Monday, October 24, 2016

Timothy Dunkin's Flawed Understanding Of Greek Manuscripts, Part One

[This post is in response to a section of Timothy Dunkin's polemic in favor of the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7 in the KJV/TR tradition). Mr. Dunkin's blog may be viewed here].

There is no such thing as an even minimally reasonable apologetic in favor of the Comma Johanneum. Despite five centuries to invent one, KJV Onlyists (or TR superiority advocates) have yet to be able to do so. If their argument is that John wrote this then they've had twenty centuries and yet their arguments are as weak today as when first proposed. Unfortunately, Dunkin demonstrates an incredible amount of ignorance (or deception) of the issue. Timothy's  remarks will be in bold while my response will be in plain script.

In the minds of the modernistic textual critics, the Greek manuscript evidence is THE center of debate, to the seeming exclusion of nearly everything else. This allows them to focus the discussion surrounding this verse around the one portion of the evidence which would, on its face, seem to support their contentions about the Comma. However, the treatment which the Greek evidence is given suffers from being only partially presented, and often misrepresented, by the Critical Text side of the debate.

This is a common objection from KJV Onlyists or those trying to argue an untenable position. It is also utter nonsense. It is easy for Dunkin to sit and attack the opposing position from the standpoint of presumed neutrality, but the problem is that his neutrality is not real but pretentious. It is simple common sense - one should expect to be able to determine the Greek reading of a writing originally made and preserved in Greek from what language? Greek obviously. Of course, that does not necessarily mean that the Greek reading is found in any extant manuscript. There are a couple of readings in the modern NA text that are found in no extant Greek manuscript whatsoever (πρώτης in Acts 16:12 and οὐχ εὑρεθήσεται in 2 Peter 3:10). But that isn't really the point. Very simply, the translators do not go rushing off to Latin or Syriac or other secondary languages to provide their reason for the GREEK text. One should be expected to determine the Greek original from Greek.

But his charge of 'partially presented' or 'often misrepresented' is a charge of patent dishonesty towards the textual critics. There is no way getting around this - Dunkin is basically suggesting every advocate of the Critical Text (or at least those who have worked on the NA or UBS texts) are dishonest people with an agenda. Let's continue further to see what examples he provides.

The most common statements made by Critical Text supporters about the paucity of evidence for the Comma in the Greek manuscripts sound similar to Metzger's below, who says it " absent from every known Greek manuscript except eight."Metzger then proceeds to list seven of these manuscripts (#61, #88m, #221m, #429, #636m, #918, #2318), excluding the eighth manuscript, Ottobonianus (#629), a 14th-century manuscript which is listed in the United Bible Society's 4th edition of the Greek New Testament.

I pause merely to note that Dunkin is slipping a rhetorical argument past the reader and hoping nobody notices. It is correct that Metzger's TCNT only lists seven of the eight manuscripts; however, Dunkin himself doesn't bother to disclose that Metzger himself was one of the editors of the UBS-4, so the claim that Metzger 'partially presented' evidence rings rather hollow[1]. Might the 'eighth manuscript' Dunkin is accusing Metzger of 'excluding' be due to something other than Metzger himself? Of course. Maybe it's the publisher's fault. Maybe it was an accidental omission due to either Metzger or the publisher. Maybe it was because it's a 14th century manuscript that tells us nothing about the first century NT text. There are many acceptable reasons that simply don't add up to the suggestion of dishonesty that Dunkin makes.

 Now, there are over 5300 extant Greek New Testament manuscripts, so this would on its face seem to be an overwhelming argument against the authenticity of the Johannine Comma. However, the numbers game is reduced somewhat when we note that only 501 of these manuscripts contain the book of I John, chapter 5.

I pause only to note here that Metzger never once claimed he was counting 5300 manuscripts and common sense indicates a manuscript only counts as a witness 'for' or 'against' a reading if it actually features that particular section. Dunkin is refuting Metzger for something the latter did not even say or suggest.

 Further, we see that Metzger and the UBS have slighted the actual number of Greek manuscripts which contain the verse.

This charge is more interesting, particularly in light of the evidence Dunkin is about to present.

Further, we see that Metzger and the UBS have slighted the actual number of Greek manuscripts which contain the verse. In addition to the ones listed above, D.A. Waite is reported to have identified manuscripts #634 and Omega 110 as containing the Comma, and Holland notes that the Comma appears in the margin of #635.

What is truly egregious is the fact that Dunkin has so many things wrong here that it's difficult to know exactly where to begin. I have no doubt that Dunkin sincerely believes that there are additional manuscripts with the Comma, but I also have no doubt that he is totally wrong in his belief. Let's begin with his story about Dr. D.A. Waite. It took a bit of research, but here's the gist of what happened. In the May 1979 issue of Dean Burgon News, an official publication of the Dean Burgon Society that Waite (and the late David Otis Fuller) began in November 1978, Waite published the 'research' of a New Jersey pastor named C.J. Drexler, who claimed to have discovered many more manuscripts that have the Comma Johanneum. Waite repeated as fact Drexler's alleged discovery of a total of twenty manuscripts that have the disputed reading [2]. Dr. Thomas Strouse then repeated this erroneous information in “A Critique of D. A. Carson’s The King James Version Debate "[3]. 

Not only is this totally false but Dunkin also has in his very article the pro-Comma book that reveals this fact - assuming Dunkin actually read the book. Dunkin cites the work of Michael Maynard in footnotes 19, 20, 27, 51, and 52, four of those citations coming from Maynard's "A History of the Debate Over 1 John 5:7-8." How is it possible then that Dunkin missed Maynard's comments upon Drexler's flawed research? “Drexler apparently mixed Gregorian and non-Gregorian numerals” [4]. Had Dunkin actually read this work (or at least paid attention), it would have prevented him from making this monumental blunder because as one reads further Maynard notes, "Duplicate terms...were a factor for the bloated count. Perhaps 110 was derived from Tischendorf's Omega 100" [5]. What I'm saying is quite simple: Dunkin created new manuscripts with the Comma because he didn't know that different numbers in different numbering systems often denote the same manuscripts. Metzger made no mistake whatsoever as far as his documentation of evidence here.

Much is made of the appearance of the Comma in the margins of several of these manuscripts (specifically, #88, #221, #635, and #636), and the standard interpretation of this occurrence is that later scribes emended the texts with the Comma in the margin. From there, it is said, the emendation made its way into the actual text of manuscripts which were subsequently copied. While this is indeed a plausible contention, it is not conclusive by any means. Equally plausible is the suggestion that the verse appears in the margin as a response by scribes who had seen the verse in other texts, noted its lacking in the manuscript before them, and corrected the text according to what they had previously seen.

Dunkin continues his flawed argumentation by suggesting that two hypotheses are equally tenable. One must wonder if Dunkin is either completely ignorant of textual criticism or if he is merely engaged in wishful thinking. Recall Dunkin's (false) allegation that textual critics "partially presented" evidence. Dunkin commits that very fallacy here because he doesn't bother to mention the fact that those notes in the margin come from hands that are (literally) HUNDREDS of years later. For example, manuscript 88 is a fourteenth century manuscript with the Comma added in a sixteenth century hand. To even suggest that such a manuscript can be explained as 'equally plausible' is ludicrous on its face. Does Dunkin not know the paleographic data or does he dispute it? The reader cannot know because Dunkin never even touches on the issue. And rather than engage in mindless speculation, can Dunkin tell us which manuscripts were seen with this alleged reading? They are obviously manuscripts extant in the sixteenth century if his theory is correct, so arguing they 'wore out from use' while convenient is also ridiculous. Dunkin, however, continues his flight of unreality as follows:

Further, it ought to be evident that the weight of numbers on the side of Comma-deleted manuscripts at least partially nullifies the "oldest-is-best" arguments which the Critical Text crowd loves to advance in favor of the Alexandrian texts. While it is true that only around 8-10 of the Greek texts contain the Comma, and most of these are late, the vast bulk of those without the Comma are also late, by the standards of the United Bible Society. 

It is difficult to know how to respond to this argument rationally because the standpoint from which it is written is completely irrational. For starters, "oldest is best" is NOT verbiage normally found among responsible text critical works. The overriding canon of textual criticism is very simple: the most likely original reading is the reading that explains all of the variants. While it is generally true that the older a manuscript is the more valuable it is, that is not always true. Does Dunkin not know this? "Oldest is best" tends to be shorthand verbiage from KJV Onlyists erecting a straw man and attempting to demolish it. But the bigger problem is this - what exactly is Dunkin even attempting to argue here? He seems to basically be saying, "Although the manuscripts that have it are late, so are "the vast bulk of those without the Comma." This would be very important if textual criticism was nothing more than 'oldest is best,' but it isn't. Besides, how in the world does this irrational argument help make Dunkin's any stronger? Dunkin doesn't seem to realize that he is admitting that manuscripts WITHOUT the Comma are the VAST MAJORITY of late manuscripts to say nothing of the TOTALITY of earlier ones. Again, how does this help his argument for authenticity? 

Around 95% of these Comma-deleted texts are "late" by these standards (post-9th century). 

Remember at the start of this critique where Dunkin used the phrase 'numbers game?' The only one playing a numbers game here is Mr. Dunkin himself. Should I even bother to point out that 100% of the pre-10th century Greek manuscripts - by his own admission - DO NOT have the Comma Johanneum?

Further, at least three other marginal references date to a relatively early period, these being #221m (10th century), #635m (11th century), and #88m (12th century). This could suggest that during that 10th-12th century period, there were still other Comma-bearing manuscripts floating around which provided a source for the addition of this verse to these Greek texts.

This is not only utter nonsense, it is misrepresentation of scholarly sources. Manuscript 221 may be a tenth century manuscript but the marginal gloss is dated no earlier than the fifteenth. Does Dunkin not know this or is he just not telling us? Manuscript 88 is an eleventh century manuscript but the gloss dates no earlier than the fifteenth century. This shading of the truth should not be found in scholarly research. Dunkin apparently realizes that he is reaching here because he begins a shotgun approach in every direction to try and scrape together a coherent argument. 

 At any rate, the oldest of these marginal references predates all but eight of the non-Comma bearing texts, and is roughly contemporaneous with another one (#1739). Hence, we see that the "oldest-is-best" argument, which really does not have the merit which its proponents suggest anywise, is less than decisive here, since we see that both types have the bulk of their witness in the late manuscripts, and each has a much smaller portion of its witness from the early texts, though admittedly, the Comma-deleted tradition (in the Greek tradition) has older extant witness by several centuries. As we will see below, when the evidence of the Latin witness is taken into account, this gap shrinks significantly, and when the witness of early Christian writers and other historical evidences is considered, the gap disappears entirely.

Let's summarize Dunkin's argument: even though I have absolutely ZERO evidence that this exists in Greek before the tenth century, I have proof that it existed in Latin and I will ASSUME that this Latin interpolation must have a Greek origin despite not having one shred of evidence to support this notion.

One hopes Dunkin's argument will improve, but the hope is met with only more distortion. 

[1] One need simply look at the first page of the UBS to establish this indisputable fact.

[2] D. A. Waite, “Most Frequent Questions We’ve Been Asked: What is the Evidence Supporting 1 John 5:7,” The Dean Burgon News, vol. 1, no. 5, May 1979, 2.

[3] Thomas Strouse, “A Critique of D. A. Carson’s The King James Version Debate,” 16.
[4] Michael Maynard, A History of the Debate Over 1 John 5:7-8. Tempe, AZ: Comma, 1995, 264.

[5] Maynard, Ibid., 264.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Debate Challenge For Timothy Dunkin

Timothy Dunkin is the author of an online apologetic entitled, "A Defense of the Johannine Comma: Setting the Record Straight on 1 John 5:7-8" (now located here). He is hereby challenged to a public debate on a number of his statements concerning the Comma Johanneum and his advocacy of Johannine originality. I will be responding to Mr. Dunkin's arguments online in the coming months. Incidentally, his blog can be downloaded as a PDF, where he states that he was helped in his research by a person named Steven Avery. Avery has been challenged to debate this issue multiple times over the last six years but has chosen the coward's route. I would not have called it that save for the fact that his entire corpus of internet postings consists of little more than third-grade level insults. If you're going to insult someone, you should at least be man enough to back up your charges in a public debate. I will also note for the record that Avery is a Oneness believer who denies the Trinity, but he carefully does not come right out and state those words as I just did about his theological views. It is not that I care about a critic's theology since two authors from whom I've learned much are Dr. Bart Ehrman (agnostic) and Dr. J.K. Elliott (liberal). However, Mr. Avery has chosen to insult people from the safety of his keyboard but doesn't want his KJV Only brethren to know his own theological views - all while he accuses others of 'hiding' information from people. The hypocrisy is maddening but hardly unexpected; indeed, if I were the low level of non-scholar as Steven Avery of Queens, New York, I would at least have the consistency to not post about subjects I know nothing about. This debate offer still extends to Avery as well, should he ever actually take the time to learn Greek grammar (an important omission that has not stopped him from incompetently commenting upon it).

So Mr Dunkin, consider yourself challenged. You will find me polite as long as you remain the same, sir.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Did Thaschus Cæcilius Cyprianus Quote The Comma Johanneum?

The Comma Johanneum, a reading in 1 John 5:7 of the Textus Receptus, is “the most obvious instance of a theologically motivated corruption in the entire manuscript tradition of the New Testament.”  This reading has gained great popularity in the English-speaking world by its inclusion in the 161 King James Bible and subsequent usage in the Socinian (and other anti-Trinitarian) controversy in the eighteenth century. Textual critics almost universally agree that the Comma is a later addition,  a conclusion based upon the cumulative force of scant Greek manuscript testimony, lack of secondary version support, and sparse patristic citation.  This text-critical question has long been considered settled. In recent years, a small group of KJV/TR advocates has argued in favor of the Comma by suggesting that Carthagian bishop Thaschus Cæcilius Cyprianus (Cyprian) quoted the Comma. The current scholarly consensus is that Priscillian made the earliest certain quotation of the Comma around AD 385 as noted in Metzger’s TCNT. Hence, a brief examination of the alleged Cyprian quotation follows.

