All bibles contain the substance of the following statement at 1 John 5: 7:
"And there are three that bear witness in earth: the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one."

Some bibles precede this with a controversial text known as the Comma Johanneum that reads:
"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one."

Did John write these words?


Thanks Anthony for the references in support of the Comma I must confess I’ve never previously had to investigate it quite this thoroughly! To recap, you quoted the following sources:

1) 200 - Tertullian quotes the verse (Gill, "An exposition of the NT", Vol 2, pp. 907-8)
2) 250 - Cyprian, who writes, "And again concerning the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit it is written: ’and the Three are One’" (Vienna, vol. iii, p. 215)
3) 350 - Priscillian cites the verse (Vienna, vol. xviii, p. 6)
4) 350 - Idacius Clarus cites the verse (MPL, vol. 62, col. 359)
5) 350 - Athanasius cites the verse (Gill)
6) 415 - Council of Carthage appeals to the verse as a basic text proving a fundamental doctrine when contending with the Arians (Ruckman, "History of the NT Church", Vol. I, p. 146)
[numerous African and later references omitted]


John Gill (1697-1771) said
"in the middle, of the "third" century, about the year 250; [it] is referred to by Tertullian {c} about, the year 200;"
Tertullian (160-220) is often credited with being the first to formulate the CONCEPT of the Trinity, though Theophilus of Antioch was the first to use the word ’trias’ (translated into Latin as ’trinitas’) in 180AD. However, crucially, Tertullian never ascribed the Comma to John. In his definitive statement on this matter, Against Praxeas, he marshalls the assistance of 332 scriptures that bear on the Trinity doctrine without any reference to a passage that would absolutely have nailed his argument – why? 
Tertullian’s writings seem to be the first step toward the Trinity doctrine rather than a summation of the Trinity as formulised by Athanasius; certainly they differ at key points. Can you find any reputable reference to the effect that Tertullian believed John wrote the Comma? Gill seems to be out on a limb here.

CYPRIAN (De catholicae ecclesiae unitate 6)
Cyprian did at least quote 1 John 5: 7 (the spirit, the water and blood being in agreement) and APPLIED this as a metaphor for the Trinity. Crucially again, a careful reading shows that his quotation of John’s words omits the disputed text.
"Since the statement about the Trinity in the Comma is quite clear (“the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit”), and since Cyprian does not quote that part of the text, this in the least does not afford proof that he knew of such wording. One would expect him to quote the exact wording of the text, if its meaning were plain. That he does not do so indicates that a Trinitarian interpretation was superimposed on the text by Cyprian."
Catholic Encylopedia: "The little that can be extracted from St. Cyprian on the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation is correct, judged by later standards."

The earliest evidence [of the Johanine Comma] comes from a MS. of Priscillianist provenance discovered by G. Schepss at Wurzburg 1885. Later the insertion is found in African authors. It would thus seem to have originated in N. Africa or Spain and to have found its way into the Latin Bibles used in those districts (both Old Latin and Vulgate), possibly under the stress of Arian persecution. It is absent from St. Jerome’s original text of the Vulgate."
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Edited by F.L.Cross, Oxford University Press, reprint of 1963.

"The Comma Joanneum, 5:7-8 of the Vg. is missing in all Gk MSS except four later MSS and in the Oriental versions. It is quoted by no Church father before Priscillian (380). There is no doubt that it is a gloss on the preceding lines, probably added in Africa or the Iberian peninsula."
John L. McKenzie, S.J., Dictionary of the Bible, The Bruce Publishing Company, 1965, p.445.

"[v]8. The famous interpolation after ’three witnesses’ is not printed even in RSVn, and rightly. It cites the heavenly testimony of the Father, the logos, and the Holy Spirit, but is never used in the early trinitarian controversies. No repectable Greek MS contains it. Appearing first in a late 4th cent. Latin text, it entered the Vulgate and finally the NT of Erasmus."
Peake’s Commentary on the Bible, edtors M.Black and H.H.Rowley, reprint of 1964, p.1038

"[1 John]5:7; This verse has not been found in Greek in any manuscript in or out of the New Testament earlier than the thirteenth century. It does not appear in any Greek manuscript of I John before the fifteenth century, when one cursive has it; one from the sixteenth also contains the reading. These are the only Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in which it has ever been found. But it occurs in no ancient Greek manuscript of Greek Christian writers or any of the oriental versions. its chief support is in two Old Latin manuscripts of the sixth and eighth centuries and in some manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate, but not the oldest ones. Erasmus did not include it in his first edition to the New Testament in Greek (1516) nor in his second (1519). When criticized for the omission, he rashly said that if anyone could show him a Greek manuscript containing the passage he would insert it, and the sixteenth century Codex Mantifortianus containing it was brought to his attention. He felt obliged to include the reading in his third edition (1525). From Tyndale the verse found its way into the King James Version. It is universally discredited by Greek scholars and editors of the Greek text of the New Testament."
Edgar J. Goodspeed, The Goodspeed Parallel New Testament, p. 557.

Metzger has an excellent book tracing the origin of the Comma Johanneum. Michael Maynard has another that takes the opposite view. However, they broadly agree on the following facts:

• No-one within 150 years of Jesus’ death even refers to the CONCEPT of the Trinity.
• In almost 300 years prior to Priscillian hundreds of writers quote 1 John 5: 7 without referring to the words above.
• In the same period, the text is not once clearly attributed to John.
• No apologist for the Trinity prior to Priscillian ever cites the passage, despite it being the clearest and most explicit statement of the doctrine - including Tertullian, Cyprian and Augustine.
• The passage is absent from the manuscripts of all ancient versions (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic), except the Latin; and it is not found (a) in the Old Latin in its early form (Tertullian Cyprian Augustine), or in the Vulgate (b) as issued by Jerome ... or (c) as revised by Alcuin...
• The Comma Johanneum doesn’t appear in any Greek manuscript for nearly 1500 years.
• The earliest instance of the passage being quoted as a part of the actual text of the Epistle is in a fourth century Latin treatise entitled Liber Apologeticus (chap. 4), attributed either to Priscillian or to his follower Bishop Instantius.
• In the 200 years following the publication of the King James version, there was a practically universal recognition of the origin of the Comma Johanneum as more ancient manuscripts came to light. During the 18th and 19th Centuries, only the staunchest defender of the Trinity doctrine, the Roman Catholic Church, held that it was genuine. Eventually, they too were forced to acknowledge that John did not write the passage.
• With the exception of the Catholic Douay bible, practically all translations omit the passage, or relegate it to a footnote.

As Daniel Wallace concludes: "All the historical data point in one of two directions: (1) This reading was a gloss added by Latin patristic writers whose interpretive zeal caused them to insert these words into Holy Writ; or (2) this interpretation was a gloss, written in the margins of some Latin MSS, probably sometime between 250 and 350, that got incorporated into the text by a scribe who was not sure whether it was a comment on scripture or scripture itself (a phenomenon that was not uncommon with scribes)."

Whether or not the Trinity is a bible teaching is another question - but the data is overwhelming that, from a purely biblical perspective, the Comma Johanneum is not admissable as evidence.

As we’ve previously agreed, one way or another, God sees to it that the biblical text remains uncorrupted and clearly intelligible to his creation.

Posted by Swikky on 1 reply


01. Jul 15, 2003 at 2:03pm by Kelsey:

"Then God said, ’Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...’" - Genesis 1:26

Reply to this message here:

Your name
Website (optional)

HomeCreate PostArchivesLoginCMS by Encodable ]