Responding to Comments Related to Johannine Comma

This article was taken from a recent Facebook discussion between Jason Smith and Brother James B. (The full name was edited for anonymity).

 James B. wrote:

“Some people take issue with this verse based on the fact that it is not found in some ancient Greek texts. However, it is found in the most reliable text which is the Textus Receptus.” [End Quote]

Jason’s reply:

James, my friend, what are you claiming here? The Johannine Comma “is not found in some ancient Greek texts” (?!) My friend it is not found in the overwhelming majority of ALL Greek texts, including the Byzantine ones (the family basis behind the Textus Receptus). Here is a fact.

The Johannine Comma does not exist in the Ethiopic, Aramaic, Syriac, Slavic, Armenian, Georgian, and Arabic translations of the Greek New Testament. And, as alluded to above, it is also absent from the majority of Greek manuscripts (all families). There are approximately 500 Greek manuscripts that exist of 1 John 5. The Comma exists in the actual text in only 5 of them and the earliest one of those is from the 14th century AD. Here is a list of the manuscripts that contain the comma as a part of the text.

1) MS 629 from the 14th century

2) MS 61 from the 16th century

3) MS 918 from the 16th century

4) MS 2473 from the 17th century

5) MS 2318 from the 18th century.

Those 5 manuscripts listed above are the totality of Greek manuscripts that have this section of 1 John 5:7,8 KJV. Now this passage is also in the margin of a few manuscripts too. That means it is not in the actual text itself but was written by a scribe on the side of the text in the margin. Here is a list of the marginal references:

1) MS 221 from the 10th century

2) MS 635 from the 11th century

3) MS 177 from the 11th century

3) MS 88 from the 12th century

4) MS 429 from the 14th century

5) MS 636 from the 15th century.

Now these marginal references actually date from the 15th or 16th century. What that means is that even though the manuscripts themselves are from the 10th century, 11th century etc,… the marginal references were added in the 15th or 16th century.

So, in other words, this clause does not appear in any Greek manuscript tradition until the 14th century! The evidence actually appears to suggest that it actually comes from the tradition of the Latin fathers (and the Waldensian Bible came from early Latin, by the way).

Now, as mentioned, there are about five hundred existing manuscripts of 1 John 5 and besides the ones mentioned above all the rest do not contain the Comma. Now most of the manuscripts we have are from after the 10th century. However, we have a few that are from much earlier and these do not have the comma. Again, for those interested here are the earliest manuscripts that do not have this phrase:

1) MS 01 from the 4th century

2) MS B from the 4th century

3) MS A from the 5th century

4) MS 048 from the 5th century

5) MS 0296 from the 6th century

6) MS L from the 8th century

7) MS K from the 9th century

8 ) MS P from the 9th century

9) MS Ψ from the 9th century

10) MS 049 from the 9th century

11) MS 056 from the 10th century

12) MS 0142 from the 10th century

In addition to these major texts, numbers of minuscule texts from the ninth century also lack the comma. Here are a few of them: 81, 88, 104, 181, 326, 330, 436, 451, 614, 630, 945, 1241, 1505, 1739, 1877, 1881, 2127, 2412, 2492, 2495, etc.

Now let’s stop and consider the overwhelming absence of the Johannine Comma from the Greek manuscripts. If John had originally written this as a part of his Greek then who would have taken it out? Certainly not the trinitarians! Truthfully, there would be copies of the copies galore because this would be one of the strongest proof texts. Yet history tells us that Erasmus was pressured to put this passage into his Greek manuscript! Also, a strong case can be made that during the transmission of a text over time conflations/additions are more likely than deletions, but I digress. The salient point here is that the overwhelming absence of this passage in the Greek is quite startling and quite telling. How is it missing from all of these Greek manuscripts? Its absence is quite telling and a serious problem for those who rely upon it.

James B. wrote:

“All Bibles that have used the Textus Receptus in their translation contain the contested verse – 1 John 5:7. The Greek manuscripts came from Alexandria Egypt and these manuscripts were generated by Origen, a founder of Greek philosophy which had nothing to do with the Bible. The Dead Sea Scrolls rendered the corrupt Greek manuscripts and all modern translations from them to be obsolete…. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed the accuracy of the Textus Receptus from which the Itala, King James Version and the Geneva Bibles were translated.” [End Quote]

Jason’s reply:

James, what are you talking about? We are talking about a contested passage from New Testament not the Old. The Dead Sea Scrolls have nothing to do with this because there was not a single copy of any New Testament manuscript found at Qumran. Thus, the Dead Sea Scrolls cannot render a single New Testament Greek manuscript obsolete, and neither can they confirm the accuracy of any New Testament verse found in the KJV (unless it’s a quote of an Old Testament passage) because there is not a single New Testament manuscripts in purview here. I hope this is very clear.

