Three in one (1Jo 5:8)?
The passage is absent from the manuscripts of all ancient
versions (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic) except the
Latin; and it is not found in the Old Latin in its early form (Tertullian
Cyprian Augustine), or in the Vulgate as issued by Jerome and revised by Alcuin.
The first reliable Latin text to contain it was written in AD 550. In the
revised Greek text underlying the modern versions, 1Jo 5:7 (the Johannine
"comma") and all reference to a trinity is obliterated.
Some Trinitarians say that other early church fathers also
"quoted" the Comma, but this is pure obfuscation. Bishop Clement of Alexandria
in AD 200, quoting from the First Epistle of John: "Because there are three who
testify, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three are one.
Three things are mentioned above, but there's no mention of a three-in-one god,
the 'trinity'. Nor is any trinity, or anything like it, discussed in any of the
NT manuscripts before about 600 AD, including the Latin and Greek translations.
Once again, bear in mind the fact that Clement is a Grecian bishop. He cannot be
quoting the Latin text, but must use the Greek as this is the only one available
to him. And of course, the Greek text does not have the Comma...
Tertullian is supposed to have quoted 1Jo 5:7 as well. In
Adversus Praxean (c AD 200) Tertullian writes: "And so the connection of the
Father, and the Son, and of the Paraclete makes three cohering entities, one
cohering from the other, which three are one entity. This is NOT 1Jo 5:7, even
though it does sound disturbingly close. Cyprian (who lived in the 3rd Century
AD) is said to have quoted it, but a careful examination of his writings shows
that he did not. According to Daniel B. Wallace (PhD):
"...A careful distinction needs to be made between the actual text used by
Cyprian and his theological interpretations. As Metzger says, the Old Latin text
used by Cyprian shows no evidence of this gloss. On the other side of the
ledger, however, Cyprian does show evidence of putting a theological spin on 1Jo
5:7. In his De catholicae ecclesiae unitate 6, he says, '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".' What is evident is that
Cyprian's interpretation of 1Jo 5:7 is that the three witnesses refer to the
Apparently, he was prompted to read such into the text here
because of the heresies he was fighting (a common indulgence of the early
patristic writers). Since Joh 10:30 triggered the "oneness" motif, and involved
Father and Son, it was a natural step for Cyprian to find another text that
spoke of the Spirit, using the same kind of language. It is quite significant,
however, that (a) he does not quote 'of the Father, and of the Son, and of the
Spirit' as part of the text; this is obviously his interpretation of 'the
Spirit, the water, and the blood.' (b) Further, since the statement about the
Trinity in the Comma is quite clear ('the Father, the Word, and the Holy
Spirit'), and since Cyprian does not quote that part of the text, this in the
least does not afford proof that he knew of such wording.
One would expect him to quote the exact wording of the text,
if its meaning were plain. That he does not do so indicates that a Trinitarian
interpretation was superimposed on the text by Cyprian, but he did not change
Wallace has taught Greek and New Testament courses on a
graduate school level since 1979. He has a PhD from Dallas Theological Seminary,
and is currently professor of NT Studies at his alma mater. His "Greek Grammar
Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament" has become a
standard textbook in colleges and seminaries. He is the senior NT editor of the
The Greek NT (as compiled by modern scholars from the extant
mss) omits the key passage to which you refer. This is what it says: Literal
translation: "Then three [there are] which witness, the spirit and the water and
the blood, and these three are the of one.") This verse is now universally
recognized as being a later "insertion" of the Church and all recent versions of
the Bible, such as the RSV, the NRSV, the NASB, the NEB, the JBP, etc have all
unceremoniously expunged this verse from their pages. Why is this? Benjamin
Wilson gives the following explanation for this action in his Emphatic
"This text concerning the heavenly witness is not contained in any Greek ms
which was written earlier than the fifteenth century. It is not cited by any of
the ecclesiastical writers; not by any of early Latin fathers even when the
subjects upon which they treated would naturally have lead them to appeal to its
authority. It is therefore evidently spurious.
Gibbon was defended in his findings by his contemporary, the
brilliant British scholar Richard Porson who also proceeded to publish
devastatingly conclusive proof that the verse of 1Jo 5:7 was only first inserted
by the Church into the Bible in the year AD 400. Regarding Porson's powerful
evidence, Gibbon later said: "His structures are founded in argument, enriched
with learning, and enlivened with wit, and his adversary neither deserves nor
finds any quarter at his hands. The evidence of the three heavenly witnesses
would now be rejected in any court of justice; but prejudice is blind, authority
is deaf, and our vulgar Bibles will ever be polluted by this spurious
"Edward Gibbon explained the reason for the removal of this verse from the pages
of the Bible with the following words: "Of all the manuscripts now extant, above
fourscore in number, some of which are more than 1200 years old, the orthodox
copies of the Vatican, of the Complutensian editors, of Robert Stephens are
becoming invisible; and the two manuscripts of Dublin and Berlin are unworthy to
form an exception... The three witnesses have been established in our Greek
Testaments by the prudence of Erasmus; the honest bigotry of the Complutensian
editors; the typographical fraud, or error, of Robert Stephens in the placing of
a crotchet and the deliberate falsehood, or strange misapprehension, of Theodore
To which Bentley responded: "In fact, they are not. No modern
Bible now contains the interpolation." Bentley, however, was mistaken. Indeed,
just as Gibbon had predicted, the simple fact that the most learned scholars of
Christianity now unanimously recognize this verse to be a later interpolation of
the Church has not prevented the preservation of this fabricated text in our
modern Bibles. To this day, the Bible in the hands of the majority of Christians
-- the KJV -- still unhesitantly includes this verse as the "inspired" word of
God without so much as a footnote to inform the reader that all scholars of
Christianity of note unanimously recognize it as a later fabrication.
Peake's Commentary on the Bible says: "The famous
interpolation after 'three witnesses' is not printed even in the RSV, and
rightly. It cites the heavenly testimony of the Father, the logos, and the Holy
Spirit, but is never used in the early Trinitarian controversies. No respectable
Greek ms contains it. Appearing first in a late 4th-century Latin text, it
entered the Vulgate and finally the NT of Erasmus."
Consider what one of the world's leading authorities on the
transmission of the NT text (and a staunch Trinitarian!) has to say regarding
these verses. After quoting the reading of the KJV in 1Jo 5:7,8, Bruce Metzger,
in his Textual Commentary on the New Testament, pages 715-717, says:
"That these words are spurious and have no right to stand in the NT is certain
in the light of the following considerations.
(A) External Evidence.
(1) The passage is absent from every known Greek manuscript except four, and
these contain the passage in what appears to be a translation from a late
recension of the Latin Vulgate. These four manuscripts are ms 61, sixteenth
century manuscript formerly at Oxfornow at Dublin; ms 88, a twelfth century
manuscript at Naples, which has the passage written in the margin by a modern
hand; ms 629, a fourteenth or fifteenth century ms in the Vatican; and ms 635,
an eleventh century manuscript which has the passage written in the margin by a
seventeenth century hand.
(2) The passage is quoted by none of the Greek Fathers, who, had they known it,
would most certainly have employed it in the Trinitarian controversies
(Sabellian and Arian). Its first appearance in Greek is in a Greek of the
(Latin) Acts of the Lateran Council in 1215.
(3) The passage is absent from the mss of all ancient versions (Syriac, Coptic,
Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic), except the Latin; and it is not found (a)
in the Old Latin in its early form (Tertullian Cyprian Augustine), or in the
Vulgate (b) as issued by Jerome (codex Fuldensis [copied AD 541-546] and codex
Amiatinus) or (c) as revised by Aleuin (first hand of codex Vercellensis). The
earliest instance of the passage being quoted as a part of the actual text of
the Epistle is in a fourth century Latin treatise entitled Liber Apologeticus
(ch 4), attributed either to the Spanish heretic Priscillian (died about 385) or
to his follower Bishop Instantius.
Apparently the gloss arose when the original passage was understood to symbolize
the Trinity (through the mention of the three witnesses; the Spirit, the water,
and the blood), an interpretation which may have been written first as a
marginal note that afterwards found its way into the text. In the fifth century
the gloss was quoted by Latin Fathers in North Africa and Italy as part of the
text of the Epistle, and from the sixth century onwards it is found more and
more frequently in manuscripts of the Old Latin and of the Vulgate. In these
various witnesses the wording of the passage differs in several particulars.
(For examples of other intrusions into the Latin text of 1Jo, see 1Jo 2:17; 4:3;
(B) Internal Probabilities.
(1) As regards transcriptional probability, if the passage were original, no
good reason can be found to account for its omission, either accidentally or
intentionally, and by translators of ancient versions.
(2) As regards intrinsic probability, the passage makes an awkward break in the
sense. Thus, on all counts, this passage as worded in the KJV, is not a part of
God's Word. It was added first as a marginal interpretation, then that margin,
several centuries after John wrote his letter, found its way into various later
Latin mss, and then became a part of only four Greek mss, none of which are
earlier than the 12th century."