1 John 5:7 and Unbelief


I recently read a thorough and fair defense of the Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7) which reminded me of how the approach of many Christians in the modern church is absolutely backwards when it comes to Scripture. In today’s world of Modern Textual Criticism, Christians seem to take a backwards approach when seeking to determine if they should accept a textual variant as authentic. The method employed by the author of the linked article demonstrates, in my opinion, how textual data should be viewed, so please read the article prior to this one. In this article, I will comment on the two approaches to textual variation and conclude by explaining why I believe the approach taken by the exemplar author is correct.

Method 1: Modern Textual Criticism

I have spent a great deal of time and word count (222,197 words to be exact) on this blog explaining the methods and theology of the Modern Textual Critics and advocates. I have pointed out, using the words of the textual scholars, that there is no Modern Critical Text, there is no end in sight to the current effort, and adopting the Modern Critical Text means also to reject providential preservation. In all these words, I have yet to describe the approach of the Modern Textual Critic and advocate.

When a defender, advocate, or scholar of the Modern Critical Text approaches a place of textual variation, they do so by first questioning its authenticity. Practically speaking, a variant is to only be questioned if the scholars who produced the NA/UBS platforms have called it into question. That is not to say that others in history haven’t called such texts into question prior to the 20th century, just that these questions are exemplified in the modern critical texts. The reason this is problematic is that there is no consistent application of this skepticism applied to every line of Scripture.

See, the epistemological foundation for the Modern Textual Critic, according to Dan Wallace and his colleagues, is that we don’t have what the authors originally wrote, and even if we did, we wouldn’t know it.

“We do not have now – in any of our critical Greek texts or in any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it.”

Dan Wallace. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. xii.

This kind of foundation cannot conveniently stop at our favorite three passages. It must apply uniformly across the whole text of the New Testament. If 200 years of textual transmission which saw such a great change to the text from the “Alexandrian” text form to the “Byzantine” text form, then the first 200 years of textual transmission, of which we have basically zero extant evidence for, could also be equally or more significant. That is to say, our 200 year gap in the manuscript data in the first 200 years of the church is enough of a gap to call into question every single passage of the New Testament. This is the logical end of the Critical Text position. There isn’t a single line of Scripture that can be said to be 100% authentic to the pen of the apostolic writers, according to the Modern Critical Text advocate. This is further evidenced by the fact that there is not a single textual scholar or apologist that will lay claim to any specific percentage or list of authentic passages.

So when an advocate of the Modern Critical Text challenges a textual variant, they do so selectively and arbitrarily. Once they have identified a passage, verse, or word that they do not believe original, the goal is to then “disprove” that the reading was authentic. The text is on trial, and the Modern Critical Text advocate is the prosecutor. It is not a question of “Is this text authentic?”, it is a question of, “Why is this text inauthentic and how did it get there?” If they were consistent, they would apply this same approach to every line of Holy Scripture, and have no evidential reason to accept one reading or another. The evidential foundation for their approach is based upon manuscripts that are dated 200 years or more after the New Testament was written without any supporting evidence that those texts date back to the Apostles. This is the fatal flaw in Modern Textual Criticism – there is nothing that ties their text back to the original, and there never will be. That is why approach matters.

Method 2: Preservationist

In contrast to the first method, the Preservationist perspective approaches places of textual variation with the assumption that the original has been preserved, and it can be easily discerned. The preservation of Scripture did not stop with Codex Vaticanus, it carried on through the middle ages and into the Reformation when the world could finally print and mass distribute texts. There is a reason the vast majority of extant manuscripts do not look like Vaticanus or the Modern Critical Text. The church, through transmission and by God’s providence, kept the text pure. Therefore, if a text made it to the mass distribution era of the church, it had been passed along by the era that came before it. Since the church was by and large divided into two represented by the East and West, the combination of these texts yielded the original. That is why the advent of the printing press, the fall of Constantinople, and the Protestant Reformation is such a significant time in church history. It was the first time the church had authentic texts that were being used in one place with the ability to combine them and distribute them church-wide.

So then, to the Preservationist, the question is not, “Is this text authentic?”, it is, “Why did the people of God understand this to be authentic in time and space?” Thus, the burden of proof is not placed on a smattering of early manuscripts that have been in favor for the last 200 years. The Preservationist’s chief effort then is to support the text that has been handed down, rather than question its validity at every place disagreeable to the Vatican Codex. The assumption is that God preserved the text, and we have it. It is a matter of defending what is in our hands, rather than reconstructing what is not in our hands. Once you accept the premise that the Bible has fallen into such disarray that it must be reconstructed, there is not a single passage of Scripture that cannot be called into question. Further, there is no way to validate that any conclusion on a given text speaks conclusively about the original text itself. That is why the current effort is focused on the initial text, not the original. What can be proved is limited to hundreds of years after the Apostles, and even then, “proved” is much stronger language than textual scholars are comfortable with.

1 John 5:7 is a perfect example where the two approaches come to two separate conclusions. Since 1 John 5:7 is thinly represented in the extant manuscript data, the difference in conclusion on the text is really a matter of approach. The Modern Critical Text crowd has already admitted that even if 1 John 5:7 was original, they wouldn’t know it, so any conclusion jumping off from that point is irrelevant. Nothing they determine can actually be concluded by textual data, and so they engage in story telling. “The passage was brought up from a footnote. It was added to bolster the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.” Yet they do so without any direct evidence claiming this is what happened. Strangely enough, these critics also conveniently reject any evidence offering explanation as to why a passage is not in certain manuscripts. The bias in Modern Textual Criticism to favor manuscripts that have been historically rejected is strong.

If we approach this text from a preservationist perspective, we see that the wording is referenced by Tertullian (2nd century), Origen (3rd Century), Athanasius (4th Century), Priscillian (4th Century), Augustine (4th Century), and directly quoted by Cyprian (3rd Century). The direct quotations can be found in this article. This is not the only support for the passage, but it is enough for the preservationist to support 1 John 5:7 as original. It is enough to defend the text we have in hand, and the text handed down to us from the Reformation era. Accepting the Johannine Comma is not an issue of evidence, because the evidence exists. It is a matter of Bibliology and approach.

Just because a manuscript is surviving today does not mean it is the only manuscript to ever have existed. Textual scholars and apologists carry on about how many Bibles were destroyed during times of persecution and war and fail to acknowledge that those destroyed manuscripts could very well have contained the passages they reject today. The abundance of quotes and references to the passage, along with the reception of the text by our Protestant forefathers informs us that manuscripts with the passage existed, we just don’t have them today. Paradoxically, this is not enough for Modern Critical Text advocates to adjust how they approach textual data. The fact that we do not have an abundance of handwritten manuscripts in 2021 should not be a surprise, seeing as handwritten manuscripts of the Bible haven’t been produced or used in over 400 years. The Protestants and those that came after believed 1 John 5:7 to be original, and even claimed that authentic copies in their day had the passage. They even recognize that there was a time where manuscripts did not have the passage. See Francis Turretin commenting on the three major variants still debated today.

“There is no truth in the assertion that the Hebrew edition of the Old Testament and the Greek edition of the New Testament are said to be mutilated; nor can the arguments used by our opponents prove it. Not the history of the adulteress, for although it is lacking in he Syriac version, it is found in all the Greek Manuscripts. Not 1 John 5:7, for although some formerly called it into question and heretics now do, yet all the Greek copies have it…Not Mark 16, which may have been wanted in several copies in the time of Jerome (as he asserts); but now it occurs in all, even in the Syriac version, and is clearly necessary to complete the history of the resurrection of Christ”

Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Volume 1. 115.

See, an honest scholar would admit that the position of the Protestant and Post-Reformation church was that of the Preservationist. It was that of the TR advocate. Behind closed doors, many prominent modern scholars admit this, they just don’t like it. For more quotations on the passage from historical Protestant theologians, see this article here.


So I argue here in this article that there is a stark difference in approach between the Modern Critical Text advocate and the Preservationist and that the difference in approach is far more significant than the textual data itself. Those in the Modern Critical Text camp are determined to answer “Why is this not Scripture and how did it get in the text?”, whereas the Preservationist says, “This is in our text, how do we support it?” The interesting thing is, that if the Critical Text advocate took the approach of a Preservationist, they would find that the burden of proof they accept for many passages would be enough to accept John 7:53-8:11, Mark 16:9-20, and 1 John 5:7. The issue is not evidence, it is approach.

If you approach a text with the belief that it is not Scripture as the Modern Critical Text crowd does, you will find that it is not Scripture in your eyes. Yet, as with all claims based on extant textual data, there is no warrant to come to any conclusion. That is why the scholars never do. If you approach the text with the belief that it is Scripture, you will find the the evidence to support that claim. Since the belief of the Preservationist is not based on extant data, the extant data is merely a support, not a foundation. The Preservationist recognizes that extant data will never “prove” the Bible. It is a theological position similar to the resurrected Christ. The most important question is not “what evidence do you have?”, it is, “What does the Bible say?” If it is preserved, than the conclusion is that 1 John 5:7 is original. If Scripture is not preserved and needs to be reconstructed, than the conclusion is not only that 1 John 5:7 is inauthentic, but so is all the rest of Scripture. There is nothing conclusive against 1 John 5:7 that cannot also be conclusive against all of the rest of Scripture. This is inevitable considering the significant gap in our extant manuscript data from the apostolic period to the 3rd century.

This is the reality that those who continue to advocate for Modern Textual Criticism do not understand. The Papyri do not give us a complete look at the first 200 years of textual transmission. Not even close. If we use the argument against John 7:53-8:11 from the Papyri against the rest of Scripture, then we lose everything that’s not in the Papyri. For those that do not know much of the Papyri, we essentially wouldn’t have a Bible. If we apply the same approach that the Modern Critical Text advocate applies to 1 John 5:7, there are no texts in the Bible that are safe. If you are tuned into the textual discussion, you know that this is absolutely the case among the elite textual scholars. See this quote from a recent book by Tommy Wasserman and Jennifer Knust on the Pericope Adulterae.

“Even if the text of the Gospels could be fixed – and, when viewed at the level of object and material artifact, this goal has never been achieved – the purported meanings of texts also change”

Knust & Wasserman. To Cast the First Stone. 15,16.

Do not be mistaken, Christian, the scholars of the Modern Critical Text cannot “prove” any passage, verse, or word of Scripture authentic. Not only that, they openly say they cannot. So then it is a matter of approach, which is determined by theology. What you believe about Scripture will determine what Bible you have in your hands. Do you believe the Bible needs to be reconstructed? You will have in your hands a text that nobody believes represents the original text. Do you believe that the Bible is preserved? You will have in your hands a Bible that was produced by men who believed it was the original text. It is that simple.

Arguments Against John 7:53-8:11 That Prove a Man a Fool


It is certainly in vogue to reject portions of Scripture, especially within what might be called “conservative” or “reformed” Christianity. I use quotes because there is nothing conservative or reformed about this practice. By definition this is quintessential progressivism. The defining qualities of conservatism as it pertains to any discipline is that it is averse to change. It seeks to conserve that which has come before it. Additionally, the Reformed Protestant movement was defined by its protest against the Papacy. As it pertains to textual criticism, those that advocate for the modern critical text are quite literally advocating for a text platform that is essentially the Vatican manuscript. So the popular effort of deconstructing the Bible is not only progressive as it seeks to change the text of Scripture based on every new idea, it also establishes its text base from the Vatican manuscript, Codex B. I say this to remind my reader that the apologists for the Critical Text cannot be conservative, and they cannot be Reformed, at least in this area of their theology and practice. It is no surprise then that these same apologists frequently attempt to claim that reconstructionist textual criticism is “conservative” and “it’s what the Reformers would believe if they were alive today!” This is not only unconvincing, but it demonstrates the lack of intellectual integrity of those who make such arguments.

Now, it should be evident that the effort of reconstructing the text of Scripture is a progressive movement, which at face value dismantles much of the credibility of those who seek to defend the critical text. That is to say, that at its premise, those Christians who consider themselves to be orthodox should reject it outright. In this article, I want to further demonstrate the foolishness of this progressive effort by weighing popular arguments against John 7:53-8:11 against what the Pericope Adulterae scholars actually say about the passage.

Show Me the Evidence

Since the chief claim of modern critical text advocates is that the science – or the textual data – supports their claims, I want to begin by providing my reader with what the experts on the Pericope Adulterae actually say. I will use To Cast the First Stone by Dr. Tommy Wasserman and Dr. Jennifer Knust as my source, as that is the most recent and comprehensive look at the current academic consensus on the passage.

“We are therefore left with a conundrum, wanting to know something that cannot be known on the basis of surviving evidence. Still, of this we can be sure: By the fourth century, two different Gospels of John were circulating, one with the pericope adulterae and one without it.”

Knust & Wasserman. To Cast the First Stone. 50. Emphasis mine.

The scholarly opinion then, is that by 301AD, the church had this passage in their manuscripts. Codex Vaticanus is dated between 300-325AD, for reference. The most important point to notice from this quote is that the scholars of the Pericope Adulterae plainly state that the textual evidence is simply inconclusive in terms of determining the originality of John 7:53-8:11. At best, the scholars are left in a paradox in which they can see that the church accepted this pericope as a part of John’s Gospel, but do not know if it was originally there or added later. What they can say is that references to the passage are found in the 3rd century text called the Didascalia.

“In the Didascalia, church leaders are reminded to receive the repentant back into the fold in imitation of Jesus, who did not condemn “she who had sinned” when “elders” brought her before Jesus for judgement. Jesus’s saying, “Go, neither do I condemn you” is quoted, and the circumstances of the episode (men bring a sinning woman before Jesus and ask his opinion on the matter) are identical to what is found in the later Johannine pericope adulterae.”

Ibid. 63

The argument from the papyri is equally thin. P45 (3rd Century), which is a fragmentary copy of John, only retains two pages from John 11. P66 (3rd Century) omits the passage but the scholars note that it is “evident from the scribe’s own attempts at correction, he or she was quite careless when copying” (Ibid. 67). P75 (2nd Century) omits the passage but again the scholars note that the scribe was “preoccupied in communicating the significance of the text over and against an exact fidelity to the exemplar being copied” (Ibid. 68). Dr. Jim Royse notes that, “As a result, the text of this manuscript does not align clearly with any codices of later centuries” (Ibid. 69, footnote 60). The poor quality of these papyri is further demonstrated when compared to other manuscripts using the textual clusters tool on the INTF website. P75 does not share more than 79.1% coherence with any other manuscript, which is lower than the bottom end of what is required to be considered significant in the CBGM. Even so, the scholars conclude that the scribes of P66 and P75 “were wholly unaware of a Johannine pericope adulterae” based on the manuscript witness.

I provided this analysis to my reader for the simple purpose of demonstrating that the textual scholars are unwilling to come to a conclusion on the authenticity of John 7:53-8:11 based on the textual evidence. The official position of the academy is that the story may be a historical fact of history, but the textual evidence is not conclusive to its originality in John and it was likely added at a later date(8). There were manuscripts with it and without it as early as the fourth century, and that is the end of the story as told by textual data.

“It is impossible to pinpoint the moment – or even the century – when the pericope adulterae first became Johannine. Perhaps the writer of the Didascalia knew the passage from John…The lesson of the pericope adulterae as it was circulating in the second and third centuries is not that a foolish interpolator corrupted a previously unspoiled text of John but that sacred texts are preserved by human actors who apply their historically and culturally situated points of view to the texts they copy and interpret…In this sense, the pericope adulterae was always “gospel,” whether or not it was present in the first copies of John.”

Ibid. 95

That is all to say that any person making claims rejecting the authenticity of John on the basis of textual data is out of step with the textual scholars and reaching above their pay grade. What we have from the highest echelon of pericope adulterae scholars is educated speculation when it comes to the originality of this passage to John.


It is evident now that making any sort of conclusive argument against the Pericope Adulterae based on the textual data is a fool’s errand. If the scholars won’t do it, than neither should the theologians, pastors, and apologists of the critical text. To do so is foolish, because only a fool would make such claims based on a handful of shredded papyri. Anybody who attempts to state with certainty that there is any sort of conclusive textual evidence for such a claim has disqualified themselves from honest dialogue. Even if the scholarly consensus is that it the passage is not original to John, it is imperative that we contrast that conclusion with their own words when they say, “We are therefore left with a conundrum, wanting to know something that cannot be known on the basis of surviving evidence.”

In fact, all claims made by the apologists for the critical text should be compared against their foundational statements.

“We do not have now – in any of our critical Greek texts or in any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it.”

Dan Wallace. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. xii.

“Even if the text of the Gospels could be fixed – and, when viewed at the level of object and material artifact, this goal has never been achieved – the purported meanings of texts also change”

Knust & Wasserman. To Cast the First Stone. 15,16.

Only a fool would take their cues from such a framework. What Dan Wallace has said is an admission that any claim regarding a passage is simply speculation. The authors of To Cast the First Stone affirm the reality that textual scholars cannot make the conclusive claims that are propagated by the apologists for the critical text. The obvious conclusion that all Christians should come to is that faith is not based in extant evidence. Nobody believes that Christ has died for them because somebody made a convincing case for a literal bodily resurrection. In the same way, nobody believes the Bible to be the Word of God because of a tattered manuscript dated 200 years after Christ died.

If there is anything that my critical text friends need to realize, it’s that the champions of the discipline simply do not know what was original, and have no way of knowing. They have said it in their own words – directly and indirectly. So to carry on acting like there is any sort of certain argument against passages like the Pericope Adulterae is to consent to being a fool. What benefit is it to your soul, and to the health of the church, to continue attacking this passage, when the chief scholars themselves admit that no such conclusion is possible based on their methodology? There is no reason I can think of for such an effort. It is a fool’s errand, and as a Christian, there are better and more noble things to do than to strip God’s Word of a passage based on inconclusive extant evidence.

John 7:53-8:11 is Scripture


John 7:53-8:11, called the Pericope Adulterae, is an excellent example of how the determinations of textual scholars can directly impact the people of God. This passage in particular is also a perfect text to demonstrate how textual interpretation can spoil the people of God with misinformation. I was young in my faith the first time I heard that this passage was “not originally in Scripture” from a John Piper sermon. From that point on, I heard many people repeat the lines such as, “It is my favorite passage in the Bible that’s not Scripture,” and “I wouldn’t preach this text.” The arguments I considered most compelling were that the passage was a “floating tradition” and that “the earliest manuscripts do not contain this passage,” and that the “church fathers do not quote this passage.” Based on the information I was given by pastors that I trusted, I felt justified in simply skipping over the passage as I read through the Gospel of John. The note in the Reformation Study Bible reads this way:

“These verses are not present in some Greek manuscripts, and in others they appear at different locations, such as after 7:36 or elsewhere in John, or even in Luke. This diversity makes it uncertain that this incident with the adulterous woman and her accusers appeared at this or any point in John’s original document, but its presentation of Jesus is consistent with the rest of the Gospels and it may preserve an authentic tradition of an event in Jesus’ life.”

R. C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 1870.

When I abandoned the modern critical text and began to do my own research, I was dismayed to find that many of the claims made by pastors I previously trusted were either incorrect, or based on higher critical principles. This made me realize how deeply rooted the axioms of modern textual criticism were in the mainstream evangelical Calvinist world. In this article, I am not attempting to “prove” the authenticity of the Pericope Adulterae (7:53-8:11), but to demonstrate how easily a passage can be removed from Scripture, and how easily it is for a theory to become a fact to the people of God. Before I answer some of the claims against this passage, I’d like to survey some scholarly perspectives on the verse:

“Still, of this we can be sure: By the fourth century, two different Gospels of John were circulating, one with the pericope adulterae and one without it”

Knust & Wasserman. To Cast the First Stone. 50. 

Some scholars even recognize the validity of it’s inclusion:

“Present in the Vulgate, preserved in the “received text of the Byzantine Church,” and incorporated in the King James Version of the Bible, this story is still widely and appropriately accepted as Scripture”

(Raymond E. Brown. Gospel according to John I-XII, AB 29. 336)

More importantly, the scholars recognize what is commonly avoided within Christian circles – that the text-critical axioms do have a meaningful impact on the church’s perspective of Scripture. The Pericope Adulterae is the perfect example of this.

“As these many editions also show, however, textual traditions can and do change, and in significant ways. Advances in textual criticism brought material changes to the text(s) printed in these various editions, altering both texts and the attitudes towards them. Even so, the older forms of text continued to circulate alongside these various textual “improvements,” and there are noticeable differences among these many critical editions, at both the textual and paratextual level.”  

Knust & Wasserman. To Cast the First Stone. 29.

“The gradual but but now “traditional” placement of the pericope adulterae in brackets, in an appendix, or in a critical apparatus – as well as the continued rejection of such editorial (mis)placements – encapsulates fundamental theological divides about the degree to which faith ought to be confirmed by science and science by faith, and does so within the material text of the New Testament.”

(Ibid., 17). 

So it seems that the modern scholars are in tune with the shifting theological perspectives that removing a passage such as John 7:53-8:11 brings. Now let’s examine some of the common claims made by pastors, study Bibles, and commentaries, and see if these claims support removing the passage from Holy Scripture. Again, this is not a “proof” for the passage, but a demonstration that sometimes popular opinions are founded on thin evidence.

Answering Common Objections Made by Pastors, Study Bibles, and Critics

The Pericope Adulterae is Not a “Floating Tradition” 

The most common claim, and possibly the most misleading, is that the Pericope Adulterae is a “floating tradition.” Though this argument is popular, it is not one that is responsibly supported by the extant manuscript data. The phenomenon of this story “floating” doesn’t occur in any of the early manuscripts that have the passage, and the manuscripts that contain the Pericope Adulterae in a different location do not occur until much later, and only in a handful of manuscripts. Until the 9th century, this passage is supported in only in one location – John 7:53-8:11. In other words, the “floating” tradition of the Pericope Adulterae is not a phenomenon that occurs in most manuscripts of John, and the tiny amount of manuscripts it does “float” in are late. So if the method of choice for authenticating Scripture is textual criticism, the evidence simply doesn’t support a “floating tradition” until the passage is well established. If one wants to continue making this claim, they should revise it to say, “This passage floats in several later manuscripts, but is overwhelmingly testified to being at John 7:53.” I hardly think this is a good reason to eject this passage from the text. 

The Manuscript Evidence Does Not Prove it Inauthentic 

The second common claim is that “the earliest manuscripts do not contain this passage.” In the first place, it does exist in Codex Bezae (400AD), which is an early manuscript. Even though the manuscript is generally thought of as not useful for creating Greek texts, its existence in the text itself is enough to demonstrate that manuscripts had it. Appealing to several early manuscripts is not a meaningful argument because a passage being excluded from these “earliest” manuscripts in no way demonstrates that the passage was not there to begin with, simply that whatever exemplar(s) were used  didn’t have the passage. The only thing the early extant manuscripts demonstrate is that the exemplar(s) didn’t have the passage, and says nothing about the originality of the verse. Further, the verdict is still out as to where the most influential of these early codices came from, especially two of the Great Uncials which are appealed to so often as authoritative.

“The fact that there are no extant Greek manuscripts with texts that are particularly close to the text of Codex Sinaiticus weighs against any theory of lasting influence. The specific context(s) of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus…cannot be established”

(Ibid 190,191).

If the whole manuscript tradition is inspected, John 7:53-8:11 is found in 1,476 manuscripts. Since we do not know where the earliest manuscripts came from that do not have the passage, they do not seem like a stable guide, if we are using them to remove passages from Scripture. The ejection of this passage from Holy Scripture hardly seems warranted if we take into consideration that early manuscripts had the passage. One could be skeptical if they wish to put a lot of weight in several early manuscripts, but that doesn’t seem to be a good enough reason to argue against the passage.  

The Early Church Was Well Aware of the Passage 

The third common claim is that “none of the ancient fathers mention this passage,” which is picked up by most people from DA Carson. If the goal is to demonstrate its existence in the early church, there are more than enough references to it to show that the early church knew about it. Take for example the Didascalia, a third century book of church order.

“In the Didascalia, church leaders are reminded to receive the repentant back into the fold in imitation of of Jesus, who did not condemn “she who had sinned” when “elders” brought her before Jesus for judgement. Jesus’ saying, “Go, neither do I condemn you” is quoted, and the circumstances of the episode (men bring a sinning woman before Jesus and ask his opinion about the matter) are identical to what is found in the later Pericope Adulterae…The Didascalia is definitely referencing the Pericope Adulterae…”   

(Ibid. 63).

Further, the early latin writers considered it authentic: 

“Latin writers like Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine understood it to be fully Johannine”  


Even in the 16th century, Erasmus concluded the same:

“Erasmus reviewed much of the same evidence known to scholars today…Even so, he decided, the story is likely to be Johannine: known to Papias, worthy of the gospel, sanctioned by the church, especially well received in Latin.”  

(Ibid. 21)

If the reason people make this claim is to show that the “church didn’t know about this passage for 1,000 years,” it falls flat on its face. I will include several more ancient references to the passage at the end of this article. Even scholars such as Chris Keith admit the passage was early, and located at John 7:53. 

“Ambrose is particularly significant for the present discussion because he is the first Christian writer to remark upon Jesus’ acts of writing in PA, the main subject of this thesis. In a letter dated between 385–387 CE, he claims that PA is located in GJohn, and also remarks that the story is, by his time, quite familiar in Christian communities. In Epistle 68 (26), he writes, ‘Numerous times the question [regarding bishops’ involvement in secular courts, specifically concerning capital punishment] has been raised, and well known, too, is the acquittal of the woman who in the Gospel according to John was brought to Christ, accused of adultery.’33 It is clear, then, that Ambrose knows PA in GJohn, and further evidence makes it probable that Ambrose read PA at John 7.53–8.11.”

Keith, Chris.  Jesus Began to Write: Literacy, the Pericope Adulterae, and the Gospel of John. PhD. University of Edinburgh. 2008. P. 119.

The fact is, that the early church knew of this passage, and knew that manuscripts were circulating with and without it. The problem is not the evidence, dear Christian.


So it seems that the passage in question is not a “floating tradition,” is found in one extant early manuscript, and is referenced by early church fathers. If the goal is to defend the text of Holy Scripture, why adopt an interpretive lens that tries to disprove the authenticity of variant passages? It does not seem like an appropriate perspective, in any case. This further highlights the fact that the axioms of modern textual criticism consider the Scriptures corrupt until proven pure. The point of this article is not to “prove” the Pericope Adulterae original based on evidence, but to demonstrate the importance of our own interpretive lens and heart.

An important question we should ask ourselves here is, “What reason do I have to question every passage of Scripture simply because somebody says so?” I argue that it is not our job to act as critics of the Holy Scriptures. It is not well advised to be one of the few who reject this passage, especially considering the claims against it are thinly supported and even outright misleading. If the reason you reject this passage is due to it being a “floating tradition” or because “the early church didn’t know about it,” I encourage you to reconsider your position. There is no good reason, based on the claims against this passage, to reject it.

“We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship”

Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

Appendix: Early References to the Pericope Adulterae

“Why delay ye, O Novatians, to ask eye for eye, tooth for tooth, to demand life for life, to renew once more the practice of circumcision and the sabbath? Put to death the thief. Stone the petulant. Choose not to read in the Gospel that the Lord spared even the adulteress who confessed, when none had condemned her;”

Against the Treatise of the Novatians – 4th Century

“The acquittal of the woman who, in the Gospel of John, was brought to Christ accused of adultery, is very famous”

Ambrose, Epistle 26 – 4th Century

“In the Gospel according to John, there is found, in many of the Greek, as well as the Latin copies, the story of the adulteress who was accused before the Lord”

Jerome, Against the Pelagians 2:17 – 4th Century

 “Certain persons of little faith or rather enemies of the true faith fearing I suppose less their wives should be given impunity in sinning removed from their manuscripts the lord’s act of forgiveness to the adulteress. As if he who had said, “sin no more” had granted permission to sin.”

Augustine of Hippo – 4th-5th Century

1 John 5:7 & Roman Catholic Provenance of Later Manuscripts


Recently, the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7) has been of particular interest in the text-critical discussion. I initially address some of the talking points here and Dr. Jeff Riddle here. Typically, advocates of the modern critical text appeal to the lateness of the manuscripts that have the passage to demonstrate why they believe it should be taken out of the text. Occasionally, the argument is made that it is a “Roman Catholic” reading, and should therefore be rejected by Protestants from a theological perspective. In this article, I will demonstrate why this is not a valid argument. It may have certain rhetorical value for those that are unfamiliar with Reformation history, but it is not devastating by any means as it pertains to the Comma Johanneum. Dr. Riddle makes several powerful observations in Word Magazine 149 (linked above) on this point, but I wanted to add several observations that should provide additional clarity. 

Reformation history is often challenging, because it is easy as modern Protestants to conflate the Jesuit stream of Catholicism with the whole of the western church leading up to and during the Reformation. What we have to remember, firstly, is that nearly everybody was a “Roman Catholic” leading up to the Protestant Reformation, with the exception of the Hussites and the Lollards and other groups that were driven underground until the 16th century by the inquisition.  Secondly, nearly all of the Protestant Reformers were Christian humanists – including Luther, Melanchton, Zwingli, and John Calvin. We have to be more careful when we hear the term “Roman Catholic Humanist,” because nearly all of the Reformers were “Roman Catholic Humanists” until they weren’t. In other words, the term “Roman Catholic Humanist” can be used to describe just about everybody worth mentioning by Protestants during the early 16th century. The humanist Renaissance is an important and necessary component of the Protestant Reformation itself, and to rebrand the term “humanist” into a pejorative based on modern definitions is simply irresponsible. 

Throwing the Baby Out With the Bathwater

The tendency of modern Protestants to reject anything and everything “Roman Catholic” from the late medieval period through the beginning of the Protestant Reformation is an unfortunate error. The humanist Reformers were not rejecting every part of the western church’s teaching, just the parts that they considered grave errors that departed from Scripture, such as the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification, the Lord’s Supper, authority of the pope and councils, and so forth. In rejecting the sum total of “Roman Catholic” theologians leading up to and during the Reformation, Protestants can mistakenly hand over some of the greatest theologians in church history, like Thomas Aquinas, to the post-Trent Roman Catholic church. The fact is, and many modern scholars such as Richard Muller have argued, that it is a shame to surrender the sum total of Medieval scholastic theology, because the Reformers didn’t. Again, the Reformers were Reforming what they considered to be grave errors of the Western church, not rejecting all of the theology that developed in the Western church outright. 

That said, I want to examine an argument against the Comma Johanneum, and evaluate the claim that a “Roman Catholic” provenance should cause Protestants to reject the extant manuscripts as inauthentic as a result. In the first place, the claim that the Comma Johanneum itself has a “Roman Catholic” provenance is rather disingenuous at the start. Dr. Riddle answers the question of “Do the late manuscripts of 1 John really have Roman Catholic provenance?” in Word Magazine 149, but I want to answer the question, “Even if they do have Roman Catholic provenance, does it matter?” The short answer is, no. 

Theologically speaking, the medieval scholastic schoolmen, to this day, provided some of the most clear and concise articulations of Theology proper and the Trinity. In today’s world of social Trinitarianism and other heterodox views of the Trinity, it is actually important that Protestants understand the value that the medieval scholastic theologians provided to the formulation of the doctrine of God. While the schoolmen certainly had their pitfalls, and the humanist reformers were outspoken about these errors, this is one area of Theology that modern Protestants should not simply lump in with “Roman Catholic” Theology. In fact, if modern Protestants completely reject the sum total of medieval scholastic theology, they lose a large piece of their own heritage as Christians. It is important to remember that the Roman Catholic church did not become corrupt overnight, and there were many, many faithful men within the Western church leading up to the Reformation, despite the errors that we all know about. God didn’t abandon His people for 1,000 years, as some seem to indicate. Just like with any beloved theologian of the past, it is a valuable skill to reject what is not Biblical, and benefit from what is Biblical. The fact is, that many of the Western theologians were quite critical of the immorality of Western bishops and Popes, and there were many forerunners to the Reformation who were outspoken against the doctrines we associate with Reformation era Rome.

In other words, it is important to have the discernment to know that 1) not all “Roman Catholics” leading up to and during the Reformation represent the thought of the Jesuits and 2) that many of the theologians casually called “Roman Catholic Humanists” were actually men who contributed greatly to the cause of the Reformation, even if they didn’t make a clean break with the Protestants. Erasmus of Rotterdam is a great example of this. Erasmus was one of the most effective polemicists against the wickedness of the Roman Catholic church during his day. He is famously credited with writing works such as “Julius Excluded From Heaven,” wherein he comically depicts the Pope being denied entrance to heaven. Upon seeing some of the more questionable decisions of Martin Luther, such as his influence on German nobility during the Peasant Revolt, Erasmus thought it better to try to Reform the church from the inside instead of causing chaos in the church. It is valuable to recognize the heterodoxy of Erasmus while also recognizing his contributions to the Reformation as well. Luther actually put a bad taste in the mouths of the Roman Catholic humanists who were trying to reform the church and were actually quite sympathetic to the reformers up to a point. Ultimately, this lead to Erasmus dying in isolation, effectively ostracized. It is easy to simply use the terms “Roman Catholic Humanist” as a rhetorical device, but this does disservice to Reformation history, and the contributions of the men who were simply trying to be faithful, despite their various errors. It is actually inconsistent to admit that the term “humanist” meant something different then as it does now, and also use it as a pejorative to discredit men like Erasmus.

There are four simple takeaways that I want to leave my reader with from this article. 

  1. Nearly everybody we call a Reformer today was Roman Catholic until they weren’t. In fact, pretty much everybody in the Western church was a “Roman Catholic” until the Reformation.
  2. Even those that did not break clean with the Protestants still had critiques of the Roman Catholic church – not everybody was a Jesuit
  3. Nearly everybody we call a Reformer today was a Christian humanist
  4. During the time of the Reformation, the doctrine of the Trinity as articulated by the schoolmen was actually a point of common ground between the Protestant Reformers and the Roman Catholic church


Since the support of the Received Text is a theological appeal, it would make sense that advocates of the Modern Critical Text would attempt to make a theological argument against various readings in it. It is actually the right approach, if you understand the Received Text position at all and wish to cast doubt on the historical Protestant text of Holy Scripture. The fact is, that the Protestant Orthodox remained in agreement with the Roman Catholic church on the point of the Trinity during the Reformation, and the medieval scholastic schoolmen still provide us with valuable contributions to Theology proper and can be benefited from greatly today. In other words, the so called “Roman Catholic” provenance of later manuscripts which contain 1 John 5:7 have no bearing on the textual discussion whatsoever. Especially considering the context of the time they received this reading. They, above anybody in our modern context, would have been especially in tune with sketchy provenance.

I’ll end this article with an appeal to common sense. Theological precepts are not a function of the axioms of the modern critical text. The only function a theological appeal has from a modern critical perspective is polemic, and is not productive if the goal is defending the text of Holy Scripture. It is strange that advocates of the modern critical text have decided to aim this polemic arm at the historical protestant text. It seems rather counterproductive, if the goal is to defend the Scriptures. In the case of the Comma Johanneum, the appeal to Roman Catholic provenance of later manuscripts of 1 John to advocate against the Comma are ultimately disconnected from Reformation history, and the goal of this article is to demonstrate that it is really not a meaningful argument. Again, I highly recommend Dr. Riddle’s Word Magazine 149, where he drives this point home well. Further, an appeal to provenance is rather curious, as nearly all of the preferred manuscripts of the modern critical text are without definitive provenance, and where the provenance of these manuscripts is inspected, the conclusions are that they possibly were produced by non orthodox sources. This is yet another reminder that it is not wise to throw stones in glass houses. See this quotation from Herman Hoskier as cited by Dr. Royse in Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri

“In the first place we do not believe that the scribe of B [Vaticanus] was a Christian. He seems to have been more or less a Western Unitarian.”

Jim Royse. Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri. 3. Bracketed material added.

So if those in the modern critical text camp really wish to appeal to provenance as a meaningful argument against a text, it may be wise to first take a look at the “earliest and best” extant manuscripts rather than a text that was considered orthodox by the Protestant church during the Reformation, whose provenance provides no negative context to the text at hand. This kind of appeal most importantly demonstrates the disconnect between evangelical advocates of the modern critical text and their history, if anything. For those that are discerning whether or not they wish to continue using the modern critical text or move over to the Received Text, this conversation may be enlightening for you. Note that when advocates of the modern critical text attempt to make theological arguments, it is for the purpose of proving a Scripture not authentic. The goal is to cast doubt on a reading which the historical Protestants have defended. Ironically, the arguments employed by modern critical text advocates against the Received Text are of Jesuit provenance. The purpose of which is to persuade Christians to adopt the axioms of modern textual criticism, which do not consider inspiration, preservation, or the Holy Spirit at all. Compare this with the polemics of those in the Received Text, who desire that Christians reject the notion that God has not preserved and delivered His Word. Simply looking at the outlook of each position is a great way to put the conversation in perspective. One side is arguing that Christians adopt the assumption that,

“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any of our translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it.”

(Gurry & Hixson, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, xii)

The other side is arguing that God, “In His singular care and providence, has kept His word pure in all ages.” Take a stand on Scripture, Christian, and be blessed knowing that God has not abandoned His church. The fact stands that despite the confidence in modern textual scholars, they simply cannot prove that the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7) entered the manuscript tradition by way of the Latin tradition. There is nothing that prevents us from believing that God inspired this text, and preserved it in both Greek and Latin manuscripts.

1 John 5:7 and Modern Criticism


The Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7) is a sticking point for many people when it comes to believing the claims of those who advocate for the Received Text of the Reformation, who say that the TR is the providentially preserved and vindicated text of Holy Scripture. More importantly, this variant, above all others, demonstrates the inconsistency of those who advocate against it. In the first place, there is manuscript evidence for it, three of these which match how it is printed in the Stephanus 1500 and the TBS Scrivener. That means that it has as much manuscript evidence support as let’s just say, the Gospel of Mark without 16:9-20. So it is clear that the axioms of modern textual criticism are not particularly concerned with counting noses when it comes to manuscripts, while the critics constantly appeal to this standard when attacking the authenticity of this passage, and many others. 

Typically, those who attack the authenticity of this reading appeal to the assumption that it was introduced from a Latin manuscript. This may seem compelling to some, but the Greek New Testament was translated into Latin and used in that vulgar language in the Western church leading up to the Reformation. So the great sin of a reading being found in the Latin tradition isn’t a world ending argument, since that Latin was translated from Greek. In fact, many modern versions appeal to the Latin often in the Old Testament. Since the reading is also found in Greek, it is just as reasonable to say that the reading was originally there, translated into Latin, and preserved in both Greek and Latin manuscripts. There is no doubt that variants were introduced early into 1 John, and not just chapter five, so if we consider the transmission history of 1 John as a whole, many of the arguments against 1 John 5:7 do not seem as potent. Like with any evidence based model in any discipline, the presuppositions with which evidence is approached is often more important than the evidence itself. This is the case with the passage at hand. The questions we have to ask ourselves as we approach this issue are: Which theory will we adopt to examine this variant? Will we take into account God’s providence in preserving His text, and acknowledge that the 16th century is a part of that? Or will we choose the teaching of the academy, that God did not preserve His Word because orthodox faith communities corrupted it?

An Age Old, Claim Reproduced in Modernity by Evangelicals

Now the claim of the Papists during the Reformation, and the modern scholars today, is that the Reformers/Humanists were quite fond of the Vulgate, and often “back-translated” from it into Greek. The reality is, and this should be evident to all who know their Reformation history, is that Erasmus and the humanist Reformers had no affinity for the Vulgate as it had developed in its own line of transmission. It is also helpful to note the distinction that is made between the Old Vulgate and the Vulgate as it existed during the time of the Renaissance. These men consulted the Latin tradition, but it is a strange disconnect to say that these men were fond of “back-translating” from the Latin. It is also peculiar that the claim is often made when the text of the Reformation disagrees with the preferred manuscripts of the academy.

