Notes on the Internal Evidence in Favor of the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7–8)

“In our English Bibles, marginal references sometimes mention a Greek or Hebrew word indicating that there is some variation in the extant manuscripts of the passage. The correct reading is the one which (i) agrees with the grammatical construction, and with other reliable manuscripts. (ii) makes sense of the context and thrust of the passage and agrees with the analogy of faith.” — William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying

1 John 5:7–8 in the King James Bible reads:

1 John 5:7–8 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.

1 John 5:7–8 (Textus Receptus) Ὅτι τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες, ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὁ πατηρ, ὁ λόγος, καὶ τὸ ἅγιον Πνεῦμα· καὶ οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς ἕν εἰσιν

(8) καὶ τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἕν τῇ γῇ, τὸ πνεῦμα, καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ, καὶ τὸ αἷμα· καὶ οἱ τρεῖς εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν

The same text in the ESV reads:

1 John 5:7–8 For there are three that testify: (8) the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.

1 John 5:7–8 (NA26) ὅτι τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες,

(8) τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα, καὶ οἱ τρεῖς εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν

The following is intended to serve as a concise reference for the internal evidence supporting the inclusion of the text as it stands in the Textus Receptus.

The Grammatical Solecism in the Critical Text

Many commentators and theologians throughout the centuries have recognized that there is a grammatical difficulty that arises if the Comma is left out of the text. As C.H Pappas points out:

“If the Trinitarian passage is omitted, how are we to explain the masculine adjective, “trei” (three), the masculine article “o” (the plural), as well as the masculine participle “marturounte” (bear witness) in the eighth verse of this fifth chapter? The adjective, article, and the participle are all masculine. The problem arises when we consider the mixture of the masculine with neuter substantives which immediately follow. The three nouns that follow are “the spirit, and the water, and the blood” which are all neuter. As the reader can readily see, there is no agreement between these nouns with the masculine article, adjective, and participle that precedes them; they stand in opposition to them. Immediately, one should detect that there is a serious grammatical problem if the Comma is omitted. The masculine adjective “three,” and the masculine article “the” with the masculine participle “bear witness” (or record) of verse eight, is only understood by the attraction of the three witnesses of verse seven which are masculine. It is the Father and the Word and the Holy Ghost of the previous verse that explains the masculine adjective, article and participle in verse eight.”

C. H. Pappas ThM. In Defense of the Authenticity of 1 John 5:7 (p. 45).

Robert Lewis Dabney, in the 19th century, also recognized this issue when dealing with the authenticity of the text:

“The internal evidence against this excision, then, is in the following strong points: First, if it be made, the masculine article, numeral, and participle οι τρεις μαρτυρουντες are made to agree directly with three neuters — an insuperable and very bald grammatical difficulty. But if the disputed words are allowed to stand, they agree directly with two masculine and one neuter noun, ο πατηρ, ο λογος, και το αγιον πνευμα; where, according to a well known rule of syntax, the masculine among the group, control the gender over the neuter connected with them. Then the occurence of the masculine τρεις μαρτυρουντες agreeing with the neuters in the eighth verse, πνευμα, υδωρ, and αιμα may be accounted for by the power of attraction, so well known in Greek syntax, and by the fact that the πνευμα, the leading noun of the second group, and next to the adjectives, has just had a sepcies of masculineness superinduced upon it by it’s previous position in the masculine group.” Discussions Volume 1 Pg. 378

J.A Moorman, in his invaluable work When the KJV Departs from the Majority Text, pages 142–143, writes the following concerning the removal of the Comma, and the internal difficulties which it creates:

“If the passage is removed from the Greek text, the two Loose Ends will not join up grammatically. A problem arises which has to do with the use of the participle (a kind of verbal adjective). Being an adjective it modifies nouns and must agree with them in gender. With the full passage set out it becomes apparent how this rule of grammar is violated when the words are omitted. The disputed words are enclosed in square brackets. The underlined words form a participle. vs. 6 And it is the Spirit (neuter) that beareth witness (neuter) because the Spirit (neuter) is truth. vs. 7 For there are three (masculine) that bear record (masc) [in heaven, the Father (masc), the Word (masc), and Holy Ghost (neut): and these three (masc) are one (masc). vs. 8 And there are three (masc) that bear witness (masc) in earth] the Spirit (neut) and the water (neut) and the blood (neut): and these three (masc) agree in one. If one wants to remove the words within the brackets, the following problems must be addressed: Why after using a neuter participle in line 1 is a masculine participle used in line 3? Especially so if this second participle must have now modify 3 neuter nouns- Spirit, water, blood?

