51. Comma Johanneum 1John 5:7-8
Does God need us to define Him more clearly than He deemed necessary Himself?
This is probably the most famous difference between the older Versions of the Bible like the KJV and modern Versions like the NIV.
The words in dark are absent in the NIV.
KJV: 1John 5:7-8: For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
NIV: 1John 5:7-8: For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.
Books have been written on the subject.
Right at the beginning, let us consider the manuscript evidence. In the following table manuscripts in green represent the original manuscript as it had been copied during the time frame given. Manuscripts in red are given in the timeframe the original document had been written, but the words in question were added at a later stage. These words were added only after the printing of third edition of the Erasmus text, containing this elaboration.
1 John 5:7-8
Version resembling the NIV:
Version resembling the KJV:
Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Cyprian,Dionysius
|Bohairic||Hilary, Lucifer, Athanasius, Basil,Faustinus, Gregory-Nazianzus, Ambrose,Didymus||Varimadum
|401-500||A, other Uncial manuscript||Syriac,Armenian,Ethiopic||Epiphanius, Chrysostom,
Jerome, Augustine, Cyrel- Alexandria
|801-900||K, Papr ,
other Uncial manuscript,Minuscule 33
|1 Old Latin,Slavonic|
|901-1000||2 other Uncial manuscripts 1 Minuscule||Ms221|
|1001-1100||7 Minuscules 1 Byzantine Lectionary|
|1101-1200||5 Minuscule and No.88||Minuscule No.88||Old Latin|
|1201-1300||2 Minuscules||Arabic||3 Old Latin|
|1301-1400||4 Minuscules||MsNo629, No 429,Margin|
|1401-1500||Ms No 636|
|1501-1600||Ms61 and Ms918||Vulgate|
|After 1601||Present Vulgate||Ms2318 Margin in Latin|
Let us summarize the facts concerning the manuscripts:
1. All ten majuscule manuscripts (dating before 800 A.D.) have the words as reflected in the NIV, vs. no majuscule with the words as in KJV.
2. Of more than 300 Greek manuscripts containing 1John, only one (Ms.629, ±1350A.D.) predates the printed edition of Erasmus (1516) when this dispute originated.
3. Nine different ancient translations, (five before 500A.D.) vs. only five, all Latin. (The oldest ±650A.D.)
4. Twenty Church Fathers quote this verse like in the NIV. Of these two left us a verse for verse commentary (Origen and Chrysostom). Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus to prepare a new Latin NT, the Vulgate also didn’t know it. Athanasius, an orthodox theologian who spearheaded the theological reasoning against Arianism, who disavowed the deity of Christ, surely would have used this verse had it been known. Even Basil the Great (†379 A.D.) Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia did not know this elaboration. He was the theologian who formulated the Trinity as three Persons but one Substance!
Only six Church Fathers all Latin, quote some form of the elaborated verse, some could be their own commentary!
5. Two manuscripts being written at the time or shortly after of the printed version of the New Testament (1516), have the KJV-form of the verse in the body-text. (Ms.61, ±1520 and Ms.918, ±1550)
After the printed versions with the elaboration became available (1522), these words were written into the margins of four older manuscripts. (Ms.221 ±950, Ms.88 ±1150, Ms.429 ±1350 and Ms.636 ±1450 A.D.)
6. In Ms.2318 (±1750) the elaborated version was added in the margin in the Latin form, copied from a Clementine version of the Vulgate.
A summary of all the evidence for the Comma Johanneum can be found at: http://www.revneal.org/media/biblestudy/rm/comma1.pdf
Origin of the elaboration.
The Bible had originally been written in Greek. If this elaboration had been authentic, is it not extremely conspicuous that all Greek copies containing the “original” had disappeared? Or that no Greek Church Father knew of it’s existence?
Is it not astounding that, apart from Latin, not one ancient translation, from Egypt and Ethiopia, right through Arabia, Syria, Bulgaria and up to Russia has this elaboration?
One could honestly ask what the origin of these words could be if for 1500 years no one outside the Latin Roman Catholic Church new of its existence. No one made any reference to its amazing absence from all known Greek manuscripts!
Randall D. Hughes proposes: “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.”
Dr. Leslie McFall has this clear graphic of a correcting insertion into Ms.69 during the nineteenth century when metal nibs came into use, instead of a reed pen or quill.
Apart of the obvious difference caused by the nip, the style and formation of letters is an obvious give away.
Let us consider the context of 1John 5:1-12 :
1-5: Believers overcome the world and obey God’s commands through faith in Jesus as the Son of God.
6-8: The truth of salvation through Jesus Christ is testified by water, blood and the Holy Spirit.
9-11: God testifies about Jesus his Son and the effect of faith in Jesus.
12: Conclusion; Only faith in Jesus gives life.
1John 5:1-12 is all about faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God. The Trinity is not the subject of this Scripture.
Effect of the elaboration.
1. The inclusion of the elaboration causes a break in the reasoning of this paragraph as a whole.
2. The elaboration removes verses 7-8 from the reasoning concerning faith in Jesus and makes it part of a statement on the nature of God, standing on its own.
3. The elaboration causes vs.8 to be a testimony on earth concerning the Trinity, and not concerning life through faith in Jesus Christ.
4. The elaboration causes these verses to almost always be quoted and applied completely standing on its own, completely removed from the context in which the original is embedded and integral part of.
I love the elaboration. It gives me something to stop anyone in their tracks who dares to doubt or struggle with the doctrine of the Trinity. Period!
I hate the elaboration. It stops anyone who dares to doubt the doctrine of the Trinity to struggle and study for a deeper understanding of the Incomprehensible, Inconceivable All Holy God! Someone in the fourth century has said the final word. Period!
Does this mean that the doctrine of the Trinity is rejected if we accept this elaboration as a late addition to the Word of God and therefore is no longer found in modern versions of the Bible?
Under no circumstances! The doctrine of the Trinity does not depend on this verse alone. From Genesis 1 through the Old and New Testaments God revealed Himself as three persons, one substance.
God does not need us to define Him more clearly! He invites us to discover ourselves in relationship to Him while we search for Him!
Your comment at the bottom of this post will be appreciated.
I received this comment from Iris:
Please let me correct you. 1) There are intentional additions in the Bible in support of the doctrine of the trinity. 1 John 5:7 in King James Version reads “There are three in heaven that bear witness, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one” 1 John 5:7 […]
You are right, the King James version is very inaccurate. In the 15th century, King James instructed the translators to translate it in such a way that would fit with what he believed. This is a common problem among biblical translations, people often translate them with their own bias. The Amplified Bible (which is one of the more accurate translations) does have verse 7, “So there are three witnesses.” Adding that “in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are One” is only found in later manuscripts. The Revised Standard Version is not an accurate translation, as it is basically the King James version put into simpler English.
I love being corrected when I am wrong. Yet I do not understand your correction nor to what outcome.
Yes I do not agree with the elaboration found in older versions of the Bible like the KJV, but it is farfetched to attribute the inclusion of the elaboration to an instruction by King James, or the clergy at that time! Do you have any grounds for such a statement?
The fact is that the KJV was translated from the printed version of the Greek text common to that period, known as the Textus Receptus, which in fact does contain this elaboration.
As I have made clear in my post, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was not formulated on this elaboration, nor is it based on it. This doctrine was formulated by Basil the Great (†379 A.D.) a Greek bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, who did not know this elaboration. His formulation of the “Trinity as three Persons but one Substance” was based on a study of the whole Bible. In fact it is most possible that his very formulation led to a Latin theologian writing it as a commentary note in the margin of his personal copy of 1John. This note could later have been included into many Latin versions, due to scribes mistaking it’s absence in their source manuscript as a lapse by the previous scribe. That would explain why only Latin manuscripts contain this elaboration and only Latin Church Fathers refer to it.