An important piece of history is that Erasmus, along with the great orthodox divines said that the Vatican Codex (B) was influenced by Latin readings.

“Let them also be removed from the pretence, which carry their own convictions along with them that they are spurious, either,[…] Arise out of copies apparently corrupted, like that of Beza in Luke, and that in the Vatican boasted of by Huntley the Jesuit, which Lucas Brugensis affirms to have been changed by the Vulgar Latin, and which was written and corrected, as Erasmus says, about the [time of the] council of Florence, when an agreement was patched up between the Greeks and Latins; or, (10.) Are notoriously corrupted by the old heretics, as 1 John 5:7.”

(John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 16 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 366–367.)

This quote also demonstrates that the orthodox were also able to distinguish that different books of Scripture within a single manuscript had different transmission history, “Like that of Beza in Luke.” Considering that the academy takes Codex B (Vaticanus) as one of its flagship “earliest and best” manuscripts, it does not appear that manuscripts influenced by Latin readings disqualifies a reading upon that criteria alone. Common sense also tells us that a translation from the Greek had Greek support at one point. Pair this with the fact that modern scholars accept that late manuscripts can preserve older readings, and the inconsistency becomes apparent. Claims that Received Text advocates are “blind to evidence” simply means that Received Text advocates reject the analysis of the evidence by the academy. Again, evidence requires interpretation, and interpretation requires presuppositions.

That being said, can 1 John 5:7 be said to have been definitively introduced from the Latin, as though it were never found in a Greek manuscript? Can somebody produce the manuscript where this took place? Or is that simply a theory catered to the axioms of modern critical theory? Remember, the problem is not with Greek readings having Latin witnesses, the problem is if the reading was never in a Greek manuscript in the first place. I have yet to see a scholar actually produce a manuscript, or historical source from antiquity which demonstrates that this verse was added from the Latin. In fact, the sources from antiquity comment on the verse being corrupted, the academics simply write off that evidence as inauthentic. Notice that when scholars make this argument, they pad it heavily with “likely,” “supposedly,” etc. That is not exactly the most solid ground to be standing on, given that we are talking about God’s Word. This being the case, it would be rather foolish to say that this reading was absolutely introduced from the Latin, based on the evidence available. One might suppose that this was the case, but suppositions always have presuppositions.

Examining This Variant Theologically and Faithfully

It is honorable that evangelical textual scholars have managed to maintain their faith while choosing to live in the lion’s den. Unfortunately, sometimes living in the lion’s den requires you to start acting like a lion, if you don’t want to be eaten. The orthodox perspective of Scripture leaving the high orthodox period was that it had been “kept pure in all ages,” and while I believe the profession of the few textual scholars who claim to be evangelicals, their doctrinal statements often end up sounding a lot like those they claim to disagree with.

“If God preserved the original text intact, where is it? Why don’t we have it? – Bart Ehrman

Bart Ehrman

“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any of our translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it.” – Dan Wallace

(Gurry & Hixson, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, xii)

The questions we should be asking to the scholars is, “Why are you debating, and agreeing with Bart Ehrman? Why are we putting the Scriptures on trial?” It seems reasonable to ask, that if we are unwilling to put God on trial, why we would put His Word on trial in front of the world. That being said, the argument against 1 John 5:7 is often presented as “factual.” In this case, factual simply means, “factual according to our analysis of the evidence.” Prior to even examining evidence, however, one first has to adopt the mindset that the Scriptures need to be criticized and questioned first. Remember, that the orthodox believed the Scriptures to be “pure in all ages,” not in need of reconstruction. The shift from preserved to reconstructed is a shift in the doctrine of the church. In order to arrive at a place where one would even question the authenticity of a given passage in Scripture, there are several important assumptions that must be made: 

  1. The narrative of preservation must be deconstructed and thrown out for the narrative that orthodox faith communities tampered with the text to reinforce orthodox doctrines
  2. The authorship of this verse in John must be questioned and reimagined, because there is no way John wrote that. A different source introduced this text.
  3. An attempt must be made to understand the community who introduced this text to better understand its place in the transmission history of the New Testament 

If we are looking for evidence, there are Greek manuscripts and versional evidence to support it, many ancient fathers use the exact wording of the phrase despite not quoting the whole thing together, and the first protestant orthodox divines used printed editions which included the passage. The problem people have with this passage is not properly evidence, it’s that people do not accept the evidence there is for its authenticity. Even more concerning, is that the grounds upon which people who discredit this passage are lock step with Bart Ehrman. Received Texts advocates are often critiqued for agreeing with Bart Ehrman on his conclusions on the text of the academy, but is it not worse to agree with him in his text critical methods that got him to those conclusions? If one agrees with Erhman in his text critical axioms, but disagrees with him in his conclusions, does it not stand to reason that my argument holds – that evidence requires interpretation? I choose to disagree with Erhman here in his methods.

Further, this verse is also included in the Patriarchal text of the Eastern Orthodox church, who has no affinity for the Latin or Western church. In addition to there being external evidence for this passage, there are solid internal grounds for this passage being authentic. If the reading truly was a Latin invention, we would expect the Greek to flow more easily from verse 6 to 8 without verse 7, and verse 7 to feel forced upon the text in its Greek translated form. Yet the opposite is true. R.L. Dabney and John Calvin recognize that the passage simply does not flow without verse 7 due to the requirements of the Greek grammar rules. Matthew Henry even notes that,

“That the edition depended upon some Greek authority, and not merely, as some would have us believe, upon the authority of the vulgar Latin or of Thomas Aquinas.”

(Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. 1 John 5:7).

John Calvin notes that,

“The whole of this verse has been by some omitted. Jerome thinks that this happened through design rather than through mistake…Since however, the passage flows better when this clause is added, and I see that it is found in the best and approved copies, I am inclined to believe it as the true reading”

(John Calvin. Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles. 1 John 5:7).

What is the response to Calvin? “He was mistaken about the quality of the texts he had access to.” RL Dabney comments, 

“In 1 John 5:7,8 the Received Text presents us with two sorts or triads of witnesses, one in heaven, the other on earth, and asserts the unity of the first triad in one. In the revised Greek text underlying the modern versions all this is omitted, and all reference to a trinity is obliterated. The significant fact to which we would draw attention is that many of the variations proposed by modern scholars which have any doctrinal importance appear to undermine the doctrine of the Trinity, and particularly the doctrine of Christ’s deity. The various readings in the manuscripts and versions may be counted by hundred thousands, but the vast majority are insignificant. Among the few important various readings there are several that bear on this one doctrine–a doctrine which was keenly debated between orthodox believers and heretics just before the three most ancient existing copies were made.

The Sabellian and Arian controversies raged in the 3rd and 4th centuries and the copies now held in such high repute among scholars were written in the 4th and 5th centuries. The hostility of these documents to the Trinitarian doctrine impels the mind to the conclusion that their omissions and alterations are not merely the chance errors of transcribers, but the work of a deliberate hand. When we remember the date of the great Trinitarian contest in the Church, and compare it with the supposed date of these documents, our suspicion becomes much more pronounced. Did the party of Athanasius introduce spurious testimonies into the text to advance their Trinitarian doctrine, or did the party of Arius expunge authentic testimonies from copies of the sacred text in order to obscure the doctrine?

The so-called oldest codices agree with each other in omitting a number of striking testimonies to the divinity of Christ, and they also agree in other omissions relating to Gospel faith and practice. Was this because these ancient documents represent the views of copyists who regarded the Athanasian Trinitarians as corrupters, or can it be established that the omissions were deliberately made by the Arians to expunge the Scriptural evidence against their case?

All the critics vote against the authenticity of 1 John 5:7 but let us see whether the case is quite as clear as they would have it. The arguments in favour of its claim to genuineness carry a good degree of probability and this text is a good instance of the value of that internal evidence which recent critics profess to discard.” 

Dabney then carries on to demonstrate the grammatical necessity of the passage. 

1. The masculine article, numeral and participle HOI TREIS MARTUROUNTES, are made to agree directly with three neuters, an insuperable and very bald grammatical difficulty. If the disputed words are allowed to remain, they agree with two masculines and one neuter noun HO PATER, HO LOGOS, KAI TO HAGION PNEUMA and, according to the rule of syntax, the masculines among the group control the gender over a neuter connected with them. Then the occurrence of the masculines TREIS MARTUROUNTES in verse 8 agreeing with the neuters PNEUMA, HUDOR and HAIMA may be accounted for by the power of attraction, well known in Greek syntax.

2. If the disputed words are omitted, the 8th verse coming next to the 6th gives a very bald and awkward, and apparently meaningless repetition of the Spirit’s witness twice in immediate succession.

3. If the words are omitted, the concluding words at the end of verse 8 contain an unintelligible reference. The Greek words KAI HOI TREIS EIS TO HEN EISIN mean precisely–”and these three agree to that (aforesaid) One.” This rendering preserves the force of the definite article in this verse. Then what is “that One” to which “these three” are said to agree? If the 7th verse is omitted “that One” does not appear, and “that One” in verse 8, which designates One to whom the reader has already been introduced, has not antecedent presence in the passage. Let verse 7 stand, and all is clear, and the three earthly witnesses testify to that aforementioned unity which the Father, Word and Spirit constitute.

4. John has asserted in the previous 6 verses that faith is the bond of our spiritual life and victory over the world. This faith must have a solid warrant, and the truth of which faith must be assured is the Sonship and Divinity of Christ. See verses 5,11, 12, 20. The only faith that quickens the soul and overcomes the world is (verse 5) the belief that Jesus is God’s Son, that God has appointed Him our Life, and that this Life is true God. God’s warrant for this faith comes: FIRST in verse 6, in the words of the Holy Ghost speaking by inspired men; SECOND in verse 7, in the words of the Father, the Word and the Spirit, asserting and confirming by miracles the Sonship and unity of Christ with the Father.; THIRD in verse 8, in the work of the Holy Ghost applying the blood and water from Christ’s pierced side for our cleansing. FOURTH in verse 10, in the spiritual consciousness of the believer himself, certifying to him that he feels within a divine change.

 How harmonious is all this if we accept the 7th verse as genuine, but if we omit it the very keystone of the arch is wanting, and the crowning proof that the warrant of our faith is divine (verse 9) is struck out.

We must also consider the time and circumstances in which the passage was written. John tells his spiritual children that his object is to warn them against seducers (2.26), whose heresy was a denial of the proper Sonship and incarnation (4.2) of Jesus Christ. We know that these heretics were Corinthians and Nicolaitanes. Irenaeus and other early writers tell us that they all vitiated the doctrine of the Trinity. Cerinthus taught that Jesus was not miraculously born of a virgin, and that the Word, Christ, was not truly and eternally divine, but a sort of angelic “Aion” associated with the natural man Jesus up to his crucifixion. The Nicolaitanes denied that the “Aion” Christ had a real body, and ascribed to him only a phantasmal body and blood. It is against these errors that John is fortifying his “children” and this is the very point of the disputed 7th verse. If it stands, then the whole passage is framed to exclude both heresies. In verse 7 he refutes the Corinthian by declaring the unity of Father, Word and Spirit, and with the strictest accuracy employing the neuter HEN EISIN to fix the point which Cerinthus denied–the unity of the Three Persons in One common substance. He then refutes the Nicolaitanes by declaring the proper humanity of Jesus, and the actual shedding, and application by the Spirit, of that water and blood of which he testifies as on eyewitness in the Gospel–19.34,35.

We must also consider the time and circumstances in which the passage was written. John tells his spiritual “children” against “seducers” who taught error regarding the true divine Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ and regarding His incarnation and true humanity, and when we further see John precisely expose these errors in verses 7 and 8 of Chapter 5, we are constrained to acknowledge that there is a coherency in the whole passage which presents strong internal evidence for the genuineness of the ‘Received Text’.” 

The only people I have seen stand against this grammatical argument are people who self-admittedly are rusty in Greek, or those that cannot count to twenty or order a sandwich in the language. Such “authorities” should be counted as those who speak without knowledge. You wouldn’t trust somebody who couldn’t watch and understand an episode of Spongebob in English to parse Shakespeare. It is an odd phenomenon, that modern Christians trust the exegesis and theological formulations of the great divines, and yet question their ability to understand the basics of Greek.


The point is this – those that attack the authenticity of this passage do so first by following the footsteps of those deemed “heretics” by the Reformed, and do so again by adopting the critical principles of the academy. The passage fits grammatically, theologically, and has manuscript evidence and even patristic sources that allude to the exact wording of it. Jerome and Nazianzus comment on it, and the critiques of these comments are as you’d expect from a critic – questioning the authenticity of the source. The theological giants of the past, who knew Greek well enough to carry on a discourse in the language agree that the passage flows better with it included. 

The plain reality is that you have to be trying to find a problem with the Protestant Scriptures to even begin having this conversation. There are evidential cases on both sides that can be made, but ultimately the method of approach is what actually matters. Further, the standard of scrutiny leveled against this passage is carefully ignored when applied to other manuscripts and readings of the academy. What reason would a person have to attack the authenticity of a passage that occurs in Greek manuscripts, fits the theological context, flow, and grammar of the passage, and affirms one of the most central orthodox doctrines in Scripture? Christians have been taught to believe that it is their job to scrutinize Scripture, and that it is even honorable to do so.

Even more confusing is that the same people who are certain that this passage is not authentic cannot and will not even affirm any one manuscript, version, or printed text as being exact to the original. If the task of the church today is to reconstruct the lost text of Holy Scripture, joining the enemies of the faith in attacking passages received by the people of God for centuries is a strange way to approach the issue. Even more interesting is how often the standard for each verse is carefully shifted around according to the vogue critical theory of today. It is important to remember that the Comma Johanneum was seated at 1 John 5:7 until evangelical textual critics began deconstructing the Scriptures based on theories that haven’t succeeded in giving the people of God a stable text. It is also important to mention that the theory of Hort, which dominated the 20th century, has been utterly refuted, and the current method is under great scrutiny by the academy. The academy is divided among itself, and the leading voices such as DC Parker, Eldon Epp, and Bart Ehrman have their hand in just about everything that goes on in the text critical world. If you want somebody to blame for Bart Ehrman and others like him having such an influence on evangelical text criticism, look at the evangelicals who let them in the door.

So, the real question is: Can it be proved that the passage came in from the Latin? Can somebody pinpoint an exact date or manuscript? If not, what is the purpose for questioning the source of the verse? Can it be proved that the original autograph went from verse 6 to 8? Did an angel come down to one of these scholars and command them to strike verse 7 from the record? Does it contradict the rest of the teaching of Scripture? Does it teach something unorthodox? Did heretics defend the passage historically? Does it interrupt the thought of the apostle as he was carried along by the Spirit? Do we gain anything by removing this passage?

Or does the passage being removed align with the critical theory of the academy? That the New Testament has been lost and needs to be reconstructed; That orthodox scribes of the Christian faith communities added words, pericopes, and phrases to bolster their doctrine; That the people of God are eagerly waiting for the text-critical heroes to restore God’s Word for Him; That we will never actually know exactly what the prophets and apostles wrote; That God never intended to preserve His Word for His people? I know, it sounds absurd when you lay it out on the table like that, but these are the theories that drive the textual decisions of scholars. But I do not appeal to them, I appeal to the church, who read their Bible to hear their Shepherd’s voice. Take a step back and consider carefully the theories you have to adopt to begin removing verses from the established Protestant canon. Do you know for certain that a passage should be removed? Does the text of Holy Scripture not get the same luxury granted to a murderer in the court of law, or is it the case that the Scriptures are corrupt until proven pure?

At some point, we have to look past the well mannered academics and hit the brakes on this train. That train, dear church, is headed fast down a road that we do not want to be on. Stand fast on the text passed down from the previous era, the text that the great divines stood upon and defended, whose shoulders we stand upon. This is the Holy Scriptures we are talking about here, and we are to approach them with faith, not skepticism.

See Dr. Riddle’s response to the same topic here: Podcast || Article

Absolute Certainty, The Received Text, and Matthew 23:13-14


Recently, Reverend Christopher Myers of Phoenix Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA) tagged me in on a Facebook post to address the topic of absolute certainty and the Received Text. Dr. Peter Gurry playfully chimed in with a test passage (Matthew 23:13-14). In this article I will be interacting with Dr. Gurry’s article. Any disagreements I have with his article do not represent what I think about him as a person. He is a brother in Christ and I no reason to think otherwise.

The question that must be answered is, “How can one have absolute certainty that the Scriptures they read are the Divine Original?” What first must be defined is the operational definition of “absolute” as it pertains to certainty. Of course I would never argue a definition of “absolute certainty” that means “omniscience.” Humans are creatures, and therefore do not know things absolutely in that sense. Yet, in a different, practical, experiential sense, Christians can be absolutely certain that God exists, that He has saved them, and that He has spoken by virtue of His own operation. So the certainty we do have as Christians is not by virtue of our self-perceived omniscience, but by virtue of God’s power in us. This is the clear testimony of Scripture.  

“The holy scriptures, which are wise to make thee wise unto salvation.”

(2 Timothy 3:15)

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable”

(2 Timothy 3:16)

“The Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you unto all truth…He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.”

(John 16:13,14)

“My sheep hear my voice”

(John 10:27)

That is to say that certainty in the Scriptures comes not from man, but from God, and therefore is not from a man. Of ourselves, we can never have certainty in the Scriptures, or any spiritual thing for that matter.

“But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep”

(John 10:26)

People do not believe that the Scriptures are the Word of God because of manuscript evidence, they believe the Scriptures are the Word of God because:

“our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts”

(LBCF, WCF 1.5)

It is firmly the Protestant position that men can have “full persuasion and assurance” in the Scriptures not by virtue of their own knowledge, but because of the “inward work of the Holy Spirit” which bears witness to that “infallible truth, and divine authority,” the Scriptures, in the regenerated heart of the believer. That being said, the matter of certainty is not properly a text-critical category, it is a faith category. “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” No matter which text one reads, it is definitely the case that text-critical evidence is not the reason for certainty, because God says that is Him who gives certainty. Even if every single manuscript were to read the same exact way in every single verse, this would still be true. That is why I continue to advocate that the text we receive should be derived from a method of faith, not science.

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh”

(Romans 8:5)

For a moment, let’s set aside the idea that there is any warrant to believe that text-critical evidence is the reason we believe a verse to be Holy Scripture, because the Scriptures teach that this is not the case. The Scriptures give abundant cause for experiential certainty by virtue of the inner working of the Holy Spirit. 

Examining the Test Case 

Since we are talking certainty here, let us first examine the two models proposed: methodologies which evaluate textual evidence, and the inner working of the Holy Spirit of the individual and the church catholic throughout the ages. Models which evaluate textual evidence are quite fragile. For example, in the article posted for examination by Dr. Gurry, he appeals to the NA27 and the Byzantine tradition to question the passage as it is found in the KJV. He also notes that the passage also occurs differently within the TR corpus. What is interesting, is that his major point is that the passage is not a majority reading, and that’s why it allegedly should be rejected, though he doesn’t make a case either way. If it is the case that a reading should be accepted or rejected based on the criteria provided in the article, I’d love to see an NA29 without any doubt cast upon Mark 16:9-20. The article does not really make a significant point at all regarding the text itself, just that Erasmus made a textual decision using his “limited resources.” Note that Gurry doesn’t make any statement at all regarding the authenticity of the reading, or inform the reader of what he thinks of the passage. Such is the modus operandi of textual scholars. In between the lines of the article is an obvious attempt to cast doubt on the authenticity of the Traditional reading, but on what grounds does he do so? There are three identifiable grounds that I could identify:

  1. It’s not the majority reading
  2. Erasmus had limited resources
  3. We don’t know where Erasmus got the reading

I suspect that is why he didn’t make an actual conclusion in his article, because the reasons he gives aren’t exactly arguments for or against the text itself. If they are, I fail to see how. There is only one text-critical camp that takes reason one as a valid text-critical criteria, and neither myself nor Peter Gurry hold to that position. Erasmus may have had “limited” resources, but how much more “resources” were used to make the general shape of the modern critical text in 1881? Aleph, B, and a smattering of readings from several other choice manuscripts? The shape of the NA27 is not leaps and bounds different from Hort’s text, despite having access to the Papyri, more Uncials, minuscules, and lectionaries.

“None of the popular hand-editions of the Greek NT takes us beyond Westcott-Hort in any substantive way as far as textual character is concerned”

Eldon J. Epp, The Twentieth Century Interlude in New Testament Textual Criticism. 1974. Aland cites 558 variants between the 1881 Westcott-Hort text and the 25th edition of the Nestle-Aland Text (NA25, 1963). The text of the NA27 is not significantly different from that of the NA25.

The sheer volume of additional data is not anything to be astounded by, because what actually matters is how that data has influenced the text. It doesn’t matter if we enter in 10,000 new manuscripts into evidence today, if that evidence introduces no new readings, and only supports the readings we have proportionately. Further, it especially doesn’t matter how much data we have if we only look at a small subset of that data.

Point three doesn’t actually matter because the reading ended up in his edition, and there are manuscripts that have that reading, which were available in the time of Erasmus. Dr. Gurry even lists them in his article. So unless we want to say that Erasmus made up the readings and those readings happened to match a Greek manuscript, I fail to see what the point is here. 

The interesting thing that this article has shown, is that the standard Dr. Gurry sets forth to evaluate the TR is a standard that he probably wouldn’t try against his NA27. There are many minority readings within that text. Further, do we know where the readings of Aleph and B came from? If we take Erasmus’ opinion of Codex B, he alleges the same thing about it that Gurry does Erasmus’ text – that parts of it were following the Latin. It is quite strange that Erasmus, having such a strong opinion against the Vulgate, would follow Latin readings so often! The difference between Gurry’s claim and Erasmus, is that Erasmus’ text is supported by Greek witnesses, and many, many readings from Codex B are supported by virtually no other Greek manuscript.

This brings me to my final question – what sort of grounds does one stand on to evaluate a text from a modern critical perspective? The modern critical methodology cannot say much about the original text of Scripture with any kind of authority. It is a text that is based on a localized smattering of idiosyncratic manuscripts that have no pedigree and that disappear from the history of textual transmission. I understand why a majority text appeal is made, but a majority text appeal from a modern critical text perspective is more confusing than anything, because there are many majority readings that those in the modern critical text camp reject. It is an interesting article, but the article mostly just demonstrates that modern critical text advocates like going after Erasmus as if that defeats the validity of the Greek Received Text.

Now to the Question of Certainty at Matthew 23:13-14

Now that we have seen that Dr. Gurry didn’t actually make an argument against the reading at Matthew 23:13-14 within the TR tradition, I think it will be helpful to explain why Christians should have certainty that the underlying Greek text of the KJV is the original reading. 

  1. It is the reading that was used, commented on, translated, and received by the people of God in the age of the printing press
  2. It fits in the passage and is theologically correct
  3. It exists in Greek manuscripts (even Byzantine ones)
  4. It was translated into ancient versions
  5. John Chrysostom preached it (Homily LXXIII)
  6. Calvin commented on it (Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelist, Matthew 23:13-15; Mark 12:40; Luke 11:42, 20:47)
  7. It does not contradict other Biblical accounts

I have absolutely no reason to doubt that this verse should be there. The only reason I would have for questioning its authenticity is if I was trying to find errors with God’s Word. A reading being omitted by, as Metzger puts it in his textual commentary, “earliest and best authorities,” is not exactly a strange occurrence. If I recall, these “earliest and best authorities” are known for such qualities. What is more likely, that a scribe made a mistake in a verse that starts exactly the same as the verse above and below it, or that somebody intentionally harmonized the text with another gospel before the time of Chrysostom (4th century)?

“Scribes typically copy their sources with fidelity so that ancestors and descendants are closely related”

A New Approach to Textual Criticism, Wasserman & Gurry, 98

If we’re after the simplest solution, what is stopping us from believing a scribe made a common slip-of-the-eye error, and many faithful scribes followed in his steps? Are we going to believe in the meddling scribes theory or the faithful scribes theory? At what point are we going to admit that we are more interested in scrutinizing the text rather than believing it? 

Yet, despite all of the good evidential reasons to believe that the TR reading at Matthew 23:13-14 is the original reading, that is not why I believe it to be God’s Word. I believe it to be God’s Word because the Holy Spirit bears witness to it in my heart. I know, not very text critical of me. 


Matthew 23:13-14 is a great test case to examine the various doctrines of Scripture available in today’s conservative church. On one hand, there is the critical camp, which rejects that we can be certain in the text of Holy Scripture, that relies upon critical analysis of evidence to derive varying levels of confidence. On the other hand, there is the Received Text camp, who recognizes God’s providence as a meaningful metric for recognizing the text of Scripture. Instead of assuming that we have lost the text of Holy Scripture, Christians should believe that he has preserved it, and receive the text he preserved. We shouldn’t be looking for reasons to prove the text of the Protestant Reformation wrong. If the final textual product of the Protestant Reformation is woefully corrupt, then it doesn’t seem that providence had anything to do with the transmission of the text of the New Testament. Further, if the text of the Reformation is corrupt, then we do not have now, and have never had, a stable text of Holy Scripture.

Christians can have certainty in the text of the Holy Scriptures, because God says He provides that certainty. Certainty isn’t derived from our acquisition of knowledge, but rather the internal witness of the Holy Spirit with the Word of God. No amount of text-critical analysis can offer certainty in God’s Word, because there is nothing particular about text-critical methods that can offer certainty in God’s Word. Take, for example, DC Parker, an authority in the discipline, and the team lead for the Gospel of John in the ECM:

“The text is changing. Every time that I make an edition of the Greek New Testament, or anybody does, we change the wording. We are maybe trying to get back to the oldest possible form but, paradoxically, we are creating a new one. Every translation is different, every reading is different, and although there’s been a tradition in parts of Protestant Christianity to say there is a definitive single form of the text, the fact is you can never find it. There is never ever a final form of the text.”

Certainty is a category of faith, not knowledge. If we examine the fruit of the modern critical text machine on the doctrine of Scripture, this is plainly the case. Text critical methods have only produced doubt. So we can talk about Erasmus all we want, but that’s not going to make the New Testament autographs appear. Christians must hold fast to the Scriptures, and derive their certainty from the only infallible hope, our God and Savior Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. There is an objective standard Christians can look at to prove this, God’s providential preservation in time.

“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any of translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it.” – Dan Wallace

(Gurry & Hixson, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, xii)

Mark 16:9-20 is Scripture


The rejection of the ending of Mark, formally known as the “longer ending of Mark”, is a Canonical crisis. In this article, I want to make a case for why people who read and use modern Bible translations should be outraged at the brackets and footnotes in their Bible at Mark 16:9-20. This is the textual variant that ultimately led me to putting down my ESV and picking up an NKJV, and then a KJV. When I understood the reason that my Bible instructed me to doubt this passage, I realized the methods which put the brackets and footnotes in my Bible were not to be trusted. The primary reason that I did not believe this passage to be Scripture was due to my blind adherence to things I had heard, not the reality of the data. The quickness with which I cast God’s Word into the trash caused me to be deeply remorseful, and I’m not alone in that . Not only had I been catechized to reject the ending of the Gospel of Mark, but I was instructed to berate others who were “foolish” enough to believe it is original. Meanwhile, enemies of the faith delight in the fact that Christians boldly reject this passage, because it proves their point that the Bible is not inspired. I will now walk through the data that caused me to be deeply remorseful of casting this passage aside.

The External Evidence

The first step in my journey was to examine the actual manuscript evidence for and against the passage. There are over 1,600 extant manuscripts of Mark, and only three of them end at verse 8. The decision to remove it, or delegate it to brackets, was made on the basis of only two of these. When I discovered this, I was dismayed. I had been using the argument that “we have thousands and thousands of manuscripts,” and I realized, based on my own position of the text, that I could not responsibly use this apologetic argument. My argument for the text, at least in the Gospel of Mark, was not based on thousands of manuscripts, just two. Yet even in one of these manuscripts (03), there is a space left for the ending of Mark, as though the scribe knew about the ending and excluded it. I later discovered that text-critics such as H.C. Hoskier believed that very manuscript to be created by a Unitarian, and that Erasmus thought the manuscript to be a choppy mash of Latin versional readings. I realized, that only some textual scholars thought these manuscripts to be “best”, and my research seemed to be demonstrating that this claim of high quality was rather vacuous indeed. I was operating on the theory that these two manuscripts represented the only text-form in the early church, which I discovered has been mostly abandoned. This is due to the Byzantine readings found in the Papyri, and the statistical analysis done by the CBGM. Further, and most shocking to me at the time, is that the two manuscripts in question do not look like the rest of the thousands of extant manuscripts of Mark. Below is the % of agreement that these two manuscripts share with the rest of the manuscripts of Mark – most of them are not even close enough to be cousins, let alone direct ancestors.   

Codex Vaticanus (03) and Codex Sinaiticus (01), the two early manuscripts in question, do not agree with any other extant manuscript in the places examined in Mark in a significant way, other than minuscule 2427, which has been known to be a 19th century forgery since 2006. What these numbers mean is that these manuscripts look very different from the rest of the manuscripts of Mark. I realized I could not responsibly claim that these two manuscripts were “earliest and best”. There was no way I could defend that in any sort of apologetic scenario, at least. I abandoned this belief on the grounds of two realities: 1) The data shows that different text forms were contemporaries of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, so they weren’t necessarily “earliest”, just surviving and 2) these manuscripts did not look like the rest of the thousands of manuscripts I was constantly appealing to in apologetic scenarios. Further, I found it quite easy to demonstrate that there were other manuscripts circulating at the time which had the longer ending of Mark in it! Even Bart Ehrman admits as much (Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 78,79). This is a simple fact, considering the amount of quotations from the ending of Mark found in patristic writings, including Papias (110AD), Justin Martyr (160AD), Tatian (172AD), and Ireneaus (184AD). The most compelling of these witnesses is Irenaeus, who directly quotes Mark 16:19 in the third book of Against Heresies. “Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says: ‘So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God.’” So the passage most certainly existed prior to its exclusion in the two manuscripts in question. Hierocles(or porphyry), a pagan apologist, even provokes his Christian reader to drink poison, quoting the ending of Mark. It seems that atheists never tire of that retort. 

