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The lengths to which Jerome was prepared to go in order to bolster the Latin translation used in Damasus’ church, implies it was already invested with an aura of sanctity and infallibility. No doubt the aberrant dogmas of the First Church of Rome had become intertwined with proof texts found only in that text. The same attitude towards the Latin Vulgate thrived in the Middle Ages, and was eventually enshrined in Canon Law. It became a serious offense to use any Bible text except the Latin Vulgate.

One of the Greek texts used by Jerome to put together his “emended collation of Greek book-form manuscripts” was almost certainly Codex Vaticanus, dating from the fourth century AD. It would have been amongst the more recent Greek texts employed by him. Latin “codex” means “book-form manuscript”. It is called “Vaticanus” because it has been in the Vatican Library from at least just prior to the Reformation. The involvement of this manuscript in Jerome’s project has been demonstrated by the presence of text-critical marks (two dots) in its margins next to passages of the Greek where variant readings are known to have existed in Old Latin texts. The latter, of course, are the differing, and really, or supposedly, corrupt, Latin texts which the Vulgate of Jerome was intended to replace. Only Jerome at the period of history when these dots were inserted was interested in such a comparison with Old Latin readings. The text-critical marks showed immediately to the reader how often, and in what places, this particular Greek manuscript differed from the Old Latin texts, and where other Greek readings would be needed to substantiate the standard Latin proposed by Jerome. The manuscript was known to Erasmus and early Reformation Protestant scholars as one which harmonized closely with the Vulgate of Jerome. They rejected it, because their intention was to place before Renaissance and Protestant readers in a popular, printed, form, the original Greek text (the so-called “Byzantine” text) which predated Jerome’s revision, or translations therefrom. The readings of Codex Vaticanus have led some to suspect that earlier in its genealogical history its text was edited by heretics, for example, by adherents of the tenets of Cerdon and Marcion. The latter were second-century, anti-Semitic, Gnostics, who both spent a considerable time in the body of the First Church of Rome, and left traces of their heresies in the later Sabellian system. Cerdon is mentioned by Tertullian in Against All Heresies (“adv. omn. Haer.” c. 51), cited in the note of Dodgson, supra, and Marcion in Tertullian’s Prescription of Heretics cap. xxxvii, cited supra. It was Sabellianism, adopted at the turn of the third century AD by a corrupt bishop of the First Church of Rome, that largely shaped the Trinitarianism of the fourth-century Roman Church, and ultimately the Roman dogma that Mary was the “Mother of God”. This is the kind of Greek text Jerome favored, as it supported the unique readings of the heretical Latin text current in Damasus’ church.

There are, in fact, only two major types of Greek text. This has has become increasingly clear to modern scholars, as they have groped their way in the academic gloom, through the labyrinth of New Testament textual criticism, with only the faint light of reason to guide them. One is the Byzantine or Majority Greek text, represented in the vast majority of Greek manuscripts, this type being remarkably consistent and uniform. The other is the so-called “Alexandrian” type represented initially by Codex Vaticanus and its sister-text Codex Sinaiticus, the latter discovered by Tischendorf in the nineteenth century in St Catherine’s monastery in Sinai. Since we have exposed the methodology involved in the use of this type for the production of Jerome’s false standard Latin text, the Vulgate, which was then imposed on the churches wherever Roman ecclesiastical authority prevailed, it is obvious it should be rejected by informed readers. In one passage even the majority of the Byzantine type have been infected by it, namely in I John 5. 7, the “Three Heavenly Witnesses” passage. In the Received Text I John 5. 5-9 reads:

“5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

6 This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.

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

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

9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.”

Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus omit verse 7, relating to the “Three Heavenly Witnesses”, and Vaticanus has three dots (rather than the more usual two dots) in the margin here. This shows that when the Codex was used for Jerome’s project, there existed other manuscripts in Latin known to Jerome (and probably the third dot means “many Greek texts too”), which had the “Three Heavenly Witnesses” reading at this place. Though you might find the passage included in some modern editions termed “Vulgate”, it was not in the original Latin Vulgate of Jerome, as proven by the oldest and best-authenticated manuscripts, Amiatinus, from Bede’s Northumbrian scriptorium, and Fuldensis, which passed through the hands of Boniface, the notorious, and murderous, Roman “missionary” to Germany. Fuldensis is the earliest extant text of the Vulgate, dating from the middle of the sixth century, a mere hundred years or so after Jerome’s own era. It shows clearly what kind of documents Jerome’s edition was based on, as it contains prologues to the Pauline epistles of Marcionite origin, if not from the hand of Marcion himself. They are overtly anti-Semitic. They condemn proponents of the “Jewish Scriptures”, the “Law and Prophets”, and twist early Church history by representing all pre-Pauline missions as heretical and Judaizing, including, in the case of Corinth, those which looked to Peter and Apollos for their inspiration. In Codex Amiatinus, on the other hand, the prologues to the four Gospels represent the beliefs of “Dynamic Monarchian” or “Adoptianist” Gnostics, of the sort who were influential in the First Church of Rome at the time Marcion was propagating his alternative, Docetic, version of Gnosticism.

Jerome gave an account of his attitude to the disputed passage of the “Three Heavenly Witnesses” in his prologue to the Catholic Epistles, which is as obvious, in respect of its motives and objectives, as the Marcionite prologues. This was quoted by Erasmus, but he failed to make much sense of it, perhaps because he accepted (or affected to accept) the hagiographical view of Jerome’s integrity. Apprised of Jerome’s principals, the reader will readily understand what he is saying in the passage cited infra. By the by, the omission or retention of the “Three Heavenly Witnesses” is herein demonstrated to have been the major textual contention in respect of the Catholic epistles at the very beginning of the Nicene age: and that shows, in turn, that the passage existed in a significant portion of the Greek texts, and had already been erased in a similarly significant portion, in the pre-Nicene period. The heretics who omitted it, therefore, were not Arian anti-Trinitarians, as has been generally assumed, since they belonged to the Nicene age, but pre-Nicene heretics, in fact, Artemonites, who objected to it for other reasons, as will be demonstrated as the argument proceeds. The relevant section of Jerome’s prologue reads as follows (from Codex Fuldensis):

“For the first of them [the Catholic Epistles] is one [Epistle] of James, [then] two of Peter, three of John, and one of Jude. Now if the text as written by them [viz. the Apostles] had also been faithfully rendered into Latin by the translators, then they would neither have imposed any ambiguity on their readers, nor have brought condemnation on themselves for varying from it, especially in that place where we read in the first Epistle of John a passage concerning the unity of the Trinity (and, in fact, we find many errors, deviating from the true faith, have arisen in that letter as the result of the work of unfaithful translators), by keeping at this place in their edition only words for three, that is, for water, blood, spirit, and by omitting the testimony of Father, Word and Spirit, the effect of which is that the Catholic faith is greatly strengthened, and, further, that the single substance of the divinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is thoroughly demonstrated. As for the other Epistles, to what extent the edition of others departs from our own, I leave to the prudence of the reader to discover. O Eustochius, virgin of Christ, when you ask me, without knowing what you ask, to show you what are the true Scriptures, you expose my old age (whatever that may be) to the gnashing of the teeth of enemies, who pronounce me a falsifier and corrupter of the Holy Scriptures. But in such a case as this, I tremble not at the antagonism of my emulators, nor shall I deny the request to those who demand of me, what are the true Holy Scriptures.”

The convolution in the second sentence has led some readers to disconnect the phrase about “keeping … only words for three, … and … omitting the testimony of Father, Word and Spirit” from its governing phrase, which is “nor would [faithful translators] have imposed any ambiguity on their readers, nor have brought condemnation on themselves …” (that is, as he goes on to say, by “keeping only words for three … and … omitting …” etc.). Once the two phrases have been disconnected, it has then appeared as though Jerome is treating the omission of the Trinitarian testimony as a deviation from the true faith, when actually he is advocating that omission. The same is proven, as has already been stated, by the earliest and most reliable texts of Jerome’s Vulgate, Fuldensis and Amiatinus, which omit the “Three Heavenly Witnesses” accordingly. A further confusion has arisen through Jerome’s statement about the corroboration of “the single substance of the divinity” which resulted from what was, in his opinion, the correct reading. The general assumption has been Jerome thought the inclusion of the Trinitarian testimony confirmed the doctrine of the Trinity, and therefore was a good thing, whereas what he meant, as we shall see, was the reverse: that the inclusion of the Trinitarian testimony involved the “single substance of the divinity” in a separation from the “single” substance of water, blood and (human) spirit. For Jerome’s text not only omitted the “Three Heavenly Witnesses”, it also described the three earthly witnesses as “one”, contrary to the Byzantine text, according to which they “agree in one”. The heretical reading of Jerome viewed the three earthly substances in a Marcionite (“Docetic”) manner, as a unique single substance, rather than three distinct essences. This, in turn, reflected an underlying heretical belief, characteristic of “Docetism”, that Jesus’ body was not real material, but some kind of divine, phantasmal, manifestation of the Triune supreme being.