2. How can the masculine (1) numeral, (2) article (in the Greek), and (3) participle (i.e three masculine adjectives of line 3) be allowed to directly modify the three neuter nouns Spirit, water, blood?

3. What phenomena in Greek syntax would cause these three neuter nouns Spirit, water, blood to be treated as masculine by these three? There is not a good answer! And perhaps this is the reason why such leading Greek Scholars as Metzger, Vincent, Alford, Vine, Wuest, Bruce, Plummer, do not make the barest mention of the problem when dealing with the passage. The International Critical Commentary devotes 12 pages to the passage but says nothing about the mismatched genders”

The Article in Verse 8

The TR reading provides a natural antecedent to εις το εν εισιν (are into the one) in verse 8 by referring back to the εν εισιν (are one) in verse 7.

The text is saying that the testimony on earth is in agreement or harmony with the testimony given in Heaven. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious antecedent to “the one” in the Alexandrian and Majority text, however.

Robert Lewis Dabney, commenting on the same issue, says:

“If the excision is made, then the proposition at the end of the eighth verse, και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν, contains an unintelligible reference. The insuperable awkwardness of this chasim in the meaning is obscured in the Authorized English version “and these three are one”. Let a version be given which will do fair justice to the force of the definite article here, as established by the Greek idiom and the whole construction, thus: “and these three agree to that (aforesaid) one”, the argument appears. What is that aforesaid unity to which these three agree? If the seventh verse is exscinded, there is none: the το εν so clearly designated by the definite article as an object to which the reader has already been introduced, has no antecedent presence in the passage. Let the seventh verse stand, and all is clear: the three earthly witnesses testify to that aforementioned unity which the Father, Word, and Spirit constitute.” Conversations Volume 1 Pg. 378

“In Greek, the phrase “these three agree in one” is “οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν” (the three are in the one). There is a definite article that indicates that the “one” is a particular “one” that has been referred to previously in the flow of the argument. If the Comma remains, this demonstrative article has a clear antecedent. The Father, Word, and Holy Ghost are “one,” and the three earthly witnesses agree in “the one.” Without the Comma there is no clear antecedent.” (“Discussions of Robert Lewis Dabney,” The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967, by the Trinitarian Bible Society).

Remarkably, Thomas Middleton, the Greek Grammarian of the 19th century, in his work The Doctrine of the Greek Article, comments on the difficulty which arises when the Comma is removed:

“Everyone knows of how much controversy this passage has been the subject, and the words which I have enclosed in brackets are now pretty generally abandoned as spurious. It is foreign to my undertaking to detail the arguments by which thisdecision has been established, and as little is it my purpose to call into question their justness and solidity. He who would see the controversy briefly, yet clearly stated, may consult the preface of Mr. Marsh’s letters to Mr. Travis in the appendix to the second volume of Mr. Butler’s Horae Biblicae. And if he wish to enter more fully into the inquery, the same appendixwill direct him to almost everything of importance which has appeared on the subject. The probable result will be that he will close the examination with a firm belief that the passage is spurious. More especially if he be of the opinion that it obscures than elucidates the reasoning. It has, however, been insisted that the omission of the rejected passage, rather embarrasses the context. Bengel regards the two verses as being connected..and yet it must be allowed that among the various interpretations there are some which will at least endure the absence of the seventh verse. But the difficulty to which the present undertaking has directed my attention is of another kind. It respects the article of EIS TO EN in the final clause of the eighth verse. If the seventh versehad not been spurious, nothing could have been plainer than that TO EN of verse 8 referred to EN of verse 7. As the case now stands, I do not perceive the force or meaning of the article.”

