1 John 5:7 and Unbelief


I recently read a thorough and fair defense of the Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7) which reminded me of how the approach of many Christians in the modern church is absolutely backwards when it comes to Scripture. In today’s world of Modern Textual Criticism, Christians seem to take a backwards approach when seeking to determine if they should accept a textual variant as authentic. The method employed by the author of the linked article demonstrates, in my opinion, how textual data should be viewed, so please read the article prior to this one. In this article, I will comment on the two approaches to textual variation and conclude by explaining why I believe the approach taken by the exemplar author is correct.

Method 1: Modern Textual Criticism

I have spent a great deal of time and word count (222,197 words to be exact) on this blog explaining the methods and theology of the Modern Textual Critics and advocates. I have pointed out, using the words of the textual scholars, that there is no Modern Critical Text, there is no end in sight to the current effort, and adopting the Modern Critical Text means also to reject providential preservation. In all these words, I have yet to describe the approach of the Modern Textual Critic and advocate.

When a defender, advocate, or scholar of the Modern Critical Text approaches a place of textual variation, they do so by first questioning its authenticity. Practically speaking, a variant is to only be questioned if the scholars who produced the NA/UBS platforms have called it into question. That is not to say that others in history haven’t called such texts into question prior to the 20th century, just that these questions are exemplified in the modern critical texts. The reason this is problematic is that there is no consistent application of this skepticism applied to every line of Scripture.

See, the epistemological foundation for the Modern Textual Critic, according to Dan Wallace and his colleagues, is that we don’t have what the authors originally wrote, and even if we did, we wouldn’t know it.

“We do not have now – in any of our critical Greek texts or in any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it.”

Dan Wallace. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. xii.

This kind of foundation cannot conveniently stop at our favorite three passages. It must apply uniformly across the whole text of the New Testament. If 200 years of textual transmission which saw such a great change to the text from the “Alexandrian” text form to the “Byzantine” text form, then the first 200 years of textual transmission, of which we have basically zero extant evidence for, could also be equally or more significant. That is to say, our 200 year gap in the manuscript data in the first 200 years of the church is enough of a gap to call into question every single passage of the New Testament. This is the logical end of the Critical Text position. There isn’t a single line of Scripture that can be said to be 100% authentic to the pen of the apostolic writers, according to the Modern Critical Text advocate. This is further evidenced by the fact that there is not a single textual scholar or apologist that will lay claim to any specific percentage or list of authentic passages.

So when an advocate of the Modern Critical Text challenges a textual variant, they do so selectively and arbitrarily. Once they have identified a passage, verse, or word that they do not believe original, the goal is to then “disprove” that the reading was authentic. The text is on trial, and the Modern Critical Text advocate is the prosecutor. It is not a question of “Is this text authentic?”, it is a question of, “Why is this text inauthentic and how did it get there?” If they were consistent, they would apply this same approach to every line of Holy Scripture, and have no evidential reason to accept one reading or another. The evidential foundation for their approach is based upon manuscripts that are dated 200 years or more after the New Testament was written without any supporting evidence that those texts date back to the Apostles. This is the fatal flaw in Modern Textual Criticism – there is nothing that ties their text back to the original, and there never will be. That is why approach matters.

Method 2: Preservationist

In contrast to the first method, the Preservationist perspective approaches places of textual variation with the assumption that the original has been preserved, and it can be easily discerned. The preservation of Scripture did not stop with Codex Vaticanus, it carried on through the middle ages and into the Reformation when the world could finally print and mass distribute texts. There is a reason the vast majority of extant manuscripts do not look like Vaticanus or the Modern Critical Text. The church, through transmission and by God’s providence, kept the text pure. Therefore, if a text made it to the mass distribution era of the church, it had been passed along by the era that came before it. Since the church was by and large divided into two represented by the East and West, the combination of these texts yielded the original. That is why the advent of the printing press, the fall of Constantinople, and the Protestant Reformation is such a significant time in church history. It was the first time the church had authentic texts that were being used in one place with the ability to combine them and distribute them church-wide.

So then, to the Preservationist, the question is not, “Is this text authentic?”, it is, “Why did the people of God understand this to be authentic in time and space?” Thus, the burden of proof is not placed on a smattering of early manuscripts that have been in favor for the last 200 years. The Preservationist’s chief effort then is to support the text that has been handed down, rather than question its validity at every place disagreeable to the Vatican Codex. The assumption is that God preserved the text, and we have it. It is a matter of defending what is in our hands, rather than reconstructing what is not in our hands. Once you accept the premise that the Bible has fallen into such disarray that it must be reconstructed, there is not a single passage of Scripture that cannot be called into question. Further, there is no way to validate that any conclusion on a given text speaks conclusively about the original text itself. That is why the current effort is focused on the initial text, not the original. What can be proved is limited to hundreds of years after the Apostles, and even then, “proved” is much stronger language than textual scholars are comfortable with.

1 John 5:7 is a perfect example where the two approaches come to two separate conclusions. Since 1 John 5:7 is thinly represented in the extant manuscript data, the difference in conclusion on the text is really a matter of approach. The Modern Critical Text crowd has already admitted that even if 1 John 5:7 was original, they wouldn’t know it, so any conclusion jumping off from that point is irrelevant. Nothing they determine can actually be concluded by textual data, and so they engage in story telling. “The passage was brought up from a footnote. It was added to bolster the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.” Yet they do so without any direct evidence claiming this is what happened. Strangely enough, these critics also conveniently reject any evidence offering explanation as to why a passage is not in certain manuscripts. The bias in Modern Textual Criticism to favor manuscripts that have been historically rejected is strong.

If we approach this text from a preservationist perspective, we see that the wording is referenced by Tertullian (2nd century), Origen (3rd Century), Athanasius (4th Century), Priscillian (4th Century), Augustine (4th Century), and directly quoted by Cyprian (3rd Century). The direct quotations can be found in this article. This is not the only support for the passage, but it is enough for the preservationist to support 1 John 5:7 as original. It is enough to defend the text we have in hand, and the text handed down to us from the Reformation era. Accepting the Johannine Comma is not an issue of evidence, because the evidence exists. It is a matter of Bibliology and approach.

Just because a manuscript is surviving today does not mean it is the only manuscript to ever have existed. Textual scholars and apologists carry on about how many Bibles were destroyed during times of persecution and war and fail to acknowledge that those destroyed manuscripts could very well have contained the passages they reject today. The abundance of quotes and references to the passage, along with the reception of the text by our Protestant forefathers informs us that manuscripts with the passage existed, we just don’t have them today. Paradoxically, this is not enough for Modern Critical Text advocates to adjust how they approach textual data. The fact that we do not have an abundance of handwritten manuscripts in 2021 should not be a surprise, seeing as handwritten manuscripts of the Bible haven’t been produced or used in over 400 years. The Protestants and those that came after believed 1 John 5:7 to be original, and even claimed that authentic copies in their day had the passage. They even recognize that there was a time where manuscripts did not have the passage. See Francis Turretin commenting on the three major variants still debated today.

“There is no truth in the assertion that the Hebrew edition of the Old Testament and the Greek edition of the New Testament are said to be mutilated; nor can the arguments used by our opponents prove it. Not the history of the adulteress, for although it is lacking in he Syriac version, it is found in all the Greek Manuscripts. Not 1 John 5:7, for although some formerly called it into question and heretics now do, yet all the Greek copies have it…Not Mark 16, which may have been wanted in several copies in the time of Jerome (as he asserts); but now it occurs in all, even in the Syriac version, and is clearly necessary to complete the history of the resurrection of Christ”

Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Volume 1. 115.

See, an honest scholar would admit that the position of the Protestant and Post-Reformation church was that of the Preservationist. It was that of the TR advocate. Behind closed doors, many prominent modern scholars admit this, they just don’t like it. For more quotations on the passage from historical Protestant theologians, see this article here.


So I argue here in this article that there is a stark difference in approach between the Modern Critical Text advocate and the Preservationist and that the difference in approach is far more significant than the textual data itself. Those in the Modern Critical Text camp are determined to answer “Why is this not Scripture and how did it get in the text?”, whereas the Preservationist says, “This is in our text, how do we support it?” The interesting thing is, that if the Critical Text advocate took the approach of a Preservationist, they would find that the burden of proof they accept for many passages would be enough to accept John 7:53-8:11, Mark 16:9-20, and 1 John 5:7. The issue is not evidence, it is approach.

If you approach a text with the belief that it is not Scripture as the Modern Critical Text crowd does, you will find that it is not Scripture in your eyes. Yet, as with all claims based on extant textual data, there is no warrant to come to any conclusion. That is why the scholars never do. If you approach the text with the belief that it is Scripture, you will find the the evidence to support that claim. Since the belief of the Preservationist is not based on extant data, the extant data is merely a support, not a foundation. The Preservationist recognizes that extant data will never “prove” the Bible. It is a theological position similar to the resurrected Christ. The most important question is not “what evidence do you have?”, it is, “What does the Bible say?” If it is preserved, than the conclusion is that 1 John 5:7 is original. If Scripture is not preserved and needs to be reconstructed, than the conclusion is not only that 1 John 5:7 is inauthentic, but so is all the rest of Scripture. There is nothing conclusive against 1 John 5:7 that cannot also be conclusive against all of the rest of Scripture. This is inevitable considering the significant gap in our extant manuscript data from the apostolic period to the 3rd century.

This is the reality that those who continue to advocate for Modern Textual Criticism do not understand. The Papyri do not give us a complete look at the first 200 years of textual transmission. Not even close. If we use the argument against John 7:53-8:11 from the Papyri against the rest of Scripture, then we lose everything that’s not in the Papyri. For those that do not know much of the Papyri, we essentially wouldn’t have a Bible. If we apply the same approach that the Modern Critical Text advocate applies to 1 John 5:7, there are no texts in the Bible that are safe. If you are tuned into the textual discussion, you know that this is absolutely the case among the elite textual scholars. See this quote from a recent book by Tommy Wasserman and Jennifer Knust on the Pericope Adulterae.

