A Review of
A History of the Debate over 1 John 5:7-8 by Michael Maynard. Tempe, Ariz.: Comma Publications, 1995. $31.50
Reviewed by Doug Kutilek <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Reprinted by permission from: As I See It, v. 3.10, October 2000
No doubt this book cost its author a great deal of labor, but it proved to be a sadly misguided and poorly-directed effort. The book is one vast presupposition in search of evidence (the author admits as much). He starts with the conclusion, that I John 5:7 is a genuine part of John’s epistle, and then seeks support for this a priori conclusion wherever and by whatever means he can. Defects in evidence, evaluation of evidence, evaluation of sources, uses of sources, selective use and misuse of evidence, and even logic, reason and deduction crowd virtually every page.
There indeed was a famous and centuries-long debate, beginning in the 16th century, about whether I John 5:7 (and a bit of v. 8) was a genuine part of I John. That debate was over in the mid-19th century, by which time the great bulk of the evidence had been gathered and evaluated. F. H. A. Scrivener, a defender of the Byzantine/majority text-type asserted that no one whose opinion was worth considering accepted this passage as a genuine part of I John. The evidence is simply overwhelming. Only 4, all very late, of nearly 500 manuscripts of I John have the disputed words in the text, none of them agreeing exactly with the printed form found in the so-called “received text.” Four more manuscripts have the disputed words in the margin, in some cases at least having been copied there from printed editions. To this is added their absence from all the ancient versions of the NT except the Latin versions, and even there it is absent from the original form of the Vulgate, and with considerable variations among the manuscripts which do have it–a regular sign of a spurious text (the few Armenian manuscripts that reportedly contain the passage are apparently back-translations from printed Greek texts, and therefore of NO independent value as witnesses. Ditto for the Slavonic).
No Greek-speaking church father, even during the great Trinitarian controversies of the 2nd-4th centuries shows any knowledge whatsoever of the existence in Greek of the disputed words, which is simply inexplicable if they are genuine, seeing how the Greek fathers ransacked the Bible from Genesis to Revelation for every possible proof text–real or imagined–for the doctrine of the Trinity (Maynard slides over this glaring fact with scarcely any notice at all, yet it is a crucial consideration). Those who have carefully weighed this mountain of evidence have uniformly come down on the side rejecting the passage as non-original. If all the evidence against the insertion of these words can be set aside on the basis of the meagerest of evidence, as Maynard would have us do, then we would be left with not even the least amount of certainty of the genuineness of a single word in the NT.
The flaws of the book are manifold and serious. First, Maynard has more or less regurgitated in print every single bibliographical reference that he unearthed that had even the most remote relevance to the purported design of the book as indicated in the title (and in many cases, these bear no relevance at all). Sources are listed one after another after another in chronological order, most with no discussion or analysis as sources. No doubt, in most cases, Maynard had never seen the items he lists. Nevertheless, he throws them at the reader in rapid succession, supposing that he will be heard for his much speaking (the book could be shortened by half if all this extraneous material were edited out).
Maynard badly misrepresents many of his sources. Typical is his appeal to Gregory Nazianzen (pp. 40,41) as though he were a supporter (at least indirectly) of the disputed words. Rather than pointing out a grammatical irregularity in I John 5:8, Gregory is defending the passage as it stands (without verse 7) against a criticism raised against it by a critic. A reading of the whole passage in the original source demonstrates this.
Maynard supposes that merely noting a critic of some aspect of his view, and then dismissing him, is adequate rebuttal. He twice refers to me, and in neither case responds to the contents of my writings. He notes that I affirmed in print that Erasmus was a lifelong Catholic (a view Maynard and his fellow-travelers find distasteful since they are all but surgically-attached to Erasmus’ Greek text). Maynard fails to mention that in the paper he refers to, I give quote after quote after quote from Erasmus’ own mouth affirming his loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church, its pope and its doctrine. His own mouth hath betrayed him. Yet Maynard with a straight face affirms that there is no real evidence that Erasmus was a lifelong Catholic.
In another place, Maynard notes my declaration that with the exception of one very careless Adventist writer (who sparked the modern KJVO movement) all written sources known to me declare that the Waldensian Bible was translated from the Latin Vulgate (and not the Old Latin). Rather than interact with my sources, Maynard merely quotes from a writer in his camp who asserts the contrary, without a single shred of supporting proof. He also repeatedly affirms or quotes affirmations that the Old Latin is virtually the same as the “received text,” but never offers any examples of readings which support the assertion. Indeed, numerous readings showing large differences from the received text can and have been compiled to disprove the assertion, but Maynard shows no knowledge of it. Such methodology is not convincing.
Maynard slices the evidence as thin as possible, and then boasts of the pile of proof he has. For example, he notes that the disputed passage is found in Wycliffe’s English version, all the pre-Luther printed German Bibles, and a German manuscript perhaps of Waldensian origin, but fails to mention the fact that all of these were based on the Latin Vulgate version as it existed in the late Middle ages, and in effect do nothing more than testify that the passage is found in the Medieval Vulgate, something not in dispute. All these Bibles have no authority beyond that of the Vulgate on which they were based, and therefore do not constitute twenty or so separate authorities, but only one–that of the already-known Medieval Vulgate version.
Maynard also appeals to faulty evidence. He expressly notes that the presence of the disputed verse in some printed editions (not manuscripts) of the Syriac Peshitta is known to be due to an editor inserting his own Syriac translation of the Greek words into the text against all known Syriac manuscript authority. Maynard then turns around and cites four such deliberately altered printed texts as though they had authority in deciding the issue!!!!
Documentation is often sorely lacking, or grievously incomplete. Secondary sources are cited in a number of places where primary sources could and should have been quoted.
Sometimes Maynard translates Latin and German quotations into English for the reader and sometimes he doesn’t (in at least two cases, untranslated quotes are unfavorable to his thesis, and may have been deliberately left in an “unknown tongue”).
One of the most amazing things in the book is what isn’t there. No place does Maynard assemble the few Greek witnesses supporting the insertion, and show exactly how they read. One would suppose that he would present in detail the evidence which actually may be appealed to in support of his presupposition, but it will be sought for in vain here.
Among Maynard’s favorite tactics is “poisoning the wells,” that is, he supposes that simply by hanging some distasteful epithet on some man he has completely discredited that man’s views and opinions on a subject. In one place, he assembles a list of theologically-tainted men–chiefly unitarian or arian in theology–and by showing that they uniformly rejected I John 5:7, this is somehow supposed to discredit the opinion they held regarding I John 5:7’s genuineness. Of course, Maynard has selectively left off the list a long list of Trinitarian writers who likewise deemed the evidence against the genuineness of the passage as overwhelming, men like Burgon, Scrivener, Luther, Tregelles, Tyndale, Horne, Scofield, etc. etc.
Maynard can minimize unfavorable evidence with the best of them. When he wishes to downplay the differences between the received text and the majority text, he quotes an estimate of some 1,000 differences, while the actual figure is much closer to 2,000 differences. He is either ignorant of this fact, or has chosen to ignore it. In either case, he is culpable, in the one of suppression of evidence, in the other of inadequate research. Maynard will have to greatly improve the quality of his research, writing and judgment if he ever hopes to be taken seriously as an author.
I have scarcely touched the serious and pervasive flaws present. Only the poor quality of the binding and the worse quality of most of the illustrations can match the contents for badness. On the whole, I am left with a mental image of Jeremiah’s basket of inedible figs.
For an honest and concise presentation of the evidence regarding the passage, I suggest the reader consult the passage in the commentaries of Adam Clark, Henry Alford, and B. F. Westcott, or Bruce Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (I could expand this list sizably, but these are generally accessible sources). While none gives all the known evidence, each gives an adequate picture of the evidence and its evaluation, in contrast to Maynard’s monstrosity.