Response to Daniel Wallace Regarding 1 John 5:7by Martin A. Shue
In my studies of 1 John 5:7 I came across the following article by Daniel B. Wallace, Ph.D. In fairness to Mr. Wallace I would like to post his entire article instead of just quoting from it as many do. This way I will not be accused of using Mr. Wallace’s quotes out of context or inaccurately. Below in the shaded area is his entire article as found on his website.
The Comma Johanneum and Cyprian
by Daniel B. Wallace, Ph.D.
A friend recently wrote to me about the KJV reading of 1 John 5:7-8. He noted that I had not mentioned Cyprian in my essay on this text and that some KJV only folks claimed that Cyprian actually quoted the form that appears in the KJV (“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.”) The question is, Did Cyprian quote a version of 1 John that had the Trinitarian formula of 1 John 5:7 in it? This would, of course, be significant, for Cyprian lived in the third century; he would effectively be the earliest known writer to quote the Comma Johanneum. Before we look at Cyprian per se, a little background is needed. The Comma occurs only in about 8 MSS, mostly in the margins, and all of them quite late. Metzger, in his Textual Commentary (2nd edition), after commenting on the Greek MS testimony, says this (p. 648): (2) The passage is quoted in none of the Greek Fathers, who, had they known it, would most certainly have employed it in the Trinitarian controversies (Sabellian and Arian). Its first appearance in Greek is in a Greek version of the (Latin) Acts of the Lateran Council in 1215. (3) The passage is absent from the manuscripts of all ancient versions (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic), except the Latin; and it is not found (a) in the Old Latin in its early form (Tertullian Cyprian Augustine), or in the Vulgate (b) as issued by Jerome ... or (c) as revised by Alcuin... The earliest instance of the passage being quoted as a part of the actual text of the Epistle [italics added] is in a fourth century Latin treatise entitled Liber Apologeticus (chap. 4), attributed either to the Spanish heretic Priscillian (died about 385) or to his follower Bishop Instantius. Apparently the gloss arose when the original passage was understood to symbolize the Trinity (through the mention of three witnesses: the Spirit, the water, and the blood), an interpretation that may have been written first as a marginal note that afterwards found its way into the text.
Thus, a careful distinction needs to be made between the actual text used by Cyprian and his theological interpretations. As Metzger says, the Old Latin text used by Cyprian shows no evidence of this gloss. On the other side of the ledger, however, Cyprian does show evidence of putting a theological spin on 1 John 5:7. In his De catholicae ecclesiae unitate 6, he says, “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.’” What is evident is that Cyprian’s interpretation of 1 John 5:7 is that the three witnesses refer to the Trinity. Apparently, he was prompted to read such into the text here because of the heresies he was fighting (a common indulgence of the early patristic writers). Since John 10:30 triggered the ‘oneness’ motif, and involved Father and Son, it was a natural step for Cyprian to find another text that spoke of the Spirit, using the same kind of language. It is quite significant, however, that (a) he does not quote ‘of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Spirit’ as part of the text; this is obviously his interpretation of ‘the Spirit, the water, and the blood.’ (b) Further, since the statement about the Trinity in the Comma is quite clear (“the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit”), and since Cyprian does not quote that part of the text, this in the least does not afford proof that he knew of such wording. One would expect him to quote the exact wording of the text, if its meaning were plain. That he does not do so indicates that a Trinitarian interpretation was superimposed on the text by Cyprian, but he did not changed the words. It is interesting that Michael Maynard, a TR advocate who has written a fairly thick volume defending the Comma (A History of the Debate over 1 John 5:7-8 [Tempe, AZ: Comma Publications, 1995] 38), not only quotes from this passage but also speaks of the significance of Cyprian’s comment, quoting Kenyon’s Textual Criticism of the New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1912), 212: “Cyprian is regarded as one ‘who quotes copiously and textually’.” The quotation from Kenyon is true, but quite beside the point, for Cyprian’s quoted material from 1 John 5 is only the clause, “and these three are one”—the wording of which occurs in the Greek text, regardless of how one views the Comma. Thus, that Cyprian interpreted 1 John 5:7-8 to refer to the Trinity is likely; but that he saw the Trinitarian formula in the text is rather unlikely. Further, one of the great historical problems of regarding the Comma as authentic is how it escaped all Greek witnesses for a millennium and a half. That it at first shows up in Latin, starting with Priscillian in c. 380 (as even the hard evidence provided by Maynard shows), explains why it is not found in the early or even the majority of Greek witnesses. All the historical data point in one of two directions: (1) This reading was a gloss added by Latin patristic writers whose interpretive zeal caused them to insert these words into Holy Writ; or (2) this interpretation was a gloss, written in the margins of some Latin MSS, probably sometime between 250 and 350, that got incorporated into the text by a scribe who was not sure whether it was a comment on scripture or scripture itself (a phenomenon that was not uncommon with scribes).
