Of the nature of the proofs on which the genuineness of the Text of the three witnesses in heaven, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, must be established; and of the nullity of those, which are urg’d against it.
IT would be of no service, that these words contain’d the great and sublime notion of the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in one only divine nature, if they did not really belong to St. John, and were fraudulently inserted into his Epistle, for the support of the doctrine of the Trinity. We are therefore now to enquire into the nature of the proofs for and against the truth of this passage.
When the wonderful art of printing Books, which till then were all Manuscripts, was found out about the middle of the fifteenth Century, divers Bibles were printed in several Countries from the Manuscripts which were in the hands of all the World, and the Text here in dispute was inserted in the Epistle of St. John, in the same place and after the same manner it has been ever since. No person exclaim’d against these impressions; they had then the same MSS. they have now, in which this passage is wanting, but this was not thought of moment against its being authentick; they judg’d it to be a mere omission in these MSS. a case which was not peculiar to this Text; nothing on the other hand being more frequent than such omissions in written Copies. This solemn acquiescence of all Christians in favour of a Text which they were accustotn’d to read in the Epistle of St. John, cannot be validly contradicted but by strong and solid arguments to prove the Text supposititious. If we could have recourse to the original copy of the Epistle, the matter would soon be decided, but in all likelihood ’tis. now above fifteen hundred years since the original, of the Canonical Epistles were lost; the transcripts which have been made from age to age, and the early Versions into the vulgar tongue of the people then alive, are since that time the only means, by which we can be assur’d of the truth of facts of this kind. The Books of the New Testament were wrote in the Greek language, and consequently the Greek Editions must have been made from Greek MSS. The Latin is the language of the most ancient Version of these facred Books; and ’tis thus the Latin Editions must have been made from the Greek. If those who published the first Greek Editions of the Epistle of St. John, and who have inserted this passage in the body of the Text, did not place it there but upon the credit of MSS. their printed Books must now have the same authority as the MSS. themselves had formerly. And for this authority of the MSS. from which the Editions were made, ’tis not necessary that all the rest should be found to agree with them in the Text, we are upon; first, because what may have been an omission in the one is no proof of its having been an interpolation in the others; a thousand instances make out the contrary. 2. If the Greek MSS. in which this Text is nor, are such as want also several entire passages in divers places, which yet are own’d to belong to the sacred Text, because they are in other MSS. the want of this passage in any MSS. whatever, is not a sufficient reason to conclude, that it is supposititious in the
Manuscripts in which it is found. 3. The greater or smaller number of MSS. in which this passage is not read, cannot invalidate those in which it is read, no more than twenty or thirty Historians, who shall have wrote an history, successively and in divers ages, in which a certain fact, tho’ of very great importance, shall not be found, but which seven or eight other Historians of undoubted credit shall have mention’d, can be alledg’d in proof from a mere omission of this fact, against the veracity of the others, who mention it. 4. If the Greek Church has own’d as genuine the passage, which is not found in this number of Greek MSS. this defect can be look’d on only as a pure omission, which has passed from one to another; or which even thro’ the inadvertency of a transcriber has been introduc’d into their MSS. Now what is regarded as an omission avails nothing against a passage quoted and approv’d; we shall see in the sequel, that it is not a supposition without ground which I here make of the judgment of the Greek Church in defence of the truth of this Text; I have elsewhere given certain proofs of it; and I shall yet produce others, which I am inclin’d to think our adversaries have not consider’d.
I have spoke of the ancient Versions, which may lead us back very near to the time of the Originals of the sacred Books. I don’t think, that any person ever attempted to dispute the antiquity of the Latin Version, call’d the ltalick: ‘Tis upon this that St. Jerom form’d his Version or Correction at the close of the fourth Century, and it was this which the whole Western and Southern Church in Europe and in Africk, made use of from the age in which the Apostle St. John dy’d: If then the Text of the three witnesses in heaven be found in a Version so ancient and authentiek, ’tis one of the strongest proofs we can have for the Texts being genuine; especially if it has been own’d by the ancient Fathers, in the times, and countries, where the ltalick Version was us’d by the Churches: ’tis a fact which I shall undertake to prove in the following Chapters, and which I hope to set in a new light, tho’ what I have said in my Dissertation has put our adversaries out of the condition of giving any answer to it, that has so much as the appearance of reason; as may be seen in the Examination which I have wrote against Mr. Emlyn.
To return to the ltalick Version, and the proof which we draw thence; I know not how it has happen’d, but those who dispute the genuineness of St. John’s passage, urge against it the Oriental Versions, the Syriac, the Arabick, the Coptick, in which this Text is omitted. As the bare name of these Versions carries with it a certain air of learning and erudition, which is apt to dazzle and lead astray, they fail not to make a great noise about it, and as the Syriac is the most ancient of all these, they cry it up in such a manner as seems to bring it near to the original: they forget that it is defective in many other important Texts, as well as in that of the Epistle of St. John, as I have shewn in my Dissertation, pag. 166. But the Syriac Version, which they have now, must not be confounded with that which was made in the first ages; the most able persons in this kind of learning are of the fame opinion; and Mr. Simon himself thought so too, since he owns in his Critical History, that this Version is more modern than the Latin Versions, i. e. than the ltalick, and even the Version of St. Jerom. Besides this, there are two great differences which set the Syriac Version far below these ancient Versions; the first consists in this, that the Syriac Version was us’d only by some people in the remotest part of the East, who understood neither Greek nor Latin, and consequently it was of no great note in the Church; whilst on the contrary the Italick Version first, and then the Vulgate of St. Jerom, had a progress thro’ all the Churches of the Latin World, and were receiv’d as Books of great authority. 2. This Version fell under the eyes and pens of the most Celebrated Fathers of the Church, who have quoted it in their Writings; and was also the Bible of all the Councils or Europe and Africk. Nothing in general could contribute more to the authority of this Version; as then the Syriac does not come near it, the omission of the passage of St. John in this Version cannot balance the authority of the Italick Version, and destroy a Text, which that has own’d. What remains is to bring proof of this; and that shall be the subject of several following Chapters; for ’tis too copious to be consi n’d to one.