Thursday, December 02, 2021

God rest ye merry Gentlemen


 I should think that some textual critics will enjoy this short musical interlude. 


Wednesday, December 01, 2021

On the Comma Johanneum in printed editions, "Which TR?" and working from inaccurate data


A long-ish post, but only because I care about data and getting it right.

One of the criticisms of Textus Receptus (henceforth, TR) advocacy is the question, "Which Textus Receptus?" (See the article by Mark Ward here). Instead of dealing with that question seriously, some TR defenders seem to brush it off as irrelevant.

For example, one TR advocate recently claimed that even though there are 'minor' differences between editions of the TR, all of them have the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53–8:11), all of them have the Longer Ending of Mark (Mark 16:9–20), all of them have the doxology on the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:13), all of them have the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7–8), and all of them have the Ethiopian's confession at Acts 8:37.

Unfortunately, that statement is simply not true. Familiarity with the editions of the Textus Receptus themselves demonstrates as much.

I have seen I think at least one TR advocate respond with the No True Scotsman argument, redefining "Textus Receptus" to include only the editions that do have these passages (thus excluding Erasmus' first two editions). That objection doesn't work for three reasons:

1. Martin Luther himself used Erasmus' second edition for his German translation of the New Testament, which lacked the Comma Johanneum. Even though later Lutherans added it after his death, Luther himself still rejected it. Additionally, the 1537 Matthew's Bible places it in brackets in smaller type, which does indicate textual uncertainty.

Source: my own copy of the 1537 Matthew's Bible facsimile.

2. By my count there are not two but (at least) six editions of the TR that lack the Comma Johanneum (and if you argue that 'canon' extends to the very form of the text, an argument could be made for more editions that have a form of the Comma Johanneum but with a number of variations from the form of the Comma Johanneum in Scrivener's TR as republished by the Trinitarian Bible Society, which seems to be the standard TR now).

3. The Trinitarian Bible Society provides a definition of "Textus Receptus," and their definition explicitly includes three of the six editions that lack the Comma Johanneum. In their article "The Received Text: A Brief Look at the Textus Receptus" originally published in the March 1999 edition of the Trinitarian Bible Society Quarterly Record (but presently linked on their website on this page), G.W. and D.E. Anderson write, 

Today the term Textus Receptus is used generically to apply to all editions of the Greek New Testament which follow the early printed editions of Desiderius Erasmus. Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469?-1536), a Roman Catholic humanist, translated the New Testament into Latin and prepared an edition of the Greek to be printed beside his Latin version to demonstrate the text from which his Latin came. Erasmus used six or seven Greek manuscripts (the oldest being from the 10th century), combining and comparing them in a process in which he chose the correct readings where there were variants. On several occasions he followed the Latin and included some of its readings in his text. This edition was published in 1516. There was great interest in this Greek text, and it is the Greek text for which the volume is remembered. This New Testament was the first published edition of a Textus Receptus family New Testament.

They continue,

Numerous men during the past four centuries have produced editions of the Textus Receptus; these editions bear their names and the years in which they were published. These include:

• the work of Stunica as published in the Complutensian Polyglot (printed in 1514 but not circulated until 1522);

• the Erasmus editions of 1516, 1519, 1522, 1527 and 1535;

• the Colinæus edition of 1534 which was made from the editions of Erasmus and the Complutensian Polyglot.

• the Stephens editions (produced by Robert Estienne, who is also called Stephanus or Stephens) of 1546, 1549, 1550 and 1551;

• the nine editions of Theodore Beza, an associate of John Calvin, produced between 1565 and 1604, with a tenth published posthumously in 1611;

• the Elzevir editions of 1624, 1633 (the edition known for coining the phrase "Textus Receptus") and 1641.

Of note here is that the Trinitarian Bible Society, one of the leading institutions defending the TR as well as the the publisher of what is almost certainly the most widely-used edition of the TR, explicitly names the Complutensian Polyglot, all five of Erasmus' editions, and the 1534 Colinaeus edition as editions of the TR. If we want to make claims about "all editions of the TR," the Trinitarian Bible Society's definition of what counts as a TR is probably the best definition to use. Here we should remember that Scripture doesn't tell us which editions count as true TRs or even which manuscript(s) to use.

In what follows, I want to show that it is simply not correct to claim that "the editions of the TR all contain" those five passages. By my count (and I admit I have not looked exhaustively), there are at least six editions of the TR that lack the Comma Johanneum and one that lacks the doxology of the Lord's Prayer and Acts 8:37. Then I will follow up with some thoughts.

