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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.

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

About David Huffstutler

David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, serves as a chaplain for his local police department, and teaches as adjunct faculty at Bob Jones University. 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.

  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. []