Martin Luther or Agricola commentary on the heavenly witnesses (c. 1543-1545)

Steven Avery

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Johannes Agricola (1494-1566)

Johann Georg Walch (1693–1775)
his edition of Luther's works in 24 vols. (1740–1752);

Johann Jakob Rambach (1693-1735),_1693)

Gustav Koffmane (1852-1915),_Gustav_(1852-1915)


From Knittel following Walch:

Luther's commentary on the verse, written after the Greek New Testaments were including the verse.

Martin Luther's commentary on the heavenly witnesses (c. 1543-1545)

For, on V. 7, " For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one;" he says, . "

This is the testimony in heaven, which is afforded by three witnesses*is in heaven, and remaineth in heaven. This order is to be carefully noted; namely, that the witness who is last among the witnesses in heaven, is first among the witnesses on earth, and very properly.

And on the 6th verse of the Vth chapter he says,

This passage is certainly difficult and obscure. John here adduces a testimony that Jesus is the Christ. His theme therefore, or main topic, is, the testimony that Jesus is the Christ; or wherewith is it proved that he is the Messiah or Christ. For this purpose be (i.e. John) appeals to a twofold testimony: the one is in heaven, the other on earth. Both also have three witnesses; because, "in the mouth of two or three witnesses, truth is established."

John therefore adduces a testimony where with he intends to prove that Jesus is the Christ. Now, this testimony is a testimony of God, and not of man: for the Father testifieth of his Son. If we receive the witness of men, (saith John, ver. 9.) the witness of God is greater, which he hath testified of his Son. But this divine testimony is twofold. It is given partly in heaven, partly on earth:*that given in heaven has three witnesses, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: the other, given on earth, has also three witnesses; namely, the spirit, the water, and the blood.

(New criticisms on the celebrated text, 1 John v. 7, by Franz Anton Knittel - 1785 German ed .. 1829 English translation by William Alleyn Evanson)

[TC-Alternate-list] Martin Luther and the heavenly witnesses

New criticisms on the celebrated text, 1 John v. 7, a lect., tr. by W.A. Evanson
by Franz Anton Knittel


Grantley McDonald in Biblical Criticism does reference a couple of additional significant references to the heavenly witnesses where Luther was involved in his later years.

This important reference is only given a tiny ref in a footnote 30 on p. 63-64 and that is disingenuously connected with an earlier Luther comment:

‘I can make fun of this text easily, for there is no more inept passage in defence of the Trinity.’50

Grantley does say that the commentary above:

"is assigned to Agricola in WA 20:596."

Does that alternate assignation fit?
An interesting question to pursue.

III. The authorship of a work which is ascribed to Luther in Walch’s edition of the Reformer’s writings is assigned to John Agricola by G. Koffmane. The inquiry has one element of general interest, for the author of the work in dispute comments upon 1 John v. 7, and the inference has been drawn that Luther had before him a Greek MS. containing the verse which mentions the Three Heavenly Witnesses.
However, Knittel and this author over-conjecturize the Greek ms. question, the "inference".

First, a negative evidence:
Luther’s suspicion of the comma is also reflected in more subtle ways, for example in the omission of the comma from his 1542 German translation of Against the law of the Turks (Contra legem Sarracenorum) by the Dominican Ricoldus (f 1320). p. 63-64
Now, two positive evidences that show a more accepting view of Luther:

During the doctoral disputation of Georg Major and Johannes Faber, over which Luther presided on 12 December 1544, Major cited only three Scriptural passages under the head ‘On the divinity of the essence’ (De divinitate essentiae): Jn 10:30, 17:11 and 1 Jn 5:7.“

And in his doctoral disputation, held at Wittenberg on 3 July 1545, Peter Herzog (Hegemon) declared that the Scriptures contain many testimonies to the Trinity, including Gen 1:26—27, Mt 3:16, Rom 11:36 and 1 Jn 5:7. In his response to Herzog, even Luther quoted the comma.23 p. 76
Last edited:

Steven Avery


The Comma Johanneum is not found in Luther’s German New Testament of 1522, which was translated from a reprint of Erasmus’ first edition. Martin Luther stated in his “Lecture on the First Epistle of John” that the Comma Johanneum had been “clumsily inserted by the zeal of the old theologians against the Arians … I could easily make fun of the fact that there is no more unsuitable place of proof for the Trinity.” In a similar way as Erasmus, Luther did not really buy the text. In the margin of 1 John 5 in his own Bible, he added the remark that, “there is no testimony in heaven” (in coelo non est testimonium). The German Bible did not include the Comma Johanneum before 1581.

Ezra Abbot

There are two exceptions by Luther of the First Epistle of John, both of which may be found, translated from the original Latin into German, in vol. Ix. Of Walch’s edition of Luther’s Sammtliche Schriften. The first was written somewhere between the years 1522 and 1524. (See Walch’s ed., ix. 908-1079, and Vorrede, pp. 18, 19.) In this, Luther, after quoting the passage of the three heavenly witnesses, remarks: -

“These words are not found in the Greek Bibles; but it seems as if this verse had been inserted by the Orthodox against the Arians. This, however, has not been done even fittingly, for he [the Apostle] speaks here and there not of the witnesses in heaven, but of the witnesses on earth.” (Col. 1059.)

Col 1059 .. not shown
Last edited: