Spirit, Water, Blood (1 John 5:6-12)

When a juror hears evidence in a trial, he asks two questions: (1) what is being said and (2) who is saying it. Yesterday, we looked at the content of the testimony presented in 1 John 5:6-12, which I summarized as God’s life through God’s Son. Today, let’s look at the character of the witnesses.
Verses 6b-10 provide the relevant information:
And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone 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.
According to these verses, there are three (possibly four) witnesses to the fact that God’s life comes through God’s Son: Spirit, water, blood, and (possibly) God himself. (It is unclear whether God’s testimony is identical to that of Spirit, water, and blood, or distinct from it.) We know what these words mean, of course—who doesn’t know what the words blood, water, and Spirit mean?—but in the context of this passage, what do they refer to?
The Spirit obviously refers to the Holy Spirit. Both here and in John 15:26, a basic function of the Holy Spirit is to “testify” to Jesus. At the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven declared, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).
What does the water refer to? In his commentary on 1 John, Colin G. Kruse points out that in Greek, the phrase “by water” (verse 6) is the same as “with water” in John’s Gospel (John 1:26, 31, 33). In the Gospel, “with water” described the mode of John’s baptism. Since we know that Jesus also baptized converts (John 4:1-2), it does not require a huge stretch of imagination to assume that “by water” describes the mode of Jesus’ baptism. Perhaps, then, “by water” means that Jesus’ earthly ministry testifies to the fact that we have eternal life through him.
It is generally agreed that the blood refers to Jesus’ death. It is, of course, Jesus’ death that gives us eternal life by providing an “atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 2:2, 4:10). Calvary, then, also testifies to the fact that we have eternal life in the Son.
Now we are in a position to better understand the meaning of 1 John 5:6-12. John is essentially saying that the publicly available facts of Jesus’ ministry—his experience of the Holy Spirit, his baptizing ministry, and his death on the cross—all testify to the truth that God’s life comes to us through God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

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