The Comma Johanneum: A Critical Evaluation of the Text of 1 John 5.7-8 by C.L. Bolt

This article isn’t brand new, but I believe it is a worthwhile contribution to our blog. I came across this essay as its author, C.L. Bolt, and I interacted on a mutual friend’s comment thread on Facebook. Mr. Bolt was happy to have me re-post it here. Be sure to check out his website, Choosing Hats, an excellent resource of presuppositional apologetics.

The Comma Johanneum: A Critical Evaluation of the Text of 1 John 5.7-8

by C.L. BOLT on DECEMBER 31, 2010

The Comma Johanneum as a Textual Problem

Introduction

The phrase “Comma Johanneum” is the name given to a short clause of a sentence found in 1 John 5.7-8 which has become a famous problem in textual criticism. The word “comma” as it is used here just means a short clause of a sentence and “Johanneum” refers to the writings of the Apostle John.[i] The phrase “Comma Johanneum” thus refers to a short clause of a sentence (comma) which has some relevance to the writings of John (Johanneum). The Comma Johanneum can be found in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible.

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: and these three agree in one. 1 John 5:7-8 (KJV)[ii]

Since this passage pertains to the doctrine of the Trinity it initially appears to be of some great importance to Christian theology. Additionally the KJV is quite familiar to people since so many of them were raised on the popular translation. The apparent significance of these verses coupled with the popularity of the KJV and respective wide-spread familiarity with this particular reading makes this text problem a rather famous one that serves as an excellent introduction to text criticism.

1 John 5.7-8 In The KJV

The passage at 1 John 5.7-8 as quoted from the KJV refers to there being “three…in heaven.” If there is any doubt that the “three” is a reference to the Trinity the very next part of verse 7 names the three in heaven as being “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost.” Not only are the three Persons of the Trinity identified by name, but the last part of verse 7 tells us that “these three are one.” So 1 John 5.7 as it appears in the KJV tells us that there are three in heaven, the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost, and that these three are one. This is clearly meant to be a description of the Trinity. However it is worth noting that the text is not as clear as it could be regarding the Trinity. While the passage is certainly not unorthodox it does not explain in what respect the three are also one. Additionally the three are said to bear witness in heaven, but given the context of the passage this is problematic as will be explained below in the discussion on verse 8. Verse 8 in the KJV appears to build upon verse 7 in explaining that just as there are three that bear witness in heaven so also there are three that bear witness in earth. The Spirit, water, and blood testify on earth analogously to the three Persons who testify in heaven. Additionally the three witnesses on the earth are said to” agree in one.” This agreement is a numerically similar idea to the one expressed in verse 7. However, there is a massive difference between three being one and three agreeing in one. Any attempt to fix this problem will result in affirming only the agreement of the three in heaven as opposed to their actually beingone in order to match the agreement between the three witnesses in earth or it will result in affirming the three in earth being one in order to match what is said of the three in heaven when in fact the three in earth are clearly distinct entities and cannot be said to share in oneness in the same way that the three witnesses in heaven do.

“Modern” Translations

Versions of the Bible other than the KJV do not read very much like the KJV at all in 1 John 5.7-8. Note the passage as it is found in the English Standard Version.

For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 1 John 5:7-8 (ESV)[iii]

It should be clear that the difference between the KJV and the ESV at this passage has very little to do with actual translation. Rather, the underlying Greek texts which have been translated differ from one another and this observation leads into the text problem. Translations such as the ESV are from sources that are like the text in the Nestle-Aland 27th Edition (NA27) whereas the KJV is translated from the Textus Receptus(TR).[iv] Note the similarities and differences in the passage in question as it is found in the NA27 and TR.

7ὅτι τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες, 8τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα, καὶ οἱ τρεῖς εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν (NA27) [v] 7ὅτι τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες [ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὁ Πατήρ, ὁ Λόγος, καὶ τὸ Ἅγιον Πνεῦμα· καὶ οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς ἔν εἰσι. 8 καὶ τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἐν τῇ γῇ] τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα, καὶ οἱ τρεῖς εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν. (TR) [vi]

The TR differs a great deal from the text found in the NA27. In the TR a phrase appears after μαρτυροῦντες [. The phrase is “ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὁ Πατήρ, ὁ Λόγος, καὶ τὸ Ἅγιον Πνεῦμα· καὶ οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς ἔν εἰσι. 8 καὶ τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἐν τῇ γῇ].” Note that the addition of this phrase affects both verse 7 and verse 8. Thus in the apparatus of the NA27 verse 7 and 8 are listed together.[vii]

Internal Probabilities

Intrinsic Probability

Context and Theology

 The aforementioned reading of 1 John 5.7-8 that is found in the TR and provides the basis for the text of the KJV can be rather quickly evaluated in regards to its intrinsic probability. The consideration of the significance of the passage does not directly pertain to intrinsic probability, but it does appear to be the case as already noted that the reading is significant insofar as it so forthrightly describes the Trinity. While the exegetical concerns mentioned before should be kept in mind the reading in question can nevertheless be evaluated as being orthodox and true. Concerning intrinsic probability Metzger finds it sufficient to note that “the passage makes an awkward break in the sense.”[viii] It is difficult to disagree with Metzger’s observation and John Stott makes a similar point. Stott rather persuasively argues that this reading is, “not a very happy one, as the threefold testimony of verse 8 is to Christ; and the biblical teaching about testimony is not that Father, Son and Holy Spirit bear witness together to the Son, but that the Father bears witness to the Son through the Spirit.”[ix] Verses 5 and 6 refer to “[t]his” which is “he who”. The “this” and “he who” clearly refer to “Jesus Christ” and the “Spirit…the Spirit…the truth” testifies to Jesus Christ. Stott’s point is correct and serves as evidence in favor of rejecting the Comma Johanneum.

