agreement. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God
is greater; for the witness of God is this, that He has borne witness con-
cerning His Son. The one who believes in the Son of God has the wit-
ness in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar,
because he has not believed in the witness that God has borne con-
cerning His Son. And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal
life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who
does not have the Son of God does not have the life (1 John 5:6-12).
In verses 6-12 John spoke of another basis for Christian assur-
ance, namely, the witness of the Holy Spirit. In this section the con-
trolling factor is the term "witness," which in its varied forms as a
noun or verb occurs nine times in these verses. Faith in Jesus Christ is
based on valid testimony. In verses 6-9 John pointed to the historical
witnesses to Jesus Christ, and in verses 10-12 he dealt with the hu-
man responses to the divine witness and their divergent results.
THE HISTORICAL WITNESSES TO JESUS CHRIST (vv. 6-9)
John called attention to two historical facts that bear witness to
Christ (v. 6), he indicated that the Spirit, as a witness, is the truth
(v. 7), he declared the agreement of these witnesses to Christ (v. 8),
and he insisted on the trustworthiness of the divine witness (v. 9).
The historical facts connected with Christ's coming (v. 6). Con-
An Exposition of 1 John 5:1-12 223
cerning "Jesus . . . the Son of God" (v. 5), John now asserted, "This is
the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ." The demonstra-
tive pronoun "this" (ou$to<j) refers back to the designation "Jesus .. .
the Son of God" in verse 5, while the appositional identification,
"Jesus Christ" (v. 6), establishes His historical identity as Jesus of
came" (o[ e]lqw>n) suggests the familiar messianic title "the coming
One" (o[ e]rxo<menoj). The aorist participle portrays His coming as a
past historical reality; this assures that the words "by water and
blood" (di ] u!datoj kai> ai@matoj) also point to historical realities.
The coming in view here is not His condescension to the earth but is
His public appearing as the promised Messiah. The terms "water
and blood" serve somehow to depict His messianic office. The usage
of the terms is obscure to the modern reader, but obviously their in-
tended significance was familiar to John's readers, and apparently
had arisen out of the theological controversy with the heretical
teachers (2:18-19). Varied interpretations have been advanced.
The oldest and most natural view understands "water" as a ref-
erence to Christ's baptism with the attendant witnesses to His iden-
tity at the commencement of His public ministry, and "blood" to the
termination of His ministry on the cross. The two terms serve to sum
up Christ's work of redemption. As Plummer notes,
Christ's Baptism, with the Divine proclamation of Him as Son of God
and the Divine outpouring of the Spirit upon Him, is not merely the
opening but the explanation of the whole of His Ministry. The bloody
death upon the Cross is not merely the close but the explanation of His
A second view, adopted by Augustine (354-430)19 and some other
early interpreters, linked the "water and blood" with the "blood
and water" that issued from His spear-pierced side on the cross (John
19:34-35). Though it has received some modern support,20 this view
is scarcely tenable. The reverse order of the two terms is against it.
The point of the two references is very different: here the terms are
used to support the reality of the historical ministry of the incarnate
Son of God; in John's account of the crucifixion the mention of "blood
and water" serves to establish the reality of His physical death.
Nor does this view explain John's added words, "not with the water
only, but with the water and with the blood."
18 Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 158.
19 The dates are those given in J. D. Douglas, ed., The New International Dictionary
of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974), p. 86.
20 So W. Alexander, "The First Epistle General of John," in The Speaker's Commen-
tary, New Testament (London: John Murray, 1881), 4:341-42, 348-50; F. W. Farrar, The
Early Days of Christianity (
224 Bibliotheca Sacra / April—June 1990
A third view, going back to the time of the Reformers, sees in
the two terms a reference to Christian baptism (water) and the
Lord's Supper (blood). This view encounters the problem of the aorist
tense of the term rendered "came" as denoting a past historical
event, while Christian baptism and the Lord's Supper are recurring
observances that relate to the ongoing life of the church. Further,
the simple word "blood" is a strange and unprecedented symbol for
the Lord's Supper.
The view that "water and blood" are shorthand references to
the inauguration and consummation of the public ministry of the in-
carnate Christ is in accord with John's added assertion, "not with
the water only, but with the water and with the blood" (v. 6b). John
insisted that the realities denoted by "water and blood" cannot be
separated in dealing with the coming and work of Jesus Christ.
Clearly John was countering the heretical views of the false teach-
ers. His refusal to separate the two realities of Christ's baptism and
crucifixion may well be a denial of two kinds of incipient Gnosticism.
Docetic Gnosticism denied that Jesus Christ really had a human
body; He only appeared to be a real man. This was a blatant denial
of the reality of the Incarnation; since He did not have a real body,
He could not be viewed as having experienced the physical suffer-
ings of the crucifixion. It was also a denial of the heretical views of
Cerenthus, a late contemporary of the Apostle John
Cerenthus separated the man Jesus from the spiritual Christ. He re-
garded Jesus as a mere man, the son of Joseph and Mary; he taught
that the divine Christ came on the man Jesus at His baptism, em-
powered His ministry, but left Him before His crucifixion. The man
Jesus suffered and rose again, but the divine Christ remained impas-
sible. John denied all such attempts to sever the divine-human na-
ture of the incarnate Christ, Jesus the Son of God.
John's change in the preposition used in the two parts of verse 6
has evoked considerable discussion. He first spoke of Christ coming
[di ]] water and blood" and then as coming "not with [e]n] the
ter only, but with [e]n] the water and with [e]n] the blood." (The use of
the definite articles in the second part simply points back to the
"water and blood" just mentioned). Some interpreters hold that both
prepositions here have the force of "by" or "through" and that the
change is simply "for the sake of literary variety."22 Others, like
Lenski, hold that some change in the picture is present.
The mission on which God sent his Son and in which he came as "Savior
of the world" (4:14) made him use these two means (dia<), water and
21 Irenaeus Heresies 3. 3. 4.
22 Burdick, The Epistles of John the Apostle, pp. 367-68.
An Exposition of 1 John 5:1-12 225
blood; when he came, it was not "in connection with" water alone (as the
heretics claimed) but "in connection with the water and in connection
with the blood." ... The dia< states what the connection indicated by e]n
was: it was the connection of means.23
Plummer noted that this use of "with," literally "in," denoting the
element or sphere in which a thing is done may be due to the Septu-
agint rendering in Leviticus 16:3: "Thus Aaron shall enter into the
holy place in a calf of the herd" (e]n ma<sx& e]k bow?n), that is, "with
a calf."24 Whatever distinctions may be intended by the two prepo-
sitions, both refer to the same historical events.
The witness of the Spirit (v. 7).25 Beside the two historical
events that bear witness to Jesus as Messiah, John further pointed to
the witness of the Holy Spirit:26 "And it is the Spirit who bears
witness" (kai> to> pneu?ma< e]stin to> marturou?n, "and the Spirit is the
One bearing witness"). The Spirit is now described by His activity
as the Witness-bearer. The present tense participle27 indicates that
"His testimony is given now and uninterruptedly."28 Without His
testimony the true significance of the "water and blood" remain unin-
telligible to the natural human heart. In verse 6 the aorist tense
marked that Jesus Christ came once for all to carry out His redemp-
tive mission; but the Spirit is ever at work interpreting and applying
the significance of Christ's mission to human hearts. The Book of
Acts is essentially a record of the witness of the Spirit through God's
people and the Scriptures. He still continues to bear witness "in the
believer's heart and in the believing community; their experience of
His power and guidance confirms the truth of the gospel to which
they have committed themselves."29
23 R. C.
H. Lenski, The Interpretation of
the Epistles of St. Peter,
Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), pp. 525-26. See also
Epistles of John, p. 232, n. 6.
24 Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 159.
