Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Trinitarian Bias

Before sharing a number of New Testament passages where an anti-Trinitarian bias (including prejudice against the view that Jesus is one with God the Father) can be seen in the New World Translation, let me share one clear instance of a modern English translation that demonstrates a bias the other way--a Trinitarian bias.

I'm referring to I John 5:7-8 in the King James and New King James versions. In a NKJV, these verses read...
For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.
This passage is explicitly Trinitarian, and represents a powerful declaration of the triune nature of the Godhead. The problem is that the central part of this passage (the Trinitarian part) is not found in any non-suspect Greek manuscript, and so was very likely not in the autograph (the original Greek). The disputed words are "...in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth..." If one deletes these disputed words (as most all other modern English translations do), the passage reads thus...
For there are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.
As can be seen, the passage thus rendered loses much of its power as a proof text for the doctrine of the Trinity. This shouldn't bother us, of course, because the Trinity can be found throughout the books of the New Testament in passage after passage in which all of the ancient Greek manuscripts agree. Nonetheless, I wish the editors of the KJV and NKJV would do the right thing and omit (or relegate to the margins) these disputed words, since I think the evidence overwhelmingly leads to the conclusion that they were not in the original letter. (The NKJV Study Bible at which I'm looking does, however, note that these words are not found in most--including all of the oldest--Greek manuscripts.)

This passage that represents a Trinitarian bias (on the part of the editors of the KJV and NKJV) is arguably the unique counterexample to the many passages that in the NWT come as the result of an anti-Trinitarian bias. But I should also point out this difference. Whereas the bias in the NWT is in translation (and can be seen even by the modern student of Greek), the I John 5 passage represents a problem in the choice of ancient texts. That is, the disputed passage is accurately translated, but the problem is that the manuscripts from which it was translated were suspect. Here's the skinny...

The first Greek New Testament to be published (following the invention of the printing press) was by Erasmus (of Rotterdam) in 1516. He had acces primarily to about six largely Byzantine Greek copies, and since none of them contained the disputed words of the "heavenly witness" passage, he did not include them in his first edition. These disputed words trace back to ancient times, but only in translations (primarily Latin translations, but perhaps Coptic or Syriac as well--I forget, if I ever knew) and in quotations by church fathers.

Well, the Roman Catholic Church had been using this passage for a long time, and so some were incensed by Erasmus' omission of it. In response, he vowed that if a Greek manuscript containing the words in question could be shown him, he would include it in his next edition. His second edition came and went, but prior to his producing his third edition, someone presented him with a Greek manuscript containing the disputed words. True to his pledge, he included them in his third edition.

It was subsequently discovered that the Greek manuscript containing these words dated to 1522--it was a (then) modern forgery made with the lone purpose of getting Erasmus to include these words in his New Testament. Erasmus discovered this, and again omitted these words from subsequent editions. The reason they are foundd in the KJV and the NKJV is that when the KJV was originally produced it was Erasmus' third edition that was used as its textual basis. As far as I know, to this day there are no non-suspect Greek manuscripts preceding Erasmus' day that include these words.

3 comments:

Dan said...

Good point Rick...what I would also like to point out is that the original reading is supportive of a Trinitarian reading as well.

simplybiblical said...

The real truth and great irony of the matter is that even if this obvious forgery technically referred to as the "Comma Johanneum," which was alleged to have been a part 1 John 5:7, had been found out to be original to the sacred text. It still would not conclusively prove the Trinity!

Because if one will notice the Greek script of this passage in the Majority Text or the Textus Receptus (Erasmus' Greek text 3rd ed. 1522), the Greek term for "one" is "hEN," which is the neuter form of "hEIS." This refers to one in harmony or agreement, not "essence," "nature," or "being" as Trinitarians would wish (cf. Jn. 10:30; 17:22, 23; 1 Cor. 3:6-8).

In fact, this is key to the problem with attempting to insert this spurious text at that point. Because it must harmonize in synchronism with the later part of the passage which is of course confirmed to be authentic;

"…And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one."

This portion of the passage also contains the neuter form "hEN" for "one," which means that the three are "in agreement."

And as you can see, some Bible translators actually render it in this fashion. Such as in the rendition "agree as one" as quoted by Mr. Gerhardt's example above (see also the NIV's rendering).

As it certainly can't mean that the "spirit," "water," and "blood" are one in substance or nature, as it would need to be in order for the Trinitarian understanding of "hEN" ("one") used just previously in the Comma Johanneum to be correct.

So if the Comma were genuine, all it would indicate is that the "Father," "Son," and "Holy Spirit" are in agreement with one another as are the "spirit," "water," and "blood," in similar accord as to unity of purpose. Which is certainly acceptable to a non-Trinitarian interpretation.

simplybiblical

simplybiblical said...

I also find the attitudes of Trinitarians in this regard to be rather interesting in how forgiving they are toward this act of perfidy in such a deliberate mishandling of God's word this way (cf. 2 Tim 14, 15). And truly wonder if the situation were reversed, and some Arian, Unitarian, ect. scribe had attempted to insert a forged passage into holy writ this way, in support of their anti-Trinitarian theology.

Then on top of it, lie for centuries by claiming that it was authentic, would they still be so willing to overlook it and show such leniency to the perpetrators?

I heavily doubt it, and personally feel that we would never hear the end of Trinitarians crying foul over it.

Or in a turnabout, would they express such a conciliatory tone and mild spirit in encouraging any Bible publishers who would continue using such a fabrication in their versions to remove it as Mr. Gerhardt does here to the KJV/NKJV translations?

Again, I very much doubt it. And think they would largely be excoriated and raked over the coals for continuing to propagate such a falsehood by Trinitarian critics.

Mr. Gerhardt also wrote:

<< …As can be seen, the passage thus rendered loses much of its power as a proof text for the doctrine of the Trinity. This shouldn't bother us, of course, because the Trinity can be found throughout the books of the New Testament in passage after passage in which all of the ancient Greek manuscripts agree. >>

Needless to say that I strenuously disagree. And contend that virtually all of the alleged "proof texts" commonly cited in support of the Trinity doctrine by its advocates, are only dealing with two individuals, the "Father" and "Son." As though this is sufficient to prove the Trinity. But even in the best case for Trinitarians would only suggest some sort of duopoly.

In fact without the Comma, nowhere else in scripture are the three subjects, "Father," "Son," and "Holy Spirit," even mentioned together in the same breath, excepting the baptismal formula of Matt. 28:19. And the Pauline verses at 2 Cor. 13:13(14) and 1 Cor. 12:4-6.

Hardly evidence of that the "Trinity can be found throughout the books of the New Testament in passage after passage" as Mr. Gerhardt asserts.

simplybiblical