Grammar 

In The King James Only Controversy James White responds to an argument made by KJV Only advocate Kevin James. Kevin James contends in his book The Corruption of the Word: The Failure of Modern New Testament Scholarship that there is a “grammatical” problem with the passage in question since “three” is masculine. He notes an inconsistency with the genders of Spirit, blood, and water. Easily dismissing this attempt at an argument for the authenticity of the Comma Johanneum White explains that, “three almost always appears in the NT as a masculine when used as a substantive, the one exception being 1 Corinthians 13:13, where it appears as a neuter, though here referring to a list of feminines.”[x] Apparently this is a merely stylistic matter. Daniel Wallace also comments on the grammar of the passage in question. Wallace acknowledges that the masculine participle in the passage that refers to all neuter nouns is taken by some to be “an oblique reference to the Spirit’s personality” citing especially I.H. Marshall.[xi] However, Wallace believes that, “the fact that the author has personified water and blood, turning them into witnesses along with the Spirit, may be enough to account for the masculine gender.”[xii] He writes:

This interpretation also has in its behalf the allusion to Deut 19:15 (the necessity of “two or three witnesses”), for in the OT the testimony only of males was acceptable. Thus, the elder may be subtly indicating (via the masculine participle) that the Spirit, water, and blood are all valid witnesses.”[xiii]

Wallace’s speculation is interesting whether or not one decides to accept it.[xiv] There does not appear to be any reason in the category of intrinsic probability for accepting the reading in question. Everything discussed here has indicated that the passage is more than likely not a part of the original text.

Transcriptional Probability

Recall that upon comparison of the text of the NA27 and the text of the TR it may be observed that theComma Johanneum is wholly absent from the text of the NA27. If the reading in question were original then it obviously had to have dropped out of Greek manuscripts at some point. Metzger uses this fact to launch into a powerful argument against the passage contending that, “if the passage were original, no good reason can be found to account for its omission, either accidentally or intentionally, by copyists of hundreds of Greek manuscripts, and by translators of ancient versions.”[xv] In the context of meeting the challenge posed by KJV Onlyists who defend the Comma Johanneum since it appears in the only English version they believe to be the inspired Word of God James White likewise emphasizes this point along with the consequences of accepting the passage. White writes:

“[W]e need to note what is really being said by AV Alone defenders. If indeed the Comma was a part of the apostle John’s original writing, we are forced to conclude that entire passages, rich in theological meaning, can disappear from the Greek manuscript tradition without leaving a single trace. In reality, the KJV Only advocate is arguing for a radical viewpoint on the New Testament text, one that utterly denies…tenacity…Even “liberal” scholars admit the outstanding purity of the New Testament text and the validity of the belief in that text’s tenacity. Here we find otherwise very conservative people, the KJV’s defenders, joining arms with the most destructive critics in presenting a theory regarding the NT text that, in reality, destroys the very basis upon which we can have confidence that we still have the original words of Paul or John. Surely this is not their intention, but in their rush to defend what is obviously a later addition that entered into the KJV by unusual circumstances, they have had to adopt a position that does this very thing.”[xvi]

White’s argument pertains to internal probabilities, but it will become much clearer and more powerful in light of the external evidence which is to follow. Having examined internal probabilities including intrinsic probability and transcriptional probability it must be concluded that there are no obvious reasons to accept the passage in question as original and that there are in fact serious problems with accepting it as such. Internal probabilities strongly favor the reading of the NA27 quoted earlier rather than the reading of the TR. The external evidence paints a similar picture.

External Evidence

Latin Sources Metzger notes that the earliest place we find the Comma cited as an actual part of the text of the Epistle of 1 John is in Liber apologeticus by either Priscillian or Instantius.[xvii] Liber apologeticus is a fourth-century Latin document.[xviii] Nobody really knows how the passage ended up being in this treatise the way that it appears, but even in English one can speculate how it may have happened. Someone could have read over the passage and heard in “Jesus Christ”, “Spirit”, and “there are three” an allusion to the doctrine of the Trinity even though as already discussed there is no such allusion. Metzger thinks that the gloss came to be through an understanding of the passage as symbolizing the Trinity in the three witnesses of the Spirit, water, and blood and that the interpretation could have just been jotted down as a marginal note and later on written into the text.[xix] It could have been an allegorical exegesis of the three witnesses.[xx] Stott writes, “Some tidy-minded scribe, impressed by the threefold witness of verse 8, must have been made to think of the Trinity and so suggested that there was a threefold witness in heaven also.”[xxi] Whatever the reason that the reading was introduced to the text it was quoted by Latin Fathers in North Africa and Italy in the fifth century and subsequently added to the manuscripts of the Old Latin and Vulgate from the sixth century on.[xxii] However, the passage is not in any manuscripts of the ancient versions except the Latin and even then is not in the earlier form of the Old Latin or Jerome’s Vulgate meaning that it does not appear in the Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic, Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine, codex Fuldensis, codex Amiatinus or Alcuin’s revision of the Vulgate.[xxiii] Additionally there appear to be variants within what Latin is available and the Latin reads opposite the Greek.[xxiv] Turning to the Greek; none of the Greek Fathers quote the passage even though they would have had every reason to in the Trinitarian controversies involving Sabellius and Arius.[xxv] The passage appears for the very first time in 1215 in a Greek version of the Latin Acts of the Lateran Council.[xxvi]

Greek Manuscripts

According to Metzger there are four Greek manuscripts that have the Comma Johanneum written later as a variant in the margin.

88v.r.: a variant reading in a sixteenth century hand, added to the fourteenth-century codex Regius of Naples. 221v.r.: a variant reading added to a tenth-century manuscript in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. 429v.r.: a variant reading added to a sixteenth-century manuscript at Wolfenbuttel. 636v.r.: a variant reading added to a sixteenth-century manuscript at Naples.[xxvii]

Apart from these there are only four other Greek manuscripts that contain the passage. One is 629.[xxviii]Two others listed by Metzger are 918 and 2318.

