1 John 3:19-24 – The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit

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POSTED 28 JANUARY, 2018

reproduced from Salvation on the Line, Volume II

“We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Yeshua the Messiah, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.”

Many people who believe in a plural Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, believe so on the basis of passages like 1 John 5:7, which in the King James Version reads as, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”[1] The authenticity of the statement made in the Greek Textus Receptus, the source text for the KJV, is denied by all Biblical scholars today, with the exception of various fundamentalists who regard the Textus Receptus as the only legitimate edition of the Greek New Testament to be used by God’s people. A version like the New American Standard, Updated Edition, employing more critical Greek resources, instead reads, “This is the One who came by water and blood, [Yeshua the Messiah]; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.”

Philip W. Comfort offers the following summary, on what is commonly called the Johannine Comma, of 1 John 5:7, in his massive New Testament Text and Translation Commentary:

John never wrote the following words: “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth.” This famous passage, called “the heavenly witnesses” or Comma Johanneum, came from a gloss on 5:8 which explained that the three elements (water, blood, and Spirit) symbolize the Trinity (the Father, the Word [Son], and the Spirit).

This gloss had a Latin origin…The first time this passage appears in the longer form (with the heavenly witness) is in the treatise Liber Apologeticus, written by the Spanish heretic Priscillian (died ca. 385) or his follower, Bishop Instantius. Metzger said, “apparently the gloss arose when the original passage was understood to symbolize the Trinity (although the mention of the three witnesses: the Spirit, the water, and the blood), an interpretation which may have been written first as a marginal note that afterwards founds its way into the text” (TCGNT). The gloss showed up in the writings of Latin Fathers in North Africa and Italy (as part of the text of the Epistle) from the fifth century onward, and found its way into more and more copies of the Latin Vulgate. (The original translation of Jerome did not include it.) “The heavenly witness” passage has not been found in the text of any Greek manuscript prior to the fourteenth century, and it was never cited by any Greek father. Many of the Greek manuscripts…do not even include the extra verbiage in the text but rather record these words as a “variant reading” (v.r.) in the margin.

Erasmus did not include “the heavenly witnesses” passage into the first two editions of his Greek New Testament. He was criticized for this by defenders of the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus, in reply, said that he would include it if he could see it in any one Greek manuscript. In turn, a manuscript (most like the Monfort Manuscript, 61, of the sixteenth century) was especially fabricated to contain the passage and thereby fool Erasmus. Erasmus kept his promise; he included it in the third edition. From there it became incorporated into the TR and was translated in the KJV. Both KJV and NKJV have popularized this expanded passage. The NKJV translators included it in the text, knowing full well that it has no place there. This is evident in their footnote: “Only four or five very late manuscripts contain these words in Greek.” Its inclusion in the text demonstrates their commitment to maintain the KJV heritage.

Without the intrusive words the text reads: “For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and the three are in agreement” (NIV). It has nothing to do with the Triune God, but with the three critical phases in Jesus’ live where he was manifested as God incarnate, the Son of God in human form. This was made evident at his baptism (=the water), his death (=blood), and his resurrection (=the Spirit). At his baptism, the man Jesus was declared God’s beloved Son (see Matt 3:16-17). At his crucifixion, a man spilling blood was recognized by others as “God’s Son” (see Mark 15:39). In resurrection, he was designated as the Son of God in power (see Rom 1:3-4). This threefold testimony is unified in one aspect: Each event demonstrated that the man Jesus was the divine Son of God.[2]

Some Bible readers, for whatever reason, might think that if the KJV/NKJV reading of 1 John 5:7 is not authentic to the letter of 1 John, that any substantial reason for affirming a plural Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit should thus be jettisoned. Unfortunately, the understanding of some Bible readers as it concerns the nature of God, is rather simplistic and underdeveloped. Our understanding of the nature of God hardly rises and falls on the textual issues of 1 John 5:7.

Earlier within John’s letter, in a place where there is no major textual dispute, one does in fact see some statements indicative of a plural Godhead. 1 John 3:19-22 makes light of the relationship that Believers have toward God, contextually deduced to be the Father:

“By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and set our heart at rest before Him whenever our heart condemns us. For God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Loved ones, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask, we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do what is pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:19-22, TLV).

Continuing, John makes light of how Believers are to place their faith or trust in Yeshua the Messiah, the Son:

“Now this is His commandment—that we should believe in the name of His Son, Yeshua the Messiah, and love one another, just as He commanded us” (1 John 3:23, TLV).

Closing his remarks here, John affirms how those who keep the commandments, abiding in the Lord, abide in Him precisely because of the presence of the Holy Spirit accessible to them:

“The one who keeps His commandments abides in God, and God in him. We know that He abides in us by this—by the Spirit He has given us” (1 John 3:24, TLV).

While it may be true that the reference to “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost” is inauthentic to the original reading of 1 John 5:7—a revealed tri-unity of God is present in 1 John 3:19-24.


NOTES

[1] The NKJV similarly has, “For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.”

[2] Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008), 785.