By Mike Willis
The proliferation of new translations and the usage of such translations by brethren have caused us to become more aware of variant readings of the Greek manuscripts than in previous years. Those who have studied 1 John 5:7-8 in a Bible class recently have probably noticed the difference in the reading of the King James Version and that of most later translations; in case you have not noticed the different readings, I will reproduce the reading of the King James Version (AV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB).
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear record in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three are one.
For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.
The italicized section in the AV is not found in the NASB or any other recent translation, except in a marginal note to indicate that it is not found in the best manuscripts of the New Testament.
However, let us examine this verse to see how it came to be in our Bible. In a preliminary note, let me make these following observations:
1. The original manuscripts were inspired of God. Let us remember that the original manuscripts were what were inspired of God. We are not obligated to defend as inspired any errors which have crept into the text of the New Testament through transmission. Hence, one is not denying the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures when he examines the textual evidence to discover whether or not a given reading was in the original documents.
2. The text of the New Testament is reliable. Neither am I trying to undermine one’s confidence in the texts of the New Testament in this article. The uniform testimony of all textual critics is that the texts of the New Testament are completely reliable. Typical of such comments are those reproduced below by the mentioned textual scholars:
In the New Testament in particular it is difficult to escape an exaggerated impression as to the proportion which the words subject to variation bear to the whole text, and also, in most cases, as to their intrinsic importance. It is not superfluous therefore to state explicitly that the great bulk of the words of the New Testament stand out above all discriminative processes of criticism, because they are free from variation, and need only to be transcribed. Much too of the variation which it is necessary to record has only an antiquarian interest, except in so far as it supplies evidence as to the history of textual transmission, or as to the characteristics of some document or group of documents. The whole area of variation between readings that have ever been admitted, or are likely to be ever admitted, into any printed texts is comparatively small; and a large part of it is due merely to differences between the early uncritical editions and the texts formed within the last half-century with the help of the priceless documentary evidence brought to light in recent times. A small fraction of the gross residue of disputed words alone remains after the application of the improved methods of criticism won from the experience of nearly two centuries of investigation and discussion. If comparative trivialities, such as changes of order, the insertion or omission of the article with proper names, and the like, are set aside, the words in our opinion still subject to doubt can hardly amount to more than a thousandth part of the whole New Testament (Brooke Foss Wescott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek, pp. 564-565).
Similar statements affirming the reliability of the New Testament documents can be found in any standard reference book on the subject! Hence, the documents of the New Testament can be trusted as relaying to us a good copy of the original document.
This statement, however, does not deny that there are some verses which need to be examined as to the correct reading of the text or even whether or not they belong to the text. “Only 400 or so of the 150,000 variants materially affect the sense, and of these perhaps 50 are of real significance. But no essential teaching of the New Testament is greatly affected by them” (Ira Price, The Ancestry of Our English Bible, p. 222). Our examination of 1 John 5:7-8 is unique in that it is one of the major textual variants in the New Testament.
3. The discovery of manuscripts has assisted textual criticism. The last two hundred years have brought to light many major texts of the New Testament to be used in textual criticism. All of the major texts used in reconstructing the original text have been discovered since the AV of 1611 was printed, hence, the contribution of the science of textual criticism with a methodology of the critical text have all come since the AV was released. Every new papyrus manuscript unearthed or discovered assists us in producing a more accurate copy of the New Testament.
Two Different Greek Texts
Perhaps one is wondering why these two readings appear in 1 John 5:7-8. The answer is that the AV was based on one Greek text known as the Textus Receptus and the NASB (and all later translations) are based on a critical text (the text usually followed is the Westcott and Hort text with variations being noted). The text used by the AV was called the Textus Receptus. The Textus Receptus was compiled by Erasmus and printed in 1516. Whereas the modern critical text is the base of the examination of literally thousands of manuscripts, Erasmus’ text was based on only eight or nine Greek manuscripts (of the Byzantine family of texts). In the early editions of Erasmus’ work, the reading which appears more nearly resembles that of the critical text than that of the AV. For this, his text was criticized. We shall see later what happened. First, however, let us detail the differences in the two texts and the texts supporting each reading.
The AV is based on this Greek text: marturountes en to hourano, ho pater ho logos kai to hagion pneuma, kai houtoi hoi treis hen eisin. kai treis eisin hoi marturountes en to ge, to pneuma kai to hudor kai to haima (“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three are one”). This Greek text is found in the following documents:
61 – a sixteenth century minuscule text
629 – a fourteenth century minuscule text
88 – the reading appears in the margin of this twelfth century text
429 – the reading appears in the margin of this 14-15 century text
636 – a fifteenth century minuscule text
918 – a sixteenth century minuscule text
221 – the reading appears in the margin of this tenth century text
One notices that this reading is supported by very late texts; none of the major uncial or papyrus texts support this reading.
On the other hand, the critical text behind the NASB reading is as follows: hoti treis eisin hoi marturountes, to pneuma kai to hudor kai to haima, kai hoi treis eis to hen eisin “For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement”). This textual reading is supported by too many texts to be mentioned; however, the major texts supporting it are as follows:
Aleph – a fourth century uncial text
A – Alexandrinus is a fifth century uncial text
B – Vaticanus is a fourth century uncial text
048 – a fifth century uncial text
In addition to these major texts, numbers of minuscule texts from the ninth century on read the same way; here are a few of them: 81, 88, 104, 181, 326, 330, 436, 451, 614, 630, 945, 1241, 1505, 1739, 1877, 1881, 2127, 2412, 2492, 2495, etc.
The textual support for the critical text is so overwhelmingly against that of the Textus Receptus that virtually no one questions but that the AV reflects an insertion into the holy text. The reading receives an “A” rating on a scale which uses “A” to signify that the text is virtually certain.
How did the reading ever get into the AV in the first place? That is a rather interesting story in itself. The first two editions of Erasmus’ text (which later came to be known as the Textus Receptus) did not contain the reading.
Among the criticisms levelled at Erasmus one of the most serious appeared to be the charge of Stunica, one of the editors of Ximenes’ Complutensian Polygot, that his text lacked part of the final chapter of 1 John, namely the Trinitarian statement concerning `the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth’ (1 John v. 7-8, King James version). Erasmus replied that he had not found any Greek manuscript containing these words, though he had in the meanwhile examined several others besides those on which he relied when first preparing his text. In an unguarded moment Erasmus promised that he would insert the Comma Johanneum, as it is called, in future editions if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained the passage. At length such a copy was found – or was made to order! As it now appears, the Greek manuscript had probably been written in Oxford about 1520 by a Franciscan friar named Froy (or Roy), who took the disputed words from the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus stood by his promise and inserted the passage in his third edition (1522), but he indicates in a lengthy footnote his suspicions that the manuscript had been prepared expressly in order to confute him . . .
. . . The Comma probably originated as a piece of allegorical exegesis of the three witnesses and may have been written as a marginal gloss in a Latin manuscript of 1 John, whence it was taken into the text of the Old Latin Bible during the fifth century. The passage does not appear in manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate before about 800 A.D. (Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, pp. 101-102).
Apparently, this text was prepared especially for Erasmus. Known as manuscript 61 (Ms. 61), this manuscript was described by Metzger as follows:
This manuscript of the entire New Testament, dating from the late fifteeneth or early sixteenth century, now at Trinity College, Dublin, has more importance historically than intrinsically. It is the first Greek manuscript discovered which contains the passage relating to the Three Heavenly Witnesses (I John v. 7-8). It was on the basis of this single, late witness that Erasmus was compelled to insert this certainly spurious passage into the text of 1 John. The manuscript, which is remarkably fresh and clean throughout (except for the two pages containing 1 John v, which are soiled from repeated examination of this passage), gives every appearance of having been produced expressly for the purpose of confuting Erasmus (Ibid., p. 62).
However, because this text was produced, Erasmus included the reading in the third edition of his Greek text which was the text used for translating the AV. In this manner, the passage was included in the King James Version of the Bible. In the Companion To The Revised Version of the English New Testament, Alexander Roberts commented, “No defender of the genuineness of 1 John (5: 7, 8), will probably arise in the future. The controversy regarding the passage is finished, and will never be renewed” (p. 71).
An Accurate Text
The thousands of Greek manuscripts, both uncial and minuscule, allow us to examine the text of the New Testament in greater detail than any other ancient book can be examined. Texts from distinctly different families of manuscripts exist which make it possible for us to examine exactly what the original documents state. With no exceptions, the textual critics are universally willing to admit that the text of the New Testament is extremely well preserved and that we can rest assured that we have an accurate copy of the documents as they came from the pens of the inspired men. Peter said, “. . . the word of the Lord endureth for ever” (1 Pet. 1:25); modern textual critics are compelled to admit that it has at least endured to this present time.
Can We Still Believe In Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
Someone else might be asking whether or not we can still believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit if 1 John 5:7-8 does not really belong in our New Testaments. We most assuredly can. The following passages demonstrate that other New Testament passages, which are not textually suspect, teach the existence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; read them for yourself.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matt. 28:19).
But when the Comforter (the Holy Spirit-mw) is come, whom I (Jesus-mw) will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me (Jn. 14:26).
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: and to a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Matt. 3:16-17).
Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me (Rom. 15:30).
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen (2 Cor. 13:14).
There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (Eph. 4:4-6).
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will (Heb. 2:3-4).
For through him (Jesus-mw) we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father (Eph. 2:18).
. . . how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power . . . . (Acts 10:38).
There are several other passages which could be cited to demonstrate that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit compose the Godhead; however, these are sufficient to demonstrate that admitting that 1 John 5:7-8 are not in the text of the Scripture (as they appear in the AV) will not alter any doctrines which we are presently teaching. We simply must go to other texts to prove this for this text was invented by Catholics to defend the doctrine of the Trinity.
- Compare the King James Version of 1 John 5:7-8 with at least five other translations, including if possible the following versions: American Standard Version (1901), Revised Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, and New International Version.
- What do scholars say about the state of preservation of the text of the New Testament? Are the -New Testament documents reliable?
- What did God say about preserving of the text of Scripture?
- What is the Textus Receptus? On how many Greek texts was it based?
- What is the critical text of Wescott and Hart? On how many texts approximately is it based?
- What are the dates of the Greek manuscripts which support the reading of the AV in 1 John 5:7-8?
- What are the dates of the Greek manuscripts which support the reading of the NASB in 1 John 5:7-8?
- What is important about Ms. 61?
- Cite passages to show that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit compose the Godhead.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 14, pp. 216-218
April 2, 1981