What About Mark 16:9-20, John 7:53-8:11, and I John 5:7?

Over the past couple week we have been discussing, among other things, the fact that the Post-Reformation Reformed dogmaticians were aware of many of the textual variants that we wrestle with today. Some of the take-aways of these observation is that the Reformed Orthodox were aware of these variants and still argued for a standard sacred text in the Greek and Hebrew apart from the standard sacred text Rome found in the Latin Vulgate. Furthermore, we have observed that the method and subsequent conclusions drawn were different in kind than those practiced and observed now.

Today we come to the biggest and perhaps most contested passages in the version debate: the ending of Mark, the story of the woman caught in adultery, and 1 John 5:7. The appropriate question at this point is, were the Reformers were aware of these variants and how did they conclude regarding them? If they were known, and if their explanations possessed sufficient explanatory scope and force then it seems their answers should suffice for us today unless of course new and meaningful objections were to arise.

In answering this question let us look again to Turretin to see if he was indeed aware of these variants and if he was, how did respond to their existence. As I have said several times before, Turretin is a unique and potent example because his Institutes of Elenctic Theology served as the first systematic theology at the Academy of Geneva, the first Protestant School of Higher Learning. So, fresh out of the Reformation and during the High-Scholastic period, Turretin formulates the systematic theology of the Protestant movement. So what you see in Turretin’s work is not merely the work of one man but the culmination of three waves of the Reformation with a backdrop of Medieval learning. As such, Turretin’s Institutes represent the systematized and crucial loci [i.e., topics] of the Protestant movement to that point.

Given the above historical context what did Turretin have to say about the three passages in question? He writes concerning the account of the woman caught in adultery,

“There is no truth in the assertion that the Hebrew edition of the Old Testament and the Greek edition of the New Testament are said to be mutilated; nor can the arguments used by our opponents prove it. Not in the history of the adulteress (Jn. 8:1-11), for although it is lacking in the Syriac version, it is found in all the Greek manuscripts.”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 11, Sec, X.

Concerning 1 John 5:7 he writes,

“Not 1 Jn. 5:7, for although some formerly called it into question and heretics now do, yet all the Greek copies have it, as Sixtus Senesis acknowledges: ‘they have been the words of never-doubted truth, and contained in all the Greek copies from the very time of the apostles.'”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 11, Sec, X.

Finally, Turretin writes of the ending of Mark’s Gospel,

“Not Mk. 16 which may have been wanting in several copies in the time of Jerome (as he asserts); but now it occurs in all, even in the Syriac version , and is clearly necessary to complete the history of the resurrection of Christ.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 11, Sec, X.

In short, like in the other cases mentioned on this blog Turretin and by implication, the Protestant scholastics were well aware that their various opponents tried to use these three passages as a means to weaken the authority and certainty of the Protestant Canon. Now it is Protestants telling other Protestants that their Bible is less certain and authoritative because it contains these passages.

Observe further that Turretin’s emphasis again falls on the multiplicity of manuscripts in drawing his conclusions and in the case of Mark, that the long ending is “necessary to complete the history of the resurrection of Christ,” which is a theological consideration plainly stated as grounds for his text-critical decision. Overall, we see that there is nothing new under the sun. The accusations and attempted ends are the same though they are now coming from different quarters.

This is going to be the last of our examples from Francis Turretin on this point. Next time we will look at William Whitaker’s Disputations on Holy Scripture.

5 thoughts on “What About Mark 16:9-20, John 7:53-8:11, and I John 5:7?

    1. That’s an excellent question. The short of it is either that Turretin is lying or Turretin had access to Greek document we do not currently have access to today. Seeing that the former seems to be highly dubious and could easily be refuted by his opposing interlocutors, then it seems more likely that Turretin had enough Greek manuscripts to make the claim of “all the Greek copies” and that his opposing interlocutors acknowledged as much and so did not attack him on that point.

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  1. The evidence in hand is that 1 John 5:7 is found in very few of the mss and we have thousands. How is it that Turretin can make a statement that it is in all the copies? Are we to believe that tens of thousands of mss that he looked at all having the disputed passage just up and disappeared and the thousands we have now mostly missing it are the only ones to survive? How does that even begin to be reasonable? We don’t have to impugn Turretin but given the evidence, we don’t have to believe him either.

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    1. [Edited: 8:26 pm]
      Thanks again, Ross. Your comment is predicated on a host of unfounded assumptions. There isn’t even a rational inference here. To assume the manuscripts we have now are the ones Turretin had is an unfounded assumption. To assume that he is lying is an unfounded assumption. To assume that Turretin’s knowledge of the number and type of manuscripts he had must be equated with 21st century knowledge is an unfounded assumption. Just because we have thousands does not infer that we have what Turretin had.

      Turretin can say “all” because he is accounting for all Greek manuscripts within his reference frame. It is a relative “all”, not an absolute “all.” I just got done watching James White address this passage in Turretin and he made the same faulty equivocations as well. As to disappearing manuscripts I think very few people would dispute that more manuscripts have been lost than are extant. So I am puzzled at your credulity regarding the passing away of manuscripts over the last 400 years given persecution in Christian sectors as well as the youth and fragility of the Reformation movement at that time. To ask how the passing away of manuscripts from the Reformation til now could even begin to be reasonable is odd. The first year seminary student knows how easy it is to destroy an ancient manuscript. The weather itself is sufficient to cause utter destruction to a manuscript. Couple that with use and we find that it is profoundly reasonable that manuscripts would pass away quite easily. Given the obvious nature of my observation, perhaps you have something else in mind about “even begin to be reasonable” because at it is currently construed it is only reasonable that manuscripts pass away and the more ancient the more likely they will pass away.

      The current collection of manuscript evidence and attempted comparison between them is an exercise in abduction and arguably one big Gettier Case. It appears that text-critics are hardly aware of or at least don’t let on that they are aware of these features of the evidential method. Both of which I deal with in my book, Then He Poked The Bear and both of which have yet to be refuted. So until they are I find appeals to “given the evidence” considering the modern critical milieu to be rather inane and in need of further substantial support especially given the rise of the CBGM. Indeed, we don’t have to believe him but as it stands there seems little reason not to. Again, I always appreciate your questions and observations. If there is anything more I can do for you please let me know.

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