Sunday, June 17, 2012

Luther and the Johannine Comma

Here's an interesting post from the Lutheran Theology Study Group: Luther and the Johannine Comma.

I mentioned similar information in Luther’s View of the Canon of Scripture:

Similar to Luther, Erasmus questioned the canonicity of particular books. The Catholic Encyclopedia points out,
“…[T]he attitude of Erasmus towards the text of the New Testament is an extremely radical one, even if he did not follow out all its logical consequences. In his opinion the Epistle of St. James shows few signs of the Apostolic spirit; the Epistle to the Ephesians has not the diction of St. Paul, and the Epistle to the Hebrews he assigns with some hesitation to Clement of Rome…”
Alan Wikgren points out, “Erasmus had freely expressed his doubts about the books disputed in the early church and made distinctions in their value. But he was led to subordinate these judgments to ecclesiastical authority.” How did Erasmus “subordinate his judgments”? Wikgren doesn’t say, although it is well known that during the significant years in which the Lutheran reformation began, Pope Leo X was an ally of Erasmus, and Erasmus enjoyed a particular level of economic and scholarly freedom by remaining loyal. Interestingly, after Erasmus died, his works were placed on the Church’s list of prohibited books. I know of at least one example in which Erasmus “subordinated his judgments.” Erasmus went as far as removing verses from the first edition of his Greek New Testament. He omitted 1 John 5:7-8 because he could find it in no manuscript. Roland Bainton notes,
“There was such an outcry that he agreed to restore it in case it could be discovered in any manuscript. One was found…and Erasmus, having sworn, was true to his oath…Unhappily the spurious verse passed from this second edition into the textus receptus and then into the King James translation. In the late nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII declared it to be genuine, but forty years later a commission of the church reversed his verdict. Today no Catholic would defend its authenticity.”
The manuscript produced for Erasmus was a forgery. Interestingly, Luther followed the first edition of Erasmus, and kept 1 John 5:7 out of the Luther Bible. Bainton says, “But Luther had not sworn, and at this point he adhered to the first edition of Erasmus, though otherwise he was following the second.” [Studies on the Reformation, 8].

David T. King provides a helpful overview of this event:
"Another interesting note in the history of this edition of the Vulgate is the insertion of the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7-8, KJV) by Erasmus. In response to his newly constructed Greek text in 1516, New Testament Greek scholar Metzger points out that, 'One of the editors of Ximenes' Complutensian Polyglot, criticized that his text lacked part of the final chapter of 1 John, namely the Trinitarian statement concerning "the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth."' Metzger goes on to say that Erasmus gave his word that he would be willing, in future editions, to insert the Comma Johanneum if a single Greek manuscript could be produced that included the passage in question. At length one was found and Erasmus inserted the spurious passage. Regarding the sudden appearance of this particular Greek manuscript, Metzger writes: ‘At length such a copy was found—or was made to order! As it now appears, the Greek manuscript had probably been written in Oxford about 1520 by a Franciscan friar named Froy (or Roy), who took the disputed words from the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus stood by his promise and inserted the passage in his third edition (1522), but he indicates in a lengthy footnote his suspicions that the manuscript had been prepared expressly in order to confute him’” [David T. King, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith Vol.1 (WA: Christian Resources, 2001), 166].

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