How words with no real support in the Greek texts found their way into the Textus Receptus
In 1 John 5: 7, we find these words;
“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”
Beautiful words, and certainly a theology well supported elsewhere in the bible, but the story how they made their way into Scripture is an interesting one and at times hotly contested.
Erasmus, the erudite Catholic scholar did not want to put them into the new Greek manuscript he was preparing. His finished manuscript in its third printing would become the basis for the AV 1611, known as the King James Version. Though the verse could be found in the Latin Vulgate translated by Jerome, there was little or no evidence for its existence in any Greek manuscript that Erasmus felt was valid.
Erasmus quickly fell under attack from all sides, particularly from those who felt the Latin Vulgate should be followed word for word because it had been around for so many hundreds of years. In a debate with one of these folks, Erasmus, becoming exasperated, was prompted to say that if any Greek manuscript could be found with the verse, he would place it in his manuscript. Shortly after a manuscript was miraculously found and so Erasmus conceded. He did place the verse, known as the “comma Johanneum” into his text but quickly added a long foot note in which he stated his doubt of the authenticity of the manuscript that had forced his hand.
However despite Erasmus’ clearly stated disapproval of the comma, many in the past and present still insist that it should be part of 1 John.
John Gill, a noted bible commentator from the 18th century, thought it had good enough support and said so, in a quote often used by todays avid King James supporters. He said for example that;
” as to its being lacking in some Greek manuscripts, as the Alexandrian and others, it need only be said that it is found in many others, in an old British copy, and in the complutensian edition, …and 9 of the 16 ancient copies of Robert Stevens (Stephanus) had it…”(1) Gill also claimed the comma was quoted by some church fathers and was found in the Latin vulgate as early as the 4th century.
However, D. A. Carson (2) points out in reply that, for openers, the vast majority of the Alexandrian texts had not been found yet, and many of the Greek also. He also asserts that the Comma Johanneum decidedly is not found in many other Greek texts (which is the reason Erasmus didn’t accept its validity in the first place).
Nor was it found in “9 of the 16” texts of Stephanus, despite Gills claim. The old British copy Gill refers to is the codex miniscule 61, that Erasmus felt was fabricated to force him to accept the comma into scripture. The verses are believed to have been placed into a 12th century Irish manuscript by a friar in 1520, just after the 2nd of Erasmus’s editions.
Carson notes that Gills claim that the verses were found in Jeromes vulgate by the 4th century is entirely false and in fact they dont show up in the Latin until the the 9th century. According to Carson, in the Eastern churches where the Greek was in continuous use until recent times, there is no manuscript support for the comma johanneum whatsoever, and most of the church fathers mentioned by Gill didn’t actually refer to the verses as Scripture. The Complutensian was a 16th century translation that was heavily under the influence of the Vulgate, and its translators claimed no Greek support for the comma.
As Erasmus and many others have often pointed out, the verses are not necessary to the support of the Deity of Christ or the Trinity, as much support can be found elsewhere throughout Scripture. And Jehovah witnesses love to point to these verses and explain to uninformed bible readers that they are the only support for the Trinity and were placed there to force evidence of it into the bible. Thankfully neither statement is true, the problem was probably a gloss (a comment often placed between the lines) accidently introduced by a tired scribe. And it’s the Watchtower that often deliberately inserts words like (other) or (the) and such into the translation in order to mislead its followers.
Have a great day, Spring is coming!
(1) Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition of the New Testament,1746, 2:907-8
(2) Carson, D. A., The Kings James Version Debate, a plea for realism, Baker Books, 1979