by Al Maxey

Issue #379 ------- December 22, 2008
We seek the truth, and we
will endure the consequences.

Charles Seymour {1885-1963}

The Comma Johanneum
Telling Tale of a Trinitarian Text

Dr. Charles Seymour (1885-1963), during his thirteen year tenure as president of Yale University, once observed, "We seek the truth, and we will endure the consequences." This is one of those "uncomfortable realities" associated with truth-seeking. When one initiates a quest for greater truth, and greater understanding of known truth, one also, whether knowingly or unknowingly, subjects himself to the caustic calumnies of those who are quite comfortable in the thought that they, and they alone, have already fully arrived with respect to the sum total of universal objective truth. One dares to challenge the status quo, and its defenders, at one's own peril, as many have painfully learned throughout history. Thus, those who seek truth must be willing to pay the price and suffer the consequences of such a journey of discovery. From a far more positive perspective, however, the resultant benefits of such an inquiry are well worth the effort and attendant affliction.

One of the many areas in which it's often personally dangerous to engage in a process of intense examination for the purpose of determining truth is with respect to the accuracy of various passages within various versions of the Bible. Textual Criticism is a fascinating field of inquiry, but it has also generated its share of controversy, especially from those rigid religionists and factionists within Christendom who do not take kindly to any challenge of their accepted perceptions and positions. To doubt them is to doubt God Himself; differ with them and you have thereby forever declared yourself "in league with the devil and his demons." They themselves have become the "Standard of Measure" for all Christians upon the face of the earth; their views are the only correct views; their practices the only ones approved by God. They are the only ones going to heaven. All others are "fodder for the fire." Somewhat interestingly, a significant number of these people have embraced the King James Version as THE sole authoritative Bible for the world today. Some virtually regard it as "inspired of God" [Reflections #88 -- The Bible Used By Paul: Analysis of the King James Version]. All other versions are compared to and contrasted with it, and are then found either somewhat worthy (such as the ASV) or utterly wanting (such as the NIV). If a passage that is found in the KJV is removed from the "modern versions," then this is viewed as some kind of "Satanic conspiracy" to undermine God's Word. All of which leads us to the infamous Comma Johanneum.

This Latin phrase refers to a short clause (comma) within the writings of the apostle John, specifically the additional wording found in the KJV's rendering of 1 John 5:7-8, a passage often used in support of the doctrine of the Trinity. The following is the reading from the KJV (with the "Comma Johanneum" in bold type) -- "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." This Comma is also found in the New King James Version. Almost all other versions of the Scriptures, however, omit the Comma, which has led some to charge those who produced these newer versions with denying deity, and specifically: denying the doctrine of the Trinity. Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, states: "This passage is an explicit reference to the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and for this reason some Christians are resistant to the elimination of the Comma from modern biblical translations." Albert Barnes, in his classic Notes on the Bible, observes, "The clear testimony which the Comma seems to bear to the doctrine of the Trinity has made that portion of the Christian church which holds the doctrine reluctant in the highest degree to abandon it" [from e-Sword].

Nevertheless, there are a great many extremely serious problems associated with this passage, and this has led scholars searching for greater truth and accuracy to challenge the place of this passage within the inspired New Covenant writings. Which in turn has raised a raucous outcry from those who are staunch supporters of the passage (and more particularly of the KJV within which it is found). The late Adam Clarke (1760-1832) commented, "The seventh verse of the fifth chapter of 1 John has given rise to more theological disputes than any other portion of the sacred writings. Advocates and antagonists have arisen in every quarter of the civilized world" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 927]. In a thoroughly fascinating book titled "The King James Only Controversy" by James B. White (with a Foreword by Dr. Norman Geisler), the author writes, "Most KJV Only preachers and believers make the acceptance of this particular passage the test of 'orthodoxy.' If your Bible does not have this passage, you are in deep trouble" [p. 60]. Apparently, most believers are in "deep trouble," for the vast majority of Bibles today do NOT include the Comma Johanneum. Why? Because the evidence that it is spurious is absolutely overwhelming! Indeed, it is almost impossible to find a single reputable biblical scholar in the world today who will endorse this passage as authentic. The evidence against it is that compelling!

