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.


This has got to be one of my favorite scenes from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Actually, I am positive that no one was actually stoned in ancient Judea for saying “Jehovah“. How can I be so sure? Because you could dance down the streets of first century Jerusalem shouting “Jehovah” at the top of your voice and no one would have a clue what you were saying.

The word Jehovah is actually a mispronunciation.

There are several words used to identify the deity in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, but God’s personal name is revealed to be a word made up of the Hebrew letters: י(yodh),  ה(he), ך (waw), ה (he), which, converted to our Roman alphabet, is rendered YHWH, or YHVH. The name YHWH seems to be derived from a root word in Hebrew which means something like “that which is” or “ that which is eternally existent.

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.[c] This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord,[d] the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation. (Exodus 3:13-15)

Centuries later, Jesus identified himself as I AM seven times in the Gospel of John.

58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.(John

To the Jews in the crowd, Jesus was clearly claiming to be divine. Either he was blaspheming or insane. Either way, it seemed like it might be a good idea to stone him.

You probably have noticed that the Divine Name consists of four consonants and no vowels. This is because the Hebrew alphabet has 22 consonants and no vowels. This is not as great a handicap in Hebrew as it would be in English because Hebrew, being a Semitic language, has a vocabulary based largely on root words of three consonants. The basic meaning of a word depends on the root consonants with vowels and additional consonants providing nuances of meaning, such as verb forms, cases, etc. In most cases, only the consonants are really needed to understand at least the basic meaning of a written work. Most scholars believe that YHVN is pronounced Yahweh.

So, how did Yahweh become Jehovah? The Jews believed, and still believe, that God’s personal name was too sacred to be pronounced aloud. When reading from the Hebrew Bible, either in liturgical or other uses, they developed the custom of saying the word “Adonai”, meaning “The Lord”.

Hebrew had ceased to be a spoken language by the time of Jesus. That made understanding the Hebrew Bible a little more difficult, so sometime in the later half of the first millennium, the Hebrew scribes, known as Masorotes, developed a system for writing vowels. They didn’t introduce any new letters but created a system of diacritical marks called Niqqud. The Jewish scribes did not want anyone to accidentally pronounce the Name so they combined YHVH with the vowel marks for Adonai, resulting in something like YaHoVaH, or Jehovah.

During the Middle Ages, the only Bible known by Christians in western Europe was the Latin Vulgate. Knowledge of the Greek language of the New Testament and classical writers was all but unknown in the West. Starting from the fourteenth century, however, as the Byzantine Empire  fell to the Turks, Greek speaking scholars fled to the West, bringing knowledge of the Greek language and ancient Greek manuscripts, including the Bible. Renaissance scholars eagerly learned Greek from them and used this knowledge to produce new and better translations of the Greek manuscripts into Latin and the various vernacular languages. Among the works of translation was the New Testament. But the Renaissance scholars also wanted to translate the Old Testament from the original Hebrew, so they learned Hebrew as well.

The first person known to have used the word Jehovah seems to be Galantinus, who learned Hebrew and Aramaic with the intent of using the Jew’s own scriptures and doctrines,including  the Hebrew Bible and the Cabbala, to refute them. He, and others were unaware of the pronunciation of YHWH and assumed the the diacritical marks were the correct ones. Most early printed editions of the Bible, including Tyndale’s English translation, used Jehovah, though others used “The Lord” where YHVH is in the text, including later editions of the King James Bible.

Modern editions of the Bible, including the New International Version, generally print “The Lord” in small capital letters. There are still editions of the Bible that say Jehovah, though fewer than before and it seems the use of Jehovah for the name of God is dying out, at least in English language translations. I have only seen one translation that uses “Yahweh”, the World English Bible.

So, the next time any Jehovah’s Witnesses show up at your door, you can tell them that they have their name all wrong. They should be calling themselves “Yahweh’s Witnesses”.