What are Some Passages You Interpret Differently than Dr. Ehrman? (1 John 5:7-8)

In 1 John 5:7-8, the King James Bible speaks of three that bear witness in heaven – the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost) – and these three are one.

On March 1, 1516, Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutch humanist scholar, published the first printed Greek New Testament. When it came out, he did not have this verse with the same wording affirming the Trinity. There were Catholic scholars who got very upset with him for not putting it in the publication. In his second edition of 1519, he did not have it again. What he mentioned in his notes in that second edition is “I did not put it in because I did not see it in any Greek manuscripts.” In 1520 there was a scribe at Oxford named Roy, who created a manuscript that had the entire New Testament in it, and conveniently it ended up at the doorstep of Erasmus in Basel. Erasmus did not promise that he would include the reference to the Trinity if he found it in a Greek manuscript. He only explained with the negative, “I did not put it in because I did not find it in any Greek manuscripts.” He finds this manuscript that he was meant to receive, and then his third edition of 1522 has 1 John 5:7-8 in it with the Trinitarian formula.

This is something that has plagued English readers of the Bible, but not German readers. It was not an issue for German readers of scripture because Martin Luther based his New Testament on the 1519 edition that excluded the phrase. So Luther was using the 1519 edition, and it did not have the Trinitarian formula. German Christianity has never had a problem that the Bible did not include the Trinitarian formula in 1 John 5:7-8. As stated, it made it into Erasmus’ 1522 text and the King James Version Bible.

Erasmus basically puts it in under protest. To date, we have discovered eight manuscripts that have the Trinitarian wording – four manuscripts written in the 16th or later Century, and in four margins of manuscripts, the earliest of which is 10th or 12th Century. But the marginal notes themselves are probably 16th Century or later. It seems that this particular reading was never part of the Greek New Testament until after there was a protest. It was found in one of the editions of the Latin Vulgate. Fascinatingly, the guy who puts this in the text – Roy, the Oxford scribe – did not know Greek very well; so he simply translated Latin into Greek without knowing how Greek syntax worked. Roy made mistakes that Erasmus corrected when he put it into his own text. Therefore, Erasmus corrected the Greek and still included this Trinitarian phrase in his Greek text, though he could not find it in manuscripts. He in fact, knew it was a fabrication.

Something hugely significant to this issue is that we have known about Erasmus’ included fabrication for over 500 years. Yet, Dr. Ehrman comes along and falsely claims that without this verse, there is no explicit Trinitarian formula in the New Testament. Yet, we know it never affected Christians through any of the church counsels; they never pointed out this verse, because it did not exist in the Bible at the time. They came to the doctrine of the Trinity on some other basis. And it seems that the basis was simply studying scripture.

Church counsels saw within the New Testament the ingredients for the Trinity, maybe not explicitly laid out in any one given place, but put together in such a way that you can only use them in terms of Trinitarian articulation. In his ‘Genesis of Doctrine’, Alistair McGrath explains that when we are trying to figure out what the theology of the New Testament is, we have already got all the pieces. We do not have to invent new revelation. We start with that revelation, but how we put it together in meaningful formulas has to make sense, be coherent, and take into account all the parts. It has to be the simplest Ockham’s razor kind of viewpoint. In this case, the result is the Trinity.

The church by AD 381 had already strongly affirmed the Trinity as what the nature of the Godhead is. Dr. Ehrman argues that because they did not have the explicit Trinity, the doctrine must not be true. But that is just plain cheap with church history. I think Dr. Ehrman put his view on 1 John 5:7-8 in ‘Misquoting Jesus’ to alarm people, rather than to say “but everybody has known this for 500 years.” The Trinity is there. It may not be explicit in that one verse, but it is still taught in the New Testament.