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Bible Commentaries
1 John 5

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-21

1 John 5:1-5 . Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God. The faith which embraces him as the Lord of glory, has a regenerating influence on the heart. The immediate fruit is love to God, and to his children; love is the test of the change, for before conversion we regarded them with indifference or contempt. And this is the proof and demonstration of our love to God, that we keep his commandments, which to the regenerate are not grievous; for then we delight in the law of God after the inward man. Another mark of our adoption is, victory over the world; for he that committeth sin is of the devil. Where grace reigns, concupiscence is vanquished; and every sacrifice is made for religion, which religion itself requires. Oh christians, your souls are not safe unless you fully enter into the spirit of all the doctrines taught here. Nor can you overcome the world, unless your faith be built upon the Godhead of Christ. The conquerors are those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. And whosoever confesses this fundamental truth, God dwelleth in him, and he in God: 1 John 4:15. This is the sure foundation, the stone which God hath laid in Zion. This is the pillar and ground of truth, God was manifest in the flesh. 1 Timothy 3:15-16. This is the foundation which supported the believing Hebrews, as demonstrated by eight arguments in the first chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews.

1 John 5:6 . This is he that came by water and blood. It is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. The water alludes to our Lord’s baptism, as in Matthew 3:17; and John lays great emphasis on this sacred ordinance. The water also designates the sanctifying graces of the Spirit. Ezekiel 36:25. The blood of atonement was presignified by the ancient types. Numbers 19:4.

1 John 5:7 . There are three that bare record [the Greek is witness] in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. The three celestial witnesses attest that Jesus, come in the flesh, is the Son of God, and that those who believe in him with the heart unto righteousness, are the children of God. Of these witnesses let us speak distinctly, following the learned Erasmus.

The Father, who testified at his baptism, with a voice from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Word witnessed his own divine person and godhead by his ministry, his miracles, and by his death and resurrection, thus declaring himself to be the true God and eternal life. The Holy Ghost coincides in evidence by descending like a dove, and lighting upon him at the Jordan; and afterwards by anointing the holy apostles, and enduing them with power from on high. He testifies our adoption, inspiring us to cry, Abba, Father. John lays an emphasis on what he saw at the crucifixion, the issuing of water from the pericardium, and the blood which followed, figurative of sanctification, and of the price paid for our redemption. John 19:34-35.

We must now put on the whole armour of God, and be strengthened by the girdle of truth. Dr. Mill, the learned editor of a Greek Testament, and defender of the authenticity of this text, admits that it is not found in the Coptic, the Arabic, and the Syriac versions. But Du Pin, the most voluminous of ecclesiastical historians, and whose work is now before me, says, that the three last versions were made from the Syriac; and he adds, that there are doubts whether the Syriac be of earlier date than the fifth or the sixth century, because it contains modern words, as eucharist for bread, &c. Il y a même lieu de douter si elle est plus ancienne que le cinquieme ou le sixieme sïecle. At the bar of criticism those editions can have but little weight, being all productions of the seat of Arianism.

On the three heavenly witnesses, father Jerome, whose veracity was never impeached, ought to be heard in self-defence against the Arians. In the preface to his catholic epistles, he says, Hunc septimum versum ab infidelitus; id est, Arianis translatoribus, &c. That “this seventh verse, which very openly comprises the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and the Divinity of Christ, was erased from some copies of the Greek by faithless Arian translators.” He then adds, that it was extant in all the Greek copies that he had.

Tertullian, who wrote to Praxeas about the year two hundred, alludes to this verse, as contained in what he calls authenticæ literae, the autographs of the apostles, then preserved in the churches to whom the apostles had written. This reference, like a pillar, stands unrebutted.

Cyprian, in 240, and seventy years before Arius, wrote a Latin work, which is now before me, on the unity of the church, and which has these words, Et hi tres unum sunt; and these three are one. By consequence, the text existed before any suspicion could arise. Du Pin mentions Erpenitus, who possessed an ancient Greek manuscript which contained this seventh verse of the three heavenly witnesses, a man whom our modern unitarians call “a fellow of no credit.”

Erasmus, whom we all regard as a father in biblical criticism, on becoming acquainted with the Irish manuscript which came into the possession of archbishop Usher, and is now in Trinity college, Dublin, put this text into the third edition of his Latin testament; and the argument which weighed with him cannot but weigh with others. His words are, “Truly without dissembling, it is found in one English Greek copy which contains what is wanting in the Vulgate.” His remarks extend to fifty lines.

To this we add the testimony of Professor F. Turrentine of Swisserland, who has left a compendium of theology in Latin. Replying to the Arian objection, that this verse is wanting in various copies, and adulterated in others, he says, “Nay, it is extant in the most ancient Greek copies, as Jerome testifies, in his prologue to his canonical epistles. Erasmus also confesses it is extant in the most ancient copies of Britain, and in the most laudable editions of the Greek testament, as the Complute, and the Antwerp editions, and those of Montanus and of Valton, which all have the above text.” He might have added, that the Russian bibles likewise contain those words; a strong argument, and less known.

To these he adds the words which require this verse, otherwise they have no meaning. “And there are three that bear witness in earth.” Unless we suppose that there are three that bear witness in heaven, we have lost the chain of argument.

How strange then it is that Mr. T. H. Horne should say, “That this clause is not to be found in a single Greek manuscript written before the sixteenth century.” On the contrary, it was in all St. Jerome’s copies. Tertullian, the most polished of writers, refers to it; and Cyprian cites the last clause. What do I say, St. John only repeats here the words of Christ, that the Father bore witness of him, and that the works wrought by the Holy Spirit testified that the Father had sent him. John 5:32; John 5:36; John 10:17; John 10:30.

These facts being fairly and historically stated, that Jerome’s copies contained it; that Tertullian refers to it; that St. Cyprian quotes the latter clause, “and these three are one;” that the Irish copies had it, for Turrentine uses the plural number; that all the Spanish editions contain it, as well as those of Russia; that Erpenitus had a copy which possessed it; that the sense of the passage is confused without it, what are the conclusions we ought to draw? Certainly, that the testimony of Jerome is true; that the orthodox could have no motives to interpolate it, seeing they have the same three witnesses in St. John’s gospel; and that his charge against the Arians for erasing the text is a clear assertion, for in the controversy it was alleged that some Arians had cited the text.

Now to concede the three heavenly witnesses to the Arians, the strong foundation stone, as the reward for depraving the sacred text, would be great injustice to Jerome and two other fathers, and the foulest injustice also to the faith. It would equally throw an odium on all the councils who have adopted the text, and complete the triumph of those who have an undeviating aim to substitute philosophy for revelation. See Hammond’s defence of this text.

1 John 5:8 . There are three that bear witness in earth. The Spirit, shed on Christ and his apostles; the water of baptism, when a voice came from heaven; and the blood which flowed on the cross. And this threefold testimony was sealed by the blood of the martyrs. See notes on the eighth chapter of John.

1 John 5:10 . He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself. The Father, the Word, and the Spirit are one. Beholding as in a glass, a speculum, or a pool of water, the glory of the Lord, he is changed into the same image. Light, and life, and love, the emanations of deity, shine into his heart, as is the comment on John 1:4; John 17:3. This is the inward witness of christianity: the grace we receive on earth in answer to the prayers addressed in the name of Christ, are to us proofs that he is glorified in heaven; and proofs that Christ dwells in our hearts, in all the quickening influences of eternal life.

1 John 5:11 . This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. The apostle had just been speaking of indubitable witnesses to the truth of the gospel, of three in heaven and three on earth; to this he adds another species of evidence, from what is written in the scriptures of truth, and which admits of no controversy. God hath placed it on record, on infallible record, both in the old and new testament, especially in the apostolic epistles, that he hath given eternal life to all that believe in the name of his beloved Son. This being the free gift of God implies that we have forfeited all by sin, and that eternal life cannot be obtained by our own personal obedience or desert, but that we must be wholly indebted to the riches of divine grace. This life being in his Son shows us the way in which it is bestowed, and that it is wholly through the mediation of Christ, which includes all that he did and suffered for our salvation. This is the distinguishing peculiarity of the gospel, which rendered the doctrine of the cross a stumbling-block to the jews, and to the greeks foolishness, but which is the power of God to all them that believe. These sententious words of John are in effect an epitome of the whole gospel, a record never to he forgotten or erased.

