"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one." (1 John 5:7, KJV)
"οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες εν τω ουρανω ο πατηρ ο λογος και το αγιον πνευμα και ουτοι οι τρεις εν εισιν" (1 John 5:7, 1894 Scrivener Textus Receptus)
This verse is called the Johannine Comma (or Comma Johanneum). It is omitted in most modern translations of the Bible because most Greek manuscripts do not have it. While it is true that most Greek manuscripts lack the Comma, it is naive to leave the issue at that. The way the issue is often presented by Comma critics leaves the lay audience to think that manuscripts of 1 John were completely uniform throughout the ages and then some medieval scribes made a glaring addition of the Comma to the text. However, this simplistic presentation is false. In reality, the history of the transmission of 1 John is marked by curious omissions and alterations. In light of this fact all Christians would do well to consider the possibility that the Comma contains the authentic words of John.
1 John 5:6 is the verse immediately preceding the Comma. Among those who parrot the statement that "none of the earliest manuscripts contain the Comma," perhaps only a few of them are aware that the verse immediately preceding the Comma is corrupt in these early manuscripts. The earliest witnesses of the passage are Codices Sinaiticus (4th century), Vaticanus (4th century), Alexandrinus (5th century) and 0296 (6th century). Uncial 048 (5th century) is lacunae. There are semantically significant discrepancies among these early witnesses at 1 John 5:6:
ESV (agreeing with Nestle-Aland 27):
"6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree."
"6 ουτος εστιν ο ελθων δι υδατος και αιματος ιησους χριστος ουκ εν τω υδατι μονον αλλ εν τω υδατι και εν τω αιματι και το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνευμα εστιν η αληθεια 7 οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες 8 το πνευμα και το υδωρ και το αιμα και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν"
Vaticanus (4th c.):
"6 ουτος εστιν ο ελθων δι υδατος και αιματος ις χς ουκ εν τω υδατι μονω αλλ εν τω υδατι και εν τω αιματι· και το πνευμα τιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνευμα εστιν η αληθεια 7 οτι ··τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες· 8 το πνευμα και το υδωρ και το αιμα· και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν·"
Sinaiticus (4th c.):
"6 ουτος εστιν ο ελθων δια υδατος και αιματος και πνς ις χς ουκ εν τω υδατι μονον αλλ εν τω υδατι και τω αιματι και το πνα εστιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνα εστιν η αληθεια 7 οτι οι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες 8 το πνα και το υδωρ και το αιμα και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν"
Alexandrinus (5th c.):
"6 ουτος εστιν ο ελθων δι υδατος και αιματος και πνς ις χς· ουκ εν τω υδατι μονον· αλλα εν τω υδατι και εν τω πνι· και το πνα εστιν το μαρτυρουν· οτι το πνα εστιν η αληθεια 7 οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες· 8 το πνα και το υδωρ και το αιμα και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν"
0296 (6th c.):
6 ουτος ε[στι]ν ο ελθων [δι] υδατος και [π]νς· και αιμα[το]ς ις χς· ουκ [εν] τω υδατι – [αιμα]τ[ι] [κ]αι το [πνα] εστιν το [μαρ]τυρουν· οτι το πνα εστι[ν] η αληθεια· 7 οτ[ι] τρεις οι μαρτυρουντε[ς] 8 το πνα και το υδωρ και το αιμα· και οι τρεις [ει]ς τ[ο] εν [εισιν]
Here we see that only Vaticanus among the early uncials agrees with Nestle-Aland 27. Vaticanus says that Jesus Christ came by "water and blood". Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus say that Jesus Christ came by "water and blood and Spirit". 0296 even has "Spirit" before "blood". While this different word order in 0296 might initially seem trivial, it actually has deep theological implications considering that some interpret the water to mean Christ's baptism and the blood to mean Christ's crucifixion. As "water and blood" are placed in that order based on the chronological order that such elements played in Christ's life, the rearranging of "Spirit" before "blood" suggests a deliberate attempt by the corrupter to place the reference to the Spirit in the appropriate order based on the chronology of Christ's earthly ministry (Christ's baptism preceded the Spirit descending upon him). Alexandrinus further adds to the confusion by replacing "not by the water only but by the water and the blood" with "not by the water only but by the water and by the Spirit". The textual variants in verse 6 begin to increase when we include other manuscripts and witnesses:
Some later manuscripts show further corruption in 1 John 5:6. Where it should read, "και το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνευμα εστιν η αληθεια (And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth)", manuscript 621 (11th century) reads, "και το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν και η αληθεια (And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is bearing witness and truth)". 326 (10th century) and 436 (11th/12th century) say, "και το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνευμα εστιν η αληθεια (And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is bearing witness because the Spirit is truth)" (Novum Testamentum Graecum: Editio Critica Maior: IV Catholic Letters, Text, 2nd Ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2013), p. 349). While these errors most likely arose from misreading the line and repeating certain phrases, the fact that such errors arose shows that the repetitive nature of this general passage lends itself to erroneous copying (see below: Evidence of errors by parablepses).
1 John 5:8 is also corrupted in a number of late manuscripts. Where it should read, "οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν (the three agree in one)", the following witnesses read, "οι τρεις εν εισιν (these three are one)": Pseudo-Caesarius (post-6th century), 2541 (12th century), 254 original (14th century), 1067 (14th century), 1409 (14th century) (Novum Testamentum Graecum: Editio Critica Maior: IV Catholic Letters, Text, 2nd Ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2013), p. 350). While it could be surmised that either "εις" or "το" could drop during transmission, the drop of both letters resulting in the same phrase as in the Comma ("οι τρεις εν εισιν (these three are one)") suggests Comma influence.
We now depart from the immediate context of the Comma and turn to 1 John 2:23b, as it proves two things. First, it proves that a Trinitarian clause could be expunged from 1 John in the majority of manuscripts. Second, it proves that the Vulgate can sometimes preserve authentic readings more accurately than can the majority of Greek manuscripts. 1 John 2:23 in the King James Bible says:
"Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: [but] he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also."
"πας ο αρνουμενος τον υιον ουδε τον πατερα εχει ο ομολογων τον υιον και τον πατερα εχει" (Textus Receptus, Beza 1598)
The second clause of this Trinitarian verse is supported by the Vulgate, Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, Ephraemi, Porphyrianus and about 70 other Greek manuscripts (Novum Testamentum Graecum: Editio Critica Maior: IV Catholic Letters, Text, 2nd Ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2013), p. 292). Most modern translations (e.g. NIV, ESV, NASB) follow this reading.
But with there being about 517 extant Greek manuscripts of 1 John and with just over 70 manuscripts having 1 John 2:23b, the clause is a minority reading. Accordingly, the Byzantine Majority Text does not include the clause. The Majority Text says:
"Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father."
"πας ο αρνουμενος τον υιον ουδε τον πατερα εχει" (Byzantine Majority Text)
The Geneva Bible in 1557 followed the majority of manuscripts here and left out the latter clause. If a Trinitarian clause in 1 John 2:23 could be lost in the majority of Greek manuscripts, and the Vulgate can be more reliable here, it is not much of a stretch to believe that the Johannine Comma was also lost in the majority of Greek manuscripts, and preserved by the Vulgate (as will be discussed below, the Vulgate preserves the Comma). The only difference between 1 John 2:23b and the Comma could be that the Comma was deleted earlier than 1 John 2:23b.
1 John 4:3 is another example of an early corruption in 1 John. 1 John 4:3 is a Trinitarian verse just like the Comma. 1 John 4:3 mentions all three Trinitarian components: "spirit", "Jesus Christ" and "God." The verse in the KJV says:
"And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world."
This is the reading supported by Codex Sinaiticus, one of the earliest Greek manuscripts of 1 John, and the Byzantine Majority Text:
"και παν πνα ο μη ομολογει ιν κν εν σαρκι εληλυθοτα εκ του θυ ουκ εστιν και τουτο εστιν το του αντιχριστου οτι ακηκοαμεν οτι ερχεται και νυν εν τω κοσμω εστιν ηδη"
Byzantine Majority Text:
"και παν πνευμα ο μη ομολογει ιησουν χριστον εν σαρκι εληλυθοτα εκ του θεου ουκ εστιν και τουτο εστιν το του αντιχριστου ο ακηκοατε οτι ερχεται και νυν εν τω κοσμω εστιν ηδη"
However, 1 John 4:3 in Nestle-Aland 27, following Alexandrinus and Vaticanus and a few later manuscripts, reads:
"και παν πνευμα ο μη ομολογει τον ιησουν του θεου ουκ εστιν και τουτο εστιν το του αντιχριστου ο ακηκοατε οτι ερχεται και νυν εν τω κοσμω εστιν ηδη"
["ιησουν χριστον εν σαρκι εληλυθοτα εκ" is omitted.]
From the evidence of one of the earliest manuscripts and the majority of manuscripts, it is reasonable to believe that 1 John 4:3 in the Textus Receptus is the correct reading. Byzantine Majority Text proponents would agree. If Sinaiticus and the Majority Text are correct here, 1 John 4:3 is further evidence that a clause in a Trinitarian verse could be expunged in the early stage of transmission.
