Wednesday, August 07, 2019

More on Erasmus and Codex Montfortianus

Matthew in Montfortianus (per Wikipedia)
Last week I posted about the myth that Codex Montfortianus (GA 61) was made-to-order in response to a challenge by Erasmus to include it if even a single Greek manuscript could be found that had it. However, our excellent ETC commenters noted that, while it is true that Erasmus did not throw down such a gauntlet, it may still be true the Codex Montfortianus was made in response to his omission of the Comma Johanneum in his first two editions. Others, such as Tregelles, have indeed thought so.

In response, I quoted the opinion of Grantley McDonald, whose recent book on the Comma is extremely well executed (see my review).
Given the incomplete evidence, it is impossible to know why the scribe of Montfortianus altered his Greek text in so many places to conform to the Latin Vulgate. At several points throughout the manuscript, this scribe added variant readings from Erasmus’ 1516 New Testament in the margins. These variant readings are written in a slightly different ink and with different pens from that used for the body text, which may suggest that they were added later, perhaps days, perhaps years. It is clear that the scribe had access to Erasmus’ 1516 edition before relinquishing possession of the manuscript. It is less certain whether he copied it in direct reaction to Erasmus’ work. (pp. 32–33)
He goes on to cite Tregelles’s opinion. But McDonald thinks Tregelles is too confident since we might expect more readings in it that support Lee’s criticisms of Erasmus’ edition if it really was made to order.

Yesterday, however, I realized that in the thesis version of McDonald’s work, he seems a little more confident than in the published version that it was made for Erasmus. Here is what he says there, at the beginning of a detailed section on Montfortianius that is not included in the published book:
Further evidence allows us to date the manuscript quite firmly to the early sixteenth century. An examination of the textual variants in Codex Montfortianus has revealed that it was copied largely from manuscripts written in the second half of the fifteenth century, most of which were only gathered in one place after 1502; these data provide a terminus post quem for the copying of Montfortianus. It seems that Montfortianus also contains readings taken from Erasmus’ 1516 New Testament. The notion that Montfortianus was copied specifically to strong-arm Erasmus into including the comma—a suspicion hitherto based on nothing more than circumstantial evidence—thus becomes more plausible. (p. 315)
In the published version, he is  less confident, but still open to the suggestion, writing, in a section not in his thesis:
Until the manuscript can be dated more precisely than the current estimate (c. 1500–1520), it is difficult to know for certain whether the scribe intended to influence Erasmus’ editorial choices. But that a recent Greek manuscript containing the comma—one of only two in the world—should have appeared in the homeland of Erasmus’ critic Lee, and should have been presented to Erasmus at the moment when it might make a difference, can certainly be described as a remarkable coincidence. (p. 33)
For my take, it still seems like a bit much to copy an entire NT manuscript just to influence Erasmus on one verse. But I certainly can’t say that this couldn’t have been part of the motivation. We may never know, but I thought I should give a bit more of McDonald’s own view given his expertise.

As a final note, any aspiring PhDs out there should note not only the quality of the content of McDonald’s thesis but also its typography and formatting. Something to aspire to.


  1. Do any of you text scholars have a translation of the Latin marginal notation found at 1 John 5:7-8 in the Complutensian Polyglot?

    1. First of all, I am not a text scholar.:) But since none of those volunteered an answer, I will try.
      A picture of the Comma Johanneum in Greek and Latin in the Complutensian Polyglot can be seen here (see page 67):'_Novum_Testamentum/links/58a8292692851cf0e3bb420b/Reconsidering-the-relationship-between-the-Complutensian-Polyglot-Bible-and-Erasmus-Novum-Testamentum.pdf

      However, it is difficult to read. The Latin note can be found in various places on the Internet, but I have found only one (old)translation of it so far, from the following source.
      by Rev. William Orme (1787-1830)
      Here it is, typos and all (see page 80/81-81/82):;view=fulltext

      "As many suppose the Complutensian editors must have had a manuscript or manuscripts which contained this disputed passage, I judge it necessary to add the note which they subjoin at the bottom of the page, by which (though nothing is clearly expressed) it appears they either had such a manuscript, or wished to have it thought they had such. However, the note is curious, and shows us how this disputed passage was read in the most approved manuscripts of the Vulgate extant in the thirteenth century, when St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, from whom this note is taken.
      "'l'The following is the whole note literatim:"' Sanctus Thomas in expositione secunde Decretalis de suma Trinitate et fide catholica tractans istum passum contra Abbatem Joachim ut tres sunt qui testimonium dant in celo. Pater: Verbum: et Spiritus Sanctus: dicit ad litteram verba sequentia. Et ad insinuandam unitatem trium personarum subditur, Et hii tres unum sunt. Quodquidem dicitur propter essentie unitatem. Sed hoc Joachim perverse trahere volens ad unitatem charitatis et consensus inducebat consequeintetn auctoritatem. Nam subditur ibidem: Et tres sunt qui testimonium dant in terra. s. Spiritus: Aqua: et Sanguis. Et in quibusdam libris additur: Et hii tres unum sunt. Sed hoc in veris exemplaribus non habetur: sed dicitur esse appositum ab hereticis Arrianis ad pervertendum intellectum sanum auctoritatis premisse de unitate essentie trium personaruim. Hec beatus Thomas ubi supra.' *
      * [That is: -" Saint Thomas, in his exposition of the second Decretal concerning the Most High Trinity and the Catholic faith, treating of this passage,''There are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the fIolly,Spirit,' in loppositini to the Abbot Jo..clhim, uses pie-cisely the following language: —' And to teach the unity of the three persons it is subjoined, And these' three are one; which is said on account of their unity of essence. But Joachim, wishing perversely to refer this to a unity of affection and agreement, alleged the text that follows it. For it is immediately subjoined, And there are three that bear witness on earth, namely, the Spirit, the water, anld the blood. And in some books it is added, 4lnd these three are one. But this is notcontained in the true copies, but is said to have been added by the Arian heretics to prevent the text that precedes from being correctly understood as relating to the unity of essence of the three persons.'- Thus the blessed Thomas, as above referred to." -ED.]

    2. Thanks! I greatly appreciate your help with this! Here's the link to a more readable copy: Complutensian Polyglot 1 John 5:7-8

  2. Wouldn't it be a safer route to substitute hard and negative terminology such as canard, myth, etc., with "unsubstantiated" and/or "unproven"? If this is not done I fear this is going to turn into a strawman.

    Dr. Gurry wrote "Last week I posted about the myth that Codex Montfortianus (GA 61) was made-to-order in response to a challenge by Erasmus to include it if even a single Greek manuscript could be found that had it."

    As this statement stands it basically fulfills the definition of strawman from my perspective. Although I do not doubt that this type of language has been used in various NT handbooks and by NT professor's in regards to the "Erasmian wager",even so, it's not the language (nor wording) of Tregelles or Scrivener or others. To call it a canard or myth on the one hand is just as harmful as taking it (for granted no less) as an absolutely established fact on the other. Shouldn't we be more careful when promoting revisionist historical viewpoints? -MMR

  3. Perhaps the larger question is why Erasmus indeed *did* include the Comma once the "Codex Britannicus" became known to him - - this particularly in view of his expressed suspicions regarding the recent nature of that manuscript.

    1. Perhaps he was aware of (inter alia) the grammatical difficulties of the non-inclusion of the disputed words?

    2. Or maybe he just wanted to keep his head attached to his body!

      To be fair, the "grammatical difficulties" (paired with the possibility of parabelipsis) stance is at least a valid internal argument. Yet, so is the opposite conclusion, namely that the text was made more grammatically sound when the interpolation was made.

