The 3 Witnesses: Water, Blood, and the Holy Spirit

Simone Martini, Crucifixion, Orsini Altarpiece (1333)
Simone Martini, Crucifixion, Orsini Altarpiece (1333)

1 John 5:6-9 talks about “three witnesses” to Christ:

This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth. There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has borne witness to his Son.

To the extent that this passage gets talked about, it’s usually about the so-called Johannine Comma, and whether or not it’s original to the text.* The Johannine Comma isn’t included in this translation (contrast it with 1 John 5:6-9 KJV), and it’s not the focus of this post. Rather, I want to know: what does St. John mean about there being three witnesses? Obviously, there are also more than three witnesses to Christ, including the Apostles (Acts 1:8). Why specify only three witnesses? And why these three? The list is odd: the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is listed alongside a couple of inanimate liquids: “water” and “blood.”

To get a deeper understanding, we need to know what John means by “witnesses,” as well as what he means by “the water” and “the blood.” The Greek word for “witnesses” here is from the verb “martyreō.” It literally means “to be a witness” or “to bear witness,” but the meaning ran much deeper than that for the early Christians. This word is related to our term “martyr,” because the martyr was someone who “bore witness” to the Gospel with his life. In other words, this isn’t about simply finding “clues” for Who Jesus is. There’s something more radical and active at work.

To get a sense of just what that is, let’s turn to the meaning of “the water and the blood.” Tertullian (155-240) explains in On Baptism:

We have indeed, likewise, a second font, (itself withal one with the former,) of blood, to wit; concerning which the Lord said, I have to be baptized with a baptism, when He had been baptized already. For He had come by means of water and blood, [1 John 5:6] just as John has written; that He might be baptized by the water, glorified by the blood; to make us, in like manner, called by water, chosen by blood. These two baptisms He sent out from the wound in His pierced side, in order that they who believed in His blood might be bathed with the water; they who had been bathed in the water might likewise drink the blood. This is the baptism which both stands in lieu of the fontal bathing when that has not been received, and restores it when lost.

In other words, the three witnesses of Jesus are the waters of Baptism, the Blood of Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Why these three?

Because these three provide an interior and transformative witness. That is, they don’t reach us from without, the way that human testimony do. if we’ve been redeemed by His Blood, if we’ve been regenerated in Baptism, and enlightened by His Spirit, we’ve got the witness of Jesus Christ in our hearts. This is why John says that these three don’t operate like the testimony of men, but like the testimony of God. God alone can speak to us from within in the way that these three witnesses do. Listen to the Scriptures on this point.

The Witness of the Blood

In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul says that sinners “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:24-25). Two chapters later, he says that “Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:9). And to the Ephesians, he writes that “In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us” (Ephesians 1:7-8). So the Blood of Christ does something: it saves and transforms us.

The Witness of the Spirit

Jesus refers to this interior operation of the Holy Spirit when He tells the Apostles: “And when they bring you to trial and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say; but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11). And it’s also this witness that St. Peter seems to have in view when he says that “no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21).

In fact, the Apostolic witnesses are witnesses precisely because the Holy Spirit is at work in them, empowering them (Acts 1:8): “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”  That’s why Jesus tells the Apostles, at the Last Supper: “But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27).

But the Holy Spirit’s role isn’t just to enable us to bear witness to the Gospel to others. It’s also that He bears witness to the Gospel within us. St. Paul tells the Thessalonians that God chose them “from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Earlier, he had reminded them that “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction,” and applauded that they “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thes. 1:4-6).

That is, the Thessalonians didn’t just receive the Gospel because St. Paul (the external witness of the truth) was persuasive, but because the Holy Spirit was at work within them from the beginning. And the Holy Spirit didn’t just lead them to the truth, but continued to sanctify them for salvation. For this reason, Paul instructs Timothy to “Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us” (2 Timothy 1:13-14). So the Holy Spirit does something: He saves and transforms us.

The Witness of the Water

Closely allied to the working of the Holy Spirit are the waters of Baptism. From the very beginning, Christ ties Baptism to the Holy Spirit, and connects them both with salvation and entry into the Church. In John 3:5, He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” And in Mark 16:16, He promises that “he who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

We see this message repeated by the Apostles from the first Pentecost (Acts 2:37-40):

Now when they [the crowd] heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Peter calls upon the people to be saved by getting Baptized, promising that they would thereby receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Many years later, in his encyclical to the whole Church, St. Peter reminded us of how Noah and his family were, in his words, “saved through water” (1 Peter 3:20). Lest that parallel was too subtle, he adds (1 Peter 3:21-22):

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

So Baptism saves us. And how? By appealing to God for a clear conscience. That is, through interior transformation. Once again, St. Paul is the one to address this most directly. In Titus 3:3-7, he says:

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by men and hating one another; but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

So our justification is by grace, yes, but it’s justification brought about by the outpouring of Jesus Christ, by the regenerative Baptismal waters, and by the renewal of the Holy Spirit. So the water of Baptism as does something: it saves and transforms us.

Conclusion

The 19th century Anglican scholar Alfred Plummer was hardly alone (only a bit more candid, perhaps) when he said that he found 1 John 5:6-9 to be “the most perplexing passage in the Epistle and one of the most perplexing in the New Testament.” If you think that the waters of Baptism are just an impotent symbol, it’s easy to see why this passage would make no sense. Why include a symbol alongside the Holy Spirit or the Blood of Christ?

