Revisiting 1 John 5:7

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."

(My first edition of this post was incomplete and I had some misinformation to correct concerning my own lack of clarity. Unfortunately this is why we need to be careful what we write on the internet. I believe I have cleared it up now.)

If you have read this blog in the past, you know that I am a big supporter of the Traditional Greek Text of the New Testament. I am not a KJV onlyist though I sometimes get balled in with them. I support the Traditional compilation of Greek witnesses for the New Testament, which the KJV (King James Version) was translated from. I have various reasons, but probably the main one is that I haven't seen any evidence contrary to the Traditional readings that present them as invalid. I have been studying this for several years from more of a historical angle since I am not proficient in Koine Greek. However, I have read some good defences of the Traditional Text by those who are adept in Koine Greek. I recommend Pastor Jeff Riddle's reading list for some of these. If you aren't familiar with the terms, Traditional Text refers to the Greek Manuscript witnesses that the Geneva, Tyndale, KJV, NKJV, and a few other translations are derived from. This line of transmission was supported by Erasmus, Theodore Beza, Tyndale and several others. The Critical Text is a reference to the compilation of Greek Witnesses that make up the NIV, ESV, NASB, and many other modern translations. This line of transmission was invented by B.F. Wescott and J.A. Hort and then tweaked by men like F. Dewey Lockman, Bruce Metzger and many others. More recently men like David Parker and Bart Ehrman are taking this Science of Textual Criticism to its logical conclusion. They have dismissed any set text and believe the originals are mainly inaccessible or hidden. They also do not make any discretions between Orthodox or Gnostic writings.

The truth is 1 John 5:7 is probably the most difficult text in the Traditional text to defend. Many post-modern scholars and defenders of the Critical Greek Text dismiss anyone who supports this text with seriousness. One reason is because we do not have many Greek witnesses for this text (We do have a plethora of Old Latin, though!), and the ones we do have are late. However, I have heard and read some good and interesting articles in defence of this text.

Someone might ask: "Why aren't there many Greek Witnesses for 1 John 5:7?" That is a good question; but, the fact there are few and the ones we have are late does not really "prove" anything for or against authenticity. It just presupposes two possibilities. #1 - It wasn't authentic and was added by zealous scribes for clarity. Or: #2 - It was authentic and was a threat to certain sects like the early Gnostics (who had their own editions of the New Testament including extra books), Arians, Sabellians, and many other sects who controlled the Eastern and Western Churches for a time. A few facts I discovered previously as possibilities to why we do not have many early Greek sources to this Trinitarian text are as follows:

  1. Diocletian the Roman Emperor destroyed every New Testament Manuscript he could get a hold of from 303 to 312 AD. There were also other persecutions similar to this. The Latin Church fled to the mountains where they were protected and hidden. That is one reason there are so many Old Latin Witnesses available that contain 1 John 5:7 and not many Greek. 
  2. Muslims destroyed many of the old Greek Byzantine Manuscript witnesses from the Greek Church that would have contained 1 John 5:7 when they destroyed the old Byzantine Empire in 1453 AD. Only a few scribes escaped with the most recent copies of the New Testament Witnesses at that time. That could be why we at least have a few Greek witnesses for this text.  
  3. Arianism was a large sect in the Church during the time of Nicea. The doctrine of the Trinity was offensive to them as it is offensive to many others today. The Vandals were Arians and took over the Western Roman Empire from around 439-534 AD. The Western Church was severely affected by their influence. Arianism wasn't isolated to the Vandals. Arianism fluctuated in many areas. In fact they controlled many of the Churches. Even after Nicea, they controlled the Eastern Greek Churches from around 330 AD to 379 AD until Gregory of Nazianzus came along.  
  4. The Western Church eventually phased out the Greek witnesses and mainly relied on the Latin Witnesses early in its history. It wasn't until the Reformation that the Western Church re-kindled an interest in Greek New Testament sources. Most of the influences in North America are from the Western Churches of the Former Roman Empire, though, that is beginning to change. 
  5. Gnostics who were mentioned in the New Testament were more likely the first culprits who started editing this text out of the New Testament. However, they were mainly non-existent by the time Arianism and Sabellianism became strong. It is possible though that Arians and Sabellians used some Gnostic editions of the New Testament books to support their ideas. Though, that is just my speculation.
  6. There were other heresies as well. Sabellianism was also a large sect that arose. Sabellians were heavy in the Eastern Church and the Western Church. The Western Church called it Patripassianism. Today we know it as Modalism. The Sabellians believed that God was a modal monarch in that he wasn't Trinitarian but rather One being who occupies three different modes at three different times. An example would be that they believed God would sometimes put his Father hat on and do the work of a Father, then sometimes he would put on his Son of God hat, and then sometimes the Holy Spirit hat. This was their way of trying to explain the mystery of the Bible's definition of the Trinity. The problem is verses like Matthew 3:16-17 and 1 John 5:7. 
One argument against 1 John 5:7 is that it wasn't quoted by any of the Church Fathers during the Arian heresy. One proponent puts it this way:

Now here is how we can be certain that 1 John 5:7 never existed in the early church. Because of the Arian controversy in the fourth century, we know for certain the church was especially guarded concerning teachings and any Scriptural evidence they thought they had concerning the Trinity. After the end of the fourth century, these manuscripts were the canonized writings of the status quo church who fought for Trinitarian teaching and it is an unthinkable proposition to suggest the eastern Greek speaking church would have let such a passage inadvertently escape from all their Greek manuscripts spread throughout the eastern half of the Roman empire. If 1 John 5:7 had been authentic, the first omission of this verse would have created an immediate outcry and church leaders would have been looking for the culprit. Indeed, blood was spilled over far less in the fourth century. It is an absolutely ludicrous fantasy to suppose the entire eastern Greek speaking Trinitarian church could have allowed 1 John 5:7 to somehow escape from all their Bibles completely unnoticed for over a thousand years.

The truth is that this kind of argumentation is riddled with assumptions and lack of evidence. Don't get me wrong, I can get rather passionate about a subject, and there is no doubt that this writer is convinced of his position. However, there is a fallacy in his assumption. The person who wrote the quote above is parroting what he has heard from proponents of the Critical Text, who are in the majority.

I came across the real issue concerning the Arian heresy by reading Paul Pavao's book "Decoding Nicea." I haven't finished it, and he isn't a Traditional Text guy, but I will give him one thing, he hungers for truth and accurate information. I admire him for that! That is what we are after isn't it? Truth and accuracy of facts? Don't get me wrong, there are people who have used just as much poor argumentation to defend the Traditional Text. That is one reason I tend to stay away from KJV onlyists. It isn't that they aren't sometimes accurate in their presentation of evidence, but they usually have just as much if not more inaccurate information. Seek for sources. Do your research. 

So what did I find? Arius from Alexandria was the man who is credited with these views concerning Arianism. What is interesting though is that they originated from Lucian of Antioch. Arius just made the teaching famous. So what is Arianism? Well, the writer of the quote above assumes that Arianism is simply the denial of the Trinity, and it is in a way, but not like most think it is. I always thought that the Arians denied and despised Trinitarian scriptures. However, I didn't really understand the depth of the problem. Arianism is built off of a misunderstanding of the Greek Septuagint verse coming from Proverbs 8:22. You see, the early church mainly used the Greek Septuagint for their Old Testament. It wasn't until Jerome that the Western Church got away from the Greek Septuagint and transferred over to the Hebrew Masoretic text of the Old Testament which is actually more recent than the Septuagint translation. The Greek Church still uses the Septuagint. Here is the difference:

Proverbs 8:22 Translation from the Hebrew
"The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old."

Proverbs 8:22 Translation from the Greek Septuagint
"The Lord made me the beginning of his ways for his works."

Now we know that this is a reference to Christ. Therefore, as you can see, Arius was taught by Lucian that Christ was "made from nothing." Now the early church had no trouble with this verse because they believed that Christ was "made of the substance of the Father," but Arius concluded that Christ was made "from nothing" like the rest of the Created order. That is why the Nicene Creed from the year 325 AD reads as follows: 

"We believe in one God, the Father all governing, creator of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father as only-begotten, that is, from the essence of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not created, of the same essence as the Father, through whom all things came into being, both in heaven and in earth; Who for us men and our salvation came down and was incarnate, becoming human. He suffered and the third day he rose, and ascended into the heavens. And he will come to judge both the living and the dead. And (we believe) in the Holy Spirit. But, those who say, Once he was not, or he was not before his generation, or he came to be out of nothing, or who assert that he, the Son of God, is of a different hypostasis of ousia, or that he is a creature, or changeable, or mutable, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them."

 This was the issue. It wasn't simply that the Church was proclaiming the doctrine of the Trinity and that Arius was going around denying that the Trinity existed. He believed the Trinity existed in a sense, but that the person of Christ was created like all of the creatures of the earth. The issue was the nature of the Trinity and the Deity of Jesus Christ. 1 John 5:7 just states that the Father, Word, and Holy Spirit are witnesses for the work and life of Jesus Christ. I am not saying that Arius or his followers would have liked 1 John 5:7, but it didn't pose a large threat to his doctrine and wouldn't have been a clear defence for the Deity of Christ as John Chapter 1 wouldn't have been. Verses like John 8:24, 8:58, 17:5, 20:28, Colossians 2:8-9 were more of a threat because they testify directly of the Deity of Jesus and His existence before creation. If you were to quote 1 John 5:7 to Arius he probably would have said "Amen! I too believe that the Father, Word, and Holy Spirit testify from heaven!" 1 John 5:7 doesn't address the nature of Jesus Christ's being. Arius would interpret 1 John 5:7 as saying that "the Word" was created from nothing, and the orthodox believers would have said that he was made from the essence of the Father.

None of this necessarily proves that 1 John 5:7 is authentic. However, it shows that sometimes people will use whatever whim they have to support their point and that some arguments are a waste of time. The truth is that it all comes down to a decision. What do you believe? There are good reasons that God chose to preserve His written word for the church through copying throughout the centuries. Yes, there are some variants but when we look at them they are miniscule compared to the vast majority of the witnesses of the Greek, Latin, and other manuscripts available. Most of the variants are insignificant and pose no threat to any doctrine of Christian teaching. However, when the Greek witnesses stand alone, the main sources for the Critical Text seem to have a heavy Gnostic influence, which died out before the Council of Nicea. It is actually making a comeback these days, which is strange. My guess is that 1 John 5:7 was original, but was offensive to the Gnostics. They loved to mutilate the New Testament writings along with making some of their own. Over time, their texts were used by other rogue sects of the Christian faith, and they even controlled the majority of churches. It is similar today. Very few churches hold to orthodox Christian teaching.

My advice is to seek out original sources if you can get them. It may take a lot of time, patience, and prayer; but, in the long run, you will be better equipped. There are many false stories and theories running around concerning the Text of the New Testament. What is worse is that many of the inventors of these stories are so-called scholars. Remember that scholars are men too, and are easily corrupted just like we are. The whole reason that men like Tyndale laid down his life is so that commoners like you and me would have access to the holy Scriptures is so that there would be accountability. Scholarhood doesn't mean that one is immune to constructive criticism and accountability.  Do not allow men and women with high exalted titles take that from you. A formal education is good, but corruptible men and women still receive them. Educate yourself, and use original sources. Beware of the commentator unless he or she was actually there.