the Stephanus manuscript question - crochet, semi-circles

Steven Avery

crochet - semi-circles

Estienne marked off part of v. 7 between obelos and metobelos


For now this thread will take from four posts on the NT Textual Criticism forum on Facebook. Later it can be augmented with primary source and analysis.

Stephanus notation on heavenly witnesses
NT Textual Criticism - 2015-07 - Steven Avery{tn%3AR9}#{"tn"%3A"R9"}{"tn"%3A"R9"}{"tn"%3A"R9"}

For the issue of the mss used by Stephanus, I'll try to find a couple of the most readable links. If you put in "crochet" or "semicircle" and "Stephanus" (sometimes Stephens, or Estienne) and "heavenly witnesses" (various other forms) you probably will find references. And I tend to agree with what James wrote on this point. By this analysis, the question had to do with whether the notation had to do with whether a phrase was included, rather than the whole heavenly witnesses.

And I think the surprise is that John Gill (1697-1771), normally very astute (including on his heavenly witnesses analysis) made the claim, since it had been a matter of analysis for a long time before he wrote. At a quick glance my notes reference Lucas Brugensis ("Louvain divines"), Richard Simon, John Mill, John Louis Roger, the debate between David Martin and Thomas Emlyn, and Isaac Newton as among those who had discussed the Stephanus mss before John Gill.

ADDED May 14, 2019:

Grantley McDonald, puts his emphasis in overlapping writers.

Brugensis (1580)
Simon (1689)
Le Long (1720)
Marsh (1795)

Biblical Criticism p. 57-58

Franciscus Lucas Brugensis pointed out in his notes on the text (1580) that none of the manuscripts in Paris contained the comma, and that the semicircular metobelos marking the end of the comma in Estienne’s editio regia had clearly been put in the wrong place, but his comments were ignored.6 It was not until later that the absence of v. 7 from Estienne’s manuscripts was demonstrated definitively by Simon (1689), Le Long (1720) and Marsh (1795).

6 Lucas Brugensis 1580, 462: ‘Inter omnes Parisiensium Graecos codices, ne vnus esc qui dissideat; nisi, quod, scptcm, duntaxat to in caelo confodiant: si tamcn semicirculus, lectionis dcsignans terminum, suo loco sit collocatus.’ Cf. Bludau 1903a, 284.
Estienne based his great 1550 editio regia on Erasmus’ fifth edition, and gave variants (though in an unsystematic and incomplete way) from the Complutensian edition and fourteen manuscripts in Paris.4 Estienne marked off part of v. 7 between obelos and metobelos (thus: 'Grk’) to show that these words were not present in the seven manuscripts of the Catholic Epistles at his disposal. Nevertheless, his failure to register in the critical apparatus that the rest of the comma was not found in any of the manuscripts in the royal library in Paris subsequently led many later scholars to assume that it was. These included a number of editors, beginning with his son Robert Estienne the Younger, who produced an edition in 1569; Theodore de Beze, who produced several editions between 1556 and 1598; Christophe Plantin, who published Montanos Antwerp Polyglot in 1571/1572;5 Erasmus Schmidt and Zacharias Gerganos, who produced the Wittenberg edition of 1622, intended for distribution in the Greek east; the Leiden Elzeviers, who published three editions in 1624, 1633 and 1641; and John Mill (1707). Franciscus Lucas Brugensis pointed out in his notes on the text (1580) that none of the manuscripts in Paris contained the comma, and that the semicircular metobelos marking the end of the comma in Estienne’s editio regia had clearly been put in the wrong place, but his comments were ignored.6 It was not until later that the absence of v. 7 from Estienne’s manuscripts was demonstrated definitively by Simon (1689), Le Long (1720) and Marsh (1795).

Do we know for show that the writers after 1580, like the Elzeviers, were unaware of the Stephanus error? And that they did not know the information from Lucas Brugensis? That would only be the case if they specifically use the Stephanus mss. as evidence.