In order to reject this passage from an evidentiary standpoint is to completely ignore not only the manuscript data, but also the patristic citations which predate our earliest surviving manuscripts. If manuscript data does not matter, and patristic sources do not matter, than what does matter? Well, tradition matters, apparently. See, up until recently, the theory about the ending of Mark was that it was simply lost to time. The book did not initially end at verse 8, but the true ending has been lost. Well that doesn’t quite work for most Christians, so other theories had to be contrived to hold onto the supremacy of these two manuscripts. Rather than adopting the ending that is found in over 1,600 manuscripts, the default position of the 20th century has lingered in modern Bibles in the form of brackets and footnotes. The reason for this? Some of the earliest manuscripts don’t have it. “Some”, as though the number of manuscripts cannot be counted or determined. It seems that the editors of Crossway might want to consider being more precise, but I imagine it would be harder to justify those brackets if the reader knew the actual number. Even the RV, which is the ESV’s predecessor, contained this information. I still, to this day, feel betrayed by the way that my ESV presented that information in my Bible. I felt further betrayed by all of the people who knew this information and still told me that the ending of Mark was not Scripture.   

The Internal and Theological Evidence

If you are a Christian, you believe that the Bible was inspired by God. That means that the New Testament should be coherent, both grammatically and theologically. That is reality that kept me assured during my examination of the ending of Mark. I figured if God had truly preserved His Word, there would be a simple answer to whether or not this passage was indeed Scripture. I found that there was, and overwhelmingly so. I didn’t even need to go sifting through all of the evidence to know what the true reading of the ending of Mark was, the answer was laid out in the doctrine of Scripture in my London Baptist Confession of Faith. 

“We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of God to a high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, and many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections therefore, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts” (LBCF 1.5). 

If Mark ends at verse 8, there is a significant problem, at least from a confessional standpoint. The problem is that verse 8 requires a verse 9 due to its grammar. There is no place in the whole of ancient Greek literature that ends a narrative with the word “for” (γαρ). This means that Mark did not stop writing at verse 8, if the assumption is that the Scriptures were at least perfect in the autograph. So if Mark did not stop writing at verse 8, and the Bible is indeed inspired and would not have included such a basic grammatical error, I figured perhaps it is the case that the reading that occurs in over 1,600 manuscripts should be considered over and above the two manuscripts which contain this idiosyncratic grammar mistake. In order to adopt the abrupt ending of Mark, I could not say that the Bible had any sort of “majesty of style” because it in fact, contains this atrocious grammar error at the “ending” of Mark. 

Further, if Mark ends at verse 8, there is a basic theological problem that puts the Bible at odds with itself. The confession says that the Bible should be esteemed on the account of “the consent of all the parts.” If the Gospel of Mark ends at verse 8, it does not consent with all the parts of Scripture. It excludes an appearance account, which is included in Matthew, Luke, John, and even in Paul’s testimony of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15. That means that Mark is apparently the only Gospel writer who didn’t have his story straight. 

Even Paul, who wasn’t there to experience the life of Jesus, has his facts in line. It is vital that the Gospel that Christians use contains the life, death, burial, resurrection, and appearance of Jesus. I figured that Mark would not have been ignorant to this. It seemed illogical in fact, to affirm the opposite, that Mark would have excluded such a fundamental detail. The burial and appearance are crucial to affirming two fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith: 1) That Jesus was very man and actually died, and 2) that after dying, Christ was raised up and thus very God. Without the appearance, there is no actual vindication of the latter. Turretin even affirmed this truth in saying that the ending of Mark was necessary for establishing the truth of the Gospel account, which I imagine he included as a means to respond to people like me, who were calling the passage into question. At first I said that it didn’t matter because this account is available in other places, but I was making the assumption that early readers of Mark had access to those other witnesses. See, I sat through a semester at Arizona State University where I heard all of the theories of Bauer and Ehrman, so I should have known better than to make that argument. If one takes the higher critical perspective of Markan priority, that Mark was the first Gospel, than the earliest Christians did not have a Gospel account which vindicated the truth of the resurrection. Which is to say, that the only apologetic defense of the Gospel I had to the actual critics of the faith was essentially to say, “Well that’s just wrong!” Kant and Kierkegard would have been proud of me. 


At the end of my research on the ending of Mark, I found that there was no good reason to continue propagating the idea that the Gospel of Mark ends with poor grammar, two scared women, and no vindication of the resurrection. If one of the uses of the Bible is to defeat the enemies of the faith in debate, than this clearly was not the way to go about it. In this journey, I also learned something vitally important – that the purpose of the Bible was not to defend the faith, it was to have faith and increase in faith. It was the means that God had given me to commune with Him. The majority of the Christian church, who reads their Bible to hear the voice of their Shepherd, should not be subject to the threadbare theories of higher and lower critics in the footnotes of their Bible. There are certain places that warrant a serious discussion regarding textual variants by Christians, this is not one of them. 

Not only is the evidence overwhelmingly in support of this passage being original, it is impossible to responsibly say that rejecting this passage is in line with a Reformed, confessional view. Not only does it violate the basic principles of the doctrine of Scripture in 1.5, it ignores the fact that doctrines are actually built upon the ending of Mark as a proof text (WCF 28:4; LBCF 7.2). In both the LBCF and the Westminster Larger Catechism, this passage is used to establish the ascension of Christ, which is doctrinally significant. Even more important to me, was how I had to view the Bible as a whole if I accepted the theory that the ending of Mark was not original. I had to believe that a passage of Scripture has fallen away, lost to time, and cannot be recovered. Since this must be true for the ending of Mark, I might as well apply that theory to every other area of textual variation in the New and Old Testament texts. The theories of higher critical thought must be adopted to explain how the text evolved, and justify the ongoing effort to reconstruct this lost bible. I later discovered that is exactly what is being done by nearly every textual scholar, so it seems I was not alone in my conclusions. 

In my examination of just one textual variant, I came to a significant conclusion. Using Dr. Jeff Riddle’s words, we are living in the age of a Canonical crisis. The fact that the Gospel of John as it exists in the NA28 is different than the Gospel of John as it exists in the unpublished Editio Critica Maior demonstrates this reality. Christians are reading the Gospel of John as it existed in 2012, while the “true” Gospel of John is currently being constructed in Munster, Germany. Who knows if the John that is produced out of the black box sometime in the next 10 years will be the same as the Gospel of John as it is being read now? I wonder what Schrodinger would think of this paradox? 

It is important that Christians realize that the artificial divide between higher and lower criticism is just that – artificial. The footnote which has informed Christians to call into doubt the text of Holy Scripture at the end of Mark is not purely informed by manuscript data. Science is done by the intellect, and the intellect of man is terribly limited and subjective. Theories must be applied, and there is not a single textual scholar who approaches the text without assumptions. The deconstruction of the New Testament text is higher criticism restrained by the religious feelings of Protestants who actually buy Bibles. Honest scholars admit as much. “With the rise of an Enlightenment turn to ‘science,’ and informed by a Protestant preference for ‘the original,’ however, critics like Johann Jakob Griesbach, Karl Lachmann, Constantin Von Tischendorf, Samuel Tragelles, and finally, B.F. Westcott and F.J.A.; Hort reevaluated the evidence…” (Knust & Wasserman, To Cast the First Stone, 16). The reevaluation of the manuscript data in the 19th century is what unseated this passage in Mark from the canon, and the church complied. The people of God do not have to comply with this opinion, and that is the reality. Read the ending of Mark, and know that it is authentic. 

Post Script: A Personal Note from the Author

I do not have the scholarly credentials, but I do have one unique qualification that I believe is important. I am a part of the first generation of Christians who came to faith after the battle for the Bible. My generation is feeling the impact of a changing Bible harder than any other generation to date. I was taught how to read my Bible after the longer ending of Mark had been overwhelmingly dismissed. When I approached bracketed texts, I ignored them, because that is what I was told to do. I did not consider the theological impact of removed texts because modern exegesis and hermeneutics are designed around a shifting text. That is why, when I began to study historical protestant theology, these modern hermeneutical methods were so crazy to me. If doctrine cannot be established upon contested verses, what place is left to build doctrine upon? The answer is very few places, and the diamonds in the apparatus of the NA28 are proof of that. The Reformed believed that every word, all Scripture, should be used. That is why it was such a shock to me when I discovered the reasons that these texts were put into brackets. I was raised in a generation of skeptics, and I did not become converted under the assumption that I would need to take a Kantian leap of faith to believe in my Bible. Christians in my generation should not have to believe that they must wait until 2030 to read God’s Word. That is unprecedented in the history of the church. If the Bible isn’t going to be ready for another ten years, what is the point of even reading it until then? The answer is simple: there isn’t a good reason to read it until then, or after then for that matter.   

If the longer ending of Mark is not Scripture, what then is Scripture? What piece of the text cannot be put under the same scrutiny if all it takes is one shoddy manuscript that is stored in the Vatican to change the whole Bible? How many manuscripts would it take to unseat John 3:16 or Romans 8:28? The reality is, the modern Bible is being held together by the people that read it, not the evaluation of manuscripts. The Bible becomes smaller with each implementation of text-critical methods. I imagine that the rapid progression of the modern text-critical effort is directly related to the fact that people simply don’t read their Bibles anymore. It’s easy to ignore footnotes and brackets and a constantly changing text if people don’t know that anything has changed in the first place.  

It is clear that something needs to change, or the Christian church will be in deep trouble by 2030 when scholars begin teaching the people of God how to construct their own Bible using online software. Yes, that is the reality, not some speculation. The split readings in the ECM will eventually make their way into the text of translations, and by that time, the Christian will not have a Bible or a defense for the Bible. If the CBGM has proven one thing, it is that none of the scholars using it can determine what the original said. My hope is that things will change before that happens, but time will tell.