WHY 1 JOHN 5.7–8 IS IN THE BIBLE
by G. W. and D. E. Anderson
Download - Why 1 John 5.7-8 is in the Bible (A102) pdf | Trinitarian
1 John 5:6-8 -- (6) This is he that came by water and
blood, even Jesus Christ; not by wateronly, but by water and
blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, becausethe
Spirit is truth. (7) For there are three that bear record in
heaven, the Father,the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three
are one. (8) And there are threethat bear witness in earth, the
Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and thesethree agree in
In recent months several of the Society’s supporters have written
asking aboutthe inclusion of 1 John 5.7–8, the so-called
Johannine Comma (the passage underlined in the above quotation),
in the Bible. These supporters have found ver-sions which omit the
passage without mention;  they have found writers who
argueagainst the inclusion of the passage;  they have found
preachers who avoid the passage in order to avoid the controversy.
These supporters believe the passage rightly belongs in the
Scriptures, as does the Society, as did the writers of the
Westminster Confession of Faith  and as have Godly men throughout
the centuries. Three of these men, whose influential works span
three centuries, Matthew Henry, R. L. Dabney and Edward Hills,
upheld this passage in their writings. The purpose of this article
is to allow these men to address this issue and give their reasons
for the inclusion of the Johannine Comma.
The whole of this must be regarded as a gloss, as must the
words in earth inverse 8… The words do not occur in any
Greek MS, version or quotation before the fifteenth century.
They first appear in an obscure fourth-century Latin MS and
found their way into the AV because Erasmus reluctantly included
them in the third edition of his text. They are rightly absent
even fromthe margin of RV and RSV. 
All around us is scholarly argument against the inclusion of this
passage. As John Stott says of verse 7,
Princeton Theological Seminary Greek scholar B. M. Metzger states
that a manuscript of the entire New Testament dating from the late
fifteenth or early sixteenth century…is the first Greek manuscript
discovered which con-tains the passage relating to the Three
Heavenly Witnesses (1 John v.7–8). 
In the face of such statements, how can one argue for the
inclusion of the passage? But there are ample scholarly reasons for
the inclusion of 1 John 5.7–8, and ample scholarly men who have
given those reasons. Thus we quote works of three of these men. Much
of this information is reproduced verbatim from the writings of
these men and will be technical in nature; however, the reader
should be able to follow the main points of the position and will
find blessing in these men’s comments on the Word of God.
TEXTUAL EVIDENCE FOR INCLUSION
First, it must be stated that Metzger’s statement, at first
glance, might make one believe that 1 John 5.7–8 does not appear in
any writings before 1500. However, MS. 61 was the first Greek
manuscript discovered which contains the passage. It is not
the earliest manuscript containing the passage; it was merely the
first manuscript found which contained the passage.  Metzger
later admits that the Johannine Comma also appears in
manuscripts from the twelfth century, the fourteenth century and the
sixteenth century. "The oldest known citation of the Commais in a
fourth-century Latin treatise entitled Liber apologeticus."
Edward Hills admits that there is not as much Greek manuscript
support for this passage as there is for many other passages in the
New Testament. However, there is an abundance of other ancient
manuscript evidence in support of the passage. As Hills says, "The
first undisputed citations of the Johannine comma occur in
the writing of two 4th-century Spanish bishops… In the 5th century
the Johannine comma was quoted by several orthodox African
writers to defend the doctrine of the Trinity against the gainsaying
of the Vandals, who…were fanatically attached to the Arian heresy."
"Evidence for the early existence of the Johannine comma is
found in the Latin versions and in the writings of the Latin Church
Fathers." Among these is Cyprian (c. 250) and Cassiodorus (480–570),
as well asan Old Latin manuscript of the 5th or 6th century, and in
the Speculum, a treatise which contains an Old Latin text. It
is also found in the great mass of the later Vulgate manuscripts and
in the Clementine edition of the Vulgate. 
INTERNAL EVIDENCE FOR INCLUSION
In the seventeenth century the framers of the Westminster
Confession of Faith accepted the inclusion of 1 John 5.7–8 and used
it to defend the doctrine of theTrinity. Others, believing the
passage to be Scripture, have given internal evidencefor the
inclusion of the passage. This evidence, which comes from the
passage itself, has been cited throughout the centuries in defence
of the passage and of the Trinity which it supports.
The Eighteenth Century:
Matthew Henry (1662–1714), the Welsh Nonconformist Bible
commentator,"was a faithful, humble, devout, orthodox minister of
the gospel, a loving pastor of souls, and a wise spiritual father.
[He was] famous for his Exposition of the Old and New Testaments,
now commonly known as Matthew Henry’s Commentaries…The value
of his Commentaries lies not in their critical, but in their
practical and devotional emphasis."  Henry  was not
unconcerned about the Greek manuscript support of 1 John 5 7–8, but
regarding it he says, "It is alleged that many old Greek manuscripts
have it not. We shall not here enter into the controversy. It should
seem that the critics are not agreed what manuscripts have it and
what not; nor do they sufficiently inform us of the integrity and
value of the manuscripts they peruse… But let the judicious
collators of copies manage that business. There are some rational
surmises that seem to support the present text and reading."  In
this regard, Henry gives several ‘rational surmises’:
(1.) If we [delete] v. 7, [v. 8] looks too like a…repetition of what
was included in v. 6… This does not assign near so noble an
introduction of these three witnesses as our present reading does.
(2.) It is observed that many copies read that distinctive clause,
upon the earth: There are three that bear record upon the earth.
Now this bears a visible opposition to some witness or witnesses
elsewhere, and therefore we are told, by the adversaries of the
text, that this clause must be supposed to be omitted in most books
that want v. 7. But it should for the same reason be so in all. Take
we v. 6… It would not now naturally and properly be added, For
there are three that bear record on earth, unless we should
suppose that the apostle would tell us that all the witnesses are
such as are on earth, when yet he would assure us that one is
infallibly true, or even truth itself.
(3.) It is observed that there is a variety of reading even in the
(4.) The seventh verse is very agreeable to the style and the
theology of our apostle… It is most suitable then to the diction and
to the gospel of this apostle thus to mention the Holy Ghost as a
witness for Jesus Christ. Then,
(5.) 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
page, than for an interpolator to devise and insert it. He must be
very bold and impudent who could hope to escape detection and shame;
and profane too, who durst venture to make an addition to a supposed
sacred book. And,
(6.) It can scarcely be supposed that, when the apostle is
representing the Christian’s faith in overcoming the world, and the
foundation it relies upon in adhering to Jesus Christ, and the
various testimony that was given to Jesus Christ in the world, he
should omit the supreme testimony that attended him, especially when
we consider that he meant to infer, as he does (v.9)… Now in the
three witnesses on earth there is neither all the witness of God,
nor indeed any witness who is truly and immediately God. The
antitrinitarian opposers of the text will deny that either the
Spirit, or the water, or the blood, is God himself; but, upon our
present reading, here is a noble enumeration of the several
witnesses and testimonies supporting the truth of the Lord Jesus and
the divinity of his institution. Here is the most excellent
abridgment or breviate of the motives to faith in Christ, of the
credentials the Saviour brings with him, and of the evidences of our
Christianity, that is to be found, I think, in the book of God, upon
which single account, even waiving the doctrine of the divine
Trinity, the text is worthy of all acceptation. 
"Having these rational grounds on our side," Henry says, "we
He than continues with a discussion of the passage itself with its
"trinity of heavenly witnesses",  ending this section by stating
that "These three witnesses (being more different than the three
former) are not so properly said to be one as to be for
one, to be for one and the same purpose and cause, or to
agree in one, in one and the same thing among themselves, and in
the same testimony with those who bear record from heaven." 
The Nineteenth Century:
Robert Lewis Dabney
In addition, 1 John 5.7–8 is not without witnesses in the
nineteenth century. Well known among these is Robert Lewis Dabney.
Dabney "was the most conspicuous figure and the leading theological
guide of the [American] Southern Presbyterian Church, the most
prolific theological writer that Church has as yet produced… As a
preacher, as a teacher and as a writer equally he achieved
greatness… [He helped] reorganize the historical faith of the
Reformed Churches in the face of the theological ferment which
marked the earlier years of the Nineteenth Century."  Of the
Johannine Comma Dabney says, "The often-contested text in 1 John
v. 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
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 over a
neuter 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
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 that aforesaid unity to which these three agree? If
the seventh verse is exscinded, there is none… Let the seventh verse
stand, and all is clear: the thre eearthly 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." 
Dabney then reminds his readers of the circumstances under which the
apostle John wrote his first epistle. "The purpose of his writing
was to warn [the recipients] against seducers (ii.26), whose heresy,
long predicted, was now developed, and was characterized by a denial
of the proper sonship (ii.26) and incarnation (iv.2) of Jesus
Christ." In response to these heresies, in 5.7 the apostle declares
"the unity of the Father, Word, and Spirit, and with the strictest
accuracy". He declares "the proper humanity of Jesus, and the actual
shedding and application by the Spirit of that water and blood of
whose effusion he was himself eye-witness, and to which he testifies
in his gospel so emphatically, in chapter xix. 34,35… Now, when we
hear the apostle tell his ‘children,’ in the chapter above cited
from his own Epistle, that the two heresies against whose seductions
he designed by this writing to guard them were these, the denial of
Christ’s sonship to God and the denial of his incarnation, and…we
see him in his closing testimony exclude precisely these two
errors." "Is it not hard to believe that he should, under the
circumstances, write anything but what the received text ascribes to
him? If we let the seventh verse stand, then the whole passage is
framed, with apostolic wisdom, to exclude at once both heresies."
Dabney freely admits that, according to strict Greek manuscript
tradition, there is not strong manuscript support for the inclusion
of 1 John 5.7. But here "the Latin Church stands opposed to the
Greek" church.  "There are strong probable grounds to conclude,
that the text of the Scriptures current in the East received a
mischievous modification at the hands of the famous Origen." 
"Those who are best acquainted with the history of Christian opinion
know best, that Origen was the great corrupter, and the source, or
at least earliest channel, of nearly all the speculative errors
which plagued the church in after ages… He disbelieved the full
inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures, holding that the
inspired men apprehended and stated many things obscurely… He
expressly denied the consubstantial unity of the Persons and the
proper incarnation of the Godhead—the very propositions most clearly
asserted in the doctrinal various readings we have under review."
The Twentieth Century:
Edward F. Hills
Let the candid reader choose…in the light of these facts. We
think that he will conclude with us that the weight of
probability is greatly in favor of this theory, viz., that
the Anti-trinitarians, finding certain codices in which these
doctrinal readings had been already lost through the licentious
criticism ofOrigen and his school, industriously diffused them,
while they also did what they dared to add to the omissions of
similar readings. 
During the twentieth century more and more Christians have been
led into the belief that the Johannine Comma is not properly
part of Scripture by its exclusion from, or bracketing in, many of
the modern versions of the Scriptures. However,Godly men continue to
uphold the inclusion of the passage. Among these is Edward Freer
Hills. Hills "was a distinguished Latin and Phi Beta Kappa graduate
of Yale University. He also earned the B.D. degree from Westminster
Theological Seminary and the Th.M. degree from Columbia Theological
Seminary," and the Th.D. in New Testament text criticism from
Harvard.  Yet in the midst of these textual critical schools
Hills maintained a strict conservatism which has placed him among
the staunchest supporters of the Textus Receptus.
Hills asserts that the Comma, indeed, does not have the Greek
manuscript support of many passages of Scripture. Erasmus omitted
the Comma from the first edition (1516) of his printed Greek
New Testament, but restored it in his third edition (1522). 
Some believe the inclusion to be the result of trickery; "but
whatever may have been the immediate cause, still, in the last
analysis, it was not trickery which was responsible for the
inclusion of the Johannine comma in the Textus Receptus but
the usage of the Latin-speaking Church. It was this usage which made
men feel that this reading ought to be included in the Greek text
and eager to keep it there after its inclusion had been
accomplished. Back of this usage, we may well believe, was the
guiding providence of God." 
As noted, Hills gives ample evidence that the passage was in use
well before the 15th century. But there is more evidence for the
inclusion of the passage than just this. "On the basis of the
external evidence it is at least possible that the Johannine
comma is a reading that somehow dropped out of the Greek New
Testament text but was preserved in the Latin text through the usage
of the Latin-speaking Church, and this possibility grows more and
more toward probability as we consider the internal evidence." 
In the first place, how did the Johannine comma
originate if it be not genuine, and how did it come to be
interpolated into the Latin New Testament text?… Why does it not
contain the usual trinitarian formula, namely, the Father, the
Son, and the Holy Spirit? Why does it exhibit the singular
combination, never met with elsewhere, the Father, the Word,
and the Holy Spirit?
In the second place, the omission of the Johannine comma
seems to leave the passage incomplete. For it is a common
scriptural usage to present solemn truths or warnings in groups
of three or four, for example, the repeated Three things, yea
four of Proverbs 30, and the constantly recurring refrain,
for three transgressions and for four, of the prophet
Amos… It is in accord with biblical usage, therefore, to expect
that in 1 John 5.7–8 the formula, there are three that bear
witness, will be repeated at least twice. When the
Johannine comma is included, the formula is repeated twice.