A minority of Greek texts, not the majority of the “Byzantine” type examined and published to date, and the early Latin translation used in the North African pre-Nicene Church include the omitted passage, and internal evidence proves it to be the only possible, original, Greek reading, though it has now become popular to trumpet the heretical reading of the “Alexandrian” text-type. Richard Porson, a virulent opponent of the authenticity of the text said in 1790: “Produce two actually existing Greek MSS. five hundred years old, containing this verse1 and I will acknowledge your opinion of its genuineness to be probable.” More than two such manuscripts are extant. Codex Ottobonianus (miniscule 629), including the passage, is of the 14th century. If this roughly estimated date be considered just a little too late to meet Porson’s criteria, then we have several manuscripts with the “Heavenly Witnesses” in the margin from much earlier: miniscules 221 (10th century), 635 (11th century), and 88 (12th century), as well as at least two lectionaries including the Greek of this passage in their readings (Lectionary 60, dated to AD 1021, and 173, dated to the 10th century). Porson’s retraction should stand. The oldest of the marginal references predates all but eight of the texts which omit the “Heavenly Witnesses”, and is roughly contemporaneous with another one, viz. miniscule 1739.

However, the extent of the practice of omitting the passage, as the manuscript tradition bears witness, and the negative evidence in Codex Vaticanus of its existence prior to the mid-fourth century AD, suggests it was excised early, most likely by Artemonites in the sub-Apostolic period. The probability the text was edited by Artemonites occurred to Vedelius (ob. 1642), and his suggestion was taken up by Wittichius (1625-1687) in Theologia Pacifica, Leiden, 1675, p. 219f., citing Vedelius, Opuscula Theologica, p. 49 seqq.; cf. also Ittigius (1644-1710), De Haeresiarchis, 2nd ed., Leipzig, 1703, p. 232. Artemonites did not believe the Spirit of God, that Spirit Who is “one” with the Father and the Word according to verse 7, and is otherwise the “Truth” (verse 6), was distinct from the human “spirit” in Jesus in His fleshly form of water and blood (verses 6 and 8), as this passage tells us It was; according to those heretics, the “Dunamis”, or “Christ”, or Spirit of the Triune supreme being, came down into the merely human Jesus at His baptism, and replaced his own human spirit. Artemonites were known to emend the Scriptures, each teacher of the heresy in a different way, and their doctrine was said to have been the only one held by all the bishops of the First Church of Rome preceding Victor, at the end of the second century AD. So the intrusion of their reading here, in the Latin text preserved in the First Church of Rome up to the time of Damasus, is understandable. In Jerome’s Vulgate a further alteration is found: the three earthly essences are there said to “be one”, rather than to “agree in one”, as described supra. This alteration reflects the underlying “Docetist” sympathies of some other editor, the Docetist heresy being so named after the theory that Jesus only “appeared” (Gk. dokeo) to have a fleshly, material body: according to the Docetists Jesus was a phantasmal manifestation of the Supreme God, and not really human at all, therefore the three material constituents of his body mentioned in I John 5. 8 must merely have “appeared” to be three, whilst in actuality being a single, phantasmal, or divine, substance. There were thus two levels of editing to which the text was subjected in ancient times. It was altered by Artemonites around the second century AD to remove any hint of a difference between the Holy Spirit and the human spirit in Jesus; again, some time before the mid-fourth century AD, it was edited by a Docetist heretic to make the three earthly elements one substance, not three. Both doctrines, Artemonism and Docetism, were denounced by the Apostle John in this very same first Epistle. He called those who believed that “Jesus was not the Christ” lying “Antichrists” (I John 2. 22); and here he had in view the Artemonite heresy, in some early form, as Artemonites separated the purely human “Jesus” from the heavenly being “Christ” which they said descended into him at baptism. John subsequently described the denial that Jesus “has come in the flesh” also as a dogma of Antichrist (I John 4. 3). Here he was referring to the Docetic heresy that Jesus was a phantasmal manifestation of God, and did not have a body consisting of matter. Note John says every “spirit” which does not confess Jesus has come in the flesh is Antichrist. A person might use the words “Jesus has come in the flesh”, but the spirit of their doctrine is what John is talking about.

