Tertullian is a solid heavenly witnesses reference - and then you add the Cyprian connection and more

Steven Avery

It is important to understand that the pre-Nicene referenceing of the heavenly witnesses has solid evidence to go with the incredible Cyprian usage.

We have two sections that discuss Tertullian, one from John Lupia, another responding to James Snapp.

Facebook - NT Textual Criticism

Facebook - King James Bible Debate
John Mill reference.

This thread is a WIP to build on those two, focus on Tertullian.
Last edited:

Steven Avery


Tertullian as a SOLID heavenly witnesses reference/allusion
Corroborating Cyprian and other evidences.

From above:
"here are numerous supporting early allusions, e.g. Hundredfold Martyrs has been in the modern version apparatus as Ps-Cyprian. Cyprian (two refs), Tertullian and Hundredfold Martyrs give you four (and more) components earlier than any ms, two of which have even been in the tinged modern apparatus."


One thing that is important is that the Tertullian Adversus Praxean (thee are others too, but this one is key) reference is actually solid, when you look at the full context:


“So the close series of the Father in the Son and the Son in the Paraclete makes three who cohere, the one attached to the other. And these three are one substance, not one person (qui tres unum sunt, non unus) in the sense in which it was said ‘I and the Father are one' [John 10:30], in respect of unity of substance, not of singularity of number.” - i. Advertus Praxean 25 (121 [L]169 [ET]

Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives
Francis Schüssler Fiorenza modifies the Robert Evan translation


So in the context of talking of the Father, the Son (with == to the Word) and the Paraclete (Holy Spirit) Tertullian actually discusses two main understandings that have still been discussed frequently from Erasmus and Calvin to today -- are the three in one in substance, or number .. another idea that comes up is agreement.

Why would he have that discussion?

Simply because of the "three are one" in 1 John 5:7. Confirmed in the Bible of the day in the same era by Cyprian, Hundredfold Witnesses and other evidences.

And I might add other translations and commentary, but this just hit me today when looking at the grammar issues and page discussing Thomas Burgess .. so here it is!

Steven Avery

The Epistles and Gospels of the Sundays Throughout the Year, Volume 2 (1866)
Daniel McCarthy






Steven Avery

Caesar de Missy

Against Praxeas XXV
“So the close series of the Father in the Son and the Son in the Paraclete makes three who cohere, the one attached to the other: And these three are one substance, not one person, in the sense in which it was said, ‘I and the Father are one’ in respect of unity of substance, not of sin!ularit ofnumber"#

"Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another. These three are one [thing], not one [Person], as it is said, 'I and my Father are One,' in respect of unity of substance not singularity of number." (ANF vol 3, p. 621)

Ita connexus Patris in Filio, et Filii in Paracleto, tres efficit cohaerentes, alterum ex altero, qui tres unum sint, non unus. Quo modo dictum est (Ioan. X, 30): Ego et Pater unum sumus; ad substantiae unitatem, non ad numeri singularitatem. (Migne Latina, PL 2, 0187D)

In addition to the two references from Cyprian.



despite being an ultra-contra, might actually give a better English translation,

“He saith, lie shall take of Mine (John 16:14), even as He Himself of the Father. Thus the connexion of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, maketh Three that cohere together one from the other: which Three are one Substance, not one Person; as it is said, 7 and My Father are one (John x. 30), in respect to unity of essence, not to singularity of number.”
(Adv. Praxean xxv.).

There is no persona, as pointed out by



Similarly Davidson gives a better English translation


Thus the connexion of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, makes three coherent ones from one another, which three are one as it is said, “I and my Father are one,” denoting the unity of substance, not the singularity of number.
Last edited:

Steven Avery

Long section by Ben David

Again, in his book against Praxeas, (c.25,) the same author says,

"Caeterum de meo sumet, inquit, sicut ipse de Patris. Ita connexus Patris in Filio et Filii in Paracleto tres efficit cohaerentes alterum ex altero. Qui tres unum sunt, --- non unus; quomodo dictum est: Ego et Pater unum sumus, ad substantiae unitatem, non ad numeri singularitatem."

