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1 John 5.7-8: A Spurious Text

  

1 John 5:7-8 [KJV] 7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

1 John 5:7-8 [NASB] 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

The words which are bolded above in the KJV are known as the Comma Johanneum (comma = a short clause). This is the most explicitly trinitarian phrase in the Bible. There are two ways to look at this issue: (1) the KJV is right and the original reading included these words or (2) the NASB (and all modern versions) is right and these words were a corruption added in for theological reasons. In order to get a better grasp of this issue we need to determine what the Greek manuscripts have to say. Does the Comma Johanneum appear in the oldest and best manuscripts? If not, when did this reading enter the Greek text of 1 John 5.7-8? Dr. Daniel Wallace, noted manuscript expert at Dallas Theological Seminary and editor of the NET Bible, says the following:

The Textual Problem in 1 John 5:7-8 by Daniel B. Wallace, Th.M., Ph.D.

This longer reading is found only in eight late manuscripts, four of which have the words in a marginal note. Most of these manuscripts (2318, 221, and [with minor variations] 61, 88, 429, 629, 636, and 918) originate from the 16th century; the earliest manuscript, codex 221 (10th century), includes the reading in a marginal note which was added sometime after the original composition. Thus, there is no sure evidence of this reading in any Greek manuscript until the 1500s; each such reading was apparently composed after Erasmus’ Greek NT was published in 1516. Indeed, the reading appears in no Greek witness of any kind (either manuscript, patristic, or Greek translation of some other version) until AD 1215 (in a Greek translation of the Acts of the Lateran Council, a work originally written in Latin). This is all the more significant, since many a Greek Father would have loved such a reading, for it so succinctly affirms the doctrine of the Trinity. The reading seems to have arisen in a fourth century Latin homily in which the text was allegorized to refer to members of the Trinity. From there, it made its way into copies of the Latin Vulgate, the text used by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Trinitarian formula (known as the Comma Johanneum) made its way into the third edition of Erasmus’ Greek NT (1522) because of pressure from the Catholic Church. After his first edition appeared (1516), there arose such a furor over the absence of the Comma that Erasmus needed to defend himself. He argued that he did not put in the Comma because he found no Greek manuscripts that included it. Once one was produced (codex 61, written by one Roy or Froy at Oxford in c. 1520), Erasmus apparently felt obliged to include the reading. He became aware of this manuscript sometime between May of 1520 and September of 1521. In his annotations to his third edition he does not protest the rendering now in his text, as though it were made to order; but he does defend himself from the charge of indolence, noting that he had taken care to find whatever manuscripts he could for the production of his Greek New Testament. In the final analysis, Erasmus probably altered the text because of politico-theologico-economic concerns: he did not want his reputation ruined, nor his Novum Instrumentum to go unsold.

Thus, the Comma Johanneum first was composed in Latin in the 4th century. Then it made its way into the Latin Vulgate. It did not occur in the Greek until a.d. 1215 and even then it was in the margin. Even so, the was a heavy emphasis on the Latin version (Vulgate) because that was what the Church had become accustomed to reading for centuries. Thus, when Erasmus’ new Latin translation appeared (with the corresponding Greek text on the opposite page) without the familiar phrase about the Father, Word, and Spirit being one, people (especially the Catholic authorities) were understandably disturbed. Unfortunately, rather than correcting this corrupt addition in light of the evidence, Erasmus decided (whether he was forced or not is unclear) to include it once he was presented with a Greek ms containing the extra phrase. So why is Erasmus’ Greek text so important to this discussion? It is because Erasmus’ Greek text was very influential and was used by subsequent Greek texts as a basis. The KJV was translated into English in 1611 from the the Greek text printed by Stephanus (Robert Estienne) in 1550.

F. G. Kenyon, “Text of the New Testament,” p. 916, from Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible ed. James Hastings, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson 2001), (originally published in 1909).The edition of Stephanus was based upon the two earliest printed texts of the NT, that of Erasmus (published in 1516), and that of the Complutensian Polyglot (printed in 1514, but not published until 1522); and he also made use of 15mss, mostly at Paris. Two of these (Codex D and Codex L) were of early date, but not much use was made of them; the others were minuscules of relatively late date. The principal editor of the Complutensian Polyglot, Lopez de Stunica, used mss [manuscripts] borrowed from the Vatican; they have not been identified, but appear to have been late, and ordinary in character. Erasmus, working to a publisher’s order, with the object of anticipating the Complutensian, depended principally upon a single 12th cent. ms for the Gospels, upon one of the 13th or 14th for the Epistles, and upon one of the 12th for the Apocalypse. All of these were at Basle, and were merely those which chanced to be most accessible.

The TR [Textus Receptus] is consequently derived from (at most) some 20 or 25 mss, dating from the last few centuries before the invention of printing [c. 1450], and not selected on any estimate of merit, but merely as being ready to the editor’s hands. They may be taken as fairly representative of the great mass of Gr. Test. mss of the late Middle Ages, but no more.

To illustrate this information the following table may be helpful. Note that the 1522 and subsequent editions of Erasmus’ Greek text included the Comma Johanneum and thus this is the access point for this corruption making its way into the most influential English translation of all time.