The imminent Greek scholar/author Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, in his work "The Textual Problem in 1 John 5:7-8," stated the following: "This reading, the infamous Comma Johanneum, has been known in the English-speaking world through the King James translation. However, the evidence -- both external and internal -- is decidedly against its authenticity." He then proceeds to lay out that evidence in quite some detail. So also does one of the most important Greek scholars of recent times, Dr. B. F. Westcott, who, in his scholarly commentary "The Epistles of St. John -- The Greek Text with Notes," devoted eight pages to the evidence refuting the authenticity of this passage [pp. 202-209]. Yet another very highly respected Greek scholar, Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, in his "Word Studies from the Greek New Testament," declared, "There is general agreement among textual critics that the contents of this verse are spurious, and do not belong to the original text" [vol. 2, In These Last Days, p. 176]. Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, in his monumental, masterful work "The Expositor's Greek Testament," characterized the Comma as "a Latin interpolation, certainly spurious" [vol. 5, p. 195]. The Expositor's Bible Commentary calls it "a late gloss with no merit" [vol. 12, p. 353]. Interestingly, The Pulpit Commentary refuses to even regard the addition as even being worthy of comment, saying, "It will be assumed here, without discussion, that the remainder of this verse and the first clause of verse 8 are spurious" [vol. 22, p. 140]. World-renowned Greek scholar Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, within the pages of his fabulous work "A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament," informed his readers -- "That these words are spurious and have no right to stand in the New Testament is certain" [p. 715]. R. C. H. Lenski, in his Commentary on the Epistles of John, declared the Comma "completely spurious," and then said, "The R.V. is right in not even noting in the margin the interpolation found in the A.V." [p. 528].

The Greek scholar, Dr. A. T. Robertson, in his highly regarded work "Word Pictures in the Greek New Testament," was extremely blunt in his statement of disgust for this Comma. He declared that it found its way into the text "by the stupidity of Erasmus" [from e-Sword]. Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), the great Dutch humanist and theologian, did indeed play a rather significant role in the ultimate inclusion of this passage in the King James Version, although that version would not be published until almost a century after his death. This raises some interesting questions with regard to just how this particular passage found its way into the text of John's first epistle. What exactly led to its inclusion? It is a fascinating journey about which entire books have been written. Obviously we cannot go into that amount of depth in this current article, but let me take just a bit of your time to trace the major points in this historical saga. I think you'll find it enlightening.

First of all, it should be noted that "there is no sure evidence of this reading in any Greek manuscript until the 1500s" [Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, The Textual Problem in 1 John 5:7-8]. It is, simply stated -- utterly absent from all the early Greek manuscripts of the NT. Dr. Albert Barnes states the obvious: "It is incredible that a genuine passage of the New Testament should be missing in all the early Greek manuscripts" [Barnes' Notes, from e-Sword]. Incredible indeed! Furthermore, "the passage is quoted by none of the Greek Fathers, who, had they known about it, would most certainly have employed it in the Trinitarian controversies" [Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 716]. During the era of these Church Fathers there were a number of genuinely significant controversies involving, among other things, the doctrine of the Trinity -- the Sabellian and Arian "heresies," for example, just to name a couple. And yet, not one single Church Father ever appealed to this passage in order to validate his refutation of these teachings, something these men most assuredly would have done had they been aware of such a passage. It was also unknown among the early Latin Church Fathers as well. This passage is also absent from the manuscripts of all the ancient versions of the New Testament (including the Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic and Slavonic). It did find its way into some Latin texts, but not in the Old Latin text or in the Vulgate as originally issued by Jerome (or even in the revision of Alcuin).

