Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7)
Ancient Greek manuscripts of 1 John 5 are unreliable
Extant Greek manuscripts
"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)
1 John 5:7 in the KJV contains these words called the Johannine Comma (also known as the Comma Johanneum or the Heavenly Witnesses). This Comma is omitted from most modern translations of the Bible because most Greek manuscripts do not have them. Only 10 "late" Greek manuscripts contain the Comma, with 5 of them having it in the margin by an even later hand:
629 (14th century)
61 (16th century)
918 (16th century)
2473 (17th century)
2318 (18th century)
221 margin (10th century, Comma added later)
88 margin (12th century, Comma added in 16th century)
429 margin (14th century, Comma added later)
636 margin (15th century, Comma added later)
177 margin (11th century, Comma added later)
This might appear to be a small body of evidence, but they must be considered in light of the following facts particular to the text of 1 John 5:
No extant papyrus contains 1 John 5. Since the earliest Greek manuscript of 1 John 5 is Vaticanus from c. 300 - 325 AD, there is at least a 200 year gap between the composition of 1 John 5 and its earliest surviving witness. This is sufficient time for the text to be corrupted.
Although there are 5000+ Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, manuscripts which contain 1 John 5 are limited to about 480 manuscripts. Although the majority of these manuscripts lacks the Comma, the majority also lacks the latter half of 1 John 2:23.
Most Greek manuscripts containing 1 John 5:6-8 would be considered "late" by modern standards. Of the about 480 manuscripts of 1 John 5, only 12 of these manuscripts are from before the 10th century (Nestle-Aland: Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th revised edition (2006)):
01 (4th century)
A (5th century)
B (4th century)
K (9th century)
L (8th century)
P (9th century)
Ψ (9th century)
048 (5th century)
049 (9th century)
056 (10th century)
0142 (10th century)
0296 (6th century)
The rest of the 480 manuscripts are minuscules from after the 10th century, the average being from around the 12th century.
Evidence disappears over time. What we have existing now in the 21st century is not representative of what actually existed throughout history. Reformation era scholars seemed to have more Greek manuscripts containing the Comma. John Gill (1697 – 1771 AD), 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', nine of them had it" (Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible). 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. Francis Cheynell, the president of St. John's College, Oxford from 1648 to 1650, commented that the Comma is "to be found in copies of great antiquity and best credit." The following are excerpts from his book, The divine trinunity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, published in 1650:
"But it is objected by some that the words, These three are one. I Joh.5.7 are not to be found in some ancient Copies, and therefore it will not be safe to build a point of such weight and consequence upon such a weake foundation. To which we answer, It is true that these words are not to be found in the Syriak Edition, but they who speake most modestly, do acknowledge that the Syriack Edition is not Authentick." (p. 251)
"But then it is farther objected, that these words These three are one are wanting in some other Greek copies; for answer I proceed with my observations." (p. 253)
These testimonies by trusted Reformation era scholars should be given weight because in the centuries following their deaths Europe erupted into political and religious turmoil, resulting in the loss of manuscripts. It is presumptuous for us in the 21st century to think we have more evidence now than what scholars had in the 16th century. For more on this, please read: Question: Aren't some Textus Receptus readings based on weak manuscript evidence?
Umlaut in Codex Vaticanus
The oldest manuscript containing 1 John 5:7 demonstrates that a significant textual variant was known for 1 John 5:7 in the 4th century. 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. Interestingly, 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 (p. 112, footnote 34), 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":
There is clearly an umlaut in the margin of verse 7 indicating a textual variant. The only significant textual variant here is the Comma.
1 John 5:6 was corrupted early
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:
ὕδατος καὶ αἵματος (B, K, Ψ, 049, 056, 0142, 181, 330, 451, 629, 1739*, 1881, 2127, Byz, Lect, it, vg, syrp)
ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος (43, 241, 463, 945, 1241, 1831, 1877*, 1891)
ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος καὶ αἵματος (P, 81, 88, 442, 630, 915, 2492, arm, eth)
ὕδατος καὶ αἵματος καὶ πνεύματος (א, A, 104, 424c, 614, 1739c, 2412, 2495, ℓ598m, syrh, copsa, copbo, Origen)
ὕδατος καὶ αἵματος καὶ πνεύματος ἁγίου (39, 61, 326, 1837)
The spurious inclusion of "Spirit" in these early uncials is not trivial. What it demonstrates is that scribes were prone to alter this portion of 1 John based on theological or stylistic motivations. By 350 AD this portion of 1 John 5 was already corrupt in the Greek tradition. Since verse 6 is corrupt in Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus, and verse 7 in 0296 does not have "εισιν," there are only two manuscripts (Vaticanus and 048) from before the 7th century which read exactly as the Byzantine/Majority Text or the Nestle-Aland from verse 6 to 7:
"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 οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες" (Nestle-Aland 27)
"ουτος εστιν ο ελθων δι υδατος και αιματος ιησους χριστος ουκ εν τω υδατι μονον αλλ εν τω υδατι και τω αιματι και το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν οτι το πνευμα εστιν η αληθεια οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες" (Byzantine/Majority Text 2000)
Critics of the Comma are almost always silent regarding these corruptions of 1 John 5:6 in the early uncials - corruptions that surely diminish the reliability of these early uncials in this portion of the text. Despite there being this textual variant involving the third person of the Trinity, none of the footnotes to 1 John 5:6 in the ESV, NIV, NASB, NRSV, NLT & HCSB mention it. Such silence only serves to protect the undeserving reputation of the so-called "earliest and best manuscripts" and does not help the casual reader who wants the truth.
1 John 5:6 was prone to corruption
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 was prone to corruption
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.
1 John 2:23b was corrupted early
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 was corrupted early
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 was corrupted early
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:
"These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God."
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:
"ταυτα εγραψα υμιν ινα ειδητε οτι ζωην εχετε αιωνιον τοις πιστευουσιν εις το ονομα του υιου του θεου"
The Textus Receptus and the Byzantine Majority Text, in agreement with the fourth, fifth, and sixth earliest witnesses of the verse in its entirety, K (9th century), L (9th century), P (9th century), say:
"ταυτα εγραψα υμιν τοις πιστευουσιν εις το ονομα του υιου του θεου ινα ειδητε οτι ζωην αιωνιον εχετε και ινα πιστευητε εις το ονομα του υιου του θεου"
Did you know?
Early Greek manuscripts of 1 John 5:6, the verse preceding the Comma, are corrupt.
Did you know?
1 John 2:23b is proof that the Vulgate can sometimes be more reliable than the majority of Greek manuscripts.
Socrates of Constantinople confirms that 1 John was corrupted early
We also have the testimony of Socrates of Constantinople, a 5th century Church historian, regarding the theologically motivated corruption of 1 John. He says the following in his criticism of Nestorius:
Αὐτίκα γοῦν ἠγνόησεν, ὅτι ἐν τῇ καθολικῇ Ἰωάννου γέγραπτο ἐν τοῖς παλαιοῖς ἀντιγράφοις, ὅτι «πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ λύει τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἀπὸ τοῦ Θεοῦ οὐκ ἔστι.» Ταύτην γὰρ τὴν διάνοιαν ἐκ τῶν παλαιῶν ἀντιγράφων περιεῖλον οἱ χωρίζειν ἀπὸ τοῦ τῆς οἰκονομίας ἀνθρώπου βουλόμενοι τὴν θεότητα. ∆ιὸ καὶ οἱ παλαιοὶ ἑρμηνεῖς αὐτὸ τοῦτο ἐπεσημῄναντο, ὥς τινες εἶεν ῥᾳδιουργήσαντες τὴν ἐπιστολὴν, λύειν ἀπὸ τοῦ Θεοῦ τὸν ἄνθρωπον θέλοντες· συνανείληπται δὲ ἡ ἀνθρωπότης τῇ θεότητι· καὶ οὐκέτι εἰσὶ δύο, ἀλλὰ ἕν. Τοῦτο θαρροῦντες οἱ παλαιοὶ «Θεοτόκον» τὴν Μαρίαν λέγειν οὐκ ὤκνησαν· (Historia ecclesiastica, VII:32)
Now in any event, he did not perceive that in the Catholic epistle of John it was written in the ancient copies, 'Every spirit that severs Jesus is not from God.' For the removal of this [passage] out the ancient copies are understandably by those who wished to sever the divinity from the human economy. And thus by the very language of the ancient interpreters, some have corrupted this epistle, aiming at severing the humanity from the divinity. But the humanity is united to the divinity, and are not two, but one. Knowing this, the ancients did not hesitate to call Mary 'Theotokos'. (Translation by KJV Today)
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 variants at 1 John 5:6, 1 John 2:23b, 1 John 4:3 and 1 John 5:13, and Socrates' testimony demonstrate that 1 John underwent early corruption. 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. Thus the extant body of early Greek manuscripts is a shaky foundation on which to determine the correct reading of the text of 1 John 5 in the 21st century. God promised to preserve his words for all generations, but God never promised to preserve the most ancient copies of his words. Given that we do have the Comma preserved for us in Greek today in relatively few and late manuscripts, other considerations should be given weight to determine its authenticity.
Latin manuscripts have the Comma
Latin Vulgate and Old Latin
"Quoniam tres sunt, qui testimonium dant in cælo:
Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus Sanctus:
et hi tres unum sunt."
The Comma appears in most Latin manuscripts, which 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 oldest Latin manuscript having 1 John 5 is Codex Fuldensis or manuscript F from the mid-6th century. This is a Vulgate version and does not contain the Comma. However, Codex Frisingensis, or manuscript r or 64 (6th-7th century), contains the full text of the Comma. Codex Legionensis, or manuscript l or 67 (7th century) contains the Comma with slight variation in wording (Nestle-Aland: Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th revised edition (2006)). These two are of the Old Latin versions. Thus Latin manuscripts with and without the Comma exist from around the same time. Furthermore, Codex Fuldensis, dated 546 AD, contains the Prologue to the Canonical Epistles, purported to be by Jerome himself, which mentions the Trinitarian Comma in John's first epistle:
"Quae si ut ab eis digestae sunt ita quoque ab interpraetibus fideliter in latinum eloquium verterentur nec ambiguitatem legentibus facerent nec sermonum se varietas inpugnaret illo praecipue loco ubi de unitate trinitatis in prima iohannis epistula (the place where it concerns the Trinity in the first epistle of John) positum legimus in qua est ab infidelibus translatoribus multum erratum esse fidei veritate conperimus trium tantummodo vocabula hoc est aquae sanguinis et spiritus in ipsa sua editione potentes et patri verbique ac spiritus (Father, the Word, and Spirit) testimonium omittentes."
