Which Three Testify?

Last Saturday’s Daily Confession was WCF2 on the Trinity. Down in paragraph 3 the three persons of the Godhead are named “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost,” with a lead-off scripture proof of 1 John 5:7, which is simply (ESV) “For there are three that testify:” Having filed that incomplete scriptural snippet in my mental “What the?” drawer, I thought no more of it.

That is, until I read today’s Daily Confession, which is BCF9, on the Trinity, which also uses 1 John 5:7 as a scripture proof. However, BCF doesn’t just footnote with chapter and verse; it actually quotes the verse, thusly:

“There are three who bear witness in heaven– the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit– and these three are one.” [1 John 5:7]

Well that doesn’t look like the 1 John 5:7 I had recently read! This triggered me to go rummaging around in my “What the?” drawer and dig a little deeper. 1 John 5:7 also shows up as a scripture proof in LC9 and HC25.

The ESV has this larger context for vv 6-8:

6This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7For there are three that testify: 8the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.

So where is BCF getting this quote? It turns out that KJV has a significant chunk of extra text:

6This 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. 7For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

The Geneva Bible reads similarly. Modern versions NASB and NIV join with ESV in omitting the text, but at least they make a note of the omission! NIV notes:

Late manuscripts of the Vulgate: “testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. 8And there are three that testify on earth: the” (not found in any Greek manuscript before the sixteenth century).

Anybody know of current scholarship on how/when that extra snippet got into the Latin (or fell out of the Greek!) texts? If the ESV is correct that, not only should the snippet be omitted, but its absence should not even be noted, do the standards (WCF2.3, LC9, BCF9, HC25) need to be updated to strike 1 John 5:7 as a proof text?

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24 Responses to Which Three Testify?

  1. Rick says:

    All I know is that the snippet does not belong. Not sure when it was added.

  2. The “Three Witnesses” of 1 John 5:7-8 is excluded from most modern translations on the basis of textual criticism.

    The textual basis for the words, “…in heaven the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and these three are one. And there are three witnessing on the earth.” The textual commentary for the UBS Greek NT ed. B. Metzger says, “That these words are spurious and have no right to stand in the NT is certain….” They argue on the basis of the “external evidence” (the textual history). The passage is absent from every Greek MS known except 8. It appears to be a Greek transl. of a Latin recension of the Vulgate. The codices that contain it are dated to the 16th century, a 16th-cent edn of a 14th cent. MS, a 10th-cent MS, and the rest are 16th cent or even 18th-cent MSS.

    The pass. is quoted by none of the Gk Fathers. Had they known it they would certainly have quoted it in the Trinitarian controversies.

    It’s absent from the MS of all ancient versions except the Latin and it’s not in the Old Latin (from Tertullian to Augustine).

    Internal evidence also suggests that it is a late addition. There’s no reason for a Scribe to omit it. Stylisitically it’s awkward. See Metzger, The Text of the NT, 101ff.

  3. Rick says:

    Well, I guess that clears that up!

  4. Echo_ohcE says:

    The OPC does not use it as a proof text for WCF 2.3.

    See here:


    The OPC’s proof texts for 2.3 are as follows:

    Matt. 3:16–17. Matt. 28:19. 2 Cor. 13:14. Eph. 2:18.
    John 1:14, 18. Heb. 1:2–3; Col. 1:15.
    John 15:26. Gal. 4:6.

  5. refdoc says:

    1John 5:6-9 still shows us the Trinity

    Verse 6, Jesus Christ (Son)
    Verse 6, The Spirit
    Verse 8, The Spirit
    Verse 9, God(Father), and his Son

  6. Rick says:

    Yep, the passage, 6-9, points us to the Trinity but the added “and these three are one” in verse 7 and the “in one” in verse 8 in the KJV should not be there.

    :6-9 still work as a proof for the Trinity – but verse 7 does not stand alone as a proof.

    So much for KJV only. Again.

  7. Danny Hyde says:

    Poor ‘ole King Jimmy . . . always taking a beating from us!

    Rick, did you notice which version of the Bible I used in my book, God With Us? Check out the copyright page…

  8. Rick says:

    I don’t have it with me DH. Did you use the TNIV?

  9. Danny Hyde says:

    Don’t you wish, RB! No, Reformation Heritage Books requires the use of the King Jimmy for their books because they are associated with the Heritage Reformed Congregations. Thankfully none of the Scriptures I cited were much different than modern versions or else I would have gone with someone else.

  10. Rick says:

    That reminds me, have you ever seen Herman Hoeksema’s (PRC) children’s story Bible (it may have been written by his wife)? It’s funny because it uses very simple language a child of 5 could understand (“somebody fetch me a child of 5, I can’t make heads or tails of it”) – then when it quotes scripture it quoteths the KJV. It’s quite jarring.

    I wish our church would switch to the ESV.

  11. Zrim says:


    I have always thought one coulld make a fair case for setting adrift the good King: the Reformation’s whole doctrine of simplicity, etc. You know, the language of the people and all that. No, this is not at all some Framian “intelligibility” argument for something like TNIV. Methinks the love affair with the Thee’s and Thou’s is mainly just that, plus a way to somehow counter the perceived irreverence in the culture of comfort and ease. Don’t get me wrong, it seems to be yet a perfectly fine translation and all. But, if we are really about simplicity, plain and simple communication (without compromising on sound translation), it seems the goood King has seeneth his day.

  12. kazooless says:

    Sorry to rain on your “we’re smarter than everyone else” party, but here is some information conflicting with the haughty politically correct view of the “educated.”

    Jeffrey Khoo writes here:

    It is not true that 1 John 5:7 is absent in all pre-l6th century Greek manuscripts and New Testament translations. The text is found in eight extant Greek manuscripts, and five of them are dated before the 16th century (Greek miniscules 88, 221, 429, 629, 636). Furthermore, there is abundant support for 1 John 5:7 from the Latin translations. There are at least 8000 extant Latin manuscripts, and many of them contain 1 John 5:7f; the really important ones being the Old Latin, which church fathers such as Tertullian (AD 155-220) and Cyprian (AD 200-258) used. Now, out of the very few Old Latin manuscripts with the fifth chapter of First John, at least four of them contain the Comma. Since these Latin versions were derived from the Greek New Testament, there is reason to believe that 1 John 5:7 has very early Greek attestation, hitherto lost. There is also reason to believe that Jerome’s Latin Vulgate (AD 340-420), which contains the Johannine Comma, was translated from an untampered Greek text he had in his possession and that he regarded the Comma to be a genuine part of First John. Jerome in his Prologue to the Canonical Epistles wrote, “Irresponsible translators left out this testimony [i. e., 1 John 5:7f] in the Greek codices.” Edward F. Hills concluded, “It was not trickery that was responsible for the inclusion of the Johannine Comma in the Textus Receptus, but the usage of the Latin speaking church.”

    There is more in the linked article, but you can see that it isn’t a non-discputed “fact” that early evidence doesn’t support the comma. In fact, it wasn’t until the Alexandrian texts were found that so much doubt was placed on this phrase, as well as countless others. Older doesn’t necessitate better, as our ‘esteemed’ seminarian brethren would like us to believe.



  13. Echo_ohcE says:

    The Alexandrian texts are well known to be more reliable.

  14. kazooless says:

    The Alexandrian texts are well known to be more reliable.

    By the so-called “enlightened.” This idea is nothing more than a “The Emperor Wore No Clothes” situation. A person dare not speak out against this illogical ludicrous idea in the educational institutions for fear of being ostricised.

    Above, Clark would like to give the idea that there is no early evidence for the comma, yet I give a quote and a link that shows their is evidence for early evidence. Therefore, the argument that it isn’t reliable because it doesn’t exist in early evidence is moot.

    I suggest that instead of reading only what the Alexandrian Texts proponents write and the seminary spoon feeds, try reading what the opponents actually write. There would at least be the possibility of an honest discussion on this issue.

    (This isn’t directed at one person, Echo)


  15. Rick says:

    OK Kaz, you found one source to support a minority view. That’s fine, and it is good point for discussion. But if the view you present were a majority view then most translation would include it. They don’t – and I think Clark’s comments are helpful as to why most don’t include it.

    Texual critisism isn’t my area (I have very few areas) – Clark or Hyde don’t seem to be checking back with this thread so I wouldn’t expect much interaction.

    But why the hostility? What do you think you’re condending for? We all affirm the Trinity here – and the text, irrespective of the comma, supports the doctrine. Or are you a champion for the King’s English?

  16. kazooless says:

    I find this a hot button of my, which is why the ‘hostility’ (using your word). I’m not really ‘hostile’ but I do get upset with the arrogance that the establishment has over this particular issue. It bugs me that people go to seminary and are ridiculed for holding this ‘minority’ view.

    As far as the King’s English goes, I’m a TR guy, Byzantine, etc. But I would welcome strongly a modern translation other than the NKJV that uses the Byzantine text as the primary, and subnotes the NU. I’m not stuck on the actual text of KJV, but believe there are some advantages, such as knowing if “You” is plural.

    Anyhow, I also find it funny that it’s okay to go with the “Majority” view when it is people, but not when it is the “Majority” of the texts we possess.

    And I’m fine with someone explaining that the majority of scholars believe such and such, but to skip that and just state as fact something that isn’t non-disputed as fact is just dishonest.

    So, sorry for the ‘hostility.’ Just realize that something isn’t necessarily true just because the majority believes it is (evolution for example, Alexandrian text is okay, for another).


  17. Rick says:

    Fair enough, Kazoo,

    Sorry about the group-think and the perceived arrogance.

  18. Echo_ohcE says:


    Very, very few people are competent to do textual criticism. It’s a very difficult business. Most of us are dependent upon the work of others. Metzger is very widely respected as the top notch expert in the field. His word is not necessarily gospel, but most of us agree, because his arguments make sense. And again, he’s one of the world’s premier experts in the field.

    So what Clark quoted from him is pretty much considered to be correct.

    The thing is, we don’t just say, what do the earliest manuscripts say? We also consider arguments as to why one thing might have been added, or why something might have been subtracted. You compare texts.

    So we get the principle of the more difficult reading is probably the correct one. After all, who would correct a more easily comprehended phrase to a more difficult one?

    So it has to do with why there is a variation between two texts. We know that scribes either made mistakes or deliberately changed things, thinking they were correcting a mistake.

    All in all, we have found that the Alexandrian scribes were more disciplined. They made fewer corrections. Their texts were more consistent.

    Meanwhile, the western texts were less consistent, and full of lots of corrections. The Byzantine texts vary greatly from earlier texts. So we consider them to be less reliable, though only to a degree.

    These things are only factors. Nothing is ever definitive by itself. The argument must be made from all the angles.

    So when considering one variant over another, we look at what texts have what. How old were they? We lean towards the older text, for obvious reasons. Which tradition produced them? We lean toward more reliable traditions, like the Alexandrian. Which is the more difficult reading? We lean toward the more difficult one.

    When all of these line up, and they usually do, the choice is obvious as to which is the correct text.

    Every now and then, these factors don’t line up, and we are faced with a conundrum. In that case, we look further, and try to figure out which is more consistent with the context, agrees with the rest of Scripture, etc.

    So when all these factors are considered, the question must be asked of the comma, why would anyone delete it? Certainly anti-Trinitarians would delete it, but only they would. Why would someone add it? Well, for a lot of reasons. Maybe they were trying to make the text easier to understand. It is a difficult passage after all. Maybe someone added it to support the Trinity. Who knows?

    The fact is, it’s easy to see why someone would add it, but not so easy to see why Christians would delete it.

    Older manuscripts don’t have it. Some manuscripts that are somewhat old DO have it, but OLDER ones don’t.

    It’s a more difficult text to understand without it.

    To me, this makes it abundantly clear that it is not part of the original text.

    If you disagree, that’s fine. Go ahead. But you should at least recognize that there are very good and well reasoned arguments in favor of deleting it from the text that are put forth by the world’s most respected authorities on these matters. That’s not arrogance. That’s good reasoning.

    If textual criticism is something that really interests you, I have a book recommendation for you:


    That’s a link to Amazon, for a book by Bruce Metzger. You don’t have to agree with him, but if you read his book, you’ll at least understand where Metzger is coming from, which will give you insights into what just about everyone who isn’t TR (textus receptus) believes.

