Oct 20, 2008

The Johannine Comma Controversy

"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one." (I John 5: 7 KJV)

Those who deny the tri-personality of God also deny that this verse was originally written by the apostle John, but was added later. Many arguments are made in support of this view, often by those who want to be known as the "higher critics."

I do believe John wrote the verse and should not be omitted. Modern versions that omit the verse I think commit a great sin.

The scriptures warn all those who would seek to take away or add to the inspired writings. Someone either added or took away in regard to this verse. Who committed the sin? Did (1) the early Christian Unitarians chop out the verse from their versions (thus accounting for its absence in some ancient manuscript copies) or (2) did early Christian Trinitiarians add it to their copies?

Here are some arguments for the validity of I John 5: 7.

A writer wrote:

“The primary arguments employed against the authenticity of the Johannine Comma can be roughly summarised into the four following topical areas:

The paucity and lateness of the Greek manuscript witness
The lateness of its appearance in the Latin
Its lacking from all other ancient versions
The lack of use by patristic writers, especially during the "Trinitarian controversies"

“Because this verse is one of the most direct statements of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, it has borne the brunt of attack by those who are in opposition to trinitarian beliefs, these most often being either unitarians such as Muslims and certain of the various pseudo-Christian cult groups (Jehovah's Witnesses, some Churches of God, etc.), or theological liberals who tend to view the Bible from an entirely naturalistic perspective.”

“...is never used in the early Trinitarian controversies. No respectable Greek MS contains it. Appearing first in a late 4th-cent. Latin text, it entered the Vulgate and finally the NT of Erasmus.”

Other statements along this line abound in liberal and even Neo-Evangelical literature,

"The text about the three heavenly witnesses (I John 5:7 KJV) is not an authentic part of the NT.”

"1 John 5:7 in the KJV reads: 'There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one' but this is an interpolation of which there is no trace before the late fourth century.”

"1 John 5:7 in the Textus Receptus (represented in the KJV) makes it appear that John had arrived at the doctrine of the trinity in explicit form ('the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost'), but this text is clearly an interpolation since no genuine Greek manuscript contains it.”

Each of these statements, naturally, find much use among Muslim apologists and other anti-trinitarians who would probably have little use for anything else contained within these works.

In his commentary on I John, Hiebert refers to the "famous interpolated passage for which there is no valid textual evidence",

"The external evidence is overwhelmingly against the authenticity of these words, commonly known today as "the Johannine Comma." They are found in no Greek uncial manuscripts; no Greek cursive manuscript before the fifteenth century contains them. Only two known Greek cursives (cursive 629 of the fourteenth century and 61 of the sixteenth century) have the addition in their text; cursive 635 of the eleventh century has it in the margin in a seventeenth century hand, and 88 of the twelfth century has it in the margin by a modern hand. In these cursives the words are a manifest translation from a late recension of the Latin Vulgate. No ancient version of the first four centuries gives them; nor is it found in the oldest Vulgate manuscripts. None of the Greek Church Fathers quoted the words contained in this interpolation. As Feuillet points out, their failure to cite it is 'an inexplicable omission if they knew it: in fact, how could they not have used it in the Trinitarian controversies?'”

Hiebert then continues on into a discussion of the much-heralded (and much-overstated) inclusion of the Comma by Erasmus into the third edition of his Greek text. A similar charge is leveled in many of the more popular Evangelical study Bibles. For example, Ryrie states,

"Verse 7 should end with the word record. The rest of verse 7 and all of verse 8 are not in any ancient Greek mss.”

Unfortunately for the critics, these claims are either outright falsehoods, or else rest upon incomplete information. Worse, they continue to be propagated uncritically by naturalistic textual scholars like Bruce Metzger and Kurt and Barbara Aland, whose written works routinely perpetuate false information based upon a partial coverage of the evidence available. It is somewhat understandable that those who rely upon information given to them by others (Hiebert, Ryrie, etc.) would repeat the assertions made by textual scholars. It is less understandable that scholars like Metzger and the Alands, who ought very well to have access to the full body of information on this subject, would continue to propagate claims that are verifiably false concerning this passage of Scripture. The disinformation that continues to be perpetuated by liberal textual critics results in confusion among the ranks of God's people concerning the Scriptures, which can only serve to divide and weaken the churches of Christ, the local assemblies who are charged with keeping and guarding the Word of God (I Timothy 3:15).”

The most common statements made by Critical Text supporters about the paucity of evidence for the Comma in the Greek manuscripts sound similar to Metzger's below, who says it,

"...is absent from every known Greek manuscript except eight."7
Metzger then proceeds to list seven of these manuscripts (#61, #88m, #221m, #429, #636m, #918, #2318), excluding the eighth manuscript, Ottobonianus (#629), a 14th-century manuscript which is listed in the United Bible Society's 4th edition of the Greek New Testament8. Now, there are over 5300 extant Greek New Testament manuscripts, so this would on its face seem to be an overwhelming argument against the authenticity of the Johannine Comma.

However, the numbers game is reduced somewhat when we note that only 501 of these manuscripts contain the book of I John, chapter 5. Further, we see that Metzger and the UBS have slighted the actual number of Greek manuscripts which contain the verse. In addition to the ones listed above, D.A. Waite is reported to have identified manuscripts #634 and Omega 110 as containing the Comma, and Holland notes that the Comma appears in the margin of #6359. Additionally, Waite also identifies at least ten other manuscripts as possibly containing the Comma, though this is currently unconfirmed. Most interesting of all is the appearance of this verse in the text of an 8th-century manuscript, Codex Wizanburgensis, as reported by Dabney10. Finally, there are at least two Greek lectionaries (early didactic texts usually containing copious scriptural citations) in which the Comma appears (Lectionaries #60 and #173)."


John Gill's Exposition of the Bible

1 John 5:7 - For there are three that bear record in heaven…

"That is, that Jesus is the Son of God. The genuineness of this text has been called in question by some, because it is wanting in the Syriac version, as it also is in the Arabic and Ethiopic versions; and because the old Latin interpreter has it not; and it is not to be found in many Greek manuscripts; nor cited by many of the ancient fathers, even by such who wrote against the Arians, when it might have been of great service to them: to all which it may be replied, that as to the Syriac version, which is the most ancient, and of the greatest consequence, it is but a version, and a defective one. The history of the adulterous woman in the eighth of John, the second epistle of Peter, the second and third epistles of John, the epistle of Jude, and the book of the Revelations, were formerly wanting in it, till restored from Bishop Usher's copy by De Dieu and Dr. Pocock, and who also, from an eastern copy, has supplied this version with this text. As to the old Latin interpreter, it is certain it is to be seen in many Latin manuscripts of an early date, and stands in the Vulgate Latin edition of the London Polyglot Bible: and the Latin translation, which bears the name of Jerom, has it, and who, in an epistle of his to Eustochium, prefixed to his translation of these canonical epistles, complains of the omission of it by unfaithful interpreters. And as to its being wanting in some Greek manuscripts, as the Alexandrian, and others, it need only be said, that it is to be found in many others; it is in an old British copy, and 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: and as to its not being cited by some of the ancient fathers, this can be no sufficient proof of the spuriousness of it, since it might be in the original copy, though not in the copies used by them, through the carelessness or unfaithfulness of transcribers; or it might be in their copies, and yet not cited by them, they having Scriptures enough without it, to defend the doctrine of the Trinity, and the divinity of Christ: and yet, after all, certain it is, that it is cited by many of them; by Fulgentius F26, in the beginning of the "sixth" century, against the Arians, without any scruple or hesitation; and Jerom, as before observed, has it in his translation made in the latter end of the "fourth" century; and it is cited by Athanasius F1 about the year 350; and before him by Cyprian F2, in the middle, of the "third" century, about the year 250; and is referred to by Tertullian F3 about, the year 200; and which was within a "hundred" years, or little more, of the writing of the epistle; which may be enough to satisfy anyone of the genuineness of this passage; and besides, there never was any dispute about it till Erasmus left it out in the, first edition of his translation of the New Testament; and yet he himself, upon the credit of the old British copy before mentioned, put it into another edition of his translation. The heavenly witnesses of Christ's sonship are, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost.

The "Father" is the first Person, so called, not in, reference to the creatures, angels, or men, he is the Creator, and so the Father of; for this is common to the other two Persons; but in reference to his Son Jesus Christ, of whose sonship he bore witness at his baptism and transfiguration upon the mount. The "Word" is the second Person, who said and it was done; who spoke all things out of nothing in the first creation; who was in the beginning with God the Father, and was God, and by whom all things were created; he declared himself to be the Son of God, and proved himself to be so by his works and miracles; see (Mark 14:61,62) (John 5:17) (10:30) …… and his witness of himself was good and valid; see (John 8:13-18) ; and because it is his sonship that is, here testified of, therefore the phrase, "the Word", and not "the Son", is here used. "The Holy Ghost" is the third Person, who proceeds from the Father, and is also called the Spirit of the Son, who testified of, Christ's sonship also at his baptism, by descending on him as a dove, which was the signal given to John the Baptist, by which he knew him, and bare record of him, that he was the Son of God. Now the number of these witnesses was three, there being so many persons in the Godhead; and such a number being sufficient, according to law, for the establishing of any point: to which may be added, that they were witnesses in heaven, not to the heavenly inhabitants, but to men on earth; they were so called, because they were in heaven, and from thence gave out their testimony; and which shows the firmness and excellency of it, it being not from earth, but from heaven, and not human, but divine; to which may be applied the words of Job, in (Job 16:19) ; it follows, and these three are one; which is to be understood, not only of their unity and agreement in their testimony, they testifying of the same thing, the sonship of Christ; but of their unity in essence or nature, they being the one God. So that, this passage holds forth and asserts the unity of God, a trinity of persons in the Godhead, the proper deity of each person, and their distinct personality, the unity of essence in that they are one; a trinity of persons in that they are three, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and are neither more nor fewer; the deity of each person, for otherwise their testimony would not be the testimony of God, as in (1 John 5:9) ; and their distinct personality; for were they not three distinct persons, they could not be three testifiers, or three that bare record. This being a proper place, I shall insert the faith of the ancient Jews concerning the doctrine of the Trinity; and the rather, as it agrees with the apostle's doctrine in words and language, as well as in matter. They call the three Persons in the Godhead three degrees: they say F4, ``Jehovah, Elohenu (our God), Jehovah, (Deuteronomy 6:4) ; these are the three degrees with respect to this sublime mystery, in the beginning Elohim, or God, created, (Genesis 1:1) ……'' And these three, they say, though they are distinct, yet are one, as appears by what follows F5: ``come see the mystery of the word; there are three degrees, and every degree is by itself, yet they are all one, and are bound together in one, and one is not separated from the other.''