In De ecclesiae catholicae unitate, Cyprian writes: “The Lord says, ‘The Father and I are one [John 10:30], and again of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit it is written, ‘And these three are one.’”[1] Pro-Comma advocates thus insist that Cyprian quoted the Comma. Armfield cites Fell’s work (1682), declaring, “the proof of the genuineness of this passage in St. Cyprian was put beyond all doubt.”[2] Forster argues, “It is undeniable that, so far as the identity of the words is concerned, the last and most peculiar clause of that verse is found, word for word, both in Tertullian and in St. Cyprian.”[3] Hills says that this “seems” to be a quotation from Cyprian and then gives a brief synopsis of the discussion.[4] Holland, who usually exhibits more aggressiveness in defending KJV readings, is similarly reserved.[5] Most critics who reject the Comma explain that Cyprian was interpreting the Spirit, water, and blood allegorically as the Trinity.[6]


There are a few reasons the claim that Cyprian quoted the Comma cannot be easily dismissed. Armfield considers it “an evident truth” that the Comma must have been “a received part of the sacred text, even before Cyprian’s time (for otherwise he would not have quoted it as such).”[7] Secondly, pro-Comma advocates insist that Cyprian “is very little given to indulge in lax and mystical interpretations,”[8] and “adheres to the letter of Scripture.”[9] A third reason is the claim that a second Cyprian quotation of the Comma occurs in Epistola ad Jubaianum, where Cyprian writes:

"If anyone could be baptized among the heretics, then he could obtain remission of sins. If he obtained the remission of sins, he was sanctified, and if he was sanctified, he was made the temple of God. But of what God? I ask. The Creator? Impossible; he did not believe in him. Christ? But he could not be made Christ’s temple, for he denied the deity of Christ. The Holy Spirit? Since the Three are One, what pleasure could the Holy Spirit take in the enemy of the Father and the Son?[10]
Knittel suggests that because Cyprian “knew Greek” and “translated Greek into Latin,” these two citations are sufficient proof that Cyprian had the Comma before him.[11] Armfield concurs: “Of all the Fathers, Greek or Latin, no one is more remarkable for citing Scripture verbatim than St. Cyprian.”[12]


Although there are a few reasons to concede the possibility that these two quotations by Cyprian reference the Comma, the arguments against it are not easily overcome. First, it is not a verbatim quotation. A verbatim quotation would reference the “Father, Word, and Holy Spirit,” a distinctive phrase that occurs nowhere else in Scripture. Cyprian quotes “Son,” (filio) not “Word” (verbum). Although verbatim quoting is not always determinative, it plays an important role in evaluating patristic citations. In the immediate context of the quotation (et tres unum sunt), Cyprian references many Scriptures, including Gen 7:20; Matt 12:20; John 10:30; 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:23; and1 Pet 3:20. It is therefore possible that he was referencing the language of Matt 28:19 combined with 1 John 5:8. The quotation does not reference anything distinctly found in the Comma.

 Secondly, the phrase et tres unum sunt occurs regardless of whether the Comma is included. If Cyprian’s tendency was to quote Scripture verbatim, it is difficult to believe that he would have said “Son” (Filio) if he read “Word” (Verbum) in his text.[13] This is a double-edged sword: Comma advocates insist Cyprian quoted textually but overlook the fact he never quotes “Father, Word, and Holy Spirit.”[14] This quotation suggests that at least one of those two assumptions is incorrect or perhaps overstated.

Thirdly, Cyprian sometimes used allegorical interpretation even in places where his quotations seem text-based. In chapter seven of Unit. eccl, Cyprian proposes an unlikely allegorical interpretation of John 19:23: These are the words of Holy Scripture: Now as to His coat, because it was from the upper part woven throughout without a seam, they said to one another: Let us not divide it, but let us cast lots for it, whose it shall be. The ‘oneness’ with which He was clothed came ‘from the upper part,’ that is, from His Father in heaven, and could in no way be divided by whoever came to acquire it: it retained its well-knit wholeness indivisibly. That man cannot possess the garment of Christ, who rends and divides the Church of Christ.[15]

