A Simple Outline regarding I John 5:7
"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." I John 5:7, 8 KJV
The words here enclosed in brackets are involved in
controversy. The Scofield Reference Bible (1917) notes:
It is generally agreed that v. 7 has no real
authority, and has been inserted.
Two questions: 1. What does this note mean? and, 2. Is
- Scofield is stating that this verse was not an original part
of I John, that the Apostle did not write these words and the
Holy Spirit did not inspire them, but that they were inserted
into the text of I John at a later date. This opinion is the
view of the vast majority of experts on the subject of the
original text of the New Testament.
- Is Scofield right? To answer this, we must ask, what is
First, some essential background information
- I John and all of the NT was originally written in the
- from the 1st century until the printing of the NT in
the early 16th century (more than 1,400 years), all copies of
the NT were hand-written manuscripts.
- Scribes, subject to human limitations, made
various mistakes in producing copies, most being accidental
changes, though some were intentional.
- While God did not preserve the copists from making
any mistakes, He did providentially limit the degree
of variation so that the doctrinal content of the NT
was not affected by the variations introduced. The
doctrinal teaching of all 1,500 printed editions of
the Greek NT is identical.
- Most scribal errors are immediately recognizable, and
the text of the NT can be established with 99.5% certainty,
and the remaining .5% does not affect doctrine.
We have a much higher degree of certainty of
the exact original wording of the NT than any other writing
from the ancient world. More than 5,000 Greek manuscripts
have been preserved (one less than 50 years later than the
original writing of John), plus translations into nearly a
dozen ancient languages, plus more than 85,000 quotations
in Christian writers from the 1st to the 10th centuries.
The evidence regarding I John 5:7
- Greek manuscripts-about 300 existing Greek
manuscripts contain the book of I John. Of these
manuscripts, only 4 (manuscript numbers 61, 629, 918,
2318) contain the disputed words of v.7. All four are very
late manuscripts (16th, 14th or 15th, 16th, and 18th
centuries A.D. respectively); none gives the Greek text
exactly as it appears in printed Greek NTs, and all 4
manuscripts give clear evidence that these words were
translated into Greek from Latin.
Four additional manuscripts (88, 12th century; 221,
10th; 429, 16th; 636, 15th) have the disputed words copied
in the margin by much later writers.
- Ancient writers: no Greek-speaking Christian writer
before the year 1215 A.D. shows any knowledge of the
disputed words. Not once are these words quoted in the
great controversy with the Arians (over the Deity of Christ
and the doctrine of the Trinity) in the 3rd and 4th centuries;
they certainly would have been quoted if they had existed in
any Greek manuscript of that period.
The disputed words are quoted as Scripture only by
Latin-speaking writers, and only after the middle of the 5th
- Ancient translations: the disputed words are not
found in any of the ancient translations of the NT made in
the 2nd-10th centuries A.D.--Syriac, Coptic, Armenian,
Georgian, Gothic, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavic--except in Latin.
The words are found in some manuscripts (but not the
earliest) of the Old Latin version, and in many manuscripts
of the Latin Vulgate (but not the earliest).
Conclusion: the evidence of every kind is consistent and
clear: the disputed words of I John 5:7 have no claim as an
original part of John's letter, but were introduced into Greek
from Latin in the very late Middle Ages.
How did the disputed words arise in Latin?
Some Latin-speaking scribe or preacher in North
Africa in the 3rd or 4th century probably drew an analogy
between the three witnesses of I Jn. 5:8 (the Spirit, and the
water, and the blood), and the three persons of the Trinity,
and wrote out his idea in the margin of his manuscript. A
later scribe inserted the words from the margin into the text,
and from there the insertion gradually spread to other
manuscripts until they were included in a majority of
medieval Latin manuscripts of I John.
How did the disputed words find there way into printed
copies of the Greek NT?
The first published Greek NT was edited in 1516 by
Catholic priest, scholar, and humanist Erasmus in 1516.
This edition did not include the disputed words. A
revised edition in 1519 also did not include these words.
Erasmus was severely criticised by other Catholic priests
for not including in Greek these words which were well-
known to them from the Latin. Erasmus said that the words
were left out simply because he did not find them in any of
the Greek manuscripts he had examined, and promised to
insert them if they were found in even one Greek
An Irish monk deliberately fabricated such a
manuscript to meet Erasmus' requirement. This manuscript
(no. 61) was copied from an early manuscript which did not
contain the words. The page in this manuscript containing
the disputed words is on a special paper and has a glossy
finish, unlike any other page in the manuscript. On the
basis of this one 16th century deliberately falsified
manuscript, Erasmus inserted the disputed words in his 3rd,
4th, and 5th editions of the Greek NT, though he protested
that he did not believe the words were genuine.
Nearly all printed Greek NTs from Erasmus until the
19th century were simply reprints of Erasmus' 4th or 5th
edition, and so the words continued to be printed in Greek
as part of I John even though there is no sufficient evidence
for their inclusion. Recent editions of the Greek NT follow
the manuscript evidence and therefore do not insert the
How did the disputed words find their way into English
- The earliest English New Testament, the
translation of Wycliffe in the 1380s, was made from
medieval Latin manuscripts, and so it includes the disputed
words, though it reads "son" instead of "word."
- Tyndale's translation of 1525 was based on
Erasmus' 3rd edition and so it included the words. In the
2nd and 3rd editions of his translation, Tyndale placed the
disputed words in parentheses to show that their
genuineness was doubtful.
- Several editions of the NT edited by Tyndale's
assistant Miles Coverdale also placed the disputed words in
parentheses or smaller type or both to show that they were
- Jugge's 1552 edition of Tyndale's NT omitted the
parentheses and printed the words in standard type, a
practice followed in later English Bibles, including the KJV
(based on Beza's 1598 Greek NT, a virtual reprint of
Erasmus' 4th edition).
- Recent conservative translations of the NT (ASV,
NASB, NIV) delete the disputed words entirely or put them in
a footnote because the evidence is conclusive that they
were not an original part of John's letter. [Verse numbers
were not added until 1551 in a Greek NT based on Erasmus'
Conclusion: Yes, Scofield is right.
Question: If the words are not genuine, does this affect the
doctrine of the Trinity?
Answer: not in the least. Those Christian writers of the 2nd-
4th centuries who compiled from Scripture the true orthodox
doctrine of the Trinity (namely, that the one true God exists
in three equal persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) did so
without any reference to the disputed words. If their biblical
proofs were correct and sufficient and based on undisputed
passages, and they certainly were, then the doctrine stands