Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (July 1975) 229-241.

          Copyright © 1975 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.

 

 

 

               Topics from the Gospel of John

     Part III: The Meaning of "Witness" in John

 

 

                                            Merrill C. Tenney

 

 

            Among the numerous terms that can be classed as specially

Johannine, the word witness, whether a verb or a noun, is outstand-

ing. The noun marturi<a occurs fourteen times in the Gospel, and

the verb marture<w thirty-three times; in the Johannine Epistles

marturi<a occurs seven times, and marture<w ten times; and in

Revelation marturi<a is used nine times, and marture<w four times.

The Johannine usages of these two terms outnumber their total usage

in the rest of the New Testament.

            Obviously John gave great importance to this concept in his

presentation of the message about Christ. Its general meaning de-

notes attestation of some person or event which might naturally be

the object of antagonism or skepticism. Because of the stupendous

miracle of the Incarnation which brought other miracles with it,

some sort of confirmation was necessary if Jesus were to be regarded

as anything more than a wandering prophet who made fantastic

claims. The support for His claims became the witness which is

Christian testimony. This term thus became the summary of the

apologetic teaching that the Gospel advanced in defense of Jesus'

life and work.

            Marturi<a ("witness'") does not refer primarily to the cor-

roboration of Jesus' historical existence and works, though it is so

used on occasion (John 15:27; 21:24; 1 John 1:2; 4:14), nor to

particular events in the story (except in John 19:35). The witness

 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a series of four articles, first delivered

by the author as the Louis S. Bauman Memorial Lectures at Grace Theological

Seminary, Winona Lake, Indiana, February 12-15, 1974.

 

                                                            229

 



230 / Bibliotheca Sacra — July 1975

 

is mainly to the character and significance of His person. The attesta-

tion of the factual history is only the first step toward the witness

of His significance in the divine revelation and in the reality of

experience.1

            The concept of witness is also closely related to the progressive

presentation of the person of Jesus in the Johannine narrative. It

appears in every major section of the Gospel, but the heaviest con-

centration occurs in the second, third, and fourth sections that deal

with Jesus’ ministry. The establishment of His claims necessitated

convincing testimony, and the addition of personal witness to the

mute attestation of His "signs" made John's proclamation doubly

effective.

            The first use of witness appears in the Prologue (1:1-18),

describing the work of John the Baptist: "He came for a witness,

that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through

him" (1:7). The ministry of John was introductory, paving the way

for the revelation of God in Christ by summoning men to repentance

and to the renewal of their relationship with God. John was the

messenger who directed men's faith toward God, not the object of

faith himself. He came to testify concerning the coming Messiah, not

to take His place. The Gospel of John does not record the baptism of

Jesus as the Synoptics do (Matt. 3:1-17; Mark 1:4-11; Luke 3:15-

22) , but it deals much more fully with the effects of the baptism.

The function of John the Baptist is merely epitomized; the introduc-

tion of Jesus is given much more space. The Prologue simply pre-

sents John as the prophetic figure who closed the old dispensation

of the Law and who opened the door to the new dispensation of

grace (cf. Luke 16:16: "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed

until John; since then the gospel of the kingdom of God is

preached").

            The second section of the Gospel, the period of consideration

(1:19-4:54), opens with a more detailed statement of the witness

of the Baptist. Not only did he disclaim any messianic office, and

deny that he was Elijah or the prophet of which Moses spoke (Deut.

18:15), but he pointed directly to Jesus as the person whom he had

been sent to introduce. Declaring Jesus to be the Lamb of God, he

used a word that connotes a sacrificial lamb, and so connected Him

with the prophecy of Isaiah 53:7b: "Like a lamb that is led to

slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He

 

1 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "ma<rtuj," by H. Strath-

mann, 4:498.

 



                         The Meaning of "Witness" in John / 231

 

did not open His mouth." His statement that Jesus would baptize in

the Holy Spirit recalls the prophecy of Ezekiel:

 

                  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you,

            and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you

            a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you

            to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My

            ordinances (Ezek. 36:26-27).

 

John's final word to his disciples was: "I have seen and have borne

witness that this is the Son of God" (John 1:34).

            John's dual testimony to Jesus presented both His atoning ministry

and His right to divine authority. In these respects Jesus was superior

to the Law: He was Himself the final sacrifice to take away sin, and

possessed an authority greater than that of Moses. In the wake of

the revival produced by John's preaching came the new message of

a Redeemer and Revelator who would introduce the new age of the

kingdom. The witness of John put Jesus in the focus of the attention

of men who were eager for some new work of God.

            From this witness came Jesus' first disciples. They began their

investigation of Him on the basis of John's teaching. As they inter-

viewed Him one by one, they emerged from that interview to express

their belief that He was indeed the One "of whom Moses in the Law

and also the Prophets wrote" (1:45), "the Son of God . . . the

King of Israel" (1:49). Through their initial reaction to Him others

were induced to join their group, so that by their witness others were

drawn to Jesus.

            Jesus used the word witness concerning Himself in the conver-

sation with Nicodemus: "We speak that which we know, and bear

witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our

witness" (3:11). He emphasized His personal knowledge of spiritual

realities which His hearers generally rejected because they could not

equate these realities with their experience. To Jesus the new birth

was no mystery; it was the normal effect of God's intervention in

human life, and He testified to His firsthand knowledge of its power.

For Jesus, spiritual realities were as familiar as physical realities are

to us. He did not present them as theses which He had developed,

but as experiences of His past. "I speak," He said, "the things which

I have seen with My Father" (8:38).

            The third section of John, the period of controversy (5:1-

6:71), deals much more fully with the idea of witness. This section

depicts the tensions and debate that arose in Judaism over the teach-

ings and actions of Jesus. Because He had healed a paralytic on the

 



232 / Bibliotheca Sacra — July 1975

 

Sabbath He was accused of being a rebel against the Mosaic Law.

When He asserted His authority by saying, "My Father is working

until now, and I Myself am working" (5:17), He compounded the

offense in their eyes by blasphemy, for He placed Himself on a level

with God. The ensuing argument with the religious leaders evoked

an appeal to the various witnesses which accredited His ministry.

John used this occasion to present five of them.

 

                        JOHN'S FIVE WITNESSES TO CHRIST

 

THE WITNESS OF THE FATHER

            As already stated, Jesus had a peculiarly vivid consciousness

of God that transcended that of any ordinary human being. He

claimed that He was the special object of the Father's love (5:20)

and that He was the administrator of the Father's judgment (5:22-

27). Particularly was the Father's witness apparent in the works of

Jesus, for He performed them by delegated power (5:20)--a type

of witness which was extended also to Jesus' followers as noted by

the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 2:4). At the crisis of Jesus' career

as described by John, He prayed that the Father's name might be

glorified, whatever His own fate might be. A voice from heaven

responded, "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again"

(John 12:28). Jesus said that the voice had not spoken primarily

for His sake, but that the multitude might know that He was fulfilling

the Father's commission, and that the victory was assured. On the

basis of the Father's witness Jesus claimed that He was the confidant

of the Father, who disclosed to Him all His purposes and acts, and

that the Father had entrusted to Him the power to impart life

(5:20-21). This commission was the first witness of His high

position.

 

THE WITNESS OF HIMSELF

            A second witness was Himself, though at this point He dis-

counted His own testimony: "If I alone bear witness of Myself, My

testimony is not true" (5:31). Jesus did not mean to say that He

did not tell the truth, or that He did not have a proper estimate of

Himself, but rather that His witness would not be fully admissible.

The Old Testament law demanded that two or three witnesses ex-

ternal to the man on trial be called (Deut. 19:15). Morris argues

that Jesus' witness by itself would not be true because it would be

unsupported; independent information would be required.2 From the

 

2 Leon Morris, The Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids: Wni. B.

Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971). p. 325.

