Ancestry of the English Bible (IX): Disputed Passages (Part 1)

Mike Willis
Mooresville, Indiana

While comparing several versions of the scriptures, one is apt to run across one or more of the several passages over which scholars are divided and which do not read alike in the different versions. Though there are but few verses in our Bibles subject to serious question, one needs to be familiar with the evidence regarding these verses. This we shall try to present.

I John 5:7-8

"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" (KJV).

"And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one" (ASV).

When trying to understand where the KJV reading originated, the following information is noted. No early Greek manuscripts contained the KJV reading nor did any early versions. Even in the Trinitarian controversies, no early "church fathers" quoted this passage. Its earliest use appears to have been by Latin writers of the fifth century.

Though this gives a brief explanation of the manuscript evidence, this does not account for its insertion in the KJV. When Erasmus published his 1516 Greek New Testament, he did not include the KJV reading although the 1514 edition of the Latin Vulgate did contain it. Catholics severely rebuked and criticized Erasmus for omitting it, so he challenged them to produce one Greek manuscript containing that reading. He agreed to revise His Greek New Testament and include it provided that one Greek manuscript could be found following the reading of the Latin Vulgate. Either a Greek manuscript was found or one was made just to answer Erasmus, but, at any rate, Erasmus reluctantly included that interpolation in his 1522 revision of the Greek New Testament. From that Greek text (revised several more times), the KJV was made.

To believe that the KJV reading is erroneous does not mean that one denies the Trinity. Far too many other passages mention the three personalities of the Godhead to reach that conclusion (Matt. 28:18-20; 24:36; 3:17; 17:5; etc.).

John 5:3, 4

In the record of Jesus healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, the part of verses 3-4 are considered an interpolation which tell of the custom of the angel stirring the waters which would heal the first person placed in them.

Of the four major manuscripts, three omit these verses as do the early Syriac and; Vulgate versions. McGarvey summarizes the best evidence as follows:

"The rest of verse 3 and all of verse 4, as given in the King James' version, were probably added as a marginal explanatory gloss early in the second century, and from thence gradually became incorporated in the text; John's failure to mention that the pool was thought to have medicinal qualities tempted transcribers to add a few marginal words in the nature of comments" (The Fourfold Gospel, p. 195).

In his booklet, How Our New Testament Came to Us (Appendix 1, "What About the Errors of Copyists?", p. 27), Jimmy Tuten made the following remarks about this spurious passage:

"The story of the angel disturbing the waters of Bethesda and giving it healing powers is not in accord with the nature of other miracles recorded in the New Testament and seems improbable. (John 3:3-5). Textual study has revealed that the whole thing is a mistake of an unknown copyist, who no doubt wanted to add his explanation of what (sic - should be "why") the invalids lay in the Bethesda porticos."

The most logical conclusion to reach regarding these two verses is to admit that some copyists inserted them early into the Greek manuscripts and have since been incorporated in the KJV reading.

John 7:53-8: 11

This passage telling of the woman taken in adultery is included in both the KJV and the ASV, although the ASV gives a footnote stating that most ancient authorities omit these verses.

Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus both omit the passage whereas Alexandrinus and Ephraemi are defective at this passage, although scholars say that the numbers of leaves missing are not sufficient to contain this passage.

The most reputable of the early manuscripts containing these verses is the fifth century Greek-Latin bilingual manuscript named Codex Beza. In addition to that data, Jerome asserted that the story was in many Greek and Latin manuscripts of his day. Based on this evidence, McGarvey astutely summarized both positions as follows:

"This assertion is wanting in nearly all older manuscripts, but Jerome (346-420 A.D.) says that in his time it was contained 'in many Greek and Latin manuscripts,' and these must have been as good or better than the best manuscripts we now possess. But whether we regard it as part of John's narrative or not scholars very generally accept it as a genuine piece of history" (The Fourfold Gospel, p. 451).

Since the text heads smoothly with or without these verses and since the evidence is divided, I readily accept these verses without doubting their authenticity. The admission that these verses are historically accurate whether a part of John's original gospel or not (Mc Garvey's quotation), outweighs all that textual critics have said against these verses.

More on the disputed passages will be studied next week

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 22, pp. 9-10
April 8, 1971