951753

This Site Is No Longer Active

Check out RESTITUTIO.org for new blog entries and podcasts. Feel free to browse through our content here, but we are no longer adding new posts.


The Johannine Comma

  

By popular demand (2 requests!), here is the article from my website.

Introduction

One of the most hotly contested passages of Scripture is so well known that it has a name – the Comma Johanneum, or Johannine Comma. In this case, “comma” refers not to punctuation but to a clause. In the KJV, I John 5:7-8 reads as follows:

I 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.
8 And there are three that bear witness in earth,
the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

However the Comma, the portion in bold above, is not found in the vast majority of Greek manuscripts. Most scholars consider it an interpolation, and modern versions omit it. The NASB, for example, reads:

I John 5:
7 For there are three that testify:
8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

Until recently I was under the impression that this passage was universally recognized as an interpolation or late addition, only appearing in the last 500 years or so. However I have recently found that there is a small faction that defends the authenticity of the Comma, and presents evidence for an earlier existence of it. Upon examination of this evidence, it appears that the passage may be older than previously thought, although there is by no means a consensus among scholars.

External Evidence
The following is the analysis of the passage, by Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, from his book, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart, 1993). (Hereafter referred to as TCGNT.)

That these words are spurious and have no right to stand in the New Testament is certain in the light of the following considerations.

(A) External Evidence.

(1) The passage is absent from every known Greek manuscript except eight, and these contain the passage in what appears to be a translation from a late recension of the Latin Vulgate. Four of the eight manuscripts contain the passage as a variant reading written in the margin as a later addition to the manuscript. The eight manuscripts are as follows:

  • 61: codex Montfortianus, dating from the early sixteenth century.
  • 88: a variant reading in a sixteenth century hand, added to the fourteenth-century codex Regius of Naples.
  • 221: a variant reading added to a tenth-century manuscript in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.
  • 429: a variant reading added to a sixteenth-century manuscript at Wolfenbüttel.
  • 629: a fourteenth or fifteenth century manuscript in the Vatican.
  • 636: a variant reading added to a sixteenth-century manuscript at Naples.
  • 918: a sixteenth-century manuscript at the Escorial, Spain.
  • 2318: an eighteenth-century manuscript, influenced by the Clementine Vulgate, at Bucharest, Rumania.

(2) The passage is quoted by none of the Greek Fathers, who, had they known it, would most certainly have employed it in the Trinitarian controversies (Sabellian and Arian). Its first appearance in Greek is in a Greek version of the (Latin) Acts of the Lateran Council in 1215.

(3) The passage is absent from the manuscripts of all ancient versions (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic), except the Latin; and it is not found (a) in the Old Latin in its early form (Tertullian Cyprian Augustine), or in the Vulgate (b) as issued by Jerome (codex Fuldensis [copied a.d. 541-46] and codex Amiatinus [copied before a.d. 716]) or (c) as revised by Alcuin (first hand of codex Vallicellianus [ninth century]).

The Comma was not included in the first two editions of Erasmus’ Greek text. It is often reported that he promised to include it in a later edition if a single Greek MS could be found. The story goes that after making that promise, a MS was produced which many have suspected of being forged for that purpose. Metzger 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.” However, on pg 291 (n2) of the (new) 3rd edition of The Text of the New Testament, Metzger writes:

What is said on p. 101 above about Erasmus’ promise to include the Comma Johanneum if one Greek manuscript were found that contained it, and his subsequent suspicion that MS. 61 was written expressly to force him to do so, needs to be corrected in the light of the research of H.J. de Jonge, a specialist in Erasmian studies who finds no explicit evidence that supports this frequently made assertion; see his “Erasmus and the Comma Johanneum“, Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses, lvi (1980), pp 381-9.

In the above mentioned work, de Jonge wrote, “For the sake of his ideal Erasmus chose to avoid any occasion for slander rather than persisting in philological accuracy and thus condemning himself to impotence. That was the reason why Erasmus included the Comma Johanneum even though he remained convinced that it did not belong to the original text of l John.”

The evidence for the Comma in Greek MSS is extremely weak. However, there are those who cite evidence from the Latin MSS. There are many that contain the Comma, but it is not in the oldest ones. An excerpt from Dr. Thomas Holland’s Crowned With Glory is quoted on The King James Bible Page.

While the Greek textual evidence is weak, the Latin textual evidence for the Comma is extremely strong. It is in the vast majority of the Old Latin manuscripts, which outnumber the Greek manuscripts. Although some doubt if the Comma was a part of Jerome’s original Vulgate, the evidence suggests that it was. Jerome states:

In that place particularly where we read about the unity of the Trinity which is placed in the First Epistle of John, in which also the names of three, i.e. of water, of blood, and of spirit, do they place in their edition and omitting the testimony of the Father; and the Word, and the Spirit in which the catholic faith is especially confirmed and the single substance of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is confirmed.

The above quote from Jerome comes from his Prologue to the Canonical Epistles. However, even the Catholic Encyclopedia states that “St. Jerome (fourth century) does not seem to know the text. After the sixth century, the disputed passage is more and more in use among the Latin Fathers; and, by the twelfth century, is commonly cited as canonical Scripture.” According to Metzger’s TCGNT, “The Codex Fuldensis, a copy of the Vulgate made around 546, contains a copy of Jerome’s Prologue to the Canonical Gospels which seems to reference the Comma, but the Codex’s version of 1 John omits it, which has led many to believe that the Prologue’s reference is spurious.”

Although the Comma is not found in the earliest form of the Old Latin MSS or Jerome’s Vulgate, it is pointed out that there are a few Latin Fathers who quote the passage, suggesting that they knew of earlier MSS that no longer exist.

Earliest among these is Tertullian (200 AD). He wrote, “These Three are one essence not one Person, as it is said, ‘I and my Father are One’ [John 10:30] in respect of unity of Being not singularity of number” (Against Praxeas, 25). However, he only uses the phrase “these three are one” and does not specifically refer to John’s epistle.

The next earliest is Cyprian (c. 250 AD). “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'” (Treatise 8, ch.3). Here again he does not refer to John by name, but many consider this to be an indirect reference. However, the fact that he used the words, “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” rather than “the Father, the Word, and the Spirit,” makes it questionable as to whether he was actually quoting John’s epistle. Daniel B. Wallace, in The Comma Johanneum and Cyprian, writes:

Thus, a careful distinction needs to be made between the actual text used by Cyprian and his theological interpretations. As Metzger says, the Old Latin text used by Cyprian shows no evidence of this gloss. On the other side of the ledger, however, Cyprian does show evidence of putting a theological spin on 1 John 5:7. In his De catholicae ecclesiae unitate 6, he says, “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.'” What is evident is that Cyprian’s interpretation of 1 John 5:7 is that the three witnesses refer to the Trinity. Apparently, he was prompted to read such into the text here because of the heresies he was fighting (a common indulgence of the early patristic writers). Since John 10:30 triggered the ‘oneness’ motif, and involved Father and Son, it was a natural step for Cyprian to find another text that spoke of the Spirit, using the same kind of language. It is quite significant, however, that (a) he does not quote ‘of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Spirit’ as part of the text; this is obviously his interpretation of ‘the Spirit, the water, and the blood.’ (b) Further, since the statement about the Trinity in the Comma is quite clear (“the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit”), and since Cyprian does not quote that part of the text, this in the least does not afford proof that he knew of such wording. One would expect him to quote the exact wording of the text, if its meaning were plain. That he does not do so indicates that a Trinitarian interpretation was superimposed on the text by Cyprian, but he did not changed the words. It is interesting that Michael Maynard, a TR advocate who has written a fairly thick volume defending the Comma (A History of the Debate over 1 John 5:7-8 [Tempe, AZ: Comma Publications, 1995] 38), not only quotes from this passage but also speaks of the significance of Cyprian’s comment, quoting Kenyon’s Textual Criticism of the New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1912), 212: “Cyprian is regarded as one ‘who quotes copiously and textually’.” The quotation from Kenyon is true, but quite beside the point, for Cyprian’s quoted material from 1 John 5 is only the clause, “and these three are one”—the wording of which occurs in the Greek text, regardless of how one views the Comma.

Thus, that Cyprian interpreted 1 John 5:7-8 to refer to the Trinity is likely; but that he saw the Trinitarian formula in the text is rather unlikely. Further, one of the great historical problems of regarding the Comma as authentic is how it escaped all Greek witnesses for a millennium and a half. That it at first shows up in Latin, starting with Priscillian in c. 380 (as even the hard evidence provided by Maynard shows), explains why it is not found in the early or even the majority of Greek witnesses. All the historical data point in one of two directions: (1) This reading was a gloss added by Latin patristic writers whose interpretive zeal caused them to insert these words into Holy Writ; or (2) this interpretation was a gloss, written in the margins of some Latin MSS, probably sometime between 250 and 350, that got incorporated into the text by a scribe who was not sure whether it was a comment on scripture or scripture itself (a phenomenon that was not uncommon with scribes).

The first Latin Father to actually quote I John 5 is Priscillian (c. 380 AD). “As John says ‘and there are three which give testimony on earth, the water, the flesh the blood, and these three are in one, and there are three which give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one in Christ Jesus.'”(Liber Apologeticus). Metzger refers to this first instance in TCGNT:

The earliest instance of the passage being quoted as a part of the actual text of the Epistle is in a fourth century Latin treatise entitled Liber Apologeticus (chap. 4), attributed either to the Spanish heretic Priscillian (died about 385) or to his follower Bishop Instantius. Apparently the gloss arose when the original passage was understood to symbolize the Trinity (through the mention of three witnesses: the Spirit, the water, and the blood), an interpretation that may have been written first as a marginal note that afterwards found its way into the text. In the fifth century the gloss was quoted by Latin Fathers in North Africa and Italy as part of the text of the Epistle, and from the sixth century onwards it is found more and more frequently in manuscripts of the Old Latin and of the Vulgate. In these various witnesses the wording of the passage differs in several particulars.

So it is questionable as to whether any Latin Fathers quoted the passage before the fourth century. If it indeed was in earlier Greek MSS, it would be very hard to explain its absence in the vast majority. Metzger wrote, “As regards transcriptional probability, if the passage were original, no good reason can be found to account for its omission, either accidentally or intentionally, by copyists of hundreds of Greek manuscripts, and by translators of ancient versions.”

Internal Evidence
Perhaps the most compelling evidence presented in favor of the Comma is the argument from Greek grammar. In another excerpt from his book on the King James Bible page, Dr. Thomas Holland writes:

But what is most compelling is the Greek text itself. The phrase in verse 8, “to pneuma, kai to udor, kai to aima (the Spirit, and the water, and the blood)” are all neuter nouns. They are, however, contiguous with the phrase, “oi marturountes (who bare witness)” which stands in the masculine (as does the Greek word for three, treis). The proper grammatical explanation for this, mixing the neuter and the masculine, is that the parallel is introduced in verse 7. There we find the phrase, “o pater, o logos, kai to agion pneuma (the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost)” which are masculine nouns (with the exception of the Holy Ghost, which stands in the neuter). This would allow for the masculine “oi marturountes” since the clause contains two masculine nouns. If, on the other hand, the masculine nouns of verse 7 are removed we are at a loss as to why the masculine is used in verse 8. Therefore, the inclusion of the Comma is not only proper theology, it is proper Greek.

However, this argument is not convincing to many other scholars. The following is from the Wikipedia article, Comma Johanneum:

In the 19th century Frederick Nolan and Robert Dabney separately published a grammatical justification for the Comma. They noted that the words “Spirit”, “water” and “Blood” in 1 John 5:8, found outside the Comma, though grammatically neuter, are immediately preceded by the masculine phrase “the ones bearing witness,” and they suggested that this was the result of grammatical gender agreement with the masculine nouns “Father” and “Word” within the Comma.

