Dort, Westminster, and the Johannine Comma

Dort, Westminster, and the Johannine Comma

Both the Synod of Dort and the Westminster Assembly serve as noteworthy authoritative and confessional witnesses in church history to the inspiration of the Comma as the Trinity’s divinely self-attesting testimony. Our fathers in the faith were aware of the text-critical issues surrounding the Comma since the third century; they examined the extant evidence and found that “almost all Greek copies” available in their day contained it; they weighed other considerations inherent to their methodology; and they owned the reading as true and trustworthy. 

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. – 1 John 5:7

The above verse is found in nearly all Reformation-era Bibles, such as Wycliffe 1395, Tyndale 1525, Coverdale 1535, Great Bible 1539, Matthew’s 1549, Geneva 1560, Bishops’ 1568, Sagradas Escrituras 1569, Biblia Reina Valera Antigua 1602, Giovanni Diodati 1607, and the Authorized (or King James) Version 1611. The verse is also cited as a proof text in many historic expressions of the Reformed faith: The Belgic Confession 1561 (Article 9), Heidelberg Catechism 1563 (Lord’s Day 8), Westminster Confession of Faith 1646 (Chapter 2), Westminster Larger Catechism 1648 (Q&A 9), and London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689 (Chapter 2).

Today, however, most Reformed scholars and pastors question or reject the verse as uninspired and unworthy of inclusion as a confessional or catechetical proof text for the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. This significant shift has led to confusion for contemporary Christians.

Debates over the inspiration of 1 John 5:7, otherwise known as the so-called Comma Johanneum, can be traced all the way back to the third century A.D.  Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that Reformation-era scholars included the Comma in their doctrinal statements intentionally and with sound and studied reasons. Let us consider two historical and confessional witnesses to its veracity.

Witness # 1 – The Synod of Dort was the international church council that published the aforementioned Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism. It also commissioned a new translation of the Dutch Bible which came to be called the Statenvertaling (States Translation). This new Bible contained many marginal notes and some of them acknowledged known textual variants. The entry for 1 John 5:7 reads as follows:

This verse, seeing it contains a very clear testimony of the Holy Trinity, seems to have been left out of some copies by the Arians, but is found in almost all Greek copies, and even by many ancient and worthy teachers also, who lived before the times of the Arians, brought out of them for proof of the Holy Trinity; and the opposition of the witnesses upon earth.

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