What are the arguments against Johannine Comma?

The authenticity of the Johannine comma, found in1 John 5:7, has been a subject of debate from the early sixteenth century. Wikipedia says the general consensus today is that that passage is a Latin corruption that entered the Greek manuscript tradition in subsequent copies. Manuscript evidence can be found here, in Wikipedia.

The text including the comma reads (KJV):

  1. For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
  2. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one

If the comma is removed, it would read:

For there are three that bear record, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one

Arguments against the Johannine comma

The nature of Jesus and the concept of Trinity came to the fore in the late third century, resulting in fierce debate through the fourth century, including the Arian controversy. The Johannine comma begins to appear in Latin texts from this period and in later Greek texts. It is not found in the earliest Greek texts.

The editors of the 1808 New Testament in an improved version found the following reasons for rejecting the comma:

  1. This text concerning the heavenly witnesses is not contained in any Greek manuscript which was written earlier than the fifteenth century.
  2. Nor in any Latin manuscript earlier than the ninth century.
  3. It is not found in any of the ancient versions.
  4. It is not cited by any of the Greek ecclesiastical writers, though to prove the doctrine of the Trinity they have cited the words both before and after this text
  5. It is not cited by any of the early Latin fathers, even when the subjects upon which they treat would naturally have led them to appeal to its authority.
  6. It is first cited by Virgilius Tapsensis, a Latin writer of no credit, in the latter end of the fifth century, and by him it is suspected to have been forged.
  7. It has been omitted as spurious in many editions of the New Testament since the Reformation:—in the two first of Erasmus, in those of Aldus, Colinaus, Zwinglius, and lately of Griesbach.
  8. It was omitted by Luther in his German version.

As this site notes, the Johannine comma has been ommitted from the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament, widely accepted as representing current scholarly opinion.

Adam Clarke summarizes well the arguments against the Comma when he says:

But it is likely this verse is not genuine. It is wanting in every MS. of this epistle written before the invention of printing, one excepted, the Codex Montfortii, in Trinity College, Dublin: the others which omit this verse amount to one hundred and twelve.

It is wanting in both the Syriac, all the Arabic, Ethiopic, the Coptic, Sahidic, Armenian, Slavonian, etc., in a word, in all the ancient versions but the Vulgate; and even of this version many of the most ancient and correct MSS. have it not. It is wanting also in all the ancient Greek fathers; and in most even of the Latin.

Clarke goes on to point out that Coverdale and Tyndale both included the verse, but enclosed it with parentheses (note that Tyndale’s original 1526 version did not include parentheses here, but he added them to his later revision in 1534):

Coverdale Bible (1535)

Tyndale New Testament (1534)

Clarke concludes with:

Though a conscientious believer in the doctrine of the ever blessed, holy, and undivided Trinity, and in the proper and essential Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, which doctrines I have defended by many, and even new, arguments in the course of this work [this commentary], I cannot help doubting the authenticity of the text in question….

Conclusion

The controversy over the Comma will probably never end, since it is missing from enough manuscripts to give even die-hard Trinitarians such as Adam Clarke reason to doubt it’s authenticity.

However if we are to take Jerome’s complaint about “unfaithful interpreters” seriously, along with the citations of bishops such as Cyprian, then the passage is indeed genuine.


1 The link I have provided to Coke’s 1 John preface has antiquated spelling and might be hard to read. His preface is not currently available on Studylight.com, as it mistakenly contains his introduction to 1 John 5 instead. However his preface with modern spelling can be read freely with theWord Bible software or eSword.

Coverdale Bible (1535)
Tyndale New Testament (1534)