1 John 5:7 – What Happened to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

The one who overcomes the world believes that Jesus is the Son of God (5:6). John uses the full title of Jesus as the “Son of God.” He has described Jesus and the Father throughout the letter. In 1:3 our fellowship is with God the Father and with “Jesus Christ his son.” In the previous paragraph John stated the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world and that God will abide only those who acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God (4:13-16).

But there is a bit of controversy over the text of 1 John 5:7. Compare the KJV with any modern translation” The KJV reads “testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.” These words do not appear in most modern translations although they are usually in a footnote. The verse seems like solid proof text for the doctrine of the Trinity. So why do the words not appear in any modern translation?

Cut out of the BibleSome later manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate had “testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. 8 And there are three that testify on earth:” These words were not in any Greek manuscript before the fourteenth century and did not appear in Latin Bibles until after AD 800. Likely this was a marginal comment which was introduced to the text by a scribe who thought it ought to be inserted. He was either mistaken, or thought it was a god place for a solid Trinity reference and he added it in.

The handful of Greek manuscripts which did have the words were influenced by the reading in the Latin Bible. Erasmus omitted the line from his first two editions of his Greek New Testament, and was criticized by Catholic scholars who used the Vulgate as a proof text for the doctrine of the Trinity.

Erasmus told his critics that if even one Greek manuscript could be found with the line, he would add it to the next edition. A manuscript was quickly prepared (codex 61, the work of a Franciscan monk named Froy or Roy), and Erasmus added the line to the next addition of his GNT, although with a note explaining that he doubted the line was genuine. The four manuscripts that support the longer reading are ms. 61 (sixteenth century), ms. 88 (twelfth century), ms. 629 (fourteenth or fifteenth century), and ms. 635 (eleventh-century manuscript with the passage written in its margin during the seventeenth century).

Metzger reports that codex 61, which is housed at the library of Trinity College in Dublin, “almost opens of its own accord to 1 John 5–so often has it been consulted on this passage!” (The Text of the New Testament, 101, note 5). However, Peter Malik says the manuscript has an abundance of marginal notes added by two different hands after the codex was produced (in Hixson and Gurry, Myths and Mistakes, 158).

What does it matter? This is not a case of removing the Trinity from the Bible as some more conspiracy-minded people might suggest. This is a good example of textual critics doing their job and determining the most accurate form of the text from the existing variants. The doctrine of the Trinity does not stand (or fall) on 1 John 5:7. In fact, 1 John 5:6 mentions the Son and the Spirit together with God in verse 8. There are plenty of examples of Father-Son equality in the Gospel of John.

Does the lack of the words “the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one” change any Christian’s faith in the Trinity?  If it does, then that faith was thin to begin with.

2 thoughts on “1 John 5:7 – What Happened to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

  1. You’ve given an account which used to be common, but has been challenged on certain details – perhaps minor ones.

    The version you give sounds very much like Metzger’s, but he had picked it up and repeated it from several predecessors. In particular, the idea that Erasmus made a promise to include the Comma in subsequent editions to the first two, has been found to be on uncertain grounds – he seems simply to have pointed out that he hadn’t seen any Greek manuscripts with the Comma, and so hadn’t included it in his original edition(s); his reasons for including it later editions differ from the “promise” story – he hadn’t said that he “would” do this, but, you’re correct to say that he felt pressure to do so from various conservative critics, and he writes about this.

    There is also no record that has been found in Erasmus’ writings, as far as I’m aware, that he stated that he thought that minuscule Gregory 61 had been produced expressly to force him to include the Comma; he did suspect that the manuscript had been prepared from Latin versions which included the Comma, and so was critical of it, but as far as I’m aware, he did not say that it had been produced to confound him or force him to do anything.

    These points are addressed in detail by HJ De Jonge in, Erasmus and the Comma Johanneum, in Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses, 1980, t. 56, fasc. 4, pp. 381-389. This can be accessed here: http://www.verhoevenmarc.be/PDF/Comma-Johanneum-DeJonge.pdf

    Perhaps there has been some answer to these points in the intervening period, but I have not come across any.

  2. I give lots of credit to the scholars and textual critics who determine what manuscripts and textual variants are more likely to be authentic. By the end of this semester I will have completed all four semesters of Greek, so I know quite a bit about textual criticism and the debates and work that textual critics do to find the most authentic reading of a passage. There is so many factors that come into play and for these critics to come and do all that work is truly inspiring. This textual variant is one of the more popular ones because so many people get heated about the inclusion or exclusion of this reading, when in reality, the support for its inclusion is very shaky at best. Erasmus only included it because of the peer pressure he was given for it to be included, and the manuscript in which it was given authenticity, has been proven to be questionable (Long). There is no doubt that the Trinitarian theology holds itself up to be true, there are many other places in which the Trinity can be referenced. However, for people to hold so much debate in the inclusion of this one verse as the sole basis for their Trinitarian beliefs seems kind of ridiculous, especially when you can reference the Trinity in so many other places in Scripture. I can understand why Catholic scholars wanted it included, however when it comes to creating a Greek New Testament that is meant to be as authentic as possible, putting aside bias, and focusing on what the author truly wanted to say is much more important.

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