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[textualcriticism] Erasmus paraphrase of 1 John and the heavenly witnesses

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  • Steven Avery
    Hi Folks, The Erasmus Paraphrase of 1 John ============================== Eramsus and Heavenly Witnesses Intro One of the unusual aspects of the heavenly
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 18, 2012
      Hi Folks,

      The Erasmus Paraphrase of 1 John


      Eramsus and Heavenly Witnesses Intro

      One of the unusual aspects of the heavenly witnesses discussion is the enormous amount of interest in one subject, Desiderius Erasmus. And this is usually handled in a one-dimensional manner.  With the emphasis being on the
      Erasmus promise, and also the history and theories around Codex Brittanicus. Often, everything else is simply ignored.  Sometimes there is a superficial reference to the doctrinal issues and Erasmus, where he can be seen as anything from "intellectual father of the Reformation" to roman catholic lackey, from orthodox Trinitarian to semi-Arian heretic to pragmatist-Christian humanist.  Pat summaries are the order of the day.

      There is very little examination of the Erasmus positions in context. Or of the actual overall evidences for the verse that were involved, such as the position of the Vulgate Prologue, or why the Cyprian reference was not noticed.  Very little is considered about the discussions, and the omissions, by Erasmus in his Annotations and in his correspondence with Lee, Stunica, Farel and others. Overall, the Erasmus doctrinal and scholastic position is painted one-dimensionally, both by supporters and opponents of the verse authenticity.  (Or sometimes the writer attempts the ultra-sophisticated, such as the Daniel Wallace reference to "politico-theologico-economic concerns" weighing upon Erasmus :) .)

      Thus, the more helpful aspects of the Erasmus history are rarely even mentioned in NT textual scholarship. One example today : it is simply not mentioned  that Erasmus actually utilizes the heavenly witnesses verse with very interesting exegesis. And this is outside all the complicating discussions of manuscript evidences, authenticity and proposed doctrinal and "orthodox Trinitarian" issues.

      We will go to the Erasmus doctrinal exposition on the heavenly and earthly witnesses in his Paraphrase of the verses:

      1 John 5:7-8
      For there are three that bear record in heaven,
      the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost:
      and these three are one.
      And there are three that bear witness in earth,
      the spirit, and the water, and the blood:
      and these three agree in one.

      Sidenote: later, after translation and publication in English, these paraphrases became very important in establishing the Erasmus reputation in England.  However, that is a later period and not the focus today. 

      Note that while today Bible paraphrases are considered, properly, rather negatively, the situation in the 1500s was rather different. Printed material was still scarce. The Paraphrase became a one-stop shopping text where exegesis, often following early church writers yet without the rigorous referencing that is expected in a scholarship work, was one goal. Along with an accessible "Targumic" translation.


      Johannine Epistles Paraphrase
      Date of Authorship and Publication

      The Epistles of John paraphrase was likely written by January 1521, based on the Dedication. First publication may have been as late as 1523.  The date of 1521 was before Erasmus had included the verse in the 3rd edition of his Greek New Testament. Many writers jump around a bit about the dates, there is a fine discussion of this in (CWE, vol. 42:22) by Roger Aubrey Baskerville Mynors (1903–1989).

      Paraphrases on Romans and Galatians, Volume 42
      The Publication of the Latin Paraphrases
      by R.A.B. Mynors


      Latin Text - Erasmus Paraphrase of 1 John and heavenly witnesses

      We have the full Paraphrase available in Latin, courtesy of a 1555 edition on google.
      Here is a small extract. (Afaik, there is no full HTML or text version, only the picture.)

      Paraphrasis sive enarratio in Epistolas et Evangelia, quae dominicis et festis diebus per anni circulum in Ecclesia legi consueverunt (1555)

      (short picture of Latin text)


      Paraphrase - English Translation

      And in English, in the "Collected Works" volume #44, we have a fine translation by John Jay Bateman (1931-2011).  Since the superior exegesis of the verses will always include at least the full context of 1 John 5 (and will touch on even the full epistle and the Johannine writings) I am placing a good chunk of the text here, and you can see more on the web-page.

      Collected Works of Erasmus #44 Paraphrases - Preface by Robert Dick Sider (b. 1932)
      Translator - John Jay Bateman

      Notes accessible on:
      Notes 9 and 13, while a bit uneven, are helpful. Note 9 tries to explain the Paraphrase usage. And in that context Bateman references Henk de Jonge for more info, however his excellent paper "Erasmus and the Comma Johanneum" did not reference the Paraphrase (or the Ratio seu compendium verae theologiae ).   Note that we need a university library visit, or assistance from a personal library, for the ending of note 17 and then notes 18-20.

      Chapter begins - p.174
      Paraphrase on the First Epistle of John  - Chapter 1

      Then we move to our section on p. 198

      With what defences was he armed when he came? Jesus Christ came through water and blood: through water to wash away our sins from us, through blood to bestow immortal life on us. 6  Though free from every sin he wanted to be baptized in order to grant us innocence. 7 He wanted to die on the cross in order to open the way for us to immortality.These two were not the only signs through which he gave evidence that he as the Christ and the Saviour, to receive baptism like a guilty person and to die on the cross like a criminal, though he alone of all was free from every sin. The Spirit too, appearing in the form of a dove, gave evidence about him, 8 that he was the one whom the Father had given to be the Saviour of the world.

      For the Spirit too is truth just as the Father and the Son are. The truth of all three is one, just as the nature of all three is one, just as the nature of all three is one. For
      9 there are three in heaven who furnish testimony to Christ: the Father, the Word, and the Spirit.

      The Father, who not once but twice sent forth his voice from the sky
      10 and publicly testified that this was his uniquely beloved Son in whom he found no offence; the Word, who, by performing so many miracles and by dying and rising again, showed that he was the true Christ, both God and human alike, the reconciler of God and humankind; the holy Spirit, who descended on his head at baptism 11 and after the resurrection glided down upon the disciples. 12 The agreement of these three is absolute. The Father is the author, the Son the messenger, the Spirit the inspirer. There are likewise three things on earth which attest Christ: the human spirit which he laid down on the cross, the water, and the blood which flowed from his side in death. 13 And these three witnesses are in agreement. 14 They testify that he was a man. The first three declare him to be God. 15
      John also gave testimony.16 But if we accept the testimony of men, it is right that the testimony of God have more weight with us. For the testimony of God the Father is clear: This is my beloved Son, in him I am well pleased. Listen to him' [Matt 17:5]. What could have been stated more openly or more completely? The one who truly believes the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and has stationed in him all the defences of his life so that, relying on Christ's promises, he disdains everything which the world displays, whether it be lovable or frightening, this person has the testimony in himself and bears testimony to the Son of God. For when inspired by the Spirit of Christ he despises out of love for him every kind of death, he produces no light testimony among men that what Christ teaches and promises is not vain. The one who does not believe God but puts his faith in the world makes God a liar in so far as it is in his power to do so. God promised happiness to those who would listen to his Son, Jesus Christ, but this man teaches through his way of life that happiness is to be sought from the world. He thus clings to the good things of this life as if nothing of the human person remained after the death of the body. The Father cries, 'Listen to him,' and the life of the one who does not believe says, Listen to the world.' After the Son had prayed to the Father that those should have eternal life who believed him or would believe him in the future, the Father's voice was heard like the sound of a trumpet, testifying that the prayers of the Son would be ratified.17 The Father has given us, therefore, eternal life by showing clearly from whom it was to be sought, to wit, from his Son Jesus Christ. Everyone who accepts the Son's teaching, who imitates his example and has faith in his promises both possesses the Son and has life. In the meantime he has the Spirit of God as an earnest of it.18 This Spirit gives him the confidence not to be afraid to call God Father.19 But the person who is a stranger to the Son is also a stranger to life. (p. 198-100)

      Steven Avery discussion:
      Notice that Erasmus very properly does not consider the "spirit" of verse 8 to be "the Holy Spirit".  Erasmus sees verse 8, as do many commentators, as a reference, especially to the crucifixion.  And the spirit of verse 8 as "the human spirit which he laid down on the cross".   In general Erasmus sees the theme of the section as the testimony of God and man, to the majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ, to his divinity and to his humanity.

      Luke 23:46
      And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said,
      Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit:
      and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.

      Generally, the commentators who see verse 8's "the spirit, and the water, and the blood" as referring to the Holy Spirit are those who do not have verse 7 for symmetry.  Those working with the full text will generally see the major spirit/pneuma distinction of verse 7 and 8 and in the best AV editions this is reflected by capitalization of verse 7 and small "s'" in verse 8.

      Note: While a dozen commentaries, by learned writers, understand this distinction, there are occasional exceptions. Even today, July 18, 2012 Jack Moorman at the Dean John Burgon Society conference in Marietta, Georgia gave a talk with an exegesis of verses 7 and 8 -- where he had the Holy Spirit in both verses 7 and 8. Here I think Erasmus is far more sensible.

      In addition Erasmus gives the clear connection of verse 7, the heavenly witnesses, to :

      Luke 3:22
      And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him,
      and a voice came from heaven, which said,
      Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.

      Matthew 17:5
      While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them:
      and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said,
      This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.

      Thus, Erasmus related to the full section, with the heavenly witnesses and the earthly witnesses, as one single unit for interpretation. 

      There is no side-note of even consideration of the possibility of interpretation sans the heavenly witnesses of verse 7. And notice that Erasmus does not get involved in what might be called homoousian issues, instead relating to the Johannine chapter directly as written, not as extrapolated in creedalism.  Robert Coogan describes the Erasmus Christology as "Logos centered".   (We could spend more time on these exegetical aspects, however our purposes here are mainly to show the Erasmus general perspective on usage of the verse.)


      Erasmus Paraphrases Attacked by the Erasmus Opponents

      The paraphrases were easy targets for the opponents of Erasmus, since he generally had to choose a doctrinal position, which could often be side-stepped to a degree in scholarly discussions of a Bible text and the variants and early church writers.  In such other cases, like correspondence and annotations, the scholar Erasmus had the liberty of offering more than one perspective.  However, this is not the nature of a paraphrase-interpretation edition.

      Notice that this is covered by Jenkins and Preston, and they also mentioned the "your doctorate is not good enough" argument used against Erasmus.

      Biblical Scholarship and the Church: A Sixteenth-Century Crisis of Authority
      Allan K. Jenkins, Patrick Preston

      Noël Béda (c. 1470-1537): the authority of scholastic interprétation

      A second aspect of Erasmus' philosophy of Christ which came under attack concerned his Paraphrases on the New Testament. The Paraphrases were part of Erasmus' programme of disseminating the philosophy of Christ by making scripture more widely known; they were designed 'to help the less energetic and encourage the hesitant reader with something easy and accessible'.
      113 Volumes covering every book of the New Testament except Revelation were published between 1517 and 1524.114 When approached by a Paris printer seeking approval for an edition of Erasmus' Paraphrase on Luke (1523), NoeI Beda, the syndic of the theology faculty,115 listed 50 passages as subject to censure. In 1526 he published Annotations which extended his criticism to points excerpted from other New Testament Paraphrases and to other writings of Erasmus, including the Enchiridion.116 The pronouncements of the Paris faculty concerning orthodoxy or error carried great authority within the church, and Erasmus initiated a correspondence with Beda. To seek to avoid censure he also published an Apology against him in August 1526; this was a composite work which included earlier documents written in his own defence to the faculty and to the French Parliament.

      .... Theology was a matter solely for the trained scholastic professionals, not for those schooled only in humanities and languages, and even less for untrained laity, whom he feared would obtain access to the Paraphrases in vernacular translation. Like Masson. it was Beda's unshakeable conviction that only theologians trained in scholastic methodology could interpret scripture correctly and that linguistic scholars and laity must defer to their authority. The doctorate Erasmus was granted at Turin did not qualify him for acceptance onto the theology faculty at Louvain; 119 ...

      With the Paraphrases Erasmus had less room for manoeuvre than in defending his New Testament annotations. Although in a few cases he could base his defence on the original Greek, in many of the passages singled out for censure there was no disparity between the Greek and the Vulgate. Nor could Erasmus claim that he was setting out possible interpretations with which he did not necessarily agree, since it was in the nature of paraphrase that he had to commit himself to one. 

      Thus we see the Paris Faculty attack referenced directly the heavenly witnesses section.
      (Please feel free to translate.)

      Determinatio facultatis theogicae in schola parisiensi - (1531)

      Latin of the Paris censure attempt.  (I would include the picture, but I am trying to first overcome some difficulties of including more than two pics in a post.)

      And we can read more on this aspect of attack and parry.

      Controversies, Volume 83 (CWE, vol. 83:110)
      An Appendix on the Writings of Josse Clichtove
      Translated and Annotated by Charles E. Fantazzi, East Carolina University

      In 1531, after a long sustained barrage, the University of Paris unleashed its definitive condemnation of numerous opinions of Erasmus, the Determinatio facultatis theolgiae in schola Parisiaisi super quam plurimis assertionibus D. Erasmi Roterodami.
      2 Erasmus was beside himself with rage, exclaiming in a letter (Allen Ep 2575:13) that 'they are not satisfied with killing Erasmus, but wish to annihilate him altogether, robbing him even of his reputation.' It was not only his ill fame in Paris that worried him; he and others with him were concerned that the condemnation might spread to the Netherlands.3 With his usual assiduity he set about to answer the criticisms and by the end of the year his defence was ready. The voluminous Declarationes ad censuras Lutetiae vulgatas was published by the beginning of February 1532 and was followed by a revised and enlarged edition 4 in September of the same year. He prefaced his answer with a letter to the faculty couched in a reserved and respectful style. He then proceeded to list each of the censures, one by one, to which he appended his respective responses...

      Whether these Erasmus responses touched on the heavenly witnesses section that was used against him above would take some research.


      George Travis and William Hales

      The Paraphrase was normally omitted in the heavenly witnesses debate, even though it is of great significance. There was an occasional exception, often involving writers who were more knowledgable on Erasmus, like John Jortin and Preserved Smith and Robert Blakely Drummond.

      William Hales (1747-1831), quoting George Travis (1741-1797), Letters to Edward Gibbon, uses the Erasmus heavenly witnesses phrasing as part of his Erasmus defense against the Arianism charge. (Faith in the Holy Trinity, p. 148) and for a more positive Erasmian view of the verse.

      William Hales:
      Erasmus not only wrote an animated paraphrase on this [disputed] verse, in A. D. 1521, but restored it finally to its place, in his second [Latin] edition of the New Testament, A. D. 1632. The following is the paraphrase :

      " Because the Spirit also is the truth, as well as the Father and the Son. The truth of all is one, like as the nature of all is one. There are three in heaven who bear witness to Christ, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit : and of these three the agreement is consummate." Travis, p. 274.

      Surely this is not the language of an Arian ! This further vindication is due to the memory of that great restorer of classical literature, and powerful, though indirect promoter of the reformation.

      Strangely, Travis is giving a Latin text with a phrase that is not in our standard text.
      Which gave us from Hales, in dubious translation :

      "and of these three the agreement is consummate"
      "atque horum trium summus est consensus"

      Where Travis got this text is unclear.

      Letters to Edward Gibbon: author of the History of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (1794)
      George Travis



      History of interpretation: eight lectures preached before the University of Oxford in the year MDCCCLXXXV on the foundation of the late Rev. John Bampton (1886)
      Frederic William Farrar
      Erasmus may be regarded as the chief founder of modern textual and Biblical criticism. He must always hold an honoured place among the interpreters of Scripture. In his Paraphrases, which Luther bitterly called Paraphroneses, he endeavoured, he says, " to supply gaps, to soften the abrupt, to arrange the confused, to  simplify the involved, to untie the knotty, to throw light on the obscure, to give the Roman franchise to Hebraisms ... to say the same things though in another way." It was his aim, above all, to brighten the meaning of words which had been partly deadened by familiarity, partly perverted by mistaken applications
      3 Dedicat. Parphr. in Ep. ad Rom. Herder said that his Paraphrases were worth their weight in gold. Tischendorf, Lachmann, and Tregelles do justice to his merits.


      Erasmus and the New Testament: The Mind of a Christian Humanist (1972)
      Albert Rabil

      Bibliography included


      A companion to rhetoric and rhetorical criticism (2004)
      A Conversational Opener: The Rhetorical Paradigm of John 1:1  (1977)
      Marjorìe O'Rourke Boyle 

      In his paraphrase on that comma Joanneum (1 John 5:7) that provoked such inflated controversy, Erasmus defines succinctly the Persons of the Trinity in their economic roles.

      "The Father is the author [auctor], the Son is the courier [nuntius], the Spirit is the prompter [suggestor]." (p. 71)

      The whole article (p. 58-74) is about the related verbum -- sermo controversy in John 1. You will find much discussion of the Erasmus Christology focus looking at John 1:1 and Romans 9:5.


      And what looks like one of the most interesting sections needs German translation, with a discussion including Michael Servetus in the context of the Erasmus Paraphrase:

      Jahrbücher für protestantische Theologie, Volume 17 (1891)


      Steven Avery
      Bayside, NY
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