Comma Johanneum

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The Comma Johanneum is a comma (a short clause) contained in most translations of the First Epistle of John This text is variously referred to as the Comma Johanneum, the Johannine Comma, the Heavenly Witnesses, 1 John 5:7 or 1 John v:7. The question of the authenticity of the verse, with the phrase:

there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.

has been a major subject of debate from the 1500s to today. The debate on 1 John 5:7 has also been a primary focus of discussions on the integrity of the New Testament documents and scribal fealty to the Bible text. The varying doctrinal and Christological interpetations of the verse have been a major part of these debates.


Comma Johanneum displayed in English, Latin, and Greek

The bold print is the Johannine Comma.

1 John 5:7-8 Authorized King James Version
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.

Latin: quoniam tres sunt qui testimonium dant in caelo pater verbum et spiritus sanctus et hi tres unum sunt et tres sunt qui testimonium dant in terra spiritus et aqua et sanguis et tres unum sunt

ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ Α΄ 5:7 ὅτι τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες εν τῷ οὐρανῷ, πατήρ, λόγος, καὶ τὸ ἅγιον Πνεῦμα· καὶ οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς ἕν εἰσι·
ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ Α΄ 5:8 καὶ τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἕν τῇ γῇ, τὸ πνεῦμα, καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ, καὶ τὸ αἷμα· καὶ οἱ τρεῖς εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσὶν.

Bible version without the Johannine Comma.

New American Standard:
7. For there are three that testify:
8. the Spirit and the water and the blood;
and the three are in agreement.

Although technically the Comma refers to text that overlaps verses 7 and 8, it is common to refer to the text as verse seven, or 1 John 5:7. In versions without the Comma the verse ordering depends on the version. Most common is the method used by the NASB, which has the phrase "For...testify" as verse 7 and the rest "the agreement" as verse 8. The ASV and the ERV bring part of the traditional verse 6 down as verse 7. Weymouth splits the verses in another fashion.

Bibles that include or omit Comma

Although many traditional Bible translations, most notably the Authorized King James Version (KJV), contain the Comma, modern Bible translations from the Critical Text such as the New International Version (NIV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) tend to either omit the Comma entirely, or relegate it to the footnotes.[]

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the Latin Nova Vulgata (New Vulgate), published in 1979 following the Second Vatican Council, based on the Critical Text and approved for liturgical use, does not include the Comma.[] Nor does the English-language New American Bible. Today there are Bible translations with a Roman Catholic church imprimatur both with and without the verse, as the traditional Rheims New Testament and the Ronald Knox translation of the Vulgate include the verse.

In the Greek Orthodox tradition, earlier translations into Modern Greek by Maximus Callipolites, printed in 1638 for Cyrillus Lucaris, and by Neophytus Vamvas completed in 1850, include the Comma in the text. The editions of the ZWH Brotherhood and Antoniades have the Comma in the main text in a smaller font.[]

The Cambridge Paragraph Bible of the authorized English version, an edition of the King James Version published in 1873, and edited by noted textual scholar F.H.A. Scrivener, one of the translators of the English Revised Version, set the Comma in italics to reflect its disputed authenticity. Few later Authorized Version editions retained this formatting. The AV-1611 page and almost all AV editions use a normal font.

Owing to the widespread use of the Textus Receptus (TR) as the principal source-language text for Bible editions, with the widespread use of the Geneva and then the Authorized Version, the comma is contained in most Bible editions and printings published from 1522 until the latter part of the nineteenth century. Other new translations varied in their approach to the verses. [] Bibles based on the Received Text with the Comma in the text include Young's, the KJ3 Literal Translation and the New King James.


See Also Trinity of the Church Fathers

Excerpt from Codex Sinaiticus including 1 John 5:7–9. It lacks the Comma Johanneum. The purple-coloured text says: "There are three witness bearers, the Spirit and the water and the blood".
Excerpt from Codex Sinaiticus including 1 John 5:79. It lacks the Comma Johanneum. The purple-coloured text says: "There are three witness bearers, the Spirit and the water and the blood".

Omission Theories (verse authentic)

Those who believe the Johannine Comma is authentic attribute authorship to the apostle John. They have diverse theories as to why the Comma dropped out of the Greek manuscript line and why most of the evidence is in Latin manuscripts and church writings. Often these proposed textual histories include homeoteleuton as the initial cause of the early variant. In 1699 Louis Ellies Dupin discussed the possibility:

"...that those two verses beginning with the same words, it was easy for the copiers to omit one by negligence, nothing being more usual than when the same word is in two periods that follow one another, for the copier to pass from the word of the first period to that which follows in the second."[]

The commentary of Puritan scholar Matthew Henry added the difficulty and unlikelihood that a deliberate addition could be inserted into the text-line:

"It was far more easy for a transcriber, by turning away his eye, or by the obscurity of the copy, it being obliterated or defaced on the top or bottom of a page, or worn away in such materials as the ancients had to write upon, to lose and omit the passage, than for an interpolator to devise and insert it; he must be very bold and impudent, that could hope to escape detection and shame, and profane too, that durst venture to make an addition to a supposed sacred book."[]

Anthony Kohlmann asked and answered the question, "what reason can you assign for so notable an omission in some old manuscripts?" Kohlmann pointed to homoeoteleuton and doctrinal motivations and included an analogy to another verse which some attempted to excise.[]

An article on the KJV_Today website looks at the Johannine first epistle text and asserts out that corruption in 1 John occurs in a number of doctrinally charged Christological verses, including full phrases. [] "1 John has its fair share of early textual corruptions to demonstrate that passages were indeed altered for reasons of carelessness or infidelity ... One thing is certain: the text of 1 John underwent corruption long before the alleged 'fabrication' of the Comma. With there being these other demonstrable examples of early textual corruptions, it is reasonable to suppose that the omission of the Comma was also an early textual corruption."[]

Also those asserting authenticity of the Comma, followed by omission, often assert that the early church writers and internal evidences are undervalued by today's textual theories. Franz Pieper is an example from 20th-century scholarship. For Pieper the Cyprian citation is a key element leading to his acceptance of authenticity. Pieper disagrees with the Karl Ströbel claim,[] that the old codices must be the judge in textual criticism (given in Ströbel's review of the Sander book). Pieper says "a quotation from the Fathers is often of decisive importance".[]

Another point raised in favor of authenticity is the difficulty of additions changing the Bible text-line, since additions are usually a conscious change or tampering, "First, to omit implies only excusable oversight, while to insert implies designed deceit and direct invention of a human statement as God's word."<rsup>[]</sup> and likely to be noted, caught and corrected, sounding foreign and unusual to the reader. While text dropped, by fatigue or homoeoteleuton, is a process that is common. And such changes require no conscious attempt at textual tampering, they are often accidental. [] Whether accidental or deliberate tampering, such an omission is less visible than an addition. The text is no longer there to jar the mind of the proof-reader, the scriptorium or the church in the next town. And thus the new variant can escape early detection and correction and be accepted into a stream of manuscripts.
Another issue raised is the difficulty of positing a multi-stage (scribal commentary -> ms margin -> ms text) textual entrance, without any direct evidential support. This scenario is seen as having Ockham-style difficulties, being the more complex alternative. And proponents of authenticity see these difficulties as compounded by a combination of additional factors. The sanctity of the scripture text meant that the scriptoriums and churches watched carefully for scribal additions. Also the proposed late textual entry (as theorized by Ehrman and others) and the widespread early use of the Comma throughout the Latin church even in the 400s mitigate against the multi-stage theory. The 400s is when we have the Council of Carthage and the Twelve Books on the Trinity and additional references.

In addition, some Comma defenders offer a fideistic apologetic, that the preservation of the word of God mandates that there would not be any significant Bible addition, textual charlatanism, that would be transmitted to the large body of the church for 1000 years and more.

Addition Theories (verse spurious)

Those who believe the Johannine Comma is inauthentic view the text as either an accidental intrusion, which could be a margin commentary note that a later scribe mistakenly considered to be the original text. [] Or as a deliberate insertion or forgery. The deliberate theory usually considers the motives to be doctrinal, to support Trinitarian doctrines.

