11 January 2014

“And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree. If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts.” (vv. 6-10)


The writer of the epistle returns to his concern with authentic witness to Jesus Christ. The prime witness is the Holy Spirit, but since claims of spiritual inspiration are notoriously subjective, the writer appeals to other sources to validate this witness. One is the historical event of Jesus' crucifixion, symbolised here by the water and the blood, which highlight the cleansing and redeeming functions of Jesus' death. This event was reported by a trustworthy eye-witness, and passed on through the faithful community. Thus the writer appeals to three of the traditional sources of knowledge about God: experience, Scripture and tradition.

The next section concerns prayer and sin. The writer exhorts believers to pray "according to his will" (v. 14). This highlights the idea that petitionary prayer is not about persuading God to do what we want, but rather about discerning God's will and aligning our own with it. Such oneness of will is a part of being a child of God, so petitionary prayer is an important way of abiding in God.

But why are believers encouraged to pray for those who sin, but not for those who commit 'mortal sins' (v. 16)? The Greek is 'pros thanaton'meaning 'towards death'; thus the kind of sin the writer refers to, is unredeemed sin, which must therefore be unconfessed sin. The writer is saying that believers are not to pray for God to give life to those who do not confess their sins and who do not acknowledge their need for God's forgiveness and grace. If God were to do that it would undermine Christ's work of atonement. Instead, believers are to pray that others will confess their sins and be redeemed by the love of God in Christ. The writer ends with a further reassurance that believers who confess their sins and receive God's grace are freed from sin and are living in the eternal life of God.

To Ponder

  • Which is your most important source of knowledge of God?
  • What are the qualities of eternal life in God?

Bible notes author: 
The Revd Anna Bishop

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