Again, it is said F6, ``this is the unity of Jehovah the first, Elohenu, Jehovah, lo, all of them are one, and therefore: called one; lo, the three names are as if they were one, and therefore are called one, and they are one; but by the revelation of the Holy Spirit it is made known, and they by the sight of the eye may be known, (dxa Nyla atltd) , "that these three are one": and this is the mystery of the voice which is heard; the voice is one, and there are three things, fire, and Spirit, and water, and all of them are one in the mystery of the voice, and they are but one: so here, Jehovah, Elohenu, Jehovah, they are one, the three, (Nynwwg) , forms, modes, or things, which are one.'' Once more F7, ``there are two, and one is joined unto them, and they are three; and when the three are one, he says to them, these are the two names which Israel heard, Jehovah, Jehovah, and Elohenu is joined unto them, and it is the seal of the ring of truth; and when they are joined as one, they are one in one unity.''

And this they illustrate by the three names of the soul of man F8;

``the three powers are all of them one, the soul, spirit, and breath, they are joined as one, and they are one; and all is according to the mode of the sublime mystery,'' meaning the Trinity.

``Says R. Isaac F9 worthy are the righteous in this world, and in the world to come, for lo, the whole of them is holy, their body is holy, their soul is holy, their Spirit is holy, their breath is holy, holy are these three degrees "according to the form above".--Come see these three degrees cleave together as one, the soul, Spirit, and breath.''

The three first Sephirot, or numbers, in the Cabalistic tree, intend the three divine Persons; the first is called the chief crown, and first glory, which essence no creature can comprehend F11, and designs the Father, (John 1:18) ; the second is called wisdom, and the intelligence illuminating, the crown of the creation, the brightness of equal unity, who is exalted above every head; and he is called, by the Cabalists, the second glory F12; see (1 Corinthians 1:24) (John 1:9) (Revelation 3:14) (Hebrews 1:3) (Ephesians 1:21) . This is the Son of God: the third is called understanding sanctifying, and is the foundation of ancient wisdom, which is called the worker of faith; and he is the parent of faith, and from his power faith flows F13; and this is the Holy Spirit; see (1 Peter 1:2) (2 Corinthians 4:13) . Now they say F14 that these three first numbers are intellectual, and are not (twdm), "properties", or "attributes", as the other seven are. R. Simeon ben Jochai says F15, ``of the three superior numbers it is said, (Psalms 62:11) , "God hath spoken once, twice have I heard this"; one and two, lo the superior numbers of whom it is said, one, one, one, three ones, and this is the mystery of (Psalms 62:11) .''

Says R. Judah Levi F16,

``behold the mystery of the numberer, the number, and the numbered; in the bosom of God it is one thing, in the bosom of man three; because he weighs with his understanding, and speaks with his mouth, and writes with his hand.''

It was usual with the ancient Jews to introduce Jehovah speaking, or doing anything, in this form, I and my house of judgment; and it is a rule with them, that wherever it is said, "and Jehovah", he and his house or judgment are intended F17; and Jarchi frequently makes use of this phrase to explain texts where a plurality in the Godhead is intended, as (Genesis 1:26) (Song of Solomon 1:11) ; and it is to be observed, that a house of judgment, or a sanhedrim, among the Jews, never consisted of less than three. They also had used to write the word "Jehovah" with three "Jods", in the form of a triangle, (y) (y y) as representing the three divine Persons: one of their more modern F18 writers has this observation on the blessing of the priest in (Numbers 6:24-26) : ``these three verses begin with a "Jod", in reference to the three "Jods" which we write in the room of the name, (i.e. Jehovah,) for they have respect to the three superior things.''

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