Erasmus, looking at the Vulgate Prologue, which evidence had been emphasized by Stunica, implied that Jerome had been the source of the verse about which the Prologue speaks: "For who would have called him a forger and a falsifier, unless he changed the common reading of the place?"[] Erasmus "spoke of Jerome's violence, unscrupulousness, and frequent inconsistency, as the probable origin of this supposed interpolation in the Sacred text."[] Drummond quoted Erasmus more moderately than Armfield.[]

Hugo Grotius contended that the verse had been added in to the Johannine text by the Arians[] About the Grotius view, Richard Simon wrote "... all this is only founded on conjectures: and seeing every one does reason according to his prejudices, some will have the Arians to be the authors of that addition, and others do attribute the same to the Catholicks."[] Luther's pastor, John Bugenhagen, like Grotius, wrote of a conjectured Arian origin .

Isaac Newton took a similar approach as Erasmus, looking to Jerome as the principle figure in placing the Comma in the Bible. [] Newton also thought that the Athanasius Disputation with Arius (Ps-Athanasius) "had been deeply influential on the subsequent attitude to the authenticity of the passage."<rsup>[]</sup> Newton's comment that from Matthew 28:19 "they tried at first to derive the Trinity" implies that for the conjectured interpolation, "the Trinity" was the motive.

Richard Simon believed the verse began in a Greek scholium, while Herbert Marsh posited the origin as a Latin scholium.[] Simon conjectured that the Athanasius exposition at Nicea was the catalyst for the Greek scholium which brought forth the text.[]

Richard Porson was a major figure in the opposition to the authenticity of the verse. His theory of spurious origin involved Tertullian and Cyprian, and also the interpretation by Augustine which led to a marginal note. And, in the Porson theory, that marginal note was in the Bible text used by the author of the Confession of Faith at the Council of Carthage of 484 AD.[] Porson also considered the Vulgate Prologue as spurious, a forgery not written by Jerome, and this Prologue was responsible for the entrance into the Vulgate. "..Latin copies had this verse in the eighth century. It is then that we suppose it to have crawled into notice on the strength of Pseudo-Jerome's recommendation."[]

Johann Jakob Griesbach wrote his Diatribe in Locum 1 Joann V. 7, 8 in 1806, as an Appendix to his Critical Edition of the New Testament. In the Diatribe, Griesbach "expresses his conviction that the seventh verse rests upon the authority of Vigilius Tapsensis."[]

The 1808 Improved Version, with Thomas Belsham contributing, followed Griesbach on the idea of Tapsensis authority, combined with enhancing the forgery intimations of Gibbon. Thus came the theory that the verse was a forgery by Virgilius Tapsensis. This emphasis on Tapsensis (Thapsus) was echoed by Unitarians of the 1800s, including Theophilus Lindsey, Abner Kneeland, and John Wilson.

John Oxlee, in his journal debate with Frederick Nolan, accused the African Prelates Vigilius Tapensis and Fulgentius Ruspensis of thrusting the verse into the Latin manuscripts.[]

William Orme, in the Monthly Review, 1825, conjectured Augustine as the source. "it is probable that the verse originated in the interpretation of St. Augustine. It seems to have existed for some time on the margins of the Latin copies, in a kind of intermediate state, as something better than a mere dictum of Augustine, and yet not absolutely Scripture itself. By degrees it was received into the text, where it appears in by far the greater number of Latin manuscripts now in our hands."[][]

Scrivener allowed for the authenticity of the Cyprian citation as a reference to the verse being in Cyprian's Bible. [] To allow for this, Scrivener's theory of the source and timing of an interpolation can not be late, and his scenario did not give estimated dates or any names responsible. "the disputed words...were originally brought into Latin copies in Africa from the margin, where they had been placed as a pious and orthodox gloss on v. 8: that from the Latin they crept into two or three late Greek codices, and thence into the printed Greek text, a place to which they had no rightful claim."[]

