Finally, the Elder shifts his appeal to the highest court: the Spirit's testimony is in fact the testimony of God (5:9, 11), for the Spirit is sent by and from God. Thus rejection of the confession that Jesus came by water and blood to give eternal life (v. 11) is not simply doubting a human idea or human word of witness: it is to deny God's own testimony to the Son. And if we are disposed to accept human testimony, as we often are (v. 9), why should we not be willing to accept that testimony which is divine in origin? Indeed, those who reject the testimony of God show that the Spirit is not active within them. For just as the Elder had stated earlier that we love because [God] first loved us (4:19), now he argues that our testimony to the world is based on God's prior testimony in our hearts. Therefore, the rejection of this testimony manifests a failure to hear and respond to the witness of God concerning the Son. Those who do not accept this wit ness to the Son show that they do not have the Spirit of truth, and in their rejection of the Spirit's testimony they as good as deny that the Spirit is speaking the truth; hence, they make God a liar. Nor do they have the eternal life the Son brings, for they have cut themselves off from its source—Jesus, who gave his life for us in death.
The summary of God's testimony with the statement that there is life in the Son confirms that what is at stake in the epistle and its various confessions about Jesus is more a soteriological than a specifically chris tological question. In other words, the issue is not so much "How shall we speak about the person of Jesus Christ?" as it is "Where is salvation, eternal life, to be found, and who has that salvation?" The answer this passage offers is that eternal life comes through appropriating the benefits of Jesus' life-giving death for us. Since the Spirit is the one who bears witness and inspires understanding of the meaning of Jesus' death, those who acknowledge the community's witness to the meaning of Jesus' death also show that they have the Spirit's testimony within them. Those who stand in continuity with the tradition, not merely for its own sake but because it preserves the centrality of Jesus' death, have salvation in [the] Son. The community of the Elder, which has experienced purifi cation and forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus (1:7; 2:2; 3:5, 16; 4:10), has God's testimony and so has eternal life.
In summary, then, this passage presents the content of the confession about Jesus Christ that believers are to have and hold. But it also sug gests, explicitly and implicitly, how we know the truth. In the final analysis, the truth is known by individuals because God's Spirit guides them into understanding and accepting it (Jn 14:26; 16:13). But appeals to inspiration are always dangerous, because they are so subjective. Aware of this problem, the Elder reminds his readers of a historical event—the blood and water that flowed from Jesus' side at his crucifix ion—that was reported and interpreted to them by a trustworthy follower of Jesus, the Beloved Disciple himself. If sometimes the Spirit speaks what seems to be a fresh or new word, then the truth of the testimony ought to be measured against the witness guarded by dependable and faithful individuals and communities, and against the witness of Scripture itself. For the Spirit who guided the original witnesses of events and inspired the interpretation of them does not speak a contrary word to the church today.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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