Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
A Bit More on the Comma (Continuation of Previous)
03/16/2006 - James WhiteI promised to continue responding to Sean McDonald (who called the DL) and the article he posted on the Puritanboard. He asked,
3. Is it just defense of the Johannine Comma which earns your stern rebuke, or do you include Byzantine priority and (general) defense of the TR in said rebuke?I think I've been very clear that this entire discussion began because I "draw the line" at the Comma Johanneum as far as serious scholarship is concerned. I simply do not see how a person can have a full grasp of the current state of the question and continue to defend the Comma outside of a pre-commitment to a particular theological tradition that has nothing to do with the history of the text. I think we have seen this in the responses offered by supporters of the Comma on the board and surely in the kind of rhetoric that I have found in Stauffer's writings.
Further, I think it is important to differentiate between those who attempt to support the Textus Receptus as an established textual platform and those who support Byzantine priority (such as Dr. Robinson). Dr. Robinson is dealing with the modern textual situation; those defending the TR (however they decide to define it, if they are even aware of the issues involved) often do so by using "majority text" arguments, but if they truly knew the history of their own text, they would realize they cannot do so. Hence, the only real defense of the TR is a theological/historical one, one that I believe is fraught with special pleading and circular arguments.
4. On what basis did the (non-KJV) Continental Reformers argue for the inclusion of the Johannine Comma (since it was not adherence to the KJV that was driving their argumentation, as could possibly be said for post-Westminster British Calvinists)?I would have to ask for specifics here, as I do not know what Mr. McDonald is referring to and I would not like to attempt to hazard a guess. But once again, as I explained on the Dividing Line, none of these men are overly relevant witnesses today for the simple reason that any argument they would have made was not based upon any meaningful textual foundation in comparison to what is available to us today. Further, I have to wonder: is there something wrong in noting that textual criticism is a specialized field and that those who have never prepared to discuss it might not be in a real good position to offer weighty opinions on it? I mean, did the Westminster Assembly go out and do Jay Leno style "Jay Walking" segments to get a nice "broad, catholic" view of such issues as the procession of the Holy Spirit or the nature of justification just to avoid any inkling that maybe specialized study goes into doing good theology? If we recognize that it would be better to be John Owen than Dave Hunt on theology, why is it that everybody's opinion on textual critical matters, even if they are not particularly trained in that area, are "equal"? Isn't this the reverse of giving particular theological weight to a theological statement made by a textual critic?
5. Explain the quotes of the Johannine Comma by the early fathers (notably Cyprian).That would be more easily done if, in fact, Cyprian had quoted the Comma. He didn't, though, again, just like the "a was found in a trash can" myth, if enough people say it often enough it will be taken as truth. Let's look at a few candidates from Cyprian:
If he attained remission of sins, he was also sanctified. If he was sanctified, he also was made the temple of God. I ask, of what God? If of the Creator; he could not be, because he has not believed in Him. If of Christ; he could not become His temple, since he denies that Christ is God. If of the Holy Spirit; since the three are one, how can the Holy Spirit be at peace with him who is the enemy either of the Son or of the Father? (Epistle 72 To Jubaianus, Concerning the Baptism of Heretcs, 12)Note the phrase, "the three are one." This phraseology is very much like the Comma, but, it is also simply an orthodox sentiment as well. How can we tell when it is being used as a citation of a text, when it is a mere statement of theology, or when it is a gloss, an interpretation, of a text? Many who gleefully run to the early writings of the Christian era forget that there are many issues facing them when it comes to the textual data to be mined from these writings. Consider: we have a less full manuscript tradition for the early writers than we have for the New Testament. How often are the writings of the early Fathers emended to bring them into line with a later form of the biblical text? Little critical work, relatively speaking, has been done on the matter as yet. It is a huge project, yet to be fully undertaken. Next, preachers and writers are forever paraphrasing the text: how can we tell in any given situation if a writer is actually copying a text from a manuscript, or, going by memory, or, just paraphrasing as in a sermon? Anyone who looks at the textual data with much regularity cannot help but notice how many times prominent early writers are cited on both sides of a textual variant; i.e., Augustine may read with one variant three out of five times he cites the passage, meaning, of course, that two out of five times he went the other way. Does this tell us he had a variant in his time? Or that he was paraphrasing? Or his memory, like ours, was not perfect? All of these issues must be addressed when using patristic evidence in examining textual variants. In any case, let's look at the key text that has been cited as evidence Cyprian's text contained the Comma in the middle of the third century:
He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. If any one could escape who was outside the ark of Noah, then he also may escape who shall be outside of the Church. The Lord warns, saying, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who gathereth not with me scattereth.” He who breaks the peace and the concord of Christ, does so in opposition to Christ; he who gathereth elsewhere than in the Church, scatters the Church of Christ. The Lord says, “I and the Father are one;” and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, “And these three are one.” And does any one believe that this unity which thus comes from the divine strength and coheres in celestial sacraments, can be divided in the Church, and can be separated by the parting asunder of opposing wills? He who does not hold this unity does not hold God’s law, does not hold the faith of the Father and the Son, does not hold life and salvation. (On the Unity of the Church, 6)Of course, it would have been nice if the context had something to do with 1 John 5. Instead, we have a string of statements about "oneness," and unfortunately, both the Greek manuscript tradition reading (i.e., which lacks the Comma) and the Comma both contain statements about oneness. However, you do have the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit here, just as you do in the Comma, and a statement about oneness. So at the very least it must be said that Cyprian could be making a reference to the Comma, but, it must likewise be admitted that he makes no direct citation of John, gives no means of identifying the source of his comment, and could just as well be interpreting the three witnesses of 1 John 5:6 as a Trinitarian reference as well. In any case, the problem with making a firm claim that Cyprian is "citing" the text is that you cannot find it being used by any of his contemporaries, nor does it appear in any other context where one would expect it to appear outside of an off-hand reference to "oneness" that is not even slightly connected with the topic Cyprian is actually addressing. If everyone was quoting the text, it would be one thing for Cyprian to throw out a common text, but given that no contemporary sources, patristic or manuscript, contain the Comma, simply assuming "citation" over against "interpretation/comment" on a text that we can know was current (1 John 5:6) is unwarranted.
It is these considerations that led Metzger to assert that the first citation of the Comma as an actual part of the text itself is found in a fourth century Latin treatise, Liber Apologeticus, attributed, he says, to either the Spanish heretic Priscillian or his follower Instantius. (Given the prevalence in KJV Only and TR Only writings of a constant assertion that any connection to a heretic, or to all of Egypt, is enough to disqualify a manuscript/reading, I wonder why it is that heretics elsewhere, like in Antioch, get a free pass when they are connected to TR readings that appear in the KJV?). I believe there is every reason to look kindly upon the theory that the Comma, like John 5:4 as well, was a commentary, a gloss, written, in this case, in the margin of a Latin manuscript around the 4th century, that upon being copied was placed in the text itself. The idea that it was original in 1 John itself in Greek, and then excised by heretics, is pure speculation without an ounce of historical support.
I would close this response (which has gotten way too long already) with a challenge to the supporter of the Comma: can you accept the need to ask yourself the questions that are prompted by your own defense of this passage? What about all the writers who came before Cyprian who addressed all sorts of topics wherein the Comma would have been vital to their orthodox position, and yet, they never cited it? Does this not prove that long before Arianism arose, no one knew of the text? If you are going to cling to a single text in Cyprian that is ambiguous, why not allow all the other writers (Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, etc.) speak with equal force to the non-existence in their Scriptures of this addition?