For an Informed Love of God
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Do Modern Translations Deny the Trinity? (1 John 5:7b–8a)
It is often argued by a small but vocal minority of people that modern translations omit the doctrine of the Trinity. Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the accusation is still leveled against the NIV and all modern translations. But this is an issue of textual criticism and not theology.
The passage in question is called the Comma Johanneum, 1 John 5:7b–8a (“Johannine Comma” in English). The words in italics below were added centuries after John wrote the epistle. These words are in the footnotes of most modern translations but are in the text of the KJV:
“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 passage proves to be perennially controversial with some people. I have lost count of how many times I have been accused of removing the Trinity from the Bible since I agree that these verses are not original. Thankfully, the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t depend on these verses! Even though modern translations put these verses in a footnote, there are many places in our Bible that do assert the doctrine of the Trinity. But these verses here are not original, and I believe it’s better to base doctrine on words we know were written by the New Testament authors.
Here are seven points that summarize why we don’t consider this verse to be original to the text:
- The words occur in only eight late Greek manuscripts: in the text in four and listed as variant readings in four. This means every Greek manuscript until the fourteenth century lacks the words (except for a variant reading in a tenth-century manuscript).
- They are not quoted by any of the early church fathers until the fifth century, who certainly would have used them in their defense of the Trinity if the words were authentic.
- The words are absent from all ancient translations (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic) except Latin.
- They are not present in the Old Latin used by Tertullian, Cyprian, or Augustine.
- They are not in Jerome’s original Latin Vulgate but were added to the Vulgate in the ninth century.
- The words first appear in a fourth-century Latin treatise, Liber apologeticus.
- The Comma Johanneum was not in Erasmus’s first or second edition.
How did these words get into the Bible? Erasmus states that they were not original, but due to church pressure, he added them from a suspected forged Greek manuscript in his third edition of the Greek New Testament. And this edition was essentially the basis for the KJV.
But there is zero question by people who actually know textual criticism that these words were added centuries after John wrote. Let's base out doctrines on verses that we know are part of the biblical text, and let's stop damaging the work of Christ by making uninformed people question their Bibles.