A Simple Outline regarding I John 5:7

by Doug Kutilek

"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." 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 right?

  1. 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.
  2. Is Scofield right? To answer this, we must ask, what is the evidence?

First, some essential background information

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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 century A.D.
  3. 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 manuscript.

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 words.

How did the disputed words find their way into English Bibles?

  1. 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."
  2. 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.
  3. 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 disputed.
  4. 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).
  5. 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' 4th edition]

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 unmoved.