First John 5:7

by Glenn Conjurske

At some time or other the reader has doubtless read or heard that I John 5:7 is not inspired Scripture, and does not belong in the Bible, but was probably left wondering what facts such an assertion was based upon. On the other side, some of the advocates of the modern doctrines of the perfection of the Textus Receptus and the King James Version have gone the length of affirming that no Bible is of God if it does not contain I John 5:7. Obviously, both of these positions cannot be true. What I shall endeavor to do in this article is simply to set the facts of the matter before the reader, so that he may judge of the question himself, and judge also of the soundness of the modern theories which set all of those facts at defiance.

We have two questions to answer:

1.How did I John 5:7 gain its place in the “Textus Receptus” of the Greek New Testament?

2.How did it gain its place in the English Bible?

As to the first question, we must begin by informing the reader that he might take up almost any manuscript of the Greek New Testament in the world—--ancient or modern, “Syrian,” “Alexandrian,” “Western,” “Egyptian,” “Antiochian,” or what have you—-and he will NOT find

I John 5:7 in it. But he may turn to any printed edition of the Textus Receptus, and he will find I John 5:7 in that. How did such a thing come to pass—-that a verse which is not in the Greek manuscripts should be found in the printed Greek New Testament? We need not conjecture on this point, for the actual history of the printed Textus Receptus is in our hands. To the facts of that history I direct the reader:

For nearly 1500 years the Greek New Testament was reproduced only by hand-written copies (manuscripts), as printing was then unknown. These manuscripts contain numerous variations—-some of them being accidental errors, and others being purposeful alterations—-and no two manuscripts contain exactly the same text. Some time after printing had been invented, certain learned men gathered together a few of these manuscripts, in order to compare them and seek to edit an accurate text of the Greek New Testament, in order to print it. The first published Greek New Testament was the work of Erasmus, and was issued in 1516. This Greek New Testament did not contain I John 5:7, for the very simple reason that the verse was not in the Greek manuscripts. As soon as his Testament was issued, however, Erasmus was attacked, by those who regarded the Latin Vulgate as the final authority, for omitting the verse. He replied that he had not omitted anything, for he could not omit what was never there, and it was none of his business to add it. In 1519 he published his second edition, still without I John 5:7. He was further hounded, and at length he promised that if anyone could find a single Greek manuscript which contained the verse, he would insert it in his next edition.

More on that anon. First we must back up a little. One of Erasmus’s foremost opponents in this matter was Stunica. He was the primary editor of the Greek New Testament of the Complutensian Polyglot. When Erasmus’s Greek New Testament appeared in 1516, the Complutensian Greek New Testament had already been in print for two years, though it had not yet been published, as it was awaiting the completion of the Old Testament. It was not given to the public until 1522. This New Testament contained the Latin Vulgate in one column, and the Greek in the other. It contained I John 5:7. “In the controversy between Stunica and Erasmus, the latter inquired by what authority the Complutensian editors had inserted l John v.7, and whether they really had MSS. so different from any that Erasmus himself had seen: to this the answer was given by Stunica, `You must know that the copies of the Greeks are corrupted; that OURS, however, contain the very truth.”’

By “ours” he meant of course the manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate, and Stunica’s statement is really an admission that his Greek manuscripts did not contain the verse, but that he had in fact forced the verse into the Greek New Testament on the sole authority of the Latin manuscripts, which he regarded as containing “the very truth.” Thus it will be seen, by the way, that the principle of Peter Ruckman and his kind, of “correcting the Greek from the English,” is no new thing. Nearly five hundred years ago men dared to correct the Greek original from the Latin version, which they regarded as the final authority. Today they dare to correct the Greek original from the English version, which they regard as the final authority.

But to return to Erasmus, he likely made his promise in the confidence that no manuscript of the Greek New Testament would ever be found which contained I John 5:7. But within a year after his promise was made, somebody came forth with one, and Erasmus inserted the verse in his third edition, in 1522—-not because he supposed the verse to be genuine, but to redeem his rash promise.

The manuscript thus forthcoming was called Codex Britannicus by Erasmus, but has since been designated Codex Dubliensis (from its location), or, usually, Codex Montfortianus (from a former owner). Of this manuscript Adam Clarke says, “I am rather inclined to think it the work of an unknown bold critic, who formed a text from one or more MSS. in conjunction with the Vulgate, and was by no means sparing of his own conjectural emendations; for it contains many various readings which exist in no other MS. yet discovered.” On the character of the same manuscript Bishop Marsh is cited as follows: “The influence of the Church of Rome in the composition of the Dublin manuscript, is most conspicuous in the text of that manuscript, which is a servile imitation of the Latin Vulgate. It will be sufficient to mention how it follows the Vulgate at the place in question. It not only agrees with the Vulgate, in the insertion of the seventh verse: it follows the Vulgate also at the end of the sixth verse, having cristo”, where all other Greek manuscripts have pneuma: and in the eighth verse it omits the final clause which had never been omitted in the Greek manuscripts, and was not omitted even in the Latin manuscripts before the thirteenth century.”

