Comma Johanneum

Comma Johanneum

The Comma Johanneum is a comma (a short clause) in the First Epistle of John (1 John 5:7–8) according to the Latin Vulgate text as transmitted since the Early Middle Ages, based on Vetus Latina minority readings dating to the 7th century. It was inserted into the Latin text based on a gloss to that text; the gloss itself may date to as early as the 3rd or 4th century. It was included in the Textus Receptus (TR) compiled by Erasmus of Rotterdam because of its doctrinal importance in supporting Trinitarianism. Owing to the widespread use of the Textus Receptus (TR) as the sole source, the comma is also contained in most translations published from 1522 until the latter part of the nineteenth century, [n 1] for Protestant translation.[n 2]

In translations containing the clause, such as the King James Version, 1 John 5:7–8 reads as follows (with the Comma in bold print):

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

The resulting passage is often viewed as an explicit reference to the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.[n 3]

It does not appear in the older Greek manuscripts, nor in the passage as quoted by many of the early Church Fathers. The words apparently crept into the Latin text of the New Testament during the Early Middle Ages, "[possibly] as one of those medieval glosses but were then written into the text itself by a careless copyist. Erasmus omitted them from his first edition; but when a storm of protest arose because the omission seemed to threaten the doctrine of the Trinity, he put them back in the third and later editions, whence they also came into the Textus Receptus, 'the received text'."[1] Although many traditional Bible translations, most notably the Authorized King James Version (KJV), contain the Comma, modern Bible translations such as the New International Version (NIV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and others tend to either omit the Comma entirely, or relegate it to the footnotes. The Nova Vulgata, the modern revision of the Vulgate approved for liturgical use by the Catholic Church, also excludes the Comma.[2] The Greek Orthodox editions (ZWH Brotherhood and Antoniades) have the Comma in the main text in a smaller font[3].



Excerpt from Codex Sinaiticus including 1 John 5:7–9. It lacks the Comma Johanneum. The purple-coloured text says: "There are three witness bearers, the Spirit and the water and the blood".

The comma may have arisen as a gloss as early as the 4th century, and was worked into the epistle's text in the Latin Vulgate in around the year 800.[4]

Absence in early authors

Jerome's extant writings from the period 380 to 420 give no evidence that he was aware of the Comma's existence.[5][n 4]. The comma is also absent from an extant fragment of Clement of Alexandria (c. 200), through Cassiodorus (6th century), with homily style verse references from 1 John, including verse 1 John 5:6 and 1 John 5:8 without verse 7, the heavenly witnesses[6][n 5]. Tertullian, in his Against Praxeas (c. 210), supports a Trinitarian view by quoting John 10:30[n 6].

Augustine of Hippo, is completely silent on the matter, which has been taken as evidence that the comma did not exist as part of the epistle's text in his time.[7]But this argumentum ex silentio was rejected by other scholars.[n 7]

No Syriac manuscripts include the Comma, and its presence in some printed Syriac Bibles is due to back-translation from the Latin Vulgate. Coptic manuscripts and those from Ethiopian churches also do not include it.

Possible origins

The 3rd-century Church father Cyprian (died 258), in writing on the Unity of the Church, Treatise I section 6[8] quoted John 10:30 "The Lord says, 'I and the Father are one' " and added: "and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 'And these three are one.'"[5][9] Daniel B. Wallace says that "a Trinitarian interpretation was superimposed on the text by Cyprian". In noting this, Wallace is in agreement with the earlier critical edition of the New Testament (NA26 and UBS3) which consider Cyprian a witness against the Comma. The latest edition of UBS4 updated many early church writer references and has Cyprian for heavenly witnesses inclusion. Those who see Cyprian as a negative evidence assert that other theologians such as Athanasius of Alexandria [n 8] and Origen never quoted or referred to the passage, which they would have done if the verse was in the Bibles of that era. The contrasting position is that there are in fact such references [n 9], and that evidences from silence arguments in terms of extant early church writer material should not be given much weight.

In the early 20th century, there was a theory according to which Priscillian of Ávila (died 385) was the author of the comma. This idea of a Priscillian origin for the Comma had a brief scholarship flourish but quickly lost support in textual circles. The Priscillian citation was discovered in the late 1800s, and in the early 1900s Karl Künstle published a paper that proposed that "the insertion of the comma into the text of the Epistle is due to Priscillian himself", as summarized by Alan England Brooke, who references four difficulties cited in the 1909 paper by Ernest Babut.[10]

In the 6th century, Fulgentius of Ruspe is quoted as a witness in favour of the Comma. Like Cyprian a father of the North African Church, he referred to Cyprian's remark in his Responsio contra Arianos ("Reply against the Arians" ). [n 10]. For the English translation of De Trinitate see Introduction to the Critical Study p. 512 Thomas Horne (1821), and Fabianum "The blessed Apostle, St John, evidently says, And the three are one,..." is given by Thomas Burgess in A letter to the Reverend Thomas Beynon p.56 (1829) (</ref> (The Arian heresy, which denied the Trinity, was particularly strong[citation needed] in North Africa);

Introduction to the text of the epistle

The oldest evidence of the comma presented as part of the epistle's text are two Vetus Latina manuscripts, namely the Codex Monacensis (6th or 7th century) and Codex Legionensis (7th century), besides the younger Codex Speculum, an 8th- or 9th-century collection of New Testament quotations.[5] The comma then apparently became worked into copies of the Latin Vulgate roughly around the year 800.