25 When the English Revised Version (1881) dropped the spurious passage concerning
the three heavenly witnesses, the verse numbering was moved back to give a more
balanced verse division. This numbering was also used in the ASV (1901), the NASB,
and the RSV. The
26 Henry Alford mentions five views concerning the meaning of "Spirit" here, all of
which he rightly rejects as contrary to the context (The New Testament for English
27 The neuter form of the participle is due to the neuter gender of the Greek word for
28 Westcott, The Epistles of
29 F. F. Bruce, The Epistles of John (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1970), p. 119.
226 Bibliotheca Sacra / April—June 1990
The agreement of the three witnesses (v. 8). John spoke of three
witnesses: "For there are three that bear witness" (o!ti trei?j ei]sin
oi[ marturou?tej).30 The exact force of the opening "for" (o!ti) is not
obvious. After noting varied suggestions, Burdick concludes, "It is
certain that the conjunction is loosely used to introduce the notewor-
thy fact that there are three witnesses, but to attempt to penetrate
John's exact train of thought any further is mere guesswork."31 Smal-
ley renders, "indeed, there are three witnesses."32 The number
"three" stresses that the number of witnesses assures that their tes-
timony is reliable and authentic (cf. Deut. 19:15). The present tense
participle pictures them as living personal witnesses; John named
them as being "the Spirit and the water and the blood" (to> pneu?ma
kai> to> u!dwr kai> to> ai$ma).33 Though the three have already been
mentioned, John now drew them together and named the Spirit first.
As Alford notes,
The Spirit is, of the three, the only living and active witness, properly
speaking: besides, the water and the blood are no witnesses without
Him, whereas He is independent of them, testifying both in them and
out of them.34
Yet John is fully justified in citing "the water and the blood" as wit-
nesses to Jesus Christ. Inanimate objects can bear a strong witness
when their history is known and understood. In John 5:36 Jesus de-
clared that His own works bear witness to Him; in Hebrews 11:4 the
author asserted that the faith-prompted sacrifice of Abel still
speaks; in Genesis 31:48 a heap of stones put up by Jacob and Laban is
30 The Textus Receptus, represented in the King James Version, here adds the so-
called Comma Johanneum, which reads as follows: "For there are three that bear
record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the
blood: and these three agree in one." The italics mark the words for which there is no
valid authority in the Greek manuscripts. They are absent from all Greek uncial
manuscripts; four late cursive manuscripts have them where they appear to be a trans-
lation from the Latin Vulgate. No version of the first four centuries gives them; none
of the Greek church fathers quoted the words in their controversies concerning the
Trinity. Research has shown that the words originated as a gloss on John's text in
Latin that later was included as part of the text. The internal evidence is also decid-
edly against their authenticity. See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the
Greek New Testament (London: United Bible Societies, 1971), pp. 716-18.
31 Burdick, The Epistles of John the Apostle, pp. 369-70.
32 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, p. 281.
33 These three Greek nouns are all in the neuter gender, yet the preceding numeral
and participle are masculine gender, constituting "a testimony, the more striking be-
cause involuntary, to the personality of the Spirit" (David Smith, "The Epistles of
mans Publishing Co., n.d.], 5:195).
34 Alford, The New Testament for English Readers, p. 1750.
An Exposition of 1 John 5:1-12 227
called a "witness" (also see Josh. 22:10, 27; 24:27).
The witness of "the water and the blood" in verse 8 has been un-
derstood in two different ways. One view is that while in verse 6
they are historical, bearing witness to Christ's baptism and crucifix-
ion, in verse 8 they refer to the Christian ordinances of baptism and
the Lord's Supper.35 It is held that the present tense "bear witness"
cannot refer to the past life and death of Jesus but must refer to the
repeated sacramental testimony in the Christian church. But such a
proposed change of the meaning of "the water and the blood" here
"is rather arbitrary since there is nothing in the context that indi-
cates that John has changed the meaning of the two terms."36 It is
preferable to hold that the two terms have the same meaning in
both verses.37 The present tense points to the fact that the water and
the blood continue to bear witness whenever the historical records of
Christ's baptism and death are read or proclaimed.
John added the further fact that "the three are in agreement"
(kai> oi[ trei?j ei]j to> e!n ei]sin, "the three are [witnesses] unto one
thing"). All three agree in proclaiming the truth concerning Jesus
Christ, the Son of God. This witness is in striking contrast to that of
the false witnesses at the trial of Jesus who could not agree in estab-
lishing a valid charge against Jesus (Matt. 26:59-61; Mark 14:55-59).
