I brought up this example in a recent post, because it was for hundreds of years a favorite trinitarian proof text, seemingly the “smoking gun” verse that was needed, the Comma Johanneum.
But I didn’t get into the complexities of this story. It’s a fascinating one, if you at all enjoy textual detective puzzles.
I found some excellent recent posts by Sean Finnegan, posted at kingdomready.org. The subtitle of the post is a red herring, but the article is well done and informative. Check them out:
- Part 1 deals with the Latin textual tradition.
- Part 2 discusses the Greek evidence, and the odd case of Erasmus.
I think he overreaches a bit at the end; yes, many catholics c. 1500-1900 wanted these verses kept in – they were just too convenient, and it was an embarrassment that they’d so long been in the received version, only to be taken out in these latter days (unless you’re Greek Orthodox!).
But it’s unclear why they were composed in the first place. I mean, how exactly would this combat the “Arians’s” theology? Why wouldn’t they want to say that the heavenly Three are “one”? It doesn’t say one god; they could be one in testimony.
And if we’re now right about the original text, how could one read that as a statement about the Trinity (just ’cause there’s three?) so as to compose a marginal note about the three in heaven? By what mental leap could one go from the eathly trio to a heavenly one? Maybe I underestimate the patristic-era imagination, though… it has surprised me many times.
So I don’t see any big polemical point here for unitarianism. I say, bravo to the intellectually honest trinitarian scholars who smoked out this rat, despite the inconvenience. Even Erasmus, though he caved.
It is true that unitarians of various sorts were out in front on this one. (e.g. Clarke nukes it on p. 121.)