In Defense of the Authenticity of 1 John 5:7 (A review)

No verse of sacred writ has endured more assault than this wonderful testimony of the Heavenly Witnesses:

1 John 5:7 (KJV) For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

Obviously a clear proclamation of the triune nature of God, and a verse in partnership with John 10:30, it came under attack by Arians and other deniers of Christ’s deity soon after it was provided by the Holy Spirit. Due to this early and unrelenting violence against God’s revealed word in this verse, it is missing from the majority of Greek manuscripts (though not all).

Naturally, God’s promise to preserve his words was never in danger of breach of contract, and the true wording of this valuable passage, now called by many the Johannine Comma, survived in thousands of copies and translations. Early editors of Greek New Testaments included the text as genuine, even if only after publishing inadequate editions that left it out, because among the believing Church there was never any widespread doubt as to its genuineness before the 19th century.

After the insidious Drs. Westcott and Hort crafted a new profane, materialistic methodology for examining the text of the Bible, their concocted New Testament Text was thrust upon the Church as they sought to overturn the testimony of the Holy Spirit of 18 centuries. Their text was a compilation of readings which included many of the rejected and false variants scoured from ignored and useless manuscripts that survived if for no reason other than their lack of use, and combined to form a new “Bible” that no church prior to the late 19th century had ever possessed, copied, or read. This garbage text (some of which was, quite literally, rescued from a trash can in a monastery by Tischendorf) became the basis if the English Revised Version of 1885 and the American Standard Version of 1901.

Both of these translations obliterated this verse from their pages, creating a grammatical disaster, and changed the versification of the passage to cover their deed:

1 John 5:6-8 (King James) This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. 7 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.

1 John 5:6-8 (English Revised) This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. 7 And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth. 8 For there are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one.

Although these new translations were rejected by the Church at large, and their published copies consigned to haunt the bookshelves of many scholars and preachers who would use them in their private study when they wished to correct the word of the living God, the damage was done. “Biblical scholarship” slowly began to accept this leaven into the dough of esteemed Christian thought and study, and virtually all future translations would eventually accept this abominable monstrosity into the loving embrace of their covers as well.

Over time commentators would discontinue using 1st John 5:7 as a powerful text that proves the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ and his personal unity with the Father and the Holy Ghost. The essential heresy of Arianism, already strong in these scholars, would eventually assert itself again among the many cults that have achieved great followings to this present day.

But, what of the evidence? What of the claims? What of the charges against this wonderful sentence in our Holy Book? Is it really true that it only exists because of the unscrupulous actions of an overzealous scribe? Was its inclusion in Canon just the error of an ignorant, unwitting Church for nearly two millennia; the Holy Ghost powerless to excise the work of a man’s meddling pen until the esteemed scholarship of Drs. Westcott and Hort entered the scene to rescue us from our belief in an inspired Book, and to sire more worldly scholars like Eberhard Nestle, Bruce Metzger, Daniel Wallace, and James White to continue “helping” us away from our immature reliance on a completed and delivered testimony from our Lord?

Well, no. The claims against this verse are false and do not withstand honest scrutiny. If one is able to ignore preconceptions built by Critical Text scholarship (such as it is), the reality is that the testimony of the Holy Spirit through 20 centuries before the deluge of modern translations fell upon us ought to be enough. But there is still more with which to answer the charges of those who attack our Holy Bible and its Comma. On this website I have posted an excerpt from Dr. Holland’s book that spends a brief dozen or so paragraphs disputing the claims of modern Bible correctors, which you should read. Also, in 1995, a tireless librarian named Michael Maynard, M.L.S., published an almost 400 page book called A History of the Debate over 1st John 5:7-8. That author exhausted the tomes of history in a valiant attempt provide the reader with every known discussion of this verse and its contents since the first century. Unfortunately, it is out of print, the author is deceased, and the book could cost you several hundred dollars to buy used due to its rarity.

Thankfully, a new treatment of this topic is available for our edification. Dr. C. H. Pappas, ThM, has produced for us a well-thought out and helpful book he calls In Defense of the Authenticity of 1 John 5:7 which is in its second edition now (my digital copy says it was revised August of 2016). I have completed reading the second edition on Kindle, and I recommend it to anyone who has lingering questions over this verse and its inclusion in our perfect Bible.

The author states from the beginning:

“One does not take leave of one’s senses to embrace the King James Version. Neither does one shut one’s eyes to the facts. Men with sound minds, clear heads, and strong convictions hold and defend the Authorized Version. Better still, such men in an open debate will silence their critics.”

This is well said. There is nothing wrong in holding to the text of the King James in this verse (or any other) and the author offers much in support of it. More importantly, he provides ample logic against those who would assail this verse.

His first chapter is devoted to the external evidences for the Comma. He responds to the charge that it does not appear in enough manuscripts and catalogs those in which it does.  It is satisfying that the author does not restrict himself merely to 1Jo 5:7 but is willing to address this important verse in the context of the greater war against God’s word that has been waged since God gave it. After discussing the merits of the tired “older is better” idea foisted upon us by critics, he says:

“…one may be led astray by the false assumption that the earlier copies of the Scriptures are more reliable. To hold to such a position is to deny the doctrine of the preservation of the Scriptures, which our Lord clearly taught (Matt. 24: 35).”

He goes on at reasonable length discussing important evidence for the Comma such as Cyprian’s quotation of it:

“He lived a hundred years before the earliest extant manuscript we have in our possession. Cyprian quotes 1 John 5: 7 in his first treatise on the unity of the church. This was a universal letter written to the churches. All of this implies that the Comma was well accepted throughout Christendom.”

I spent much time in my own writings in this post above belaboring the point that the Church itself is a witness to this verse, and Pappas does similarly so in his second chapter. In the third chapter, he addresses directly the complaint that the Comma appears in too few manuscripts and tells us why that would be.

Chapters 4 and 5 offer some of the most compelling arguments of all, in my opinion: the Internal Witness to the text. While I would first argue that the flow of the text is nonsensical in English without the Comma, Pappas is clearly at home in Greek as well and explains that the structure of the text proves the validity of the words in question by grammar alone.

“By ‘internal witness,’ it is understood to be an appeal to the witness of the Scriptures themselves. Regardless of what the critics may say in denying the authenticity of the Comma, they cannot refute the internal evidence, that is, if they are honest with the Scriptures. The reading of the Scriptures in the original language demands without any equivocation the acceptance of the Comma.”

In the latter portions of this book, Pappas succeeds in demonstrating that the approach many have taken on this topic is backwards. By that I mean that the critics have put those who accept this verse on the defensive. But it is they, like the Arians before them, who have demanded that this verse be removed from the Bible. It is they who must prove that it is spurious, and yet they only offer unsubstantiated theories as to how it may have been added. We do not really need to prove that it should be included. The Holy Spirit has seen to that for centuries! But regardless of that fact, Pappas piles on the Bible’s critics with ample evidence for its inclusion.

So in the sixth chapter, Reflections, we have such statements as this:

“…we have the record of the controversy in the Greek Church as early as AD 379 with the Arians seeking to remove the Comma. But when it comes to adding the Comma to the Scriptures, there is a dead silence. The Arians were not challenging Gregory for adding the Comma, but rather, Gregory challenged the Arians for omitting the Comma from the Sacred Text. This in itself is telling.”

Re-read that and think about it. The early dispute over this verse was over someone removing it, not someone adding it. Those who would seek to remove this verse today are aligning themselves with the heretical Arians who did remove it from their copies – and whose corruption is probably the primary cause of its absence in the relatively few copies of the passage in early Greek manuscripts that have been found. And remember, when these old manuscripts have survived, it is logically because of their lack of use. This is also a well-developed theme in the book and one I have often had to repeat over and over to people who just don’t seem to understand why “older is better” is not necessarily true.

Chapter 7 spends much time “Exposing the Critics” and is a good general overview of the severe lack of fidelity among those who attack the Bible and not just this verse.

“No longer are the Scriptures revered as the ‘Voice from Beyond.’ They are no longer regarded as the very Word of God. Professors in our schools and universities present the Bible to young scholars as fables of ancient literature. The source critics have accomplished their end. They are rightly defined as ‘Unholy Hands on the Holy Bible.’ Presently, pastors in many churches are correcting the Scriptures rather than correcting the people by the Scriptures.”

Chapter 8 address more about the work done for the 1881 Revised Version.

The author offers a useful appendix containing “The witness of the Church Fathers,” “The Arian Persecutions,” the “Two Greek Texts” (introductory information for the whole controversy over Bible versions), and several more, including a brief section on Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, the two corrupt manuscripts that make up the basis for the majority of readings chosen against the King James Bible in modern versions.

If there is any criticism I could level against the author’s work, it would be the over-emphasis on the Greek Orthodox church in his chapter titled Reflections and also in the third chapter, but the amount of information provided in this book far outweighs such a minor point.

In parting let me say this. It is sad to see that many teachers, when expositing on this passage of the Bible or on the topic of the Trinity, limp over this verse as if it is not there for their use and instruction. It is as if the marginal note in their Scofield Reference Bible has rendered them impotent. Even some of those who would regard the King James Bible to be God’s word in English seem reluctant to bellow this verse out with the vigor that they would give other disputed but true readings, such as “God was manifest in the flesh” in 1Ti 3:16. Perhaps they may read this book and remember that they can and should confidently and boldly declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). The living God of the Bible has seen to the inclusion of this verse in billions of copies of his words throughout history and to this day. There is no reason this powerful verse should be ignored.

I can recall that when I first read Michael Maynard’s long book on this topic in 1995 that I calculated that a defense of one of the most questioned verses in the King James Bible could increase one’s willingness to believe the rest of it. Over 20 years later I have learned that for most people, there is simply no reaching them on this issue regardless of the facts – they enjoy their “smooth things” (Isa 30:10) and multiple versions and do not want a final authority to contend with. But still, the fact remains that 1Jo 5:7 is, without a doubt, the most attacked verse in the Book. It may be true that more ink, toner, and electrons have been spilled on various other “problem texts,” but that is only because in the eyes of most critics, 1Jo 5:7 was disposed of long ago and nothing more need be said. But they are wrong about that. If you doubt the accuracy if the Received Text in our King James Bible anywhere, perhaps the rigorous yet concise defense of this beloved passage presented in In Defense of the Authenticity of 1 John 5:7 will help you realize you can trust all of it. It’s only 158 pages in print. Why not read it?