Let me say from the start, I do believe that in the English language, the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible is by far the best and most reliable Bible translation we have. But that isn't the purpose of this article.
I believe so not only because it has superior Greek and Hebrew texts, not only because the translators were superior, not only because the theology is superior, not only because the translating technique is superior, but also because the text underlying the KJV is supported by the Spirit of Prophecy (GC 245, as well as the Bible itself in Rev. 11).
This is not to say that in some modern versions there are not improvements on some verses. However, what many do (such as Dr. James White, who is the darling of those who insist that the KJV is inferior to the modern versions) they simply focus on a few verses that, granted, are an improvement, and they ignore the mountain of evidence of the superiority and history of the text underlying the KJV. As stated by David Cloud,
“But those who criticize King James Bible defenders commonly strain out gnats and swallow camels; they focus on the exceptions and ignore the rules; they discover grains of error among mountains of truth! The have a strange inclination to ‘cling to all sorts of small details, which they seek to use as arguments against the clear and decisive arguments” (For the Love of the Bible, p. 13)
But again, this is not an article in defense of the KJV. I am just being a bit vulnerable and letting you all know where I stand (even though I'll probably get attacked for it).
In today’s church, the attack on the Trinity is gaining momentum. More and more people are beginning to doubt if the Holy Spirit is God, if the Holy Spirit is a person, and if Jesus is eternal with the Father. While this article will not resolve this debate, I hope that it will clarify the story behind a verse in the Bible that clearly teaches the trinity, and is considered to be spurious by many.
The Heavenly Trio
A while back, I stumbled onto the Facebook page of another SDA who denies the full deity of Jesus and does not believe that the Holy Spirit is God. In his post, he mentioned that the New American Standard Bible (NASB) had John 1:18 correct, and that this showed that Jesus is not eternal with the Father.
In the Greek text underlying the KJV it reads, “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father…” The Greek text underlying the NASB reads, “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten GOD, who is in the bosom of the Father…”
The individual on Facebook then posted a video showing that the NASB does this based on P75, a papyrus manuscript from the third century. And therefore because of its age, it must be the correct reading, thereby showing that Jesus is a begotten God. The problem with that claim is that it is known that in the first centuries of the early Church some people changed the Scriptures to suit their own thinking.
One such person was Valentinus, a second century heretic. He believed that Jesus was never real flesh and blood (human), but a kind of revealed spirit. And, in a fragment of a manuscript titled Excerpts from Theodotus, the writer informs us that it was the Valentinians who quoted this form of John 1:18. This change can be altered by simply changing one letter. But there are basically only two witnesses that agree with Valentinus, and that is P75 and Ms. 33 from the 9th century, and there are nearly 1,000 manuscripts that agree with the text of the KJV (It is rather interesting that while the Greek text underlying most modern versions reads “only begotten god”, most modern versions tend to go along with the KJV in this verse). But this just goes to show that we need to get the whole story before coming to a conclusion. I did reply to this individual about this, but he never responded.
The verse that clearly supports the doctrine of the Trinity (but many believe this verse to be spurious) is of course the famous 1 John 5:7,8. Now why is this verse believed to not be a part of what John originally wrote?
Our own SDA Bible Commentary repeats the same story as all others. Erasmus did not include this in his first edition of his Greek text. Many complained. He said that he did not include it because there are no Greek manuscripts that have it and if one can be produced then he would put in his next edition. A library in Dublin produced such a manuscript known as 34, and so, true to his word, he inserted the text into his next edition. But this manuscript was of the 15th century. Therefore, these verses should not be considered as authentic and this passage should not be used in support of the Trinity. That is the same story line told over and over again. But is that all there is to it? No, there is much more to this story than that.
The verse reads, “For there are three that bear record 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 Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one” (the highlighted words are the words that are considered spurious). So we are dealing here with 24 English words.
To begin with, there are actually nine Greek manuscripts that contain these words: 61, 88, 629, 635, 221, 429, 636 and 2318. Secondly, these words are found in ancient Bible versions such as the Syriac Peshitta, The Armenian, Georgian and Slavonic Bibles. But, why was there an outcry when these words were left out? Well, the reason was the usage of the Latin speaking church. It was this usage which made them feel that this reading should be included in the Greek text. I personally believe that it was the providence of God that led to its inclusion, but there is more. Much is said about the “oldest manuscripts.” But, what also comes to our aid are the writings or sermons of the early church fathers. We still have many of these writings and some of these are older than the “oldest manuscripts.”
So let us let them speak!
In the Apologia of Athenagoras presented to the Roman Emperor in 177 AD, Athenagoras alluded to the three heavenly witnesses: “who, then, would not be ashamed to hear men speak of God the Father, and of God the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and who declare both their power in union and their distinction in order, called atheists?” (Anti-Nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971 reprint, 2:133).
Tertullian also alludes to 1 John 5:7 in his Adversus Praxean (25:1; CC2, 1195) 215 A.D.
“And so the connection of the Father, and the Son, and of the Paraclete makes three cohering entities, one cohering from the other, which three are one entity, not one person. Just as it is said, “I and the Father are one entity” refers to the unity of their substance, not to the oneness of their number.”
But let us not deal with allusions, but rather direct quotations from 1 John 5: 7,8.
In the year 250, Cyprian in his De Catholicae Ecclesiae Unitate wrote,
“The Lord says, ‘I and the Father are one’ and likewise it is written of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. ‘And these three are one’” (The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translation of the Writings of the Church Fathers down to A.D. 325. New York: Charle Scribner’s Sons, 1926. 5:423).
Now those who focus solely on manuscript evidence insist that Tertullian is not quoting 1 John 5:7. But, if it is admitted that he is quoting or even alluding to it, then it is clear that this passage existed at the time of Cyprian’s writing, which is older than the “oldest manuscripts.” I believe any reader who has nothing to prove would see that Cyprian is indeed quoting from 1 John 5:7. Cyprian says “it is written.” This is a definitive way of introducing Scripture. And in this passage, Cyprian even included the word “and” in the phrase “and these three” which is not necessary for him to do to make his point, but which is part of the text in 1 John 5:7 as it appears in the KJV.
Even the main translator of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Dr. Peter Holmes says,
“It appears to me very clear that Tertullian is quoting 1 John 5:7 in the passage now under consideration” (Elucidation III, found at the end of Tertullian’s Against Praxeus, Chapter XXXI; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3).
And in his Epistle to Jubaianus, Cyprian wrote,
“If, of the Creator, he cannot be his temple, who had not believed in him; if of Christ neither can he who denies Him to be God, be His temple, if of the Holy Spirit, since the three are one.”
In the year 380, Priscillain, in His Liber Apologeticus, wrote, “As John says, ‘and there are three which give testimony on earth, the water, the flesh, the blood, and these three are in one, and there are three which give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one in Christ Jesus” (for the sake of time and space I will not comment on the interpolation of the words “in Jesus Christ”). But it is clear that by the year 380, which is before Jerome wrote the Latin Vulgate, it is clear that this verse was there and considered to be genuine.
Now we come to Jerome. In 383 he was asked by Pope Damasus to write the Latin Vulgate. In his prologue to the Canonical Epistles he wrote,
“If they faithfully translated into the Latin language and create no ambiguity for readers and the variety of words does not contradict itself. In that place, particularly where we read about the unity of the Trinity which is placed in the First Epistle of John, in which also the names of three, i.e. of water, of blood, and of spirit, do they place in their edition and omitting the testimony of the Father, and the Word and the Spirit, in which the catholic faith is especially confirmed and the single substance of the Father the Son, and the Holy Spirit is confirmed.”
So Jerome said that irresponsible translators left out this testimony in the Greek text. He believed 1 John 5:7 to be genuine! This is way back in 383!
In the year 450, a North African author in Contra Varimadum cited in Anchor Bible, Epistle of John, 782 reads as follows:
“And John the Evangelist says, ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and God was the Word. And also he says to the Partheans, “There are three who give testimony on earth, the water, the blood, and the flesh and the three are in us. And there are three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one.”
De Divninis Scripturis suie Speculum, dated to be in the year 450, also known as Latin manuscript M, reads, “Although there are three which give testimony on earth, the spirit, the water and the blood: and these three are one in Christ Jesus, and there are three which give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one.”
In 485, Victor Vitensis in his Historia Persecutionis Africanae Provinciae wrote, “…and in order that we may teach until now, more clearly than light, that the Holy Spirit is now one divinity with the Father and Son. It is proved by the testimony of the evangelist John, for he says, ‘there are three which bear testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.”
And so we come to the 6th century, where the number of quotations increase. But I shall add just one last piece of evidence. I will write 1 John 5:7, 8 without the 24 English words, just as it is found in modern versions as well as in the Greek text that underlies them.
“For there are three that bear record [a Greek masculine article, numeral, and participle…the spirit [a neuter noun], and the water [a Greek neuter noun], and the blood [ a Greek neuter noun]: and these three agree in one.”
The problem is that the missing words leave their foot print. Because if this was the case, you would have a Greek masculine participle agreeing with three Greek neuter nouns, and this is a grammatical impossibility.
If John wrote according to this Greek text that leaves out the 24 words, then John would have used a Greek neuter participle rather than a Greek masculine participle to go along with these three Greek neuter nouns. But as it stands, it results in horrible Greek grammar. The masculine article, numeral and participle HOI TREIS MARTURONTES, are made to agree directly with three neuters. Leaving these words out results in a grammatical impossibility. So, even in the text itself, those 24 missing words leave their foot print. And this argument, to my knowledge was first given in support for the authenticity of 1 John 5:7 by Gregory of Nazianzus in his Theological Orations, way back in 385!
As we can see, there is much more to this story than Erasmus! Now, will this convince all antitrinitarians that 1 John 5:7 is authentic? It probably won't convince people who believe that the KJV is vastly inferior to what we have today in terms of Greek texts and modern versions. We'll see.
But, at the very least, this does show that those of us who believe that 1 John 5:7 is authentic believe so because there is very strong evidence for it. Now of course, the belief in the Trinity is not dependent upon this one verse, but if authentic (which evidence does indicate that it is), then this does pose a problem for antitrinitarians. There is more evidence that answers the question "why were these 24 words removed in the first place, way back when?" But that may be for another time.
Blessings upon you!
Gerzon Gomez has taught in the Adventist Educational System for ten years, and was Associate Pastor for seven years at Pico Rivera Bilingual Church. He has a BA in Pastoral Ministries, a Masters of Divinity and Masters of Education. Currently, He is teaching at Bakersfield Adventist Academy and lives in Bakersfield with his wife Esther and daughter Annalie. He consistently travels to preach as frequently as the Lord opens the door. He has made numerous mission trips to the Philippines and other countries and his passion is teaching and preaching the Word of God.