Recently an individual engaged me in a very brief discussion about the reliability of the King James Version of the Bible. His argument was that the Greek text behind the King James Version was inferior to the Greek texts which underlie most of the modern versions. Besides his confident affirmations of the same, and his claim that he had studied Greek (“In the future, I would suggest not arguing with me about textual criticism. This is an area I know very well. I minored in Greek in college.”), he argued that “The Wescott Hort (sic) set of manuscripts is superior to the Byzantine family, which produced the Textus Receptus.”
The one proof that he offered was I John 5:7. He wrote, “How do I know that? 1 John 5:7. Almost all of that verse is not in the original. John didn’t write it. You won’t find any church father quoting that verse to prove the Trinity. It didn’t exist when the church fathers were around.” Therefore, he argued, the text behind the KJV is inferior because it includes this verse.
First, I pointed out that his reasoning was circular. He claimed that the Westcott and Hort set of manuscripts (i.e., Alexandrian Text Type) was superior to the Byzantine Text Type because I John 5:7, which is found in the Textus Receptus, was not in the “original” and “John didn’t write it.” But how he knows they are not in the “original” and that John didn’t write them is because the Westcott and Hort texts don’t have them! This is circular reasoning.
Second, concerning the claim that no church father quoted the verse to prove the “Trinity,” consider the following. Cyprian, who became the “bishop” of Carthage, lived from 200 to 258 A.D. He wrote in his Treatises (1:6): “The Lord says, ‘I and the Father are one;’3117 and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, ‘And these three are one.’3118” You can find this at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library . I left the citations in this quote from the CCEL because they give the citation for 3118 as “1 John v.7.” They, themselves, say it refers to I John 5:7 and that Cyprian was quoting from it.
Does Cyprian cite this verse to “prove the trinity”? He is arguing the purity and unity of the church based on the nature of God’s unity. In the very next sentence he writes: “And does any one believe that this unity which thus comes from the divine strength and coheres in celestial sacraments, can be divided in the Church…” Certainly he is talking about “divine unity.”
Furthermore, this citation in Latin predates the Greek texts of Alexandrian Text Type. (The Codices Vaticanus and Alexandrinus date to the fourth century and the Codex Sianaticus dates the fifth century while Cyprian wrote in the third.) Since the autographs were originally written in Greek, then this quote from scripture in Latin probably had to have a Greek source that predated it, making that reading even older than the Cyprian quote.
Codex Vaticanus, by the way, indicates in the margin that there was a textual irregularity or variant here of which the scribe was aware. Obviously, the hand that wrote the Codex Vaticanus was aware of an alternative reading for the verse but did not include it.
Some argue that Tertullian refers to this passage in the following: “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,”8116 in respect of unity of substance not singularity of number.” (Tertullian). Tertullian may or may not have reference to I John 5:7 specifically, but what he writes certainly contains the element of that verse in question, “These three are one.” This expression in scripture is unique to I John 5:7.
Athanasius (296 – 373) quotes this verse and specifically states that John said “these three are one,” which is clearly a quote from I John 5:7. “Pros de toutois pasin Ioannes phaskei, Kai oi treis to ev eisen.” Find this quote here. See lines  and . Translated to English, this is “In addition to all these, John affirms, ‘and these three are one'” (translation by KJV Today)
Commentator John Gill observes: “it is cited by Athanasius (a) about the year 350; and before him by Cyprian (b), in the middle, of the “third” century, about the year 250; and is referred to by Tertullian (c) about, the year 200; and which was within a “hundred” years, or little more, of the writing of the epistle; which may be enough to satisfy anyone of the genuineness of this passage; and besides, there never was any dispute about it till Erasmus left it out in the first edition of his translation of the New Testament; and yet he himself, upon the credit of the old British copy before mentioned, put it into another edition of his translation.”
Several other ancient authorities refer or allude to this passage as authentic and original, as well.
How, then, did it come to be removed from scripture in so many Greek manuscripts?
In his Prologue to the Canonical Epistles Jerome (c. 347 – 420) states that there were many trying to alter the passage contrary to the truth of faith. “Just as these are properly understood and so translated faithfully by interpreters into Latin without leaving ambiguity for the readers nor [allowing] the variety of genres to conflict, especially in that text where we read the unity of the trinity is placed in the first letter of John, where much error has occurred at the hands of unfaithful translators contrary to the truth of faith, who have kept just the three words water, blood and spirit in this edition omitting mention of Father, Word and Spirit in which especially the catholic faith is strengthened and the unity of substance of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is attested.”
Matthew Henry suggests that “It was far more easy for a transcriber, by turning away his eye, or by the obscurity of the copy, it being obliterated or defaced on the top or bottom of a page, or worn away in such materials as the ancients had to write upon, to lose and omit the passage, than for an interpolator to devise and insert it. He must be very bold and impudent who could hope to escape detection and shame; and profane too, who durst venture to make an addition to a supposed sacred book.”
Much more could be written and has been by others. The truth is that God’s word has been preserved (Psalm 12:6,7). We can trust Jesus’ promise that heaven and earth shall pass away but His words would not pass away (Matt. 24:35).
By the way, the individual with whom I was discussing this issue abruptly ended the discussion and removed the dialogue from his Facebook page, citing my evidence as too flimsy.
Eric L. Padgett