The Johannine Comma


By Floyd Jones

1 John 5:6-8:   6. This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the 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 three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. (KJB)

The embolded portion of the passage is omitted from the NIV and RSV and is footnoted or missing in nearly all modern versions, reading instead, "There are three that bear record, the Spirit, and the water and the blood" or something closely akin.

CommentThis Scripture has been entitled the "Johannine Comma" by textual critics.  The verse as found in the King James is the strongest single Scripture on the Holy Trinity.  As such, it is not surprising that it should be the subject of vehement debate and an object of Satan's attack.  It is a shameful, sad comment upon our time as to how readily modern Christians will surrender this and other passages on "textual grounds" without bothering to delve more closely into the evidence.

Dr. J.A. Moorman – a dedicated Godly minister, capsuling the posture of modern textual criticism which insists upon the omission of the passage, has set forth the following particulars:[1]

1.   The passage is missing from every known Greek manuscript except four, and these contain the passage in what appears to be a translation from a late recension (revision) of the Latin Vulgate.  These four are all late manuscripts.  They are a 16th century ms (#61), a 12th century ms (#88) which had the passage written in the margin by a modern hand, a 15th century ms (#629), and an 11th century ms which has the passage written in the margin by a 17th century hand.

2.   The passage is not quoted by any of the Greek Fathers who would have employed it as proof in the Trinitarian controversies (Arian and Sabellian) had they known of the section.  Its first appearance in Greek is in a Greek version of the (Latin) Acts of the Latern Council in 1215.

3.   The section is not present in the mss of all the ancient versions except the Latin.  Even then, it is not found in the Old Latin in its early form and it is not in Jerome's Vulgate (c.405).

The earliest instance of the passage being quoted as part of the actual text of First John is a fourth century Latin treatise.  Supposedly the "gloss" arose when the original passage was understood to symbolize the Trinity (through the mention of three witnesses; the Spirit, and the water and the blood).  This interpretation, they tell us, may have been written as a marginal note at first and, as time went on, found its way into the text.

The "gloss" was quoted by Latin Fathers in North Africa and Italy in the 5th century as part of the text of the Epistle.  From the 6th century on, it is found more and more frequently in mss of the Old Latin and Vulgate.

4.   If the passage were original, a compelling reason or reasons should have been found to account for its omission, either accidently or deliberately, by all of the copyists of hundreds of Greek mss and by translators of ancient versions (called "transcriptional probability" - p. Error! Bookmark not defined.).  Lastly, they inform us that the passage makes an awkward break in the sense (called "intrinsic probability" - p. Error! Bookmark not defined.).

There it is!  These are the standard arguments that have been repeated ad nauseam.  It certainly sounds convincing, but is the entire story being told?


First, we straightforwardly concede that the Johannine Comma has the least Greek supportive evidence by far of any New Testament passage.  However, there is much to be offered in defending its inclusion in Scripture.  As to external evidence, we begin by apprising the reader that the Nestle-Aland 26th edition lists 8, not 4, Greek manuscripts as having the section.[2]  Another is cited by Metzger and the UBS 1st edition, bringing the total to nine.  Further, the Nestle-Aland critical apparatus mentions that other Greek manuscripts contain the reading in the margin.

It is usually held by critics that a number of these mss are merely copies of the Vulgate at I John 5:7, but their wording is carefully couched with subtle qualifying words (i.e., "appears to be") that reveals to the prudent reader that such is by no means certain.  Thus, the list of Greek mss presently known to contain the "Comma" is not long, but it is certainly longer (and growing) than what many would have us believe.[3]

Though there is a paucity of support for the text in the Greek speaking East, there are some late Eastern versions that include the portion under question such as the first Armenian Bible (published 1666) which was based primarily on an Armenian mss dated 1295 and the first printed Georgian Bible, published at Moscow in 1743.[4]

As to the critics' contention that "the passage is not quoted by any of the Greek Fathers who would have employed it as proof in the Trinitarian controversies had they known of the section", our first reply is that no such controversy existed.[5]  During the first age of the Church, the subjects debated between the Christians and the heretics were over the divinity and the humanity of Christ.  The contests maintained with and between these heretics did not extend beyond the consideration of the second Person – whether the Son possessed one subsistence or two persons instead of two subsistences and one person, etc.  They did not assume the form of a Trinitarian controversy, hence no suitable occasion arose to cite the verse in question.

Secondly, the early eastern Fathers are silent on nearly everything for the simple reason that their literary works have not survived to the present.[6]  Relevant to this, Harry A. Sturz has made the point "... there are no earlier Antiochian Fathers than Chrysostom (died 407) whose literary remains are extensive enough so that their New Testament quotations may be analyzed as to the type of text they support".[7]  Moorman notes that there is reason to doubt that any serious search has been carried out on the eastern Fathers from Chrysostom forward or on the versions, for since Westcott and Hort a cloud has fallen on the textual scene and very little attention has been given to I John 5:7.[8]  Yet crucial to the issue at hand is whether there are any references to the passage prior to 1522, the year it was supposedly added to the Bible by Erasmus.

The favorable evidence is stronger in the early Latin west.  The "three heavenly Witnesses" is contained in practically all of the extant Latin Vulgate mss.[9]  Although not included in Jerome's original edition, around the year 800 it was taken into the text of the Vulgate from the Old Latin mss.[10]  It was part of the text of a 2nd century Old Latin Bible.  The passage is cited by Tertullian (died 220), Cyprian of Carthage (died 258), and Priscillian, a Spanish Christian executed on a charge of heresy in A.D. 385.[11]  It is found in "r", a 5th century Old Latin manuscript, and in a confession of faith drawn up by Eugenius, Bishop of Carthage, in 484.  After the Vandals over-ran the African provinces, their King (Hunnerich) summoned the bishops of the African Church and the adjacent isles to deliberate on the doctrine bound within the disputed passage.[12]  Between three to four hundred prelates attended the Council at Carthage while Eugenius, as bishop of that See, drew up the Confession of the orthodox in which the contested 7th verse is expressly quoted.[13]  That the  entire African Church assembled in council should have concurred in quoting a verse which was not contained in the original text is altogether inconceivable.  Such loudly proclaims that the 7th verse was part of its text from the beginning.  The verse was cited by Vigilus of Thapsus (490), Cassiodorus (480-570) of Italy, and Fulgentius of Ruspe in North Africa (died 533).  Moreover, this is not a complete listing.  Therefore, early testimony for this key Trinitarian verse does exist.


If I John 5:6-8 is removed from the Greek text, the two resulting loose ends will not join together grammatically.  The Greek language has "gender" in its noun endings (as do many other languages).  Neuter nouns normally require neuter articles (the word "the" as in "the blood" is the article).  But the article in verse 8 of the shortened reading as found in the Greek that is the foundation of the new versions (verse 7 of the King James Greek text) is masculine.  Thus the new translations read "the Spirit (neuter), the water (neuter), and the blood (neuter): and these three (masculine!! - from the Greek article "hoi") are in one."  Consequently three neuter subjects are being treated as masculine (see below where the omitted portion is italicized).[14]  If the "Comma" is rejected it is impossible to adequately explain this irregularity.  In addition, without the "Comma" verse 7 has a masculine antecedent; three neuter subjects (nouns in vs.8) do not take a masculine antecedent.  Viewing the complete passage it becomes apparent how this rule of grammer is violated when the words are omitted.

5:6 ... And it is the Spirit (neuter) that beareth witness (neuter), because the Spirit (neuter) is truth.

5:7 For there are three (masculine) that bear record (masculine) in heaven, the Father (masculine), the Word (masculine), and the Holy Ghost (neuter): and these three (masculine) are one (masculine).

5:8 And there are three (masculine) that bear witness (masculine) in earth, the Spirit (neuter), and the water (neuter), and the blood (neuter): and these three (masculine) agree in one.

When we inquire of the scholars an accounting for this strange situation, the reply is that the only way to account for the masculine use of the three neuters in verse 8 is that here they have been "personalized".[15]  Yet we observe that the Holy Spirit is referred to twice in verse 6 and as He is the third person of the Trinity this would amount to "personalizing" the word "Spirit" – but the neuter gender is used.  Therefore – as Hills noted – 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.[16]

What then is to be done by way of explanation?  The answer is that something is missing!  If we retain the Johannie Comma, a reason for referring to the neuter nouns (Spirit, water, and blood) of verse 8 in the masculine gender becomes readily clear.[17]  The key is the principle of "influence" and "attraction" in Greek grammer.[18]  What influence would cause "that bear record" in verse 7 and "these three" in verse 8 to suddenly become masculine?  The answer can only be: due to the influence of the nouns Father and Word in verse 7 which are masculine – it is the inclusion of the Father and the Word, to which the beginning and ending of the passage are attracted, a principle well known in Greek syntax.  In effect then, the only way the spirit, the water and the blood can be "personalized" is by retaining the reading of the 1611 King James and the Greek text upon which it is based where all three words are direct references to the Trinity (vs.7).  Where is the "Person"?  "The Person" is in verse 7 of the Authorized Version of 1611.

The reader will note that the underlined phrase, "that bear witness", occurring three times in the preceding passage is a participle which is a type of verbal adjective.[19]  As adjectives, they modify nouns and must agree in gender.  Thus if a text critic wishes to remove this passage with integrity, he should be able to answer the following:[20]

Why after using a neuter participle in line one is a masculine participle suddenly used in line three?

How can the masculine numeral, article (Greek), and participle (the three masculine adjectives) of line three be allowed to directly modify the three neuter nouns of line seven?

What phenomena in Greek syntax (the part of grammar dealing with the manner in which words are assembled to form phrases, clauses or sentences in an orderly system or arrangement) would cause the neuter nouns of line seven to be treated as masculine by the "these three" in line eight?

There is no satisfactory answer!  Leading Greek scholars as Metzger, Vincent, Alford, Vine, Wuest, Bruce, Plummer etc., make no mention whatever of the problem when dealing with the passage in any of their works to date.[21]  The International Critical Commentary devotes twelve pages to the passage but is ignorantly or dishonestly silent regarding the mismatched genders.

Finally, with regard to internal evidence, if the words were omitted, the concluding words at the end of verse 8 contain an unintelligible reference.  The Greek words "kai hoi treis eis to hen eisin" (kaiV oiJ trei'" eij" toV e{n eijsin) mean precisely – "and these three agree to that (aforementioned) One."[22]  If the 7th verse is omitted, "that One" does not appear.  It is inconceivable how "that One" (Grk = to hen = toV e{n) can be reconciled with the taking away of the preceding words,[23] that is – by taking out the "Comma".  As Gaussen has remarked: "Remove it, and the grammar becomes incoherent."[24]


We take our long overdue departure from this much disputed verse by offering the following as a plausible explanation for the omission of I John 5:7 which is taken from the late (1981) Christian text critic, Dr. Edward Freer Hills:

"... during the second and third centuries (between 220 and 270, according to Harnack) the heresy which orthodox Christians were called upon to combat was not Arianism (since this error had not yet arisen), but Sabellianism (... after Sabellius, one of its principal promoters), according to which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were one in the sense that they were identical.  Those that advocated this heretical view were called Patripassians (Father-suffers), because they believed that God the Father, being identical with Christ, suffered and died upon the cross; ...

"It is possible, therefore, that the Sabellian heresy brought the Johannine comma into disfavour with orthodox christians.  ... And if during the course of the controversy manuscripts were discovered which had lost this reading..., it is easy to see how the orthodox party would consider these mutillated manuscripts to represent the true text and regard the Johannine comma as a heretical addition.  In the Greek-speaking East especially the comma would be unanimously rejected, for there the struggle against Sabellianism was particularly severe.