Editions of the TR that lack the Comma Johanneum

As I mentioned, by my count there are at least six editions of the TR that lack the Comma Johanneum. In his book Biblical Criticism in Early Modern Europe, Grantley McDonald lists another two—in addition to the six I list, he also claims that Bebelius' 1524 and 1531 editions lack the Comma Johanneum. I have not been able to find images of the 1531, but I did find images of the 1524 and can confirm that it does have the Comma Johanneum, contrary to McDonald's claims. On that basis, I will also omit the 1531 on the grounds that I haven't been able to verify its text. I have marked with a red arrow the point after the "there are three witnesses" where we would expect to see "in heaven ..." if the Comma Johanneum were present.

1. Erasmus' first edition (1516)


2. The Aldine Edition (1518)


3. Erasmus' second edition (1519)

This one occurs over a page break for the full text, so here are images of both parts.

4. Gerbellius' edition (1521)


5. Wolfgang Köpfel's edition (1524)

CSNTM owns a copy of this edition.


6. Colinaeus' edition (1534)


Other instances where an edition of the TR does not agree with others in all five places

The claim also listed the Doxology of the Lord's Prayer and Acts 8:37 as being present in all editions of the TR. But remember: the Trinitarian Bible Society names the Complutensian Polyglot as an edition of the TR. Here are two more issues:

1. The Complutensian Polyglot lacks the Doxology to the Lord's Prayer, though it does have a marginal note about it. The place where it would be if it were here is marked by a cross in the Greek text.

2. The Complutensian Polyglot omits the Greek text of Acts 8:37, though it retains it in the Latin side. Space-fillers are printed here in place of the Greek text.
Source: p. 2398 at

So what?

At the end of the day, one could argue that there was eventually a consensus and that these examples don't actually matter. That might be especially the case for the two additional examples from the Complutensian Polyglot—I haven't checked to see if other TRs make those same omissions. That argument would be fine, except that isn't the claim that often gets made. The claim that gets made is that TRs all agree in these 'major' passages, and they only disagree in 'minor' places.

That claim is demonstrably untrue—there's just no way around it.

I expect one could find even more places of difference, especially where the Complutensian Polyglot goes off on its own, and especially in Revelation. But to say with certainty would take more familiarity with the data than I currently have other than in a couple of instances (compare the Complutensian Polyglot to Erasmus' first two editions at Rev. 1:2 and 1:11, for example). If we focus only on a handful of 'test passages', we can easily miss differences that occur where we aren't looking—especially if we are not even accurately representing what is happening where we are looking. Worse still is taking the 'absence' (or rather, unawareness) of evidence where we aren't looking as evidence of absence in general or assuming that there is no such evidence simply because we are unaware of it.

I am on record for opposing misinformation when it comes to New Testament textual criticism, and I have even had to confess my own sins in this area (see p. 108 in the book referenced in the most recent link). If somebody wants to use a particular edition because textual criticism is hard and they have a hard time evaluating modern text-critical claims but they trust they will be safe if they use an edition that God has used for a few hundred years, I have absolutely no problem with that. However, I do have a problem with misinformation—wherever it comes from (myself and my friends included). God's Word is too important to make arguments for or against it out of careless (incorrect) assertions about things that can be easily verified. (Perhaps you will have noticed that for some of these longer posts, I try to load them down with links to the actual sources or bibliographic entries so that you can check my claims instead of just taking my word for them.)

Jesus said, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much" (Luke 16:10, KJV). The little details matter to Jesus, and they should matter to us as well. All the more reason to work "as to the Lord, and not unto men" (Col. 3:23 KJV) when it comes to having familiarity with the data that we write and speak about, and it's never been easier than now with so many manuscripts and editions available online, freely accessible by anyone! A great place to start is here.

UPDATE (2 Dec. 2021): I did manage to find images of the 1531 Bebelius edition here, and I can confirm that it does have the Comma Johanneum (page view "[671] - 339r").

Thursday, November 25, 2021

SBL Presentation on “Archaic Mark" (GA 2427)



At the SBL Annual Meeting in San Diego I gave a presentation on Archaic Mark (GA 2427), "tying up some loose ends." This paper was originally slotted for another day, but since the session was turned into a virtual one it was moved to Friday, and so I know some friends (like Jeff Cate) missed it. 



However, I have now made a new recording of a longer (and therefore more relaxed) presentation of the paper which you can access on the IGNTP New Testament Textual Criticism youtube-channel here where there is a special playlist for SBL 2021. In case anyone else who presented in NTTC would like to upload a recording, you can contact Hugh Houghton who maintains the channel. Below is my conference abstract.

"'Archaic Mark' Revisited: Tying Up Some Loose Ends" 

The Gospel manuscript known as the “Archaic Mark” (Greg.-Aland 2427) in the Goodspeed Collection of the University of Chicago (MS 972) is now known as a modern forgery and has been removed from NA28. An important breakthrough was made in 2006 by Stephen C. Carlson who identified Philipp Buttmann’s 1860-edition as the textual Vorlage, whereas the final verdict on the case including an evaluation of the physical and chemical make-up, the palaeography and iconography was published by Margaret M. Mitchell and her team in 2010. However, there are still some loose ends of the story. In this paper I will examine the codicology, palaeography, text and iconography of both Archaic Mark and a related manuscript in St Petersburg tracing them back to the same batch of parchment from which the two manuscripts were made, likely in a workshop in Athens around 1914, and likely involving the work of two prominent artists and friends. In this connection, I will also discuss the sometimes thin line between authenticity and forgery, in particular if we distinguish the text from the artifact.

Friday, November 12, 2021

2021 SBL Blog Dinner @ Hard Rock Cafe


Sunday, 21 November 7:00 pm through 9:00; Cost: $56.89 (ouch!)  

Buy tickets ahead of time through Eventbrite, seating is limited.

Inflation is tearing a hole through restaurant profit margins.  In a prior instance, we saved money at a pizza venue only to learn that their reserved room was half the size which they promised.  Apologies in advance to those will struggle to afford the cost for this higher-end two course meal, which includes drinks, a legendary onion ring tower appetizer and a high-end entrée (ribs, steak, salmon or super-duper burger).  We have two vegetarian alternatives, either a salad or veggie burger.

Please purchase tickets by Wednesday, 17 November.  Seating is limited to 35, although we can upgrade to a larger room if we have a strong early response.  Purchasing your tickets in advance ensures our room reservation and saves loads of time at the restaurant.

Everybody is welcome, not just evangelicals or textual critics.

New Book by Ed Gallagher on the Septuagint’s Place in History and Theology


I’m not sure how I missed this new book by Edmon Gallagher called Translation of the Seventy: History, Reception, and Contemporary Uses of the Septuagint. John Meade probably told me about it 10× and I wasn’t listening forgot. So let me remedy that by highlighting the book. I have only just ordered a copy so can’t opine on it but I expect it to be good given his previous work on the subject. Here’s the blurb:

Hardly any text shaped early Christian theology more crucially than the Septuagint. But what meaning does that have for today? Many Christians have argued that God provided the Septuagint as the church's Old Testament. But what about all the differences between the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible? And what about the extra books of the Septuagint, the so-called Apocrypha or deuterocanonical literature? Written with students in mind, Translation of the Seventy explores each of these issues, with a particular focus on the role of the Septuagint in early Christianity. This fresh analysis of the New Testament’s use of the Septuagint and the complex reception of this translation in the first four centuries of Christian history will lead scholars, students, and general readers to a renewed appreciation for this first biblical translation. 

Thursday, November 11, 2021

New Website on Bible History


Over at the Text & Canon Institute, we’ve been working for most of 2021 on a new website to help people understand how we got the Bible. I’m happy to say that this week it went live. It’s aimed primarily at laypeople, students, and pastors and we designed it very intentionally with these groups in mind. To help them find what fits their particular needs and interests, all the content can be easily filtered by category, reading level, and author. The topics cover everything from text to canon to translation and some things in between. At launch, we have 15 articles with hopes of publishing about two a month. If you want to get those when they’re published, be sure to subscribe.

One question I’ve had this week is how the new site compares to this great blog. Personally, I plan to keep writing for both and see them as different venues. At ETC I can get right down in the weeds, be less polished, and can assume a lot more knowledge on the part of the reader. The TCI website, on the other hand, is a place to help the uninitiated understand why TC (among others things) matters and answer their questions without assuming much prior knowledge (for example).

Let me highlight one article in particular for this audience. Maurice Robinson presented on the Spirit’s role in TC a few years back at ETS and we have published a revised version of it here. In it, he argues that a discussion of God’s activity is absent from most modern discussions about TC even though it used to be fairly common. He wants to bring it back into the discussion and argues that we should avoid the extreme of abandoning scientific textual criticism on the one hand and excluding God’s role altogether on the other hand. 

Since we don’t have a comments feature on the new site, maybe we could open a discussion of MAR’s article here.

P.S. I hope you find my favorite page on the new site.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

ETC blog dinner at SBL?


So, here’s the deal on the ETC blog dinner. I’ve been up to my ears in work and have not been able to plan anything for the blog dinner. My cobloggers who would otherwise be able to do it are not coming this year. 

Before I put any effort into organizing something, can I get a sense in the comments of how many readers will be at SBL and would like to come to a dinner? I’m thinking it would need to be Sunday or Monday night. Monday is our usual. So, tell me in the comments if (a) you would come, (b) if you prefer Sunday or Monday night, and (c) if you love or hate Hard Rock Cafe. 

I can’t promise I can do it, but if there’s enough interest I will be more willing to try :)