Nathaniel Ellsworth Cornwall examines the short-text solecism apologetics

Steven Avery


Nathaniel Ellsworth Cornwall (1812-1879) examines the short-text solecism apologetics.

American Church Review Vol 26 (1874)
The Genuineness of I John v. 7
Nathaniel Cornwall

The first thing that strikes an accurate scholar in 1 John, v, 8, without the seventh verse preceding, is the very hard grammar of the masculine article and participle οἱ μαρτυροῦντες and the masculine article and numeral ὅι τρεῖς with the three neuter nouns, πνεῦμα, ὕδωρ, and αἷμα. That palpably ungrammatical construction may have caused the suggestion, by an old annotator on the passage in Jerome's version, that without the seventh verse the connection is altogether maimed and defective. But as no grammatical difficulty appears in the Latin version, that remark probably had reference to the logical connection, which, without the seventh verse, is also defective. Neither the grammatical nor the logical defect, however, is remedied by the attempts of those who, though not expressly recognizing the great difficulty of this point of grammar, have yet betrayed a dread of it and a desire to evade it, and have left it with slight, inadequate treatment. Assuming that the passage originally contained only those neuter nouns, some attempt to make the masculine form of the article and numeral denote the persons of the Trinity. And for that purpose they further assume a far-fetched allegorical interpretation, which finds the Trinity in the eighth verse. But such attempts to evade the difficulty of that very hard grammar, are thwarted by the correct use of the neuter participle, μαρτυροῦν, in the sixth verse, with one of those three nouns, πνεῦμα, where it denotes one of the persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. And that construction, which is perfect Greek, could not be legitimately changed without the intervention of a masculine or a feminine noun, to overrule the neuter forms.

But suppose the persons of the Trinity to be denoted by those three neuter nouns in verse eighth. Yet why were the article and participle masculine, and not neuter or feminine, when the only Greek nouns which signify person, in the theological sense, are πρόσωπον (neuter) [prosōpon, face, person], and ὑπόστασις (feminine) [hupostasis, sometimes used to refer to the two natures of Christ in one person; a taking of a thing upon one's self.] ? There is a rule of Greek grammar, that "when persons and things are spoken of, the article or adjective may be in the masculine." But on the present supposition, there are no things nor any persons in that sense of the word, and that rule has no reference to persons, in the theological sense. This, Gregory Nazianzen, of the fourth century, shows; often denoting the persons of the Trinity by the neuter numeral, τρία, without any noun, but not by the masculine, τρεῖς. And other writers of that age, and in the third century, often use the phrase, τρία πρόσωπα [three prosōpa, faces, persons], and sometimes the feminine noun, ὑπόστασις. If therefore, the feminine αἱ had appeared instead of the masculine ὅι ,with the numeral, τρεῖς, those who would cut out the seventh verse might have had some ground for their attempts to patch up the grammar of the passage after such mutilation. But as the Greek words now stand, in the eighth verse in all manuscripts and readings, the article ὅι cannot have place there legitimately, without one of the masculine nouns, πατὴρ and λόγος, which are found only in the seventh verse.

The comment in Lange on the use of οἱ μαρτυροῦντες, with the three neuter nouns, also betrays a dread of the ungrammatical aspect of the eighth verse, when the seventh is cut out. But the evasion of the difficulty in Lange is such as none but Germans could invent. It is attempted in this way."The historical facts previously specified are now introduced in the masculine gender, to designate them as concrete witnesses, like persons"--why not say like men, at once, and avoid confusion of terms?--"but so that they are subordinate to the Spirit, who is the principal and only absolute witness, employing and making use of the facts in the life of Jesus." But the Spirit, that "principal witness" is always denoted in Greek by the neuter noun, πνεῦμα, which, unaccompanied by an overruling noun, masculine or feminine, always requires the article or adjective to take the neuter form, and here in the sixth verse, has a neuter participle: whatever might be said of the possible exception of a participle in the masculine form, used as a verb, but not as a noun. And the use of the neuter noun, προσώπου, in the New Testament, and in other Greek, ecclesiastical and classical, to designate individuals "as concrete witnesses" (see II. Cor. i. 11, et al.) and thus"persons," in the common signification of the word, makes that last invention to evade the grammatical difficulty of expunging 1 John, v. 7, utterly puerile and futile. That very German comment, then, which no sophistry can ever make germane, shows what must be expected in a revision of the English Bible, under the prevalence or popularity of such treatment of Greek grammar. p. 627-629

Here is, then, here, another phase of the question of grammatical structure. Some who think themselves classical scholars, par excellence, assume that good grammar is not to be expected in the Greek Testament. If, as is probable from that very mistake, they are not fully conversant with the Greek of the New Testament and the Christian fathers, they may almost deserve pardon, in view of the frequent resort of "Biblical critics" to the same groundless assumption. But those soi-disant classical scholars may be challenged to produce from the Greek Testament another sentence so palpably ungrammatical, by any usage of the first three or four centuries of the Christian era, as is the eighth verse of I. John, v., without the seventh verse.

It is maintained here, then, without reserve, that a fair grammatical construction requires the seventh verse to be retained as an integral part of the text. And this point may now be included in a review of some of the external evidences by which the claims of that verse are established. For it comes at once in conflict with one of those queer things commonly called "canons of criticism," one which is sometimes stated to this effect; that "where there is little or no external evidence, internal evidence cannot be pleaded for an important claim." It also puts to the test and puts at naught that still queerer canon of criticism, that "the more difficult reading is preferable to the plainer." Of all those contrivances of polemics, this is the most convenient for the rejecters of I. John, v. 7. It makes the ungrammatical reading, by its very difficulty, which is almost an impossibility, preferable to that which alone gives to verse eight a grammatical form. But this canon accords exactly with the queer remark of Tischendorf (Tauchn. N. T. Intr. p. xii.), that "the Sinaitic, Vatican, and Alexandrine manuscripts, having been written by Alexandrine copyists, who knew little of Greek, and therefore had no temptation to make alterations, have remained, in a high degree, faithful to the text, which was accepted throughout a large part of Christendom in the third and second century." And while that remark connects ungrammatical readings with external evidence, making them testify to the genuineness of manuscripts, it brings all points of grammatical construction within the category of external evidence. p. 630-631


Here is the verse that has the example used by Cornwall to refute the "concrete witnesses" attempt of Johann Peter Lange, 1802-1884.

(So far, this may be as close an analogy of any other writer to the Hofstetter exposition as we have seen, however Hofstetter makes no attempt to involve the actual referents spirit, water and blood. In his exposition, the actual witnesses are grammatical irrelevancies).

In this Corinthians verse, the persons (prosōpon) who are referenced are themselves neuter grammar and are not grammatically personalized.

2 Corinthians 1:11
Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.
συνυπουργούντων καὶ ὑμῶν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν τῇ δεήσει ἵνα ἐκ πολλῶν προσώπων τὸ εἰς ἡμᾶς χάρισμα διὰ πολλῶν εὐχαριστηθῇ ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν

Here is more as to how the "concrete witnesses" idea developed as an alternative to the less exotic traditional constructio ad sensum attempt, which was easily dismembered by reference to verse six. In a sense Lange is offering a hybrid.

A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homilectical, with Special Reference to Ministers and Students, Volume 9
Johann Peter Lange

... The historical facts, previously specified merely as evidencing the Divine Sonship of Jesus, are now introduced in the Masculine Gender, in order to designate them as concrete witnesses, like persons (Lücke and al.); but of course so, that they are subordinated to the Spirit, who is the principal, and alone absolute Witness, employing and making use of the facts in the life of Jesus. The verb denotes the activity of the testifying, with reference to the condition of being μάρτυρ ...
For how Lange is treating water and blood, see the commentary.

Gottfried Christian Friedrich Lücke (1791-1855) is given as the first person mentioned with the "concrete witnesses" idea. However, in his 1837 commentary he actually is more simply saying rather vapidly that the spirit makes the grammar masculine.

The Biblical Cabinet

Commentary on the Epistles of St. John (1837)
Friedrich Lücke, translated by Thorleif Gudmundson

However, the witnesses here (top and bottom of page refer to grammar) are not very concrete.

