why did Erasmus include the heavenly witnesses in the 3rd edition?

Steven Avery

This PBF page is connected to the Facebook posts:
Pure Bible

And this is a post, April, 2020

responding to an important question from Maurice Robinson:
(minor editing)

Steven Avery4/22/2020 6:36 am
Maurice A. Robinson
"Perhaps the larger question is why Erasmus indeed *did* include the Comma once the "Codex Britannicus" became known to him - - this particularly in view of his expressed suspicions regarding the recent nature of that manuscript."

And I agree, that is an excellent larger question. Please allow me to conjecture.

1) Lee and Stunica had given Erasmus a hard time (Valladolid was five years in the future). It is understandable if Erasmus wanted to avoid continuing controversy on a delicate and debatable textual issue. And Erasmus did at times include text based on Latin evidence, Acts 9:5-6 being an example. Plus he knew there were many dozens of Latin writers who had used and discussed the verse. Thus there was much ecclesiastical acceptance beyond simply Vulgate mss. And there is the special note of the Lateran Council publishing the verse in Greek and Latin. Followed by Joseph Bryennius publishing the full two verses in Greek in his commentary, (missing three agree in one in verse eight).

2) Erasmus did use the verse in the English Paraphrase (1521) and his 1518 Ratio seu methodus compendio perveniendi ad veram theologiam. Erasmus was having a problem being consistent!  

3) Erasmus had a very hard time trying to find an explanation for Jerome's Vulgate Prologue, which is far, far more important than any late Greek mss. In the two letters and the Annotationes Erasmus was de facto accusing Jerome, who was normally written of warmly by Erasmus, of forging the verse!

(Nobody questioned that the author was Jerome, that came in the late 1600s. However, Erasmus omitted the Prologue from his Jerome work, very possibly to lessen its impact in the verse discussion. And John Fell later took this (to task.)

4) Erasmus had managed to avoid Cyprian in his discussions and Annotationes. In fact, Thomas Smith (1638-1710), aware of the Erasmus Cyprian editions starting in 1521, concluded that Erasmus had been "craftily concealing" the passage in Unity of the Church, which is the single most important Ante-Nicene reference to the heavenly witnesses. In fact, it is possible that Erasmus learned of the reference between the 2nd and 3rd editions! As for the significance, recommended is the Lutheran Franz August Otto Pieper (1852-1931) in Christian Dogmatics, Vol 1 p. 340-341.

5) Erasmus knew the short text has a solecism problem. And even tried to offer his own quirky solution re: the "torquebit grammaticos". See the Annotationes. (Note: I have not seen that this came up in his correspondence, perhaps here Erasmus placed it in the Annotationes to be 'ahead of the curve' and show off his Greek savvy.)

Note: the incredible c. 484 AD Council of Carthage evidence involving the Bible text of hundreds of orthodox and the 'Arians' under Hunneric was apparently not available until the 1541 publication by Jean Quintin (1500-1561), five years after the passing of Erasmus.

Imho, all these issues 2-5 are far more important than the theorized "promise" back and forth. Although his words there also put him in an awkward position, which is part of (1).

Your feedback most welcome!

Steven Avery
Dutchess County, NY, USA
Last edited:

Steven Avery

Important Correction and some related notes:

Steven Avery

Correction: The first Erasmus edition of Cyprian was Feb, 1520, with a dedication written in 1519. I had 1521 on the post.

Erasmus did mark in the margin the John 10:30 reference of Cyprian..

It is quite possible that Erasmus only saw the Cyprian reference after his 1516 first edition. And it was an unspoken contributor to his including the heavenly witnesses in the third edition.


Hilmar Pabel (b. 1964) gives some background.

Erasmus' Esteem for Cyprian: Parallels in Their Expositions of the Lord's Prayer (1997)
Hilmar M. Pabel

Within the context of patristic influence on Erasmus, the North African Father Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, has received no sustained treatment. At the end of July 1519, three years after Froben published his edition of Jerome, Erasmus addressed to Cardinal Lorenzo Pucci the prefatory dedication of his edition of the complete works of Cyprian. Frohen’s press in Basel produced this edition in February 1520. Froben would reissue Erasmus’ edition of Cyprian’s Opera in 1521, 1525, and 1530. Given Erasmus’ well-known admiration for Jerome, the preface to Cyprian’s works contains a remarkable sentence. Erasmus admitted to his readers: “For myself, I cannot deny that among orthodox writers I used to give first place to Jerome; but when I looked more closely into Cyprian, whom previously I had read at random and without attention, doubt at once assailed me which I should prefer; so true is it that each with his own special virtues makes an overwhelming impression.” In style of speaking. Erasmus claims, Cyprian “tar outstrips Jerome, being everywhere more serious and less artificial.”'


And here is the Erasmus edition of 1520 that shows the Cyprian reference directly. The key evidence.

Opera divi Caecilii Cypriani episcopi Carthaginensis, ab innumeris mendis repurgata, adiectis nonnulis libellis ex uetustissimis exemplaribus, quæ hactenus no[n] habebantur (1520)


On Erasmus leaving out the "three are one" reference, despite good manuscript support, of Jubaianus, Epistle 72 see:

The one is from his Epistle to Jubaianus, where Cyprian write thus.

"Si baptizari quis apud haereticum potuit, utique et remissam peccatorum consequi potuit: si peccatorum remissam consecutus est, et sanctificatus est, et templum Dei factus est: quaero, cujus Dei? Si creatoris, non potuit, qui in eum non credidit: si Christi, non hujus potest sieri templum, qui negat Deum Christum : si Spiritus Sancti, cum tres unum sunt, quomodo Spiritus Sanctus placatus esse ei potest, qui aut Patris aut Filii inimicus est?"

Here it must be observed that the words "cum tres unum sunt," though inserted in the later editions of Cyprian's works, are not contained in that edition, which was published by Erasmus

Introduction to the New Testament, Volume 4 (1802)
Johann David Michaelis translated by Herbert Marsh


George Travis points out that Bengel had noted this strange omission from Erasmus:

Letters to Edward Gibbon: author of the History of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (1794)

{g) The candor of Erasmus and Newton may, perhaps, be compared together, and greatly to the honor of the latter, by remarking that Erasmus did not think fit to insert these words, cum tres unum sunt, in his edition of Cyprian's epistle to Jubaiaius, [Bengel, p. 752.]

It would be nice to find the Bengel page.

Also the manuscript status to help see if Erasmus really had any excuse to leave it out.
When I checked this, virtually all the mss. had the key words.

Was this omission part of the "craftily concealing" of the Cyprian material by Erasmus.


For a note about the normal Erasmus warmth towards Jerome, see the section here:

Erasmus: A Study of His Life, Ideals and Place in History (1923)
Preserved Smith

"the Christian writer preferred by Erasmus was Jerome"


Here you can see a 1520 edition of Fulgentius with his Cyprian Unity of the Church reference:

Opera: Item opera Maxentii Johannis
Claudius Gordianus Fulgentius,
Willibald Pirckheimer

Erasmus was familiar with Fulgentius as well as Cyprian:


And also there are two references in a work that is controversial as it may have been an Erasmus creation:

De duplici Martyrio

Pure Bible Forum
Erasmus - Ps-Cyprian - De duplici Martyrio

This work has two passages that are germane to the heavenly and earthly witnesses.
Last edited:

Steven Avery

Erasmus Cyprian 1520 edition - Unity of the Church
Erasmus 1520 Cyprian.jpg

Fulgentius 1520 edition

Fulgentius Cyprian 1520 pic for Erasmus.jpg
Last edited:

Steven Avery

Some interesting material on the Arian question:


Robert Blakely Drummond (1833-1920)

did pull out two quotes from Inquisition of Faith of Erasmus that do have a more overt Arian or Semi-Arian tinge. Erasmus is generally a little cagey and is speaking through a character in the writing.

Erasmus; His Life and Character as Shown in His Correspondence and Works, Volume 1 (1973)

The “ Inquisition of Faith ” is a conversation between a man who has been excommunicated for heresy and a friend who, after a strict examination, can find no fault with his creed. Nevertheless, it seems to border on Arianism in two passages. One is,

“The Son also is God, but of God the Father. But the Father alone is of
none, and obtains the principal place among the divine persons."

In the other, in answer to the question,

“Why is the Father alone called God in the Apostles’ Creed?”
we read as follows :—

“Because he is simply the author of all things that are, and the fountain of all Deity. For nothing can be named whose origin does not flow from the Father ; and to Him even the Son and the Holy Spirit owe their Divinity. Accordingly the chief authorship, that is, the principle of origination, resides in the Father alone, because He alone is of none.
Nevertheless the Creed may be thus understood, that the name of God is not personal but generical, and is afterwards distributed by the terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in one God ; which word, expressive of
nature, comprehends the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that is, three persons.”7

1 Coll.Fam.i. p.233 and 238.
Where all seems contradictory, it is difficult to say whether these sentences may be reconcileable with the statement of the Athanasian Creed, that
‘‘in this Trinity none is afore or after other:
none is greater or less than another.”

See also p. 183-185 p. 362 p. 370.


More here:

Textus Receptus Academy
Last edited: