the grammar of the witnesses, where are we now?

Steven Avery

This summary is built upon the CARM thread and post:

1 John 5:7 - Steven Avery - August 6, 2015
the grammar of the witnesses, where are we now?

Along with this post, the following post on Facebook is updated with pointers to the current major discussions:

PureBible -
Heavenly and Earthly Witnesses Grammar


Eugenius Bulgaris (1716-1811), perhaps the strongest Greek scholar of his day, fully fluent, with tonal skills, said about the short text of the earthly witnesses (as in today's Critical Text to modern versions):

"a false alteration which had crept into that place, that verse eight, which follows, would not stand, unless verse seven were to proceed it
.. some violence of language, and through a most manifest grammatical solecism."

Eugenius Bulgaris on the solecism
And a lot of the error commonly made by contras today is to think that all genders are equivalent, or symmetric. Thus if feminine nouns in 1 Corinthians 13:13 have neuter gender, then, they theorize, of course neuter nouns in 1 John can just as easily have feminine gender! This analogy, which even came up in BVDB today, is totally erroneous. And Eugenius Bulgaris took the time to make this 100% clear:

"That it is certainly a peculiar virtue of our language that masculine and feminine nouns, in reference to ta pragmata, are constructed with adjectives and pronouns expressed in the neuter gender, is well known to all who are practised in the language. But no one would say that conversely neuter nouns substantive are also indicated by masculine and feminine adjectives or pronouns."
And this is confirmed by the grammar books as well, as shown directly below. So all these folks looking at mixed and feminine or masculine noun series as an analogy - save your breath, you are barking up the wrong fire hydrant!


Greek Grammar Book Basics

The grammar books:

five grammar books in agreement on concord

all basically say the same thing in regard to multiple nouns:

a) grammatical gender concord

b) masculine, feminine and mixed nouns can often take neuter gender, as explained, superceding (a)

The five grammar books referenced, and others, give a variety of examples.

And this is fully consistent with what was written by Eugenius.

Eugenius Bulgaris on the solecism

Note, though, that the superceding can not relate to a series of neuter nouns, since they are already taking neuter grammar by (a).

Sidenote: Jim, "the man with 1,000 blogs" (most now down) has his alternative convoluted constructs. They are definitely not compatible with what is said in the grammar books. Between the grammar books and Jim, one is right, the other wrong. As a simple example, Jim has said that here is never grammatical concord, all neuter nouns and neuter grammar. He even disowns, as I tried to understand his writing, even all feminine nouns having feminine grammar. As he did not see an example of that in the limited NT examples. Anyway, what he is says is irrelevant, since it is not rigorous or comprehensive (in that regard, see also the first three of the four questions I asked him, not answered). And, most significantly, his position is definitely incompatible with the standard grammar books, as shown above. Jim has said the books and many writers are wrong, because of how he parses about ten verses in the New Testament, many of which fit in the (b) situation above. This is not scholarship, and it is time to move on. Repeating an error 1,000 times does not make a claim stronger. Opening and closing two dozen blogs is not related to scholarship.

Greek grammar books vs. jim (contra)

And note that, historically, much of this is a continuation of an earlier set of writings by Gary Hudson, that were answered by Jeffrey Nachimson. Jim stepped in writing in support of the Hudson position. This history can be documented and analyzed elsewhere.

Now, we have been examining closely one sentence that is not given as (a) or (b) above, the earthly witnesses in the Critical Text, three neuter nouns with masculine grammar.

Here are the comparative texts, in English, the Greek.


Received Text (Reformation Bible) and Critical Text (Modern Versions)

1 John 5:7-8 (AV - Reformation Bible editions from the Received Text)
For there are three that bear record in heaven,
the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost:
and these three are one.

And there are three that bear witness in earth,
the spirit, and the water, and the blood:
and these three agree in one

5:7-8 (Received Text)
ὅτι τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὁ πατὴρ, ὁ λόγος, καὶ τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα καὶ οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς ἕν εἰσιν
καὶ τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἐν τῇ γῇ, τὸ πνεῦμα, καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ, καὶ τὸ αἷμα καὶ οἱ τρεῖς εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν

1 John 5:7-8 - (NETBible - modern versions from the Critical Text)
For there are three that testify,
the Spirit and the water and the blood,
and these three are in agreement.

5:7-8 (Critical Text)
καὶ τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἐν τῇ γῇ, τὸ πνεῦμα, καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ, καὶ τὸ αἷμα καὶ οἱ τρεῖς εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν

The neuter nouns in the earthly witnesses are in bold.

"three (m) that bear witness (m) in earth, the spirit (n), and the water (n), and the blood (n)"

τρεῖς - (m)
οἱ μαρτυροῦντες (m)
τὸ πνεῦμα (n)
τὸ ὕδωρ (n)
τὸ αἷμα (n)

Blue Letter Bible (change to modern version like NAS to show CT)

Bible Hub (starts with Received Text, switch to Critical Text by changing versions will divide Greek between verse 7 and 8)

John Hurt
Parallel Greek New Testament (their Latin Vulgate information is not accurate)


Why the Lack of Concord in the Earthly Witnesses Critical Text?

There are two possible reasons why this does not fit:

1) constructio ad sensum, in one of the various iterations proposed, such as the metaphor of witnessing.

2) the Johannine text was the heavenly and earthly witnesses, consistent with various textual and ECW and internal and stylistic evidences. And the shortened text was a corruption, perhaps initially by homoeoteleuton

As for (2), in that case the Johannine full grammar, with heavenly and earthly witnesses, is considered sensible by virtually all analysts over the hundreds of years. With the ho-hum exception, again, of some internet writers. The masculine nouns and grammar brings forth masculine grammar in the subsequent analogous, connected, sentence, as one grammatical unit. This connectedness of the two sentences is given various names, like figure attraction. The bottom line is that no grammarian has seriously objected to the fact that the masculine nature of the heavenly witnesses nouns and grammar extends unto the earthly witnesses, supporting the masculine grammar in the earthly witnesses due to the uncommon nature of the two sentence relationship. It is a comfortable exception by analogy.

In the case of (1) you would expect the proposal would be consistent with Greek grammar in general. Examples would be given of how this type of constructio works elsewhere.

If not, there would be an inherent danger of a special pleading proposal (e.g. a methaphor of witnessing) being really unprecedented and unsupportable in the Greek literature. If fact, bald and grating grammar should be thought of in terms of the first century fluent reader, more than the complex CT apologetic theologizing done 1,950 years after the author, by interpreters who already have a bias or vested interest that something or other must work for the short text.

All this is true in any of the four major constructios that have been proposed.

personalization of Spirit - (Wallace, a "modern invention" p. 120)
personalization of concrete witnesses
the metaphor of witnessing
the Trinity (as in the 900 AD Greek scholium)

(Note, an occasional attempt to support the grammar by reference to the witness of men of 1 John 5:9 is so far off the mark it does not really count. It is only an auxiliary reference, as there is no actual grammatical connect involved, you need metaphors along with smoke and mirrors.)

In the research thread on this forum, we plan to show how the CT supporters move around between these alternatives. And from the CT position, one or another alternative may be considered the best of a dubious bunch. On the basis that something must be right, since the modern textual theorists claim to know that the original text was only the earthly witnesses. While others, present writer included, strongly disagree as to that sentiment, and say that the heavenly witnesses are in fact the authentic Johannine scripture.


Daniel Wallace Acknowledges CT Perplexity

Daniel Wallace gives hints of a best of the bunch approach in the start referring to
"several suggestions..". And more so in the tentative, even negative, way that he concludes his paper:

"whatever the reason for the masculine participle.."

"Since this text also involves serious exegetical problems (i.e., a variety of reasons as to why the masculine participle is used)"
Greek Grammar and the Personality of the Heavenly Spirit (2003)
Daniel Wallace
p. 117-120

Daniel Wallace, while properly exposing the fact that the Spirit personalization attempts were not sound, also exposes the raw underbelly of the whole constructio enterprise. Nobody really knows what is going on, and a careful reader can see that nothing proposed so far can claim to be really sound. Only, at the very best, speculative. (Note that the reason this was left so exposed by Wallace was that the purpose of the paper was not an apologetic for the earthly witnesses grammar. In fact, this verse is essentially the hard exception that he could not fit into his otherwise fine examination. And if the grammatical solutions do not fit, the heavenly witnesses he must acquit.)

On this page, a WIP, I plan to expand the analysis of the Wallace paper.

Daniel Wallace - grammar of the Earthly Witnesses

The paper is fascinating. It does show how wrong so many modern interpreters, and even some grammarians can be. The herd instinct takes over, the doctrinal imperative is pushed.

Wallace even makes a comment about one subtle yet unlikely approach that can be seen as boomeranging right back to the metaphor of witnessing which he tries to apply with the earthly witnesses.

What are we to make of this argument? First of all, the very subtlety of the argument may speak more for its ingenuity than its veracity. p. 112
And, ironically, the response to the attempt is to go back to Greek literature, which was not done by the proponent of the unusual argument. This is also not done on various arcane constructio ad sensum approaches.

While we are noting little points in the article, lets mention that this is the article from Wallace discusses the CT text of 1 Timothy 3:16:

1 Timothy 3:16
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifest in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit,
seen of angels,
preached unto the Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
received up into glory.

where the
ὅς of the mangled (solecism) CT (in this case an ultra-minority Greek), instead of the pure Bible Θεὸς (God) leads to a variety of translation smoothing attempts. Wallace acknowledges here point-blank that ὅς has "no real antecedent" (p. 116). And we see that he must fall back on hymn theory, the text being conjectured as only an"embedded hymn fragment", an analogous example of special pleading with no real evidence, the argument for convenience designed to mask a solecism/corruption. In another NT realm.


Special Pleading and Circular Reasoning

The short text grammatical proposal would then involve a type of circular reasoning. One or another unlikely grammatical explanation offered must be right because the textual situation is restricted to one possibility (short text), and since John did not write solecisms in his epistle, we will come up with a reason, almost out of a hat. Then the short text textual situation is deemed ok, as it is explained as fine by the unsupported and speculative grammatical attempt, the special pleading reason chosen. Classic circularity, the jewel.

Now there was a vibrant discussion on (a) and (b) in the early 1800s, when Eugenius Bulgaris shared that the earthly witnesses text is a solecism without the heavenly witnesses, and verse 8 does not stand without verse 7 as real New Testament Greek. Since Eugenius was world-class, and totally fluent, his observation had to be at least respected. Many fine writers in the 1800s understood and echoed his sentiments, and nothing he wrote was ever refuted, nor rebuffed, and there was barely response. And the attempts to disagree were generally simply attempts of (a). To try to allow that the shortened early witnesses text was, in fact, sort of acceptable. Without, however, giving analogies to this type of constructio in the Greek literature.


Overall, I propose that at this time we should return to that vibrant discussion of the 1800s, adding additional insights.

In those discussions the arguments for authenticity from pointing out the deficient grammar of the short text stood very strong. Time to review and continue. Other pages in this section can help us come up to speed on the history and the CT apologetic attempts. Always in focus is whether the variety of conflicting constructio ad sensum claims to prop up the CT text are in fact sound Greek grammar. My sense so far is that the CT text has nothing to stand on and Eugenius Bulgaris was right:

"a false alteration which had crept into that place, that verse eight, which follows, would not stand, unless verse seven were to proceed it
.. some violence of language, and through a most manifest grammatical solecism."
and the CT proponents have a high burden of evidence to show that any of their conflicting Greek grammar attempts actually are sensible. ie. That Greek grammar can be shown to work that way in analogous examples. What you have to remember is that arcane doctrinal theorizing about a metaphoric construction ad sensum grammar shift is not going to cut it for the Christian man on the street who is simply reading the Bible text and runs into a mismatch. Way before he runs over to commentaries (and this was written in the 1st century) he will say ... "ugh .. ouch .. didn't John know how to write Greek?". Just like we do when a foreigner really mangles a few words. Ask a fluent Spanish speaker (the most common grammatical gender language in the USA) their reaction when a feminine adjective is spoken or written with a masculine noun.


Psalm 119:140
Thy word is very pure:
therefore thy servant loveth it.


Steven Avery

Steven Avery

BDF on masculine grammar with neuter nouns - Wallace on doctrine - August of Errors

Two other posts this morning are related, and can use some additional efforts. I will place them both here for now, with tweaks for this forum:


Post #1

Nerdy Language Majors - August 7, 2015{%22tn%22%3A%22R%22}

And I also came across a quote from Wallace that I would like to run past our experts, and this has to do with BDF, mentioned by Arjen.


Greek Grammar and the Personality of the Holy Spirit (2003)
Daniel Wallace

"BDF, well known as a grammar of exceptions, does not even list the use of masculine for neuter, presumably because it is so common. They do list, however, feminine for neuter, masculine for feminine, and neuter for persons, "if it is not the individuals but a general quality that is to be emphasized" (pp. 76-77 [?138])."