Bèvenot acknowledges that this is a “forced interpretation” by Cyprian, and it is enabled “because of the order of the words” in Cyprian’s Latin Scripture.[16] The point is not to impugn Cyprian’s interpretation but rather to observe that he did on occasion utilize allegory or mystical interpretation. This is one reason why most scholars believe the Comma rose from a similar occurrence.[17] A fourth problem lies in the fact that Latin copies of 1 John offer “support for a whole set of readings that have little or no attestation in Greek.”[18] Brooke provides a listing of various “explanatory glosses” given by Augustine and Cyprian as well as some glosses found in the Speculum.[19] Cyprian glosses the texts of 1 John 2:9;[20] 2:16;[21] and 4:3.[22] Cyprian’s tendency to gloss the text combined with the problems evaluating patristic citations suggest the tentative possibility that: 1) Cyprian is the source of the Comma; or 2) Cyprian demonstrates the process that gave rise to it.[23] The fact that a quotation is found in his writings does not necessarily mean it was drawn from the text of the New Testament.

It must be remembered that the Vulgate was commissioned because there were so many variant readings in the Old Latin as early as the third century.[24] This multiplicity of Old Latin readings led Augustine to say: "Those who translated the Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek can be counted, but the Latin translators are out of all number. For in the early days of the faith, every man who happened to gain possession of a Greek manuscript [of the New Testament] and who imagined that he had any facility in both languages however slight that might have been, dared to make a translation."[25]
This presents a peculiar problem for pro-Comma advocates because the Latin manuscript situation at the time was so diverse that numerous patristic citations exist. The mere existence of such citations, however, does not prove their authenticity.[26]

A fifth problem concerns why Augustine, who lived at the time of the Arian controversy, did not bother to invoke the Comma in his writings. “Cyprian was the prime influence on North African Christianity from the period of his episcopate until the time of Augustine.”[27] Cyprian’s writings were revered for over four centuries as one step below Scripture,[28] and Augustine so revered Cyprian that he presented at least a dozen sermons celebrating a memorial feast to Cyprian. Nowhere in any of his writings does Augustine quote the Comma.[29] Such a scenario is unlikely if Cyprian quoted the Comma

The most devastating argument suggesting that Cyprian did not quote the Comma is found by reading Cyprian’s other references to the Trinity. The most likely place to find an explicit reference to the Comma is in a Trinitarian polemic. Although he never wrote an extended treatise on the doctrine, Cyprian referenced the Trinity numerous times.

In one epistle he writes:
"The Lord, when, after His resurrection, He sent forth His apostles, charges them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.[30]"

This verbiage is obviously drawn from the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Such reasoning, however, cannot explain the following words from Cyprian, an instance that begs for a reference to the Comma if indeed he had it:

"In the forty-fourth Psalm: “My heart has breathed out a good Word. I tell my works to the King.” Also in the thirty-second Psalm: “By the Word of God were the heavens made fast; and all their strength by the breath of His mouth.” Also in Isaiah: “A Word completing and shortening in righteousness, because a shortened word will God make in the whole earth.” Also in the cvith Psalm: “He sent His Word, and healed them.” Moreover, in the Gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. The same with in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” Also in the Apocalypse: “And I saw the heaven opened, and lo, a white horse; and he who sate upon him was called Faithful and True, judging rightly and justly; and He made war. And He was covered with a garment sprinkled with blood; and His name is called the Word of God.”[31]

Cyprian finds references to Christ as “the Word of God” in Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, the Gospel of John, and Revelation but never mentions the Comma, the most explicit testimony to Christ as “the Word” outside of John’s gospel. While many other instances could be considered debatable, this lack of quotation strongly suggests that Cyprian never saw the Comma. Given his chain reference method[32] of citing every instance of Christ as the Word in this treatise, his failure to cite the Comma is best explained by the lack of the phrase in his text(s).[33]


Pro-Comma advocates place great significance on the Cyprian quotation. Because Cyprian (d. 258) lived in the third century, this citation is used to suggest the Comma has a potential claim to authenticity. It must be acknowledged there is one sense in which the quotation attains major significance because if Cyprian quoted the Comma then he is the earliest known Church Father to do so.[34]

However, while affirmation that Cyprian quoted the Comma would alter the specifics regarding its history, the major picture remains unchanged. Because of the failure of the grammatical argument, the overwhelming external evidence, and the lack of citation by the Greek church fathers, it is safe to conclude the Comma is a Latin interpolation. Therefore, even if Cyprian did quote the Comma then that merely moves the date of the first known quotation back a century. It does not change the fundamental reality: not one scrap of Greek evidence of the Comma exists in the first ten centuries, and all of the extant evidence comes from one secondary language, Latin. More problematic is that despite the dispute over the Trinity that covered several centuries, the citations (both real and alleged) of the Comma are small in both number and geographical distribution.[35] From the closing of the New Testament canon until the time of Priscillian (d. 385), Cyprian and Tertullian are the only church fathers alleged to have quoted this passage. Between Priscillian’s first quotation and the eleventh century there are a few citations of the Comma.[36] These facts suggest that the Comma citations after Priscillian are little more than multiple quotations of the same corruption. This particular issue exemplifies the problems regarding patristic evidence that are well known.


Although virtually the entire New Testament can be constructed from patristic evidence, there are limitations.[37] Using Cyprian as an example, Metzger notes: "The importance of patristic quotations lies in the circumstance that they serve to localize and date readings and types of text in Greek manuscripts and versions. For example, since the quotations that Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in North Africa about A. D. 250, includes in his letters agree almost always with the form of text preserved in the Old Latin manuscript k, scholars have correctly concluded that this fourth- or fifth-century manuscript is a descendant of a copy current about 250 in North Africa. Occasionally, it happens that a patristic writer specifically cites one or more variant readings present in manuscripts existing in his day. Such information is of the utmost importance in providing proof of the currency of such variant readings at a given time and place."[38]

Gordon Fee spells out some of the problems involved with patristic quotations: "One of the problems with patristic evidence is that it must be carefully analyzed before it can be used. That is, one must be sure (a) a given Father’s work has been faithfully transmitted, (b) that the Father was actually quoting (=copying), not merely ‘remembering’ his NT, and (c), especially in the Gospels, that it was one Gospel and not another that was being quoted."[39]

Fee further observes, "It is simply a maxim in the citation of patristic evidence for the Gospels that a Father can be cited in support only (a) if he tells us he is citing one Gospel, not the others (including specific commentaries and homilies, of course), or (b) the citation is unique to one of the Gospel writers, or (c), when there are parallels, the language of one Gospel is so unique as to make identification probable. The problem here is a simple one: Early Fathers were as prone as we are today to harmonize and collate, and therefore to speak of the ‘rich young ruler,’ although all three of these designations appear in no single Gospel."[40]

Although Fee’s article references the Gospels, the general principles apply throughout. The text must be identifiable or explicitly identified by the commentator to constitute evidence. It is not enough to see the words “Trinity” or “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” for a writer to enlist him as a witness for the Comma. Nor is the phrase “these three are one” evidence of the Comma because those words are found in verse eight. To qualify as an explicit reference to the Comma, the reference must be distinctly identifiable. Thus, one must see “Father, Word, Holy Spirit” to be an explicit quotation. None exist prior to Priscillian.

One objection to this interpretation of the patristic (as well as manuscript) data is to allege that it constitutes nothing more than argumentum ex silentio. In other words, although a multitude of Trinitarian church writers never mention the Comma, this does not constitute evidence. There is some validity to such an objection because the Catholic Epistles are among the least cited of the NT books. One cannot necessarily assume that just because a patristic writer did not quote a passage that he did not have it in his text. The problem, however, is that this particular passage is not one of the numerous “begat” passages or a verse that occurs in three gospels with slight alteration; it is the most explicit text in the NT regarding the Trinity, a controversy that consumed the church for more than two centuries and through numerous ecumenical councils. What orthodox writer is not going to quote this particular passage if it is in his text? If a passage is not found in the manuscripts of a particular time then silence should be expected.  Furthermore, the objection is inconsistent with one of the major appeals made by pro-Comma advocates: the quotation of the Comma Johanneum at Carthage in the late fifth century. A congregation of hundreds of bishops confessed their faith at Carthage in 484.[41] Pro-Comma advocates appeal to this citation as evidence of the early existence of the reading. The reading is unquestionably quoted at Carthage, but the appeal is inconsistent. It is inconceivable that the councils of Nicea, Hippo, or Carthage that affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity possessed this text yet failed to cite it. Pro-Comma advocates want to insist that quotation is ironclad evidence of the reading but that lack of quotation is of no significance whatsoever. As noted earlier, this appeal may be valid regarding “begat” passages but is a form of special pleading concerning the Trinity. Noting the lack of citation by early church fathers in conjunction with lack of manuscript testimony is not an argument from silence but rather evidence from silence that the reading does not exist. It is inconceivable that the church failed to cite this passage if it existed.[42] The silence of both the patristic evidence and the manuscripts speaks loudly.[43]

Porson framed it eloquently: "I shall observe, that if we suppose the first Christians to have treated the Scriptures in this manner, we at once destroy the certainty and authority of our present canon. But whoever supposes, as I think every defender of the text ought to suppose, that it was extant and publicly known from the beginning, cannot, with the smallest appearance of reason, pretend that it ought not be formally and directly cited in almost every treatise on the Trinity.[44]
It is not because the Comma is not found in some ancient polemic works regarding the Trinity; it is that the Comma is found in none of the ancient polemic pro-Trinitarian works that brings the conviction that it is a later addition."


