A History of the Comma Johanneum
The following is a work in progress, an interesting diversion that I attend to from time to time as a curiosity. The appearance of the Comma Johanneum has many intriguing faces in history. It shows up at a time and place when many interesting things are occuring. If you have any information to add it would be appreciated.
There are a number of important historical themes related to the history of 1 John 5:7 also known as "the Comma." First, there is the hard evidence when and where the Comma appears, and where one would expect it to appear when it does not if it were a valid passage. Second, there is the issue of the Arian controversy which immediately preceded the appearance of the Comma and what influence or impact this may have had toward the appearance of the Comma. There is also the issue of the New Testament canon which was in the process of being canonized right around the time the Comma appeared. 2 and 3 John were considered questionable books at times by different people in the history of the church. This brings Jerome and the Papacy into the picture. The Comma appears at a time when Manicheanism was at a high point. This brings Priscillian into the picture who seems to have known about it in Spain in the last quarter of the fourth century. It also brings Augustine, a former Manichean into the picture, a resident of Carthage where the Comma first took hold, and the first real Trinitarian theologian. The Comma also appears about the time the Germanic tribes were overrunning the empire, namely the Visigoths and the Vandals, who were also Arians, and who were also overrunning Spain and North Africa where the Comma first appears. And lastly, one must keep a careful eye on Carthage since Augustine did not know of the Comma, but it is here where it first appears most obviously in the first quarter of the fifth century. When all these events are considered a very interesting picture begins to emerge.
ca. 200 A.D. | Alexandria, Egypt
Clement of Alexandrian quotes from 1 John 5:5-8 and does not quote the Comma as part of his quotation. If he knew of the Comma this is very unusual in light of his normally strong theological emphasis on the relationship between the Father, the Word and the Spirit. He is unaware of the Comma.
"He says, "This is He who came by water and blood," and again, "For there are three that bear witness, the spirit," which is life, "and the water," which is regeneration and faith, "and the blood," which is knowledge; "and these three are one." (Cassiodorus)
ca. 210 A.D. | Africa
Tertullian makes a statement that he supports by quoting John 10:30, yet he does not quote the Comma which would have been the same argument but stronger. He is unaware of the Comma.
"Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent persons, who are yet distinct one from another. These Three are, one essence, not one person, as it is said, "I and my Father are One," in respect of unity of substance not singularity of number" (Against Praxeas, 25).
ca. 250 A.D. | Carthage, Africa
Cyprian of Carthage quotes John as saying "these three are one" in reference to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (not Father, Word and Spirit). Since he has a habit of quoting Scripture and does not quote the Comma here, but must appeal to John 10:30 to make his argument for the oneness of the Father and Son, he is likely quoting a truncated portion of 1 John 5:8, along with an interpretative spin, in an attempt to include the Holy Spirit along with the Father and Son. There would be no need to do this if he had known of the Comma. He is unaware of the Comma.
"The Lord says, 'I and the Father are one,' and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 'and these three are one.' (On the Unity of the Church).
ca. 255 A.D. | Rome, Italy
Novatian writes a treatise on the Trinity. He does not mention the Comma.
ca. 360 AD | Asia Minor or Gaul
Hilary of Poitiers writes a substantial work called On the Trinity but does not mention the Comma. Hilary was from southern Gaul and may have written this work when he was in exile in Phrygia in Asia Minor.
363 AD | Rome: Damasus becomes bishop of Rome.
ca. 363 A.D. | Asia, Minor
Council of Laodicea lists the Old Testament books. The three letters of John are included.
367 AD | Rome: Athanasius first lists the 27 books of the later accepted New Testament canon in his Festal Letter.
ca. 370 AD | Germania: The invading Huns begin to displace the Visigoths in the Baltic region. The Visigoths are Arians.
ca. 373 AD | Africa: Augustine embraces Manicheanism while studying in Carthage. Manicheanism taught a distinct dualism between good and evil, light and darkness. The founder, Mani, held that there were thus two Gods. One god created good, the other created evil and therefore no one could be held accountable for his/her sins. See Augustine on Original Sin and Predestination.
ca. 379 AD | Spain: The Priscillian problem is reported to the Bishop of Rome. They are advised to deal with the matter locally.
380 AD | Roman Empire: In February, Emperor Theodosius decrees that Christianity is the state religion of the Roman Empire and the church must adhere to Nicean-Athanasian Trinitarianism, as defined by the bishops of Rome and Alexandria, against Arianism which he outlaws. Theodosius banishes the Arian bishop of Constantinople and replaces him with Gregory Nazianzen, an Athanasian Trinitarian.
380 AD | Greece: Jerome goes to Constantinople and studies under Gregory Nazianzen, the new Bishop of Constantinople.
380 AD | Spain: A council gathers at Saragossa, Spain, to address the Priscillian situation. It is attended by ten Spanish bishops and two Gallic bishops from Aquitaine. Priscillian was excommunicated along with the other leaders of the sect, Instantius, Salvianus, and Helpidius. Instantius defiantly ordains Priscillian Bishop of Avila, Spain.
ca. 380 AD | Spain: A reference to a variant form of the Comma in Liber Apologeticus, a work attributed to either Priscillian or Bishop Instantius who were both later charged with Manicheanism. This is the first known occurrence of a passage that resembles 1 John 5:7.
As John says 'and there are three which give testimony on earth, the water, the flesh the blood, and these three are in one, and there are three which give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one in Christ Jesus." (Liber Apologeticus).
381 AD | Greece: Council of Constantinople under Gregory Nazianzen "confirms" Nicene Creed. Since Arianism is illegal in the empire, they have no voice at the council.
382 AD | Rome: First council to adopt a Scripture canon. Damasus, bishop of Rome, approves the Athanasian list.
382 AD | Rome: Jerome becomes secretary of Damasus, Bishop of Rome. Damasus commissions Jerome to translate the Scriptures into Latin - the Vulgate. He will produce three slightly different versions.
The Romana Vulgate is the first.
ca. 383 AD | Africa: One of the great leaders of the Manicheans, Faustus of Mileve, had come to Carthage in 382, and Augustine was hoping that this Faustus, who was known for being a persuasive speaker, could address some of his concerns about the religion. Augustine is disappointed with him as nothing more than a rhetoritician.
383 AD | Italy: Augustine abandons Manicheanism and leaves for Rome.
384 AD | Gaul: Bishop Instantius, friend of Priscillian, is tried at a Synod in Bordeaux in southwestern Gaul and deposed of his office.
384 AD | Rome: Damasus, Bishop of Rome, dies and Jerome is expected to replace him but a rival Siricius is elected instead. Jerome leaves Rome and goes to Antioch in Palestine, then Alexandria, then settles in Bethlehem in 386 AD.
384 AD | Italy: Augustine becomes a catechumen of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan.
385 AD | Gaul: Priscillian is tried at Treves (Trier) in southeastern Gaul and executed for sorcery. He is also accused of being a Manichean. It appears his charge of sorcery was based on mystic Zodiacal concepts.
385 AD | Palestine: Jerome first uses the Greek Septuagint and Origen's Hexapla to translate the Old Testament. Having spent several years in Palestine, Jerome noted the Jews did not count Deutero-canonical books inspired and did not wish to include them. Augustine's opinion prevails and he is forced to include them.
387 AD | Palestine: Chrysostom in his Homilies against the Jews writes, "So there were three witnesses on earth and three in Heaven who made it clear that God's glory cannot be approached." However, it is plainly clear the three witnesses he has in mind for both heaven and earth are not the two sets of three mentioned in John's letter. However, one does wonder why he uses this type of terminology.
390 AD | Palestine:Jerome now uses the Hebrew Masoretic text, with the aid of several rabbis, for the basis of his translation.
391 AD | Africa: While visiting Hippo for personal reasons, Bishop Valerius ordains Augustine unexpectedly.
393 AD | Africa: Council of Hippo (near Carthage) also approves the Athanasian list (December).
395 AD | Rome: Honorius becomes Emperor of the West.
396 AD | Africa: Bishop Valerius dies and Augustine becomes bishop.
397 AD | Africa: Council of Carthage also approves the Athanasian list.
401 AD | Africa: The Arian Visigoths begin to enter the Roman Empire due to pressure from invading Huns.
405 AD | Palestine: Jerome completes the Vulgate.
406 AD | Africa: Under King Gunneric, the Arian Vandals settle in Aquitainia, north of the Pyrenees, after marauding through Gaul from Germania.
ca. 407 AD | Africa Augustine of Hippo writes a commentary on the first letter of John. The copies we now have end at 1 John 5:3.
408 AD | Rome: The Visigoth King Alaric beseiges Rome. Alaric is an Arian.
409 AD | Africa: The Vandals cross the Pyrenees into Spain.
ca. 409-413 AD| Africa: Orosius, a native of Tarragon Spain (Or Braga, Portugal), escapes the Vandal invasion and leaves for Africa. He was a Christian priest in Spain and consulted Augustine on the Priscillian matter who sends him to Jerome in Palestine. He returned to Africa in 416 with the newly discovered relics of Stephen which were take to Braga, Portugal by the recommendation of Avitus.
