Johannes Heinrich August Ebrard - interesting on Cyprian

Steven Avery

Johannes Heinrich August Ebrard - (1818-1888)

Die Briefe Johannis: nebst einem Anhang über die katholischen Briefe

Biblical commentary on the Epistles of St. John : in continuation of the work of Olshausen ; with an appendix on the Catholic Epistles, and an introductory essay on the life and writings of St. John (1860)

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Steven Avery

The Presbyterian Quarterly Review, Volume 9 (1861)




Steven Avery

icthus - 2005

The Evidence of Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage on the “Comma Johanneum” (A.D. 200-258)

For those who are not familiar with the above heading, the “Comma Johanneum” refers to the disputed words found in the King James Version at 1 John chapter 5, verse 7. The text reads as follows:

“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one”

Primarily Investigation on some Background Information

It has been held by many scholars, many of whom are among the best in Textual Criticism, that the above reading as found in the King James Version (KJV), should not form part of the First Epistle of John, as they are not in the original as produced by the Apostle.

These words, they say, can only be traced in the Greek, to the 15th or 16th century, and found in Greek manuscripts of no real worth. The late date of these words in the Greek manuscript evidence, I will concur to. But, we must remember that we do not have all the Greek manuscripts that were copied during the centuries, and more importantly, we do not have the original manuscripts for any of the books of the New Testament! The oldest Greek manuscript that has come down to us with this passage, the Codex Sinaiticus, which dates from the 4th century.

It should be noted here, the attitude of some of the Textual Critics on this passage, where the wording of these scholars can be summed up by Dr Bruce Metzger:

“The Comma probably originated as a piece of allegorical exegesis of the three witnesses and may have been written as a marginal gloss in a Latin manuscript of 1 John, whence it was take into the text of the Old Latin Bible during the fifty century” (B M Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, p. 102. 1973 reprint)

Like all the evidence that is out there against the reading of this passage as found in the KJV, the arguments are based purely on probability, and conjecture, but never are there any solid facts produced! What I am going to show in this study, is the plain fact, that this passage was indeed know to, and quoted by, St Cyprian, who lived at least 100 years before the Codex Sinaiticus. And, though the text in question is in Latin (since Cyprian belonged to the Church which had Latin as its main language), yet, as I shall demonstrate, was also part of the Greek New Testament that this Church father used.

I owe it to the reader, to spend a little time here with regards to the lack of this reading in the ancient Greek manuscripts. I shall also touch upon the ancient versions of this Epistle.

We have already mentioned the fact, that the earliest Greek manuscript for 1 John, the Codex Sinaiticus, does not contain this verse as in the KJV. Nor do the other three or four principal Greek manuscripts, which date in the fourth and fifth centuries, have this reading. But, does this cause a problem with the evidence for this reading then? I think not!

I should point out here, that the two principal Greek manuscripts, the Codex Sinaiticus, and the Codex Vaticanus, which also dates from the middle of the fourth century. It is my opinion, for good reason, that far too much weight is placed upon these two manuscripts, as witnesses for the text of the Greek New Testament. There are certain facts from history, which I shall present here, that should be conclusive on the credibility of these two manuscripts.

The earliest Greek manuscripts, known as Papyrus manuscripts (as they were written using the papyrus plant), were written in “rolls” (libri) of Papyrus. We know from the evidence of Eusebius, the Church historian, that in about the year A.D. 331, the Emperor Constantine, ordered that fifty manuscripts of the Greek New Testament be made on “vellum”, in “Codex” format, for his new capital. (See, Frederic Kenyon; Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, p.41). We then have the words of Bruce Metzger, who writes,

“The suggestion has been made by several scholars that the two oldest parchment manuscripts of the Bible which are in existence today, namely codex Vaticanus and codex Sinaiticus, may have been among those ordered by Constantine. It has been pointed out that Eusebius’ curious expression, ‘volumes of threefold and fourfold forms’, agrees with the circumstances that these two codices have respectively three columns and four columns on each page” (Metzger, ibid, p. 7)