While the text of 1 John 5:7 in Fuldensis does not have the Comma and critics dismiss Jerome's authorship, the Comma was certainly known to an Italian scribe who wrote the Prologue as early as in 546 AD.
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 line between Vulgate and Old Latin manuscripts is blurry because scribes often incorporated Old Latin readings into the Vulgate. 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. The medieval Latin church was apparently cognizant of the controversy surrounding the authenticity of the Comma, as is demonstrated by the following excerpt from 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)
Latin manuscripts can reliably preserve 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. Moreover, there is no basis to deride the Textus Receptus for including the Comma based on Latin support. Modern translators follow the similar practice of departing from the majority Hebrew readings and following the Latin when it comes to ascertaining correct Old Testament readings. The NIV and the ESV include a sentence in Psalm 145:13 that does not appear in the majority of Hebrew manuscripts. The extra sentence is included simply because it is deemed to fit well structurally and it has the support of one Masoretic manuscript, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, Syriac, and Vulgate. Furthermore, the NIV in Genesis 4:8 has Cain saying to Abel, "Let's go out to the field" based on the Samaritan Pentateuch, Septuagint, Vulgate, and Syriac. No Hebrew manuscript (not even the Dead Sea Scrolls) has this reading in Genesis 4:8. The NIV, ESV and NASB in 1 Chronicles 4:13 add "and Meonothai" from the Vulgate despite its absence in the Hebrew. The NIV, ESV and NASB in 2 Chronicles 15:8 add "Azariah the son of" from the Vulgate despite its absence in the Hebrew. Thus there is a consensus that Latin readings can be reliable at times.
The Vulgate reading has no preposition
All Vulgate readings of 1 John 5:7, with or without the Comma, testify for the early existence of the Comma. Comma-free editions of the Vulgate read:
"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. 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.
Greek fathers knew of the Comma
A good number of Greek fathers were aware of the Comma:
By "Athanasius", it is meant Athanasius (c. 296 – 373 AD) or Pseudo-Athanasius (c. 350 - c. 600 AD). Athanasius quoted the Comma in Disputatio Contra Arium:
"Τί δὲ καὶ τὸ τῆς ἀφέσεως τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν παρεκτικὸν, καὶ ζωοποιὸν, καὶ ἁγιαστικὸν λουτρὸν, οὗ χωρὶς οὐδεὶς ὄψεται τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν, οὐκ ἐν τῇ τρισμακαρίᾳ ὀνομασίᾳ δίδοται τοῖς πιστοῖς; Πρὸς δὲ τούτοις πᾶσιν Ἰωάννης φάσκει· «Καὶ οἱ τρεῖς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν.»"
"But also, is not that sin-remitting, life-giving and sanctifying washing [baptism], without which, no one shall see the kingdom of heaven, given to the faithful in the Thrice-Blessed Name? In addition to all these, John affirms, 'and these three are one.'" (Translation by KJV Today)
The quote, "Καὶ οἱ τρεῖς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν", is likely from the Comma rather than verse 8 because it lacks "εις (in)". This somewhat hesitant tagging of the Comma at the end of the statement is consistent with the Comma being a minority reading in the early Greek church. The Comma, though worth quoting, was not the crux of Athanasius' argument.
Athanasius quoted another portion of the Comma in Quaestiones Aliae:
"Ὥσπερ ἡ ψυχή µου µία ἐστὶν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τρισυπόστατος, ψυχὴ, λόγος, καὶ πνοή· οὕτω καὶ ὁ Θεὸς εἷς ἐστιν, ἀλλ' ἔστι καὶ τρισ υπόστατος, Πατὴρ, Λόγος, καὶ Πνεῦµα ἅγιον.... Ὡς γὰρ ψυχὴ, λόγος καὶ πνοὴ τρία πρόσωπα, καὶ μία φύσις ψυχῆς, καὶ οὐ τρεῖς ψυχαί· οὕτω Πατὴρ, Λόγος καὶ Πνεῦμα ἅγιον, τρία πρόσωπα, καὶ εἷς τῇ φύσει Θεὸς, καὶ οὐ τρεῖς θεοί."
"Even as my soul is one, but a triune soul, reason, and breath; so also God is one, but is also triune, Father, Word, and Holy Ghost.... For as soul, reason and breath are three features, and in substance one soul, and not three souls; so Father, Word and Holy Ghost, [are] three persons, and one God in substance, and not three gods." (Translation by KJV Today)
Those who claim that Athanasius did not quote the Comma elsewhere need to consider that Athanasius also 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 used other scriptures to support his views on the Trinity. 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. The later Latin Fathers are the ones who were influenced by Neo-Platonic thought and sought to formulate the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost in a neatly arranged Trinity.
