1 John 5:7 and the Greek Grammar

ὅτι τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες εν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὁ πατήρ, ὁ λόγος, καὶ τὸ Ἅγιον Πνεῦμα· καὶ οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς ἕν εἰσιν”

For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one”

Since 1881 and the Revised Version, this verse reads: “οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες”, “For there are three that testify”. Which is continued in verse 8, “το πνευμα και το υδωρ και το αιμα και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν”, “the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree in one”

It is generally argued, that because the textual evidence for this passage, especially in the Greek manuscripts, does not have the disputed words, that they do not belong to the Original Autograph of the Apostle John.

The accepted reading for verse 7, “οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες”, is a major problem with the Greek grammar. These words refer to the three witnesses in verse 8, “the Spirit and the water and the blood”. These nouns in the Greek are in the neuter gender. But the words, “τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες”, are in the masculine. Why is this? Some argue that this is used for “personification”, especially as the Holy Spirit is one of the Witnesses. This is incorrect. In verse 6, where John also mentions the “water, blood”, he then says, “And it is the Spirit that bears witness, because the Spirit is truth”. However, here John rightly writes, “το πνευμα εστιν το μαρτυρουν”, “the Spirit that bears Witness”, which is in the neuter gender. No one will doubt that the Person of the Holy Spirit is here meant, even though the neuter is used. This is because of the grammatical gender, that requires it. As Paul does in Romans 8:16, 26, “αυτο το πνευμα συμμαρτυρει”, literally, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with” (KJV), because of the neuter. Modern versions have rightly corrected this to, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with”. There is no reason whatsoever, for John to have written, “οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες”, using the masculine, when the neuter (τρια εισι τα μαρτυρουντα) would agree with the neuter nouns used, as he has already done in verse 6. Put back the disputed words, where we have the two nouns, “ὁ πατήρ, ὁ λόγος”, (the Father, the Word), in the masculine gender, this problem no longer exists! Even though we still have the neuter “το πνευμα” (the Spirit), the two masculine nouns govern the gender of the words, “τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες”. There can be no grammatical problems in the Holy Bible, as it is the Inspired, Inerrant, Word of God. The verse 7 as accepted by most versions, makes the Bible inconsistent with the rules of Greek grammar.

The Greek grammar problem continues in verse 8, with the reading, “και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν”, “and the three agree in one”. How do we account for John’s use here, of the Greek definite article, “το”? It is clear here, that it is used retrospectively, which is for renewed mention. There is no problem when we read verse 7, “καὶ οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς ἕν εἰσιν”, (and these Three are one), where we have “ἕν” (one) used a previous time, and the article in verse 8, is referring back to this use in 7. However, when these words in verse 7 are removed, there is a distinct problem with the Greek, as it stands in verse 8. Bishop Thomas Middleton, in his excellent work on the Greek Article, had this to say on the article in verse 8;

But the difficulty to which the present undertaking has directed my attention, is of another kind: it respects the Article in εις το εν in the final clause of the eighth verse: if the seventh verse had not been spurious, nothing could have been plainer than that το εν of verse 8, referred to hen of verse 7: as the case now stands, I do not perceive the force or meaning of the Article” (The Doctrine of the Greek Article Applied to the Criticism and Illustration of the New Testament, page 441). Middleton did not accept verse 7 as genuine, but states the obvious difficulty in the Greek grammar, of verse 8, to which there is not answer, without the words in verse 7 restored.

It should be noted, by those who do not know Greek grammar, that, because the “το εν” in verse 8, refers back to that in verse 7, that their “meanings” do not have to be identical, as Dr Plummer argues in the Cambridge Greek Testament. As Dr Green says in his grammar on “renewed mention”, “Sometimes the reference is implicit, the second expression, bearing the article, being equivalent to the former, though not identical” (Handbook to The Grammar of The Greek Testament, page. 181).

Yet another problem exists in the Greek in verse 9, if we were to remove the words in verse 7.

If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son” (KJV)

η μαρτυρια του θεου ην μεμαρτυρηκεν περι του υιου αυτου” (the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son)

Here we have the relative pronoun, “ἥν” (which), as found in the Received Greek Text. This has been corrupted to the conjunction, “ὄτι”. The former reading is used by Tertullian in the early 3rd century, in the Latin, but Tertullian translated himself from the Greek text. Of the latter reading, B F Westcott, who prefers the reading with the conjunction, says, “The second ὅτι is ambiguous… No one of the explanations is without difficulty” (Commentary on 1 John). And, A T Robertson, says that this reading is, “a harsh construction” (Word Pictures). With the reading “ἥν”, this takes us back to the “αὕτη”, in the verse, “THIS is the Witness of God”, which is to the Heavenly Witnesses in verse 7. That the relative pronoun is the correct reading, is confirmed by verse 10, “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that (ἥν) God gave of his Son”. The only Witnesses that God the Father has given, concerning Jesus Christ, is the Witness that we have in the words of verse 7. In verse 6 we have the Witness of the Holy Spirit, concerning Jesus Coming in the flesh, which is again confirmed in verses 7 and 8. Verses 9 and 10 speak of the Witness of the Father, both of which take us back to verse 7, where alone “The Father” is mentioned.

It is evident, that the internal evidence is very much supportive of the disputed words in verse 7, even though the external “evidence”, which has come down to us, may say otherwise.

We cannot also ignore the testimony of two very early Church fathers, Tertullian and Cyprian, both from the North African Latin Church, who also used the Greek Bible.

Tertullian, in his work “Against Praxeas”, writes:

And so the connection of the Father, and the Son, and of the Paraclete makes three cohering Persons, one in the other, which three are one (qui tres unum sunt) [in substance ‘unum’, not ‘one’ in number, ‘unus’]; in the same manner which it was said, ‘I and the Father are one’, to denote the unity of substance, not the singularity of number” (Ad Prax. C.25).”

Cyprian, in his work, The Unity of the Church, also writes:

The Lord said, I and the Father are one, and again of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, it is written: and these three are one” (V)

See the language of Cyprian here, “et iterum...scriptum est”, that is, “and again...it is written”. Both he and Tertullian connect John 10:30, “I and the Father We are one”, to their “unity” in 1 John 5:7.

The textual scholar, Dr Frederick Scrivener, who himself did not accept the disputed words, had this to say on Cyprian’s quote:

It is surely safer and more candid to admit that Cyprian read ver. 7 in his copies, than to resort to the explanation of Facundus [vi], that the holy Bishop was merely putting on ver.8 a spiritual meaning” (A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, vol. II, p.405)

The evidence of the internal Greek grammar, is without any doubt the strongest of the evidence for the inclusion of the words in verse 7. The Bible is the Inspired Word of God, Breathed into by the Holy Spirit, and therefore without errors.