1 John 5:9-13
This is a pastoral letter to churches in conflict––written to address the conflict and to prevent its spread. A number of scholars think of this as a sermon in written form.
The problems in the churches were caused by false teachers who had left the church (2:19). These false teachers were haughty and unloving. They denied the Incarnation and the deity of Jesus and claimed not to be sinners. They may have been precursors of the Gnostic heretics who plagued the second century church.
These false teachers remained influential. The danger was that they would persuade neophyte believers to accept their heretical teachings.
1 JOHN 5:9-11. THIS IS GOD’S TESTIMONY
9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is God’s testimony which he has testified concerning his Son. 10 He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. He who doesn’t believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. 11 The testimony is this, that God gave to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
“If we receive the witness (Greek: martyria) of men, the witness (Greek: martyria) of God is greater; for this is God’s testimony (Greek: martyria) which he has testified (Greek: martyreo) concerning his Son” (v. 9). Martyria and martyreo are two of several related words that speak of witness or testimony. We get our word martyr from these words, because Christians bearing witness to their faith have often been persecuted or killed by opponents.
Persecution of Christians as real today as in the first century––and in the United States as well as in Moslem or Communist countries. An example is the U.S. government forcing Catholic institutions to give financial support to contraception and abortion in violation of Catholic religious beliefs. I am not Catholic, but I am aware that once the government starts targeting Christian beliefs, none of us is safe.
Regarding witness or testimony, Torah law says:
“One witness shall not rise up against a man
for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sins:
at the mouth of two witnesses,
or at the mouth of three witnesses,
shall a matter be established” (Deuteronomy 19:15).
A few verses earlier, in a passage not included in this passage, John established three witnesses to Jesus Christ:
“This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ;
not with the water only, but with the water and the blood.
It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
For there are three who testify:
the Spirit, the water, and the blood;
and the three agree as one” (5:6-8).
The Spirit in those verses means the Holy Spirit––God’s Holy Spirit. What does John mean by “water and blood”? There are several possibilities, but most likely water refers to Jesus’ baptism and blood refers to his death.
Once again, John is directly refuting the false teachers, who would not accept that the Christ (the Messiah) could be associated with the physical elements of water and blood.
John’s point is self-evident. If Torah law requires us to accept the testimony/witness of fallible human beings, shouldn’t we also accept the testimony of the infallible God!
“He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony (martyria) in himself” (v. 10a). Those who believe in Jesus Christ have God’s witness/testimony embedded in their beings––in their hearts. That witness/testimony becomes the foundation for their belief system––and their ethical behavior––and their hope for the future. It directs every facet of their lives.
“He who doesn’t believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony (martyria) that God has given concerning his Son” (v. 10b). To fail to believe God’s testimony is equivalent to calling God a liar. Failing to believe God is not simply a mistake––it is a sin akin to blasphemy.
Earlier, John said that claiming not to be a sinner is also making a liar of God (1:10).
“The testimony (martyria) is this, that God gave to us eternal life (Greek: aionios zoe), and this life is in his Son” (v. 11). The content of God’s witness/testimony is that God has given us eternal life––and that we will find this life in God’s Son, Jesus Christ (4:14).
The Greek word aionios means age or having to do with an age, which reflects the Jewish believe in this age (evil, Galatians 1:4) and the age to come (righteous––the resurrection life).
In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), eternal life is couched in “the age to come” terms (Luke 18:30). However, in the Gospel of John, God grants eternal life to the believer in the present (John 3:36; 5:40). However, in John 12:25, eternal life clearly has a future cast.
We tend to think of eternal life as life without end, and it does have that sense (John 6:58). However, it also refers to a quality of life lived in the presence of God. Later, in his prayer, Jesus will define eternal life thusly:
“This is eternal life,
that they should know you, the only true God,
and him whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (John 17:3).
1 JOHN 5:12-13. HE WHO HAS THE SON HAS THE LIFE
12 He who has the Son has the life. He who doesn’t have God’s Son doesn’t have the life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.
“He who has the Son has the life. He who doesn’t have God’s Son doesn’t have the life” (v. 12). John presents us with a clear choice––a choice established not by John but by God. Those who have the Son (Jesus Christ) have “the life” (eternal life). Those who don’t have the Son don’t have that life.
“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (v. 13). In the Gospel of John, he says:
“Therefore Jesus did many other signs
in the presence of his disciples,
which are not written in this book;
but these are written, THAT YOU MAY BELIEVE
THAT JESUS IS THE CHRIST, THE SON OF GOD,
AND THAT BELIEVING YOU MAY HAVE LIFE IN HIS NAME.”
In our pluralistic society, this is not popular theology. We would prefer to believe that God will honor all religious viewpoints equally––and that everyone’s opinion is equally valid. That, however, is not the Biblical testimony.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2017, Richard Niell Donovan