|The opening verses of First |
John 3 in Codex Alexandrinus.
Today’s hand-to-hand combat is a contest between the famous and the infamous. In one corner is Codex Alexandrinus (A, 02), a very important uncial manuscript of the Bible produced in the 400’s. Codex Alexandrinus’ Gospels-text (which begins in Matthew 25:6; the pages are not extant up to that point) is essentially Byzantine and thus Codex A constitutes the earliest manuscript-support for many Byzantine readings. In Acts and the General Epistles, Codex A’s text tends to be Alexandrian. And for Revelation, Codex A is regarded by many researchers as the best manuscript we have (though it is not perfect).
Codex A came to the attention of European scholars in 1627, when it was presented to Charles I of
as a gift from Cyril Lucar, patriarch of Constantinople. (Ambassador-explorer Thomas Roe was instrumental in the delivery
of the manuscript, which Lucar had intended to give to James I, who died before
the manuscript arrived in England.) Although at some previous time the codex was,
according to a note in the manuscript, kept at Alexandria,
this does not require that it was produced in Alexandria. (One may wonder, had the codex arrived 20
years earlier, what its influence on the King James Version might have been.)
In the other corner is Codex Montfortianus (61), a manuscript which was probably made around 1520. It is presently housed at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Minuscule 61 is thus a few years younger than the earliest printed compilations of the Greek New Testament! Such a late manuscript would normally be little-known, but Codex Montfortianus played an interesting role in a controversy about the Comma Johanneum that occurred following the publication of Erasmus’ first edition of the printed Greek New Testament.
Erasmus’ first (1516) and second (1519) editions of the Greek New Testament did not include the Comma Johanneum in the text of First John. The Comma Johanneum, which refers to the Father, Word, and Holy Spirit as three heavenly witnesses, had become very popular in
Europe due to its inclusion in medieval
editions of the Vulgate. Some scholars (especially
Edward Lee and Jacobus Stunica) protested against Erasmus’ non-inclusion of the
Comma Johanneum. The late Bruce Metzger wrote that in
response, “In an unguarded moment Erasmus promised that he would insert the
Comma Johanneum, as it is called, in future editions if a single Greek
manuscript could be found that contained the passage.” James White has similarly stated that
“Erasmus had promised, in his response to Lee, to include the passage should a
Greek manuscript be found that contained it.”
That story has been circulated by many commentators. (Even Samuel Tregelles spread this story, back in the 1800’s.) However, researcher Henk de Jonge, via a detailed direct study of the relevant compositions, has shown that Erasmus never made the promise described by Metzger, White, and many others. Instead, Erasmus, in a letter written in May of 1520, in the course of explaining why he had not included the Comma Johanneum, stated, “If a single manuscript had come into my hands which attested to what we read [in the Vulgate], then I would certainly have used it to fill in what was missing in the other manuscripts I had.”
Erasmus also stated that Edward Lee did not have a valid reason to accuse Erasmus of negligence in this regard; de Jonge provides Erasmus’ retort: “What sort of indolence is that, if I did not consult the manuscripts which I could not manage to have? At least, I collected as many as I could. Let Lee produce a Greek manuscript in which are written the words lacking in my edition, and let him prove that I had access to this manuscript, and then let him accuse me of indolence.”
Shortly after this exchange between Edward Lee and Desiderius Erasmus, the existence of Codex Montfortianus, and the inclusion of the Comma Johanneum in its text of First John, were pointed out to Erasmus. Erasmus never made a promise to include the Comma Johanneum in a future edition of the Greek New Testament if a Greek manuscript containing it could be found; he merely insisted that he could not validly be accused of omitting it in his first two editions due to negligence, because he had not found it in the manuscripts accessible to him. However, it is also clear that because of Erasmus’ statement that he would have included the Comma Johanneum if he had found it in a single manuscript, Erasmus could easily anticipate in 1522 that if he were to omit the Comma Johanneum in his third edition, after being informed of the existence of a Greek manuscript that contained the passage, he would certainly be accused of inconsistency, having already stated that if he had possessed a single Greek manuscript with the passage, he would have included it.
|First John 5:7-8 in the 1611 KJV.|
Erasmus consequently included the Comma Johanneum in subsequent editions (with some adjustments to its text). It was also included in the editions of Stephanus and Beza later in the 1500’s – and thus it was in the base-text used by the translators of the Geneva Bible and the King James Version. So although minuscule 61 is relatively unimportant as far as most other passages of the New Testament are concerned, in First John 5:7-8 its impact has been enormous.
J. Rendel Harris, in 1887, proposed that Codex Montfortianus was produced – with the Comma Johanneum – by a Franciscan monk named William Roy (sometimes called Froy, because, in theory, an abbreviation for “Fratris” (“brother”) was misinterpreted as part of his name), who was working at the time under the auspices of Henry Standish, a British bishop who opposed both Erasmus’ Greek New Testament and the Protestant Reformation in general. (Froy went on to leave the Franciscan order in the early 1520’s; he became an assistant of William Tyndale for a while, and was eventually martyred, in
in 1531.) Roy
was in the right place, at the right time, and possessed the necessary training
and resources to produce the manuscript (in which the text of Revelation
appears to have been copied from minuscule 69).
Richard Brynckley (or Brinkley) is another suspect. This erudite scholar was Provincial Minister from 1518 to 1526, and he had taught at
from 1492 to 1518, when minuscule 69 was kept there. (Brynckley was at Cambridge
when Erasmus lived there in 1511-1513, and Erasmus later sent greetings to
Brinkley in a letter to Henry Bullock.)
Grantley McDonald, in a recent book, has recently questioned the
possibility that Brinkley made MS 61, on the grounds that the script that Brinkley used to write his name and title in another manuscript does not match the script in MS
61. However, Brinkley may have been,
like many people, capable of using one kind of script when writing his signature, and another handwriting-style for other purposes.
Yet another suspect is Francis Frowyk. Grantley McDonald proposes that Harris’ identification of “Froy” as Fratris Roy does not fit the evidence as well as the identification of Froy with Francis Frowyk, a Franciscan colleague of both Erasmus and John Clement (one of the owners of MS 69). Frowyk, according to McDonald, visited Erasmus in August of 1517. Frowyk had the requisite skill in Greek, and access to minuscule 69, and interest in Erasmus’ work. It may be that Codex Monfortianus was produced not by an enemy intent on embarrassing Erasmus, but by a friend who discerned that an opportunity existed to quietly provide a resource which would give Erasmus the means to deflect some accusations of heresy which several critics were making against him.
In any event, without Codex Montfortianus, the Reformation might have been significantly different. With all this in the background, we approach the battleground for today's contest: First John 3:1-14 – not far from the passage for which Codex Montfortianus has become infamous. We shall use, as the basis of comparison, the text of the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland compilation. Words in brackets will be treated as part of the text. Transpositions will be mentioned but not included in the final corruption-count. Abbreviations of sacred names, and other abbreviations, will not be treated as variants. In addition, στ (sigma and tau) and ϛ (stau) will be treated as identical, that is, the use of stau in 61 to represent what is expressed as στ in Codex A will not be considered a variant.
Here are the differences between Codex A and the text of NA27 in First John 3:1-14.
1 – A has εδωκεν instead of δεδωκεν. (-1)
2 – no differences.
3 – no differences.
4 – no differences.
5 – no differences.
6 – no differences.
7 – A has Παιδια instead of Τεκνια (+4, -4)
7 – A has μη τις instead of μηδεις (+1, -2)
8 – A has δε after ο at the beginning of the verse (+2)
9 – no differences
10 – A has την after ποιων (+3)
11 – A has αγγελεια instead of αγγελια (+1)
12 – no differences
13 – A does not have Και at the beginning of the verse (-3)
Codex A thus has 11 non-original letters, and is missing 10 original letters, for a total of 21 letters’ worth of corruption.
Here are the differences between the text of 61 and the text of NA27 in First John 3:1-14. (Agreements with the RP2005 Byzantine Text are marked with a triangle.)
1 – 61 has ιδε instead of ιδετε (-2)
1 – 61 transposes, yielding ο πατηρ ημιν
1 – 61 does not have και εσμεν (-8) ▲
2 – 61 has ουκ instead of ουπω (+1, -2)
2 – 61 has δε after οιδαμεν (+2) ▲
2 – 61 has εστι instead of εστιν (-1)
3 – 61 has αυτος instead of εκεινος (+3, -5)
3 – 61 has εστι instead of εστιν (-1)
4 – 61 does not have ποιει (-5)
4 – no differences
5 – 61 has ημων after αμαρτιας (+4) ▲
5 – 61 has εστι instead of εστιν (-1)
6 – no differences
7 – 61 has εστι instead of εστιν (-1)
8 – 61 has εφανευρωθη instead of εφανερωθη (+1) [This might be an accent but I was not sure.]
9 – 61 has το before σπερμα (+2)
10 – 61 has εστι instead of εστιν (-1)
10 – 61 has εργα before the first τεκνα (+4)
11 – no differences
12 – 61 has εσφαξε instead of εσφαξεν (-1)
13 – 61 does not have Και at the beginning of the verse (-3) ▲
13 – 61 has μου after αδελφοι (+3) ▲
14 – 61 has τον αδελφον after αγαπων (+10) ▲
Minuscule 61 thus contains, in First John 3:1-14, 30 non-original letters, and is missing 31 original letters, for a total of 61 letters’ worth of corruption. (If movable-nu variants are removed from consideration, then 61 has 30 non-original letters, and is missing 25 original letters, for a total of 55 letters’ worth of corruption.)
Compared to NA27, Codex A has only 21 letters’ worth of corruption in First John 3:1-14 – most of which consists of the reading Παιδια (instead of Τεκνια) in verse 7, την after ποιων in verse 10, and the inclusion of Και at the beginning of verse 13.
Compared to NA27, 61 has 61 letters’ worth of corruption in First John 3:1-14 – the biggest differences being the absence of και εσμεν in verse 1, αυτος instead of εκεινος in verse 3, the absence of ποιει in verse 4, the presence of ημων in verse 5, and the inclusion of τον αδελφον in verse 14.
This was an easy victory for Codex Alexandrinus – and the quality of Codex A’s text increases when NA28 is the standard of comparison: in NA28, Παιδια was adopted at the beginning of verse 7. Codex A thus has only 13 letters’ worth of corruption in First John 3:1-14. (Side-note: I cannot tell why the compilers of NA-28 kept Και at the beginning of verse 13. If Και is rejected – as it seems to be in the text of practically all modern English versions – then Codex A’s corruption-level in these 14 verses decreases to just 10 letters’ worth of corruption.)
[Readers are invited to check the data and math in this post. Using the embedded link to Codex A, First John 3 begins on fol. 82r. Using the embedded link to MS 61, First John 3 is on fol. 436r.]
James, I would be interested in how these two compare to the majority byzantine text type of Dr. Maurice Robinson.
Again, you did an excellent job in posting and evaluating this. Thank you so much!
James, why would you call either NA27 or NA28 an original text? And be using them as a baseline for the corruption comparison? You know full well that these are ultra-corrupt Greek editions, from studies on many sections, verses and variants. Did you have a dose of Hortian Fantasy Tea the day you did this study?
Although textual critics have accepted Codex A's singular omission of ημας in 5:9 for well over a century, they aren't so keen to go with its singular omission of an entire verse in the same chapter, meaning that for the reading ευρεθη in v. 4 they have only late manuscripts in support.
It is fair to say that the heavy-drinking skeptic scholar Richard Porson really added the "promise" element (sometimes changed to wager) to the Erasmus history. Here is the spot, in 1790.
Letters to Mr. Archdeacon Travis,
in Answer to His Defence of the Three Heavenly Witnesses (1790)
https://books.google.com/books?id=qobx5D2P3D8C&pg=PA223 (1827 reprint)
"It is scarcely necessary to tell the reader, that in the years 1516 and 1519 Erasmus published his first and second editions of the Greek Testament, both which omitted the three heavenly witnesses. That having promised Lee to insert them in his text, if they were found in a single Greek MS. he was soon informed of the existence of such a MS. in England, and consequently inserted 1 John V. 7. in his third edition, 1522. That this MS. after a profound sleep of two centuries, has at last been found in the library of Trinity College, Dublin."
** having promised Lee to insert them in his text **
And this would account for Horne, Tregelles, Scrivener and others using the promise language.
And I have extracted much of the salient material (Erasmus, Richard Simon, Isaac Newton, Henk de Jonge, Erika Rummel, Grantley McDonald, and more) here:
Pure Bible Forum
Erasmus Promise summary
Fascebook - Pure Bible Forum
Erasmus Promise Summary
And this blog.
Note, I consider the whole issue a bit overblown, however I still like to get the "facts on the ground" right.
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