Joseph Barbour Lightfoot, who similarly worked on the Revision, included Origen as part of the origin. "not in the first instance a deliberate forgery, but a comparatively innocent gloss .... the spirit and the water and the blood—a gloss which is given substantially by S. Augustine and was indicated before by Origen and Cyprian, and which first thrust itself into the text in some Latin MSS .."[]

Brooke Foss Westcott had a theory of verse origin and development which said of the Augustine reference in the City of God - "Augustine supplies the word 'Verbum' which is required to 'complete the gloss'". Even in 1892, in the third edition of The epistles of St John: the Greek text, with notes and essays, when Westcott acknowledged the newly discovered Liber Apologeticus Priscillian reference with verbum, the Augustine Verbum/gloss assertion remained in his book. And the assertion "there is no evidence that it was found in the text of St John before the latter part of the 5th century" also remained, alongside "The gloss which had thus become an established interpretation of St John's words is first quoted as part of the Epistle in a tract of Priscillian (c 385)".

Joseph Pohle, after asking "how did the text of the three heavenly Witnesses find its way into the Vulgate? All explanations that have been advanced so far are pure guesswork." concludes "the Comma Ioanneum was perhaps found in copies of the Latin Bible current in Africa as early as the third century", and then considered Cassiodorus as responsible for inserting the verse into the Vulgate.[] Pohle, like Scrivener, allows that the Cyprian citation may well indicate that the verse was in his Bible. []

In the early 20th century Karl Künstle helped to popularize a theory that Priscillian of Ávila (ca. 350-385) was the author of the Comma.[] The theory held that "Priscillian interpolated ... in the first epistle of John so as to justify in this way his unitarian theories. The text was then retouched in order to appear orthodox, and in this shape found its way into several Spanish documents."[] This idea of a Priscillian origin for the Comma had a brief scholarship flourish and then quickly lost support in textual circles. The Priscillian citation had been recently published in 1889 by Georg Schepps. []

Alan England Brooke, while theorizing that "the growth of that gloss can be traced back at least as early as Cyprian"[] also placed the Theodulfian recension of the Vulgate, after 800 AD, as a prime point whereby the verse first gained traction into the Latin text-lines. "It is through the Theodulfian Recension of the Vulgate that the gloss first gained anything like wide acceptance".[]

Adolf Harnack in Zur Textkritik und Christologie der Schriften des Johannes "argues that the comma johanneum is the post-augustinian revision of an old addition to the text".[]

Raymond Brown expresses a theory of verse development in which the writings of Tertullian and Cyprian (the sections that proponents consider Comma allusions) represented the "thought process" involved, that gave rise to the Comma. The words of the Comma "appear among Latin writers in North Africa and Spain in the third century as a dogmatic reflection on and expansion of the 'three that testify': 'the Spirit' is the Father [Jn 4:24]; 'the blood' is the Son; 'the water' is the Spirit (Jn 7:38-39)."[]

Walter Thiele allows for a Greek origin of the Comma, before Cyprian. Raymond Brown summarizes: "Thiele, Beobachtungen 64-68, argues that the I John additions may have a Greek basis, for sometimes a plausible early chain can be constructed thus: Cyprian, Pseudo-Cyprian, Augustine, Pseudo-Augustine, Spanish Vulgate (especially Isidore of Seville and Theodolfus)."[]

Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan expresses the common scholarly view that the words (apparently) crept into the Latin text of the New Testament during the Early Middle Ages, "[possibly] as one of those medieval glosses but were then written into the text itself by a careless copyist. Erasmus omitted them from his first edition; but when a storm of protest arose because the omission seemed to threaten the doctrine of the Trinity, he put them back in the third and later editions, whence they also came into the Textus Receptus, 'the received text'."[][]

Most New Testament scholars today believe that the Comma was inserted into the Old Latin text based on a gloss to that text, with the original gloss dating to the 3rd or 4th century, as expressed with some qualifications by Bruce Metzger.[][]

These theories generally consider the verse as not in the Bible of Cyprian. The acceptance of the possibility of Cyprian reading the verse in his Bible impels a more difficult conjecture of very early interpolation, essentially before the Arian and Sabellian doctrinal battles. Yet it is those doctrinal battles which are generally given as supplying the motive for the proposed interpolation.


Most opponents of the Comma as inauthentic view the verse as having arisen by a sequence of events involving scribal difficulties and error. Often this is a staged understanding, beginning with an interpretation placed as a margin commentary. The margin note is later erroneously brought into the text by a scribe who mistakenly thought the margin note indicated a superior alternate reading or correction. Those types of proposed scenarios are based on the limitations inherent in laborious hand-copying and do not have to impugn motives.

By contrast, the accusations of deliberate textual tampering and forgery for doctrinal purposes are based on scribes making deliberate changes away from the original text. A number of writers have theories of direct forgery as the motive for the insertion of the Comma into the text. Some of these theories were developed after the 1883 Priscillian discovery [] and fingered Priscillian as the culprit.

Voltaire wrote that the verse was inserted at the time of Constantine. "Lactantius...It was about this time that, among the very violent disputes on the Trinity, this famous verse was inserted in the First Epistle of St. John: “There are three that bear witness in earth—the word or spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three are one.”.[]

The accusation against the verse by Edward Gibbon in 1781, while stating "the Scriptures themselves were profaned by their rash and sacrilegious hands" stops short of a direct accusation of forgery by also discussing marginal notes and allegorical interpretation. In response to Gibbon, George Travis noted the lack of forgery accusations before the Reformation-era debate. []

In 1813, Unitarian Thomas Belsham accused the verse of being an "impious forgery...spurious and fictitious".[] In Calm Inquiry in 1817, Belsham had the verse as a "palpable forgery"[] and his student, Unitarian minister Israel Worsley, for more emphasis wrote of "a gross and a palpable forgery".[][]

For the next decades, the forgery accusation was generally made outside the context of textual analysis, usually by Unitarians and freethinkers, such as Robert Taylor.[] author of the Manifesto of the Christian Evidence Society. Everard Bierer took this approach "This bold interpolation shows conclusively what Trinitarian fanaticism in the Dark Ages would do, and leaves us to imagine what renderings it probably gave to many other texts, and especially somewhat obscure ones on the same subject."[]

In 1888, Philip Schaff, church historian who worked on the American committee of the Revision, brought the accusation to the mainstream, "Erasmus .. omitted in his Greek Testament the forgery of the three witnesses".[]

Charles Taze Russell in 1899 made his accusation specific and the forgery late: "the spurious words were no doubt interpolated by some over-zealous monk, who felt sure of the (Trinity) doctrine himself, and thought that the holy spirit had blundered in not stating the matter in the Scriptures: his intention, no doubt, was to help God and the truth out of a difficulty by perpetrating a fraud."[]

Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare was a textual scholar who wrote in 1910 a section specifically about "famous orthodox corruptions", including "The text of the three witnesses a doctrinal forgery".[]

Preserved Smith in 1920 called the verse "a Latin forgery of the fourth century, possibly due to Priscillian"[]

Gordon Campbell, author of Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011 asserts that the Comma is "a medieval forgery inserted into Bibles to support a trinitarian doctrine that had been erected on a disconcertingly thin biblical base.".[]

The popularity of the modern "orthodox corruption" view of Bart Ehrman has increased the forgery claims, especially on the Internet. Ehrman calls the Comma "the most obvious instance of a theologically motivated corruption in the entire manuscript tradition of the New Testament. Nonetheless, in my judgment, the comma's appearance in the tradition can scarcely be dated prior to the trinitarian controversies that arose after the period under examination."[] Ehrman posits his other corruptions as around the 2nd century, so Ehrman is considering the Comma as exceptional and placing the "appearance" of the Comma in the 300s or 400s, close to Priscillian's verse usage and citation as from John.

Doctrinal Issues, Trinitarianism, Unitarianism, Arianism

Theories of both authenticity and spuriousness often interweave doctrinal and Christology concerns as part of their analysis of 'Origins', how the verse developed and was either dropped or added to Bible lines.

