The Debate Over 1 John 5:7, part 1

Before I get into this, I want to make it clear that I am NOT King James only! Now, having said that….

I happen to agree with the rendering of 1 John 5:7 as is found (only) in the KJV and the NKJV of the Bible, which are the only two versions of the Bible which are based on the Textus Receptus or Received Text (also called the Majority Text); the greek version of the New Testament which was compiled by Erasmus. The rest of the translations which are published today are based on Textual Criticism. I find it interesting that the Greek text used primarily today is called ‘critical’ concerning the word of God, not that that necessarily means or proves a negative connotation in and of itself. But I sort of have a knee jerk negative reaction to those terms when used in context with the compilation of The Word of God. I have heard most of the arguments against verse 7 as rendered in the Received Text, but I still do not agree that the verse was added as a marginal note only. I have even heard of the alleged pressure placed upon Erasmus to include this verse as he finally did. Simply put, we do not have any of the original documents in which these words of sacred writ were originally deposited. And as you read and hear more concerning textual debate, remember, older does not necessarily mean more reliable, and newer does not necessarily mean less reliable.

I’m not really trying to argue or debate about the Received Text against Textual Criticism, but at any rate, I suppose it will come into play to some degree. What I will principally aim at doing here, is to look into the authors who have helped me in my endeavor of understanding the word of God to see what they have to say on this verse from commentaries and other works which may deal with this verse. I don’t know how many posts this will become, as I plan on adding to it over time. Please feel free to leave comments or links or other quotes you may have found helpful.

The NKJV….

For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.

versus the ESV…

For there are three that testify:

Very few deny the exegetical prowess of John Calvin so I will start with him. Calvin endorses the Majority Text reading of verse 7 as he understood it.

7. There are three than bear record in heaven. The whole of this verse has been by some omitted. Jerome thinks that this has happened through design rather than through mistake, and that indeed only on the part of the Latins. But as even the Greek copies do not agree, I dare not assert any thing on the subject. Since, however, the passage flows better when this clause is added, and as I see that it is found in the best and most approved copies, I am inclined to receive it as the true reading.  And the meaning would be, that God, in order to confirm most abundantly our faith in Christ, testifies in three ways that we ought to acquiesce in him. For as our faith acknowledges three persons in the one divine essence, so it is called in so really ways to Christ that it may rest on him.
When he says,
These three are one, he refers not to essence, but on the contrary to consent; as though he had said that the Father and his eternal Word and Spirit harmoniously testify the same thing respecting Christ. Hence some copies have εἰς ἓν, “for one.” But though you read ἓν εἰσιν, as in other copies, yet there is no doubt but that the Father, the Word and the Spirit are said to be one, in the same sense in which afterwards the blood and the water and the Spirit are said to agree in one.
But as the Spirit, who is one witness, is mentioned twice, it seems to be an unnecessary repetition. To this I reply, that since he testifies of Christ in various ways, a twofold testimony is fitly ascribed to him. For the Father, together with his eternal Wisdom and Spirit, declares Jesus to be the Christ as it were authoritatively, then, in this ease, the sole majesty of the deity is to be considered by us. But as the Spirit, dwelling in our hearts, is an earnest, a pledge, and a seal, to confirm that decree, so he thus again speaks on earth by his grace.
But inasmuch as all do not receive this reading, I will therefore so expound what follows, as though the Apostle referred to the witnesses only on the earth.

-John Calvin, Commentary on 1 John

6 thoughts on “The Debate Over 1 John 5:7, part 1

  1. Also, to be more clear, I use a New American Standard as my primary English version of the Bible for reading and studying, which I might add, reads more like the ESV.
    I am more concerned with 1 John 5:7 than any other passage in the debate. In this I will be looking at mainly the Puritans and other Reformed leaders, not so recent (i.e. before the twentieth century), for their comments on this passage.
    And yes, I also understand that it was into the twentieth century that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered which were used to confirm textual criticism. But textual criticism had begun long before these were ever discovered. I have found several quotes by Christian leaders from 200 to 400 years ago who knew of the historical critique of 1 John 5:7, and still asserted their endorsement of it. Most of the men that I will quote, have been hallmark theologians of the reformed system of beliefs.

  2. Ah, the question is, are the individuals you are citing before or after the more recent manuscript findings so that their judgments regarding the inclusion of the verse are based on full disclosure (so to speak)? All things considered, arguments about verses such as these are not as important at least with reference to the content in question. Which is to say, this verse does not define a new doctrine that would be lost if not in the original documents. In most cases (99.9%? maybe?), differences between the multitudes of manuscripts for the New Testament change nothing of Christian doctrine. Now if a manuscript family were to be shown to systematically remove all, and I mean all, references to any particular key element of Christianity, then would be the time to issue a call to arms.

