The Johannine Comma
Revised and expanded, March, 2014
One of the most hotly contested passages of Scripture is so well known that it has a name - the Comma Johanneum, or Johannine Comma. In this case, "comma" refers not to punctuation but to a clause. In the KJV, I John 5:7-8 reads as follows:
However the Comma, the portion in bold above, is not found in the vast majority of Greek manuscripts. Most scholars consider it an interpolation, and modern versions omit it. The NASB, for example, reads:
Until recently I was under the impression that this passage was universally recognized as an interpolation or late addition, only appearing in the last 500 years or so. However I have recently found that there is a small faction that defends the authenticity of the Comma, and presents evidence for an earlier existence of it. Upon examination of this evidence, it appears that the passage may be older than previously thought, although there is by no means a consensus among scholars.
The following is the analysis of the passage, by Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, from his book, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament , hereafter referred to as TCGNT.
The Comma was not included in the first two editions of Erasmus' Greek text. It is often reported that he promised to include it in a later edition if a single Greek MS could be found. The story goes that after making that promise, a MS was produced which many have suspected of being forged for that purpose. Metzger wrote, "Erasmus promised that he would insert the Comma Johanneum, as it is called, in future editions if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained the passage. At length such a copy was found—or made to order." However, in a footnote on pg 291 of the 3rd edition of The Text of the New Testament, Metzger writes:
In the above mentioned work, de Jonge wrote, "For the sake of his ideal Erasmus chose to avoid any occasion for slander rather than persisting in philological accuracy and thus condemning himself to impotence. That was the reason why Erasmus included the Comma Johanneum even though he remained convinced that it did not belong to the original text of l John."
The evidence for the Comma in Greek MSS is extremely weak. However, there are those who cite evidence from the Latin MSS. There are many that contain the Comma, but it is not in the oldest ones. An excerpt from Dr. Thomas Holland's Crowned With Glory is quoted on The King James Bible Page.
While the Greek textual evidence is weak, the Latin textual evidence for the Comma is extremely strong. It is in the vast majority of the Old Latin manuscripts, which outnumber the Greek manuscripts. Although some doubt if the Comma was a part of Jerome's original Vulgate, the evidence suggests that it was. Jerome states:
…In that place particularly where we read about the unity of the Trinity which is placed in the First Epistle of John, in which also the names of three, i.e. of water, of blood, and of spirit, do they place in their edition and omitting the testimony of the Father; and the Word, and the Spirit in which the catholic faith is especially confirmed and the single substance of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is confirmed.
The above quote from Jerome comes from his Prologue to the Canonical Epistles. However, even the Catholic Encyclopedia states that "St. Jerome (fourth century) does not seem to know the text. After the sixth century, the disputed passage is more and more in use among the Latin Fathers; and, by the twelfth century, is commonly cited as canonical Scripture." The authenticity of the above prologue has been in doubt by many for hundreds of years. However, Kent Brandenburg, on his What Is Truth blog, wrote, "It is certainly true that many opponents of the genuineness of the Comma would dismiss out of hand the possibility that this Preface truly comes from Jerome based on the assumption that there cannot be genuine evidence so early for the Comma…"
On the contrary, there have been many who have rejected the Prologue for hundreds of years, and with good reason. Thomas Hartwell Horne wrote the following in 1856:
The third Latin Father, produced in favour of this disputed passage, is Jerome; who flourished in the latter end of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth century, and resided chiefly at Bethlehem. His profound knowledge of the original Scriptures has caused his biblical labours to be held in the highest esteem. In several editions of the Latin version, there is a preface or prologue to the Catholic Epistles ascribed to him; which pretends that all the Greek copies had the seventh verse, and complains of the Latin translators as unfaithful for leaving it out.
