The "Comma Johannem" 1 John 5:7

(I participate in discussion list from time to time. As we study this issue, I asked for some help with a problem found in our studies. I will offer my question and then the responses to the question.)

In our AM class on Sunday, we are studying 1 John 5 and we have come to the passge in v. 7 where KJV reads "the three that bear witness in heaven".

No other version that I can find has this portion of the passage.

Could I have some thoughts as to why you think it is there in the KJV and not the other versions.

Is there anything in the original text that would support this teaching?

Could it be that this portion "should have been" italicized as being additional thoughts for clarity by the interpreters?

What say ye?

Response of Ethan R. Longhenry to Carey Scott-

Carey, my friend, you've come upon the Comma Johannem, the [in]famous Catholic addition to Scripture.

This is the story of the Comma Johannem (1 John 5:7):

The Greek text renders it as displayed in the NASB and others, "And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth."

The Latin Vulgate reads as the KJV does - that the three bear witness.

Desiderius Erasmus, the compiler of the text known today as the Textus Receptus, the Greek text from which the KJV was translated in 1611, knew that 1 John 5:7 read only the Spirit; however, the Catholic church would not hear of having anything else but the three. Erasmus then challenged the church, saying that if they could produce a single Greek text that has the "Comma Johannem" in it, he would add it to his text. Well, lo and behold, from Ireland comes a Greek text with the Comma in it [later proven to be tampered], and so Erasmus translated 1 John 5:7 out of the Latin into the Greek.

I was surprised to find that the NKJV also contains this error. There is not one valid Greek manuscript which contains 1 John that includes all three.

If you want more information on this subject, I recommend Bruce Metzger, "The Text of the New Testament," Chapter III.

Response of Skip Copeland to Carey Scott

Ethan has given the gist of how this got into the KJV. Here's a little more history, as I recall it. The "comma" appears to have originated as marginal note in an early Latin manuscript. As I recall, it first shows up about the eighth or ninth century. It worked its way into a handful of subsequent Greek manuscripts translated from the Latin, not from earlier Greek manuscripts. It was probably some Latin monk's personal comment in the margin of a Latin manuscript. It has zero probability of being original, and was not added by the interpreters, who would have no reason to italicize it as such.

The Erasmus text, which became the basis for the Textus Receptus, has a few other peculiarities. Well, "peculiarities" is the kinder way of saying this. In a handful of places, it is just flat out wrong. This is because Erasmus worked from only a handful of Greek manuscripts -- 6 to 8, I think -- and they did not encompass the entire text of the NT. So where he lacked Greek manuscript evidence for his text, he translated from the Latin Vulgate, which was itself a defective translation from the Greek already. An example of this is from the final verses of Revelation. Erasmus did not have a Greek text that covered the last few verses of Revelation, so he used the Vulgate, which erroneously has "book of life" in Rev 22.19 where the original clearly reads "tree of life."

Response from Larry A. Bunch to Carey Scott!

Lenski: 7, 8) But the law has ever required and requires to this day that two or three testify (Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16; II Cor. 13:1); God himself adheres to this principle, (Heb. 10:28, 29) ; so does Jesus (Heb. 6:18; John 5:31-37). So John adds a second causal clause: Because three are the ones giving testimony, the Spirit and the water and the blood, and the three are for one thing, i. e., their testimony is one identical thing, the three agree without the least deviation in their one testimony in regard to Jesus and to his deity. The Spirit is the One testifying, he who is the truth itself because two others testify with him and substantiate even in a legal, formal way all that anyone can require in regard to testimony. The fact that these two others are not persons does not disqualify them. In Heb. 6:18 the second is not a second person; in John 5:36 Jesus names his "works" as testifying.

The baptism of Jesus speaks volumes about his deity and about his entire mission. We have already pointed to John 1 :29-34 and to the accounts of the baptism itself. The death of Jesus does the same; remember his words on the cross, in fact, his entire passion, the whole of which is the testimony of "the blood." The one supreme Testifier, the Spirit, has these two others to support him.

The R. V. is right in not even noting in the margin the interpolation found in the A. V. How completely spurious this insertion, often called "Comma Joanneum," really is Horn, Introduction, 7th ed., vol. IV, ~-pp. 448-471, shows, offering even the facsimiles of the very late texts that contain the Comma and treating the whole subject exhaustively. Zahn, Introduction, III, 372, adds a few new items in his remarks on the subject.


Those familiar with the King James or "Authorized" Version of the scriptures will have noticed a variation in the text in the Version on which these notes are based at 1 John 5:7. The King James Version has the words, 'And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth," in verse 6, and in the verse which follows, this statement, "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one." The American Standard Version - the translation followed in this Commentary - omits entirely the words, "for there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one," and advances from the sixth verse to the seventh, the words, "and it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth."

While obviously not within the scope of such a work as this to enter into a detailed examination of the critical questions involved, it is believed that the reader of this commentary would appreciate a brief review of the facts in order that he might be in position to form some opinion in the matter, and to this end the details are set out in abridged form for those who may be interested.

The Greek text, from which present-day translations are made, is determined by ancient manuscripts, versions and early writings of the so-called "Church Fathers," some of which extend almost to the apostolic age. With reference to the major portion of the sacred writings-perhaps ninety-nine per cent or more-there never has been the slightest doubt as to their apostolic origin ; the readings thereof are supported by overwhelming evidence from all of the original and reliable sources. In a few instances, however, spurious readings have crept in, readings which lack such universal support as that regarded essential to eliminate all doubt as to their genuineness and reliability. In proportion as such a reading is found to be missing from ancient documents on which the text is founded, doubt arises as to its authenticity ; and when it is discovered to be wanting from a respectable number of such sources it is regarded as spurious - that is, an inserted passage, without inspiration or divine authority.

With reference to that portion omitted from the American Standard 'version, the most conservative scholars have, on weighing the evidence which obtains regarding it, unhesitatingly rejected it. The grounds on which this conclusion is reached are as follows

1. The verse does not appear in any of the Uncial Greek Manuscript, these being the one most important source in determining the text.

2. It appears, for the first time, in a Cursive Manuscript, translated in the fifteenth or sixteenth century.

3. It is omitted in all of the ancient Versions, including the Vulgate by Jerome, though interpolated in modern editions of this work.

4. The so-called Greek Fathers do not have it, even when producing texts in support of the doctrine of the "Trinity," unaccountable on the supposition that it was then a part of the sacred text.

5. Many of the "Latin Fathers" omit it.

6. It first appears in the Latin writers at the end of the fifth century.

7. Historically, the words appear to have been originally included in an exegesis by Cyprian, and to have made their way, via a copyist, into the margin of the text, and then, later into the text itself.

In view, therefore, of the overwhelming manuscript evidence against the insertion of the verse, it is properly omitted from the American Standard Version, and all New Testament Greek texts today. It would never have found its way into the "Received Text" (basis for the older translations), had not Erasmus promised to insert it if it could be found in any Greek manuscript; and discovering that it was in the late Codex Britannicus, in keeping with his commitment, put it in the Complutensian edition of 1514. The most conservative scholars have referred to this act of Erasmus as "stupidity," and the effort itself, "mere caprice." There is, therefore, not the slightest ground for assuming that these words were a part of the original composition of the apostle John, or entitled to a place in the sacred text; nor is there any loss whatsoever in yielding them tip as spurious, since nothing is taught in them not abundantly taught elsewhere in the New Testament.

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