Such was the manuscript, on the authority of which Erasmus admitted

I John 5:7 into his Greek New Testament. This solitary manuscript has since found an ally in the Codex Ottobonianus, in the Vatican library. Ottobonianus is a Greek and Latin manuscript, with the Latin Vulgate in the left-hand column, and the Greek text in the right-hand column. The Greek text of this manuscript has also “been altered in many places to make it agree with the Latin Vulgate.” There are also a couple of manuscripts which contain the verse in the margin, added by a recent hand, and a very late manuscript which is a mere copy of the printed Complutensian text, but so far as I can learn, aside from these two there are no other Greek manuscripts in the world which contain the verse in the text. And what are these two? They are two late manuscripts, both of them belonging probably to the fifteenth century—-written, in other words, at just about the time that written manuscripts were superceded by printed books—-and both of them Latinized in their text by the influence of the Vulgate. These two witnesses +stand alone against all the other Greek manuscripts in existence.

But there is more. Not only do these two manuscripts stand alone against all other Greek manuscripts in the world, in the fact that they contain the verse, but they +stand alone against each other in the actual text which they contain. Being independent translations into Greek from the Latin Vulgate, they could hardly be expected to hit upon exactly the same words in translating, and in fact they did not do so. Thus they prove each other to be false witnesses, for their words do not agree together.

But there is yet more. Not only do they not agree with each other in the text which they exhibit, but +neither one of them agrees with the Textus Receptus. The following table will exhibit the actual contents of both manuscripts, as well as the text of the Complutensian Polyglot (another false witness, of the same character as the other two), and Erasmus’s third edition, beneath the common text of the Textus Receptus, as found in Stephens’ edition of 1550. These are arranged so that even the unlearned reader, who knows nothing of Greek, may see how far they agree or differ; and it will here appear that no two of the five of them contain the same text. The table exhibits:

1. The Textus Receptus, Stephens’ edition of 1550.

2. Codex Montfortianus.

3. Codex Ottobonianus.

4. The Complutensian Polyglot.

5. Erasmus’s third edition, 1522.

Thus I have laid before the reader the plain facts of the matter, showing both how I John 5:7 came to be inserted in the Textus Receptus, and also upon what slender ground that insertion rests. I only turn aside here to remark the folly of those who, with such facts of history within their reach, in printed books, yet hold that the Textus Receptus contains the Greek text perfectly preserved by God. Such doctrine is only systematized ignorance, and the fact that it is held by so many of the leaders of Fundamentalism is only one more proof of the extreme shallowness of the modern church. And I venture to ask, if the Textus Receptus in I John 5:7 contains the true and perfectly preserved text of the word of God, where was that text perfectly preserved for a thousand years before the Textus Receptus existed? Not in any Greek manuscript, for none of them written before the fifteenth century contain the verse at all, and as it is now commonly read in the Textus Receptus it is not contained in one manuscript under the sun, “Syrian” or otherwise. If this is the true text, it was not “preserved” at all, but rather restored by Erasmus in 1522—-and not quite restored even then, for the text as Erasmus printed it in 1522 did not agree with the present Textus Receptus. Where then was it “preserved”? Only in the Latin Vulgate—-which the advocates of the modern doctrine of preservation call “the devil’s Bible.” But it was not “preserved” even in the Latin Vulgate, for though forty-nine out of fifty of the later manuscripts of the Vulgate contain it, it is absent from the older manuscripts of the Vulgate, and some of those which do contain it have it only in the margin, and others insert it in the text after verse 8. Moreover, it is absent from the manuscripts of all other ancient versions. On this Scrivener says, “The disputed clause is not in any manuscript of the Peshitto, nor in the best editions (e.g. Lee’s): the Harkleian, Sahidic, Bohairic, Ethiopic, Arabic do not contain it in any shape: scarcely any Armenian codex exhibits it, and only a few recent Slavonic copies, the margin of a Moscow edition of 1663 being the first to represent it. The Latin versions, therefore, alone lend it any support, and even these are much divided.”

Such are the facts about I John 5:7 in the Greek New Testament, and these facts alone (were there no other) are sufficient to completely overturn the theory of a perfectly preserved Greek text as it is found printed in the Textus Receptus, or an English Bible which is “perfect and without error” in the King James Version—-a very modern theory by the way, which was never heard of in the world before the advent of our own shallow generation, and a theory which sets all the facts at defiance, and which discourages and condemns all inquiry into the facts.

But I must proceed to the second question before us: How did I John 5:7 gain the place which it holds in the English Bible? The answer to this is simple enough. When William Tyndale first undertook to translate the New Testament into English, he no doubt had in his hand the latest edition of Erasmus’s Greek Testament, the third edition of 1522—-in other words, the same edition into which Erasmus had admitted I John 5:7—-and from that he translated. Yet Tyndale could hardly have been ignorant of the controversy which raged about this verse. Moreover, he had also in his hands Martin Luther’s New Testament, which had also appeared in 1522, and which did not contain I John 5:7. But we suppose that Tyndale was pressed with difficulties enough to translate the text, besides hardships and persecutions, that he did not concern himself with textual criticism, but was content to translate the text before him. He says in his note “To the Reder” at the conclusion of his first New Testament, “Moreover/ even very necessitie and combraunce (God is recorde) above strengthe/ which I will not rehearce/ lest we shulde seme to bost oureselves/ caused that many thynges are lackynge/ whiche necessaryly are requyred. Count it as a thynge not havynge his full shape/ but as it were borne afore hys tyme/ even as a thing begunne rather then fynesshed.” At any rate, when Tyndale gave this first New Testament to the world, it contained I John 5:7, a facsimile of which follows:

Eight years passed ere he brought the work to what he then regarded as “his full shape” (though he was afterwards to revise it twice more). When he did so, in 1534, he retained the verse (with the wording slightly altered), but set it off from the rest of the text, by putting it in parenthesis, and printing it in smaller type, thus:

In his next revision, known as the GH edition, dated 1535/1534, the verse was printed after the same manner, as follows:

In 1535 the first edition of the whole Bible appeared in print in English. This was the work of Myles Coverdale. His New Testament was based on Tyndale, but revised by himself. He also marked I John 5:7 as doubtful, though he did not set it off as markedly as Tyndale had done, for he did not print it in different type, nor did he bracket the words “in earth” (though they stand on the same foundation as the rest of the bracketed words). The verse appears thus in his first edition:

Tyndale, meanwhile, was not idle, and in 1535 he published The newe Testament yet once agayne corrected by William Tyndall. Obviously nothing altered in his opinion concerning I John 5:7, in this he set the verse off with the same marks of doubt as in his former revisions. I give a facsimile from a 1536 printing of this edition:

In 1537 came Matthew’s Bible, which incorporated all that Tyndale had done before his martyrdom in 1536. In this the verse appears exactly as it had in Tyndale’s revisions.

In 1539 appeared Richard Taverner’s Bible. In this also the verse appeared bracketed, and in smaller type, and with this note in the margin: “This that is printed in other charactes (after ye iugement of Erasme, in his annotacions) be not the wordes of Iohn, the writer of this Epystle, but seme to be put in, of some other.”

In 1539 also appeared the Great Bible, under the editorship of Myles Coverdale. It contained the verse, set off after the same manner as it was in the New Testaments of Tyndale, Matthew, and Taverner. The 1540 revision of the Great Bible marked it the same way, as did subsequent printings. The following facsimile is from the 1540 edition:

During the short reign of the boy king, Edward VI, the printer Richard Jugge published a revised edition of Tyndale’s New Testament, apparently at the king’s behest, for in his dedication “To the most puysaunt and mightye Prince Edward the syxt” he says, “VVherunto are required, not only true and faithfull ministers, but especiallye, that the bokes of the holye scripture be well and truely translated and printed also, both to take away all occasions of scismes and heresies, that by reason of impropre translation and false printe many times do arise amonge the simple and ignoraunt people, and also to stoppe the mouthes of the aduersarie part, whych vpon suche faultes, take a boldenesse to blaspheme and misreport this heauenly doctrine, nowe so plentifully set forth vnto vs, thorowe your graces moste prudent and godlye carefulnesse. VVherin forasmuche as semed to lacke no more to the absolute perfectnesse, but that one vndoubted true impression mighte be had, wherunto in suche worde debates, men might haue recourse and be resolued: Accordyng to the streyghte charge and commaundemente, that I receaued of youre highnesse in that behalfe, I haue endeuoured my selfe accordynge to my duetye and power, to put in print the newe Testament, vsing thaduise and helpe of godly learned men, both in reducinge the same to the trueth of the Greke text (appoynting oute also the diuersitye where it happeneth) and also in the kepynge of the true ortographie of wordes.”

This revision appeared in 1552. Jugge freely incorporated readings from the Great Bible, and made revisions of his own. He removed the marks of doubt which had stood in I John 5:7 ever since William Tyndale had placed them there in 1534. The verse stands thus in his edition:

What moved Jugge to depart from the practice established by his predecessors is unknown, but it was altogether in keeping with the purpose of his edition, to remove doubts, and print one standard of appeal for the settling of controversies. Jugge’s edition was not the first which removed those marks of doubt, for Francis Fry lists three printings of Tyndale’s New Testament in 1836 (printer unknown) which removed them. Henry Cotton lists upwards of eighty Bibles and New Testaments printed from 1536 to 1551, and I have not examined most of them, though the ones I have checked contain the verse with the usual marks of doubt. The significance of Jugge’s revision of 1552 lies in the fact that it was used five years later by William Whittingham as the basis for the Geneva New Testament of 1557, which included I John 5:7 without note or mark. The Geneva Bible of 1560 followed suit, as did the Bishops’ Bible in 1568, and the King James Version in 1611. Thus I John 5:7 came to stand in the Bible of the English people. Whether it ought to be there may be well enough determined by the facts set forth above.

Glenn Conjurske