The Comma Johanneum

The Comma Johanneum is the technical name for a short clause appearing in some translations’ rendering of 1 John 5:7-8. The text of the comma appears below in bold.

5:7 “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
5:8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one” (KJV).

Aside from one relatively obscure modern version (Revised Webster Update, 1995) and the NKJV, no modern English Bible includes this passage. KJV-only advocates frequently cite this fact as conclusive proof that modern Bibles are removing the Trinity from the Bible and should be rejected on the grounds of Revelation 22:18-19. A quick check of my Greek NT shows that the passage to be absent in the Greek, but most KJV-only advocates would reject my Greek Bible (UBS4) as unreliable. The whole controversy sounded like a good excuse for me to visit my favorite library in the whole world.

The University of Michigan Library houses nearly 10 million books. The special collections division contains P46 (one of the oldest Greek Bibles in existence), a first edition of Erasmus’ Textus Receptus, a 1611 KJV, as well as thousands of other priceless books. After a short registration process, the librarian will hand you a copy of anything you want.

So does the Comma Johanneum belong in the Bible? Since the KJV is translated from Erasmus’ Textus Receptus. Let’s look at Erasmus’ original 1516 Novum Instrumentu[m] Omne (the famous title Textus Receptus, “received text,” was first used in the publisher’s preface to Bonaventure and Abraham Elzevir’s 1633 edition). Below is 1 John 5:6-9.

Notice that the Comma Johanneum is missing. Reading help: 1 John 5:6 begins on the first line with “οὗτός.” 1 John 5:7 begins on the fifth line and reads, “ὅτι τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες” (“for there are three that testify”). If the comma were included, the text would continue: “εν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὁ πατήρ, ὁ λόγος, καὶ τὸ Ἅγιον Πνεῦμα· καὶ οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς ἕν εἰσιν καὶ τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἕν τῇ γῇ.” It doesn’t.

Can’t make it over to Ann Arbor to check this out? No problem. You can download a free scanned PDF of Erasmus’ second edition (1519) from the Princeton Theol. Seminary Library at the internet archive. It likewise lacks the comma. Below is 1 John 5:6-9.

Reading help: 1 John 5:6 begins with the second word. 1 John 5:7 begins on the fifth line, same reading as before. 1 John 5:8 begins on the seventh line. The comma is absent.

Note that Erasmus doesn’t include verse divisions because they hadn’t been invented yet. Numbered verse divisions were first introduced in 1551 by Robert Estienne (aka Stephanus) in the fourth edition of his revision of Erasmus’ Greek text.

Erasmus’ Greek text supports the reading found nearly every modern English Bible. So where did the KJV translators get their spurious reading? The Catholic church did not like the fact that Erasmus’ version was calling attention to an error in the Latin Vulgate. Jerome believed that Latin copyists had intentionally added the Comma Johanneum to the Vulgate in order to refute Arian heretics and support Trinitarian doctrine. However, the passage more likely entered the Vulgate through a copying error in which a marginal note was mistaken for part of the text. Regardless of how the text found its way into the Vulgate, the Catholic church began pressuring Erasmus to include the reading in his Greek text. Under pressure from Rome, Erasmus included the passage in both Latin and Greek when he released his third edition in 1522. This inclusion remained in subsequent editions, including Theodore Beza’s 1598 edition, which was the primary source used by the KJV translators.

Unfortunately, I did not have access to a third edition of Erasmus’ Greek text. However, the University of Michigan did have a Latin Bible translated by Erasmus and dated 1522, the same year his third edition was released. I initially thought that this small octavo might be a copy of his paraphrased epistles, which was first released in octavo size in 1522 as well. However, the title clearly states, Novum Testamentum Omne, ex tertia recognitione (“The Entire New Testament from the third revision”). Erasmus’ entire NT paraphrase was not published until 1523 and that octavo-sized edition comprised two volumes. Furthermore, Erasmus’ Paraphrases were titled as such and would include “paraphrasim” in the title. Additionally, I did find evidence of an octavo-sized reprint of the Latin text from Erasmus’ third edition in 1522 (minus his annotations). Reprint editions usually do not attract scholarly attention. However, since the decorative border on the title page was done by Holbein, I was able to find one reference to this edition (Jeanne Nuechterlein, Translating Nature into Art [University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011], 167). Thus I was able to check Erasmus’ third edition after all.

Here is 1 John 5:6b-9 in Erasmus’ third edition (1522). The copy in the University of Michigan Library does not include Erasmus’ Greek text. However, the Comma Johanneum clearly appears in the Latin.

Some might think it strange to find a copy of Erasmus’ Textus Receptus printed in Latin without any Greek. However, Erasmus’ goal was not to create the first published Greek NT, but rather he sought to create a fresh translation of the New Testament in Latin. The Greek was included for the sole purpose of supporting the accuracy of his Latin translation.

This purpose is stated on the title page to Erasmus’ first edition. My Latin isn’t the best, but it says to the effect, “The New Testament (Instrumentum), carefully revised and corrected by Erasmus of Rotterdam, verified not only by the actual Greek but also by each of the many language books and amended to their old faith, and finally approved by the citation of authors, as to the improvement of the translation, especially by Origen, Chrysostom, Cyril, Theophylact of Ohrid (Vulgarij), Jerome, Cyprian, Ambrose, Hilary, St. Augustine, together with the Annotations which teach the reader the reason for the changes. Therefore, let the true lover of theology and law become engaged, and then judge. Be neither immediately offended nor offend the faith over what has changed, but weigh whether it be changed for the better.”

Erasmus was writing a new Latin translation to surpass the Vulgate. The Greek text was only added to increase his translation’s credibility. As you can see to the right, Erasmus’ Latin translation was printed in the column opposite of the Greek. Erasmus hoped that readers would be convinced that his translation was superior to the Vulgate after they compared his translation with the Greek text and read his Annotations at the end. Unfortunately, the Catholic church judged Erasmus by his conformity to the Vulgate rather than to the Greek. There is no winning an argument with people who set a translation as the ultimate standard of correctness. Any significant deviation–regardless of warrant–is wrong.

Therefore, the Comma Johanneum was wrongly inserted into the Greek text of Erasmus’ third edition and does not belong in our Bibles today. Unfortunately, the KJV translators used a corrupt text in this instance and added a phrase that ought to have been omitted. Should we turn Revelation 22:18-19 back on KJV-only advocates and condemn the KJV for adding to the Word of God? No, this whole line of reasoning is utter nonsense. Every translation makes mistakes. In the 1611 preface, the KJV translators themselves admitted their human fallibility. The KJV is still a good translation. Just cross out twenty-four words.

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The Elements of Worship

Churches generally choose the elements of their congregational worship according to one of two competing principles. The normative principle holds that churches may use any worship element that Scripture does not forbid. The regulative principle holds that churches may use only those worship elements that Scripture requires (either by command or necessary implication).

The difference between these principles can be seen in a discussion between two teenagers deciding whether to use the family car without their parents’ permission. “Dad never said we could use the car,” the first teen cautions according to the regulative principle. “But he never said we couldn’t use the car either,” the second teen replies according to the normative principle.

The regulative principle is tied closely with the belief in the sufficiency of Scripture. If Scripture is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice, then churches should not try to go beyond the direction of Scripture in their worship. Furthermore, as discussed in Acceptable Worship, God does not find all worship acceptable. God rejects the irreverence of self-styled worship.

It is helpful to remember the difference between elements and forms of worship. Elements are what we do in worship; forms are how we do it. If a church lights candles as part of its worship, candles have become an element of worship. If a church lights candles so people can see their hymnbooks, candles become a form of worship. The regulative principle applies only to the elements of a church’s worship. Forms must be judged via biblical discernment.

Scripture permits churches to worship in at least fourteen ways: prayer (1 Tim 2, Col 4:2), praise (Col 3:16), preaching (2 Tim 4:2; 1 Tim 4:13), Scripture reading (1 Tim 4:13), the Lord’s table (Acts 2:41, 1 Cor 11), baptism (Matt 28:19-20), offering (2 Cor 8-9; 1 Cor 16), greeting (1 Thes 5:26), announcements (1 Cor 16:1), meals (Jude 1:12), missionary sending (Acts 13) and reporting (14:26), ordination (1 Tim 4:14), and discipline (1 Cor 5:4).

This list is not necessarily exhaustive, but anything added to the list would need to be a command or necessary implication of Scripture. The regulative principle prohibits the use of worship elements without biblical warrant. Churches have no biblical basis for using elements like drama and film in worship. This is not to say that these media are inherently wrong. Churches are free to have movie and drama nights outside of their regular worship. These media can also become forms to pursue other elements of worship. Sermons may take on dramatic elements in illustrations and through forms such as first-person narrative preaching. Missionaries may utilize film in presenting their reports. However, churches must restrict their worship to the elements that God requests.

[This is the third post in a series on worship that began with Defining Worship and Acceptable Worship]

There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood…

So this guy decides to use red tiles for his pool in order to make it look bloody. He made this decision through this deliberation.

During that season, whatever I am bathing I spoke of the blood of Christ, it never [stopped] flowing over me through my shower. I pray and alway[s] believe that I am cleanse[d] from every sins by Jesus blood.

One day, while showering in Jesus blood God ask me what does the color red mean to me? Without hesitation I spoke “Jesus blood”. God asked again, So the what does it mean submerge in a pool make of red tiles? wow!

That is a revelation! We are not wash with the dripping, spraying or showering of Jesus blood, NO!

God revealed to me Jesus bleed a pool of blood for us to submerge our sinful body into so we are alway[s] cleanse[d] in His eyes. How generous is His love. How impossible for us to be judge unrighteous when we are submerge in Jesus holy blood. I am loved much!

I can just picture him doing the backstroke and singing,

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

Some Christian songs are kinda creepy if taken literally. This is not to say anything against William Cowper’s excellent hymn. However, poetic imagery is meant to be figurative and is best kept that way. Christians should not seek mystical encounters through human ritual. The only way one can draw close to God is through the means God prescribes.

Remember How We Remember

On this Memorial Day, most Americans will hear calls to remember those who served in the military and many will engage in acts to honor veterans. The holiday was originally know as “decoration day,” a day set apart to honor the graves of soldiers who died in the Civil War. This tradition is carried on today by many Americans who will place flags and flowers on the graves of veterans.

I heartily endorse decorating the tombs of veterans on days like today. It is how our culture shows respect for the dead. However, please remember how we remember. Christians are often blind to their own cultures and harshly judge the cultures of others.

Could you imagine a Christian approaching a family who lost their son in Afghanistan and rebuking them for placing flowers at his grave on Memorial Day? Sounds unbelievable? It happens every year on the mission field.

Every April, China celebrates the Qingming Festival (清明节). This holiday, also known as “tomb sweeping day,” is celebrated by taking flowers and food to one’s ancestors’ graves. While celebrations can include Buddhist rituals such as burning paper money and objects, the holiday is celebrated by the entire culture and need not include these elements.

The Qingming Festival is the only day out of the year that Chinese visit graveyards. They do not visit graves on birthdays or special anniversaries. If Chinese people wish to show respect for the deceased, the Qingming Festival is when they do it.

American missionaries often get hung up on the fact that Chinese leave food or other objects for their dead and condemn the entire holiday as a pagan practice. However, we leave flowers on graves and bury our dead in nice clothes, often with jewelry and other objects. The concept is pretty much the same. Note that in China, cremation is the norm; they have to leave objects on the graves to honor the dead in that way. Unless you’re going to argue that Americans should not decorate their graves or be buried with favorite objects (a pastor with his Bible or a soldier with his medals), then one must be cautious about critiquing this custom. There’s an old joke that goes like this:

An American and a Chinese visit a cemetery, the American puts flowers by a grave and the Chinese puts food near one. “When is your dead one going to come up to eat the food?” asks the American. “When yours comes up to smell the flowers,” replies the Chinese.

Let us honor our dead today, but let us also remember that we are employing one of our culture’s extra-biblical forms of expression. Mixed with our expressions today will be many prayers to false gods. We do not reject Memorial Day because unbelievers observe it, and we shouldn’t condemn holidays like the Qingming Festival for the same reason. Please remember how we remember before condemning how others remember.

Raymond Lull, Missionary Martyr

This afternoon, I read Samuel Zwemer, Raymond Lull: First Missionary to the Moslems (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1902). I found this biography of Raymond Lull to be fascinating as well as inspiring and decided to share a condensed version.

Raymond Lull (1235-1315) was born into an illustrious family. His father was a successful military officer and land owner. Raymond served as an official, knight, and poet in the court of King James II of Aragon (now part of Spain). After his conversion, Lull dedicated his life to reaching the Islamic world with the gospel.

Lull himself, when he was about sixty years old, reviews his life in these words: “I had a wife and children; I was tolerably rich; I led a secular life. All these things I cheerfully resigned for the sake of promoting the common good and diffusing abroad the holy faith. I learned Arabic. I have several times gone abroad to preach the Gospel to the Saracens. I have for the sake of the faith been cast into prison and scourged. I have labored forty-five years to gain over the shepherds of the church and the princes of Europe to the common good of Christendom. Now I am old and poor, but still I am intent on the same object. I will persevere in it till death, if the Lord permits it” (64).

Lull’s ministry was remarkable in that he focused on learning the language of his target culture from the start. Remember, Lull lived during Middle Ages. The seventh through the ninth crusades were fought during his lifetime. Yet still:

It occurred to him that at least a beginning might be made by composing a volume which should demonstrate the truth of Christianity and convince the warriors of the Crescent of their errors. This book, however, would not be understood by them unless it were in Arabic, and of this language he was ignorant (40).

He laid plans for a thorough mastery of the Arabic language. To secure a teacher was not an easy matter, as Majorca had years ago passed from Saracen into Christian hands, and as no earnest Moslem would teach the Koran language to one whose professed purpose was to assail Islam with the weapons of philosophy.

He therefore decided to purchase a Saracen slave, and with this teacher his biographers tell us that Lull was occupied in Arabic study for a period of more than nine years (55).

Lull’s language preparation came to an unfortunate end.

In the midst of their studies, on one occasion the Saracen blasphemed Christ…. When Lull heard the blasphemy, he struck his slave violently on the face in his strong indignation. The Moslem, stung to the quick, drew a weapon, attempted Lull’s life, and wounded him severely. He was seized and imprisoned. Perhaps fearing the death penalty for attempted murder, the Saracen slave committed suicide. It was a sad beginning for Lull in his work of preparation (56).

Raymond Lull devised a philosophical method for use in apologetics. Lull’s system (“Ars Major sive Generalis”) exposed his scholastic heritage and consisted of a mathematical system of philosophical notation expressed across three concentric circles. While Lull’s philosophy may seem a bit fanciful today, Zwemer rightly observes:

In judging the character of Lull’s method and his long period of preparation, one thing must not be forgotten. The strength of Islam in the age of scholasticism was its philosophy. Having thoroughly entered into the spirit of Arabian philosophical writings and seen its errors, there was nothing left for a man of Lull’s intellect but to meet these Saracen philosophers on their own ground. Avicenna, Algazel, and Averroes sat on the throne of Moslem learning and ruled Moslem thought. Lull’s object was to undermine their influence and so reach the Moslem heart with the message of salvation. For such a conflict and in such an age his weapons were well chosen (62).

In 1276, Lull opened a school to teach missions. Again, Lull’s commitment to cultural sensitivity is astounding for the age in which he lived.

He aimed not at a mere school of theology or philosophy: his ideal training for the foreign field was ahead of many theological colleges of our century. It included in its curriculum the geography of missions and the language of the Saracens! “Knowledge of the regions of the world,” he wrote, “is strongly necessary for the republic of believers and the conversion of unbelievers, and for withstanding infidels and Antichrist. The man unacquainted with geography is not only ignorant where he walks, but whither he leads. Whether he attempts the conversion of infidels or works for other interests of the Church, it is indispensable that he know the religions and the environments of all nations” (66).

In 1286 and 1294-96, Lull visited Rome to petition the church to adopt his views on missions but to no avail. Lull’s theology as a whole diverged from the beliefs of the Roman Catholic church. He apparently took positions closer to those of later reformers and his works were eventually condemned by the Inquisition. Between his trips to Rome, Lull ministered in Tunis, North Africa. In 1299-1306, Lull again served in North Africa. During both ministries, Lull took a rather confrontational approach.

One of Lull’s arguments, given in his controversial books, consists in presenting to the Saracens the Ten Commandments as the perfect law of God, and then showing from their own books that Mohammed violated every one of these divine precepts. Another favorite argument of Lull with Moslems was to portray the seven cardinal virtues and the seven deadly sins, only to show subsequently how bare Islam was of the former and how full of the latter! Such arguments are to be used with care even in the twentieth century; we can imagine their effect on the Moslems in the north of Africa in Lull’s day.

Persecution followed (108).

After being expelled from cities and even imprisoned for some time, Lull eventually returned to Spain where he might have retired.

It might have been thought that he would have been willing to enjoy the rest he had so well deserved. Raymund Lull was now seventy-nine years old…. His pupils and friends naturally desired that he should end his days in the peaceful pursuit of learning and the comfort of companionship.

Such, however, was not Lull’s wish. His ambition was to die as a missionary and not as a teacher of philosophy. Even his favorite “Ars Major” had to give way to that ars maximus expressed in Lull’s own motto, “He that lives by the life can not die” (133-134).

[Lull returned to North Africa in 1314] For over tell months the aged missionary dwelt in hiding, talking and praying with his converts and trying to influence those who were not yet persuaded (142).

At length, weary of seclusion, and longing for martyrdom, he came forth into the open market and presented himself to the people as the same man whom they had once expelled from their town. It was Elijah showing himself to a mob of Ahabs! Lull stood before them and threatened them with divine wrath if they still persisted in their errors. He pleaded with love, but spoke plainly the whole truth. The consequences can be easily anticipated. Filled with fanatic fury at his boldness, and unable to reply to his arguments, the populace seized him, and dragged him out of the town; there by the command, or at least the connivance, of the king, he was stoned on the 30th of June, 1315 (143).

Raymond Lull pioneered cross-cultural ministry in the Middle Ages. He devoted his life to the Gospel and spent his retirement in martyrdom. “He that lives by the life can not die.”

Missionaries Leave Field Over Peanut Butter

A young family was once called to serve as missionaries in a country in which peanut butter was not available. Since the family loved peanut butter, they asked some of their friends to send them a few jars from time to time. Soon after arriving on the field, the missionaries began receiving their supply of peanut butter, and their problems began.

The other missionaries in this country believed that this family should not eat peanut butter. Since God had called them to an area without peanut butter, true missionaries should give up this tasty snack. This argument might have been couched in terms of contextualization or incarnational ministry. However, the conflict was simple. This family’s peanut butter habit had gotten them into a sticky situation with their fellow missionaries.

The young family decided to continue eating their shipments of peanut butter in private. They thought the whole issue would just go away if they kept quite about their little supply. They were wrong. The other missionaries would not drop the issue, and the family’s ministry relationships suffered. As pressure and conflict intensified, the young family eventually decided to return home and give up missionary service.

Two lessons can be learned from this story. First, missionaries should avoid presenting their personal convictions as marks of spirituality. Perhaps some missionaries found that giving up certain Western amenities like peanut butter enabled them to better adapt to the culture and afforded them better ministry opportunities. Veteran missionaries should share such experience with their younger colleagues. Missionaries in supervisory roles should even mandate such expediencies in some cases. However, non-essentials like peanut butter should never become a source of spiritual pride.

Second, missionaries should be willing to give up personal habits for a greater cause. Does giving up peanut butter make someone a better missionary? The answer could be yes. If peanut butter causes conflict or is prohibited by an authority, missionaries should give it up. Forget who is right or wrong. Is peanut butter worth the distraction? In a world that desperately needs the gospel, peanut butter should be the least of our worries.

Source: Charles R. Swindoll, Grace Awakening (Thomas Nelson, 1990), pp. 85-86.