The Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7)

by Martin A. Shue

"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one."

The Johannine Comma: for those not familiar with this phrase--it is simply the term used to describe the much maligned group of words that make up I John 5:7. It should be noted that modern scholarship overwhelmingly rejects the Johannine Comma and thus it is omitted in modern versions. Once again their reason for rejecting it is because it is not found in the "oldest" manuscripts. However, as we have seen and shall see, this "oldest is best" philosophy does not always work when determining the reading of a particular passage. The truth is there is much more required in determining the authenticity of a reading than ascertaining the age of a particular manuscript. Further, the oldest reading may not necessarily reside in the oldest manuscript. As has been noted before, the most significant textual variations to the mass of manuscripts occurred before 200 AD. As the most learned Prebendary Scrivener so rightly stated, "It is no less true to fact than paradoxical in sound, that the worst corruptions to which the New Testament has ever been subjected, originated within a hundred years after it was composed." (Scrivener, Introduction, p. 453 as quoted by Dean Burgon, Revision Revised, p. 30) For this reason it is essential, when searching for the correct reading, to consider all the evidence, external and internal, instead of just looking for the "oldest" manuscript.

The Johannine Comma does not appear in the majority of Greek manuscripts but one should keep in mind that there are not a lot of Greek manuscripts that contain 1 John to begin with. As Dr. Thomas Holland pointed out, "Of the almost 6,000 existing Greek manuscripts the Nestle-Aland Text used slightly over 400 of them. Of these, only 100 contain the "Catholic Epistles" including 1 John (although not all of the 100 contain 1 John). Of these about a dozen contain 1 John 5:7 (i.e. the Johannine Comma) either in the text or in the margin of the manuscript. Therefore, a little over 10% of the Greek texts used for the Critical Text contain 1 John 5:7." (External Evidence For 1 John 5:7, Message #4 as posted on the Biblical Preservation Club) Some of the Greek MSS. that support the reading, whether in the text or in the margin, are as follows: 61 (16 century) which, by the way, was the first manuscript found that contained the verse, 88 (12th century), 221 (10th century), 429 (14th century), 629 (14th century), 635 (11th century), 636 (15th century), 918 (16th century), 2318 (18th century). The passage also receives strong support from the Old Latin MSS. There are over 8,000 Latin manuscripts, of those that contain the Catholic Epistle of 1 John the vast majority contain 1 John 5:7. For example, it is in m (427 AD), r (7th century), t (8th century).

Another source of support for the Johannine Comma lies among the writings of the Early Church Fathers. Many of our modern ‘scholars’ insist that the emphasis should be placed on the Greek MSS thus, they place very little value, if any at all, on the writings of the Early Church Fathers. Because of this they have labeled many passages of scripture as spurious without considering the weight of evidence of the Early Church Fathers. When determining whether a passage of scripture is authentic or not Dean Burgon had this to say about quotations from the Fathers:

"---our object is only to ascertain whether a considerable passage of Scripture is genuine or not; is to be rejected or retained; was known or was not known in the earliest ages of the Church; then, instead of supplying the least important evidence, Fathers become by far the most valuable witnesses of all." (Dean J.W. Burgon, The Last Twelve Verses of Mark, p. 20)

With that being said we shall now appeal to some of the writings of the Church Fathers. I John 5:7 is cited in the Speculum (427 AD) and the Varimadum (380 AD). It is also cited by Priscillian (385 AD), Cassian (435 AD), Ps-Vigilius (date unknown), Ps-Athanasius (6th century), Fulgentius (533 AD), Ansbert (8th century) and Cyprian (250 AD). I wanted us to briefly look at the quotations by Priscillian and Cyprian.

Priscillian wrote: "As John says, ‘and there are three which give testimony on earth, the water, the flesh, the blood, and these three are in one, and there are three which give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one in Christ Jesus.’"

Cyprian wrote: "The Lord says, "I and the Father are one;" and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, "And these three are one." (Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church, point 6)

As you can easily see I John 5:7 has a wide range of support for the Church Fathers dating back to as early as the 2nd century. I would remind you that this would be nearly two centuries OLDER than the oldest extant manuscripts.

We will now turn our attention to the testimony of the versions. It would certainly appear that the first edition of Jerome’s Latin Vulgate contained the verse. Jerome comments:

"In that place particularly where we read about the unity of the Trinity which is placed in the First Epistle of John, in which also the names of three, i.e., of water, of blood, and of spirit, do they place in their edition and omitting the testimony of the Father, and the Word, and the Spirit in which the catholic (i.e. universal) faith is especially confirmed and the single substance of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is confirmed." (390 AD, Prologue To The Canonical Epistles)

The Armenian manuscript of 1295 contains 1 John 5:7. It is also contained in the Syriac version of Immanuel Tremellis (1569). The Waldensian Bibles (1200-1400 AD) contain the verse. It is also found in the following versions as quoted:

"Porque tres son los que dan testimonio en el cielo, el Padre, el Verbo, y el Espiritu Santo; y estos tres son uno." (1 Juan 5:7)

"(For ther are thre which beare recorde in heaven, the father, the worde, and the wholy goost. And these thre are one)." (1 John 5:7)

Bishops' Bible:
"For there are three which beare record in heaven, The Father, the Word, and the Holy ghost, and these three are one." (1 John 5:7)

Geneva Bible:
"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one." (1 John 5:7)

King James Bible:
"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one." (1 John 5:7)

Lastly, we will look at some of the internal evidence for 1 John 5:7. It is commonly asserted that the Johannine Comma is a Trinitarian interpolation. It is supposed that someone trying to bolster the doctrine of the Trinity added the phrase "the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost". However, this doesn’t seem highly likely at all. It would seem much more likely that if one wanted to bolster the doctrine of the Trinity they would have no doubt used the time honored formula "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost". It would be very unlikely that someone would invent an entirely new formula that is not found anywhere else in scripture. The fact is the use of the word "Word" is consistent with the writings of John. Another internal proof that 1 John 5:7 is authentic is the gross grammatical problem that arises with its omission. For this explanation I quote Dr. Thomas Holland:

"But what is most compelling is the Greek text itself. The phrase in verse 8, to pneuma, kai to udor, kai to aima (the Spirit, and the water, and the blood), are all neuter nouns. They are, however, contiguous with the phrase, oi marturountes (who bare witness) which stands in the masculine (as does the Greek word for three, treis). The proper grammatical explanation for this, mixing the neuter and the masculine, is that the parallel is introduced in verse 7. There we find the phrase, o pater, o logos, kai to agion pneuma (the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost) which are masculine nouns (with the exception of the Holy Ghost, which stands in the neuter). The would allow for the masculine oi marturountes since the clause contains two masculine nouns. If, on the other hand, the masculine nouns of verse 7 are removed we are at a loss as to why the masculine is used in verse 8. Therefore, the inclusion of the Comma is not only proper theology, it is proper Greek." (Dr. Holland, A Verse by Verse Commentary on the Epistle of 1 John, as found on his website)

In closing, I would suggest that the internal and external evidence is more than sufficient to prove that 1 John 5:7 is genuine. Yet despite this, and other evidence that wasn’t mentioned, the modern versions have again taken out their textual scythe and have cut this passage right out of their text. And once again it has been shown that God has preserved His words (all of them) in the Authorized Version.

How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Psalms 119:103