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Analysis of 1 John 5:7
A study of the
of the
New Testament
©Copyright 2001 Randall Duane Hughes

The Comma Johannaeum

There is not another verse in all the New Testament that has come under the attack of textual critics like  1 John 5:7 has.  Its lack of support in the Greek Manuscripts has cause it to be omitted in virtually every new translation of the Bible that has been printed in the past 100 years or more!  Or IF retained, to have its authenticity questioned in the footnotes.  Lets consider some of the leading comments regarding this verse.

There are some discrepancies regarding the number of Greek manuscripts that contain the reading found in the Textus Receptus (KJV).  The reason for this being that some manuscripts may have been discovered at points in time after various printings of the discussion were made.  I believe that the NET Bible gives reference to the largest number of "known" manuscripts that I have seen (8).  But then again, the NET Bible was produced in 1999. Generally there are around 4 mentioned.

"Before toV pneu'ma kaiV toV u{dwr kaiV toV ai|ma (to pneuma kai to {udwr kai to |aima), the Textus Receptus reads ejn tw'/ oujranw'/, oJ pathvr, oJ lovgo", kaiV toV a{gion pneu'ma, kaiV ou|toi oiJ trei'" e{n eijsi. 5:8 kaiV trei'" eijsin oiJ marturou'nte" ejn th'/ gh'/ ("in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. 5:8 And there are three that testify on earth"). This reading, the infamous Comma Johanneum, has been known in the English-speaking world through the King James translation. However, the evidence-both external and internal-is decidedly against its authenticity. For a detailed discussion, see B. M. Metzger, Textual Commentary, 647-49. Our discussion will briefly address the external evidence. This longer reading is found only in eight late mss, four of which have the words in a marginal note. Most of these mss (2318, 221, and [with minor variations] 61, 88, 429, 629, 636, and 918) originate from the 16th century; the earliest ms, codex 221 (10th century) includes the reading in a marginal note, added sometime after the original composition. Thus, there is no sure evidence of this reading in any Greek ms until the 1500's; each such reading was apparently composed after Erasmus' Greek NT was published in 1516. Indeed, the reading appears in no Greek witness of any kind (either ms, patristic, or Greek translation of some other version) until a.d. 1215 (in a Greek translation of the Acts of the Lateran Council, a work originally written in Latin). This is all the more significant, since many a Greek Father would have loved such a reading, for it so succinctly affirms the doctrine of the Trinity. The reading seems to have arisen in a 4th century Latin homily in which the text was allegorized to refer to members of the Trinity. From there, it made its way into copies of the Latin Vulgate, the text used by the Roman Catholic Church. The Trinitarian formula (known as the Comma Johanneum) made its way into the third edition of Erasmus' Greek NT because of pressure from the Catholic Church. After his first edition appeared, there arose such a furor over the absence of the Comma that Erasmus needed to defend himself. He argued that he did not put in the Comma because he found no Greek mss that included it. Once one was produced (codex 61, written in c. 1520), Erasmus apparently felt obliged to include the reading. He became aware of this ms sometime between May of 1520 and September of 1521. In his annotations to his third edition he does not protest the rendering now in his text, as though it were made to order; but he does defend himself from the charge of indolence, noting that he had taken care to find whatever mss he could for the production of his text. In the final analysis, Erasmus probably altered the text because of politico-theologico-economic concerns: he did not want his reputation ruined, nor his Novum Instrumentum to go unsold. Modern advocates of the Textus Receptus and KJV generally argue for the inclusion of the Comma Johanneum on the basis of heretical motivation by scribes who did not include it. But these same scribes elsewhere include thoroughly orthodox readings-even in places where the TR/Byzantine mss lack them. Further, these advocates argue theologically from the position of divine preservation: since this verse is in the TR, it must be original. (Of course, this approach is circular, presupposing as it does that the TR = the original text.) In reality, the issue is history, not heresy: How can one argue that the Comma Johanneum did not appear until the 16th century in any Greek mss and yet goes back to the original text? Such a stance does not do justice to the gospel: faith must be rooted in history. Significantly, the German translation of Luther was based on Erasmus' second edition (1519) and lacked the Comma. But the KJV translators, basing their work principally on Theodore Beza's 10th edition of the Greek NT (1598), a work which itself was fundamentally based on Erasmus' third and later editions (and Stephanus' editions), popularized the Comma for the English-speaking world. Thus, the Comma Johanneum has been a battleground for English-speaking Christians more than for others."  This is the footnote accompanying 1 John 5:7 in the NET Bible.

