Where Did I John 5:7-8 Come From?
Most of I John 5:7-8 as found in the King James Version was probably not in the letter that John wrote. Most of these two verses is not in any Greek manuscript except one—a manuscript made in the 16th century.
One evening Erasmus, a Dutch scholar who had prepared the first published Greek text of the New Testament, and James Lopez de Stunica, a Catholic scholar who, as editor of the Computensian Polyglot, had also prepared a Greek text of the New Testament, debated about I John 5:7-8.
Erasmus pointed out that the phrase “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth” did not appear in any Greek manuscript. Stunica said that the phrase was in the Latin Vulgate and that meant it was part of the inspired text.
“You must know that the copies of the Greek manuscripts are corrupted,” he said, “but ours [i.e. the Latin Vulgate] contains the very truth.” Finally Erasmus challenged, “If you can find one Greek manuscript with this reading, I will include it in my third edition of the Greek text.”
Later Stunica gave Erasmus a Greek manuscript with that reading—the only one ever found to include the phrase. Even though the manuscript is dated 1520, which means the phrase was inserted in the text as a translation from Latin, Erasmus included the phrase in the 1522 edition of his Greek New Testament. And because that text was the basis of Tyndale’s New Testament and the King James Version, the phrase is found in the KJV. It is not in any other Greek text and does not appear in most modern translations.
I John 5:7-8 in the KJV says, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost:
and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”
I John 5:7-8 in the New International Version says, “For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”
As Alister McGrath points out, however, “this does not call into question the general reliability of the King James Bible. . . . Not a single teaching of the Christian faith is affected by these variations [in the Greek text], nor is any major historical aspect of the gospel narratives or early Christianity affected.”