      Considering there is such scant (and instable) Greek ms. evidence for the passage and that grammatical difficulties are not unheard of in uncontested portions of the Gk. NT, I cannot see how those arguments can outweigh the collective testimony of the whole Greek manuscript tradition. Nor do I understand the have your cake and eat it too mentality, when TR advocates stress continuity, number, tradition, universal antiquity,etc.(as they should!) when the Critical Text (via Aleph/B generally) is set against the bulk of the cursives and external evidence-And yet do not apply the same methodology when the TR or the beloved Authorized English Version is on the short end of the external evidence stick. -MMR

  4. "But that a recent Greek manuscript containing the comma—*one of only two* in the world—should have appeared in the homeland of Erasmus’ critic Lee, and should have been presented to Erasmus at the moment when it might make a difference, can certainly be described as a remarkable coincidence."

    Today, there are 5 manuscripts that contain the comma in the main text:
    629 (from the Vatican; 14th century)
    61 (Montfortianus; 16th century)
    918 (16th century; possibly used by Stephanus?)
    2473 (17th century--late)
    2318 (18th century--late)
    And there are 5 or 6 more (221, 177, 88, 429, 636, and possibly 635) that have the comma added in a note, but that only indicates it was not in the exemplar that was originally copied.
    But like McDonald noted, at the time of Erasmus and Lee, there were only 2. Or were there?
    How certain is the dating of GA 629 to the 14th century? Is it possible that it is a more recent copy?
    The text of 629 is very different from either 61 or the modern TR; it is more of an embarrassment than an aid to advocates of the TR because it doesn't have the same words as the form that is supposed to be correct. 629 reads "...*ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ*, πατήρ, λόγος, καὶ πνεῦμα ἅγιον. καὶ τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες *ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς*..."
    Doesn't this seem like a translation from Latin? (GA 61 did not have the articles either; those were added to the TR by later editors. This is an eyebrow-raising deed if the comma was actually authentic, but not that surprising if the earlier editors included it not because they thought it was authentic but for other reasons.)
    Or could manuscript 629 have been written in the 1520's as well? Considering the variation in the words, the two could have been prepared for related purposes, but they were not copied by the same people. Has anyone investigated this?

    1. Matthew B. wrote "The text of 629 is very different from either 61 or the modern TR; it is more of an embarrassment than an aid to advocates of the TR"

      Yes, but it doesn't have to be. There is no reason that a TR advocate should think he has to bare the textual and historical burden of defending the comma. Two of the first three editions of the TR do not contain it (Erasmus 1,2 vs. Complutensian). -MMR

    2. That's right; TR advocates shouldn't have to defend the Comma since not all "TRs" (they weren't even called that until after the KJV was translated) have the Comma.
      But to explain what I meant-- many advocates of the TR believe that it cannot be improved upon and that it is identical to the autographs. (This is referred to as faith, although who told them that the recent edition of the TR is the correct text rather than the text in any other existing manuscript is unknown to me, and therefore I think they should consider the possibility that their faith is based not on a person's or God's statement but on an idea of theirs.) There are exceptions to that thinking, of course, and any TR advocates that regularly read this blog will likely be more realistic. But many who believe the TR is most accurate--even having no deviations from the autographs whatsoever--will have to say that the true, word for word, reading of 1 John 5:7-8 was completely lost in the Greek tradition from the earliest centuries to 1521. Obviously *if* the Comma was original, it had dropped from the Greek tradition before the Arian controversy, and the text in manuscript 629 does not have the *true* reading, so for someone who believes the TR is inerrant, this manuscript, or at least this part of it, is not *inerrant*. Indeed, even Codex Montfortianus/Britannicus (61) is not the same as the TR, so it should be fairly clear that the text of the Comma, to parody Peter, "came not in old time by the Holy Ghost, but by the will of man." Whether the Comma existed at all in Greek, possibly in another form before Cyprian, is the big question. But there seems to be no good evidence for this.
      But hopefully I haven't offended anyone with this. I don't think the TR advocates are all wrong, and I think the early editors of the GNT did fairly good work with the resources they had. Thanks to Maurice Robinson for publishing an "updated traditional text"!

    3. Well, properly speaking I am a TR advocate. At least to the degree that I do not believe that the Critical Text was/is an improvement over the TR tradition. In some particulars it obviously is but overall I believe the TR tradition to be better. With that said, you certainly did not offend me. -MMR

    4. I'm glad to hear that!:) And I would agree with what you said in your comment, as well.