The Threefold Secret of Life

Study Guide to 1,2,3 John
by Francis Foulkes ©


1 John 5:6-21


'This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth. There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has borne witness to his Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. He who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne to His Son. And this is the testimony that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life, he who has not the Son of God has not life' (5:6-12).

This letter, like John's gospel, says a great deal about `witness' or 'testimony' (look back to 1:2 and 4:14). We accept a statement about something if there is sufficient witness to its truth. So it is with the truth of Jesus Christ. There is witness, God's witness as well as human witness, to the fact that He is the Son of God who came to be the Saviour of the world. The witness that has been given should be sufficient for us. It has led many to believe and to find that believing makes all the difference to life. These verses speak of the threefold witness, God's witness to the truth, and what it means to believe that witness.

a. Threefold witness

In the New Testament 'water' often stands for baptism. When it says that Jesus 'came by water', Today's English Version rightly takes it to mean, 'He came with the water of his baptism'. At His baptism the fact that He was Son of God was made plain by the voice from heaven: 'Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased' (Mark 1:11-see also Matthew 3:17 and Luke 3:22). Yet when this letter was written, there were those (as we have seen in our study on 4:1-6) who were saying that the Son of God was not truly man. 'The Christ came on the man Jesus at His baptism and left Him before He died on the cross,' they said. So also Muslims take it from the Qur'an that Jesus was not crucified; but it only appeared so to people at that time. Because of this false teaching it is emphasized here, 'He came with the water of his baptism and the blood of his death. He came not only with the water, but with both the water and the blood' (T.E.V.).

These words make us think also of the way that John 19:34-35 tells of the death of Jesus. When He died, we are told there, 'One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness - his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth - that you also may believe'. In these words of the gospel we notice two things, the similar reference to 'water and blood' or 'blood and water' as in the epistle, and the emphasis on the certainty of His death. It was Jesus, the Son of God, who was proclaimed at the baptism at the river Jordan. It was the same Jesus who truly died on the cross. The resurrection further made clear that Jesus who died is truly Son of God (see Romans 1:4). Also the Holy Spirit bore witness to Him (see John 1:32, 33 and Acts 5:32), the Spirit of truth who showed to men and women in their minds that Jesus indeed is the Christ, the Son of God. The Holy Spirit still bears witness. He was at work in the life of Jesus. He is at work today showing us the truth. It may be said that the three witnesses continue in the life of the Church now. The Spirit of God speaks through God's messengers as they faithfully proclaim the gospel. Then the two sacraments of the Gospel, that have been in the life of the Church from the beginning, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, have well been described as 'visible words', words that can be seen. The water of Baptism shows the meaning of the gospel - cleansing from sin and the gift of new life in Christ. So does the Lord's Supper where the wine used tells us that the blood of Christ was poured out on the cross that we might live by His sacrifice of Himself for us. The Spirit shows the truth and gives life to all who believe. Water speaks of the cleansing of our sin. The blood is the blood of sacrifice for sin. 'There are three witnesses' and 'these three agree' in pointing us to Jesus the Son of God and to the meaning of His gospel. He came to us, was shown first publicly in His baptism, died on the cross and rose again, that we might have life.

b. God's witness.

It is emphasized in verse 9 that this threefold testimony is God's testimony. We accept the truth of a matter when people whom we think are reliable tell us of its truth. In other words, we accept human testimony, even though no human being is perfectly reliable. The Old Testament said that with the agreement of two or three witnesses a matter was to be established (see Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15), The New Testament accepts this principle (see Matthew 18:16, John 8:17, 2 Corinthians 13:1). Here we are reminded that we have a threefold witness by God. It would be a terrible thing to reject God's witness to His Son and to reckon the holy God of truth a 'liar' (verse 10). If we are open to the truth as we study the Bible, and if we look a God's work in the lives of people today, we will realize that God is speaking. We have His witness. We must beware of rejecting it in any way. Indeed, if we accept it, we find that the Holy Spirit comes to be in our lives, giving us inwardly an assurance that adds to that witness.

c. To accept or to reject.

It matters more than anything else in all our lives whether or not we accept God's witness to Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ was true, in His life and in His words, then His claims are true. We can indeed believe Him to be the Son of God, to be Light for our lives, to be the Way, the Truth and the Life, to be the Resurrection and the Life (Mark 14:61-62, John 8:12, 14:6, 11:25). He came that those who believe in Him might have eternal life. This has been stated in the Gospel (see John 3:16, 5:24). It is emphasized here, 'God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son' (verse 11). John is so sure of this, and that there is no other way, that he adds, 'he who has not the Son of God has not life' (verse 12 - compare John 3:36 and see Hebrews 2:1-4).


'We also thank God constantly... that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers' (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Faith means accepting God's word about Jesus and proving it true in daily life.

For further thought and study.

1. Note the things that this epistle says that the Christian 'has' or 'possesses', reaching a climax in what verse 12 here says of having 'the Son' and so having `life'. See 1:3; 2:7, 20, 28; 3:3; 5:10 and 15. How are these 'possessions' to be compared with the possessions that we have in the world?

2. 'The Spirit of truth ... will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses' (John 15:26-27). In what ways can we say that the Spirit bears witness to the truth of Jesus Christ in the world today?


In the Authorised Version verses 7-8 read 'For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth'. These words are not found in any of the standard modern translations because scholars have shown beyond doubt that this statement of the Trinity, though true in itself, was not originally written in the Epistle, but added many generations after the Epistle was written.