It should be noted that the above was not an actual NT manuscript, but rather a document produced by a man who simply quoted the passage in question in John's first epistle. No mention was made within that document as to the source of this addition to the passage, however most scholars feel, as was noted by Dr. Metzger, that some scribe, while studying his copy of the manuscript, may have made a note in the margin that the wording of John's text (spirit, water and blood) might lend itself well to a Trinitarian interpretation and application (Father, Son and Spirit). As has happened many times before, such marginal notations have found their way into subsequent copies of the NT text through carelessness of copyists (and, at times, by the willful design of a copyist with a point to prove). Some proponents of the Comma additionally claim that Cyprian "actually quoted the form that appears in the KJV" [Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, The Comma Johanneum and Cyprian]. Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage in North Africa, and one of the more important Christian writers of his time, died a martyr's death in Carthage on September 14, 258 A.D. If the claim is true that he quoted the Comma in the same form as appears in the KJV, then this would be important, as it would place the passage within a century and a half of the time when it was originally written by the apostle John. Unfortunately for the defenders of the Comma Johanneum, however, Cyprian does not quote the passage in question, but merely comments upon the three witnesses mentioned by John (spirit, water, blood) in language similar to the Comma. Cyprian, clearly, was not quoting the Comma as though it were a part of the text, but providing his own insight into the text and perceiving how it could be given a Trinitarian interpretation, a fact which Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, as well as a good many other writers, makes abundantly clear in his exegesis of Cyprian's comments. "Thus, that Cyprian interpreted 1 John 5:7-8 to refer to the Trinity is likely; but that he saw the Trinitarian formula in the text is rather unlikely" [Dr. Wallace]. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia, citing this very same study, states, "Wallace is following the current standard critical editions of the New Testament which consider Cyprian a witness against the Comma." In other words, most scholars today feel that Cyprian actually serves as proof that the Comma is NOT legitimate, rather than proof that it IS.

Somewhere around the year 800 A.D., the spurious Comma, as it appeared in chapter four of the fourth century homily mentioned above [Liber Apologeticus], was worked into a few later copies of the Vulgate (although it never appeared in Jerome's original Vulgate). This passage, taken from these later Latin copies, was then "back-translated" into Greek at a later date, thus generating a very small number of Greek manuscripts with the Comma added, most appearing in the margin. "Thus, there is no sure evidence of this reading in any Greek manuscript until the 1500s; each such reading was apparently composed after Erasmus' Greek New Testament was published in 1516" [Dr. Daniel Wallace]. In the first two editions of Erasmus' Greek New Testament -- the first edition appearing in 1516 and the second in 1519 -- he did NOT include the Comma. This brought about a flurry of criticism from those churchmen who had embraced the Comma from the recent Latin versions, and who had been making use of the Comma in support of the doctrine of the Trinity, which had become a major doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. For example, Edward Lee and Diego Lopez Zuniga launched a number of vicious attacks against Erasmus for daring to leave this passage out of his first two editions of the Greek NT. They accused him of promoting the heresy of Arianism. In response, Erasmus challenged them to "produce a Greek manuscript that has what is missing in my edition."

Shortly thereafter just such a Greek manuscript suddenly and miraculously appeared from out of nowhere!! It is known today as the Codex Montfortianus [aka: "Dubliniensis," aka: "Britannicus"], and is currently housed at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Almost nobody, including Erasmus, regarded the work as legitimate, but he was true to his word, and since a Greek manuscript was produced that contained the Comma, he included it in his third edition which was published in 1522. This third edition, unfortunately, would go on to become the primary Greek basis for the later King James Version, "thereby fixing the Comma firmly in the English language Scriptures for centuries" [Wikipedia]. The great tragedy in all of this, of course, is that the passage is based upon a forgery!! The codex that miraculously appeared was nothing but a fraud, prepared solely for the purpose of forcing Erasmus to alter his third edition to favor the doctrine of the Trinity. It is for this reason that the noted Greek scholar Dr. A. T. Robertson so boldly declared that the Comma found its way into the text "by the stupidity of Erasmus" [from e-Sword]. Dr. Charles Ellicott, in his commentary on the passage, wrote that we owe the Comma "solely to the reluctant deference paid by Erasmus to unlearned current opinion. There is hardly a passage in all literature more demonstrably spurious!" [vol. 8, p. 472]. "In the final analysis, Erasmus probably altered the text because of politico-theologico-economic concerns: he did not want his reputation ruined, nor his Novum Instrumentum to go unsold" [Dr. Daniel Wallace].

