Next the Elder turns his attention to the origin of the confession that he came by water and blood. It was not concocted by human imagination; rather, it is the Spirit who testifies. In evoking the Spirit's testimony the Elder stresses the ultimate source of this confession. He may well do so with an eye to the dissidents, who no doubt claimed their own views to be equally inspired (compare 4:1-6), even if they defied the interpretations that the Elder and his community held "from the beginning" (1:1-4; 2:20-25).
It is helpful to read this part of the epistle with the Gospel in mind. According to the Gospel, one person saw the crucifixion and testified to the water and blood (19:35). This witness is the disciple whom Jesus loved, whom many take to be the founder of the Johannine community and source of the teaching it preserved. He testified both to the fact that water and blood flowed from Jesus' side at his death, as well as to the meaning of that event. When in the epistle we read that it is the Spirit who testifies, the Elder is implicitly asserting that the so-called Beloved Disciple's testimony about this event comes from the Spirit (Brown 1982:579; compare Grayston 1984:138).
The insistence that the witness of the Beloved Disciple is identical with the witness of the Spirit arises from the debate in the Johannine community about who truly had the Spirit and what was the content of Spirit-inspired confession. In 1 John 1:1-4, and repeatedly in the rest of the epistle, the author seeks to anchor his teaching in what has been seen, testified to and proclaimed "from the beginning." Precisely that teaching has been and continues to be the result of the anointing of God and the inspiration of the Spirit. Even now the Spirit verifies the testi mony of the one who witnessed the event years before. Therefore to reject the witness and teaching of the community that stands in conti nuity with that disciple's testimony is to spurn the witness of the Spirit. To emphasize the importance of this teaching, the Elder reminds his readers that the Spirit is the truth. The Spirit is trustworthy and witnesses to that which is true. Because the Spirit is the truth, that disciple's witness also can be trusted.
It is impossible, therefore, that a contrary understanding of the signif icance of the death of Jesus could be the product of the testimony of the Spirit, for the witness of the Beloved Disciple to the water and blood of Jesus' death is confirmed by the Spirit's ongoing witness to the com munity. And while John speaks of three witnesses—the Spirit, the water and the blood—in reality he envisions one threefold witness to the fact and significance of Jesus' death. Together, Spirit, water and blood offer one testimony, and the Spirit does not testify without or apart from the blood. The statement that the Spirit, the water and the blood agree shows that the Spirit's saving work is not independent of or effective apart from that which was accomplished in Jesus' death.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.