Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Comma Johanneum and the KJV

The Comma Johanneum is the addition of the following in the KJV:
1 John 5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
It is in no modern translation because it is not found in any of the earliest manuscripts.
1 John 5:7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.
The Greek behind the KJV is found in eight manuscripts:
61 : 16th cent
88 : a variant added in the 16th cent.
221 : a variant added to a 10th cent. ms.
429 : 16th cent ms
629 : 14th cent ms
636 : variant reading on a 16th cent ms.
918 : 16th cent ms.
2318 : 18th cent ms.

Numerous manuscripts omit it including Alexandrian and Byzantine texts types. The church fathers omit it. The Old Latin and the Vulgate omit it in their earliest mss. It simply is not there. Of all the textual problems in the NT the evidence is hardly more overwhelming in favor of omitting.

Yet those who favor the King James alone, typical argue for other reasons, that it is original. So recently I was asked to comment on this article. Here are my thoughts:

The problem with the article is that a defense of the Comma Johanneum is just not historically sound. Imagine if you will that I added something to the text of Scripture, and I manage to get into a library and add it less than 1% of the manuscripts available. Two hundreds years from now, without knowing what I have done, you discover that less than 1% of the Biblical texts have the words that I have added. On top of that you find early manuscripts in preponderance that do not have the inserted phrase. Let us say that my phrase in impeccable in its Biblical theology, however do you then conclude that because it coheres theologically with the Bible it must be original. Without knowing me or what I have done you are going to use good logic and historical investigation to consider what is the most likely occurrence to explain the texts you have uncovered.

The Comma Johanneum is excellent theology for the Bible everywhere teaches the concept of the Trinity. However, it is simple not in the original text, nor is it in the majority of texts. The article says there are 501 manuscripts that contain 1 John yet only 8 manuscripts (10-20 according to the article).

While I won’t respond to every point the article makes, what follows is my thought on a few things. The article basically muscles a method to defend what it has deemed to be true. So when the argument suits its case it does argue that oldest is best: “While it is true that all but around 10-20 of the Greek texts contain the Comma, and most of these are late, the vast bulk of those without the Comma are also late, by the standards of the United Bible Society. Around 95% of these Comma-deleted texts are "late" by these standards (post-9th century). ”

But when oldest-is-best does not suite its case it dismisses it: “it ought to be evident that the weight of numbers on the side of Comma-deleted manuscripts is at least partially nullified by the "oldest-is-best" arguments which the Critical Text crowd loves to advance in favour of the Alexandrian texts.

If he truly supported “oldest-is-best” he would argue against Comma Johanneum. In fact, the writer is clearly and unscientifically biased against the Alexandrian text type. Typical such biases rely on faulty theology not actual historical evidence and weighing of manuscripts.

The writer builds no consistent method of textual criticism. In fact, the issue is not merely “oldest is best” but often late manuscripts (9th century) have early copies from which they were made. So a 9th century manuscript can be poor if there is a long chain of copies between it and the originals, or it can be good if for example it is a from a copy of an early manuscript. This is why text-type and copyist style are so important. This is a serious science that is largely dismissed by the article.

Statements like “we see that the Critical Text supporters include minority readings into the new versions of the Bible, whereas the King James' Textus Receptus reading is in the (sometimes large) majority of the pertinent manuscripts” lead me to believe he has no understanding of the basic practice of textual criticism, regardless of the article’s scholastic appearance. So is oldest best (as he suggests at one point) or is the majority the best (which he suggests here) The issues of textual criticism are not just about racking up a majority of readings nor merely picking the old-is-best. Scholars also see to evaluate which reading can easily explain rise of the alternate readings. In fact, on these grounds sometimes the minority reading is actually the best.

He writes:
“The point to mentioning this is not to cry foul over the inclusion of readings with minority Greek support into a textual edition. Rather, is it just the opposite, to demonstrate that even the modernistic textual critics recognise that there are other weighting factors than mere number of manuscripts which should be used to determine whether a reading belongs in the text, even if their particular weighting factors are based upon the spurious premise that "oldest always means best" (a premise which is difficult to swallow when the oldest texts are demonstratably inconsistent both within their manuscript body and with the bulk of extant Greek manuscript tradition at large)”

I agree there are other issues. But the issues driving this paper are not history but theology. Good theology of the Trinity however cannot invent history. So in the above quote he misses the reason why ‘oldest-is-best’ often (but not always is true). A reasoned eclecticism of the text will chose readings that best explain the variants (even if the variants are in the majority).

Think of it this way. If you are tracing a stream back to its source. In this river there is a unique species of fish found only in this stream. You want to identify the unique features to this fish so that you can work up its biology. You know that somewhere along this stream pollution was dumped in the river, this has caused the fish to mutate. Which fish is the mutation? You do not know. Some of the fish have two dorsal fins others have one. So at the end of the stream you find 1,000 fish. 900 have one dorsal fine but 100 have two dorsal fins. By majority you can assume that the 900 are original--they must be the true type of fish.

Upon further investigation you head up stream. The number of fish with two dorsal fins increase. As you move up stream you find a point of pollution. Upstream, in front of that point, you suddenly find only fish with two dorsal fins. This is the original makeup of the fish. Textual readings work in a similar fashion. The total number of fish in the stream may have only one fin, but that doesn’t make them original if they originate from a point after the corruption.

The analogy holds well for textual criticism. Yes, earlier readings aren’t always better, but in most cases, earliest readings are better. In the case of the Comma Johaneum it is virtually without question that the earliest readings are best. Four the eight manuscripts have the reading in the margins which clearly point to emendation. When early readings do not actually support the emendation it is grasping at straws to suggest that “the scholars were aware of earlier readings.” It is not a consistent historical method.

So when the author uses the majority of Byzantine reading to state that their are against a minority of Alexandrian readings stating “Further, the oldest witnesses (Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Bezae, Alexandrinus, Codex "D05", Ephraemi Rescriptus) are all widely variant from each other and not as trustworthy as they are put forth. When we consider that these texts are in the small minority, and are also grossly variant from the dominant majority of the Greek manuscripts, the Byzantine tradition.” He uses the majority of later manuscripts to cast dispersion on the early manuscripts. The Alexandrian texts are not a divergent from each other as we are lead to believe by this author.

The author really has no knowledge of the Alexandrian text type. Yes, it has variants from the earliest papyri, this is why text critical scholars often prefer the papyri because they are often older. Yet the Byzantine text will often have a majority reading that disagrees with the papyri. So again our author has in inconsistent methodology. Impugning the theology of the Alexandrian text types as heretical is simply hog-wash. Not even serious scholars who favor the majority text make such arguments for they have been shown to be what they are. There were just as many heretics in Alexandria as their were elsewhere; and there were just as many defenders of orthodoxy in Alexandria as elsewhere--consider Athanasius.

It is simply ludicrous to state: “the very fact that there are variant readings for this verse among the Greek manuscripts which contain the Comma lends an air of authenticity to the presence of the Comma in these texts.” This is precisely the type of argumentation we see from Bart Ehrman when he seeks to undermine the text arguing essentially that the fact there are variants gives credence towards scholars intentionally changing the text. Variants tell us nothing more than that their are variants.

Regarding some of the evidence other than Greek manuscripts: With respect to the testimony of Cyprian you should read Dan Wallace article on this.
Cyprian never actually cited the text of 1 John as containing the Comma.

Jerome does not claim there were Greek Codices that left this out, but stating is not the same as proving. Jerome’s actually writings and the Vulgate he produced does not contain it.. In fact, according to Bruce Metzger it is the Codex Fuldensis, a copy of the Vulgate made around 546, contains a copy of Jerome's Prologue to the Canonical Gospels which seems to reference the Comma, but the Codex's version of 1 John omits it. The Prologue's reference is not accurate and has been falsely attributed to Jerome, either way the actual text of 1 John omits the words. [Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed., Stuttgart, 1993; and Wescott The Epistles of St. John, pp204-5; Raymond Brown, The Epistles of John, p782.]

Suggesting things like Eusebius is responsible for the removal of the Comma Johanneum lacks any evidence whatsoever. The is silly when the manuscripts before Eusebius do not have the Comma Johanneum.

Bruce Metzger and others are quite clear that the Comman Johanneum is not found in the Old Latin. Issues of textual criticism arise for the Old Latin as well and it is simple not in the original manuscripts.

With respect to Tertullian it is not a quote or an allusion to 1 John 5 at all in Against Praxeus XXV. To suggest that it is simply shows the extent to which one is willing to go to force one’s case to be true. A church father defending the doctrine that the three (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) are one, is not the same as them defending the Comma Johanneum.

Again our author does not understand the disciple of textual criticism when we writes: “It is patently illegitimate to consider inconsistent Greek codices from the 4th-5th centuries to be of greater weight than the clear and explicit testimony to the verse from patristics such as Tertullian and Cyprian, who quite CLEARLY were referring to this verse in their writings from two centuries before (as will be seen below).” What he claims as “clear” is not clear--Tertullian is not quoting or alluding to 1 John but to John’s Gospel. Cyprian is giving an interpretation NOT reading the text.

In fact, it is the INTERPRETATION that best explains the variant. The variant was added to explain good Trinitarian theology but it is not what John had himself written.

Basically, what motivates this article is defending that all readings in the KJV are the true reading. He has faulty view of “preservation” to think that one can find a reading in any manuscript, even those translations, and it may actually be original. “its preservation through means other than the Greek witness in no wise disparages or dilutes the principle and doctrine of the preservation of God's Word.” But if no early manuscript actually has this reading, there is no evidence that God has preserved this from the original. I must look to history and evidence to ask: is the the reading or has someone corrupted God's Word. The best historical explanation is a later addition by a translator. Those of us coming hundreds of years later must follow the evidence not our theology of what preservation must look like.

To familiarize yourself with textual criticism I would suggest:
Harold Greenlee’s Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism
Bruce Metzger’s Introduction to Textual Criticism.

On the Comma Johanneum let me suggest

James White: The King James Only Controversy. --enter Comma Johanneum in the search bar.

Dan Wallace’s "The Textual Problem in 1 John 5:7-8"

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