"Thus it is not impossible that during the 3rd century, amid the stress and strain of the Sabellian controversy, the Johannine comma lost its place in the Greek text but was preserved in the Latin texts of Africa and Spain, where the influence of Sabellianism was probably not so great. ... although the Greek New Testament text was the special object of God's providential care ... this care also extended, in lesser degree, to the ancient versions and to the usage not only of Greek-speaking christians, but also of the other branches of the christian church.  Hence, although the traditional text found in the vast majority of the Greek manuscripts is a fully trustworthy reproduction of the divinely inspired original text, still it is possible that the text of the Latin Vulgate, which really represents the long-established usage of the Latin Church, preserves a few genuine readings not found in the Greek manuscripts.  ... hence, it is possible that the Johannine comma is one of these exceptional readings which ... were included in the Textus Receptus under the direction of God's special providence."[25]

Thus with regard to external evidence, we have seen that for the most part if I John 5:7 is received, it must be admitted mainly on the testimony of the Western or Latin Church.  Admittedly, it seems unwarranted to set aside the authority of the Greek Church and accept the witness of the Latin where a question arises as to the authenticity of a passage which properly belongs to the text of the former.  Still, when the doctrine contained within that passage is taken into account, reasons do exist for giving preference to the Western Church's authority over that of the Eastern.

As the quote from Dr. Hills indicates, shortly after the period in which the Sabellian heresy flourished, Arianism arose.  Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria (d. 336 A.D.) and pupil of Lucian of Antioch, denied the deity and eternality of Christ Jesus.  The Greek or Eastern Church was completely given over to that heresy from the reign of Constantine to that of Theodosius the Elder, a span of at least forty years (c.340-381, the convening of the fourth Council of Byzantium).  Conversely, the Western Church remained uncorrupted by the Arian heresy during this period.[26]  Thus if the "Comma" problem did not develop during the Sabellian controversy as Dr. Hills proposes, it may well have so done during the time of the Arian dominion of the Greek Church as Dr. Frederick Nolan has forcefully propounded.  Nolan argues that with the Arians in control of the Greek Church for the forty or so year span, Eusebius was able to suppress this passage in the edition that he revised which had the effect of removing the verse from the Greek texts.[27]  Thus the disputed verse was originally suppressed, not gradually introduced into the Latin translation.[28]


There remains one more valid and compelling reason for the acceptance of the section under discussion as being genuine.  As stated on page Error! Bookmark not defined., the Textus Receptus always has been the New Testament used by the true Church!  We have cited Parvis' admission of this conclusively decisive point and Aland's concession that it undoubtly has been the N.T. of the Church from the Reformation until the mid twentieth century.  This is the most important justification why not only this passage, but all of the passages that would be deleted or altered by the destructive critics should be retained in the confines of Scripture.

Finally, it cannot be overly stressed that the successive editors of the TR could have omitted the passage from their editions.  The fact that Stephens, Beza, and the Elzevirs retained the Pericope, despite the reluctance of Erasmus to include it, is not without significance.  The learned Lutheran text critic J.A. Bengel ("Gnomon", published in 1742) also convincingly defended its inclusion[29] as did Hills in this century.  The hard fact is that, by the providence of God, the Johannie comma obtained and retained a place in the Textus Receptus.  We emphatically declare that the most extreme caution should be exercised in questioning its right to that place.

Moorman reminds us that the fate of this passage in the written Word indeed parallels the many times Satan sought to destroy the line through which Messiah – the Living Word would come.[30]  We are reminded, for example, of wicked Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, slaying all of the seed royal of the lineage of David – save for Joash!

Moreover, this author concurs with Moorman – the passage has the ring of truth.[31]  Like him, we proclaim that it is the Holy Spirit who "guides into all truth" (John 16:13) who has given it that "ring".

     [1]  Moorman, When The KJV Departs From The "Majority" Text, op. cit., pp. 115-123.  Appendix B is largely dependent upon Moorman; this work of his is full of pertinent data and is a most excellent manuscript.

     [2]  Moorman, When The KJV Departs From The "Majority" Text, op. cit., p. 119.

     [3]  Ibid.

     [4]  Ibid., p. 120; also see Scrivener, A Plain Introduction, op. cit., Vol II, p. 401.

     [5]  Nolan,  An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate, op. cit., pp. 525-557.  Dr. Nolan points out that all the heretics would have subscribed to the letter of this text as they all admitted to the existence of "three" powers, or principles, in the "one" Divinity.  This included the Gnostics, Ebionites, Valentinians, Sabellians, Arians, Nestorians, etc.  Moreover, the Sabellians and Arians agreed as to the existence of "three" making up the Divine Nature.  The controversy between the two cults centered on the force of the term "Son" as opposed to the term "Word" or Logos.  As the text uses the term "Word" instead of "Son", the term trei'" (three) in the context of the 7th verse was as unsuitable to the purpose of the Sabellians who confounded the Persons as was toV e{n (that one) to Eusebius – for the Arians divided the substance.

     [6]  Moorman, When The KJV Departs From The "Majority" Text, op. cit., p. 121.

     [7]  Sturz, The Byzantine Text Type And New Testament Textual Criticism, op. cit., p. 80.

     [8]  Moorman, When The KJV Departs From The "Majority" Text, op. cit., p. 121.

     [9]  Moorman, When The KJV Departs From The "Majority" Text, op. cit., p. 121.  A few early copies do omit the verse.

     [10]  Hills, The King James Version Defended, op. cit., p. 210.

     [11]  Moorman, When The KJV Departs From The "Majority" Text, op. cit., pp. 121-122.

     [12]  Nolan,  An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate, op. cit., pp. 295-296.

     [13]  Ibid.

     [14]  Hills, The King James Version Defended, op. cit., p. 211.

     [15]  Ibid., p. 212.

     [16]  Hills, The King James Version Defended, op. cit., p. 212.

     [17]  Ibid.

     [18]  Moorman, When The KJV Departs From The "Majority" Text, op. cit., p. 117.

     [19]  Ibid.,  p. 116.

     [20]  Ibid.

     [21]  Ibid., p. 117.

     [22]  Ibid., p. 118; here Moorman quotes an extract from Robert Dabney [Dabney's Discussions Evangelical and Theological, (Trinitarian Bible Society, n.d.)] but he gives neither date nor page.

     [23]  Ibid., p. 118; here Moorman cites Gaussen (The Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, p. 193; he does not give the publisher or date) who is quoting from Bishop Middleton's 1828 A.D. eighteen page discussion of the Greek Article.

     [24]  Ibid., p. 119.

     [25]  Hills, The King James Version Defended, op. cit., pp. 212-213.

     [26]  Nolan,  An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate, op. cit., pp. 28-29, 293-306.  Indeed, Dr. Frederick Nolan's defense of I John 5:7 is without equal.  See especially pp. 525-576 where his insight, logic, and powers of deduction are par excellance.

     [27]  Nolan,  An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate, op. cit., p. 305.  Dr. Nolan is quick to point out that the verse as preserved in the Latin manuscripts is consistent and full whereas the Greek is internally defective grammatically (pp. 259-261, 294) – as we have already seen.  Thus Nolan notes that here where the testimony of the two Churches has been found to vary, the evidence is not so much to be seen as contradictory, but rather that one is merely defective.  Having confronted the two witnesses, the best way to account for all that has been stated heretofore is to suppose that there was a time when the two agreed in the more full and explicit reading (p. 306).

     [28]  Ibid., p. 561.

     [29]  John Albert Bengel, Gnomon, 5 Vols., 6th ed., trans by The Rev. William Fletcher, D.D., (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark Pub., 1866), Vol 5, pp. 140-150 (orig. pub. 1742).

     [30]  Moorman, When The KJV Departs From The "Majority" Text, op. cit., p. 123.

     [31]  Ibid.