Question: Why do most modern translations not include these words from 1 John 5:7-8 found in the King James Bible: ”…testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth: the…”?
First things first: the inspiration of God’s Word is not what is in question here. Rather, this is a problem arising out of the transmission and translation of ancient copies of God’s inspired Word. The original documents of God’s Word as revealed to the apostles and prophets is without error:
2Tim. 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
As you can imagine, any time a document gets copied by hand, mistakes can occur. Misspelled words, torn or damaged originals, bad light, tiredness or poor eyesight are just a few of the things that can contribute to errors in copying. But here is the really good news concerning any such errors: The errors from copying and translation are so few and insignificant that our human mistakes stand out like shadows cast by the sun.
Here’s how all this relates to 1 John 5:7-8.
When scholars were commissioned by king James in the early 1600’s to provide the most accurate, authoritative translation of the Bible ever produced into the English language, the translators relied heavily upon earlier translation work done by a man named Erasmus. Erasmus compiled an entire translation of the Bible, printed in 1516 A.D. called the Textus Receptus. His work was based upon approximately nine ancient Greek manuscripts. Prior to Erasmus, the Latin Vulgate was the accepted, authoritative Bible translation.
In Erasmus’ original translation process he discovered that none of the ancient Greek manuscripts contained the phrase in question, even though that phrasing was included in the Latin Vulgate of his time. Erasmus was sharply criticized for not including the phrase in his translation. But he refused to add it in unless a Greek copy that contained it could be found. In 1520 such a copy was found, and Erasmus reluctantly included the phrase now found in the King James Bible. As it turns out, the Greek manuscript provided for him was a forgery composed by the Franciscan friar Roy, who took the words from the Latin Vulgate.
In the past two hundred years, literally thousands of ancient Bible manuscripts and portions of manuscripts have been discovered. Many of these manuscripts are hundreds of years older and closer to the originals by far than those available to either the King James Bible translation committee, or to Erasmus a century earlier. And of all those manuscripts, not one contains the phrase in question.
This should not be a cause for discouragement, but rather of great encouragement. New archeological discoveries routinely unearth evidence in the form of manuscripts and historical artifacts that confirm the accuracy and authority of God’s Word as originally given. Does mankind’s participation in passing on the Scriptures to future generations contaminate the inerrancy and inspiration of God’s Word?
Rom. 3:4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”