Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Jerome and Textual Criticism

I was fascinated a while back when I came across a blog posting where the author claimed that Jerome had testified to the authenticity of the Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7b-8). This claim was interesting to me on many levels. First, if true, it would be a surprising piece of evidence that truly ought to be considered as part of an overall “reasoned eclecticism” evaluation of this variant reading. Second, those who are promoting this evidence normally take a dim view of such text critical methodology, preferring instead to take a “faith-based” approach that ignores the massive evidence that exists against the authenticity of the Comma. Thirdly, it reminded me of a paper I wrote for a seminary class on the Majority Text, where in the course of research I came across several other quotes by Jerome that referred to the textual state of affairs during his day. I want to mention something about those but first let's take a closer look at this particular claim concerning Jerome.

Jerome’s testimony for the Comma is said to come from the preface for the canonical epistles as found in Codex Fuldensis, an early Latin version of the New Testament. Helpfully, Google has the full text of this document available online, so you can read the preface for yourself (see page 399), that is if you can read Latin. The key portion reads in English as follows:

“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.”
The book that contains this preface was published in MDCCCLXVIII, or 1868, so it is not certain when the preface was actually written but it seems clear to me that it wasn't written by Jerome. The author appears to reference Jerome as one of the “unfaithful translators [who] contrary to the truth of faith have kept just the three words water, blood and spirit in this edition omitting mention of Father, Word and Spirit.” Sure enough, if you examine the text of this Codex Fuldensis, it does not include the Comma. Check it out yourself -- On page 426, verse 7 reads, “quia tres sunt qui testimonium dant” (for there are three that bear record) and then the text skips directly to verse 8, omitting the Comma. So, the way I read this preface is that someone is complaining about Jerome's work regarding the Comma. Obviously, the author of the preface believes in the authenticity of the Comma, but the author does appear to be Jerome and it is not clear to me how ancient this evidence is.

Now, while this particular data point is suspect, there are a significant number of actual quotations by Jerome that do speak to the state of the textual corpus during his day. The follow data comes from a chapter entitled, St Jerome's explicit references to variant reading in manuscripts of the New Testament by Bruce Metzger in Text and Interpretation. Metzger lists 27 such references. I'd like to highlight just a few of the more interesting ones:

1. Regarding the longer ending of Mark, he says that it “is met with in only a few copies of the Gospel – almost all the codices of Greece being without this passage...” What is significant here is that what is the majority text today was evidently not the majority text in Jerome's day.

2. Another example of this phenomenon is Matt 5:22, where the majority of extant texts today include “without a cause” but in Jerome's day, he could write, “most of the ancient copies do not have the qualification without a cause.”

3. In regard to the Pericope of Adultery (John 7:53-8:11), he states that the pericope “is found in many of both the Greek as well as the Latin copies of the Gospel according to John.” Here he doesn't say “most” but “many.” So, while he certainly knew of this variant reading, if you compare this wording to what he said about the longer ending of Mark, it would seem to indicate that he found more evidence for the pericope than the longer ending. That is consistant with the fact that the periocpe occurs in the Vulgate. However, today, I think most text critics, while ultimately rejecting both, would say that the longer ending of Mark has much more support for authenticity than does the pericope.

It is fascinating to read what Jerome says. I don't know exactly how much stock we can put into his observations, as his access to manuscripts may have been limited or incomplete. Nevertheless, it is still worth something, as a consideration from a text critic who would have been motivated to be as accurate as possible. At the very least I think it demonstrates how slippery ideas like “majority” really are when dealing with this subject.

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At 11:45 PM, Blogger James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

Greetings Andy,

Codex Fuldensis (Preface and all) dates from c. 545.

For some more information about patristic comments about textual variants, you can consult Bruce Metzger's other NTTS article in which he covers textual variants mentioned by Origen. Also, Amy Anderson's two-part dissertation on the subject can be found online.

Jerome's statement about MSS with (or, rather, without) Mk. 16:9-20 should be approached with the understanding that Jerome made the statement in a dictated letter to Hedibia, and that at this point in the letter (a rough English translation of which can be tracked down at Roger Pearse's Tertullian site) Jerome was essentially epitomizing an earlier composition by Eusebius. I would question whether this can validly be used as if it reflects Jerome's own estimation of MSS he had personally seen, since Jerome admits in a letter to Augustine that sometimes in his letters his goal is simply to bring a student into contact with the opinions o earlier writers, and that he does not take care to differentiate which statements are theirs and which are his. Notice that Jerome, commenting about the interpolation known as the Freer Logion, states that it is found "in some exemplars, especially in Greek codices."

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

At 6:13 AM, Blogger Andy Efting said...


Thanks for your comments. I know this is an area where you have done a lot of work, so I appreciate your contributions.

I was aware of the date of the codex but I was unsure if we could assume the preface was composed at the same time. Do you agree that it was probably not written by Jerome, based on the criticism it contains regarding the codex? If the preface was prepared as part of the overall work of Codex Fuldensis, why didn’t they include the Comma as part of the text?

Your comments on Jerome’s statements are well taken and just go to show how difficult it is to use patristic comments in general.


At 1:02 PM, Blogger Praxaluh said...

Hi Andy,

If you look at the whole Prologue you will see that the theory that it was against the textual work of Jerome does not work .. since the Prologue is written in the first-person words of Jerome, about his friends, his way of looking at the Bible, the criticism of his textual work.

Thus, in the heat of the heavenly witnesses debate in the late 1600s elaborate forgery theories were developed, that this prologue was written about 800 AD.

The discovery of Fuldensis having the Prologue (late 1800s) was essentially a one manuscript disasembling of the theories, although much of the textual world is still napping.

Steven Avery


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