Trinity - a word not found in Scripture, but used by many Christian denominations to denote a theory of God subsisting in three distinct persons. This word is derived from the Greek trias, first used by Theophilus (A.D. 168-183), or from the Latin trinitas, first used by Tertullian (A.D. 220), to express this doctrine. The concept of the Trinity is one rejected by the Jews as being opposed to the fundamental truth that there is but one God (Deut. 6:4).
1 John 5:7, a passage that Trinitarians often use to support this concept, has been rejected as a patent forgery by all competent critics, (though it was in 1897 solemnly pronounced genuine by Pope Leo XIII, in an encyclical). Modern Protestant and Catholic scholars and theologians readily admit that the passage is a forgery, and was not a part of the original text. In today's modern versions, only the New King James Version retains the spurious reference to "the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost."
The reference to the three "witnesses" in heaven does not appear in a single early Greek manuscript. It was added to the Latin manuscripts, probably first in North Africa, being mentioned by Cyprian of Carthage in 258 and Augustine about the year 400. The passage was not known to any of the early Church Fathers, who would have had plenty of reason to quote it in their Trinitarian debates of the 4th century (for example, with the Arians), had it existed then.
Erasmus in the first two editions of his Greek translation of the New Testament omitted the corrupt passage relating to the "three witnesses" (1 John 5:7). He did this for sound critical reasons. But the Vulgate, the Bible of the Roman Catholic Church, included the passage, and immediately the cry arose that Erasmus was tampering with the scriptures. Thinking he was safe, he rather rashly said he would insert the passage in his next (third) edition if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained it. Surprisingly one was found, and he kept his word and inserted the disputed passage, much against his will and judgment, in the third edition of the Testament. But it turned out that the "discovered" manuscript (the Montfort manuscript), now in Trinity College Library, Dublin, which was the document submitted to Erasmus, is but a 15th century production of no critical value, and the disputed words are taken from some corrupt Latin manuscript. Erasmus added the passage to his 1522 edition, "but he indicates in a lengthy footnote his suspicions that the manuscript had been prepared expressly in order to confute him." Indeed the manuscript was written after Erasmus's request by a Franciscan from Oxford. It was this third edition which became a chief source for the King James Version, thereby fixing the passage firmly in the English-language scriptures for centuries.
Out of the thousands of manuscripts currently extant which contain the New Testament in Greek, the disputed passage only appears in eight. The oldest known occurrence appears to be a later addition to a 10th century manuscript now in the Bodleian Library. No Syriac manuscripts includes the passage. Coptic manuscripts and those from Ethiopian churches also do not include it.
Previous topic: Tribute
Next topic: Troas
Return to Bible Dictionary Main Index
Additional essential Bible study tools: