“[fog horn noise] This is your captain speaking. You have been specially selected to receive a free Caribbean Cruise!”
Have you ever received a phone call like that? As ashamed as I am to admit it (and I don’t consider myself to be a very gullible man), I was so excited the first the first I got this call I quickly called my wife. “You’re not going to believe this babe, we’ve won a free cruise!” Of course the cruise wasn’t legitimate. It was a marketing scam used to separate the gullible from their finances by leveraging their greed.
These sort of scams have moved from door-to-door salesmen to letters, to phone calls to internet ads to Facebook profiles. The medium may change, but at least in this case, the message stays the same! The rule of thumb to see through this type of scam is the age-old adage: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Too Good to be True
Erasmus, in his third edition of the Greek New Testament, reluctantly added a poorly attested sentence. You can still read it if you have a King James Version:
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. (1 John 5:7 KJV)
Massive theological battles have been fought over the nature of the Trinity. The idea that God Almighty is Father, Son, and Spirit—one God in three persons—was a conclusion that was only settled upon in the Fourth Century (through the use of some creative Greek philosophical categories). It would seem that, reading 1 John 5:7 as was later recorded in the KJV, the Trinity has a theological proof-text up its sleeve. After all, how can you argue with the “three that bear record in heaven”?
The thing is, this sentence, which came to be known as the Johannine Comma wasn’t around when the early church fathers were trying to sort out the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Textual criticism has shown us that:
- The earliest Greek manuscript which includes this sentence are from the 14th century (aside from a margin note in one eleventh and one twelfth century text).
- Early editions of the Latin Vulgate don’t include this sentence.
- The sentence first appears in Latin in a fourth century text.
Bruce Metzger, Greek Scholar and textual critic from Princeton University concluded:
These words are spurious and have no right to stand in the New Testament. (in Stott 183)
If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
But the Truth is Pretty Spectacular!
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at what John actually did say: Jesus Christ came by the water and the blood.
Water and blood are used in various ways in scripture. To tell the truth, it’s hard to say with certainty what John had in mind here. Some have suggested that blood and water should be viewed as a circumlocution for Jesus’ crucifixion. In his Gospel, John wrote that “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water (John 19:34 ESV). While this could certainly be the case, I think John is getting at something larger in scope.
Jesus came by water—at the beginning of his ministry he was baptized in the Jordan river by his cousin John the Baptist. Jesus also came by blood—at the end of his ministry he was killed. Water and blood, beginning and end.
The Spirit is the One who Testifies
There is still a third element in this equation—the element that likely prompted an overzealous scribe to add that infamous Johannine Comma to the text!
The Holy Spirit is the one who testifies, who agrees, with the water and the blood. The same Spirit, the anointing from the Holy One who teaches believers to discern the truth (1 John 2:20), confirms the truth of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus began his formal ministry by crossing through the Jordan river (like Israel did many centuries earlier) as the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove. Jesus ended his earthly ministry at the hands of a Roman execution squad. After his resurrection and ascension, Jesus sent that same Spirit to blow in and among the church.
The Spirit of God testifies to the truth of Jesus’ life and death. This is the type of truth that can only be known as subjectivity (Kierkegaard). It’s only as you commit yourself to Jesus that the Spirit of Christ reveals and testifies to the truth.
Now isn’t that more inspiring than a mere Trinitarian proof-text?