The NET Bible mentions the Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament by Bruce Metzger, published first in 1971 and corrected in 1975.  Here are the comments from it (pages 715-717):

"That these words are spurious and have no right to stand in the New Testament is certain in light of the following considerations.

(A)  EXTERNAL EVIDENCE. (1) The passage is absent from every known Greek manuscript except four, and these contain the passage in what appears to be a translation from a late recession of the Latin Vulgate.  These four manuscripts are ms. 61, a sixteenth century manuscript formerly at Oxford, now at Dublin; ms. 88, a twelfth century manuscript at Naples, which has the passage written in the margin by a modern hand; ms. 629, a fourteenth or fifteenth century manuscript in the Vatican; and ms. 635, an eleventh century manuscript which has the passage written in the margin by a seventeenth century hand.

(2)  The passage is quoted by none of the Greek Fathers, who, had they known it, would most certainly have employed it in the Trinitarian controversies (Sabellian and Arian).  Its first appearance in Greek is in the Greek version of the (Latin) Acts of the Lateran Council in 1215.

(3)  The passage is absent from the manuscripts of all ancient versions (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic), except Latin; and it is not found (a) in the Old Latin in its early form (Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine), or in the Vulgate (b) as issued by Jerome (codex Fuldensis [copied A.D. 541-46] and codex Amiatinus [copied before A.D. 716]) or (c) as revised by Alcuin (first hand of codex Vercellensis [ninth century]). 

The earliest instance of the passage being quoted as a part of the actual text of the Epistle is in a fourth century Latin treatise entitled Liber Apologeticus (chap. 4), attributed either to the Spanish heretic Priscillian (died about 385) or to his follower Bishop Instantius.  Apparently the gloss arose when the original passage was understood to symbolize the Trinity (through the mention of three witnesses; the Spirit, the water, and the blood), an interpretation which may have been written first as a marginal note that afterward found its way into the text.  In the fifth century the gloss was quoted by Latin Fathers in North Africa and Italy as part of the text of the Epistle, and from the sixth century onwards it is found more and more frequently in manuscripts of the Old Latin and of the Vulgate.  In these various witnesses the wording of the passage differs in several particulars.  (For examples of other intrusions into the Latin text of 1 John, see 2.17; 4.3; 5.6; and 20.)

(B)  INTERNAL PROBABILITIES.  (1)  As regards transcriptional probability, if the passage were original, no good reason can be found to account for its omission, either accidentally or intentionally, by copyists of hundreds of Greek manuscripts, and by translators of ancient versions. 

(2)  As regards intrinsic probability, the passage makes an awkward break in the sense.

For the story of how the spurious words came to be included in the Textus Receptus, see any critical commentary on 1 John, or Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, pp101 f.; cf. also Ezra Abbot, 'I. John v.7 and Luther's German Bible,' in The Authorship of the Fourth Gospel and Other Critical Essays (Boston, '1888), pp. 458-463."

Thus we see Metzger view of the history behind this passage.

A look at the Greek manuscripts mentioned:

Manuscripts Date In the Text or Margin
MS 221 10th century  in the margin by a later hand
MS 635 or 636? 11th century  in the margin by a 17th century hand
MS 88 12th century  in the margin by a modern hand
MS 429 14th or 15th century  in the margin by a later hand
MS 629 14th or 15th century  in the text
MS 61 16th century  in the text
MS 918 16th century  in the text
MS 2318 18th century  in the text

Thus as you can see the evidence for it is rather late!  Thus substantiating the questionable nature of this passage.

