1 John 5:7-8 Is the Trinity Found in These Verses? Issue: The Johannine Comma 1

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1 1 John 5:7-8 Is the Trinity Found in These Verses? Issue: The Johannine Comma 1 W. Larry Richards NT Department, Andrews University There are two very different readings for these verses. In one reading, that of the King James Version (KJV), 2 there are very explicit words supporting the Trinity. In all of the modern English versions, the clear words that support the Trinity are not found. The Two Readings: In the following KJV reading, the words given in bold and underlined (these words constitute the so-called Johannine Comma) that are not found in the modern translations: 1 John 5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 5:8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. All modern translations exclude the emphasized words in the KJV and read, with slight variations: 3 There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree. New Revised Standard Version. 1 This is the name given to the Trinitarian portion of the passage. Discussion follows. 2 The New King James reading is the same as the KJV. 3 With the differences indicated by the bold text, the Greek underlying these readings are: The socalled TR of 1John 5:7-8: o[ti trei/j eivsin oi` marturou/ntej en tw/ ouvranw/ ( o` path,r( o` lo,goj( kai. to. {Agion Pneu/ma\ kai. ou-toi oi` trei/j e[n eivsiå 8 kai. trei/j eivsi.n oi` marturou/ntej evn th/ gh/ ( to. Pneu/ma( kai. to. u[dwr( kai. to. ai-ma\ kai. oi` trei/j eivj to. e[n eivsinå The text of the latest critical editions of 1 John 5:7-8: o[ti trei/j eivsin oi` marturou/ntej( 8 to. pneu/ma kai. to. u[dwr kai. to. ai-ma( kai. oi` trei/j eivj to. e[n eivsinå 1

2 The words omitted in the modern translations take away a powerful testimony to the doctrine of the Trinity, and it is a natural reaction to sense an important loss on a major doctrine of Christianity. The reading found in the KJV (including the new KJV) is much more reassuring. Which of the diverse readings is correct? A brief summary of the manuscript evidence Of the more than 5,600 manuscripts containing all or portions of the New Testament, approximately 600 contain the seven Catholic Epistles, 4 1 John being one of them. The additional words (Johannine Comma) are found in eight of these 600 manuscripts. The pertinent information about these eight manuscripts 5 is that: (1) none of the manuscripts is among the oldest manuscripts. Four of the eight have the additional words in the margin 6 and only one of them predates the 16 th century, that one being dated in the 10 th century. Three of the other four are dated in the 16 th century, and the fourth one is dated in the 18 th century. (2) None of the Church Fathers ever quoted the Comma, and when we keep in mind the numerous Trinitarian controversies in the third and fourth centuries, it surely would have been used had they known about it. 4 1, 2, 3 John, 1, 2 Peter, James and Jude. 5 Although some of my information is different, I am essentially following the outline of Bruce M. Metzger s arguments in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1994) Another excellent account is in Raymond E. Brown s commentary, Epistles of John. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982), Appendix IV, Brown does, however, make a mistake in counting manuscripts: he states that only eight out of 5,000 manuscripts contain the Comma when, in fact, 1 John is contained in approximately 600 manuscripts. 6 Marginal notes were generally commentary observations. 2

3 (3) The Comma is not found in any of the ancient versions except the Latin. Its earliest appearance in Latin is attributed to a Spanish heretic in the 4 th century. But, of greater significance, the most influential Catholic scholar of the time who translated the Greek into the Latin, Jerome ( AD), did not have the Comma in his Latin Vulgate. 7 It showed up in the Latin Vulgate after Jerome s time. Furthermore, it would be almost impossible to account for an accidental or deliberate deletion of the Comma in some 600 manuscripts, given its somber message. Whereas, to find it in a handful of late manuscripts that no doubt followed the Latin Vulgate, and therefore added it, is much more likely. From the Latin Vulgate to the KJV The Greek text upon which the KJV is based comes from later revisions of Greek New Testament compiled by the very honest and devout Roman Catholic scholar, Erasmus. Erasmus wanted the Scriptures to be sound in all respects, even if it meant going against the Catholic traditions, including the Comma found in the Latin Bibles. This led him to put a New Testament text together that was based on the Greek. Initially, he found four 12 th century manuscripts, and later another two. None of the six Greek manuscripts contains the Comma. Hence, his Greek text was published in 1516, to the chagrin of many, minus the Comma. He was asked repeatedly, Why have you left out these important statements? His reply, They are not in the original Greek. Show me one Greek 7 In North Africa, Latin Fathers began to use the Comma, and from that time on, its usage continually increased. 3

4 manuscript that contains the Comma, and I will include it in my Greek text. A few years later, a manuscript dated in 1520 was produced containing the Comma. Erasmus, a man of honor, therefore included the additional words in his 1522 edition of the Greek New Testament. But it was more than this new Greek manuscript that compelled Erasmus to include the Comma in his next edition. Charges were being made against Erasmus that he was an Arian the denial that Jesus is God a serious charge. And because Erasmus put the church ahead of himself, he acquiesced by inserting the extra Trinitarian words. He nevertheless continued to hold that the words did not belong in the original. 8 All subsequent editions of Erasmus Greek New Testament contained the Johannine Comma. And it was this text with the addition that was used by the committee who translated the King James Version in Conclusion The history of the text in the original language shows clearly that the reading in the KJV is inaccurate. Is this a serious charge against the KJV? No. 9 To state that the KJV is inaccurate in this passage is not to state that the KJV as an English Bible should be laid aside. First of all, the differences between the Greek text that the KJV is based upon and the Greek text upon which all modern translations are based come to less than five percent, and not one major doctrine is affected by this small percentage of disagreement. 8 This sequence of events is recorded in a well documented article by Joseph M. Levine, Erasmus and the Problem of the Johannine Comma, Journal of the History of Thought 58 (1987), To answer these questions thoroughly is not possible within the limits of this essay. 4

5 Second, based on years of examining both the ancient Greek manuscripts and the English translations, I conclude unequivocally that both the best and the worst manuscripts and the best and worst translations still give us an infallible revelation of God s will, and that all major doctrines can be supported in all of them. We need to point out, too, that apart from this passage, there are other passages, statements based on Greek manuscripts which are not disputed, that support the Trinity. To cite a clear example: Matthew 28:19, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But, even this passage from Matthew does not state that they are One this was only comprehended in the fourth century. Thus, we may affirm the doctrine of the Trinity, even if it is a developed understanding based on texts that do not state so explicitly. We cannot, however, do so based on 1 John 5:7-8 as it reads in the KJV. [1,065 words] 5

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