I think myself happy this day to be able to respond to Mr. Wallace’s claims in his article. I shall endeavor to rebut his claim that Cyprian did not quote the Comma Johanneum before 258 AD. I shall also seek to prove that several of his statements, which Mr. Wallace states as fact, regarding the Comma are false. I trust that the following will be beneficial to both sides of the debate and will perhaps clear up some of the myths surrounding Cyprian and 1 John 5:7.
I would concur with Wallace that it would indeed be significant if Cyprian did in fact quote the Comma in the early third century. I would also agree with Wallace that all we need to establish is that Cyprian “quote(d) a version of 1 John that had the Trinitarian formula of 1 John 5:7 in it”. In the ensuing paragraphs this is exactly what I shall prove. But as Wallace points out “a little background is needed”. We proceed to examine the evidence set forth by both Wallace and Metzger.
Wallace immediately states that “the Comma occurs only in about 8 MSS.”. Obviously Mr. Wallace is referring to the Greek mss. only. I would like to point this out lest it be made to appear that there are LITERALLY ‘only about 8 MSS.’ which contain the Comma. There are many Latin mss., of those that contain the Catholic Epistle of 1 John the vast majority contain 1 John 5:7. Many of these dating back to at least as early as the 4th century. It can also be found in the Latin Vulgate; of which, Frederick Scrivener wrote, “it is found in the printed Latin Vulgate, and in perhaps forty-nine out of every fifty of its manuscripts”. So, the ms. evidence is far greater than 8. And even if we did take this to mean the Greek mss. it is still not correct. Though the actual count is somewhat disputed, each side claiming or denying certain mss., it is agreed upon by both sides that there are certainly more than just 8 Greek mss. that contain the phrase.
In the next portion of his article Wallace quotes from Bruce Metzger. Metzger is quoted as writing, “(2) The passage is quoted in none of the Greek Fathers, who, had they known it, would most certainly have employed it in the Trinitarian controversies (Sabellian and Arian). Its first appearance in Greek is in a Greek version of the (Latin) Acts of the Lateran Council in 1215.” This is a most interesting statement by Metzger. In an effort to make it appear to the unsuspecting saint that there is no Early Church Father support for the verse Metzger says “Greek Fathers”. This is interesting because at other times Metzger himself will appeal to these ‘non-Greek’ Fathers if they can be found to bolster support for his argument. The fact is the Comma Johanneum is cited by Priscillian (385 AD), Cassian (435 AD), Ps-Vigilius (date unknown), Ps-Athanasius (6th century), Fulgentius (510 AD) (see John Gill), Ansbert (8th century), Jerome (4th century), Tertullian (3rd century), Athanasis (350 AD), Council of Carthage (415 AD), Vigilius of Thapsus (5th century), Cassiodorus (6th century) and Victor Vitensis, who records that the passage was “insisted” upon in a confession of faith that was drawn up by Eugenius Bishop of Carthage and authorized by no less than 460 bishops in 484 AD.
In addition to those already listed there are numerous other Early Church Fathers that cite the verse without doubting its authenticity. Of special note I would like to mention that the passage appears in the Greek Synopsis of Holy Scripture (4th century). It is also quoted in the ’Disputation with Arius’ by Ps-Athanasius thus proving Metzger’s statement that it was not used in the Arian controversy false. The passage is also cited in an isolated Homily by an unknown author, in the Benedictin edition of Chrysostom (tom. xii. pp. 416-21). The date of this Homily has been fixed to 381 AD. This is yet another Greek witness for the Comma of the fourth century. The Homily reads in Greek, “eis kekletai ho Pater kai ho Uios kai to Pneuma to Agion: dei gar te apostolike choreia parachoresai ten Agian Triada, en ho Pater kataggellie. Trias Apostolon, martus tes ouraniou Triados.” Once again this is Greek evidence which appears much earlier than Metzger purports when he says, “Its first appearance in Greek is in a Greek version of the (Latin) Acts of the Lateran Council in 1215.” I am not certain if Metzger is aware of the above facts or if he has just chosen to overlook them.
Wallace next cites Metzger as writing, “The passage is absent from the manuscripts of all ancient versions (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic) except the Latin:”. Again we find a distortion of the facts by both Metzger and Wallace. Being that both these learned men write extensively on this subject one would think they would be a little more familiar with the facts of the matter. These facts are not hidden and can be found by anyone willing to do a little research. The Comma is in fact found in some of the Armenian manuscripts. F. H. A. Scrivener reported this fact in his book “Plain Introduction” (cf. p. 403). Now even the newest UBS critical text has updated this information and admits that the passage is in fact found in some Armenian manuscripts. Additionally, the first printed edition of the Armenian Bible, which was published in 1666 by Bishop Uscan, contains the Comma. It is also reported by Dr. Scrivener that “only a few recent Slavonic copies” do in fact contain the Comma. I will be the first to admit that it is hard to keep up with all the evidence when dealing with this issue of textual criticism but for such respected men as Daniel Wallace and Bruce Metzger to not be aware of the above facts is perplexing. Especially when so many read their books and articles and, as can be seen by the clubs, hang on to every word that flows from their pen (or in this day I should say ‘keyboard’).