The "KJV Only" crowd, however, continues to blindly and obstinately insist upon the authenticity of the spurious Comma Johanneum, even though there is about as much objective evidence for such as there is for a flat earth (and, yes, there is a society of advocates for this as well ... go figure). Dr. Daniel Wallace observed, "Sadly, neither empirical evidence nor reason can dissuade these people from their views. The irony is that their very clinging to tradition at all costs (namely, of an outmoded translation which, though a literary monument in its day, is now like a Model T on the Autobahn) emulates Roman Catholicism in its regard for tradition. If the King James translators knew that this would be the result nearly four hundred years after the completion of their work, they'd be writhing in their graves." Even the Catholic Church, in more recent times, is beginning to question the Comma, as they should. On January 13, 1897 it was decreed by the "Holy Office" that the theologians of the Catholic Church could not "with safety" ever deny or call into question the authenticity of the Comma. That has now changed. On June 2, 1926, Pope Pius XI decreed that the Comma Johanneum was officially "open to dispute." Since that time, the updated Nova Vulgata (which is an edition of the Vulgate published in 1979) and the English language version used by the Catholics, the New American Bible, have both chosen to remove the Comma. In time, hopefully, this spurious addition to God's inspired Word will be eliminated entirely from all versions. This will only come when people are willing to open their eyes to truth, and dare to stand firmly for that truth regardless of the consequences. That forward progress is only hindered by the stubborn resistance of those entrenched in their tradition. May God help us all to increasingly counter such ignominious ignorance.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Publisher: (301) 695-1707
Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Kansas:

Bro. Al, One Cup man here. 2008 is almost gone, and I must admit that I'm a little disappointed -- the Lord has not returned! Nevertheless, 2008 has been a good year thanks to you and many others like you. Great progress has been made in helping our brethren understand the dangers of Legalistic Patternism. I'm pleased to report that a great many within the One Cup segment of our faith-heritage are now reading your Reflections and they're taking another look at their approach to the fellowship question. Your efforts are truly appreciated. As for those who continue to attack you, rather than answer your questions of them, I will pray for them. The horrible, ungodly attitudes manifested by these men speaks volumes about their promotion of a system of religion utterly unknown to the New Testament. May God have mercy on them. May God bless you, my brother in Christ. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Bro. Al, I really enjoy your thoughtful scholarship, and I know so many who are listening to what you have to say. Believe me, it is making a big difference! Thanks for standing on the front line of this great battle. Your courage is an inspiration! Merry Christmas to you and Shelly.

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, I am a regular reader of your weekly Reflections, and I am always excited when I see your weekly mailouts in my inbox. You provide a breath of fresh air, and I appreciate it.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Brother Al, Wow!! What a great message on Zechariah 11 you provided in Reflections #194 -- Broken Shepherd's Staffs. Very nice! I am so glad you posted that work on the Internet. I had been reading Zechariah, and after doing a search found your article. Your study gave a much greater understanding, and for that I'm thankful. All the information I had regarding Zechariah was just about the accuracy of the book and everyone's thinking on who wrote the material, etc. Your article, however, went straight to its interpretation and message. That was the coolest thing about what you had to say. Thanks again for expressing your understanding and for sharing your work on the Internet.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Dear Brother Al, Your article on Lot's wife was an excellent piece of writing. However, I was shocked by the person who identified himself with the Lord's church in Pensacola, Florida (a person named Hatcher, as I recall). I have to wonder if he has ever read the Lord's cautions found in His Sermon on the Mount --- Jesus talks about calling your brother a fool, or worthless, or some other derogatory term. It truly scares me to think that "by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned." Can anyone who calls another the things that Hatcher has said about you really expect to escape the very condemnation to which he has assigned you?! Brother Al, please keep your eyes and your heart fixed on the Lord, and keep on teaching the Word of God. Some of us really need lots of thoughtful instruction.

From a Minister in Mississippi:

Brother Al, Great study on Lot's wife!! I am glad that you brought out the question regarding his daughters (how many). I was talking about this very thing the other day, and it shocked some folks. Thank you for taking the time to reflect upon this woman. As a side note: When I question you, in order that I might learn, or when I simply disagree with you on various matters, I hope you will never, ever group me in the same class as people like Broking, Hatcher and Denham. These guys need to repent! I cannot understand why they keep coming back to aggravate you. I'm really sorry for the way they treat you. Al, I just want to thank you for your contribution to the Christian cause!! Grace and peace to you.