918: a sixteenth-century manuscript at the Escorial, Spain. 2318: an eighteenth-century manuscript, influenced by the Clementine Vulgate, at Bucharest, Rumania.[xxix]

Manuscript 61 is known as Codex Montfortianus and dates from the early sixteenth century.[xxx]Montfortianus is housed at Trinity College, Dublin.[xxxi] It is a manuscript of the entire New Testament and is of interest because it likely played the crucial role in our ending up with the questionable passage in the TR and thus also the KJV.[xxxii] The manuscript appears to have been written around 1520 in Oxford by a Franciscan friar named Froy (or Roy). Froy included the passage in question by taking it from the Latin Vulgate. The remainder of the codex was copied from a tenth-century manuscript. There are also other insertions in the text which have been retroverted from the Latin text. The tenth-century document at Lincoln College, Oxford that was copied did not have these inserted readings. [xxxiii]  This is the earliest Greek manuscript discovered which contains the highly questionable reading of the Comma Johanneum.[xxxiv] Metzger explains that, “The manuscript, which is remarkably fresh and clean throughout (except for the two pages containing 1 John 5, which are soiled from repeated examination), gives every appearance of having been produced expressly for the purpose of confuting Erasmus.”[xxxv] Adding up the manuscripts described above makes a total of eight Greek manuscripts which do not serve as particularly good witnesses to the passage in question. There is no other Greek manuscript known that contains this passage, and the eight Greek manuscripts described appear to have simply been translated from a “late recension of the Latin Vulgate.”[xxxvi] All the rest are in favor of the reading found in the text of the NA27.

Additional Concerns

Explanation of Inclusion

Some of the speculation as to how this reading originated in the Latin has been presented already, but how did it ever manage to find its way into the Greek? Metzger notes in speaking of Montfortianus that, “It was on the basis of this single, late witness that Erasmus was induced to insert this certainly spurious passage into the text of 1 John.”[xxxvii] The first edition of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament in the early sixteenth century (1516) did not contain the Comma Johanneum and neither did the second edition.[xxxviii] An editor of the Complutensian Polyglot named Stunica apparently criticized Erasmus’s work at this very point.[xxxix] Erasmus wrote an explanation.

If a single manuscript had come into my hands in which stood what we read (sc. in the Latin Vulgate) then I would certainly have used it to fill in what was missing in the other manuscripts I had. Because that did not happen I have taken the only course which was permissible that is I have indicated (sc. in theAnnotationen) what was missing from the Greek manuscripts.[xl]

Erasmus did include the Comma in his 1552 (3rd) edition and according to Metzger he likely did so because the Montfortianus was produced to refute him.[xli]

Erasmus…had not found any Greek manuscript that contained these words…In an unguarded moment, Erasmus may have promised that he would insert the Comma Johanneum, as it is called, in future editions if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained the passage. At length, such a copy was found – or was made to order![xlii]

Most sources pertaining to the Comma Johanneum include a similar story about how the clause got into the work of Erasmus, but upon closer inspection the story turns out to be a rather dubious account.

It is naturally exceptionally difficult, if not impossible in principle to furnish conclusive proof that someone did not say something. Yet in my opinion there is sufficient reason to assume that Erasmus, when he chose to insert the Comma Johanneum, did not feel himself constrained by any promise. He explained on several occasions what had led him to include this passage in his third edition. He did so “so that no one would have occasion to criticise me out of malice”…It should be borne in mind that Lee had written that the omission of the Comma Johanneum brought with it the danger of a new revival of Arianism.[xliii]

H.J. De Jonge has provided strong arguments in line with the above quote to support his case that the story as it is usually told most likely did not actually happen. It is curious and unfortunate that textual critics and others continue to circulate the story even while on occasion noting the work that De Jonge has done on the subject. The first appearance of the traditional tale is in the work of T.H. Horne in 1818 and there is no other trace of it in experts of the history of the New Testament text in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.[xliv] Erasmus did write, “Let Lee produce a Greek manuscript in which is written the words lacking in my edition, and let him prove that I had access to this manuscript, and then let him accuse me of indolence.”[xlv] He also wrote, “Although I suspect this manuscript, too, to have been revised after the manuscripts of the Latin world…”[xlvi] Neither of these passages contains anything like the promise described in the traditional account. De Jonge makes a good case that Erasmus simply wanted to avoid the trouble of having his person or work accused of any sort of heresy like Arianism and thus included the passage, but even this is speculative.[xlvii] It may simply be that it cannot be known why Erasmus included the passage but only that he did.

Theological Implications  

It has already been demonstrated that while it is not exceedingly clear with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity the text in question is nevertheless unproblematic insofar as its orthodoxy is concerned. The inclusion of the text does not have any effect upon the doctrine of the Trinity. The exclusion of the text likewise does not have any effect upon the doctrine of the Trinity. Metzger notes, “in 1897 the Holy Office in Rome, a high ecclesiastical congregation, made an authoritative pronouncement, approved and confirmed by Pope Leo XIII, that it is not safe to deny that this verse is an authentic part of St. John’s Epistle.”[xlviii]However, this ruling appears to have been made, “In view of its inclusion in the Clementine edition of the Latin Vulgate” and not for any particular theological reason pertaining to the Trinity.[xlix] Wayne Grudem lists 1 Peter 1.2 and Jude 20-21 as texts which explicitly mention all three persons of the Trinity before stating that, “the KJV translation of 1 John 5:7 should not be used in this connection” and then explaining the textual problem that has been discussed in detail here.[l] The doctrine of the Trinity neither “stands” nor “falls” upon the basis of 1 John 5.7-8. It is taught throughout the other parts of Scripture. It is worth noting that in apologetic encounters especially with cults and Christian heresies that deny the Trinity this passage may be brought up as supposedly the only passage teaching the Trinity and then shown through textual criticism to not belong in the text. Additionally those denying the teaching of the Bible may use this well-known textual problem that seemingly carries so much weight due to its Trinitarian nature in order to attempt to dismiss the reliability and/or trustworthiness of the Bible as a whole or in general.

