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Steven Avery


Vulgate Prologue to the Canonical Epistles​

Many Vulgate manuscripts, including the Codex Fuldensis, the earliest extant Vulgate manuscript, contain the Prologue to the Canonical Epistles. The Prologue reads as a first-person account from Jerome written to Eustochium, to whom Jerome dedicated his commentary on the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel. The internal evidence of the authorship is contested, with claims since the 17th century, after the heavenly witnesses verse debate began, that a forger pretended to be Jerome.

This translation is by Thomas Caldwell of Marquette University, as explained on the blog of Kent Brandenburg. Also available online is the Codex Fuldensis Latin.

Prologue to the Canonical Epistles The order of the seven Epistles which are called canonical is not the same among the Greeks who follow the correct faith and the one found in the Latin codices, where Peter, being the first among the apostles, also has his two epistles first. But just as we have corrected the evangelists into their proper order, so with God’s help have we done with these. The first is one of James, then two of Peter, three of John and one of Jude. Just as these are properly understood and so translated faithfully by interpreters into Latin without leaving ambiguity for the readers nor [allowing] the variety of genres to conflict, especially in that text where we read the unity of the trinity is placed in the first letter of John, where much error has occurred at the hands of unfaithful translators contrary to the truth of faith, who have kept just the three words water, blood and spirit in this edition omitting mention of Father, Word and Spirit in which especially the catholic faith is strengthened and the unity of substance of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is attested. In the other epistles to what extent our edition varies from others I leave to the prudence of the reader. But you, virgin of Christ, Eustocium, when you ask me urgently about the truth of scripture you expose my old age to being gnawed at by the teeth of envious ones who accuse me of being a falsifier and corruptor of the scriptures. But in such work I neither fear the envy of my critics nor deny the truth of scripture to those who seek it.

This Prologue, its historical accuracy and textual significance, has been a major point in the Comma debate since its start at the times of Erasmus. [n 48] And its authenticity and authorship became an issue in the late 17th century, when a new theory came forth that the Prologue was spurious. This theory claimed that the Prologue was not created until hundreds of years after Jerome, by an unknown writer pretending to be Jerome "the preface has been commonly rejected by critics, and looked upon as an impudent forgery of the ninth century."[92][n 49] Westcott is among those who have contended that the actual purpose of the theorized forgery was specifically to bring the verse into the Latin Vulgate text line; it "seems to have been written with this express purpose".[93] And Raymond Brown implies verse acceptance as the motive for the Vulgate Prologue: "Jerome's authority was such that this statement, spuriously attributed to him, helped to win acceptance for the Comma.".[94] Metzger makes no reference of the Prologue, even while referencing the absence of the verse in the Johannine epistle of Fuldensis in order to assert that Jerome's original edition did not have the verse. "The passage ... is not found the Vulgate as issued by Jerome (codex Fuldensis [copied a.d. 541-46] and codex Amiatinus [copied before a.d. 716])".[95]

Major figures in the early dialogue from about 1650-1725 were John Selden, Christopher Sandius, John Fell, Richard Simon, Isaac Newton, Jean Leclerc, Jean Martianay and Augustin Calmet. The discovery in the Bible scholarship community in the latter 19th century that the Prologue was in the well-respected Codex Fuldensis[96] (while the Codex lacked the Comma in the text, an unusual discordance) contradicted many earlier forgery chronology scenarios. [n 50]

Steven Avery


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."[3]
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."[4]
Anthony Kohlmann 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.

Hugo Grotius 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."[5] Luther's pastor, John Bugenhagen, like Grotius, wrote of a conjectured Arian origin.

Isaac Newton 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."[6] 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.

Richard Simon believed the verse began in a Greek scholium, while Herbert Marsh posited the origin as a Latin scholium.[7] Simon conjectured that the Athanasius exposition at Nicea was the catalyst for the Greek scholium which brought forth the text.[n 8]

Richard Porson 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."[8]

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."[9]

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.

John Oxlee, in his journal debate with Frederick Nolan, accused the African Prelates Vigilius Tapensis and Fulgentius Ruspensis of thrusting the verse into the Latin manuscripts.[10]

William Orme, 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."[11][n 10]

Scrivener 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."[12]

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 .."[13]

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)".

Joseph Pohle, 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."[14] 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"[15] 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".[16]

Adolf Harnack 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".[17]

Raymond Brown 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)."[18]

Walter Thiele 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)."[19]

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'."[20][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.[21] 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."[22][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.

Voltaire 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"[23] and his student, Unitarian minister Israel Worsley, for more emphasis wrote of "a gross and a palpable forgery".[24][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.[25] 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."[26]

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".[27]

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."[28]

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".[29]

Preserved Smith in 1920 called the verse "a Latin forgery of the fourth century, possibly due to Priscillian".[30]

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.".[31]

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."[32] 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.

John Guyse 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.

"the Trinitarians 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 of Father, Son 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."[33]
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 ...[34]

Steven Avery


History of modern study​

Verse debate, 1500 to today​

Comma in Codex Ottobonianus (629 Gregory-Aland)

Hē Kainē Diathēkē 1859, with Griesbach's text of the New Testament. The English note is from the 1859 editor, with reasons for omitting the Comma Johanneum.

"...the authenticity of this passage has been controverted, from the beginning of the 16th century, down to the present day ... no passage in the Bible has ever occasioned a dispute so violent and so general in the Church. Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Socinians, in short all Religious Sects whatever, who appeal to the New Testament as authority, have taken part in the contest."[120]

The history of the Comma in the centuries following the development of the Textus Receptus in the 1500s has been one of initial general acceptance as scripture, to a period of spirited debate, and then to the general modern scholarship rejection, with continued studies and limited exceptions.

3 stages, up to early 1800s (Charles Butler analysis)​

In 1807 Charles Butler[121] described the dispute to that point as consisting of three distinct phases.

Phase 1, Erasmus and the Reformation era​

The 1st phase began with the disputes and correspondence involving Erasmus with Edward Lee followed by Jacobus Stunica. And about the 16th-century controversies, Thomas Burgess summarized "In the sixteenth century its chief opponents were Socinus, Blandrata, and the Fratres Poloni; its defenders, Ley, Beza, Bellarmine, and Sixtus Senensis."[122] In the 17th century John Selden in Latin and Francis Cheynell and Henry Hammond were English writers with studies on the verse, Johann Gerhard and Abraham Calovius from the German Lutherans, writing in Latin.

Phase 2, Authenticity attacked and defended, Richard Simon into the 1700s, Newton, Mill and Bengel​

The 2nd dispute stage begins with Sandius, the Arian around 1670. Francis Turretin published De Tribus Testibus Coelestibus in 1674 and the verse was a central focus of the writings of Symon Patrick. In 1689 the attack on authenticity by Richard Simon was published in English, in his Critical History of the Text of the New Testament. Many responded directly to the views of Simon, including Thomas Smith,[123] Friedrich Kettner,[n 61]James Benigne Bossuet,[124] Johann Majus, Thomas Ittigius, Abraham Taylor[125] and the published sermons of Edmund Calamy. There was the famous verse defenses by John Mill and later by Johann Bengel. Also in this era was the David Martin and Thomas Emlyn debate. There were attacks on authenticity by Richard Bentley and Samuel Clarke and William Whiston and defense of authenticity by John Guyse in the Practical Expositor. There were writings by numerous additional scholars, including publication in London of Isaac Newton's Two Letters in 1754, which he had written to John Locke in 1690. The mariner's compass poem of Bengel was given in a slightly modified form by John Wesley. [n 62]

Phase 3, Travis and Porson debate, 1800s scholarship​

Travis and Porson Debate​

The third stage of the controversy begins with the quote from Edward Gibbon in 1776 :

"Even the Scriptures themselves were profaned by their rash and sacrilegious hands. The memorable text, which asserts the unity of the three who bear witness in heaven, is condemned by the universal silence of the orthodox fathers, ancient versions, and authentic manuscripts. It was first alleged by the Catholic bishops whom Hunneric summoned to the conference of Carthage. An allegorical interpretation, in the form, perhaps, of a marginal note, invaded the text of the Latin Bibles, which were renewed and corrected in a dark period of ten centuries."[n 63]
Followed by the response of George Travis that led to the Porson-Travis debate. In the 1794 3rd edition of Letters to Edward Gibbon, George Travis included a 42-part appendix with source references. Another event coincided with the inauguration of this stage of the debate: "a great stirring in sacred science was certainly going on. Griesbach's first edition of the New Testament (1775-7) marks the commencement of a new era."[126] The Griesbach GNT provided an alternative to the Received Text editions to assist as scholarship textual legitimacy for opponents of the verse.

Early 1800s scholarship​

Butler also mentions Michaelis and Herbert Marsh, along with Adam Clarke, leading up to the time of his publication. Griesbach included his Diatribe[127] with his Greek New Testament which omitted the verse. Frederick Nolan, John Oxlee, William Hales, Thomas Burgess,[n 64] Thomas Turton, William Brownlee and John Jones were among the major contributors in the third stage in the early 1800s. Also Franz Anton Knittel was translated into English by William Evanson and William Aldis Wright wrote a forty page Appendix that was added to his translation of Biblical Hermeneutics by Georg Friedrich Seiler. The principal language of the debate switched from the earlier Latin preponderance, to more English, and some German.

Modern phases​

The next period, from approximately 1835 to 1990, was comparatively quiet, yet still vibrant.

1800s after major debate decades​

Some highlights from this era are the Nicholas Wiseman Old Latin and Speculum scholarship, the defense of the verse by the Germans Sander, Besser and Mayer, the Charles Forster New Plea book which revisited Richard Porson's arguments, and the earlier work by his friend Arthur-Marie Le Hir,[128] Discoveries included the Priscillian reference and Exposito Fidei. Also Old Latin manuscripts including La Cava, and the moving up of the date of the Vulgate Prologue due to its being found in Codex Fuldensis. Ezra Abbot wrote on 1 John V.7 and Luther's German Bible and Scrivener's analysis came forth in Six Lectures and Plain Introduction. In the 1881 Revision came the full removal of the verse.[n 65] Daniel McCarthy noted the change in position among the textual scholars,[n 66] and in French there was the sharp Roman Catholic debate in the 1880s involving Pierre Rambouillet, Auguste-François Maunoury, Jean Michel Alfred Vacant, Elie Philippe and Paulin Martin.[129] In Germany Wilhelm Kölling defended authenticity, and in Ireland Charles Vincent Dolman wrote about the Revision and the Comma in the Dulbin Review, noting that "the heavenly witnesses have departed".[130]

20th century​

The 20th century saw the scholarship of Alan England Brooke and Joseph Pohle, the RCC controversy following the 1897 Papal declaration as to whether the verse could be challenged by Catholic scholars, the Karl Künstle Priscillian-origin theory, the detailed scholarship of Augustus Bludau in many papers, the Eduard Riggenbach book, and the Franz Pieper and Edward Hills defenses. There were specialty papers by Anton Baumstark (Syriac reference), Norbert Fickermann (Augustine), Claude Jenkins (Bede), Mateo del Alamo, Teófilo Ayuso Marazuela, Franz Posset (Luther) and Rykle Borger (Peshitta). Verse dismissals, such as that given by Bruce Metzger, became popular.[n 67] There was the fine technical scholarship of Raymond Brown. And the continuing publication and studies of the Erasmus correspondence, writings and Annotations, some with English translation. From Germany came Walter Thiele's Old Latin studies and sympathy for the Comma being in the Bible of Cyprian, and the research by Henk de Jonge on Erasmus and the Received Text and the Comma.

Recent scholarship to the 21st century​

The last 20 years have seen a popular revival of interest in the historic verse controversies and the textual debate. Factors include the growth of interest in the Received Text and the Authorized Version (including the King James Version Only movement) and the questioning of Critical Text theories, the 1995 book by Michael Maynard documenting the historical debate on 1 John 5:7, and the internet ability to spur research and discussion with participatory interaction. In this period, King James Bible defenders and opponents wrote a number of papers on the Johannine Comma, usually published in evangelical literature and on the internet. In textual criticism scholarship circles, the book by Klaus Wachtel Der Byzantinische Text Der Katholischen Briefe: Eine Untersuchung Zur Entstehung Der Koine Des Neuen Testaments, 1995 contains a section with detailed studies on the Comma. Similarly, Der einzig wahre Bibeltext?, published in 2006 by K. Martin Heide. Special interest has been given to the studies of the Codex Vaticanus umlauts by Philip Barton Payne and Paul Canart, senior paleographer at the Vatican Library. [n 68] The Erasmus studies have continued, including research on the Valladolid inquiry by Peter G. Bietenholz and Lu Ann Homza. Jan Krans has written on conjectural emendation and other textual topics, looking closely at the Received Text work of Erasmus and Beza. And some elements of the recent scholarship commentary have been especially dismissive and negative.[n 69]

Isaac Newton​

Isaac Newton (1643–1727), best known today for his many contributions to mathematics and physics, also wrote extensively on Biblical matters. In a 1690 treatise entitled An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture, he summed up the history of the comma and his own belief that it was introduced, intentionally or by accident, into a Latin text during the 4th or 5th century, a time when he believed the Church to be rife with corruption:[131]

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.[132][n 70]

Arguments against authenticity from 1808 "improved version"​

In the 1808 New Testament in an improved version, upon the basis of Archbishop Newcome's new translation, which did not contain the Comma Johanneum, the editors explained their reasons for rejecting the Textus Receptus for the verse as follows: "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.[n 71] 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. [n 72] 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. [n 73] In the old English Bibles of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth, it was printed in small types, or included in brackets: but between the years 1566 and 1580 it began to be printed as it now stands; by whose authority, is not known."[133]

Textual analysis summarized​

The Comma is not in the two oldest pure Vulgate manuscripts, Fuldensis and Amiatinus, although it is referenced in the Prologue of Fuldensis. Overall, it is estimated that over 95% of the thousands of Vulgate MSS. contain the verse. The Vulgate was developed from Vetus Latina manuscripts, updated by Jerome utilizing the Greek fountainhead.

The earliest extant Latin manuscripts (m q l) supporting the Comma are dated from the 5th to 7th century. The Freisinger fragment[n 74] and the Codex Legionensis (7th century), besides the younger Codex Speculum, New Testament quotations extant in an 8th- or 9th-century manuscript.[55]

The Comma does not appear in the older Greek manuscripts. Nestle-Aland is aware of eight Greek manuscripts that contain the comma.[134] The date of the addition is late, probably dating to the time of Erasmus.[135] In one manuscript, back-translated into Greek from the Vulgate, the phrase "and these three are one" is not present.[115]

No Syriac manuscripts include the Comma, and its presence in some printed Syriac Bibles is due to back-translation from the Latin Vulgate. Coptic manuscripts and those from Ethiopian churches also do not include the verse, although these churches similarly have accepted the Comma into their modern print editions. UBS-4 indicates arm-mss in support of the verse, and also arm-mss against, indicating that some but not all Armenian manuscripts include the Comma.

Roman Catholic Church​

The Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in 1546 defined the Biblical canon as "the entire books with all their parts, as these have been wont to be read in the Catholic Church and are contained in the old Latin Vulgate." "On the Catholic side, the Comma appeared in both the Sixtine (1590) and the Clementine (1592) editions of the Vulgate, the latter of which became the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church."[100] Although the revised Vulgate contained the Comma, the earliest known copies did not, leaving the status of the Comma Johanneum unclear.[55] On 13 January 1897, during a period of reaction in the Church, the Holy Office decreed that Catholic theologians could not "with safety" deny or call into doubt the Comma's authenticity. Pope Leo XIII approved this decision two days later, though his approval was not in forma specifica[55]—that is, Leo XIII did not invest his full papal authority in the matter, leaving the decree with the ordinary authority possessed by the Holy Office. Three decades later, on 2 June 1927, the more liberal Pope Pius XI decreed that the Comma Johanneum was open to dispute. [n 75]

Defenders of authenticity​

King James Only​

In more recent years, the Comma has become relevant to the King-James-Only Movement, a largely Protestant development most prevalent within the fundamentalist and Independent Baptist branch of the Baptist churches. Many proponents view the Comma as an important Trinitarian text.[136] The defense of the verse by Edward Freer Hills in 1956 as part of his defense of the Textus Receptus The King James Version Defended The Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7) was unusual due to Hill's textual criticism scholarship credentials.

Received text and preservation​

In addition, defenders of the verse as Johannine scripture include many who highly regard the writers coming out of the Puritan movement and the Reformation era, such as Francis Turretin, Matthew Henry and John Gill. These men had defended the verse as scripture in their Latin, Greek Received Text, English and vernacular Bibles. William Alleyn Evanson, writing the Preface to Knittel's New Criticisms expresses the stance that preservation should not be sacrificed on even one verse. Thomas Turton (as Clemens Anglicanus) wrote Remarks upon Mr. Evanson's preface and William Orme summarizes his counter-arguments to Evanson Memoir of the controversy, pp. 178-180.

Steven Avery


Commentary and interpretation​

There have been a wide variety of verse interpretations. This is true for those who accept as authentic as well as for those who offer commentary on the Johannine writings, the Epistle of 1 John, or the singular chapter five, with the Comma absent.

For those accepting the verse, one major issue is whether the unity is one of essence or testimony. Sometimes the commentaries include textual and internal analysis, often not. These quote extracts are the parts that emphasize exegesis and interpretation.

John Calvin​

"There are three than bear record in heaven" ... And the meaning would be, that God, in order to confirm most abundantly our faith in Christ, testifies in three ways that we ought to acquiesce in him. For as our faith acknowledges three persons in the one divine essence, so it is called in so really ways to Christ that it may rest on him. When he says, These three are one, he refers not to essence, but on the contrary to consent; as though he had said that the Father and his eternal Word and Spirit harmoniously testify the same thing respecting Christ. Hence some copies have εἰς ἓν, “for one.” But though you read ἓν εἰσιν, as in other copies, yet there is no doubt but that the Father, the Word and the Spirit are said to be one, in the same sense in which afterwards the blood and the water and the Spirit are said to agree in one.[137]