There is a passage in the New Testament that seems to be an extraordinarily clear statement about the Trinity – 1 John 5:7.
1 John 5:7-8
For there are three that bear record in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these agree as one.
This passage is a much debated yet wonderful text. (There are some textual concerns, but I will not address those in this post. We will examine the text as written in the KJV. Also, comparing the heavenly witnesses to the earthly witnesses might be a future topic, but for now the scope of this post will be very limited.)
This verses are interesting because it shows the power of perspective. Both Oneness and Trinitarian believers throw this verse around as the trump card in any biblical discussion. They both play the same card to prove different points.
Trinitarians focus on the “three” at the beginning of verse 7. Oneness advocates focus on the “one” at the end of verse seven.
Does this verse prove or explain the Trinity? Is this the undeniable evidence?
The Greek word for “one” in 1 John 5:7 of the Textus Receptus is the word that is usually transliterated as “hen”. It is neuter, and thus would call for a neuter designation in reference to what the three are being spoken of as “one”. For the designation to have been one as in “one God”, the Greek would call for the Greek word masculine “heis”, not the neuter “hen”. This is shown in 1 Corinthians 8:6, where the Greek has “heis theos” (one God). Likewise, if the thought should be one being, then the Greek would call for the Greek word “mia”, not the Greek word “hen”. This is shown in the trinitarian phrases, “”treis hypostaseis en mia ousia”, (“three persons in one substance”), or “mia ousia, treis hypostaseis” (“One essence in three persons”).
Extant Greek manuscripts
“οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες εν τω ουρανω ο πατηρ ο λογος και το αγιον πνευμα και ουτοι οι τρεις εν εισιν” (1 John 5:7, 1894 Scrivener Textus Receptus)
1 John 5:7 in the KJV contains these words called the Johannine Comma (also known as the Comma Johanneum or the Heavenly Witnesses). This Comma is omitted from most modern translations of the Bible because most Greek manuscripts do not have them. Only 11 “late” Greek manuscripts contain the Comma, with 6 of them having it in the margin by an even later hand:
- 629 (14th century)
- 61 (16th century)
- 918 (16th century)
- 2473 (17th century)
- 2318 (18th century)
- 221 margin (10th century, Comma added later)
- 635 margin (11th century, Comma added later)
- 88 margin (12th century, Comma added in 16th century)
- 429 margin (14th century, Comma added later)
- 636 margin (15th century, Comma added later)
- 177 margin (11th century, Comma added later)
This might appear to be a small body of evidence, but they must be considered in light of the following facts particular to the text of 1 John 5:
- No extant papyrus contains 1 John 5. Since the earliest Greek manuscript of 1 John 5 is Vaticanus from c. 300 – 325 AD, there is at least a 200 year gap between the composition of 1 John 5 and its earliest surviving witness. This is sufficient time for the text to be corrupted.
- Although there are 5000+ Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, manuscripts which contain 1 John 5 are limited to about 480 manuscripts. Although the majority of these manuscripts lacks the Comma, the majority also lacks the latter half of 1 John 2:23.
- Most Greek manuscripts containing 1 John 5:6-8 would be considered “late” by modern standards. Of the about 480 manuscripts of 1 John 5, only 12 of these manuscripts are from before the 10th century (Nestle-Aland: Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th revised edition (2006)):
- 01 (4th century)
- A (5th century)
- B (4th century)
- K (9th century)
- L (8th century)
- P (9th century)
- Ψ (9th century)
- 048 (5th century)
- 049 (9th century)
- 056 (10th century)
- 0142 (10th century)
- 0296 (6th century)
The rest of the 480 manuscripts are minuscules from after the 10th century, the average being from around the 12th century.
“But it is objected by some that the words, These three are one. I Joh.5.7 are not to be found in some ancient Copies, and therefore it will not be safe to build a point of such weight and consequence upon such a weake foundation. To which we answer, It is true that these words are not to be found in the Syriak Edition, but they who speake most modestly, do acknowledge that the Syriack Edition is not Authentick.” (p. 251)“But then it is farther objected, that these words These three are one are wanting in some other Greek copies; for answer I proceed with my observations.” (p. 253)
The following is a screen capture of the transcription of the above from the official digitized Nestle-Aland on the University of Munster Institute website. The image below can be viewed by selecting 1 John 5:7 in “B – 03 (Vaticanus)” and selecting “view by page”:
There is clearly an umlaut in the margin of verse 7 indicating a textual variant. The only significant textual variant here is the Comma.
“6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one 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 these three agree.”
“6 ουτος εστιν ο ελθων δι υδατος και αιματος ιησους χριστος ουκ εν τω υδατι μονον αλλ εν τω υδατι και εν τω αιματι και το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνευμα εστιν η αληθεια 7 οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες 8 το πνευμα και το υδωρ και το αιμα και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν”
“6 ουτος εστιν ο ελθων δι υδατος και αιματος ις χς ουκ εν τω υδατι μονω αλλ εν τω υδατι και εν τω αιματι· και το πνευμα τιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνευμα εστιν η αληθεια 7 οτι ··τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες· 8 το πνευμα και το υδωρ και το αιμα· και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν·”
“6 ουτος εστιν ο ελθων δια υδατος και αιματος και πνς ις χς ουκ εν τω υδατι μονον αλλ εν τω υδατι και τω αιματι και το πνα εστιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνα εστιν η αληθεια 7 οτι οι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες 8 το πνα και το υδωρ και το αιμα και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν”
“6 ουτος εστιν ο ελθων δι υδατος και αιματος και πνς ις χς· ουκ εν τω υδατι μονον· αλλα εν τω υδατι και εν τω πνι· και το πνα εστιν το μαρτυρουν· οτι το πνα εστιν η αληθεια 7 οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες· 8 το πνα και το υδωρ και το αιμα και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν”
0296 (6th c.):
6 ουτος ε[στι]ν ο ελθων [δι] υδατος και [π]νς· και αιμα[το]ς ις χς· ουκ [εν] τω υδατι – [αιμα]τ[ι] [κ]αι το [πνα] εστιν το [μαρ]τυρουν· οτι το πνα εστι[ν] η αληθεια· 7 οτ[ι] τρεις οι μαρτυρουντε[ς] 8 το πνα και το υδωρ και το αιμα· και οι τρεις [ει]ς τ[ο] εν [εισιν]
Here we see that only Vaticanus among the early uncials agrees with Nestle-Aland 27. Vaticanus says that Jesus Christ came by “water and blood”. Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus say that Jesus Christ came by “water and blood and Spirit“. 0296 even has “Spirit” before “blood”. While this different word order in 0296 might initially seem trivial, it actually has deep theological implications considering that some interpret the water to mean Christ’s baptism and the blood to mean Christ’s crucifixion. As “water and blood” are placed in that order based on the chronological order that such elements played in Christ’s life, the rearranging of “Spirit” before “blood” suggests a deliberate attempt by the corrupter to place the reference to the Spirit in the appropriate order based on the chronology of Christ’s earthly ministry (Christ’s baptism preceded the Spirit descending upon him). Alexandrinus further adds to the confusion by replacing “not by the water only but by the water and the blood” with “not by the water only but by the water and by the Spirit“. The textual variants in verse 6 begin to increase when we include other manuscripts and witnesses:
- ὕδατος καὶ αἵματος (B, K, Ψ, 049, 056, 0142, 181, 330, 451, 629, 1739*, 1881, 2127, Byz, Lect, it, vg, syrp)
- ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος (43, 241, 463, 945, 1241, 1831, 1877*, 1891)
- ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος καὶ αἵματος (P, 81, 88, 442, 630, 915, 2492, arm, eth)
- ὕδατος καὶ αἵματος καὶ πνεύματος (א, A, 104, 424c, 614, 1739c, 2412, 2495, ℓ598m, syrh, copsa, copbo, Origen)
- ὕδατος καὶ αἵματος καὶ πνεύματος ἁγίου (39, 61, 326, 1837)
The spurious inclusion of “Spirit” in these early uncials is not trivial. What it demonstrates is that scribes were prone to alter this portion of 1 John based on theological or stylistic motivations. By 350 AD this portion of 1 John 5 was already corrupt in the Greek tradition. Since verse 6 is corrupt in Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus, and verse 7 in 0296 does not have “εισιν,” there are only two manuscripts (Vaticanus and 048) from before the 7th century which read exactly as the Byzantine/Majority Text or the Nestle-Aland from verse 6 to 7:
- “ουτος εστιν ο ελθων δι υδατος και αιματος ιησους χριστος ουκ εν τω υδατι μονον αλλ εν τω υδατι και εν τω αιματι και το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνευμα εστιν η αληθεια οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες” (Nestle-Aland 27)
- “ουτος εστιν ο ελθων δι υδατος και αιματος ιησους χριστος ουκ εν τω υδατι μονον αλλ εν τω υδατι και τω αιματι και το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνευμα εστιν η αληθεια οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες” (Byzantine/Majority Text 2000)
Critics of the Comma are almost always silent regarding these corruptions of 1 John 5:6 in the early uncials – corruptions that surely diminish the reliability of these early uncials in this portion of the text. Despite there being this textual variant involving the third person of the Trinity, none of the footnotes to 1 John 5:6 in the ESV, NIV, NASB, NRSV, NLT & HCSB mention it. Such silence only serves to protect the undeserving reputation of the so-called “earliest and best manuscripts” and does not help the casual reader who wants the truth.
Some later manuscripts show further corruption in 1 John 5:6. Where it should read, “και το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνευμα εστιν η αληθεια (And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth)”, manuscript 621 (11th century) reads, “και το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν και η αληθεια (And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is bearing witness and truth)”. 326 (10th century) and 436 (11th/12th century) say, “και το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνευμα εστιν η αληθεια (And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is bearing witness because the Spirit is truth)” (Novum Testamentum Graecum: Editio Critica Maior: IV Catholic Letters, Text, 2nd Ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2013), p. 349). While these errors most likely arose from misreading the line and repeating certain phrases, the fact that such errors arose shows that the repetitive nature of this general passage lends itself to erroneous copying (see below: Evidence of errors by parablepses).
1 John 5:8 is also corrupted in a number of late manuscripts. Where it should read, “οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν (the three agree in one)”, the following witnesses read, “οι τρεις εν εισιν (these threeare one)”: Pseudo-Caesarius (post-6th century), 2541 (12th century), 254 original (14th century), 1067 (14th century), 1409 (14th century) (Novum Testamentum Graecum: Editio Critica Maior: IV Catholic Letters, Text, 2nd Ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2013), p. 350). While it could be surmised that either “εις” or “το” could drop during transmission, the drop of both letters resulting in the same phrase as in the Comma (“οι τρεις εν εισιν (thesethree are one)”) suggests Comma influence.
Socrates of Constantinople confirms that 1 John was corrupted early
We also have the testimony of Socrates of Constantinople, a 5th century Church historian, regarding the theologically motivated corruption of 1 John. He says the following in his criticism of Nestorius:
Αὐτίκα γοῦν ἠγνόησεν, ὅτι ἐν τῇ καθολικῇ Ἰωάννου γέγραπτο ἐν τοῖς παλαιοῖς ἀντιγράφοις, ὅτι «πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ λύει τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἀπὸ τοῦ Θεοῦ οὐκ ἔστι.» Ταύτην γὰρ τὴν διάνοιαν ἐκ τῶν παλαιῶν ἀντιγράφων περιεῖλον οἱ χωρίζειν ἀπὸ τοῦ τῆς οἰκονομίας ἀνθρώπου βουλόμενοι τὴν θεότητα. ∆ιὸ καὶ οἱ παλαιοὶ ἑρμηνεῖς αὐτὸ τοῦτο ἐπεσημῄναντο, ὥς τινες εἶεν ῥᾳδιουργήσαντες τὴν ἐπιστολὴν, λύειν ἀπὸ τοῦ Θεοῦ τὸν ἄνθρωπον θέλοντες· συνανείληπται δὲ ἡ ἀνθρωπότης τῇ θεότητι· καὶ οὐκέτι εἰσὶ δύο, ἀλλὰ ἕν. Τοῦτο θαρροῦντες οἱ παλαιοὶ «Θεοτόκον» τὴν Μαρίαν λέγειν οὐκ ὤκνησαν· (Historia ecclesiastica, VII:32)Now in any event, he did not perceive that in the Catholic epistle of John it was written in the ancient copies, ‘Every spirit that severs Jesus is not from God.’ For the removal of this [passage] out the ancient copies are understandably by those who wished to sever the divinity from the human economy. And thus by the very language of the ancient interpreters, some have corrupted this epistle, aiming at severing the humanity from the divinity. But the humanity is united to the divinity, and are not two, but one. Knowing this, the ancients did not hesitate to call Mary ‘Theotokos’. (Translation by KJV Today)
Latin manuscripts have the Comma
Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus Sanctus:
et hi tres unum sunt.”
The Comma appears in most Latin manuscripts, which are broadly classified into two groups: The Latin Vulgate & The Old Latin. The Latin Vulgate, translate by Jerome, is the more common Latin translation as it was commissioned by the Catholic church in the late 4th century. The Old Latin is a term used to describe the various Latin translations that existed before the Latin Vulgate. Old Latin translations were made since about the latter half of the 2nd century (F. H. A. Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the New Testament Textual Criticism, 4th Ed., Vol. 2, (New York: George Bell & Sons, 1894), p. 43).
The oldest Latin manuscript having 1 John 5 is Codex Fuldensis or manuscript F from the mid-6th century. This is a Vulgate version and does not contain the Comma. However, Codex Frisingensis, or manuscript r or 64 (6th-7th century), contains the full text of the Comma. Codex Legionensis, or manuscript l or 67 (7th century) contains the Comma with slight variation in wording (Nestle-Aland: Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th revised edition (2006)). These two are of the Old Latin versions. Thus Latin manuscripts with and without the Comma exist from around the same time. Furthermore, Codex Fuldensis, dated 546 AD, contains the Prologue to the Canonical Epistles, purported to be by Jerome himself, which mentions the Trinitarian Comma in John’s first epistle:
“Quae si ut ab eis digestae sunt ita quoque ab interpraetibus fideliter in latinum eloquium verterentur nec ambiguitatem legentibus facerent nec sermonum se varietas inpugnaret illo praecipue loco ubi de unitate trinitatis in prima iohannis epistula (the place where it concerns the Trinity in the first epistle of John) positum legimus in qua est ab infidelibus translatoribus multum erratum esse fidei veritate conperimus trium tantummodo vocabula hoc est aquae sanguinis et spiritus in ipsa sua editione potentes et patri verbique ac spiritus (Father, the Word, and Spirit) testimonium omittentes.”
While the text of 1 John 5:7 in Fuldensis does not have the Comma and critics dismiss Jerome’s authorship, the Comma was certainly known to an Italian scribe who wrote the Prologue as early as in 546 AD.
All Vulgate readings of 1 John 5:7, with or without the Comma, testify for the early existence of the Comma. Comma-free editions of the Vulgate read:
This is the reading of Codex Fuldensis, one of the oldest Vulgate manuscripts from the 6th century. It is odd for the Vulgate to have “tres unum sunt” because this is actually a translation of “τρεις εν εισιν” in the Comma rather than of “τρεις εις το εν εισιν” in verse 8. The Greek in verse 8 has the preposition “εις“. The inclusion of “εις” (“in” in Latin) completely changes the sense of the passage. Later editions of the Vulgate have resupplied the preposition. The 20th century Nova Vulgata has “tres in unum sunt” and John Calvin’s Latin translation has “tres in unum conveniunt”. There is no reason why a translation of “τρεις εις το εν εισιν” in verse 8 should omit the preposition unless the wording of verse 8 was influenced by the wording of the Comma. Thus the Comma has left its mark in all Vulgate editions.
“Τί δὲ καὶ τὸ τῆς ἀφέσεως τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν παρεκτικὸν, καὶ ζωοποιὸν, καὶ ἁγιαστικὸν λουτρὸν, οὗ χωρὶς οὐδεὶς ὄψεται τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν, οὐκ ἐν τῇ τρισμακαρίᾳ ὀνομασίᾳ δίδοται τοῖς πιστοῖς; Πρὸς δὲ τούτοις πᾶσιν Ἰωάννης φάσκει· «Καὶ οἱ τρεῖς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν.»”“But also, is not that sin-remitting, life-giving and sanctifying washing [baptism], without which, no one shall see the kingdom of heaven, given to the faithful in the Thrice-Blessed Name? In addition to all these, John affirms, ‘and these three are one.‘” (Translation by KJV Today)
“Ὥσπερ ἡ ψυχή µου µία ἐστὶν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τρισυπόστατος, ψυχὴ, λόγος, καὶ πνοή· οὕτω καὶ ὁ Θεὸς εἷς ἐστιν, ἀλλ’ ἔστι καὶ τρισ υπόστατος, Πατὴρ, Λόγος, καὶ Πνεῦµα ἅγιον…. Ὡς γὰρ ψυχὴ, λόγος καὶ πνοὴ τρία πρόσωπα, καὶ μία φύσις ψυχῆς, καὶ οὐ τρεῖς ψυχαί· οὕτω Πατὴρ, Λόγος καὶ Πνεῦμα ἅγιον, τρία πρόσωπα, καὶ εἷς τῇ φύσει Θεὸς, καὶ οὐ τρεῖς θεοί.““Even as my soul is one, but a triune soul, reason, and breath; so also God is one, but is also triune, Father, Word, and Holy Ghost…. For as soul, reason and breath are three features, and in substance one soul, and not three souls; so Father, Word and Holy Ghost, [are] three persons, and one God in substance, and not three gods.” (Translation by KJV Today)
“Ἰδοὺ ὡς ὀφθαλμοὶ δούλων εἰς χεῖρας τῶν κυρίων αὐτῶν, ὡς ὀφθαλμοὶ παιδίσκης εἰς χεῖρας τῆς κυρίας αὐτῆς, οὕτως οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ ἡμῶν πρὸς Κύριον Θεὸν ἡμῶν, ἕως οὗ οἰκτειρήσαι ἡμᾶς, κ. τ. ἑ. ∆οῦλοι κυρίων Πατρὸς καὶ Υἱοῦ πνεῦμα καὶ σῶμα· παιδίσκη δὲ κυρίας τοῦ ἁγίου Πνεύματος ἡ ψυχή. Τὰ δὲ τρία Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν ἐστιν· οἱ γὰρ τρεῖς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν.““Behold, the eyes of bondservants in the hands of their lord, as the eyes of a bondwoman in the hands of their lady, so are our eyes towards the Lord our God, until he may pity us; spirit and body are the bondservants of the Lord Father and Son; but the soul is the bondwoman of the lady Holy Spirit. And the Lord our God is three, for the three are one.” (Translation by KJV Today)
“Εἰ δὲ καταλύσαιμεν ἀξίως τοῦ πόθου, καὶ δεχθείημεν ταῖς οὐρανίαις σκηναῖς, τάχα σοι καὶ αὐτόθι θύσομεν δεκτὰ ἐπὶ τὸ ἅγιόν σου θυσιαστήριον, ὦ Πάτερ, καὶ Λόγε, καὶ Πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον· ὅτι σοὶ πρέπει πᾶσα δόξα, τιμὴ, καὶ κράτος, εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.““But if we are to be released, in accordance with our desire, and be received into the Heavenly Tabernacle, there too it may be we shall offer You acceptable Sacrifices upon Your Altar, to Father and Word and Holy Ghost; for to You belongs all glory and honour and might, world without end. Amen.” (English translation at New Advent)
ONLINE LINK to Oration 45: The Second Oration on Easter
- The context is with respect to the “Heavenly Tabernacle”, namely, God as revealed in heaven. This mirrors the context of the Comma in which the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost are said to be heavenly witnesses.
