WHY 1 JOHN 5.7–8 IS IN THE BIBLE by G. W. and D. E. Anderson
1 John 5:6-8 -- (6) 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.
In recent months several of the Society’s supporters have written asking
about the inclusion of 1 John 5.7–8, the so-called Johannine Comma
(the passage underlined in the above quotation), in the Bible. These
supporters have found versions which omit the passage without mention; 
they have found writers who argue against the inclusion of the passage; 
they have found preachers who avoid the passage in order to avoid the
controversy. These supporters believe the passage rightly belongs in the
Scriptures, as does the Society, as did the writers of the Westminster
Confession of Faith  and as have Godly men throughout the centuries.
Three of these men, whose influential works span three centuries, Matthew
Henry, R. L. Dabney and Edward Hills, upheld this passage in their writings.
The purpose of this article is to allow these men to address this issue and
give their reasons for the inclusion of the Johannine Comma.
All around us is scholarly argument against the inclusion of this passage.
As John Stott says of verse 7,
The whole of this must be regarded as a gloss, as must the words
in earth in verse 8… The words do not occur in any Greek MS,
version or quotation before the fifteenth century. They first appear
in an obscure fourth-century Latin MS and found their way into the
AV because Erasmus reluctantly included them in the third edition of
his text. They are rightly absent even from the margin of RV and
Princeton Theological Seminary Greek scholar B. M. Metzger states that a
manuscript of the entire New Testament dating from the late fifteenth or
early sixteenth century…is the first Greek manuscript discovered which
contains the passage relating to the Three Heavenly Witnesses (1 John
In the face of such statements, how can one argue for the inclusion of
the passage? But there are ample scholarly reasons for the inclusion of 1
John 5.7–8, and ample scholarly men who have given those reasons. Thus we
quote works of three of these men. Much of this information is reproduced
verbatim from the writings of these men and will be technical in nature;
however, the reader should be able to follow the main points of the position
and will find blessing in these men’s comments on the Word of God.
TEXTUAL EVIDENCE FOR INCLUSION
First, it must be stated that Metzger’s statement, at first glance,
might make one believe that 1 John 5.7–8 does not appear in any writings
before 1500. However, MS. 61 was the first Greek manuscript discovered
which contains the passage. It is not the earliest manuscript containing the
passage; it was merely the first manuscript found which contained the
passage.  Metzger later admits that the Johannine Comma also
appears in manuscripts from the twelfth century, the fourteenth century and
the sixteenth century. "The oldest known citation of the Comma is in a
fourth-century Latin treatise entitled Liber apologeticus." 
Edward Hills admits that there is not as much Greek manuscript support for
this passage as there is for many other passages in the New Testament.
However, there is an abundance of other ancient manuscript evidence in
support of the passage. As Hills says, "The first undisputed citations of
the Johannine comma occur in the writing of two 4th-century Spanish
bishops… In the 5th century the Johannine comma was quoted by several
orthodox African writers to defend the doctrine of the Trinity against the
gainsaying of the Vandals, who…were fanatically attached to the Arian
heresy." "Evidence for the early existence of the Johannine comma is
found in the Latin versions and in the writings of the Latin Church
Fathers." Among these is Cyprian (c. 250) and Cassiodorus (480–570), as well
asan Old Latin manuscript of the 5th or 6th century, and in the Speculum,
a treatise which contains an Old Latin text. It is also found in the great
mass of the later Vulgate manuscripts and in the Clementine edition of the
INTERNAL EVIDENCE FOR INCLUSION
In the seventeenth century the framers of the Westminster Confession of
Faith accepted the inclusion of 1 John 5.7–8 and used it to defend the
doctrine of the Trinity. Others, believing the passage to be Scripture, have
given internal evidence for the inclusion of the passage. This evidence,
which comes from the passage itself, has been cited throughout the centuries
in defence of the passage and of the Trinity which it supports.
The Eighteenth Century: Matthew Henry
Matthew Henry (1662–1714), the Welsh Nonconformist Bible commentator,
"was a faithful, humble, devout, orthodox minister of the gospel, a loving
pastor of souls, and a wise spiritual father. [He was] famous for his
Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, now commonly known as
Matthew Henry’s Commentaries…The value of his Commentaries lies not in
their critical, but in their practical and devotional emphasis."  Henry
 was not unconcerned about the Greek manuscript support of 1 John 5 7–8,
but regarding it he says, "It is alleged that many old Greek manuscripts
have it not. We shall not here enter into the controversy. It should seem
that the critics are not agreed what manuscripts have it and what not; nor
do they sufficiently inform us of the integrity and value of the manuscripts
they peruse… But let the judicious collators of copies manage that business.
There are some rational surmises that seem to support the present text and
reading."  In this regard, Henry gives several ‘rational surmises’:
(1.) If we [delete] v. 7, [v. 8] looks too like a…repetition of what was
included in v. 6… This does not assign near so noble an introduction of
these three witnesses as our present reading does.
(2.) It is observed that many copies read that distinctive clause, upon
the earth: There are three that bear record upon the earth. Now this
bears a visible opposition to some witness or witnesses elsewhere, and
therefore we are told, by the adversaries of the text, that this clause must
be supposed to be omitted in most books that want v. 7. But it should for
the same reason be so in all. Take we v. 6… It would not now naturally and
properly be added, For there are three that bear record on earth,
unless we should suppose that the apostle would tell us that all the
witnesses are such as are on earth, when yet he would assure us that one is
infallibly true, or even truth itself.
(3.) It is observed that there is a variety of reading even in the Greek
(4.) The seventh verse is very agreeable to the style and the theology of
our apostle… It is most suitable then to the diction and to the gospel of
this apostle thus to mention the Holy Ghost as a witness for Jesus Christ.
(5.) It was far more easy for a transcriber, by turning away his eye, or by
the obscurity of the copy, it being obliterated or defaced on the top or
bottom of a page, or worn away in such materials as the ancients had to
write upon, to lose and omit the page, than for an interpolator to devise
and insert it. He must be very bold and impudent who could hope to escape
detection and shame; and profane too, who durst venture to make an addition
to a supposed sacred book. And,
(6.) It can scarcely be supposed that, when the apostle is representing the
Christian’s faith in overcoming the world, and the foundation it relies upon
in adhering to Jesus Christ, and the various testimony that was given to
Jesus Christ in the world, he should omit the supreme testimony that
attended him, especially when we consider that he meant to infer, as he does
(v.9)… Now in the three witnesses on earth there is neither all the witness
of God, nor indeed any witness who is truly and immediately God. The
antitrinitarian opposers of the text will deny that either the Spirit, or
the water, or the blood, is God himself; but, upon our present reading, here
is a noble enumeration of the several witnesses and testimonies supporting
the truth of the Lord Jesus and the divinity of his institution. Here is the
most excellent abridgment or abbreviate of the motives to faith in Christ,
of the credentials the Saviour brings with him, and of the evidences of our
Christianity, that is to be found, I think, in the book of God, upon which
single account, even waiving the doctrine of the divine Trinity, the text is
worthy of all acceptation. 
"Having these rational grounds on our side," Henry says, "we proceed." 
He than continues with a discussion of the passage itself with its "trinity
of heavenly witnesses",  ending this section by stating that "These
three witnesses (being more different than the three former) are not so
properly said to be one as to be for one, to be for one and
the same purpose and cause, or to agree in one, in one and the same
thing among themselves, and in the same testimony with those who bear record
from heaven." 
The Nineteenth Century: Robert Lewis Dabney
In addition, 1 John 5.7–8 is not without witnesses in the nineteenth
century. Well known among these is Robert Lewis Dabney. Dabney "was
the most conspicuous figure and the leading theological guide of the
[American] Southern Presbyterian Church, the most prolific theological
writer that Church has as yet produced… As a preacher, as a teacher and as a
writer equally he achieved greatness… [He helped] reorganize the historical
faith of the Reformed Churches in the face of the theological ferment which
marked the earlier years of the Nineteenth Century."  Of the
Johannine Comma Dabney says, "The often-contested text in 1 John v. 7
also furnishes us a good instance of the value of that internal evidence
which the recent critics profess to discard."  "The internal evidence
against this excision, then, is in the following strong points:
First, if it be made, the masculine article, numeral, and particle
are made to agree directly with three neuters—an insuperable and very bald
grammatical difficulty. But if the disputed words are allowed to stand, they
agree directly with two masculines and one neuter noun…where, according to a
well known rule of syntax, the masculines among the group control the gender
over a neuter connected with them…
Second, if the excision is made, the eighth verse coming next to the
sixth, gives us a very bald and awkward, and apparently meaningless,
repetition of the Spirit’s witness twice in immediate succession.
Third, if the excision is made, then the proposition at the end of
the eighth verse [and these three agree in one], contains an unintelligible
reference… "And these three agree to that (aforesaid) One"… What is that
aforesaid unity to which these three agree? If the seventh verse is
exscinded, there is none… Let the seventh verse stand, and all is clear: the
three earthly witnesses testify to that aforementioned unity which the
Father, Word, and Spirit constitute." 
"There is a coherency in the whole which presents a very, strong internal
evidence for the genuineness of the received text." 
Dabney then reminds his readers of the circumstances under which the apostle
John wrote his first epistle. "The purpose of his writing was to warn [the
recipients] against seducers (ii.26), whose heresy, long predicted, was now
developed, and was characterized by a denial of the proper sonship (ii.26)
and incarnation (iv.2) of Jesus Christ." In response to these heresies, in
5.7 the apostle declares "the unity of the Father, Word, and Spirit, and
with the strictest accuracy". He declares "the proper humanity of Jesus, and
the actual shedding and application by the Spirit of that water and blood of
whose effusion he was himself eye-witness, and to which he testifies in his
gospel so emphatically, in chapter xix. 34,35… Now, when we hear the apostle
tell his ‘children,’ in the chapter above cited from his own Epistle, that
the two heresies against whose seductions he designed by this writing to
guard them were these, the denial of Christ’s sonship to God and the denial
of his incarnation, and…we see him in his closing testimony exclude
precisely these two errors." "Is it not hard to believe that he should,
under the circumstances, write anything but what the received text ascribes
to him? If we let the seventh verse stand, then the whole passage is framed,
with apostolic wisdom, to exclude at once both heresies." 
Dabney freely admits that, according to strict Greek manuscript tradition,
there is not strong manuscript support for the inclusion of 1 John 5.7. But
here "the Latin Church stands opposed to the Greek" church.  "There are
strong probable grounds to conclude, that the text of the Scriptures current
in the East received a mischievous modification at the hands of the famous
Origen."  "Those who are best acquainted with the history of Christian
opinion know best, that Origen was the great corrupter, and the source, or
at least earliest channel, of nearly all the speculative errors which
plagued the church in after ages… He disbelieved the full inspiration and
infallibility of the Scriptures, holding that the inspired men apprehended
and stated many things obscurely… He expressly denied the consubstantial
unity of the Persons and the proper incarnation of the Godhead—the very
propositions most clearly asserted in the doctrinal various readings we have
under review." 
Let the candid reader choose…in the light of these facts. We think
that he will conclude with us that the weight of probability is greatly
in favor of this theory, viz., that the Anti-trinitarians, finding
certain codices in which these doctrinal readings had been already lost
through the licentious criticism ofOrigen and his school, industriously
diffused them, while they also did what they dared to add to the
omissions of similar readings. 
The Twentieth Century: Edward F. Hills
During the twentieth century more and more Christians have been led into
the belief that the Johannine Comma is not properly part of Scripture
by its exclusion from, or bracketing in, many of the modern versions of the
Scriptures. However, Godly men continue to uphold the inclusion of the
passage. Among these is Edward Freer Hills. Hills "was a distinguished Latin
and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Yale University. He also earned the B.D.
degree from Westminster Theological Seminary and the Th. M. degree from
Columbia Theological Seminary," and the Th. D. in New Testament text
criticism from Harvard.  Yet in the midst of these textual critical
schools Hills maintained a strict conservatism which has placed him among
the staunchest supporters of the Textus Receptus.
Hills asserts that the Comma, indeed, does not have the Greek
manuscript support of many passages of Scripture. Erasmus omitted the
Comma from the first edition (1516) of his printed Greek New Testament,
but restored it in his third edition (1522).  Some believe the inclusion
to be the result of trickery; "but whatever may have been the immediate
cause, still, in the last analysis, it was not trickery which was
responsible for the inclusion of the Johannine comma in the Textus
Receptus but the usage of the Latin-speaking Church. It was this usage which
made men feel that this reading ought to be included in the Greek text and
eager to keep it there after its inclusion had been accomplished. Back of
this usage, we may well believe, was the guiding providence of God." 
As noted, Hills gives ample evidence that the passage was in use well before
the 15th century. But there is more evidence for the inclusion of the
passage than just this. "On the basis of the external evidence it is at
least possible that the Johannine comma is a reading that somehow
dropped out of the Greek New Testament text but was preserved in the Latin
text through the usage of the Latin-speaking Church, and this possibility
grows more and more toward probability as we consider the internal
In the first place, how did the Johannine comma originate if
it be not genuine, and how did it come to be interpolated into the Latin
New Testament text?… Why does it not contain the usual trinitarian
formula, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Why does it
exhibit the singular combination, never met with elsewhere, the Father,
the Word, and the Holy Spirit?
In the second place, the omission of the Johannine comma seems to
leave the passage incomplete. For it is a common scriptural usage to
present solemn truths or warnings in groups of three or four, for
example, the repeated Three things, yea four of Proverbs 30, and
the constantly recurring refrain, for three transgressions and for
four, of the prophet Amos… It is in accord with biblical usage,
therefore, to expect that in 1 John 5.7–8 the formula, there are
three that bear witness, will be repeated at least twice. When the
Johannine comma is included, the formula is repeated twice. When
the comma is omitted, the formula is repeated only once, which
In the third place, the omission of the Johannine comma involves
a grammatical difficulty. The words spirit, water, and
blood are neuter in gender, but in 1 John 5:8 they are treated as
masculine. If the Johannine comma is rejected, it is hard to
explain this irregularity. It is usually said that in 1 John 5.8 the
spirit, the water, and the blood are personalized and that this is
the reason for the adoption of the masculine gender. But it is hard to
see how such personalization would involve the change from the neuter to
the masculine. For in verse 6 the word Spirit plainly refers to the Holy
Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity. Surely in this verse the
word Spirit is "personalized," and yet the neuter gender is used.
