Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The History of the Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7,8), article in the London Inquirer 1875

The History of the Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7,8), article in the London Inquirer 1875

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Last month the company of New Testament revisers proceeded with their work in the First Epistle of John, and upon Thursday, April 23d, if we are rightly informed, when they came to the celebrated passage called the Text of the Three Heavenly Witnesses, 1 John v, 7, 8, the spurious words were thrown aside without an opposing voice.

The interpolated Text of the Three Heavenly Witnesses, has stood for just one thousand years one of the strongest bulwarks of the doctrine of the Trinity. And now that the sentence of deposition is pronounced against it, and it seems to be decided that it shall have no place in the next Authorized English Bible, we naturally stop to ponder upon it.

It is impossible that it should have kept its footing in our Bibles so long a time without gaining a hold on the minds of some part of the community.

The condemned words, as they are to be found in King James's Version, 1 John, chap, v, stand as the latter part of the seventh verse, and the beginning of the eighth verse, thus: ["In heaven, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth."] Taken by themselves they form but a broken sentence, and it will be seen that the sense reads on, and reads more consistently without them.

The words are not to be found in any of the early manuscripts or versions of the Bible. We find them, possibly for the first time, in three Latin works of doubtful date, from which Mr. Scott Porter gives extracts in the concluding chapter of his "Textual Criticism." These are three different works, on different subjects, and going under the name of different writers, but all three works pronounced to be forgeries made between the sixth and the eighth century. We are therefore much in the dark about the parentage and the exact date of this celebrated passage.

The first certain knowledge that we get on the subject is in the time of Charlemagne, Emperor of the French, in whose reign it was adopted into the Latin Bible. There is, we are assured, now existing in the British Museum, a very early MS. of the Latin Vulgate, known by the name of Codex Caroli. Concerning this manuscript, the tale runs that it was prepared for the Emperor's own use, by his preceptor, Alcuin. But if this tradition is of little value, it is allowed by critics to be of his date, namely, about the year 800. This manuscript, and one, or perhaps two more Latin Vulgates of the same age — all, in fact, that we have of so early a date —do not contain the spurious words, but make the sense of the passage complete without them, as it was originally written. After this date all Latin Bibles contain the inserted text. Thus the words, which may have been intended, in the first instance, for a harmless loss or comment upon the passage, have now, by the zeal of the transcribers, made their way into the Bible itself. At least, we should say, into the Latin Bible, into that Bible which was to be used throughout Christendom during the next seven centuries. Happily, the Greek MSS. remained yet untouched.

In A. D. 1516, very shortly after the invention of printing, a Greek Testament was for he first time printed, by Erasmus, at Basle, in Switzerland, and was so eagerly sought sfter, that in three years' time he brought out his second edition, and prepared for a third, carefully printing from the best manuscripts he was able to get hold of. While he was about this task, the splendid edition of the Complutensian Polyglot was being printed at Alcala in Spain, under the direction of the Cardinal Zimenes. But some delay was caused in its publication, through the altercation and angry controversy that arose between its editors and Erasmus.

It would seem that in this royal volume, where the Greek and Latin text stand handsomely printed side by side, the editors fell into the temptation of altering the Greek in several passages, to make it more nearly agree with the orthodox Latin Vulgate; and while they lay under the charge of Latinizing, as it was called, they were on their side angry with Erasmus for the more independent path he had taken. The important Text of the Three Heavenly Witnesses was the great point of dispute. The editor of the Polyglot put forth a book reproaching Erasmus in the bitterest terms, with having omitted this passage, and Erasmus, with equal vehemence, challenged his rival to produce one single Greek MS. that contained it; but not one was forthcoming, and the only answers he received were arguments founded on the authority of the Latin. Presently, however, a manuscript was said to be discovered in England, containing the disputed text, and Erasmus's third edition appeared with the words inserted, together with an explanation of his conduct. We may add that there are now extant about three manuscripts bearing marks of their not being older than this date, which contain the text, and were probably the tools employed in this transaction.

Stephens and the succeeding editors of the Greek Testament followed Erasmus's example, and inserted the text as a matter of course. There it stood for a century and a half, until John James Griesbach, the German professor, brought up again the long-neglected study of the ancient manuscripts, and in 1777 published his critical edition of the Greek Testament, formed with great labor and judgment, by weighing each single word, and computing the number of ancient authorities that can be found to support it. In this work he necessarily abandoned this passage, which rests upon no foundation.

After the time of Griesbach, no new critical editor of the Greek Testament could venture to insert it any longer. But it is still reprinted in the edition sanctioned by the Church of England, and known by the name of the Received Text of the Greek Testament. The various translations of the New Testament, made in England and abroad, one after the other, in quick succession, soon after the Reformation, were chiefly founded upon the Vulgate, and probably the most that the bravest of them could venture upon, was to mark out the Text of the Three Heavenly Witnesses by putting it between brackets. .... We rejoice to learn that it is now at last to be expunged from the Bible of Protestant England, and that it will not be seen in the revised edition that is presently to be issued from the press.—London Inquirer, May 9th.

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