On this supposed prologue of Jerome many advocates of the disputed clause founded, as they imagined, a powerful argument for its genuineness; while others have candidly admitted that the prologue is spurious. In fact, this preface is of no authority whatever; for, 1. Its style is so barbarous as to prove that it could not have been written by Jerome; 2. It is wanting in his catalogue of prefaces, as well as in the best and most ancient manuscripts of Jerome’s version; 3. It is often found in Latin copies without his name; it makes use of the term Epistolae Canonicae, “Canonical Epistles,” whereas Jerome’s title for them was Epistolae Catholicae, “Catholic Epistles;” 4. Further, this preface is prefixed to some Latin copies of the Catholic Epistles, in which the disputed text is not inserted; whence it is evident that the ancient MSS. from which such copies were made had not the disputed text, though the transcribers had the folly to insert that preface; 5. And, finally, what proves that it is utterly destitute of authority, is the fact, that “it insinuates one falsehood, and asserts two other direct and notorious falsehoods. It insinuates that all the Greek copies of the New Testament had this verse; whereas none of them had it, nor” (as we have already seen) “has any of the genuine works of the Greek Fathers once mentioned it. And Jerome, above all men, who was so conversant in the Greek copies of the New Testament and in the Greek Fathers, must needs have known this to have been a direct falsehood. Again, the preface asserts that the Latin translators were unfaithful in leaving out the testimony of the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, that he [Jerome] had restored it.”
More recently, Kevin P. Edgecomb added the following observations in hisBiblicalia blog:
The decisive elements in this prologue for its inauthenticity are two, I think. Jerome did his work on the Gospels first out of all his Biblical translations/revisions in the Vulgate, in about 382. But here in this letter he addresses only Eustochium and not Paula and Eustochium. Paula, Eustochium’s mother and abbess, died in 404, only at which time did Jerome begin to address letters only to Eustochium. But here, the author, not knowing the chronology of Jerome’s work and life, says he “just now” (dudum) corrected the Evangelists, and yet addresses only Eustochium. At least twenty-two years previous is not “just now.” This dating contradiction is conclusive.
And there is actual evidence not only that the supposed Jerome Prologue is not genuine but that the Comma Johanneum (in various forms) was added in the margins of manuscripts. This was known and written about as far back as 1689.
Further evidence that St Jerome is not the true author of the Prologue or the addition, lies in the fact that the addition has been inserted in the margin of several early manuscripts from which that text was absent. For it was not likely that St Jerome would have spoken favourably of his own new edition of the canonical Epistles because of the changes he had made, particularly in the first letter of St John, and that there was no trace of any such change in the text. Accordingly, it was copyists, or the owners of the manuscripts, who judged it proper to bring the text into alignment with the Prologue through the addition in the margin of the verse concerning the testimony of Father, Son and Holy Spirit which was already present in the work of some early church writers. People who included this addition in the margin of their manuscripts could hardly all keep to the same wording, so that it occurs with different wording in different manuscripts. These discrepancies obviously prove that St Jerome could not have been the author of this addition which is actually the work of individuals who sought to adjust the text of St John in accordance with the Prologue. Here I shall reproduce some examples of this rewording as it occurs in several early Latin manuscripts of St Jerome’s Bible.
In the margin of King’s Library manuscript 33584 alongside the words Three there are that bear witness the following words have been added: “in Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit: and three there are who bear witness on earth, and these three are one.” The hand in which the addition is written does not seem to be any more recent than that of the text. A similar example occurs in Colbert library manuscript 158 where alongside those same words: Three there are that bear witness the following have been added in the margin: “in Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit: and three there are who bear witness on earth, blood, water, and flesh.” Moreover, to make the text correspond more closely to the addition, part of the text itself has been scratched out and rewritten. The only example of the addition in three early manuscripts in the Benedictine library of the Abbey of Saint-Germain occurs in the margin of one of them, the addition dating from the same period as the text. Admittedly it does occur in an eight-hundred-year-old manuscript from the time of Lothaire II, but the text shows signs of curious interference. In this manuscript the original reading was “three there are who bear witness (‘on earth’ is added above the line), spirit, water, and blood; and the three are one: and three there are who testify from Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit: and the three are one.” But the words “testify from Heaven” were subsequently erased and replaced with the words “bear witness in Heaven.”
Although the Comma is not found in the earliest form of the Old Latin MSS or Jerome's Vulgate, it is pointed out that there are a few Latin Fathers who quote the passage, suggesting that they knew of earlier MSS that no longer exist. Earliest among these is Tertullian (200 AD). He wrote, "These Three are one essence not one Person, as it is said, 'I and my Father are One' [John 10:30] in respect of unity of Being not singularity of number." However, he only uses the phrase "these three are one" and does not specifically refer to John's epistle.
The next earliest is Cyprian (c. 250 AD). "The Lord says, 'I and the Father are one;' and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 'And these three are one'" (Treatise 8, ch.3). Here again he does not refer to John by name, but many consider this to be an indirect reference. However, the fact that he used the words, "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," rather than "the Father, the Word, and the Spirit," makes it questionable as to whether he was actually quoting John's epistle. Daniel B. Wallace, in The Comma Johanneum and Cyprian, writes:
The first Latin Father to actually quote I John 5 is Priscillian (c. 380 AD) who wrote a tract entitled Liber Apologeticus, or Book of Apology. Brian Wagner writes about it in his paper about Priscillian.
A rough translation of this passage as found in Priscillian’s first tractate, Liber apologeticus, reveals some interesting details. It reads, “As John has said, ‘There are three who give testimony upon the earth: the water, the flesh, and the blood and these three are in one; and there are three who give testimony in heaven: the father, the word, and the spirit, and these three are one in Christ Jesus.’” It is noticeable that Priscillian had placed what is now the disputed phrase after the location where it is presently found in Erasmus’ Greek Text and the King James Version. Also, Priscillian has added the concluding phrase “in Christ Jesus” to the Trinitarian formula and has the word “flesh” instead of “spirit” in the earthly triune witness.
Metzger refers to this first instance in TCGNT:
So it is questionable as to whether any Latin Fathers quoted the passage before the fourth century. If it indeed was in earlier Greek MSS, it would be very hard to explain its absence in the vast majority. Metzger wrote in TCGNT, "As regards transcriptional probability, if the passage were original, no good reason can be found to account for its omission, either accidentally or intentionally, by copyists of hundreds of Greek manuscripts, and by translators of ancient versions." 
Some advocates for the inclusion of the Comma have pointed out that, contrary to what Metzger wrote, there was indeed at least one Greek Father who made reference to the passage. They claim that the writing of Gregory of Nazianzus, called Theological Orientations (c. 390) refers to it, showing that he knew of the extended wording. What it actually proves, however, is only that he recognized a grammatical anomaly.
. . . (he has not been consistent) in the way he has happened upon his terms; for after using Three in the masculine gender he adds three words which are neuter, contrary to the definitions and laws which you and your grammarians have laid down. For what is the difference between putting a masculine Three first, and then adding One and One and One in the neuter, or after a masculine One and One and One to use the Three not in the masculine but in the neuter, which you yourselves disclaim in the case of Deity?
This argument is often put forth by King James Only advocates. The following discussion of the debate is by C. L. Bolt, from the Biblical Apologetics website, Choosing Hats.
In The King James Only Controversy James White responds to an argument made by KJV Only advocate Kevin James. Kevin James contends in his book The Corruption of the Word: The Failure of Modern New Testament Scholarship that there is a “grammatical” problem with the passage in question since “three” is masculine. He notes an inconsistency with the genders of Spirit, blood, and water. Easily dismissing this attempt at an argument for the authenticity of the Comma Johanneum White explains that, “three almost always appears in the NT as a masculine when used as a substantive, the one exception being 1 Corinthians 13:13, where it appears as a neuter, though here referring to a list of feminines.” [James R. White. The King James Only Controversy: Second Edition. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 2009, 102n.37.] Apparently this is a merely stylistic matter.
In addition to the inconsistency of gender between “three” and the spirit, blood, and water, it has also been pointed out that the participle, “those who bear witness” also presents an inconsistency in gender. In another excerpt from his book on The King James Bible Page, Dr. Thomas Holland writes:
The strongest evidence, however, is found in the Greek text itself. Looking at 1 John 5:8, there are three nouns which, in Greek, stand in the neuter (Spirit, water, and blood). However, they are followed by a participle that is masculine. The Greek phrase here is oi marturountes (who bear witness). Those who know the Greek language understand this to be poor grammar if left to stand on its own. Even more noticeably, verse six has the same participle but stands in the neuter (Gk.: to marturoun). Why are three neuter nouns supported with a masculine participle? The answer is found if we include verse seven. There we have two masculine nouns (Father and Son) followed by a neuter noun (Spirit). The verse also has the Greek masculine participle oi marturountes. With this clause introducing verse eight, it is very proper for the participle in verse eight to be masculine, because of the masculine nouns in verse seven. But if verse seven were not there it would become improper Greek grammar.
In order to understand this theory and its rebuttal, a few terms from Greek grammar need to be defined. First of all, a participle is a form of a verb that functions as an adverb or an adjective. As an adverb it modifies a verb. As an adjective it can either modify a noun or substitute for a noun.
An articular participle is simply a participle that is preceded by an article, like “the” in English, although articles in Greek have a wider scope and are not always directly translatable in English. The Greek phrase that we are dealing with, oi marturountes is an articular participle formed from the verb “to bear witness” and literally means “the ones who bear witness.”
A participle can function as an adjective in one of two ways. In the phrase “running water,” “running” is the participle form of the verb “to run,” and functions as an adjective, describing “water.” The other way a participle can function as an adjective is when it takes the place of a noun. When it does this it is called a substantive.
For example, a regular adjective (i.e. not a participle) is substituted for a noun in the phrase “the poor need help.” The word “poor” is normally an adjective, but in this case it takes the place of poor people, so it substitutes for that noun. Participles can be used this way as well in Greek, but we rarely use them that way in English. When we form a participle from the verb “to run,” we would have to say “people who are running” rather than just “the running.” However in Greek it is quite common to use participles as substantives in this way; we just need to add a noun when we translate it into English. Hence, oi marturountes is translated as “ones who bear witness.”
Nolan claimed that the phrase “who bear witness” in verse 8 functions as an adjective that modifies the three nouns which follow: the spirit, the water, and the blood. As such, the phrase should agree in number and gender with the three nouns, yet oi marturountes (who bear witness) is masculine and the three nouns are neuter. (This is the anomaly that Gregory of Nazianzus referred to, but he did not offer an explanation or refer to a manuscript that included the Comma.)
Nolan’s explanation was that the masculine participle “who bear witness” in verse 8 is proper because it is attracted in gender to the masculine participle “who bear witness” in verse 7. He also said that the one in verse 7 is proper even though the three nouns to which it refers are not all masculine (Father and Son are masculine, spirit is neuter). This is because it matches the first one in the list (Father).
However, according to Herbert Smyth’s 1920 book, Greek Grammar for Colleges, an articular participle only agrees in case, number and gender with subsequent nouns when it is used as an adjective, but it must be between the article and the noun(s), and the nouns must be anarthrous, that is, not preceded by an article. For example:
John 6:57 - “…the [article] living [masc. adj.] Father [masc. noun]…”
I Timothy 1:11 - “of the [article] blessed [masc. adj.] God [masc. noun]…”
Titus 2:13 - “…the [article] blessed [fem. adj.] hope [fem. noun] and appearance [fem. noun]…”
Compare Revelation 6:14 - “…every [neut. adj.] mountain [neut. noun] and island [feminine noun]…” - the adjective (“every”) has no article, and is followed by two nouns, one masculine, the other feminine.
An articular participle cannot function as an adjective that modifies a subsequent articulate noun (neither can an articular adjective). Therefore the theory that Nolan (and later Dabney) propounded is impossible, according to Greek grammar. If both the participle and the subsequent nouns have articles, then the participle functions as a substantive and agrees with the number and gender of the idea being expressed.
Furthermore, Smyth explains that when a subsequent noun is added to a substantive to provide additional information about it, it is called an appositional noun. It is required to agree in case with the substantive, but is not required to agree in number, and cannot agree in gender, because the noun (or nouns) have their own gender which doesn’t change. For example:
I John 2:16 - “every [the] thing [neut. adj. as substantive, article in Greek but not directly translated] … the lust [fem. Noun] of the flesh, the lust [fem. Noun] of the eyes, and the pride [fem. Noun] of life…” - the adjective is neuter because all three nouns represent things.
I John 5:7-8 - “the ones who bear witness [masc. participle as substantive] … the spirit [neut. noun] and the water [neut. noun] and the blood [neut. noun]…” - the substantive is masculine, because the three nouns are personified, representing “witnesses.”
Daniel Wallace also comments on the grammar of the passage in question, in his 1996 book, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics.
The masculine participle refers to … all neuter nouns. Some see this as an oblique reference to the Spirit’s personality (so I. H. Marshall, The Epistles of John [NICNT] 237, n. 20), but the fact that the author has personified water and blood, turning them into witnesses along with the Spirit, may be enough to account for the masculine gender. This interpretation also has in its behalf the allusion to Deut 19:15 (the necessity of “two or three witnesses”), for in the OT the testimony only of males was acceptable. Thus, the elder may be subtly indicating (via the masculine participle) that the Spirit, water, and blood are all valid witnesses.”
Some have countered this with the argument that the spirit is also called a witness in verse 6, but the same participle (“who bear witness”) is neuter there, agreeing with the noun “spirit.” But this is not the same construction as verses 7 and 8. Verse 6 refers to Jesus who came by water and blood, and then makes the simple statement that the spirit bears witness. You don’t have a substantive taking a gender based on the whole idea expressed by three nouns of mixed genders, as you have in verses 7 and 8.
Finally, the internal evidence in the English itself should be considered. Metzger wrote, "As regards intrinsic probability, the passage makes an awkward break in the sense." The first five verses of chapter 5 introduce the subject, talking about those that believe that Jesus is the Christ, and the Son of God. Beginning in verse 6 it expounds on the proof of who Jesus is.
I John 5 (NASB):
whole point of the passage is the testimony that Jesus is the Son of God, the
Messiah. Verse six says he came by water and blood, and it is the spirit that
testified. There are a number of opinions as to exactly what the water and
the blood represent. Personally I lean toward the water referring to his
baptism, and the blood to his death. But whatever they mean, we have the
spirit and the water and the blood in verse six. Then in verse seven and
eight it says there are three that testify, the spirit and the water and the
blood, and they are in agreement.
The argument against the passage from the external proof is confirmed by internal evidence, which makes it morally certain that it cannot be genuine.
(a) The connection does not demand it. It does not contribute to advance what the apostle is saying, but breaks the thread of his argument entirely. He is speaking of certain things which bear "witness" to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah; certain things which were well known to those to whom he was writing - the Spirit, and the water, and the blood. How does it contribute to strengthen the force of this to say that in heaven there are "three that bear witness" - three not before referred to, and having no connection with the matter under consideration?
(b) The "language" is not such as John would use. He does, indeed, elsewhere use the term "Logos," or "Word" … ho Logos, John 1:1, John 1:14; 1 John 1:1, but it is never in this form, "The Father, and the Word;" that is, the terms "Father" and "Word" are never used by him, or by any of the other sacred writers, as correlative. The word "Son" … ho Huios - is the term which is correlative to the "Father" in every other place as used by John, as well as by the other sacred writers. See 1 John 1:3; 1 John 2:22-24; 1 John 4:14; 2 John 1:3, 2 John 1:9; and the Gospel of John, "passim." Besides, the correlative of the term "Logos," or "Word," with John, is not "Father," but "God." See John 1:1. Compare Revelation 19:13.
(c) Without this passage, the sense of the argument is clear and appropriate. There are three, says John, which bear witness that Jesus is the Messiah. These are referred to in 1 John 5:6; and in immediate connection with this, in the argument, 1 John 5:8, it is affirmed that their testimony goes to one point, and is harmonious. To say that there are other witnesses elsewhere, to say that they are one, contributes nothing to illustrate the nature of the testimony of these three - the water, and the blood, and the Spirit; and the internal sense of the passage, therefore, furnishes as little evidence of its genuineness as the external proof. 
of those who believe the Johannine Comma is spurious are in fact
Trinitarians, and thus are not biased toward the omission of the
passage. They feel that its omission has no affect on what they
consider to be the Biblical evidence for the Trinity, since many other
passages are considered evidence. On the other hand, the inclusion of
the Comma in no way strengthens the argument in favor of the Trinity, since
the passage does not say that the three are "one essence" or
"one substance" and nowhere does it say "three persons in one
God." Therefore, even if the passage was in the original, the Father,
the Word, and the Holy Spirit could just as well be understood as being
"one" in the same sense that Jesus and the Father are
"one" in John 10:30, and that all may be "one" in John 17:21-22.
 Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart, Germany: United Bible Societies, 1993), p. 647.
 Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, 3rd ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 101
 Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, 3rd ed., p. 291, n.2.
 Thomas Holland, Crowned With Glory, (Writers Club Press, 2000), quoted in “1 John 5:7 (Johannine Comma) - ‘These Three Are One’", The King James Bible Page, http://av1611.com/kjbp/faq/holland_1jo5_7.html (accessed March 5, 2014).
 Kent Brandenburg, “Jerome's Preface to the Canonical Epistles--Ancient Evidence for 1 John 5:7,” What Is Truth (blog), December 22. 2010, http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/2010/12/jeromes-preface-to-canonical-epistles.html (Accessed March 8, 2014).
 Thomas Hartwell Horne, An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of The New Testament, ed. Samuel Prideaux Tregelles. (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts, 1856), p. 372.
 Richard Simon, Critical History of the Text of the New Testament, trans. Andrew Hunwick (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1689/2013), p. 178-9.
 Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 25, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian17.html (Accessed March 8,2014)
 Daniel B. Wallace, “The Comma Johanneum and Cyprian,” Bible.org, https://bible.org/article/comma-johanneum-and-cyprian (Accessed Mach 8, 2014).
 Brian Wagner, Priscillian of Avila: Heretic or Early Reformer?, Chafer Theological Seminary, http://chafer.nextmeta.com/files/v12n2_6priscillian_of_avila.pdf (Accessed March 8, 2014)
 Metzger, TCGNT, p. 715-717.
 C. L. Bolt, “The Comma Johanneum: A Critical Evaluation of the Text of 1 John 5.7-8,” http://www.choosinghats.org/2010/12/the-comma-johanneum-a-critical-evaluation-of-the-text-of-1-john-5-7-8/ (Accessed March 8,2014)
 Thomas Holland, Crowned With Glory.
 Frederick Nolan, An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate, (London: F.C. and J. Rivington, 1815), pp. 257, 260, 565.
 Robert Dabney, “The Doctrinal Various Readings of the New Testament Greek,” Southern Presbyterian Review 22 (1871): 221
 Corey Keating, “Greek Participles,” New Testament Greek, http://www.ntgreek.org/learn_nt_greek/participles.htm (accessed March 8, 2014).
 Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Grammar for Colleges, (New York, Boston, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Chicago: American Book Company, 1920), sections 1018, 1019, 1020, 1030, 1154, and 1156.
 Smyth, Greek Grammar for Colleges, sections 1021, 1022, and 1023.
 Smyth, Greek Grammar for Colleges, sections 916, 976, 979, and 1019
 Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, (Grand Rapids. MI: Zondervan, 1996), p. 332, fn 44.
 Metzger, TCGNT, p. 715-717.