But the Son says, he will take of mine, as he Himself of the Father's. Thus the connexion of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Comforter, makes three cohering one with another, WHICH THREE ARE ONE, pointing, to unity of substance,
non ad numeri singularitem.

(porson stuff)

The professor comments on these words, and says, "As often as I read this sentence, so often I am astonished that the words Tres unum sunt should ever be urged as a quotation: they are words of Tertullian himself, and expressly distinguished from the words of Scripture." P.240. In this opinion he is joined by the Quarterly Review. With regard to this passage, "We are compelled," says he, "to confess that we participate in the feelings of Professor Porson. Is it probable, that if Tertullian had 1 John, v. 7, in his thoughts, he would have appealed for the true meaning of the expression not to that verse, but to John 10:30? Yes, contends Mr. Nolan: for the reading of John is not Pater, Filius, et Spiritus; but Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus; and therefore contains as just a description of the doctrine of Praxeas as that heretic could have given. If then this passage of Tertullian be a proof of the existence of 1 John v. 7, we suppose that he referred his adversary to the very text which that adversary would urge as most accurately representing his own opinion."


Now in opposition to these high authorities I will briefly show that Tertullian not only alludes to the verse, but has embodied the substance of it in his own comment. If tres unum sunt were his own words, in allusion to John 10:30, he would have said duo unum sunt; for there it is virtually said that the Father and the Son are one. The reason of Tertullian's referring to the Gospel at all is an artifice. In the Epistle, John directly meets the impostors, and in opposition to them he again and again asserts the simple humanity of Christ. In his Gospel he advances the same doctrine in reference to the same deceivers indeed, yet without mentioning them by name. His opposition, therefore, to the Divinity of Christ is of course less obvious in the Gospel. The very foundation of the Trinity in unity is the supposed spurious text; and this foundation the builders of the system attempted for obvious reasons to lay deep and out of sight. Hence the silence respecting it, and the caution with which they allude to it, or embody its substance in their own words. Having thus founded the doctrine on a passage which at first glance appears most favourable to it, --- but which in reality was ever liable to be withdrawn, and which when withdrawn left baseless the superstructure of wood, hay and stubble, erected upon it, --- the advocates of the Trinity went to the Gospel for materials to complete and establish it. There Jesus, though in the beginning represented as the Logos, is usually designated "the Son," or, "Son of God." There also the Holy Spirit is called "the Comforter." Hence Tertullian, and others who succeeded him down to the Council of Nice, for the sake of disguise substituted "Son" and "Comforter," which occur in the Gospel, for the "Word" and "Holy Spirit," which are used in the disputed text.

But has Porson done justice to the passage of Tertullian? No; he has omitted the very clause which completely identifies the verse with the quotation. The clause I mean is, "Non ad numeri singularitatem," which, it must be allowed, is obscure and equivocal, and probably so intended. In this treatise Tertullian had in view the Unitarians of his days, who, as appears from his own words, formed the majority of believers; and he levels his language against them, --- for numerus in that age, and afterwards, came to signify exclusively the three Heavenly Witnesses, or the three persons of the Trinity. If we take the clause in the first sense, we have the controverted text complete. Thus, "Which three," (namely, the Father, Son, and Comforter, or the Father, Word, and Holy Spirit,) "are one, pointing to unity of substance, and not to the singular form of the three Witnesses;" or, in other words, to the unity of their testimonies. Tertullian makes the words of the Apostle the foundation of the Trinity, without informing the reader where he had them: he quotes the verse, but quotes it with a comment that perverts its true meaning. The Unitarians of the day doubtless understood the verse in its true sense; as they could not but consider the clause "and these three agree in one," in the eighth verse, as an index of that in the seventh. This interpretation Tertullian meets, and endeavours to set it aside by a gloss of his own: and that this might have some show of probability, he steals away the attention of his readers from the Epistle, where there is a clue to the true sense, and fixes it on a passage in the Gospel, which, without such clue, appears to favour his meaning.

But the clause, "Non ad numeri singularitatem," may mean Not making singular the number three, not reducing to the singular number the plurality of persons. In this sense the words are levelled against Praxeas, who maintained that the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit were one; and that these names expressed not three distinct beings, but three different relations of the same being. Now it is demonstrable that in this sense also Tertullian refers to the disputed verse: first, because Fulgentius, having before him this passage of Tertullian, understood the member in this sense. His words are, "In Patre, et Filio, et Spiritu Sancto unitatem substantiae accipimus, personas confundere non audemus." The master says, "The three are one, pointing to unity of substance, not to the unity of the three persons." The pupil says after him, "We acknowledge the unity of substance, but dare not confound the persons;" that is, dare not bring the three persons into one. But this, you will say, is no proof that Tertullian refers to the disputed verse. I answer, it is a proof that Fulgentius, who could not have been mistaken, understood his master as referring to that verse: for he adds, "Beatus enim Johannes Apostolus testatur Tres sunt, qui testimonium perhibent in caelo, Pater, Verbun, et Spiritus Sanctus, et tres unum sunt." Secondly, Tertullian alludes to the disputed verse, because the heresy of Praxeas was founded upon it. The true reading of O Logos was essential to his opinion; and I can say with confidence that that heresy would not have existed, if the verse had not been known to exist: for Praxeas knew that Logos in its strictest sense meant God Himself. In the disputed verse the Logos is applied to Christ, and is said to be one with the Father; nor is there another verse in the New Testament where such unity between the Father and the Logos is asserted. Tertullian could not meet this argument without the subterfuge of substituting Filius for Verbum, the true reading. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is commonly represented as "the Son;" and He proceeds throughout His discourses on the assumption that He is a being different from the Father. Tertullian had recourse to the substitution, because he was by means of it enabled to supplant his antagonist. He wrests the verse from the hands of Praxeas, and he gives it up to the public with a version of his own. "If then," says the Reviewer, "this passage of Tertullian be a proof of the existence of 1 John v. 7, we must suppose that he referred his adversary to the very text which that adversary would urge as most accurately representing his own opinion." Most truly so: Tertullian could not help adverting to the verse as the foundation of Praxeas's theory; and he endeavours to defeat him by garbling it, and by putting upon it his own interpretation.

Porson expresses his astonishment that any should consider the words of Tertullian as a quotation of the Apostle. In truth, the Professor, in this and many other places of his Letters, has recourse to the usual refuge of weak disputants, enlisted by accident or by prejudice on the side of error: he garbles his author, and uses strong assertions where he ought to produce proofs. He proceeds in his argument on mistaken grounds; and the fallacy made him quite blind. He powerfully urges that Tertullian does not allude to the verse, because he does not quote it; while he freely quotes other verses much less to his purpose. This was to him inconceivable. Of the dilemma he adopted the least improbable side; and by his ingenuity and bold assertions he contrived to make his readers (and the Quarterly Reviewer in the number) as blind as himself. Had he been aware of the true state of the case, how different would have been his conclusion! With what promptitude and keenness would he have unravelled Tertullian's quotation, discovered in it the language of John, and disclosed it beyond all dispute tom the views of his readers! But he was engaged in a wrong cause; and his fine powers either drooped, or they displayed their matchless vigour in devious flights of wit and sophistry, far beyond the precincts of truth.

Tertullian was a master in Israel, and his authority prescribed in which way and how far the verse might be quoted with safety to the orthodox faith. Accordingly Phaebadius A.D. 350, and Marcus Celedensis in 373, cite the verse only so far as he has cited it: but Cyprian, though preceding these writers by a century, took greater liberty; and he places the citation in a more clear and unequivocal light. His words are these: "De Pater, et Filio, et Spiritu Sancto, scriptum est: et hi tres unum sunt." In this paragraph are implied two things; namely, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one; and that it is so written of them, or that they are said to be one in the Scriptures. This is true; John has thus written of them in the disputed verse, and in no other place. But observe, the clause which says that these three bare witness, and suggests the unity meant to be that of testimony, is artfully omitted; and Cyprian leaves the reader to conclude, as Tertullian asserts, that it is that of being or essence which the Apostle means.
Last edited: