Contradictions – 1 John 5:7

Next contradiction – the argument over 1 John 5:7.

This passage is well known among Biblical scholars as somewhat controversial.  Humorously, the author of this list of contradictions emphasizes that this is an “important” verse, implying that the omission of the verse in some (actually many) translations is suspicious.  The reality is a bit less exciting.

For there are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.  (KJV)

Actually quite a few modern translations omit this verse at least in part.  The reason is not partisan, theological manipulation, but rather the evidence (or lack thereof) that this verse is actually original in John’s letter.  Some critics mock the many variants of the Greek New Testament as evidence that we have no idea what it actually said originally.  However tracing literary transmission actually works the exact opposite – the more versions you have, the more likely you can discern the original text.  Variations (which in the case of the Biblical New Testament are overwhelmingly minor spelling issues or the reversal of words – nothing that actually alters the meaning of the text!) can be traced and by comparison with other copies, it can be determined which is the older and more reliable text.

In the case of 1 John 5:7, the Greek evidence for the verse is wholly absent.  There are no ancient Greek manuscripts that include this verse.  It doesn’t begin showing up in translations until the Middle Ages.  Only four Greek translations contain the verse, and these translations date from the 16th century, 14-15th century, 12th century, and the 11th century.  Additionally, no other ancient copies of the text in any other language contain the verse.

In terms of ancient references to or quotes from 1 John that might reference this verse, nothing appears until the fourth century, and scholars suspect that it was based on a marginal note.

The evidence appears to argue heavily against this verse being original, which is why it is often excluded.  Some hypothesize that Erasmus, the man who produced the translation of the Greek New Testament utilized to produce the King James English translation was influenced by theological politics rather than strictly academic interests.  This is speculation, but is certainly possible.

The verse is not “important” in the sense of communicating something that is lacking elsewhere in Scripture.  Verses and passages with Trinitarian references are hardly lacking and are found in passages that are not questionable in terms of authenticity.  At the end of the day, 1 John 5:7 falls into the category of a very small number of passages (such as Mark 16:9ff) that do not have good historical attestation as being original, and are either omitted or marked as suspicious in good translations.  The the appearance of contradiction could be avoided altogether of this information were just included in marginal notes or footnotes.

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