This is quite an amazing occurence. A renowned Greek grammarian, who wrote an entire book dedicated to the Greek article and it’s usage, in Biblical and extra-biblical literature, stated that he did “not perceive the force or meaning of the article” if the Comma is to be omitted!

Hebraic Parallelism in 1 John 5:6–9

One of the most striking, but totally forgotten, points of internal evidence for the Comma was first proposed by Rev. Charles Forster in his 1869 work A New Plea for the Authenticity of the Three Heavenly Witnesses. In his section on the internal evidence, he points out, building upon the work of Rev. Robert Lowth in his Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, and Rev. John Jebb, who expounded further upon Lowth’s work in his Sacred Literature, that 1 John 5:6–9 in the Received Text is structured exactly according to the rules of Hebraic Parallelism, which is found all throughout the Old Testament, and carried over by the Biblical authors even into the Greek New Testament.

1 John 5:6–9a in the Greek Received Text

The passage, as it stands in the Received Text, is “a perfect example of Hebrew parallelism” and “strictly according to the laws of Hebrew poetry, as laid down by Bishops Lowth and Jebb” (Forster, pg. 237). It begins with an introductory clause (highlighted in blue), followed by two pairs of synonymous parallel couplets (highlighted in red), a six-line antithetical stanza (seen in black), and concludes with an antithetical parallel couplet. This fact is emphasized when we take notice of the coherence of the passage in light of each line within the six-line stanza having another corresponding line within the text — the first line corresponds to the fourth, the second with the fifth, and the third with the sixth.

The Antithetical Six-line Stanza in 1 John 5:7–8 in the Received Text

Forster comments (pg. 238):

The structure of this double sentence so knits together all its parts, as to shut out altogether the very idea of a break in its unity : St. Paul’s language alone can adequately describe its composition — the whole body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth , according to the effectual working in the measure of every part.’

and:

To all readers acquainted with the rules of Hebrew parallelism it must at once be apparent, that a sentence so constructed authenticates itself; and speaks, at the same time, syntaxically for the authenticity of the text of the three Heavenly Witnesses.

As one can see by simply comparing the Received Text to that of the Critical Text, however, the structure of the passage becomes completely marred when the Comma is omitted.

1 John 5:6–9a from the NA26 Edition Greek NT

In the Critical Text, we now have an introductory clause, followed by two pairs of synonymous parallel couplets, followed by a three-line stanza which has no correspondent within the surrounding text, and then a concluding antithetical couplet — thus introducing an awkward three-line stanza into the midst of a block of surrounding Hebraic parallelisms. A very awkward, and “harder” reading indeed.

The Tautology in the Critical Text

Matthew Henry, in his commentary upon this text, notes how the omission of the Comma leads to what seems like a needless tautology:

If we admit v. 8, in the room of v. 7, it looks too like a tautology and repetition of what was included in v. 6, This is he that came by water and blood, not by water only, but by water and blood; and it is the Spirit that beareth witness. For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, the water, and the blood. This does not assign near so noble an introduction of these three witnesses as our present reading does.

The passage in the Received Text has reference to Jesus Christ’s baptism and passion in verse 6, signified by the “water” and “blood”, the testimony of the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost in verse 7 to the person and work of the Messiah, and the earthly testimony of the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration in the hearts of men (as Henry and others understand the reference to the “spirit” here), and partaking of the sacraments (baptism/water, and the Lord’s supper/blood) in verse 8, which serve as a sign and seal to confirm the testimony which God has given of his Son, as mentioned in verses 9–10. The Critical text reading, however, makes no distinction between the witness in heaven and the witness on earth, and thus creates a needless repetition between verses 6–8.

The Testimony of God in verse 9

1 John 5:9 states:

1 John 5:9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.

The Received Text provides a clear antecedent to the witness mentioned in verse 9. The verse is clearly referring to God the Father, so the Spirit mentioned in verse 8 cannot be the referent. However, verse 7 clearly shows us the testiomny of God the Father.