    By the way, when it is using the *right* Greek text, the KJV is an excellent translation. Very well done.

  19. Echo_ohcE says:

    By the way, which traditions are considered more reliable has to do with asking questions about which is more difficult and which is older, etc. Over a great deal of time, it has been noted that some traditions are more reliable than others.

  20. kazooless says:


    I’m curious if you actually read the quote that I posted above. I’m very familiar with the arguments on the alexandrian side of things. But even what you wrote here betrays your bias (that’s not meant to offend, just to point out). For example, consider these statements that you write:

    All in all, we have found that the Alexandrian scribes were more disciplined. They made fewer corrections. Their texts were more consistent.

    Just slowly read that over and look for the prejudice.

    Another one:

    The Byzantine texts vary greatly from earlier texts. So we consider them to be less reliable, though only to a degree.

    This is only part of the story. And see the preference toward earlier? It gives away the bias to assume that earlier is more reliable. The rest of the story is that there are a whole lot less texts from the Alexandrian tradition. A smaller body is going to make it easier for them to be “more consistent” with each other.

    Try reading this for a different light:


    It’s not too long and for anybody going to seminary, it seems like at least being fully aware of the other view is important, doesn’t it? Especially when we’re talking about the very word of God!

    We lean toward more reliable traditions, like the Alexandrian.

    Now, I’m not trying to win an argument on this point. Just look at your statement. It is BEGGING THE QUESTION. The matter in dispute is which tradition is more reliable. So you can’t say you lean toward the “more reliable…, like the Alexandrian.” Again, this reveals the bias you’ve been subjected to.

    So when all these factors are considered, the question must be asked of the comma, why would anyone delete it? Certainly anti-Trinitarians would delete it, but only they would.

    Bingo. I understand that gnosticism was much more prevalent in Alexandria than in Greece. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what I remember learning.

    Older manuscripts don’t have it. Some manuscripts that are somewhat old DO have it, but OLDER ones don’t.

    This is why I asked if you read the quote I provided earlier. It referred to very early evidence of the comma.

    hat’s a link to Amazon, for a book by Bruce Metzger. You don’t have to agree with him, but if you read his book, you’ll at least understand where Metzger is coming from, which will give you insights into what just about everyone who isn’t TR (textus receptus) believes.

    I’m very familiar with Metzger & Waite, & so on. I didn’t come to my position over night. Again in the interest of being well rounded, look at this insight into Metzger:


    I respond here, not to argue any longer, but to show that there is much bias on the NU text side of things that doesn’t even deal with the ‘minority’ arguments at all any more. Pick up any one of your text books that have anything to say about the texts and I guarantee you that you won’t find anything at all that is even neutral on this issue. Everything has a bent toward the Alexandrian texts being “more reliable.”

    I know I won’t convince you of the differing position, at least not with a small blog comment like this. But maybe by raising a little bit of a stink on this issue here, it will at least cause a moment of pause for those reading and people will look into the matter a little further. Again, we are talking about the very Word of God, and what could be more important!

    (And please, don’t beg the question again by trying to assert that the differences are only minor and don’t really make a difference in ‘important’ doctrine.)



  21. Echo_ohcE says:


    If the Alexandrians were anti-Trinitarian, why wouldn’t they have cut out the Great Commission or Jesus’ baptism?


  22. kazooless says:

    Good question, but I don’t think it has to be an all or nothing scenario. Some scribes may have had influence in one area and not others. That’s just an idea, nobody around today was there to witness.

    But the point is, if you read the history of these very few texts, where they came from, how they were found, what the original founders thought of them, and how Wescott and Hort created enthusiasm for these texts that were originally disregarded as not very reliable, then you’ll realize that there are real, valid reasons to doubt them. Over against the status quo of the day.

    That’s all.


  23. Howdy!

    WORDPRESS says that our two blogs (at least our most recent posts) are related, so I came by to check you out–I hope you enjoy my slant on the topic. Please stop by my blog and let me know what you think (and if you like it, maybe add Jesus + Compassion to your blog roll so we can stay connected).

    God bless you!


  24. Otilia says:

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but
    after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr…
    well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say excellent blog!

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