The Comma Johanneum in an Overlooked Manuscript

I am in Munich currently, examining Greek New Testament manuscripts at one of the world’s great libraries, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Bavarian State Library). Among other things, this library boasts the largest collection of incunabula (books printed before the year 1500) in Europe—a whopping 18,000 of the total 30,000 titles that belong to this early period of printing. 

The BSB also has 29 Greek New Testament manuscripts. The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts photographed some of them at this time last year and has posted those on-line.

This time, I am on a solo trip. The careful examination of manuscripts is a vital task in preparing such for photography. Sometimes page fragments are overlooked and do not get photographed. Often the foliation of the manuscripts is incorrect, and leaves that are somewhat stuck together can get overlooked. The ‘prep doc,’ carefully done, ensures that every page is photographed. It becomes a guide to the photographers who might otherwise miss something. In addition, pre-photographic examination sometimes reveals palimpsested leaves that will require UV light to read and photograph properly. CSNTM has discovered several manuscripts via this process.

By definition, the undertext of a palimpsest is older than the uppertext. And if it is biblical, it’s a nice find—often very significant—for the biblical scholar. 

On the other end of the spectrum are text-leaves in which a later scribe has ‘corrected’ the text. Frequently such corrections are more valuable than the original hand since they either fix a blunder of the original scribe or correct the manuscript to a better exemplar. 

At other times such marginalia are of no value for recovering the wording of the autographs, but they are nevertheless significant for the transmissional history of the text. Such is the case with Gregory-Aland 177. 

This manuscript, housed at the BSB, is one of the manuscripts I examined today. It is an eleventh century parchment minuscule bearing the shelf number Cod. graec. 211. The codex contains Acts, the general letters, the corpus Paulinum (including Hebrews), and Revelation. There are extensive notes, written in a much later hand, running through Paul’s letters. The order of the books is: Acts, general letters, Paul’s letters, Revelation. The general letters are in their common modern order, as are Paul’s (with Hebrews at the end). First John is on leaves 68 verso through 74 verso. 

On 74 recto is 1 John 5.7–8. The page begins in the middle of 1 John 5.4. Verses 7–8 read, οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες, το πνευμα, και το υδωρ, και το αιμα· και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν (‘For there are three that testify, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and the three are in agreement’). This is unremarkable as it is. But there is a marginal note, written above the text in the upper margin. The note is written in a much later hand—at least second half of the sixteenth century as can be seen by the introduction which specifies ‘v. 7.’ Verse numbers were not invented until 1551, in Stephanus’ fourth edition of his Greek New Testament. Hence, this cannot be any earlier than that date. The hand, however, looks to be much later. I would judge it to be 17th–18thcentury.

In the same hand that lists the verse number is the following Greek text: οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες εν ουρανω: πατηρ, λογος, και πνευμα αγιον, και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν (‘There are three who testify in heaven: The Father, Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one’). Significantly, none of the divine names are written as nomina sacra. Since I am away from my library, I cannot easily verify whether this wording is identical to codex 61. But my recollection is that the lack of the articles before πατηρ, λογος, and πνευμα (which also allows for αγιον to be after the noun), is what is read in that famous manuscript. (Codex 61 is a manuscript that was apparently made to order by one Roy or Froy at Oxford in 1520; when Erasmus learned of it, he put the comma Johanneum in the third edition of his New Testament. Yet Erasmus changed the wording to be better Greek, adding the articles to a text that, if woodenly translated from the Latin, would be the reason for their lack. His argument that he did not have this wording in his earlier editions because he could not find it in any Greek manuscripts thus was a bit ironic, because the form of the text that he put in his third edition still had no Greek witnesses!) 

Although the manuscript basis for this Trinitarian formula is rather paltry, it has infected the history of the English Bible in a huge way, functioning as a rally point for King James Only advocates. Since Luther based his translation on Erasmus’s second edition of 1519, the history of the Bible in German has taken a less rabid path. It should be noted, of course, that the exegetical basis for the Trinity has never depended on the comma Johanneum, for its case has been made for centuries without knowledge of this reading.

The form of the comma in codex 177 thus seems to be dependent on either codex 61 or its Latin base. It does not show awareness of Erasmus’s wording in his third edition. (Contrast this with 2318, an 18th century manuscript in Bucharest, which I examined last month. Its comma is identical to Erasmus’s third edition’s comma. I am not sure what the basis is for Bruce Metzger to claim, therefore, that this manuscript was ‘influenced by the Clementine Vulgate’ [Textual Commentary2, 648], for he gives no other data. A spot check of a few places in 2318 shows that the scribe knew how to use the Greek article.)

To date, only eight manuscripts are known to have the comma Johanneum in them (Metzger curiously omits mention of codex 629 [Textual Commentary2], the one manuscript that can claim a date for this reading prior to 1520). They are as follows:

61 (produced in 1520)

629 (14th century)

918 (16th century)

2318 (18th century)

There are also four manuscripts that have this reading in the margin of the text, added in each instance by a much later hand:

88 (12th century; comma Johanneum added in 16th century)

221 (10th century; comma Johanneum added later)

429 (14th century; comma Johanneum added later. Metzger says that 429 is from the 16th century [Textual Commentary2, 647])

636 (15th century; comma Johanneum added later. Metzger says that 636 is from the 16th century [Textual Commentary2, 648])

Why would codex 177 be overlooked? By its Gregory-Aland number, it has obviously been known to NT textual critics for a long, long time. Perhaps it is because the BSB’s catalog description of this manuscript says nothing about the comma for this manuscript. However, a microfilm of the codex is surely to be found at the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster, Germany. Perhaps it is because the marginal note’s ink is slightly fainter than the text, and thus it did not show up on the microfilm. Whatever the reason, it is remarkable that a manuscript whose existence has been known for so long by New Testament scholars, and is housed in a prominent European library, should be overlooked in this passage. In the least, this suggests that there may be many treasures yet to be discovered in known NT manuscripts. Microfilms will not reveal many of them; the only sure way to make such information accessible to scholars is to digitize these codices and make them available on-line.

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