The concern we have in it is of unutterable importance. We are sinners, who must be saved or lost to all eternity. We cannot go back into nonexistence, we must go forward, immortality is impressed upon our nature. There is but one way of escape from the wrath to come. Having had the written word, we cannot now occupy the place of unenlightened heathen; we must embrace Christ, in whom alone there is life and salvation, or perish everlastingly. The record that God has written can never be disannulled, it is engraven in the rock for ever, and shall survive when the earth and the heavens are no more.

1 John 5:12 . He that hath the Son hath life, he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. The adoring views which John had of the Saviour induced him more frequently than any other writer to denominate him the Son of God, the beloved of the Father, in whom his soul delighteth; and careful is he on every occasion to make the whole of true religion to consist in a supreme affection for Christ. He is the unspeakable gift of God, the great depositary of the divine fulness, all the blessings of eternal life are treasured up in him; whosoever therefore receive and believe in him inherits all things. Having not only the promise of everlasting life, but the possession of it, the earnest of that which is to come. John 3:36.

He that hath not the Son of God hath not life. The Saviour is God’s first gift, and therefore must be first received, or we can have no part in him. John 1:14. The branch must be united to the vine, or it can derive from it neither fruit nor nourishment. In the order of things, union with Christ must presede every other blessing. 1 Corinthians 1:30. The Father loves to bestow the riches of his grace on those who believe in his well-beloved Son, but we must go to Christ for all, for it hath pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell, that we may all receive, and grace for grace. But where he is rejected, or lightly esteemed, the sinner has nothing to expect. He that hath not the Son hath not life: he alone is the Lord, the Prince and giver of life, there is no other fountain to which we can repair. He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him. John 3:36.

1 John 5:14 . If we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us. He will give grace and glory, as promised in the new covenant, and no good thing, if it be suited to our state and condition, will he withhold from those that walk uprightly. Psalms 84:11. Joh 16:23 . St. Paul lays great emphasis on the prayers of the church, as the means of obtaining the richest blessings.

1 John 5:16 . There is a sin unto death. This is no doubt the abjuration of the faith, that Jesus is the Son of God, which stands foremost in the class of crimes. The Israelites perished in the wilderness through unbelief. Hebrews 10:28. He that despised the law of Moses died without mercy. But as we are not the judges, we should lean all we can to charity, and pray for the fallen.

1 John 5:19 . We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. The apostle here addresses such as are believers in Christ, called to be saints, and who are here contradistinguished, not only from the unbelieving world around them, but from those false teachers who sought to bring in another gospel, delaying both the incarnation and the deity of Christ. Those who walk in the light can discern their own path, and also that of others who are walking in darkness. He that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man; he is placed in an advantageous position for observing the way that others are going, while he himself is unobserved.

All real christians are of God, are born of God, and separated from the world and sin. They have embraced the truth, and know it to be the truth. All human speculations are uncertain, often dangerous, but the faith of Christ is being sure. All who are of God are on God’s side, in the great controversy that is going on with the powers of darkness. They are attached to his righteous government, they deprecate every principle that would impugn its equity, or weaken our obligations to obedience. Those who are of God are of God’s mind, they think of things as he thinks and speaks in his holy word, and so are spiritually-minded. They think of the Saviour as he thinks, who being chosen of God and precious, is precious also to them that believe. Seeing themselves as sinners, utterly ruined and undone, they feel an entire and exclusive dependence on Christ for salvation, and reject with abhorrence whatever derogates from his infinite dignity, or the richness and freeness of his grace.

All the rest, even the whole world, are lying in wickedness, folded in the arms of the wicked one, and under his dominion. Men may talk about respectable individuals, and of virtuous heathens at home and abroad; but after all there are but two classes in the world, believers and unbelievers, those who are of God, and those who are of the world. This is the grand distinction made in the scriptures, and which will finally be made in the day of judgment. There may be various degrees of sin and shades of character, some foul, and some fair, but the turning point of salvation and the foundation of all real goodness is, faith in the Son of God, and a humble reliance upon him for eternal life. Virtue, as it is called, will not grow in any other soil.

1 John 5:20-21 . We know that the Son of God is come this is the true God, and eternal life. He is very God of very God. He has also given us an understanding, that we may know him, and that in him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. This is the eternal, the uncreated, the incarnate deity that we adore. There can be no idolatry, no misplaced worship, for when we call on the name of the Lord Jesus, we worship him, and only him that created all things. In death, we surrender our spirit to him, because he gave us breath, and delivered us from the wrath to come. Therefore, little children, keep yourselves from idols, and the inordinate love of the present world.


“If there be in our gospels,” says Saurin, “a doctrine concerning which a good logician has cause to exclaim, it is this, a God who has but one essence, and yet three persons; the Son, and the Holy Spirit who is God; and these three but one. The Father, who is with the Son, does not become incarnate when the Son becomes incarnate. The Son, who is with the Father, no longer maintains the rights of justice in Gethsemane, when the Father maintains them. The Holy Spirit, who is with the Father and the Son, proceeding from both in a manner ineffable: and the Father and the Son, who is with the Holy Spirit, not proceeding in this manner. Are not these ideas contradictory? No, my brethren. If we should say that God has but one essence, and that he has three essences in the same sense as we maintain he has but one; if we should say that God is three in the same sense he is one, it would be a contradiction. But this is not our thesis. We believe on the faith of a divine book in the sense for which we give the confused name of essence. We believe that he is three in a sense for which we give the confused name of persons. We determine neither what is this essence, nor what is this personality. That surpasses reason, but does not revolt it. If we should say that God, in the sense we have called essence, is become incarnate, and at the same time this notion is not incarnate, we should advance a contradiction. But this is not our thesis. We believe on the faith of a divine book, that what is called the person of the Son in the Godhead, and of which we know that we have not a distinct idea, is united to the humanity in a manner we cannot determine, because it has not pleased God to reveal it. This surpasses reason, but does not revolt it. If we should advance that God, in the sense we have considered essence, proceeds from the Father and the Son, while the Father and the Son do not proceed, we should advance a contradiction. But this is not our thesis. We believe on the credit of a divine book that what is called the Holy Spirit in the Godhead, and of which we confess we have no distinct idea, because it has not pleased God to give it, has a procession ineffable, while what is called the Father and the Son, differing from the Holy Spirit in that respect, does not proceed. This also surpasses reason, but does not revolt it.

We go even farther. We maintain not only that there is no contradiction in those doctrines, but that a contradiction is impossible. What is a contradiction in regard to us? It is an evident opposition between two known ideas. For instance, I have no idea of this pulpit and of this wall. I see an essential difference between the two. Consequently, I find a contradiction in the proposition, that this wall and this pulpit are the same thing. Such being the nature of the contradiction, I say it is impossible that any should be found in this proposition, that there is one divine essence in three persons. To find a contradiction, it is requisite to have a distinct idea of what I call essence, and of what I call person; and as I profess to be perfectly ignorant of the one and the other, it is impossible I should find absurdity. When therefore I affirm that there is a divine Essence in three Persons, I do not pretend to explain either the nature of the Unity, nor the nature of the Trinity. I pretend to advance only, that there is something in God which surpasses me, and which is the basis of this proposition: viz. there is a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit. If we say that there are three Persons in the divine Essence, it is to make you conceive that all which is in God is interested for our salvation, and to enkindle our zeal by the thought. If we say that the Word was made flesh, and that the Son of God died on the cross, it is to make you hate sin, by the recollection of what it cost him to expiate it.” See Saurin’s sermons, translated by J. S.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 John 5". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/1-john-5.html. 1835.
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