Saturday, August 05, 2017

WM # 79: Topics on Text and Translation: Preservation; the Comma Johanneum; the ESV and ESS; and the new EHV translation

I have posted Word Magazine # 79: Topics on Text and Translation. Here are my notes from this episode:

In this episode I want to kill several birds with one stone as it were, by addressing several topics in one WM that have come across my desk.

I am thankful for those who listen and for those who sometimes share links or suggests possible topics, though I, obviously, do not address them all.

In this episode, I want to address four topics, all related to text and translation, roughly in the order in which I got them. The four topics:

1.    Comments by Jim Renihan on providential preservation and the chapter one of the confession.

2.    Comments by Rob Plummer on the CJ.

3.    Recent discussion about the ESV and the ESS controversy.

4.    Yet another new translation: the EHV: Evangelical Heritage Version.

First, the comments by Jim Renihan on providential preservation:

Back on June 12, 2017 Dr. R posted an article titled Our Confession and the Textual History of Scripture to the blog at

I have a lot of respect for Dr. R as a scholar of RB history but did not follow his argument in this post.

Here is the content (in italic) with some responses:

Submitted by Prof. Renihan
Here is something that I wrote many years ago seeking to address the question of the providential preservation of the text of Scripture and the doctrine of our Confession of Faith.I hope it will be unto edification. The statement in question is Chapter 1, Paragraph 8, which says
8. The Old Testament in Hebrew, (which was the Native language of the people of God of old) and the New Testament in Greek, (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the Nation),being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and Providence kept pure in all Ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of Religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every Nation, unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope.

Here are my comments:
On the Confessional issue, I think that the matter has to be handled with great care.  On the one hand, it is easy to think that the language of the Confession supports the kind of doctrine of providential preservation promoted by modern defenders of the Textus Receptus.  But, in the study that I have done on the issue, I think that that is probably anachronistic.  Much more work needs to be done, but I think that the Confessional position is much more carefully nuanced than is sometimes represented to us today.
So, I want to know what is “the kind of doctrine of providential preservation promoted by defenders of the TR”? Is he thinking of KJV Only-ism? The text criticism of Edward F. Hills or Theodore Letis? The approach of the TBS?
What was the view of the framers of the confession on the text of the Bible? Clearly they affirmed the original inspiration and preservation of the Scriptures in the traditional text (the MT of the OT and the TR of the NT, as evidenced by the use of prooftexts).
He says that the undefined view of preservation he opposes is “probably anachronistic.” I agree that more study is needed and more nuance should be applied. I also agree that there is a problem with anachronism but not the kind that Renihan appears to be thinking. It is anachronistic to assume the framers held the modern (18-20th centuries) restorationist view of text criticism. This is the real anachronism.
Next, Renihan cites an excerpt from a sermon by William Bridge [third sermon on 1 Peter 1:19 in a series titled “Scripture Light the Most Sure Light” (pp. 441-462) in his Collected Works, Vol. 1]:

 Consider for example the words of William Bridge, a member of the Westminster Assembly, and thus someone whose comments carry some weight in terms of the opinions of (perhaps)some of the Westminster Divines.  I grant that he was an Independent, and so some holding the above noted views might dismiss him, but we cannot.  In fact his ministry gave quite a strong impetus to the Particular Baptists of Norfolk.  Daniel Bradford, an original co-pastor of the Norwich PB church had been a member of Bridge’s church.  Here is Bridge’s comment (from Works, 1:450):
“How can we hold and keep fast the letter of the Scripture when there are so many Greek copies of the New Testament, and those diverse from another?”
“Yes, well; for though there are many received copies of the New Testament, yet there is no material difference between them.  The four evangelists do vary in the relation of the same thing; yet because there is no contradiction, or material variation, we do adhere to all of them, and deny none.  In the times of the Jews, before Christ, they had but one original of the Old Testament, yet that hath several readings: there is a marginal reading, and a line reading, and they differ no less than eight hundred times the one from the other; yet the Jews did adhere to both, and denied neither.  Why? Because there was no material difference.  And so now, though there be many copies of the New Testament, yet seeing there is no material difference between them, we may adhere to all: for whoever will understand the Scripture, must be sure to keep and hold fast the latter, not denying it.”
I went back and read the Bridge sermon which is on the topic of Scripture, though not much else is said about text than is cited here. His point in the sermon is to distinguish between the letter and the Spirit.
What I see him saying here is little different than what I have read in other men of the era: namely, he believes that the true text of Scripture is found in the existing copies (apographa). Nowhere does he suggest reconstructing the autographa.
In fact, he clearly defends the Masoretic text, noting the careful Masoretic notes, pointing to textual discussions by the scribes on proper interpretation of the text but making “no material difference.” See the discussion in W├╝rthwein’s The Text of the OT where he lists issues related to (a) special points [puncta extraordinaria] which occur c. 15 times; (b) inverted nun [nun inversum] 9 times; (c) sebirin [note meaning “to suppose”] which occurs c. 350 times; and the khetib and qere [written vs. spoken form] occurring c. 1300 times (pp. 17-18), not to mention the tiqunne sopherim [scribal corrections] and the itture sopherim [scribal omission] (pp. 18-19).
As for the NT, note Bridge’s focus is on the existing copies.
This perspective is identical to that found in John Owen when he wrote: “the whole of Scripture, entire as given out from God, without any loss, is preserved in the copies of the original yet remaining…. These copies, we say, are the rule standard and touchstone of all translations….” (Works, XVI, p. 357).
These men were themselves scholars.  They knew that to assert a doctrine of providential preservation as is often promoted today, one would have to assert that there is at least one manuscript that has always been preserved from error of any kind.  But it is impossible to know which one it is.  They did not see one text as the standard for the churches (purposely plural!) but that the word of God was in the texts that they had.
I do not follow the logic here. Why would holding to providential preservation require the preservation of the text in one single manuscript? Who makes such an argument? Maybe he was thinking of Wilbur Pickering and Family 35, but Pickering is not a TR man and even his stress is on a family of mss. The point of Bridge and Owen is that the preserved text is there in the copies establishing the traditional text.
Renihan turns next to Richard Muller:
Richard Muller makes this comment (Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological terms, page 323 s.v. Variae lectiones): “specifically, variant readings in the several ancient codices of Scripture that lead to debate concerning the infallibility of the scriptural Word.  The orthodox, Lutheran and Reformed, generally argued that the meaning of the original can be recovered by careful collation of the texts.  In the second half of the seventeenth century, the argument was developed that inconsistencies occurred only in the copies, or apographa, and not in the now lost originals, or autographa, of Scripture.”
But Muller is not saying that the older men held the modern reconstructionist view. He is saying quite the opposite. Their focus was on the apographa. Muller makes this point very clearly in PRRD, Vol 2 (see especially, 6.3.a “the Hebrew and Greek Texts” pp. 418-437). Here, Muller notes:
By “original and authentic” text, the Protestant orthodox do not mean the autographa which no one can possess but the apographa in the original tongue which are the source of all versions (p. 433).
For them, the autographa were not concrete point of infinite regress for the future critical examination of the text but rather a touchstone employed in gaining a proper perspective on current textual problems (p. 434).
Finally, Renihan compares the undefined view of providential preservation he opposes as a form of “successionism”:
So, I do not believe that our Confession requires from us a doctrine of providential preservation as it is often stated today.  This is a kind of successionism, not unlike the false notion promoted by Baptist successionists.  It is, in my opinion, an attempt to rely on something earthly: if we can’t prove antiquity, we have no firm basis for our faith (or practice).  It was rejected, and rightly so, by the first generation of particular Baptists (when challenged that their baptism was invalid because it had no successive lineage), and I think needs to be rejected by us.  The Word of God has a self-authenticating nature. We do not need church councils to approve the Bible.  The Scripture is contained in the text, and in faithful translations.
In my understanding, the Confessional doctrine simply asserts what Bridge states above: we have the word of God in our texts.  God has always preserved it.  We do not have to trace a line back to Paul or John or Isaiah or Moses (and the issue becomes even more complicated when the PP doctrine is applied to the OT).  We simply confess that God has kept his word pure through the ages in the manuscripts that we have.
Again, I would like to know who holds this supposed view. Is it wrong to think that the Bible has been providentially preserved? Is this not the language of the confession when it says that Scripture “by His singular care and Providence” has been“kept pure in all Ages”? We are not defending a line of bishops by the laying on of the hands of men BUT the preservation of Scripture by God. When Jude exhorted believers to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints” (v. 3) was he not, in part, urging the safe keeping and transmission of the Bible?

I do see an encouraging sign in Renihan’s note. It shows that it is appearing on the radar screen as a confessional issue among RBs.

Second, comments by Rob Plummer on the CJ:

Rob Plummer is a NT professor at SBTS, and he has a very helpful online ministry called daily dose of Greek ( These are short videos in which Plummer puts up a Greek verse and does a voice-over where he gives grammatical analysis of the verse, parses the verbs, explains the vocab and syntax, etc. I commend it to those learning (or wanting to refresh their Greek). As one might expect from someone teaching at a broad evangelical school, like SBTS, the text which Plummer uses for these videos is the modern critical text.

Someone sent me a link to the video on 1 John 5:7 the Comma Johanneum. As one might expect Plummer treats just the first half of the verse: “For there are three that bear record” and omits analysis of the second half “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”

What is interesting are the comments on the text (c. 1:40 mark).

Plummer notes that there is a text tradition, “not strongly supported by any early witnesses” which adds the CJ (1 John 7b-8a). He notes that these additional words are supported by the “King James translation(s).”

Plummer asks the right question: “Did John write these words?” But answers in the negative since, “The earliest they can be found in a Greek ms. is the 15th century.”

Let me offer some response to this.

First, I’d point readers to my blog post on the CJ and the Papyri. In that post, I point out that there is, in fact, very little early evidence (papyri evidence) for the general epistles and for 1 John. There are only two papyri with fragments of 1 John (p9 from the third century and p74 from the seventh century, and neither of these include the text of 1 John 5:7-8). What can be said is that the CJ is not the uncials Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, but these are clearly texts that do not support the traditional text, so this comes as no surprise.

Second, I’d note that it is not exactly accurate to say that the CJ is not supported by any ancient witnesses (even if those witnesses are not Greek mss.). It appears in Priscillian’s Liber Apologeticus (c. 382) and in several early Latin mss of the Bible. So, the CJ is clearly not a late fabrication, even if it does not appear in a Greek mss until the 15th century. Note: At least it does appear in several Greek mss, unlike the conjectural reading at 2 Peter 3:10 in the NA28 which has no Greek mss support at all!

Third, I find it interesting that Plummer dismisses the reading by noting its support in the “KJ translations.” Notice the tendency to denigrate the KJV, as if any reading appearing within it is automatically under suspicion of being spurious. The CJ did not originate in the KJV and appeared in all the vernacular Protestant translations, not just in English. Why not say, it is in the Erasmus tradition (second edition, 1519), or the Stephanus tradition, or the Beza tradition, or the TR tradition of Greek text. What about saying it is part of the Calvin tradition (since Calvin supported it in his commentaries)? Or, the Tyndale tradition? Or, noting that the CJ was cited in the WCF and the 2LBCF-1689? Or, that is accepted as part of the authoritative text of Scripture in Eastern Orthodoxy?

Plummer’s comments are brief but typical of the dismissive rejection of the CJ, even among mainstream evangelicals.

Third, Recent discussion about the ESV and the ESS controversy.

Most of you know that I am not fan of the ESV translation, which is an evangelical updating of the Revised Standard Version, which in turn was a revision of the English Revised Version of the 19th century.

I was recently pointed to Rachel Miller’s July 24, 2017 article Eternal Subordination of the Son and the ESV Translation which was posted to the Aquila Report website (Miller is a homeschooling mom, who serves as a news editor for the AR). In that article she makes reference to the July 18, 2017 Gentle Reformation (GR) Podcast Episode 45: Does ESV=ESS? and the questions they raise related to the translation of two verses in the ESV: John 14:10 and 16:13.

Behind all of this is a controversy that stretches back several decades to conflicts between gender complementarians and gender egalitarians. In arguing that men and women are equal in essence but distinct in function, some evangelical scholars like Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware drew a parallel to the relationships with the Trinity arguing that though the Father, Son, and Spirit are equal in essence they are different in function, most notably stressing that the Son submits to the Father.

Critics, however, have charged that this argument challenges the orthodox view of the Trinity which has always maintained that the three persons of the Godhead “are one God, the same in essence, power, and glory.” At its worst, some have suggested that the Grudem/Ware view posits the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS), making it an essentially semi-Arian position.

I remember papers being done on this topic at ETS years ago. The conflict resurfaced more recently on the internet with some Reformed men (like Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary) questioning the orthodoxy of the complementarian inspired view of the Trinity.