Conclusion

Upon the basis of sound textual criticism evaluating internal and external probability it can be determined that the aforementioned Comma Johanneum does not belong in the text of the New Testament. Metzger writes, “That these words are spurious and have no right to stand in the New Testament is certain.”[li] James White quotes Griesbach who wrote, “If so few manuscripts are sufficient to establish such illegitimate readings, one can oppose so many and weighty things (both of evidence and of arguments), that obviously nothing will be left in the serious matter of a true and false standard, and the text of the New Testament in general will be entirely uncertain and doubtful.”[lii] Similarly James White writes, “If the reading of 1 John 5:7 can be considered original, then the entire textual history of the New Testament is, in essence, up for grabs.”[liii]  

Bibliography

Baugh, S.M. A First John Reader: Intermediate Greek Reading Notes and Grammar. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1999. Comfort, Philip W. New Testament Text and Translation Commentary: Commentary on the variant readings of the ancient New Testament manuscripts and how they relate to the major English translations.Carol Streams, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 2008. De Jonge, H.J. “Erasmus and the Comma Johanneum,” in Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses t. 56, fasc. 4, pp. 381-389, 1980. Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: IVP, 1994. Maynard, Michael. A History of the Debate Over 1 John 5:7-8. Tempe, AZ: Comma Publications, 1995. Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament: Second Edition. D-Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994. Metzger, Bruce M.; Bart D. Ehrman. The Text of the New TestamentIts Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration; Fourth Edition. New York: Oxford Press, 2005. Nestle, Eberhard et.al. Novum Testamentum Graece. New York: American Bible Society, 1993. Rummel, Ericka. Biblical Humanism and Scholasticism in the Age of Erasmus. vol. 9 of Brill’s Companions to the Christian Tradition. Boston: Brill, 2008. Stott, John R.W. The Letters of John: An Introduction and Commentary. ed. Leon Morris. vol. 19 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. USA: IVP, 2009. The Holy Bible King James Version: Large Print Compact Edition. Nashville, TN: Holman, 2000. Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996. Wegner, Paul D. The Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1999. White, James R. The King James Only Controversy: Second Edition. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 2009. Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[i] Bruce M. Metzger; Bart D. Ehrman. The Text of the New TestamentIts Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration; Fourth Edition. New York: Oxford Press, 2005, 146 n. 21.   [ii] The Holy Bible King James Version: Large Print Compact Edition. Nashville, TN: Holman, 2000. [iii] Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. [iv] Bruce M. Metzger. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament: Second Edition. D-Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994, 647. [v] Nestle, Eberhard et.al. Novum Testamentum Graece. New York: American Bible Society, 1993. [vi] Metzger, Commentary, 647. [vii] Nestle, Testamentum. [viii] Metzger, Commentary, 649. [ix] John R.W. Stott. The Letters of John: An Introduction and Commentary. ed. Leon Morris. vol. 19 ofTyndale New Testament Commentaries. USA: IVP, 2009, 180. [x] James R. White. The King James Only Controversy: Second Edition. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 2009, 102n.37. [xi] Daniel B. Wallace. Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996, 332n.44. [xii] Ibid. 332 n.44. [xiii] Ibid. 332 n.44. [xiv] The passage Wallace references is as follows: “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” Deuteronomy 19:15 (ESV) [xv] Metzger, Commentary, 647-649. [xvi] James R. White, King James Only, 104. [xvii] Metzger, Commentary, 648. [xviii] Ibid. 648. [xix] Ibid. 648. [xx] Ibid. 648. [xxi] Stott, Letters, 180. [xxii] Metzger, Commentary, 648. [xxiii] Ibid. 648 [xxiv] Nestle, Testamentum. Dr. John Polhill pointed this out to me. One might make an additional argument based upon this feature of the Latin text since it means that there is not even as much evidence for the Comma Johanneum as one might initially think due to the existence of some Latin witness since that witness has problems of its own and does not match the Greek text, but the emphasis of this paper is upon Greek and other text criticism and hence there will be no more discussion pertaining to the Latin. [xxv] Metzger, Commentary, 648. [xxvi] Ibid. 648. [xxvii] Ibid. 647-648. [xxviii] Nestle, Testamentum. [xxix] Ibid. 648. [xxx] Ibid. 647. [xxxi] Metzger, Text, 88. [xxxii] Ibid. 88. [xxxiii] Ibid. 146. Paragraph paraphrased from this source. [xxxiv] Ibid. 88. [xxxv] Ibid. 88. [xxxvi] Ibid. 647. [xxxvii] Ibid. 88. [xxxviii] White, King James Only, 100. [xxxix] Metzger, Text, 146. [xl] H.J. De Jonge. “Erasmus and the Comma Johanneum,” in Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses t. 56, fasc. 4, pp. 381-389, 1980, 385. [xli] Metzger, Text, 146. [xlii] Ibid, 146. [xliii] De Jonge, Erasmus, 384. [xliv] Ibid. 382-383. [xlv] Ibid. 386. [xlvi] Ibid. 387. [xlvii] Ibid. 385. [xlviii] Metzger, Text, 147-148. [xlix] Ibid. 147-148. [l] Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: IVP, 1994, 231. [li] Ibid. 647. [lii] Quoted in White, King James Only, 103. [liii] Ibid. 104.

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19 thoughts on “The Comma Johanneum: A Critical Evaluation of the Text of 1 John 5.7-8 by C.L. Bolt

  1. Bob Hayton November 8, 2011 / 11:31 pm

    Sorry. Apparently our comment feature broke again. I have turned it back on.

  2. Maurice A. Robinson November 9, 2011 / 1:12 pm

    Not in relation to the Johannine Comma (which I clearly reject as never having been part of the Byzantine Textform), but in relation to comments made concerning such:

    “Metzger uses this fact to launch into a powerful argument against the passage contending that, ‘if the passage were original, no good reason can be found to account for its omission, either accidentally or intentionally, by copyists of hundreds of Greek manuscripts, and by translators of ancient versions.’”

