Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Response To Martin Shue, Part One

Martin Shue's discussion of the Comma Johanneum is worthy of examination if only as a curiosity. There are a couple of points worthy of praise. The first is the attempt to actually deal with evidence surrounding the issue. While Shue is incorrect regarding what he sees as significant within the data, it is the evidence to which all critics whether advocates for or against the authenticity of I John 5:7 must appeal. The second is his embedding of Wallace's article within his own for ease of research regarding that particular article.

That said, however, Shue's argument falls woefully short when it comes to actually dealing with the substance of the lacking textual data in I John 5:7. Shue's arguments can be summarized by the following points (or claims):

1) The Comma appears in more Greek manuscripts than textual critics state.
2) Bruce Metzger and Daniel Wallace mislead their readers.
3) There are other evidences of the Comma Johanneum besides Greek evidence.
4) Cyprian actually read the Comma in his Latin copies.

Each of these will be dealt with seriatim. The point will be in bold, the quotation of Mr. Shue's remarks in italics, and my remarks in plain text.

1) The Comma appears in more Greek manuscripts than textual critics state.

Wallace immediately states that “the Comma occurs only in about 8 MSS.”. Obviously Mr. Wallace is referring to the Greek mss. only. I would like to point this out lest it be made to appear that there are LITERALLY ‘only about 8 MSS.’ which contain the Comma. There are many Latin mss., of those that contain the Catholic Epistle of 1 John the vast majority contain 1 John 5:7. Many of these dating back to at least as early as the 4th century. It can also be found in the Latin Vulgate; of which, Frederick Scrivener wrote, “it is found in the printed Latin Vulgate, and in perhaps forty-nine out of every fifty of its manuscripts”. So, the ms. evidence is far greater than 8. And even if we did take this to mean the Greek mss. it is still not correct. Though the actual count is somewhat disputed, each side claiming or denying certain mss., it is agreed upon by both sides that there are certainly more than just 8 Greek mss. that contain the phrase.

The quotation of Wallace alleging that he "states that 'the Comma occurs in only about 8 MSS'" is carefully parsed so as not to deal with the strength of his argument. The issue is NOT whether the Comma appears in eight manuscripts or even "only" eight manuscripts. The issue is that in reality in only appears IN THE TEXT in four of them and - Shue never deals with this - "all of them quite late." Rather than dealing with the sparseness of data, Shue simply shifts gears and invokes the Latin evidence. He claims that there are many manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate that contain this passage, which is true, but it is also irrelevant. Why? Because a manuscript of a VERSION like the Latin Vulgate does not constitute a witness to the original Greek text; it only constitutes a witness to the Latin Vulgate, a late fourth century document that underwent a series of revisions and later (many centuries later) introduced the Comma that was not contained in it originally. Shue quotes Scrivener's speculation, but Shue does not mention the rest of what Scrivener said about the passage. He does briefly note (later in the paper) Scrivener's rejection of the Comma, but he never interacts with the "why" of Scrivener's rejection.

His last sentence represents one of the darker moments in the practice of King James Only textual criticism. Shue states that actual count of manuscripts is disputed but then attempts to split the difference by deposing Wallace from both sides. Shue alleges that there is agreement from both sides that there are "certainly more than just 8 Greek mss. that contain the phrase."

It is here that Shue reaches his greatest deficiency. This is not rocket science or evolutionary theory. The phrase is either in the manuscript or it is not. At this point if Shue wished to argue this way he should have listed the readings of each manuscript. If he had done this then he would be in a position to make the claim he did. But Shue's reference that there are more than 8 Greek manuscripts is a King James urban legend that began in May 1979 . A New Jersey pastor named C.J. Drexler informed Dean Burgon Society President D.A. Waite that there are at least 20 manuscripts that contain the Comma. Waite circulated this as a fact in his May 1979 edition of the Dean Burgon News. It circulated the next year in Thomas Strouse's, "A Critique of D.A. Carson's 'The KJV Debate: A Plea For Realism.'" And it was entirely wrong. Because there were different numbering systems in the 19th century, there was no standardization. Although numbers are now standardized and assigned by the New Testament Institute at Munster, this was not the case in the days of Tischendorf. Consequently, Drexler arrived at this figure by using the same manuscript according to different numbering systems. These were merely repetitions and not new manuscripts that so-called critics of I John 5:7 had hidden from view. This deficiency most certainly does call Shue's scholarship into question. Michael Maynard even carefully distanced himself from this claim in his book "A History of I John 5:7." But Maynard never stated what resolution was made; he only noted that Waite and Strouse no longer make this claim. The bottom line is that at the time of Shue's writing there were 8 Greek manuscripts, all of them very late, and half of them in the margin. In this very important evaluation of textual evidence, Wallace is correct while Shue is misleading.


  1. Hi Folks,

    "Maynard even carefully distanced himself from this claim in his book "A History of I John 5:7." But Maynard never stated what resolution was made; he only noted that Waite and Strouse no longer make this claim."

    Michael Maynard wrote very carefully about the claim (p. 264)and also referenced it in the Burning Bush, Jan 1997.

    Maynard explained the details of the error of C. Drexler mixing Gregorian and non-Gregorian numbers. He pointed out that Strouse only said that "D. A. Waite cites evidence.. " and that "Today, neither Dr. Strouse nor Dr. Waite accepts the claim of 20 Greek MSS supporting 1 John v.7f."

    When you say "never stated what resolution was made" I am not sure to what you are referring that you think Michael Maynard should have reported. His book wrote quite excellently and precisely about the history.

    Steven Avery

  2. Maynard never stated whether any public acknowledgment of the error was made. It made its way into a 1985 Master's thesis by Russell Hills and has clearly continued.