This will be a 24-part series covering David Martin’s The Genuineness of the Text of the First Epistle of Saint John V.7
The 7th Verse of the Fifth Chap. of St. John’s first Epistle, There are three, S’c. prov’d to be genuine beyond all Exception, from the ancient Latin Bibles, the Quotations of the Fathers, the Testimony of the Greek Church, and lastly from an old Greek MS. of the New Testament in the Library at Dublin.
PART I. In which it is most evidently shewn, that the Latin Church has always own’d this Text to be authentick.
That to maintain the genuineness of this Text is of great importance to the doctrine of the Trinity.
The first ground of all religion in general is to believe that there is a God; and the great foundation of the Christian Religion in particular, is to believe three divine Persons in one only and the same divinity. The sole light of natural reason may suffice to every one, who is carefully attentive to consult it, for the simple belief of a God, an eternal and almighty Being, from whom every thing that exists has deriv’d its original; but the brightest and purest lights of natural reason, could never attain to the belief of one God in three Persons faith alone can soar so high, and that only by the assistance of divine Revelation. This Revelation is contain’d in the Holy Scripture, but is most plainly disclosed in the Books of the New Testament. The great truth of one God in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, which lay hid to all human understanding, and in the first ages of the Church was discern’d by faith amidst the shadows of an obscure Revelation, has happily seen that obscurity disappear at the approach of the Gospel day: faith is no longer at a loss to acknowledge that to be there, which it finds spread thro’ every part since with God the Father is in all places found the Son of God, his only Son, his own Son, Creator of the world and with this eternal Son, the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, the Author and principle of the faith of the elect, the adorable source of all spiritual gifts, and sanctifier of souls. These three divine Persons are seen together in several Texts of Holy Scripture, in which their distinction is so clearly express’d, that faith discerns ’em with the eye that reads ’em. The command which Jesus Christ gave the Apostles to baptize in the Name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, has render’d the Trinity of persons in one Godhead in a manner visible in Baptism: the distinction of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, each with the essential characters of true God, presents it self at one single view in the 12th chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, from the 4th verse to the 11th inclusively: and the Prayer ot St. Paul for the same Corinthians at the close of his second Epistle has united these three adorable Persons, as forming all three together the fruitful source of all benediction; ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’, the love of God, (i. e. God the Father,) and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with you all. Lastly, the Apostle St. John in the 7th verse of the 5th chap, of his first general Epistle presents at once the same Trinity of divine Persons, and in a manner so express, that ’tis impossible not to be sensible of it: ‘There are three, says he, which bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one.
Heresy has form’d no opposition against the genuineness of the three other passages, I have just mention’d; it has been contented to elude their force and conviction, as well as it could: but for the latter, which is that of St. John, it can’t resolve with itself to own it for the genuine Text of the Apostle. For fifteen hundred years a forc’d silence has been kept as to this matter; but the farther ages have been advanc’d, and the more remote they are grown from those first times, when the Churches had that Scripture in the holy Apostle’s own hand writing, the antitrinitarian heresy has become proportionably bold to deny, that this sacred Text was really St. John’s. This happen’d not ’till after the year one thousand five hundred and eighteen, or twenty; as I have observ’d in my Dissertation upon this celebrated Text.
It has found, and yet finds, among the Orthodox, zealous defenders of its genuineness; and their zeal is so far from being without knowledge, that on the contrary it proceeds from the exact enquiry they have made into this particular subject. If among the real Christians, who sincerely believe the mystery of the Trinity, some persons are found, who dazzled with the false light of the objections brought by the Heterodox, continue in a manner undetermined whether this Text be genuine or no; I will venture to say, that ’tis only for want of giving themselves the trouble to weigh maturely the reasons on both sides: they might find in my Dissertation all those of the opposite party, with the solid answers I have given to ’em, and against which the enemy of the Text I have defended has been able to make but slender efforts; but for the proofs which make out this passage to be genuine, they are so evident and strong in the same Discourse, and will receive such an additional augmentation in this, that for the future no doubt can remain concerning a truth of this importance.
To this want of examination and study, there is join’d in some mens minds, I know not what confidence in the other proofs of the adorable Trinity, taken from passages which the Hereticks don’t dispute to be genuine; and imagining hereupon that this may be dispens’d with, they don’t think themselves much concern’d to retain it. We have, say they, so many others, which teach us this profound mystery, and even several that are no less strong than that of St. John, that nothing would be lost, tho’ we had not this Passage, or tho’ the question should be left undetermin’d, whether it really belongs to the Epistle of that Apostle, or is an interpolation.