James B. wrote:

“The oldest translation of a complete Bible to any language other than Greek and Hebrew was the Itala. The Church of Northern Italy (the Waldensies) had the Itala in their possession as early as 157 AD.” [End Quote]

 Jason’s reply:

It is popularly claimed, by defenders of the Johannine Comma, that the Itala Bible from the second century contained the comma but that is an unproven assumption. Here again are some facts. The Itala Bible is the name given to a grouping of Latin manuscripts based upon the pre-Vulgate Latin tr
anslations. They have many (and I mean many!) variants. In fact, one scholar counted a minimum of 27 variant readings in this family for one passage, Luke 24:4–5, alone! (see Bruce Metzeger The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. Oxford University Press. p. 72).

In short, they aren’t reliable sources for translation. And truthfully the Latin fathers are a source of corruption of the truth but that’s another story. It is well documented that there are expansions/interpolations in these early Latin manuscripts. Thus, there was clearly some tampering going on with them as EGW alludes to (see my next comment) and even the SDA Bible Commentary makes the following admission.

“It is now generally held that this passage, called the Comma Johanneum, is a gloss THAT CREPT INTO THE TEXT OF THE OLD LATIN AND VULGATE AT AN EARLY DATE, but found its way into the Greek text only in the 15th and 16th centuries” (Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1951, p. 1186).” — (The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 675)

And fyi, the oldest extant manuscript we have for the Itala Bible family of manuscripts is from approximately 350 AD (that is 4th century AD) and it is of the Gospels. The oldest one we have containing 1st John is from the 5th century AD. Thus, it is major assumption to say that we know that Comma was there from the 2nd century. Maybe it was but then again maybe not. The only way to know for sure is if we had a Latin manuscript of 1 John 5 from the 2nd century and even then, we couldn’t be sure that it hadn’t crept in via interpolation from the Latin fathers. Again, the only way to be absolutely sure here is if we had an autograph of John and this we do not have. Unfortunately claims about this matter, if you trace them back, come from very biased and unrealiable sources (e.g. the Dean Burgon Society)

James B. wrote:

What does God tell us through His Prophet Ellen White say about these people? We will quote from The Great Controversy where she gives a very fine history of the Waldensian people.

“The Waldenses were among the first of the peoples of Europe to obtain a translation of the Holy Scriptures. Hundreds of years before the Reformation they possessed the Bible in manuscript in their native tongue. They had the truth unadulterated, and this rendered them the special objects of hatred and persecution” (p. 65).

“Eagerly did the Vaudois missionary [another name for Waldensies] unfold to the people the … precious truths of the gospel. Cautiously he produced the carefully written portions of the Holy Scriptures” (p.73).

“Rome decreed that the light of God’s Word should be extinguished, and the people should be shut up in darkness. But Heaven had provided other agencies for the preservation of the church. Many of the Waldenses and Albigenses, driven by persecution from their homes in France and Italy, came to Bohemia. Though they dared not teach openly, they labored zealously in secret. Thus, the true faith was preserved from century to century” (p. 97). [End Quote]

 Jason’s reply:

Unfortunately, Mrs. White’s writings are being wrested here. Since she says that the Waldensians had “the truth unadulterated” that is being wrested as if she had said that they had a perfect translation of the holy Scriptures and therefore, when connected with the aforementioned assumption that the Johannine Comma was in the 2nd century Itala Bible, it is argued that this quote proves the Comma is genuine. This is a serious stretch.

My friend, this is not what Mrs. White is saying here at all. In fact, contextually speaking, she defines “the truth,” in this literary context, as the Waldensians identifying the Roman church as apostate Babylon, their rejection of papal supremacy, their belief in image worship as idolatry, and their keeping of the Sabbath.

