Johannine Comma - 1 John 5:7-8

 

A Preliminary Examination of the Antiquity
and Authenticity of the Johannine Comma

Does a Clear, Biblical Proof Text Exist
for the Doctrine of the Trinity?

By Jeffrey Khoo, Ph.D.

(Dr. Khoo serves as academic dean and lecturer
at Far Eastern Bible College in Singapore.)

 

1 John 5:7-8 in the King James (Authorized) Version reads, "For there are three that bear record (witness) 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." The italicized words constitute the Johannine Comma (Gk: koptein, "to cut of??). The Comma proves the doctrine of the Holy Trinity ? that "There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory" (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q 6).

Why is this verse seldom used to teach the doctrine of the Holy Trinity?

Other references are often cited, but why not 1 John 5:7f? One will often reply, "How can I when my Bible does not have it?" Therein lies the problem. With 1 John 5:7f missing in so many of the modern Bible versions such as the New International Version, the Revised Standard Version and the New American Standard Bible, it is no wonder that many Christians are ignorant of this verse. And even if they do know that this verse exists, they hesitate to use it because they have been deceived into thinking that it is not part of God?s Word. The NIV Study Bible, for instance, says that 1 John 5:7f "is not found in any Greek manuscript or New Testament translation prior to the 16th century." On account of this they argue that 1 John 5:7 is spurious.

It is not true that 1 John 5:7 is absent in all pre-l6th century Greek manuscripts and New Testament translations.

The text is found in eight extant Greek manuscripts, and five of them are dated before the 16th century (Greek miniscules 88, 221, 429, 629, 636). Furthermore, there is abundant support for 1 John 5:7 from the Latin translations. There are at least 8000 extant Latin manuscripts, and many of them contain 1 John 5:7f; the really important ones being the Old Latin, which church fathers such as Tertullian (AD 155-220) and Cyprian (AD 200-258) used. Now, out of the very few Old Latin manuscripts with the fifth chapter of First John, at least four of them contain the Comma. Since these Latin versions were derived from the Greek New Testament, there is reason to believe that 1 John 5:7 has very early Greek attestation, hitherto lost. There is also reason to believe that Jerome?s Latin Vulgate (AD 340-420), which contains the Johannine Comma, was translated from an untampered Greek text he had in his possession and that he regarded the Comma to be a genuine part of First John. Jerome in his Prologue to the Canonical Epistles wrote, "Irresponsible translators left out this testimony [i. e., 1 John 5:7f] in the Greek codices." Edward F. Hills concluded, "It was not trickery that was responsible for the inclusion of the Johannine Comma in the Textus Receptus, but the usage of the Latin speaking church."

This leads us to the so-called "promise" of Erasmus. Westcott and Hort advocate Bruce Metzger made this claim, which became the popular argument against the Johannine Comma. He wrote, "Erasmus promised that he would insert the Comma Johanneum, as it is called, in future editions if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained the passage. At length such a copy was found?or made to order." This view against the authenticity of 1 John 5:7f is parroted by many even today. Is this what truly happened? H. J. de Jonge of the faculty of theology, Leiden University, an authority on Erasmus, says that Metzger?s view on Erasmus? promise "has no foundation in Erasmus? work. Consequently it is highly improbable that he included the difficult passage because he considered himself bound by any such promise." Yale University professor Roland Bainton, another Erasmian expert, agrees with de Jong, furnishing proof from Erasmus? own writing that Erasmus inclusion of 1 John 5:7f was not due to a so-called "promise" but the fact that he believed ?the verse was in the Vulgate and must therefore have been in the Greek text used by Jerome." The Erasmian "promise" is thus a myth!

It has been suggested that the Johannine Comma did not come from the apostle John himself but from an unknown person who invented and inserted it into 1 John 5 so that Christianity would have a clear Trinitarian proof text. Up until this point in time, no one has been able to identify this mysterious person who tried to "help" the church. He is probably a fictional character. In any case, it is highly unlikely that 1 John 5:7f is the work of a well-meaning interpolator. When we look at the text itself, the phrase, "the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit," naturally reflects Johannine authorship (cf. John 1:1, 14). An interpolator would rather have used the more familiar and perhaps stronger Trinitarian formula?"the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." "The Word" or "The Logos" of 1 John 5:7f points to the apostle John as its source, for it is distinctively John who used the term "the Word" to mean "Christ" in all his writings.

There is nothing in the Johannine Comma that goes against the fundamentals of the Christian faith. It is thoroughly Biblical and theologically accurate in its Trinitarian statement. There is no good reason why we should not regard it as authentic and employ it as the clearest proof-text in the Scripture for the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

(Copied from ? Foundation Magazine)

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Jerome's Preface to the Latin Vulgate
regarding the John 5:7 comma:


The translation below was made by Thomas Caldwell, S. J. of Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. The translation comes from the Codex Fuldensis (c. A. D. 541-546). This Latin codex is available at http://books.google.com, on pg. 399. The preface claims to be by Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate. The prologue has textual critical value because it bears on the question of the authenticity of the Johannine Comma, 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.�).