In fact, to his credit, Grantley did not use the blundering in the defense ranks on this issue for polemic. He could easily have been much harsher on men like John Gill, and some of the modern internet defenders.

Richard Porson is actually helpful in this review, although very little he writes can be accepted without checking the source he references. Here is the heavy drinker and skeptic Richard Porson (1759-1808). Although writing after Gill, he is referencing earlier writers:

Letters to Travis, in answer to his defence of the three heavenly witnesses, I John,v 7 (1790)

Richard Porson

Similarly, here is Charles Butler (1750-1832), who was very fair in analysis, writing on Lucas Brugensis (1549-1619) and this issue:

Horae Biblicae (1807)

Charles Butler
"in the sixteenth century it was well known, that the Greek Manuscripts, in general, omitted the whole passage"

This argument from Greek mss of Stephanus was the weakest point of David Martin, John Gill and George Travis.

(As a sidenote, the able verse defender and scholar, Francis Turretin, 1623-1687, has been wrongly accused of not knowing the ms. situation, based on misreading a comment.)

The pure Bible defender William Hales took George Travis to task on this while also complimenting him on other issues, especially the critical Council of Carthage publication:

Faith in the Holy Trinity, Volume 2 (1818)

William Hales

This ended the debate difficulty, except that the internet led to John Gill being quoted. Gill is almost always accurate, but not on this point.

Note that the learned William Hales (1747-1831) was making sure to vindicate Stephanus from a bogus accusation of forgery (read ahead to p. 171-173). This was a type of anti-Christianity argument from Gibbon and from Porson represented a type of pre-hortian anti-TR animus.

William Parr Greswell (1765-1854), in A view of the early Parisian Greek press (1833), p. 322-330, similarly defended Stephanus from the "venial fraud" allegations of Gibbon and Porson.

A View of the Early Parisian Greek Press: Including the Lives of the Stephani; Notices of Other Contemporary Greek Printers of Paris; and Various Particulars of the Literary and Ecclesiastical History of Their Times, Volume 1 (1833)

William Parr Greswell

"Such are the illiberal and frivolous pretences, upon which he [Porson] has attempted to fix an indelible stain on the personal and professional character of Robert Estienne; thinking it would seem, in his day, that dead reputations are fair subjects of the most wanton insult, because, as the proverb says, " Mortui non dolent."

Porson was rather wretched and sleazy. And he became the poster boy for the attack on the heavenly witnesses authenticity. (Even today, as in the censored BVDB forum.) As a master of the cheap debating trick, he is the prefigurement of James White, except that Porson was, technically, a knowledgeable scholar. (And White is not a drunkard.) They run neck-and-neck in the ability to be arrogant and condescending in error.


The whole situation is a bit more complicated than that, James. There is a question of the placement in the apparatus and auxiliary comments made in the 1500s. I think it is theorized that his son Henry did some of the collation in the 1540s and then the mss had to be returned, and then the interpretation of the marks (crochet, semicircle) became the controversy. See my references above, but I will add three more.

The key scholarship that turned around William Hales on this question was by Herbert Marsh (1757-1839), known more as the translator of Michaelis.

Letters to Mr. Archdeacon Travis in vindication of one of the Translator's notes to Michaeli's Introduction (1795)
Herbert Marsh

I am not sure how much is in Horne, but Orme's work, when the edition was done by good 'ol Ezra Abbot, had a fine section. (I have not yet checked the earlier Orme editions carefully.)

Memoir of the Controversy Respecting the Three Heavenly Witnesses, I John V (1869)

And the 1807 article by Joseph Jowett was referenced.

Christian Observer (1807)
Joseph Jowett

Using those resources, and the ones above, some one could write a nice article reviewing the controversy. Which included the journey of Travis to Paris to research what mss were there. Afaik, no such study on this whole controversy has ever been written.

Personally, I have not felt the need to go into every detail. Marsh convinced William Hales to flip (from 1816 to 1818). And that is a strong indication that his explanation was rock solid. Hales and Brownlee, along with Nolan, were superb defenders in the period after Travis, writing mostly before the Burgess summaries. Hales really ripped Travis on this issue, while complimenting him on others. I am not sure offhand how Travis responded to the Marsh Letters, which would be a key part of a historical review. The only reason why the dispute has become part of the public discussion again is that John Gill placed the mistaken interpretation in his commentary. btw, Donald Carson make a big point about the Gill summary, but really this was the spot that was a major problem.


Jan Krans, in "Beyond What Is Written," summarizes the information about the relevant typo on page 242 (digital page 253): in the text, Krans states that at First John 5:7

"Beza followed Stephanus’ typographical error and therefore assumed the presence of the Comma in some of Stephanus’ manuscripts."

A footnote provides further details:

"The opening sign for the omission is put before EN TW OURANW and its closing sign immediately after it, instead of after EN TH GH. The omission itself is signalled in seven manuscripts; an eighth manuscript, Stephanus’ 15 [i.e., Greek IE'] (min. 82), should have been included; in a positive apparatus only the Complutensian Polyglot could have been indicated."


Actually, there does not seem to be a typo issue as the main point, simply Beza thought there might be more than seven mss of the epistles available to Stephanus.

Granted the closing point of the omission of the seven mss is placed after "in heaven", but there is no indication that Beza thought that therefore the seven mss had everything but that phrase.

The language of Beza is quite moderate, and generally well informed about the evidences, and indeterminate about count regarding the Stephanus note (the Beza note changed a bit in 1582 ). Krans thinks that Beza did not understand a negative apparatus, based on this verse the weakness was only that he thought there might be some ms other than the seven omittters. (The word veteribus libris "old books" is why it seems that he is referring to Stephanus mss rather than Stephanus editions.).

It was only much later that some people (we see this in John Gill. Travis is unreliable on this issue, Hales had been influenced by Travis but flipped to the right view after reading Marsh) made comparisons of seven to a number like 15 to claim that many of the Stephanus mss had the verse.

Beza never made such a claim, he simply indicated there might be some beyond the omitters.


"in a positive apparatus only the Complutensian Polyglot could have been indicated."

Jan Krans is clearly wrong here, unless he is limiting himself to mss, but even there, see below.

Jerome was a major evidence for Erasmus, and is specifically mentioned by Beza as very significant.

Beyond that, Cyprian could have been included, somehow he seems to have slipped through the cracks of the learned men of the Reformation Bible development, rather surprisingly. Yet Alfonsus Salmeron (1515-1585) has clearly used this as one of the evidences for authenticity:

Disputationum in Epistolas divi Pauli et Canonicae et praeludia generalia in Apocalypsithe Books on the Trinity by Vi
(chronological summary next post)
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Steven Avery

Stephanus semi-circle - chronological summary with key quotes

References related to Stephanus in chronological order

Most helpful: Richard Simon
Completed, more or less, up to 1700

Especially needed:

Newton extract
Marsh study
Jowett summary
Hales flip
Butler and Gresswell rebutting fraud

In the 1500s, there were issues raised, such as the Louvain divines, including Lucas Brurgensis, and how they saw the Stephanus info. Porson in the 1789 letter as Cantabrigiensis and then in the 1790 book (is it in 1829?) ripped the David Martin and George Travis presentation. In fact, Brugensis suspected an interpretation error, as discussed by Hales using Marsh, also Charles Butler.

Another issue was that Stephanus printed a Latin edition from John Crispin (d. 1572), the Tiguri Zurich, without the heavenly witnesses. Greswall points out that this is not a Stephanus personal edition (as claimed or implied) but only work he did as a publisher.

William Hales also discusses the persecution of Stephanus from the Sorbonne that caused him leave Paris for Geneva.

And Stephanus wrote in 1566 the satire

Apologie pour Hérodote (published 1879 by Paul Ristelhuber) which has a heavenly witnesses reference.

Apologie pour Hérodote,

Willem Hessels van Estius (c. 1614) - from Liguori (1857)
The Socinians labour hard to oppose this text especially, which so clearly expresses the distinction of the three Divine Persons, and they object that this verse is wanting altogether in many manuscripts, or, at all events, is found only in part: but Estius, in his commentaries on this text of St. John, says, that Robert Stephens, in his elegant edition of the New Testament, remarks that, having consulted sixteen ancient copies collected in France, Spain, and Italy, he found that, in seven of them, the words "in heaven" alone were omitted, but that the remainder of the text existed in full.

The Divine Trinunity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (1650)
Francis Cheynell

Interpretationes paradoxae quatuor Evangeliorum (1669)
Christopher Sandius

Critical History of the Versions of the New Testament Vol 1 (1689)
Richard Simon
Since we are come to the Greek Manuscripts, it will not be amiss to make this remark, that there is an apparent fault in the printing of this place in the fair Greek Edition of the New Testament of Robert Stephen ... Stephen, the semi-circle or hook that shews how it should be read is placed after ... whereas it ought to be put immediately before ... inasmuch as all these words ... were not in the seven copies that are quoted in the margent of this edition. Lucas Brugensis hath already made this conjecture, for he durst not avouch that this verse is entire in all R. Stephen's Greek manuscripts without the word ... therefore having subjoyned this , Nevertheless if the semi-circle that denotes the end of the reading be put in its proper place. Indeed, it is difficult to find Greek Mss. in which these words are expressed; they are not found in any of those of the King's Library that I have consulted (p. 86-87)

Isaac Newton (c 1690) p. 34-38 p. 210

John Mill (1710) and Bengel (1740) - given by Joseph Jowett, the Christian Observer, 1807, see below.
"..the best critics unanimously agree in the opinion, that Stephens's MSS, had not the disputed passage; and among these Mill and Bengelius, whose orthodoxy is not doubted, and who were convinced of its authenticity." - p. 228

The works of Thomas Emlyn.
An Answer to Mr. Martin's Dissertation on I John 5.7

Thomas Emlyn (1715, 1746 edition)
Louvain Divines and Antwerp Polyglot 1584
"words about Stephen's manuscripts, as in the other, but it is under the title of the Parisian copies ... speaks only of seeing several printed editions of the Greek copies besides that of Complutum, but no Greek manuscript"

Jacques le Long (1665-1721) - 1720 and 1723 (see Marsh description)
"The only other publication of M. Le Long was a letter to M. Martin, minister of Utrecht, with whom he had a short controversy respecting the disputed text in 1 John, v. 7."

Abbe L. Roger, Dean of Bourges, published, Par. 1715, two dissertations, in the first of which he defends 1 John v. 7- It ought to be mentioned to his credit, that, having examined the Mss. in the royal library at Paris, he subscribed to the opinion of Lucas Brugensis, Simon, and Le Long, and ingenuously confessed that the semicircle in Stephens's edition, which now follows the words (Grk) in the seventh verse, ought to be placed after the words (Grk) in the eighth.
Dissertationes duae critico theologicae: Ia de his Joannis Evangelistae verbis (1713)
Abbe Jean Louis Roger

p. 65-66
Andreas Gottlieb Masch has the Le Long Erasmus note here- (p. 284-285)

David Martin (1719)

A Body of Doctrinal Divinity: Or a System of Evangelical Truths
John Gill (c. 1760) (1815)
"out of sixteen ancient copies of Robert Stephens's nine of them had it"

John Pye Smith said this is the "All this is the reverse of the truth" (1837)

Note that there was enough written before John Gill that he should have either dropped the claim, or at the most optimistic indicated that it was a matter of dispute.


George Travis

Letters to Edward Gibbon: author of the History of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (Gentlemen's Magazine, c 1782-1790) (1794)
George Travis
Gentlemen's Magazine - 1790 (one of the letters)
If it shall be enquired, lastly, what is become of these fifteen Greek MSS thus left in the hands of Beza singly, or of Beza jointly with Henry Stephens, the following anecdotes will, perhaps, furnish a competent answer to the enquiry. ... these plunderers afterwards sold, or perhaps threw aside with neglect, a part at least of their pillage .. recovering Beza's Claromontane

Travis was reviving the nine manuscripts approach, by taking the position that they had been destroyed. Travis is specifically writing in response to Le Long, Wettstein and Griesbach (p. 220 he calls them false accusers.) The most important responses were by Porson and, with more sobriety, Herbert Marsh.

SIDENOTE: Complutensian Polyglot manuscripts

We can mention here the complexity about the Complutensian Polyglot manuscripts .. were they sold to a fireworks maker?

However, based on the Stunica correspondence, there was not real claim of a Greek ms. with the heavenly witnesses behind the proper Complutensian inclusion of the text, so this is not directly relevant to our inquiry.


Richard Porson

Letters to Travis, in answer to his defence of the three heavenly witnesses, I John,v 7 (1790)

Richard Porson


Herbert Marsh

Letters to Mr. Archdeacon Travis in vindication of one of the Translator's notes to Michaelis's Introduction to Michaelis's Introduction, and in Confirmation of the Opinion, that a Greek Manuscript now preserved in the Public Library of the University of Cambridge, is one of the Seven which are quoted by R. Stephens at 1 John v. 7. With an Appendix, containing a Review of Mr. Travis's Collation of the Greek MSS. which he examined in Paris: an Extract from Mr. Pappelbaum's Treatise on the Berlin MS.: and an Essay on the Origin and Object of the Velesian Headings. Leipzig, (1795)
Herbert Marsh (1757-1839) - Preface discussion xx-xxviii
... as compositors are not infallible, and marks of reference are frequently placed wrong through various accidents in printing, this edition of R. Stephens had not been published many years, when Lucas Brugensis suspected that Stephen's compositor had here made a mistake (p. xxiii) .... even in the sixteenth century it was well known, that the Greek MSS. in general omitted the whole passage, but no one either before or since the time of R. Stephens has ever seen a Greek MS. which omitted the three first words only. This however was not admitted by the advocates of 1 John V. 7, who still quoted these seven MSS. as authority, not indeed for the whole passage, but, what is of some importance in a case of necessity, for at least three quarters of it. About hundred years after the time of Lucas Brugensis, Simon examined all the Greek MSS. in. the library of the King of France ... he concluded that Stephens's representation at that passage was inaccurate. To evade this argument, the patrons of Stephens's semicircle had recourse to the hypothesis, that the eight MSS. which in the time of R. Stephens, belonged to the King's library, were no longer there, and even that they were no longer in existence: a position, which though wholly incapable of defence, is indispensably necessary for those, who maintain that the semicircle is set right, because the MSS. which still exist, both in Paris and in other places, decide against them. From this untenable post they were driven a few years afterwards by Le Long, who in 1720 undertook to determine the particular eight MSS. in the royal library, which had been used by Robert Stephens, and consequently four out of the seven, which are quoted at 1 John V. 7. These eight MSS he imperfectly described in the Journal des Journal des Sçavans for June 1720, but he gave a more complete and more accurate account of them in the edition of his Bibliotheca Sacra, which was published in 1723, soon after the death of the author. (p. xxiii-xxv)

From this period Stephens's semicircle was abandoned to its fate: it dwindled gradually into oblivion, and no one entertained the smallest hope, that another effort would be made in its favour. ... Travis has engaged, after an interval of above fifty, years , to restore it to its lost honours, has undertaken to prove that it is justly entitled to its place, and that they who assert the contrary "are false accusers" ... he concludes that its right position admits no longer of a doubt: and, as it is a grievous crime in an author or editor, when his compositor has set a crotchet but of its place, to Overlook the blunder, he thinks himself happy in being able to shew that no blunder has been committed, ... [more from Travis, and Marsh discusses K.k.6.4. likely minsucule 398, that he viewed in Cambridge and he discusses Codex Bezae]

Editio Regia
Estienne entered on the margins of the pages variant readings from 15 Greek manuscripts as well as many readings from the Complutensian Polyglot. He designated all these sources by symbols from α' to ιϛ'.

While Travis did some good work in compiling references in favor of authenticity, and often made many proper and excellent arguments, he undercut his position, and for a season heavenly witnesses authenticity defense, with this Stephanus nine manuscripts attempt. (David Martin similarly, but in a less charged environment, and before the issues had great clarity.) This is one reason why it is especially important for modern day defenders not to fall into the trap, in describing the Stephanus situation, of using Gill or any other defender who is mistaken, on this point.

We can also point out that Marsh, while right on this point, did work with a contra mentality, and would extrapolate an absurd position from the Greek manuscript line omission:

"All hope therefore of shewing, even with the least colour of probability, that the words (Grk) ever existed in ancient Greek MSS. appears to be utterly extinguished."

Heavenly witnesses defense acknowledges the dearth of extant Greek manuscripts. While showing a wide array of powerful evidences that the verse was, in fact, in "ancient Greek MSS", especially in the Ante-Nicene period, perhaps as a minority text up to around 500 AD. The Stephanus manuscript issue really became a diversion from the real issues.

Letter VII p. 127-154 (the whole book has germane material)

Marsh discusses how easy it is for such a mistake to occur, referring to an edition of his own book


Charles Butler

Horae Biblicae (1807)
Charles Butler
"in the sixteenth century it was well known, that the Greek Manuscripts, in general, omitted the whole passage"


Joseph Jowett

Christian Observer (1807)
The Question Concerning the Authenticity of 1 John v 7 briefly examined
Joseph Jowett (1807)
p. 225-228
Horne pegs this as Jowett
Also used by Orme (1830 Memoir, Orme) (1872, Memoir) (1869, Memoir)

Jowett gives a good Stephanus summary, extract needed.


William Hales

Faith in the Holy Trinity, Volume 2 (1818)
William Hales

Hales, a superb defender around the time of other find defenders including Nolan and Brownlee and Burgess, did a very fine flip of position on the Stephanus mss. After reading Marsh, and was a tad negative as to how Travis had handled the discussion.


William Parr Greswell

A View of the Early Parisian Greek Press: Including the Lives of the Stephani; Notices of Other Contemporary Greek Printers of Paris; and Various Particulars of the Literary and Ecclesiastical History of Their Times, Volume 1 (1833)
William Parr Greswell


The King James version debate: a plea for realism (1978)
Donald Arthur Carson (b. 1946)

"defenders of the KJV ... but not a few still cite the following somewhat abbreviated paragraph from John Gill's Exposition of the New Testament:... and out of sixteen ancient copies of Robert Stephens', nine of them had it: ... The Comma Johanneum is not found in "many other" Greek manuscripts, nor in nine of the sixteen used by Stephanus."

Jan Krans, in "Beyond What Is Written," 2005
Facebook discussion{"tn"%3A"R9"}

BVDB contra forum - 2009
inaccurate claim about Stephanus' manuscripts and 1 John 5:7

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Steven Avery

Chris Thomas of Confessional Bibliology

Chris Thomas of Confessional Bibliology recently has been posting excerpts from David Martin, including three on the Stephanus mss.

The Genuineness of 1 John 5.7 by David Martin 2.4

Chris did not seem to be aware of the history of this argument. My first attempt to share with him, if I remember right, was a comment on one of the posts, which was deleted. (It may have been an MIA Facebook thread.)

Chris actually attacked Marsh and Hales as biased and unsound, not realizing that Hales was a strong defender, with an orthodox position. Oops. So it was clear that Chris was not really familiar with the controversy.

So it became necessary to make sure others receive the full information, leading to the following two threads.

Textus Receptus Bibles

The Traditional Text
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