“They declared the Church of Rome to be the apostate Babylon of the Apocalypse, and at the peril of their lives they stood up to resist her corruptions….there were Waldenses who denied the supremacy of Rome, who rejected image worship as idolatry, and who kept the true Sabbath…{GC 65.2}

Mrs. White does not say or imply that their manuscripts or Bible translation was perfect and without flaw. And this is just where our friends reveal their bias. They take a quote that does not speak directly about the process of translation and copying and twist it to make it out as if she was saying that they had a perfect Bible. That is eisegesis instead of exegesis. If we let sister White speak directly on the subject of manuscript transmission then we will see, by her own open admission, that no perfect copy is known because some errors crept in very early. Unfortunately, I have seen time and time again, that those with an agenda will ignore these particular data points:

“I saw that God had especially guarded the Bible; yet when copies of it were few, learned men had in some instances changed the words, thinking that they were making it more plain, when in reality they were mystifying that which was plain, by causing it to lean to their established views, which were governed by tradition. (Early Writings pg 220)

So, errors crept in very early, when copies were few, and in some instances changes were made to make it lean to traditional views. On top of that we must also recognize that there were mistakes made in transmission.

“Some look to us gravely and say, ‘Don’t you think there might have been some mistake in the copyist or in the translators?’ This is all probable, and the mind that is so narrow that it will hesitate and stumble over this possibility or probability would be just as ready to stumble over the mysteries of the Inspired Word, because their feeble minds cannot see through the purposes of God. Yes, they would just as easily stumble over plain facts that the common mind will accept, and discern the Divine, and to which God’s utterance is plain and beautiful, full of marrow and fatness. All the mistakes will not cause trouble to one soul, or cause any feet to stumble, that would not manufacture difficulties from the plainest revealed truth. {1SM 16.2}

According to the servant of the Lord, in the quotes above, it is “all probable” that there was “some mistake” made by “the copyists” or “translators” but despite it this is not a reason to stumble. And she openly acknowledged that there were “some instances” in the ancient past when learned men had “changed the words” of Scripture “causing it to lean” towards their traditional views. Yet she still “saw that the Word of God, as a whole, is a perfect chain, one portion linking into and explaining another” {EW 220.2} so we need not fear.

Now, in all sincerity, there is no better example of the type of error she mentioned that we know of better than what happened with the early Latin fathers. They tampered with the text and remember, that is what is behind the Itala Bible. That’s why there is, for example, 27 variant readings in this family of manuscripts for Luke 24:4–5 alone!

There is really no better match, based on the weight of evidence, for this type of thing than 1 John 5:7b, 8a. In Mrs. White’s approximate 25 million words she never once quotes this passage! Th
is absence is startling, especially for those who continue to assert that she led the church to become trinitarian. She would have missed a strong proof text to base this change upon and she would have corrected the pioneers who insisted that it was spurious. More on this in my next comment.

Jason added:

Now, as promised, let’s look at the SDA pioneer view. I will share quotes from 1859 up until 1896:

D.W. HULL:
“The objector contends that Christ and his Father are one person, and in proof of his position quotes 1 John 5:7. “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.” This is claimed as very strong proof in support of the trinity. The three persons are spoken of as God, the Father, God, the Son,and God, the Holy Ghost. I believe I may safely say that, aside from scripture,no such license would be allowable. Men have been so used to perverting scripture, and taking advantage of terms, and pressing them into their service,that they do not realize the magnitude of the crime as they otherwise would.The same expression is frequently used about man and wife; yet no person doubts that a man and his wife are two separate persons, inasmuch as they may be separated by hundreds of miles. Dr. A. Clarke expressly says that this passage [1 John 5:7] IS AN INTERPOLATION. See his Commentary in loco. (D. W. Hull, Review and Herald November 10, 1859)

J.N. LOUGHBOROUGH:
“The word Trinity nowhere occurs in the Scriptures. The principal text supposed to teach it is 1 John i, 7, which IS AN INTERPOLATION” (J.N. Loughborough, Review and Herald November 5, 1861)

URIAH SMITH:
5. How can Isa 45 : 5, 21, which says there is but one God, be harmonized with 1 John 5: 7, which says that there are three Gods?

Ans.—One secret of the harmony between these passages lies in the fact that the text last quoted does not say that there are three Gods. It says, “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost ; and these three are one,’ One, in what respect?—Certainly in respect to the subject under discussion ; namely, the record they bear, and the witness they give. They testify to the Son of God; and in this testimony agree perfectly, or are “one.” Such is the meaning of the language as it stands; but there are eminent authorities, who, as argued by Dr. Clarke, hold that the words, commencing, “in heaven,” verse 7, to the words “in earth,” verse 8, inclusive, ARE AN INTERPOLATION, and should be omitted. Among these are Griesbach, Lachman, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Alford, and Wordsworth. With these words omitted, the passage would , read ” For there are three that bear record, the Spirit and the water and the blood : and these three agree in one.” But even if the words referred to are retained, the text does not affirm that there are three Gods in one. (U. Smith “Skeptical Voices,” Review and Herald, February 28th, 1888) SEE ALSO: (U. SMITH in Review and Herald, March 6th, 1888; Review and Herald, November 10th, 1891; Review and Herald, January 19th, 1892)

AUGUST KUNZ:
“VERSE 8.—The thought of verse 6 is here repeated. VERSE 7 IS AN INTERPOLATION, NOT FOUND IN THE MOST RELIABLE MSS.. The word of God (water of life), the blood (of Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord), and the Holy Spirit are unitedly active in man’s conversion, pardon, regeneration, and sanctification. The Holy Spirit comes only by faith in the word of God and the blood of Christ. The word (the gospel) cannot be experienced as a life-giving power unto forgiveness and cleansing by the blood of Christ, except through the Spirit of Christ in the gospel. The power of the blood on the heart is felt only after accepting the gospel in faith through the Holy Spirit. Hence it is no contradiction when the Scripture says: The word is truth, the Holy Spirit is truth, and Christ is truth; because these three are in accord concerning the salvation of man. (August Kunz, Review and Herald, December 12th, 1893 GATHERED THOUGHTS FROM FIRST JOHN CHAPTER 5. – VERSES 6-15)

G.C. TENNEY:
118 – Please explain 1 John 5:8. (1) Is the word “spirit” synonymous with Holy Ghost of verse 7? (2) What is the Holy Ghost? How do we receive it, through God of through angels? (3) Is the Comforter of John 16:7, 8 the Holy Ghost? If so, how can it be alluded to as “him” and “he”

E.J. Waggoner:
“This portion is not found in the oldest Greek manuscripts, and there is probably no room for doubt that it was added by somebody other than the Apostle John; but who did it, or when it was done, nobody can tell. Therefore, in reading the quoting 1 John v. 6-8, we do well to quote it as it is in the Revised Version” (Present Truth, Feb 6, 1902)

“These words are not found in the early manuscripts of the New Testament, and scholars are agreed that they were inserted by those who felt that the bible ought to contain one text at least proving their particular view of the Trinity. The verse was omitted in the Revised Version” (Present Truth March 10, 1904)

M.C. Wilcox:
“The expression in 1 John 5:7, “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one,” is admitted, as far as we know, by all Biblical scholars, to be spurious. The verse is not found in any of the earlier manuscripts” (Signs of the Times, Oct 18, 1910)

C.W. W.
“We might dispose of the first question by saying that the last portion of verse seven and the first portion of verse eight IS AN INTERPOLATION, and has no place in the sacred Scriptures. It is not in the Revised Version, and it is well understood by Biblical scholars that those words were inserted by some who desired to render more prominent AN ERRONEOUS IDEA OF THE DOGMA OF THE TRINITY.” (G.C. Tenney, RH June 9, 1896)

Note: Here we find a probable reason why Mrs. White never quoted this particular verse. Those who are well acquainted with the research model of inspiration know that Mrs. White used it often. The fact that it was well known in early Adventism that 1 John 5:7 was as interpolation (aka: a scribal addition) helps us to understand why she never quoted it.

And finally, my friend, you might be tempted to say that the SDA pioneers believed the Johannine Comma to be spurious because of their bias against the trinity to the bias of the SDA pioneers. Well, fair enough. Yet, as a counter to that hypothetical argument, I will now quote from modern day pro-trinitarian SDA sources to see what they say of this verse and bear in mind that their bias is the exact opposite!

SDA BIBLE COMMENTARY:
“The passage as given in the KJV is in no Greek MS earlier than the 15th and 16th centuries. The DISPUTED WORDS found their way into the KJV by way of the Greek text of Erasmus (see Vol. V, p. 141). It is said that Erasmus offered to include the disputed words in his Greek Testament if he were shown even one Greek MS that contained them. A library in Dublin produced such a MS (known as 34), and Erasmus included the passage in his text. It is now believed that the later editions of the Vulgate acquired the passage BY THE MISTAKE OF A SCRIBE who included an exegetical marginal comment in the Bible text that he was copying. The disputed words have been widely used in support of the doctrine of the Trinity, but, in view of such OVERWHELMING EVIDENCE AGAINST THEIR AUTHENTICITY, their support is valueless and should not be used. In spite of their appearance in the Vulgate A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture freely admits regarding these words: “It is now generally held that this passage, called the Comma Johanneum, IS A GLOSS that crept into the text of the Old Latin and Vulgate at an early date, but found its way into the Greek text only in the 15th and 16thcenturies” (Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1951, p. 1186).” — (SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 675)

SDA SABBATH SCHOOL QUARTERLY 2009:
“In some versions of the Bible the words “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit’ and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth” appear in 1 John 5:7, 8 (NKJV). THE ONLY PROBLEM IS THEY ARE A LATER ADDITION, NOT FOUND IN THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPTS.

