The Johannine Comma: 1st John 5:7

Read a Full Exegesis of 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."
1 John 5:7

       Having already briefly commented on just a few of the problems with the "Westcott and Hort Methodology", I should now take this opportunity to present the alternative to their errant theories, and then apply this alternative to the Johannine Comma. ("Commata" were the original commas, indicating the end of a phrase. According to James A. Kleist, in "Colometry and the New Testament", Classical Bulletin, iv, 1928, pp. 26, there was no mark like our present comma, but a group of words isolated as a single group was a "comma". Groups of these would be "commata". Hence the classification of the group of words in 1 John 5:7 as a "comma".)

At the same time that Westcott and Hort were doing their research, there was another man doing his own research. He had at his disposal all of the resources available to Westcott and Hort. He devoted the last 30 years of his life to an examination of the false statements being made by the reigning Critics of his day.

He personally examined the Vatican ms B, he traveled to Mt. Sinai to personally examine the mss there, and he made several tours of European libraries, examining and actually collating NT mss as he went. At the same time he was compiling his massive Index of NT Quotations in the Church Fathers which is now deposited in the British Museum. He received B.A., M.A., and B.D., degrees from Oxford University, was appointed professor of divinity at Oxford in 1867, and was appointed Dean of Chichester in 1876. Through all of his works runs his fundamental thought: that the textual criticism of the NT must be according to the analogy of faith, and because of this it must be different from the textual criticism of any other book. As a result of this lifetime of labor and research and travel, John William Burgon set forth what he called the...

"Seven Tests of Truth for NT Criticism".

In summary, he says about these Seven Notes, "...although no doubt it is conceivable that any one of the seven might possibly in itself suffice to establish almost any reading practically this is never the case. And why? Because we never meet with any one of these Tests in the fullest possible measure. No Test ever attains to perfection, or indeed can attain. An approximation to the Test is all that can be expected, or even desired. And sometimes we are obliged to put up with a very slight approximation indeed. Their strength resides in their cooperation." The very fact of competing variants means that some of the notes, at least, cannot be satisfied in full measure.

I shall apply these Seven Notes to the Johannine Comma, and by them it will be seen that there is a case for the inclusion of this important verse in the text of our Scriptures. As Burgon states further, "Undeniable as it is, (a) that ancient documents do not admit of being placed in scales and weighed; and (b) That if they did, the man does not exist who is capable of conducting the operation." For this reason, I will apply the Tests to 1 John 5:7 on a "pass or fail" basis.

Again by way of clarification, let me say that I am not defending its inclusion in the Textus Receptus, but in the KJV. Whether or not you can divorce the two in your own mind is unimportant - they remain separate, though related. No writer that I know of has claimed infallibility for the Textus Receptus, although a great many have claimed the same for the KJV.

The Test of Antiquity

Any reading, in order to be a serious candidate for the original, should be old. A word of caution in this respect is quite in order, however. On the surface, the "oldest is best" philosophy has sound reasoning as its basis. The problem is that there is much more to judging the age of the reading than simply ascertaining the actual age of the ms. Or, in other words, the oldest reading does not necessarily reside in the oldest mss.

The most significant variants in the mass of textual sources came into being before 200 AD. As one competent judge stated, "It is no less true to fact than paradoxical in sound, that the worst corruptions to which the NT has ever been subjected, originated within a hundred years after it was composed." As a rule, at least fifty years must be assumed to have transpired between the penning of the inspired originals and the earliest written representation of them now extant.

It was precisely in that first age that men would have been least careful or accurate in guarding the source, since most of them probably had no idea that the documents in their hands would prove to be additions to God's written revelation. Thus, while in this age they would have been least critically exact in their quoting of the sources, at the same time the enemy of truth would have been most restless and most assiduous in procuring its depravation.

Therefore it comes as no surprise that the earliest shreds and scraps of quotations of the NT scriptures are not only disappointing by reason of their inexactness, their fragmentary character, and their vagueness, but they are often demonstrably inaccurate.

The point in all of this is that it is not the oldest DOCUMENT for which we search, but the oldest READING. That they are often not one and the same must be recognized in order to prevent that mistake from being made. So, in presenting the case for antiquity with regard to 1 John 5:7, my point is that not only can the age of the reading be demonstrated by a single early witness, but also by the agreement of a number of later independent witnesses, since their common source would have to be a good deal earlier.

Now, to specifics, the evidence for the early existence of the Johannine Comma is found in the following sources (some abbreviations are made when quoting the source - if there are questions, I can give the specifics):

From this it is seen that the case for antiquity extends at the earliest to Tertullian in 200 AD. The importance of Patristic evidence in the consideration of the antiquity of a given passage is significant. As Dean Burgon points out, these men often comment upon, freely quote, and habitually refer to the words of inspiration, especially when defending doctrine from attack.

By this it comes to pass that a host of unsuspected witnesses to the truth of scripture becomes producible. They thus testify in ordinary quotations to the existence of the readings in the ms copies they used. Indeed, very often the mss in their hands, which live in their quotations, are older, perhaps centuries older, than any copies that now survive. The antiquity being therefore established, it is seen that the text passes the first test. But antiquity alone does not suffice...

The Test of the Consent of Witnesses

By this is meant the simple counting of the available witnesses. In this case, of course, the witnesses are in the minority against the remaining mass of mss and various other sources. However, this does not prove the case one way or the other. Were there only one or two or three witnesses for the text, then I should say that it would fail. Since there are at least 25 witnesses, it cannot be ruled to have failed this test, although it remains by far in the minority.

The Test of the Variety of Evidence

By variety is meant, in the first place, geographical locations, but also the different kinds of witness; i.e, mss, Fathers, Versions, lectionaries, etc. Burgon states the obvious, saying "Speaking generally, the consentient testimony of two, four, six, or more witnesses, coming to us from widely sundered regions is weightier by far than the same number of witnesses proceeding from the same locality, between whom there probably exists some sort of sympathy, and possibly some degree of collusion." By examining the variety, we are able to render a better judgment as to the independence of the witnesses. Since the above stated witnesses vary geographically from North Africa to Italy to Asia, and vary in source from Fathers to versions to mss, the text passes this test also.

The Test of Continuity

By this is meant to what degree the attestation to a given reading occurs throughout the ages of its transmission. If the history of the transmission of the text was at all normal, we would expect that the original wording would leave traces of its existence and of its use all down the ages. Where there is variety, there is almost always continuity, but the two are not identical. By examining the given list of witnesses, it is seen that the continuity is most pronounced, in that the reading appears consistently throughout history from 200 AD to 1500 AD, before Erasmus compiled the TR. Again, the text passes.

The Test of the Respectability of Witnesses

Whereas the previous four Notes have centered on the reading, this one centers on the witness itself. By it, the credibility of a witness is judged by its own performance. Burgon gives a further description, "Respectability is of course a relative term, but its use and applicability to this department of science will be generally understood and admitted by scholars, although they may not be altogether agreed as to their authorities." Among the witnesses listed, Tertullian, Cyprian, Athanasius, the orthodox African writers, and the Waldensian Bibles would stand out as respectable to most objective critics, and some of the Latin as well. On that basis, the text again passes.

The Test of the Evidence of the Entire Passage

This test does not concern itself with what is usually understood by the term "context", but is concerned rather by the behavior of a certain witness in the immediate vicinity of the problem being considered. It is a specific and limited application of the previous Test of Respectability. Burgon says, "As regards the precise form of language employed, it will be found also a salutary safeguard against error in every instance, to inspect with severe critical exactness the entire context of the passage in dispute. If in certain Codexes that context shall prove to be confessedly in a very corrupt state, then it becomes self-evident that those Codexes can only be admitted as witnesses with considerable suspicion and reserve." Under this test then, it is not the general character of the witness that is under examination, but the particular passage in dispute. In that regard, all of the above stated witnesses in ms form exhibit unsullied integrity in these first few verses of 1 John 5.

The Test of Internal Considerations

This note has nothing to do with the "internal evidence" about which WH have been so eloquent. There is nothing so subjective as transcriptional probability and intrinsic probability meant here, but instead has to do with grammatical, geographical, and logical considerations. Or, in other words, the FACTS of the passage. In this particular case, if we omit the Comma, we are faced with tremendous grammatical difficulties. If we leave the verse as it stands in most Greek texts, we are given "witnesses" (hoy marturountes) in verse 7 which are masculine, with three neuter nouns in verse 8 (to pneuma kai to hudor kai to aima), which are then said to agree as one. In other words, by the rule of Greek syntax known as the "power of attraction" which says that the masculines among a group control the gender of a neuter connected with that group, we are given three masculine witnesses which are supposed to agree as one neuter witness. This is a grammatical impossibility. The genders don't match. On the other hand, if you accept the Comma as a part of the text, you would have two masculine subjects (the Father and the Word, "ho patare, ho logos") to agree with the masculine witnesses. (I hated this stuff when I was taking Greek - I can't believe I'm having to deal with it again!) It is therefore seen that on the basis of internal considerations the inclusion of the text is a must in order to avoid violating basic Greek grammar.

As one last consideration which has nothing to do with any of the Tests of Truth, but would actually delve into the intrinsic probability desired by WH in their theories, the formula of the Comma does not lend itself to the idea that it is a Trinitarian interpolation which arose from a private interpretation of verse 8. It seems obvious that the phrase "the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost," is not at all compatible with the standard Trinitarian formula "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." Why does it exhibit the singular combination not seen anywhere else in scripture by the use of "Word" instead of "Son"? It is always said that the person who made this up was attempting to buttress the doctrine of the Trinity, yet with this as his main concern it is quite unlikely that he would abandon the time-honored formula and invent an entirely new one.

The fact is that the use of "Word" is consistent with the apostle John's style. In the second place, the omission of the Comma seems to leave the passage incomplete for more reasons than just the grammatical. It is a common scriptural usage to present solemn truths or warnings in groups of three or four. See Pr 30, Amos 1:3,6,9,13 etc; the visions of the butler and baker in Genesis 40; the combination of the words of Christ in Mt 12:40. It is in accord with Biblical usage, therefore, to expect that in 1 John 5, the formula "there are three that bear witness" will be repeated at least twice.

From the Tests of Truth, and these last observations, it is quite apparent that there is indeed a case for the inclusion of the text in our Bibles. As to how strong a case, I leave to the reader's individual judgment. I do not say that it is all conclusive, but on the other hand by no means can it be said to be conclusive that the text should NOT be included. In the case of the accusation against the KJV, the burden of proof lies with the accuser, whose responsibility it is to prove his case that the inclusion of the verse is a textual error. No such case has been proven. The evidence I have given at the very least is enough to throw the shadow of doubt on the accusation itself, which therefore precludes its ability to be proven. On the basis of the external evidences alone, it is at least possible that the Johannine Comma is a reading that somehow dropped out of the Greek NT text, but was preserved in the Latin text through the usage of the Latin speaking church, and this possibility grows more and more toward probability when the internal evidences are considered.

Author Anonymous

Read a Full Exegesis of 1 John 5:7

The King James Bible Defended!