Which scriptura should I sola?

picture courtesy of Emergent Village.com

Probably the most famous example of someone tampering with the Christian scriptures is the so-called Johannine Comma:

For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth:the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one. (1 John 5: 7-8, NKJV)

The first line was later removed from most modern bible translations so that we typically find just the following:

For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. (John 5: 7-8, NIV)

According to notes in the NIV Study Bible the questionable line was added to the Latin Vulgate Bible and is not found in any Greek manuscript prior to the sixteenth century. The implication is that some scribe or scribes of the Roman Catholic church added it. Which they did, and for an obvious reason: this was the only line ever found in any Bible that directly points to the idea of a Triune God. The scripture was altered by Church authority to bolster a difficult-to-comprehend doctrine.

The reason this line was found in any Greek manuscripts after the 16th century was because Erasmus added it to later editions of his Greek New Testament, the first ever compiled. At first Erasmus didn’t include the Comma, as it wasn’t in any of the Greek texts he found, either. Under immense pressure from Church authorities he agreed to put the Comma “back in”.  Additionally, Erasmus couldn’t find complete Greek manuscripts for certain other scriptures (particularly Revelations) so in those cases he merely translated the Vulgate’s Latin “back” into Greek, errors and all.

(Remember that the New Testament scriptures were originally written in Greek  and it wasn’t until Pope Damasus ordered Jerome to produce a Rome-sanctioned Latin bible in the fourth century BCE that a single authoritative church-wide book ever existed.  But even Jerome’s earliest Vulgate (common) Bible didn’t have the Comma: it was added later.)

This is the kind of thing that many Protestants came to expect of the Roman Catholic Church, with the Magisterium’s disdain for Sola Scriptura. Except, as you can see with the above scriptural quotes, the King James (as well as the New King James) version of the Bible still include the Comma. And most modern Protestant versions of the Bible (with a few notable exceptions) rely upon Erasmus’ Greek New Testament, which is largely derived from the Vulgate. These collective works are known as  the Textus Receptus (a term bible scholars use to describe any Greek text that is not based on the best, oldest or most verifiable manuscripts but on Erasmus’ work instead.)

But scriptural manipulations by ‘orthodox’ authorities don’t end there. In John 5 there is the story of Jesus encountering the crippled man at the healing springs of Bethsaida. Apparently he has waited 38 years to be lowered into the water and be cured. Why so long? Well, he says, every time an opportunity arises, the water is no longer “stirred”. Which is a little confusing: what is this man talking about? What does he mean by ‘stirred’ waters. At some point someone took it upon himself to solve this mystery for us, even though he made it up in order to do so. You won’t find it in most Protestant bibles but you will find it in the trusty old (and New) King James:

For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
(John 5: 4, King James Version)

Even though many still love the King James (and it is easier on the ear – compare its version of Ecclesiastes with the competition’s) many more will concede that it has quite  a few issues.  But it is not the only bible that does.  Which, along with all the other textual changes and scribal errors (and there are many more), poses some serious challenges to anyone who believes that the Bible is the innerant, infallible Word of God, that must be taken literally in order for us to understand God and the universe.

Take the problem we have with 1 Timothy 3:16, which for most of the Church’s history (and in many bibles today) has read like this:

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory.

But in the early 18th century bible scholar J.J. Wettstein, upon examining the Greek manuscript this verse derives from, found that one of the word’s had been changed to read “God” when it originally said something like “who”. This altered verse is one of the few, if not the only, explicit statements of Jesus’ divinity found in the Bible. The verse originally read more like this:

Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great:

Who was revealed in flesh,
vindicated by the spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world,
taken up in glory.

Which speaks more about the mystery of who Jesus was and not the absolute assertion that he was God. By pointing this out (among other questions about scriptural accuracy) Wettstein was shunned from his religious and academic community. And even though this information has been well known for nearly 300 years many bible publishers refuse to make the necessary changes. What type of faith do we have when we need to fall back upon spurious scripture for our religious security?

It seems to me that, all affirmations of Sola Scriptura aside, Protestants have more devotion to non-biblical “tradition” than they would like to believe.  I mean, sola which scriptura, for Pete(r)’s sake?

(Thanks to Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” as the source for most of the above material.)


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  1. #1 by Ric Booth on June 17, 2010 - 8:19 am

    thanks for this post. I was aware of the John 5 angels stirring the pool story but not the other two (and you might want to add the “1” in front of 1 John 5:7:8). There is also the adulteress / cast the first stone story too. And I remember something in the early part of Exodus where the NIV translators actually dropped one of these verses (or more) AND then renumbered the remaining verses in the chapter … making cross referencing a bit difficult.

    Then of course, we have to keep in mind that the very sentences, punctuation, paragraphs, chapters, and verses are all connoting meaning. Breaks. Pauses. End of thought. New thought. etc. Yet, all of the breaks were inherited from the KJV.

    Retaining the cross reference results in ridiculous NIV verses like 1 John 5:7, For there are three that testify:

    I liked the way Peterson published his first Message without any verse references. They’ve been added since (probably due to some outcry;). Now we need someone with the guts to rewrite the chapter breaks (or remove them?) and (gasp) maybe even re-order the books.

    • #2 by Christian Beyer on June 17, 2010 - 10:23 am

      Thanks for pointing out my typo. Fixed.

      Yes, you present more good examples. And there are so many more. I never heard of that NIV Exodus thing. Gotta check it out.

      According to Ehrman a fellow named Stephanus (AKA Robert Stephans) was the first to establish verse divisions in 1550. Until then the text was printed all together with no verse divisions at all. (The earliest Greek manuscripts don’t even have divisions between the WORDS!) And like you said, these divisions can go along way towards making a point. Or avoiding one.

      So not only is the Bible subject to our interpretation it already has been subjected to the interpretations of those who have modified the scriptures over the past 2000 years.

  2. #3 by logiopsychopath on June 25, 2010 - 7:24 pm

    Moriae Encomium (In Praise of Folly) must have been talking about thee, oh short one.

    Yes, Erasmus put these scriptures in to please friends, or something like that. I read his own account of this, but can’t recall the exact quote.

    You are right, on a purely intellectual level, but as usual, you leave out other factors in the equation of Scripture.

    • #4 by Christian Beyer on June 25, 2010 - 9:56 pm

      And as usual, you fire a poorly aimed potshot before running back inside your plaster tower.

  3. #5 by logiopsychopath on June 26, 2010 - 3:54 pm

    Actually, I have argued in favor of “Sola Scriptura, putting King James and New King James at the head of the pack.

    The argument comes down to opinions on the Western text-type and whether or not one respects the work of Wescott and Hort. If someone outside of Tyndale House likes these gize, they will respect modern translations and have no problem removing the Johnny Comma.

    On the other hand, those who accept modern translations might end up as clients of Herb H., because reading Bibles not published by Thomas Nelson and Sons ought to be against the law–and they should join Martha Stewart and other Hoity-Toity A listers on calling upon the Name of Herb when the Penn is waiting.

  4. #6 by Christian Beyer on June 26, 2010 - 4:39 pm

    I have no idea what you just said, outside of your first paragraph. But in response to that, although none of the modern (or pre-modern) translations can be relied upon to be completely accurate, the KJV and it’s offspring are the absolute worst of the bunch. And it’s not because of the stilted English or but because they alone have refused to make any modifications in the face of the evidence at hand. It is as if to some people the KJV (which ain’t much different than the Vulgate, sans apocrypha) is the original text.

  5. #7 by logiopsychopath on June 27, 2010 - 12:14 am

    Wudda you have against the only true translation, the Authorized King James.

    Seriously, folks, I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “If it ain’t King James, it ain’t Bible.”

    Wuddabout the Greek?

    I also was once told it is possible to get saved out of a translation other than KJV–I thought Jesus did the saving and the Scriptures told the story.

    BTW–I have to do these non-senseical comments because the flippancy hides my dysfunctional feelings.

  6. #8 by Christian Beyer on June 29, 2010 - 12:48 pm

    What do I have against the King James?

    I just watched a movie that, up until the end, I thoroughly enjoyed: “The Book of Eli”. The film was just about ruined for me when it heralded the importance of the last remaining Bible on Earth being none other than the King James. They seem to be suggesting that this is the “original” Bible. But, it ain’t. And it has some serious problems with accuracy.

    I would have preferred that they just called it the “Bible”. But by specifying the version they stepped over the line that separates entertainment from proselytizing.

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