Sunday, May 25, 2008

Trinity Words An "Addition"

[Pictured: Erasmus] I recently stumbled upon an interesting spat between the KJV-only crowd and (nearly) 'everyone else'. 1 John 5:7-8 contains a major Trinitarian proof text, the "comma Johanneum (or Johanninum)", but this clause is excluded from most modern English translations' primary text.

E.g., NIV: "For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement." (Footnote: "Late manuscripts of the Vulgate testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. 8 And there are three that testify on earth: the (not found in any Greek manuscript before the sixteenth century" (emphasis added))

One defense of the NIV translation notes: "The extra words in the KJV rendering of this passage are among the most poorly attested of all the disputed verses in the KJV and Textus Receptus. The addition is not found in any Greek manuscript or English translation until the sixteenth century, and most scholars agree that it is a forgery."

The Wiki article on the clause (and laugh all you want at my Wiki citation, but it's quite an excellent summary) notes that it was only the third edition of Erasmus' work, the "Received Text" (upon which the KJV is based), that put this clause into wide-spread usage. And Erasmus (fallible) made this change only begrudgingly. Catholicism later reversed its (fallible) decree that theologians could not "with safety" question the clause's authenticity (citing C.E. article on the Epistles of St. John, reversed by Pope Pius XI in 1927).

I set out writing this post thinking that whenever the NIV excludes or adds text to Scripture, it does so from questionable motives (based on previous observations made here, here, here, and here). But here I encountered a translation that is not easily reproached.

My point then?

1) That a passage of Holy Writ was in common usage for centuries, but may indeed be aberrant (i.e., fallible), adds to my skepticism that God would decree for (Holy) text to be our court of final appeal (as is understood in the Reformed circle, e.g., here). Did God give us an infallible text to be our court of final appeal, but then allow it to become corrupt over time? Does he preserve it only in relevant parts (in which case a Trinitarian proof-text would have to be described as irrelevant)?

2) The KJV-only crowd can be excessively passionate for their Biblicist position. This seems to flow out of necessity of the critiques I made just above in point 1. For the Word of God, the logos, to entirely subsist in the Bible's text, and therein to act as our court of final appeal, it must of course be perfect in every part, and continue preserved in this form. (For some thoughts on whether the Logos is equal to, or greater than the Bible, see my post here.)

E.g., Jack Chick's website defends the comma (this clause) as a Divinely-included part of the Bible. It notes that 1 John itself is absent from many extent Greek manuscripts. Tertullian, it tells us, quoted the verse in 200 AD when writing against Praxeas. Further, Eastern Greeks found it easier to deal with the troubling Sabellian heresy by simply removing this text from their own Bibles, because it refers to the persons of the Trinity as "one".

I was almost persuaded, until I looked up this text of Tertullian on CCEL. After much poking around, I found other sources who noted that Tertullian did not use this clause where one would expect to see him do so against Praxeas. Instead he used the less-direct John 10:30 ("I and the Father are one."). Further, the argument that the Greeks obliterated a proof-text of Trinitarian dogma to ease their dispute with the Sabellian's seems specious at best.

Jack Chick is a tall example, but not alone in defending Erasmus' Received Text as infallible (so necessarily defending the comma Johanneum). This crowd sees that there would be a need for Church as arbiter were our textual court of final appeal not self-authenticating.


Gil Garza said...

It is worth noting why the Holy Office declared that the Johannine Comma could not be denied or called into doubt in 1897. The issue had nothing to do with the text itself, but rather, authority.

The Holy Office declared, "This decree was passed to check the audacity of private teachers who attributed to themselves the right either of rejecting entirely the authenticity of the Johannine comma, or at least of calling it into question by their own final judgment. But it was not meant at all to prevent Catholic writers from investigating the subject more fully and, after weighing the arguments accurately on both sides, with that moderation and temperance which the gravity of the subject requires, from inclining toward an opinion in opposition to its authenticity, provided they professed that they were ready to abide by the judgment of the Church, to which the duty was delegated by Jesus Christ not only of interpreting Holy Scripture but also of guarding it faithfully."

As you have pointed out, this is the level whereby Sola Scriptura breaks down completely. There is no way, using Scripture alone, to verify the Johannine Comma or any of the various intrusions into the bible text. Nor is there any way to verify any of disputed texts.

Thos said...

Thank you, Gil. I personally have benefitted from your addition here. I cannot state in blog comments the degree to which I respect that Catholic position - that we (or they? the Church leaders) weigh with moderation and temperance such changes in views. I see no room for criticism of the Catholic treatment of the comma and hope my post did not indicate otherwise.

[I hope our friendship is not damaged by the old truck on cinder blocks conversation that somehow went astray.]

Peace in Christ,

Gil Garza said...

Always a pleasure to post.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Dangit, my long post was just deleted - thank you blogger.

Nutshell recap - same thing could be said of Mark 9-20 which Protestant scholars are fairly unanimous in rejection of (not the KJV only crowd though obviously).

But for Catholics, the verses were in Mark when it was canonized and those verses are Scripture for us.

How can we be certain of this since they cannot be verified by historical critical method?