- In this same document at chapter IV, Gregory refers to the Trinity in its usual formula as follows: “And when I say God, I mean Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; for Godhead is neither diffused beyond These, so as to introduce a mob of gods, nor yet bounded by a smaller compass than These, so as to condemn us for a poverty stricken conception of Deity, either Judaizing to save the Monarchia, or falling into heathenism by the multitude of our gods.” After stating emphatically that by God he means “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”, it is curious that he would end the same document with a different atypical formula if it were not an import from an established source.
- The context is ripe with scriptural allusions, namely to the “Heavenly Tabernacle” (Revelation 8:3), “Sacrifices upon Your Altar” (Revelation 15:5: “της σκηνης του μαρτυριου εν τω ουρανω”), and “glory and honour and might, world without end” (Revelation 5:13: “η τιμη και η δοξα και το κρατος εις τους αιωνας των αιωνων”). In this scripturally pregnant context, one must be in a state of denial to suppose that “Father and Word and Holy Ghost” alone is not a scriptural allusion.
- Furthermore, these scriptural allusions at this last portion of Gregory’s oration are all from the Johannine corpus, which makes it more likely that “Father and Word and Holy Ghost” is also from that same corpus.
- In Oration 31, Gregory of Nazianzus had commented on the unconventional grammar of 1 John 5:6-8 in manuscripts without the Comma (as explained above [LINK]). As is typical among theologians, Gregory’s comment may have elicited a debate concerning the unconventional grammar and possible reasons/solutions. Given the Comma existed in the Latin West at this time, it is likely that after composing Oration 31 and prior to composing Oration 45, Gregory had been made aware of the Comma as a possible solution to the grammatical anomaly. This is where Gregory may have committed the unique Trinitarian wording of the Comma to memory so as to make an allusion to it in Oration 45.
“Three witnesses below, three witnesses above, showing the inaccessibility of God’s glory.” (Translation by KJV Today)
Chrysostom is not speaking about the Trinity in the context. He is merely saying that a good number of witnesses testify concerning the ineffable nature of God. Still, it is interesting that Chrysostom would give weight to his argument by using the formula of having three witnesses below and three witnesses above (“above” is to be understood as “heaven”, as he previously stated, “ἀλλ’ ἀνέβην εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν (“But I went up to heaven [figuratively]”). Since the Comma was already cited in the Latin Church during Chrysostom’s time, it is far more candid to suppose that a learned teacher such as Chrysostom knew of the Comma and was alluding to its formula than to suppose that he formulated it by his own imagination.
“Ἀλλ’, ὦ Πάτερ, καὶ Λόγε, καὶ Πνεῦμα, ἡ τρισυπόστατος οὐσία, καὶ δύναμις, καὶ θέλησις, καὶ ἐνέργεια, ἡμᾶς τοὺς ὁμολογοῦντάς σου τὰς ἀσυγχύτους καὶ ἀδιαιρέτους ὑποστάσεις, ἀξίωσον καὶ τῆς ἐκ δεξιῶν σου στάσεως, ἡνίκα ἔρχῃ ἐξ οὐρανῶν κρῖναι τὴν οἰκουμένην ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ· ὅτι πρέπει σοι δόξα, τιμὴ καὶ προσκύνησις, τῷ Πατρὶ καὶ τῷ Υἱῷ καὶ τῷ ἁγίῳ Πνεύματι, νῦν καὶ ἀεὶ, καὶ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων.”“But, O Father, and Word, and Spirit, the triune being and might and will and power, deem us, who confess you as the unconfused and indivisible substance, also worthy to be the ones standing at your right hand when you come from heaven to judge the world in righteousness, for rightly yours is the glory, honor, and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and for always, and for eternity.” (Translation by KJV Today)
“Ω Δεσποτα και Δημιουργε τουδε του παντοσ, ω Πατερ, και Λογε, και Πνευμα αγιον, ω Θεια Τριας,και τρισση και αγια μονας.”“The Lord and Creator of all things, O Father, and Word, and Holy Ghost, the Divine Trinity, both threefold and holy unity.” (Translation by KJV Today)
“Υπεραρχιε, συμμορφε, πανσθενεστατη Τριας αγια Πατερ, Λογε, Πνευμα αγιον΄ θεε, Φως, και Ζωη, φυλαττε την ποιμνην σου.”“O High Ruler, O conformed, all powerful holy Trinity: O Father, Word, Holy Ghost, O God, Light, and Life, guard your flock.”