Even conservative scholars such as David Bernard, admit the doubtfulness of this passage.  In The Oneness of God, 1983, page 141, fn.

Bro. David Bernard states:  "...there is practically unanimous agreement among Bible scholars that this verse is not really part of the Bible at all!  All major translations since the King James Version have omitted it..."

Again Bro. Bernard writes in God's Infallible Word, 1992

"The three most important differences between the Received Text and the Critical Text are Mark 16:9-20; John 7:53-8:1-11; and I John 5:7-8. The first two are the longest passages to be affected, and the last is the most significant doctrinal statement to be affected." Page 131

I John 5:7-8
"Both the Majority and Critical texts say here, "For there are three who bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one." After "witness" the Received Text adds, "In heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth. . . ."

Of the thousands of Greek manuscripts, the additional words appear only in four very late ones. Erasmus did not find them in any Greek manuscript but only in the Latin Vulgate, so he excluded them from the first edition of his Greek New Testament (1516). The Roman Catholic Church insisted that he add them to future editions, and he promised to do so if he could find even one Greek manuscript that contained them. Eventually authorities presented him with one such copy. He reluctantly added the words to his third edition (1522), which became the basis for the Received Text, but in a footnote he stated his suspicion that, he manuscript had been prepared expressly for him. Indeed, it now appears that the manuscript in question was written in Oxford about 1520 by a Franciscan friar named Froy or Roy, who took the words from the Vulgate. (From Metzger's The Text of the New Testament, page 101-102)  Page 134 of God's Infallible Word

The oldest known citation of the disputed words is in a fourth-century Latin treatise attributed to Priscillian or his follower Instantius. The earliest manuscripts of the Vulgate to contain them date from around A.D. 800. Of the four Greek manuscripts that contain them, one is from the twelfth century but the words are written in the margin in a seventeenth-century hand, two are from the sixteenth century (including the one by Froy), and one is from the fourteenth or sixteenth century. Thus the textual evidence for the disputed phrase is weak, although some authors have argued in its favor based on the Greek grammar of the passage." (The Search for the Word of God: A Defense of the King James Version, Daniel Seagraves, 1982, pages 253-255)  Page 135 of God's Infallible Word

1 John 5:7-8  
Canon and Text of the New Testament    by Casper Renee Gregory,  1907,  pages 508ff

It is therefore of cardinal importance that textual criticism place before Christians one result of the work of the past two centuries. That result is, that we have no ground for assuming that, no ground to suspect that, no ground to fear that any large sections that we consider to-day to be a part of the text of the New Testament will ever be proved not to belong to it. Textual criticism has determined, I think finally and irrevocably, that three passages form no part of the text. Aside from an omission or two of verses that have crept in from parallel passages and have no interest for us, there are three other passages, of not more than two verses each, that are probably spurious. Aside from these, I think we may say that the text of the New Testament is in the main assured. We have succeeded in gaining such a control of the realm of testimony and such a comprehensive view of it, that surprises in this direction seem to be excluded. Textual criticism will not again be called upon to decide whether a whole series of verses belong to a New Testament book or not. That is the way in which the case presents itself to us today. Are we deceived, will textual criticism at some future day have to cut out parts of, say Second Corinthians, and recombine the remnants,—I at least do not now know that, nor do I in the least anticipate it. In this respect, in respect to the future excision of larger portions of the text, the New Testament is safe.

It will not be uninteresting to cast a glance at the passages referred to, to the three that beyond all doubt form no part of the New Testament, and to the other three that probably do not belong to it. They are for the most part of a character foreign to the rest of the text, so that we can easily let them go. The one passage in the New Testament of our ancestors which had not the slightest claim to a place in it was the passage, to which I alluded a while back, in the First Epistle of John. In First John 57.8 the text of the New Testament reads: “For there are three that bear witness, the spirit and the water and the blood, and the three are one.” There is a corrupt Latin text which says: “There are three that bear witness on earth, the spirit, water, and blood, and these three are one in Christ Jesus. And there are three that speak testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit.” That corrupt text put in the words “in earth” and “in Christ Jesus” and the whole sentence about the heavenly witnesses. Now, these words have not the least shadow of a right to a place in the text of the New Testament. We may begin with the latest treatment of the question. Karl Künstle argues with great learning and apparently with great justice that this passage is to be attributed to Priscillian. Let me observe by way of parenthesis that the passage has a number of quite different forms. Priscillian was a heretical Spanish bishop of the fourth century. It is one of the curious contrasts of life and history that this text should be traced back to this heretic. Since the printing of the New Testament, and Erasmus’ fatal promise to insert the verse if it should be found in a Greek manuscript, it has been the habit of the friends of the verse to claim it as the great proof-text of the New Testament for the doctrine of the Trinity. What would Priscillian say to that! For Priscillian did not hold to the doctrine of the Trinity. He was very much of a Manichaean. His views were, we may say, a Gnostic Dualism. He taught not pantheism, but Pan-Christism. And the text that came from him is claimed for the Trinity. That is very odd. But it does not belong in the New Testament, as we have said.

It has been said to be in three Greek manuscripts. Now, one of the three is that Codex Montfortianus at Dublin, of which I spoke above (see page 374). The two points to be emphasised about it are, in the first place, that the Greek text here was changed so as to conform to the Latin text of the passage; and in the second place, that the Epistles in this manuscript were written about the time at which Erasmus, after printing two editions of his Greek New Testament without the verse, had promised to put the verse in if it were found in a Greek manuscript. Thus far no positive proof thereof has been found, but it is in every way probable that this copy of the Epistles was written, and that these words were here put in, in Less correct or less fitting Greek as drawn from the Latin, for the purpose of forcing Erasmus to print the verses, as he then did. in no case has this manuscript of the sixteenth century a particle of value for the Greek text in general, let alone for a verse which its scribe evidently took from the Latin.

 The second Greek manuscript which is cited for these three heavenly witnesses is a manuscript of the fourteenth century in the Vatican Library at Rome. We can here see plainly that the words are taken from the Latin. The manuscript is in two columns. Here the left-hand column is Latin and the right-hand Greek, and the text in the two languages corresponds as nearly as may be line for line. Therefore the scribe has translated the Latin words for those lines into Greek. He agrees with the man who made the bad translation in the Codex Montfortianus in leaving out the article in the case of the heavenly witnesses, but he gives it, as he will have found it in his Greek text, for the witnesses on earth. The scribe of the Montfortianus left it out there too. But the translation is a different one.  

And finally, the third Greek manuscript is one at Naples, which, however, has the usual Greek text without the heavenly witnesses. Some modern hand has written the heavenly wit­nesses on the margin. So we see that these three alleged witnesses in favour of the three heavenly witnesses prove to be nothing but witnesses against the authenticity of the text. The facts which I have here stated are nothing new. Yet a Roman Catholic edition of the Greek New Testament which claims to be constituted according to the ancient manuscripts has just been issued, for I think the third time, containing this verse without note or comment and with no allusion to it in the critical notes. Such an edition is insupportable when we consider the learning of the Roman Catholic theologians. Why, it is precisely a Roman Catholic professor of theology who has shown that these words come from a heretic. And nevertheless Brandscheid ventured to publish them as good scripture with episcopal approbation. No one can today complain that textual criticism has done wrong in thrusting these spurious words out of the text of the New Testament. The pity is only that they have been allowed for so long a time to usurp a place upon the pages of the New Testament, and that a theologian could in the twentieth century still be found so devoid of critical insight as to publish them as a part of the sacred text.

This was published in 1907 as stated above by Casper Renee Gregory.  At the time of his writing there were some manuscripts yet undiscovered that did contain this verse.  I guess the truth is there are still only 4 with it in the flow of the text, and then another 4 with it in the margin!  Below is what the NET Bible translators have included in their footnote.

In its defense is Edward Hill 


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©Copyright 2001 Randall D. Hughes