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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 Trinity."
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 the words.

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 NET Bible.


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 Diaglott:

"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.

"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 Beza."
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 text."

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; 5:6,20.)

(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."
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