Comma Johanneum and the Vulgate

Ave Maria,

How is the Comma Johanneum to be viewed when Pope Pius XII declared the Vulgate in Divino Afflante Spiritu “free from any error whatsoever in matters of faith and morals”?


The pope’s declaration merely means that the Latin version of the bible does not contain teaching which is wrong; as the Comma is merely an explicit reference to the trinity – which is an accepted Catholic doctrine – its presence in the Latin does not lead the faithful into heresy.

That does not mean (for example) that Pius’ statement can be used to claim that Greek originals were in error if they differ from the Latin Text. The Greek originals are already held to be free of error in faith and morals in any way whatsoever the Latin ones later were declared as having – so his proclamation merely extends to the Latin translation the same credibility of meaning as the original texts.

It wasn’t the pope’s intention to claim that the Latin text holds a more original meaning, or a better meaning, than the Greek manuscripts. The intention is to prepare for the onslaught of protestant scholars who would try to find fault with the Latin Vulgate in order to discredit the Latin church; it is the interpreting authority of the church which holds the living word of scripture correctly and without error – not the other way around. Even St. Peter points out that the unlearned twist truth of scripture into error and their own destruction. The pope is merely affirming that what the Latin Church teaches from is not itself heresy. To make the point clearer, notice that the Vulgate has been revised and edited several times before the pope’s declaration – and even after it. eg: the so called neo-vulgate (new vulgate). The catholic church continues to update the Vulgate as it ponders the meanings of all original texts and many of the opinions of the early church fathers; this is to be expected as Jesus told them that the Holy Spirit would “lead” them into all truth, so that not everything is to be clarified perfectly at once – but will be a process over time.

Pax tecum.

The broader context here is that over the centuries others have also translated the Bible in to Latin, and some of those translations were heretical.

I know nothing is at stake as far as faith and morals but was St. Jerome right to translate 1 john 5:7 as the Trinity? I won’t put it past him that he thought about this and decided to translate it that way. But is the Comma Johanneum the reason why our modern translations say different, such as:

7 So there are three that testify, 8 the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are of one accord.

If the Comma is not the reason then why aren’t the modern translations based off of St. Jerome’s Latin translation?

Presently, I’m inclined to St. Jerome’s translation of 1 John 5:7 due to how scholarly he was in the languages and how to read Sacred Scripture.

The footnote for verse 7 in the Haydock Bible is interesting…It is easy to account for the omission of this verse; for as both the seventh and eighth verse begin and end with the same words, this gave occasion to the oversight and omission of the transcribers, whereas it is not credible that such a whole verse could be added. And that it was only by the mistake and oversight of transcribers may further appear, because we find part of the seventh verse, to wit, and these three are one, cited by Tertullian, lib. contra Praxeam. chap. xxiii. p. 515. Ed. Rig. and twice by St. Cyprian, Epist. 73. ad Jubaianum. p. 125. Ed. Rig. in the Oxford Edition, p. 310. and in his Treatise de Unit. Ecclesiæ, p. 181. Ed. Rigal. and in the Oxford Ed. p. 79, where also Dr. Fell defends this verse of St. John to be genuine. Tertullian and St. Cyprian wrote long before the dispute with the Arians…

Here’s a link if you want to read the entire footnote.

Knew my faith in St. Jerome was not misplaced, I got my answer from and other sources.

Long story short, the reference to the Most Holy Trinity were in some original texts to begin with, and St. Jerome had access to those texts.

This brings it to a new angle, why is it that the New King James Bible and current Douay Rheims are the only, only ones I know of at the moment, modern english translations that keep to this verse in it’s entirety? Such as NAB and RSV-CE say:

“7 And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth.”

While they should read, based on the fullness of all available translations:


Just strange that such a critical Trinity proof text verse would be left out, even though it was written in other Greek texts.

I’d like to add here something about the presence or absence of the Comma in manuscripts of the Vulgate. Interestingly enough, the earliest extant manuscripts do NOT have the Comma. From this page:

The passage is absent from the manuscripts of all ancient versions (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic), except the Latin; and it is not found (a) in the Old Latin in its early form (Tertullian Cyprian Augustine), or in the Vulgate (b) as issued by Jerome (codex Fuldensis [copied a.d. 541-46] and codex Amiatinus [copied before a.d. 716]) or © as revised by Alcuin (first hand of codex Vallicellianus [ninth century]).

