of the Spirit
1 John 4:3
- 1 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.
- This passage is often referred to as proof that there are three
persons in the Trinity, and that the three are one.
- The reference to the three "witnesses" in heaven
does not appear in a single early Greek
manuscript. It was added to the
probably first in North Africa, being mentioned by Cyprian of Carthage
in 258 and Augustine about the year 400.
No Trinitarian concept could be read into the verse unless it had been
previously derived from another source, especially since the text says
“the Word” and not “the Son”. In other words, this passage does not
teach a trinity. You would have to have been taught the Trinity from
some other source, and then only when looking for supporting verses grab
hold of 1 John 5:7-8.
- The passage was not known to any of the
early Church Fathers, who would have had plenty of reason to quote it in
their Trinitarian debates of the 4th century (for example, with the
Arians), had it existed then.
Even if we were to assume the passage to
be genuine, the passage fails to prove a "Trinity of Persons" in the
Godhead. The passage can readily be harmonized with the Bible facts already
learned concerning God and His modes of manifesting Himself. John says,
"the Word was God," and Jesus says, "God is Spirit" (John 1:1; 4:24).
The term "Word" (Greek: "Logos") means "reason," "thought," "speech."
Intelligent, reasoning, thinking, speaking, organized Spirit-substance
is what the three terms represent God to be. Hence, even if not
spurious, the passage fails to prove a "Trinity of Persons" in the
Godhead, for it does not say "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
- Modern Protestant and Catholic scholars and theologians readily
admit that the passage is spurious, and was not a part of the original
text. The verse has been rejected as a patent forgery by all competent
critics, (though it was in 1897 solemnly pronounced genuine by Pope Leo
XIII, in an encyclical).
- The Jerusalem Bible is a Roman Catholic version translated into
English from the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and not from the Latin
Vulgate (the Vulgate being the official "Bible" of the Roman
Catholic Church). It bears the imprimatur of Cardinal Heenan. The
"three heavenly witnesses" of 1 John 5:7 (A.V.) disappears
completely in The Jerusalem Bible, replaced with a footnote giving
the textual evidence against it and saying that the words were
"probably a gloss which has crept into the text."
- Erasmus in the first two editions of his Greek translation of
the New Testament omitted the corrupt passage relating to the "three
witnesses" (1 John 5:7). He did this for sound critical reasons. But
the Vulgate, the Bible of the Roman Catholic Church, included the
passage, and immediately the cry arose that Erasmus was tampering
with the scriptures. Thinking he was safe, he rather rashly said he
would insert the passage in his next (third) edition if a single
Greek manuscript could be found that contained it. Surprisingly one
was found, and he kept his word and inserted the disputed passage,
much against his will and judgment, in the third edition of the
Testament. But it turned out that the "discovered" manuscript (the
Montfort manuscript), now in Trinity College Library, Dublin, which
was the document submitted to Erasmus, is but a 15th century
production of no critical value, and the disputed words are taken
from some corrupt Latin manuscript. Erasmus added the passage to his
1522 edition, "but he indicates in a lengthy footnote his suspicions
that the manuscript had been prepared expressly in order to confute
him." Indeed the manuscript was written after
Erasmus's request by a Franciscan from Oxford.2 It was
this third edition which became a chief source for the King James
Version, thereby fixing the passage firmly in the English-language
scriptures for centuries.
- Out of the thousands of manuscripts currently extant which
contain the New Testament in Greek, the disputed passage only
appears in eight. The oldest known occurrence appears to be a later
addition to a 10th century manuscript now in the Bodleian Library.
- No Syriac manuscripts includes the passage.
- Coptic manuscripts and those from Ethiopian churches also do not
- The two major
translations of the 20th century, the RSV and NIV, do
not have those spurious
phrases in them.
- The Cambridge Paragraph Bible, an edition of the King James
Version published in 1873, and edited by noted textual scholar F. H.
A. Scrivener, one of the translators of the English Revised Version,
set the 1 John 5:7-8 passage in italics to reflect its disputed
authenticity, though not all later editions retain this formatting.
- See also:
- Compiled by
1. Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission,
Corruption, and Restoration, 2d ed. Oxford University 1968, p. 101