1 John 3:1 and King James Onlyism

by Luke Wayne
10/31/18
Return to King James Onlyism

King James Onlyists often make a big deal of any instance where the KJV contains a clause that is not present in a modern translation. Any place where a verse in the King James is longer than the same verse in another translation, the King James Onlyist will accuse the translator of "deleting" or "removing" something.  They do this because they assume that the KJV is the perfect standard to which all other translations must be compared. Yet, there are also places where valuable clauses are present in modern translations but are lacking in the KJV. One notable example is in 1 John 3:1.

1 John 3:1 in the KJV

In the King James Version, we find this verse as:

"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not," (1 John 3:1, KJV).

In many modern translations, however, the verse reads:

"See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him," (1 John 3:1, NASB).

The major difference here is that the modern translations explicitly affirm that we are, indeed, the sons of God, as expressed in the clause "and so we are." This clause is absent in the KJV and in the Greek text from which it was translated.

Evaluating The Evidence

The longer reading that includes "and so we are" (which is present in modern translations but is absent in the KJV) is found in all the earliest manuscripts, such as Codex א and B (both fourth century), Codex A and Codex C (both fifth century), and others. It is also present in a wide variety of Greek manuscripts on through the middle ages. It is found throughout the Old Latin tradition, including early copies such as Codex Floriacensis (fifth century). It is also the reading present in the vast majority of Vulgate manuscripts. The Syriac and Coptic manuscripts all likewise agree, as do later ancient translations such as the Armenian, Ethiopic, Georgian, and Slavonic.

On the other hand, the earliest copies to contain the shorter reading found in the KJV are Codex K, Codex L, and Uncial 049 (all ninth century). It is, however, the reading found in the majority of later medieval manuscripts. It is also found in some Vulgate manuscripts.

As can be clearly seen here, the manuscript evidence in favor of the longer reading (and thus of modern translations) is significantly earlier and overwhelmingly more diverse. Now, if this clause was present in the KJV and absent in modern translations, many King James Only advocates would accuse modern translators of trying to willfully and maliciously obscure the truth of the believer's adoption as a child of God by "deleting" these words "and such we are." I do not, however, believe that the King James Translators or the medieval scribes were trying to intentionally delete anything nor to change the meaning of the text. Indeed, I think the version of the text in the KJV, though less explicit, still means the same thing! So what, then, happened here? It seems to have been a simple copying mistake. A scribe, going back and forth between the manuscript he was copying and the sheet he was writing on accidentally skipped the clause. No malicious intent, just simple human error. Indeed, we find an actual example of this happening to this very clause in this verse in the writings of Augustine.

Augustine clearly had the longer version with "and so we are" in his Bible. He quotes the verse that way multiple times1 Yet, fascinatingly, later in one of the very same documents where he has already quoted it with the phrase "and so we are," he quotes it again, but this time without the clause.2 There is no reason whatsoever to think that Augustine switched Bible's partway through writing this document. His copy of 1 John plainly had "and so we are" in it. He quotes it too many times to doubt this. Thus, we have a surviving example of a writer who, though his copy of the book contained "and so we are," accidentally omitted the phrase one time when copying the verse. It is quite easy to imagine scribes making this same error in other contexts while copying manuscripts.

Further, there is an easy explanation in the original Greek for how this mistake might happen. The last word before the clause is "κληθῶμεν, klathomen." The last word in the clause itself is "ἐσμέν, esmen." Even without knowing any Greek, you can easily see that both words have the same ending, "...μεν." It is not hard to imagine a scribe turning from his manuscript to write the word "κληθῶμεν," then, as he turns back, his eyes jump to the wrong "μεν" nearby on the page, and he writes on from there, having accidentally skipped a few words. This is especially plausible when one remembers that many ancient manuscripts did not have spaces between words. So, in review:

  1. Very Early and diverse witnesses unanimously agree that 1 John 3:1 originally contained the clause "and so we are."
  2. We have a clear example of a writer accidentally omitting "and so we are" when his copy of 1 John contained the words.
  3. There is a perfectly good explanation for exactly why a scribe might do so.

Conclusion

We have no reason to think that the short form of 1 John 3:1 found in the KJV is correct and good reasons to think that the longer form found in modern translations is correct. The KJV is missing some words here. The fact is, modern translations have this verse right and the KJV has it wrong. This is utterly inconsistent with King James Onlyism.

  • 1. For some examples, see: Augustine, On the Grace of Christ, Chapter 22;  Homily on 1 John 2:27-3:8, Section 4;  Exposition on the Psalms, Psalm 50, Section 2
  • 2. Augustine, On the Grace of Christ, chapter 40