The purpose of this chapter was to investigate the claim that Cyprian quoted the Comma Johanneum. The data were examined and the following points were concluded:
1) the Cyprian quotations are not verbatim; 2) the quoted portion (“these three are one”) already exists in v. eight; 3) Cyprian glossed several passages including multiple glosses in John’s first epistle; 4) Cyprian sometimes engaged in mystical interpretation; 5) Cyprian failed to mention it in his most explicit exposition regarding the Trinity; 6) Augustine never cited the Comma despite his reverence for Cyprian; 7) the arguments in favor of authenticity presume a scenario regarding patristic citation that never existed; 8) the silence speaks loudly in light of the concurrent history. The cumulative force of the data suggests that the most probable conclusion is that Cyprian did not quote the Comma but instead found the Trinity in an allegorical interpretation of 1 John 5:8.

[1] Dicit Dominus: ‘Ego et Pater unum sumus’, et iterum de Patre et Filio et Spiritu sancto scriptum est: Et tres unum sunt. This is taken from the most recent critical edition, Maurice Bèvenot, Cyprian: De lapsis and De ecclesiae catholicae unitate, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971), 66.

[2] Armfield, Disputed, 76. This alleged “proof” is found in the Prologue to the Catholic Epistles, a work allegedly by Jerome that is regarded as spurious by virtually all responsible scholarship.

[3] Forster, A New Plea, 43. Forster does acknowledge that critics of the passage argue that it comes from v. eight (54, 64-67, 110-11, 187).

[4] Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended, 4th ed. (Des Moines: Christian Research, 1984), 210.

[5] Thomas Holland, Crowned With Glory: The Bible from Ancient Text to Authorized Version (Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2000), 167. There is no question that Holland believes Cyprian quoted it, but his verbiage is more reserved here than regarding some of his other arguments advocating the Comma.

[6] A few who reject Comma authenticity believe Cyprian quoted it. “It is surely safer and more candid to admit that Cyprian read ver. 7 in his copies, than to resort to the explanation of Facundus (vi), that the holy Bishop was merely putting on ver. 8 a spiritual meaning” (F. H. A. Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament,. vol. 2, ed. Edward Miller. [London: George Bell, 1894], 405). Scrivener acknowledges that this is how the Comma entered the manuscript tradition. Cf. also Walter Thiele, “Beobachtungen zum Comma Johanneum (1 Joh 5, 7f.),” ZNW 50 [1959], 72-73.

[7] Armfield, The Three Witnesses, 73. The assumption that an early church father must have been quoting verbatim demonstrates a lack of familiarity with the patristic data. If there was a recognized and authoritative received text during Cyprian’s time that was so well known, why does no other Church Father quote it? This question will assume immense significance in chapter four.

[8] Ibid., 94.

[9] Ibid., 94.

[10] Cyprian, Epistula 73.12.2 (CC 3C, 542). Si baptizari quis apud haereticos potuit, utique et remissam peccatorum consequi potuit. Si peccatorum remissam consectus est, sanctificatus est: si sanctificatus est, templum dei factus est: quaero cuius dei? Si creatoris, non potuit qui in eum non credidit. Si Christi, nec huius fieri potest templum qui negat deum Christum. Si spiritus sancti, cum tres unum sint, quomodo spiritus sanctus placatus esse ei potest qui aut filii aut patris inimicus est?

[11] Franz A. Knittel, New Criticisms on the Celebrated Text, 1 John v.7. Translated by William A. Evanson (originally published Brunswick, 1785, London: Rivington, 1829), 34.

[12] Armfield, The Three Witnesses, 137. Armfield references this citation twice (117, 155).

[13] This presumes that the claim that Cyprian does not stray from the text is correct.

[14] Armfield, The Three Witnesses, 137.

[15] Bevenot, Unit. eccl., 69.

[16] Bevenot, Unit. eccl., 69.

[17] Porson, Letters, 260, lists the following passages where he states that Cyprian was “negligent in quoting:” Matt 6:13, 1 John 2:17, and Rev 19:10. Cyprian adds “As God remains forever” five times in 1 John 2:17.

[18] Brown, Epistles of John, 129-130. I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 236, lists other interpolations in the Latin text of 1 John, including 2:17, 4:3, 5:6, and 5:20.

[19] A. E. Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles (New York: Scribners & Sons, 1912), 198. Cf. also Armfield, Three Witnesses, 109.

[20] Cyprian adds homicida est et.

[21] Cyprian adds ex concupiscentia saeculi.

[22] Cyprian adds sed est de antichristi spiritu. In addition to these readings that are glossed by Cyprian, he shares some common readings with Augustine (2:17), the Speculum (2:23), and Priscillian (2:23).

[23] Brown, Epistles of John, 784.

[24] Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration 4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 101, record the maxim that Jerome uttered to Pope Damasus: tot enim sunt exemplaria paene quot codices (“There are almost as many versions as manuscripts”).

[25] Augustine, Doct. chr, II. 16. The Latin text reads: Qui enim Scripturas ex hebraea lingua in graecam verterunt, numerari possunt, Latini autem interpretes nullo modo. Ut enim cuique primis fidei temporibus in manus venit codex graecus, et aliquantulum facultatis sibi utriusque linguae habere videbatur, ausus est interpretari.

[26] In addition to the previously cited examples by Porson and Brooke, Metzger gives a number of Latin patristic quotations that are clearly not original. Cf. Bruce M. Metzger, The Bible in Translation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 31.

[27] Allan D. Fitzgerald, ed., Augustine through the Ages: an Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 263.

[28] Ibid., 263.

[29] Norbert Fickermann, “St. Augustinus gegen das ‘Comma Johaneum’?” BZ 22 (1934), 350-58, suggests Augustine knew the Comma but intentionally did not quote it. Scholarly consensus rejects this speculation.

[30] Cyprian, Epistle XXIV.2, trans. Ernest Wallis, in A. Cleveland Coxe, The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Buffalo: Christian Literature, 1886),  5: 302.

[31] Cyprian, Treatise XII, 2.3, in ANF 5:516.

[32] The chain reference method occurs when an author combines texts from different books or sections that focus upon a central point the author is trying to make. The use of such passages is more topical than exegetical and often violates the original context of the author. In this instance, Cyprian grabs references that can be used to refer to Christ as “the Word” from the Psalms, Isaiah, John’s Gospel, and the Apocalypse. His failure to mention 1 John 5:7 here speaks loudly.

[33] I note the plural because one cannot assume that Cyprian or any other church father used only one text.

[34] Daniel B. Wallace, “The Comma Johanneum and Cyprian,” Accessed 20 February 2013. Wallace notes, “He would effectively be the earliest known writer to quote the Comma Johanneum.”

[35] Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John, The Anchor Bible Series 30 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982), 784.

[36] The citations with approximate dates include: Contra Variadum (450), a citation at the Council of Carthage by North African bishops (484), Victor Vitensis  (485), Fulgentius (527), the Prologue to the Canonical Epistles (550), Cassiodorus (583), and Isidore of Seville (636). Other than debating manuscript data, pro-Comma advocate Maynard lists no other fathers who quote the Comma between these dates.

[37] Metzger and Ehrman, Text of the New Testament, 126.

[38] Ibid., 126-27. Note that Old Latin k (Codex Bobiensis) does not have 1 John.

[39] Gordon D. Fee, “The Majority Text and the Original Text of the New Testament,” Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism Studies and Documents, 45. ed. Irving Alan Sparks (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 202.

[40] Ibid., 194-97.

[41] Cf. Maynard, History, 484; Brown, Epistles, 782; Hills, King James Version Defended, 210; James, Corruption, 232).

[42] Hills (King James Version Defended, 210) explains the silence thusly: Christians intentionally chose to not cite the Comma because it would have been ineffective against the Sabellianism. A number of points refute this: 1) it is an unproven theory; 2) Hills simultaneously suggests that Cyprian, who lived during the Sabellian heresy, did quote it; 3) it is the least plausible alternative.

[43] Virtually the only value of this evidence is its demonstration that if the Comma had been known previously then it would have been cited by others.

[44] Porson, Letters, 285-86. Porson figures in a major way concerning a separate Comma controversy. One text-critical “urban legend” claimed that Erasmus added the Comma to his third edition in fulfillment of a promise he allegedly made to Edward Lee that if one Greek manuscript could be found containing the Comma then Erasmus would add it. This story was debunked in 1980 by H. J. deJonge, “Erasmus and the Comma Johanneum,” ETL 56 no. 4, (1980), 381-89, who traced the story back as far as T. H. Horne in 1818 (383), but acknowledged that Horne was not the originator of the story. The date can now be moved back at least thirty years. In the opening of his Letters to Archdeacon Travis, Porson writes, “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” (Porson, Letters, 2).  

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Comma Central

Hoping to engage the issue of 1 John 5:7 in many contexts. Presently working on a Master's thesis on that very subject. Bear with me as posting will be sporadic through much of this year (most likely) but ask any question you may have.