Here we see an intimate connection from a key figure from Spain in the region of Priscillian's activity, who is also connected to Jerome and to Augustine. It is perhaps this man who brings the Comma to North Africa. He was involved with the Priscillian affair and would also likely have brought Spanish manuscripts to Africa when he fled from the Vandals invading Spain.
412 AD | Africa: Donatism is banned by Imperial decree.
415 AD | Palestine: Synod at Diospolis pronounced the writings of Pelagius to be orthodox.
415 AD | Africa: Augustine writes to Orosius against the Priscillianists and Origenists - Ad Orosium contra Priscillianistas et Origenistas.
418 AD | Africa: Council of Carthage, with 200 bishops present, condemns Pelgianism.
419 AD | Spain: Visigoths invade Spain and overtake the Vandals.
419 AD | Africa: Council of Carthage also confirms the Athanasian list.
ca. 425 AD | Africa: Augustine completes On the Trinity. He does not mention the Comma.
ca. 427 AD | Africa: Augustine of Hippo writes a treatise against Arianism. He does not know of the Comma but interprets 1 John 5:8 to refer to the Trinity.
I would not have you mistake that place in the epistle of John the apostle where he says, 'There are three witnesses: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three are one.'.... if we will inquire into the things signified I by these, there not unreasonably comes into our thoughts the Trinity itself, which is the one, only, true, supreme God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, of whom it could most truly be said, "There are three witnesses, and the three are one:" so that by the term 'Spirit' we should understand God the Father to be signified; as indeed it was concerning the worshipping of Him that the Lord was speaking, when He said, "God is a Spirit:" by the term, 'blood,' the Son; because "the Word was made flesh:" and by the term 'water,' the Holy Spirit; as, when Jesus spoke of the water which He would give to them that thirst, the evangelist saith, "But this said He of the Spirit which they that believed on Him were to receive....And if in any other way this depth of mystery which we read in John's epistle can be expounded and understood agreeably with the Catholic faith, which neither confounds nor divides the Trinity, neither believes the substances diverse nor denies that the persons are three, it is on no account to be rejected" (Contra Maximinum Ariannum)
429 AD | Africa: North Africa is invaded by 80,000 Vandals under their king, Gaiseric (or Genseric), who leads his forces from the Iberian Peninsula across the narrow Straits of Gibraltar. Bishops flee to fortified Hippo.
430 AD | Africa: The Vandals advance on Hippo. Augustine dies on August 28 during the seige.
430 AD | Africa: Carthage falls to the Vandals. Gaiseric makes Carthage his capital.
450 AD | Africa: "And there are three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, The Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one." (Contra Varimadum).
451 AD | Gaul: Attila raids Gaul.
455 AD | Rome: The Vandals sack Rome for two weeks and then leave.
480 AD | Western Europe: The Visigoths extend their domain from the Loire to Gibraltar and from the Bay of Biscay to the Rhine. Their seat of empire is Toulouse.
533 AD | Africa: Belisarius invades North Africa with a relatively small force. He defeats the Vandals and regains the region as a Byzantine province for Justinian.
541 AD | : Vulgate Codex Amiantinus, considered one of the best manuscripts, does not have the Comma.
546 AD | : Vulgate Codex Fuldensis. Does not contain the Comma but it does contain the Comma phrase "in earth" for 1 John 5:8. It also contains a reference to the Comma in the Prologue to the Canonical Epistles allegedly written by Jerome. However, tnis is considered spurious by many because the Comma is absent from John's first letter.
"according to the rule of truth, so these Epistles I have restored to their proper order; which, if arranged agreeably to the original text, and faithfully interpreted in Latin diction, would neither cause perplexity to the readers, nor would the various readings contradict themselves, especially in that place where we read the unity of the Trinity laid down in the Epistle of John. In this I found translators (or copyists) widely deviating from the truth; who set down in their own edition the names only of the three witnesses, that is, the Water, Blood, and Spirit; but omit the testimony of the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; by which, above all places, the Divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is proved to be one.
ca. 650 AD | : Codex Pal Legionensis (l). Has the Comma but with the words "in Christ Jesus" similar to the Priscillian quotation.
1514 AD | : Cardinal Ximenes' Complutensian Polyglott Greek edition contained the verse