Both heresies sprang from a common source. In the Book of Acts, Chapter 8, verses 9 to 24, mention is made of a practitioner of occult arts called Simon, whom the Apostles came across in Samaria in the early days after Pentecost. Simon claimed conversion and was baptized, but was subsequently exposed by the Apostle Peter as an imposter. According to reliable second-century AD Christian writers, Hegesippus, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, this person migrated to Rome in the days of Emperor Claudius and there influenced many believers to accept his twisted form of Christianity. In Samaria Simon preached that he himself was the “Great Power [Gk. Dunamis] of God”. According to a citation of Simon’s own writings called the “Great Announcement”, preserved by Irenaeus’ disciple Hippolytus (Refutation, VI. 19), his beliefs were more fully expressed as follows: Simon taught that “Because the spiritual beings ruled the cosmos badly, through their love of power, he [Simon] came himself to rectify the state of things, transfigured into the likeness of the superior entities, powers and spiritual beings, and so appeared as a human, though he was not human, and appeared [from the Gk. dokeo] to suffer, when he did not actually suffer, but thus appeared to the Jews as Son, in Samaria as Father, and amongst other nations as Holy Spirit, and stooped to being denominated by men with whichever name they pleased.”

From this very odd system two major heretical streams branched off. One propounded that Jesus was a “mere man” into whom the Spirit or Dunamis of God (viz. Simon himself according to the “Great Announcement”!) descended at his baptism by John the Baptist, empowered the “mere man” Jesus with miraculous power, and then abandoned him before he died on the cross; thus the “mere man” suffered, but not the “Christ” or “Dunamis”. This was the heresy variously called “Psilanthropism” (literally “mere-man-ism”), or “Adoptianism” because the “mere man” Jesus was “adopted” by the “Dunamis” to become the Son of God, or “Dynamic Monarchianism” from the Gk. Dunamis, the divine “Power” itself which descended into Jesus. Early exponents of this form of the heresy in Asia Minor were Carpocrates and Cerinthus, the latter of whom, at least, was known to and rejected by the Apostle John when he set up his missionary work in Ephesus. This was the doctrine denounced by John in his first Epistle as separating (the man) “Jesus” from the “Christ”. Artemon was an exponent of the same heresy in the succeeding generation.

The other form of Simon’s heresy taught that “Christ” was a direct manifestation of God, a divine apparition or phantasm, and not really material, though he “appeared” (Gk. dokeo) to be so. This was the Docetist (“Apparition”) heresy, promulgated by Simon’s disciple Cerdon and Cerdon’s disciple Marcion. It was the doctrine rebuked by John which denied that Jesus Christ had come “in the flesh”.

In case one should suppose this is all merely of academic interest, an historical oddity, it must be remembered the Docetists taught that, though the human body of Jesus was phantasmal, Jesus actually had a material body, but that material body was the bread of the Eucharist. (For fuller information, refer to this link [http://www.christianhospitality.org/resources/first-church-rome-online/first-church-rome, Chapter: The Founding of the First Church of Rome and Its Corruption by Simon Magus and Cerdon, footnote 27.) These Docetists were, in fact, worshipers of the “Good God”, Serapis, who appeared in the form of grain and bread, according to Egyptian paganism, and whom the heretics identified with Jesus in an attempt to merge Christianity with paganism. The name “Good God” was translated as “Chrestos”, the “Good One”, in Greek, and “Chrestos” was treated (incorrectly) as being identical to the Greek “Christos”, Christ, the Messiah. Chrestos was written with the chi-rho symbol, like a conjoined X and P, chi (X) and rho (P) being the first two letters of his name in Greek, and this became the symbol of the god of the First Church of Rome, who was actually, therefore, Serapis the “Good God”, the bread-god. Transubstantiation as taught by the First Church of Rome today, the belief that the wafer of bread offered in the mass is the literal, fleshly, body of Jesus, to which one must bow down in worship, is the precocious offspring of this warped ancient theology, and therefore the very dogma denounced by John as Antichrist.

As for the supposed phantasmal human body of Jesus, that, too, was borrowed from Egyptian paganism. Serapis was, in his highest form, the sun-god, and therefore had a diaphanous body of celestial light. When he “became” the grain (just as sunlight is absorbed by plants which subsequently germinate in the earth), he had to be be born of his “Virgin Mother”, the earth-goddess Isis, also known as Maria. She was called by the Egyptians the “Mother of God”. His infant form, born of Isis, was called Horus. This was the Egyptian Trinity of gods, Isis, Horus, Serapis, that is, the Mother goddess, Isis, the god who was the Son, Horus, and the Father god, Serapis. It was a triune god of “spiritual” light and goodness which the heretics Cerdon and Marcion set in opposition to the dark and malevolent “god of the Jews”, the god of the Old Testament and the creator of matter, matter being the realm of evil, and spirit of good, according to the doctrine of the dualist Magians whom the heretics parodied. The initial letters of the names of the divinities comprising this Trinity, IHS (Isis, Horus, Serapis), became “Christianized” in the First Church of Rome, and were passed off to the ignorant public as though they represented the first three Greek letters of the name Jesus (spelled IHSOUS in Greek). If this was true, why only the first three letters? Now, when the Father god, Serapis, the sun-god, passed through the womb of Isis to form Horus, he was in a radiant body formed of sunlight. This pagan myth was “Christianized”, too, in the First Church of Rome: Jesus was believed to have passed through the body of the Virgin Mary at birth like a ray of light, without breaking her hymen, and thus to have preserved her perpetual virginity. Adherents of Roman Catholic dogma believe this today. The candles prevalent in Roman ceremonial are symbolic of the pagan light-god who is the real object of worship in that cult, and originally were used only in pagan liturgies, not at all in pre-Nicene authentic Christianity. Thus, when the Roman Catholic prelate, dressed in the robes of the ancient Roman priest, marked with the letters IHS and the chi-rho symbol, offers up the round, sun-shaped wafer of bread at the candle-lit altar in the sacrifice of the mass, he is the living embodiment of the ancient priest of Serapis, offering up the bread-body of the pagan god.

Note even the name of the historical virgin mother of Jesus was altered to suit the Egyptian myth. Her actual name was Hebrew, Miriam, Aramaic Mariam, and is usually spelled Mariam in the Textus Receptus, only twice, and in the same passage of John’s Gospel in an account of the Resurrection appearances, Maria. (John 20. 11, 16. Maria here is usually taken by commentators, wrongly, to be Mary Magdalene.) The form Maria is a native Aramaic name, meaning, “the Well-fed One”, and seems to be used in this passage of John by Jesus Himself as a new spiritual name to replace the form Mariam (which has a negative meaning, “their contention”), as He renamed Simon Kepha, in Aramaic, or, in Greek, Petros, “the Rock” etc. This spiritual name suited the new situation in which Mary had at the Cross been committed by Jesus to the care, and therefore feeding, of the Apostle John as to a new son (John 19. 25-27). The First Church of Rome changed the name Mariam when used of the mother of Jesus uniformly to Maria, which was the native Egyptian name of the pagan goddess, not related to the Aramaic Maria. Now, being in every respect a direct manifestation of God, according to the Docetist and the dependent Sabellian systems, not truly human at all, and by choosing to be born of Mary in the world of time, Jesus had turned his mother into the “Mother of God”: and that, of course, was the title of Isis in Egyptian paganism. The Apostolic writings tell us what the historical virgin really was: she was the mother merely of the frail, fleshly, material, body, capable of dying, in which God tabernacled in His fullness. As the Angel Gabriel said to Mary (Luke 1. 35): “That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” That holy thing was the material, fleshly body of Jesus only. Mary certainly was not the mother of God, the Spirit, nor of the pre-existent Word, the Son of God, Who took up His abode in that body. Along with pagan Egyptian theology, the First Church of Rome adopted pagan iconography and idolatry. The common depiction of the Mother-goddess Isis holding on her lap the infant Horus, was transmogrified into the “Chrestian” image of “Maria” holding her infant child “Chrestos”. Pagans bowed down to this image as an idol of Isis and Horus, and deluded Christians as an “icon” of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