1 John 5:13 is proof that a clause in a parallel construction (such as that in the Comma) could drop out of some early manuscripts. The proof of 1 John 5:13 may not be convincing to an Alexandrian text proponent, but it should be convincing to a Byzantine text proponent. The verse in the KJV says:
The clause, though appearing to be redundant at first, makes perfect sense. The present-tense subjunctive phrase "that ye may believe..." expresses a wish that the action continue. John is wishing that those who currently believe on the name of the Son of God would continue to do so. However, the underlined words are not found in the three earliest witnesses of the verse. Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Alexandrinus, essentially say:
A curious point is that Socrates refers to a variant reading of 1 John 4:3 that does not exist anywhere in the extant body of Greek manuscripts. Yet this reading appeared somewhat widespread in Socrates' day. This lends credence to the theory that the readings in the majority of manuscripts of 1 John may not be representative of the readings which existed in the early church. Furthermore, Socrates refers to the words of some "ancient interpreters" who observed the corruption of this epistle for theological motives. Not only that, these corruptions relate to the Trinity and the hypostatic union of Jesus.
The examples of 1 John 5:6, 1 John 2:23b, 1 John 4:3, 1 John 5:13 and Socrates' testimony show that the transmission of 1 John is marked by demonstrable corruptions. These examples are related to the Comma in one way or another. Some of these examples concern the Trinity. Others concern the omission of a clause in a parallel construction. The text of 1 John underwent corruption long before the alleged "fabrication" of the Comma. Knowing these demonstrable examples of early textual corruptions, it is reasonable to suppose that the omission of the Comma was also an early textual corruption.
A case should be made for the inclusion of the Comma because it fits so well in the context. The internal evidence for the Comma is strong.
The use of term, "the Word" in the phrase, "the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost (ο πατηρ ο λογος και το αγιον πνευμα)" is uniquely Johannine (as in John 1:1, 1:14, 1 John 1:1, Revelation 19:13). Not only that, among the various Latin manuscripts and Church father citations, there is not a single instance of the formula appearing as anything other than "the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost". This is significant if you realize that there are textual variants concerning the three witnesses on earth (some Latin witnesses replace "Spirit" with "flesh"). If the Comma were a Trinitarian fabrication, it is amazing to see such uniformity of the vocabulary among the thousands of Latin manuscripts, as well as Church father citations. Since the Trinitarian disputes concerned the divinity of the incarnate Word, namely the Son Jesus Christ, and the consubstantial unity of the Father and Son, Trinitarians would have received greater mileage if they had fabricated a verse upholding the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Yet we never see such a fabrication, which leads to the likelihood that the Comma is original to John's epistle.
Verse 6 declares that the Spirit is truth. This is shown by the fact that the Spirit is in agreement with the Father and the Word ("...το πνευμα εστιν η αληθεια οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες εν τω ουρανω ο πατηρ ο λογος και το αγιον πνευμα και ουτοι οι τρεις εν εισιν."). In other words, the Spirit is truth because it is one with the source of truth, the divine Father and the Son whose testimonies are in agreement (John 8:18). If the Comma were not present, the Spirit is purported to be truth just because it agrees with two other earthly witnesses ("...το πνευμα εστιν η αληθεια οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες το πνευμα και το υδωρ και το αιμα και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν"). However, this would hardly explain why the Spirit alone is singled out as being truth. If the unity in testimony determines whether a contributing witness is truth, then either the water or the blood could also be truth on the same level as the Spirit. The biblical principle on two or three witnesses is that the matter which is being testified by two or three witnesses is truth (Matthew 18:16). The contributing witnesses themselves are not deemed to be truth just on the basis of participating and being in agreement. The Spirit is truth in a unique sense because it is one with the Godhead, not just because it agrees with two other witnesses.
Verse 8 says, "And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one." In Greek, the phrase "these three agree in one" is "οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν" (the three are in the one). There is a definite article that indicates that the "one" is a particular "one" that has been referred to previously in the flow of the argument. If the Comma remains, this demonstrative article has a clear antecedent. The Father, Word, and Holy Ghost are "one," and the three earthly witnesses agree in "the one." Without the Comma there is no clear antecedent ("Discussions of Robert Lewis Dabney," The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967, by the Trinitarian Bible Society).
1 John 5:6 says "it is the Spirit that beareth witness" and yet 1 John 5:9 refers to the "witness of God". Automatically equating "the Spirit" with "God" is not a problem to a Trinitarian, but the context of 1 John 5 might suggest otherwise. In the context of John chapter 5, "God" refers to the Father. 1 John 5:1 says, "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him." Since Jesus Christ is born of the Father, this "God", namely "him that begat", must refer to the Father. When verse 9 says that if we receive the witness of men, the witness "of God" is greater, this "God" means the "Father". But without the Comma, there is no reference to the Father ever giving witness. When the Comma is included, we see the Father providing witness in union with the Spirit. Only then can we equate "the Spirit" with "God" without relying on a pre-established Trinitarian supposition.
Critics of the Comma might say that 1 John 5:8 refers to three witnesses because of the biblical principle that two or three witnesses establish a matter (Matthew 18:16). While the principle of Matthew 18:16 might appear sufficient as to why there should be at least three witnesses in 1 John 5:8, there is otherwise no reason why the number of witnesses should be exactly three, and not more. Would it not have been more persuasive for John to list a larger number of witnesses on earth? How about other candidates such as "the scriptures", "miracles" or "the Church"? John appears to be fixated on the number three, which is best explained if the Trinitarian truth of the Comma is included. 18th century Greek New Testament scholar Johann Albrecht Bengel said:
"The heavenly Trinity, archetypal, fundamental, unchangeable, is the foundation of the triad of witnesses on earth, which conforms to it. The apostle might either have made the number of those who bear witness on earth greater; comp. ver. 9; or referred them all to one spirit; comp. ver. 6; but he reduces them to a triad, solely with reference to the three who bear witness in heaven. Because the Father, and the Word, and the Spirit, are properly three, and are bearing witness, and are one, similar things are also, by a figure, predicated of the spirit, and the water, and the blood; which things are evidently less applicable of themselves to those subjects:" (Charlton T. Lewis, Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament: A New Translation, Vol 2 (New York: Sheldon & Company, 1860) p. 810).
Around 379 AD, Gregory of Nazianzus commented on the grammatical anomaly in 1 John 5:7-8 without the Comma. He says, "...after using Three in the masculine gender [Apostle John] adds three words which are neuter, contrary to the definitions and laws which you and your grammarians have laid down" (The Fifth Theological Oration. On the Holy Spirit, XIX). Gregory is referring to the grammatical mismatch that results from the masculine construction "τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες (there are three that bear witness)" introducing three neuter nouns, "το πνευμα (the Spirit)," "το υδωρ (the water)" and "το αιμα (the blood)". Although Gregory seemed to be defending the abbreviated text despite the anomaly, for such a defense to be necessary there likely were both variants in the body of Greek manuscripts.If the Comma were included there is no grammatical problem according to the 19th century Presbyterian theologian Robert L. Dabney. First, the masculine nouns in the Comma, "the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost", would control the gender over the neuter noun "Holy Ghost". Then the repetition of the masculine construction "τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες" could "be accounted for by the power of attraction, so well known in Greek syntax..." (R. L. Dabney, The Works of Robert L. Dabney, (London: Banner Truth, 1967). Anti-Comma scholars have developed several of their own theories to explain away this anomaly without appealing to the Comma, but these theories fall short.
One theory is that John regarded the "Spirit" as a person, and therefore personified it by giving it the masculine gender. The problem with this theory is that "Spirit" appears in verse 6 and is not personified as it is associated with a neuter article and participle, "το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν."
Another theory by the critics is that John gave the masculine gender to the Spirit, water and blood because John wanted to indicate that they are all valid witnesses, which in Old Testament law had to be males. The problem with this theory is that, again, the Spirit is already described as a valid witness in verse 6 but is given the neuter gender there.
Trinitarian defenders of the early Church quoted John's writings the most of all the biblical writers because John's writings state the Trinitarian doctrine most clearly. John is undoubtedly the top spokesman for the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible. We find the following Trinitarian statements in his writings:
As the Trinity was so important a doctrine for John that he sometimes even disrupted the natural flow of the narrative to insert a comment on the Trinity, it is very likely for John to have inserted a reference to the Trinity in the climactic passage of his first epistle (1 John 5:1-12 is considered the climax of the epistle and the closure beings to happen starting at 5:13 with the words, "These things have I written unto you...."). Furthermore, John could have stated the most complete and systematic Trinitarian doctrine in his epistle as it was not confined within the scope of a historical narrative as was the case in John's Gospel. John referred to the Trinity in his Gospel but the concepts therein were confined by the dialogues in the narrative. For example, perhaps the strongest co-equality principle in John's Gospel is the statement, "I and my Father are one." (John 10:30). A stronger and fuller Trinitarian statement would have been, "The Father, the Holy Ghost, and I are one" but such words did not come out of our Lord's mouth because his circumstances did not concern the Holy Ghost. This means John had no basis to state the co-equality of the entire Trinity in his Gospel. However, given that the first epistle is more a theological treatise rather than narrative, John was able to declare a complete and systematic propositional statement concerning the Trinity. The Comma is just what we would expect from John in a doctrinal treatise which makes many points concerning the Trinity. On the other hand, when all the pieces to the Trinitarian doctrine are lining up in the discourse of 1 John 5 (mentioning the Father (verses 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11), the Son (verses 1, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12), the Spirit (verses 6, 8), the concept of three things agreeing in one (verse 8)), John's first epistle absent the Comma would arguably be uncharacteristic of his writings which never wasted an opportunity to declare the Trinitarian doctrine.
In John's Gospel we find recurring instances of the Father bearing witness of Jesus Christ:
As our Lord Jesus often appealed to the witness of the Father as the highest authority, without such reference to the Father as one of the witnesses of Jesus Christ, the passage in 1 John 5 is theologically hollow and deficient. Including the Comma is more agreeable to the Joannine appeal to the witness of the Father. Only when the Father is included could it truly be "the witness of God" in 1 John 5:9.