    1. That is a very good point Interface. I have often wondered what these men would have said had they known about the manuscript evidence to be discovered, i.e. the Dead Sea Scrolls.
      One of the reasons I picked this verse to blog on is because it’s canonicity it seems has always been in question and to my surprise, a lot of of the Puritans I have read and Reformers from that time period endorse and to some degree even defend it’s inclusion in Scripture.
      I am not really trying to issue a call to arms so I guess, on hindsight, my tone in this post is due to me not wanting to be misunderstood as a KJV only advocate (the double inspiration camp). In case I did not mention it, I am not one! Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt, and threw it away. It didn’t fit.
      And well said on your part:
      “this verse does not define a new doctrine that would be lost if not in the original documents.”
      Very good! The theology in this verse is certainly not exclusive to it.

  3. Sorry I’m jumping in late here … I have never stopped by before. Nice blog!

    Just a quick note regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls. They really have no bearing on NT textual criticism. Allegro and some others thought that there were portions of the NT found at Qumran, but most have noted the *huge* liberties that must be taken with the scrolls to turn those fragments into NT texts. (Most look like portions of 1 Enoch and other pseudepigraphal texts.) The DSS do help us understand both the fluidity and stability (depending on the OT book) of the OT texts in the last few centuries BC, but don’t really affect how NT text criticism is done.

    Just wanted to chime in!

  4. Hello Andrew, welcome and thank you for stopping by! I really enjoy what you and Shane are doing over at TRR.

    Thanks for your comment and for the correction on the DSS. For some reason I was lumping the Alexandrian Texts in with the DSS mistakenly. Looks like I need to do some more homework. Any suggestions on resource material you would recommend or have used?

    Again, Andrew, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
    God Bless!
    Brandon

  5. You said, “But as the Spirit, who is one witness, is mentioned twice, it seems to be an unnecessary repetition.”

    I disagree. I think that 1 John 5:6 and 1 John 5:8 logically belong together, and that the added verse (1 John 5:7) interferes with the logic of those two verses.

    John says in 1 John 5:6 that the Son came through the water and the Blood, and then he says in the same verse that the Spirit, which is the truth, is the one witness bearing witness regarding the Son.

    This correlates with John 15:26, where John quotes Jesus to say that the Spirit of the truth must be sent from the Father in heaven to the people on earth in order to bear witness regarding the Son.

    According to John 15:26 and 1 John 5:6, the Spirit of the truth is the only witness bearing witness regarding the Son, and the Spirit bears witness on earth, not in heaven, which refutes the false statement in the added verse (1 John 5:7) that the Spirit bears witness in heaven regarding the Son. This in itself is proof that John did not write the added verse (1 John 5:7).

    The Law (Deuteronomy 19:15) states that one witness (one man) is unacceptable. There must be two or three witnesses (two or three men) bearing witness regarding any matter in order to establish the truth regarding the matter.

    Thus, the one witness (the Spirit) regarding the Son in 1 John 5:6 is unacceptable in the eyes of the law (Deuteronomy 19:15).

    That is why John, in the very next verse (1 John 5:8 / John did not write 1 John 5:7), adds the water and the Blood (through which the Son came in 1 John 5:6) to the Spirit (the one witness regarding the Son in 1 John 5:6) as a second and third witness bearing witness regarding the Son in compliance with the requirement in the Law (Deuteronomy 19:15) for two or three witnesses (two or three men).

    That is also why John uses the masculine gender in 1 John 5:8 in reference to the three men (the-ones bearing-witness / the three-ones in 1 John 5:8, who are the three men in the witness of-the men in 1 John 5:9) to whom John is comparing the Spirit, water and Blood (the three witnesses in the witness of-the God in 1 John 5:9) as a description of compliance with the Law (Deuteronomy 19:15) in 1 John 5:8.

    The reason that John changes the sequence from the water and the Blood (through which the Son came) and the Spirit (the one witness regarding the Son) in 1 John 5:6 to the Spirit and the water and the Blood (the three witnesses regarding the Son) in 1 John 5:8 is that John adds the water and the Blood (through which the Son came) to the Spirit (the one witness regarding the Son) as a second and third witness regarding the Son in compliance with the Law (Deuteronomy 19:15).

    That is the significance of the change in sequence between 1 John 5:6 and 1 John 5:8, which is obscured by the added verse that John never wrote (1 John 5:7). That is also the significance of the masculine gender in 1 John 5:8 in reference to the three men to whom the Spirit, water and Blood are being compared in 1 John 5:8.

    Just as John quotes Jesus to be comparing the Father and Son (the two witnesses regarding the Son) to the two “men” (explicitly quoted by John) required in the Law (Deuteronomy 19:15) to bear witness regarding any matter in John 8:17-18, likewise John compares the Spirit, water and Blood (the three witnesses regarding the Son) to the three “men” (explicitly stated by John) required in the Law (Deuteronomy 19:15) to bear witness regarding any matter in 1 John 5:8-9.

    The same comparison of the two or three witnesses in the witness of God regarding his Son to the two or three witnesses (the two or three men) in the witness of the men regarding any matter (as required in the Law) occurs both in John 8:17-18 and in 1 John 5:8-9.

    The Spirit and the water and the Blood / the greater witness of the God regarding the Son is being compared to the ones bearing witness / the three ones / the accepted witness of the men regarding any matter in the Law.

    The added verse (1 John 5:7) obscures all of that.

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