Sunday, March 12, 2006

Erasmus and 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. And there are three that bear witness in earth,] the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one. – 1 John 5:7

In my paper Luther’s View of the Canon of Scripture I wrote the following:

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.”

Interestingly, Luther followed the first edition of Erasmus, and kept 1 John 5:7 out of the Luther Bible.

Recently, I read the following, which challenges Bainton’s (and Bruce Metzger’s] version of the promise of Erasmus, These are minor details, and neither the Roman Catholic Church nor Erasmus fare any better if this information is true:

In the many retellings of this famous episode, it has become the common tradition that Erasmus rashly made a promise to his critics that he would include the Comma if a single Greek manuscript could be brought forward as evidence. However, Henk J. de Jonge has recently demonstrated that nothing in Erasmus’ writings indicates he formally made such a promise. DeJonge suggests that the notion of a promise came from a misinterpretation of a passage in a 1520 response to Edward Lee (Responsio ad Annotationes Eduardi Lei). Erasmus wrote:

‘If a single manuscript had come into my hands, in which stood what we read (sc. in the Latin Vulgate) then I would certainly have used it to fill in what was missing in the other manuscripts I had. Because that did not happen, I have taken the only course which was permissible, that is, I have indicated (sc. in the Annotationes) what was missing from the Greek manuscripts.’

De Jonge suggests that Erasmus included the Comma Johanneum because he did not want his reputation ruined over a minor detail in the Greek text that might prevent his Latin translation from receiving wide distribution. When Erasmus was informed that the passage had been found in Codex 61, a 16th century manuscript then in England, he included it, though he notes in his Annotationes that he did not believe the Comma was genuine."

Source: William W. Combs,Erasmus and the Textus Receptus, Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal Volume 1 (Vol. 1, Page 49-50)

This is a speculative point by DeJonge- and I can’t understand how the passage from Erasmus was so misread. On the surface, it appears straightforward. Regardless, DeJonge speculates as to the reasons Erasmus included 1 John 5:7- and I don’t put this past Erasmus.

The article also states that Bruce Metzger reported certain facts incorrectly as well:

“Another part of this episode has also been incorrectly reported. Again, Metzger, among others, has said that Erasmus believed that Codex 61 “had been prepared expressly in order to confute him.” And [J. Rendel] Harris has shown that Codex 61 was, in fact, probably produced at the time of the controversy for the purpose of refuting Erasmus. But Erasmus himself had a different theory as to why Codex 61 contained the Comma. He believed:

‘…that the Codex, like many other manuscripts, contained a text which had been revised after, and adapted to, the Vulgate. This was one of Erasmus’ stock theories, to which he repeatedly referred in evaluating Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. He regarded manuscripts which deviated from the Byzantine text known to him, and showed parallels with the Vulgate, as having been influenced by the Vulgate

what seems to be being suggested is that Erasmus speculated the text was inserted, but not maliciously as Bainton and Metzger suggest. Either way- Erasmus probably knew better.


Anonymous said...

For those interested in it, H.J. De Jonge's paper is available online:

Anonymous said...

You’re wrong to say no Catholic defends 1 John 5:7. Very many do. Myself included. Stop misrepresenting Catholics. It’s uncharitable and dishonest.

James Swan said...

Hello Anonymous, It appears to me your fight is with a dead man: Roland Bainton.