Origen (c. 184 - c. 253 AD) or Pseudo-Origen quoted the Comma in Selecta in Psalmos (PG XII, 1304):
"Ἰδοὺ ὡς ὀφθαλμοὶ δούλων εἰς χεῖρας τῶν κυρίων αὐτῶν, ὡς ὀφθαλμοὶ παιδίσκης εἰς χεῖρας τῆς κυρίας αὐτῆς, οὕτως οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ ἡμῶν πρὸς Κύριον Θεὸν ἡμῶν, ἕως οὗ οἰκτειρήσαι ἡμᾶς, κ. τ. ἑ. ∆οῦλοι κυρίων Πατρὸς καὶ Υἱοῦ πνεῦμα καὶ σῶμα· παιδίσκη δὲ κυρίας τοῦ ἁγίου Πνεύματος ἡ ψυχή. Τὰ δὲ τρία Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν ἐστιν· οἱ γὰρ τρεῖς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν."
"Behold, the eyes of bondservants in the hands of their lord, as the eyes of a bondwoman in the hands of their lady, so are our eyes towards the Lord our God, until he may pity us; spirit and body are the bondservants of the Lord Father and Son; but the soul is the bondwoman of the lady Holy Spirit. And the Lord our God is three, for the three are one." (Translation by KJV Today)
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.
Gregory of Nazianzus
Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 329 - 390 AD) cites the Comma in the vocative case in the following doxology at the end of Oration 45: The Second Oration on Easter:
"Εἰ δὲ καταλύσαιμεν ἀξίως τοῦ πόθου, καὶ δεχθείημεν ταῖς οὐρανίαις σκηναῖς, τάχα σοι καὶ αὐτόθι θύσομεν δεκτὰ ἐπὶ τὸ ἅγιόν σου θυσιαστήριον, ὦ Πάτερ, καὶ Λόγε, καὶ Πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον· ὅτι σοὶ πρέπει πᾶσα δόξα, τιμὴ, καὶ κράτος, εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν."
"But if we are to be released, in accordance with our desire, and be received into the Heavenly Tabernacle, there too it may be we shall offer You acceptable Sacrifices upon Your Altar, to Father and Word and Holy Ghost; for to You belongs all glory and honour and might, world without end. Amen." (English translation at New Advent)
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:
The context is with respect to the "Heavenly Tabernacle", namely, God as revealed in heaven. This mirrors the context of the Comma in which the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost are said to be heavenly witnesses.
In this same document at chapter IV, Gregory refers to the Trinity in its usual formula as follows: "And when I say God, I mean Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; for Godhead is neither diffused beyond These, so as to introduce a mob of gods, nor yet bounded by a smaller compass than These, so as to condemn us for a poverty stricken conception of Deity, either Judaizing to save the Monarchia, or falling into heathenism by the multitude of our gods." After stating emphatically that by God he means "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost", it is curious that he would end the same document with a different atypical formula if it were not an import from an established source.
The context is ripe with scriptural allusions, namely to the "Heavenly Tabernacle" (Revelation 8:3), "Sacrifices upon Your Altar" (Revelation 15:5: "της σκηνης του μαρτυριου εν τω ουρανω"), and "glory and honour and might, world without end" (Revelation 5:13: "η τιμη και η δοξα και το κρατος εις τους αιωνας των αιωνων"). In this scripturally pregnant context, one must be in a state of denial to suppose that "Father and Word and Holy Ghost" alone is not a scriptural allusion.
Furthermore, these scriptural allusions at this last portion of Gregory's oration are all from the Johannine corpus, which makes it more likely that "Father and Word and Holy Ghost" is also from that same corpus.
In Oration 31, Gregory of Nazianzus had commented on the unconventional grammar of 1 John 5:6-8 in manuscripts without the Comma (as explained above [LINK]). As is typical among theologians, Gregory's comment may have elicited a debate concerning the unconventional grammar and possible reasons/solutions. Given the Comma existed in the Latin West at this time, it is likely that after composing Oration 31 and prior to composing Oration 45, Gregory had been made aware of the Comma as a possible solution to the grammatical anomaly. This is where Gregory may have committed the unique Trinitarian wording of the Comma to memory so as to make an allusion to it in Oration 45.
John Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407 AD) wrote Adversus Judaeos (Homily 1:3) in which he used the following curious phrase:
"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)
Chrysostom is not speaking about the Trinity in the context. He is merely saying that a good number of witnesses testify concerning the ineffable nature of God. Still, 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.
Pseudo-Chrysostom quotes the Comma in the vocative case in De Cognitione Dei et in Sancta Theophania as follows:
"Ἀλλ', ὦ Πάτερ, καὶ Λόγε, καὶ Πνεῦμα, ἡ τρισυπόστατος οὐσία, καὶ δύναμις, καὶ θέλησις, καὶ ἐνέργεια, ἡμᾶς τοὺς ὁμολογοῦντάς σου τὰς ἀσυγχύτους καὶ ἀδιαιρέτους ὑποστάσεις, ἀξίωσον καὶ τῆς ἐκ δεξιῶν σου στάσεως, ἡνίκα ἔρχῃ ἐξ οὐρανῶν κρῖναι τὴν οἰκουμένην ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ· ὅτι πρέπει σοι δόξα, τιμὴ καὶ προσκύνησις, τῷ Πατρὶ καὶ τῷ Υἱῷ καὶ τῷ ἁγίῳ Πνεύματι, νῦν καὶ ἀεὶ, καὶ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων."