It was subsequently back-translated into some Greek manuscripts. Nestle-Aland is aware of eight Greek manuscripts which contain the comma.[11] The date of the addition is late, probably dating to the time of Erasmus.[12] In one manuscript, back-translated into Greek from the Vulgate, the phrase "and these three are one" is not present.[13]

Erasmus and the Textus Receptus

Desiderius Erasmus in 1523.

The central figure in the sixteenth-century history of the Comma Johanneum is the humanist Erasmus.[14] Erasmus had been working for years on two projects: a collation of Greek texts and a fresh Latin New Testament. In 1512, he began his work on a fresh Latin New Testament. He collected all the Vulgate manuscripts he could find to create a critical edition. Then he polished the Latin. He declared, "It is only fair that Paul should address the Romans in somewhat better Latin."[15] In the earlier phases of the project, he never mentioned a Greek text:

"My mind is so excited at the thought of emending Jerome’s text, with notes, that I seem to myself inspired by some god. I have already almost finished emending him by collating a large number of ancient manuscripts, and this I am doing at enormous personal expense."[16]

While his intentions for publishing a fresh Latin translation are clear, it is less clear why he included the Greek text. Though some speculate that he intended on producing a critical Greek text or that he wanted to beat the Complutensian Polyglot into print, there is no evidence to support this. Rather his motivation seems to be simpler: he included the Greek text to prove the superiority of his Latin version. He wrote, "There remains the New Testament translated by me, with the Greek facing, and notes on it by me."[17] He further demonstrated the reason for the inclusion of the Greek text when defending his work:

"But one thing the facts cry out, and it can be clear, as they say, even to a blind man, that often through the translator’s clumsiness or inattention the Greek has been wrongly rendered; often the true and genuine reading has been corrupted by ignorant scribes, which we see happen every day, or altered by scribes who are half-taught and half-asleep."[18]

Erasmus's new work was published by Froben of Basel in 1516 and thence became the first published Greek New Testament, the Novum Instrumentum omne, diligenter ab Erasmo Rot. Recognitum et Emendatum. The second edition used the more familiar term Testamentum instead of Instrumentum, and eventually became a major source for Luther's German translation.

In his haste, Erasmus made a considerable number of transcription mistakes. He was unable to find manuscripts containing the entire Greek New Testament, so he compiled several different sources. After comparing what writings he could find, Erasmus wrote corrections between the lines of of the manuscripts he was using (among which was Minuscule 2) and sent them as proofs to Froben. Erasmus said the resulting work was "thrown headlong rather than edited" ("prœcipitatum fuit verius quam editum").[19] He fixed many but not all of the resulting mistakes in the second edition, published in 1519.[13] The Comma does not appear until the third edition, published in 1522.[20]

This photograph shows Greek text of 1 John 5:3-10[n 11] which is missing the Comma Johanneum. This text was published in 1524.

Its absence from the first two editions has traditionally been explained as the result of the animosity this[clarification needed] provoked among churchmen and scholars, led by Lopez de Zúñiga, one of the Complutensian editors. Erasmus is said to have replied to these critics that the Comma did not occur in any of the Greek manuscripts he could find, but that he would add it to future editions if it appeared in a single Greek manuscript.[13] Such a manuscript was subsequently produced, some say concocted, by a Franciscan, and Erasmus, true to his word, added the Comma to his 1522 edition, but with a lengthy footnote setting out his suspicion that the manuscript had been prepared expressly to confute him. This Erasmus change was accepted into the Received Text editions, the chief source for the King James Version, thereby fixing the Comma firmly in the English-language scriptures for centuries.[13]

The story of Erasmus' promise has been accepted as fact by scholars, repeated by even so eminent an authority as Bruce M. Metzger.[21] Nevertheless, it can be traced back no further than 1790[22], and a 1980 paper by Professor H.J. De Jonge concludes that no such promise was ever made by Erasmus, and that he never suspected the Codex Britannicus (Minuscule 61, the text prepared by the Franciscan) of having been fraudulently prepared with the express purpose of forcing him to include the Comma. Rather, Erasmus included the Comma because he wished to avoid any suspicion of personal unorthodoxy which might undermine the acceptance of his translation:

"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."[23]

The term Textus Receptus commonly refers to one of Erasmus's later editions or one of the works derived from them. The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, a Protestant reference published in 1914, comments:

