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?
Jeffrey Khoo, Ph.D.
(Date Posted: 6-2000)
(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 Gods 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 Jeromes 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 foundor 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 Metzgers 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)