"But, O Father, and Word, and Spirit, the triune being and might and will and power, deem us, who confess you as the unconfused and indivisible substance, also worthy to be the ones standing at your right hand when you come from heaven to judge the world in righteousness, for rightly yours is the glory, honor, and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and for always, and for eternity." (Translation by KJV Today)
Pseudo-Chrysostom first refers to the Trinity as Father, Word, and Spirit and then switches to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the same sentence. This switch has no contextual reason. Given the abundance of scriptural allusions in this passage, it is most likely that the two forms of the Trinity are both scriptural allusions (Matthew 28:19 & 1 John 5:7).
Zacharias Rhetor (born c. 465 AD) was a bishop of Mytilene. He cited the Comma in the vocative case as follows in Disputatio De Mundi Opificio (PG LXXXV, 1141):
"Ω Δεσποτα και Δημιουργε τουδε του παντοσ, ω Πατερ, και Λογε, και Πνευμα αγιον, ω Θεια Τριας, και τρισση και αγια μονας."
"The Lord and Creator of all things, O Father, and Word, and Holy Ghost, the Divine Trinity, both threefold and holy unity." (Translation by KJV Today)
ONLINE LINK to PG LXXXV (see page 1141)
Not only are the persons of the Trinity named according to the wording of the Comma, the following clause, "both threefold and holy unity" mirrors the Comma's "there are three... and the three are one".
Andrew of Crete
Andreas Cretensis (born c. 635) was an archbishop of Crete. He cites the Comma in the vocative case in Magnus Canon (PG XCVII, 1345):
John of Damascus
John of Damascus (c. 675 - 749 AD), though born Syrian, wrote treatises as well as hymns in Greek. He wrote the following line in Carmina et Cantica: In Dominicam Pascha (PG XCVI, 844):
“Πατερ παντοκρατορ, και Λογε, και Πνευμα, τρισιν ενιζομενη εν υποστασεσι φύσις, υπερουσιε και υπερθεε, εις σε βεβαπτισμεθα, και σε ευλογουμεν αει εις τους αιωνας.”
“O Omnipotent Father, and Word, and Spirit, three persons [yet] in nature one substance, highest essence and highest divinity, in you [we are] baptized, and you we bless always and forever.” (Translation by KJV Today)
The influence of the Comma is strong here given the context. John of Damascus names the Trinity in the vocative case as “Father, and Word, and Spirit” and says in these persons “[we are] baptized”. This expression is rather unusual if it were not for the influence of the Comma; for Matthew 28:19 is the seminal passage linking the Trinity to baptism; and there we are commanded to baptize in “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”. Only the Comma, which names the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost as witnesses, provides a scriptural basis for baptizing in these three names. In accordance with the Comma, John of Damascus declares the “Father, and Word, and Spirit” and immediately follows with the three in one principle.
Ignatius of Antioch
The longer version of The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians might have 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:
"ἐπείπερ καὶ εἷς ἀγέννητος, ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατήρ, καὶ εἷς μονογενὴς υἱός, θεὸς λόγος καὶ ἄνθρωπος, καὶ εἷς ὁ παράκλητος, τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας,"
(the above Greek excerpt corresponds to the underlined portion below)
"I have confidence of you in the Lord, that ye will be of no other mind. Wherefore I write boldly to your love, which is worthy of God, and exhort you to have but one faith, and one [kind of] preaching, and one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ; and His blood which was shed for us is one; one loaf also is broken to all [the communicants], and one cup is distributed among them all: there is but one altar for the whole Church, and one bishop, with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants. Since, also, there is but one unbegotten Being, God, even the Father; and one only-begotten Son, God, the Word and man; and one Comforter, the Spirit of truth; and also one preaching, and one faith, and one baptism; and one Church which the holy apostles established from one end of the earth to the other by the blood of Christ, and by their own sweat and toil; it behoves you also, therefore, as "a peculiar people, and a holy nation," to perform all things with harmony in Christ." (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, "The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus", Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D. & James Donaldson, LL.D.)
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:
"Father... Word... Spirit" is a Trinitarian formula unique to the Johannine Comma.
By cross-referencing the "One Lord" statement of Ephesians 4:5 to the Trinity of "the Father... Word... Spirit", Ignatius carries over the meaning of the Comma, namely, that there are "the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost" and "these three are one."
The order of the descriptions of the three persons of the Trinity suggests a deliberateness in alluding to the Comma. First, the "one unbegotten Being, God" is listed, and it is further clarified that this is "even the Father". Then the "one only-begotten Son, God" is listed and further clarified that this is "the Word and man (an allusion to the parallelism between 1 John 5:7 and 1 John 5:8)". Lastly the "one Comforter" is listed and further clarified that this is "the Spirit of truth" (an allusion to 1 John 5:6). Each person of the Trinity is first identified and the immediately following clarifying title always mirrors the wording of the Comma. It would have been typical for "the Father" to be associated with "the Son" (with both terms indicating the relationship between each other) as clarifying titles to the first and second persons of the Trinity. However, what we have in Ignatius is an atypical grouping of "the Father" with "the Word":
All the attributes which Ignatius gives to "the Father... Word... Spirit" are found in the context of the Comma.