John Guyse gave a summary in the Practical Expositor that was a type of model for many of the later doctrinal expositions by those defending authenticity from a Trinitarian perspective.

"the Trinitarians therefore had less occasion to interpolate this verse, than the Antitrinitarians had to take it out of the sacred canon, if any, on either side, can be supposed to be so very wicked as to make such an attempt ; and it is much more likely that (Guyse describes homoeoteleuton or other omission) than that any should be so daring as designedly to add it to the text". []

Often those who oppose authenticity take the position that the Comma was included in the Textus Receptus (TR) compiled by Erasmus of Rotterdam because of its doctrinal importance in supporting Trinitarianism. The passage is often viewed as an explicit reference to the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with notable exceptions.[]

The issue of whether Trinitarian doctrine is supported by, and dependent on, the heavenly witnesses is an ongoing dispute. Theophilus Lindsay, a Unitarian who opposed the authenticity of the verse, wrote:

"passage of scripture ... the only one which can be brought for any shew or semblance of proof of a Trinity in Unity proof of a Trinity in Unity, of three persons being one God, is 1 John v. 7."[]

And some defenders of authenticity place doctrinal Christology issues as only auxiliary or secondary, considering the primary issue to be the integrity of scripture. Nathaniel Ellsworth Cornwall wrote:

The genuineness of I. John, v. 7, then, is here maintained, not to secure a proof-text of the doctrine of the Trinity, but to preserve the integrity of Holy Scripture. As a proof-text it would be less important than many others if it were wholly unquestioned. But as a part of Holy Scripture it is to be defended with all diligence ... it is rather the integrity of Holy Scripture than the doctrine of the Trinity that is involved in the question of the genuineness of I. John, v. 7 ...[]


1 John 5:7 appears is the large majority of reformation bibles, but is lacking in most modern versions.

John Calvin (10 July 150927 May 1564)- "However, the passage flows better when this clause is added, and as I see that IT IS FOUND IN THE BEST AND MOST APPROVED COPIES, I am inclined to receive it as the true reading."

John Gill (23 de novembro de 1697 - 14 Outubro 1771)- commenting on 1 John 5:7 - "As to the old Latin interpreter, it is certain it is to be seen in many Latin manuscripts of an early date, and stands in the Vulgate Latin edition of the London Polyglot Bible: and the Latin translation, which bears the name of Jerom[e] (382 AD), has it, and who, in an epistle of his to Eustochium, prefixed to his translation of these canonical epistles, complains of the omission of it by unfaithful interpreters."

Manuscript Evidence

1 John 5:7 is found in: Greek manuscript 61, codex Ravianus and Britannicus, it's also in the margins of 88 and 629, manuscript E (735 AD; has Acts 8:37). Likewise, it is found in the old Latin manuscripts Codex Freisingensis (Latin "r", "Beuron 64"; AD *500*), leon 1 (various readings of 1 John 5:7-8; AD 913-923), leon 2 (margin, 930 AD; has Acts 8:37) harl 2 (AD 752), Codex Toletanus (988 AD; has Acts 8:37, 9:5, 9:6), Codex Demidovianus (1150 AD; has Acts 8:37), Codex Colbertinus (AD 1150), Codex Perpinianus (AD 1250; has Acts 8:37), and Speculum (Latin "m" AD *450*, within a century of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus)

It is found in 68mg(mg=margin), 636mg and 918. It is also found in omega 110, 429mg, 221, and 2318. It's in the Montfort MS and Codex Wizanburgens (8th century). It is found in the margin of Codex Ottobonianus (629, 14th century).

It is also found in the Ulmensis manuscript (AD 850), and Codex pal Legionensis (AD *650*). It is found in the German manuscript The Augsburger Bibelhandschrift (2 Cod 3)(AD 1350).

History of modern study

Hē Kainē Diathēkē 1859, with Griesbach's text of the New Testament. The English note is from the 1859 editor, with reasons for omitting the Comma Johanneum.
Hē Kainē Diathēkē 1859, with Griesbach's text of the New Testament. The English note is from the 1859 editor, with reasons for omitting the Comma Johanneum.

See Also

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