    “[James]White writes: ‘…If indeed the Comma was a part of the apostle John’s original writing, we are forced to conclude that entire passages, rich in theological meaning, can disappear from the Greek manuscript tradition … [this] is arguing for a radical viewpoint on the New Testament text … that utterly denies…tenacity.…a theory regarding the NT text that, in reality, destroys the very basis upon which we can have confidence that we still have the original words of Paul or John.’”

    Ah yes, but . . . . why then does not the *same* principle espoused by Metzger and White equally apply to the readings “rich in theological meaning” that are present in the Byzantine text and supported “by copyists of hundreds of Greek manuscripts, and by translators of ancient versions” — which *other* readings happen *not* to be present among the Alexandrian and/or Western manuscripts? Seems that if “tenacity” cuts in one direction, the same principle should also cut equally in the opposite direction, no?

    • Scott D. Andersen November 9, 2011 / 2:02 pm

      Very Good, Dr. Robinson – thanks for making that point. Is there a generally accepted answer to this question or is it a matter of selectively applying the principles which fit the already accepted conclusion for a particular passage?

    • Jim November 10, 2011 / 10:17 am

      I would also like to thank Dr. Robinson for raising this point. If the Comma is to be questioned because of its weak textual support, then why does not the same principle apply to those portions of the CT that are equally weak? Or even weaker?

      Thanks again,

      Jim

  3. Paul Anderson November 9, 2011 / 8:50 pm

    I will second the issue and points raised by Dr. Robinson as another Byzantine text advocate. To Scott, yes it appears there is a selectivity of textual principals based upon a worn out textual theory.

    Dr. Robinson knows well the *theologically rich* passages that the Alexandrian proponents fail upon. I would suggest that instead of so many modern version users as well as Alexandrian proponents spending so much time and effort discussing the passage in this post they should pay more attention to this list: Mt. 6:13, 11:18, 17:21; Mk. 9:29, 16:9-20; Jn. 1:18; 1 Tim. 3:16 etc. Are these passages not as *theologically rich* as 1 Jn. 5:7-8?

    On the other hand, if they did it may just result in bringing out more clearly to the public the flaws of the “reasoned eclectic” position and the modern versions based upon a few flawed mss. and the priority and superiority of the Byzantine textual basis.

    In Christ,

    Paul Anderson
    President-CSPMT
    Wash., D.C.
    http://www.cspmt.org

  4. Scott D. Andersen November 10, 2011 / 9:07 am

    I was asked this week by a friend concerning the text “heal the brokenhearted” in Luke 4:18. Evidently he discovered the variance from the NKJV footnote: “Luke 4:18 NU-Text omits to heal the brokenhearted.”

    Here is a man, serious about scripture, not normally interested in textual issues, totally turned off by extreme KJVO, distressed and wondering out loud to me how such a phrase was added or subtracted from the text. “Was it originally not part of the OT text being quoted?” he asked. He just could not conceive how such a thing could either be added or else subtracted. Because textual criticism is complex, and because it is a lot of work to defend one reading over another, and with a desire to not cause anyone to stumble by imparting too low a view of preservation nor diminish confidence in the authenticity of the Word of God, what type of answer can be readily provided to such a man? Realizing, though only a private individual, I’ve invested innumerable hours reading on this subject, Burgon, Miller, Nolan, Hoskier, Letis and even Metzger, Wallace, White, and Carson, plus many others. My preference is always to the traditional text – I understand the subject is deep. But I want to make it simple for friends like the above and establish confidence in him towards the Holy Scriptures and alleviate the doubt that arises upon discovering repeated uncertainty. Currently, I would try to research the numerical/geographical evidence supporting a reading and relay this to him and then try to explain why the typical modern textual critical theory fails by preferring supposed older readings – harder readings – shorter readers over the numerical/geographical evidence as well as centuries of acceptance. But isn’t there a simpler answer? I would like a simpler way to explain
    “Luke 4:18 NU-Text omits to heal the brokenhearted” than having to conduct an hours long class in theories of textual criticism and the strengths and weaknesses of the different schools of thought.

    I have seen simpler methods: – such as dismissing the importance altogether of concerns over these differences. My conscience doesn’t allow this – it does seem important. Also, Adopting purely a conspiratorial attitude towards whichever side you differ with. Kind of a cheap shot really.

    Maybe Paul in his comment above has already answered me above in his last two paragraphs. And with this understanding: that an undue preference has been given to two flawed Mss and we should rather rest upon versions that have recognized the priority of the Byzantine Textual Basis. Yet, without the hours of explanation, there is a sense in which my saying that to my friend is like my also saying “trust me – I know.”

    Perhaps in the end if someone really wants to know there is no replacement for hard study.

    • Scott D. Andersen November 10, 2011 / 9:10 am

      Maybe I should admit also, though I’ve read a lot of books from different sides over many years, I’ve also forgotten a great deal, and remain a novice. I think I understand some things but also admit as I continue to follow this blog and read the articles and comments I’m learning and happy of it.

  5. James Snapp, Jr. November 11, 2011 / 12:03 am

    Just a couple of brief comments:

    (1) White and Wallace seriously overplay their hand in the comments cited in this article. They are both willing to advocate readings found in only a smattering of Greek witnesses. Wallace is willing, it seems, to advocate a reading found in only one Greek witness (Codex D) in Mark 1:41. And the compilers of the ECM seem to have been willing to advocate a reading in II Peter 3:10 that is not in *any* Greek witness. How does that not put the text “up for grabs” in the same way that they are saying that the advocacy of the CJ does? (Or to put it another way: if the original text can disappear from all Greek transmission-streams in II Peter 3:10, then why can’t it disappear from /almost/ all Greek witnesses in I Jn 5:7, or, from all Greek witnesses in Acts 9:5-6?

    (And just what *is* the entirely scientific reason for insisting that the original text must be preserved in Greek? It’s not as if the versions sprang into existence /ex nihilo/; what do these guys think the versions were translated from?)

