English explanations of the solecism issue (heavenly witnesses grammar)

Steven Avery

Reviewing the English language explanations of the earthly witnesses grammar (without heavenly)
emphasis on gender discordance - also touching on related grammatical, style and internal issues.


Sovereign Grace Blog - 2020 - lots of good material, contact author
Notes on the Internal Evidence in Favor of the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7–8)
William Perkins on the grammatical purity question - Nolan and others may be good on that as well
Grammar breakdown
Dabney x 2
Charles Forster and Hebraic Parallelism - building on John Jebb and Robert Lowth
Matthew Henry (many internal arguments)
Revelation confirmations (share with Dean Furlong)

textus-receptus.com - Nick Sayers

Comma-absent readings give rise to a grammatical anomaly
(did he change blogs, and maybe lose some direct urls?)

Pappas is good - calling it the "The Trinitarian passage" makes it a bit difficult to quote scholarly, that can be omitted

Dabney (post 3) covers a few points well - he is hurting at one point - "superinduced upon it by it’s previous position in the masculine group."

Nathaniel Ellsworth Cornwall

Eugenius Bulgaris - translations by b-latin and Hofstetter and tweaked.

In Awe of Christ - 2010 - Louis
dealt nicely with nonsense from Jim contra

Edward Freer Hills


GOAL - creating the clear explanation - preferably using good ref sources

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Steven Avery


“If the Trinitarian passage is omitted, how are we to explain the masculine adjective, “trei” (three), the masculine article “o” (the plural), as well as the masculine participle “marturounte” (bear witness) in the eighth verse of this fifth chapter? The adjective, article, and the participle are all masculine. The problem arises when we consider the mixture of the masculine with neuter substantives which immediately follow. The three nouns that follow are “the spirit, and the water, and the blood” which are all neuter. As the reader can readily see, there is no agreement between these nouns with the masculine article, adjective, and participle that precedes them; they stand in opposition to them. Immediately, one should detect that there is a serious grammatical problem if the Comma is omitted. The masculine adjective “three,” and the masculine article “the” with the masculine participle “bear witness” (or record) of verse eight, is only understood by the attraction of the three witnesses of verse seven which are masculine. It is the Father and the Word and the Holy Ghost of the previous verse that explains the masculine adjective, article and participle in verse eight.”

C. H. Pappas ThM. In Defense of the Authenticity of 1 John 5:7 (p. 45).


Nathaniel Ellsworth Cornwall
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Steven Avery

Dabney is very good in explaining, until his last sentence. (In general, he is covering multiple internal issues.)

Robert Lewis Dabney, in the 19th century, also recognized this issue when dealing with the authenticity of the text:

“The internal evidence against this excision, then, is in the following strong points: First, if it be made, the masculine article, numeral, and participle οι τρεις μαρτυρουντες are made to agree directly with three neuters — an insuperable and very bald grammatical difficulty. But if the disputed words are allowed to stand, they agree directly with two masculine and one neuter noun, ο πατηρ, ο λογος, και το αγιον πνευμα; where, according to a well known rule of syntax, the masculine among the group, control the gender over the neuter connected with them. Then the occurence of the masculine τρεις μαρτυρουντες agreeing with the neuters in the eighth verse, πνευμα, υδωρ, and αιμα may be accounted for by the power of attraction, so well known in Greek syntax, and by the fact that the πνευμα, the leading noun of the second group, and next to the adjectives, has just had a sepcies of masculineness superinduced upon it by it’s previous position in the masculine group.” Discussions Volume 1 Pg. 378

And more:

“In Greek, the phrase “these three agree in one” is “οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν” (the three are in the one). There is a definite article that indicates that the “one” is a particular “one” that has been referred to previously in the flow of the argument. If the Comma remains, this demonstrative article has a clear antecedent. The Father, Word, and Holy Ghost are “one,” and the three earthly witnesses agree in “the one.” Without the Comma there is no clear antecedent.” (“Discussions of Robert Lewis Dabney,” The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967, by the Trinitarian Bible Society).



1. The masculine article, numeral and participle HOI TREIS MARTUROUNTES, are made to agree directly with three neuters, an insuperable and very bald grammatical difficulty. If the disputed words are allowed to remain, they agree with two masculines and one neuter noun HO PATER, HO LOGOS, KAI TO HAGION PNEUMA and, according to the rule of syntax, the masculines among the group control the gender over a neuter connected with them. Then the occurrence of the masculines TREIS MARTUROUNTES in verse 8 agreeing with the neuters PNEUMA, HUDOR and HAIMA may be accounted for by the power of attraction, well known in Greek syntax.

2. If the disputed words are omitted, the 8th verse coming next to the 6th gives a very bald and awkward, and apparently meaningless repetition of the Spirit’s witness twice in immediate succession.

3. If the words are omitted, the concluding words at the end of verse 8 contain an unintelligible reference. The Greek words KAI HOI TREIS EIS TO HEN EISIN mean precisely–”and these three agree to that (aforesaid) One.” This rendering preserves the force of the definite article in this verse. Then what is “that One” to which “these three” are said to agree? If the 7th verse is omitted “that One” does not appear, and “that One” in verse 8, which designates One to whom the reader has already been introduced, has not antecedent presence in the passage. Let verse 7 stand, and all is clear, and the three earthly witnesses testify to that aforementioned unity which the Father, Word and Spirit constitute.


Dabney says:

'The oft-contested text in 1John 5:7 also furnishes us a good instance of the value of that internal evidence which the recent critics profess to discard.........The internal evidence against this excision, then, is in the following strong points: First, if it be made, the masculine article, numeral, and particle......are made to agree directly with three neuters- an insuperable and very bald grammatical difficulty. But if the disputed words are allowed to stand, they agree directly with two masculines and one neuter noun......where, according to a well-known rule of syntax, the masculines among the group control the gender connected with them...... Second, if the excision is made, the eighth verse coming next to the sixth, gives us a very bald and awkward, and apparently meaningless, repetition of the Spirit's witness twice in immediate succession. Third, if the excision is made, then the proposition at the end of the eighth verse [and these three agree in one], contains an unintelligible reference......"And these three agree to that (aforesaid) one,".......What is the aforesaid unity to which these three agree? If the seventh verse is excinded, there is none.....Let the seventh verse stand, and all is clear: the three earthly witnesses testify to that aforementioned unity which the Father, Word, and Spirit constitute........... There is a coherency in the whole which presents a very strong internal evidence for the genuineness of the Received Text.'
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Steven Avery

Grantley is actually very good, including the critical element that the modern contras miss.

As further evidence for the genuineness of the comma, Bulgaris noted the lack of grammatical coordination between the masculine τρεῖς μαρτυροῦντες and the three neuter nouns τὸ πνεῦμα, καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ, καὶ τὸ αἷμα. He remarked that although it is possible in Greek to agree masculine or feminine nouns with neuter adjectives or pronouns, the reverse was unusual; one would more normally expect τρία εἰσι τὰ μαρτυροῦντα . . . καὶ τὰ τρία. Bulgaris seems then to be the first to have argued for the genuineness of the comma through the argument from grammar ....

TR 5:8
καὶ τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἕν τῇ γῇ, τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα καὶ οἱ τρεῖς εἰς τὸ ἐν εἰσὶν

Ilias Theodosis noted how jarring is this grammar, a "hole":

ὅτι τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα καὶ οἱ τρεῖς εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν

What would be expected - courtesy of Grantley McDonald
.......τρία εἰσι τὰ μαρτυροῦντα.......................................................... . . . καὶ τὰ τρία.


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Grantley was actually very good when he did get to Bulgaris in BCEME p. 114 (Biblical Criticism in Early Modern Europe). Generally the contras are clueless about the distinction here, and equate all "discords" as analogous. Grantley had struggled with the grammatical issue in the earlier Raising the Ghost of Arius. However, the above section is a solid explanation, and should help him understand George Babiniotis. In fact, it counts as perhaps the best English language explanation of the solecism to date! (Better than the defenders!)
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Steven Avery

