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Chapter 26

The Missing Comma


Christians have often used the King James Version translation found in Acts 19:12, where the expression sick handkerchiefs appears, as an instance verifying that there is no punctuation in the Greek language. The insertion of a comma between the words sick and handkerchiefs would have indicated that the term sick was not an adjective but a noun. Such a proof was given in explanation to students of the Bible who were unacquainted with Greek. It served to explain the misplacement of the comma after the word thee in the following text:

And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43

Since this text has frequently been used to indicate that a person goes to heaven upon death, it was necessary to point out to those studying God’s Word that the placement of the comma was a matter of judgment by the translators. The appropriate position for the insertion of the comma is after the word To day, ensuring a meaning consistent with the rest of Scripture, which asserts that the dead have no conscious existence.

However, there is another "comma" which is omitted from most modern translations, called the Johannine comma. This comma has little to do with punctuation; it consists of the following text of Scripture:

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 1 John 5:7

Of all the omitted texts, this one has caused the greatest difficulty to Bible students, for it must be admitted that numerous Greek manuscripts do not contain it, although it is to be found in the Latin Vulgate, a version of the Scripture to which most true Protestants give little credence. This text, of course, is a powerful evidence for the Godhead. Nevertheless, it is important for us to examine the evidence for the validity of its inclusion in the Textus Receptus.

The usual story circulated concerning the inclusion of this passage in Tyndale’s English Scripture is that when the matter of its omission was brought to his attention, Tyndale promised to include it, provided a single manuscript could be found containing the passage. It was promptly supplied. Thus to keep his word, Tyndale included it. However, some stated the produced manuscript to be a forgery. Those accepting this account clearly could have no confidence in the authenticity of the text.

But is this superficial view a correct one? It has been said that Tyndale included this text only in parentheses. For example, Dr. Adam Clarke in his commentary The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in addressing 1 John 5:7 states:

Tindal [sic] 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.

However, in the only extant first edition of Tyndale’s Bible, in Bristol, England, no such parenthesis appears. Thus Dr. Adam Clarke is incorrect in his statement. What is true is that in the later edition of William Tyndale’s New Testament, published in 1534 after his execution, these words are in parentheses.

(For ther are thre that beare recorde in heuen, the father, the word and the holy ghost. And these thre are one). 1 John 5:7, 1534 edition of William Tyndale’s New Testament

It is thought that the parentheses were added after Tyndale’s death.

Perhaps no group of Christian believers more diligently kept the purity of the faith alive in Europe than did the Waldenses. Their missionaries went to many countries, including Hungary, Czechoslovakia, France, England, Scotland and Italy. These Christian believers refused to use the Latin Vulgate, but used the old Latin Bible which was written in the Romaunt language. When the early leaders of the Reformation entered the valleys of the Waldenses, it was agreed that they would translate the Waldensian Bible into French, comparing it with the original Hebrew and Greek. This translation became the Olivetan Bible, the first Protestant Bible in the French language. The second edition of the Olivetan Bible, which was later produced by Calvin, became the basis of the Geneva Bible in the English language, a forerunner of the King James Version. Since the Waldensians had maintained their Scripture for over 900 years, it is instructive to record that the Olivetan Bible and the Geneva Bible both contain the passage of 1 John 5:7. It is recorded in the Olivetan Bible as follows:

Car il y en a trois qui rendent témoignage au ciel, le Pére, la Parole, et le Saint Esprit: et ces trois-là sont un. 1 John 5:7 in the French edition of 1569

The English translation for the above is as follows:

For there are three who give witness in the heavens, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one.

John Calvin, in his Bible Commentary, made an interesting statement upon this contested passage:

[Verse] 7 there are three that bear record in heaven. The whole of this verse has been by some omitted. Jerome thinks that this has happened through design rather than through mistake, and that indeed only on the part of the Latins. But as even the Greek copies do not agree, I dare not assert anything on the subject. Since, however, the passage flows better when this clause is added and as I see that it is found in the best and most approved copies, I am inclined to receive it as the true reading. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, 257

What did Calvin mean when he claimed that the passage flowed better when it was included in the substance of the first epistle of John? Dr. P.S. Ruckman has pointed out:

The evidence that shows the passage should be there (if it was ever omitted) lies in the fact that when the Johannine comma is removed (part of verses 7 and 8), we get the following reading, which is grammatically impossible.1

Dr. P.S. Ruckman, Handbook of Manuscript Evidence, 129

The problem with the Greek of the perverted manuscripts is that in 1 John 5 the three words, Spirit, Water, and Blood are neuter gender and thus require neuter articles. However, the articles retained in verse 8 are masculine gender and thus indicate that the presence of verse seven is needed to make the passage grammatically correct.

No doubt there is another reason which compelled Ruckman to observe:

But Origen and W.H. [Westcott and Hort] never hesitated to violate the rules of Freshman Greek Grammar if it afforded an opportunity to destroy the despised Reformation! Ibid.

Indeed, very careful research has been undertaken to evaluate the authenticity of the Johannine comma. One such researcher was Dr. Frederick Nolan who concluded that the Johannine comma was indeed part of the original biblical manuscript.

Dr. Nolan, who had already acquired fame for his Greek and Latin scholarship and researches into Egyptian chronology, and was a lecturer of note, spent twenty-eight years to trace back the Received Text to its apostolic origin. He was powerfully impressed to examine the history of the Waldensian Bible. He felt certain that researches in this direction would demonstrate that the Italic New Testament, or the New Testament of those primitive Christians of northern Italy whose lineal descendants were the Waldenses would turn out to be the Received Text. D.O. Fuller, Which Bible?, 212-213

Frederick Nolan’s conclusions were as follows:

The author perceived, without any labor of inquiry, that it derives its names from that diocese, which has been termed the Italick, as contra-distinguished from the Roman. This is a supposition, which received a sufficient confirmation from the fact,—that the principal copies of that version have been preserved in that diocese, the metropolitan church of which was situated in Milan. The circumstance is at present mentioned, as the author thence formed a hope that some remains of the primitive Italick version might be found in the early translations made by the Waldenses, who were the lineal descendants of the Italick Church; and who have asserted their independence against the usurpations of the Church of Rome, and have ever enjoyed the free use of the Scriptures.

In the search to which these considerations have led the author, his fondest expectations have been fully realized. It has furnished him with abundant proof on that point to which his inquiry was chiefly directed; as it has supplied him with an unequivocal testimony of a truly apostolical branch of the primitive church, that the celebrated text of the heavenly witnesses [1 John 5:7] was adopted in the version which prevailed in the Latin Church previously to the introduction of the modern Vulgate. Frederick Nolan, Integrity of the Greek Vulgate, xvii-xviii

Here is sound evidence that the disputed passage from 1 John 5:7 was included in manuscripts prior to the publication of the Latin Vulgate. Indeed,

The Reformers held that the Waldensian Church was formed about A.D. 120, from which date on, they passed down from father to son the teachings they received from the apostles. The Latin Bible, the Italic, was translated from the Greek not later than A.D. 157. Scrivener, Introduction, vol. 2, 43 quoted in D.O. Fuller, Which Bible?, 208

Even Augustine, bishop of Hippo, admitted about the year 400:

Now among translators themselves the Italian (Itala) is to be preferred to the others, for it keeps closer to the words without prejudice to clearness of expression. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Christian Lit. Ed. vol. 2, 542, quoted in ibid.

However, so ingrained has it become in the thinking of modern students of the Bible that this passage has no place in Scripture, that when Greek manuscripts support its authenticity, often there is a sense of dejection. Thus, Ruckman reported:

Observe the "conservative" scholar, F.F. Bruce, bemoaning the fact that a Greek manuscript was found which backed up the A.V. [Authorized Version] text of 1 John 5:7! (F.F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments, 210.) It would have pleased the "conservative" if the Greek manuscript had never showed up! Dr. P.S. Ruckman, Handbook of Manuscript Evidence, 199

When translating the Authorized Version in 1611, the translators had

before them four Bibles which had come from Waldensian influences: the Diodati in Italian, the Olivetan in French, the Lutheran in German, and the Genevan in English. We have every reason to believe that they had access to at least six Waldensian Bibles written in the old Waldensian vernacular. D.O. Fuller, Which Bible?, 212

Thus the translators of the Authorized Version were very indebted to the Waldensian biblical traditions for including 1 John 5:7 as an authentic portion of Scripture.

Many critics of this passage are unacquainted with the powerful evidence for its validity, and accept the attacks upon it by those who have no love for the pure Word of God.

1 Editor's note: To illustrate, an English construction which is grammatically impossible would be, for instance, She agrees with themselves.

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