Omission theories (verse authentic)
Those who believe the Johannine Comma is authentic attribute authorship to the apostle John. They have diverse theories as to why the Comma dropped out of the Greek manuscript line and why most of the evidence is in Latin manuscripts and church writings. Often these proposed textual histories include scribal error
as the initial cause of the early variant. In 1699 Louis Ellies Dupin
discussed the possibility:
"...that those two verses beginning with the same words, it was easy for the copiers to omit one by negligence, nothing being more usual than when the same word is in two periods that follow one another, for the copier to pass from the word of the first period to that which follows in the second."
The commentary of Puritan scholar Matthew Henry
added the difficulty and unlikelihood that a deliberate addition could be inserted into the text-line:
"It was far more easy for a transcriber, by turning away his eye, or by the obscurity of the copy, it being obliterated or defaced on the top or bottom of a page, or worn away in such materials as the ancients had to write upon, to lose and omit the passage, than for an interpolator to devise and insert it; he must be very bold and impudent, that could hope to escape detection and shame, and profane too, that durst venture to make an addition to a supposed sacred book."
asked and answered the question, "what reason can you assign for so notable an omission in some old manuscripts?" Kohlmann pointed to homoeoteleuton
and doctrinal motivations and included an analogy to another verse which some attempted to excise.[n 4]
Also those asserting authenticity of the Comma often claim that heretics doctored all of the extant early Greek manuscripts and removed doctrinally offensive passages. Such claims have been made by Donald A. Waite, Thomas Strouse, Thomas Holland, Frederick Nolan, and Robert L. Dabney.
Addition theories (verse spurious)
Those who believe the Johannine Comma is inauthentic view the text as either an accidental intrusion, which could be a margin commentary note that a later scribe mistakenly considered to be the original text,[n 5]
or as a deliberate insertion or forgery.
contended that the verse had been added into the Johannine text by the Arians.[n 6]
About the Grotius view, Richard Simon wrote "...all this is only founded on conjectures: and seeing every one does reason according to his prejudices, some will have the Arians to be the authors of that addition, and others do attribute the same to the Catholicks."
Luther's pastor, John Bugenhagen, like Grotius, wrote of a conjectured Arian origin.
took a similar approach as Erasmus, looking to Jerome as the principal figure in placing the Comma in the Bible.[n 7]
Newton also thought that the Athanasius Disputation with Arius (Ps-Athanasius) "had been deeply influential on the subsequent attitude to the authenticity of the passage."
Newton's comment that from Matthew 28:19 "they tried at first to derive the Trinity" implies that for the conjectured interpolation, "the Trinity" was the motive.
believed the verse began in a Greek scholium, while Herbert Marsh
posited the origin as a Latin scholium.
Simon conjectured that the Athanasius
exposition at Nicea was the catalyst for the Greek scholium which brought forth the text.[n 8]
was a major figure in the opposition to the authenticity of the verse. His theory of spurious origin involved Tertullian and Cyprian, and also the interpretation by Augustine which led to a marginal note. And, in the Porson theory, that marginal note was in the Bible text used by the author of the Confession of Faith at the Council of Carthage of 484 AD.[n 9]
Porson also considered the Vulgate Prologue as spurious, a forgery not written by Jerome, and this Prologue was responsible for the entrance into the Vulgate. "...Latin copies had this verse in the eighth century. It is then that we suppose it to have crawled into notice on the strength of Pseudo-Jerome's recommendation."
Johann Jakob Griesbach
wrote his Diatribe in Locum 1 Joann V. 7, 8
in 1806, as an Appendix to his Critical Edition of the New Testament. In the Diatribe, Griesbach "expresses his conviction that the seventh verse rests upon the authority of Vigilius Tapsensis."
The 1808 Improved Version
, with Thomas Belsham
contributing, followed Griesbach on the idea of Tapsensis authority, combined with enhancing the forgery intimations of Gibbon. Thus came the theory that the verse was a forgery by Virgilius Tapsensis. This emphasis on Tapsensis (Thapsus) was echoed by Unitarians of the 19th century, including Theophilus Lindsey
, Abner Kneeland
, and John Wilson.
, in his journal debate with Frederick Nolan, accused the African Prelates Vigilius Tapensis and Fulgentius Ruspensis of thrusting the verse into the Latin manuscripts.
, in the Monthly Review, 1825, conjectured Augustine as the source. "it is probable that the verse originated in the interpretation of St. Augustine. It seems to have existed for some time on the margins of the Latin copies, in a kind of intermediate state, as something better than a mere dictum of Augustine, and yet not absolutely Scripture itself. By degrees it was received into the text, where it appears in by far the greater number of Latin manuscripts now in our hands."[n 10]
allowed for the authenticity of the Cyprian citation as a reference to the verse being in Cyprian's Bible. [n 11]
To allow for this, Scrivener's theory of the source and timing of an interpolation cannot be late, and his scenario did not give estimated dates or any names responsible any more than the Arian removal theory proposed by Nolan, Forster, and others. "the disputed words...were originally brought into Latin copies in Africa from the margin, where they had been placed as a pious and orthodox gloss on v. 8: that from the Latin they crept into two or three late Greek codices, and thence into the printed Greek text, a place to which they had no rightful claim."
Joseph Barber Lightfoot
, who similarly worked on the Revision, included Origen as part of the origin. "not in the first instance a deliberate forgery, but a comparatively innocent gloss .... the spirit and the water and the blood—a gloss which is given substantially by S. Augustine and was indicated before by Origen and Cyprian, and which first thrust itself into the text in some Latin MSS .."
Brooke Foss Westcott
had a theory of verse origin and development which said of the Augustine reference in the City of God - "Augustine supplies the word 'Verbum' which is required to 'complete the gloss'". Even in 1892, in the third edition of The epistles of St John: the Greek text, with notes and essays
, when Westcott acknowledged the newly discovered Liber Apologeticus
Priscillian reference with verbum
, the Augustine Verbum/gloss
assertion remained in his book. And the assertion "there is no evidence that it was found in the text of St John before the latter part of the 5th century" also remained, alongside "The gloss which had thus become an established interpretation of St John's words is first quoted as part of the Epistle in a tract of Priscillian (c 385)".
, after asking "how did the text of the three heavenly Witnesses find its way into the Vulgate? All explanations that have been advanced so far are pure guesswork." concludes "the Comma Ioanneum
was perhaps found in copies of the Latin Bible current in Africa as early as the third century", and then considered Cassiodorus as responsible for inserting the verse into the Vulgate.[n 12]
Pohle, like Scrivener, allows that the Cyprian citation may well indicate that the verse was in his Bible. [n 13]
In the early 20th century Karl Künstle helped to popularize a theory that Priscillian of Ávila
(c. 350-385) was the author of the Comma.[n 14]
The theory held that "Priscillian interpolated ... in the first epistle of John so as to justify in this way his unitarian theories. The text was then retouched in order to appear orthodox, and in this shape found its way into several Spanish documents."
This idea of a Priscillian origin for the Comma had a brief scholarship flourish and then quickly lost support in textual circles. The Priscillian citation had been recently published in 1889 by Georg Schepps. [n 15]
Alan England Brooke, while theorizing that "the growth of that gloss can be traced back at least as early as Cyprian"
also placed the Theodulfian recension of the Vulgate, after 800 AD, as a prime point whereby the verse first gained traction into the Latin text-lines. "It is through the Theodulfian Recension of the Vulgate that the gloss first gained anything like wide acceptance".
in Zur Textkritik und Christologie der Schriften des Johannes
"argues that the comma johanneum is the post-augustinian revision of an old addition to the text".
expresses a theory of verse development in which the writings of Tertullian and Cyprian (the sections that proponents consider Comma allusions) represented the "thought process" involved, that gave rise to the Comma. The words of the Comma "appear among Latin writers in North Africa and Spain in the third century as a dogmatic reflection on and expansion of the 'three that testify': 'the Spirit' is the Father [Jn 4:24]; 'the blood' is the Son; 'the water' is the Spirit (Jn 7:38-39)."
allows for a Greek origin of the Comma, before Cyprian. Raymond Brown summarizes: "Thiele, Beobachtungen
64-68, argues that the I John additions may have a Greek basis, for sometimes a plausible early chain can be constructed thus: Cyprian, Pseudo-Cyprian, Augustine, Pseudo-Augustine, Spanish Vulgate (especially Isidore of Seville and Theodolfus)."
Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan
expresses the common scholarly view that the words (apparently) crept into the Latin text of the New Testament during the Early Middle Ages, "[possibly] as one of those medieval glosses but were then written into the text itself by a careless copyist. Erasmus
omitted them from his first edition; but when a storm of protest arose because the omission seemed to threaten the doctrine of the Trinity, he put them back in the third and later editions, whence they also came into the Textus Receptus
, 'the received text'."[n 16]
Most New Testament scholars today believe that the Comma was inserted
into the Old Latin text based on a gloss to that text, with the original gloss dating to the 3rd or 4th century, as expressed with some qualifications by Bruce Metzger
The summary of Daniel Wallace is short, beginning in the 300s AD with an unspecified homily: "The reading seems to have arisen in a fourth century Latin homily in which the text was allegorized to refer to members of the Trinity. From there, it made its way into copies of the Latin Vulgate, the text used by the Roman Catholic Church."[n 17]
Most opponents of the Comma as inauthentic view the verse as having arisen by a sequence of events involving scribal difficulties and error. Often this is a staged understanding, beginning with an interpretation placed as a margin commentary. The margin note is later erroneously brought into the text by a scribe who mistakenly thought the margin note indicated a superior alternate reading or correction. Those types of proposed scenarios are based on the limitations inherent in laborious hand-copying and do not have to impugn motives.
By contrast, the accusations of deliberate textual tampering and forgery for doctrinal purposes are based on scribes making deliberate changes away from the original text. A number of writers have theories of direct forgery as the motive for the insertion of the Comma into the text. Some of these theories were developed after the 1883 Priscillian discovery[n 15]
and fingered Priscillian as the culprit.
wrote that the verse was inserted at the time of Constantine. "Lactantius ... It was about this time that, among the very violent disputes on the Trinity, this famous verse was inserted in the First Epistle of St. John: “There are three that bear witness in earth—the word or spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three are one.”[n 18]
The accusation against the verse by Edward Gibbon
in 1781, while stating "the Scriptures themselves were profaned by their rash and sacrilegious hands" stops short of a direct accusation of forgery by also discussing marginal notes and allegorical interpretation. In response to Gibbon, George Travis noted the lack of forgery accusations before the Reformation-era debate.[n 19]
In 1813, Unitarian Thomas Belsham
accused the verse of being an "impious forgery...spurious and fictitious".[n 20]
In Calm Inquiry
in 1817, Belsham had the verse as a "palpable forgery"
and his student, Unitarian minister Israel Worsley
, for more emphasis wrote of "a gross and a palpable forgery".[n 21]
For the next decades, the forgery accusation was generally made outside the context of textual analysis, usually by Unitarians and freethinkers, such as Robert Taylor.
author of the Manifesto of the Christian Evidence Society. Everard Bierer
took this approach "This bold interpolation shows conclusively what Trinitarian fanaticism in the Dark Ages would do, and leaves us to imagine what renderings it probably gave to many other texts, and especially somewhat obscure ones on the same subject."
In 1888, Philip Schaff
, church historian who worked on the American committee of the Revision, brought the accusation to the mainstream, "Erasmus .. omitted in his Greek Testament the forgery of the three witnesses".
Charles Taze Russell
in 1899 made his accusation specific and the forgery late: "the spurious words were no doubt interpolated by some over-zealous monk, who felt sure of the (Trinity) doctrine himself, and thought that the holy spirit had blundered in not stating the matter in the Scriptures: his intention, no doubt, was to help God and the truth out of a difficulty by perpetrating a fraud."
Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare
was a textual scholar who wrote in 1910 a section specifically about "famous orthodox corruptions", including "The text of the three witnesses
a doctrinal forgery".
in 1920 called the verse "a Latin forgery of the fourth century, possibly due to Priscillian".
Gordon Campbell, author of Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011
asserts that the Comma is "a medieval forgery inserted into Bibles to support a trinitarian doctrine that had been erected on a disconcertingly thin biblical base.".
The popularity of the modern "orthodox corruption" view of Bart Ehrman has increased the forgery claims, especially on the Internet. Ehrman calls the Comma "the most obvious instance of a theologically motivated corruption in the entire manuscript tradition of the New Testament. Nonetheless, in my judgment, the comma's appearance in the tradition can scarcely be dated prior to the trinitarian controversies that arose after the period under examination."
Ehrman posits his other corruptions
as around the 2nd century, so Ehrman is considering the Comma as exceptional and placing the "appearance" of the Comma in the 300s or 400s, close to Priscillian's verse usage and citation as from John.
Doctrinal issues, Trinitarianism, Unitarianism, Arianism
Theories of both authenticity and spuriousness often interweave doctrinal and Christological concerns as part of their analysis of 'Origins', how the verse developed and was either dropped or added to Bible lines.
gave a summary in the Practical Expositor
that was a type of model for many of the later doctrinal expositions by those defending authenticity from a Trinitarian perspective.
therefore had less occasion to interpolate this verse, than the Antitrinitarians
had to take it out of the sacred canon, if any, on either side, can be supposed to be so very wicked as to make such an attempt ; and it is much more likely that (Guyse describes homoeoteleuton or other omission) than that any should be so daring as designedly to add it to the text". [n 22]
Often those who oppose authenticity take the position that the Comma was included in the Textus Receptus
(TR) compiled by Erasmus of Rotterdam
because of its doctrinal importance in supporting Trinitarianism
. The passage is often viewed as an explicit reference to the Trinity
and Holy Spirit
, with notable exceptions.[n 23]
The issue of whether Trinitarian doctrine is supported by, and dependent on, the heavenly witnesses is an ongoing dispute. Theophilus Lindsay, a Unitarian who opposed the authenticity of the verse, wrote:
"passage of scripture ... the only one which can be brought for any shew or semblance of proof of a Trinity in Unity, of three persons being one God, is 1 John v. 7."
And some defenders of authenticity place doctrinal Christology issues as only auxiliary or secondary, considering the primary issue to be the integrity of scripture. Nathaniel Ellsworth Cornwall wrote:
The genuineness of I. John, v. 7, then, is here maintained, not to secure a proof-text of the doctrine of the Trinity, but to preserve the integrity of Holy Scripture. As a proof-text it would be less important than many others if it were wholly unquestioned. But as a part of Holy Scripture it is to be defended with all diligence ... it is rather the integrity of Holy Scripture than the doctrine of the Trinity that is involved in the question of the genuineness of I. John, v. 7 ...