Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Is 1 John 5:7-8 Original?

Is the Johannine Comma in the Canonical Text of Scripture?

More important is the question whether the Textus Receptus is the original text. But such a belief would be as foolish as the former. Since the present study is not addressed to professional scholars, but to students and ordinary church members, it is permissible to say something about the Textus Receptus, the Greek text which underlines the King James translation.  Dr. Gordon H. Clark

Unfortunately, even the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark occasionally got things wrong in regards to the Textus Receptus and other issues.  The following quote from Dr. Clark's paper, "Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism," has at least one glaring error, namely the challenge or promise of Erasmus to include the Johannine Comma if the papists could produce at least one Greek manuscript which contained that verse.  Dr. Clark would not have been aware of this at the time of the writing of the article because it is a recent development.  But more about this later in this post.  

Anyway, Dr. Clark rejects both the King James Only position and the Textus Receptus as the following quote demonstrates:

First, no one should hold that the King James Version is the infallible autograph. For example (even if it is in the Old Testament), 2 Samuel 6:23 says, “Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.” But 2 Samuel 21:8 refers to “the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul.” For once the Revised Standard Version can be complimented for removing the contradiction. In my earlier years I had heard that some people believed the King James to be infallible, but I was 70 years old before I ever met one such. The liberals surely have exaggerated their number, but at least one minister was of that opinion.

More important is the question whether the Textus Receptus is the original text. But such a belief would be as foolish as the former. Since the present study is not addressed to professional scholars, but to students and ordinary church members, it is permissible to say something about the Textus Receptus, the Greek text which underlines the King James translation.

The Textus Receptus derives from the work of Erasmus, a Dutch scholar (1466-1536). His first edition of the Greek text appeared in 1516. It is full of mistakes, though most are merely typographical. The story is that Erasmus was anxious to have the honor of being the first to publish the Greek New Testament, and to do so he had to rush through his work before Cardinal Ximemes de Cisneras could publish his so-called Complutensian Polyglot. The Cardinal seems to have had no such eagerness, and though his edition was set up in type possibly as early as 1514, the actual publication date was 1522.  Erasmus’ sloppy work doesn’t hold a candle to it.

Deficiencies other than typographical are not all Erasmus’ fault, or only partly so. He had the use of less than twenty manuscripts and used mainly only two or three. His only manuscript of Revelation lacked its last page, so Erasmus himself translated the Latin Vulgate back into Greek for the last six verses. He did this in some other places where his manuscripts were defective. Presumably this was unavoidable. Then to his credit, he omitted 1 John 5:7-8.This shocked the Roman Church. He replied that if they would produce even one Greek manuscript that had those two verses, he would include them. So the obliging papacy quickly got an Irish priest to make such a manuscript, and Erasmus inserted the verses.

 Dr. Gordon H. Clark, "Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism."  Trinity Review, January--August 1984.  (Trinity Review link).


I checked the ESV and the RSV in comparison with the KJV on 2 Samuel 6:23 and 2 Samuel 21:8.  A footnote in the ESV says that most Hebrew manuscripts for 2 Samuel 21:8, presumably the Masoretic Text, have Michal while only two Hebrew manuscripts and the Septuagint Greek translation has Merab, the daughter of Michal.  I suppose Dr. Clark could be correct that the original autograph has Merab and not Michal.  But could he be wrong?  Perhaps keeping Michal in the second verse is consistent with the Masoretic Text for another reason such as this is a different Michal?  After all, kings of that time period often had more than one daughter with different wives and concubines and this could be a different daughter named Michal?  My Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia has Michal in 2 Samuel 21:8, although the textual notes affirm what the ESV has in footnoted form, that there are two Hebrew texts and one Septuagint text which has Merab.  Interestingly, the Swete and Ralf editions of the Septuagint both have Michal.  On the other hand, the Brown Driver and Briggs Hebrew lexicon has it that Michal is an error for Merab according to the Lucian version of the Septuagint.  I am using Logos Bible to find much of this information because understanding the textual apparatus in the BHS is difficult to say the least.  Who is correct here?  It is hard to say but my first impression is to go with the majority of the textual evidence, not the minority.  Could it be a scribal error that got repeated?  Yes, but it is also possible that there is another explanation such as the fact that Saul had two daughters named Michal and this is not the same Michal who was promised to David and who remained childless.

