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To what source of authority ought today's Christians turn in trying to settle disputed matters of the faith? To the guidance of the Holy Spirit? The confessions of the church? Events of history? The personal testimony of believers? The Scriptures? Some Christians would be tempted, perhaps, to say immediately "to Scripture"--and only to Scripture. Others would choose another of the options above, or perhaps some combination of them, always granting Scripture pride of place. In this regard 1 John is especially instructive, for in settling the christological debate in its community it never appeals to the Old Testament, and it cannot appeal to the New Testament, which did not yet exist as a collection of documents. But the present passage, in trying to underscore the importance of confession of Jesus, does appeal to the guidance of the Spirit, to a christological formula preserved by the community, to the word of reliable individuals and to the events of history. Here, then, we learn how the author sees a historical event, the inspiration of the Spirit and the teaching of the church all joining together in bearing a common witness to the truth.
The topic of discussion in 5:6-12 is appropriate confession about Jesus (compare 4:2). Here the desired confession is that Jesus Christ is the one who came by water and blood. But exactly what it means to say that Jesus came by water and blood remains as much a matter of debate today as it probably was in John's own time! The "Blood and Water" Witness to Jesus Christ (5:6)
To understand the point being made by the use of this phrase, it will be helpful to examine the use of "water" and "blood" in the Gospel and the epistles of John. While water is mentioned in the epistles only here, several significant references to it are found in the Gospel. The Baptist baptizes with water (1:26, 31, 33), as does Jesus (3:22; 4:1-2), and the water symbolizes cleansing. Jesus changes water set aside for the Jewish rites of purification to wine (2:1-12). He speaks of the necessity to be born of "water and the Spirit" (3:5, 8), where "water and Spirit" probably connotes one idea, namely, cleansing by the Holy Spirit (compare Ezek 36:25-27). Thus water also symbolizes the gift of the Spirit (4:13-14; 7:3739) given by the risen Jesus. Together these references stress the idea of purifying, and particularly the purifying effected by the Spirit of God.
Except for the passage under consideration, blood appears in the epistles only in 1 John 1:7, where it is said that "the blood of Jesus purifies us from every sin." In the Gospel "blood" stands for Jesus' self-sacrifice in death (6:51-58), without which there is no eternal life. Right relation ship with God, whether described in terms of being purified or having eternal life, depends upon the death of Jesus.
One passage in the Gospel of John does bring together the images of water and blood. When the soldiers pierce Jesus' side at the crucifixion, it is said that "blood and water" flowed from it (19:34). This is under stood as evidence that Jesus had indeed died, a necessary corroboration since the soldiers had not expected to find him already dead. It is likely that this story has symbolic importance as well. In light of the imagery of water and blood in the Gospel, the water and blood from Jesus' side signify that his death releases the gift of the Spirit (water) and purification from sin (blood), which together confer eternal life. As Barrett aptly phrases it, John intends us to see in this event that "the real death of Jesus was the real life of men" (1978:557).
How then does this fit with 1 John? While water does not appear elsewhere in 1 John, a reference to the blood of Jesus appears as part of a refutation of the dissidents' claims that they are without sin and without need for the cleansing understood to come through Jesus' blood (1:7). Similarly, here the "coming by blood" may be a reference to Jesus' "cleansing blood," that is, to his death that purifies believers from sin. If 1 John 5:6 is referring to the incident at Jesus' crucifixion, when water and blood came out from his side, then the confession that Jesus came by water and blood points to his death as the culmination of his saving mission. Salvation came with Jesus, and it was not accomplished without his death. Indeed, Jesus himself speaks the words that guide our interpretation when he says from the cross, "It is finished" (Jn 19:30): his saving mission is brought to its fulfillment in his death. After his death, Jesus also gave the Spirit, and through the Spirit we are born anew so that we are children of God (Jn 3:3, 5). But the giving of the Spirit was contingent upon and subsequent to Jesus' death on the cross (Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:7).
The epistle has changed the order of the Gospel's phrase "blood and water" to water and blood in order to emphasize the blood, as the next part of the verse shows: not by water only, but by water and blood. Although both water and blood came forth from Jesus' side, it is Jesus' atoning sacrifice for sin that needs underscoring. We recall that the secessionists may have been claiming that the Spirit conferred upon them the status of children of God, and by virtue of that status they had no sin and needed no further cleansing (see 1:8-10). John reminds his readers of the continued centrality of Jesus' death. Not only does it continue to provide needed atonement for us, but because the Spirit came only subsequent to Jesus' death, then whatever gifts and blessings come to us in the Spirit come to us only because of Jesus' death. And since apart from the Spirit there is no life (Jn 6:63), and since without Jesus' death the Spirit does not come, there is no life without water and blood. What was at stake in understanding Jesus Christ as the one who came by water and blood was an acceptance of his life and death as mediating God's salvation for the world. The Spirit's Witness to the Son (5:6-9)
Next the Elder turns his attention to the origin of the confession that he came by water and blood. It was not concocted by human imagination; rather, it is the Spirit who testifies. In evoking the Spirit's testimony the Elder stresses the ultimate source of this confession. He may well do so with an eye to the dissidents, who no doubt claimed their own views to be equally inspired (compare 4:1-6), even if they defied the interpretations that the Elder and his community held "from the beginning" (1:1-4; 2:20-25).
It is helpful to read this part of the epistle with the Gospel in mind. According to the Gospel, one person saw the crucifixion and testified to the water and blood (19:35). This witness is the disciple whom Jesus loved, whom many take to be the founder of the Johannine community and source of the teaching it preserved. He testified both to the fact that water and blood flowed from Jesus' side at his death, as well as to the meaning of that event. When in the epistle we read that it is the Spirit who testifies, the Elder is implicitly asserting that the so-called Beloved Disciple's testimony about this event comes from the Spirit (Brown 1982:579; compare Grayston 1984:138).
The insistence that the witness of the Beloved Disciple is identical with the witness of the Spirit arises from the debate in the Johannine community about who truly had the Spirit and what was the content of Spirit-inspired confession. In 1 John 1:1-4, and repeatedly in the rest of the epistle, the author seeks to anchor his teaching in what has been seen, testified to and proclaimed "from the beginning." Precisely that teaching has been and continues to be the result of the anointing of God and the inspiration of the Spirit. Even now the Spirit verifies the testimony of the one who witnessed the event years before. Therefore to reject the witness and teaching of the community that stands in continuity with that disciple's testimony is to spurn the witness of the Spirit. To emphasize the importance of this teaching, the Elder reminds his readers that the Spirit is the truth. The Spirit is trustworthy and witnesses to that which is true. Because the Spirit is the truth, that disciple's witness also can be trusted.
It is impossible, therefore, that a contrary understanding of the significance of the death of Jesus could be the product of the testimony of the Spirit, for the witness of the Beloved Disciple to the water and blood of Jesus' death is confirmed by the Spirit's ongoing witness to the com munity. And while John speaks of three witnesses--the Spirit, the water and the blood--in reality he envisions one threefold witness to the fact and significance of Jesus' death. Together, Spirit, water and blood offer one testimony, and the Spirit does not testify without or apart from the blood. The statement that the Spirit, the water and the blood agree shows that the Spirit's saving work is not independent of or effective apart from that which was accomplished in Jesus' death.
Finally, the Elder shifts his appeal to the highest court: the Spirit's testimony is in fact the testimony of God (5:9, 11), for the Spirit is sent by and from God. Thus rejection of the confession that Jesus came by water and blood to give eternal life (v. 11) is not simply doubting a human idea or human word of witness: it is to deny God's own testimony to the Son. And if we are disposed to accept human testimony, as we often are (v. 9), why should we not be willing to accept that testimony which is divine in origin? Indeed, those who reject the testimony of God show that the Spirit is not active within them. For just as the Elder had stated earlier that we love because [God] first loved us (4:19), now he argues that our testimony to the world is based on God's prior testimony in our hearts. Therefore, the rejection of this testimony manifests a failure to hear and respond to the witness of God concerning the Son. Those who do not accept this witness to the Son show that they do not have the Spirit of truth, and in their rejection of the Spirit's testimony they as good as deny that the Spirit is speaking the truth; hence, they make God a liar. Nor do they have the eternal life the Son brings, for they have cut themselves off from its source--Jesus, who gave his life for us in death.
The summary of God's testimony with the statement that there is life in the Son confirms that what is at stake in the epistle and its various confessions about Jesus is more a soteriological than a specifically christological question. In other words, the issue is not so much "How shall we speak about the person of Jesus Christ?" as it is "Where is salvation, eternal life, to be found, and who has that salvation?" The answer this passage offers is that eternal life comes through appropriating the benefits of Jesus' life-giving death for us. Since the Spirit is the one who bears witness and inspires understanding of the meaning of Jesus' death, those who acknowledge the community's witness to the meaning of Jesus' death also show that they have the Spirit's testimony within them. Those who stand in continuity with the tradition, not merely for its own sake but because it preserves the centrality of Jesus' death, have salvation in [the] Son. The community of the Elder, which has experienced purification and forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus (1:7; 2:2; 3:5, 16; 4:10), has God's testimony and so has eternal life.
In summary, then, this passage presents the content of the confession about Jesus Christ that believers are to have and hold. But it also suggests, explicitly and implicitly, how we know the truth. In the final analysis, the truth is known by individuals because God's Spirit guides them into understanding and accepting it (Jn 14:26; 16:13). But appeals to inspiration are always dangerous, because they are so subjective. Aware of this problem, the Elder reminds his readers of a historical event--the blood and water that flowed from Jesus' side at his crucifix ion--that was reported and interpreted to them by a trustworthy follower of Jesus, the Beloved Disciple himself. If sometimes the Spirit speaks what seems to be a fresh or new word, then the truth of the testimony ought to be measured against the witness guarded by dependable and faithful individuals and communities, and against the witness of Scripture itself. For the Spirit who guided the original witnesses of events and inspired the interpretation of them does not speak a contrary word to the church today.
The spirit, the water and the blood
1. Water and blood are about his death on the cross.
2. The water and blood are two separate witnesses- one of his baptism the other his death.
This is used two ways- one where we are forgiven by his blood and baptized, the other is focused on Jesus’ baptism and death.
3. The water is used symbolically as the Spirit (but the blood isn’t)
4. Some say this is the two ordinances that are a memorial for the church, “baptism and the Lords supper.”
5. Water and blood refer to His human birth [and death].
Let’s look at the less likely options for the interpretation first
1. The explanation that the “water and the blood” which flowed from the side of the Savior when he was pierced by the spear of the Roman soldier (a number of early church writers held this position).
John 19:34 “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.
What this proves that he actually died because of the rupturing of the heart. Except for the fact that Heb.9:14 tells us the eternal spirit bore witness to the death, it has no exact correlation to what John is addressing. The emphasis of the crucifixion is on the blood shed for the forgiveness of sins, not water. There is no other New Testament reference to water with the cross. The order of John’s epistle is not the same order he wrote in his gospel. In John 1, the apostle John uses this as two separate things not both at the same time mingled together, both being witness of the same fact- his death. In his epistle John is explaining how Jesus came by, not how he left.
2. The water is His baptism- to fulfill all righteousness. The blood is the covenant by his death; indicating the beginning and end of his ministry. Both were necessary; water to inaugurate him in his priesthood and the blood which He as our high priest shed for our forgiveness of sins refer to the actual event- proving why He came. But this is about his inauguration into ministry not how he came. “Came” is in the Greek tense is referring to the actual event.
3. Water is an emblem or symbolic. In Ephesians water is used symbolically of the word in its cleansing. This does not fit Jesus coming by water and blood which are both meant to be literally about Jesus.
The water is used symbolically as the Spirit does not make sense in the context, since it says He came- not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness” of the water and blood. The Spirit does not bear witness of himself (water=Spirit).
4. The two ordinances (water and blood) are a memorial for the church; “baptism and the Lords supper.” The water (baptism) and the blood (our communion); both refer to the actual events. But the water has nothing to do with communion. Some see the water referring to John the baptizer who came “by water only;” that is, he came to baptize the people. But this is not referring to Jesus of whom the passage is in reference to so it is not a valid interpretation.
And the blood symbolically is what we take in communion of the actual event. Blood being used in this manner is always accompanied with “this is my body,” not water (1 Cor.11:23-26).
5. John emphasizes the water and the blood several times in these passages. Throughout his epistle there is an underlying theme that seems to make an obvious point and emphasizes these passages as key to his conclusion. Water and blood was a rebuttal about his humanity in light of the Gnostics teaching that God could not become flesh. It is emphasizing his human existence. The Gnostics believed Jesus became the Christ at his baptism and left him at in Gethsemane (or before the Cross). Since John is speaking of witnesses and in particular v. 8 “And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood;” the Spirit bearing witness of the Son on both Earth and in Heaven.V.9 he tells us of the Spirit the witness of God is greater. The Spirit bore witness of who He is by his miraculous birth of the Holy Spirit, by the power of God in miracles in His ministry (Isaiah 11:2; 61:1- Luke 4:18; John 3:34.)
Our options are simplified are:
The spirit bore witness by birth and came upon him at his baptism (Mt.3:16; Heb.10:15)
The water at his baptism Mk.1:9-10
The blood at his death Heb.10:19;9:14
Or it refers to the actual event proving how He came.
A number of verses are questioned as additions (in particular v.7 and 8) but it does flow with the explanation as well as the whole books theme to refute the Gnostics viewpoint of god becoming man (I Jn.4:1).
Water and blood is most likely not about his death but about his birth that He came into the world by “He who came by water and blood.” A.T. Robertson points out:
He that came ho (NT:3543) elthoon (NT:2034). Second aorist active articular participle of erchomai (NT:2034), referring to the Incarnation as a definite historic event, the preexistent Son of God "sent from heaven to do God's will" (Brooke)… a complete refutation of the Docetic denial of an actual human body for Jesus and of the Cerinthian distinction between Jesus and Christ. There is thus a threefold witness to the fact of the Incarnation, but he repeats the twofold witness before giving the third. The repetition of both preposition en (NT:1697) this time rather than dia (NT:1211) and the article too (NT:3543) locative case) argues for two separate events with particular emphasis on the blood ("not only" ouk (NT:3708) monon (NT:3396), "but" all' (NT:232) which the Gnostics made light of or even denied” (from Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament.)
In John 3 Jesus explains to Nicodemus about a spiritual birth and gives an explanation for being born of water.
John 3:5-8 (v. 5) “ ... unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus is having a conversation with Nicodemus, who is a Pharisee. He is speaking in relation to the Pharisee’s teaching- to be born of water meant to be born physically. This is proven by Nicodemus’ remark to Jesus asking if someone can go back into the womb while he is old. Nicodemus thought to be born again meant a physical birth (v.4). In verse 5, Jesus proceeds to say, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee, believed like the other Jews that because he was born a Jew, he would automatically enter into the kingdom of God. However, Jesus explains that this is not enough. In verse 6, Jesus Himself interprets the water as flesh (a physical birth). “that which is flesh is flesh” Jesus says of being born of water is to be born of the flesh and then explains the difference to Nicodemus of already having a physical birth that comes first, and the need of a second birth ‘from the Spirit above ‘to enter the kingdom. He is contrasted the natural (flesh) to the spiritual.
Again: “came” is in the Greek tense, referring to the actual event. Heb 10:5: Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.
John’s letter is refuting the Gnostics who did not believe Jesus came in the flesh and is the best interpretation for this passage as it is consistent with what John elsewhere writes.
1 John 1:1-3; “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life-- the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us”
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