    (Note: in case anyone is wondering, my take on the CJ is that it originated as a mangled recollection of Cyprian’s interpretive comment on 5:6 which was blended with the text, and this is why its primary representation is Latin.)

    (2) The author stated that the CJ “does not appear in the . . . codex Fuldensis” — but in the preface to Codex Fuldensis (though not in the text itself), iirc, the CJ is explicitly mentioned.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  6. Maurice A. Robinson November 11, 2011 / 2:41 pm

    Mr Snapp raises a different but important issue in asking “And just what *is* the entirely scientific reason for insisting that the original text must be preserved in Greek?”

    Assuming (as per the general consensus) that the books of the NT originally *were* written in Greek, and following the Reformation-based _ad fontes_ principle, one then should be intent upon determining the original form of the autographic text as it appeared in the original language of revelation and composition.

    The “scientific question” that should be asked, however, at any point where claims are being made that *non*-Greek versional or patristic data should somehow trump what is found among Greek witnesses is this: can a *solid* historical and transmissional reason be provided that would account for the loss of a particular reading from all or nearly all Greek witnesses — and that not once, but on multiple occasions?

    If no solid answer is forthcoming to such a question (which almost exclusively is the case), then “normal” transmissional considerations should apply, and the Greek text should be established from the *Greek* witnesses themselves, regardless of divergent non-Greek versional or patristic citation.

    Although various parties that favor weakly supported minority readings will not agree with this point, the issue involved is real, with the considerations of historical and transmissional matters remaining eminently valid, to be ignored only at the cost of reasonable scholarly integrity.

    • James Snapp, Jr. November 15, 2011 / 7:57 pm

      Dear Dr. Robinson,

      Well, of course if a variant found exclusively in non-Greek witnesses is to be advocated, a solid historical and transmissional reason should be provided to account for the rise of the its rivals (that is to say, inversely, for its extinction from the extant Greek witnesses). But that is always the case. Taking for granted that specific reasons would be required to accept the adoption of any reading (whether in Greek or non-Greek witnesses), /in principle/ is there any scientific reason to preclude the idea that the original reading may be attested only in non-Greek witnesses?

      This is not entirely theoretical; one passage where a reading unattested in Greek, but attested in an interesting array of non-Greek witnesses, is the long reading in Acts 9:5-6.

      Yours in Christ,

      James Snapp, Jr.

    • Nazaroo November 30, 2011 / 4:29 am

      Dear Dr. Robinson: Your and James Snapp’s question/issue,
      “just what *is* the entirely scientific reason for insisting that the original must be preserved in Greek?”

      …is too tantalizing to pass up:

      First we can also reverse the question:
      “What scientific reason might support an omission in the Greek tradition?”

      Rather than tackle this traditionally, as a textual critic,
      I would rather speak as a mathematician and cryptologist, for another angle:

      You may or may not be familiar with ‘one-way trap-door encryption’,
      or more importantly, ‘non-revealing’ methods of identity testing.

      The idea here is that one establishes the identity of the person seeking access,
      through a series of tests, which on the one hand, don’t reveal to the seeker
      any critical private information, and on the other hand, also leave the tester
      equally in the dark, again for security purposes.

      As the testing progresses, one becomes more and more certain of the identity
      of an authentic seeker of access, to virtually any degree of certainty desired.
      This is accomplished through iterative tests.

      As an example, one may be say 50/50 certain that the seeker is authentic,
      if he knows the first password. That is not enough certainty, so a 2nd test begins:
      Now the seeker must provide an unrelated piece of personal info in possession of security.
      We see this type of system at online banking etc.
      “What is your favourite color?”, “Who was your 1st grade teacher?” etc.
      As the seeker continues to pass such tests, probability of identity goes up in leaps.
      Tedium, time and effort, are balanced against certainty, by probability calculations.

      More sophisticated methods allow the seeker to maintain his privacy,
      by clever logical tricks and double-blind techniques.

      One may be familiar with the fun IQ test question as follows,
      which illustrates this method of maintaining secrecy while allowing key information through:

      Two angels look identical, one however always telling the truth (analogy a + logic gate)
      and the other always lies: (analogy – a negative logic gate).
      Each angel is on-duty 50% of the time, but their schedule (timetable) is unknown,
      to the tester. They guard a fork in the road, and only one question is allowed.

      Now the person wants to go to heaven, not hell, and he only gets one question.
      Even after he has asked his question, he has no way of knowing which angel he is dealing with.
      What question should he ask, in order to know which way to go?

      Answer (spoiler alert): “Which way would the other angel tell me to go?”

      Now, the asker doesn’t have to worry about which angel is answering the question.
      Both angels will point to the same road, and the asker will take the opposite!

      A bit of careful thought will show that even though the questioner is able to
      get the truth regarding the fork in the road, he has no way of knowing which
      angel told him the information.

      That is an example of a ‘non-revealing’ truth-test.

    • Nazaroo November 30, 2011 / 4:54 am

      Part II of the ‘scientific’ aspect of the problem:

      We take the same principle in regard to NT textual criticism and
      the question of the probability of the loss of important readings:
      Although we cannot know in any specific example whether or not an omission
      in the Byzantine text is an error, we can still make wonderful strides
      when it comes to all the omissions as a group, with a few simple reasonable axioms.

      We will say that:

      (1) All copying streams are equal, in the sense that they are all subject to copying errors and minor faults. In this the Greek transmission stream is no different or special.

      (2) The Greek maintains its relative superiority however, in that it can be more precise than an ordinary translation, as to the original author’s meaning and purpose.

      (3) Also, the secondary nature (1 extra generation of copying) involved in translations (versions) gives the Greek a ‘tie-breaking’ advantage in difficult (50/50) probability situations.

      (4) With that said, probabilities remain as always, able to combine in fully scientific ways (they are represented as fractions < zero, and combine by multiplication).

      (5) Now we are quite ready to deduce real probabilities generally, and take appropriate actions, even without special knowledge:

      (6) Whatever the probability assigned to a single instance of omission in the earliest Greek stream (say the probability of it happening at least once is near-certain, at 90%), the probability of increasing counts of the same event goes steadily down.

