September 21, 2008

Johannine Comma

I was preparing my lesson for this coming Sunday evening I came across something that peaked my interest.  In looking at the cross-references for the Heidelberg Catechism's answer to question 53: "What do we believe about the Holy Spirit?"  The cross-reference was for the proposition "First, that he is true and coeternal God with the Father and the Son," and was 1 John 5:7-8.  These two verses were supposed to support that proposition, but when I look at my ESV all it said was "For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree."  Looking at that, I thought to myself that's not right...  So, I looked at my King James and it read: "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."  So, I thought to myself again: I wonder if there is some sort of textual variant there.  I looked, and sure enough, there was, and it is one of the more famous ones at that.

After talking with Dr. James White, the founder of  Alpha & Omega Ministries, I found out that this was known as the Comma Johanneum or Johannine Comma.  After doing some research I found out that the phrase "in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one...  [a]nd there are three that bear witness in earth," was an insertion into the text that occurred somewhere around 1000 AD.  If it occurred before that in the Greek texts, it was something akin to interpretational note written in the margin of 1 John.  However, Erasmus, when writing the 3rd edition of the Textus Receptus (the standard Greek text for around 300 years afterwards), inserted the text because it was present in the manuscripts he was using.  The Textus Receptus was then the text that was used to translate the King James Version.  Later research showed that the unreliable nature of this insertion, so it was excluded from later Greek texts such as the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament and, the one that I use, the United Bible Society Greek New Testament.  These to later Greek Texts are the basis for the majority of the the modern translations such the New International Version, New American Standard Bible, and the English Standard Version (my bible of choice).


  1. Hi,

    Hard to figure out how an

    "insertion into the text that occurred somewhere around 1000 AD"

    was referenced by Cyprian at 250 AD, used in a statement of faith by hundreds of bishops at the Council of Carthage in 484 AD, referenced in the Vulgate Prologue as being in Greek manuscripts, referenced in the Greek work about Athanasius contra Arius at Nicea, and much more more.

    Using James White as an authority on the heavenly witnesses is a bit like using Barack Obama as an expert on the methodology of birth certificates.

    Steven Avery

    1. Steven,

      It has been a while since I wrote this post, so please forgive me if my memory is a little rusty. However, all that I have ever read suggests that it was a later insertion into the text. If you have evidence to the contrary, I would be glad to consider it if you would point me to it.

      soli Deo gloria,
      David S. Dittmer

  2. Hi David,

    There is so much evidence for the authenticity of the heavenly witnesses as scripture that it is hard to know where to begin :) . On the TC-Alternate forum we have discussed many of the apparatus omissions and errors. Steve Rafalsky has written well on Puritanboard and Timothy Dunkin has a good paper on the net.

    Please forgive my not writing an essay at this time, the forums I use for long articles are generally TC-Alternate, WhichVersion and PureBibleForum.

    Maybe in time I can write a few page article "Accepting the heavenly witnesses as Johannine scripture" which will be geared as a 1-2-3 approach to your question, without to much of the geek stuff. I'm thinking about it ! (Since your question had an unusual sincerity aspect, which is appreciated.)



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