The Johannine style of the Comma

Furthermore, the style of the Comma is manifestly Johannine:

  1. John is very fond of using the term ο Πατηρ (the Father)in various forms in his corpus (John 1:14, 18; 1 John 1:2–3; 2:1, 13, 15–16, etc.)
  2. John is known for referring to God the Son as ο Λογος (the Word) (John 1:1, 14; 1 John 1:1–2, Revelation 19:13)
  3. John is known for using the word εις (one) in relation to the Father and Son (John 10:30; 17:22)
  4. John’s Gospel uses language contrasting heaven and earth (John 3:13, 31; 8:23), and also emphasizes the Son being “in” and “from” heaven (John 3:13; John 6:33, 38)
  5. John’s Gospel frequently employs the Law of Witness. He opens up his Gospel with the witness of John the Baptizer (John 1:6–9), and he begins his letter by citing the testimony of the disciples to the risen Christ (1 John 1:1–2). As the narrative of the 4th Gospel developes, we find an emphasis placed upon the testimony of the Son in conjunction with that of the Father (cf. John 5:31–37; 8:18), and future promise of the Holy Ghost bearing record of the Son (John 15:26). This was a future promise because the Holy Ghost had not yet been given (John 7:39). The Comma not only accords perfectly with this important Johannine theme of testimony-bearing, but it serves to tie together the unanimoty and parallels between John’s Gospel and his First Epistle. As Forster points out:

“From this Harmony [of John 5:31–37, 8:18, and 15:26 with 1 John 5:7] the reader will at once see , that, in the passages taken from St. John’s Gospel, we have the three Heavenly Witnesses, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, as enumerated in the seventh verse of the fifth chapter of his First Epistle…Now the seventh verse is the only place in the First Epistle where the three Heavenly Witnesses spoken of in the Gospel are mentioned . Exscind this verse, and you make a complete break in the universally acknowledged parallel between the Gospel and the Epistle ; and this in the most important of all doctrinal points, the doctrine of theGodhead. Retain it, on the other hand, and the parallel is perfect. The criticism that can hesitate between these alterna tives, seems intelligible only on one or other of two grounds, unsoundness of doctrine, or unsoundness of understanding. That a parallel otherwise confessedly of the closest kind, and, taken with the existing seventh verse, altogether perfect, should leave a gap, a chasm , a total blank, at the doctrinal point beyond all others of the supremest importance, is a proposition so contrary to experience and common sense, as scarcely to leave room for any milder explanation.”

Further Confirmation from the Apocalypse of John

This connection is further solidified by the parallels found in the book of Revelation, specifically Revelation 15:5, 8, 16:1, 17, and 19:5. In the first instance, we read about the Tabernacle of testimony in Heaven:

Revelation 15:5 And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened:

Revelation 15:8 And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled.

We know that the Holy Spirit, styled “the seven Spirits of God” in the Apocalypse, borrowing from Zechariah 4:2 & 6 identifying the “seven lamps” as the Spirit of Jehovah, is before the throne of God in heaven (Revelation 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). And the Lord Jesus Christ is likewise upon the throne (Revelation 3:21). Thus the Trinity is present within the heavenly temple. Furthermore, we find three instances of a voice going forth from the throne in Revelation 16:1, 17, and 19:5 (the last of which has traditionally been understood of the Lord Jesus Christ speaking). Forster comments upon the striking unity of John’s Gospel, Epistle, and Apocalypse (pg. 246):

“Here, then , are the three Heavenly Witnesses of the Epistle reappearing in the Apocalypse in the very act of bearing witness from the Throne of the Tabernacle of Witness in Heaven . The Epistle tells of their Testimony: the Apocalypse of the Act of bearing it. Thus his Gospel, on the one hand, and his Apocalypse, on the other, supply St. John’s own authentication of the seventh verse of his First Epistle. The · Three that bear witness in Heaven,’ stand revealed alike in all the three records. That the Gospel and the Apocalypse should undeniably contain them , yet their corresponding presence in the Epistle be pronounced an interpolation , is a pitch of paradox that I leave to the lovers of paradox to swallow and digest if they can.”

Conclusion

The internal evidence is sufficient to establish the validity of the Johannine Comma. It is perfectly in line with the style of John’s writing, and the omission of the text creates grammatical and contextual problems which critical text proponents have not been able to adequately address since the 1800s when these arguments were first brought forth.