If the preface is indeed by Jerome, it would provide evidence that there were Greek copies in his day that contained the Comma, and that Jerome thought that others who seem to have held to heretical doctrine had removed the verse from their manuscripts. Such a belief on Jerome�s part would explain the presence of the Comma in the overwhelming majority of copies of the Latin Vulgate. There is certainly evidence for the Comma in the Old Latin Bible and various other sources before Jerome (see, e. g., ��And These Three Are One�; A Case for the Authenticity of 1 John 5:7-8 Rooted in Biblical Exegesis,� Jesse M. Boyd. http://thross7.googlepages.com). If the Prologue is not by Jerome, whoever wrote it would still make the assertion that the Comma was originally present but was removed by unfaithful and heretical scribes.

Of course, both Jerome and the copyist of the codex Fuldensis died many centuries ago and nobody today can ask them what actually happened. It is certainly true that many opponents of the genuineness of the Comma would dismiss out of hand the possibility that this Prologue truly comes from Jerome based on the assumption that there cannot be genuine evidence at so early a date for the Comma, just as they dismiss Cyprian�s quotation of the Comma in A. D. 251 (�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.�� On The Unity of the Church, Treatise 1:6. Trans. Church Fathers: The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson.) on the assumption that Cyprian simply cannot have quoted it, since it allegedly did not yet exist.

However, the fact that many people dismiss the evidence of this Prologue to the Comma from unreasonable biases does not of itself mean that the work did indeed come from Jerome�s hand.


Latin Version

PROLOGUS IN EPISTULAS CANONICAS.

Non ita ordo est apud graecos qui integre sapiunt et fidem rectam sectantur� Epistularam septem quae canonicae nuncupantur� ut in latinis codicibus inuenitur quod petrusprimus est in numero apostolorum primae sint etiam eius 5 epistulae in ordine ceterarum� Sed sicut euangelistas dudum ad ueritatis lineam correximus ita has proprio ordine deo nos iuuante reddidimus Est enim prima earum una iacobi� petri duae� iohannis tres� et iudae una 10 Quae sicut ab eis digestae sunt ita quoque ab interpraetibus fideliter in latinum eloquium uerterentur nec ambiguitatem legentibus facerent nec sermonum se uarietas inpugnaret� illo praecipue loco ubi de unitate trinitatis in prima iohannis epistula positum legimus in qua est ab infidelibus 15 translatoribus multum erratum esse fidei ueritate conperimus trium tantummodo uocabula hoc est aquae sanguinis et spiritus in ipsa sua editione potentes et patri uerbique ac spiritus testimonium omittentes� In quo maxime et fides catholica roboratur et patris et fili et spiritus sancti una diuinitatis 20 substantia conprobatur� In ceteris uero epistulis quantum nostra aliorum distet editio lectoris prudentiae derelinquo� Sed tu uirgo christi eusthocium dum a me inpensius scribturae ueritatem inquiris meam quodammodo senectutem inuidorum dentibus conrodendam exponis qui me falsarium corruptoremque 25 sanctarum pronuntiant scribturarum� Sed ego in tali opere nec aemulorum meorum inuidentiam pertimesco nec sanctae scribturae ueritatem poscentibus denegabo

 

English Translation

Jerome�s Prologue to the Canonical Epistles1

The order of the seven Epistles which are called canonical is not the same among the Greeks who follow the correct faith and the one found in the Latin codices, where Peter, being the first among the apostles, also has his two epistles first. But just as we have corrected the evangelists into their proper order, so with God�s help have we done with these. The first is one of James, then two of Peter, three of John and one of Jude.

Just as these are properly understood and so translated faithfully by interpreters into Latin without leaving ambiguity for the readers nor [allowing] the variety of genres to conflict, especially in that text where we read the unity of the trinity is placed in the first letter of John, where much error has occurred at the hands of unfaithful translators contrary to the truth of faith, who have kept just the three words water, blood and spirit in this edition omitting mention of Father, Word and Spirit in which especially the catholic faith is strengthened and the unity of substance of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is attested.

In the other epistles to what extent our edition varies from others I leave to the prudence of the reader. But you, virgin of Christ, Eustocium, when you ask me urgently about the truth of scripture you expose my old age to being gnawed at by the teeth of envious ones who accuse me of being a falsifier and corruptor of the scriptures. But in such work I neither fear the envy of my critics nor deny the truth of scripture to those who seek it.

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