It is specially by the pneuma that the witnesses obtain vitality, according to St. John. ... In ver. 8, St. John places the pneuma first, as endowing the two others with a testifying power.

They are weakly dependent on the spirit, and little is explained.


This next is from the second superb Cornwall article, published 3 years later.

American Church Review
The genuineness of I. John, v. 7 proved by neglected witnesses - (1877)
Nathaniel Ellsworth Cornwall

The question involves the claims of two different documents, both purporting to be true copies of an original which is extinct. Of those two documents the one, wanting a brief clause, is palpably ungrammatical, and defective, also, in point of significance; the other, containing that brief clause, is both grammatical and forcible, and coherent and consistent in all respects. Which, now, of those different documents is the true copy of the original? The presumption would seem, in all reason, to be in favor of the strictly grammatical and consistent document. p. 510-511
Now, a similar omission of matter in 1 John v. 7 from the word μαρτυροῦντες, in the seventh verse, to the word μαρτυροῦντες in the eighth verse, would leave the passage as it is found in many Greek manuscripts: wholly ungrammatical and obviously incomplete. And this pertinent illustration of a point familiar to diligent students of the Greek Testament, strikingly shows the possible right of the seventh verse to a place in the Canon of Holy Scripture, even if it were not found in any Greek manuscripts.

The genuineness of I. John, v. 7, then, is here maintained, not to secure a proof-text of the doctrine of the Trinity, but to preserve the integrity of Holy Scripture. As a proof-text it would be less important than many others if it were wholly unquestioned. But as a part of Holy Scripture it is to be defended with all diligence. p. 511
And so the internal evidence of the genuineness of the seventh verse -- afforded by its perfectly grammatical structure, and the utterly ungrammatical aspect of the eighth verse apart from the seventh -- may he always insisted on as at once an impregnable point in the defense of the disputed passage, and a very striking illustration of Divine providence, in the gift of the Greek language to the apostles and evangelists for the introduction of the Gospel into the world . p. 512

Additional Information Related to Nathaniel Ellsworth Cornwall

New York Times obituary

Music: As it Was, and as it is (1851)

James Snapp commentary - Dec 27, 2012

Porter’s presentation is sketchy compared to the treatment given to the Latin evidence by N. E. Cornwall in two extensive articles written in the 1870’s. Cornwall forcefully defended the CJ as genuine, and anyone who wishes to joust with well-prepared defenders of the CJ should grapple with his writings first.

You can find Cornwall’s first meticulous defense of the CJ on pages 625-641 of Volume 26 (1874) of American Church Review, at and his even more impressive second defense of the CJ on pages 509-528 of Volume 29 (1877) of American Church Review, at . I found that after reading what Cornwall had to say, Metzger’s brief dismissal of the CJ did not seem very decisive. Nor does it seem objective. Metzger is frequently selective in his evidence-descriptions but it is clear that in his comments about the CJ his selectivity is especially remarkable; for example, he mentions that the CJ is not in Codex Fuldensis but he does not mention (and this cannot have been accidental) that the CJ is specifically mentioned in the Preface to the Catholic Epistles that is contained in Codex Fuldensis.
At the time that James wrote the above, he was actually beginning to get a solid "feel" for many of the heavenly witnesses evidences.


Posts that emphasize Cornwall's articles, on utilizing various grammar and internal and external issues.

[TC-Alternate-list] Cyprian, the heavenly witnesses and "astonishing feats of sophistical fencing" (Cornwall)
Steven Avery - Nov 14, 2012

[TC-Alternate-list] new net fallacious accusation - do not ref scholars if not agree 100% - Nathaniel Ellis Cornwall review
Steven Avery - Jan 30, 2013
[TC-Alternate-list] Nathaniel Ellsworth Cornwall - Greek and Latin "living streams of Holy Truth and cherished knowledge of that
Steven Avery - Jan 30, 2013
[TC-Alternate-list] Nathaniel Ellsworth Cornwall - h.w. - variants show Greek-->Latin independent translations, super-evidences
Steven Avery - Jan 31, 2013

And TC-Alternate #4514 has a simple ref to Cyprian from the Cornwall p. 638

Last edited: