Johannine Comma

The Johannine Comma (Latin: Comma Johanneum) is an interpolated phrase in verses 5:7–8 of the First Epistle of John. It became a touchpoint for Protestant and Catholic debates over the doctrine of the Trinity in the early modern period.

The passage first appeared as an addition to the Vulgate, the Ecclesiastical Latin translation of the Bible, and entered the Greek manuscript tradition in the 15th century. It does not appear in the oldest Latin manuscripts, and appears to have originated as a gloss around the end of the 4th century. Some scribes gradually incorporated this annotation into the main text over the course of the Middle Ages.

The first Greek manuscript of the New Testament that contains the comma dates from the 15th century. The comma is absent from some of the Ethiopic, Aramaic, Syriac, Slavic, Armenian, Georgian, and Arabic translations of the Greek New Testament. It appears in some English translations of the Bible via its inclusion in the first printed edition of the New Testament, Novum Instrumentum omne by Erasmus, where it first appeared in the 1522 third edition.

Text

Codex Sangallensis 63 (9th century), Johannine Comma at the bottom: tre[s] sunt pat[er] & uerbu[m] & sps [=spiritus] scs [=sanctus] & tres unum sunt. Translation: "three are the father and the word and the holy spirit and the three are one."

Codex Sangallensis 63 (9th century), Johannine Comma at the bottom: tre[s] sunt pat[er] & uerbu[m] & sps [=spiritus] scs [=sanctus] & tres unum sunt. Translation: “three are the father and the word and the holy spirit and the three are one.”

Erasmus at first omitted the text from his first and second edition of the Greek-Latin New Testament because is was not in the manuscripts he had to work with, but added the Greek version of the text to his Nouum instrumentum omne in 1522 after being accused of reviving the heresy of Arius and he was presented with a Greek text that contained it. Many subsequent early printed editions of the Bible include it, including the Coverdale Bible (1535) and the King James Bible revised from it (1611); the Geneva Bible (1560); and the Douay–Rheims Bible (1610). It was not always included in the first printed Latin translations of the Bible, but the editors of the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate (1592) chose to print it along with a number of other spurious passages.The text (in italics) reads:

7For there are three that beare record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8And there are three that beare witnesse in earth, the Spirit, and the Water, and the Blood, and these three agree in one.

— King James Version (1611)

7Quoniam tres sunt, qui testimonium dant in cælo: Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus Sanctus: et hi tres unum sunt. 8Et tres sunt, qui testimonium dant in terra: spiritus, et aqua, et sanguis: et hi tres unum sunt.

— Sixto-Clementine Vulgate (1592: not present in manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate before the 9th century)

7οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες εν τω ουρανω ο πατηρ ο λογος και το αγιον πνευμα και ουτοι οι τρεις εν εισιν 8και τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες εν τη γη το πνευμα και το υδωρ και το αιμα και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν.

— Nouum instrumentum omne (1522: absent in earlier editions)

There are several variant versions of the Latin and Greek texts, reflecting their later addition.

After the extent of the comma’s absence from biblical manuscripts became known, translations made after the eighteenth century omitted the phrase. English translations based on a modern critical text have omitted it since the English Revised Version (1881), including the New International Version (NIV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), English Standard Version (ESV), and New Revised Standard Version(NRSV). In Catholic tradition, the Vatican’s Nova Vulgata (1979) omits the comma, as does the New American Bible (1970).

Origin

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

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

Several early sources which one might expect to include the Comma Johanneum in fact omit it. For example, although Clement of Alexandria (c. 200) places a strong emphasis on the Trinity, his quotation of 1 John 5:8 does not include the Comma. Tertullian, in his Against Praxeas (c. 210), supports a Trinitarian view by quoting John 10:30. Jerome’s writings of the fourth century give no evidence that he was aware of the Comma’s existence. (The Codex Fuldensis, of 546, contains a copy of Jerome’s Prologue to the Canonical Gospels which seems to reference the Comma, but the Codex’s version of 1 John omits it, which has led many to believe that the Prologue‘s reference is spurious.)

The earliest reference to what might be the Comma appears by the 3rd-century Church father Cyprian (died 258), who in Treatise I section 6 quoted John 10:30 against heretics who denied the Trinity and added: “Again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, ‘And these three are one.'” Daniel B. Wallace notes that although Cyprian uses 1 John to argue for the Trinity, he appeals to this as an allusion via the three witnesses—”written of”—rather than by quoting a proof-text—”written that”. In noting this, Wallace is following the current standard critical editions of the New Testament (NA27 and UBS4) which consider Cyprian a witness against the Comma. They would not do this were they to think him to have quoted it. So even though some still think that Cyprian referred to the passage, the fact that other theologians such as Athanasius of Alexandria and Sabellius and Origen never quoted or referred to that passage is one reason why even many Trinitarians later on also considered the text spurious, and not to have been part of the original text. The first work to quote the Comma Johanneum as an actual part of the Epistle’s text appears to be the 4th century Latin homily Liber Apologeticus, probably written by Priscillian of Ávila (died 385), or his close follower Bishop Instantius.

This part of the homily gradually became part of some manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate roughly around the year 800. It was subsequently back-translated into the Greek, but it occurs in the text of only four of the 500-plus Greek New Testament manuscripts of First John and in the margin of five more. The earliest known occurrence appears to be a later addition to a 10th-century manuscript now in the Bodleian Library, the exact date of the addition is not known; in this manuscript, the Comma is a variant reading offered as an alternative to the main text. The other seven sources date to the sixteenth century or later, and four of the seven are hand-written in the manuscript margins. In one manuscript, back-translated into Greek from the Vulgate, the phrase “and these three are one” is not present.

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. Of the surviving “Itala” or “Old Latin” translations, only two support the Textus Receptus reading, namely the Codex Monacensis (9th or 10th century) and the Speculum, an 8th- or 9th-century collection of New Testament quotations.

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”), as do many other African fathers (the Arian heresy, which denied the Trinity, was particularly strong in North Africa); but the most notable and prolific writer of the African Church, Augustine of Hippo, is completely silent on the matter.

Manuscripts

The comma is not in two of the oldest Vulgate manuscripts, Codex Fuldensis and the Codex Amiatinus, although it is referenced in the Prologue of Fuldensis (which also otherwise cites Old Latin readings).The Vulgate text of the Epistles of John was developed from Vetus Latina manuscripts, revised by an unknown scholar to conform better with the Greek.

The earliest extant Latin manuscripts supporting the comma are dated from the 5th to 7th century. The Freisinger fragment, León palimpsest, and the Codex Legionensis (7th century), besides the younger Codex Speculum, New Testament quotations extant in an 8th- or 9th-century manuscript.

The comma does not appear in the older Greek manuscripts. Nestle-Aland is aware of eight Greek manuscripts that contain the comma. The date of the addition is late, probably dating to the time of Erasmus. In one manuscript, back-translated into Greek from the Vulgate, the phrase “and these three are one” is not present.

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 phrase, as do more than a dozen major Church Fathers who quote the verses. The Latin variant is considered a trinitarian gloss, explaining or paralleled by the second Greek variant.

  1. The comma in Greek. All non-lectionary evidence cited: Minuscules Codex Montfortianus (Minuscule 61 Gregory-Aland, c. 1520), 629 (Codex Ottobonianus, 14th/15th century), 918 (16th century), 2318 (18th century).
  2. The comma at the margins of Greek at the margins of minuscules 88 (Codex Regis, 11th century with margins added at the 16th century), 221 (10th century with margins added at the 15th/16th century), 429 (14th century with margins added at the 16th century), 636 (16th century); some minority variant readings in lectionaries.
  3. The comma in Latintestimonium dicunt [or dantin terra, spiritus [or: spiritus etaqua 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, Cassiodorus Complexiones in Ioannis Epist. ad Parthos.

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

Latin manuscripts
Date Name Place Other information
7th century León palimpsest Leon Cathedral Spanish
7th century Frisingensia Fragmenta Spanish
9th century Codex Cavensis Spanish
9th century Codex Ulmensis Spanish
927 AD Codex Complutensis I Spanish
10th century Codex Toletanus Spanish
8th–9th century Codex Theodulphianus Paris (BnF) Franco-Spanish
8th–9th century Codex Sangallensis 907 St. Gallen Franco-Spanish
9th–10th century Codex Sangallensis 63 St. Gallen marginal gloss
Greek manuscripts
Date Manuscript No. Name Place Other information
c. 750 Codex Wizanburgensis Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel the dating is controversial..Some scholars have mistakenly considered it a Greek manuscript but it is a manuscript of the Latin Vulgate
c. 10th century 221 Library of Oxford University Added after correction.
c. 11th century 635 Codex Regius Neapolitanus Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III Added after correction.
c. 12th century 88 Codex Regis Napoli
c. 13th century 429 Codex Guelferbytanus Herzog August Bibliothek
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 century 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 century 918 Escorial
(Spain)
Original.
18th century 2318 Bucharest Original.
Thought to be influenced
by the Vulgata Clementina.
18th century 2473 Athens Original.
11th century 88 Codex Regis Naples Marginal gloss: 16th century
11th century 177 BSB Cod. graec. 211 Munich Marginal gloss: late 16th century
10th century 221 Oxford Marginal gloss: 15th or 16th century
14th century 429 Codex Wolfenbüttel Wolfenbüttel
(Germany)
Marginal gloss: 16th century
16th century 636 Naples Marginal gloss: 16th century

Patristic writers

Clement of Alexandria

The comma is 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.

He says, “This is He who came by water and blood”; and again, – For there are three that bear witness, the spirit, which is life, and the water, which is regeneration and faith, and the blood, which is knowledge; “and these three are one. For in the Saviour are those saving virtues, and life itself exists in His own Son.”

Another reference that is studied is from Clement’s Prophetic Extracts:

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.

This is seen by some as allusion evidence that Clement was familiar with the verse.

Tertullian

Tertullian, in Against Praxeas (c. 210), supports a Trinitarian view by quoting John 10:30:

So the close series of the Father in the Son and the Son in the Paraclete makes three who cohere, the one attached to the other: And these three are one substance, not one person, (qui tres unum sunt, non unus) in the sense in which it was said, “I and the Father are one” in respect of unity of substance, not of singularity of number.

While many other commentators have argued against any comma evidence here, most emphatically John Kaye’s, “far from containing an allusion to 1 Jo. v. 7, it furnishes most decisive proof that he knew nothing of the verse”. Georg Strecker comments cautiously “An initial echo of the Comma Johanneum occurs as early as Tertullian Adv. Pax. 25.1 (CChr 2.1195; written ca. 215). In his commentary on John 16:14 he writes that the Father, Son, and Paraclete are one (unum), but not one person (unus). However, this passage cannot be regarded as a certain attestation of the Comma Johanneum.

References from Tertullian in De Pudicitia 21:16 (On Modesty):

The Church, in the peculiar and the most excellent sense, is the Holy Ghost, in which the Three are One, and therefore the whole union of those who agree in this belief (viz. that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one), is named the Church, after its founder and sanctifier (the Holy Ghost).

and De Baptismo:

Now if every word of God is to be established by three witnesses … For where there are the three, namely the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, there is the Church which is a body of the three.

have also been presented as verse allusions.

Treatise on Rebaptism

The Treatise on Rebaptism, placed as a 3rd-century writing and transmitted with Cyprian’s works, has two sections that directly refer to the earthly witnesses, and thus has been used against authenticity by Nathaniel Lardner, Alfred Plummer and others. However, because of the context being water baptism and the precise wording being “et isti tres unum sunt”, the Matthew Henry Commentary uses this as evidence for Cyprian speaking of the heavenly witnesses in Unity of the Church. And Arthur Cleveland Coxe and Nathaniel Cornwall consider the evidence as suggestively positive. Westcott and Hort also are positive. After approaching the Tertullian and Cyprian references negatively, “morally certain that they would have quoted these words had they known them” Westcott writes about the Rebaptism Treatise:

the evidence of Cent. III is not exclusively negative, for the treatise on Rebaptism contemporary with Cyp. quotes the whole passage simply thus (15: cf. 19), “quia tres testimonium perhibent, spiritus et aqua et sanguis, et isti tres unum sunt”.

Jerome

The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1910 asserts that Jerome “does not seem to know the text”, but Charles Forster suggests that the “silent publication of [the text] in the Vulgate…gives the clearest proof that down to his time the genuineness of this text had never been disputed or questioned.” (See also: Pseudo-Jerome below)

Marcus Celedensis

Coming down to us with the writings of Jerome we have the statement of faith attributed to Marcus Celedensis, friend and correspondent to Jerome, presented to Cyril:

To us there is one Father, and his only Son [who is] very [or true] God, and one Holy Spirit, [who is] very God, and these three are one ; – one divinity, and power, and kingdom. And they are three persons, not two nor one.

Phoebadius of Agen

Similarly, Jerome wrote of Phoebadius of Agen in his Lives of Illustrious Men. “Phoebadius, bishop of Agen, in Gaul, published a book Against the Arians. There are said to be other works by him, which I have not yet read. He is still living, infirm with age.” William Hales looks at Phoebadius:

Phoebadius, A. D. 359, in his controversy with the Arians, Cap, xiv. writes, “The Lord says, I will ask of my Father, and He will give you another advocate.” (John xiv. 16) Thus, the Spirit is another from the Son as the Son is another from the Father; so, the third person is in the Spirit, as the second, is in the Son. All, however, are one God, because the three are one, (tres unum sunt.) … Here, 1 John v. 7, is evidently connected, as a scriptural argument, with John xiv. 16.

Griesbach argued that Phoebadius was only making an allusion to Tertullian, and his unusual explanation was commented on by Reithmayer.

Augustine

Augustine of Hippo has been said to be 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. This argumentum ex silentio has been contested by other scholars, including Fickermann and Metzger. In addition, some Augustine references have been seen as verse allusions.

The City of God section, from Book V, Chapter 11:

Therefore God supreme and true, with His Word and Holy Spirit (which three are one), one God omnipotent…

has often been referenced as based upon the scripture verse of the heavenly witnesses. George Strecker acknowledges the City of God reference: “Except for a brief remark in De civitate Dei (5.11; CChr 47.141), where he says of Father, Word, and Spirit that the three are one. Augustine († 430) does not cite the Comma Johanneum. But it is certain on the basis of the work Contra Maximum 2.22.3 (PL 42.794-95) that he interpreted 1 John 5:7–8 in trinitarian terms.”
Similarly, Homily 10 on the first Epistle of John has been asserted as an allusion to the verse:

And what meaneth “Christ is the end”? Because Christ is God, and “the end of the commandment is charity” and “Charity is God”: because Father and Son and Holy Ghost are One.

Contra Maximinum has received attention especially for these two sections, especially the allegorical interpretation.

I would not have thee mistake that place in the epistle of John the apostle where he saith, “There are three witnesses: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three are one.” Lest haply thou say that the Spirit and the water and the blood are diverse substances, and yet it is said, “the three are one”: for this cause I have admonished thee, that thou mistake not the matter. For these are mystical expressions, in which the point always to be considered is, not what the actual things are, but what they denote as signs: since they are signs of things, and what they are in their essence is one thing, what they are in their signification another. If then we understand the things signified, we do find these things to be of one substance … 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:” there has been an ongoing dialog about context and sense.

— Contra Maximinum (2.22.3; PL 42.794-95)

John Scott Porter writes:

Augustine, in his book against Maximin the Arian, turns every stone to find arguments from the Scriptures to prove that tho Spirit is God, and that the Three Persons are the same in substance, but does not adduce this text; nay, clearly shows that he knew nothing of it, for he repeatedly employs the 8th verse, and says, that by the Spirit, the Blood, and the Water—the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are signified (see Contr. Maxim, cap. xxii.).

Thomas Joseph Lamy offers a different view based on the context and Augustine’s purpose. Similarly Thomas Burgess. And Norbert Fickermann’s reference and scholarship supports the idea that Augustine may have deliberately bypassed a direct quote of the heavenly witnesses.

Leo the Great

In the Tome of Leo, written to Archbishop Flavian of Constantinople, read at the Council of Chalcedon on 10 October 451 AD, and published in Greek, Leo the Great’s usage of 1 John 5 has him moving in discourse from verse 6 to verse 8:

This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith”; and: “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood; and it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness, the spirit, the water, and the blood; and the three are one.” That is, the Spirit of sanctification, and the blood of redemption, and the water of baptism; which three things are one, and remain undivided …

This epistle from Leo was considered by Richard Porson to be the “strongest proof” of verse inauthenticity (“the strongest proof that this verse is spurious may be drawn from the Epistle of Leo the Great to Flavianus upon the Incarnation”) and went along with Porson’s assertion that the verse was slow to enter into the Latin lines. Porson asserted that the verse “remained a rude, unformed mass, and was not completely licked into shape till the end of the tenth century”. In response, Thomas Burgess points out that the context of Leo’s argument would not call for the 7th verse. And that the verse was referenced in a fully formed manner centuries earlier than Porson’s claim, at the time of Fulgentius and the Council of Carthage. Burgess pointed out that there were multiple confirmations that the verse was in the Latin Bibles of Leo’s day. Burgess argued, ironically, that the fact that Leo could move from verse 6 to 8 for argument context is, in the bigger picture, favourable to authenticity. “Leo’s omission of the Verse is not only counterbalanced by its actual existence in contemporary copies, but the passage of his Letter is, in some material respects, favourable to the authenticity of the Verse, by its contradiction to some assertions confidently urged against the Verse by its opponents, and essential to their theory against it.” Today, with the discovery of additional Old Latin evidences in the 19th century, the discourse of Leo is rarely referenced as a significant evidence against verse authenticity.

Cyprian of Carthage

Unity of the Church

The 3rd-century Church father Cyprian (c. 200–58), in writing on the Unity of the Church, Treatise I section 6 quoted John 10:30 and another scriptural spot:

The Lord says, “I and the Father are one”
and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
“And these three are one.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia concludes “Cyprian… seems undoubtedly to have had it in mind”. Against this view, Daniel B. Wallace writes that since Cyprian does not quote the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit “this in the least does not afford proof that he knew of such wording”. And the fact that Cyprian did not quote the “exact wording… indicates that a Trinitarian interpretation was superimposed on the text by Cyprian”. In his position against Cyprian knowing of the Comma, Wallace is in agreement with the earlier critical edition of the New Testament (NA26 and UBS3) which considered Cyprian a witness against the Comma.

The Cyprian citation, dating to more than a century before any extant Epistle of John manuscripts and before the Arian controversies that are often considered pivotal in verse addition/omission debate, remains a central focus of comma research and textual apologetics. The Scrivener view is often discussed. Westcott and Hort assert: “Tert and Cyp use language which renders it morally certain that they would have quoted these words had they known them; Cyp going so far as to assume a reference to the Trinity in the conclusion of v. 8”

In the 20th century, Lutheran scholar Francis Pieper wrote in Christian Dogmatics emphasizing the antiquity and significance of the reference. Frequently commentators have seen Cyprian as having the verse in his Latin Bible, even if not directly supporting and commenting on verse authenticity. And some writers have seen the denial of the verse in the Bible of Cyprian as worthy of special note and humor.

Ad Jubaianum (Epistle 73)

The second, lesser reference from Cyprian that has been involved in the verse debate is from Ad Jubaianum 23.12. Cyprian, while discussing baptism, writes:

If he obtained the remission of sins, he was sanctified, and if he was sanctified, he was made the temple of God. But of what God? I ask. The Creator?, Impossible; he did not believe in him. Christ? But he could not be made Christ’s temple, for he denied the deity of Christ. The Holy Spirit? Since the Three are One, what pleasure could the Holy Spirit take in the enemy of the Father and the Son?

Knittel emphasizes that Cyprian would be familiar with the Bible in Greek as well as Latin. “Cyprian understood Greek. He read Homer, Plato, Hermes Trismegiatus and Hippocrates… he translated into Latin the Greek epistle written to him by Firmilianus”. UBS-4 has its entry for text inclusion as (Cyprian).

Ps-Cyprian

The Hundredfold Reward for Martyrs and Ascetics: De centesima, sexagesimal tricesima speaks of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as “three witnesses” and was passed down with the Cyprian corpus. This was only first published in 1914 and thus does not show up in the historical debate. UBS-4 includes this in the apparatus as (Ps-Cyprian).

Origen and Athanasius

Those who see Cyprian as negative evidence assert that other church writers, such as Athanasius of Alexandria 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, and that “evidences from silence” arguments, looking at the extant early church writer material, should not be given much weight as reflecting absence in the manuscripts—with the exception of verse-by-verse homilies, which were uncommon in the Ante-Nicene era.

Origen’s scholium on Psalm 123:2

In the scholium on Psalm 123 attributed to Origen is the commentary:

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, as an allusion to verse 7. Ellsworth especially noted the Richard Porson comment in response to the evidence of the Psalm commentary: “The critical chemistry which could extract the doctrine of the Trinity from this place must have been exquisitely refining”. Fabricius wrote about the Origen wording “ad locum 1 Joh v. 7 alludi ab origene non est dubitandum”.

Athanasius and Arius at the Council of Nicea

Traditionally, Athanasius 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.

Today, many scholars consider this a later work Pseudo-Athanasius, perhaps by Maximus the Confessor. Charles Forster in New Plea argues for the writing as stylistically Athanasius. While the author and date are debated, this is a Greek reference directly related to the doctrinal Trinitarian-Arian controversies, and one that purports to be an account of Nicaea 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, often ascribed to Athanasius, has also been referenced as indicating awareness of the Comma.

Priscillian of Avila

The earliest quotation which some scholars consider a direct reference to the heavenly witnesses from the First Epistle of John is from the Spaniard Priscillian c. 380. As the Latin is presented by a secondary source, it reads:

tria sunt quae testimonium dicunt in terra aqua caro et sanguis et haec tria in unum sunt, et tria sunt quae testimonium dicent in caelo pater uerbum et spiritus et haiec tria unum sunt in Christo Iesu.

The secondary source for the Latin includes only 1 comma of punctuation (apparently unspecified as in the original or inserted by the modern editor). And this Latin has no indication as to where the quotation of 1 John ends in Priscillian nor where Priscillian starts making comments on it (if he does).

As given rendered in English, the statement reads:

As John says and there are three which give testimony on earth the water the flesh the blood and these three are in one and there are three which give testimony in heaven the Father the Word and the Spirit and these three are one in Christ Jesus [capitals speculative; punctuation deleted from English translation as probably little or no punctuation in original]

Theodor Zahn calls this “the earliest quotation of the passage which is certain and which can be definitely dated (circa 380)”, a view expressed by Westcott, Brooke, Metzger and others.

And Georg Strecker adds context: “The oldest undoubted instance is in Priscillian Liber apologeticus I.4 (CSEL 18.6). Priscillian was probably a Sabellianist or Modalist, whose principal interest would have in the closing statement about the heavenly witnesses (“and these three, the Father, the Word, the Holy Spirit, are one”). Here he found his theological opinions confirmed: that the three persons of the Trinity are only modes or manners of appearance of the one God. This observation caused some interpreters to suppose that Priscillian himself created the Comma Johanneum. However, there are signs of the Comma Johanneum, although no certain attestations, even before Priscillian…”. In the early 1900s the Karl Künstle theory of Priscillian origination and interpolation was popular: “The verse is an interpolation, first quoted and perhaps introduced by Priscillian (a.d. 380) as a pious fraud to convince doubters of the doctrine of the Trinity.”

Expositio Fidei

Another complementary early reference is an exposition of faith published in 1883 by Carl Paul Caspari from the Ambrosian manuscript, which also contains the Muratorian (canon) fragment.

pater est Ingenitus, filius uero sine Initio genitus a patre est, spiritus autem sanctus processit a patre et accipit de filio, Sicut euangelista testatur quia scriptum est, “Tres sunt qui dicunt testimonium in caelo pater uerbum et spiritus:” et haec tria unum sunt in Christo lesu. Non tamen dixit “Unus est in Christo lesu.”

Edgar Simmons Buchanan, points out that the reading “in Christo Iesu” is textually valuable, referencing 1 John 5:7.

The authorship is uncertain, however it is often placed around the same period as Priscillian. Karl Künstle saw the writing as anti-Priscillianist, which would have competing doctrinal positions utilizing the verse. Alan England Brooke notes the similarities of the Expositio with the Priscillian form, and the Priscillian form with the Leon Palimpsest. Theodor Zahn refers to the Expositio as “possibly contemporaneous” to Priscilian, “apparently taken from the proselyte Isaac (alias Ambrosiaster)”.

John Chapman looked closely at these materials and the section in Liber Apologeticus around the Priscillian faith statement “Pater Deus, Filius, Deus, et Spiritus sanctus Deus ; haec unum sunt in Christo Iesu”. Chapman saw an indication that Priscillian found himself bound to defend the comma by citing from the “Unity of the Church” Cyprian section.

Council of Carthage, 484

“The Comma … was invoked at Carthage in 484 when the Catholic bishops of North Africa confessed their faith before Huneric the Vandal (Victor de Vita, Historia persecutionis Africanae Prov 2.82 .1; CSEL, 7, 60).” The Confession of faith representing the hundreds of orthodox Bishops included the following section, emphasizing the heavenly witnesses to teach luce clarius (clearer than the light):

And so, no occasion for uncertainty is left. It is clear that the Holy Spirit is also God and the author of his own will, he who is most clearly shown to be at work in all things and to bestow the gifts of the divine dispensation according to the judgment of his own will, because where it is proclaimed that he distributes graces where he wills, servile condition cannot exist, for servitude is to be understood in what is created, but power and freedom in the Trinity. And so that we may teach the Holy Spirit to be of one divinity with the Father and the Son still more clearly than the light, here is proof from the testimony of John the evangelist. For he says: “There are three who bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.” Surely he does not say “three separated by a difference in quality” or “divided by grades which differentiate, so that there is a great distance between them”? No, he says that the “three are one”. But so that the single divinity which the Holy Spirit has with the Father and the Son might be demonstrated still more in the creation of all things, you have in the book of Job the Holy Spirit as a creator: “It is the divine Spirit” …

De Trinitate and Contra Varimadum

There are additional heavenly witnesses references that are considered to be from the same period as the Council of Carthage, including references that have been attributed to Vigilius Tapsensis who attended the Council. Raymond Brown gives one summary:

…in the century following Priscillian, the chief appearance of the Comma is in tractates defending the Trinity. In PL 62 227–334 there is a work De Trinitate consisting of twelve books… In Books 1 and 10 (PL 62, 243D, 246B, 297B) the Comma is cited three times. Another work on the Trinity consisting of three books Contra Varimadum … North African origin ca. 450 seems probable. The Comma is cited in 1.5 (CC 90, 20–21).

One of the references in De Trinitate, from Book V.

But the Holy Ghost abides in the Father, and in the Son [Filio] and in himself; as the Evangelist St. John so absolutely testifies in his Epistle: And the three are one. But how, ye heretics, are the three ONE, if their substance he divided or cut asunder? Or how are they one, if they be placed one before another? Or how are the three one. if the Divinity be different in each? How are they one, if there reside not in them the united eternal plenitude of the Godhead? These references are in the UBS apparatus as Ps-Vigilius.

The Contra Varimadum reference:

John the Evangelist, in his Epistle to the Parthians (i.e. his 1st Epistle), says there are three who afford testimony on earth, the Water, the Blood, and the Flesh, and these three are in us; and there are three who afford testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one.

This is in the UBS apparatus as Varimadum.

Ebrard, in referencing this quote, comments, “We see that he had before him the passage in his New Testament in its corrupt form (aqua, sanguis et caro, et tres in nobis sunt); but also, that the gloss was already in the text, and not merely in a single copy, but that it was so widely diffused and acknowledged in the West as to be appealed to by him bona fide in his contest with his Arian opponents.”

Fulgentius of Ruspe

In the 6th century, Fulgentius of Ruspe, like Cyprian a father of the North African Church, skilled in Greek as well as his native Latin, used the verse in the doctrinal battles of the day.

Contra Arianos

From Responsio contra Arianos “Reply against the Arians” Migne (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.”

Then Fulgentius discusses the earlier reference by Cyprian, and the interweaving of the two Johannine verses, John 10:30 and 1 John 5:7.

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.” And again, of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it is written, “and these three are one”.

Contra Fabianum

Another heavenly witnesses reference from Fulgentius is in Contra Fabianum Fragmenta Migne (Frag. 21.4: CC 01A,797)

The blessed Apostle, St. John evidently says, And the three are one; which was said of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as I have before shewn, when you demanded of me for a reason

De Trinitate ad Felicem

Also from Fulgentius in De Trinitate ad Felicem:

See, in short you have it that the Father is one, the Son another, and the Holy Spirit another, in Person, each is other, but in nature they are not other. In this regard He says: “The Father and I, we are one.” He teaches us that one refers to Their nature, and we are to Their persons. In like manner it is said: “There are three who bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit; and these three are one.”

Today these references are generally accepted as probative to the verse being in the Bible of Fulgentius.

Adversus Pintam episcopum Arianum

A reference in De Fide Catholica adversus Pintam episcopum Arianum that is a Testimonia de Trinitate:

in epistola Johannis, tres sunt in coelo, qui testimonium reddunt,
Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus: et hi tres unum sunt
has been assigned away from Fulgentius to a “Catholic controvertist of the same age”.

Pseudo-Jerome, Prologue to the Catholic Epistles

The Codex Fuldensis includes a prologue to the Catholic Epistles referring to the comma (beginning with the words ‘Non ita ordo est apud Graecos’). It presents itself as a letter of Jerome to Eustochium, but is the work of an unknown imitator, likely from the late 5th century. Its inauthenticity is stressed by the omission of the passage from the manuscript’s own text of 1 John, but it demonstrates that some theologians of the fifth century felt it should be included.

Cassiodorus

Cassiodorus wrote Bible commentaries, and was familiar with Old Latin and Vulgate manuscripts, seeking out sacred manuscripts. Cassiodorus was also skilled in Greek. In Complexiones in Epistolis Apostolorum, first published in 1721 by Scipio Maffei, in the commentary section on 1 John, from the Cassiodorus corpus, is written:

On earth three mysteries bear witness,
the water, the blood, and the spirit,
which were fulfilled, we read, in the passion of the Lord.
In heaven, are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
and these three are one God.

Thomas Joseph Lamy describes the Cassiodorus section and references that Tischendorf saw this as Cassiodorus having the text in his Bible. However, earlier “Porson endeavoured to show that Cassiodorus had, in his copy, no more than the 8th verse, to which he added the gloss of Eucherius, with whose writings he was acquainted.”

Isidore of Seville

In the early 7th century, the Testimonia Divinae Scripturae et Patrum is often attributed to Isidore of Seville:

De Distinctions personarum, Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. In Epistola Joannis. Quoniam tres sunt qui testimonium dant in terra Spiritus, aqua, et sanguis; et tres unum sunt in Christo Jesu; et tres sunt qui testimonium dicunt in coelo, Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus, et tres unum sunt.

Arthur-Marie Le Hir asserts that evidences like Isidore and the Ambrose Ansbert Commentary on Revelation show early circulation of the Vulgate with the verse and thus also should be considered in the issues of Jerome’s original Vulgate text and the authenticity of the Vulgate Prologue. Cassiodorus has also been indicated as reflecting the Vulgate text, rather than simply the Vetus Latina.

Commentary on Revelation

Ambrose Ansbert refers to the scripture verse in his Revelation commentary:

Although the expression of faithful witness found therein, refers directly to Jesus Christ alone, – yet it equally characterises the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; according to these words of St. John. There are three which bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.

“Ambrose Ansbert, in the middle of the eighth century, wrote a comment upon the Apocalypse, in which this verse is applied, in explaining the 5th verse of the first chapter of the Revelation”.

Medieval use

Fourth Lateran Council

In the Middle Ages a Trinitarian doctrinal debate arose around the position of Joachim of Florence (1135–1202) which was different from the more traditional view of Peter Lombard (c. 1100–1160). When the Fourth Council of the Lateran was held in 1215 at Rome, with hundreds of Bishops attending, the understanding of the heavenly witnesses was a primary point in siding with Lombard, against the writing of Joachim.

For, he says, Christ’s faithful are not one in the sense of a single reality which is common to all. They are one only in this sense, that they form one church through the unity of the catholic faith, and finally one kingdom through a union of indissoluble charity. Thus we read in the canonical letter of John: For there are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father and the Word and the holy Spirit, and these three are one; and he immediately adds, And the three that bear witness on earth are the spirit, water and blood, and the three are one, according to some manuscripts.

The Council thus printed the verse in both Latin and Greek, and this may have contributed to later scholarship references in Greek to the verse. The reference to “some manuscripts” showed an acknowledgment of textual issues, yet this likely related to “and the three are one” in verse eight, not the heavenly witnesses in verse seven. The manuscript issue for the final phrase in verse eight and the commentary by Thomas Aquinas were an influence upon the text and note of the Complutensian Polyglot.

Latin commentaries

In this period, the greater portion of Bible commentary was written in Latin. The references in this era are extensive and wide-ranging. Some of the better-known writers who utilized the comma as scripture, in addition to Peter Lombard and Joachim of Fiore, include Gerbert of Aurillac (Pope Sylvester), Peter Abelard, Bernard of Clairvaux, Duns Scotus, Roger of Wendover (historian, including the Lateran Council), Thomas Aquinas (many verse uses, including one which has Origen relating to “the three that give witness in heaven”), William of Ockham (of razor fame), Nicholas of Lyra and the commentary of the Glossa Ordinaria.

Greek commentaries

Emanual Calecas in the 14th and Joseph Bryennius (c. 1350–1430) in the 15th century reference the comma in their Greek writings.

The Orthodox accepted the comma as Johannine scripture notwithstanding its absence in the Greek manuscripts line. The Orthodox Confession of Faith, published in Greek in 1643 by the multilingual scholar Peter Mogila specifically references the comma. “Accordingly the Evangelist teacheth (1 John v. 7.) There are three that bear Record in Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost and these three are one …”

Armenia – Synod of Sis

The Epistle of Gregory, the Bishop of Sis, to Haitho c. 1270 utilized 1 John 5:7 in the context of the use of water in the mass. The Synod of Sis of 1307 expressly cited the verse, and deepened the relationship with Rome.

Commentators generally see the Armenian text from the 13th century on as having been modified by the interaction with the Latin church and Bible, including the addition of the comma in some manuscripts.

Manuscripts and special notations

There are a number of special manuscript notations and entries relating to 1 John 5:7. Vulgate scholar Samuel Berger reports on MS 13174 in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris that shows the scribe listing four distinct textual variations of the heavenly witnesses. Three are understood by the scribe to have textual lineages of Athanasius, Augustine and Fulgentius. The Franciscan Correctorium gives a note about there being manuscripts with the verses transposed. The Regensburg ms. referenced by Fickermann discusses the positions of Jerome and Augustine. The Glossa Ordinaria discusses the Vulgate Prologue in the Preface, in addition to its commentary section on the verse. John J. Contrini in Haimo of Auxerre, Abbot of Sasceium (Cessy-les-Bois), and a New Sermon on I John v. 4–10 discusses a 9th-century manuscript and the Leiden sermon.

Inclusion by Erasmus

Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam with Renaissance Pilaster

Desiderius Erasmus in 1523.

The central figure in the 16th-century history of the Johannine Comma is the humanist Erasmus, and his efforts leading to the publication of the Greek New Testament. The comma was omitted in the first edition in 1516, the Nouum instrumentum omne: diligenter ab Erasmo Roterodamo recognitum et emendatum and the second edition of 1519. The verse is placed in the third edition, published in 1522, and those of 1527 and 1535.

Erasmus included the comma, with commentary, in his paraphrase edition, first published in 1520. And in Ratio seu methodus compendio perueniendi ad ueram theologiam, first published in 1518, Erasmus included the comma in the interpretation of John 12 and 13. Erasmian scholar John Jack Bateman, discussing the Paraphrase and the Ratio uerae theologiae, says of these uses of the comma that “Erasmus attributes some authority to it despite any doubts he had about its transmission in the Greek text.”

The New Testament of Erasmus provoked critical responses that focused on a number of verses, including his text and translation decisions on Romans 9:5, John 1:1, 1 Timothy 1:17, Titus 2:13 and Philippians 2:6. The absence of the comma from the first two editions received a sharp response from churchmen and scholars, and was discussed and defended by Erasmus in the correspondence with Edward Lee and Diego López de Zúñiga (Stunica), and Erasmus is also known to have referenced the verse in correspondence with Antoine Brugnard in 1518. The first two Erasmus editions only had a small note about the verse. The major Erasmus writing regarding comma issues was in the Annotationes to the third edition of 1522, expanded in the fourth edition of 1527 and then given a small addition in the fifth edition of 1535.

Erasmus is said to have replied to his 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. 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 change was accepted into editions based on the Textus Receptus, the chief source for the King James Version, thereby fixing the comma firmly in the English-language scriptures for centuries. There is no explicit evidence, however, that such a promise was ever made.

The authenticity of the story of Erasmus is questioned by many scholars. Bruce Metzger removed this story from his book’s ( The Text of the New Testament ) third edition although it was included in the first and second editions in the same book.

Modern reception

In 1807 Charles Butler described the dispute to that point as consisting of three distinct phases.

Erasmus and the Reformation

The 1st phase began with the disputes and correspondence involving Erasmus with Edward Lee followed by Jacobus Stunica. And about the 16th-century controversies, Thomas Burgess summarized “In the sixteenth century its chief opponents were Socinus, Blandrata, and the Fratres Poloni; its defenders, Ley, Beza, Bellarmine, and Sixtus Senensis.” In the 17th century John Selden in Latin and Francis Cheynell and Henry Hammond were English writers with studies on the verse, Johann Gerhard and Abraham Calovius from the German Lutherans, writing in Latin.

Simon, Newton, Mill and Bengel

The 2nd dispute stage begins with Sandius, the Arian around 1670. Francis Turretin published De Tribus Testibus Coelestibus in 1674 and the verse was a central focus of the writings of Symon Patrick. In 1689 the attack on authenticity by Richard Simon was published in English, in his Critical History of the Text of the New Testament. Many responded directly to the views of Simon, including Thomas Smith, Friedrich Kettner, James Benigne Bossuet, Johann Majus, Thomas Ittigius, Abraham Taylor and the published sermons of Edmund Calamy. There was the famous verse defences by John Mill and later by Johann Bengel. Also in this era was the David Martin and Thomas Emlyn debate. There were attacks on authenticity by Richard Bentley and Samuel Clarke and William Whiston and defence of authenticity by John Guyse in the Practical Expositor. There were writings by numerous additional scholars, including posthumous publication in London of Isaac Newton’s Two Letters in 1754 (An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture), which he had written to John Locke in 1690. The mariner’s compass poem of Bengel was given in a slightly modified form by John Wesley.

Travis and Porson debate

The third stage of the controversy begins with the quote from Edward Gibbon in 1776:

Even the Scriptures themselves were profaned by their rash and sacrilegious hands. The memorable text, which asserts the unity of the three who bear witness in heaven, is condemned by the universal silence of the orthodox fathers, ancient versions, and authentic manuscripts. It was first alleged by the Catholic bishops whom Hunneric summoned to the conference of Carthage. An allegorical interpretation, in the form, perhaps, of a marginal note, invaded the text of the Latin Bibles, which were renewed and corrected in a dark period of ten centuries.

It is followed by the response of George Travis that led to the Porson–Travis debate. In the 1794 3rd edition of Letters to Edward Gibbon, Travis included a 42-part appendix with source references. Another event coincided with the inauguration of this stage of the debate: “a great stirring in sacred science was certainly going on. Griesbach’s first edition of the New Testament (1775–7) marks the commencement of a new era.” The Griesbach GNT provided an alternative to the Received Text editions to assist as scholarship textual legitimacy for opponents of the verse.

19th century

Some highlights from this era are the Nicholas Wiseman Old Latin and Speculum scholarship, the defence of the verse by the Germans Sander, Besser and Mayer, the Charles Forster New Plea book which revisited Richard Porson’s arguments, and the earlier work by his friend Arthur-Marie Le Hir, Discoveries included the Priscillian reference and Exposito Fidei. Also Old Latin manuscripts including La Cava, and the moving up of the date of the Vulgate Prologue due to its being found in Codex Fuldensis. Ezra Abbot wrote on 1 John V.7 and Luther’s German Bible and Scrivener’s analysis came forth in Six Lectures and Plain Introduction. In the 1881 Revision came the full removal of the verse. Daniel McCarthy noted the change in position among the textual scholars, and in French there was the sharp Roman Catholic debate in the 1880s involving Pierre Rambouillet, Auguste-François Maunoury, Jean Michel Alfred Vacant, Elie Philippe and Paulin Martin. In Germany Wilhelm Kölling defended authenticity, and in Ireland Charles Vincent Dolman wrote about the Revision and the comma in the Dublin Review, noting that “the heavenly witnesses have departed”.

20th century

The 20th century saw the scholarship of Alan England Brooke and Joseph Pohle, the RCC controversy following the 1897 Papal declaration as to whether the verse could be challenged by Catholic scholars, the Karl Künstle Priscillian-origin theory, the detailed scholarship of Augustus Bludau in many papers, the Eduard Riggenbach book, and the Franz Pieper and Edward F. Hills defences. There were specialty papers by Anton Baumstark (Syriac reference), Norbert Fickermann (Augustine), Claude Jenkins (Bede), Mateo del Alamo, Teófilo Ayuso Marazuela, Franz Posset (Luther) and Rykle Borger (Peshitta). Verse dismissals, such as that given by Bruce Metzger, became popular. There was the fine technical scholarship of Raymond Brown. And the continuing publication and studies of the Erasmus correspondence, writings and Annotations, some with English translation. From Germany came Walter Thiele’s Old Latin studies and sympathy for the comma being in the Bible of Cyprian, and the research by Henk de Jonge on Erasmus and the Received Text and the comma.

Recent scholarship

The last 20 years have seen a popular revival of interest in the historic verse controversies and the textual debate. Factors include the growth of interest in the Received Text and the Authorized Version (including the King James Version Only movement) and the questioning of Critical Text theories, the 1995 book by Michael Maynard documenting the historical debate on 1 John 5:7, and the internet ability to spur research and discussion with participatory interaction. In this period, King James Bible defenders and opponents wrote a number of papers on the Johannine Comma, usually published in evangelical literature and on the internet. In textual criticism scholarship circles, the book by Klaus Wachtel Der byzantinische Text der katholischen Briefe: Eine Untersuchung zur Entstehung der Koine des Neuen Testaments, 1995 contains a section with detailed studies on the Comma. Similarly, Der einzig wahre Bibeltext?, published in 2006 by K. Martin Heide. Special interest has been given to the studies of the Codex Vaticanus umlauts by Philip Barton Payne and Paul Canart, senior paleographer at the Vatican Library. The Erasmus studies have continued, including research on the Valladolid inquiry by Peter G. Bietenholz and Lu Ann Homza. Jan Krans has written on conjectural emendation and other textual topics, looking closely at the Received Text work of Erasmus and Beza. And some elements of the recent scholarship commentary have been especially dismissive and negative.

Catholic Church

The Catholic Church at 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”. The Comma appeared in both the Sixtine (1590) and the Clementine (1592) editions of the Vulgate. Although the revised Vulgate contained the Comma, the earliest known copies did not, leaving the status of the Comma Johanneum unclear. 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—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, Pope Pius XI decreed that the Comma Johanneum was open to investigation.

King James Only movement

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. The defence of the verse by Edward Freer Hills in 1956 as part of his defence of the Textus Receptus The King James Version Defended The Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7) was unusual due to Hills’ textual criticism scholarship credentials.

Grammatical analysis

In 1 John 5:7–8 in the Received Text, the following words appear (the words in bold print are the words of the Johannine Comma).

(Received Text) 1 John 5:7 … οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ ὁ πατὴρ ὁ λόγος καὶ τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα … 8 … οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἐν τῇ γῇ τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα … 5:7 … THE-ONES bearing-witness in the heaven (THE Father, THE Word and THE Holy Spirit) … 8 … THE-ONES bearing-witness on the earth (THE Spirit and THE water and THE blood) …

In 1 John 5:7–8 in the Critical Text and Majority Text, the following words appear.

(Critical Text and Majority Text) 1 John 5:7 … οἱ μαρτυροῦντες 8 τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα … 5:7 … THE-ONES bearing-witness 8 (THE Spirit and THE water and THE blood) …

According to Johann Bengel, Eugenius Bulgaris, John Oxlee and Daniel Wallace, each article-participle phrase (οἱ μαρτυροῦντες [THE-ONES bearing-witness]) in 1 John 5:7–8 functions as a substantive and agrees with the natural gender (masculine) of the idea being expressed (persons), to which three subsequent appositional (added for clarification) articular (preceded by an article) nouns (ὁ πατὴρ ὁ λόγος καὶ τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα [THE Father, THE Word and THE Holy Spirit] / τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα [THE Spirit and THE water and THE blood]) are added.

According to Frederick Nolan, Robert Dabney and Edward Hills, each article-participle phrase (οἱ μαρτυροῦντες [THE bearing-witness]) in 1 John 5:7–8 functions as an adjective that modifies the three subsequent articular nouns (ὁ πατὴρ ὁ λόγος καὶ τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα [THE Father, THE Word and THE Holy Spirit] / τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα [THE Spirit and THE water and THE blood]) and therefore must agree with the grammatical gender (masculine / neuter) of the first subsequent articular noun (ὁ πατὴρ [THE Father] / τὸ πνεῦμα [THE Spirit]).

Titus 2:13 is an example of how an article-adjective (or article-participle) phrase looks when it functions as an adjective that modifies multiple subsequent nouns.

(Received Text) Titus 2:13 … τὴν μακαρίαν ἐλπίδα καὶ ἐπιφάνειαν … 2:13 … THE blessed hope and appearance …

Matthew 23:23 is an example of how an article-adjective (or article-participle) phrase looks when it functions as a substantive to which multiple subsequent appositional articular nouns are added.

(Received Text) Matthew 23:23 … τὰ βαρύτερα τοῦ νόμου τὴν κρίσιν καὶ τὸν ἔλεον καὶ τὴν πίστιν … 23:23 … THE-THINGS weightier of-the Law (THE judgment and THE mercy and THE faith) …

According to Bengel, Bulgaris, Oxlee and Wallace, 1 John 5:7–8 is like Matthew 23:23, not like Titus 2:13.

According to Nolan, Dabney and Hills, 1 John 5:7–8 is like Titus 2:13, not like Matthew 23:23.

See also

Other disputed New Testament passages

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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