Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Johannine Comma

Probably more controversial than the last twelve verses of Mark 16 is the so-called Johannine Comma. The Johannine Comma or Comma Johanneum is a technical term used by theologians to name a clause found in 1 John 5:7-8. It is also referred to as “The Heavenly Witnesses” and “The Trinitarian Formula.” Johannine or Johanneum is an adjective meaning “of or relating to John the apostle or to his writings in the New Testament.” Comma is not used as the mark of punctuation, but rather to mean a part of a sentence or short clause (Latin, comma, commae; from Greek kómma). It is a clause much debated in Christian circles – especially between supporters of older Bible translations such as the King James Version, Reina-Valera 1960, etc., which include it, and modern translations like the New International Version, Christian Standard Bible, etc. which expunge it.

King James Version, 1 John 5:
7 For there are three that bear record | in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth | the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
New International Version, 1 John 5:
7 For there are three that testify: |_| 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.
Reina-Valera 1960, 1 Juan 5:7 Porque tres son los que dan testimonio | en el cielo: el Padre, el Verbo y el Espíritu Santo; y estos tres son uno. 8 Y tres son los que dan testimonio en la tierra: | el Espíritu, el agua y la sangre; y estos tres concuerdan.
Nueva Traducción Viviente, 1 Juan 5:7 Por lo tanto, son tres los testigos |_| 8 —el Espíritu, el agua y la sangre— y los tres están de acuerdo.
Cyprian quotes it?
Circa AD 250 in Treatise 1, On the Unity of the Church Cyprian of Carthage wrote, possibly invoking the comma, “He who breaks the peace and the concord of Christ, does so in opposition to Christ; he who gathers elsewhere than in the Church, scatters the Church of Christ. The Lord says, I and the Father are one; and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, And these three are one.” Cyprian also wrote, “If of the Holy Spirit; since the three are one, how can the Holy Spirit be at peace with him who is the enemy either of the Son or of the Father?” in his Epistle 72 To Jubaianus, Concerning the Baptism of Heretics (circa 256).[i] Cyprian certainly references this part of John’s first epistle, but it is not a verbatim quotation of it – thereby leaving the use of it inconclusive and open to argument.

The grammatical argument
In The Johannine Comma: First John 5:6-8 Floyd Jones makes this case regarding the grammar: “If I John 5:6-8 is removed from the Greek text, the two resulting loose ends will not join together grammatically.  The Greek language has ‘gender’ in its noun endings (as do many other languages). Neuter nouns normally require neuter articles (the word ‘the’ as in ‘the blood’ is the article).  But the article in verse 8 of the shortened reading as found in the Greek that is the foundation of the new versions (verse 7 of the King James Greek text) is masculine.  Thus the new translations read ‘the Spirit (neuter), the water (neuter), and the blood (neuter): and these three (masculine!! - from the Greek article hoi) are in one.’ Consequently three neuter subjects are being treated as masculine (see below where the omitted portion is italicized).  If the ‘Comma’ is rejected it is impossible to adequately explain this irregularity.  In addition, without the ‘Comma’ verse 7 has a masculine antecedent; three neuter subjects (nouns in vs.8) do not take a masculine antecedent.  Viewing the complete passage it becomes apparent how this rule of grammar is violated when the words are omitted.”

Concluding thoughts
I am a proponent of the “Comma,” but have nevertheless found some of “our” arguments less than weighty – at least as they are presented. It is certainly possible that in AD 250 Cyprian referred to these words by John, but it is also plausible that he was interpreting it – since it is not a direct quote. The grammar argument seems sensible, but then again I’m not sure that God is required to follows our interpretation of certain rules of grammar![ii]

The con side points out that the comma was not in the earliest Greek manuscripts that are available and does not appear until the 4th century in Latin manuscripts.[iii] It also is not in the majority of Greek manuscripts.[iv] Some historians say that the comma was not used in early Trinitarian controversies, and this militates against it. Yet others claim that in the earliest controversies “these three are one” would have been accepted by both sides and would not have been a particularly pungent point. The text does seem Johannine in style. The late argument, in my opinion, is not as weighty as the minority argument.

Many of the debaters in this debate are less than kind to one another (Cf. Ephesians 4:32). The “anti-comma” side dismisses their opponents as “not scholars” and even ignoramuses, while the “pro-comma” side dismisses theirs as weak on the Trinity or liberal posers.

Following are linked articles that address the topic.

Links, Pro
Links, Con
Links, Historical (not necessarily neutral)

[i] Another translation is “since the Three are One, how can the Holy Ghost be at peace with him, who is an enemy either of the Son or the Father?” (The Epistles of S. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage and Martyr, Translated by Members of the English Church, Oxford: James Parker and Co., 1868, p. 250)
[ii] And others will argue the grammar defense is incorrect. I thought I had found a clearly stated pro-argument only on the grammar of 1 John 5:7-8, but when completing this post could not find it.
[iii] They also can be selective and inconsistent in their preference of text related to age.
[iv] Of course, 1 John and 1 John 5 are not in every manuscript, either. Nevertheless this is one of the stronger points against the pro side, since we usually argue in favor of the majority reading.

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