1 John 5:7 Examined


Albert Barnes’


For there are three that bear record in heaven … – There are three that “witness,” or that “bear witness” – the same Greek word which, in 1 John 5:8, is rendered “bear witness” – μαρτυροῦντες marturountes. There is no passage of the New Testament which has given rise to so much discussion in regard to its genuineness as this. The supposed importance of the verse in its bearing on the doctrine of the Trinity has contributed to this, and has given to the discussion a degree of consequence which has pertained to the examination of the genuineness of no other passage of the New Testament. On the one hand, the clear testimony which it seems to bear to the doctrine of the Trinity, has made that portion of the Christian church which holds the doctrine reluctant in the highest degree to abandon it; and on the other hand, the same clearness of the testimony to that doctrine, has made those who deny it not less reluctant to admit the genuineness of the passage.


It is not consistent with the design of these notes to go into a full investigation of a question of this sort. And all that can be done is to state, in a brief way, the “results” which have been reached, in an examination of the question. The portion of the passage, in 1 John 5:7-8, whose genuineness is disputed, is included in brackets in the following quotation, as it stands in the common editions of the New Testament: 7: “For there are three that bear record (IN HEAVEN, THE FATHER, THE WORD, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT: AND THESE THREE ARE ONE. AND THERE ARE THREE THAT BEAR WITNESS ON EARTH,) 8: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.” If the disputed passage, therefore, be omitted as spurious, the whole passage will read, “FOR THERE ARE THREE THAT BEAR RECORD, THE SPIRIT, AND THE WATER, AND THE BLOOD; AND THESE THREE AGREE IN ONE.” The reasons which seem to me to prove that the passage included in brackets is spurious, and should not be regarded as a part of the inspired writings, are briefly the following:


  1. It is missing in all the earlier Greek manuscripts, for it is found in no Greek manuscript written before the 16th century. Indeed, it is found in only two Greek manuscripts of any age – one the Codex Montfortianus, or Britannicus, written in the beginning of the sixteenth century, and the other the Codex Ravianus, which is a mere transcript of the text, taken partly from the third edition of Stephen‘s New Testament, and partly from the Complutensian Polyglott. But it is incredible that a genuine passage of the New Testament should be missing in all the early Greek manuscripts.
  2. It is missing in the earliest versions, and, indeed, in a large part of the versions of the New Testament which have been made in all former times. It is wanting in both the Syriac versions – one of which was made probably in the first century; in the Coptic, Armenian, Slavonic, Ethiopic, and Arabic.
  3. It is never quoted by the Greek fathers in their controversies on the doctrine of the Trinity – a passage which would be so much in point, and which could not have failed to be quoted if it were genuine; and it is not referred to by the Latin fathers until the time of Vigilius, at the end of the 5th century. If the passage were believed to be genuine – nay, if it were known at all to be in existence, and to have any probability in its favor – it is incredible that in all the controversies which occurred in regard to the divine nature, and in all the efforts to define the doctrine of the Trinity, this passage should never have been referred to. But it never was; for it must be plain to anyone who examines the subject with an unbiassed mind, that the passages which are relied on to prove that it was quoted by Athanasius, Cyprian, Augustin, etc., (Wetstein, II., p. 725) are not taken from this place, and are not such as they would have made if they had been acquainted with this passage, and had designed to quote it.
  4. The argument against the passage from the external proof is confirmed by internal evidence, which makes it morally certain that it cannot be genuine.
      • 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?
      • The “language” is not such as John would use. He does, indeed, elsewhere use the term “Logos,” or “Word” – ὁ Λόγος 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” – ὁ Υἱός 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.
      • 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.
  5. It is easy to imagine how the passage found a place in the New Testament. Some Latin scribe caught up Cyprian’s exegesis and wrote it on the margin of his text as expressing the belief of the writer of what was true in heaven, as well as on earth, and with no more intention to deceive than we have when we make a marginal note in a book. Some transcriber copied it into the body of the text, with a sincere belief that it was a genuine passage, omitted by accident; and then it became too important a passage in the argument for the Trinity, ever to be displaced but by the most clear critical evidence. It was rendered into Greek, and inserted in one Greek manuscript of the 16th century, while it was missing in all the earlier manuscripts and so it got into the Vulgate and finally into the Textus Receptus (by the stupidity of Erasmus).
  6. The passage is now omitted in the best editions of the Greek Testament, and regarded as spurious by the ablest critics. See Griesbach and Hahn. On the whole, therefore, the evidence seems to be clear that this passage is not a genuine portion of the inspired writings, and should not be appealed to in proof of the doctrine of the Trinity. One or two remarks may be made, in addition, in regard to its use.
  7. Even on the supposition that it is genuine, as Bengel believed it was, and as he believed that some Greek manuscript would still be found which would contain it, yet it is not wise to adduce it as a proof-text. It would be much easier to try prove the doctrine of the Trinity from other texts, than to demonstrate the genuineness of this.
  8. It is not necessary as a proof-text. The doctrine which it contains can be argued from other parts of the New Testament.
  9. The removal of this text does nothing to weaken the evidence for Christ being Messiah because prophecies and Synoptic prove so.
  10. Robertson’s NT Word Pictures: For there are three who bear witness (hoti treis eisin hoi marturountes). At this point the Latin Vulgate gives the words in the Textus Receptus, found in no Greek MS save two late cursives (162 IN THE VATICAN LIBRARY OF THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY, 34 OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY IN TRINITY COLLEGE, DUBLIN). Jerome did not have it. CYPRIAN applies the language of the Trinity and Priscillian has it. ERASMUS did not have it in his first edition, BUT RASHLY OFFERED TO INSERT IT IF A SINGLE GREEK MS HAD IT and 34 WAS PRODUCED WITH THE INSERTION, as if made to order. The spurious addition is: en tôi ouranôi ho patêr, ho logos kai to hagion pneuma kai houtoi hoi treis hen eisin kai treis eisin hoi marturountes en têi gêi (IN HEAVEN, THE FATHER, THE WORD, AND THE HOLY GHOST: AND THESE THREE ARE ONE. AND THERE ARE THREE THAT BEAR WITNESS IN EARTH). The last clause belongs to verse 8.


Adam Clarke’s NOTES:


It is wanting in both the Syriac, all the Arabic, Ethiopic, the Coptic, Sahidic, Armenian, Slavonian, etc., in a word, in all the ancient versions but the Vulgate; and even of this version many of the most ancient and correct MSS. have it not. It is wanting also in all the ancient Greek fathers; and in most even of the Latin.


The words, as they exist in all the Greek MSS. with the exception of the Codex Montfortii, are the following: –


Jo1 5:6. This is he that came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness because the Spirit is truth.


Jo1 5:7. For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.


Jo1 5:9. If we receive the witness of man, the witness of God is greater, etc.”


The words that are omitted by all the MSS., the above excepted, and all the versions, the Vulgate excepted, are these: –


[In heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one, and there are three which bear witness in earth].


Any man may see, on examining the words, that if those included in brackets, which are wanting in the MSS. and versions, be omitted, there is no want of connection; and as to the sense, it is complete and perfect without them; and, indeed much more so than with them. I shall conclude this part of the note by observing, with Dr. Dodd, “that there are some internal and accidental marks which may render the passage suspected; for the sense is complete, and indeed clearer and better preserved, without it. Besides, the Spirit is mentioned, both as a witness in heaven and on earth; so that the six witnesses are thereby reduced to five, and the equality of number, or antithesis between the witnesses in heaven and on earth, is quite taken away. Besides, what need of witnesses in heaven? No one there doubts that Jesus is the Messiah; and if it be said that Father, Son, and Spirit are witnesses on earth, then there are five witnesses on earth, and none in heaven; not to say that there is a little difficulty in interpreting how the Word or the Son can be a witness to himself.”


It may be necessary to inquire how this verse stood in our earliest English Bibles. In Coverdale’s Bible, printed about 1535, for it bears no date, the seventh verse is put in brackets thus: –


And it is the Sprete that beareth wytnes; for the Sprete is the truth. (For there are thre which beare recorde in heaven: the Father, the Woorde, and the Holy Ghost, and these thre are one.) And there are thre which beare record in earth: the Sprete, water, and bloude and these thre are one. If we receyve, etc.


Tindal was as critical as he was conscientious; and though he admitted the words into the text of the first edition of his New Testament printed in 1526, yet he distinguished them by a different letter, and put them in brackets, as Coverdale has done; and also the words in earth, which stand in Jo1 5:8, without proper authority, and which being excluded make the text the same as in the MSS., etc.


Two editions of this version one printed in English and Latin, quarto, with the following title: –


The New Testament, both in Englyshe and Laten, of Master Erasmus translation – and imprinted by William Powell – the yere of out Lorde M.CCCCC.XLVII. And the fyrste yere of the kynges (Edw. VI.) moste gratious reygne.


In this edition the text stands thus: –

And it is the Spirite that beareth wytnes, because the Spirite is truth (for there are thre whiche beare recorde in heaven, the Father, the Worde, and the Holy Ghost, and these thre are one.) For there are thre which beare recorde, (in earth), the Spirite, water, and blode, and these thre are one. If we receyve, etc.


The other printed in London “by William Tylle, 4 to; WITHOUT THE LATIN OF ERASMUS in M.CCCCC.XLIX. the thyrde yere of the reigne of our moost dreade Soverayne Lorde Kynge Edwarde the Syxte,” has, with a small variety of spelling, the text in the same order, and the same words included in brackets as above.


The English Bible, with the book of Common Prayer, printed by Richard Cardmarden, at Rouen in Normandy, fol. 1566, exhibits the text faithfully, but in the following singular manner: –


And it is the Spyryte that beareth witnesse, because the Spyryte is truthe. (for there are three which beare recorde in heaven, the Father, the Woorde, and the Holy Ghost; and these Three are One) And three which beare recorde* (in earth) the Spirite, and water, and bloode; and these three are one.


The first English Bible which I have seen, where these distinctions were omitted, is that called The Bishops’ Bible, printed by Jugge, fol. 1568. Since that time, all such distinctions have been generally disregarded.




The seventh verse of the fifth chapter of 1 John, has given rise to more theological disputes than any other portion of the sacred writings.


Advocates and antagonists have arisen in every quarter of the civilized world: but the dispute has been principally confined to the Unitarians of all classes, and those called Orthodox; the former asserting that it is an interpolation, and the latter contending that it is a part of the original text of St. John. It is asserted that (one excepted, which shall be noticed by and by) all the Greek MSS. written before the invention of printing omit the passage in dispute. How the seventh and eighth verses stand in these may be seen in the following view, where the words included between brackets are those which are wanting in the MSS.


“oti treiv eisin oi marturountev ([entw ouranw, o pathr, o logov, kai to agion pneuma? kai outoi oi treiv en eisi. kai treiv eisin oi marturountev en gh” – ) to pneuma, kai to udwr, kai to aima? kai oi treiv eiv to en eisin.




  1. The Codex Guelpherbytanus G, which is demonstrably a MS. of the seventeenth century; (for it contains the Latin translation of Beza, written by the same hand,) and therefore of no use or importance in sacred criticism.


  1. The Codex Ravianus or Berolinensis, which is a forgery, and only a copy of the Greek text in the Complutensian Polyglot, printed in 1514, and so close an imitation of it, that it copies even its typographical errors; hence, and from the similarity of the letters, it appears to have been forged that it might pass for the original MS. from which the Complutensian text was taken. In this MS. some various readings are inserted from the margin of Stevens’ edition of 1550.


  1. The Codex Montfortii, or Codex Dubliniensis, cited by ERASMUS, under the title of Codex Britannicus, in Trinity College, Dublin. This may be said to be the only genuine MS. which contains this text; as no advocate of the sacred doctrine contained in the disputed passage would wish to lay any stress whatever on such evidence as the two preceding ones afford.


Michaelis roundly asserts, vol. iv., page 417, of his Introductory Lectures, that this MS. was written after the year 1500. It is the work of an unknown bold critic, who formed a text from one or more MSS. in conjunction with the Vulgate, and was by no means sparing of his own conjectural emendations; for it contains many various readings which exist in no other MS. yet discovered. But how far the writer has in any place faithfully copied the text of any ancient MS. is more than can be determined. To give the reader a fair view of this subject, here subjoined is a what we may call “a perfect fac- simile” of the seventh and eighth verses, as they exist in this MS., copied by the accurate hand of the Rev. Dr. Barrett, the learned librarian of Trinity College.


Quoting Adam Clarke “FAC-SIMILE of ver. 7-9, From the Codex Montfortii in Trinity College, Dublin. [Omitted” – When I examined the original myself, though I took down a transcript, yet I neglected to take a fac-simile. That no mistake might be made in a matter of so much importance, I got a fac-simile, and after it was engraved, had it collated with the MS. by Dr. Barrett himself, and the plate finished according to his last corrections; so that I hope it may be said every jot and every tittle belonging to the text are here fairly and faithfully represented; nothing being added, and nothing omitted. I have examined this MS. since, and have not been able to detect any inaccuracy in my fac-simile. To it I have annexed a perfect facsimile of the same words, as they stand in the Complutensian Polyglot, which the curious reader will be glad to see associated with the other, as they are properly the only Greek authorities on which the authenticity of the text of the Three Witnesses depends.


“FAC-SIMILE of ver. 7-9, From the Editio Princeps of the Greek Testament, printed at Complutum, in 1514. [Omitted” – It may be necessary to observe, First, That the five first lines of the fac-simile of the text in the Complutensian edition are at the top of the opposite page to that on which the other four lines are found. The alphabetical letters, mingled with the Greek text, are those which refer to the corresponding words in the Latin text, printed in a parallel column in the Complutensian Polyglot, and marked with the same letters to ascertain more easily the corresponding Greek and Latin words, for the benefit, I suppose, of learners. The column containing the Latin text, which is that of the Vulgate, is not introduced here, being quite unnecessary.


Second. The sixth and seventh lines of the fac-simile of the Codex Montfortii belong to the second page of that leaf on which the other five lines are written.


This MS. is-a thick duodecimo, written on paper, without folios. There is an inscription in it in these words, Sum Thomae Clementis, olim fratris Froyhe. On this inscription Dr. Barrett remarks: “It appears Froyhe was a Franciscan; and I find in some blank leaves in the book these words written (by the same hand, in my opinion, that wrote the MS.) insouv maria fragkiskov; by the latter, I understand the founder of that order.” If St. Francis d’Assise be here meant, who was the founder of the order of Franciscans, and the inscription be written by the same who wrote the MS., then the MS. could not have been written before the thirteenth century, as St. Francis founded his order in 1206, and died in 1226, and consequently quotes that the MS. could not have been written in the eleventh century, as Mr. Martin of Utrecht, and several others, have imagined.


Much stress has been laid on the dots over the i and u which frequently appear in this MS. Montfaucon has observed, Palaeographia Graeca, page 33, that such dots were in use a thousand years ago: hence the advocates of the antiquity of the Codex Montfortii have inferred that this MS. must have been written at least in the tenth or eleventh century. But as these are found in modern MSS. (see Palaeog. pages 324, 333,) they are therefore no proof of antiquity. In Michaelis’ Introduction, vol. ii., page 286, where he is describing the MSS. of the Greek Testament, he gives the text in question as it is supposed to exist in the Codex Montfortii, in which two dots appear over every iota and upsilon in the whole five lines there introduced; but on comparing this of Michaelis with the fac-simile here produced, the reader will at once perceive that the arrangement is false, and the dotting egregiously inaccurate. Deceived by this false representation, Dr. Marsh, (bishop of Peterborough,) in his notes on the passage, page 754, observes, “that no MS. written in small characters before the twelfth century has these dots. That a MS. written in the twelfth century has these dots sometimes on the iota, but never on the upsilon; but MSS. written in the fourteenth century have these dots on both letters, but not in all cases. Now as these letters are dotted always in the Codex Montfortianus, but not always in the MSS. of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and still less often in those of the twelfth century, we may infer that the Codex Montfortianus is at least as modern as the fifteenth century.” On this quotation I beg leave to make a few remarks.


Dr. Marsh says, “that no MS. written in small letters previous to the twelfth century has these dots.” This excellent critic has only to consult the Palaeographia Graeca, page 293, in which he will find No. 1, a fac-simile of one of the Colbert MSS. (No. 4954,) written A. D. 1022, where the iota appears thrice dotted; and in No. 2, on the same page, another fac-simile of a MS. written A. D. 1045, the iota is dotted in the word ihsou. Ibid., page 283, (No. 7,) a MS. written in 986, has the iota twice dotted in the word iemenei. Ibid., page 275, (No. 2,) a MS. of the ninth or beginning of the tenth century, has the iota dotted in acaiav? and in No. 3, a specimen of the Codex Regius, (No. 2271,) written A. D. 914, the iota is dotted in qeikhn. Ibid., page 271, (No. 4,) written about 890, the iota is dotted in ierwn? and in Spec. v. in the word poiia. See also Ibid., page 320, No. 3, another of the Colbert MSS. (4111,) written A. D. 1236, where the iota is dotted seven times. All these specimens are taken from MSS. written in small characters, and, as the dates show, (the last excepted,) long before the twelfth century. As to these dots being more frequent in manuscripts of the fifteenth than those of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, I cannot say much; it is certain they became more frequent towards the fourteenth century than they were in the twelfth, and yet this was not a general case. In two well-written manuscripts now before me, one of which I suppose to be of the fourteenth century, and the other of the fifteenth, these dots often occur, but they are by no means regular. I have noticed several pages in the oldest manuscript where they occur but once; and in other pages they may be met with ten or twelve times. On the contrary, in the more recent manuscript, whole pages occur without one of them; and where they do occur, they are much less frequent than in the former. So that it rather appears from this evidence; that they began to disappear in the fifteenth century. Dr. Marsh, misled by the specimen in Michaelis, vol. ii. page 286, says: “THE LETTERS IN QUESTION ARE ALWAYS DOTTED IN THE CODEX MONTFORTIANUS.” BY REFERRING TO THE FAC-SIMILE, THE READER WILL BE ABLE AT ONCE TO CORRECT THIS MISTAKE. THE IOTA IN THE FAC-SIMILE OCCURS THIRTY TIMES, AND IS DOTTED ONLY IN FIVE INSTANCES; AND THE UPSILON OCCURS NINETEEN TIMES, AND IS DOTTED ONLY IN SEVEN.


But arguments for or against the age of any MS., on account of such dots, are futile in the extreme; as the most ancient MSS. have them not only on the iota and upsilon, but upon several other letters, as may be seen in the Codex Alexandrinus, the Codex Rescriptus, published by Dr. Barrett, and the Codex Bezae; in the latter of which they seem to occur more frequently than they do even in the Codex Montfortii.


On the evidence of these dots, Mr. Martin of Utrecht supposed the Dublin manuscript to be as old as the eleventh century and on the same evidence Dr. Marsh argues, “that it is at least as modern as the fifteenth.” Both these judgments are too hastily formed; medio tutissimus ibis is the best counsel in such a case; the manuscript is more likely to have been a production of the thirteenth than of either the eleventh or fifteenth. The former date is as much too high as the latter is too low; the zeal of the critics for and against this controverted text having carried them, in my opinion; much too far on either side.


In comparing the writing of the Codex Montfortii, with the different specimens given by Montfaucon in the Palaeographia Graeca, it appears to approach nearest to that on page 320, No. 4, which was taken from one of the Colbert manuscripts, (No. 845,) written in the year of our Lord 1272, which I am led to think may be nearly about the date of the Codex Montfortii; but on a subject of so much difficulty, where critics of the first rank have been puzzled, I should be sorry to hazard any more than an opinion, which the reader is at liberty to consider either correct or incorrect, as may seem best to his own judgment.


I must own the passage in question stands on a most dubious foundation. All the Greek manuscripts (the Codex Montfortii alone excepted) omit the passage; so do all the ancient versions; the Vulgate excepted; but in many of the ancient MSS. even of this version it is wanting. There is one in the British Museum, of the tenth or eleventh century, where it is added by a more recent hand in the margin; for it is wanting in the text. It is also variously written in those manuscripts which retain it.


For three ben that geven witnessing in heven the Fadir, the Word or Sone and the Hooly Goost, and these three ben oon. And three ben that geven witnessing in erthe, the Spirit, Water, and Blood, and these three ben oon.


As many suppose the Complutensian editors must have had a manuscript or manuscripts which contained this disputed passage, I judge it necessary to add the note which they subjoin at the bottom of the page, by which (though nothing is clearly expressed) it appears they either had such a manuscript, or wished to have it thought they had such. However, the note is curious, and shows us how this disputed passage was read in the most approved manuscripts of the Vulgate extant in the thirteenth century, when St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, from whom this note is taken. The following is the whole note literatim:- “Sanctus Thomas in oppositione secunde Decretalis de suma Trinitate et fide Catholica, tractans istum passum contra Abbatem Joachim, ut tres sunt qui testimonium dant in celo, Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus Sanctus; dicet ad literam verba sequentia. Et ad insinuandam unitatem trium personarum subditur. Et hii tres unum sunt. Quodquidem dicitur propter essentie Unitatem. Sed hoc Joachim perverse trahere volens ad unitatem charitatis et consensus, inducebat consequentem auctoritatem. Nam subditur ibidem: et tres sunt qui testimonium dant in terra, S. Spiritus: Aqua; et sanguis. Et in quibusdam libris additur: et hii tres unum sunt. Sed hoc in veris exemplaribus non habetur: sed dicitur esse appossitum ab hereticis arrianis ad pervertendum intellectem sanum auctoritatis premisse de unitate essentie trium personarum. Hec beatus Thomas ubi supra.” If the Complutensian editors translated the passage into Greek from the Vulgate, it is strange they made no mention of it in this place, where they had so fair an opportunity while speaking so very pointedly on the doctrine in question and forming a note for the occasion, which is indeed the only theological note in the whole volume. It is again worthy of note that, when these editors found an important various reading in any of their Greek manuscripts, they noted it in the margin: an example occurs 1 Cor. xiii. 3, and another, ibid. xvi.; why was it then that they took no notice of so important an omission as the text of the three witnesses, if they really had no manuscript in which it was contained? Did they intend to deceive the reader, and could they possibly imagine that the knavery could never be detected? If they designed to deceive, they took the most effectual way to conceal the fraud, as it is supposed they destroyed the manuscripts from which they printed their text; for the story of their being sold in 1749 to a rocket-maker (see Michaelis, vol. ii., page 440) is every way so exceptionable and unlike the truth, that I really wonder there should be found any person who would seriously give it credit. The substance of this story, as given by Michaelis, is as follows: “Professor Moldenhawer, who was in Spain in 1784, went to Alcala on purpose to discover these MSS., but was informed that a very illiterate librarian, about thirty-five years before, who wanted room for some new books, sold the ancient vellum MSS. as useless parchments, to one Toryo who dealt in fireworks, as materials for making rockets.” It is farther added that “Martinez, a man of learning, heard of it soon after they were sold, and hastened to save these treasures from destruction; but it was too late, for they were already destroyed, except a few scattered leaves which are now in the library.” On the whole of this account, it is natural to ask the following questions: Is it likely that the management of so important a trust should be in the hands of a person so ignorant that he could not know a Hebrew or Greek MS. from a piece of useless parchment? Could such a person be intrusted to make a purchase of new books for the library, for which he wanted room? or if they were purchased by the trustees of the library, is it likely they would leave the classification and arrangement of these to such a Goth as this librarian is said to be? Would such a librarian, or indeed any other, be permitted to dispose of any part of the library which he might deem useless? If Mr. Martinez heard of it soon after they were sold, and hastened to rescue them, is it likely that almost the whole should have been converted into rockets before he got to the place, when we are informed they were so many as to cost originally 4, 000 aurei; and that even the price which the librarian sold them for was so considerable, that it had to be paid at two different installments? Was it possible that in so short a time the rocket-maker could have already consumed the whole? The whole account is so improbable that I cannot help saying, Credat Judaeus Apella; non ego.