I will now move on to his arguments concerning whether or not Cyprian quoted “a version” of 1 John 5:7. Mr. Wallace makes a lot of accusations about Cyprian putting a “theological spin” on 1 John 5:7 thus intimating that Cyprian did not actually read the Comma in his copy. Most of his statements are pure conjecture and cannot be proven in any way. It would be easy for me to make such hypothetical allegations as: “theological spin”, “What is evident is that Cyprian’s interpretation”, “Apparently, he was prompted”, “it was a natural step”, “obviously his interpretation”, “Trinitarian interpretation was superimposed on the text by Cyprian”, and my favorite is his concluding remarks, viz. “Thus, that Cyprian interpreted 1 John 5:7-8 to refer to the Trinity is likely; but that he saw the Trinitarian formula in the text is rather unlikely.” I would thank Mr. Wallace for giving us his opinion as to what Cyprian was “likely” or “unlikely” to have both read and thought. However, it is this type of ‘scholarship’ that has landed us in the mess that we are currently in. I can assure you that what Mr. Wallace points out as conjecture will be used by another as FACT. We pass on!
Since Cyprian wrote the disputed passage in Latin I feel it necessary to list Cyprian’s words in Latin. Cyprian wrote, “Dicit dominus, Ego et pater unum sumus (John x. 30), et iterum de Patre, et Filio, et Spiritu Sancto scriptum est, Et tres unum sunt.” (The Lord says, "I and the Father are One," and again, of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost it is written: "And the three are One."). This Latin reading is important when you compare it to the Old Latin reading of 1 John 5:7; “Quoniam tres sunt, gui testimonium dant in coelo: Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus sanctus: et hi tres unum sunt.” Cyprian clearly says that it is written of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost--”And the three are One.” His Latin matches the Old Latin reading identically with the exception of ‘hi’. Again, it is important to note that Cyprian said “it is written” when making his remarks. He never indicates, despite Wallace’s claims, that he is putting some sort of “theological spin” on 1 John 5:7 or 8. There is no other verse that expressly states that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are ‘three in one’ outside of 1 John 5:7. If Cyprian was not quoting 1 John 5:7 the question must be asked and answered: What was he quoting?
The matter becomes even more devastating for Wallace when we take into account another of Cyprian’s many statements. When considering issues such as this one before us it is necessary to lay on the table as much of the evidence as one can. Often many of the facts are purposely kept silent due to their damaging testimony. Cyprian writes in another place, “et sanctificatus est, et templum Dei factus ets, quaero cujus Dei? Si Creatoris, non potuit, qui in eum non credidit; si Christi, nec hujus fieri potuit templum, qui negat Deum Christum; si Spiritus Sancti, cum tres unum sunt, quomodo Spiritus Sanctus placatus esse ei potest, qui aut Patris aut Fillii inimicus est?” (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?) Here again we see Cyprian stating that “the three are One” (i.e. the Father, Son and Holy Spirit). This I feel is important because it gives us another reference in Cyprian’s writings testifying to the fact that he was not merely putting a “theological spin” on 1 John 5:7/8. The fact is 1 John 5:7 was found in Cyprian’s copies.
Admittedly, the second quote is not near as ‘strong’ as the first but when the evidence it presented, without all the conjecture, only one seeking to hide something can ignore the fact that Cyprian knew full well the wording of 1 John 5:7 as found in our Authorized Version. This is so evident that even Frederick Scrivener, who adamantly opposed the Comma, was compelled to say, “If these two passages be taken together (the first is manifestly much the stronger), it is surely safer and more candid to admit that Cyprian read verse 7 in his copies, than to resort to the explanation of Facundus, that the holy Bishop was merely putting on verse 8 a spiritual meaning (Plain Introduction, p. 405).” I couldn’t agree more with the words of Dr. Scrivener! The question then becomes, why does Mr. Wallace continue to espouse this “spiritual meaning/theological spin” hypothesis when this allegation has been refuted for centuries? One can only wonder if the reason behind this charade is not to further conceal the actual evidence and to further mislead the unsuspecting saints.
I hope in this short confutation of Wallace’s article that 1) More light has been shed on the evidence in favor of the Comma Johanneum and 2) Exposure has been made of the constant misrepresentation of the facts by people such as Daniel Wallace and Bruce Metzger.
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