“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.“
This is 1 John 5:7 as it reads in the King James Bible. Most modern translations do not include this verse, or at least put a footnote telling you it isn’t original to the Greek. Although you will find some who will defend its inclusion, most believe it is a later addition. Although this verse will always cause debate, here are some facts about it:
- This verse is known as the Comma Johanneum, which is Latin for John’s Comma where “comma” means a short clause. You know it’s important if there are Latin words involved.
- This verse does not appear in any Greek text until the 1500’s. An earlier 10th century Greek text has it as a marginal note.
- The first debates in the Early Church were mostly about trinitarian theories. If this verse were in the original text, it would show up all over the place in the writings of the Early Church Fathers as a nail in the coffin, proof-text extraordinaire. Some defenders of this verse will attempt to show Church Fathers quoting the verse, but reading the quotes shows that none of the Fathers actually do.
- This clause might be from a fourth century Latin homily that made its way into copies of the Latin Vulgate, the New Testament of Erasmus, and into the King James..
- “Saint” Augustine, who loved to argue about the Trinity (he wrote a large book originally titled, On the Trinity, as well as a commentary on 1 John), never once mentions this verse.
- This passage is so famously controversial, it even gets a mention in Edward Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
- Isaac Newton even mentioned this controversy when he wrote, “In all the vehement universal and lasting controversy about the Trinity in Jerome’s time and both before and long enough after it, this text of the “three in heaven” was never once thought of. It is now in everybody’s mouth and accounted the main text for the business and would assuredly have been so too with them, had it been in their books.”
- Various popes have gone back and forth on the accuracy of the Catholic Bible regarding this text. The last known papal statement on it (June 1927 by Pius XI) said it was open to dispute. The Jehovah Witness’ Bible (New World Translation) does not include it.
- Translations that do not contain 1 John 5:7 are not inherently anti-trinitarian and one should back off that notion right quick. The fact that this verse is not in early Greek manuscripts does not mean the Trinity is not a true doctrine. The Trinity is an extracted doctrine nowhere explicitly defined or defended in the Bible. The Trinity is a doctrine based on many verses in the Bible that logically lead to a trinitarian conclusion.
- The fact that there is a verse in some Bibles that is not original, should not shake your confidence in the Bible. Instead, it should raise it. There are people who study things and are careful with the Word of God. There are no extraneous bits in there that have snuck by us without study. The existence of the controversy over this verse should make that point clear.