The textus receptus, slavishly followed, with slight diversities, in hundreds of editions, and substantially represented in all the principal modern Protestant translations prior to the nineteenth century, thus resolves itself essentially into that of the last edition of Erasmus, framed from a few modern and inferior manuscripts and the Complutensian Polyglot, in the infancy of Biblical criticism. In more than twenty places its reading is supported by the authority of no known Greek manuscript.[19]

Isaac Newton (1643–1727), best known today for his many contributions to mathematics and physics, also wrote extensively on Biblical matters. In a 1690 treatise entitled An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture, he summed up the history of the comma and his own belief that it was introduced, intentionally or by accident, into a Latin text during the fourth or fifth century, a time when he believed the Church to be ripe with corruption:[24]

In all the vehement universal and lasting controversy about the Trinity in Jerome's time and both before and long enough after it, this text of the "three in heaven" was never once thought of. It is now in everybody’s mouth and accounted the main text for the business and would assuredly have been so too with them, had it been in their books.[25][n 12]

History of modern study

Comma in Codex Ottobonianus (629 Gregory-Aland)
Griesbach's critical edition of the New Testament explaining at the footnote the reasons for the textual rejection of the Comma Johanneum.

The history of the comma in the centuries following the Textus Receptus has been one of initial acceptance followed by near-total rejection. This history is summed up in the Introduction to the 1808 New Testament in an improved version, upon the basis of Archbishop Newcome's new translation, which did not contain the Comma Johanneum, where the editors explained their reasons for rejecting the Textus Receptus as follows: "1. This text concerning the heavenly witnesses is not contained in any Greek manuscript which was written earlier than the fifteenth century. 2. Nor in any Latin manuscript earlier than the ninth century.[n 13] 3. It is not found in any of the ancient versions. 4. It is not cited by any of the Greek ecclesiastical writers, though to prove the doctrine of the Trinity they have cited the words both before and after this text 5. It is not cited by any of the early Latin fathers, even when the subjects upon which they treat would naturally have led them to appeal to its authority. 6. It is first cited by Virgilius Tapsensis, a Latin writer of no credit, in the latter end of the fifth century, and by him it is suspected to have been forged. [n 14]7. It has been omitted as spurious in many editions of the New Testament since the Reformation:—in the two first of Erasmus, in those of Aldus, Colinaus, Zwinglius, and lately of Griesbach. 8. It was omitted by Luther in his German version. In the old English Bibles of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth, it was printed in small types, or included in brackets: but between the years 1566 and 1580 it began to be printed as it now stands; by whose authority, is not known."[26] The Cambridge Paragraph Bible of the authorized English version, an edition of the King James Version published in 1873, and edited by noted textual scholar F.H.A. Scrivener, one of the translators of the English Revised Version, set the Comma in italics to reflect its disputed authenticity. Few later Authorized Version editions retained this formatting. Modern Bible translations such as the NIV, NASB, ESV, NRSV and others tend to either omit the Comma entirely, or relegate it to the footnotes.[27]

The Roman Catholic Church was slower to reject the comma. The Council of Trent in 1546 defined the Biblical canon as "the entire books with all their parts, as these have been wont to be read in the Catholic Church and are contained in the old Latin Vulgate," meaning that the comma was included. Yet although the revised Vulgate contained the Comma, the earliest known copies did not, leaving the status of the Comma Johanneum unclear.[5] On 13 January 1897, during a period of reaction in the Church, the Holy Office decreed that Catholic theologians could not "with safety" deny or call into doubt the Comma's authenticity. Pope Leo XIII approved this decision two days later, though his approval was not in forma specifica[5]—that is, Leo XIII did not invest his full papal authority in the matter, leaving the decree with the ordinary authority possessed by the Holy Office. Three decades later, on 2 June 1927, the more liberal Pope Pius XI decreed that the Comma Johanneum was open to dispute. The updated Nova Vulgata (New Vulgate), published in 1979 following Second Vatican Council, does not include the Comma,[28] nor does the English-language New American Bible.

In more recent years, the Comma has become relevant to the King-James-Only Movement, a largely Protestant development most prevalent within the fundamentalist and Independent Baptist branch of the Baptist churches. Many proponents view the Comma as an important Trinitarian text[29].

Manuscript evidence

Sangallensis 63, Comma at the bottom

Both Novum Testamentum Graece (NA27) and the United Bible Societies (UBS4) provide three variants. The numbers here follow UBS4, which rates its preference for the first variant as { A }, meaning "virtually certain" to reflect the original text. The second variant is a longer Greek version found in only four manuscripts, the margins of three others and in some minority variant readings of lectionaries. All of the hundreds of other Greek manuscripts that contain 1 John support the first variant. The third variant is found only in Latin, in one class of Vulgate manuscripts and three patristic works. The other two Vulgate traditions omit the Comma, as do more than a dozen major Church Fathers who quote the verses. The Latin variant is considered a trinitarian gloss,[30] explaining or paralleled by the second Greek variant.

