Found in some manuscripts are added notes in which a later scribe has ‘corrected’ the text. Frequently such corrections are valuable because they may fix a blunder of the original scribe. At other times, such marginal notes are of no value for recovering the wording of the original manuscripts, but they are significant for the transmissional history of the text. Such is the case with an eleventh century parchment manuscript I examined at the BSB. In the margin of this manuscript I came across an important statement about the Trinity made in First John by a later scribe – an addition known as the comma Johanneum.
The comma Johanneum is both significant and controversial. Although there is only one Greek manuscript prior to 1520 with this Trinitarian formula, it has been used in support of the doctrine of the Trinity by King James Bible advocates but not by those who use modern translations. Thecomma was incorporated into the third edition of the first published Greek New Testament, which in turn became the base text for the King James Bible. It should be noted, of course, that the exegetical basis for the Trinity has never depended on the comma Johanneum, for its case has been made for centuries without knowledge of this reading.
>The original wording of 1 John 5.7–8 in the manuscript at the BSB reads, For there are three that testify, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and the three are in agreement. This is unremarkable as it is, since this is the wording of the original text of this passage. But there is a note written above the text in the upper margin which reads, There are three who testify in heaven: The Father, Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. The note is written in a much later hand—at the earliest during the second half of the sixteenth century.
The wording of this comma is similar, if not identical, to the wording found in an apparently made-to-order manuscript written in 1520. To date, only eight manuscripts are known to have the comma Johanneum in them, and four of these were added in the margin of the text by a much later hand.
The manuscript which I was examining is not currently listed among those known to contain this comma, which is strange considering that this manuscript has been known to NT textual critics for quite a long time. Perhaps it has been overlooked because the library’s catalog description of this manuscript says nothing about the comma, or because the ink of the marginal note is slightly fainter than the text, and thus it did not show up on a microfilm. Whatever the reason, it is remarkable that a manuscript whose existence has been known for so long by New Testament scholars, and is housed in a prominent European library, should be overlooked in this passage. In the least, this suggests that there may be many treasures yet to be discovered in known NT manuscripts. Microfilms will not reveal many of them; the only sure way to make such information accessible to scholars is to digitize these codices and make them available on-line.
For more information on this recent discovery, see the expanded essay on it here.