Interestingly enough, many of these early manuscripts contain a prologue supposedly written by St. Jerome which accuses unfaithful translators of leaving the Comma out on purpose. Such is the case with Codex Fuldensis; however, the main text, written by the same scribe, actually omits the Comma itself! In reality though it does not seem that St. Jerome himself had knowledge of the variant: his extant writings from 380 to 420 (the period when he translated various books of Scripture into Latin which would be later collated together and become the Vulgate) do not give any indication of him knowing about the Comma, at least.

It is in the so-called Spanish text-type of the Vulgate that we can see the Comma being included from as early as the 7th-8th century.

We must also remember to NOT automatically assume that the Vulgates now being sold and read represent St. Jerome’s original translation. It’s kinda like the Greek New Testament: there are a lot of manuscripts and textual traditions that you’ll need to do a little work in order to uncover and reconstruct as close as possible the Latin as St. Jerome translated it.

There is a very small chance that the Comma is true and that St. Jerome included it in his version.

The overwhelming chance is that it isn’t true.

I believe that the Comma should be in a footnote to the text.

I’ve read the page that Trevor provided. For one, I’ve noticed that the article has a little half-truth. It says: “The text is found in eight extant Greek manuscripts, and five of them are dated before the 16th century (Greek miniscules 88, 221, 429, 629, 636).” What the article conveniently fails to mention is that the earliest of these, Minuscule 88 (aka Codex Regis), dates from the 11th century - and there the Comma is merely inserted as a marginal gloss. In fact, the Greek manuscripts which actually contain the Comma in the main text (as opposed to marginal glosses) only date from a range between the 14th-18th centuries! (Not to mention that the article totally fails to explain what a minuscule is. ;))

Yes, I read about Miniscules 88 as well. Though it’s date does not refute the Commas, it causes concerns. Being that Bart D. Ehrman, anti-Catholic/anti-Christian, and Bruce M. Metzger, Metzger mentioned himself if there was a single text of the Commas he would lift his objections (or would have, God be with him), are the main objectors, I’m skeptical of the current objections.

I think the best refute against the Commas would be why did not the Early Church Fathers use the verse against heresies of their time, and especially against the Gnostics.

As far as the RSV, I understand now why it does not contain the Commas because Bruce M. Metzger was the main contributor towards it. But I still want to know why the NAB and the New Jerusalem Bible do not have the Commas. Were the translators following the same line of thought of the concerns of the Commas in texts such as Miniscules 88 and their dates? Would be nice to see this researched and debated in the scholastic circles to settle it whether the verse can be used to proof text the Holy Trinity, or not.

For the sake of completeness:

It is not true that 1 John 5:7 is absent in all pre-l6th century Greek manuscripts and New Testament translations. The text is found in eight extant Greek manuscripts, and five of them are dated before the 16th century (Greek miniscules 88, 221, 429, 629, 636).

As mentioned, this statement is rather misleading. The earliest of the minuscules mentioned here (Minuscule 221, dating from the 10th century) did not originally contain the Comma: it was added as a marginal gloss by a later hand. Same goes for Minuscules 88 (11th-12th century), 429 (14th-15th century), and 636 (15th century). Out of the manuscripts mentioned here by the author, only the Latin-Greek diglot Minuscule 629 contains the Comma within the text (a back-translation from Latin), and that manuscript dates from the 14th-15th century.

Furthermore, there is abundant support for 1 John 5:7 from the Latin translations. There are at least 8000 extant Latin manuscripts, and many of them contain 1 John 5:7f; the really important ones being the Old Latin, which church fathers such as Tertullian (AD 155-220) and Cyprian (AD 200-258) used. Now, out of the very few Old Latin manuscripts with the fifth chapter of First John, at least four of them contain the Comma.

Again, the article fails to report a few crucial things.

1.) There are indeed around 8000 to 10000 Latin NT manuscripts, making it the largest tradition of any version; most of these are of the Vulgate alone. However, most of the manuscripts in question have late dates to be of relevance to our discussion IMHO.
2.) There is not one ‘Old Latin’ (aka Vetus Latina) version. Vetus Latina is more of an umbrella term for Biblical manuscripts that bear witness to translations of the Scriptures into Latin before the Vulgate (382-405 AD) became the standard for western Christians, and even then, Old Latin translations of various books of the Bible were copied into manuscripts alongside Vulgate translations, as copies of the complete Bible were infrequently found, inevitably exchanging readings; Old Latin translations of single books can be found in manuscripts as late as the 13th century.

