1 John 5 – Water, Blood, Spirit

This week we are reading through 1 John 5. This is the conclusion to John’s letter. In his conclusion, John will shift his emphasis from love to belief and testimony. The message in this chapter is similar to John 16, and the teaching in that chapter will aid in the interpretation of 1 John 5.


John opens the conclusion to his discourse with the basic statement of Christian faith that “Jesus is the (Jewish) Messiah.” John is not requiring our full assent to the Nicene Creed, but he does teach that only those who have this correct understanding of the person of Jesus can become part of the community and be called the children of God. See, John 1:12.

In John, there is this constant battle between light/dark, life/death, and God/world. As John writes at the beginning of his gospel, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome, defeat, or suppress it.” 1 John 1:5. To be as God and to enter into the life and light which is God, we must overcome the darkness and death of this world. The Greek word for victory is nike (like the goddess or the shoe company). John tells us that it is our faith that gives us this victory over the world. Our faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, gives us this victory because it is Jesus who obtained this victory over the world first. John 16:33 (The Greek word for “overcome” (nikao) being a derivative of “nike.”) When we believe, his victory becomes ours.

Our faith is a conquering faith, that overcomes darkness, death, and the world.


John writes that there are three witnesses that Jesus is the Christ: water, blood, and the spirit. John, however, does not tell us exactly what he means by this reference, particularly because water is not mentioned anywhere else in the letter. There are several ways to interpret what John means by this “testimony.”

In one sense, these witnesses are sacramental.  We have the waters of baptism and the blood of the eucharist coupled with the Spirit who necessarily presides over each of these two dominical sacraments. Viewed in this way, John is giving us a nascent understanding of the centrality of the sacraments in our life together. The witnesses to our conquering faith are the sacraments.

Similarly, the tripartite witnesses testify as to the cleansing that Jesus brings us. John tells us that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice that covers or cleanses us of sin so that we may enter into God’s presence. 1 John 1:7. We conquer because we are clean. In the (Hebrew) Scriptures, water and blood are agents of purification. Lev. 14:9, Lev. 4. John is tapping into the iconic properties of water and blood to confirm to us that belief in Jesus leads us into eternal life.

A more prosaic manner of looking at the water, blood, and Spirit is that John is confirming his theme of the Incarnation. The three most important historical moments in the story of Jesus are his birth, his death, and his sending of the Spirit. “Water” refers to physical birth. Biologically, humans are born of water (i.e embryonic fluid) as Jesus refers to in John 3:5-6. Jesus’s physical death on the cross was bloody. John 19:34. And, of course, Jesus has to leave, so the Spirit can come. John 16:7. It is these three events that testify to Jesus’ conquest.

Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is meatloaf and warm chocolate chip cookies. Discussion about 7:30 followed by Compline. Hope to see you here!  

There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree.

1 John 5:8

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