The Comma should be included because it bears the marks of Johannine theology as it relates to the superiority of heavenly witnesses over earthly witnesses. John in his Gospel at John 3:12 refers to the words of our Lord who said, "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?" The implication is that a witness who can testify concerning heavenly matters is certainly qualified to testify concerning earthly matters. The point is that a heavenly witness is superior. Later, John writes at John 3:31-36:
To begin with, this Johannine passage makes a distinction between a heavenly witness and an earthly witness. A heavenly witness is shown to be far superior to any earthly witness. Second, the passage refers to the Father, the words of God* and the Spirit (*though ρηματα του θεου is written here instead of λογος, the two are undeniably related). Third, the matter of verse 36, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life", is precisely the same matter to which the witnesses in 1 John 5:7-8 attest. Compare the similar theological truths stated in John 3:31-36 and 1 John 5:7-12 with the Comma:
Both John 3:31-36 and 1 John 5:7-12 refer to the same matter, which is that the life is in the Son. Hence consistency demands that the same arguments being made in John 3:31-36 should be made also in 1 John 5:7-11. Since John 3:31-36 explicitly declares the superiority of heavenly witnesses over earthly witnesses and even
mentions the three heavenly witnesses,
1 John 5:7-11 would lack theological depth and consistency if the Comma were not included. If the Comma were included, 1 John 5:7-11 would be a most accurate and concise summary of the theology of John 3:31-36.
. John writes at 1:32-34:
1 John 5:6-8 says that baptism was an essential witness of the Lord Jesus' sonship. If the Comma were included, the passage says that both the Trinity and baptism work together to prove the Lord Jesus' sonship. It is interesting that John in his Gospel refers to such a unified proof given by the Trinity and baptism
"And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God." (John 1:32-34)
In this account of our Lord's baptism we see all three of the heavenly witnesses. We see the Spirit which descended from heaven, the Father ("he") who is in heaven, and the Word ("said") which is the voice from heaven. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell their versions of our Lord's baptism, but only the Apostle John concludes the account with John the Baptist being convinced by the three heavenly witnesses to "bare record" that Jesus is the Son of God. John is the only Gospel writer who referred to the record-bearing aspect of the three heavenly witnesses at the Lord Jesus' baptism. It would have been appropriate for such an Apostle to relate the same truth in his epistle.
The repetitive contrastive parallelism of 1 John 5:7-8 is a mark of Johannine authorship. Compare the Comma with the other examples of contrastive parallelisms in the same Epistle:
The rest of the 480 manuscripts are minuscules from after the 10th century, the average being from around the 12th century. Seven of the twelve earliest manuscripts are from after the 6th century. This means the majority of these earliest Greek manuscripts are contemporaneous with the earliest Latin manuscripts which contain the Comma (Latin manuscripts are discussed below). Although Greek manuscripts which do contain the Comma are considered "late," they are not extremely late in relation to the majority of all Greek manuscripts which contain 1 John 5.
Although few extant Greek manuscripts contain the Comma, scholars during the Reformation era testified that a good number of manuscripts contained the Comma. John Gill, commenting on 1 John 5:7 says the Comma is found "in the Complutensian edition, the compilers of which made use of various copies; and out of sixteen ancient copies of Robert Stephens's, nine of them had it" (Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible). These manuscripts underlying the Complutensian Polyglot and the 16 "ancient" copies of Stephanus no longer exist.
John Calvin, commenting on 1 John 5:7, said, "The whole of this verse has been by some omitted. Jerome thinks that this has happened through design rather than through mistake, and that indeed only on the part of the Latins. But as even the Greek copies do not agree, I dare not assert any thing on the subject." (Calvin's Commentaries). Apparently in Calvin's time there were more Greek manuscripts with the Comma so as to give rise to a disagreement among the Greek copies. As for critics saying that Calvin was referring to printed "copies" of the Greek rather than manuscript "copies", such speculation is unwarranted considering that Calvin refers far back as Jerome and is obviously speaking from a text-critical perspective.
Francis Cheynell was the president of St. John's College, Oxford from 1648 to 1650. He lived not too long after the collation of the Textus Receptus and the translation of the KJV. He says in his lifetime there were many ancient copies of manuscripts with the Comma despite some ancient copies lacking them. The following are excerpts from his book, The divine trinunity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, published in 1650:
These testimonies by trusted Reformation era scholars are not to be ignored. Soon thereafter Europe erupted into political and religious turmoil. Catholics and Protestants destroyed each other's properties during the religious wars. As the best manuscripts would have already been brought to the religious centers of Europe, the destruction of these centers coincided with the destruction of those best manuscripts. The fact that there are few manuscripts with the Comma in the 21st century does not mean there was a similar lack in the 16th century. For more on this, please read: Question: Aren't some Textus Receptus readings based on weak manuscript evidence?
In 1995 Philip B. Payne discovered "umlauts" (double dots) in the margins of various places in Codex Vaticanus. He and many scholars agree that these umlauts indicate lines where a textual variant was known to the scribe. You can read his work, The Originality of Text-Critical Symbols in Codex Vaticanus here. What is startling is that an umlaut appears next to the phrase "τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες" in Vaticanus. Payne briefly discusses and seemingly dismisses the significance of the umlaut in 1 John 5:7, but without a doubt the umlaut is there. The following is a scanned image of 1 John 5:6-8 in Vaticanus:
The following is a screen capture of the transcription of the above from the official digitized Nestle-Aland on the University of Munster Institute website. The image below can be viewed by selecting 1 John 5:7 in "B - 03 (Vaticanus)" and selecting "view by page":
In the photographic scan and the digital transcription, there is clearly an umlaut in the margin of verse 7. Thus an early scribe of Vaticanus at least knew of a significant textual variant here.
Despite its long absence in the Greek stream of transmission, the Comma now exists in the official Greek New Testament of the Greek Orthodox Church. The 1904 Patriarchal Text of the Greek Orthodox Church is an ecclesiastical text based on the readings of about sixty Greek lectionaries dating from the ninth to the sixteenth century (John M. Rife, "The Antoniades Greek Testament" Prolegomena to the Study of the Lectionary Text. 57-66.). Early nineteenth century textual critic Johann Griesbach supposed that the Comma in these Lectionaries of the sixteenth century came from the new printed editions of the Greek New Testament which contained the Comma (Griesbach, Diatribe in Locum I Ioann. 5. 7- 8, V2, 1806, p. 12). The Comma came back into the Greek stream in this manner as the Greek Orthodox Church deferred to the Western tradition of including the Comma.
The Comma does not appear in many of the writings of the Greek fathers even when it seemed appropriate to cite the Comma. The reasons for avoiding the Comma are discussed further down in this article. There are, however, the following few allusions and citations of the Comma by Greek theologians.
Athanasius' quote, "Καὶ οἱ τρεῖς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν", is not an exact quotation of "και ουτοι οι τρεις εν εισιν" of the Comma in verse 7; but it is neither an exact quotation of "και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν" in verse 8. More likely than not, Athanasius' quote is from the Comma because the quote captures all the essential elements of the sense of the Comma. A quotation of verse 8 would require the additional word "εις (in)", which is an essential element in conveying the sense of verse 8. In any case, the greatest proof that Athanasius quoted the Comma is that he quoted "and these three are one" in the explicit context of the Trinity (of Matthew 28:19).
It is worth noting that Athanasius tags the Comma at the end of his argument almost as an afterthought. This somewhat hesitant attempt at quoting the Comma is consistent with the manuscript evidence of the Comma among the Greek churches. From the manuscript evidence, it appears the Comma was a minority reading among the Greek churches even if we suppose the existence of the Comma in the 4th century. Hence Athanasius provided his main arguments for the Trinity based on other scriptures and then tagged the Comma as a postscript. As the Comma was a minority reading, it was not the crux of his argument. The way in which the writer of Disputatio Contra Arium handles the Comma is consistent with how Athanasius would have handled it in his time and place. A future theologian would have quoted the Comma more boldly, as we see among the Latin fathers after the 4th century.
As to why Athanasius did not quote the Comma elsewhere in his writings, we can ask the same question of why Athanasius did not quote Matthew 28:19 in some of his most pro-Trinitarian writings such as The Deposition of Arius, Apologia Contra Arianos and the Four Discourses Against the Arians. Matthew 28:19 provides the second most clearest declaration of the Trinity after the Comma, yet Athanasius thought it sufficient to use other scriptures to support his views on the Trinity. It is easy to see that Athanasius was not necessarily interested in establishing the Trinity per se, but rather the consubstantial unity of the Father and the Son. Other texts were more appropriate for this goal. It was the later Latin Fathers who, influenced by Neo-Platonic thought, sought to formulate the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost in a neatly arranged Trinity. These Latin Fathers are the ones who benefited from quoting the Comma, and thus did so.
If Disputatio Contra Arium is indeed by Athanasius, then the Comma was cited in Greek by the 4th century. Some believe that this work was by someone else, a "Pseudo-Athanasius". Even so, the work is still support for a Greek witness to the Comma well before 1000 AD, probably closer to 500 AD. Thus the often heard claim that the Greek Church was unaware of the Comma for over a millennium is false.
Gregory of Nazianzus writing in the 4th century cites the Comma in the following doxology at the end of Oration 45: The Second Oration on Easter:
ONLINE LINK to Oration 45: The Second Oration on Easter
The points supporting this as a citation or at least an allusion to the Comma are as follows:
John Chrysostom in about 386-387 AD wrote Adversus Judaeos (Homily 1:3) in which he used the following curious phrase:Chrysostom is not speaking about the Trinity in the context. He is merely saying that a good number of witnesses (none of which are mentioned at 1 John 5:7-8) testify concerning the ineffable nature of God. Thus it is interesting that Chrysostom would give weight to his argument by using the formula of having three witnesses below and three witnesses above ("above" is to be understood as "heaven", as he previously stated, "ἀλλ' ἀνέβην εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν ("But I went up to heaven [figuratively]"). Since the Comma was already cited in the Latin Church during Chrysostom's time, it is far more candid to suppose that a learned teacher such as Chrysostom knew of the Comma and was alluding to its formula than to suppose that he formulated it by his own imagination.