Back to our initial question: When it comes to 1 John 5.7-8, do we have a case where some explicitly trinitarian material was added in, or is it the case that this material was taken out by modern translations? After viewing the data, the answer is certain. The Comma Johanneum was added to the Greek text in Erasmus’ 3rd edition (in 1522) and thus entered the English translation tradition through the massively accepted and preferred King James Version of 1611. Thus, it is our conclusion that the modern translations, though newer, are more reliable because they rest on a much larger manuscript base (5,000 compared to 2 dozen) which are much older (dated at the earliest to the first half of the second century).

26 Responses to “1 John 5.7-8: A Spurious Text”

  1. on 09 Oct 2008 at 10:14 pmJoseph

    The lack of information and MSS which spawned these times of textual corruptions puts understanding to the era of the “dark ages.”

    Though fewer in number, I still have encountered Trinitarians who defend the Comma Johanneum and to even go as far as saying it was also included in the earliest Aramaic MSS.

  2. on 09 Oct 2008 at 10:40 pmBrian

    Just a minor question. Are there really 5,000 manuscripts that contain 1 John?

  3. on 10 Oct 2008 at 6:20 amSean

    No there are not. There are 5,000 copies of the NT in Greek. I’m sure many of those do not contain 1 John as they are fragmentary.

  4. on 20 Oct 2008 at 3:28 pmTim

    How does this teach the trinity? It does not say the Father, Son, and Spirit are one! Doesn’t this wording support the unitarian position at least as much as the trinitarian position?

  5. on 15 Mar 2009 at 11:03 pmXavier

    On a similar note:

    Can anyone tell me or direct me in finding out the exact [or approximate] number/percentage of OT quotations found in the NT?

    And, how many of those are from the Septuagint [LXX]?

  6. on 16 Mar 2009 at 7:09 amSean

    If you have BibleWorks 8, it comes with the Archer and Chirichigno OT Quotes in the NT, which lists every quotation with text from the MT, LXX, and NT with English translations of each and commentary.

    If you have Metzger’s Greek New Testament (I think I have the NA but the UBS probably has it too)…just before the dictionary at the back is a listing of OT quotes in the NT plus a second listing of OT allusions in the NT.

  7. on 16 Mar 2009 at 11:41 pmXavier

    Unfortunately i do not have 8 only version 7, any chance you can find out for me?

    More specifically, how many times NT quotes specifically from the LXX.

  8. on 18 Apr 2009 at 5:31 amXavier

    RE: translations…

    The greek translated “begotten” [Jn 1.18] or “conceived” [Mat 1.20; Lu 2.21] cited in reference to the birth of Jesus and his relationship to God the Father [cp. Psa 2.7; Acts 13.33; Heb 1.5; 5.5], does it signify creation or procreation as such?

    If none of these, what does Scripture mean by gennao [cp. genomai]?

  9. on 12 Feb 2010 at 4:11 amAndrew Patrick

    Dear Sean,

    I’ve seen that article from Daniel Wallace before! My sister gave me a printed copy. I thought it was a freshman’s paper (the formatting was bad, Greek text wasn’t embedded, and I was appalled at the bias and unbacked statements being tossed around as if they were fact.

    I wrote a goodly length letter dismantling both pieces (there was a companion piece she gave me where he contradicted himself) but I no longer have letter because it was on my hard drive that crashed. (I had a lot of my own research in that paper that got lost, too.)

    Regardless, I’d like to point out that even Bruce Metzger has discredit Wallace’s version of the “Erasmus fable.”

    It is generally reported that Erasmus promised to include the Comma in his third edition if a single manuscript containing the Comma could be produced. A Franciscan friar named Froy (or Roy) forged a Greek text containing it by translating the Comma from the Latin into Greek. Erasmus was then presented with this falsified manuscript and, being faithful to his word, reluctantly included the Comma in the 1522 edition.

    However, as has now been admitted by Dr. Bruce Metzger, this story is apocryphal (The Text Of The New Testament, 291). Metzger notes that H. J. de Jonge, a respected specialist on Erasmus, has established that there is no evidence of such events occurring. Therefore, opponents of the Comma in light of the historical facts should no longer affirm this report.

    Excerpt from Crowned with Glory by Dr. Thomas Holland
    http://av1611.com/kjbp/faq/holland_1jo5_7.html (see footnote 1)

    I’m not going to review the whole article, but I should point out that statements like this:

    It did not occur in the Greek until a.d. 1215 and even then it was in the margin

    This isn’t something that can be proven. It would be more accurate to say that the oldest surviving copy of the phrase in the Greek was in 1215 AD. (But that’s not correct either, because manuscript 221 is tenth century.)

    For a more complete related entry, see post 71 of the Who was Manifested thread.

    Take care,
    -Andrew

    P.S. That verse is not necessarily Trinitarian. It simply says that those Three are One. It doesn’t say that those are different people, in fact, it implies the opposite.

    I’ve heard people argue that the verse should have been quoted more often by the early Fathers if it was legitimate. I think Alex Hall might have the answer for you: he said that at the Nicene Council, both Trinitarianism and Arianism were both competing to see which doctrine would best stamp out Modalism (Oneness.)