“Even if the text of the Gospels could be fixed – and, when viewed at the level of object and material artifact, this goal has never been achieved – the purported meanings of texts also change”

Knust & Wasserman. To Cast the First Stone. 15,16.

Do not be mistaken, Christian, the scholars of the Modern Critical Text cannot “prove” any passage, verse, or word of Scripture authentic. Not only that, they openly say they cannot. So then it is a matter of approach, which is determined by theology. What you believe about Scripture will determine what Bible you have in your hands. Do you believe the Bible needs to be reconstructed? You will have in your hands a text that nobody believes represents the original text. Do you believe that the Bible is preserved? You will have in your hands a Bible that was produced by men who believed it was the original text. It is that simple.

1 John 5:7 & Roman Catholic Provenance of Later Manuscripts


Recently, the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7) has been of particular interest in the text-critical discussion. I initially address some of the talking points here and Dr. Jeff Riddle here. Typically, advocates of the modern critical text appeal to the lateness of the manuscripts that have the passage to demonstrate why they believe it should be taken out of the text. Occasionally, the argument is made that it is a “Roman Catholic” reading, and should therefore be rejected by Protestants from a theological perspective. In this article, I will demonstrate why this is not a valid argument. It may have certain rhetorical value for those that are unfamiliar with Reformation history, but it is not devastating by any means as it pertains to the Comma Johanneum. Dr. Riddle makes several powerful observations in Word Magazine 149 (linked above) on this point, but I wanted to add several observations that should provide additional clarity. 

Reformation history is often challenging, because it is easy as modern Protestants to conflate the Jesuit stream of Catholicism with the whole of the western church leading up to and during the Reformation. What we have to remember, firstly, is that nearly everybody was a “Roman Catholic” leading up to the Protestant Reformation, with the exception of the Hussites and the Lollards and other groups that were driven underground until the 16th century by the inquisition.  Secondly, nearly all of the Protestant Reformers were Christian humanists – including Luther, Melanchton, Zwingli, and John Calvin. We have to be more careful when we hear the term “Roman Catholic Humanist,” because nearly all of the Reformers were “Roman Catholic Humanists” until they weren’t. In other words, the term “Roman Catholic Humanist” can be used to describe just about everybody worth mentioning by Protestants during the early 16th century. The humanist Renaissance is an important and necessary component of the Protestant Reformation itself, and to rebrand the term “humanist” into a pejorative based on modern definitions is simply irresponsible. 

Throwing the Baby Out With the Bathwater

The tendency of modern Protestants to reject anything and everything “Roman Catholic” from the late medieval period through the beginning of the Protestant Reformation is an unfortunate error. The humanist Reformers were not rejecting every part of the western church’s teaching, just the parts that they considered grave errors that departed from Scripture, such as the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification, the Lord’s Supper, authority of the pope and councils, and so forth. In rejecting the sum total of “Roman Catholic” theologians leading up to and during the Reformation, Protestants can mistakenly hand over some of the greatest theologians in church history, like Thomas Aquinas, to the post-Trent Roman Catholic church. The fact is, and many modern scholars such as Richard Muller have argued, that it is a shame to surrender the sum total of Medieval scholastic theology, because the Reformers didn’t. Again, the Reformers were Reforming what they considered to be grave errors of the Western church, not rejecting all of the theology that developed in the Western church outright. 

That said, I want to examine an argument against the Comma Johanneum, and evaluate the claim that a “Roman Catholic” provenance should cause Protestants to reject the extant manuscripts as inauthentic as a result. In the first place, the claim that the Comma Johanneum itself has a “Roman Catholic” provenance is rather disingenuous at the start. Dr. Riddle answers the question of “Do the late manuscripts of 1 John really have Roman Catholic provenance?” in Word Magazine 149, but I want to answer the question, “Even if they do have Roman Catholic provenance, does it matter?” The short answer is, no. 

Theologically speaking, the medieval scholastic schoolmen, to this day, provided some of the most clear and concise articulations of Theology proper and the Trinity. In today’s world of social Trinitarianism and other heterodox views of the Trinity, it is actually important that Protestants understand the value that the medieval scholastic theologians provided to the formulation of the doctrine of God. While the schoolmen certainly had their pitfalls, and the humanist reformers were outspoken about these errors, this is one area of Theology that modern Protestants should not simply lump in with “Roman Catholic” Theology. In fact, if modern Protestants completely reject the sum total of medieval scholastic theology, they lose a large piece of their own heritage as Christians. It is important to remember that the Roman Catholic church did not become corrupt overnight, and there were many, many faithful men within the Western church leading up to the Reformation, despite the errors that we all know about. God didn’t abandon His people for 1,000 years, as some seem to indicate. Just like with any beloved theologian of the past, it is a valuable skill to reject what is not Biblical, and benefit from what is Biblical. The fact is, that many of the Western theologians were quite critical of the immorality of Western bishops and Popes, and there were many forerunners to the Reformation who were outspoken against the doctrines we associate with Reformation era Rome.