Ignatius refers to the unbegotten nature of the Father and the begotten nature of the Son. This echoes 1 John 5:1 which 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."
The distinction between the heavenly "Word" and the earthly humanity of the Son ("man") is laid out in 1 John 5:6-8. In fact, 1 John 5:7-8 first refers to the Son as the "Word" and then refers to his humanity characterized by "the water, and the blood".
While the reference to the Parakletos (comforter, advocate) is found farther back in 1 John 2:1, the reference to the "Spirit of truth" is found in 1 John 5:6 and 1 John 4:6. There is no question that John 15:26 is the closer reference of the Comforter being the Spirit of truth, but the Epistle of First John is not far off.
There are countless other attributes and titles that Ignatius could have ascribed to "the Father... Word... Spirit" from scripture, but his restriction to those found in the context of the Comma suggests an allusion to it.
Ignatius is careful to expand the meaning of Ephesians 4:1-7 from close scriptural allusions. This suggest the expansion of the "One Lord" in verse 5 is also a close scriptural allusion.
Latin fathers knew of the Comma
Latin fathers quoted/alluded to the Comma more often than the Greek fathers. 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).
Tertullian (c. 155 - c. 245 AD) makes a truncated reference to the Comma:
"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.
Cyprian (c. 210 - 258 AD) quotes the Comma:
“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.
Phoebadius in 359 AD quotes the Comma:
"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."
Priscillian of Avila in c. 380 AD quotes the Comma:
"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.
Augustine (354 - 430 AD) quotes the Comma in City of God, Book 5, Chapter 11. He writes:
"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 forced 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 forced interpretation of the Spirit, water, and blood if it were not for him being influenced by the parallelism of the Comma earlier in life.
North African Bishop Vigilius Tapsensis quotes the Comma in Contra Varimadum in c. 450 AD and three times in Books 1 and 10 of De Trinitate Libri Duodecim in c. 480 AD:
“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)
Victor bishop of Vita in c. 485 AD cited the Comma as representing the testimony of John the evangelist in a dispute with Huneric the Vandal:
“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)
Fulgentius bishop of Ruspe in North Africa (died 527 AD) cited the Comma, even referring to Cyprian’s citation of the same:
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)
Cassiodorus of Italy (c. 485 - c. 585 AD) cited the Comma in Complexiones In Epistollis Apostolorum:
“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)
Ephrem the Syrian
Ephrem the Syrian was a 4th century theologian writing in Syriac in Assyria. He wrote:
"The daring men try to escape men's notice [when pretending] that they baptize in the Three Names. Now at the mouth of Three the judges decide. See here be Three Witnesses Who put an end to all strife! And who would doubt about the holy Witnesses of His Baptism?" (Eighty Rhythms upon the Faith, against the Disputers, 28:7, translated into English by Rev. J. B. Morris, Select Works of S. Ephrem the Syrian (Oxford:, 1847), p. 196).
While scriptures other than the Comma could account for the theological truths expounded by Ephrem, his naming of the "Three Names" as "Three Witnesses" seems based on the wording of the Comma. Only the Comma refers to the Three Names, Father, Word, and Holy Ghost, as Three Witnesses.
Like the Vulgate, the Syriac Peshitta has a trace of the Comma
In a similar vein to those Vulgate manuscripts without the Comma, early manuscripts of the Syriac Peshitta do not have the Comma but nonetheless retain 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 of 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).
"6 This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. 7 For there are three that bear record [in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth], the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. 9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son." (1 John 5:6-9, the Comma identified in bracketed italics)
Given the early corruption of the text of 1 John, the internal evidence for the Comma should be given greater weight. The internal evidence for the Comma is strong.
Comma-absent readings lack an explicit explanation of the "witness of God"
1 John 5:6 says "it is the Spirit that beareth witness" and yet 1 John 5:9 refers to the "witness of God". A Trinitarian might automatically equate "the Spirit" with "God" but such a logical leap is not warranted in the context of 1 John 5. 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" must mean 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.
Johannine appeal to the witness of the Father
Following up with the previous point, in John's Gospel we find recurring instances of the Father bearing witness of Jesus Christ:
John 5:37: "And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape."
John 8:18: "I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me."
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.
Comma-absent readings give rise to an unbiblical doctrine
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.
Comma-absent readings have no antecedent
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).
Comma-absent readings have a weaker reason for having exactly "three" witnesses
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).
Comma-absent readings give rise to a grammatical anomaly
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.
John and the Trinity
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:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1)
"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)
"No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." (John 1:18)
"I and my Father are one." (John 10:30)
"Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58)
"But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." (John 14:26)
"But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:" (John 15:26)
"And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;" (John 14:16)
"And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God." (John 20:28)
"(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)" (1 John 1:2)
"Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also." (1 John 2:23)
"Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. (1 John 4:13-15)
"Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son." (2 John 1:9)
"John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." (Revelation 1:4-6)
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.
Johannine distinction between the heavenly and earthly
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:
"He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." (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:
█ Holy Spirit
text: Witness (μαρτυρία)
text: "Life is in the Son"
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.
Our Lord's baptism in the Gospel of John relates to 1 John 5:6-9
The phrase "witness of men" in 1 John 5:9 has been interpreted in many ways. However, this "witness of men" might be a specific reference to John the Baptist's testimony recorded in the Apostle John's account of our Lord's baptism. John writes at 1:32-34:
"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)
While Matthew, Mark and Luke also tell their versions of our Lord's baptism, only John refers to John the Baptist's "record" (or witness) that "this is the Son of God". John the Baptist bears witness and, more importantly, Father God in heaven, with the Spirit descending from above, also bears witness that Jesus is the Son of God. This may be what is meant by "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son" (1 John 5:9). This interpretation makes perfect sense in light of John 1:32-34. However, given that the heavenly witnesses are presented at John 1:32-34, the context of 1 John 5:9 makes more sense with the reference to the heavenly witnesses in the Comma.
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:
1 John 5:7-8: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one."
1 John 1:8-10: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."
1 John 12:13-14: "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one."
1 John 4:2b-3a: "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God:"
1 John 5:12: "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life."
Why Trinitarians did not cite the Comma
A caveat with respect to argument from silence
While some Greek and Latin fathers cited the Comma, there are others who did not. Critics appeal to this argument from silence to argue against the early existence of the Comma. However, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. For example, 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:
"What king or prince in any age of the world, what philosopher, legislator, or prophet, in civilized or barbarous lands, has attained so great a height of excellence, I say not after death, but while living still, and full of mighty power, as to fill the ears and tongues of all mankind with the praises of his name? Surely none save our only Saviour has done this, when, after his victory over death, he spoke the word to his followers, and fulfilled it by the event, saying to them, Go, and make disciples of all nations in my name." (Oration in Praise of Emperor Constantine, 16:8)
"But the rest of the apostles, who had been incessantly plotted against with a view to their destruction, and had been driven out of the land of Judea, went unto all nations to preach the Gospel, relying upon the power of Christ, who had said to them, Go and make disciples of all the nations in my name." (Church History, Book III, 5:2)
Given that all three earliest manuscripts of Matthew (Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus) contain the Trinitarian formula, Eusebius' silence on the Trinitarian formula does not prove its absence in the 4th century. There may be several reasons for Eusebius' silence, such as that his focus in these writings did not require the full quotation, that he preferred to paraphrase, or that his manuscripts did not have the Trinitarian formula. Likewise, the various Church fathers' silence on the Comma could have the following reasons:
The Comma was counterproductive in the context.
The Comma was not helpful in the context.
The Comma was not relevant in the context.
Silence of the Comma only proves the existence of doubt, not absence.
1) The Comma was counterproductive in the context
The earliest anti-Trinitarian heretics denied not the unity of the Trinity, but the distinctness of the persons of the Trinity. Sabellianism in the East and Patripassianism in the West denied the distinction between the Father and the Son. 3rd century fathers would not have quoted the Comma given that it could have bolstered the Sabellian argument for the oneness of the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost.
Even during the Arian controversies of the 4th century, Trinitarians may have supposed the Comma would give ammunition to those who claimed the Godhead is "one" only in terms of agreement, not essence. Given that 1 John 5:8 demonstrates the oneness of the Spirit, water and the blood only in terms of agreement, not essence, drawing attention to the Comma and its context could have undermined the Trinitarian view of the Godhead.
2) The Comma was not helpful in the context
In some cases, the Comma might not have been counterproductive but nonetheless unhelpful. For one thing, the context of the Comma has been unclear to many expositors. The identity of the water and blood in 1 John 5:6-8 has been interpreted as follows by different commentators:
1) Jesus' baptism and death. (Tertullian)
2) Jesus' incarnation. (Johann J. Wettstein)
3) Water and blood which poured out from Jesus' side at his crucifixion. (Augustine)
4) The ordinances of baptism and the Lord's supper. (Matthew Henry)
5) Faith and the public acknowledgment of it. (Clement of Alexandria)
As with the case even today, the early Church did not have a common interpretation of the context surrounding the Comma. Without having a common understanding of the context, the Comma is hardly a useful proof text.
The greatest threat to Trinitarian orthodoxy was the heresy of Arianism. Yet the Comma is not an effective proof text against this heresy. The Comma, naming the Word as the second person of the Trinity, does not prove the consubstantial unity of the Father and the incarnate Son, which was the controversy brought by Arianism. The Comma speaks only of the unity of the Father and the Word, which was never ambiguous given the "and the Word was God" declaration in John 1:1.
Moreover, 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 because he argued for the consubstantial unity of the Father and the Son. 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.
3) The Comma was not relevant in the context
The Comma was irrelevant to the topics of many 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.