When the comma is omitted, the formula is repeated only
once, which seems strange.
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. 
Conclusions as we go into the Twenty-first Century
The view on 1 John 5.7 through the centuries, held by many Godly
men, has been that the passage and its testimony of the Trinity by
every right must maintain its place in the Scriptures. Thus the
Trinitarian Bible Society continues to uphold this passage as
inspired by God and profitable for doctrine. As we go into the
twenty-first century we maintain the faithful testimony to the
Biblical doctrine of the Trinity as found in 1 John 5.7–8 in order
that all men may know our Triune God: Father, Word and Holy Ghost.
 Included in the English versions which omit the passage without
note are the American Standard Version, the New Century Version, the
Revised Standard Version, the Good NewsBible (which some Bible
societies use as the basis for their modem translations into other
languages), the Revised English Bible, the Modem Language Bible, the
New English Bible and the New Testament in Modern English by
Phillips. Additionally, some versions add to the confusion over this
passage by renumbering the verses. Among these are the American
Standard, the New American Standard Bible and the Revised Standard
 See the quotation from John Stott in the text.
 Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter II.iii. In the
Scripture proofs for the statement ofthe Trinity, "God the Father,
God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost", 1 John 5.7 is quoted.
 J. R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI,
USA: Wm B. Eerdmans PublishingCompany, 1979), p. 180.
 MS61 [Bruce M. Metzger, The Test of the New Testament: Its
Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1992), p. 62].
 This type of information, which has made its way into the
margins of many editions of the Bible, has led to much confusion in
our century, and thus confusion among Christians as to the validity
of the passage. The Ryrie Study Bible says that "verse 7 should end
with the word witness. The remainder of v. 7 and part of v 8
are not in any ancient Greek manuscript, only in later Latin
manuscripts" (p. 1918). The New International Version claims that
vv. 7–8 are from "late manuscripts of the Vulgate" and are "not
found in any Greek manuscript before the sixteenth century" (p.
906). The New American Standard Bible says that "a few late
[manuscripts] read" the disputed passage (p. 1066). The New Revised
Standard Version says that "a few other authorities read (with
variations)" the verses (p. 261) The Amplified Version has the
disputed words in italics but gives no notation as to why (p.
380).The Scofield Reference Bible states that "it is generally
agreed that v. 7 has no real authority, and has been inserted" (p.
1325); the New Scofield Reference Bible reiterates this sentiment.
Even the New King James Version indicates that the passage is not
worthy of status as Scripture ["NU, M omit the words from in
heaven (v 7) through on earth (v. 8). Only 4 or 5 very
late Mss. contain these words in Greek" (p. 1346)].
 Metzger lists Greg. 88 from the twelfth century, Tisch. w 110
from the sixteenth century and Greg. 629 from the fourteenth century
as containing 1 John 5.7 (Ibid., pp. 101–102).
 The Spanish bishops are Priscillian and Idacius Clarus [Edward
F. Hills, The King James Version Defended (Des Moines, Iowa,
USA: The Christian Research Press, 1984), pp.209–10].
 Elgin S. Moyer, The Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the
Church (Chicago, IL, USA:Moody Press, 1982), p. 188.
 The section in Henry’s commentary on 1, 2 and 3 John was
completed posthumouslyusing Henry’s notes and writings.
 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible
(Iowa Falls, Iowa, USA:Riverside Book and Bible House, n.d.),
 lbid., pp. 1091–92.
 Ibid., p 1092.
 lbid., p, 1094.
 R. L Dabney, Discursions of Robert Lewis Dabney,
biographical sketch by B. B. Warfield,2 vols. (Carlisle, PA, USA:
The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), back book jacket.
 Ibid., p.377.
 Ibid., p.378.
 Ibid., p.380.
 Ibid., pp.379–81.
 Ibid., pp. 381–82.
 lbid., p 382.
 Origen’s "opinions on the Trinity veered between Sabellianism
and Arianism.’ (Ibid., pp.383–84).
 Ibid., p. 389.
 Hills, back cover.
 According to Hills, Erasmus reinserted the passage "on the
basis of manuscript 61, which was later supported by the presence of
the verse in Codex Ravianus, in the margin of 88, and in 629"
(Ibid., p. 209).
 Ibid., pp. 209–10.
 Ibid., p. 210.
 Ibid., pp. 210–12.
Source: Trinitarian Bible Society