"Κάτω τρεῖς μάρτυρες, ἄνω τρεῖς μάρτυρες, τὸ ἀπρόσιτον τῆς τοῦ Θεοῦ δόξης δηλοῦντες."
"Three witnesses below, three witnesses above, showing the inaccessibility of God's glory." (Translation by KJV Today)
ONLINE LINK to Adversus Judaeos
There seems to be a quotation of the Comma in Selecta in Psalmos (PG XII, 1304) attributed to Origen, though perhaps written by one of his students such as Evagrius Ponticus. The writer says:
The quote "οἱ γὰρ τρεῖς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν" is cited as an authority ("γὰρ") for the Trinity. Thus it bears the mark of a scriptural allusion. Undoubtedly such an allusion would be to the Comma. This Greek witness to the Comma could be as early as the 3rd century, though a non-Origenic authorship would place the date after the 4th century.
The longer version of The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians includes an allusion to the Comma. While the longer version is considered to be an interpolation from after Ignatius' death, scholars date it to the 4th century - which is still early enough for the allusion to be noteworthy. For the sake of this discussion, the author will be called "Ignatius". The text reads:
The entire passage is an expanded exposition of Ephesians 4:1-7. The following chart shows how each portion of Ephesians 4:1-7 gave rise to each portion of Ignatius' exposition:
The reference to the "Father... Word... Spirit" in Ignatius' epistle is most likely an allusion to the Comma for the following reasons:
"Quoniam tres sunt, qui testimonium dant in cælo:
Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus Sanctus:
et hi tres unum sunt."
Despite the Comma being expunged from the Greek manuscripts at an early stage, the Trinitarian Comma is found in the majority of Latin manuscripts. These Latin manuscripts are broadly classified into two groups: The Latin Vulgate & The Old Latin. The Latin Vulgate, translate by Jerome, is the more common Latin translation as it was commissioned by the Catholic church in the late 4th century. The Old Latin is a term used to describe the various Latin translations that existed before the Latin Vulgate. Old Latin translations were made since about the latter half of the 2nd century (F. H. A. Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the New Testament Textual Criticism, 4th Ed., Vol. 2, (New York: George Bell & Sons, 1894), p. 43).
The line, however, between Vulgate and Old Latin manuscripts are blurred because scribes often incorporated Old Latin readings into the Vulgate. While textual critics believe that Jerome did not include the Comma in the original Vulgate text, the Comma entered the Vulgate over time. 19th century textual critic F.H.A. Scrivener estimated that "49 out of 50 [Vulgate] manuscripts testify to this disputed Comma" (F. H. A. Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the New Testament Textual Criticism, 4th Ed., Vol. 2, (New York: George Bell & Sons, 1894), p. 403). The Clementine Edition of the Vulgate, published in 1592, sought to standardize the Vulgate text, and it includes the Comma. There were other revisions of the Vulgate in the 16th century, such as those of the Complutensian Polyglot and Erasmus, which even consulted Greek manuscripts.
Since the Comma was never officially included in the Vulgate until the 16th century, the inclusion of the Comma in Vulgate manuscripts throughout the centuries is a result of several independent scribal transcriptions based on Old Latin manuscripts. Thus the Vulgate support for the Comma indirectly counts as Old Latin support for the Comma, although we can never truly know to what extent. In any event, the Vulgate can be a reliable witness for authentic readings. For example, the Vulgate preserved the reading, "Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father" at 1 John 2:23 even while the Byzantine Majority Text failed to preserve it. This reading in the Vulgate, which is also the reading in the KJV, was confirmed as an early reading based on the discovery of early uncials which have it, such as Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. If what the Latin preserved at 1 John 2:23 is more accurate than the majority of Greek manuscripts, then what the Latin preserved at 1 John 5:7 could also be more accurate than the majority of Greek manuscripts.
Our knowledge of Old Latin readings comes largely from the citations of Latin church fathers. The earliest extant Old Latin and Vulgate manuscripts are as follows, and they all have the Comma:
Codex Fuldensis, considered the second most important witness to the Vulgate text, was completed by 546 AD in Italy. The Codex contains several prologues written by Jerome. It contains the Prologue to the Canonical Epistles, which mentions the Trinitarian Comma in John's first epistle:
However, the actual text of 1 John 5:7 in Fuldensis does not have the Comma so some critics dismiss the testimony of the Prologue as a spurious work. But whether the Prologue was written by Jerome or not, and whether the actual text of 1 John 5:7 contained the Comma, the Comma was certainly known to an Italian scribe who wrote the Prologue as early as in 546 AD. Since the earliest witness against the Comma is Sinaiticus from 350 AD, this 546 AD mainstream Italian witness for the Comma appears only 200 years later. The majority of later Vulgate manuscripts contain the Comma in the text of 1 John 5:7.
The Western Church cited the Comma in Canon 2 of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215:
"For the faithful of Christ, he says, are not one in the sense that they are some one thing that is common to all, but in the sense that they constitute one Church by reason of the unity of the Catholic faith and one kingdom by reason of the union of indissoluble charity, as we read in the canonical Epistle of St. John: "There are three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one" (I John 5: 7). And immediately it is added: "And there are three who give testimony on earth, the spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three are one" (I John 5: 8), as it is found in some codices." (The Canons of the Fourth Lateran Council, 1215)
The Western Church regarded the Comma as Scripture. They did, however, admit that there was textual corruption in this portion of the text. This frank disclosure of the manuscript evidence demonstrates that the Western Church was cognizant of the manuscript evidence and had done the appropriate research to conclude on the authenticity of the Comma.
"Quia tres sunt qui testimonium dant: Spiritus et aqua et sanguis et tres unum sunt."
This is the reading of Codex Fuldensis, one of the oldest Vulgate manuscripts from the 6th century. However, it is odd for the Vulgate to have "tres unum sunt" because this is actually a translation of "τρεις εν εισιν" in the Comma rather than of "τρεις εις το εν εισιν" in verse 8. The Greek in verse 8 has the preposition "εις". The inclusion of "εις" ("in" in Latin) completely changes the sense of the passage. Later editions of the Vulgate have resupplied the preposition. The 20th century Nova Vulgata has "tres in unum sunt" and John Calvin's Latin translation has "tres in unum conveniunt". There is no reason why a translation of "τρεις εις το εν εισιν" in verse 8 should omit the preposition unless the wording of verse 8 was influenced by the wording of the Comma. Thus the Comma has left its mark in all Vulgate editions, whether they have the Comma or not.
In a similar vein to the situation among the Vulgate manuscripts, early manuscripts of the Syriac Peshitta do not have the Comma but they also appear to have a trace of the Comma in verse 8 (or verse 7 depending on the versification), which begins with "ܘܐܝܬܝܗܘ" (Thomas Burgess, In Further Proof of the Authenticity f 1 John, v. 7 (London: Brodie and Dowding, 1829), p. 56):
ܘܐܝܬܝܗܘܢ ܬܠܬܐ ܤܗܕܝܢ ܪܘܚܐ ܘܡܝܐ ܘܕܡܐ ܘܬܠܬܝܗܘܢ ܒܚܕ ܐܢܘܢ
"And there are three that testify, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three are in one." (J. W. Etheridge)
"And there are three to bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three are one." (George M. Lamsa)
"And there are three witnesses, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three are in union." (James Murdock)
The phrase "And there are..." at 1 John 5 appears only in Bibles with the Comma. This is because the clause immediately following verse 6 is introduced with "For there are..." (whether with or without the Comma). The phrase "And there are...." follows the Comma only if the Comma exists. In Bibles without the Comma the only phrase should be "For there are....":
"οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες, το πνευμα και το υδωρ και το αιμα, και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν." (Nestle-Aland 27)
"For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree." (ESV)
There is no reason why the Syriac should translate the Greek causal conjunction "οτι" as the copulative Waw (ܘ) conjunction. The Syriac translates "οτι" as "because" in just the previous verse and also at 1 John 5:4. The phrase "οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες" obviously introduces a "cause" or "reason" for the antecedent phrase. The Syriac appears to be translated from a Greek manuscript which contained "και τρεις εισιν", which is a vestige of the Comma. Although this manuscript apparently did not contain the Comma and the mention of "in earth", it nonetheless contained a trace of the Comma. The oldest Syriac manuscript which contains 1 John is from the 5th century (British Library, Add. 14470).
Latin Fathers in the West cited the Comma. The earliest citations of the Comma provide only the portion which reads, "these three are one". However, this is the only relevant portion to cite in a Trinitarian argument for the consubstantial unity of the Godhead since the Comma quoted in its entirety would only prove that the Godhead is united in testimony, not essence (more on this later).
"Ita connexus Patris in Filio et Filii in Paracleto, tres efficit coharentes, alterum ex altere, qui tres unum sunt, non unus, quomodo dictum est, Ego et Pater unum sumus." (Against Praxeas XXV).
"Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent persons, one from the other, which three are one, not one [person], as it is said, "I and my Father are One."" (Translation by KJV Today)
Some translations in English obscure Tertullian's reference to the Comma. Tertullian makes the truncated reference, “tres unum sunt” and argues for the consubstantial unity of the Father and the Son with the reference to John 10:30. He did not quote the Comma fully because a full quotation has "the Word" instead of "the Son".
Furthermore, Tertullian alludes to the Comma in De Baptismo:
"Not that in the waters we obtain the Holy Spirit; but in the water, under (the witness of) the angel, we are cleansed, and prepared for the Holy Spirit. In this case also a type has preceded; for thus was John beforehand the Lord's forerunner, preparing His ways. Thus, too, does the angel, the witness of baptism, make the paths straight for the Holy Spirit, who is about to come upon us, by the washing away of sins, which faith, sealed in (the name of) the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, obtains. For if in the mouth of three witnesses every word shall stand: — while, through the benediction, we have the same (three) as witnesses of our faith whom we have as sureties of our salvation too— how much more does the number of the divine names suffice for the assurance of our hope likewise! Moreover, after the pledging both of the attestation of faith and the promise of salvation under three witnesses, there is added, of necessity, mention of the Church; inasmuch as, wherever there are three, (that is, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,) there is the Church, which is a body of three." (English translation by New Advent)
Here Tertullian is alluding to two Trinitarian passages: Matthew 28:19 ("Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:") and 1 John 5:7 ("For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one."). It is significant that he does not explicitly quote Matthew 28:19, because that means we have no reason to expect him to quote 1 John 5:7 explicitly. It is obviously that Matthew 28:19 is alluded because the issue concerns baptism in the name of the Trinity. However, Matthew 28:19 alone falls short of describing the Trinity as "three witnesses" concerning "the attestation of faith and the promise of salvation". This is a matter described in 1 John 5 verse 7 to 12.
“Dicit Dominus, Ego et Pater unum sumus; et iterum de Patre et Filio et Spiritu sancto scriptum est: 'Et tres unum sunt.'” (Treatise I:6).
"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."
While some might argue that Cyprian was giving a theological spin to 1 John 5:8, Cyprian clearly says "scriptum est" (it is written). As with Tertullian, Cyprian would not have given the full quotation because the Comma has "the Word" instead of "the Son". In De Rebaptismate (15 and 19) Pseudo-Cyprian appears to quote 1 John 5:8 without the Comma. However, this writer is not the actual Cyprian.
"Sic alius a Filio Spiritus; sicut alius a patre Filius. Sic tertia in Spiritu ut in Filio secunda persona, unus tamen omnia quia tres unum sunt" (Contra Arianos XXVII: 4)
"The other Spirit comes from the Son just as the other Son comes from the Father. So the Spirit is the third as the Son is the second person. But the sum is one, for the three are one."
"Sicut Ioannes ait: Tria sunt quae testimonium dicunt in terra: aqua caro et sanguis; et haec tria in unum sunt et tria sunt quae testimonium dicunt in caelo: pater, verbum et spiritus; et haec tria unum sunt in Christo Iesu." (Liber Apologeticus, I.4)
"As John says, "There are three that give testimony in earth: the water, the flesh and the blood; and these three are one and there are three that give testimony in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Spirit; and these three are one in Christ Jesus." (Translation by KJV Today)
The order of verse 7 and 8 is reversed, but the Comma nonetheless existed by 350 AD, which is the date of the earliest Greek manuscripts against the Comma (e.g. Sinaiticus and Vaticanus). Some critics dismiss the significance of Priscillian's citation due to the fact that he was considered a heretic. These critics may even go as far as to say that Priscillian forged the Comma. But Priscillian was considered a heretic because of his extreme asceticism and Manichaeism. Forging the Comma would not have helped in furthering any of these heretical beliefs.
"Deus itaque summus et verus cum Verbo suo et Spiritu sancto, quae tria unum sunt, Deus unus omnipotens, creator et factor omnis animae atque omnis corporis,"
"Therefore God supreme and true, with His Word and Holy Spirit (which three are one), one God omnipotent, creator and maker of every soul and of every body;" (English translation by New Advent)
The significance of this passage is the use of "His Word" to refer to the second person of the Trinity followed by "and Holy Spirit" and the phrase "which three are one". Such a formula appears only in the Comma.
Some people believe that Augustine did not know of the Comma because he made a mystical Trinitarian interpretation of 1 John 5:8 in Contra Maximinum (II:22:3), written sometime around 427 AD, without overtly referring to the Comma. In this very construed interpretation, Augustine saw the Spirit as signifying the Father, the blood as signifying the Son, and the water as signifying the Holy Ghost. Even if Augustine appeared to be hesitant to regard the Comma as Scripture in Contra Maximinum in 427 AD, he appeared to be aware of the Comma in 410 AD. So his change in view could be attributed to him "switching his translation" later in life. In fact, Augustine's quote of 1 John 5:8 in Contra Maximinum is not from the Vulgate. The quote reads:
"Sane falli te nolo in Epistola Ioannis apostoli, ubi ait: Tres sunt testes; spiritus, et aqua, et sanguis; et tres unum sunt."
The Vulgate should read, "Tres sunt qui testimonium dant". It appears that Augustine is making his own translation from the Greek, which did not have the Comma in the majority of manuscripts at this point in time. Augustine's policy was to turn to the Greek whenever there were variants in the Latin. He said: “As to the books of the New Testament, again, if any perplexity arises from the diversities of the Latin texts, we must of course yield to the Greek, especially those that are found in the churches of greater learning and research” (On Christian Doctrine, II:15). Augustine's neglect of the Comma in Contra Maximinum may prove that the Comma was already expunged in the Greek, but it does not prove the lack of the Comma in the Latin. Besides, it sure is curious that Augustine would make such a construed interpretation of the Spirit, water, and blood if it were not for him being influenced by the parallelism of the Comma earlier in life.
“Item ipse ad Parthos: Tres sunt, inquit, qui testimonium perhibent in terra, aqua, sanguis et caro, et tres in nobis sunt. Et tres sunt qui testimonium perhibent in ceolo, Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus, et ii tres unum sunt.” (Contra Varimadum, Book I, Chapter 5 (MPL062, col. 359))
“Also to the Parthians, ‘There are three’, He says, ‘that bear record in earth, the water, the blood and the flesh, and the three are in us. And there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one.” (Translation by KJV Today)
De Trinitate Libri Duodecim:
“Ergo quamvis in superioribus exemplis Scripturarum tacita sint nomina personarum, tamen unitum nomen divinitatis per omnia tibi est in his demonstratum; sicut et in hoc exemplo veritatis, in quo nomina personarum evidenter sunt ostensa, et unitum nomen divinitatis clause est declaratum, dicente Joanne evangelista in Epistola sua: Tres sunt qui testimonium dicunt in caelo, Pater, et Verbum, et Spiritus, et in Chisto Jesu unum sunt;” (De Trinitate Libri Duodecim , Book I (MPL062, col. 243))
“Therefore, although in the above examples the Scriptures are silent regarding the names of the persons, yet this union of the divine name by all in this is to be demonstrated to you; also as in this example of the truth, in which the names of the persons are clearly evident, and the united divine names declared closed, the Evangelist John says in his Epistle: ‘There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, and the Word, and the Spirit, and they are one in the Lord Jesus Christ;” (Translation by KJV Today)
“Et ut adhuc luce clarius unius divinitatis esse cum Patre et Filio Spiritum sanctum doceamus, Joannis evangelistae testimonio comprobatur. Ait namque: Tres sunt qui testimonium perhibent in caelo, Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus sanctus, et his tres unum sunt.” (Historia persecutionis Africanae Provinciae, Book III, Chapter XI (MPL058, col. 227)
“And in order to show with clearer light that the unity of divinity is with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, John the evangelist bears record. For which it is said: ‘There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.’” (Translation by KJV Today)
Responsio Contra Arianos Libri Duo:
“In Patre ergo et Filio et Spiritu sancto unitatem substantiae accipimus, personas confundere non ademus. Beatu enim Joannes apostolus testatur, dicen: Tres sunt qui testimonium perhibent in caelo, Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus; et tres unum sunt. Quod etiam beatissimus martyr Cyprianus, in epistola de Unitate Ecclesiae confitetur, dicens: Qui pacem Christi et concordiam rumpit, adversus Christum facit; qui alibi praeter Ecclesiam colligit, Christi Ecclesiam spargit. Atque ut unam Ecclesiam unius Dei esse monstraret, haec confestim testimonia de Scripturis inseruit. Dicit Dominus: Ego et Pater unum sumus. Et iterum: De Patre et Filio et Spiritu sancto scriptum et: Et tres unum sunt.” (Responsio Contra Arianos Libri Duo, Response 10 (MPL065, col. 224))
In the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, whose unity of substance we accept, are confident not to confound the persons. For the blessed John the Apostle testifies, saying: ‘There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit; and the three are one. This is also confessed by the most blessed martyr Cyprian in the letter On the Unity of the Church, saying: ‘He who breaks the peace and concord of Christ, he does against Christ’, who in another place says in addition to a collection of the Church, says, ‘scatters the Church of Christ’. And in order to show that there is one Church of the one God, he immediately inserted this into the testimonies of the Scriptures: ‘The Lord says: I and the Father are one. And again: of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit it is written: ;And the three are one.’” (Translation by KJV Today)
Ad Felicem Notarium De Trinitate Liber Unus:
“En habes in brevi aliu esse Patrem, alium Filium, alium Spiritum sanctum: alium et alium in persona, non aliud et aliud in natura; et idcirco Ego, inquit, et Pater unum sumus. Unum, ad naturam referre nos docei, Sumus, ad personas. Similiter et illud: Tres sunt, inquit, qui testimonium dicun in caelo, Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus, et his tres unum sunt.” (Ad Felicem Notarium De Trinitate Liber Unus, Chapter IV (MPL065, col. 500))
“Here you have briefly that another is the Father, another is the Son, another is the Holy Spirit: different in person, not different in nature: and for this reason ‘I’, he says, ‘and the Father are one.’ We teach that ‘One’ refers to nature, and ‘We are’ refers to the persons. Likewise regarding it: ‘There are three’, he says, who are said to testify in heaven, ‘the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one.’” (Translation by KJV Today)
“Cui rei testificantur in terra tria mysteria: aqua, sanguis et spiritus, quae in passione Domini leguntur impleta: in caelo autem Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus sanctus; et hi tres unus est Deus.” (Complexiones In Epistollis Apostolorum, Epistolam S. Joannis ad Parthos, Chapter X (MPL070, col. 1373)
“This matter the three mysteries testify in earth: ‘the water, the blood, and the spirit’, which are fulfilled as we read in the Passion of the Lord: but in heaven ‘the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one God’. (Translation by KJV Today)
Despite some allusions to the Comma by Church fathers, many of the fathers seem to show an unawareness of the Comma. Critics appeal to this argument from silence. However, an argument based on silence is weak. For example, it is well-known to some textual scholars and many unitarians that Eusebius did not cite the Trinitarian baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19 ("...in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost") in many of his writings:
Critics often allege that Greek fathers did not quote 1 John 5:7 when it was appropriate for them to do so. However, the silence of the Church fathers is not to be construed as evidence against the existence of the Comma for the following reasons:
The Trinitarian clause was irrelevant in many of the discussions of the fathers. Novatian, Hilary of Poitiers and Ambrose are counted as witnesses against the Comma but they had not need to cite the Comma.
Novatian (255 AD) in On the Trinity does not quote the Comma for two reasons. First, Novatian's argument on the Trinity focuses on Christ's divinity in his incarnate state (chapters 13-16, 21-25) as well as his theophanic state (chapters 17-19). The Johannine Comma says nothing about the incarnation or the manifestation of the Deity. Second, he argues against the Sabellians (chapters 26-28). The Comma, interpreted a certain way, could actually bolster the Sabellian view of the oneness of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It is significant that Novatian does not even quote Matthew 28:19, the second clearest statement on the triadic structure of the Trinity ("...in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost"). If Novatian did not need to cite Matthew 28:19, he probably did not need to cite the Comma either.
Hilary of Poitiers (360 AD) in On the Trinity quotes John 10:30 heavily but not the Comma because his task to the Arians is to expound that the Son is God, not to argue for the Holy Spirit. He says, “Concerning the Holy Spirit I ought not to be silent, and yet I have no need to speak” (Book II). John 10:30 would have been the only proof text that Hilary needed if he were trying to prove that Jesus is God, and did not want to confuse the argument by introducing the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the Comma only proves the unity of testimony between the Father and the Word, not the unity in substance of the Father and the Son.
Ambrose (380 AD) had no reason to refer to the Comma in his reference to 1 John 5:8 because he was explaining baptism, not the Trinity. Ambrose did not even give direct quotations of 5:8 in any of his writings. He writes in On the Holy Spirit (Book I, 6:77): "Et ideo hi tres testes unum sunt, sicut Ioannes dixit: Aqua, sanguis, et Spiritus. Unum in mysterio, non in natura." He writes in On the Mysteries (4:20): "Ideoque legisti quod tres testes in baptismate unum sunt, aqua, sanguis, et Spiritus; quia si in unum horum detrahas, non stat baptismatis sacramentum." So Ambrose's references to 1 John 5:8 do not reveal what Ambrose's Bible text actually said.
The 3rd century Greek fathers would not have quoted this passage since the unity of the Godhead was not the contentious issue of the day. The contentious issue brought by the spread of Sabellianism or Patripassianism was regarding the distinctness of the Father and the Son. 1 John 5:7 refers to the unity of the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost so citing it would have been counterproductive in refuting Sabellianism or Patripassianism.
It might seem surprising, but the Johannine Comma is actually not an effective proof text against Arianism. The Comma does not provide any proof for the consubstantial unity of the Father and Son, which was the issue during the Arian controversies. In the same vein, Athanasius does not quote even the Trinitarian formula at Matthew 28:19 in any of his writings other than in De Synodis. Matthew 28:19 has the second clearest statement on the triadic structure of the Trinity ("...in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost"). Yet Athanasius argued against Arianism in The Deposition of Arius, Apologia Contra Arianos and the Four Discourses Against the Arians all without referring to Matthew 28:19. Athanasius could have cared less about the triadic structure of the Trinity when his task was to argue for the consubstantial unity of the Father and the Son. The Johannine Comma speaks only of a united testimony within the Godhead - a fact which may have been acceptable even within Arianism. 1 John 5:7 does not prove that the Father, Word and Holy Ghost are of one essence any more than 1 John 5:8 proves that the Spirit, water and the blood are of one essence. In fact, since the Spirit, water and blood are not one in essence despite being called "one", drawing attention to 1 John 5:8 through the Comma could have been poor strategy in arguing that the Father and Son are one in essence. The Comma became more useful in the later centuries to develop the structure of the Trinity as being a triad, but the Comma, as with Matthew 28:19, was not essential as far as Athanasius was concerned in the 4th century.
The identity of the water and blood in 1 John 5:6-8 has been interpreted in many ways by different commentators:
It seems probable that the early Church did not have a single interpretation of the context surrounding the Comma. In the exercise of arguing for Jesus Christ's divinity, Trinitarians may have avoided the Comma because citing it would have opened a can of worms of arguing for the correct interpretation of the context.
Some critics argue that it is inconceivable that disputers of Arianism would not have explicitly mentioned the Comma if the Comma were existent during their time. But this assertion is based on false logic. There is no direct correlation between "the silence of a passage" and the "absence of the passage" even if the passage in question directly addresses a subject matter that is important to a debate. A contemporary example would suffice as an explanation: Many prominent Trinitarian apologists today would not quote the Comma even though it is present in perhaps half of the printed English Bible translations in existence (with the KJV, NKJV and the Amplified Bible having the Comma). Practically all English translations have the Comma if we include the margins (e.g. NIV, NASB, though not the ESV). Yet the silence concerning the Comma by a preacher today is not proof that the Comma does not exist in English Bibles in the 21st century. For example, James R. White, a Trinitarian apologeticist who is critical of the Textus Receptus, would never use the Comma in a debate against his Muslim opponents. But his silence is not evidence that the Comma never existed in English Bibles in the 21st century. Silence is just proof of the preacher's doubt of the Comma being authentic Scripture. Many preachers avoid relying on the Comma for doctrine because of its confusing textual history. Likewise, Trinitarians in the 4th century had witnessed a confusing textual history of the Comma and could not rely on the Comma for doctrine. For example, 1 John 5:6, the preceding verse, is corrupted in the early manuscripts. Even if a good number of manuscripts contained the Comma, Trinitarians would not have built their arguments on a passage that attracted the suspicion of spuriousness. They would have ignored it just as preachers today do. In the decisive exercise of disproving Arianism, Trinitarians would not have quoted a verse that had a confusing textual history among the Greek churches, especially if the Comma did not prove the consubstantial nature of the Trinity. There are Trinitarian proof-texts elsewhere in scripture where the text appears to be more intact, such as Matthew 28:19 and John 10:30.
Now that it has been established that the Comma does have early witnesses, albeit in a minority situation, we turn to the issue of why and how the Comma came to be omitted among the majority of manuscripts at such an early stage. Bruce M. Metzger said that if the Johannine Comma were original, there is no good reason to account for its omission, either accidentally or intentionally, by copyists of hundreds of Greek manuscripts and by translators of ancient versions (Bruce M. Metzger. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Second Edition. 1994, p. 647-649.). In response to Metzger's claim, there are indeed a number of good reasons for the omission of the Comma.
The Comma could have been omitted by way of parablepsis due to the homoeoteleuton in the passage. "Homoeoteleuton" refer to consecutive lines with similar endings. Homoeoteleuton can cause an error called haplography, where only one line is written instead of both. This error is caused by parablepsis, a situation in which a careless scribe jumps from the ending of the first line to the similar ending of the second line. It is not mere speculation to theorize that the Comma was removed by parablepsis. The possibility of this theory is substantiated by the fact that even the so-called "most reliable manuscripts" omit significant portions of text by parablepses.
1 John 2:23b
As discussed previously, 1 John 2:23b was omitted in the early stage of transmission. It can be shown that 1 John 2:23b was omitted because of a homoeoteleuton - the repetition of the same endings.
Textus Receptus (Beza 1598), Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, etc. read:
"πας ο αρνουμενος τον υιον ουδε τον πατερα εχει ο ομολογων τον υιον και τον πατερα εχει"
The Byzantine Majority Text reads:
"πας ο αρνουμενος τον υιον ουδε τον πατερα εχει" (Byzantine Majority Text)
The omission arose when a scribe who finished copying the first "τον πατερα εχει" jumped to the end of the second "τον πατερα εχει" and resumed copying from there, thereby omitting everything in between.
1 Corinthians 13:1-2
Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest witness against the Comma, omits a total of 32 Greeks words at 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 due to a homoeoteleuton.
1 Corinthians 13:1-2 in Codex Sinaiticus
(Source: The Codex Sinaiticus Project Website: http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/ )
The text should read, "εαν ταις γλωσσαις των ανθρωπων λαλω και των αγγελων αγαπην δε μη εχω γεγονα χαλκος ηχων η κυμβαλον αλαλαζον και εαν εχω προφητειαν και ειδω τα μυστηρια παντα και πασαν την γνωσιν και εαν εχω πασαν την πιστιν ωστε ορη μεθιστανειν αγαπην δε μη εχω ουδεν ειμι " but the scribe of Sinaiticus omitted the underlined words. When the scribe finished copying the first "αγαπην δε μη εχω", his eyes jumped to the second "αγαπην δε μη εχω" and resumed copying from there. A later scribe inserted the omitted words in the top margin.
Codex Sinaiticus exhibits this same type of error again at Luke 10:32.
Luke 10:32 in Codex Sinaiticus
(Source: The Codex Sinaiticus Project Website: http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/ )
Here, the scribe omitted all of verse 32 by skipping the words in between the "αντιπαρηλθεν" at the end of verse 31 and the "αντιπαρηλθεν" at the end of verse 32:
"κατα συγκυριαν δε ιερευς τις κατεβαινεν εν τη οδω εκεινη και ιδων αυτον αντιπαρηλθεν ομοιως δε και λευιτης γενομενος κατα τον τοπον ελθων και ιδων αντιπαρηλθεν σαμαρειτης δε τις οδευων ηλθεν κατ αυτον και ιδων αυτον εσπλαγχνισθη" (Luke 10:31-33)
The scribe of Codex Sinaiticus made the same mistake at Luke 17:35 and omitted the entire verse:
Luke 17:35 in Codex Sinaiticus
(Source: The Codex Sinaiticus Project Website: http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/ )
Here the following underlined words were omitted because "αφεθησεται" appears twice:
"λεγω υμιν ταυτη τη νυκτι εσονται δυο επι κλινης μιας ο εις παραληφθησεται και ο ετερος αφεθησεται εσονται δυο αληθουσαι επι το αυτο η μια παραληφθησεται η δε ετερα αφεθησεται" (Luke 17:34-35)
The scribe of Codex Sinaiticus does it again at John 6:55:
John 6:55 in Codex Sinaiticus
(Source: The Codex Sinaiticus Project Website: http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/ )
This passage ought to say, "η γαρ σαρξ μου αληθως εστιν βρωσις και το αιμα μου αληθως εστιν ποσις (For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed)." However, Sinaiticus reads, "η γαρ ϲαρξ μου αληθωϲ εϲ τι ποσις" (For my flesh is drink indeed)." This nonsensical reading arose when the scribe skipped everything in between the first "αληθως" and the second "αληθως".
The scribe of Codex Sinaiticus does it yet again at John 16:15:
John 16:15 in Codex Sinaiticus
(Source: The Codex Sinaiticus Project Website: http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/ )
The scribe skipped the following underlined words of John 16:15 due to the homoeoteleuton:
"εκεινος εμε δοξασει οτι εκ του εμου ληψεται και αναγγελει υμιν παντα οσα εχει ο πατηρ εμα εστιν δια τουτο ειπον οτι εκ του εμου ληψεται και αναγγελει υμιν μικρον και ου θεωρειτε με και παλιν μικρον και οψεσθε με οτι εγω υπαγω προς τον πατερα" (John 16:14-16)
We have seen that Codex Sinaiticus omits at least 4 entire verses due to a homoeoteleuton. This should be enough to cause us to rethink the idea that the earliest manuscripts = the most reliable manuscripts.
Luke 14:27 in some manuscripts is another example of an omission due to a homoeoteleuton. Verses 26 and 27 share the same endings:
1 John 5:13
1 John 5:13 was discussed earlier above. In the Byzantine text, two clauses have the phrase, "εις το ονομα του υιου του θεου". Although it is more difficult to explain how the error arose here than in the other examples with homoeoteleutons, the error most likely did arise due to the homoeoteleuton. An Alexandrian text proponent may not be convinced of an error here, but a Byzantine text proponent must believe that an omission occurred in the Alexandrian copies. So this example in 1 John 5:13 is relevant in persuading at least a Byzantine text proponent that a line in 1 John chapter 5 that has a repetition of similar words was omitted, whether intentionally or accidentally.
Homoeoteleuton at 1 John 5:6-8
As in the other passages where words were carelessly omitted, the text of 1 John 6 to 8 also contains many repetitions of the same words. The corruptions of 1 John 5:6 seen in Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus involve the word "πνευμα." It is not surprising that scribes would accidentally add this word because it appears 4 times in just 3 verses from 5:6 to 5:8 (3 times in just 2 verses even if we omit the Comma). Scribes would essentially be "juggling" many appearances of the word in a span of just a few lines. The frequency of the appearance of "πνευμα" from 5:6 to 5:7 could confuse a careless scribe.
Due to the many repetitions of similar words in 1 John 5:6-8, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that a scribe omitted the Comma by accident. If the Comma appeared originally, the text could have been laid out as follows:
The portion above is from the end of 1 John 5:6 to the middle of 1 John 5:8. It corresponds to the portion in the KJV which reads:
The text is arranged in a manner that is typically seen in papyri. Even if the words on an actual papyrus were not arranged exactly in the same positions on the papyrus as in this hypothetical arrangement, the relative positions of the words would still be similar. Consider how the phrase "τρειςεισινοιμαρτυρουντεςεν" appears twice identically, separated by two lines, and how the word "πνευμα" is located above that phrase in both instances at the left-hand side of the papyrus (the phrase is underlined):
Due to the identical appearance of the phrase in 5:7 and 5:8, the eyes of a scribe who is in the midst of copying a word in 5:7 could jump to the corresponding word in 5:8. Moreover, the word directly above the left-most portion of the phrase in 5:8 is "πνευμα," which is also the word directly above the left-most portion of the phrase back in 5:7. This could cause great confusion for a careless scribe. The text of a scribe who skipped the two lines in between would read:
This text with the omission says, "Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood:" The phrase "in earth" would remain in the new copy, but it could easily drop during further transmission. Moreover, support for "in earth" is stronger than the Comma itself. The Anchor Bible, which by no means is a friend of the Comma, says concerning the support for "in earth":
The author of the Anchor Bible interprets the support for "on earth" as a corruption which caused the creation of the Comma. However, it could also be interpreted as the vestige of a copyist error who omitted the mention of the heavenly witnesses but managed to keep the words "on earth." In fact, this interpretation is consistent with the hypothesis of the corruption of 1 John 5:7 discussed above. The suspicion that the Comma was accidentally omitted due to a homoeoteleuton is not far-fetched seeing that there are examples of such errors elsewhere in the manuscripts. The passage in 1 John 5:6-7 clearly bears features that would attract this type of copyist error.
If the Comma was not accidentally removed, it could have been removed intentionally by heretics. Yale professor of ecclesiastical history, Jaroslav Pelikan, notes that theologians of the past suspected that Arians expunged the Comma:
The Orthodox remnant viewed the notorious Arians with much suspicion. Athanasius had complained of the Arians' “calumnies, imprisonments, murders, wounds, conspiracies by means of false letters” (Apologia Contra Arianos at 49). Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (4th century) tells us of how much influence the Arians exerted in determining which manuscripts to use. He wrote in chapter 10 of On the Holy Spirit:
"The Divinity of the Holy Spirit is supported by a passage of St. John. This passage was, indeed, erased by heretics, but it is a vain attempt, since their faithlessness could thereby more easily be convicted.The order of the context is considered in order that this passage may be shown to refer to the Spirit. He is born of the Spirit who is born again of the same Spirit, of Whom Christ Himself is believed to have been born and born again. Again, the Godhead of the Spirit is inferred from two testimonies of St. John; and lastly, it is explained how the Spirit, the water, and the blood are called witnesses.
59. Nor does the Scripture in this place alone bear witness to the θεότης, that is, the Godhead of the Holy Spirit; but also the Lord Himself said in the Gospel: "The Spirit is God." Which passage you, Arians, so expressly testify to be said concerning the Spirit, that you remove it from your copies, and would that it were from yours and not also from those of the Church! For at the time when Auxentius had seized the Church of Milan with the arms and forces of impious unbelief, the Church of Sirmium was attacked by Valens and Ursatius, when their priests [i.e. bishops] failed in faith; this falsehood and sacrilege of yours was found in the ecclesiastical books. And it may chance that you did the same in the past [sic; should read "East" as the Latin reads "Oriente" (MPL16, col. 790: De Spiritu Sancto Lib. III, C. 10)].
60. And you have indeed been able to blot out the letters, but could not remove the faith. That erasure betrayed you more, that erasure condemned you more; and you were not able to obliterate the truth, but that erasure blotted out your names from the book of life. Why was the passage removed, For God is a Spirit, if it did not pertain to the Spirit? For if you will have it that the expression is used of God the Father, you, who think it should be erased, deny, in consequence, God the Father. Choose which you will, in each the snare of your own impiety will bind you if you confess yourselves to be heathen by denying either the Father or the Spirit to be God. Therefore your confession wherein you have blotted out the Word of God remains, while you fear the original." (On the Holy Spirit, Book III, chapter 10 at www.newadvent.org)
As Ambrose is referring to John 3:6, he is actually wrong about the Arians corrupting it. John 3:6 should not have "The Spirit is God". So the Arians sometimes imported correct readings from the East. The point, however, is that the Arians held a lot of control over which readings to adopt in the churches. And this also shows the Arian propensity towards non-Trinitarian readings (though sometimes their instincts were correct, as in John 3:6). We must give the Arians credit where credit is due for correcting John 3:6, but this means it was certainly possible for the Arians to over-reach and suspect an overzealous-Trinitarian corruption even in places that were authentic. 1 John 5:7 could be one of those places.
The Comma existed where Arianism was less prevalent
The hypothesis that Arians expunged the Comma is valid because it is falsifiable: the hypothesis could be proven false if the Comma does not exist even in places where Arianism did not exert much influence. However, the evidence supports the hypothesis. The Comma does exist in places where Arianism was not as prevalent, especially in the earlier centuries. The earliest attestations to the Comma are from Spain and North Africa - places where Arianism was not as prevalent early on. Whereas Constantinople and Alexandria were infected with Arianism by the 4th century, Spain and North Africa were relatively less infected until the 5th century. Geographically, Spain and North Africa were the farthest places from the major centers of Arianism. Moreover, whereas primarily Greek and Latin speakers spread Arianism in the rest of Christendom, Spain was introduced to Arianism through Visigoths and North Africa was introduced to Arianism through Vandals. These were both Germanic tribes who used the Gothic Bible of Ulfilas. Thus Arians in Spain and North Africa had less incentive to influence the Latin scriptures. This allowed the Comma to remain in Latin manuscripts of Spain and North Africa.
The first undisputed quote of the Comma is by the Spanish Priscillian in 350 AD (Liber Apologeticus). Cyprian of North Africa may have alluded to the Comma in 250 AD: “et iterum de Patre et Filio et Spiritu sancto scriptum est: 'Et tres unim sunt.'” (Treatise I:6). Tertullian, also from North Africa, may have alluded to the Comma in 215 AD (chapter 25 of Against Praxeas). The earliest extant Old Latin and Vulgate manuscripts which have the Comma are from Spain:
A single generation of prolific Arian copyist activity in the early 4th century would have created a majority of copies of 1 John 5 without the Comma. Just as one Catholic man, Erasmus, popularized the inclusion of the Comma in the Greek texts of Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants from the 16th century onward, a few scholarly Arians could have popularized the omission of the Comma in the Greek texts of both Arians and Trinitarians from the 4th century onward. If Protestants could accept the reading of a Catholic for 400 years, it is certainly within the realm of possibility for the Orthodox Greeks to accept the reading of Arians for many centuries (until the reinstatement of the Comma in the 1904 Patriarchal Text, as will be discussed below). The argument against the Comma, that it was included by the Latin Church because of tradition, goes both ways. It may be that the Greek Church excluded the Comma for centuries because of the tradition of not including it. The Greek Church was just as steeped in its own traditions as any other High Church.
Even before the spread of Arianism, Gnosticism had infected the early Church. Most scholars believe that John in his Epistles attempted to expose and refute the early Gnostic proclivities in the Church. The First Epistle would have attracted the relentless hostility of Gnostics. Valentinian Gnostics did not believe in the simple Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. They identified the God of the Old Testament as the Demiurge. They gave primacy to a feminine emanation of God who was called Sophia (Divine Wisdom). The Logos (or "Word" - one of the three witnesses in the Comma) was believed to be just one of the many Aeons (emanations of God). Surely the Comma would have been incompatible with this complicated Valentinian concept of the divine hierarchy.
The "Trinity" and "there are three" in the Secret Book of John
In fact, there is a Gnostic text called the Secret Book of John, written before 180 AD, which subverts the orthodox Trinity. It is a fraudulent work that was not actually written by the Apostle John. In this work, the Gnostic John describes the Trinity as a trinity of Father, Mother and Son:
"There was not a plurality before me, but there was a likeness with multiple forms in the light, and the likenesses appeared through each other, and the likeness had three forms. He said to me, "John, John, why do you doubt, or why are you afraid? You are not unfamiliar with this image, are you? - that is, do not be timid! - I am the one who is with you (pl.) always. I am the Father, I am the Mother, I am the Son. I am the undefiled and incorruptible one." (Translated by Frederik Wisse for the Nag Hammadi Library)
Further into the work, the Gnostic John uses the Comma phrase, "And there are three" a total of four times to describe the number of Gnostic aeons:
"For from the light, which is the Christ, and the indestructibility, through the gift of the Spirit the four lights (appeared) from the divine Autogenes. He expected that they might attend him. And the three (are) will, thought, and life. And the four powers (are) understanding, grace, perception, and prudence. And grace belongs to the light-aeon Armozel, which is the first angel. And there are three other aeons with this aeon: grace, truth, and form. And the second light (is) Oriel, who has been placed over the second aeon. And there are three other aeons with him: conception, perception, and memory. And the third light is Daveithai, who has been placed over the third aeon. And there are three other aeons with him: understanding, love, and idea. And the fourth aeon was placed over the fourth light Eleleth. And there are three other aeons with him: perfection, peace, and wisdom. These are the four lights which attend the divine Autogenes, (and) these are the twelve aeons which attend the son of the mighty one, the Autogenes, the Christ, through the will and the gift of the invisible Spirit. And the twelve aeons belong to the son of the Autogenes. And all things were established by the will of the holy Spirit through the Autogenes." (Translated by Frederik Wisse for the Nag Hammadi Library)
There are just too many clues here to ignore the possibility of a Gnostic corruption of the Johannine Comma:
There is another ancient Gnostic work titled Allogenes which says "the three are one" with respect to the trinity of the Gnostic saviors, "Vitality, Mentality and That-Which-Is":
"And he was becoming salvation for every one by being a point of departure for those who truly exist, for through him his knowledge endured, since he is the one who knows what he is. But they brought forth nothing beyond themselves, neither power nor rank nor glory nor aeon, for they are all eternal. He is Vitality and Mentality and That-Which-Is. For then That-Which-Is constantly possesses its Vitality and Mentality, and Life has Vitality possesses non-Being and Mentality. Mentality possesses Life and That-Which-Is. And the three are one, although individually they are three." (Translated by John D.Turner and Orval S. Wintermute)
If Gnostics wrote such works (and surely they did), it is utterly inconceivable that they would have left the Johannine Comma untouched and unchallenged. Moreover, the Secret Book of John is a Gnostic propaganda text to redefine John's actual teachings. Gnostics often mimicked the style of the real Apostles in order to supplant their teachings. And by producing a work which redefines the members of the Trinity, uses the phrase "And there are three", and names the author of the work as "John", this Secret Book of John ironically proves the existence of the Johannine Comma, which alone is a Trinitarian verse in which John wrote "And there are three".
The corruption of manuscripts in Alexandria
The earliest witness of 1 John 5 is the Alexandrian Codex Sinaiticus from 350 AD. The second and third earliest witnesses are also Alexandrian and written later than 350 AD. Long before these manuscripts were written, the heresy of Gnosticism became widespread from Alexandria to Rome through the ministry of Valentinus. By 150 AD, Valentinianism was extremely popular in Alexandria. The fact that these heretics published many spurious Gospels is well documented. They most likely also corrupted the true Scriptures. With respect to the state of corruption of the manuscripts in Alexandria, Origen of Alexandria in the 3rd century said:
"...the differences among the manuscripts [of the Gospels] have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they lengthen or shorten, as they please."
(Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 3rd ed. (1991), pp. 151-152).
It is not far-fetched to conclude that the majority of these omissions were made by the heretical Gnostics. Although we can only speculate as to which verses the Gnostics omitted, it is reasonable to believe that the Comma was one of them. There was also an early heretical sect which denied the "Logos" (the Word). Epiphanius termed this sect the "Alogi" (Anti-Logos). The "Word" mentioned in the Comma is certainly at odds with any theology that is against the Logos.
These heretics had the motive to omit the Comma. If a large and influential sect such as the Valentinians were responsible for omitting the Comma, and if other smaller sects such as the Alogi were complicit, the Comma would have had a very rough history by 350 AD. Origen in the 3rd century would have used the standard Gnostic-influenced text-type of Alexandria. Non-Gnostic Christians in the rest of the Greek speaking world would have kept the Comma in their copies, but many of these non-Gnostics eventually became Arians in the following centuries. Assault one after another would have left the Comma with a confusing textual history by the time of Athanasius and the Orthodox Fathers. As shown earlier on this page, 1 John 6-8 indeed bears evidence of textual corruption by 350 AD. It is absolutely reasonable to suppose that 1 John 5:6-8 suffered textual corruption prior to 350 AD under the hands of heretics than to suppose that the Comma was fabricated by Orthodox Trinitarians.
Even before Gnosticism and Arianism, there was an arch enemy of John named Diotrephes who attempted to subvert John's doctrines. He is mentioned by name in John's Third Epistle at verses 9 to 10:
"I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church."
Nowhere else in the Bible do we read of a heretic preventing a community of believers from receiving the actual epistles of an Apostle. Diotrephes could have modified the contents of John's epistles to suit his own theology (whatever they were) and his congregation would not have known. He apparently had enough power and influence to do so since even John could not get to the believers under Diotrephes' control. Diotrephes appears to be a prime candidate for corrupting John's epistles.
If Diotrephes expunged the Comma before 100 AD, there would have been ample time for the corrupted reading to receive wide circulation by the rise of Sabellianism in 220 AD. Trinitarians who were aware of both readings of 1 John 5:7-8 by 220 AD may have been inclined to believe the Comma to be a Sabellian forgery. These Trinitarians may have preferred the copies without the Comma, and thereafter the Comma-free copies may have gained irreversible ascendancy. Of course, Diotrephes' deletion of the Comma is mere speculation. And with the clear evidence of Arian and Gnostic hostility towards John's Trinitarian statements, we need not rely on the hypothesis that Diotrephes expunged the Comma. However, the fact that John had such an influential rival validates the hypothesis that John's epistles may have been corrupted even during John's lifetime.
The Comma has been subject to hostility throughout history, especially in the Greek Church from early times. But the Comma has survived and is now represented in the official ecclesiastical texts of the three major Churches. The Protestant Church has the Comma in the Textus Receptus. The Roman Catholic Church has the Comma in the Clementine Vulgate. The Eastern Orthodox Church has the Comma in the 1904 Patriarchal Text. The Comma is thoroughly preserved for us today. Even if the Comma is not authentic, which is denied, the Comma is nonetheless canonical and true in what it affirms. In light of all the circumstances, we can accept the Johannine Comma as authentic Scripture.
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