1 John 5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
It seems like a fairly solid testimony to the Trinity, but is it a genuine article? We've been asked to look briefly at some arguments "for and against" authenticity of this verse (called the Johnanine Comma), and here is what we have found:
External evidence. On these grounds the deck is heavily stacked against the Comma [Marshall, 1 John commentary, 236; Brown, 1 John commentary, 775ff]:
- It is found in only four Greek manuscripts, none earlier than the 14th century. 4 other Greek mss. offer it as a margin note. The remaining Greek mss., numbering in the hundreds, do not include it.
- The earliest attestation for it is in Latin mss., though not in the oldest Latin mss., and not in Jerome's Latin Vulgate. The only Latin mss. that do contain it are all of Spanish origin or influence.
- The earliest attestation at all comes from the work of a writer in 385 AD, in Latin.
- It is not found in Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethopic, Arabic, or Slavonic mss.
- It is never quoted by any early writer other than the one noted above. Indeed those who quote the surrounding material pass right over it.
- Augustine, meditating upon the trifold witness of 1 John 5:8 (spirit, water, and blood) connects this to the trifold Godhead in commentary, but does not quote the Comma itself.
- The delineation of the Holy Ghost being "in heaven" contradicts the Johnanine theological theme that the Spirit is on earth indwelling the church.
This is fairly powerful evidence, such that would be conclusive for a textual critic. On the other hand, I have been passed these arguments in favor of the Comma:
- "The epistle is addressing Gnosticism, one of whose heresies is that Jesus is a created being. Thus such a passage would seem appropriate."
It would be indeed, but the heresy of Jesus being a created being has been with us for an extended period. It is still with us today with the JWs. Thus its origins could have been at any time.
- "Interpreting the epistle as a treatise, I John v, 6-13 appears to be a theological discourse on the possibility of fellowship. The argument becomes vague without the comma, also not flowing with 1-5, which covers victory, and 14-17, prayer."
On this point I cannot see any reason to agree. V. 8 seems to perform the required function already.
- "Without the comma, the passage 'gives a very bald, awkward, and meaningless repetition of the Spirit's witness twice in immediate succession.' Furthermore, 'how harmonious is all thus if we accept the 7th verse as genuine, but if we omit it, the very keystone of the arch is wanting, and the crowning proof that the warrant of our faith is divine (5:9) is struck out.'" (Dabney, Robert. The Doctrinal Various Readings of the New Testament Greek. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1967, 306-307.)
I do not see that this is a valid objection either. "Water" and "blood" are also repeated, and to call the remnant "meaningless" is only subjectively asserted. The triune Spirit, water and blood serve well enough to testify to the warrant that our faith is divine; indeed the Spirit does that enough by itself.
- "Why should the insertion use 'logos' instead of 'huios' to validate the Trinity?"
Most likely in an attempt to imitate John's Gospel prologue.
- "Where is the 'one' that the three in 8 agree as?"
Most likely, the Son in v. 9. The referents would be to the Spirit descending on Jesus, the water baptizing Jesus, and his blood shed for our sins.
- "7 uses the masculine 'hoy marturountes,' but 8 has pneuma, hudor, and aima, all neuter."
The commentaries note this as well, but do not consider it problematic. The use of neuter for all three is taken as a constraint of the grammar, because the list has one personal element (spirit) and two impersonal elements (water, blood).
- "9 has no specific reference to the witness of God."
If v. 8 alludes to Jesus' baptism, then the reference would be to the voice from heaven.
- "The style fits the importance of the doctrine, with both tone and repetition for emphasis."
- "A chiasmus forms, with the Holy Ghost/spirit, (the Spirit testifies with our spirit,) Word/water, (the pledge to Christ by baptism,) and Father/blood, (justification and remission of sins.)"
Each of the above two elements could have been imitated by someone using verse 8 as a template.
In sum, while some of the positive evidence is useful (especially the last), the negative textual evidence is strongly against the originality of the Comma.