    That was on the AlexHall_JesusOnly_TBS.mp3 file that you linked to on the “Oneness” thread at kingdomready.org/blog/category/oneness.

    While that verse doesn’t contradict the Trinity, if read in its plainest sense, it encourages the “One God named Jesus” Modalism that they were trying to eliminate (and certainly wouldn’t phase anyone who already equated the Rock and the Redeemer).

  10. on 20 Jan 2011 at 11:21 pmDoubting Thomas

    Sean,
    Thanks for the link. This is another great article. I have heard of the Comma Johanneum, or Johanneum Comma, but I didn’t know what it actually meant…

  11. on 21 Jan 2011 at 9:06 amMark C.

    For a response to some of the arguments made in favor of the Comma, see this article from my site.

  12. on 21 Jan 2011 at 11:06 amSean

    Mark,

    You should post that on this blog sometime.

  13. on 21 Jan 2011 at 11:58 amXavier

    AP

    That verse is not necessarily Trinitarian. It simply says that those Three are One. It doesn’t say that those are different people, in fact, it implies the opposite.

    The longer version was written in Latin several centuries after John to explain the three elements (water, blood, and Spirit) as symbols of the Trinity.

    This explanation found its way into some Latin editions of 1 John, including later copies of the Latin Vulgate.

  14. on 21 Jan 2011 at 12:07 pmXavier

    AP

    The doctrine of the Trinity is taught as a “special type of progressive revelation” that by definition is implied. Hence, a “mystery”.

    In other words, by “progressive revelation” they really mean it is some kind of “special knowledge” [gnosis, hence Gnostic in origin] that the reader receives from scripture. When in truth it is something most Christians are indoctrinated into by their respective Catholic/Protestant church.

    It would defeat the whole orthodox teaching if such a doctrine were explicitly/specifically stated as something other than what it supposedly is. A mystery!

  15. on 21 Jan 2011 at 2:16 pmRon S.

    Xavier,

    If memory servers me right, Mr. Patrick (who was here on this site almost a year ago) is not a trinitarian but a Oneness or “Jesus Only” believer. Of course, his own personal definition might be different still. But regardless, he believes that God, Jesus, & the Holy Spirit are all one in the same being (not three in one).

    BTW, he is also a King James Only believer – hence his comments against the subject of this thread.

  16. on 21 Jan 2011 at 3:55 pmSean

    Ron,

    nice to see you around 😉

  17. on 21 Jan 2011 at 6:29 pmDoubting Thomas

    Mark C.
    I also wish you would post that article here. I always seem to have problems reading articles on your site. I get these messages that say, “CONTENT ENCODING ERROR The page you are trying to view cannot be shown because it uses an invalid or unsupported form of compression.”

    I’m using my son’s old laptop computer. The screen is broken, but he hooked up to a monitor for me and it seems to work fine (for a computer novice like me anywaze). Unfortunately I think it might be outdated. I really don’t know a lot about computers…

  18. on 22 Jan 2011 at 11:21 amXavier

    Ron S.

    I must say it has always seemed to me that Oneness theology is easier to refute than the slipper slope that is the doctrine of the Trinity.

    For example, I stumped my Oneness Pentecostal uncle when I showed him that, according to Rev 3.12-13, Jesus has a God. 🙂

  19. on 12 Feb 2011 at 2:18 pmSean

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBgkJyBBh_c

  20. on 12 Feb 2011 at 6:59 pmXavier

    Sean

    Isn’t it sad that biblical Christianity has been expounded by either agnostics [Ehrman], Deists [Newton] and “non-believers” [Muslims, to some extent]?

  21. on 13 Feb 2011 at 4:36 amMark C.

    Xavier,

    Yes, sad in one way, but also wonderful irony there. God has quite a sense of humor!

  22. on 13 Feb 2011 at 9:23 amXavier

    Mark C.

    Yes, sad in one way, but also wonderful irony there. God has quite a sense of humor!

    I do not see how this will help our great commission though.

  23. on 13 Feb 2011 at 11:05 pmBrian K (not Keating)

    Sean

    When you give the example of a Deist, I figure you mean Isaac Newton and not John Newton. I hadn’t known that Isaac Newton was a Deist. Most of the criticism of him that i have read has come from trinitarians, so I always have taken their polemics against him with a grain of salt.

    I do know that Newton wrote more about the Bible than he did science.

  24. on 13 Feb 2011 at 11:53 pmXavier

    Brian K (not Keating)

    I meant to say Thomas Jefferson was a Deist, Isaac Newton was either an Arian or closet-Socinian. Verdict is still out on him.

    A good book on Jefferson’s religious views and that of the other “Founding Fathers” of the US Constitution is The Faiths of Our Fathers: What America’s Founders Really Believed by Alf J. Mapp.

  25. on 14 Feb 2011 at 2:26 pmSean

    Brian,

    That was Xavier.

  26. on 14 Feb 2011 at 7:38 pmBrian K (not Keating)

    I noticed that when Xavier responded. Oh well.

  

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