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Why the Shorter Translation of 1 John 5:7–8 Is Best

As you read the biblical texts below, notice the difference from one to the next (marked in italics).

1 John 5:7–8 (AV)

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.

1 John 5:7–8 (ESV)

7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.

Why is the text of the KJV longer in these two verses? The KJV adds what is known as the “Johannine Comma” in 1 John 5:7–8. The words in this insertion were not found first in Scripture but in Liber apologeticus, a Latin Text from the fourth century. Manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate eventually inserted the Johannine Comma in a marginal note next to the biblical text around A.D. 800, and the marginal note eventually became inserted into the text itself. (The Latin Vulgate was more or less the standard translation of the Bible for Western Christendom for roughly a millennium.)

When the scholar Erasmus published a Greek Text of the NT in 1515, he naturally excluded the Johannine Comma because it was not found in any Greek manuscripts. In going against the norm of the Latin Vulgate, he was criticized for this omission, and in response to this criticism, he promised to include the comma if it could be shown to be present in a single Greek manuscript. One such manuscript was produced, but it was likely translated back from the Latin into Greek in 1520 for the very reason of forcing Erasmus to include it in future printings of his Greek NT. He did so, but only with a marginal note that explained its suspected origin. His text was behind what became known as the Textus Receptus (“the received text”), the form of the Greek text that was used for the King James Version in 1611.

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As scholars have continued to produce accurate translations that better reflect their modern tongue (such as the ESV today), careful analysis of the original Greek text has led the majority of translators to omit the Johannine Comma. While this omission may lead to one less proof-text for the Trinity, we have other texts in Scripture for this doctrine (Matt 28:18–20; 1 Cor 12:4–6; 2 Cor 13:14; Eph 1:3–14; 4:4–6). We are also faithful to make sure we add nothing to Scripture, truthful though it may be (cf. Deut 4:2; Prov 30:6; Rev 22:18).1

David Huffstutler

About David Huffstutler

David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.



Endnotes:

  1. For all of the above, see Daniel Akin (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2001), 198–200; Donald Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), 371–72); and Karen Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 223. []

4 Responses to Why the Shorter Translation of 1 John 5:7–8 Is Best

  1. Oh Brother, thems’ fightin’ words :) Being an AV guy, but NOT KJVO, this is a hot button topic for many. I have a pastor friend that wrote a book just on this text, the support for its inclusion. Thanks for this post. I appreciate this blog very much.
    Brian

  2. Thanks for the comment, Brian. Actually, I thought twice about the matter but chose to go at it anyway. I am preaching through 1 John at my church, and in dealing with these issues, it gives me opportunity to write along the way since I’ve already thought through it. I have many good friends who would disagree with me, I am sure.

  3. How do we know what we know? For instance, how do we know what is beauty, goodness, and truth? Transcendental. Premoderns received knowledge by faith. Why are there 66 books of the Bible? Is it evidence? How do we know? Know? The comma was in the Bible of believers for centuries. They were sure it was the Word of God. It is removed based on a different epistemology by men who do not believe in verbal plenary preservation and in many instances inspiration either. They have different presuppositions. Men no longer knew it to be in the Bible based upon the modern way of knowing how they know. The translators depend on a few “scholars,” many of whom are unconverted, about whom you speak in your article, a new sacerdotal society, mediating scripture.

    The idea that Erasmus invented the TR misrepresents the TR. Kurt Aland himself writes concerning the TR concerning the thinking of the day up to Erasmus, “In this period it [the TR] was regarded even to the last detail the inspired and infallible word of God himself.”

    We have the Bible in English and still new translation after new translation is made. A majority of translators today use the critical text. A majority of Christian song writers use pop music.

  4. Thank you for your comments, Kent. I am glad to acknowledge that good men disagree on the merits of including the Comma or not, which seems to be based in large part upon their translational philosophy. Discerning whether or not to include the Comma seems to highlight the differences from one philosophy to the next.

    Hopefully my comment concerning Erasmus’s text being “behind” (not quite “invented”) does not exclude other factors that led to the TR. I’m not an expert on the history of the transmission of manuscripts and textual forms, but I at least hope not to give an ignorant broadbrush or caricature of the matter.

    I realize that many involved in the transmission of manuscripts and creating new translations were not believers, and thus realize that they knew Scripture and could have handled its various manuscripts in a different way than a believer might know and do such things (cf. 1 Cor 2:14–15). At the same time (and here’s where my own philosophy of translation kicks in), I would understand their studies to have a degree of common grace value, and my conclusions of these matters may overlap with theirs from time to time.

    While I don’t want to stray too much away from the main thrust of my article, please bring me back on track if my comments didn’t give my own understanding of the issues you brought up. As you can see, I think we disagree in the end, but more over how to go about the Comma and not the nature of God’s Word itself, whether the Comma or some other passage. I’m sure we have more common ground than a discussion over the Comma might suggest. :)

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