Since Grudem was the driving force behind the ESV, some have been examining the ESV for traces of this theology (as well as the study notes in the ESV Study Bible). See also this article and this one.

GR and Miller point out that in the ESV of John 14:10 and 16:13 the translators do not simply translate the reflexive pronouns heautou/emautou but add an interpretation by including the word “authority.”

Compare (emphasis added):

ESV John 14:10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority [ap emautou], but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

KJV John 14:10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself [ap emautou]: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.

ESV John 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak of his own authority [aph heautou], but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

KJV John 16:13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself [aph heautou]; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

Miller notes that the ESV does not consistently render these pronouns using “authority” but does so explicitly in these cases related to the persons of the Trinity (the Son in John 14:10 and the Spirit in John 16:13).

I might add that the ESV reading does not follow its RSV exemplar. The RSV at John 14:10 reads “on my own” and at John 16:13 “on his own.”

I do not think that Grudem and Ware or the ESV are “Arian.” This does demonstrate, however, the problem with translations that attempt to make dynamic equivalent theological interpretations to support some contemporary theological issue in their times. Sticking to a more literal rendering the KJV (and also the RSV) for these verses is preferred.

It is yet another significant chink in the armor of the ESV.

Finally, there is yet another new English translation on the horizon: the EHV: the Evangelical Heritage Version.

You can now apparently get both print and electronic versions of at least some portions of the EHV NT and Psalms on Amazon (look here). And the OT is soon to be finished, completing the entire project.

The EHV is produced by the Wartburg Project and is apparently a distinctly Lutheran translation. The general editor is John Brug of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (the flagship seminary of the WELS denomination: Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod). We are to assume this will be the preferred translation for WELS churches (much like the CSB and the SBC, though they appear to be one step ahead by keeping any denominational mention incognito).

The brief description on the opening page of the WP site says the EHV follows the by-now-familiar path of attempting to strike “a balance between the poles of so-called literal and dynamic equivalent theories of translation.”

A more detailed pdf of the overview to the “first edition” of 2017 [obviously future editions and revisions are anticipated] notes a commitment to “gender-accurate language”, among other things [much like the CSB]. There is also an extended Rubrics document.

The text on which the EHV is based is not readily apparent from my cursory exploration (someone else may be able to find it). This discussion on this FAQ page seems to indicate that it is an eclectic mix and might favor the Byzantine text. Therein we read: “Our approach to the text of the NT is to avoid a bias toward any one textual tradition of group of manuscripts”, adding that the UBS/Nestle “tends to lean too heavily toward the theory that the shorter text is the better reading.”

The question remains: Do we really need yet another English translation in an already crowded field?



Victor Leonardo Barbosa said...

Hi Jeff! Very good and interesting subjects on the table this time!

Concerning the CJ, James Snapp recently wrote an article about the verse and, even withou the commom "Erasmus Myths", he also upholds that the text of 1 Joh n in the lati copies camme from sort kind of an interpretation! (followed by more a comment from Maurice Robinson).

In fact, there are a lot of pressupositions concerning the CJ than ever.

God bless!

Noah said...

Since you take audience submissions, I thought I'd ask: Have you ever interacted with Jason Harris's book The Doctrine of Scripture: As It Relates to the Transmission and Preservation of the Text? I found it quite helpful.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Victor, thanks for the comment. I realize the CJ is difficult to defend but, as I understand it for now, I still uphold it. I will look at Snapp's article.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Noah, thanks for the comment. I did read Harris' book on preservation after I think you (or someone else) mentioned it. It does offer some interesting challenges to the TR on philosophical grounds. I will do an analysis/reply at some point. Enjoying time now in Lviv Ukraine. Beautiful city!

James Snapp Jr said...

Please consider not only the most recent CJ-related but also the earlier ones. I basically offer a cumulative case that the Cj originated in Latin as an interpretive note about a form of the Latin text in which the witnesses were transposed.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

James, thanks for your comment. As you see above, VLB also recommended your article. I will try to get to it eventually. As noted, I understand that the CJ is among the more difficult TR readings to defend, but I still uphold it as part of the confessional text. Though I have not yet read your article, I'd assume that any theory of its originations from Latin would necessarily have to be speculative. Still, I do not want to pre-judge your thesis before reading it. I've appreciated much of your work and glad we can at least agree on defending those places where the Byzantine and TR overlap over against our CT friends.