scholars theorizing that the Sabellian controversies contributed to the Greek ms line drop

Steven Avery

Three sister threads:

Jeroen Beekhuizen - The Comma Johanneum revisited
Eusebius and the Sabellian controversies

Raising the Ghost of Arius - Grantley McDonald
skimming over the theories that the heavenly witnesses was interpolated or favored by Arians and Sabellians

scholars theorizing that the Sabellian controversies contributed to the Greek ms line drop

WIP. -based on a discussion on Facebook, The Traditional Text group, with two fine posters. Jonathan Sheffield had properly complimented the insight from Hills in bringing up the Sabellian controversies, and I agreed, and wanted to show that a number of scholars had theorized in this way.


#1 - TOC

#2 - Edward Freer Hills and Jonathan Whitmer

#3 - Edward Burton

#4 - Frederick Nolan

#5 - Friedrich Kettner and Thomas Smit

#6 - Eusebius - *** NEW! ***
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Steven Avery

Edward Freer Hills - "It is possible, therefore, that the Sabellian heresy brought the Johannine comma into disfavor ..."

Hills Revisited (2003)
Jon Whitmer

It is useful here to note that Hills provides a well thought-out discussion of both internal and external evidence regarding the Johannine comma.7 While it is typical to speculate that the Orthodox added it to provide further Scriptural support for the doctrine of the Trinity, Hills notes that it was not Arianism that was the primary concern of the Church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries (the time period of Cyprian, as Kutilek mentions) but Sabellianism, which was a heresy that posited that the three persons of the Trinity were identical rather than co-equal. Thus Hills argues that “it is possible.. .that the Sabellian heresy brought the Johannine Comma into disfavor with orthodox Christians”8 because its language would have supported this heresy. He further explains that since the comma may have already been elided from some manuscripts via homoioteleuton, the Orthodox may have been content to perpetuate that scribal error so as not to aid the Sabellians. And since the Sabellian heresy was especially extensive among the Greek-speaking Church, this theory explains why the Johannine Comma might not have continued in the Greek NT, while being “preserved in the Latin texts of Africa and Spain, where the influence of Sabellianism was probably not so great.”9

7 Edward F. Hills, The King Janies Version Defended (Des Moines, Iowa: Christian Research Press. 1984). pp. 209-213.
8 Ibid..p. 212.
9 Ibid.,213.

Jon Whitmer - Edward Freer Hills.jpg

Edward Freer Hills

The Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7)
In the Textus Receptus 1 John 5:7-8 reads as follows:


(d) Reasons for the Possible Omission of the Johannine Comma

For the absence of the Johannine comma from all New Testament documents save those of the Latin-speaking West the following explanations are possible.

In the first place, it must be remembered that the comma could easily have been omitted accidentally through a common type of error which is called homoioteleuton (similar ending). A scribe copying 1 John 5:7-8 under distracting conditions might have begun to write down these words of verse 7, there are three that bear witness, but have been forced to look up before his pen had completed this task. When he resumed his work, his eye fell by mistake on the identical expression in verse 8. This error would cause him to omit all of the Johannine comma except the words in earth, and these might easily have been dropped later in the copying of this faulty copy. Such an accidental omission might even have occurred several times, and in this way there might have grown up a considerable number of Greek manuscripts which did not contain this reading.

In the second place, it must be remembered that during the 2nd and 3rd centuries (between 220 and 270, according to Harnack); (37) the heresy which orthodox Christians were called upon to combat was not Arianism (since this error had not yet arisen) but Sabellianism (so named after Sabellius, one of its principal promoters), according to which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were one in the sense that they were identical. Those that advocated this heretical view were called Patripassians (Father-sufferers), because they believed that God the Father, being identical with Christ, suffered and died upon the cross, and Monarchians, because they claimed to uphold the Monarchy (sole-government) of God.

It is possible, therefore, that the Sabellian heresy brought the Johannine comma into disfavor with orthodox Christians. The statement, these three are one, no doubt seemed to them to teach the Sabellian view that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were identical. And if during the course of the controversy manuscripts were discovered which had lost this reading in the accidental manner described above, it is easy to see how the orthodox party would consider these mutilated manuscripts to represent the true text and regard the Johannine comma as a heretical addition. In the Greek-speaking East especially the comma would be unanimously rejected, for here the struggle against Sabellianism was particularly severe.

Thus it was not impossible that during the 3rd century amid the stress and strain of the Sabellian controversy, the Johannine comma lost its place in the Greek text, but was preserved in the Latin texts of Africa and Spain, where the influence of Sabellianism was probably not so great. In other words, it is not impossible that the Johannine comma was one of those few true readings of the Latin Vulgate not occurring in the Traditional Greek Text but incorporated into the Textus Receptus under the guiding providence of God. In these rare instances God called upon the usage of the Latin-speaking Church to correct the usage of the Greek speaking Church. (38)
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Steven Avery

Edward Burton - "he exposed himself .. to the charge of Sabellianism"

An Inquiry Into the Heresies of the Apostolic Age: In Eight Sermons Preached Before the University of Oxford, in the Year MDCCXXIX., at the Lecture Founded by the Rev. John Bampton (1829)

Review of Dr. Edward Burton - Bampton Lectures
The British Critic (1831)


Is the work said to be falsely ascribed to Athanasius the Disputation with Arius at Nicea?
(Which actually was either by Athanasius or was a contemporary account.)

“Though I cannot help concluding against the genuineness of this text, I may add, that the argument which is taken from the silence of Athanasius and the other Greek Fathers, is perhaps carried too far. It seems to be forgotten, that the 7th verse, which says that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one, would certainly not have silenced an Arian, who would also have quoted the text, and affixed to it his own interpretation : in the same manner as we learn from Epiphanius that the Arians explained John, xiv. 10, xvii. 23, to mean

'that the unity was not at all of nature, but of agreement:'

and so they might have said, that the unity, which is predicated of the three Persons in 1 John, v. 7, was not an unity of nature. There was also another reason why the most zealous Trinitarian might not have chosen to quote the text. He exposed himself by so doing to the charge of Sabeilianism : for Eusebius informs us, that the Sabellians, when they wished to prove that the Father and the Son were one and the same, insisted particularly on John, x. 30, xiv. 10, and so in a work which has been falsely ascribed to Athanasius, when that Father is made to quote to an Arian, I and the Father are one, John, x. 30, the other replied, 'then you are a Sabellian.' Either of these reasons might have operated to hinder a controversial writer from quoting 1 John, v. 7. The Sabellian controversy occupied the latter half of the third century ; and nearly the whole of the fourth was taken up by that and the Arian together: so that our surprise might be diminished, if we do not find the orthodox writers insisting upon a text, which would have been quoted by one of their opponents as favourable to themselves, and which would not have produced any impression upon the other.”— pp. 522—526.

Athanaskus reference.jpg

Wow. Neat references to check.
Charles Forster has a fine study of the Disputation, although without this quote.

Also William Hales

I will make some effort to see if it is that work, the Greek text is here.
http://www.documentacatholicaomnia....nasius__Disputatio_contra_Arium__MGR.pdf.html the Great of Alexandria_ PG 25-28/Disputatio contra Arium.pdf

KJV Today has a good short section:

and PBF should have a page.

Now we know there is a John 10:30 reference with the response about being a Sabellian.
Far more apt for a fourth century discourse than the weird Maximus the Confessor idea. Thus an additional corroboration with Hales and Forster that this is a fourth centuy work.


* Disput. cont. Arium. vol. II. p. 209. See Hilarius, de Synod. 85. p. x 1199.
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Steven Avery

Frederick Nolan - "Sabellianism derives support from the testimony of the heavenly witnesses"

An inquiry into the integrity of the Greek vulgate, or received text of the New Testament (185)
Frederick Nolan
‘... in whatever form Sabellianism presents itself, we are compelled to acknowledge that it absolutely derives support from the testimony of the heavenly witnesses. These hereticks, adhering to the very letter of the text, asserted that the “Word” and “Spirit” were in God, as the reason and soul are in man: a stronger testimony in their favour than this of the heavenly witnesses could not easily be fabricated.’

Nolan p 539.jpg

Nolan p. 540.jpg

Nolan received opposition on these conjectures from all sides.

British Critic

Thomas Turton
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Steven Avery

Friedrich Ernst Kettner

Historia Dicti Johannei De Sanctissima Trinitate, 1. Joh. Cap. V. vers. 7: Per Multa Secula Omissi, Seculo V. Restituti, Et Exeunte Seculo XVI. In Versionem Vernaculam Recepti, Una Cum Apologia B. Lutheri (1713)
Friedrich Ernst Kettner

In Latin, referenced by Porson


Thomas Smith 1638-1710

Smith rejects the anonymous opinion (reported by Sandius) that the passage was inserted by Sabellians.
Ghost of Arius p. 196
A sermon of the credibility of the mysteries of the Christian religion preached before a learned audience (1675)
Thomas Smith (Sandius section begins);size=125;vid=101752;view=text

p. 381 on UMich
That which Sandius and several others allege in the first place, that eo omisso meliorem esse verbo∣rum connexionem, the connexion is far better, if the 7 v. were omitted, and that therefore it ought to be so, and was antiently omitted; if the supposition were true, is not only vain and frivolous, but very bold and immodest to ty the spirit of God to such a way of writing, as pleases their humours and fancies best, and savours most of humane ar∣tifice, and by the same argument they may reject not only verses, but whole chapters in the N. T. for the meanness and inaccuracy of the stile, and the seeming carelesness of the method, which is not al∣ways conformable to the rules of the Gr. eloquence.

2. Indignum est summo Deo esse testem, inio coram quo judice testis foret? is a groundless and bold cavil; for this witnessing is nothing else but the declaration of God to mankind by evident signs and tokens con∣cerning our Saviours being the true Messias, and of his being born in the flesh, and that he came from him. This God has attested and sufficiently made known to the World, and in this sense the Word often occurs in the Scriptures, without the least in∣dignity offered to the Divine Nature. The only pre∣tence he has for his fancy is a base and unworthy comparison he conceives in his mind between Gods being a witness, and mans being a witness in our Courts of Judicature, forgetting the genuine and easie sense of the word, as I have above expressed it.

3. That it is highly probable that this verse was inserted by a Sabellian, the contrary whereof is most true.

4. That in several MSS. and Editions of modern languages, there is a transposition of these two verses. The same before was acknowledged to be found in some Greek copies, which no way proves the pretended interpolation, but only that antient copies do not all agree.

5. That this v. does very highly favour the Arians, but this is such a strain of fancy, that he may as well allege the first words of the Book of Genesis, to prove Aristotles opinion of the eternity of the World. If men out of a pre∣judicate opinion, against the doctrine of the Ca∣tholick Church, allow themselves to interpret Scri∣pture according to their own fancies, it cannot seem strange to any, that they should go about to prove and justifie their blasphemies from the plainest texts of Scripture, that in the judgment of all sober persons, who are free from those prejudi∣ces, do most evidently refute them.FINIS.

". 3. That it is highly probable that this verse was inserted by a Sabellian, the contrary whereof is most true."

It would be good to find the Sandius spot in this work


Clearly the idea of a Sabellian insertion, although quite weak, is complementary to the idea that some Orthodox preferred to take the short text due to the Sabellian controversies.

Keep in mind that the bifurcation of the text-line by homoeoteleuton could be 1st century, or early 2nd. Then for a couple of hundred years many scribes would be faced with a choice. If you can put on the glasses of the early church, rather than modern pablum doctrinal positioning, you will see that many sides might simply say .. "ahh, I prefer the short text, the long text might raise issues". And the Greek section could begin to normalize only to the earthly witnesses. There is however good evidence that the heavenly witnesses was in some Greek mss through the first 500-700 years of the church. Full normalization, with the corrupted solecism text, would likely be more c. 800.


There is much more that can be said about Sabellian theories, above I simply try to give the writers who are clearest in taking a direct position that the Sabellian theories had some influence in the textual aspect of the controversies.
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Steven Avery


Victor Leonardo Barbosa5:29 PM
I appreciate popular books in defense of the TR, or specifically, TR's passages like 1 John 5.7. I think Pappas' book is good, but I would like to see a more detailed work, like those books of the past that Charles Foster and Frederick Nolan wrote in the XIX century. In my opinion one of the good historical arguments in favor of the Comma was proposed by Hills in KJV Defended. Is very interesting to note that in the First Church council which the church faced the Arius' doctrine, even the orthodox didn't feel good with the definition "una essentia, tres personae" because sounded too much "sabellianism".

Excellent points, Victor, and I have written about the Hills comment, which is also from some other fine scholars.

scholars theorizing that the Sabellian controversies contributed to the Greek ms line drop

Also interested in any Portuguese and Spanish texts.

By the grace of the Lord Jesus, more is on the way in 2021. Maybe we can connect on Facebook. Also check the groups Textus Receptus Academy and Pure Bible, the latter I host.

Steven Avery
Dutchess County, NY, USA
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