Regarding the Complutensian Polyglot, I wonder if Clark is correct about this since a polyglot has more than one translation and is quite different from a critical edition of the Greek New Testament.  Also, from what I can gather Erasmus had more than one edition of his Textus Receptus and corrections were made in later editions.

I would like to say at this point that I am not a professional scholar or a textual critic.  But I do have the critical editions of the Greek New Testament and the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia in hardback and on my computer.  I like to fact check what I see online or in the footnotes of the modern translations to verify or falsify what is there.

At any rate, Clark's assertion that Erasmus included the Johannine Comma or 1 John 5:7 because he promised to do so if the Roman Catholic scholars could produce a Greek manuscript which contained it is simply false.  I will have to look at the ending to the book of Revelation to see what the issues are in that pericope in another post.  It has been refuted by a liberal textual critic that Erasmus made no such promise or challenge to include the comma if a manuscript in Greek could be produced.   I am getting this information from a source that criticizes James White's book, The King James Only Controversy, where White in footnotes uses a biased source for his contention that Erasmus promised to include the comma if any Roman Catholic scholar could produce a Greek manuscript containing the verse.  This is not true and unfortunately even Dr. Clark was taken in by this false assertion.  Additionally, it is true that Erasmus had access to only a handful of Greek manuscripts but there were at least four editions of his Textus Receptus, 1519, 1522, 1527, and 1535.  (What Manuscripts Did the King James Translators Use?).

“I have checked again Erasmus’ words quoted by Erika Rummel and her comments on them in her book Erasmus’ Annotations. This is what Erasmus writes [on] in his Liber tertius quo respondet … Ed. Lei: Erasmus first records that Lee had reproached him with neglect of the MSS. of 1 John because Erasmus (according to Lee) had consulted only one MS. Erasmus replies that he had certainly not used only one ms., but many copies, first in England, then in Brabant, and finally at Basle. He cannot accept, therefore, Lee’s reproach of negligence and impiety. ‘Is it negligence and impiety, if I did not consult manuscripts which were simply not within my reach? I have at least assembled whatever I could assemble. Let Lee produce a Greek MS. which contains what my edition does not contain and let him show that that manuscript was within my reach. Only then can he reproach me with negligence in sacred matters.’

“From this passage you can see that Erasmus does not challenge Lee to produce a manuscript etc. What Erasmus argues is that Lee may only reproach Erasmus with negligence of MSS if he demonstrates that Erasmus could have consulted any MS. in which the Comma Johanneum figured. Erasmus does not at all ask for a MS. containing the Comma Johanneum. He denies Lee the right to call him negligent and impious if the latter does not prove that Erasmus neglected a manuscript to which he had access.

“In short, Rummel’s interpretation is simply wrong. The passage she quotes has nothing to do with a challenge. Also, she cuts the quotation short, so that the real sense of the passage becomes unrecognizable. She is absolutely not justified in speaking of a challenge in this case or in the case of any other passage on the subject” (emphasis in original) (Henk Jan de Jonge, cited from A History of the Debate over 1 John 5:7,8, Michael Maynard, p. 383).  

Quoted by Chris Thomas, Confessional Bibliology blog.  "Erasmian Myths:  The Comma Wager." 

James White repeats the myth of the promise by Erasmus and cites Rummel as his source in his footnotes.  (James White, "And Some More on the Comma.")

I am not saying that the Johannine Comma is definitely original but who can say definitively that it was not?  There is evidence that it is alluded to by the church fathers and there are a few older manuscripts that were not available to Erasmus that have been discovered since that time.

Daniel Wallace, who also does not think that the Johannine Comma could be in the original autographs, cites at least one 14th century Greek manuscript that contains the comma, that being 629.  Wallace says that codex 177 has the verse added by a later editor and the reason he knows this is that there is a verse number included with the marginal note:

On 74 recto is 1 John 5.7–8. The page begins in the middle of 1 John 5.4. Verses 7–8 read, οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες, το πνευμα, και το υδωρ, και το αιμα· και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν (‘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. But there is a marginal note, written above the text in the upper margin. The note is written in a much later hand—at least second half of the sixteenth century as can be seen by the introduction which specifies ‘v. 7.’ Verse numbers were not invented until 1551, in Stephanus’ fourth edition of his Greek New Testament. Hence, this cannot be any earlier than that date. The hand, however, looks to be much later. I would judge it to be 17th–18th century.

Daniel Wallace, "The Comma Johanneum in an Overlooked Manuscript."  The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts


I have no opportunity to  examine these manuscripts in person or online so I will have to take Wallace's word for it that there is a verse number written in the margin by the same scribal hand.  But according to Wallace there are a few other manuscripts that have this verse written in the margin and some of them are older than what Erasmus had access to.  But again these manuscripts have the verse in a marginal note that the professional scholars assert must have been added later by another handwriting.

To date, only eight manuscripts are known to have the comma Johanneum in them (Metzger curiously omits mention of codex 629 [Textual Commentary2], the one manuscript that can claim a date for this reading prior to 1520). They are as follows:

61 (produced in 1520)

629 (14th century)

918 (16th century)

2318 (18th century)

There are also four manuscripts that have this reading in the margin of the text, added in each instance by a much later hand:

88 (12th century; comma Johanneum added in 16th century)

221 (10th century; comma Johanneum added later)

429 (14th century; comma Johanneum added later. Metzger says that 429 is from the 16th century [Textual Commentary2, 647])

636 (15th century; comma Johanneum added later. Metzger says that 636 is from the 16th century [Textual Commentary2, 648])

Daniel Wallace, Ibid.  

Can I definitively say that the Comma Johanneum was in the original autographs?  Not really.  But to say that it definitely was not there troubles me because even though the evidence is sparse, it is still possible that it was in the autographs.  Another question would be whether or not these are all deliberate forgeries in the margin or were they added just out of extra information even if we accept the later date suggested by the critics?  Could it be possible that the different handwriting was by someone else in the same time period as the apograph itself?  Perhaps in the one instance of codex 177 Wallace has a good case for saying the note was added in the 16th century because there is a verse number for verse 7, which was presumably impossible prior to 1551.  But why does not Wallace tell us his reasoning for the other four manuscripts having the marginal note added later?  And it is also worth pointing out that Wallace says that 636 is 15th century and not 16th century as Metzger said.  I would like to know his reasoning for that statement.

Although I cannot verify or falsify the information, at least one claim is made that a bishop named Eugenius quoted a portion of the verse in refuting the Arians at the Council of Carthage in 485 A. D.  (Jesse Boyd, "And These Three are One:  A Case for the Authenticity of 1 John 5:7-8 Rooted in Biblical Exegesis").  The problem here is that footnote 45 gives credit to a secondary source for the quote so I cannot verify it.  Michael Maynard is the translator of the work titled Victor of Vitensis, Historia persecutionis Africanae Prov.  

While I cannot absolutely prove that the comma was or was not in the text, I am irritated by statements by James White where he castigates those who are skeptical of the exclusion of this verse and others.  White says anyone who accepts the Byzantine Majority Text or the Textus Receptus is King James Only.  These polemical remarks only serve to show his own intolerance for dissent from the liberal textual critical views in his modern translations only camp.

In the introduction to his book White claims that he is not saying that preferring the KJV makes someone KJV Only:  

It is very important to understand the motivation behind this book.  This book is not being written to push one particular translation of the Bible over another.  There is no desire to get everyone to read the NASB, or the NIV, or the NKJV, or the RSV, or any other "modern" translation.  On the other hand, I am not in any way seeking to stop those who use the KJV from reading that venerable translation.  This book is not against the King James Version.  I know many fine Christian people who use the KJV and for whom the translation works just fine.  However, I do oppose those who would force others to use the KJV or risk God's wrath for allegedly questioning His Word.  I oppose KJV Onlyism, not the King James Version itself. 

James R. White.  The King James Only Controversy:  Can You Trust the Modern Translations?  (Minneapolis:  Bethany House, 1995).  P. VI.

Toward the end of the introduction White attacks tradition.  But he never defines what tradition is.  Is the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Westminster Standards "tradition"?  Of course the Bible alone is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God.  But what I object to is White's belligerent ad hominem attacks on those who favor the Byzantine Majority Text, one of which I would suppose was the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  In chapter one White lists Zane Hodges, Arthur Farstad, W.G. Pierpont, and M.A. Robinson as King James Only, though in footnote 1 he concedes that they interacted with him as gentlemen.  This is a condescending concession on White's part:  

GROUP #2:  "The Textual Argument"

A large spectrum of people come together in this second group, joined by their common belief that the underlying Hebrew and Greek texts used by the King James translators, are for various reasons, superior to all other original language texts.  These individuals would not necessarily believe that those texts are inspired, per se, but that they more accurately  reflect the original writings off the prophets or the apostles.

There are a number of possible positions that fall within this one category.  One group that would strongly reject the term "KJV Only," but who feel that the Greek texts used by the KJV translators were superior to those used by modern translations, would be the "Majority Text" advocates. (1).  This viewpoint asserts that the best reading should be that which is supported by the consensus, or majority, of the existing manuscripts of the Greek New Testament.  . . .

White, Ibid., p. 2.

White also attacks those who support the Textus Receptus as King James Onlyists on the same page.  But they acknowledge that the KJV is not the inspired Word of God, only the original autographs are the inspired Word of God.  In a debate with a group of Reformed Baptists represented by Rev. Jeff Riddle of Christ Reformed Baptist Church in the Louisa, Viriginia area, White went so far as to attack them as ignoramuses for presupposing that the London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689, says that God providentially preserved the autographs in the apographs represented by the Textus Receptus.  Of course, White is correct that we have thousands more fragments of manuscripts today and some lengthy copies of manuscripts today that were not yet discovered in the 16th century.  But in White's debate with Bart Ehrman a few years ago, Ehrman castigated White for being an ignoramus.  Ad hominem is a legitimate argument only when it is not an abusive attack as White used it in his debate with Riddle.

What was even more irritating is that White unashamedly pronounced his "tradition" that the traditional ending to Mark's Gospel chapter 16 is not original.  I will make remarks about this in a future post.  I am not opposed to using the tools available to us today.  However, White refuses to admit that there are weaknesses in the textual criticism argument, including the fact that it is a highly subjective "science" that needs constant revision and never arrives at the original autographs.  Making dogmatic pronouncements that White knows that the traditional ending to Mark 16 is spurious does not make it so.  What if in some future manuscript it is discovered that the traditional ending is original?  Is James White omniscient, inerrant, and infallible in his opinions?  Could he be wrong?

There are several axioms of modern textual criticism depending on which school of criticism is chosen.  An axiom cannot be proved or disproved, falsified or verified precisely because said axioms are starting points, not scientifically proved.  The late Dr. Gordon H. Clark asserted that Scripture is his beginning axiom or starting point.  The problem with James R. White is that he starts with theories of critical textual criticism, not with Scripture itself.  (See Principles of Textual Criticism).

Personally, I think James White is clearly in the modern translations only camp.  I lean toward the Byzantine Majority Text at the very least and probably toward the Textus Receptus as well.  That does not mean that I cannot be persuaded otherwise.  But I think it is highly problematic to completely jettison the confessional position that God providentially preserved the autographs in the apographs.  The problem with White is that the critical editions are based on a jigsaw puzzle of thousands of fragments and that the textual critics vote by committee on what should and should not be in the Bible.  It means that pragmatically there is no established standardized Greek text for Bible translations.  White should at least concede that in God's providence the KJV and the Textus Receptus were the standard for hundreds of years.

Here ends this post.  I will take a look at the ending of the last chapter of the book of Revelation in a future post.

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