Saturday, August 29, 2015

Benjamin Keach, the Comma Johanneum, and Proof-Texts

I was reading Benjamin Keach's extended sermon titled "The Blessedness of Christ's Sheep" from John 10:27-28 in A Golden Mine Opened (1694) and was struck by this section in which he describes how Christ's sheep are committed to his Word and to right doctrine, including the doctrine of the Trinity (see point 2 above). Note that the prooftext he uses to cinch his point here is the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7). The verse is, of course, also used in the Second London Baptist Confession (1689) as a proof in Chapter Two:  "Of God and Of the  Holy Trinity" paragraph 3.

This illustrates how Keach and the men of his generation accepted the Comma Johanneum as a vital part of Scripture. This acceptance of 1 John 5:7 and other traditional text readings as part of the true text of Scripture presents a problem for confessional men who have embraced the modern critical text of the Enlightenment. Lest such citations be disregarded or downplayed as mere simplistic "proof-texting" one should consult Richard A. Muller's  scholarly treatment of how the Reformers, the early orthodox, and the high orthodox made use of such dicta probantia (see Holy Scripture: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology, pp. 525-540). He notes that rather than being "rank citation of texts apart from context and apart from any consideration of the results of exegesis" such citations "arose out of a context of normative, established exegesis" (p. 525). He adds that such citations "may point toward a massive exegetical labor in commentaries and polemical treatises" (p. 528).

One more note on Keach's citation of Scripture in this series of sermons:  Though he appears usually to cite passages from the King James Version (1611), which at the time had only been in existence for a few decades, Keach often makes frequent use of free citations. Perhaps many of these were cited from memory, and the marginal references were only later added in preparation for publication. In his citation of 1 John 5:7 above, for example, Keach uses "Holy Spirit" rather than "Holy Ghost" (as in the KJV). From what I have read of Keach this is typical of his preference.   



Victor Leonardo Barbosa said...

I think that I really never agreed fully with the modern understanding that the thinkers of seventeenth century were just dogmatics theologians and forgot the exegesis using the Scripture passages just like proof-texts. I like to see that many theologians like Keach (or Gill) didn't have problems with the passage, even knowing that few greek manuscripts contain this disputed verse,

P. S.: What a Challenge to produce a scholarly material about CJ,Jeff! I produced a simple paper for the baptist college few years ago. It's a very hard work, but delightful also!

God bless!

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Is the paper in English? How about sending me a copy?


Victor Leonardo Barbosa said...

It is in Portuguese, but I'm considering translate to english with some help by God's Grace soon.

Steven Avery said...

Thanks, Jeffrey!

The usage by Benjamin Keath of the heavenly witnesses as a proof-text, without all sorts of diversionary, convoluted and confusing textual criticism existential angst, is covered in one paper.

The Reformed Theology of Benjamin Keach (1640-1704)
Jonathan W. Arnold