But “impotent symbol” isn’t a way that Scripture presents Christ’s Baptism. To be sure, there are symbolic baptisms in Scripture: John the Baptist’s. But he promises, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8).  In the very next verse, we read (Mark 1:9-11),

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”

That is, the Holy Spirit descends in Christ’s Baptism, something that John the Baptist is (admittedly) incapable of bringing about on his own. This distinction between Christ’s Baptism and John’s is recalled in Acts 19:1-7, in which Paul encounters a group of 12 believers who hadn’t received the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2). Upon inquiry, Paul realizes that this is because they’ve only had John’s baptism, a symbolic baptism of repentance (Acts 19:3-4). He then gives them a Christian Baptism, and the Holy Spirit is imparted to them with the laying on of his hands (Acts 19:5-6).

Rather than an important symbol, Scripture repeatedly points to the waters of Baptism, along with the Blood of Christ and the workings of the Holy Spirit, as being responsible for our interior transformation, leading us from death to life, and bringing us into a state of fidelity with Jesus Christ.

*Sidenote: the Johannine Comma refers to a more explicitly Trinitarian version of this passage, saying that “there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” Because the Comma isn’t quoted by any of the Fathers (even when it would have been an obvious silver bullet during debates about the Trinity), and because it isn’t found in any of the oldest manuscripts, it is not included in modern translations; certain older translations, like the KJV, included it as canonical

34 Comments

  1. “if we’ve been redeemed by His Blood, if we’ve been regenerated in Baptism, and enlightened by His Spirit.”

    Wouldn’t it be true to say we have been likewise regenerated by the Holy Spirit? How do we divorce baptism with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?

    On a different note, I have speculated the following concerning the passage, but it is just shooting at the hip (I have not carefully consulted commentaries.) The Holy Spirit I think is operative in all three witnesses.

    -The blood (the blood washes those who confess Christ as Lord, which can only be done by the Holy Spirit, see 1 Cor 12:3). Further, our union with Christ, in which His blood purifies those who are in Him, appears to be made operative specifically by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit: “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Rom 8:9).

    -The water (the regeneration of the believer by the Holy Spirit in baptism)

    -The Spirit (i.e. the fruits of the Spirit the bear witness of His presence).

    So the three witnesses are in effect three different things the Holy Spirit does. In this sense, they all agree.

    God bless,
    Craig

        1. Thank you, Craig. That’s what I wanted you to say. I simply wanted to highlight that Protestants claim authority to decide what is Scripture; and what isn’t.

          We leave that to the infallible authority provided by God. The Catholic Church.

          1. Craig,

            There’s been no official position on the question, as far as I know. There was a statement by the Vatican in 1897 cautioning against “safely” denying it (basically, dismissing it out of hand), but a follow-up in 1927 clarified that it was permissible for scholars to explore the authenticity of the Comma. The Nova Vulgata (New Vulgate) published after Vatican II omits the Comma. It’s also not included in the translation used for the Lectionary, at least in English.

            From what I can tell, there’s been widespread recognition for five hundred years or so that this is a legitimate question, but because it’s not a particularly pressing one (as you said, the Comma is true, whether or not it’s Scriptural), nothing much has been done to resolve it decisively. The general assumption at the start of the examination was pro-Comma with some disagreement; now it’s anti-Comma (but perhaps with some disagreement).

          2. Unless I’m mistaken, the Douay Rheims is a direct translation of the Latin Vulgate.

            The Douay Rheims includes the Johanine Comma. Therefore, so does the Latin Vulgate.

            Here’s what the infallible pronouncement of the Council of Trent says about the Latin Vulgate:

            Trent IV:
            If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema.

          3. Joe Heschmeyer says:
            January 13, 2016 at 9:03 pm
            Craig,

            There’s been no official position on the question, as far as I know. …. The general assumption at the start of the examination was pro-Comma with some disagreement; now it’s anti-Comma (but perhaps with some disagreement).

            Strange statement. Are you saying that you are interpreting the unofficial statement which you provided, as license for you to question the authenticity of the Johanine comma, in contradiction to the clear and infallible Teaching of the Council of Trent?

            Because that is what it sounds like to me and apparently, Craig, is eating it up.

          4. Craig, that commentary by Cyprian is on John 10, and isn’t identical to 1 John 5. It’s possible that he’s quoting it (you’ve found the best pro-Comma evidence), but if so, it’s strange that he only does so here, and not in Trinitarian disputes, and that nobody else picks up this verse. Also, if you look closely at what he said, he seems to actually be interpreting 1 John 5, not quoting it:

            “He who breaks the peace and the concord of Christ, does so in opposition to Christ; he who gathers elsewhere than in the Church, scatters the Church of Christ. The Lord says, ‘I and the Father are one;’ and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, ‘And these three are one.’ And does any one believe that this unity which thus comes from the divine strength and coheres in celestial sacraments, can be divided in the Church, and can be separated by the parting asunder of opposing wills? He who does not hold this unity does not hold God’s law, does not hold the faith of the Father and the Son, does not hold life and salvation.”

            In other words, Cyprian is either saying that the unity of the water, Blood, and Spirit point to the unity of the Trinity, or quoting or referencing part of the Comma. If it’s the former, this might explain where the Comma came from. If it’s the later, it’s the earlier evidence for the Comma by centuries.

          5. De Maria,

            Two things:

            1) In speaking of the “parts,” the Council of Trent isn’t referring to every word. It’s referring to parts of the Book: e.g., the longer versions of Esther, Daniel, and Mark.

