I John 4:3: Is it “Deny” or “Confess”?

As we continue our survey of contemporary “meaningful textual variants” known and answered hundreds of years, we turn now to 1 John 4:3. Turretin observes that the text can be read, “Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” or as the Latin translates it, “every spirit that denies Jesus.” The editors of the CT observe at least two major variants in 1 John 4:3. The first revolves around whether “does not confess” or “denies” is original and the second is whether “is come in the flesh” is original or should be left out. Omanson observes of the first,

“The external support for the reading in the text [does not confess] is overwhelming. The variant λύει (looses) in some ancient versions and Church Fathers probably arose in the second century as a result of disputes in the church about the person of Jesus.”

Roger Omanson, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament, 509.

Regarding whether or not “is come in the flesh” is original, Omanson writes,

“Good manuscripts of both the Alexandrian and Western text-types support the reading in the text [the Jesus]. The various longer readings, such as Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν (Jesus Christ) and τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα (Jesus in the flesh has come), are expansions made to agree with statements in the previous verse.”

Roger Omanson, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament, 510.

As such it is the opinion of the editors of the CT that “confesses not” is original, but “is come in the flesh” is not original and therefore should be excluded from the text. Omanson admits that there are longer readings in the manuscript tradition regarding the latter variant but holds that shorter is better and therefore what he sees as an expansion is most likely not original. But as we have seen in prior examples, longer readings or what Omanson calls here, “expansions,” were not seen as marks against a reading being original at the time of the Post-Reformation dogmaticians.

Turretin observes of this textual variant,

“It is true that all the Greek copies differ from the Latin on 1 Jn. 4:3…Yet it does not follow that the sources are corrupt because the Greek reading is both more majestic and far stronger against the Nestorians and Eutychians.”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1 Second Topic, Q. 10, Sec. XXIV.

Not first that Turretin’s argument is theological in nature by invoking the criteria of majesty to make his point. It is common in Early and Post-Reformation protestant theology to claim “the majesty of the matter” as one of the internal evidences of the inspiration of the Scripture. Here Turretin uses “majesty” as a means to defend the longer reading [Jesus is come in the flesh].

Second, note that Turretin’s reason for defending the longer reading is polemical or apologetic, if you like. Turretin’s argument at this point is in part based on a theological defense of Christian orthodoxy against the Nestorians and the Eutychians. The former diminished the union of Christ’s two nature while the latter diminished the human nature of Christ in light of His divine nature. Turretin sees “is come in the flesh” as a theological polemic against those who would seek to diminish the hypostatic union or to diminish the humanity of the God-Man.

Third, note what Turretin calls the Greek apographa – the sources. By phrasing it this way Turretin is not making an appeal to the originals to make his case for inspired Scripture. He is appealing to the copies, indeed a canonical apographa, which he calls the sources. And based on those sources he goes on to make claims against Rome’s Vulgate and heresies like Nestorianism and Eutychianism. If Rome believed their Vulgate to be the word of God, and they did, it would not due for Turretin to say something like, “Well, the actual Bible is either in the text or apparatus or in manuscripts we haven’t found yet” or “I know you think your Bible is the word of God, but you should come to our side because our Bible is a sufficiently reliable form of God’s word.”

Back to the point, Turretin’s argument here for the longer reading of 1 John 4:3 does contain the use of evidence […all the Greek copies differ from the Latin], but the bulk and emphasis of his argument rests upon theological considerations. This is all we are calling for here at StandardSacredText.com. Make your arguments primarily from an exegetical and theological grounding and then support that exegetical and theological grounding with the available evidence.

Finally, as we have now seen for the third time, Pre-Critical textual criticism varies greatly from Post-Critical textual criticism or what we call modern evangelical textual criticism. It varies in method at two points at least: 1.) Theology is primary in the interpretation of competing variants and 2.) The shortest, hardest, and oldest reading is not a paradigm held by the Pre-Enlightenment scholarship. Pre-Enlightenment textual scholarship is theologically based, starts at a different place [i.e., with the Church’s Bible which was the TR at that time], and uses a different methodology, than Post-Enlightenment textual scholarship. It is no wonder then that modern textual scholars come out with different interpretations of the evidence and different products from their Reformation era forbearers.

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