3.) A little searching turned up exactly some of the purported Vetus Latina manuscripts which are said to contain the Comma:

Codex Speculum (m): A collection of statements and precepts (dated from the 5th century), drawn from Vetus Latina OT and NT. St. Augustine has been ascribed as the author, but this attribution is not likely. In Paul at least, the text seems to be generally more primitive than the European Latin of the bilingual uncials. In the Catholics meanwhile, it has many links with the text of [Priscillian, bishop of Ávila](“Priscillian of Ávila”). (Keep in mind that the earliest attestation to the Comma appears to be the 4th century Latin homily Liber Apologeticus attributed to Priscillian or his follower Instantius!)

Codex Demidovianus (dem, 59): A now-lost manuscript of the Vulgate NT with Old Latin readings, containing text of the Acts of the Apostles, Pauline epistles, Catholic epistles, and Revelation, dating from the 13th century. Purportedly this manuscript contained the Comma. In the 18th century the manuscript belonged to a certain Paul Demidov Gregorovitch. The manuscript was passed on to his sons, but subsequently disappeared.

Codex Divionensis (div): Another lost Latin NT manuscript dating from the 13th century. Purportedly also contained the Comma.

Codex Perpinianus, aka Perpinianensis (p, 54): A 12th-13th century manuscript of the Vulgate NT with Vetus Latina readings, presently at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris.

Codex Monacensis (q, 64): (Not to be confused with the Greek uncial Codex Monacensis, aka X) From the 6th-7th century.

Out of these manuscripts, only Codex Monacensis and the Speculum support the Textus Receptus reading. I quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia article:

No Syriac manuscript of any family — Peshito, Philoxenian, or Harklean — has the three witnesses; and their presence in the printed Syriac Gospels is due to translation from the Vulgate. So too, the Coptic manuscripts — both Sahidic and Bohairic — have no trace of the disputed part, nor have the Ethiopic manuscripts which represent Greek influence through the medium of Coptic. The Armenian manuscripts, which favour the reading of the Vulgate, are admitted to represent a Latin influence which dates from the twelfth century; early Armenian manuscripts are against the Latin reading. Of the Itala or Old Latin manuscripts, only two have our present reading of the three witnesses: Codex Monacensis (q) of the sixth or seventh century; and the Speculum (m), an eighth or ninth century manuscript which gives many quotations from the New Testament. Even the Vulgate, in the majority of its earliest manuscripts, is without the passage in question. Witnesses to the canonicity are: the Bible of Theodulph (eighth century) in the National Library of Paris; Codex Cavensis (ninth century), the best representative of the Spanish type of text: Toletanus (tenth century); and the majority of Vulgate manuscripts after the twelfth century. There was some dispute as to the canonicity of the three witnesses as early as the sixth century: for the preface to the Catholic Epistles in Codex Fuldensis (A.D. 541-546) complains about the omission of this passage from some of the Latin versions.

4.) Most sources I’ve read suggest the contrary idea to what this article is proposing: that the Comma is absent from the Old Latin text(s) known to Tertullian, St. Cyprian, and St. Augustine.

As far as Old Latin Text’s that predate the Vulgate, I have heard the Codex Tepl is such one and contains the Commas. Though, I want to know more about this Codex before making any judgment about it.

Patrick, being that Codex Amiatinus and Codex Fuldensis do not contain the Commas, what is your reaction to St. Jerome’s “Prologue To The Canonical Epistles” in the article?

My brother brought up a good point about St. Jerome in a conversation we had the other night. St. Jerome wanted the purest form of Sacred Scripture, he was resistant to adding the deuterocanonical books because he only wanted Old Testament books that were in Hebrew. Though we all know how happy he would’ve been if he had the Dead Sea Scrolls in his possession. But this adds a quality to the saint in relation to the Commas. Being that he only wanted to write the purest form of Sacred Scripture, would he have considered the Commas if he did not have a Greek translation of it in his possession? :hmmm:

A little digging turned this up: the Codex Teplensis (aka Tepl Codex) is a 14th-15th century manuscript containing the earliest known translation of the New Testament into Middle High German from the Latin. It is named after the Premonstratensian Abbey of Tepla (Tepl) in the Czech Republic.

Patrick, being that Codex Amiatinus and Codex Fuldensis do not contain the Commas, what is your reaction to St. Jerome’s “Prologue To The Canonical Epistles” in the article?

Since we have no other information on St. Jerome’s opinion of the Comma (if he did know of it), we’re left hanging without corroboration on whether this Prologue is authentic or a forgery.

Also, we often imagine St. Jerome translating ALL the Biblical books, but in reality we only know that he did translation/revision work on most of the Old Testament (the Psalms in particular; Jerome had done a number of translations and revisions of this book - in fact, revising the translation of the Gospels and the Psalter that the Roman Church in his time used was what got him started on this enterprise!) and the Gospels. The other books, namely, Baruch, Wisdom, 1-2 Maccabees, 3-4 Esdras, Epistle to the Laodiceans, Prayer of Manasses, Ecclesiasticus, and the rest of the NT, are thought to be Vetus Latina translations that were either revised (usually thought to be by persons other than St. Jerome) or just tagged as they were without revision with his translations in order to complete the set.

The Gospels were the first fruits of St. Jerome’s labor (382-384), but it is difficult to determine whether he also performed editorial work on the rest of the NT. This simple fact is usually used as evidence against the Prologue’s authenticity: Jerome usually wrote letters addressed to Paula and her daughter Eustochium until the former died in 404. The Prologue addresses Eustochium alone, which would suggest a date later than 404. However the author says “we have just now (dudum) corrected the Evangelists to the line of truth”, which produces a chronological contradiction: a period of twenty-two years is hardly equal to ‘just now’ (unless of course you’re God or something). For some, this is one proof that this is a later forgery.

I think there is a misunderstanding; Jerome’s translation by his own hand, before editing, is not ever said to have had the comma in it. As far as I know, the change was added at a later date to the Latin Vulgate.

The comma is not in the earliest Greek manuscripts that I can find; eg: the Wikipedia article is correct about Codex Sinaticus; though that text has a variation of interest in verse 9, relating to the nature of the testimony – eg: it is of God not man. A later writer did not cross out the variation, but did insert an alternate reading above that word (Not shown in transcriptions of the document, see the original).

I find it odd that Wikipedia didn’t cite the Greek bible of the same age at the Vatican; which is textus Vaticanus. I would have thought Jerome more likely to have known about a Greek copy which had international origins and was circulated at the Vatican.(just outside of Rome); and though I am uncertain of the history of the text – I do recall accounts by historians that the Textus Receptus was being prepared by T.R. Stephanus – and that he didn’t like Textus Vaticanus for it didn’t agree with the Vulgate of his day, so instead he used “other” Greek texts from later times – and even then, he “Corrected” these Greek manuscripts to match the Latin in places. So his recension (Textus Receptus) doesn’t hold the same historical place as St. Jerome, but is a later work.

Many of the original manuscripts have been lost. Especially many of the Jewish OT writings in Hebrew; but especially all the NT are copies and not originals.

In the present day Vulgate (Jerome’s original work, BUT edited) supposedly the comma does not exist; I don’t have a copy of Jerome’s original Vulgate handy – and I am only mildly familiar with the Latin in any event – so I don’t want to add to your confusion by asserting what I think happened. I see no problem with or without the comma in a bible; but I do see some small differences in the Greek Texts which I will study because they intrigue me and I am not sure what is really going on, yet.

Pax Tecum.

Sorry for the lack of history on my part, but what does the letter mean stating “…corrected the Evangelists”? Was this a heresy, or a person?

I follow you, and the article, about who the letter was addressed too, being only St. Eustochium. It is a logical conclusion that it was only addressed to St. Eustochium because St. Paula passed away at the time writing the letter. But is it plausible that he would’ve sent a letter to only St. Eustochium, even though St. Paula was still alive?

It does raise an eye at the fact that this letter was contained in the Codex Fuldensis and yet 1 john 5:7 did not contain the Commas. Have to think about that :hmmm:

I’m just wondering about the accusations of the appearance of the Commas in Codex’s and this letter. The common assertion is that it was added by someone else or it was a translation fault. Questions:

Is this the work of one person or multiple people?

If multiple, was it a conspiracy or multiple individuals over time?

Why would someone do this, if the heresy that denies the Divinity of Christ is well rebuked without it? The person/s doing this would be doing a help, but not much. And certainly the trouble of doing this is not worth adding an extra silver bullet against such heresies. I mean, the person/s doing this would know the law that adding to God’s word in Sacred Scripture is a an extremely serious and grave sin. Would they put their souls in jeopardy just so they can fight an easily debatable heresy?

Just skeptical of this assertion that it was added, seems very problematic.

Edit: I see I missed something about Jerome.

My biggest concern would be to date the work of Tertulian, and when the copy was made that contains the phrase. If it is true that Tertullian had access to the phrase in the year 160-200A.D/C.E, even if in Latin, it may even have been oral tradition or teaching which is being referred to for that is not very long after St. John would have died. (40 years or so). John was one of the youngest to be named an apostle.

I’ve been reading this article, Though, I find it with some of holes and blind assertions at other parts, the study of St. Tertullian and St. Cyprian is interesting though not convincing.

What St. Tertullian said in his apologetic work Against Praxeas:

“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.”

What people pickup on this is that St. Tertullian uses the same language as 1 John 5:7 “these three are one”. I find it interesting, but just because he says “these three are one” is not an automatic connection to 1 john 5:7, any Catholic would say the same of the Holy Trinity regardless of Sacred Scripture.

But the biggest connection supporters make of the Commas is what St. Cyprian wrote around 250 AD in On the Unity of the Catholic Church, Ch. 6:

“He who breaks the peace and the concord of Christ, does so in opposition to Christ; he who gathereth elsewhere than in the Church, scatters the Church of Christ. 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.’”

Though the biggest problem is that the reference to Christ in this is as the Son, and the Commas in 1 john 5:7 refer Christ as the Word. And again, just because he says “these three are one” is not an automatic connection to 1 john 5:7.

Most of the article is grasping for straws and maybe looking to hard into the words when it discusses grammar and such. The only true defense is the existence of these late codex’s and St. Jerome’s “Prologue To The Canonical Epistles”, and it seems these things are debatable and not entirely provable, but not completely refuted. Think the status is, indifference.

It means, he revised the Latin translation of the Gospels that the Roman Church was then using by comparing it with the best Greek manuscripts known to him, something that Pope Damasus ordered him to do. Which as mentioned was done in the period between 382 and 384 (when Damasus died).

I follow you, and the article, about who the letter was addressed too, being only St. Eustochium. It is a logical conclusion that it was only addressed to St. Eustochium because St. Paula passed away at the time writing the letter. But is it plausible that he would’ve sent a letter to only St. Eustochium, even though St. Paula was still alive?

Technically it COULD be possible, and indeed we have private letters addressed just to St. Paula or just to St. Eustochium (I apologize for the confusing choice of words earlier).

However, St. Jerome generally wrote his translations of OT books (which would later be compiled as the Vulgate) and the prologues thereof for both mother and daughter when the former was still alive. If the prologue to the Epistles is genuine and should have been proved to be written just after Jerome finished work on the Gospels, it is an anomaly and we would then have to explain why it is so different from the norm.

I’m just wondering about the accusations of the appearance of the Commas in Codex’s and this letter. The common assertion is that it was added by someone else or it was a translation fault. Questions:

Is this the work of one person or multiple people?

If multiple, was it a conspiracy or multiple individuals over time?

We don’t exactly know. But keeping in mind that one of the ways people wrote books in those days was by copying from a manuscript - scribes would copy from a book, producing their own copies of the text; later, other scribes would use said copies to make their own copies, etc. - it could very well be possible IMHO that the Comma can be traced from a single source. The fact that many of the oldest attested manuscript evidence for the Comma tend to be Spanish Vulgate MSS, and the oldest source to quote the Comma is the 4th century Latin homily Liber Apologeticus attributed to Spanish bishop Priscillian of Avila is rather telling if you ask me. But that’s just my opinion.

Now supposing that this is actually how things happened, why would the scribe of the original copy include the Comma? “The spirit, the water, and the blood” was apparently understood as a symbol of the Trinity from quite some time. It could very well be that a certain manuscript of 1 John had a note connecting the Trinity with these. Somewhere along the way however, a scribe mistakenly wrote in this gloss as part of the text, which others who copied down said text also repeated, and so on and so forth. This process isn’t unusual, mind you; in fact this is a common scribal error. Or, perhaps someone just wanted to draw out the symbolism more clearly and wrote in the Comma. Adding and subtracting to God’s word aside, many ancient scribes actually could at times get rather loose with texts they were transcribing; the NT is no different, which is partly the reason why textual variants exist. Case in point: scribe A might be copying, say, Mark’s Gospel, however he is more familiar with Matthew; so what he would do/tend to do is to revert to the phraseology of Matthew in parallel pericopes, either just out of plain habit or a conscious effort to harmonize the two Gospels more. Scribe B might be copying Luke, but once he gets to Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer (“Father, hallowed be your name…”) he might think, “Wait, this isn’t the Lord’s Prayer that I know!” and start jotting down the Matthean version (“Our Father who art in heaven…”) instead. Sometimes the scribe might omit letters, words, or even whole sentences, paragraphs of text even, or insert them. Sometimes he might choose to tidy up the grammar and spelling of the original text more. Sometimes he might remove or alter material unpalatable for his personal views or add up something.

Great read :thumbsup: and I see the point.

On the side, I’d love to read the theology implications of the Holy Trinity based on 5:8 “The spirit, the water, and the blood.” Recommend anything?

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