 



                      The Meaning of "Witness" in John / 233

 

personal standpoint, His witness was valid, for who would know

more about Him than He would Himself? This aspect He mentioned

in a later conflict: "Even if I [do] bear witness of Myself, My

witness is true; for I know where I came from, and where I am

going; but you do not know where I came from, or where I am

going" (8:14).

 

THE WITNESS OF JOHN THE BAPTIST

            Jesus said, "You have sent to John and he has borne witness

to the truth . . . . He was the lamp that was burning and was shining

and you were willing to rejoice for awhile in his light" (5:33, 35).

The recurrence of the concept of light recalls the statement of the

Prologue: "He was not the light, but came that he might bear wit-

ness of the light" (1:8). Jesus characterized John as a lamp shining

in the darkness. It is adequate for the night season, but is unneces-

sary in the full blaze of day. If Jesus' ministry were of no greater

significance than John's, it would have been meaningless. The lesser

prepares the way for the greater. Jesus evidently felt that the witness

of His person and work outweighed any human testimony that could

be given to Him. The people, however, had accepted John's words

and had placed confidence in him. His testimony, therefore, should

be convincing to them (5:34-35), for he had exercised enormous

popular influence which had prompted the investigation of the re-

ligious authorities and the arbitrary arrest by Herod Antipas.

 

THE WITNESS OF JESUS' WORKS

            "The works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the

very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent

Me" (5:36). The "works" comprised His miracles or "signs," which

illustrated the operation of divine power on every aspect of human

life. Whether they dealt with the material or immaterial world,

whether they involved the forces of nature, or physical disease, or

death itself, they revealed a power resident in Jesus that set Him

apart from the rest of men. These works were not only the physical

marvels of healing or of raising the dead, but involved also the

restoration or renewal of inner life. The transformation of Peter, the

generation of a new quality of faith in the nobleman of Cana, the

spiritual education of the Samaritan woman, the enlightenment of

the blind man, the new understanding gained by Mary and Martha

are also samples of the works of God. In most instances mentioned

in the Gospel spiritual effects accompanied the physical effects, and

made these "works" a testimony to the mission and power of Jesus.

 



234 / Bibliotheca Sacra — July 1975

 

            Furthermore, His works were never performed for mere exhibi-

tion or self-aggrandizement. Jesus did not rest His claim solely on the

extraordinary character of His works, as a magician might establish

his reputation by the spectacular tricks that he performed. Instead,

the miracles were the normal result of Jesus' divine personality as

He came in contact with human problems and acted on them. In

the words of the blind man, "Since the beginning of time, it has

never been heard that any one opened the eyes of a person born

blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing" (9:32-

33). John has told us plainly that the seven "signs" which he cited

as convincing works of Jesus were simply samples selected from a

much larger potential list. Others which are mentioned in the Synop-

tic Gospels would confirm the conclusion that Jesus did indeed do

the works of God.

            Incidentally, there is no indication in the Gospels that His

enemies ever denied the factual character of Jesus' works. In rabbinic

tradition, He was condemned not as a worker of fraudulent miracles,

but as a sorcerer. The fact that He performed remarkable deeds was

not questioned. Stauffer states that "around A.D. 95 Rabbi Eliezer

ben Hyrcanus of Lydda speaks of Jesus' magic arts."3 This position

in the rabbinic tradition — accusing Him of sorcery — is perhaps

reflected in the accusation of demonic power that Jesus' enemies

brought against Him (8:48).

 

THE WITNESS OF THE SCRIPTURES

            In referring to the testimony of the Scriptures He meant the

Old Testament, especially the Pentateuch. The first five books of

the Old Testament, which the Jewish people call the Torah, or Law,

were particularly revered as the work of Moses. The scribes con-

tinually studied them in order to ascertain the requirements of God

for their daily worship and conduct. By the observance of the Law

they hoped to obtain eternal life. "You search the Scriptures, because

you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear

witness of Me" (5:39). The attitude of the people is reflected in

the words of the young ruler described in the Synoptic Gospels, who

asked Jesus, "What shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life?" When

Jesus asked him if he knew the commandments, he replied that he

had kept them from his youth. Jesus then told him to sell his prop-

erty, give the proceeds to the poor, and to become His disciple

(Matt. 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23). Jesus did not

 

3 Ethelbert Stauffer, Jesus and His Story (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,

1960), p. 9, quoting Shabbath 1046: Tosophila Shabbath 11. 15.

 



                     The Meaning of "Witness" in John / 235

 

say that the Law was inconsequential; but He indicated that He

was the means of bringing its revelation to perfection. The attain-

ment of eternal life, or the life of the age to come, could be possible

only through Him. The Scriptures, then, were intended to draw men

to Him.

            The witness of the Scriptures was not only the projection of its

ethical focus on a coming revelation in His person, but was also

the fulfillment of hope in a coming Messiah who would bring spiri-

tual deliverance to all mankind. The first prophecy of the Bible,

recorded in Genesis 3:15, announced that the "seed of the woman"

would crush the head of the serpent. In other words, the descendant

of the woman, human, but appointed by God, would conquer the

power of evil and undo the mischief that God's adversary had already

done. The "line of the seed" is subsequently traced through the

genealogies of the Old and New Testaments until its end in the

Son of Mary, who is called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). He is the

heir to the blessings promised in the covenant with Abraham (Gen.

12:1-3; 22:18), and to the kingdom promised in the covenant with

David (2 Sam. 7:12-16). He is also the Suffering Servant of Isaiah

(Isa. 52:13-53:12), whose astounding prophecy depicts graphically

the rejection, vicarious suffering, agonizing death, and final triumph

of One who was led like a sacrificial lamb to the altar of sacrifice,

who was entombed in a rich man's grave, and yet survived to prolong

His days and to see the purpose of Jehovah completed through His

life. Micah had even predicted the exact place of the Messiah''s

birth: "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among

the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler

in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of

eternity" (Mic. 5:2). John alludes specifically to this text as messi-

anic and states that the rulers rejected Jesus because He came from

Galilee, not realizing that He had actually been born in Bethlehem

(John 7:41-42).

            This general reference to the Scriptures in John 5:39, 46 is

amplified by several other citations or allusions elsewhere in the

Gospel. John the Baptist applied to himself the prophecy of Isaiah

40:3, by which he claimed to "make straight the way of the Lord"

(John 1:23). In summarizing the rejection of Jesus' ministry, John

referred to Isaiah 6:10: "He has blinded their eyes, and He hard-

ened their heart; lest they see with their eyes, and perceive with

their heart, and be converted, and I heal them" (John 12:40). Hav-

ing thus identified this prophecy with the career of Jesus, John

 



236 / Bibliotheca Sacra — July 1975

 

added: "These things Isaiah said, because he saw His glory, and he

[Isaiah] spoke of Him [Jesus]" (12:41). A comparison of Isaiah

and John shows that Isaiah designated by the pronoun "He" the

person of Jehovah who appeared in such glory that the prophet was

prostrated before Him; John says that the prophet saw the glory

of Jesus. By this equation John attributes to Jesus the glory of the

Father, and asserts that the Scriptures witness His deity.

            In the narratives of the Crucifixion there are three declarations

that the aspects of that event fulfilled the Scriptures. The first declara-

tion (19:24) is the division of Jesus' garments among the members

of the execution squad, referred to in Psalm 22:18: "They divide

my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots." The

second declaration is Jesus' cry of thirst, recorded in John 19:28-29

and foreshadowed by Psalm 69:21: "They also gave me gall for

my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." The

same psalm, incidentally, was connected by the disciples with the

cleansing of the Temple: "Zeal for Thy house has consumed me"

(John 2:17; Ps. 69:9).

            The third declaration related to the omission of the breaking of

Jesus' legs on the cross: "Not a bone of Him shall be broken" (John

19:36). The passage is taken from Exodus 12:46, or possibly Num-

bers 9:12, which referred to the lamb sacrificed at the Passover. The

oblique reference in John 20:9 alludes to "the Scripture that He

must rise again from the dead." Luke asserts that in the postresur-

rection period Jesus gave definite teaching to the disciples from

the Scriptures concerning His death and resurrection (Luke 24:26-

27), but specific predictions concerning the latter are difficult to

identify. Whether he relied on types, or whether the key to some

has been lost is difficult to ascertain. Judging from analogy with the

preaching of the apostles, one can only say that such passages as

Psalm 16:8-11, which was quoted by Peter as prophetic of the

Resurrection (Acts 2:24-32), may have been utilized. John, how-

ever, does not provide apposite citations. Such passages as are cited

and the general trend of Scripture as previously noted do confirm

the witness of the Old Testament to the claims of Jesus.

            These five witnesses were mentioned by Jesus in defense of

His person before His accusers. John presents them immediately be-

fore introducing the turning point of Jesus' career at the feeding of

the five thousand. No one of them is elaborated into an extensive

argument; they seem to serve as reference points or as indications

of an apologetic procedure rather than as a comprehensive discus-

 



                        The Meaning of "Witness" in John / 237

 

sion of the testimony of Jesus' divine character. They are, however,

representative of the converging lines of testimony that point to a

conclusion: He is, as John stated, the Son of God. The Synoptic

Gospels contain the same lines of evidential support for Jesus' claims,

but they are not categorized as definitely. John seems to have com-

posed a more selective and direct apologetic.

            These five witnesses are supplemented by others of more sub-

jective nature mentioned later in the Gospel. As the tension between

Jesus and His opponents increased, His insistence on the validity of

His claim became stronger. The period of conflict (7:1-11:53),

following the period of controversy, was marked by outward hos-

tility that gradually crystallized into a definite attempt to take His

life. The loss of favor with the multitude because of His refusal to

become a political leader (6:15, 66) caused a sharp division of

opinion among His followers. "Some were saying, ‘He is a good

man’; others were saying, ‘No, on the contrary, He leads the multi-

tude astray’" (7:12). The general impression given by the narrative

of chapter 7 is that of confusion, except that the hierarchy of

Jerusalem decided to arrest Him (7:32, 44). The attempt was,

unsuccessful because the arresting posse was overawed by His teach-

ing (7:46) and possibly because of dissenting voices within the tri-

bunal itself (7:50-51). One thing, however, was clear: Jesus was

definitely challenged, and was placed on the defensive by His

enemies.

            Jesus' reply to the questionings and attacks was a fresh affirma-

tion of His claims, "I," He said, "am the light of the world; he who

follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light

of life" (8:12). The Pharisees retorted that since He was bearing

witness of Himself, the witness would not be valid because it would

not be unprejudiced. Whereas Jesus had conceded this point on a

previous occasion, He did not do so here. The apparent contradiction

between 5:31 and 8:14 can be resolved if one recognizes the differing

bases for His statements. On legal grounds, self-testimony is not

valid because it is presumably biased; but on personal grounds, who

would know more about Him than Himself? This affirmation makes

the point precisely: "My witness is true; for I know where I came

from and where I am going; but you do not know where I came

from, or where I am going" (8:14). Jesus appealed to the principle

stated in the Law that the testimony of two persons is valid (Deut.

17:6), and then spoke of the witness of Himself and of the Father.

This amounted to self-affirmation; He took His stand on the witness

 



238 / Bibliotheca Sacra — July 1975

 

of His self-consciousness. It seems as if He were saying that there

could be no higher court to which He could appeal than Himself and

the Father; or, to phrase it differently, His own consciousness of His

relationship with the Father is the absolute which should be

self-evident.

            In the subsequent text He takes the attitude that He is simply

stating what is fact; He is not manufacturing pretensions nor enter-

taining fancies. Despite the incredible magnitude of His claims —

"Before Abraham was born, I AM" (John 8:58) — He is simply

speaking naturally from the level on which He lived.

            The rejection of this personal witness was inevitable in the

light of the prevalent unbelief. Jesus recognized that it would not

be convincing to His enemies, and He consequently reverted to an

appeal to His works, which were undeniable. The account of the

healing of the blind man which followed the argument of chapter 8

shows the impact of Jesus' ministry on an unprejudiced beneficiary

of it, as well as the negative reaction of His enemies. The reality of

this miracle was acknowledged by many, who said, "These are not

the sayings of one demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes

of the blind, can he?" (10:21). In response to those who demanded

of Him a declaration of messiahship, He said, "The works that I do

in My Father's name, these bear witness of Me . . . . If I do not the

works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though

you do not believe Me, believe the works; that you may know

( gnw?te) and understand (ginw<skhte) that the Father is in Me,

and I in the Father" (10:25, 37-38).

            The uncertainty and conflict that filled the last few months of

Jesus' life were brought to a crisis by the raising of Lazarus. The

rulers were all the more determined to destroy Jesus, because, they

feared a popular uprising that would endanger their relations with

the Roman government. The high priest Caiaphas openly declared

that it would be better to sacrifice Jesus than to risk a war that

might cost Israel its status as a semiindependent state and displace

the ruling class of the people (11:48-50). Evidently Jesus had won

back some popular favor, for John states that at His entry into

Jerusalem "the multitude who were with Him when He called

Lazarus out of the tomb, and raised him from the dead, were bearing

Him witness" (12:17). Their testimony confirmed the miracle of

Lazarus' resuscitation which they had seen for themselves.

            In this period of crisis (11:54-12:50) Jesus withdrew from

public notice; at least, John gives the impression that He devoted the

 



                      The Meaning of "Witness" in John / 239

 

last hours before the cross to the small band of people who were

sympathetic with Him. In the discussion that followed the Last

Supper, Jesus mentioned two more witnesses to Him that would

emerge after His death: the Holy Spirit, and the disciples themselves.

 

THE WITNESS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

            These appeared in the period of conference (13:1-17:26), which

was devoted to the preparation of the disciples for the final struggle.

He intended them to become His representatives in the world after

His departure. The function of the Holy Spirit would be to encourage

(parakalei?n) the disciples in His absence. They had been accus-

tomed to depending on Him for their information and guidance.

Without Him they could quickly become disorganized and discour-

aged. In order to ensure a continuing reality of spiritual experience

that would enable them to proclaim His message with certainty,

Jesus agreed to send them the Spirit, who, He said, was abiding with

them and would be in them (14:17). His witness concerning Jesus

would reassure the disciples of the verity of their past experience,

and would empower them to meet new conflicts.

            The witness of the Spirit would then have a twofold direction.

His presence would confirm the disciples in their faith and bring

to them a further revelation of truth concerning Jesus. "He will bear

witness of Me," said Jesus (15:26). Peter confirmed this aspect of

the Spirit's work in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost. In affirming

the reality of Jesus' resurrection, he said: "Therefore having been

exalted by the right hand of God, and having received from the

Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He [Jesus] has poured forth

this which you both see and hear" (Acts 2:33). The coming of the

Spirit and the manifestation of His presence certified the validity of

Jesus' claims and was intrinsically a witness to His truthfulness.

            The witness of the Spirit refers to the witness which the Spirit

brought as well as to the witness which the Spirit constituted. Jesus

promised that the Spirit would guide the disciples into all truth, and

that He would declare things to come. In the shaping of the disciples'

thinking and by conferring on them the enduement of prophecy He

would continue and corroborate the testimony of Jesus. The disciples

could therefore count on divine direction and aid in their ministry

which would be in itself a testimony to the continuing work of

the Lord.

            The linking of the witness of the Spirit with the witness of the

disciples gives the basis for their experiential testimony. John pur-

sued this matter further in his first epistle by saying that the con-

 



240 / Bibliotheca Sacra — July 1975

 

nection of the living disciples with the resurrected Lord depends on

the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Twice in his epistle he assures

his readers that "we know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit

which He has given us," and then adds, "And we have beheld and

bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the

world" (1 John 3:24; 4:14). For this reason he is able to say later

that "the one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in

himself" (5:10). The witness of the Spirit conferred on the disciples

an unshakable certainty in their own experience, and in their faith.

            The witness of the Spirit would also be manifested in His effect

on the world. Jesus said that the Spirit would convict men of sin,

righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11). These three things

are the most difficult to impress on any man, for he can always

attempt to justify himself by asserting an excusable motive for evil

actions, or by pleading a relative scale of ethical standards in the

place of absolute righteousness, or by assuming that judgment is

indefinitely deferred so that it is no real threat. The witness of the

Spirit becomes evident when it can make a sinning person acutely

aware of these absolutes by comparison of himself with the righteous-

ness of God in Christ.

 

THE WITNESS OF THE DISCIPLES

            The last witness on John's list is that of the disciples themselves.

"You will bear witness also, because you have been with Me from

the beginning" (15:27). The completeness and intimacy of their

experience would make them competent witnesses to the character

and message of Christ. The apostolic writers lay great emphasis on

the value of eyewitnesses. Luke states in his preface that he drew

much of his information from those "who from the beginning were

eyewitnesses and servants of the Word" (Luke 1:2) — phraseology

which sounds much like an echo of the Johannine prologue. In Jesus'

parting commission to the disciples as given in Acts, He told them

they would be witnesses to Him after the Holy Spirit had come on

them, and that they would have a worldwide ministry (Acts 1:8) .

Peter affirmed this mandate when he said, "This Jesus God raised

up again, to which we are all witnesses" (Acts 3:32). Paul, con-

tending for the historical reality of the resurrection of Christ, said

that one of His postresurrection appearances was attested by more

than five hundred brethren at once, of whom the majority were

living when he wrote his epistle (1 Cor. 15:6). Had he not valued

the testimony of the eyewitnesses, there would have been no point in

stating that they were still living.

            John, of course, does not attempt to give any extended account

of apostolic witness as Luke does in Acts. On the other hand, his

 



                        The Meaning of "Witness" in John / 241

 

Gospel was written at a later date than Acts, and undoubtedly

assumes what was known to his readers, that the apostolic witness,

including his own, had been spread far and wide, and that it had its

origin in Jesus' commission to witness and in the power of the Holy

Spirit in their lives. They were responsible for maintaining a loyal

adherence to Him, and for propagating His message to the world.

 

                        THE EFFECT OF THE WITNESS

            The perpetuation of this witness is described in the First Epistle

of John, which seems to have been written as a postscript or applica-

tion of the teaching of the Gospel. The author affirms that he based

his teaching on the witness concerning the Word of life, which he

had experienced by physical contact, and which was manifested to

him and to his associates. The content of this witness was the sonship

of Christ, who had come to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14).

The divine empowering of this continuing witness was accomplished

by the Holy Spirit, who creates and confirms the new life that results

from salvation. The effectiveness of the witness of the church depends

on the validity of its spiritual experience. The Holy Spirit provides

the inward witness that enables the believer to render an effective

outward testimony by keeping Jesus in the focus of his consciousness.

            This inner witness provides the verity and continuity that consti-

tute the dividing line between the experiences of the believer and the

unbeliever. "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 5:11-12).

            In conclusion, this witness of which John speaks is self-authenti-

cating. The Prologue uses the figure of light, and calls Jesus "the

light of the world," a metaphor which He used in controversy with

His enemies.  "I," He said, "am the light of the world: he who

follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of

life." The instant reaction of the Pharisees was, "You are bearing

witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true" (John 8:12-13). Light,

however, needs no authentication; it validates itself. Nobody needs

to label or to describe light; it speaks for itself. In the same way the

reality of Christ makes its impact on human life and verifies His

claims by the transformation that it produces on all that He affects.

The risen Christ is His own best witness, and He confirms the sub-

ordinate witnesses that support His claims.

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204      www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu