1 John 5:7, the 1514 Complutension Polyglot, and its Detractors

Turning again to Francis Antony Knittel, New Criticisms on the Celebrated Text, 1 John 5:7, and the Translators Preface written by William Evanson we receive a glimpse into late 18th criticism of the Textus Receptus’ inclusion of 1 John 5:7. Note that in Evanson’s estimation, the attack upon the reading was driven by heterodox theological presuppositions. We pick up the reading on page 17 of the Translator’s Preface.

“Nor, when we leave Manuscript evidence to examine that of the Printed Editions of the Greek New Testament, will that conclusion be invalidated; but, on the contrary, most power fully corroborated. First in honor, as in place, stands that stupendous and magnificent monument, the Complutension Polyglot of Ximenes, which contains the “Princeps” Edition of the Greek Testament.[1] Every Princeps Edition is prima-facie evidence of the Readings in con temporary or antecedent Manuscripts. The Complutensian reads 1 John V. 7.: therefore that verse stood in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament then existing and consulted by the Editors. Those Greek Manuscripts, we are assured by the Editors, were the most ancient, and the most valuable which could then be procured from the best public or private Collections in the world. The munificent Patron and Projector of that Work spared no expense or toil, and employed the ablest Scholars and Critics of the day in its completion. Its authority was held equivalent to that of the most authentic and ancient Greek Manuscripts then extant (as even Michaelis admits). It was referred to as the ultimate appeal from every subsequent Printed Edition; and it remained in the undisputed possession of that preeminence, throughout all Christendom, for nearly one hundred and fifty years, during the brightest days of the Reformation.”

The “first assailant” of the authenticity of 1 John 5:7 was Johann Semler. Evanson continues,

“Its first assailant was the celebrated Wetstein; whose charges were repeated by the learned Sender  [eminent Critics no doubt, but, as we can fully prove, unsafe and most suspicious witnesses in the point at issue,] and upon their sole authority, upon their unsupported and peremptory dicta, have all subsequent opponents of the disputed verse impeached, not only the genuineness of that verse in the Complutensian New Testament, but the character of the whole Polyglott.

Now, if it be remembered, that both Wetstein and Semler ground their accusations almost solely upon motives which they invent, and impute to the Editors of the Complutensian, we are perfectly justified, not in fabricating and imputing any sinister intentions to these two Critics, but in stating their avowed religious tenets— tenets of such a nature, as, in ordinary cases, engender not only a suspicion of sinister motives, but of invalidity in those deductions which such persons choose to draw, in favour of their peculiar opinions.

Whoever has impartially examined Wetstein’s Annotations on the New Testament will be con vinced that the Learned Annotator did not believe in the Proper Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, he was openly charged with Socinianism; a charge which he could neither palliate nor deny. He was fully aware, that so long as the verse 1 John V. 7. remained an integral part of God’s Holy Word, no ingenuity of criticism could argue away the Consubstantiality of the Father and the Son. Great then was his anxiety, and incalculable the toil and pains which he encountered, to destroy, if possible, the reputation of that Princeps Edition in which that verse was inserted. Where History or argument fails, he has recourse to sneer and sarcasm. Let any one read the subjoined Notes, and say whether I am not justified in impeaching Wetstein as an unsound witness in this cause. Biased and hostile as he shews himself, against the foundation-truth of Christianity, his testimony cannot be received without suspicion: it must be scrupulously weighed; and the result will be found to be captious, superficial criticism, insidious and un founded calumnies, upon the munificent Promoter and the learned and honest Editors of the noblest Biblical Undertaking in the world. Semler, who repeated these accusations, with many additional effusions of his own spleen, in his Reprint of Wetstein’s Prolegomena (1764-8), was an avowed supporter of Pelagianism. He denied the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. He was, if not the originator, certainly the great promoter of that Infidel system so fashionable amongst the modern Neologians or Rationalists of Germany: I mean the Accommodation Theory,[2] according to which Revelation is to be judged of, not by the evidences of its divine origin, but by its supposed utility. It is notorious, that at the time when he repeated Wetstein’s accusations against the Complutensian, he had never seen that Polyglott:[3] but he knew that it contained the disputed verse 1 John V. 7, and he was therefore determined to crush it altogether. Unquestionably he possessed gigantic intellectual powers, immense erudition, and unparalleled industry. But he has been encountered by a formidable antagonist, the celebrated Goezen,[4] of Hamburg who has thoroughly exposed the shallowness of his pretensions as a Critic of that great Work, demolished the whole fabric of his baseless invectives, and consigned him, and his prototype, Wetstein, to the pity of every impartial Theologian and genuine believer in the doctrines of Christianity.

Wetstein and Semler are, in fact, the only authorities appealed to by the depreciators of the Complutensian. Their unsupported assertions have been assumed as axioms; their sophisms, as mathematical demonstration. Their hypothesis respecting especially the Greek New Testament in that Polyglott, is, that ” the Editors formed the Greek on the Vulgate.” This hypothesis, unsubstantiated by even a shadow of proof, has been repeated by Protestants, in the face of unanswerable evidence to the contrary:[5] and, curious to say, it’s very opposite is maintained by a celebrated Roman-Catholic critic, Richard Simon, (Hist. Critiq. p. 516,) who asserts that the Complutensian Editors corrected the Vulgate Latin of the New Testament by the Original Greek Text!”

Note Evanson’s observation writing, “He was, if not the originator, certainly the great promoter of that Infidel system so fashionable amongst the modern Neologians or Rationalists of Germany: I mean the Accommodation Theory, according to which Revelation is to be judged of, not by the evidences of its divine origin, but by its supposed utility. ” This dichotomy continues to today. Either the Scripture is God’s word by “evidences of its divine origin,” that is, Scripture is self-authenticating (autopiston), self-attesting, ands self-interpreting, or it is judged by its “supposed utility,” or by some external criteria.

Francis Antony Knittel, New Criticisms on the Celebrated Text, 1 John 5:7, translated by William Alleyn Evanson (London: C. and J. Rivington, St. Paul’s Church-yard, J Hatchard and Son, Piccadilly, 1829, 1785), Translators Preface, xvii-xxiii.

            [1] The Greek New Testament was first printed in the Complutensian Polyglott, and finished in the year 1514; though the entire Work was not completed until 1517, nor the Papal Privilegium obtained until 1520. Erasmus’s First Edition was printed in 1517.

            [2] For a fuller account of Semler, see Rev. H. J. Rose’s Four Ser mons on the State of the Protestant Religion in Germany : (a most valuable and interesting Work,) p. 45 et seq. First Edition.

            [3] This appears, from his Note on Erasmus’s Annotation already quoted. He there observes: “Since Erasmus has here noticed all the Variations between the Complutensian and the Codex Britannicus, yet without expressly stating that the former has epi thV ghV where the latter reads en th gn, he must have committed a mistake a few lines before, and been thinking of the Greek instead of the Latin in terra, which is much more correct than en th gh. Now, from what we learn in other Works, of the order of the words in the Complutensian New Testament, it is certain that the latter actually printed en th gh.” Every one knows, that the reading in the Complutensian is en thV ghV : therefore, Semler either deliberately falsifies, or never saw the Work which he criticizes. (See Goezen’s Vertheidigung &c. p.78.)

            [4] Goezen’s Works on this subject are enumerated in Knittel’s Note, p. 95. I am engaged in preparing a Translation of them for the press; and am encouraged to hope, they will prove a valuable accession to our Biblical Literature.

            [5] Goezen has collected nearly 1000 Variations between the Complutensian Greek New Testament and the Latin Vulgate; and these not trivial or insignificant, but the majority most important: in many, the sense of the Readings in the Complutensian is directly opposite to that in the Vulgate. (See Ausfuhrtichere Vertheidigung, pp. 276—506.)

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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