I.A.2 The Comma Johanneum; The Model for Witness

Part I  –  The Lamp-Stand Model


Article 2 – The Comma Johanneum; The Model for Witness

 a.  History of the Comma

b.  Symmetry of Two and Three


  Article 2 – The Comma Johanneum; The Model for Witness

 a.  History of the Comma

Having established the two principles that are Redemption and Witness as constituting the two purposes in the Lord’s coming as well as coextensive principles of the Kingdom of God, we can now undertake a closer consideration of each.  We begin with the principle of Witness.

John’s first epistle provides us with a tabulated explanation of the Witness of God.  However, this tabulation is only available in the King James Version of the Bible and therefore it is known as the Comma Johanneum (hereinafter the “Comma”) by Bible translators.  It is sometimes referred to as  the  Johannine Pause.  The Comma clearly demonstrates the witnesses of God as having both dual and triune properties.  The Comma reads as follows:

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.        I John 5:7-8

The Comma is inclusive to the King James Version given its eventual inclusion into the polished-Latin translation undertaken by the well-known Catholic translator Erasmus.  Its inclusion was the subject of much debate amongst scholars throughout the centuries given that the passage is missing from the oldest of the available Greek manuscripts.

In 1512 Erasmus commenced his task of compiling the various ancient Latin-translations and some newly-acquired Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and to integrate them into a fresh Latin translation.  The first edition of his translation was hurried into publication in 1516.  His second edition appeared in 1519 and was the text used by Martin Luther in his translation of the New Testament into the German language.  However, neither of Erasmus’ first-two translations included the Comma (ie. I John 5:7-8) due to the fact that while the verse existed in the Latin, Erasmus could not find the passage in any of the Greek manuscripts which he held.  Exclusion of the passage raised protests by those who felt its exclusion to be an attack on the doctrine of the Trinity.  Eventually however, Erasmus was provided with a Greek manuscript which did contain the Comma and therefore it achieved inclusion into his Third Edition published in 1522.  It is this third edition of Erasmus’ translation that was utilized by the English-translators of the King James Version which then became the most widely-accepted English translation of the Bible.

As said, the Comma has been the subject of controversy given that the passage does not appear in the oldest of the existing Greek texts.  Scholars have speculated that it may have been a marginal-note that was inadvertently-added to the Vulgate due to a copyist’s error sometime during the Middle Ages.  Even the imminent physicist and mathematician Isaac Newtwon took up the Comma-debate through his 1690 work; An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture through which he denounced its inclusion as just that.

The extrensic historical-evidence on the issue is mixed.  Evidence against its inclusion involve such things as its absence from early written-argument dealing with the Trinity by such church fathers as Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian when recourse to the Comma would have strengthened their position.  On the other hand, we do have historical references to the passage that include an apparent reference to it by Jerome in 546 A.D., its quotation before 385 A.D.[1] by Priscillian of Avila.

Cyprian quotes the Comma in his treatise against heretics who deny the Trinity, saying; “Again, it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, ‘And these three are One’”.[2]  This quotation would predate Cyprian’s 258 A.D.-death and constitutes the earliest-evidence for its existence in the original text.

Although in 1927 the Catholic church declared the issue of the Comma as “open to dispute”, rarely is it included within the modern translations.  However, this controversial passage of Scripture, as we shall see, appears to be key to the opening of understanding into Mosaic-type.

b.  Symmetry of Two and Three

As earlier stated, John describes the witnesses of God as having both a dual and a triune property:

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.        I John 5:7-8

This passage presents two sets, ie. HEAVEN’S WITNESS and EARTH’S WITNESS.  Each set is made up of three constituent parts (ie. “witnesses”).  [Fig. II-A]

John uses the Greek-word; mar-too-reh’-o,[3] which means a “record”, a “witness”, or a “testimony”.  We find the same Greek-word to occur in such verses as:

 . . . in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established.              Matt. 18:16

This is the word used when the Lord told His disciples after His resurrection:

And you are witnesses to these things.                        Luke 24:48

 Notice what things the Lord’s disciples were witnesses to!  They were witnesses to a threefold event; His life, His death, and His resurrection.  This threefold event is itself a witness!

This is the word used when we read:

And killed the Prince of Life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof, we are witnesses.                                                                          Acts 3:15

And the Lord uses this word after His resurrection when He appointed His disciples as “witnesses”:

But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; & you shall be witnesses unto Me.                                        Acts 1:8

 Therefore the model given us in the Comma clearly exhibits two-witnesses and three-witnesses.   We have the two witnesses that are HEAVEN and EARTH, which constitute the identity of the witness, and the three witnesses which constitute the thing being born witness of.

Our next article will address the meaning of these various witnesses.

[1] This is the year of his death, thereby dating the quotation as sometime previous.

[2] Note that Cyprian quotes that controversial portion of the Comma in stating;  “. . . the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, ‘And these three are One’”.

[3] G3140  martureō  mar-too-reh’-o  From G3144; to be a witness, that is, testify (literally or figuratively): – charge, give [evidence], bear record, have (obtain, of) good (honest) report, be well reported of, testify, give (have) testimony, (be, bear, give, obtain) witness.


About Lamp-Stand

I was converted to the faith of Jesus Christ in 1982 at which time I received water baptism and Spirit baptism. In the Spring of 2008 I was led of the Spirit through a process of repentance upon which I had an encounter with Christ that worked a profound change upon my inner being. I became aware that I had been forgiven a great debt of sin. I soon felt the Lord's direction that I close my office that my energies not be divided from the study of doctrine.
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