I own, I find no edification in such an opinion, and in my judgment a Christian ought not to be so indifferent concerning a Passage, which he finds in the Holy Scriptures. If the Holy Ghost has plac’d it there, ’tis a crime to give it up to the audacious criticism of the enemies to the doctrine it contains; and I conceive nothing more injudicious, I will even say, nothing which comes nearer contempt, than to assert that this Text may well be dispens’d with, for this frivolous reason, because we have many others in which the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly made good. The opposite error could not be better gratify’d, than by seeing a Text disappear, by which it finds itself confounded. It yields, it falls under the weight of the rest, but this gives the finishing stroke, and prevents all means of rising again. In all the other Texts, that are urg’d against it, the three Persons of the Trinity are seen; but they are in none set down by the precise number three; that of the Epistle of St. John is the only one where this number is express’d, and ’tis by the force of the word three, that the ancient Fathers oppos’d the error of Praxeas, and of Sabellius, who acknowledging in the Divinity the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, yet refus’d to allow of three, and made but one person, of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The Arians have, with us, own’d the three; and having form’d after their manner a sort of Trinity, they baptiz’d in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, without owning the Son to be God co-essiential with the Father, but God notwithstanding, according to their deceitful way of explication, as the Socinians do now; and for the Holy Spirit, they made such a person of him, as they pleas’d, and their heresy could admit of; but they did not own him to be God, as the Son, nor did they believe him to be a divine Person. ‘Tis for this reason I have said in my Examination against Mr. Emlyn, that they did not own the Holy Ghost to be a person really existing, so as to make with the Father and the Son a Trinity of divine Persons. According to them, the Holy Ghost is but a kind of Angel, who was created by the Son, and is infinitely inferior to him.
However it be, the Arians have own’d three persons. Now the Texts which I have quoted, viz, that of the administration of Baptism, and the two others, taken from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, go no farther than to denote these three persons. To convince then the Arians intirely by one Text of Scripture, in this Text the Trinity and Unity both together must be equally set before their eyes; for ’tis the unity in the number three, which is the stumbling-flock to the Arians and the subject of their incredulity. The only Text which comprehends all this, (the Trinity, I say, and the Unity,) is this passage of St. John, There are three, which bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one. If the Arian gives me up this Text, he leaves in my hands the strongest weapon I can employ against him, and he will hope in vain to secure himself by mean subtleties and imaginary distinctions. The advantage then, which so visibly accrues to us from these words against the most pestilent of all heresies, the Arian or Socinian, should make it be look’d on, at least by all the Christians who believe the mystery of the Trinity, as an Apostolick Text, and entirely remove from their minds, that sort of indifference, which they pretend to have for its being authentick. If those, who openly oppose it, as the Socinian party does, or those who waver betwixt its being genuine and supposititious, had arguments to urge against us, which it was not possible to give very satisfactory solutions to; or if we, who defend its genuineness, had not any good proofs to support it, I own that in all these cases it would be the wisest conduct to suspend our judgment upon a question of fact, which might then pass for problematical: but this Text is found in all our Bibles; ’tis in all the Greek Editions of the New Testament, except three only, two of Erasmus, and one of Aldus; the whole Church owns it to be genuine, and this is enough to form a conclusion in favour of its being so. But should they yet urge against all this, arguments which were very near of the same force, and which might justly strike upon the mind; then, I say, there might be room for doubts and uncertainties. But the case is very different: The evidence, force, and number of proofs all speak the passage of the three witnesses in heaven to be genuine, and they have nothing to urge against it, but conjećtures drawn from the silence of some old Greek and Latin Fathers, of some MSS. of the New Teſtament, in which this passage is not found; and lastly, of some ancient Versions, in which it is wanting. As for real proofs, and proofs of faćt which impugn this passage, and are contradićtory to those which are drawn from the ancient Versions, the quotations of antiquity, and the Greek and Latin MSS to shew that it really belongs to the Epistle of St. John, they have not been able to produce one, after so many attempts they have made to find it ; and without any hazard, I’ll venture to say, they never will find one of this sort.