      (7) For instance, the chance of TWO cases would be 9/10 x 9/10, or 81%, of THREE such cases would be only 73%, of FOUR such cases 66%, of FIVE cases, 59%, and SIX=53%, SEVEN=48%, EIGHT=43%, NINE=39%, TEN Cases= only 35% and so on.

      (8) It is obvious that even when the probability that an omission caused a loss is quite high, the chances of a whole bunch of them is nonetheless very low, i.e., improbable.

      (9) If we can identify (for illustrative purposes) say, 50 to 100 possible minor omissions in the Byzantine text, it is obvious by combinatorics that they can’t ALL be real omissions, but rather, most are what they appear, namely additions made to subsequent ‘versions’ or copies.

      (10) Although we remain completely in the dark as to which omissions are real, and which merely show that later additions were made to the versions, we can nonetheless develop a procedure which is effective, although uncertain in specific instances.

      (11) This is precisely the stratagem used by police when stopping speeders. They know they can’t catch everyone. But if they catch the majority of speeders, all potential speeders will know it, and most will learn to slow down, at least in the policed area.

      (12) Similarly, knowing that most ‘omissions’ are bogus, we need not insert readings from the ‘versions’. If we stand firm and refuse to allow ‘back-pollution’ from versions into the Greek stream of transmission, we can rest assured that we have stopped most errors, even though we have not eliminated all.

      (13) Given that we cannot know in any specific instance which ‘omissions’ are real cases, and which are not, a blanket policy of refusing admission guarantees that we have stopped most insertions from creeping backward into a stream of transmission which has initially escaped.

      This is the preferred scientific procedure when no other data is available to increase certainty in specific cases.

      In other words, we have perfectly scientific and very reliable procedure to fall back on when faced with the unknown.

      Nazaroo

    • Maurice A. Robinson November 30, 2011 / 11:16 am

      By the same mathematical/statistical principle as “Nazaroo” spelled out, I would suggest that the 33 instances of Nestle27 readings supported by one and only one MS (10 different MSS involved) would also fall under the same condemnation.

      And if so, perhaps one might consider also the 88 Nestle27 readings supported by two and only two MSS (involving 47 different MSS that occur in 56 differing combinations).

      Not exactly being a math or statistics expert, I would not begin to calculate the probabilities vs improbabilities of the Nestle27 single-support or dual-support combinations being correct, but I have a strong suspicion that the data doesn’t offer much confidence regarding those particular decisions, any more than mere conjectural guesses in that edition (as in Ac 16:12) or exclusively outside versional testimony (as in the TR editions)

  7. lily November 14, 2011 / 4:52 am

    I have to say that the comma is a funny form of punctuation, I personally never know when to use it and when not to use it. Thank you for your comments Dr Robinson.

  8. sophie November 22, 2011 / 8:31 am

    To be honest I have never been able to make head nor tail of the great book of the bible. The old testament bamboozles me.

  9. Maurice A. Robinson November 22, 2011 / 3:32 pm

    James Snapp writes: “This is not entirely theoretical; one passage where a reading unattested in Greek, but attested in an interesting array of non-Greek witnesses, is the long reading in Acts 9:5-6.”

    Indeed…but how many Greek NT editors or editions beyond the initial Erasmian-based TR period have ever accepted such a reading as putatively original? Even the Greek Orthodox Antoniades edition (1904/1912) doesn’t include such, not even in the small type format seen in that edition in relation to many other weakly supported TR-type readings.

    Would you yourself *really* consider such a reading as possibly original, or (as per most modern editors) just a weakly interpolated versional harmonization to Ac 22 and 26?

  10. James Snapp, Jr. November 26, 2011 / 9:01 pm

    Maurice,
    I just find the array of support for the longer reading at Acts 9:6 intriguing, and I suspect that a plausible explanation of how it could have fallen out of all lines of Greek transmission could be developed. But such an investigation has not been a high priority for me, so until this variant reaches the top of my To-Do List, I favor the shorter reading. It is on the list, though; I don’t rule out the authenticity of the longer reading in Acts 9:5-6 as a matter of course.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  11. Jim1 January 8, 2012 / 6:44 am

    Dr. White’s comment that the number three is often masculine in the New Testament does not address why the masculine gender is used in 1 John 5:8 in the Received Text (1 John 5:7-8 in the Critical Text and Majority Text). The neuter gender is used in 1 John 5:6 in agreement with the grammatical gender (neuter) of the single preceding antecedent noun (Spirit) because that is what almost always happens in every single preceding antecedent noun construction in the New Testament. The masculine gender is used in 1 John 5:8 in agreement with the natural gender (masculine) of the idea being expressed (either a person and two things because the Spirit, water and Blood in 1 John 5:8 are a person and two things or three persons because the men in the witness of the men in 1 John 5:9, to whom the Spirit, water and Blood are being compared in 1 John 5:8, are three persons) because that is what always happens in every multiple noun construction in the New Testament. Agreement with the grammatical genders of the multiple nouns never occurs in any multiple noun construction in the New Testament. The grammatical genders of the multiple nouns are always irrelevant. The idea that agreement with the grammatical genders of the multiple nouns occurs in 1 John 5:7 in the Received TExt and that agreement with the grammatical genders of the multiple nouns should occur in 1 John 5:8 in the Received Text (1 John 5:7-8 in the Critical Text and Majority Text) is a lie that was started in 1815 by Frederick Nolan (1784-1864). In 1 John 2:21, the substantive (it) agrees with the grammatical gender (feminine) of the single preceding antecedent noun (truth) instead of agreeing with the natural gender (neuter) of the idea being expressed (a thing because truth is a thing). In 1 John 5:6, the substantive (the-thing bearing-witness) agrees with the grammatical gender (neuter) of the single preceding antecedent noun (Spirit) instead of agreeing with the natural gender (masculine) of the idea being expressed (a person because the Spirit is a person). That is what almost always happens in every single preceding antecedent noun construction in the New Testament. In 1 John 2:16, the substantive (every the-thing) agrees with the natural gender (neuter) of the idea being expressed (three things because lust, lust and pride are three things) instead of agreeing with the grammatical genders (feminine, feminine, feminine) of the multiple nouns (lust, lust, pride). In 1 John 5:7, the substantive (the-ones bearing-witness) agrees with the natural gender (masculine) of the idea being expressed (three persons because the Father, Word and Spirit are three persons) instead of agreeing with the grammatical genders (masculine, masculine, neuter) of the multiple nouns (Father, Word, Spirit). In 1 John 5:8, the substantive (the-ones bearing-witness) agrees with the natural gender (masculine) of the idea being expressed (either a person and two things because the Spirit, water and Blood in 1 John 5:8 are a person and two things or three persons because the men in the witness of the men in 1 John 5:9, to whom the Spirit, water and Blood are being compared in 1 John 5:8, are three persons) instead of agreeing with the grammatical genders (neuter, neuter, neuter) of the multiple nouns (Spirit, water, Blood). That is what always happens in every multiple noun construction in the New Testament. The grammatical genders of the multiple nouns are always irrelevant. There is no such thing as agreement with the grammatical genders of multiple nouns. It never happens. Never.