The argument has gained little support among scholars, who do not see it as outweighing the textual analysis described above. The argument of Nolan and Dabney that grammatical gender agreement with the multiple neuter nouns “Spirit” and “water” and “Blood” should occur if John did not write the Comma and that grammatical gender agreement with the multiple masculine nouns “Father” and “Word” in the Comma does occur, thus proving that John wrote the Comma, is not well-based in terms of Greek grammar, as grammatical gender agreement with multiple nouns never occurs in the New Testament.

Two other grammar-based explanations have been advanced. Howard Marshall suggests that although Spirit, water and Blood are all neuter in Greek, John regarded the “Spirit” as a Person and used the masculine gender to acknowledge this, leading to the personification also of “water” and “Blood.” This explanation, however, makes little sense, given that the phrase “the thing bearing witness,” used in reference to the “Spirit” in the immediately preceding verse, has been allowed to remain neuter.

Alternatively, Daniel B. Wallace suggests that the masculine phrase “the ones bearing witness” may be taking its gender from the “men” in the phrase “the witness of the men” in verse 5:9, with whom John is equating “the Spirit and the water and the Blood”.

So the internal evidence regarding the Greek grammar has more than one possible explanation, and does not conclusively prove the authenticity of the Comma. Finally, the internal evidence in the English itself should be considered. Metzger wrote, “As regards intrinsic probability, the passage makes an awkward break in the sense.”

The first five verses of chapter 5 introduce the subject, talking about those that believe that Jesus is the Christ, and the Son of God. Beginning in verse 6 it expounds on the proof of who Jesus is.

I John 5 (NASB):
6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
7 For there are three that testify:
8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.
9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son.
10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son.

The whole point of the passage is the testimony that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah. Verse six says he came by water and blood, and it is the spirit that testified. There are a number of opinions as to exactly what the water and the blood represent. Personally I lean toward the water referring to his baptism, and the blood to his death. But whatever they mean, we have the spirit and the water and the blood in verse six. Then in verse seven and eight it says there are three that testify, the spirit and the water and the blood, and they are in agreement.

Verse nine continues the same thought, that if we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater. If the Comma is included, the whole flow of thought would be interrupted by the “three witnesses in heaven” which has nothing to do with the testimony of Christ on earth, which is the subject of the passage.

Mike Sarkissian, in his article, A Critical Examination and Exegesis of 1 John 5:7 on BiblicalThought.com, writes the following:

Since God is giving His testimony about Jesus being the incarnate Son it would seem awkward if the Johannine Comma were placed in the passage. For the apostle introduces Christ as coming by water and blood in verse six. In this context John is talking about the testimony of the Father to the Son. Specifically, that testimony while Jesus was on earth. For him to immediately say that there are three witnesses in heaven, “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” and then to reiterate the testimony on earth, “the Spirit, the water and the blood” seems awkward to say the least.

It should be noted that Sarkissian is a Trinitarian, so he would not be biased toward the omission of the Comma. Like most Trinitarians, he claims that, “The lack of authenticity of this passage absolutely in no way affects the Biblical witness as to who Jesus is – the Second Person of the Triune God.” Similarly, the inclusion of the Comma in no way strengthens the argument in favor of the Trinity, since the passage does not say that the three are “one essence” or “one substance” and nowhere does it say “three persons in one God.” Therefore, even if the passage was in the original, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit can be understood as being “one” in the same sense that Jesus and the Father are “one” in John 10:30, and that all may be “one” in John 17:21-22.

As with many disputed passages in the Bible, there will probably never be a 100% consensus about the Johannine Comma. But there is abundant reason to question its validity, and the recognition of this fact has caused many Trinitarians to no longer use it as a “proof text” for the Trinity. (See Who Is Messiah?)

2 Responses to “The Johannine Comma”

  1. on 24 Jan 2011 at 6:43 pmDoubting Thomas

    Thanks Mark…

  2. on 29 Apr 2011 at 7:24 amJim

    Reversing the Grammar

    A substantive is either a noun or a word or phrase that functions as a noun. An appositive is a subsequent substantive that is added to a preceding substantive to modify the preceding substantive. An appositive is the equivalent of an adjective modifying and agreeing with the preceding substantive to which it is added as a modifier.

    It is grammatically IMPOSSIBLE for the preceding substantive in an appositive construction to agree with the subsequent appositive that is added to it as a modifier, because the direction of modification and agreement in an appositive construction is ALWAYS from the subsequent appositive to the preceding substantive, NEVER from the preceding substantive to the subsequent appositive.

    The subsequent appositive in an appositive construction must agree with the preceding substantive in grammatical case, but it does not have to agree with it in number or gender.

    If the appositive is not a noun, then the appositive can agree with the preceding substantive in gender. If the appositive is a noun, then the appositive cannot agree with the preceding substantive in gender, because the gender of a noun (the appositive) is predetermined by the grammatical gender of the noun, which never changes.

    In Matthew 17:4 in the Received Text, the preceding substantive in the appositive construction is the grammatically feminine noun “tabernacles,” and the three subsequent appositives are the feminine substantival adjectives “one” and “one” and “one,” which agree with the preceding substantive in gender because they are not nouns. The gender of the preceding substantive “tabernacles” is predetermined by the feminine grammatical gender of the noun, which never changes.

    In Matthew 23:23 in the Received Text, the preceding substantive in the appositive construction is the neuter articular substantival adjective “the weightier things,” and the three subsequent appositives are the grammatically masculine noun “mercy” and the grammatically feminine nouns “judgment” and “faith,” which cannot agree with the preceding substantive in gender because they are nouns. The gender of the preceding substantive “the weightier things” is neuter because the nature of the idea that it expresses is things. The “judgment” and “mercy” and “faith” are three things, hence the neuter gender of “the weightier things.”

    In 1 John 2:16 in the Received Text, the preceding substantive in the appositive construction is the neuter article “the thing” in the phrase “every the thing” (everything), and the three subsequent appositives are the grammatically feminine nouns “lust” and “lust” and “pride,” which cannot agree with the preceding substantive in gender because they are nouns. The gender of the preceding substantive “the thing” in the phrase “every the thing” (everything) is neuter because the nature of the idea that it expresses is things. The “lust” and “lust” and “pride” are three things, hence the neuter gender of “the thing” in the phrase “every the thing” (everything).

    In 1 John 5:7 in the Received Text, the preceding substantive in the appositive construction is the masculine articular participle “the-ones bearing-witness,” and the three subsequent appositives are the grammatically masculine nouns “Father” and “Word” and the grammatically neuter noun “Spirit,” which cannot agree with the preceding substantive in gender because they are nouns. The gender of the preceding substantive “the-ones bearing-witness” is masculine because the nature of the idea that it expresses is persons. The “Father” and “Word” and “Spirit” are three Persons, hence the masculine gender of “the-ones bearing-witness.”

    In 1 John 5:8 in the Received Text, the preceding substantive in the appositive construction is the masculine articular participle “the-ones bearing-witness,” and the three subsequent appositives are the grammatically neuter nouns “Spirit” and “water” and “Blood,” which cannot agree with the preceding substantive in gender because they are nouns. The gender of the preceding substantive “the-ones bearing-witness” is masculine because the nature of the idea that it expresses is a person and two things. The “Spirit” and “water” and “Blood” are a Person and two things, hence the masculine gender of “the-ones bearing-witness.”

    Alternatively, the gender of the preceding substantive “the-ones bearing-witness” in verse 5:8 is masculine because the nature of the idea that it expresses is the three persons to whom John is comparing the “Spirit” and “water” and “Blood,” the three persons being either “the men” in the phrase “the witness of the men” in verse 5:9 or the “Father” and “Word” and “Spirit” in verse 5:7.

    When a substantive that is not a noun is preceded by a single antecedent noun, then the gender of the substantive that is not a noun normally agrees with the grammatical gender of the single preceding antecedent noun, as in 1 John 5:6 in the Received Text, where the gender of “the-thing bearing-witness” is neuter in agreement with the neuter grammatical gender of the single preceding antecedent noun “Spirit.”

    When a substantive that is not a noun is not preceded by a single antecedent noun, the gender of the substantive that is not a noun is determined by the nature of the idea that it expresses, either neuter for things or masculine for persons or feminine for female persons or masculine for persons and things, as in Matthew 23:23 and 1 John 2:16, 5:7 and 5:8 in the Received Text.

    Prior to 1815, everyone consistently concluded that the masculine gender of the preceding substantives in the appositive constructions in 1 John 5:7 and 5:8 in the Received Text was determined by the nature of the ideas being expressed in those two verses. No one ever suggested that the gender of the preceding substantive in the appositive construction in each verse was supposed to agree with the grammatical gender of the subsequent appositive nouns, because it is grammatically impossible for the preceding substantive in an appositive construction to agree with the subsequent appositives, because the direction of modification and agreement in an appositive construction is always from the subsequent appositives to the preceding substantive, never from the preceding substantive to the subsequent appositives.

    The first person to incorrectly claim that the preceding substantives in the appositive constructions in 1 John 5:7 and 5:8 in the Received Text was supposed to agree with the grammatical gender of the subsequent appositive nouns was Frederick Nolan (1784-1864) on pages 257, 260 and 565 in his 1815 book, An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate. Nolan invented the idea of a grammatical problem in 1 John 5:8 in the Received Text by reversing the direction of modification and agreement in the appositive construction in that verse from what it actually is (the subsequent appositive nouns modifying and agreeing with the preceding substantive to which they are added as modifiers) to what he incorrectly claimed it to be (the preceding substantive modifying and agreeing with the subsequent appositive nouns). He incorrectly claimed that the gender of the preceding substantive “the-ones bearing-witness” in 1 John 5:8 in the Received Text should be neuter in agreement with the neuter grammatical gender of the subsequent appositive nouns “Spirit” and “water” and “Blood” and that the fact that it did not agree with the grammatical gender of the subsequent appositive nouns was “a grosser solecism than can be ascribed to any writer, sacred or profane,” even though the same thing occurs in Matthew 23:23 and 1 John 2:16 and 5:7.

    In his anonymously written article, The Doctrinal Various Readings of the New Testament Greek, on pages 191-234 in the 1871 edition (volume 22) of the Southern Presbyterian Review, Robert Dabney (1820-1898) drew so heavily from Nolan’s 1815 book that his article was practically a review of that book. On page 221 in his 1871 article, Dabney presented the grammatical argument regarding 1 John 5:8 in the Received Text that Nolan presented on pages 256 and 260 in his 1815 book, stating that the fact that the preceding substantive in 1 John 5:8 in the Received Text did not agree with the grammatical gender of the subsequent appositive nouns was “an insuperable and very bald grammatical difficulty.”

    However, at some point between 1871 and 1878, Dabney apparently became aware of the fact that Nolan’s reversal of the direction of modification and agreement in the appositive construction in 1 John 5:8 in the Received Text from what it actually is (the subsequent appositive nouns modifying and agreeing with the preceding substantive to which they are added as modifiers) to what he claimed it to be (the preceding substantive modifying and agreeing with the subsequent appositive nouns) was incorrect, because Dabney reversed himself on page 182 in the 1878 (second) edition of his book, Syllabus and Notes of the Course of Systematic and Polemic Theology, stating that “the much litigated passage in 1 John 5:7 is certainly of too doubtful genuineness to be advanced polemically against the adversaries of the Trinity.”

    Nevertheless, people such as Edward Hills and Thomas Holland and Thomas Strouse have perpetuated Nolan’s incorrect grammatical argument.

    http://www.thegrammar.blogspot.com

  

Leave a Reply