Aaron D. Wolf’s defense of the Byzantine or Majority Text of the New Testament, which he calls the Ecclesiastical Text (“A Trip to Smart-Mouth College,” Views, February), was thoughtful and well written. There are errors in the Alexandrian tradition and unique true readings in the Majority Text. For in- stance, the two standard critical editions, UBS and Nestle-Aland, put brackets around Matthew 12:47 because it is omitted by both Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, although it is necessary for the sense. Classicist Gunther Zuntz called for a methodical comparison of the two traditions in “The Byzantine Text in New Testament Criticism,” Journal of Theological Studies 43 (1942), pp. 25- 30; and Opuscula Selecta (1972), pp. 278-283. There are now editions of the Greek New Testament with the Majority Text: Hodges and Farstad (1982; second edition, 1985) and Robinson and Pierpont (1991). They differ in many places from the Textus Receptus, which is basically because of Erasmus. A response to Zuntz’s challenge is long overdue.

I am puzzled, however, by Mr. Wolf’s statements about the Comma Johanneum, I John 5:7. He writes, “the King James Version translated that passage, from the Ecclesiastical Text.” The passage is discussed by Bruce Metzger in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (1971; 1994), pp. 647-649 of the second edition, and his Text of the New Testament, pp. 101-102. The passage is found in the text of no Greek manuscript before the 16th century, where it is a translation from the Latin. These manuscripts were composed to make Erasmus introduce the passage into his edition. It is quoted by no Greek Father or any Greek ecclesiastical source until the Greek translation of the Latin Acts of the Lateran Council of 1215. It is found in no ancient version (Syriac, Coptic, Old Latin, etc.). It is not found in early manuscripts of Jerome’s Vulgate, e.g. Codex Fuldensis (541-546), Codex Amiatinus (before 716), or even the Codex Vallicellianus, revised by Alcuin in the ninth century. It is quoted by Priscillian or his disciple Instantius in the fourth century and by African and Italian churchmen in the fifth century. The earliest Latin New Testament manuscripts with it are dated to the sixth century. It is not printed as part of the Majority Text by either Robinson and Pierpont or Hodges and Farstad. Whatever can be said for the Comma, it cannot be defended by its presence in the Majority Text, because it is not found there.

        —E. Christian Kopff Boulder, CO

Mr. Wolf Replies:

My thanks to Dr. Kopff for pointing out my error and for sharing with me the fascinating essay by Ezra Abbot, “I. John V. 7 and Luther’s German Bible” (published first in 1879).

The Comma is somewhat unique in the discussion of differences between the Ecclesiastical Text, from which Erasmus composed his Greek New Testament via a few representative manuscripts, and the Alexandrian, which is favored by the majority of critical scholars today, who, as I argued in my article, view the Bible more as an artifact worthy of scientific examination than as a part of a holy tradition requiring reverence and submission.

Erasmus reluctantly succumbed to Church officials’ pressure to include the Comma, while Martin Luther was careful to leave it out of all of the editions of his German Bible, although it was inserted in editions published after his death (1546), as early as 1582. In Jaroslav Pelikan’s translation of Luther’s Works, we have Luther’s comments on the Comma (from 1527): “The Greek books do not have these words, but this verse seems to have been inserted by the Catholics because of the Arians, yet not aptly; for wherever John speaks about the witnesses, he speaks about those on earth, not about those in heaven.” Pelikan’s footnote, however, is misleading (indeed, it had misled this writer): “The so-called Johannine Comma has been omitted from the first edition of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament; its appearance in subsequent editions accounts for its translation into the standard versions, including Luther’s own” (emphasis mine). Ezra Abbot has shown that this is not the case.

William Tyndale has the Comma in his translations (beginning in the 1520’s) of the New Testament into English, which form the basis of a large part of the 1611 King James Version (by way of the intervening Bishops’ Bible of 1568, of which the KJV was largely a revision). Thus, both in German and in English (in addition to the Vulgate), the Co ma has appeared for centuries. What it teaches is indeed true and meshes with the Church’s teaching on the Holy Trinity. However, it is not part of the Majority or Ecclesiastical Text, and Trinitarian dogma can (and will) endure even if the Comma is relegated to a marginal note, which is probably how it came about in the first place.