In other words, it is important to have the discernment to know that 1) not all “Roman Catholics” leading up to and during the Reformation represent the thought of the Jesuits and 2) that many of the theologians casually called “Roman Catholic Humanists” were actually men who contributed greatly to the cause of the Reformation, even if they didn’t make a clean break with the Protestants. Erasmus of Rotterdam is a great example of this. Erasmus was one of the most effective polemicists against the wickedness of the Roman Catholic church during his day. He is famously credited with writing works such as “Julius Excluded From Heaven,” wherein he comically depicts the Pope being denied entrance to heaven. Upon seeing some of the more questionable decisions of Martin Luther, such as his influence on German nobility during the Peasant Revolt, Erasmus thought it better to try to Reform the church from the inside instead of causing chaos in the church. It is valuable to recognize the heterodoxy of Erasmus while also recognizing his contributions to the Reformation as well. Luther actually put a bad taste in the mouths of the Roman Catholic humanists who were trying to reform the church and were actually quite sympathetic to the reformers up to a point. Ultimately, this lead to Erasmus dying in isolation, effectively ostracized. It is easy to simply use the terms “Roman Catholic Humanist” as a rhetorical device, but this does disservice to Reformation history, and the contributions of the men who were simply trying to be faithful, despite their various errors. It is actually inconsistent to admit that the term “humanist” meant something different then as it does now, and also use it as a pejorative to discredit men like Erasmus.

There are four simple takeaways that I want to leave my reader with from this article. 

  1. Nearly everybody we call a Reformer today was Roman Catholic until they weren’t. In fact, pretty much everybody in the Western church was a “Roman Catholic” until the Reformation.
  2. Even those that did not break clean with the Protestants still had critiques of the Roman Catholic church – not everybody was a Jesuit
  3. Nearly everybody we call a Reformer today was a Christian humanist
  4. During the time of the Reformation, the doctrine of the Trinity as articulated by the schoolmen was actually a point of common ground between the Protestant Reformers and the Roman Catholic church


Since the support of the Received Text is a theological appeal, it would make sense that advocates of the Modern Critical Text would attempt to make a theological argument against various readings in it. It is actually the right approach, if you understand the Received Text position at all and wish to cast doubt on the historical Protestant text of Holy Scripture. The fact is, that the Protestant Orthodox remained in agreement with the Roman Catholic church on the point of the Trinity during the Reformation, and the medieval scholastic schoolmen still provide us with valuable contributions to Theology proper and can be benefited from greatly today. In other words, the so called “Roman Catholic” provenance of later manuscripts which contain 1 John 5:7 have no bearing on the textual discussion whatsoever. Especially considering the context of the time they received this reading. They, above anybody in our modern context, would have been especially in tune with sketchy provenance.

I’ll end this article with an appeal to common sense. Theological precepts are not a function of the axioms of the modern critical text. The only function a theological appeal has from a modern critical perspective is polemic, and is not productive if the goal is defending the text of Holy Scripture. It is strange that advocates of the modern critical text have decided to aim this polemic arm at the historical protestant text. It seems rather counterproductive, if the goal is to defend the Scriptures. In the case of the Comma Johanneum, the appeal to Roman Catholic provenance of later manuscripts of 1 John to advocate against the Comma are ultimately disconnected from Reformation history, and the goal of this article is to demonstrate that it is really not a meaningful argument. Again, I highly recommend Dr. Riddle’s Word Magazine 149, where he drives this point home well. Further, an appeal to provenance is rather curious, as nearly all of the preferred manuscripts of the modern critical text are without definitive provenance, and where the provenance of these manuscripts is inspected, the conclusions are that they possibly were produced by non orthodox sources. This is yet another reminder that it is not wise to throw stones in glass houses. See this quotation from Herman Hoskier as cited by Dr. Royse in Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri

“In the first place we do not believe that the scribe of B [Vaticanus] was a Christian. He seems to have been more or less a Western Unitarian.”

Jim Royse. Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri. 3. Bracketed material added.

So if those in the modern critical text camp really wish to appeal to provenance as a meaningful argument against a text, it may be wise to first take a look at the “earliest and best” extant manuscripts rather than a text that was considered orthodox by the Protestant church during the Reformation, whose provenance provides no negative context to the text at hand. This kind of appeal most importantly demonstrates the disconnect between evangelical advocates of the modern critical text and their history, if anything. For those that are discerning whether or not they wish to continue using the modern critical text or move over to the Received Text, this conversation may be enlightening for you. Note that when advocates of the modern critical text attempt to make theological arguments, it is for the purpose of proving a Scripture not authentic. The goal is to cast doubt on a reading which the historical Protestants have defended. Ironically, the arguments employed by modern critical text advocates against the Received Text are of Jesuit provenance. The purpose of which is to persuade Christians to adopt the axioms of modern textual criticism, which do not consider inspiration, preservation, or the Holy Spirit at all. Compare this with the polemics of those in the Received Text, who desire that Christians reject the notion that God has not preserved and delivered His Word. Simply looking at the outlook of each position is a great way to put the conversation in perspective. One side is arguing that Christians adopt the assumption that,

“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any of our translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it.”

(Gurry & Hixson, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, xii)

The other side is arguing that God, “In His singular care and providence, has kept His word pure in all ages.” Take a stand on Scripture, Christian, and be blessed knowing that God has not abandoned His church. The fact stands that despite the confidence in modern textual scholars, they simply cannot prove that the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7) entered the manuscript tradition by way of the Latin tradition. There is nothing that prevents us from believing that God inspired this text, and preserved it in both Greek and Latin manuscripts.

1 John 5:7 and Modern Criticism


The Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7) is a sticking point for many people when it comes to believing the claims of those who advocate for the Received Text of the Reformation, who say that the TR is the providentially preserved and vindicated text of Holy Scripture. More importantly, this variant, above all others, demonstrates the inconsistency of those who advocate against it. In the first place, there is manuscript evidence for it, three of these which match how it is printed in the Stephanus 1500 and the TBS Scrivener. That means that it has as much manuscript evidence support as let’s just say, the Gospel of Mark without 16:9-20. So it is clear that the axioms of modern textual criticism are not particularly concerned with counting noses when it comes to manuscripts, while the critics constantly appeal to this standard when attacking the authenticity of this passage, and many others. 

Typically, those who attack the authenticity of this reading appeal to the assumption that it was introduced from a Latin manuscript. This may seem compelling to some, but the Greek New Testament was translated into Latin and used in that vulgar language in the Western church leading up to the Reformation. So the great sin of a reading being found in the Latin tradition isn’t a world ending argument, since that Latin was translated from Greek. In fact, many modern versions appeal to the Latin often in the Old Testament. Since the reading is also found in Greek, it is just as reasonable to say that the reading was originally there, translated into Latin, and preserved in both Greek and Latin manuscripts. There is no doubt that variants were introduced early into 1 John, and not just chapter five, so if we consider the transmission history of 1 John as a whole, many of the arguments against 1 John 5:7 do not seem as potent. Like with any evidence based model in any discipline, the presuppositions with which evidence is approached is often more important than the evidence itself. This is the case with the passage at hand. The questions we have to ask ourselves as we approach this issue are: Which theory will we adopt to examine this variant? Will we take into account God’s providence in preserving His text, and acknowledge that the 16th century is a part of that? Or will we choose the teaching of the academy, that God did not preserve His Word because orthodox faith communities corrupted it?

An Age Old, Claim Reproduced in Modernity by Evangelicals

Now the claim of the Papists during the Reformation, and the modern scholars today, is that the Reformers/Humanists were quite fond of the Vulgate, and often “back-translated” from it into Greek. The reality is, and this should be evident to all who know their Reformation history, is that Erasmus and the humanist Reformers had no affinity for the Vulgate as it had developed in its own line of transmission. It is also helpful to note the distinction that is made between the Old Vulgate and the Vulgate as it existed during the time of the Renaissance. These men consulted the Latin tradition, but it is a strange disconnect to say that these men were fond of “back-translating” from the Latin. It is also peculiar that the claim is often made when the text of the Reformation disagrees with the preferred manuscripts of the academy.

An important piece of history is that Erasmus, along with the great orthodox divines said that the Vatican Codex (B) was influenced by Latin readings.

“Let them also be removed from the pretence, which carry their own convictions along with them that they are spurious, either,[…] Arise out of copies apparently corrupted, like that of Beza in Luke, and that in the Vatican boasted of by Huntley the Jesuit, which Lucas Brugensis affirms to have been changed by the Vulgar Latin, and which was written and corrected, as Erasmus says, about the [time of the] council of Florence, when an agreement was patched up between the Greeks and Latins; or, (10.) Are notoriously corrupted by the old heretics, as 1 John 5:7.”

(John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 16 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 366–367.)

This quote also demonstrates that the orthodox were also able to distinguish that different books of Scripture within a single manuscript had different transmission history, “Like that of Beza in Luke.” Considering that the academy takes Codex B (Vaticanus) as one of its flagship “earliest and best” manuscripts, it does not appear that manuscripts influenced by Latin readings disqualifies a reading upon that criteria alone. Common sense also tells us that a translation from the Greek had Greek support at one point. Pair this with the fact that modern scholars accept that late manuscripts can preserve older readings, and the inconsistency becomes apparent. Claims that Received Text advocates are “blind to evidence” simply means that Received Text advocates reject the analysis of the evidence by the academy. Again, evidence requires interpretation, and interpretation requires presuppositions.

That being said, can 1 John 5:7 be said to have been definitively introduced from the Latin, as though it were never found in a Greek manuscript? Can somebody produce the manuscript where this took place? Or is that simply a theory catered to the axioms of modern critical theory? Remember, the problem is not with Greek readings having Latin witnesses, the problem is if the reading was never in a Greek manuscript in the first place. I have yet to see a scholar actually produce a manuscript, or historical source from antiquity which demonstrates that this verse was added from the Latin. In fact, the sources from antiquity comment on the verse being corrupted, the academics simply write off that evidence as inauthentic. Notice that when scholars make this argument, they pad it heavily with “likely,” “supposedly,” etc. That is not exactly the most solid ground to be standing on, given that we are talking about God’s Word. This being the case, it would be rather foolish to say that this reading was absolutely introduced from the Latin, based on the evidence available. One might suppose that this was the case, but suppositions always have presuppositions.

Examining This Variant Theologically and Faithfully

It is honorable that evangelical textual scholars have managed to maintain their faith while choosing to live in the lion’s den. Unfortunately, sometimes living in the lion’s den requires you to start acting like a lion, if you don’t want to be eaten. The orthodox perspective of Scripture leaving the high orthodox period was that it had been “kept pure in all ages,” and while I believe the profession of the few textual scholars who claim to be evangelicals, their doctrinal statements often end up sounding a lot like those they claim to disagree with.

“If God preserved the original text intact, where is it? Why don’t we have it? – Bart Ehrman

Bart Ehrman

“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any of our translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it.” – Dan Wallace

(Gurry & Hixson, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, xii)

The questions we should be asking to the scholars is, “Why are you debating, and agreeing with Bart Ehrman? Why are we putting the Scriptures on trial?” It seems reasonable to ask, that if we are unwilling to put God on trial, why we would put His Word on trial in front of the world. That being said, the argument against 1 John 5:7 is often presented as “factual.” In this case, factual simply means, “factual according to our analysis of the evidence.” Prior to even examining evidence, however, one first has to adopt the mindset that the Scriptures need to be criticized and questioned first. Remember, that the orthodox believed the Scriptures to be “pure in all ages,” not in need of reconstruction. The shift from preserved to reconstructed is a shift in the doctrine of the church. In order to arrive at a place where one would even question the authenticity of a given passage in Scripture, there are several important assumptions that must be made: 

  1. The narrative of preservation must be deconstructed and thrown out for the narrative that orthodox faith communities tampered with the text to reinforce orthodox doctrines
  2. The authorship of this verse in John must be questioned and reimagined, because there is no way John wrote that. A different source introduced this text.
  3. An attempt must be made to understand the community who introduced this text to better understand its place in the transmission history of the New Testament 

If we are looking for evidence, there are Greek manuscripts and versional evidence to support it, many ancient fathers use the exact wording of the phrase despite not quoting the whole thing together, and the first protestant orthodox divines used printed editions which included the passage. The problem people have with this passage is not properly evidence, it’s that people do not accept the evidence there is for its authenticity. Even more concerning, is that the grounds upon which people who discredit this passage are lock step with Bart Ehrman. Received Texts advocates are often critiqued for agreeing with Bart Ehrman on his conclusions on the text of the academy, but is it not worse to agree with him in his text critical methods that got him to those conclusions? If one agrees with Erhman in his text critical axioms, but disagrees with him in his conclusions, does it not stand to reason that my argument holds – that evidence requires interpretation? I choose to disagree with Erhman here in his methods.

Further, this verse is also included in the Patriarchal text of the Eastern Orthodox church, who has no affinity for the Latin or Western church. In addition to there being external evidence for this passage, there are solid internal grounds for this passage being authentic. If the reading truly was a Latin invention, we would expect the Greek to flow more easily from verse 6 to 8 without verse 7, and verse 7 to feel forced upon the text in its Greek translated form. Yet the opposite is true. R.L. Dabney and John Calvin recognize that the passage simply does not flow without verse 7 due to the requirements of the Greek grammar rules. Matthew Henry even notes that,

“That the edition depended upon some Greek authority, and not merely, as some would have us believe, upon the authority of the vulgar Latin or of Thomas Aquinas.”

(Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. 1 John 5:7).

John Calvin notes that,

“The whole of this verse has been by some omitted. Jerome thinks that this happened through design rather than through mistake…Since however, the passage flows better when this clause is added, and I see that it is found in the best and approved copies, I am inclined to believe it as the true reading”

(John Calvin. Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles. 1 John 5:7).

What is the response to Calvin? “He was mistaken about the quality of the texts he had access to.” RL Dabney comments, 

“In 1 John 5:7,8 the Received Text presents us with two sorts or triads of witnesses, one in heaven, the other on earth, and asserts the unity of the first triad in one. In the revised Greek text underlying the modern versions all this is omitted, and all reference to a trinity is obliterated. The significant fact to which we would draw attention is that many of the variations proposed by modern scholars which have any doctrinal importance appear to undermine the doctrine of the Trinity, and particularly the doctrine of Christ’s deity. The various readings in the manuscripts and versions may be counted by hundred thousands, but the vast majority are insignificant. Among the few important various readings there are several that bear on this one doctrine–a doctrine which was keenly debated between orthodox believers and heretics just before the three most ancient existing copies were made.

The Sabellian and Arian controversies raged in the 3rd and 4th centuries and the copies now held in such high repute among scholars were written in the 4th and 5th centuries. The hostility of these documents to the Trinitarian doctrine impels the mind to the conclusion that their omissions and alterations are not merely the chance errors of transcribers, but the work of a deliberate hand. When we remember the date of the great Trinitarian contest in the Church, and compare it with the supposed date of these documents, our suspicion becomes much more pronounced. Did the party of Athanasius introduce spurious testimonies into the text to advance their Trinitarian doctrine, or did the party of Arius expunge authentic testimonies from copies of the sacred text in order to obscure the doctrine?

The so-called oldest codices agree with each other in omitting a number of striking testimonies to the divinity of Christ, and they also agree in other omissions relating to Gospel faith and practice. Was this because these ancient documents represent the views of copyists who regarded the Athanasian Trinitarians as corrupters, or can it be established that the omissions were deliberately made by the Arians to expunge the Scriptural evidence against their case?

All the critics vote against the authenticity of 1 John 5:7 but let us see whether the case is quite as clear as they would have it. The arguments in favour of its claim to genuineness carry a good degree of probability and this text is a good instance of the value of that internal evidence which recent critics profess to discard.” 

Dabney then carries on to demonstrate the grammatical necessity of the passage. 

1. The masculine article, numeral and participle HOI TREIS MARTUROUNTES, are made to agree directly with three neuters, an insuperable and very bald grammatical difficulty. If the disputed words are allowed to remain, they agree with two masculines and one neuter noun HO PATER, HO LOGOS, KAI TO HAGION PNEUMA and, according to the rule of syntax, the masculines among the group control the gender over a neuter connected with them. Then the occurrence of the masculines TREIS MARTUROUNTES in verse 8 agreeing with the neuters PNEUMA, HUDOR and HAIMA may be accounted for by the power of attraction, well known in Greek syntax.

2. If the disputed words are omitted, the 8th verse coming next to the 6th gives a very bald and awkward, and apparently meaningless repetition of the Spirit’s witness twice in immediate succession.

3. If the words are omitted, the concluding words at the end of verse 8 contain an unintelligible reference. The Greek words KAI HOI TREIS EIS TO HEN EISIN mean precisely–”and these three agree to that (aforesaid) One.” This rendering preserves the force of the definite article in this verse. Then what is “that One” to which “these three” are said to agree? If the 7th verse is omitted “that One” does not appear, and “that One” in verse 8, which designates One to whom the reader has already been introduced, has not antecedent presence in the passage. Let verse 7 stand, and all is clear, and the three earthly witnesses testify to that aforementioned unity which the Father, Word and Spirit constitute.

4. John has asserted in the previous 6 verses that faith is the bond of our spiritual life and victory over the world. This faith must have a solid warrant, and the truth of which faith must be assured is the Sonship and Divinity of Christ. See verses 5,11, 12, 20. The only faith that quickens the soul and overcomes the world is (verse 5) the belief that Jesus is God’s Son, that God has appointed Him our Life, and that this Life is true God. God’s warrant for this faith comes: FIRST in verse 6, in the words of the Holy Ghost speaking by inspired men; SECOND in verse 7, in the words of the Father, the Word and the Spirit, asserting and confirming by miracles the Sonship and unity of Christ with the Father.; THIRD in verse 8, in the work of the Holy Ghost applying the blood and water from Christ’s pierced side for our cleansing. FOURTH in verse 10, in the spiritual consciousness of the believer himself, certifying to him that he feels within a divine change.

 How harmonious is all this if we accept the 7th verse as genuine, but if we omit it the very keystone of the arch is wanting, and the crowning proof that the warrant of our faith is divine (verse 9) is struck out.

We must also consider the time and circumstances in which the passage was written. John tells his spiritual children that his object is to warn them against seducers (2.26), whose heresy was a denial of the proper Sonship and incarnation (4.2) of Jesus Christ. We know that these heretics were Corinthians and Nicolaitanes. Irenaeus and other early writers tell us that they all vitiated the doctrine of the Trinity. Cerinthus taught that Jesus was not miraculously born of a virgin, and that the Word, Christ, was not truly and eternally divine, but a sort of angelic “Aion” associated with the natural man Jesus up to his crucifixion. The Nicolaitanes denied that the “Aion” Christ had a real body, and ascribed to him only a phantasmal body and blood. It is against these errors that John is fortifying his “children” and this is the very point of the disputed 7th verse. If it stands, then the whole passage is framed to exclude both heresies. In verse 7 he refutes the Corinthian by declaring the unity of Father, Word and Spirit, and with the strictest accuracy employing the neuter HEN EISIN to fix the point which Cerinthus denied–the unity of the Three Persons in One common substance. He then refutes the Nicolaitanes by declaring the proper humanity of Jesus, and the actual shedding, and application by the Spirit, of that water and blood of which he testifies as on eyewitness in the Gospel–19.34,35.

We must also consider the time and circumstances in which the passage was written. John tells his spiritual “children” against “seducers” who taught error regarding the true divine Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ and regarding His incarnation and true humanity, and when we further see John precisely expose these errors in verses 7 and 8 of Chapter 5, we are constrained to acknowledge that there is a coherency in the whole passage which presents strong internal evidence for the genuineness of the ‘Received Text’.” 

The only people I have seen stand against this grammatical argument are people who self-admittedly are rusty in Greek, or those that cannot count to twenty or order a sandwich in the language. Such “authorities” should be counted as those who speak without knowledge. You wouldn’t trust somebody who couldn’t watch and understand an episode of Spongebob in English to parse Shakespeare. It is an odd phenomenon, that modern Christians trust the exegesis and theological formulations of the great divines, and yet question their ability to understand the basics of Greek.


The point is this – those that attack the authenticity of this passage do so first by following the footsteps of those deemed “heretics” by the Reformed, and do so again by adopting the critical principles of the academy. The passage fits grammatically, theologically, and has manuscript evidence and even patristic sources that allude to the exact wording of it. Jerome and Nazianzus comment on it, and the critiques of these comments are as you’d expect from a critic – questioning the authenticity of the source. The theological giants of the past, who knew Greek well enough to carry on a discourse in the language agree that the passage flows better with it included. 

The plain reality is that you have to be trying to find a problem with the Protestant Scriptures to even begin having this conversation. There are evidential cases on both sides that can be made, but ultimately the method of approach is what actually matters. Further, the standard of scrutiny leveled against this passage is carefully ignored when applied to other manuscripts and readings of the academy. What reason would a person have to attack the authenticity of a passage that occurs in Greek manuscripts, fits the theological context, flow, and grammar of the passage, and affirms one of the most central orthodox doctrines in Scripture? Christians have been taught to believe that it is their job to scrutinize Scripture, and that it is even honorable to do so.

Even more confusing is that the same people who are certain that this passage is not authentic cannot and will not even affirm any one manuscript, version, or printed text as being exact to the original. If the task of the church today is to reconstruct the lost text of Holy Scripture, joining the enemies of the faith in attacking passages received by the people of God for centuries is a strange way to approach the issue. Even more interesting is how often the standard for each verse is carefully shifted around according to the vogue critical theory of today. It is important to remember that the Comma Johanneum was seated at 1 John 5:7 until evangelical textual critics began deconstructing the Scriptures based on theories that haven’t succeeded in giving the people of God a stable text. It is also important to mention that the theory of Hort, which dominated the 20th century, has been utterly refuted, and the current method is under great scrutiny by the academy. The academy is divided among itself, and the leading voices such as DC Parker, Eldon Epp, and Bart Ehrman have their hand in just about everything that goes on in the text critical world. If you want somebody to blame for Bart Ehrman and others like him having such an influence on evangelical text criticism, look at the evangelicals who let them in the door.

So, the real question is: Can it be proved that the passage came in from the Latin? Can somebody pinpoint an exact date or manuscript? If not, what is the purpose for questioning the source of the verse? Can it be proved that the original autograph went from verse 6 to 8? Did an angel come down to one of these scholars and command them to strike verse 7 from the record? Does it contradict the rest of the teaching of Scripture? Does it teach something unorthodox? Did heretics defend the passage historically? Does it interrupt the thought of the apostle as he was carried along by the Spirit? Do we gain anything by removing this passage?

Or does the passage being removed align with the critical theory of the academy? That the New Testament has been lost and needs to be reconstructed; That orthodox scribes of the Christian faith communities added words, pericopes, and phrases to bolster their doctrine; That the people of God are eagerly waiting for the text-critical heroes to restore God’s Word for Him; That we will never actually know exactly what the prophets and apostles wrote; That God never intended to preserve His Word for His people? I know, it sounds absurd when you lay it out on the table like that, but these are the theories that drive the textual decisions of scholars. But I do not appeal to them, I appeal to the church, who read their Bible to hear their Shepherd’s voice. Take a step back and consider carefully the theories you have to adopt to begin removing verses from the established Protestant canon. Do you know for certain that a passage should be removed? Does the text of Holy Scripture not get the same luxury granted to a murderer in the court of law, or is it the case that the Scriptures are corrupt until proven pure?

At some point, we have to look past the well mannered academics and hit the brakes on this train. That train, dear church, is headed fast down a road that we do not want to be on. Stand fast on the text passed down from the previous era, the text that the great divines stood upon and defended, whose shoulders we stand upon. This is the Holy Scriptures we are talking about here, and we are to approach them with faith, not skepticism.

See Dr. Riddle’s response to the same topic here: Podcast || Article