Hmmm.. is masculine for neuter so common?


Note that, in terms of the constructio ad sensum question (which we consider major here) Wallace especially recommends:

Syntax of Classical Greek from Homer to Demosthenes, Vol 2, 1911
Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve;view=1up;seq=31

for looking at how constructio ad sensum is used in classical Greek.

Even while giving that reference, Wallace does not really support his metaphor of witnessing idea with any analogy in the New Testament or Greek literature

This instance of constructio ad sensum is also common enough in Classical Greek (cf. B. L. Gildersleeve, Syntax of Classical Greek from Homer to Demosthenes [New York: American Book, 1900-1911], 2.204-7 [??499-502] for numerous examples of various kinds of pronominal incongruence). p. 99

Post #2

This next one we may move over to the Daniel Wallace section:

Daniel Wallace on the personality of the Holy Spirit - not based on grammar

Many theologians treat these passages as a primary proof of the Spirit's personality. (p. 100) ...There is thus a large company of scholars who view the Upper Room Discourse as affording syntactical evidence for the Spirit's personality. This august body has collectively argued that the masculine pronoun is unusual in these verses,and that it can only be explained by natural gender (p. 104) Although one might argue that the Spirit's personality is in view in the Upper Room Discourse, the view must be based on the nature of a παράκλητος the things said about the Counselor, not on any alleged grammatical subtleties. (p. 112) ... it is evident that no grammatical construction can be unambiguously marshaled in defense of the Spirit's personality. But there is one passage remaining. (p. 117)

Penultimate Conclusions
There is no text in the NT that clearly or even probably affirms the personality of the Holy Spirit through the route of Greek grammar.The basis for this doctrine must be on other grounds. This does not mean that in the NT the Spirit is a thing, any more than in the OT the Spirit (רוח—a feminine noun) is a female! Grammatical gender is just that: grammatical. The conventions of language do not necessarily correspond to reality. (p. 122) ... It is not enough to say either that the Spirit is presented as personal or that he is sometimes not distinguished from God (as in Acts 5:3-4). What also must be done is a clear demonstration that language about the Spirit's personality cannot be due to figurative rhetoric or circumlocution of the divine name, and that where he is viewed as personal he is also viewed as deity, yet, (3) in those same texts, is seen as distinct from both Father and Son. That such passages are few and far between may indicate something of an emerging pneumatological understanding within the NT itself. If we rush to a Chalcedonian view of the NT, simply because we know that it's right, perhaps we will overlook some of the theological development and therefore rich tapestry of NT thought. (p. 124-125)

In sum, I have sought to demonstrate in this paper that the grammatical basis for the Holy Spirit's personality is lacking in the NT, yet this is frequently, if not usually, the first line of defense of that doctrine by many evangelical writers. But if grammar cannot legitimately be used to support the Spirit's personality, then perhaps we need to reexamine the rest of our basis for this theological commitment. I am not denying the doctrine of the Trinity, of course, but I am arguing that we need to ground our beliefs on a more solid foundation. (p. 125)


Note: it was fun going through the paper again, noticing a few special elements. I see everything here as solid, allowing that the final conclusion, the last sentence, is Daniel Wallace offering his personal doctrinal approach to the issue.

Another interesting point is how many "august" writers, over a century and more, Wallace is showing as having made a fundamental error in grammar and its interpretation. The list is rather long and includes many well known names, mostly Bible interpreters yet also some grammarians. Interestingly, the errors seem to have really begun around the time when the new theories about inerrancy came forth from Warfield and Hodge, textual criticism was the big thing and the Revision was in process. When it comes to modern theories around the Bible text, caveat emptor.

It will be interesting to document the "August of Errors".


Grammarians and Interpreters who Mangled the Personalization of the Holy Spirit

Here is the list to go through, not all mangled, though.

BDF - Gildersleeve
Markus Barth
Beasley-Murray Behler
Ernest Best
Chamberlain - Ephesians
Robert Hanna
Charles Hodge
George Eldon Ladd
Leon Morris
Newman and Nida
A. T. Robertson
Sanders and Mastin
Nigel Turner
Skevington Wood
Richard A. Young

Curt Steven Mayes of DTS supports Wallace
G. B. Stevens is right and wrong


Steven Avery