Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Comma Johanneum

First John 5:6b-9a in Codex A.
          In First John 5:7-8, there is a textual issue.  The King James Version reads, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.  And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.”    The New American Standard Bible, however, has a shorter text:  “For there are three that testify:  the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”  The material that is in this passage in the KJV and its Greek base-text, but not in the NASB and its Greek base-text, is called the Comma Johanneum, which may be roughly translated as “John’s phrase” or “That phrase in John’s writings.”      
First John 5:7-8 in the 1611 KJV.
            The form of First John 5:7-8 in the KJV is based on a few late Greek manuscripts, plus hundreds (perhaps thousands) of copies of the Latin Vulgate, and some Latin patristic quotations.
            The form of First John 5:7-8 in the NASB is based on almost all Greek manuscripts of First John, including the early ones, plus hundreds of versional copies of First John in various languages, and many patristic quotations.   
            This difference in translations echoes a difference in the Greek base-texts used by the translators.  The King James Version is based on the Textus Receptus, or “Received Text,” a Greek compilation made in the 1500’s, beginning with Erasmus’ 1516 edition but continuing on throughout the 1500’s in various editions by Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza, and issued with some adjustments in 1633.  The first edition of the Textus Receptus did not contain the Comma Johanneum, and Erasmus was criticized because of this.  In the course of his response to the accusation that he had acted irresponsibly by failing to include the Comma Johanneum (henceforth abbreviated as CJ), Erasmus wrote that he did not include the phrase because it was not in any of the Greek manuscripts that had been available to him when he had prepared his Greek compilation, and that if a single manuscript had contained the phrase, he would have included it.
The copyist of MS 1780 made a mistake when writing the
text of First John 5:7-8, accidentally repeating part of the
passage.  (Page 386 at the Rubenstein Library site.)
            Erasmus did not make a promise to include the CJ in the event that a manuscript was found that contained it.  The fictitious story that Erasmus made such a promise has been circulated far and wide; Bruce Metzger gave it wide popularity by presenting it in his handbook The Text of the New Testament as if it were true.  Even after Metzger retracted his claim – barely and timidly, in a footnote in the appendix! – it has proven to be a cockroach of a story, in the sense that it is hard to eradicate, even though Henk J. de Jonge efficiently refuted it in 1990.
            [The Legend of the Rash Promise is not the only fiction that commentators have spread about the CJ.  It is often claimed that the CJ was never cited at any church councils – which, though true as far as councils of Greek-speaking clerics are concerned, ignores the brief Council of Carthage (where Latin was prevalent) that took place in 484 (not to be confused with other councils that occurred there).  At this council, according to Victor Vitensis, Eugene of Carthage led a large delegation of African bishops and was prepared to confront the Vandal (and Arian) ruler Huneric with a citation of the CJ as “a shining light teaching the unity of the divinity of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.”] 
            But there is something to the vague idea that Erasmus said something that induced him to include the CJ even on scant evidence.   After issuing the first two editions of his Greek compilation, Erasmus wanted to refine his work again.  Having stated previously that he would have included the CJ if he had found it in a single manuscript, he found himself in a predicament when someone brought to his attention the existence of a Greek manuscript from Britain in which First John 5:7-8 included the CJ. 
            Erasmus was capable of anticipating what his opponents would say if he continued to refrain from putting the CJ into the Greek text of his compilation (something like, “You claimed that you would have included it if it was in just one Greek manuscript, but now, after being shown one Greek manuscript that has the phrase, you still did not include it!  How inconsistent!”) and so, in 1522, Erasmus included the CJ in the third edition of his Greek compilation, and there it remained in the Textus Receptus throughout the 1500’s, and there it was in 1604 when the translation-work on the KJV began.
            Entire books have written about the subsequent history of the debate that has orbited the CJ in the 1600’s and onward; the names Isaac Newton, Richard Porson, Edward Gibbon, and Charles Forster should not escape the notice of anyone who wants to be thoroughly informed about all that.  My focus today is elsewhere:  I wish to share some reasons for maintaining that the CJ began as an allegorical comment about verse 8 in a branch of the Old Latin version, and that this can be demonstrated fairly concisely. 
            The earliest patristic evidence that is sometimes interpreted as evidence in favor of the CJ is a comment from Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, in the mid-200’s.  In his composition Treatise on the Unity of the Universal Church (1:6), Cyprian says: “Dicit Dominus, ‘Ego et Pater unum sumus,’ et iterum de Patre et Filio et Spiritu sancto scriptum est:  ‘Et tres unum sunt,’” that is, in English, “The Lord says, ‘I and the Father are one,” and again, it is written of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, ‘And these three are one.’”  That final phrase, “And these three are one” is taken by defenders of the CJ as a reference to the end of First John 5:7.  However, depending on the arbitrary preferences of Latin translators, both verse 7 and verse 8 could end with the words Et hi tres unum sunt, or Et tres unum sunt (in the Vulgate, for example, as edited by Eberhard Nestle in 1906, both verses end the same way, Et hi tres unum sunt).  This reference does not rule out the idea that Cyprian was quoting verse 8, and interpreting it as a symbolic reference to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
            But this naturally raises a question:  if Cyprians quotation is from 5:8 rather than 5:7, why did Cyprian say that it was something about the Father and Son and Holy Spirit?  If Cyprian’s text of First John did not have the CJ, how ever did he manage to read a text that meant, For there are three that testify:  the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement” and perceive therein a reference to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? 
            I contend that the Latin text of First John 5:8 used by Cyprian (and by several other Latin writers) contained a transposition.  Rather than refer to the spirit (or Spirit), and the water, and the blood, a form of First John 5:8 in a branch of the Old Latin text referred to the water, the blood, and the spirit, and it was only after this change to the word-order that the text of verse 8 elicited an allegorical interpretation, which a Latin writer expressed in a note that eventually was inserted into the text as the CJ.  The Old Latin text also shows that some Latin copyists altered the three witnesses in verse 8, so as to refer to the flesh (“caro”) as one of them.  But the transposition is the thing to see.  Consider these Latin utilizations of the passage:
            ● Liber Apologeticus (380’s, probably written by Priscillian or one of his associates):  Tria sunt quae testimonium dicunt in terra:  aqua caro et sanguis et haec tria in unum sunt.  Et tria sunt quae testimonium dicent in caelo:  Pater Verbum et Spiritus et haec tria unum sunt in Christo Iesu.” That is:  “There are three that bear witness in earth:  water, flesh, and blood, and these three agree in one.  And there are three that bear witness in heaven:  Father, Word, and Spirit.  And these three are one in Christ Jesus.”
            The order is different from what is seen in the Textus Receptus (in which the heavenly witnesses are mentioned before the earthly witnesses).  And the earthly witnesses themselves, and the order in which they are mentioned, are different in Priscillian’s quotation; instead of Spirit and water and blood, Priscillian mentions the water, flesh, and blood.  Priscillian also adds an extra phrase at the end, “in Christ Jesus.”
            ● Contra Varimadum Arianum (either from the late 300’s and written by Idacius Clarus, or from the late 400’s and written by Vigilius Thapsensis) cites First John 5:7-8 with the CJ and with the transposition in verse 8:  “John the Evangelist . . . says there are three who afford testimony on earth:  the water, the blood, and the flesh, and these three are in us; and there are three who afford testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, and these three are one.”  Notice that once again, the earthly witnesses are listed before the heavenly ones, and “flesh” is one of the earthly witnesses, and that the order of earthly witnesses in this Latin text is different (water, blood, flesh) – varying from the order used by Priscillian, but agreeing partly; water is listed first.
            ● Formulae Spiritualis Intelligentiae (from c. 440, by Eucherius of Lyons), chapter 10, states that the number three represents the Trinity; the author cites First John 5:8 as if it is a clear example:  “In the epistle of John, three are those who bear witness:  water, blood, and spirit.”  The CJ itself is not cited; rather, verse 8 is regarded allegorically as a reference to the Trinity – with the order of the witnesses rearranged so that water is listed first.
            ● Complexiones in Epostolis Apostolorum (from the 500’s, by Cassiodorus), utilizes the CJ as part of the text of First John:  “Cui rei testificantur in terra tria mysteria:  aqua sanguis et spiritus, quae in passione Domini leguntur impleta:  in coelo autem Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus sanctus, et hi tres unus est Deus.”  In English:  “And the three mysteries testify on earth:  water, blood and spirit.  The fulfillment of which we read about in the passion of the Lord.  And in heaven:  Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  And these three are one God.”  Notice again the word-order in the Latin text:  water is first; blood is second; spirit is third.  (Also notice that the variation in the wording of the CJ:  “Son” appears rather than “Word.”) 
            ● The Preface to the Canonical Epistles (found in the Latin Codex Fuldensis, which was produced in 546) was, for a long time, thought have been written by Jerome, and this of course gave its contents added weight in the 1500’s, and perhaps to the translators of the KJV as well.  Here is what the author says about the CJ:  “Much error has occurred at the hands of unfaithful translators contrary to the truth of faith, who have kept just the three words ‘water, blood and spirit’ in this edition, omitting mention of Father, Word and Spirit.”
            Notice that as far as the author is concerned, the CJ belongs in the text, and its absence is the effect of unfaithful translators.  Notice, too, the word-order in his citation of First John 5:8:  once again, water is listed first.  
            ● Adversus Elipandum (by Etherius of Osma in the 700’s), despite being written long after the Vulgate began to replace the Old Latin text, features a utilization of First John 7:8 with an Old Latin reading:  “the water and the blood and the flesh.”  Again, notice the word-order.

            The thing to see is that where the transposition goes, the CJ follows. 
            In the commentary of Scotti Anonymi – this moniker will have to do for the unknown author (possibly Augustinus Hibernicus) of a Latin commentary preserved in a single manuscript (Codex Aug. 233, kept at the Badische Landesbibliothek (Baden State Library) in Karlsruhe, Germany).  The manuscript itself was produced in the 800’s; the commentary was probably composed in the late 600’s.  In the relevant portion of Scotti Anonymi’s commentary, the CJ is not cited, but First John 5:8 is nevertheless interpreted by the commentator as if the three witnesses symbolize the three Persons of the Trinity, and the order of the witnesses in the citation is water, blood, and spirit. 
            Angland Shane has offered a summary of the gist of the part of the commentary that pertains to First John 5:8:  “The moral interpretation interpreted the three witnesses as baptism (water) martyrdom (blood) and the Spirit filled life (Spirit). Christ’s incarnation is presented as the prime example for this moral interpretation. The anagogical interpretation is Trinitarian. Water is said to speak of the Father (ingeniously Jeremiah 2:13 is cited as support). Blood speaks of Christ, especially His passion on the cross, and the Spirit is the Holy Spirit.”
            If the same sort of symbolic filter upon the text was applied to an Old Latin text of First John 5:8 in which the witnesses’ order was water-blood-spirit, it would explain a progression of events:
            (1)  An interpreter of the Old Latin text, upon reading the reference to water, blood, and spirit, is reminded of the Father, Son, and Spirit.  Recalling the testimony of the Father, Son, and Spirit in the Gospels, he composes a note mentioning this. 
            (2)  This note becomes the CJ, first in the margin of Old Latin manuscripts, and then in the Old Latin text itself in the 300’s – sometimes before verse 8 and sometimes after verse 8.  For a little while, it was exclusive to copies in which the order of the three witnesses in verse 8 was transposed.  
            (3)  By the 500’s, its doctrinal usefulness results in its adoption in Latin texts in which the witnesses in verse 8 were not transposed.

            Meanwhile in the Greek manuscripts, there is no external evidence of the existence of the CJ for over a thousand years, because in the entire Greek transmission-stream, the transposition of the witnesses in verse 8 never occurred.  In the late medieval era, some manuscripts were made in which each page contains two columns of text; the Greek text occupies one column, and the Latin text occupies the other one.  Sometimes the Greek text was altered so as to agree with the Latin text, and for this reason, the CJ appears in the text of First John 5:7 in a few late medieval Greek manuscripts (the earliest of which is (probably) minuscule 629, which is assigned to the 1300’s, though Daniel Wallace seems to think it is much younger).  But, unless one were to add to the equation Greek manuscripts that were copied with printed Greek copies of the Textus Receptus as their exemplars, the CJ seldom appears in exactly the same form twice in Greek. 
            For example, in Codex Montfortianus – the manuscript which was brought to Erasmus’ attention in the 1520’s as containing the CJ – it seems evident that the source of the CJ is Latin, not Greek.  The text of the CJ in minuscule 61 (as was noted by Orlando T. Dobbin in 1854) runs as follows [the sacred-name contractions that are underlined here are overlined in the manuscript]: 
            ὁτϊ τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτϋροῦντ·¨ ἐν τῶ ουνω,
            πηρ, λογος, καί πνα αγῖον, καί οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς εν εισϊ. 
            καί τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτϋροῦντ·¨ ἐν τῃ γῃ, πνα, ὑδωρ, καί αιμα.

But this is different from the text found in the Greek column of minuscule 629, which says that the witnesses are απο του (“from the”) heaven rather than εν τω (“en the”) heaven. And although Erasmus’ third edition (1522) includes First John 5:7 in the same form found in minuscule 61, by 1556 the text was different: 
            ὁτϊ τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτϋροῦντες ἐν τῶ ουρανω,
            πατὴρ, λογος, καί τὸ πνεῦμα ἅγῖον, καί οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς εν εισϊ. 
            καί τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτϋροῦντες ἐν τῃ γῃ,
            πνεῦμα καί ὑδωρ καί αιμα, καί οἱ τρεῖς ἐισ τὸ εν εἰσιν.  

It looks as if Erasmus, at some point, added two articles (ὁ, the), one conjunction (καί, and), and the final phrase.  In minuscule 629, the articles and the conjunction are absent, as in minuscule 61.  Thus, it seems difficult to maintain that the Greek base-text of First John 5:7 that is found in the KJV is extant in the text of any Greek manuscript not copied from a printed edition of the Textus Receptus.

The takeaway from all this is that the Comma Johanneum was not part of the original text of First John; it began as a Latin interpretative note on verse 8, after the word-order in verse 8 had been altered.  Furthermore, hardly any Greek manuscripts of First John contain the CJ, and the ones that have it in their text have variations indicating that the few late Greek manuscripts that support the CJ do so because of contamination from Latin copies, not because they echo earlier Greek copies.  The CJ does not belong in the New Testament. 


Scripture attributed to the New American Standard Bible® is Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.


Kepha said...

Still, it is interesting to note that the official text used by the Greek Orthodox Church includes the Johannine Comma.

maurice a. robinson said...

That Greek Orthodox "official" text (Antoniades 1904/1912) as originally printed had the Comma in very small and italicized type, indicating its absence from the original text of 1Jn. The Greek preface by Antoniades (p.7) clearly explains the issue (English translation by J. M. Rife in Colwell's Prolegomena to the Study of the Lectionary Text, p.61; emphasis added):

"...the passage on the 'three witnesses' in I John 5:7,8. It did not appear possible to include this, either by the principles of this present [official Orthodox] edition or by way of exception, since it is entirely unattested in church texts, in the fathers and teachers of the Eastern Church, in the ancient versions, in the older MSS of the Slavic version, or even in the Latin, or in any known Greek MS written independently of this addition, which was introduced gradually into the Vulgate. It is retained [solely] upon the opinion of the Holy Synod."

Daniel Buck said...

It's not accurate to say the the JC in either the traditional English Bible or the traditional Greek text is 'based on' a "few late Greek manuscripts." The evidence is very clear that Erasmus saw a single Greek manuscript, 61, which contained text for the Comma, and there is no reason to believe that the compilers of the Complutensiian GNT ever saw even one. The English printed version of the Comma is based on a single Greek manuscript, imperfectly copied by Erasmus and printed in his Greek NT, and subsequently edited by Stephanus with reference to the Complutensian. The sources behind both streams of the Textus Receptus are one-off translations of Latin manuscripts (Codex Complutensis being one of them). There is no history of the Comma being copied from one Greek manuscript into another. There has never been an attempt to produce a printed critical edition of the NT which included a Comma compiled from Greek manuscript sources. The chain of transmission is always short, and always starts with a Latin manuscript source.

James Snapp said...

[Note: the first form of this post, in its mention of Henk de Jonge, said that he is dead; however I am glad to report that he is alive. The post has been corrected accordingly.]