We further know from St Jerome (4th century), “that the (papyrus) volumes in the library of Pamphilus at Caesarea were replaced by copies on vellum through the efforts of Acacius and Euzoius (circ. 350)” (Kenyon, ibid). The year for this work of copying from payyrus to vellum by these two men, are the time most scholars give for the codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. Of Acacius, we are told, that “he became the head of the courtly Arian party” (H Wace, and W Piercy, A Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature, p.2; one volume edition). And of Euzoius, “Arian bishop of Antioch, the companion and intimate friend of Arius form an early age” (ibid, p.358). Arius, for the record, was the forerunner of the Jehovah’s Witnesses! Among other blasphemies, denied the Holy Trinity, Deity of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit! Can we trust any “copies” of the Scriptures made by these men? You, the reader must judge.

About the time these two codices were being “copied”, the Gothic Version of the Holy Bible was being made. This was the work of a “missionary” to the Goths, Ulfilas (died about 380). Like Acacius and Euzoius, Ulifilas was also an Arian, and his Arianism is clearly seen by his “translation of ‘isa theoi’, in Phil. 2:6, where he has rendered the Greek by: ‘ galeiko guda’ (= ‘similar to God’), whereas it should have been rendered, ‘ibna guda’ (“equal to God” - my translation) “ (Bruce Metzger; The Early Versions of the New Testament, p. 377). The point I am making with this example, is to show that ones “theological bias” does indeed have a bearing on how something one writes or speaks. There are many more examples that I can produce, but I think that I have said enough here.

I must bring to the readers attention an important case on textual criticism, which will shed more light on the evidence of the Greek manuscripts.
I refer to the famous passage in the Gospel of St. John, of the woman who is caught in adultery. The oldest Greek Manuscript that contains this passage, is the Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis, which is of the 5th century. All the Greek papyri and Codex manuscripts before this time that have come down to us, omit this passage, or mark it as doubtful. What, then are we to make of the words of Jerome, the author of the Latin Vulgate, who died in A.D. 420? Jerome, in his work, Contra Pelagium, says that the passage of the woman taken in adultery, is found in “many manuscripts, both Greek and Latin” (ii, 17). Many Greek Manuscripts? Where, then are these manuscripts? Augustine, who lived at the same time of Jerome, complains that people of little faith removed the passage! Then, how come the earliest Greek Manuscript that we have containing the passage, dates from the fifth century? It is clear, that from a very early time, the passage was removed from John’s Gospel! The first Greek father to refer to this passage as part of John’s Gospel, was Euthymius, who was from the 12th century! Is not at all more than probable, that our text from 1 John would have also have been removed at a very early time?
The Passage from Cyprian which shows he read 1 John 5:7

“Dicit Dominus, ego et Pater unum sumus, et iterum de Patre, et Filio et Spiritu Sancto, scriptum est, et tres unum sunt” (De Unitate Ecclesiae, Op.p.109)

“The Lord said, I and the Father are one, and again of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, it is written: and these three are one”

The first quotation is from John 10:30, where our Lord is speaking of the essential unity of Himself and the Father. “I and the Father”, two Persons, which is further shown by the use of the masculine, plural “sumus” (lit. “We are”. It is then followed by the neuter “hen” (lit “one thing”; not the masculine “heis “ ”one person”).

Cyprian then goes on to say, “et iterum...scriptum est”, that is, “and is written”. It must be mentioned here, that whenever Cyprian was referring to, or quoting from a Scripture passage. Where else, besides 1 John 5:7 in the entire Bible do words even similar to these appear?

Now, how can anyone get around these plain words of Cyprian, where he no doubt quotes from 1 John 5:7? We do have a few work a rounds for this passage. Some say that the words are a “gloss”, that it, they were originally written in the margin of a New Testament, and then eventually some zealous Trinitarian scribe decided to include the words into the main text of John’s first Epistle. This is nothing but conjecture, as not a single copy of Greek manuscript, or ancient version in any language has been found where these words are written anywhere but the text itself! Then, we have those who suppose, like Facundus (Pro. Defens, iii.1,3), the Bishop of Hermiane (6th century), that Cyprian had before him the reference to “the Spirit, the water and the blood” in verse eight, and supposed that John was speaking of the Holy Trinity! Plausible, but not probable. There is indeed a passage in Cyprian’s writings, where he does mention a reference that “symbolises” the Trinity in a passage dealing with the three men in Daniel, who spent the third, sixth and ninth hour in prayer. So the passage runs;

“We find that the three children with Daniel, strong in faith and victorious in captivity, observed the third, sixth, and ninth hour, as it were, for a sacrament of the Trinity, which in the last times had to be manifested. For both the first hour in its progress to the third shows for the consummated number of the Trinity, and also the fourth proceeding to the sixth declares another Trinity; and when from the seventh the ninth is completed, the perfect Trinity is numbered every three hours (Dom. Orat. 34)”

However, it is one thing to comment upon a passage, but another to use the formula “it is written”, which Cyprian ONLY uses for an actual Scripture passage, and then to refer to something completely different! He is not commenting on 1 John 5:8, where, if he were, then, like he does in the above passage, would mention the words of verse eight, and then say that he sees a reference to the Holy Trinity in them. This would be acceptable. Dr John Ebrard, who rejects the words in 1 John 5:7 as being an “interpolation”, has this to say on the theory proposed by Facundus.

“Facundus, indeed (pro Defens 111.1,3), supposed that Cyprian had here in view only the words to pneuma kai to hudôr kai to haima hoi treis eis to hen eisin; having understood by pneuma the energy of the Holy Spirit in the Church, by the hudor the energy of the Father, and by the haima that of the Son. But, although it might be possible that Cyprian so understood the words ( and though, further, the Vulgate has translated eis to hen eisin by unum sunt), yet between possibility and probability there is a difference, and Cyprian’s words may be explained by the fact that in manuscripts which he had (of an old Latin version) the interpolation was already to be found. Thus was Cyprian’s sentence viewed by Fulgentius Ruspensis (Responsio ad Arianos); and, what is more important, Fulgentius himself quotes the critically-questionable words as St John’s, and therefore must have read them in his New Testament. (Fulgentius died A.D. 533)” (Biblical Commentary on the Epistles of St John, pp-325-326)

There can be no question that the words were known to Cyprian, and even did form part of His New Testament.. We shall now look at the testimony of Tertullain (160-220), who was also from Carthage in North Africa, where Cyprian had been Bishop, who used to refer to Tertullian as “his master”. The importance of Tertullian’s testimony here, especially in connection with Cyprian, will become clearer as we proceed.

Tertullian, in his work “Against Praxeas”, (who taught a Trinity where the Father actually suffered on the cross, where He identified the Father with the Son, and therefore failed to separate the Persons in the Godhead.) has a passage which says;

“And so the connection of the Father, and the Son, and of the Paraclete makes three cohering Persons, one in the other, which three are one (qui tres unum sunt) [in substance ‘unum’, not ‘one’ in number, ‘unus’]; in the same manner which it was said, ‘I and the Father are one’, to denote the unity of substance, not the singularity of number” (Ad Prax. C.25).

Some observations need to be made here. Firstly, it is interesting that, like Cyprian, Tertullian also uses John 10:30 with 1 John 5:7. Secondly, where, if not from 1 John 5:7, does Tertullian get the phrase, “qui tres unum sunt”? Thirdly, what does Tertullian mean with the phrase, “quomodo dictum est” (in the same manner which it was said)? And then quote from John 10:30? Fourthly, though, like Cyprian, Tertullian was of the Latin Church, yet we know that he “wrote particularly in Latin, but also in Greek. He also sometimes used a Latin Bible, sometimes a Greek, probably oftener the former than the latter. It is improbable that his Greek Bible was very different in text from the Greek text underlying his Latin Bible” (A Souter; The Text and canon of the New Testament, p.79). Frederic Kenyon adds, that Tertullian “seems often to have made his own translations from the Greek” (The Text of the Greek Bible, p.136).

This leads us to the conclusion on this, that there can be no doubt that the Greek Bible was available, and used in North Africa as early as middle of the second century, even though the Church in North Africa spoke mainly Latin. It is complete nonsense to assume with Dr Thomas Horne, who quotes Michaelis, the German theologian, who said;

“On the other hand, admitting that the words Et tres unum sunt – And these three are one – were so quoted from the verse in question, Michaelis asks whether a passage found in no ancient Greek manuscript, quoted by no Greek father, and contained in no other ancient version but the Latin, is therefore to be pronounced genuine, merely because one single Latin father of the first three centuries, who was bishop of Carthage, where the Latin version only was used, and where Greek was unknown, has quoted it?” (An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, vol.IV, p.461)

The reference here is to Cyprian, who, it is wrongly assumed, had no knowledge of Greek, and therefore only used the Latin Bible. Such arguments in Textual Criticism clearly show that complete lack of knowledge of the facts, or the misuse of them to prove a point. This is not new, as most of those who reject this passage in 1 John, have done so mainly on the basis of other big names before them, and not because they have cared to examine the evidence for themselves. Cyprian, we are told, received “a good Greek education” (Elgin S Moyer; The Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church, p.108). Can anyone be said to have received a good Greek education, without learning Greek? Further evidence of Cyprian’s knowledge of Greek can be found in his correspondence with Bishop Firmilian. “Before the winter of 256* Cyprian’s messengers to Firmilian returned with (10) his reply, the most enthusiastic letter of the series. We have it in Cyprian’s translation from the Greek” (H Wace and W Piercy, ibid, pp.228-229). Again I must ask, is it possible to translate from Greek, if one has know knowledge of the language? There can be no doubt to the honest mind, that the facts speak for themselves, and the evidence, not conjecture, is, that Cyprian, like Tertullian, fully knew the Greek language, would no doubt have had the entire Bible in Greek as well as Latin! Can anyone still doubt that, not only was the disputed passage know to both Tertullian and Cyprian, but that it would have been in both the Greek as well as the Latin Epistle of John! To argue that Cyprian did not know Greek, is, in my opinion, like arguing to the wind!

The Evidence of a Single Latin Father Should not be Considered!

I refer the reader back to the passage from Dr Horne as quoted above, where he mentions the objections of Michaelis. This argument now leads us to the evidence of the passage as quoted by one Church father, namely Cyprian, which is objected to because he belonged to the Latin Church, as was a sole witness to the disputed words. I don’t think that Dr Michaelis, by saying this, is actually admitting that Cyprian read the words, but that even if he did, his testimony does not amount to much, as it is only his testimony, against the bulk of witnesses that are against this passage.

I would like to refer the reader to Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, chapter two, and verse two. Here the King James Version reads: “…to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ”. Now, a textual study of this text from the external evidence that we have, reveals no less than fifteen readings for this! The reading found in most modern versions, is, “…to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God Christ” (lit. “tou Theou Christou”), which has been accepted as the “original” for this text. It should be noted, that all the Critical Greek New Testaments (Greisbach, Lachmann, Tregelles, Tischendorf, Alford), accepted this reading, not because it is read in the only Greek Manuscript, the Codex Vatanicus, but, because it was known to the Church father, Hilary. For those who are not familiar with the Church fathers, Hilary was Bishop of Poitiers in the fourth century (315-368), and, like Cyprian, was of the Latin Church! This is not the oldest reading. Clement of Alexandria, who lived almost 200 years before Hilary, and who was of the Greek Church, here reads: “tou theou tou en Christoi” (of God in Christ). This reading also has the support of the so-called “Queen of the Cursives” (manuscripts written in running hand, as opposed to those written in contracted, capital letters), which goes by the number 33. It dates from about the 9th century, but this late date does not detract from its importance as a credible witness to the early text. Granted that the Papyri Greek Manuscript, the P46 also supports the reading of Hilary, and is of the early part of the third century. But, this Mss. Was not available to any of the above Textual Critics when they complied their Critical Versions of the Greek New Testament, so this did not contribute to their decision on textual matters. I am not altogether clear as to how the evidence is weighed when determining which is the correct reading for a passage. My own investigations cause me some serious concerns, when I see the evidence for important passages are not correctly used, or ignored altogether. Let us keep with the same Papyri Mss. (P46). Besides the reading it has for Colossians 2:2, which supports the testimony of Hilary and the Codex Vatanicus, this Mss. has in an important verse for the Deity of Jesus Christ, support for which I believe to be the original reading, as found in the KJV. The passage I refer to is 1 Corinthians 10:9, where the reading “Christ” has been replaced by either “Lord” or “God”, mainly the former. But, you may say, there can’t be any problem with this, as it must refer to Jesus. Not so! Paul here is referring to the passage in Numbers chapter 21, verses 5-6, where the LORD (YHWH) is said to have sent the serpents among the children of Israel. With the reading “Christ” there is no doubt that only Jesus can be meant. But, with either of the other readings, it is more likely that the Father is meant. On the textual evidence, beside the evidence of P46, the support for the reading “Christ” is very strong, both for its diversity, and its age. For the former, it is supported by a host of Greek Manuscripts, and Greek Church fathers. Add to this the following Ancient Versions: Old Latin, Latin Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic, Georgian, and Salvonic, which is the greater majority of the Versions. Then we also have the evidence from the Latin fathers, and also the heretic, Marcion! For the latter it can be said, that this reading dates from as early as 100 A.D., which would be the date for the manuscripts for the basis of the Old Latin Version. The heretic Marcion lived around 140 A.D, where his copy of this Epistle would no doubt date earlier than this. It might be said here, that the evidence for either of the other readings is no comparison! Yet, in spite of all this very strong evidence, The Greek New Testament issued by the United Bible Societies (4th Edition. 1994), give the reading “Christ” a “B” mark. This mark “indicates that the text is almost certain” (p.3*). The “A” mark “indicates that the text is certain”. By giving this reading the “B” mark, the Committee shows that there is some doubt to the reading adopted! However, there is no doubt in my mind, that if the evidence is viewed honestly, then the reading “Christ” is the only one possible. It is evident that the enemy made sure that this reference to Christ’s Deity did not stand, as he did for other great texts like 1 Timothy 3:16, and like he has also succeeded in 1 John 5:7, if the so-called expert scholars can be relied upon!

I shall end by quoting the words of Dr Frederick Scrivener, who , though he did not accept the text of 1 John 5:7 as being that of the Apostle, had this to say of the evidence of Cyprian. “It is surely safer and more candid to admit that Cyprian read ver. 7 in his copies, than to resort to the explanation of Facundus [vi], that the holy Bishop was merely putting on ver.8 a spiritual meaning” (A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, vol. II, p.405)

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Steven Avery







Thirdly, among the Fathers, none of the whole body of the ante-Nicene know the clause, save Cyprian;..

Cyprian is the only exception. In the Ep. ad Jubajanum, where he is speaking of the invalidity of the baptism of heretics, he asks what kind of a temple of God he would make who was baptized by a heretic. He could not be a templum Creatoris, who did not believe in a Creator ; he could not be a temple of Christ, who denied Christ’s divinity ; nor could he be a temple of the Holy Ghost, for “ cum tres unum sint, quomodo Spiritus placatus esse ei potest, qui aut Patris aut Filii inimieus est?” Meanwhile, here we have no other than the same dogmatical declaration which Tertullian had already made, and without the aid of 1 John v. 7, 8. More important, on the other hand, is another saying of Cyprian. He says (de Unit. Eccles.) : Dicit Dominus, Ego et Pater unum sumus (John x. 30), et iterum (thus in another passage) de Patre et Filio et Spiritu Sancto scriptum est, et tres unum sunt, et quisquam credit, hanc unitatem (that is, of the Church) de divinii firmitate venientem, sacranientis ccelestibus coluerentem, scindi in ecclesid posse.

Facundus, indeed (pro Defens. iii. 1, 3), supposed that Cyprian had here in view only the words (Grk); having understood by the 7rvtvpa the energy of the Holy Spirit in the Church, by the vooip the energy of the Father, and by the alpa that of the Son. But, although it might be possible that Cyprian so understood the words (and though, further, the Vulgate had translated els to ev euri by unum sunt), yet between possibility and probability there is a difference, and Cyprian’s words may be explained by the fact that in manuscripts which he had (of an old Latin version) the interpolation was already to be found. Thus was Cyprian’s sentence viewed by Fulgentius Ruspensis (Responsio ad Arianos) and, what is of more importance, Fulgentius himself quotes the critically-questionable words as St John's, and therefore must have read them in his New Testament. (Fulgentius died a.d. 533.)
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