From a Reader in Colorado:

Bro. Al, I just read your article on Lot's wife, and also read the readers' comments. Do those people who call you names like that really think that they are following a Christian "pattern"?! Maybe they should be zapped into a pillar of salt. I'm really sorry you have to put up with all of that. I will gladly be a "gnat" in your "Royal Order." People probably think I am anyway!! Just keep on keeping on ... or: "Soldier on!" I always liked the story of Elisha and the man who was fearful because they appeared to be outnumbered by the enemy. Elisha said to him, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them" [2 Kings 6:16]. So Elisha said, "O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see" [vs. 17]. The man's eyes were opened and he saw that "the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" [vs. 17]. Al, those who are for you are far greater than those who are against you. God's forces and people are all around you!! Someone needs to open the eyes of your critics to this fact.

From a Minister in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, It has been a while since I have written to you, although I have been reading all of your articles, but let me say now that I really enjoyed the article on Lot's wife. Thank you! As I read the comments at the bottom from your readers, however, I noticed a scathing rebuke by one of the "loving brothers" from the "Contending for the Faith Churches of Christ." Michael Hatcher sounds like he is possessed by an evil spirit. I think you need to write him back and inform him that your many "puppets" (or whatever he calls us: your readers) have banded together and we are all going to pray for him. You might also tell him that I live only a few miles down the road from him, and I would be glad to go to Pensacola and "lay hands on him" until he feels released from whatever evil spirit is making him so mean! Sometimes that special "laying on of hands" can really change a person's attitude! Hang in there, Al. You are doing a great work for the Lord, and I know our God is happy with you. I know this because of letters like those from Michael Hatcher. Their hate-filled letters just prove that you're doing God's work, since Satan is using them to attack you. God bless you, brother!

From a Reader/Author in Texas:

Brother Al, Have you ever felt like the world's biggest fool? That is how I feel at this moment. I read the nasty letter written to you by Michael Hatcher. In it he referred to you not believing in an eternal hell, which grabbed my attention. Then, just an hour later, as I sat in our Bible discussion class (after praying on the way there that God would reveal something NEW to me that day), a man nonchalantly stated something about hell being a "myth." Well, God had certainly grabbed my attention! So, I diligently set out to study the matter for myself, and along the way I turned to your Topical Index, examining your eighteen studies listed under the heading "The Nature of Man and Final Punishment." Brother Al, how could so many of us have willingly bought into such an enormous LIE as that presented in the traditional view of hell?! It is like believing the world is flat. Thankfully, the ill feelings of stupidity have been more than conquered by the extra spring in my step that has resulted from having so many questions now answered!! Thank you.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother Al, I finished reading the Maxey-Broking Debate on Patternism. This whole subject was new to me (although I have been a member of the church from boyhood), so I am still trying to absorb these ideas and let them soak into my brain. It is obvious to anyone who is familiar with the Churches of Christ that we are not very well thought of within the general religious community, although we are really not as much different from other denominations as they are from one another. I am not saying there is NO difference, just that to the casual observer, most doctrinal differences are not all that self-evident. Why then are we regarded so poorly so often? I think that it may have something to do with this Patternism issue, which seems to lend itself to a judgmental and self-righteous attitude by some of its major proponents. If we, as a church, continually emphasize what one must achieve to be saved, rather than emphasizing the One who has already achieved our salvation for us, then we will most likely continue to generate little interest in the message of the gospel. As someone who has done marital counseling, I know that it does little good to emphasize to my clients all the things they must do or not do to remain faithful to their spouses, if I don't first assist them to fall in love with their spouses again. I will continue to prayerfully study this matter. May God bless you.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, Thank you so much for another year of inspirational and challenging messages. You keep me going! I pray that you and Shelly have the perfect holidays and the best of blessings in the New Year. I would love to meet you someday!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Brother Al, Merry Christmas to you ... and to Shelly, too. May God bless you and your family, and may He give you strength to continue in your ministry. You've helped me tremendously in my walk with the Lord. I read with great interest your debate with Darrell Broking, and have also read the vicious email attacks from him and his cohorts. It saddens me to see the damage they have done to countless souls who may be turned off from seeking Christ because of their negative, cruel and judgmental attitudes and actions. Thank you for not stooping to their level. You will be blessed for this.

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