            2) Trent refers to the “old Vulgate edition,” and it’s not clear that the earliest versions of the Vulgate had the Comma.

            3) More importantly, Trent isn’t canonizing every jot and tittle in any particular version of the Vulgate, as the context makes clear. In fact, the same decree says that the Council “decrees and ordains that in the future the Holy Scriptures, especially the old Vulgate Edition, be printed in the most correct manner possible.” To respond to the command that the new printing out to be “quam emendatissime” (“as faultlessly” as possible), new versions of the Vulgate were produced, correcting (or trying to correct) earlier textual errors. Thus, we have the Sistine Vulgate (1590) and then with the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate (1592, 1593, 1598). Sixto-Clementine (which again, is a post-Tridentine edition) was the norm until Vatican II. Pope Pius X began work to publish a new edition in the early 20th century, but this was never completed. After the Council, there was another translation made, the Nova Vulgata (1st ed., 1979). The Nova Vulgata, by the way, lacks the Comma. It is the official Latin edition of the Holy See.

            4) Pope Pius XII seems to specifically address this misunderstanding of Trent in Divino Afflante Spiritu, in which he defends the call to create a new Latin Bible, based upon the original Greek and Hebrew:

            “20. Nor should anyone think that this use of the original texts, in accordance with the methods of criticism, in any way derogates from those decrees so wisely enacted by the Council of Trent concerning the Latin Vulgate.[24] It is historically certain that the Presidents of the Council received a commission, which they duly carried out, to beg, that is, the Sovereign Pontiff in the name of the Council that he should have corrected, as far as possible, first a Latin, and then a Greek, and Hebrew edition, which eventually would be published for the benefit of the Holy Church of God.[25] If this desire could not then be fully realized owing to the difficulties of the times and other obstacles, at present it can, We earnestly hope, be more perfectly and entirely fulfilled by the united efforts of Catholic scholars.

            “21. And if the Tridentine Synod wished “that all should use as authentic” the Vulgate Latin version, this, as all know, applies only to the Latin Church and to the public use of the same Scriptures; nor does it, doubtless, in any way diminish the authority and value of the original texts. For there was no question then of these texts, but of the Latin versions, which were in circulation at that time, and of these the same Council rightly declared to be preferable that which “had been approved by its long-continued use for so many centuries in the Church.” Hence this special authority or as they say, authenticity of the Vulgate was not affirmed by the Council particularly for critical reasons, but rather because of its legitimate use in the Churches throughout so many centuries; by which use indeed the same is shown, in the sense in which the Church has understood and understands it, to be free from any error whatsoever in matters of faith and morals; so that, as the Church herself testifies and affirms, it may be quoted safely and without fear of error in disputations, in lectures and in preaching; and so its authenticity is not specified primarily as critical, but rather as juridical.

            “22. Wherefore this authority of the Vulgate in matters of doctrine by no means prevents – nay rather today it almost demands – either the corroboration and confirmation of this same doctrine by the original texts or the having recourse on any and every occasion to the aid of these same texts, by which the correct meaning of the Sacred Letters is everywhere daily made more clear and evident. ”

            I.X.,

            Joe

          6. You’ve dodged the issue, Joe. Nowhere in your comment do you address the issue of denying that the Comma is the Word of God. Just because certain issues of the Catholic Bible do not contain it does not mean that the Catholic Church has denied the inspiration of that verse. It simply means that She didn’t deem it necessary to repeat it in that version, for whatever reason. Here’s the problem.

            Craig denies that the Comma is the Word of God.

            You seem to be supporting his opinion.

            Where does the Catholic Church say that either you or Craig have the right to reject the Johanine Comma?

            Here’s what I read.

            If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books

            The Gospel of St. John is one of those books.

            in their entirety

            Yeah, that means “every jot and tittle” of the “aforesaid books”. That means the Johanine Comma.

            and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition,

            You admit that you are not sure whether the old Latin Vulgate had the Comma. So, you admit that rather than take the safe course, you assign to yourself the right to deny the authenticity and inspiration of the verse. How does that make sense?

            and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema.”

            So, the question that needs to be answered is this. Where do you or Craig think you get the right to reject the canonicity and inspiration of 1 John 5:7-8?

          7. As to whether the original old Latin Vulgate contained the Comma. St. Jerome, the man to whom credit is given for translating it, said:

            Jerome�s Prologue to the Canonical Epistles1

            The order of the seven Epistles which are called canonical is not the same among the Greeks who follow the correct faith and the one found in the Latin codices, where Peter, being the first among the apostles, also has his two epistles first. But just as we have corrected the evangelists into their proper order, so with God�s help have we done with these. The first is one of James, then two of Peter, three of John and one of Jude.

            Just as these are properly understood and so translated faithfully by interpreters into Latin without leaving ambiguity for the readers nor [allowing] the variety of genres to conflict, especially in that text where we read the unity of the trinity is placed in the first letter of John, where much error has occurred at the hands of unfaithful translators contrary to the truth of faith, who have kept just the three words water, blood and spirit in this edition omitting mention of Father, Word and Spirit in which especially the catholic faith is strengthened and the unity of substance of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is attested.

            In the other epistles to what extent our edition varies from others I leave to the prudence of the reader. But you, virgin of Christ, Eustocium, when you ask me urgently about the truth of scripture you expose my old age to being gnawed at by the teeth of envious ones who accuse me of being a falsifier and corruptor of the scriptures. But in such work I neither fear the envy of my critics nor deny the truth of scripture to those who seek it. (Codex Fulgensis).

            St. Cyprian also quoted the verse in 251A.D.

          8. De Maria,

            1) Did you even read the parts of Divino Afflante Spiritu that I quoted? You’re just repeating your own arguments and your private interpretation of Trent, even though Pope Pius XII clarifies that this isn’t what Trent meant. You often have great contributions, but at a certain point, pride can block your ability to grow in the truth. I don’t think I’ve seen you admit to being wrong on anything in the 3 years since you’ve been posting.

            2) But let’s revisit Divino Afflante Spiritu, and why it debunks your claims. You claim that Trent canonizes every “jot and tittle” of the Vulgate. If that were true, it would be heretical to change a single word. In other words, you’re embracing the Latin equivalent of KJV-Onlyism.

            And yet I cited to several different times that popes have done just that — retranslated the Vulgate, and each Latin edition (obviously) translates certain words differently. As I said earlier,

            “Thus, we have the Sistine Vulgate (1590) and then with the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate (1592, 1593, 1598). Sixto-Clementine (which again, is a post-Tridentine edition) was the norm until Vatican II. Pope Pius X began work to publish a new edition in the early 20th century, but this was never completed. After the Council, there was another translation made, the Nova Vulgata (1st ed., 1979). The Nova Vulgata, by the way, lacks the Comma. It is the official Latin edition of the Holy See.

            Is it your claim, then, that the Holy See is rejecting Trent’s infallible teaching, or that you understand Trent better than the Magisterium? If that’s the case, it’s not just me that you’re contradicting: it’s Pius XII and Paul VI.

            3) So now, into the meat of the papal encyclical. Pope Pius XII permitted (even encouraged) scholarly to return to the original Greek and Hebrew sources to ensure a more accurate Latin translation than the Vulgate. He goes so far as to say that “there are now such abundant aids to the study of these languages [Greek and Hebrew] that the biblical scholar, who by neglecting them would deprive himself of access to the original texts, could in no wise escape the stigma of levity and sloth.” So the Biblical scholar is commissioned, upon pain of sin, to look at more than just the Vulgate.

            4) Pius XII acknowledges that “The sacred Council of Trent ordained by solemn decree that “the entire books with all their parts, as they have been wont to be read in the Catholic Church and are contained in the old vulgate Latin edition, are to be held sacred and canonical.” But he explains:

            “Nor should anyone think that this use of the original texts, in accordance with the methods of criticism, in any way derogates from those decrees so wisely enacted by the Council of Trent concerning the Latin Vulgate.[24] It is historically certain that the Presidents of the Council received a commission, which they duly carried out, to beg, that is, the Sovereign Pontiff in the name of the Council that he should have corrected, as far as possible, first a Latin, and then a Greek, and Hebrew edition, which eventually would be published for the benefit of the Holy Church of God.”

            In other words, if your interpretation of Trent were right, then the Fathers of the Council of Trent violated their own decree, by commissioning the pope to provide a “corrected” Latin edition of the Sacred Scripture. Since that’s an absurd result, your interpretation can’t be right.

            5) Pius also points out that the Vulgate has never been the norm in the Eastern Catholic Churches. This wouldn’t make sense if the Vulgate were an inspired translation.

            6) Given all of this, what does Trent mean?

            “ence this special authority or as they say, authenticity of the Vulgate was not affirmed by the Council particularly for critical reasons, but rather because of its legitimate use in the Churches throughout so many centuries; by which use indeed the same is shown, in the sense in which the Church has understood and understands it, to be free from any error whatsoever in matters of faith and morals; so that, as the Church herself testifies and affirms, it may be quoted safely and without fear of error in disputations, in lectures and in preaching; and so its authenticity is not specified primarily as critical, but rather as juridical.

            In other words, everything in the Vulgate is true. That doesn’t mean that every word is the best possible translation, or that every word is inspired. We can (and Biblical scholars must) strive for a fuller grasp of the knowledge of the text.

            In claiming that the Comma is inspired and that everyone has to hold to it, you’re contradicting the Magisterium (both in word and act). Just admit that your interpretation of Trent was wrong.

            I.X.,

            Joe

          9. De Maria,

            1) Did you even read the parts of Divino Afflante Spiritu that I quoted?

            Yes. I don’t read anything in there giving you license to declare what is and what isn’t Scripture. Nor, anything specifically about the Johanine Comma.

            You’re just repeating your own arguments

            Actually, I’m only repeating a question. Because you haven’t answered it. Here it is again.

            Where do you get the authority to declare that 1 John 5:7-9 is not inspired Scripture?

            and your private interpretation of Trent, even though Pope Pius XII clarifies that this isn’t what Trent meant.

            That is your “private interpretation” of that which Pope Pius XII has said. You seem to assume, by the Pontiff’s use of the word, “corrected”, that the Johanine Comma is one of the things that needed to be corrected. You highlight the words, “free from any error” as though you’ve already decided that the Johanine Comma is an error. Or as though you’ve already decided that the Latin Vulgate is full of error.

            But I don’t agree with your reading of Divino Afflante Espiritu.

            You often have great contributions,

            Aw shucks. You noticed.

            but at a certain point, pride can block your ability to grow in the truth.

            That cuts both ways. Pride can block anyone’s ability to grow in the truth. You or I or anyone else.

            I don’t think I’ve seen you admit to being wrong on anything in the 3 years since you’ve been posting.

            Well, uh, the first condition to admitting one is wrong is to actually be wrong. I haven’t been wrong, ipso facto. Actually, I do remember, a long time ago, being wrong once.

            That’s a joke, son

            2) But let’s revisit Divino Afflante Spiritu, and why it debunks your claims.

            Ok.

            You claim that Trent canonizes every “jot and tittle” of the Vulgate.

            Yep.

            If that were true, it would be heretical to change a single word.

            I think Craig is rubbing off on you.
            1. First of all, we’re Catholic. We go by the Spirit of the Word, not by the letter. Therefore, if the Church changes a word here or there, without affecting the Spirit of the Word, where’s the heresy? That sort of touches on #2.

            2. Heretical for whom to change a word? You or I or Craig. Yessir. But the Church is the Authority which God placed upon the Church. If the Church changes words, she can do so based upon her God given authority to bind and loose.

            3. The Church is protected by the Holy Spirit and can make any changes without committing error.

            That’s what I believe and I think I’m sitting safely within the bounds of Catholic Teaching.

            In other words, you’re embracing the Latin equivalent of KJV-Onlyism.

            Nope. I understand the statement in the “Catholic” sense. Not in the Protestant sense. KJV-onlyists, decide for themselves which Bible to accept. I believe the Bible that the Church tells me to believe in.

            The Catholic sense, is in the context of the Church as the authority over that which is and which isn’t Scripture.

            And yet I cited to several different times that popes have done just that —

            Key word there. Popes. Are you saying that you have the same authority as the Pope to decide that which is and that which isn’t, Scripture?

            retranslated the Vulgate, and each Latin edition (obviously) translates certain words differently. As I said earlier,

            They have the authority to do so. The question I asked is, do you?

            “Thus, we have the Sistine Vulgate (1590) and then with the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate (1592, 1593, 1598). Sixto-Clementine (which again, is a post-Tridentine edition) was the norm until Vatican II. Pope Pius X began work to publish a new edition in the early 20th century, but this was never completed. After the Council, there was another translation made, the Nova Vulgata (1st ed., 1979). The Nova Vulgata, by the way, lacks the Comma. It is the official Latin edition of the Holy See.”

            Is it your claim, then, that the Holy See is rejecting Trent’s infallible teaching, or that you understand Trent better than the Magisterium?

            That appears to be a rabbit trail. Please answer my question. Where do you or Craig get the authority to decide that which is or isn’t Scripture?

            If that’s the case, it’s not just me that you’re contradicting: it’s Pius XII and Paul VI.

            I’m just contradicting you and Craig.

            a. Neither Pope denies the canonicity of the Johanine Comma.
            b. They each have the God given authority to do so, if they chose.
            c. And I would follow their lead, if they said so.
            d. But neither you nor Craig are Popes of the Catholic Church.
            e. And you’re avoiding my question.

            3) So now, into the meat of the papal encyclical. Pope Pius XII permitted (even encouraged) scholarly to return to the original Greek and Hebrew sources to ensure a more accurate Latin translation than the Vulgate.

            “Than the Vulgate”? Read it again. The Vulgate is the stepping off point. They are to read the various languages and correlate them to the Vulgate. The Vulgate is the standard.

            He goes so far as to say that “there are now such abundant aids to the study of these languages [Greek and Hebrew] that the biblical scholar, who by neglecting them would deprive himself of access to the original texts, could in no wise escape the stigma of levity and sloth.” So the Biblical scholar is commissioned, upon pain of sin, to look at more than just the Vulgate.

            But not to deny or reject any part of the Vulgate.

            4) Pius XII acknowledges that “The sacred Council of Trent ordained by solemn decree that “the entire books with all their parts, as they have been wont to be read in the Catholic Church and are contained in the old vulgate Latin edition, are to be held sacred and canonical.”

            Exactly!

            But he explains:

            “Nor should anyone think that this use of the original texts, in accordance with the methods of criticism, in any way derogates from those decrees so wisely enacted by the Council of Trent concerning the Latin Vulgate.[24] It is historically certain that the Presidents of the Council received a commission, which they duly carried out, to beg, that is, the Sovereign Pontiff in the name of the Council that he should have corrected, as far as possible, first a Latin, and then a Greek, and Hebrew edition, which eventually would be published for the benefit of the Holy Church of God.”

            Absolutely! I believe every word of that. Where does it say that the Latin Vulgate is inferior or needs correction or that the Johanine Comma is an error? You seem to be reading that into the text.

            In other words, if your interpretation of Trent were right, then the Fathers of the Council of Trent violated their own decree, by commissioning the pope to provide a “corrected” Latin edition of the Sacred Scripture. Since that’s an absurd result, your interpretation can’t be right.

            When he says, “that he should have corrected” first a Latin etc. He doesn’t mean “corrected” in the sense of fixing an error. But corrected in the sense of “updating”. Sort of like going deeper into the meaning of Doctrine.

            And, there is no mention of the Johanine Comma there, either.

            5) Pius also points out that the Vulgate has never been the norm in the Eastern Catholic Churches. This wouldn’t make sense if the Vulgate were an inspired translation.

            Why? What do you think inspired translation means? Do you think the Eastern Catholic translations are inspired? If so, why weren’t they being used in the greater Church?

            Yours is a non-sequitur. The Council of Trent was careful not to deny the inspiration of any Eastern texts. It was equally careful and much more forceful to make sure that everyone understood that the Latin Vulgate contains the inspired Word of God.

            6) Given all of this, what does Trent mean?

            “ence this special authority or as they say, authenticity of the Vulgate was not affirmed by the Council particularly for critical reasons, but rather because of its legitimate use in the Churches throughout so many centuries; by which use indeed the same is shown, in the sense in which the Church has understood and understands it, to be free from any error whatsoever in matters of faith and morals; so that, as the Church herself testifies and affirms, it may be quoted safely and without fear of error in disputations, in lectures and in preaching; and so its authenticity is not specified primarily as critical, but rather as juridical.”

            In other words, everything in the Vulgate is true.

            That is what I’ve been saying.

            That doesn’t mean that every word is the best possible translation,

            Who made that claim?

            or that every word is inspired.

            On the contrary, you are reading that bit into the text. None of the documents we have quoted, deny that the Latin Vulgate contains the inspired Word of God.

            So, far, it is only you, Joe Herschmeyer.

            We can (and Biblical scholars must) strive for a fuller grasp of the knowledge of the text.

            But they are not given license to deny the Sacredness or Canonicity of any portion of the Latin Vulgate.

            In claiming that the Comma is inspired and that everyone has to hold to it, you’re contradicting the Magisterium (both in word and act).

            On the contrary, you’re reading way too much into Divino Afflante Spiritu. I stand by what I have said.

            Just admit that your interpretation of Trent was wrong.

            Nope. You’re reading the Divino Afflante Espiritu in Protestant style. Making it contradict the Teaching of the Catholic Church.

            But, I think my question has now been answered. You believe this document gives you and Craig; everyone and anyone the right to decide for themselves, what is Scripture and what isn’t.

            I don’t. I believe it is simply saying that further studies in the original languages are not be discouraged because we can always delve deeper into truth. We can always say things in better ways.

            Any other Catholics reading this? What do you think?

            I.X.,

            Joe

            and you, as well.

          10. I don’t know why De Maria keeps referring to me in passing comments like I am the scum of the Earth (I mean, I don’t think I’m that bad), but I thought the following might add some levity to the following comment:

            “Well, uh, the first condition to admitting one is wrong is to actually be wrong. I haven’t been wrong, ipso facto. Actually, I do remember, a long time ago, being wrong once….”

            This reminds me of an expression: “I thought I was wrong once…but I was mistaken.

            God bless,
            Craig

            P.S. to Joe. I think Cyprian was likely interpreting 1 John 5:7 to be about the Trinity, and his wording became a sort of popular interpretation of the verse, working its way into margins. Then later, it worked its way in the text.

            Or, 1 John 5:7 was originally there in the Comma form. And if so, yay for everyone!

          11. Craig Truglia says:
            January 16, 2016 at 3:52 am
            I don’t know why De Maria keeps referring to me in passing comments like I am the scum of the Earth (I mean, I don’t think I’m that bad), but I thought the following might add some levity to the following comment:

            You mean when I said that Craig has rubbed off on you? I meant your Protestant doctrines. He is learning from you.

            “Well, uh, the first condition to admitting one is wrong is to actually be wrong. I haven’t been wrong, ipso facto. Actually, I do remember, a long time ago, being wrong once….”

            This reminds me of an expression: “I thought I was wrong once…but I was mistaken.

            Lol! I meant to add this link, but somehow, it got lost:

            http://cdn.meme.am/instances/500x/29799515.jpg

            God bless,
            Craig

            God bless you, as well.

          12. I have no ulterior motive in asking this, but do you consider liberalism “protestant?” What is the state of liberalism within Catholicism? Is textual citicism considered liberal?

          13. Craig Truglia says:
            January 16, 2016 at 5:03 am
            I have no ulterior motive in asking this,

            Ok.

            but do you consider liberalism “protestant?

            Do you mean this sort of liberalism which Pope Gregory XVI describes?

            https://www.ewtn.com/library/ENCYC/G16MIRAR.HTM

            If so, then I believe Protestants, whether lukewarm or devout, tend toward liberalism.

            Whereas, devout Catholics do not have that tendency.

            But lukewarm Catholics, frequently do tend in that direction. But less so than Protestants.

            If you don’t mean that sort of liberalism which Pope Gregory describes, then my answer is, “I don’t know.”

            ” What is the state of liberalism within Catholicism?

            I don’t know.

            Is textual citicism considered liberal?

            By whom? I consider textual criticism a tool for understanding ancient texts. It can be used by anyone whatever their leanings.

  2. As usual, you give a very interesting article. But what about this Johannine Comma? I’ve never heard of this. The Wiki link was voluminous; can you dumb it down for us in a future post? What’s our Catholic bottom line to this?

    1. I’ll add a parenthetical to the original post, but because you asked….

      There are two versions of this passage (1 John 5:7-8). There is the version mentioned above (without the Comma), and then there’s a more explicitly Trinitarian version. The KJV goes with that other version. The bolded section is the so-called Johannine Comma:

      “For there are three that bear record in heaven,
      the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost:
      and these three are one.

      And there are three that bear witness in earth,
      the spirit, and the water, and the blood:
      and these three agree in one.”

      The theology expressed in the bolded section is, of course, correct. To the best of my knowledge, the following summarizes the Johannine Comma. The passage isn’t found in the earliest Latin manuscripts, in any of the ancient Greek manuscripts, or in any of the Syriac manuscripts. The Fourth Lateran Council seemingly acknowledges that only “some manuscripts” of “canonical John” include this passage.

      Most likely, it was initially a marginal note that crept into the text. Biblical scribes would sometimes write things in the margins. These might be omissions (if they had accidentally skipped a line, e.g., and didn’t want to rewrite the whole page) or commentaries (marginal “footnotes,” essentially). This might have begun as a marginal commentary, been mistaken as an omission, and subsequent manuscripts mistakenly “corrected.”

      It was widely accepted as canonical in the Middle Ages and is part of the Textus Receptus (and thus, English translations of that text, like the KJV). But because it’s not found in any of the earliest manuscripts, and not clearly quoted by the Fathers (even when it would be a virtual silver bullet in the early Trinitarian debates), modern Biblical translations don’t include it.

      So short answer: the Comma is probably not original to 1 John, might not be inspired, but is theologically accurate nevertheless.

      I.X.,

      Joe

        1. Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church, Chapter 6:

          The Lord says, I and the Father are one; John 10:30 and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, And these three are one.

          God bless,
          Craig

      1. Joe Heschmeyer says:
        January 12, 2016 at 12:02 pm
        I’ll add a parenthetical to the original post, but because you asked….So short answer: the Comma is probably not original to 1 John, might not be inspired, but is theologically accurate nevertheless.

        Trent says:
        “Following, then, the examples of the orthodox Fathers, it receives and venerates with a feeling of piety and reverence all the books both of the Old and New Testaments, since one God is the author of both;

        And speaking of the Vulgate says:
        “If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema.”

        Divino Afflante says:
        The sacred Council of Trent ordained by solemn decree that “the entire books with all their parts, as they have been wont to be read in the Catholic Church and are contained in the old vulgate Latin edition, are to be held sacred and canonical.”[2] In our own time the Vatican Council, with the object of condemning false doctrines regarding inspiration, declared that these same books were to be regarded by the Church as sacred and canonical “not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority, nor merely because they contain revelation without error, but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God for their author, and as such were handed down to the Church herself.”

        So, my question is, where does the Catholic Church promulgate, as you claim, this special category of Scripture which is not inspired by the Holy Spirit?

        1. De Maria,

          That’s an absurd loaded question. Nowhere did I claim (nor do I believe) that there’s a special category of uninspired Scripture.

          It’s only by assuming your own conclusions (conclusions inconsistent with Divine Afflante) that you can say something so ridiculous. I might as well say, “where does the Catholic Church promulgate, as you claim, that you have personal inspiration and infallibility?”

          But you know why I wouldn’t do that? Because at that point, I’d be off the farm, arguing in bad faith, and unable to persuade even the most remotely fair-minded person. If you can’t articulate my own position in a way that I can remotely recognize, that’s either a reflection of your inability to grasp the position or your inability to treat it with charity and intellectual seriousness.

          To recap the argument so far:

          1. You’ve claimed that every part of the Vulgate is inspired, such that every “jot and tittle” is inspired.
          2. Even though the Council of Trent specifically says the “old Vulgate edition,” you’ve assigned this letter-by-letter infallibility to every part of the 16th century version of the Vulgate.
          3. I pointed out the obvious conclusion: if #1 and #2 are true, there’s no way to ask for a more accurate translation of the Vulgate than what we had in the 16th century.
          4. Yet the Council Fathers and several popes repeatedly DID call for, or commission, new translations of the Vulgate, with the intention of getting more accurate translations.

          Ironically, you accuse me of executing my private judgment over what is and isn’t Scripture:

          “But, I think my question has now been answered. You believe this document gives you and Craig; everyone and anyone the right to decide for themselves, what is Scripture and what isn’t.”

          I say this is ironic precisely because I withhold judgment (saying only that it might not be inspired), and you pass judgment. You declare repeatedly that the Comma is inspired and part of the canon. You’ve conspicuously avoided addressing the fact that the praxis of the Holy See disagrees with your assessment, and does not include the Comma in the Nova Vulgata.

          So maybe you can answer this: if you’re right, why doesn’t the Catholic Church realize that it’s bound to include the Comma? Shouldn’t you be writing Pope Francis to correct the Vatican’s version of the Bible? I think I’m the least of your problems.

          I.X.,

          Joe

          1. Joe Heschmeyer says:
            January 24, 2016 at 9:04 pm
            De Maria,

            That’s an absurd loaded question. Nowhere did I claim (nor do I believe) that there’s a special category of uninspired Scripture.

            ?

            But you question the inspiration of certain parts of Scripture, right? Because you said:

            I say this is ironic precisely because I withhold judgment (saying only that it might not be inspired)….

            To recap the argument so far:

            1. You’ve claimed that every part of the Vulgate is inspired, such that every “jot and tittle” is inspired.

            The Council of Trent says that:
            If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema.

            That sounds like every jot and tittle.

            2. Even though the Council of Trent specifically says the “old Vulgate edition,” you’ve assigned this letter-by-letter infallibility to every part of the 16th century version of the Vulgate.

            I never made a difference. It is you who have. But, let’s go with that. Are you saying that there is an old Vulgate which the Church considers inspired Scripture. But a 16 century Vulgate which the Church does not consider inspired?

            3. I pointed out the obvious conclusion: if #1 and #2 are true

            IF #1 and #2 are true. That’s a big IF. FIRST could you point to the 16th Century Vulgate which the Catholic Church has declared not inspired Scripture?

            If you can’t, I guess that invalidates your claim # 2.

            , there’s no way to ask for a more accurate translation of the Vulgate than what we had in the 16th century.

            There’s a difference between asking for a more accurate translation and calling into question whether it is inspired. The Church continually asks for more accurate translations of all Bibles. Latin or Greek. There was an older Latin Bible before St. Jerome made a more accurate translation which is now considered the Old Vulgate.

            4. Yet the Council Fathers and several popes repeatedly DID call for, or commission, new translations of the Vulgate, with the intention of getting more accurate translations.

            Seems to me they called for new translations of all languages.

            Ironically, you accuse me of executing my private judgment over what is and isn’t Scripture:

            “But, I think my question has now been answered. You believe this document gives you and Craig; everyone and anyone the right to decide for themselves, what is Scripture and what isn’t.”

            I say this is ironic precisely because I withhold judgment (saying only that it might not be inspired), and you pass judgment. You declare repeatedly that the Comma is inspired and part of the canon. You’ve conspicuously avoided addressing the fact that the praxis of the Holy See disagrees with your assessment, and does not include the Comma in the Nova Vulgata.

            The praxis?

            So, if the Church declares that a Scripture, with all its parts in their entirety, are inspired by God but then decides not to use a particular verse in another translation of the Bible, by that “praxis” it has annulled its previous declaration?

            That’s curious, because the NAB, a Bible which is approved by the Holy See and was for a long time featured in its website, doesn’t use the term “kecharitomene”. It uses the term, “hail favored one”, which is far from the true meaning of the Greek. Does that mean that this word is no longer, “inspired”?

            So maybe you can answer this:

            You need to answer that. I don’t. You are the one making up this straw man argument.

            if you’re right, why doesn’t the Catholic Church realize that it’s bound to include the Comma?

            Why is the Catholic Church bound to use the Comma? You are the only one making that argument. I sure didn’t.

            Shouldn’t you be writing Pope Francis to correct the Vatican’s version of the Bible? I think I’m the least of your problems.

            Neither you nor Pope Francis are problems of mine. First of all, you are the one making up straw man arguments and assigning them to me. Therefore, the problem is yours.

            Second of all, I follow the Pope.

            Third, I’m not the one callling into question the inspiration of certain Catholic Bibles. So, again, the problem is yours.

            The problem here amounts to that which you had assigned to me earlier. You are too proud to admit that the Catholic Church has not called the inspiration of any part of the Latin Vulgate into question. You are too proud to admit that you have read too much into the Catholic Church calling for more and improved translations of all Bibles into all languages.

            For those who don’t know.

            The Council of Trent was convened to address the problems which were being promulgated by the Protestants. One of them was the canon of Scripture. There were, at the time of the convening, many erratic Bibles being produced by Protestants.

            And wishing, as is proper, to impose a restraint in this matter on printers also, who, now without restraint, thinking what pleases them is permitted them, print without the permission of ecclesiastical superiors the books of the Holy Scriptures and the notes and commentaries thereon of all persons indiscriminately, often with the name of the press omitted, often also under a fictitious press-name, and what is worse, without the name of the author, and also indiscreetly have for sale such books printed elsewhere, [this council] decrees and ordains that in the future the Holy Scriptures, especially the old Vulgate Edition, be printed in the most correct manner possible,

            To address this problem, the Catholic Church declared the Latin Vulgate the true and inspired Bible. This was the one Bible in the world that could be trusted without a doubt. That is why they called it the “old” as in “trusted” Vulgate. Not to distinguish it from any other Catholic Vulgate which could not be trusted. To emphasize that it could be used “in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions held as authentic, and that no one dare or presume under any pretext whatsoever to reject it.”

          2. De Maria,

            This is silly. You’re just quoting the same paragraph over and over, convinced that your private interpretation of it is right, even though that interpretation doesn’t make sense in light of the rest of what Trent said, or what several subsequent popes have said.

            You’re adamantly refusing to address the fact that IF the Council of Trent had infallibly declared the Johannine Comma inspired Scripture, then Pope Pius XII and Pope Paul VI had no business calling for a new translation of the Vulgate which (in the papally-approved form) omits the Johannine Comma.

            If you want to add anything to this conversation, why not find a theologian or Church document that actually agrees with you, rather than placing the burden of proof entirely on the only one of us actually providing subsequent documents showing the meaning of the Tridentine text? Otherwise, you’re just exalting your own private opinion over everything else.

            I.X.,

            Joe

          3. My understanding makes perfect sense to me, Joe.

            What doesn’t make sense is your idea that the Church would declare something “Scripture” and then claim that it wasn’t or probably wasn’t, inspired.

            I’ll let your readers decide which makes more sense, to them.

    1. Seemingly so. Unlike Christ’s, John’s baptism was not for the remission of (original or actual) sins. But we’re told very little about the believers: even their number is an estimate (Acts 19:7).

    2. Thanks Joe. So it follows that until these believers received a Christian baptism, they could not receive the Holy Spirit.

      When did baptism by desire become accepted doctrine in the Church?

  3. Ok, here is my simpleton question. When St. John spoke about the Lord’s coming and baptising in the Holy Spirit did the audience understand what the Holy Spirit was? How was thier theology re the Holy SPirit different from say the apostles after the descent of the holy spirit.

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