Rick Henwood is very good

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Steven Avery

Edward Freer Hills

In the third place, the omission of the Johannine comma involves a grammatical difficulty. The words spirit, water, and blood are neuter in gender, but in 1 John 5:8 they are treated as masculine. If the Johannine comma is rejected, it is hard to explain this irregularity. It is usually said that in 1 John 5:8 the spirit, the water, and the blood are personalized and that this is the reason for the adoption of the masculine gender. But it is hard to see how such personalization would involve the change from the neuter to the masculine. For in verse 6 the word Spirit plainly refers to the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity. Surely in this verse the word Spirit is "personalized," and yet the neuter gender is used. Therefore since personalization did not bring about a change of gender in verse 6, it cannot fairly be pleaded as the reason for such a change in verse 8. If, however, the Johannine comma is retained, a reason for placing the neuter nouns spirit, water, and blood in the masculine gender becomes readily apparent. It was due to the influence of the nouns Father and Word, which are masculine. Thus the hypothesis that the Johannine comma is an interpolation is full of difficulties.

Nothing wrong, but not real helpful and visual like the two better ones above. Oh wait, verse 6 does not plainly refer to the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity.

John Gill

and it is the Spirit that beareth witness;
by which may be meant, either the Gospel, which is the Spirit that gives life, and is so called, because by it the Spirit of God, in his gifts and graces, is received, and which is a testimony of the person, as well as of the offices, and grace of Christ; or rather those miraculous works which Christ did by the Spirit, to which he often appeals, as witnesses of his divine sonship, and equality with the Father, as well as of his being the true Messiah; or else the Holy Spirit, who bore testimony to Christ, by his descent on him at his baptism, and upon his apostles at the day of Pentecost, and by attending, succeeding, and confirming the Gospel, which is the testimony of him; and he is elsewhere, as well as here, and in the context, spoken of as a witness of Christ, ( Acts 5:32 ) ;

because the Spirit is truth;
he is the Spirit of truth, and truth itself; he is essentially truth; his testimony is most true, and firmly to be believed. The Vulgate Latin version reads, "because Christ is the truth".
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Steven Avery

Andy Ansell

Andy Ansell comment on Steve Waldron Youtube - grammatical summary adds to "Witness of God" harmony

In the reading that excludes these words in verse 7, it reads: "οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες”, which is in the masculine, though "το πνευμα και το υδωρ και το αιμα", are neuters. Some argue that because John mentions the Holy Spirit, so the masculine is used because the Spirit is Personal. However, when John speaks of the Witness of the Holy Spirit in verse 6, he writes, “το μαρτυρουν”, which is in the neuter, because "τὸ πνεῦμά" is neuter. Why would John, who had already mentioned the Witness of the Holy Spirit, in verse 6, using the neuter, then use the masculine in verse 7? It can only be because of "ο πατηρ ο λογος", two masculines and "τὸ πνεῦμά", grouped with them.

Steven Avery

Arthur Cleveland Coxe

"It appears to me very clear that Tertullian is quoting 1 John 5:7. in the passage now under consideration: ... To those interested in the question let me commend the learned dissertation of Grabe on the textual case, as it stood in his day. I value it chiefly because it proves that the Greek Testament, elsewhere says, disjointedly, what is collected into 1 John 5:7. It is, therefore, Holy Scripture in substance, if not in the letter. What seems to me important, however, is the balance it gives to the whole context, and the defective character of the grammar and logic, if it be stricken out."

Steven Avery

A Defense of the Johannine Comma
Selling the Record Straight on I John 5:7-8
Timothy W. Dunkin
Revised, July 2010
With the gratefully accepted assistance of Steven Avery

Matters of Grammar and Consistency

The grammatical difficulty which is found in this passage if the Comma is deleted rests on a rule of Greek grammar (as well as in many other languages) which demands gender agreement among parts of a sentence. If the Comma is left in place, the masculine article, participle, and number in the apodosis of verse 7 then agree with the two masculine (Father, Word) and one neuter (Spirit) nouns in the protasis. This agreement is made by means of the principle of attraction, a rule of Greek syntax by which a masculine noun in a series of nouns within the same clause determines, or "attracts" to itself, the gender for the series as a whole. This gender of the clause, usually subordinate, agrees with the predicate of the preceding clause within that sentence. Hence, the two masculine nouns in the protasis force the whole list to take on a de facto masculine gender, which is then in agreement with the masculine predicate in the apodosis. The problem for those who support the deletion of the Comma is that, if the Comma does not appear in the text, then the masculine predicate in the apodosis of verse 7 is mated with the three neuter nouns (water, blood, spirit) found in verse 8 (which then becomes the subordinate clause), a serious grammatical error. The problem disappears with the Comma in place, because not only does verse 7 agree throughout in gender via the attraction principle, but the mating of the three neuter nouns in verse 8 with the masculine treis marturountes (three witnesses) in verse 8 is then also explained by the attraction principle by, as Dabney also says,

"...the fact that the Pneuma, the leading noun of this second group, and next to the adjectives, has just had a species of masculineness superinduced upon it by its previous position in the masculine group."80

Hence, this close proximity and the fact that the pneuma is a carryover noun from
the previous list of nouns and was made de facto masculine by the Power of Attraction rule in verse 7, cause the nouns in verse 8 to be treated as masculine as well. This all falls apart if the Comma is deleted, as there are no truly masculine nouns (or a masculinated
pneuma) from verse 7 directing the attraction phenomenon.81

It may reasonably be suggested that the reason Gregory's opponents (and Gregory himself) did not know of the Comma directly was because of the efforts by Arians in their time to expunge the verse from the copies of Scripture which either fell into their hands, or were of their own manufacture. As there are no other known grammatical solecisms in the Greek Gospel and Epistles of John, it seems more reasonable to suppose that the existence here of such an egregious grammatical error (one noted by Greek speakers, remember) is due to the deletion of the relevant portion of the Scripture, rather than an original unique error in John's inspired writing.

We should note, again for emphasis, that Robert Dabney was not the modern "inventor" of the grammatical problem seen in I John 5:7-8 when the Comma is deleted. As early as 1740, Bengel noted the grammatical issue involved.82 Also in the 18th century, we see the testimony to the grammatical problem introduced by the removal of the Comma, as it was recognized by Eugenius Bulgarus, Archbishop of Cherson, a high official and scholar in the eastern Greek church. Knittel reproduces Eugenius' discussion of the solecism as it was reported by a Professor Matthaei in Moscow, in 1780, who included a letter from Eugenius in his own discussion of the passage. A similar grammatical argument was advanced by Frederick Nolan in 1815.84

80 Dabney, op. cit., p. 378

81 It should be noted here that some critics of the Comma do not seem to fully understand the Power of Attraction rule. For instance, see G.G. Thomason, •'Scripture, Authentic and Fabricated,” which can be found online here. Thomason argues (pp. 49-50) that the grammatical arguments against the exclusion of the Comma are refuted by the presence of the exact same solecism if the Comma is included, whereby the masculine treis...marturountes en te ge in v. 8 is mismatched with the three neuter earthly witnesses. He either ignores or is unawrare of the fact that the pneuma ''attracts” a carried over masculineness (as Dabney and others pointed out) that allows this second list of three witnesses to then agree in gender with the masculine clause at the beginning of v. 8. Incidentally, Thomason’s article also perpetuates the discredited "Erasmus’ Promise” mythology, perhaps giving a hint to the seriousness of his investigations into this issue.

82 J.A. Bengel, Gnomon of the New Testament, Vol. 2, p. 808

83 See Knittel, op. citpp. 206-8; interestingly, Knittel also notes where Gregory Nazianzus dealt with the grammatical issue.

84 F. Nolan, An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate, or Received Text of the New Testament, pp. 254-61,564-5

85 T.F. Middleton, The Doctrine of the Greek Article Applied to the Criticism and Illustration of the New Testament, pp. 441-3


(finish italics)


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Steven Avery

Brian Winter

Additionally, in that same work, he notes that:

"It may be seen, for example, in I Cor. 13:13, where the antecedents, faith, hope, and love (feminine genders) are followed immediately by these three (neuter, tauta). Matt. 23:23 proves the point further, that judgment (feminine), mercy (masculine), and faith (feminine) are the implied antecedents of the demonstrative pronoun these (neuter) ought ye to have done."

In this argument, hes trying to prove that the constructions f + f + f = n and f + m = n disprove this argument which has absolutely nothing to do with the grammatical syntax at hand (m + m + m + n + n + n = m[pl]). It would be superfluous for me to address these issues. The argument hes attempting to refute deals with masculines controlling the neuters of a group, not neuters in connection with the feminine gender, or masculine controlling the feminine gender, or feminine controlling the neuter gender, or any other construction one could conceive of (real or imagined).