  1. No Comma. μαρτυροῦντες, τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα. [... witnessing, the spirit and the water and the blood.] Select evidence: Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Vaticanus, and other codices; Uncial 048, 049, 056, 0142; the text of Minuscules 33, 81, 88, 104, and other minuscules; the Byzantine majority text; the majority of Lectionaries, in particular the menologion of Lectionary 598; the Vulgate (John Wordsworth and Henry Julian White edition and the Stuttgart), Syriac, Coptic (both Sahidic and Bohairic), and other translations; Clement of Alexandria (died 215), Origen (died 254), and other quotations in the Church Fathers.
  2. The Comma in Greek. All non-lectionary evidence cited: Minuscules Codex Montfortianus (Minuscule 61 Gregory-Aland, c. 1520), 629 (Codex Ottobonianus, 14/15th cent.), 918 (16th cent.), 2318 (18th cent.).
  3. The Comma at the margins of Greek at the margins of minuscules 88 (Codex Regis, 11th cent. with margins added at the 16th cent.), 221 (10th cent. with margins added at the 15/16th cent.), 429 (14th cent. with margins added at the 16th cent.), 636 (16th cent.); some minority variant readings in lectionaries.
  4. The Comma in Latin. testimonium dicunt [or dant] in terra, spiritus [or: spiritus et] aqua et sanguis, et hi tres unum sunt in Christo Iesu. 8 et tres sunt, qui testimonium dicunt in caelo, pater verbum et spiritus. [... giving evidence on earth, spirit, water and blood, and these three are one in Christ Jesus. 8 And the three, which give evidence in heaven, are father word and spirit.] All evidence from Fathers cited: Clementine edition of Vulgate translation; Pseudo-Augustine's Speculum Peccatoris (V), also (these three with some variation) Cyprian, Ps-Cyprian, & Priscillian (died 385) Liber Apologeticus. And Contra-Varimadum, and Ps-Vigilius, Fulgentius of Ruspe (died 527) Responsio contra Arianos.

The gradual appearance of the comma in the manuscript evidence is represented in the following tables:

Latin manuscripts
Date Name Place Other information
7th cent. Codex Legionensis Leon Cathedral Spanish
7th cent. Frisingensia Fragmenta   Spanish
9th cent. Codex Cavensis   Spanish
9th cent. Codex Ulmensis   Spanish
927 A.D. Codex Complutensis I   Spanish
10th cent. Codex Toletanus   Spanish
8th–9th cent. Codex Theodulphianus Paris (BnF) Franco-Spanish
8th–9th cent. Codex Sangallensis 907 St. Gallen Franco-Spanish
9th–10th cent. Codex Sangallensis 63 St. Gallen marginal gloss
Greek manuscripts
Date Manuscript No. Name Place Other information
c. 1520 61 Codex Montfortianus Dublin Original.
Reads "Holy Spirit" instead of simply "Spirit".
Articles are missing before the "three witnesses" (spirit, water, blood).
14th–15th cent. 629 Codex Ottobonianus Vatican Original.
Latin text along the Greek text,
revised to conform to the Latin.
The Comma was translated and copied back into the Greek from the Latin.
16th cent. 918   Escorial
18th cent. 2318   Bucharest Original.
Thought to be influenced
by the Vulgata Clementina.
18th cent. 2473   Athens Original.
11th cent. 88 Codex Regis Naples Marginal gloss: 16th cent.
11th cent. 177 BSB Cod. graec. 211 Munich Marginal gloss: late 16th cent.
10th cent. 221   Oxford Marginal gloss: 15th or 16th cent.
14th cent. 429 Codex Wolfenbüttel Wolfenbüttel
Marginal gloss: 16th cent.
16th cent. 636   Naples Marginal gloss: 16th cent.

The Grammar in 1 John 5:7-8

On pages 257, 260 and 565 in his 1815 book, An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate, [31] Frederick Nolan (1784-1864) is the first person to claim (1) that the verb’s subject (οι μαρτυρουντες / the-ones bearing-witness / a substantival articular participle / masculine) in 1 John 5:7 in the Received Text agrees with the grammatical genders (masculine, masculine, neuter) of the three added (appositive) nouns (πατηρ, λογος, πνευμα / Father, Word, Spirit / three persons / masculine natural gender) that are added to it, and (2) that the verb’s subject (οι μαρτυρουντες / the-ones bearing-witness / a substantival articular participle / masculine) in 1 John 5:8 in the Received Text should agree with the grammatical genders (neuter, neuter, neuter) of the three added (appositive) nouns (πνευμα, υδωρ, αιμα / Spirit, water, Blood / a person and two things / masculine natural gender) that are added to it, and (3) that the reason that this does not occur in verse 5:8 is that the verb’s subject in verse 5:8 is attracted in gender to the verb’s subject in verse 5:7, and (4) that this proves that John wrote verse 5:7.

