Hi Folks, The Erasmus Paraphrase of 1 John ============================== Eramsus and Heavenly Witnesses Intro One of the unusual aspects of the heavenly
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, Jul 18, 2012
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
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"
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 (19031989).
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.
Notes accessible on:
http://books.google.com/books?id=HrdtK45DK_8C&pg=PA349 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.
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.
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
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
these three witnesses are in agreement.
testify that he was a man. The first three declare him to be God.
John also gave
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
Spirit gives him the confidence not to be afraid to call God
the person who is a stranger to the Son is also a stranger to life. (p.
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
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
In addition Erasmus gives the clear connection of verse 7, the heavenly
witnesses, to :
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.
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
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.
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
approached by a Paris printer seeking approval for an edition of Erasmus'
Paraphrase on Luke (1523), NoeI Beda, the syndic of the theology
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.
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.)
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
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
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
Whether these Erasmus responses touched on
the heavenly witnesses section that was used against him above would take
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
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
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 :
these three the agreement is consummate"
horum trium summus est consensus"
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
Parphr. in Ep. ad Rom. Herder said that his Paraphrases
were worth their weight in gold. Tischendorf, Lachmann, and Tregelles
do justice to his