The Comma Johanneum

In the King James Version of the Bible the verse 1 John 5:6-8 reads:

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. 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
agree in one.

While the New International Version reads:

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

Notice that in the NIV and in most modern translations of the Bible, the words the Father, the Word,and the Holy Ghost are omitted. This omitted section of the verse is called the Comma Johanneum or the Johannine Comma. Why do modern translations omit this phrase. If you are a follower of Jack Chick or one of the King James Only believers, you already know the answer. Modern translations are inspired by liberal, New Age ideology from defective heretical texts and are purposely designed to undercut Christian teachings by omitting key verses relating the the divinity of Jesus Christ. It is very likely that the Devil himself, not to mention the Roman Catholic Church is behind most modern translations. The New International Version is especially insidious. Only the King James Bible, printed in 1611 is the true Word of God. I wasn’t making any of that up. There really are people who think that way.

For the real story of how the Comma Johanneum came to be omitted, we have to go back to the Middle Ages. I have already described how knowledge of the Greek language and Greek manuscripts were all but unknown in western Europe. European scholars knew of the literature of ancient Greece only through Latin and Arabic translations. The Bible, originally written in Hebrew and Greek was available only in the Vulgate Latin translation made by Jerome. In the fourteen and fifteenth centuries, Greek speaking Byzantines began to flee to the West as the Turks invaded and conquered the Byzantine Empire. They brought with them Greek manuscripts and the knowledge of how to read and speak Greek.

Desiderius Erasmus, 1466-1536, Rotterdam Renai...

Desiderius Erasmus, 1466-1536, Rotterdam Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest and theologian, by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1523. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1516, Desiderius Erasmus published a new translation of the New Testament in Latin and Greek. Erasmus was a Catholic priest from Holland who was the foremost Humanist scholar of his time. In a way, he was a proto-Protestant because he believed that the Church badly needed to be reformed. He opposed the innovations in beliefs and practices that had grown up over the centuries and he wanted to return to the simple faith of the early Church. Unlike the Reformers like Luther, Erasmus did not leave the Catholic Church. He believed in reforming it from within. Erasmus was a reasonable man who tried to be neutral and moderate in the Protestant Reformation and, as a result, ended up being hated by both sides.

Erasmus didn’t have a single complete Greek text to translate so he used several.He lacked the last six verses of Revelation and had to translate them into Greek and back into Latin. The first edition of his translation was a rushed job because there were other people translating the New Testament from the Greek and he wanted to beat the competition. He corrected his mistakes in later editions and and the fifth edition became known as the Textus Receptus and was one of the sources of the King James Bible.

Erasmus noticed that none of his Greek manuscripts included the words that became known as the Comma Johanneum so he omitted them in the first edition of his translations. His superiors in the Church, including the Pope insisted that he include the phrase but Erasmus responded that he could not unless a Greek manuscript could be found with the words. They produced a manuscript with the words. Erasmus suspected that it was a forgery but he kept his word and included the Comma Johanneum in later editions.

Does the Comma Johanneum belong in the Bible? The only Greek texts that include it seem to be from around the time of Erasmus. No early Greek text includes it. It is found in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate Bible, but it is not clear whether Jerome wrote it in his translation or if the words were a later addition. Some of the early Church Fathers use expressions similar to the words of the Comma Johanneum, but they do not seem to be quoting scripture. Such a clear cut expression of trinitarian theology would have been very useful in the Arian and Christological controversies in Eastern Christianity from the fourth to the seventh centuries. Perhaps the most reasonable explanation is that the phase was a marginal note by some priest or monk, perhaps while preparing a sermon or commentary. A later copyist could have been careless enough to incorporate the words into the texts and still later copyists could perpetuate the error. Such things often happened in the days when every single copy of a book had to be written out by hand. This is why, even in the Bible there are variant texts occasionally and why translators try to find the earliest, and presumably closest to the original texts they can find.

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