The testimony of water, blood and the Spirit (Understanding 1 John 5: 5-10)

1 John 5:5-10: 5Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.  6This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7For there are three that testify: 8the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.”

What is all this about water and blood?  Even after reading commentaries, the best answer I could come up with was that possibly John here is thinking about what he wrote in John 19:34-35, when he is the only Gospel writer to record that Jesus bled water and blood, seeing that as an important detail and fulfilling Scripture: 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesusʼ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”

This is important because it shows that Jesus really died as a human, but how else does it tie in with what John is saying here in particular and his overall theme of the book?  It is all about Jesus! He is the Son of God, the Word who became flesh! The reference to water several times in this 1 John 5 passage does not just refer to the fact that Jesus really died (and was not just unconsciousness), but it also testifies that He was born human. The blood testifies that He died human, the Spirit also testifies to the fact that He is fully human, that He came in the flesh, and ultimately that He is the Son of God.

This is basic to what John is saying because a heresy being taught to the believers at that time was that mystical knowledge is the way to true spirituality, and that all things material, especially flesh is bad (Gnosticism).  So if Jesus is/was God, He would have had nothing to do with the flesh, with being human. They even concluded that the true God did not create the world since He would have had nothing to do with the material, only the spiritual, so a demi-god must have created the world, which created grave problems since John says God created the world through Jesus.

These unbiblical ideas meant that the false teachers proclaimed that Jesus did not come in the flesh, was not the Son of God in any physical way. John starts out this epistle with 1:1 proclaiming that the fact that he personally saw Him and touched Him testifies to this! He was/is human, He had a body, real flesh!  John keeps debunking the lies of the false teachers regarding Jesus and also how to live, since if the flesh is of no consequence, you can live like you like, including not having love for others. So at its very core, it is a very selfish “all about me” teaching. I myself want to experience this mystical knowledge, understanding and heightened “spirituality”, and what “sins” I do with my body, how I treat others, is of no consequence. That teaching is, of course, the opposite to what God and Jesus has revealed to us.

nativity

Inside the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where it is thought Jesus was born

Another related false teaching at that time was that God/Christ came upon Jesus at baptism and left right before He was crucified. John debunks all these false teachings, proclaiming that in all aspects, Jesus had a human body from birth on. For if He was only God or the Christ from baptism until right before His death, then He was not Emanuel, God with us, at birth, He was not God’s Son a birth, the Word become flesh at birth. Birth is where the idea of “water” comes in and testifies to Him being God in the flesh. Plus if this false teaching were true, then He was not Emanuel, God’s Son, the Word as flesh when He bled and died, for the blood testified that He was God in the flesh, human, when He died. These false teachers rejected the mind-blowing concept of God dying on the cross!

These false teachings had their roots in not understanding who Jesus really is and thus denying his humanness. John’s argument against that lie came to a climax in chapter 4. 4:2-3 says: 2This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”

Here again we see the testimony of the Holy Spirit involved in verifying the truth that Jesus did truly come in the flesh. Those who have the Spirit of God believe this and proclaim it. Those who do not believe it are of the antichrist, are not from God and do not have the Spirit of God. Harsh, but true words. John is very concerned that the believers do not fall for this lie.

One of the principle evidences John uses to show that Jesus is human is that He was born human, of a woman. And the image he uses for that is water. The 1 John 5 passage is not the only place John uses “water” when referring to birth and seeing it as a testimony that Jesus is both man and God, and accompanying that by emphasizing that the Spirit also gives this testimony. John 3:5-6: “5Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

The water Jesus is referring to here is birth, the “natural” person, being born like everyone else, being human. And by contrast, to be born again, we also need to be born “of the Spirit.” There is absolutely no context here to think He is talking about baptism as many have posited. John is using a contrast here. He uses contrasts continually to get his point across. Just in chapter 3 there are these pairs of contrasts:

Vs. 5 Born of water (naturally) vs. born of the Spirit (supernaturally)

Vs. 6 flesh (natural) vs. Spirit (supernatural)

Vs. 8 wind vs. Spirit

Vs. 12 earthly things vs. heavenly things

Vs. 16 perish vs. eternal life

Vs. 17 condemn vs. save

Vs. 19 light vs. darkness

Vs. 31 above vs. below/earth

Vs. 36 believe vs. reject, eternal life vs. wrath

It should be noted for fans of the King James Bible that parts of vs. 7 and 8 are missing in the verses at the beginning of this discussion. 7-8 says in the KJV: 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.”

The part in bold is not in most translations (most put it in a footnote) because it is not in a single Greek manuscript that has ever been found. It is only found written in Latin in the margins in copies of some more recent manuscripts. Erasmus, who in 1517 complied the first official Greek New Testament based on the best manuscripts they had at the time did not include it in the first and second editions. But because of pressure from the church and the Emperor (and who knows what other threats), he finally added it to his third edition. Actually its addition strays from John’s point of trying to show that Jesus is fully human, that He came in the flesh and had a human body. The Trinity in heaven has little to do with the fact that Jesus was born and died a human, and that the testimony of the Spirit confirms this truth.

In regards to the testimony of the Spirit, other testimonies of the Spirit include Him declaring Jesus as God’s Son when Jesus was baptized. Mark 1:10-11: 10As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Also at the transfiguration it is declared that He is God’s Son. Mark 9:7: 7Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Later on, the writer of the Hebrews started out his book, and spends the whole first chapter talking about Jesus’ Sonship. Hebrews 1:1-3: 1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

Of course all the Gospels, Paul and Peter also proclaim that Jesus is God’s son. It is also a major theme of John too (1:3, 1:7, 2:22, 2:23, 2:24, 3:8, 3:23, 4:9, 4:10, 4:14, 4:15 and in chapter 5:9,10,11,12,13, 20).

Jesus is 100% God. He is 100% human. John starts out his Gospel in 1:1-3 proclaiming that very fact: “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Among many other verses, 14:9 is a clear one: 9Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” All the other writers of the New Testament make this clear as well, with maybe the most clear explanation given by Paul in Philippians 2:6-7: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

To combat the lies of Gnosticism and other similar false teachings, John focuses in on the humanity of Jesus in his teaching in 1 John. Jesus was not a ghost. Luke 24:36-43 deals with this issue during a resurrection appearance: 36While they were still talking about this, Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate it in their presence.

John was also there and gives similar testimony, especially, as mentioned in the very first couple verses where he saw and touched Jesus. Jesus is/was flesh, had a human body. He was born naturally of a woman (water) and He died as a human (blood, even water and blood flowing out of Him showed he was really dead, not just unconscious.)  The Spirit bears witness of His birth and His death (as well, of course, of His bodily resurrection.) His birth, His death and resurrection, plus the Spirit all give testimony that He is God’s Son, fully human and thus able to die for our sins. Besides that, those who are born of God, who abide in Him, despite being human and weak, can, by the fact that they are “born of Him”, obey His commands, not conform to the world, and love one another. Click here for a short video presentation of this article.

The following is a chart from the book of 1 John. Right at 50% of all verses in 1 John have the idea of if/then, as can be seen from this chart, and that solidifies the idea that in his short epistle, John is confronting a lot of false teaching and wrong belief in his letter, and gives guidance and how to know if something is from God or not.

1 Jn. If (105-50) But Then Other benefits/problems
1:6 we claim to have fellowship with Him walk in the darkness we lie and do not live by the truth
1:7 we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.
1:8 we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
1:9 we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness
1:10 we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives.
2:3 if we obey His commands. *We know that we have come to know Him
2:4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar and the truth is not in him.
2:5 But if anyone obeys His word, Godʼs love is truly made complete in him
2:6 Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.
2:9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.
2:10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble
2:11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
2:15b If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
2:19 For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
2:22 If someone denies that Jesus is the Christ he is a liar and antichrist for he denies the Father and the Son.
2:23 If you deny the Son you do not have the Father
2:23 If you acknowledge the Son you have the Father
2:24 If what you have heard from the beginning remains in you you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.

Other verses we could add to the chart: 3:6, 3:7-10 3:14-16, 3:17, 3:19-21, 3:24, 4:2-3, 4:6, 4:7-8, 4:11-12, 4:13, 4:15-16: 4:20-21, 5:1-5, 5:9-10, 5:12, 5:14-16a, 5:18

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