Therefore, since personalization did not bring about a change of gender
in verse 6, it cannot fairly be pleaded as the reason for such a change
in verse 8. If, however, the Johannine comma is retained, a
reason for placing the neuter nouns spirit, water, and
blood in the masculine gender becomes readily apparent. It was due
to the influence of the nouns Father and Word, which are
masculine. Thus the hypothesis that the Johannine comma is an
interpolation is full of difficulties. 
Conclusions as we go into the Twenty-first Century
The view on 1 John 5.7 through the centuries, held by many Godly men, has
been that the passage and its testimony of the Trinity by every right must
maintain its place in the Scriptures. Thus the Trinitarian Bible Society
continues to uphold this passage as inspired by God and profitable for
doctrine. As we go into the twenty-first century we maintain the faithful
testimony to the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity as found in 1 John 5.7–8
in order that all men may know our Triune God: Father, Word and Holy Ghost.
 Included in the English versions which omit the passage without note are
the American Standard Version, the New Century Version, the Revised Standard
Version, the Good News Bible (which some Bible societies use as the basis
for their modem translations into other languages), the Revised English
Bible, the Modem Language Bible, the New English Bible and the New Testament
in Modern English by Phillips. Additionally, some versions add to the
confusion over this passage by renumbering the verses. Among these are the
American Standard, the New American Standard Bible and the Revised Standard
 See the quotation from John Stott in the text.
 Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter II. iii. In the Scripture
proofs for the statement of the Trinity, "God the Father, God the Son, and
God the Holy Ghost", 1 John 5.7 is quoted.
 J. R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Wm
B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), p. 180.
 MS61 [Bruce M. Metzger, The Test of the New Testament: Its
Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1992), p. 62].
 This type of information, which has made its way into the margins of
many editions of the Bible, has led to much confusion in our century, and
thus confusion among Christians as to the validity of the passage. The Ryrie
Study Bible says that "verse 7 should end with the word witness. The
remainder of v. 7 and part of v 8 are not in any ancient Greek manuscript,
only in later Latin manuscripts" (p. 1918). The New International Version
claims that vv. 7–8 are from "late manuscripts of the Vulgate" and are "not
found in any Greek manuscript before the sixteenth century" (p. 906). The
New American Standard Bible says that "a few late [manuscripts] read" the
disputed passage (p. 1066). The New Revised Standard Version says that "a
few other authorities read (with variations)" the verses (p. 261) The
Amplified Version has the disputed words in italics but gives no notation as
to why (p. 380).The Scofield Reference Bible states that "it is generally
agreed that v. 7 has no real authority, and has been inserted" (p. 1325);
the New Scofield Reference Bible reiterates this sentiment. Even the New
King James Version indicates that the passage is not worthy of status as
Scripture ["NU, M omit the words from in heaven (v 7) through on
earth (v. 8). Only 4 or 5 very late Mss. contain these words in Greek"
 Metzger lists Greg. 88 from the twelfth century, Tisch. w 110 from the
sixteenth century and Greg. 629 from the fourteenth century as containing 1
John 5.7 (Ibid., pp. 101–102).
 The Spanish bishops are Priscillian and Idacius Clarus [Edward F. Hills,
The King James Version Defended (Des Moines, Iowa, USA: The Christian
Research Press, 1984), pp.209–10].
 Elgin S. Moyer, The Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church
(Chicago, IL, USA: Moody Press, 1982), p. 188.
 The section in Henry’s commentary on 1, 2 and 3 John was completed
posthumously using Henry’s notes and writings.
 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible
(Iowa Falls, Iowa, USA: Riverside Book and Bible House, n. d.), VI.1090–91.
 lbid., pp. 1091–92.
 Ibid., p 1092.
 lbid., p, 1094.
 R. L Dabney, Discursions of Robert Lewis Dabney, biographical
sketch by B. B. Warfield,2 vols. (Carlisle, PA, USA: The Banner of Truth
Trust, 1967), back book jacket.
 Ibid., p.377.
 Ibid., p.378.
 Ibid., p.380.
 Ibid., pp.379–81.
 Ibid., pp. 381–82.
 lbid., p 382.
 Origen’s "opinions on the Trinity veered between Sabellianism and
Arianism.’ (Ibid., pp.383–84).
 Ibid., p. 389.
 Hills, back cover.
 According to Hills, Erasmus reinserted the passage "on the basis of
manuscript 61, which was later supported by the presence of the verse in
Codex Ravianus, in the margin of 88, and in 629" (Ibid., p. 209).