It is more likely the manuscripts were destroyed at first, or that they are still kept secret, to prevent the forgery (if it be one) of the text of the three witnesses from being detected; or the librarian already mentioned may have converted them to his own use. If they were not destroyed by the Complutensian editors, I should not be surprised if the same manuscripts should come to light in some other part of the world, if not in the Alcala library itself.


It is worthy of remark that Luther never admitted the text of the three witnesses into any of the editions of his translation; it is true it was afterwards added, but never during his lifetime. On this Professor Michaelis makes the following observation: “It is uncandid in the extreme for one Protestant to condemn another for rejecting ver. 7, since it was rejected by the author of our Reformation.” Any conscientious Trinitarian may innocently hesitate to receive the feebly supporting evidence of this disputed text, in confirmation of a doctrine which he finds it his duty and interest to receive.


Professor Griesbach, who does not appear to be an enemy to the doctrine, and who has carefully and critically examined all the evidences and arguments, pro and con, has given up the text as utterly defenceless, and thinks that to plead for its authenticity is dangerous. “For if,” says he, “a few dubious, suspicious, and modern evidences, with such weak arguments as are usually adduced, are sufficient to demonstrate the authenticity of a reading, then there remains no longer any criterion by which the spurious may be distinguished from the genuine; and consequently the whole text of the New Testament is unascertained and dubious.” Much stress has been laid on Bengel’s defense of this text: Michaelis has considered the strength of his arguments in a candid and satisfactory manner.

      • “The ancient writers which Bengel has produced in favour of 1 John v. 7, are all Latin writers, for he acknowledges that no Greek father has ever quoted it. Now, if no objection could be made to Bengel’s witnesses, and the most ancient Latin fathers had quoted in express terms the whole of the controverted passage, their quotations would prove nothing more than that the passage stood in their manuscripts of the Latin version, and therefore that the Latin version contained it in a very early age. But it will appear upon examination that their evidence is very unsatisfactory. The evidence of Tertullian, the oldest Latin writer who has been quoted in favour of ver. 7, is contained in the following passage of his treatise against Praxeas, book i. , chap. xxv Ita connexus Patris in Filio et Filii in Paracleto, tres efficit cohaerentes, alterum ex altero; qui tres unum sunt, non unus; quomodo dictum est: Ego et Pater unum sumus. Hence it is inferred, that because tres unum sunt stand at present in the Latin version, ver. 7, these words stood there likewise in the time of Tertullian, and that Tertullian borrowed them from the Latin version. But this inference is wholly without foundation; for Tertullian does not produce these words as a quotation, and the bare circumstance of his using the expression tres unum sunt will not prove that he found that expression in the Bible. On the contrary, it is evident, from what immediately follows, that chap. v. 7 was not contained in the Latin version when Tertullian wrote. For, in proof of this assertion, qui tres unum sunt, he immediately adds, quomodo dictum est: Ego et Pater unum sumus, which is a quotation from St. John’s gospel, John x. 30. Now as this quotation relates only to the Father and the Son, and not to the Holy Ghost, surely Tertullian would not have proved the unity of the Trinity from this passage, if ver. 7, which is much more to the purpose, had then been contained in any Latin manuscript with which he was acquainted. At any rate, the mere use of the words tres unum sunt affords no argument in favour of the controverted passage; and if any inference is to be deduced from their agreement with our present copies of the Latin version in 1 John v. 7; it is this: that the person who afterwards fabricated this passage retained an expression which had been sanctioned by the authority of Tertullian. So much for the evidence of this Latin father, the only writer of the second century to whom appeal has been made.
      • “Of the Latin fathers who lived in the third century, CYPRIAN alone has been produced as evidence in favour of ver. 7. From the writings of Cyprian two passages have been quoted as proofs that ver. 7 was contained in his manuscript of the Latin version. The one is from his epistle to Jubaianus; where Cyprian writes thus: Si baptizari quis apud haereticum potuit, utique et remissam consecutus est, et sanctificatus est, et templum Dei factus est; quaero cujus Dei? Si Creatoris; non potuit; qui in eum non credidit: si Christi, non hujus potest fieri templum, qui negat, Deum Christum: si Spiritus Sancti, cum tres unum sint, quomodo Spiritus Sanctus placatus esse ei potest, qui aut Patris aut Filit inimicus est? Here it must be observed, that the words cum tres unum sint, though inserted in the later editions of Cyprian’s works, are not contained in that edition which was published by ERASMUS; and even if they were genuine, they will prove nothing more than the same words just quoted from Tertullian. The other passage, which is much more to the purpose; is in Cyprian’s treatise, Deuteronomy Ecclesiae Unitate, where Cyprian writes thus: Dicit Dominus: Ego et Pater unum sumus; et iterum de Patre et Filio, et Spiritu Sancto, scriptum est: Et tres unum sunt. Now, admitting that the words et tres unum sunt were quoted by Cyprian from ver. 7, I SERIOUSLY ASK EVERY IMPARTIAL JUDGE WHETHER A PASSAGE FOUND IN NO ANCIENT GREEK MANUSCRIPT, QUOTED BY NO GREEK FATHER, AND CONTAINED IN NO OTHER ANCIENT VERSION THAN THE LATIN, (AND NOT IN ALL COPIES OF THIS,) IS THEREFORE TO BE PRONOUNCED GENUINE; MERELY BECAUSE ONE LATIN FATHER OF THE THREE FIRST CENTURIES, WHO WAS BISHOP OF CARTHAGE, WHERE THE LATIN VERSION ONLY WAS USED, AND WHERE GREEK WAS UNKNOWN, HAS QUOTED IT? UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES, SHOULD WE CONCLUDE THAT THE PASSAGE STOOD ORIGINALLY IN THE GREEK AUTOGRAPH OF ST. JOHN? CERTAINLY NOT; FOR THE ONLY INFERENCE WHICH COULD BE DEDUCED FROM CYPRIAN’S QUOTATION WOULD BE THIS, THAT THE PASSAGE HAD BEEN INTRODUCED INTO THE LATIN VERSION SO EARLY AS THE THIRD CENTURY.
      • “The preceding answer is sufficient to invalidate Cyprian’s authority in establishing the authenticity of ver. 7, on the supposition that Cyprian really quoted it; but that he did so is more than any man can prove. The words tres unum sunt are contained not only in the seventh, but also in the eighth verse, which is a part of the ancient and genuine test of St. John; and therefore it is at least possible that Cyprian took them not from the seventh, but from the eighth verse. It is true that he says these words are written of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; whereas tres unum sunt, in the eighth verse, relates only to the spirit, the water, and the blood. But it must be observed that the Latin fathers interpreted spiritus, aquas et sanguis, not literally, but mystically; and some of them really understood by these words, Pater, Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus, taking aqua in the sense of Pater, sanguis in the sense of Filius, and spiritus in the sense of Spiritus Sanctus.
      • “This is expressly asserted by Eucherius in his Questiones N. T. difficiliores; for after having quoted ver. 8, thus: Tria sunt, quae testimonium perhibent, aqua, sanguis, et spiritus, he adds, soon after, plures tamen hic ipsam interpretatione mystica intelligere Trinitatem; aqua Patrem, sanguine Christum, spiritu Spiritum Sanctum manifestante. But if Cyprian really thought that aqua, sanguis, et spiritus, ver. 8, denoted Pater, Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus, he might say of tres unum sunt, ver. 8, that it was written, de Patre, et Filio, et Spiritu Sancto. And that he actually did so, that he quoted not ver. 7, but understood 1 John v. 8, mystically, appears from the following passage of Facundus, who lived in the neighbourhood of Carthage, and consequently used the same Latin version as Cyprian. Johannes Apostolus in epistola sua de Patre, et Filio, et Spiritu Sancto, sic dicit: Tres sunt qui testimonium dant in terra, spiritus, aqua, et sanguis, et hi tres unum sunt: in spiritu significans Patrem, &c. Quod Johannis Apostoli teslimonium beatus Cyprianus, in epistola, sive libro, quem de Trinitate scripsit, de Patre, Filio, et Spiritu Sancto, dictum intelligit.” Facundus then quotes the words of Cyprian, which are the subject of our present inquiry. From the preceding passage it is manifest that ver. 7 was unknown to Facundus; for he proves the doctrine of the Trinity by a mystical interpretation of ver. 8, and appeals to the authority of Cyprian, who, he says, gave the same interpretation. But if chap. v. 7 was unknown to Facundus, who lived in the same country as Cyprian, used the same Latin version, and wrote almost three centuries later, it is incredible that ver. 7 was already introduced in the Latin manuscripts which Cyprian used. Consequently we must conclude that the assertion of Facundus is true, and that the words of Cyprian contain, not a quotation from 1 John v. 7, but a mystical application of ver. 8. This is farther confirmed by Augustine, who was likewise an African bishop, who lived a hundred years later than Cyprian, and still knew nothing of ver. 7, for he has never quoted this passage, not even where he speaks of the Trinity, but he has mystically applied the eighth verse.” – MICHAELIS, vol. vi. p. 420.


The Greek writers who have not quoted this verse, though several of them wrote professedly on the Deity of Christ, and on the Trinity, are the following:-

Irenaeus. Cyril of Alexandria. Clemens Alexandrinus. The Exposition of Faith Dionysius Alexandrinus (or in Justin Martyr’s the writer against Paul works. of Samosatsa under his Caesarius. name.) Proclus. Athanasius.


“The Council of Nice, as The Synopsis of Scripture. it is represented by Ge” – The Synod of Sardica. lasius Cyzicenus. Epiphanius. Hippolytus. Basil. Andreas. Alexander of Alexandria. Six catenae, quoted by Gregory Nyssen. Simon. Gregory Nazianzen, with The marginal scholia of his two commentators, three MSS. Elias Cretensis and Hesychius. Nicetas. John Damascenus. Didysus de Spiritu Sancto. Germanus of Constanti-Chrysostom. nople. An author under his name, OEcumenius. de sancta et consubstan] Euthymius Zigabenus tiali Trinitate.




Novatian. Facundus. Hilary. Junilius. Lucifer Calaritanus. Cerealis. Jerome. Rusticus. Augustine. Bede. Ambrose. Gregogy. Faustinus. Philastrius. Leo Magnus. Paschasius. The author de Promissis. Arnobius, junior Eucherius. Pope Eusebius.


THE WRITERS THAT HAVE QUOTED IT ARE COMPARATIVELY RECENT OR SPURIOUS, FOR THOSE OF ANY NOTE WHICH HAVE BEEN SUPPOSED, FROM CERTAIN EXPRESSIONS IN THEIR WORKS, TO HAVE HAD REFERENCE TO THIS VERSE, HAVE BEEN PROVED BY LEARNED MEN TO HAVE HAD NO SUCH TEXT IN VIEW. A great and good man has said that “the seventh verse, in conjunction with the sixth and eighth, has been quoted by Tertullian, Cyprian, and an uninterrupted train of fathers.” But a more incautious assertion was never made, as the preceding list will prove; and the evidence on the subject I have most carefully examined.


Bengel, who was an excellent critic and a good man, endeavoured to defend it, but without success; and Michaelis demonstrated its spuriousness from Bengel’s five concessions. Knittel has defended its authenticity with much critical acumen; Hezelius with great sagacity; David Martin, of Utrecht, with much honest simplicity; and Dean Travis with abundance of zeal, without much knowledge of the critical bearings of the subject. Socinians need not glory that it is indefensible, and that honest Trinitarians give it up.


SUMMARY of the whole evidence relative to the THREE HEAVENLY WITNESSES, ver. 7.


  1. ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTEEN Greek MSS. are extant, containing the First Epistle of John, and the text in question is wanting in 112. It only exists in the Codex Montfortii, (A COMPARATIVELY RECENT MS.,) already described. The Codex Ravianus, in the Royal Library at Berlin, is a transcript taken from the Complutensian Polyglot.


  1. All the GREEK fathers omit the verse, though many of them quote both ver. 6 and ver. 8, applying them to the Trinity, and Divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit; yea, and endeavour to prove the doctrine of the Trinity from ver. 6 and ver. 8, without referring to any such verse as ver. 7, which, had it existed, would have been a more positive proof, and one that could not have been overlooked.


  1. The first place in which the verse appears in Greek is the Greek translation of the Acts of the Council of Lateran, held A. D. 1215.


  1. Though it is found in many Latin copies, yet it does not appear that any written previously to the TENTH CENTURY contains it.


  1. The LATIN fathers do not quote it, even where it would have greatly strengthened their arguments; and where, had it existed, it might have been most naturally expected.


  1. Virilius, bishop of Tapsum, at the conclusion of the fifth century, is the first who seems to have referred expressly to the three heavenly witnesses; but his quotation does not agree with the present text either in words or in sense; and besides, he is a writer of very little credit, nor does the place alleged appear to learned men to be genuine.


  1. The Latin writers who do refer to the three heavenly witnesses vary greatly in their quotations, the more ancient placing the eighth verse before the seventh, and very many omitting, after the earthly witnesses, the clause these three are one. Others who insert these three are one add in Christ Jesus; others use different terms.


  1. It is wanting in all the ancient VERSIONS, the Vulgate excepted; but the more ancient copies of this have it not; and those which have it vary greatly among themselves, as may be seen in the specimens already produced.


  1. It is wanting in the first edition of Erasmus, A. D. 1516, which is properly the editio princeps of the Greek text.


It is wanting also in his second edition 1519, but he added it in the third from the Codex Montfortii.


It is wanting in the editions of Aldus, Gerbelius, Cephalaeus, &c.


It is wanting in the German translation of LUTHER, and in all the editions of it published during his lifetime.


It is inserted in our early English translations, but with marks of doubtfulness, as has already been shown.


  1. In short, it stands on no authority sufficient to authenticate any part of a revelation professing to have come from God. See Griesbach’s Dissertation on this verse at the end of the second volume of his Greek text. Halae et Londini, 1806.


In defense of this verse see “Archdeacon Travis’ Letters to Gibbon;” and on the other side, “Professor Porson’s Answer to Travis.” The latter has left nothing farther to be said on the subject either in vindication or reply.


Finished the correction for a reimpression, Jan. 3, 1832. – A. C.


Benson Commentary has the following


With respect to quotations from the fathers, Mill acknowledges that few of the Greek writers, who lived before the council of Nice, have cited this verse. The same he observes concerning those who, after that council, wrote in defence of the Trinity against the Arians, and other heretics; which, he thinks, shows that this verse was not in their copies.” But, on the other hand, the proofs of the authenticity of this verse are,”


1st, Some of the most ancient and most correct Vatican Greek copies, from which the Spanish divines formed the Complutensian edition of the Greek Testament, and with which they were furnished by Pope Leo X.,” one of which Mill speaks of as peculiarly eminent, of great antiquity, and approved fidelity.


“2d, A Greek copy, called by ERASMUS, Codex Britannicus, on the authority of which he inserted this verse in his edition anno, 1522, but which he had omitted in his two former editions. This is supposed to be a MS. at present in the Trinity College library, Dublin, in which this, verse is found with the omission of the word αγισν, holy, before πνευμα, Spirit. It likewise wants the last clause of 1 John 5:8, namely, and these three are one. All Stephens’s MSS., being seven in number, which contain the CATHOLIC EPISTLES, have this verse: only they want the words εν ουρανω, in heaven.


4th, The Vulgate version, in most of the MS. copies and printed editions of which it is found, with some variations.


5th, The testimony of Tertullian, who alludes to this verse, Praxeam, c. 25, and who lived in an age in which he saith, Præscript, c. 30, the authenticæ literæ (the authentic writings) of the apostles were read in the churches. By authenticæ literæ Mill understands, either the autographs of the apostles, which the churches, to whom they were written, had carefully preserved, or correct transcripts taken from these autographs. Also the testimony of Cyprian, who flourished about the middle of the third century, and who, in his epistle to Jubajanus, expressly cites the latter clause of this verse. The objections which have been raised against the testimonies of Tertullian and Cyprian, Mill hath mentioned and answered in his long note at the end of 1 John 5., which see in page 582 of Kuster’s edition.


