Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Questionable Greenlee Anecdote on the CJ in Erasmus

Image:  NT scholar J. Harold Greenlee (1918-2015). Read a tribute to Greenlee here.

There appears to be no end of confusing the story of Erasmus and his Greek NT.

I recently ran across another curious example of this in J. Harold Greenlee’s well respected Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Eerdmans, 1964).  In addition to promoting the “rush to print” and “rash wager” anecdotes (see this talk), Greenlee makes a statement that I have not seen elsewhere regarding Erasmus’ insertion of the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7b-8a) in his third edition (1522).  After noting that Erasmus added it to the 1522 edition in dutiful fulfillment of his rash “promise,” Greenlee adds:  “He again omitted it in later editions; but it was the third edition which primarily influenced textual tradition, and the 'heavenly witnesses' thus found their place in the Greek text” (p. 71).  So, Greenlee asserts that Erasmus added the CJ to his third edition but then removed it again from his fourth (1527) and fifth editions (1536).

Though I do not have access to check this against printed copies of the fourth and fifth editions of Erasmus’ Novum Testamentum, my hunch is that Greenlee is mistaken in this “fact.”  I cannot find anyone else who says this, including Metzger, whose comments imply that once the CJ was added in the third edition it appeared “in future editions” (see Metzger and Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament, fourth edition, p. 146).  If Erasmus added it and then removed it again, surely Metzger would have pointed this out.  Historian Preserved Smith, speaking disparagingly of the CJ’s inclusion in the third edition, likewise states:   “Thus the forged verse was put back into the Greek to be kept there until the nineteenth century” (Erasmus, p. 166).  Thinking that perhaps others had already picked up on what appears to be Greenlee’s error, I checked the 1995 revised edition of his work and the statement stands uncorrected (p. 64).  Of course, it is also possible that Greenlee is right and everyone else overlooked this point.  That seems unlikely, however.

Whatever the outcome on this question, the point is that ample confusion surrounded Erasmus’ printing of the Greek NT in the text critical scholarship of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  As I’ve pointed out before, there seems to have been a distinct effort to disparage Erasmus’ work by modern critics who were keen on toppling the Textus Receptus in favor of the rise of the modern critical text, beginning early in the nineteenth century.  Though by the twentieth century the modern critical text had largely prevailed among scholars, even among evangelical men like B. B. Warfield and A. T. Robertson, disparagement of Erasmus continued well into the twentieth century and beyond, as the focus turned to the popular promotion of modern translations based on the modern text.  Greenlee’s work is evidence of this.

The upshot:  When it comes to Erasmus anecdotes, “let him that readeth understand.”


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