“Πατερ παντοκρατορ, και Λογε, και Πνευμα, τρισιν ενιζομενη εν υποστασεσι φύσις, υπερουσιε και υπερθεε, εις σε βεβαπτισμεθα, και σε ευλογουμεν αει εις τους αιωνας.”“O Omnipotent Father, and Word, and Spirit, three persons [yet] in nature one substance, highest essence and highest divinity, in you [we are] baptized, and you we bless always and forever.” (Translation by KJV Today)
“ἐπείπερ καὶ εἷς ἀγέννητος, ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατήρ, καὶ εἷς μονογενὴς υἱός, θεὸς λόγος καὶ ἄνθρωπος, καὶ εἷς ὁ παράκλητος, τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας,”
(the above Greek excerpt corresponds to the underlined portion below)
“I have confidence of you in the Lord, that ye will be of no other mind. Wherefore I write boldly to your love, which is worthy of God, and exhort you to have but one faith, and one [kind of] preaching, and one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ; and His blood which was shed for us is one; one loaf also is broken to all [the communicants], and one cup is distributed among them all: there is but one altar for the whole Church, and one bishop, with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants.Since, also, there is but one unbegotten Being, God, even the Father; and one only-begotten Son, God, the Word and man; and one Comforter, the Spirit of truth; and also one preaching, and one faith, and one baptism; and one Church which the holy apostles established from one end of the earth to the other by the blood of Christ, and by their own sweat and toil; it behoves you also, therefore, as “a peculiar people, and a holy nation,” to perform all things with harmony in Christ.” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, “The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus”, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D. & James Donaldson, LL.D.)
|Ephesians 4:1-7||Ignatius to Philadelphians|
|1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.||
I have confidence of you in the Lord, that ye will be of no other mind. Wherefore I write boldly to your love, which is worthy of God, and exhort you to have but one faith, and one [kind of] preaching, and one Eucharist.
(This portion mirrors Ephesians 4:1-3 in exhorting believers to maintain unity; and what follows explains the basis of this unity.)
4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
For there is one flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ; and His blood which was shed for us is one; one loaf also is broken to all [the communicants], and one cup is distributed among them all: there is but one altar for the whole Church, and one bishop, with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants.
(This portion expands the meaning of “body” as understood in its various interpretations and applications)
5 One Lord,
Since, also, there is but one unbegotten Being, God, even the Father; and one only-begotten Son, God, the Word and man; and one Comforter, the Spirit of truth;
(This portion expounds the “One Lord” of Ephesians 4:5 as referring to the threefold “Father… Word… Spirit”.)
5 one faith, one baptism,
and also one preaching, and one faith, and one baptism;
(This portion seems to reference Romans 10:17 “faith cometh by hearing” and adds “one preaching” as a precursor to “one faith”; which results in “one baptism”.)
6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. 7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
and one Church which the holy apostles established from one end of the earth to the other by the blood of Christ, and by their own sweat and toil; it behoves you also, therefore, as “a peculiar people, and a holy nation,” to perform all things with harmony in Christ.
(This concluding portion refers to God’s grace enabling believers to edify the Church by their various giftings.)
(Ephesians 5-6 provide instructions for wives, husbands, children, and servants.)
(The passage continues with Ignatius exhorting wives, children, servants, and husband to follow these instructions in Ephesians 5-6.)
- “Father… Word… Spirit” is a Trinitarian formula unique to the Johannine Comma.
- By cross-referencing the “One Lord” statement of Ephesians 4:5 to the Trinity of “the Father… Word… Spirit”, Ignatius carries over the meaning of the Comma, namely, that there are “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost” and “these three are one.”
- The order of the descriptions of the three persons of the Trinity suggests a deliberateness in alluding to the Comma. First, the “one unbegotten Being, God” is listed, and it is further clarified that this is “even the Father“. Then the “one only-begotten Son, God” is listed and further clarified that this is “the Word and man (an allusion to the parallelism between 1 John 5:7 and 1 John 5:8)”. Lastly the “one Comforter” is listed and further clarified that this is “the Spirit of truth” (an allusion to 1 John 5:6). Each person of the Trinity is first identified and the immediately following clarifying title always mirrors the wording of the Comma. It would have been typical for “the Father” to be associated with “the Son” (with both terms indicating the relationship between each other) as clarifying titles to the first and second persons of the Trinity. However, what we have in Ignatius is an atypical grouping of “the Father” with “the Word”:
First title Second title 1st person of the Trinity “unbegotten being” “the Father“ 2nd person of the Trinity “only-begotten Son” “the Word and man” 3rd person of the Trinity “Comforter” “the Spirit of truth”
- All the attributes which Ignatius gives to “the Father… Word… Spirit” are found in the context of the Comma.
- Ignatius refers to the unbegotten nature of the Father and the begotten nature of the Son. This echoes 1 John 5:1 which says, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.”
- The distinction between the heavenly “Word” and the earthly humanity of the Son (“man”) is laid out in 1 John 5:6-8. In fact, 1 John 5:7-8 first refers to the Son as the “Word” and then refers to his humanity characterized by “the water, and the blood”.
- While the reference to the Parakletos (comforter, advocate) is found farther back in 1 John 2:1, the reference to the “Spirit of truth” is found in 1 John 5:6 and 1 John 4:6. There is no question that John 15:26 is the closer reference of the Comforter being the Spirit of truth, but the Epistle of First John is not far off.
- There are countless other attributes and titles that Ignatius could have ascribed to “the Father… Word… Spirit” from scripture, but his restriction to those found in the context of the Comma suggests an allusion to it.
- Ignatius is careful to expand the meaning of Ephesians 4:1-7 from close scriptural allusions. This suggest the expansion of the “One Lord” in verse 5 is also a close scriptural allusion.
Latin fathers quoted/alluded to the Comma more often than the Greek fathers. The earliest citations of the Comma provide only the portion which reads, “these three are one”. However, this is the only relevant portion to cite in a Trinitarian argument for the consubstantial unity of the Godhead since the Comma quoted in its entirety would only prove that the Godhead is united in testimony, not essence (more on this later).
Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 245 AD) makes a truncated reference to the Comma:
“Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent persons, one from the other, which three are one, not one [person], as it is said, “I and my Father are One.”” (Translation by KJV Today)
“Dicit Dominus, Ego et Pater unum sumus; et iterum de Patre et Filio et Spiritu sancto scriptum est: ‘Et tres unum sunt.‘” (Treatise I:6).
While some might argue that Cyprian was giving a theological spin to 1 John 5:8, Cyprian clearly says “scriptum est” (it is written). As with Tertullian, Cyprian would not have given the full quotation because the Comma has “the Word” instead of “the Son”. In De Rebaptismate (15 and 19) Pseudo-Cyprian appears to quote 1 John 5:8 without the Comma. However, this writer is not the actual Cyprian.
“As John says, “There are three that give testimony in earth: the water, the flesh and the blood; and these three are one and there are three that give testimony in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Spirit; and these three are one in Christ Jesus.” (Translation by KJV Today)
The order of verse 7 and 8 is reversed, but the Comma nonetheless existed by 350 AD, which is the date of the earliest Greek manuscripts against the Comma (e.g. Sinaiticus and Vaticanus). Some critics dismiss the significance of Priscillian’s citation due to the fact that he was considered a heretic. These critics may even go as far as to say that Priscillian forged the Comma. But Priscillian was considered a heretic because of his extreme asceticism and Manichaeism. Forging the Comma would not have helped in furthering any of these heretical beliefs.
Augustine (354 – 430 AD) quotes the Comma in City of God, Book 5, Chapter 11. He writes:
Some people believe that Augustine did not know of the Comma because he made a mystical Trinitarian interpretation of 1 John 5:8 in Contra Maximinum (II:22:3), written sometime around 427 AD, without overtly referring to the Comma. In this very construed interpretation, Augustine saw the Spirit as signifying the Father, the blood as signifying the Son, and the water as signifying the Holy Ghost. Even if Augustine appeared to be hesitant to regard the Comma as Scripture in Contra Maximinum in 427 AD, he appeared to be aware of the Comma in 410 AD. So his change in view could be attributed to him “switching his translation” later in life. In fact, Augustine’s quote of 1 John 5:8 in Contra Maximinum is not from the Vulgate. The quote reads:
The Vulgate should read, “Tres sunt qui testimonium dant“. It appears that Augustine is making his own translation from the Greek, which did not have the Comma in the majority of manuscripts at this point in time. Augustine’s policy was to turn to the Greek whenever there were variants in the Latin. He said: “As to the books of the New Testament, again, if any perplexity arises from the diversities of the Latin texts, we must of course yield to the Greek, especially those that are found in the churches of greater learning and research” (On Christian Doctrine, II:15). Augustine’s neglect of the Comma in Contra Maximinum may prove that the Comma was already expunged in the Greek, but it does not prove the lack of the Comma in the Latin. Besides, it sure is curious that Augustine would make such a construed interpretation of the Spirit, water, and blood if it were not for him being influenced by the parallelism of the Comma earlier in life.
North African Bishop Vigilius Tapsensis quotes the Comma in Contra Varimadum in c. 450 AD and three times in Books 1 and 10 of De Trinitate Libri Duodecim in c. 480 AD:
“Also to the Parthians, ‘There are three’, He says, ‘that bear record in earth, the water, the blood and the flesh, and the three are in us. And there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one.” (Translation by KJV Today)
“Therefore, although in the above examples the Scriptures are silent regarding the names of the persons, yet this union of the divine name by all in this is to be demonstrated to you; also as in this example of the truth, in which the names of the persons are clearly evident, and the united divine names declared closed, the Evangelist John says in his Epistle: ‘There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, and the Word, and the Spirit, and they are one in the Lord Jesus Christ;” (Translation by KJV Today)
Victor bishop of Vita in c. 485 AD cited the Comma as representing the testimony of John the evangelist in a dispute with Huneric the Vandal:
“And in order to show with clearer light that the unity of divinity is with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, John the evangelist bears record. For which it is said: ‘There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.’” (Translation by KJV Today)
Fulgentius bishop of Ruspe in North Africa (died 527 AD) cited the Comma, even referring to Cyprian’s citation of the same:
“In Patre ergo et Filio et Spiritu sancto unitatem substantiae accipimus, personas confundere non ademus. Beatu enim Joannes apostolus testatur, dicen: Tres sunt qui testimonium perhibent in caelo, Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus; et tres unum sunt. Quod etiam beatissimus martyr Cyprianus, in epistola de Unitate Ecclesiae confitetur, dicens: Qui pacem Christi et concordiam rumpit, adversus Christum facit; qui alibi praeter Ecclesiam colligit, Christi Ecclesiam spargit. Atque ut unam Ecclesiam unius Dei esse monstraret, haec confestim testimonia de Scripturis inseruit. Dicit Dominus: Ego et Pater unum sumus. Et iterum: De Patre et Filio et Spiritu sancto scriptum et: Et tres unum sunt.” (Responsio Contra Arianos Libri Duo, Response 10 (MPL065, col. 224))
In the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, whose unity of substance we accept, are confident not to confound the persons. For the blessed John the Apostle testifies, saying: ‘There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit; and the three are one. This is also confessed by the most blessed martyr Cyprian in the letter On the Unity of the Church, saying: ‘He who breaks the peace and concord of Christ, he does against Christ’, who in another place says in addition to a collection of the Church, says, ‘scatters the Church of Christ’. And in order to show that there is one Church of the one God, he immediately inserted this into the testimonies of the Scriptures: ‘The Lord says: I and the Father are one. And again: of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit it is written: ;And the three are one.’” (Translation by KJV Today)
“En habes in brevi aliu esse Patrem, alium Filium, alium Spiritum sanctum: alium et alium in persona, non aliud et aliud in natura; et idcirco Ego, inquit, et Pater unum sumus. Unum, ad naturam referre nos docei, Sumus, ad personas. Similiter et illud: Tres sunt, inquit, qui testimonium dicun in caelo, Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus, et his tres unum sunt.” (Ad Felicem Notarium De Trinitate Liber Unus, Chapter IV (MPL065, col. 500))
“Here you have briefly that another is the Father, another is the Son, another is the Holy Spirit: different in person, not different in nature: and for this reason ‘I’, he says, ‘and the Father are one.’ We teach that ‘One’ refers to nature, and ‘We are’ refers to the persons. Likewise regarding it: ‘There are three’, he says, who are said to testify in heaven, ‘the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one.’” (Translation by KJV Today)
Cassiodorus of Italy (c. 485 – c. 585 AD) cited the Comma in Complexiones In Epistollis Apostolorum:
“This matter the three mysteries testify in earth: ‘the water, the blood, and the spirit’, which are fulfilled as we read in the Passion of the Lord: but in heaven ‘the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one God’. (Translation by KJV Today)
“The daring men try to escape men’s notice [when pretending] that they baptize in the Three Names. Now at the mouth of Three the judges decide. See here be Three Witnesses Who put an end to all strife! And who would doubt about the holy Witnesses of His Baptism?” (Eighty Rhythms upon the Faith, against the Disputers, 28:7, translated into English by Rev. J. B. Morris, Select Works of S. Ephrem the Syrian (Oxford:, 1847), p. 196).
“And there are three to bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three are one.” (George M. Lamsa)
“And there are three witnesses, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three are in union.” (James Murdock)
The phrase “And there are…” at 1 John 5 appears only in Bibles with the Comma. This is because the clause immediately following verse 6 is introduced with “For there are…” (whether with or without the Comma). The phrase “And there are….” follows the Comma only if the Comma exists. In Bibles without the Comma the only phrase should be “For there are….”:
“For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” (ESV)
There is no reason why the Syriac should translate the Greek causal conjunction “οτι” as the copulative Waw (ܘ) conjunction. The Syriac translates “οτι” as “because” in just the previous verse and also at 1 John 5:4. The phrase “οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες” obviously introduces a “cause” or “reason” for the antecedent phrase. The Syriac appears to be translated from a Greek manuscript which contained “και τρεις εισιν”, which is a vestige of the Comma. Although this manuscript apparently did not contain the Comma and the mention of “in earth”, it nonetheless contained a trace of the Comma. The oldest Syriac manuscript which contains 1 John is from the 5th century (British Library, Add. 14470).
“6 This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. 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. 9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.” (1 John 5:6-9, the Comma identified in bracketed italics)
Given the early corruption of the text of 1 John, the internal evidence for the Comma should be given greater weight. The internal evidence for the Comma is strong.
1 John 5:6 says “it is the Spirit that beareth witness” and yet 1 John 5:9 refers to the “witness of God”. A Trinitarian might automatically equate “the Spirit” with “God” but such a logical leap is not warranted in the context of 1 John 5. In the context of John chapter 5, “God” refers to the Father. 1 John 5:1 says, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.” Since Jesus Christ is born of the Father, this “God”, namely “him that begat”, must refer to the Father. When verse 9 says that if we receive the witness of men, the witness “of God” is greater, this “God” must mean the “Father”. But without the Comma, there is no reference to the Father ever giving witness. When the Comma is included, we see the Father providing witness in union with the Spirit.
Johannine appeal to the witness of the Father
Following up with the previous point, in John’s Gospel we find recurring instances of the Father bearing witness of Jesus Christ:
- John 5:37: “And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.”
- John 8:18: “I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me.”
As our Lord Jesus often appealed to the witness of the Father as the highest authority, without such reference to the Father as one of the witnesses of Jesus Christ, the passage in 1 John 5 is theologically hollow and deficient. Including the Comma is more agreeable to the Joannine appeal to the witness of the Father.
Comma-absent readings give rise to an unbiblical doctrine
Comma-absent readings have a weaker reason for having exactly “three” witnesses
Critics of the Comma might say that 1 John 5:8 refers to three witnesses because of the biblical principle that two or three witnesses establish a matter (Matthew 18:16). While the principle of Matthew 18:16 might appear sufficient as to why there should be at least three witnesses in 1 John 5:8, there is otherwise no reason why the number of witnesses should be exactly three, and not more. Would it not have been more persuasive for John to list a larger number of witnesses on earth? How about other candidates such as “the scriptures”, “miracles” or “the Church”? John appears to be fixated on the number three, which is best explained if the Trinitarian truth of the Comma is included. 18th century Greek New Testament scholar Johann Albrecht Bengel said:
If the Comma were included there is no grammatical problem according to the 19th century Presbyterian theologian Robert L. Dabney. First, the masculine nouns in the Comma, “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost”, would control the gender over the neuter noun “Holy Ghost”. Then the repetition of the masculine construction “τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες” could “be accounted for by the power of attraction, so well known in Greek syntax…” (R. L. Dabney, The Works of Robert L. Dabney, (London: Banner Truth, 1967). Anti-Comma scholars have developed several of their own theories to explain away this anomaly without appealing to the Comma, but these theories fall short.
One theory is that John regarded the “Spirit” as a person, and therefore personified it by giving it the masculine gender. The problem with this theory is that “Spirit” appears in verse 6 and is not personified as it is associated with a neuter article and participle, “το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν.”
Trinitarian defenders of the early Church quoted John’s writings the most of all the biblical writers because John’s writings state the Trinitarian doctrine most clearly. John is undoubtedly the top spokesman for the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible. We find the following Trinitarian statements in his writings:
- “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
- “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
- “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18)
- “I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30)
- “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)
- “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26)
- “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:” (John 15:26)
- “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;” (John 14:16)
- “And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28)
- “(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)” (1 John 1:2)
- “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.” (1 John 2:23)
- “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. (1 John 4:13-15)
- “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 1:9)
- “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:4-6)
As the Trinity was so important a doctrine for John that he sometimes even disrupted the natural flow of the narrative to insert a comment on the Trinity, it is very likely for John to have inserted a reference to the Trinity in the climactic passage of his first epistle (1 John 5:1-12 is considered the climax of the epistle and the closure beings to happen starting at 5:13 with the words, “These things have I written unto you….”). Furthermore, John could have stated the most complete and systematic Trinitarian doctrine in his epistle as it was not confined within the scope of a historical narrative as was the case in John’s Gospel. John referred to the Trinity in his Gospel but the concepts therein were confined by the dialogues in the narrative. For example, perhaps the strongest co-equality principle in John’s Gospel is the statement, “I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30). A stronger and fuller Trinitarian statement would have been, “The Father, the Holy Ghost, and I are one” but such words did not come out of our Lord’s mouth because his circumstances did not concern the Holy Ghost. This means John had no basis to state the co-equality of the entire Trinity in his Gospel. However, given that the first epistle is more a theological treatise rather than narrative, John was able to declare a complete and systematic propositional statement concerning the Trinity. The Comma is just what we would expect from John in a doctrinal treatise which makes many points concerning the Trinity. On the other hand, when all the pieces to the Trinitarian doctrine are lining up in the discourse of 1 John 5 (mentioning the Father (verses 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11), the Son (verses 1, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12), the Spirit (verses 6, 8), the concept of three things agreeing in one (verse 8)), John’s first epistle absent the Comma would arguably be uncharacteristic of his writings which never wasted an opportunity to declare the Trinitarian doctrine.
Due to the many repetitions of similar words in 1 John 5:6-8, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that a scribe omitted the Comma by accident. If the Comma appeared originally, the text could have been laid out as follows:
The portion above is from the end of 1 John 5:6 to the middle of 1 John 5:8. It corresponds to the portion in the KJV which reads:
“…Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record 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:”
Due to the identical appearance of the phrase in 5:7 and 5:8, the eyes of a scribe who is in the midst of copying a word in 5:7 could jump to the corresponding word in 5:8. Moreover, the word directly above the left-most portion of the phrase in 5:8 is “πνευμα,” which is also the word directly above the left-most portion of the phrase back in 5:7. This could cause great confusion for a careless scribe. The text of a scribe who skipped the two lines in between would read:
This text with the omission says, “Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood:” The phrase “in earth” would remain in the new copy, but it could easily drop during further transmission. Moreover, support for “in earth” is stronger than the Comma itself. The Anchor Bible, which by no means is a friend of the Comma, says concerning the support for “in earth”:
“However, in the course of Latin textual transmission, independently of the Comma, variants appeared that show that the passage was the subject of reflection and “improvement” by scribes…. For instance, Facundus of Hermiane (ca. 550) reads I John as saying, “There are three who give testimony on earth” (Pro Defensione Trium Capitulorum ad Isutinianum 1.3.9; CC 90A, 12; also inferior MSS. of Bede). If that addition was an older tradition, it may have facilitated the creation of the Comma with its corresponding witnesses in heaven” (The Anchor Bible: The Epistles of John at 778).
“Although the weight of the textual evidence against it was seemingly overwhelming, the proof it supplied for the Trinity made an attack on its authenticity seem to be an attack on the dogma. Therefore the Reformed theologian Johann Heinrich Heidegger, citing Jerome, and the Lutheran theologians Johann Gerhard and Johann Andreas Quenstedt argued that the real corruption of the Greek text had been its “erasure by the fraud of the Arians,” not its addition by orthodox fathers. In a lengthy disputation on the question, Gerhard marshaled the evidence of manuscripts and versions in an effort to show this, and in his systematic theology he reaffirmed its authenticity.” (Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: Reformation of Church Dogma (1300-1700) at 346)
The Orthodox remnant viewed the notorious Arians with much suspicion. Athanasius had complained of the Arians’ “calumnies, imprisonments, murders, wounds, conspiracies by means of false letters” (Apologia Contra Arianos at 49). The hypothesis that Arians expunged the Comma is valid because it is falsifiable: the hypothesis could be proven false if the Comma does not exist even in places where Arianism did not exert early influence. However, the evidence supports the hypothesis. The Comma exists in places where Arianism was not established early, such as Spain and North Africa. Whereas Constantinople and Alexandria were infected with Arianism by the 4th century, Spain and North Africa were relatively less infected until the 5th century. Geographically, Spain and North Africa were the farthest places from the major centers of Arianism. Moreover, whereas primarily Greek and Latin speakers spread Arianism in the rest of Christendom, Spain was introduced to Arianism through Visigoths and North Africa was introduced to Arianism through Vandals. These were both Germanic tribes who used the Gothic Bible of Ulfilas. Thus Arians in Spain and North Africa had less influence on the Latin scriptures. This allowed the Comma to remain in Latin manuscripts of Spain and North Africa.
Further into the work, the Gnostic John uses the Comma phrase, “And there are three” a total of four times to describe the number of Gnostic aeons:
There are just too many clues here to ignore the possibility of a Gnostic corruption of the Johannine Comma:
- This Gnostic text uses the Comma phrase, “And there are three” four times.
- This Gnostic text subverts the orthodox Trinity with the Gnostic trinity of the “Father, Mother and Son”.
- This Gnostic text is ascribed to “John”, though falsely.
There is another ancient Gnostic work titled Allogenes which says “the three are one” with respect to the trinity of the Gnostic saviors, “Vitality, Mentality and That-Which-Is”:
If Gnostics wrote such works (and surely they did), it is utterly inconceivable that they would have left the Johannine Comma untouched and unchallenged. Moreover, the Secret Book of John is a Gnostic propaganda text to redefine John’s actual teachings. Gnostics often mimicked the style of the real Apostles in order to supplant their teachings. And by producing a work which redefines the members of the Trinity, uses the phrase “And there are three”, and names the author of the work as “John”, this Secret Book of John ironically proves the existence of the Johannine Comma, which alone is a Trinitarian verse in which John wrote “And there are three”.
The corruption of manuscripts in Alexandria
It is not far-fetched to conclude that the majority of these omissions were made by the heretical Gnostics. Although we can only speculate as to which verses the Gnostics omitted, it is reasonable to believe that the Comma was one of them. There was also an early heretical sect which denied the “Logos” (the Word). Epiphanius termed this sect the “Alogi” (Anti-Logos). The “Word” mentioned in the Comma is certainly at odds with any theology that is against the Logos.