Comma Johanneum–1 John 5:7-8

For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. –1 John 5:7-8

Time to get our thinking hats on today. If you’ll look at the two verses that I have before us today, you might notice something interesting, namely, these two verses are no longer than most single verses. Why is this? If you’ll run to the bookcase and pull down your King James Version, looking up these same verses, you’ll see the difference. Go ahead, run. I’ll wait.

There are only a few places where the Bible’s text leads scholars into significant disagreement. Perhaps I should clarify that. Scholars, by and large, establish their reputations by disagreeing with something that somebody else has said. You don’t get tenure at most schools by saying, “You know all that stuff that Franz Delitzsch said about the Old Testament? He was right.” So scholars will argue endlessly about all sorts of things, but there are only a handful of texts that are in significant doubt and that really matter. For example, that whole “woman caught in adultery” story is considered by many scholars to be a later addition to the text of John’s Gospel. That’s a pretty significant question, you might think, and it is, but on the other hand, does any key teaching of the gospel hinge on that story? No.

Today’s verses represent another one of those areas of disagreement, one where most scholars, even fairly conservative ones, say that the traditional material shouldn’t be there. In your King James Version, you’ll find an overt reference to the trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and then this odd combination of the spirit, the water, and the blood. So is that three or six witnesses? The scholars believe that some overzealous scribe way back in time decided to clear things up for us by putting in what he thought these verses really meant, the only clear and concise reference to the Trinity in the entire Bible. The problem was that our scribe didn’t go back and find all the ancient manuscripts and change them. He also didn’t find the books of the early church fathers who quoted 1 John and change them.

The comma Johanneum is this passage that is now left out. It’s in your King James Version–and admit it, you didn’t go get it off the shelf, did you?–but you won’t find it in any contemporary versions. Therefore, with a poof of editing, the doctrine of the Trinity was cast into the night, never to be considered again.

But not so fast. The doctrine of the Trinity is a lot like the doctrine of salvation through Christ’s blood. I’ve never seen Jesus’ blood. I’ve never seen Jesus. Does that make him less real? Does that make the application of his blood any less meaningful for me? No. I don’t need a clear statement of the Trinity in the 5th chapter of 1 John to recognize that God reveals himself in three persons. Jesus clearly talks of the Father as someone who is separate from himself yet the same as himself. That’s two-thirds of the Trinity without even breaking a sweat. And Jesus talks very clearly of the Holy Spirit, just as this passage of 1 John does. Now we have all three, even without the comma Johanneum. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is being certain of what we do not see. Happily we have not only the testimony of the scripture but of the Holy Spirit to guide us. Who needs a few words thrown in by some over-enthusiastic monk?