The trustworthiness of the divine witness (v. 9). John used a
conditional sentence to present the trustworthiness of this witness:
"If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater."
John's "if" implies no doubt and is an argument from the lesser to the
greater. If a person did not believe the testimony of those around
him in everyday life, he simply could not get along. People receive
the testimony of others as reliable unless they have reason to doubt
their honesty. John implied that there is no reason to doubt God's
witness because it "is greater" (mei<zwn e]sti<n), is more reliable and
trustworthy. The unbeliever is less reasonable with God than he is
vv:ith men. The threefold witness of verse 8 is, really "the witness of
God" because He is behind it all.
The divine witness is "that He has borne witness concerning His
Son" (o!ti memartu<rhken peri> tou? ui[ou? au]tou?). The force of the con-
junction (o!ti) may be understood in different ways. It can be taken (a)
as a relative conjunction (o[ ti<, "that which, whatever") as simply
recording the fact that God has given testimony concerning His Son,
without indicating its contents; (b) as causal, "because He has wit-
35 So Rudolf Bultmann,
Epistles, Herrnenia (
Press, 1973), pp. 80-81; Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, pp. 130-31.
36 Burdick, The Epistles of John the Apostle, p. 370.
37 Ibid., pp. 370-71; and Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, pp. 281-82.
228 Bibliotheca Sacra / April–June 1990
nessed concerning His Son"; or (c) as declarative, the witness is "that
He has indeed borne witness concerning His Son." The third view
seems the most probable.
John declared that God has placed Himself permanently on
record (perfect tense) as having borne witness to His Son. He did so
prophetically in the Old Testament. He did so explicitly on at least
three occasions as recorded in the Gospels—at His baptism (Matt.
3:16-17; Mark 1:10-11), at His transfiguration (Matt. 17:5; Mark 9:7;
Luke 9:35); in the hearing of the multitude during Passion Week
(John 12:27-29)—as well as nonverbally in the miracles at His cruci-
fixion, as well as at the resurrection. According to Hebrews 1:1-2 the
Son Himself was the embodiment of God's highest and final self-
revelation to mankind.
THE EFFICACY OF THE DIVINE WITNESS (vv. 10-12)
John now turned to the impact of this divine witness on mankind.
In verse 10 he set forth the contrasted result of men's response to the
witness, and in verses 11-12 he declared the relationship of the Son
to the possession of eternal life.
The responses to God's witness (v. 10). Individuals respond ei-
ther positively or negatively to God's witness. The results are cru-
cial. Positively, "The one who believes in the Son of God has the
witness in himself." The articular participle, "the one who be-
lieves" (o[ pisteu<wn) portrays the individual as exercising a continu-
ing faith centered on the Son of God. The verb "believe," occurring
thrice in this verse, embodies the essence of man's response to God's
witness. It involves not merely an acceptance of the truthfulness of
the message but also a personal trust in or committal to the One to
whom witness is borne. The expression "believes in the Son" (pis-
teu<wn ei]j to>n ui[o>n) pictures faith as moving toward and resting on
the Son.38 Such a personal committal to the incarnate Son of God is
central to the Christian faith. A result of such faith is that the
believer "has the witness in himself" (e@xei th>n marturi<an e]n
au]t&?); he possesses it as an inner reality. The content of the witness
is the reality witnessed to by "the Spirit and the water and the
blood" (v. 8) and confirmed by God's witness to His Son (v. 9). The
indwelling Spirit makes this witness a vital inner reality for the be-
liever. The expression "in himself" (e]n au]t&?)39 indicates that this
38 This is the first occurrence of "believe" with ei]j ("into") in 1 John; it occurs 34
times in the Fourth Gospel and only 10 times in the rest of the New Testament.
39 The manuscripts are divided between au]t&? and the reflexive e[aut&?. For the evi-
dence see Nestle and Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece. In the 22d ed. (American
Society, 1956) they used au]t&? in
the 26th ed. (
stiftung, 1979) they used e[aut&?. Whatever the form, the meaning is clearly reflexive.
An Exposition of 1 John 5:1-12 229
message "which for others is external is for the believer experiential
... an inner conviction of life and cleansing and redemption."40
Negatively, "the one who does not believe God has made Him a
liar." The construction, "the one who does not believe" (o[ mh> pis-
teu<wn), again describes the individual by his characteristic refusal
to trust God enough to accept the testimony He has given. This re-
fusal means he has no personal relationship with God. Indeed he
"has made Him a liar" (yeu<sthn pepoi<hken au]to<n). His unbelief is
an attack on the very character of God. "Unbelief," Stott remarks,
"is not a misfortune to be pitied; it is a sin to be deplored."41
John underlined the nature of the individual's unbelief, "because
he has not believed in the witness that God has borne concerning His
Son." The perfect tense verb "he has not believed" (ou] pepi<steuken)
marks his state as a confirmed unbeliever. He has placed himself on
record as not accepting God's witness concerning His Son.
The witness concerning God's gift (vv. 11-12). John's "and" (kai>),
again links his further assertion with the preceding discussion. The
dernonstrative pronoun "this" in the words "and the witness is this"
(kai> au!th e]sti>n h[ marturi<a), stands emphatically forward and
looks to the following "that" clause which unfolds the content of the
witness, namely, "that God has given us eternal life" (o!ti zwh>n
ai]w<nion e@dwken h[mi?n o[ qeo<j). When the external witness is inter-
nally appropriated, it bears witness to the fact that God has im-
parted "eternal life." The forward position of the words "eternal
life" marks this life as the key concept in these verses. Used with-
out an article, the term is qualitative; "it is the highest kind of spir-
itual and moral life, irrespective of time, which God enables the be-
liever to share in relationship with Jesus."42 While this life contin-
ues on in the timeless ages of eternity, God has already "given"
(e@dwken) this gift to the believer as a present possession. The aorist
verb "given" naturally looks back to the reception of this life at the
time of one's new birth. With "us" John again included himself
among those possessing this precious gift.
Grammatically, the further assertion, "and this life is in His
Son" (kai> au!th h[ zwh> e]n t&? ui[&? au]tou? e]stin), may be taken as "a
new independent statement, coordinated with the first clause."43 So
understood it is John's own explanation concerning God's gift of eter-
nal life to us. Others hold that this clause is still part of God's wit-
40 Westcott, The Epistles of
41 Stott, The Epistles of John, p. 182.
42 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, p. 287.
43 Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 163.
230 Bibliotheca Sacra / April—June 1990
ness, that "God's 'testimony' relates not only to his bestowal of life,
but also to the fact that the sole medium of its bestowal is to be found
in Jesus."44 This view enriches the content of the message and under-
lines the importance of adhering to the apostolic message concerning
the incarnate Son. Our relationship with the Son is crucial. As
Boice points out, "It is as impossible to have life without having
Christ as it is impossible to have Christ without at the same time
possessing eternal life."45 To be united with the incarnate Son of God
is to be united with the Father who sent Him (Rom. 6:23; 2 Tim. 1:1).
The positive and negative statements in verse 12 stress that
eternal life is inseparably related to God's Son and personally ob-
tained only in union with Him. Positively, "he who has the Son has
the life." The present tenses mark this possession of life as a present
reality. It is only through this close and living union between Christ
and the believer that eternal life can be experienced. Smalley notes
that this possession of life in Christ involves a reciprocal relation-
ship: "we have life 'in' Jesus (v. 11); but, when this is appropriated,
God through Christ lives 'in' the believer (cf. 3:24; also 2:24, 27, 28;
3:6, 9; 4:12, 13, 15, 16)."46
Negatively, "he who does not have the Son of God does not
have the life." The full title "the Son of God" spells out the true
identity of the One whom the unbeliever is spurning. In the preced-
ing statement John placed the articular designation "the life" after
the verb; now "the life" is placed emphatically before the verb,
indicating that this life is beyond the grasp of the one "who does not
have the Son." Apart from the Son he is spiritually dead. Personal
repentance and true submission to and acceptance of Jesus Christ as
the Son of God is the only hope for attaining "the life" that is life
44 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, p. 287.
ing House, 1979), p. 166.
46 Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, p. 288.
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