4) Silence of the Comma only proves the existence of doubt, not absence
A Church father's silence on the Comma does not prove that the Comma did not exist at the time. Even today, many prominent Trinitarian apologists 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). Thus silence on the Comma by a preacher today is not due to its absence but rather motivated by a majority consensus of its spuriousness. Many Christians today consider the Comma as an embarrassing case of fabricating a proof-text for the Trinity. Prominent atheists and Muslims have tried to cast doubt on the Bible by referencing the Comma. For many Christians today, the Comma is something best forgotten and only the uneducated are considered to rely on it for doctrine. Early Church fathers may have shared this same sentiment. The manuscript evidence demonstrates that the text of 1 John 5 had been tampered with at an early stage. Thus it is likely that early Church fathers lacked confident in the integrity of the text of 1 John 5. Even if a good number of manuscripts with the Comma came down through the ages, it may have appeared even back then to be a pious addition to prove the Trinity. The general lack of confidence in its authenticity would have dissuaded most fathers from using it for establishing doctrine.
Demonstrable mechanisms for omission
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.
Evidence of errors by parablepses
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:
Luke 14:26 "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."
Luke 14:27 "And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple."
Several manuscripts, M (9th century), R (6th century), Γ (10th century) and others (al mu) omit the entire verse 27. A scribe accidentally omitted verse 27 because when he finished copying "ου δυναται μου μαθητης ειναι" in verse 26 his eyes jumped to the same phrase in verse 27. See the critical apparatus of Tischendorf's 8th Edition for the manuscripts with this omission:
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:
"...Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood:"
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":
"However, in the course of Latin textual transmission, independently of the Comma, variants appeared that show that the passage was the subject of reflection and "improvement" by scribes.... For instance, Facundus of Hermiane (ca. 550) reads I John as saying, "There are three who give testimony on earth" (Pro Defensione Trium Capitulorum ad Isutinianum 1.3.9; CC 90A, 12; also inferior MSS. of Bede). If that addition was an older tradition, it may have facilitated the creation of the Comma with its corresponding witnesses in heaven" (The Anchor Bible: The Epistles of John at 778).
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:
"Although the weight of the textual evidence against it was seemingly overwhelming, the proof it supplied for the Trinity made an attack on its authenticity seem to be an attack on the dogma. Therefore the Reformed theologian Johann Heinrich Heidegger, citing Jerome, and the Lutheran theologians Johann Gerhard and Johann Andreas Quenstedt argued that the real corruption of the Greek text had been its "erasure by the fraud of the Arians," not its addition by orthodox fathers. In a lengthy disputation on the question, Gerhard marshaled the evidence of manuscripts and versions in an effort to show this, and in his systematic theology he reaffirmed its authenticity." (Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: Reformation of Church Dogma (1300-1700) at 346)
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). 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 early influence. However, the evidence supports the hypothesis. The Comma exists in places where Arianism was not established early, such as Spain and North Africa. 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 influence on the Latin scriptures. This allowed the Comma to remain in Latin manuscripts of Spain and North Africa.
The earliest uses of the Comma are from the far West (Cyprian, Priscillian, Phoebadius, Vigilius, Victor, Fulgentius). The earliest manuscripts with the Comma are from Spain. This localization of manuscripts containing the Comma has led scholars to believe that the Comma was just an anomalous reading in an obscure part of Christendom. However, this "obscure part of Christendom" is where Arianism was not prevalent in the earlier centuries. 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. The argument against the Comma, that it was included by the Latin Church because of tradition, goes both ways. 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).
Evidence of Gnostic versions of three witnesses
The Gnostic "Godhead"
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:
This Gnostic text uses the Comma phrase, "And there are three" four times.
This Gnostic text subverts the orthodox Trinity with the Gnostic trinity of the "Father, Mother and Son".
This Gnostic text is ascribed to "John", though falsely.
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.
Evidence of the early subversion of John's doctrines
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 Johannine Comma is not a novel invention of late medieval Catholicism. There is an unbroken lineage of the preservation of the Comma from early times. The Comma was preserved in the Western Latin stream of transmission. There is nothing to be apologetic about this since the majority of Christians from the 4th century to the 16th century spoke and understood Latin. Hence the Comma was available to the majority of Christians throughout history. Furthermore, the Comma was also preserved by the Greek Church albeit as a minority reading in the margins, and reinstated in the text of the Epistle by the Greek Orthodox Church in modern times. The following chart maps the unbroken preservation of the Comma:
The Comma has been subject to hostility throughout history, especially in the Greek Church in 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. Despite its long absence in the Greek stream of transmission, the Comma has made it back into the official Greek New Testament of the Greek Orthodox Church, the 1904 Patriarchal Text. This ecclesiastical text is 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. Thus the Comma is thoroughly preserved for us today and can be accepted as authentic Scripture.
Read more articles from: The King James Version is Demonstrably Inerrant
Constantin Tischendorf, Novum Testamentum Graece, 8th major edition (1869, 1872).
Digital Nestle-Aland Prototype, University of Münster Institute for New Testament Textual Research: http://nttranscripts.uni-muenster.de/
Nestle-Aland: Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th revised edition (2006).
The Codex Sinaiticus Project Website: http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/
United Bible Society: The Greek New Testament, 4th revised edition (2001).
Search terms: Comma Johanneum, Disputation Against Arium, Contra Arianos, Against the Arians