Wednesday, February 03, 2016

An Internal Argument for the Comma Johanneum

I re-read today the Trinitarian Bible Society article by G. W. Anderson and D. E. Anderson titled "Why 1 John 5:7-8 Is In The Bible?" (You can read it here).  The article reviews the comments of three interpreters from three different eras who defended the authenticity of the so-called Comma Johanneum or "Three Heavenly Witnesses" passage: Matthew Henry (1700s), Robert Lewis Dabney (1800s); and Edward F. Hills (1900s).

The external evidence for the CJ is admittedly weak, but Dabney and Hills both point out what, I believe, is one of the strongest arguments from internal evidence in favor of the CJ based, in particular, on gender agreement.

If the CJ is omitted the passage would read:

5:7a  For there are three which bear witness [hoti treis eisin hoi martyrountes]

5:8b  The Spirit and the water and the blood, and the three are one [to pneuma kai to hudor kai to haima, kai hoi treis eis to hen eisen].

The problem would be that the three neuter singular nouns in v. 8b would be preceded by the masculine adjective number three [treis] and the masculine plural article and participle [hoi martyrountes] and followed by the masculine plural article and masculine adjective number three [hoi treis]. 

If, however, the CJ were original, v. 7a would be followed instead by "in the heaven, the Father, and the Word, and the Holy Spirit [en to ourano, ho pater, ho logos, kai to hagion pneuma]," which, with two masculine singular nouns [ho pater, ho logos] and one neuter singular adjective and noun [to hagion pneuma], would appear to fit better grammatically in the context.

This point is made by Dabney and cited in the article:

First, if it be made, the masculine article, numeral, and particle…are made to agree directly with three neuters—an insuperable and very bald grammatical difficulty. But if the disputed words are allowed to stand, they agree directly with two masculines and one neuter noun…where, according to a well known rule of syntax, the masculines among the group control the gender over a neuter connected with them....

The same point is made by Hills and cited in the article:

In the third place, the omission of the Johannine comma involves a grammatical difficulty. The words spirit, water, and blood are neuter in gender, but in 1 John 5:8 they are treated as masculine. If the Johannine comma is rejected, it is hard to explain this irregularity. It is usually said that in 1 John 5.8 the spirit, the water, and the blood are personalized and that this is the reason for the adoption of the masculine gender. But it is hard to see how such personalization would involve the change from the neuter to the masculine. For in verse 6 the word Spirit plainly refers to the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity. Surely in this verse the word Spirit is “personalized,” and yet the neuter gender is used. Therefore, since personalization did not bring about a change of gender in verse 6, it cannot fairly be pleaded as the reason for such a change in verse 8. If, however, the Johannine comma is retained, a reason for placing the neuter nouns spirit, water, and blood in the masculine gender becomes readily apparent. It was due to the influence of the nouns Father and Word, which are masculine. Thus the hypothesis that the Johannine comma is an interpolation is full of difficulties.

This does indeed appear to represent a substantial internal argument in favor of the originality and authenticity of the CJ.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for your defense of the Traditional Text. Interested in what you make of the contra argument regarding the grammar at (see under Internal Argument and in comment section) I would like to see a blog post replying to Nolan and Dabney detractors....

Pastor Jeff said...


Thanks for the comment and pointing out this article and comments. Very interesting. I'll try to take a closer look at it. Preliminary thoughts: (1) It would be worthwhile to test the assertion that an apposition must agree in case but need not agree in number and gender by comparison to the LXX, the NT, and patristic Greek; (2) Hills had credentials in NT and text criticism and saw the argument as valid; (3) I hardly see the last quote from Dabney in comment as evidence of his reversing his position. Rather, I think his point is that you could not (and need not) make your case for the Trinity on the CJ alone.


Steven Avery said...

The comments by "Jim" are based on numerous conceptual errors and even blunders and quirky grammatical theories. If you track down the threads on CARM where he plied these unusual grammar theories, you can learn about them. Since CARM is not permanent, I would prefer to go over them on the Facebook PureBible or Heavenly Witnesses forum, or a forum I have called PureBibleForum if they actually puzzle anybody. I'll even go over the history of his blundering accusations. (Which changed when he the Eugenius Bulgaris info was pointed out to Jim.)