1 John 5:7-8
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 on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these agree as one.
This passage is a much debated yet wonderful text. (There are some textual concerns, but I will not address those in this post. We will examine the text as written in the KJV. Also, comparing the heavenly witnesses to the earthly witnesses might be a future topic, but for now the scope of this post will be very limited.)
This verses are interesting because it shows the power of perspective. Both Oneness and Trinitarian believers throw this verse around as the trump card in any biblical discussion. They both play the same card to prove different points.
Trinitarians focus on the “three” at the beginning of verse 7. Oneness advocates focus on the “one” at the end of verse seven.
Does this verse prove or explain the Trinity? Is this the undeniable evidence?
Most of the essential phrases that define the Trinitarian belief are missing.
There is no mention of “God the Son” here or anywhere else in scripture. The Bible refers to Christ as the Son of God but never as God the Son. This is important. The Son of God was simply a male child that was begotten by the Spirit of God, the Christ child (Luke 1:35). The scripture does say that God was in Christ (2 Cor. 5:19). Jesus said that the Father was in the Son (John 14:10). Jesus was one with the Father (John 10:30). Isaiah proclaimed that a son would be given that would be called the Mighty God and Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6). Just as our spirits dwell in our bodies, the Spirit of God dwelled in Christ. Just as we are one being, spirit and flesh. Christ also was one being, Spirit and flesh. The prophet was correct when he stated that Jesus would be “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. (Col 2:9) There is no biblical distinction of Deity between God the Father and God the Son. There is one God, our Heavenly Father. He dwelled in the Son and thus was one with the Son. The only distinction that can be made is between Deity and humanity. Just as we can distinguish between our spirits (eternal) and our flesh (mortal) and not divide our persons, this distinction of the Spirit of God and the humanity of Christ is not a division of persons.
There is no mention of co-equal, co-eternal, co-essence, or “co” anything else. There is no mention of sharing or even agreeing in one. Interestingly, the term “Son” is not mentioned at all. Instead of “Father” and “Son”, the terms “Father” and “Word” are used. “Father” and “Son” are coupled together all throughout the New Testament. This is the only pairing of “Father” and “Word.” You must admit if John’s purpose was to describe the Trinity, he missed a great opportunity to explain this mysterious, eternal Sonship that somehow exists within the Holy One.
This verse does not establish that God is three persons. Persons are not mentioned in anyway. Oneness believers agree that God has demonstrated himself in many ways, but primarily He has manifested Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. We have no qualms with acknowledging distinct manifestations of the One God. It is all the other Trinitarian thought which coincidentally is missing from this text that we take exception to.
So what exactly are the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost bearing record of (witnesses of)? If this verse is continuing with the main idea of passage, John was saying that these witnesses attest to the fact that Jesus truly is the Son of God.
A. How did the Father (God) act as a heavenly witness to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God?
1. He spoke in a loud voice and proclaimed that Christ was His beloved Son.
2. He revealed the identity of Christ to Peter.
3. He did miraculous works through Christ as a testimony.
B. What about the Word?
1. The Word (logos) can refer to the plan or thought of God. From the beginning, God planned to redeem us. He promised that He is our only Savior. The fact that Christ was the Redeemer, expressing God’s love, proves that He was of God. He was not just the Son of man. He was also the Son of God. The very Spirit and nature of the one God dwelled in Him.
For more info: Understanding the Word of God in John 1
2. This could also speak of the Scriptures. The inspired, heavenly, Word is a great witness that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. His place of birth was named. His miracles were prophesied. Even His death was described in extreme detail. All of this evidence confirms His identity.
C. The Holy Ghost also is a witness of the truth of Christ.
1. Jesus described the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of Truth. Jesus said that the Holy Ghost would lead us into all truth. When a saint is filled with the Spirit, He can walk after the Spirit and have his mind illuminated. Many people debate the identity of Christ, but anyone that has personally received a portion of the Spirit that dwelled in Christ has a witness in his very own heart. Christ lives in him so he has great assurance. The Holy Ghost will testify to the fact that the claims of Christ are true.
Finally, let’s compare the words of 1 John 5 to when Jesus spoke of His witnesses in the gospel of John.
But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given me to finish- the very works that I do- bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent me. And the Father Himself, who sent me has testified of Me…
At least a portion of the testimony of the Father was the mighty works that Jesus did. Jesus would later state that He should be believed for the works sake because the Father dwelled in Him and did the work. Let’s continue reading the next two verses to find another witness of Christ.
But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life and these are they which testify of Me
The Word, the Scriptures, testified of Christ so that we might believe.
Jesus did not mention the Holy Ghost presumably because the Spirit was not yet given, but clearly He illustrated the witness of the Father (in Him) and the Word (about Him).
Another possible explanation for 1 John 5:7 is that John made a quick parenthetical change of subject. Basically, it is possible that John in the middle of his discussion concerning the witnesses for Christ being the Son of God got sidetracked and inserted additional information concerning the witnesses of Heaven. This still would not require that “persons” be the subject. There are three records or witnesses of God’s dealings with humanity. He has shown Himself to be our Father, came as the Son, and His Spirit even now ministers among us. There are three great records, not persons, of God’s amazing love and grace.
Notice the difference in the endings of verse 7 and verse 8. Verse 7 states that these three, Father, Word, and Holy Ghost, are one. Verse 8 says that the Spirit, water, and blood agree as one. Many Trinitarians describe the Godhead as three persons in perfect unity agreeing as one, but John actually contrasted the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost truly being numerically one with the distinct witnesses on Earth agreeing as one.
What does this all mean? God is our Father in creation. He loves us, provides for us, and even disciplines us. The Word is God breathed or the very breath of God. It emanates from Him. God can’t be separated from His Word. God is the Word and the Word was made flesh. The Word, both Scripture and Christ, is God’s self- expression to us. There is just one Spirit. God is the one that we experience as the infilling, empowering Holy Ghost. God now dwells in us and works through us by His Spirit.
There are three witnesses, but they are not three distinct persons. One God manifested Himself in multiple ways. These three are one!