Thursday, August 26, 2010

Daniel Wallace on the "Comma Johanneum"

There was an interesting post the other day on Justin Taylor’s blog that featured a response from evangelical New Testament critic Daniel Wallace to an earlier post from Taylor on the KJV that had featured various snippets from Wallace.

Wallace’s comments are related to the notorious Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7-8), one of the most disputed passages in textual criticism. His comments are interesting on a couple of levels.

First, Wallace admits that the story of Erasmus offering a challenge to include the CJ in his third edition only if a manuscript could be discovered that contained it is unproven, as is the legend that such a manuscript was fabricated for this purpose by Froy (Roy). One of the things that becomes clear when you do some reading on textual studies is that there has been a concerted effort by those attempting to dethrone the traditional text to disparage the work of Erasmus, especially since his Greek New Testament became the basis for the textus receptus. I have been working off and on this summer on an article that examines three such examples of this: (1) the idea that Erasmus' first edition of 1516 was a rushed and sloppy job; (2) the idea that the insertion of the comma in the third edition came as the result of a challenge and that a manuscript was made to order for this purpose; and (3) that Erasmus had no copy of the ending of Revelation and that he thus “back translated” the last six verses of Revelation 22 into Greek from Latin.

These views have been popularized by men like Wallace, James R. White, D. A. Carson and others (mostly through reliance on secondary sources like Metzger), but they seem to rest on unproven historical ground.

As Erasmian scholar M. A. Screech has rather sharply put it, “Anyone who reads New Testament scholarship finds that Erasmus has his detractors who repeat each other with bland assurance. Writers of established reputations pass on fantasies or legends” (see his “Introduction,” in Anne Reeve, Ed. Erasmus’ Annotations on the New Testament: The Gospels [London:  Duckworth, 1986]: p. xii).

Second, Wallace notes his own recent discovery in July 2010 of a ninth witness to the comma in a marginal reading of Codex 177 which apparently up until now had been overlooked.  Wallace is no friend to the traditional text, and he dismisses the value of this new witness.  Still it adds some weight to the argument for the authenticity of the comma.  For those who automatically wish to dismiss the comma, consider that the RSV-ESV includes half a verse in Psalm 145:13 that appears in only one Hebrew manuscript!  You might also read R. L. Dabney's classic defense of the comma on internal grounds.


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