In footnote 193 on page 257 in his 1815 book, Nolan quotes two small out of context excerpts from a letter that Eugenius Bulgaris (1716-1806), an expert in the Greek language, wrote in 1780. [32] In that 1780 letter, Eugenius analyzes the Greek grammar in 1 John 5:7-8 in the Received Text. In footnote 193, Nolan claims that what Eugenius says regarding 1 John 5:7-8 in the Received Text in his 1780 letter is the same thing that he (Nolan) says regarding 1 John 5:7-8 in the Received Text on pages 257, 260 and 565 in his 1815 book. However, when one takes the time to read Eugenius' 1780 letter, one discovers that what Eugenius says in his 1780 letter (the gender of the verb's subject is determined by the natural gender of the idea being expressed, not by the grammatical gender of any noun, and not by gender attraction) is the opposite of what Nolan says on pages 257, 260 and 565 in his 1815 book (the gender of the verb's subject is determined by the grammatical genders of the nouns and by gender attraction, not by the natural gender of the idea being expressed). Instead of supporting it, Nolan's own expert (Eugenius) refutes Nolan's grammatical argument.

On pages 191-234 in the 1871 (volume 22) edition of the Southern Presbyterian Review journal, Robert Dabney (1820-1898) anonymously presents his 1871 article, The Doctrinal Various Readings of the New Testament Greek, [33] which is in part a review of Nolan’s 1815 book. On page 221, Dabney repeats the grammatical argument that Nolan originally presents on pages 257, 260 and 565 in his 1815 book, except Dabney had apparently not read page 565 in Nolan’s 1815 book, where Nolan states that the gender attraction in his grammatical argument occurs between the participles in 1 John 5:7-8 in the Received Text, because Dabney states on page 221 in his 1871 article that the gender attraction in Nolan’s grammatical argument occurs between the nouns in 1 John 5:7-8 in the Received Text.

Either Dabney never actually accepted Nolan’s grammatical argument in the first place, despite presenting it on page 221 in his 1871 article, or Dabney subsequently rejected it, because on page 182 in the 1878 second edition of his book, Syllabus and Notes of the Course of Systematic and Polemic Theology, Dabney states that 1 John 5:7 in the Received Text is certainly of too doubtful genuineness to be used in defense of the Trinity, [34] which is the same thing Dabney states on page 116 in the 1871 first edition of that book.

On pages 350-390 in the 1890 book, Discussions Theological and Evangelical, which is a compilation of the previous writings of Dabney, the anonymous 1871 article is presented as having been written by Dabney (pages 377-378 in the 1890 book corresponding to page 221 in the 1871 article). [35]

In footnote 20 [36] on page 237 in his 1978 book, The Epistles of John, Dr. I. Howard Marshall subscribes to the explanation that the verb’s subject in 1 John 5:7-8 in the Majority Text and Critical Text (which correlates with 1 John 5:8 in the Received Text) is masculine because the Spirit, water and Blood are a person and two things (masculine natural gender), the grammatical genders of the three added nouns being irrelevant.

In footnote 44 [37] on page 332 in his 1996 book, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace subscribes to the explanation that the verb’s subject in 1 John 5:7-8 in the Majority Text and Critical Text (which correlates with 1 John 5:8 in the Received Text) is masculine because the men (την μαρτυριαν / the men) in the witness of the men (την μαρτυριαν των ανθρωπων / the witness of-the men) in verse 5:9, to whom the Spirit, water and Blood are being compared in verses 5:7-8 in the Majority Text and Critical Text (which correlate with verse 5:8 in the Received Text), are three persons (masculine natural gender), the grammatical genders of the three added nouns being irrelevant.

There are four instances in the Received Text in which three added (appositive) nouns are added as modifiers to the verb’s subject or direct object to provide additional information (Matthew 23:23, 1 John 2:16, 1 John 5:7 and 1 John 5:8 / 1 John 5:7-8 in the Majority Text and Critical Text correlates with 1 John 5:8 in the Received Text).

(Received Text) Matthew 23:23 .. τα βαρυτερα ... κρισιν ... ελεον ... πιστιν ...

23:23 … the weightier-things [the verb’s direct object / neuter for things because judgment, mercy and faith are three things] … judgment [feminine] … mercy [masculine] … faith [feminine] …

(Received Text) 1 John 2:16 … παν το … επιθυμια … επιθυμια … αλαζονεια …

2:16 … every the-thing [the verb’s subject / neuter for things because lust, lust and pride are three things] … lust [feminine] … lust [feminine] … pride [feminine] …

(Received Text) 1 John 5:7 … οι μαρτυρουντες … πατηρ … λογος … πνευμα …

5:7 … the-ones bearing-witness [the verb’s subject / masculine for persons because the Father, Word and Spirit are three persons] … Father [masculine] … Word [masculine] … Spirit [neuter] …

(Received Text) 1 John 5:8 … οι μαρτυρουντες … πνευμα … υδωρ … αιμα … 9 … την μαρτυριαν των ανθρωπων …

5:8 … the-ones bearing-witness [the verb’s subject / either (1) masculine for a person and two things because the Spirit, water and Blood are a person and two things (Dr. Marshall), or (2) masculine for three persons because the men in the witness of the men, to whom the Spirit, water and Blood are being compared, are three persons (Dr. Wallace), or (3) masculine for three persons because the Father, Word and Spirit, to whom the spirit, water and blood (three things, according to Eugenius) are being compared, are three persons (Eugenius)] … Spirit [neuter] … water [neuter] … Blood [neuter] … 9 … the witness of-the men …

In all four instances, the verb’s subject or direct object agrees with the natural gender of the idea being expressed, and the grammatical genders of the added nouns that are added to it are irrelevant. This corroborates the statements of Eugenius (Nolan's own expert), Dr. Marshall and Dr. Wallace, and it refutes the grammatical argument originally presented by Nolan on pages 257, 260 and 565 in his 1815 book and anonymously repeated by Dabney on page 221 in his 1871 article.

See also

Other disputed New Testament passages


  1. ^ Two earlier English versions that omitted the Comma were the editions of Daniel Mace (1729) and The New Testament in an Improved Version (1808) of the Unitarians.
  2. ^ After Erasmus included the Comma in the 3rd edition of his Greek New Testament of 1522 the Comma was included in all the Received Text editions of Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza and the Elzivirs.
  3. ^ Exceptions to this common understanding include Johannes Bugenhagen, Pastor and student of Martin Luther, who called the verse an "Arian blasphemy", see Franz Posset. Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) in his NT Annotations considered the verse an Arian addition Neque vero Arianis ablatas voces quasdam, sed potius additas. And John Jones (Ben David) a non-Trinitarian who defended the verse in the Monthly Review (1826). Similarly, Edward Freer Hills in the King James Version Defended Ch. 8, 1956 hypothesized that the verse may have been allowed to drop from the Greek line by Trinitarians who saw the verse as favorable to Sabellianism. See also Frederick Nolan in An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate p. 536-547, 1815. Nolan offers an earlier discourse of the Hills conjecture, including: "the orthodox were so far from having any inducement to appeal to this text, that they had every reason to avoid an allusion to it, as it apparently favored the tenets of their opponents. ... Sabellianism ... absolutely derives support from the text of the heavenly witnesses". The early usage by the non-Trinitarian Priscillian is also discordant to the common understanding.
  4. ^ Many Vulgate manuscripts, including the Codex Fuldensis, the earliest extant Vulgate manuscript, produced under Victor of Capua around 546 AD, contain the Prologue to the Canonical Epistles. This Prologue is written in the first-person style of Jerome, and accuses unfaithful translators of deliberately omitting the verse, referring to "that place where we read the unity of the Trinity laid down in the Epistle of John. In this I found translators (or copyists) widely deviating from the truth; who set down in their own edition the names only of the three witnesses, that is, the Water, Blood, and Spirit; but omit the testimony of the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; by which, above all places, the Divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is proved to be one.” (English from Ben David Monthly Review p. 214,(1826). Yet the Codex Fuldensis text of 1 John, written by the same scribe, omits the verse, an unusual discordance. In the late 1600s, during the early stages of the debate on the verse, a theory was developed that this Prologue was spurious (a forgery) and not actually written by Jerome. Prior to that time the Prologue was considered an extant writing of Jerome, e.g. when it was discussed in the correspondence between Erasmus and Lee and Stunica. At the time the forgery theory became popular the lateness of the extant Vulgate manuscripts with the Prologue was emphasized as evidence for the forgery theory, the earliest manuscript with the Prologue being dated around the 800s. The knowledge of the Prologue in Codex Fuldensis only came forth in the late 1800s.
  5. ^ . Charles Forster in A new plea for the authenticity of the text of the three heavenly witnesses p 54-55 (1867) notes that the quote of verse 6 is partial, bypassing phrases in verse 6 as well as verse 7. And that Clement's "words et iterum clearly mark the interpolation of other topics and intervening text, between the two quotations." Et iterum is "and again" in the English translation. In addition Bengel, John Gill, Ben David and Thomas Burgess see "Every promise is valid before two or three witnesses, before the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; before whom, as witnesses and helpers, what are called the commandments ought to be kept." Eclogae propheticae 13.1| Ben David, Monthly Review, p. 277 (1826) from Clement as solid evidence that he knew the verse.
  6. ^ Tertullian's use of tres unum sunt in Against Praxeas "Ita connexus Patris in Filio, et Filii in Paracleto, tres efficit cohaerentes alterum ex altero: qui tres unum sunt, non unus quomodo dictum est, Ego et Pater unum sumus" has been seen by many commentators as a textual allusion to 1 John 5:7. e.g. Latin Christianity: It's Founder, Tertullian p.631 (1903) where editor Arthur Cleveland Coxe says "It appears to me very clear that Tertullian is quoting I. John v. 7. in the passage now under consideration". The English section is on p. 621, left column, bottom.
  7. ^ "The silence of Augustine, contrary to prevailing opinion, cannot be cited as evidence against the genuineness of the Comma. He may indeed have known it" Annotated bibliography of the textual criticism of the New Testament p. 113 Bruce Manning Metzger, 1955. Metzger was citing S. Augustinus gegen das Comma Johanneum? by Norbert Fickermann, 1934, who considers evidence that Augustine specifically avoided referencing the verse directly. In addition, some Augustine references have been seen as verse allusions. About |Contra Maximinum (2.22.3; PL 42.794-95) "But if we will inquire into the things signified by these, there not unreasonably comes into our thoughts the Trinity itself, which is the One, Only, True, Supreme God, Father and Son and Holy Ghost, of whom it could most truly be said, "There are Three Witnesses, and the Three are One:" Raymond Brown in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary wrote that Augustine "appealed to this text in combination with John 10:30". In Augustine's City of God the phrase “God, supreme and true, with his Word and Holy Spirit, which three are one” (book 5, chapter 11) is seen by Warren H. Hepokoski as an allusion "conveniently ignored by the critics".
  8. ^ Traditionally, Athansius was considered to lend support to the authenticity of the verse, one reason being the Disputation with Arius at the Council of Nicea which circulated with the works of Athanasius. Where is found: "Likewise is not the remission of sins procured by that quickening and sanctifying ablution, without which no man shall see the kingdom of heaven, an ablution given to the faithful in the thrice-blessed name. And besides all these, John says, And the three are one." (Translation by Richard Porson, also given in Charles Forster's New Plea). Today, many scholars consider this a later work Pseudo-Athanasius, perhaps by Maximus the Confessor, although Forster argues for the writing as stylistically Athanasius. While the author and date are debated, this is a Greek verse reference directly related to the doctrinal Trinitarian-Arian controversies, and one that purports to be an account of Nicea when those doctrinal battles were raging. The reference was given in UBS-3 as supporting verse inclusion, yet was removed from UBS-4 for reasons unknown. The Synopsis of Scripture has also been referenced as showing Athanasian verse usage.
  9. ^ Origen, discussing water baptism in his commentary on the Gospel of John, references only verse 8 the earthly witnesses: "And it agrees with this that the disciple John speaks in his epistle of the spirit, and the water, and the blood, as being one." In the scholium on Psalm 122 attributed to Origen is the phrase "spirit and body are servants to masters, Father and Son, and the soul is handmaid to a mistress, the Holy Ghost; and the Lord our God is the three (persons), for the three are one". This has been considered by many commentators, including the translation source Nathaniel Ellsworth Cornwall (1812-1879) in The Church Review p. 634 (1874) as an allusion to verse 7.
  10. ^ Fulgentius (Ad 10; CC 91A, 797): In the Father, therefore, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we acknowledge unity of substance, but dare not confound the persons. For St. John the apostle, testifieth saying, There are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one. Which also the blessed martyr Cyprian, in his epistle de unitate Ecclesiae (Unity of the Church), confesseth, saying, Who so breaketh the peace of Christ, and concord, acteth against Christ: whoso gathereth elsewhere beside the Church, scattereth. And that he might shew, that the Church of the one God is one, he inserted these testimonies, immediately from the scriptures; The Lord said, I and the Father are one.(John x, 30). And again, of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it is written, and these three are one (1 John v. 7). "Anitjacobin Review, Sabellian Controversy, Letter XII, p. 595 William Hales, (1816) Additional heavenly witnesses references from Fulgentius are in Fragmenta contra Fabianum (Frag. 21.4: CC 01A,797) and De Trinitate (1.4.1; CC 91A 636) Anchor Bible, Epistle of John, Raymond Brown (1982), cited in Maynard p. 44
  11. ^ The text shown in this photograph is part of 1 John chapter 5, from mid-verse 3 to mid-verse 10.
  12. ^ Newton accused Jerome as being the likely source of the heavenly witnesses, that Jerome "inserted the Trinity in express words into his version ... the first upon record that inserted it, is Jerome: if the preface to the canonical epistles, which goes under his name, be his. ... he altered the public reading". From that position Newton did acknowledge many other references, including "Eugenius bishop of Carthage, in the seventh year of Hunneric king of the Vandals, anno Christi 484, in the summary of his faith exhibited to the king ... Fulgentius, another African bishop, disputing against the same Vandals, cited it again, and backed it with the fore-mentioned place of Cyprian ... It occurs also frequently in Vigilius Tapsensis, another African bishop, contemporary to Fulgentius ... the feigned disputation of Athanasius with Arius at Nice." The pre-Jerome Priscillian reference was unknown at the time, and Newton's handling of Cyprian is complex, as he accepted it linguistically, but rejected it textually "These places of Cyprian being, in my opinion, genuine,seem so apposite to prove the testimony of the Three in heaven, that I should never have suspected a mistake in it, could I but have reconciled it with the ignorance I meet with of this reading in the next age"
  13. ^ The Freisinger Fragments, dated from the 5th to 7th century, were published in 1876 by Zeigler and were not known at the time of this list of negative evidences in 1808. Similarly, the 7th century dating of Codex Legionensis was not assigned until 20th century.
  14. ^ The Priscillian citation was discovered and published in the latter 1800s, fully refuting this conjecture of forgery. And leading to short-lived theories of Priscillian as the verse author, as described in the article.


  1. ^ Jaroslav Pelikan, Whose Bible Is It? A Short History of the Scriptures, Penguin Books Ltd, 2005, p. 156
  2. ^ Nova Vulgata
  3. ^ Maurice Robinson, posting to the textualcriticism forum, 5/26/96
  4. ^ Wallace notes: "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."
  5. ^ a b c d e Catholic Encyclopedia, "Epistles of St John"
  6. ^ "Fragments of Clemens Alexandrius", translated by Rev. William Wilson, section 3.
  7. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia: "The silence of the great and voluminous Augustine and the variation in form of the text in the African Church are admitted facts that militate against the canonicity of the three witnesses."
  8. ^ Wallis, Robert Ernest, translator, "The writings of Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, Volume 1", (1868), p. 382,
  9. ^ Daniel B. Wallace, "The Comma Johanneum and Cyprian".
  10. ^ ,The International critical commentary on the Holy Scriptures, Alan England Brooke, 1912, p. 160.
  11. ^ NA26: mss 61, 629, 918, 2318, besides in mss. 88, 221, 429, 636 as later additions.
  12. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia: "in only four rather recent cursives — one of the fifteenth and three of the sixteenth century. No Greek epistolary manuscript contains the passage."
  13. ^ a b c d Mann, Theodore H. (January–March 2001). "Translation Problems in the KJV New Testament". Journal of Biblical Studies 1 (1). ISSN 1534-3057. Archived from the original on 2010-11-01. Retrieved 2011-09-15 
  14. ^ See Grantley McDonald, «Raising the Ghost of Arius: Erasmus, the Johannine comma and Religious Difference in Early Modern Europe», PhD Dissertation, Universiteit Leiden, 2011.
  15. ^ "Epistle 695" in Collected Works of Erasmus Vol. 5: Letters 594 to 841, 1517–1518 (tr. R.A.B. Mynors and D.F.S. Thomson; annotated by James K. McConica; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976), 172.
  16. ^ "Epistle 273" in Collected Works of Erasmus Vol. 2: Letters 142 to 297, 1501–1514 (tr. R.A.B. Mynors and D.F.S. Thomson; annotated Wallace K. Ferguson; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976), 253.
  17. ^ "Epistle 305" in Collected Works of Erasmus. Vol. 3: Letters 298 to 445, 1514–1516 (tr. R.A.B. Mynors and D.F.S. Thomson; annotated by James K. McConica; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976), 32.
  18. ^ "Epistle 337" in Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 3, 134.
  19. ^ a b "History of the Printed Text", in: New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. II: Basilica – Chambers, p. 106 ff.
  20. ^ Robert Waltz, Textus Receptus.
  21. ^ Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2d ed., (Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 101.
  22. ^ "...having promised Lee to insert them in his text, if they were found in a single Greek MS..." |Letters to Archdeacon Travis in Answer to His Defense of the Three Heavenly Witnesses Richard Porson, Preface p.1, 1790
  23. ^ H.J. de Jonge, Erasmus and the Comma Johanneum, Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 56 (1980): 385.
  24. ^ Newton Project, Newton's Views on the Corruptions of Scripture and the Church.
  25. ^ Two Notable Corruptions p.17.
  26. ^ New Testament in an improved version, upon the basis of Archbishop Newcome's new translation, 1808, London, p. 563.
  27. ^ NIV, NASB, ESV, NRSV translations
  28. ^ Nova Vulgata, "Epistula I Ioannis".
  29. ^ James H. Sightler The King James Bible is Inspired (2011) "The modern versions ... omit or cast doubt on I John 5:7. the most important Trinitarian verse in the Bible and the one verse most often attacked in history"
  30. ^ John Painter, Daniel J. Harrington. 1, 2, and 3 John
  31. ^ An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate (1815), Frederick Nolan (1784-1864)
  32. ^ The 1780 Letter of Eugenius
  33. ^ The Doctrinal Various Readings of the New Testament Greek (1871), Robert Dabney (1820-1898), pages 191-234 in the 1871 (volume 22) edition of the Souther Presbyterian Review journal
  34. ^ Syllabus and Notes of the Course of Systematic and Polemic Theology (1878), Robert Dabney (1820-1898), page 182
  35. ^ Discussions Theological and Evangelical (1890), Robert Dabney (1820-1898), pages 350-390
  36. ^ The Epistles of John (1978), I. Howard Marshall, page 237, footnote 20
  37. ^ Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (1996), Daniel B. Wallace, page 332, footnote 44

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