6th, The testimony of many Greek and Latin fathers in subsequent ages, who have cited the last clause of this verse; and some who have appealed to the Arians themselves as acknowledging its authenticity. Lastly, the Complutensian edition, anno 1515, had this seventh verse exactly as it is in the present printed copies, with this difference only, that instead of these three are one, it hath substituted the last clause of 1 John 5:8, And these three agree in one, and hath omitted it in that verse. These arguments appear to Mill of such weight, that, after balancing them against the opposite arguments, he gave it as his decided opinion that, in whatever manner this verse disappeared, it was undoubtedly in St. John’s autograph, and in some of the copies which were transcribed from it.”


    • ““The passage as given in the KJV is in no Greek MS earlier than the 15th and 16th centuries. The disputed words found their way into the KJV by way of the Greek text of Erasmus (see Vol. V, p. 141). It is said that Erasmus offered to include the disputed words in his Greek Testament if he were shown even one Greek MS that contained them. A library in Dublin produced such a MS (known as 34), and Erasmus included the passage in his text. It is now believed that the later editions of the Vulgate acquired the passage by the mistake of a scribe who included an exegetical marginal comment in the Bible text that he was copying. The disputed words have been widely used in support of the doctrine of the Trinity, but, in view of such overwhelming evidence against their authenticity, their support is valueless and should not be used. In spite of their appearance in the Vulgate A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture freely admits regarding these words: “It is now generally held that this passage, called the Comma Johanneum, is a gloss that crept into the text of the Old Latin and Vulgate at an early date, but found its way into the Greek text only in the 15th and 16th centuries” (Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1951, p. 1186).” — (The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 675)


The Seventh day Adventist Biblical Research Institute also admits this text in 1 John 5:7 is added. So their final conclusion and advice to Seventh day Adventists was “…you should not use this text.” So the SDA BRI and the SDA Bible Commentary both acknowledge this text is added and say it should not be used, and yet you constantly see Adventists and their key organizations using this verse anyway. So Seventh day Adventists are not following their own advice.


For Adventists: “I saw that God had especially guarded the Bible; yet when copies of it were few, learned men had in some instances changed the words, thinking that they were making it more plain, when in reality they were mystifying that which was plain, by causing it to lean to their established views, which were governed by tradition. But I saw that the Word of God, as a whole, is a perfect chain, one portion linking into and explaining another. True seekers for truth need not err; for not only is the Word of God plain and simple in declaring the way of life, but the Holy Spirit is given as a guide in understanding the way to life therein revealed.” — (E.G. White, EW, 220.2, 1882)





  • The objector contends that Christ and his Father are one person, and in proof of his position quotes 1 John 5:7. “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.” This is claimed as very strong proof in support of the trinity. The three persons are spoken of as God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Ghost. I believe I may safely say that, aside from scripture, no such license would be allowable. Men have been so used to perverting scripture, and taking advantage of terms, and pressing them into their service,that they do not realize the magnitude of the crime as they otherwise would. The same expression is frequently used about man and wife; yet no person doubts that a man and his wife are two separate persons, inasmuch as they may be separated by hundreds of miles. Dr. A. Clarke expressly says that this passage[1 John 5:7] is an interpolation. See his Commentary in loco.” — (D. W. Hull, Review and Herald November 10, 1859)



  • “The word Trinity nowhere occurs in the Scriptures. The principal text supposed to teach it is 1 John i, 7, which is an interpolation” — (J.N. Loughborough, Review and Herald November 5, 1861)



  • “In some versions of the Bible the words “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit’ and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth” appear in 1 John 5:7, 8 (NKJV). The only problem is they are a later addition, not found in the original manuscripts.
  • “Among biblical scholars there is agreement that this statement is not genuine and has been added, probably to support the doctrine of the Trinity…” — (Sabbath School Bible Study Guide: July – Sept 2009 pg 108)


ELLEN G. WHITE ESTATE: Question about 1 John 5:7

  • Question: “Some years ago I had read some of your publications. At the time I seem to remember a discussion of the devinity of Christ. A refference to 1 John 5:7 was quoated but I can not find it…can you please tell me where this strong scriptual argument is used?
  • Thanking you in advance, dws
  • Answer: “Thank you for contacting the Ellen G. White Estate. In answer to your question, though I have to tell you that I have not found any place in the published writings of Ellen G. White where she quotes this passage.


  • Perhaps that is just as well, because it may not be such a “strong scriptural argument” after all. The verse appears in no ancient Greek manuscript earlier than about the 13th century A.D. That is, despite its inclusion in the 1611 original of the King James Version translation into English, it is highly unlikely that it was in the *original* version of 1 John as John wrote it. No modern Bible translation that I am aware of includes it in the text except the New King James Version, and even this version carries a footnote about the text’s absence from Greek manuscripts until relatively recent times. Apparently, it is some scribe’s note to himself about the trinity, originally written in the margin of the manuscript he was copying, and later incorporated into the text by another scribe who may have been uncertain about whether or not it was a correction that belonged in the text; in any case, he opted to include it there.” — (http://ellenwhite.org/content/file/did-ellen-g-white-believed-doctrine-trinity#document)



  • The term “Trinity” is nowhere to be found in the Bible. But the doctrine is there— this conclusion is inescapable. Nor need we be disturbed by the knowledge that certain words in 1 John 5:7, 8 are spurious additions that found their way into our King James Version from certain manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate, where they originated. For while it is true that no formal statement of the doctrine can be found in the most reliable Biblical manuscripts, nevertheless a comparison of Scripture with Scripture makes any contrary teaching untenable.” — (R. M. Johnston, Ministry, November 1964, What can we know about the Holy Trinity?)


DENNIS FORTIN: Professor of Historical Theology

  • The New Testament does not have any explicit statement on the Trinity—apart from 1 John 5:7, which has been rejected as a medieval addition to the text…” — (Dennis Fortin, “God, the Trinity and Adventism”)”


After all has been said, the evidence is so overwhelming to argue in agreement that the verse was originally there. Any information that may lead to proper understanding of the verse is welcome.


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