“Among biblical scholars there is agreement that THIS STATEMENT IS NOT GENUINE AND HAS BEEN ADDED, probably to support the doctrine of th
e Trinity…” (Sabbath School Bible Study Guide: July – Sept 2009 pg 108)

BIBLICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE: Angel Rodriguez:
“In the case you cite [1 John 5:7, 8], we know quite well what happened. The bracketed section shows up for the first time in manuscripts of the Latin version only after A.D. 600. It is not found in Greek manuscripts until after A.D. 1400.

Henceforth,according to the experts, it is found in four Greek manuscripts as a translation from the Latin and inserted into the Greek text. THE ADDITION is not found in any of the other ancient versions.

“How did it become part of the Greek text? Here is “the rest of the story.

“When Erasmus published his version of the Greek New Testament, he left out the additions

“Sure enough, they came up with a Greek manuscript in which the addition was found, one scholars believe was dated from the sixteenth century A.D., translated from the Latin to the Greek and added to the Greek text. Erasmus subsequently included it in his 1522 edition of the Greek New Testament.

“The Trinity is a biblical doctrine, and you can preach about it. BUT YOU SHOULD NOT USE THIS TEXT.” (Biblical Research Institute: 1 John 5:7 by Angel Rodriguez [brackets added for clarity])

MINISTRY MAGAZINE: R.M. Johnston:
“The term “Trinity” is nowhere to be found in the Bible. But the doctrine is there— this conclusion is inescapable. Nor need we be disturbed by the knowledge that certain words in 1 John 5:7, 8 ARE SPURIOUS ADDITIONS that found their way into our King James Version from certain manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate, where they originated…” (R. M. Johnston, Ministry, November 1964, ‘What can we know about the Holy Trinity?)

DENNIS FORTIN: Professor of Historical Theology
“The New Testament does not have any explicit statement on the Trinity—apart from 1 John 5:7, which has been rejected AS A MEDIEVAL ADDITION TO THE TEXT… (Dennis Fortin “God, the Trinity and Adventism”)

WHITE ESTATE: Question about 1 John 5:7
“Some years ago I had read some of your publications. At the time I seem to remember a discussion of the divinity of Christ. A reference to 1 John 5:7 was quoted but I can not find it…can you please tell me where this strong scriptural argument is used?

Thanking you in advance, dws

“Perhaps that is just as well, because it may not be such a “strong scriptural argument” after all. The verse appears in no ancient Greek manuscript earlier than about the 13th century A.D. That is, despite its inclusion in the 1611 original of the King James Version translation into English, IT IS HIGHLY UNLIKELY THAT IT WAS IN THE *ORIGINAL* VERSION OF 1 JOHN AS JOHN WROTE IT. No modern Bible translation that I am aware of includes it in the text except the New King James Version, and even this version carries a footnote about the text’s absence from Greek manuscripts until relatively recent times. Apparently, IT IS SOME SCRIBE’S NOTE TO HIMSELF about the trinity, originally written in the margin of the manuscript he was copying, and later incorporated into the text by another scribe who may have been uncertain about whether or not it was a correction that belonged in the text; in any case, he opted to include it there. (http:// http://ellenwhite.org/…/did-ellen-g-white-believed…)

Now bear in that from the SDA Bible Commentary down all of these sources are pro-trinitarian! Yet even they openly admit that the weight of evidence does not support the Comma as genuine. Thus, in the words of SDA Bible Commentary the “overwhelming evidence” makes this verse “valueless” and it “should not be used.” The continued usage of this verse by some of our trinitarian brethren, in light of this consistent testimony from both non-trinitarian and pro-trinitarian SDAs, is, in my estimation, a tacit admission of the weakness of Biblical evidence supporting this conception of God. I am convinced that some continue to use it out of ignorance while others do so out of ill conceived reactionary theology. They are aware of the fact that without this verse there is no inspired statement in all of God’s Word or the testimonies which ever teaches the trinitarian dogma of “three are one.” In conclusion it is evident that the doctrine of the trinity cannot stand upon such a shaky foundation as a contested verse like 1 John 5:7b, 8a and all honest Bible students should admit as much.

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