  12. Jim1 January 12, 2012 / 7:48 am

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

    2:16 every the-thing [neuter in agreement with the natural gender (neuter) of the idea being expressed (things because lust, lust and pride are three things) instead of feminine in agreement with the grammatical genders (feminine, feminine, feminine) of the multiple nouns (lust, lust, pride)] … lust [feminine] … lust [feminine] … pride [feminine] …

    (Majority Text) 1 John 2:21 … την αληθειαν … αυτην …

    2:21 … the truth [feminine] … it [feminine in agreement with the grammatical gender (feminine) of the single preceding antecedent noun (truth) instead of neuter in agreement with the natural gender (neuter) of the idea being expressed (a thing because the truth is a thing)] …

    (Majority Text) 1 John 5:6 … το πνευμα … το μαρτυρουν …

    5:6 … the Spirit [neuter] … the-thing bearing-witness [neuter in agreement with the grammatical gender (neuter) of the single preceding antecedent noun (Spirit) instead of masculine in agreement with the natural gender (masculine) of the idea being expressed (a person because the Spirit is a person)] …

    (Majority Text) 1 John 5:7 … οι μαρτυρουντες 8 … πνευμα … υδωρ … αιμα …

    5:7 … the-ones bearing-witness [masculine in agreement with the natural gender (masculine) of the idea being expressed (a person and things because the Spirit, water and Blood are a person and two things) instead neuter in agreement with the grammatical genders (neuter, neuter, neuter) of the multiple nouns (Spirit, water, Blood)], 8 … Spirit [neuter] … water [neuter] … Blood [neuter] …

    OR

    (Majority Text) 1 John 5:7 … οι μαρτυρουντες 8 … πνευμα … υδωρ … αιμα … 9 … την μαρτυριαν των ανθρωπων …

    5:7 … the-ones bearing-witness [masculine in agreement with the natural gender (masculine) of the idea being expressed (persons because the men in the witness of the men, to whom the Spirit, water and Blood are being compared, are three persons) instead neuter in agreement with the grammatical genders (neuter, neuter, neuter) of the multiple nouns (Spirit, water, Blood)], 8 … Spirit [neuter] … water [neuter] … Blood [neuter] … 9 … the witness of-the men [the three witnesses in which are the-ones bearing-witness (the three men, hence the masculine gender), to whom the Spirit, water and Blood are being compared] …

    Just as the gender of the substantive is feminine (GRAMMATICAL GENDER AGREEMENT) instead of neuter (natural gender agreement) in THE SINGLE PRECEDING ANTECEDENT NOUN CONSTRUCTION in 1 John 2:21, likewise the gender of the substantive is neuter (GRAMMATICAL GENDER AGREEMENT) instead of masculine (natural gender agreement) in THE SINGLE PRECEDING ANTECEDENT NOUN CONSTRUCTION in 1 John 5:6. That is what ALMOST ALWAYS happens in EVERY SINGLE PRECEDING ANTECEDENT NOUN CONSTRUCTION in the New Testament.

    Just as the gender of the substantive is neuter (NATURAL GENDER AGREEMENT) instead of feminine (grammatical gender agreement) in THE MULTIPLE NOUN CONSTRUCTION in 1 John 2:16, likewise the gender of the verb’s subject is masculine (NATURAL GENDER AGREEMENT) instead of neuter (grammatical gender agreement) in THE MULTIPLE NOUN CONSTRUCTION in 1 John 5:7-8. That is what ALWAYS happens in EVERY MULTIPLE NOUN CONSTRUCTION in the New Testament.

    The verb’s subject οι μαρτυρουντες (the-ones bearing-witness / masculine) is no more supposed to be neuter in agreement with the grammatical genders (neuter, neuter, neuter) of the multiple nouns πνευμα (Spirit), υδωρ (water) and αιμα (Blood) in 1 John 5:7-8 than the verb’s subject παν το (every the-thing / neuter) is supposed to be feminine in agreement with the grammatical genders (feminine, feminine, feminine) of the multiple nouns επιθυμια (lust), επιθυμια (lust) and αλαζονεια (pride) in 1 John 2:16.

    In the phrase τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες (three they-are, the-ones bearing-witness), the word εισιν (they-are) is the verb, and the phrase οι μαρτυρουντες (the-ones bearing-witness) is the verb’s subject, which is masculine in agreement with the natural gender (masculine) of the idea being expressed (either a person and two things or the three person to whom the person and two things are being compared), which (natural gender agreement) is what always occurs in every multiple noun construction in the New Testament, and the word τρεις (three) is the predicate adjective, which modifies the verb’s subject, describing the verb’s subject to be three in number, and which is therefore masculine in agreement with the verb’s masculine subject.

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