The festival popularly supposed to be the quintessence of Christianity, that is, the festival of Christmas, was invented by Artemon, of the other persuasion, the Adoptianist heresy, and he composed the “lections”, or liturgical Scriptural readings, which were recited during the celebration. Telesphorus, the second bishop of the First Church of Rome at the beginning of the second century AD, adopted this festival, including the Midnight Mass (Liber Pontificalis, s.n.), in accordance with the tradition (Eusebius, Ecclesiatical History, V. 28) that all the bishops of the First Church of Rome up to the end of the second century AD were Artemonites. (Telesphorus was seventh in succession of ordination from the Apostles, but only the second bishop of the First Church in Rome, viz. that Church of which Victor was bishop at the end of the second century AD, Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, III. iii. 3, and apud Eusebius, ibid., V. 24. 14.) The Christmas festival was of special interest to this brand of heretics because Christ was identified by them with the sun-god Serapis, and therefore was held by Egyptian paganizing pseudo-Christians to have been born of the “Virgin” (the pagan virgin goddess Kore, i.e. Maria, Isis) on the day of the birth of the sun-god (whom they called “Aion”, another name for Serapis, reborn as Horus) on the 6th January. (Epiphanius, Panarion, Haer. 51, 22.) This is still the date of the birth of “Christ” (i.e. Chrestos, Serapis) in the East. However, when the heretical followers of Cerinthus came to Rome the date of the birth of the sun-god in Rome was 25th December. This had to be combined, in some way, with the eastern date, so Cerinthus’ doctrine was adapted by Artemon to make 25th December the date of the birth of the “mere man” Jesus, in the manger, attended by the animals, Mary and Joseph etc., and 6th January was retained as the birth-day of “Christ”, the Dunamis or “Power” which was born into the world when he descended into the “mere man” Jesus at his baptism, the so-called “Epiphany”, on the 6th January. (Ananias of Shirak, on the disciples of Cerinthus and Christmas, “Counter upon the Epiphany of Our Lord and Savior”, ed. trans. Conybeare, in The Expositor, 1896, pp. 321-327, id. ibid., p. 323f., and Paul of Taron, on Artemon’s role, Ad Theopistum, p. 222, apud Conybeare, Key of Truth, pp. clvi-clviii, and p. 185.) There were twelve days between these dates which were later celebrated as the “twelve days of Christmas” or should we say “Chrest-mas”?

Heretics of both persuasions are known to have tampered with the New Testament texts to bring them in line with their own tenets. They claimed they were “correcting” the texts, which had been altered, supposedly, by “Judaizers”. The Docetists of Marcion’s camp accepted only the writings of Paul and of Luke (Paul’s disciple), precisely because Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles and not to the Jews. The Adoptianists, on the other hand, accepted all the Scriptures in common use in the Church, though there were usually additions, like the Wisdom of Solomon, in their collections. The heretical versions of the New Testament texts were disfigured by deliberate omissions and supplemented words and phrases. We do not need to conjecture what such texts would look like, as they have survived to this day in the Latin Vulgate of Jerome. The “Dynamic Monarchian” (Adoptianist) prologues to the Vulgate Gospels in Codex Amiatinus, and the Marcionite prologues to the Pauline Epistles in Codex Fuldensis, are what one would expect to find at the head of the corresponding Scriptural compositions, in a copy of the New Testament which mixed the specifically Marcionite Pauline Corpus with the specifically Artemonite (Adoptianist) text in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. Both “text-critical” schools, that of Artemon and that of Marcion, played a significant role in the doctrinal development of the First Church of Rome in the second century AD. At the beginning of the third century, an intellectual presbyter of the First Church of Rome called Caius expressed an interest in, and a questioning of, the text-critical accuracy of these sectarians (Eusebius, ibid., citing the work of Caius, Photius, Bibliotheca, codex 48), at a time when a new heresy, Montanist Noetianism, or Sabellianism, had been adopted by his Church. As taught by the latter-day bishops of the First Church of Rome, Noetianism/Sabellianism merged, and to a certain extent reconciled, the disparate doctrines of the earlier Docetist and Adoptianist heretics, in a new construct culled from the pagan philosophy of Heraclitus “the Obscure”. It was based on the idea that Father, Son and Holy Spirit were different names for the One God, representing so many “modes” or phases of His being. In this construct the humanity of Jesus was not only obscured, but effectively obliterated, in the divinity. The “Son”, Jesus Christ, was, according to the Noetians, God in an absolute sense, not the living Image of God, stamped on humanity, as He was in the authentic letters of Paul, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was, consequently, in the same absolute sense, the “Mother of God”. Noetianism, like Adoptianism and Docetism, was a development of the doctrines of Simon Magus, as can be seen from the extract of Simon’s “Great Announcement” cited supra. This, therefore, was the time, and the presbyter Caius the man, to produce a synthetic Greek text edited superficially throughout in accordance with the Noetian/Sabellian dogmatic system, which combined the Marcionite Pauline corpus with the other Artemonite New Testament Scriptures, of precisely the kind represented in Jerome’s Vulgate. The synthetic Greek text was probably first produced by Caius in the early part of the third century AD. It is likely to have gone through various editions in the third and first half of the fourth centuries AD, as it was adapted by heretics favoring this or that particular stream of the synthetic tradition. Some time within the same period it was translated by private persons for their own use into Latin. Augustine claimed several such Latin translations were made before his time, but without “official” sanction. One particular set of Latin texts passed into the hands of Damasus, and it was this version which Jerome revised.

We return now to a more detailed examination of the “text-critical” work of these heretics. Marcionite readings in the Pauline corpus are found already c. AD 200 in codex p46 from Egypt. Codex p46 omits the words “in Ephesus” in Ephesians 1. 1, which is a reading typical of Marcionite texts, since Marcion believed the letter to the Ephesians was actually sent to the Laodiceans. He thus hijacked an ancient exegesis of the first verse of the Epistle, going back at least to the era of Origen (Origen in Cramer’s Catena ad loc., also Basil Contra Eunomium II. 19), which highlighted what might be understood to be the grammatically “redundant” use of the Greek word “ousin” (“are”) in Ephesians 1. 1. The word appears in the phrase “to the saints who are in Ephesus” in that verse, Gk. tois agiois tois ousin en Ephesoi, standing instead of the more common tois agiois tois en Ephesoi (the former, or longer, phrase only occurring here in the Pauline Epistles in this precise form). The word ousin, “are”, Origen suggested, might be an indirect reference to the “presence” of the “I AM” in the person of the saints; — a typical early Christian midrash, this, of the kind employed by Rabbis in that same era to expound the grammatical mysteries of the Hebrew Scriptures. Marcion, taking his cue from the midrash, cut out altogether the following words “in Ephesus”, and left the text to read nonsensically “to the saints who are period. Doubtless he intended it to convey some mysterious docetic truth about the saints, but it happily allowed him also to maintain his theory that the letter was written to the Laodiceans. Marcionite churches spread in Egypt following Marcion’s expulsion (for political, more than dogmatic, reasons) from the First Church of Rome in the latter third of the second century BC, and this explains the presence of a typical Marcionite text there c. AD 200 in the form of codex p46. Precisely the same heretical omission of the words “in Ephesus” is found in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, as written by the original scribe, though the missing words were supplied subsequently in the margin by another hand. These were the kind of readings, incorporated in the deviant Latin text favored by Damasus, that Roman Jerome and his ilk in the fourth century were eager to make mainstream and impose on the Greeks of the East.

The secondary emendation of I John 5. 8 by an adherent of Marcion-like Docetist tenets is perfectly in line with the editorial work of Docetists elsewhere: for example in I Timothy 3. 16, where “God was manifested in the flesh”, proving the reality of the incarnation in matter, was changed to “He who was manifested in the flesh”, and Acts 20. 28, where “the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood”, in Greek tou idiou aimatos, proving that God had become flesh and blood to purchase our redemption, was changed in some Greek texts to “the Church of the Lord, etc.” (The identical phrase used in the Received Text, “His own blood”, referring to Christ, occurs in Hebrews 9. 12.) In Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus the order of the words was changed to produce the ambiguous phrase, tou aimatos tou idiou, which could mean “His own blood”, but could equally well mean, “the blood of His Own”, the relationship of “His Own” to “God” being left unstated. In the oldest texts of Jerome’s Vulgate (Fuldensis and Amiatinus), not only is I John 5. 7 omitted, but I Timothy 3. 16 is altered to, Great is the mystery, “which” was manifested in the flesh, not “God” was manifested in the flesh, and Acts 20. 28 has indeed the “Church of God” correctly, but that is said to have been purchased, in the Vulgate’s Latin, sanguine suo, “with his blood”, which is not a clear statement in that language that it was the blood of God’s own body with which it was purchased, as it is in the Greek, but could mean simply “the blood over which God claimed ownership, or, authority by relationship, or, which God used for His purpose” or even, if one wanted to be perverse, “its or her blood”, that is the “blood of the Church”!

The popular modern version known as the New International Version (NIV) has all three key heretical readings. The NIV is based on the “Alexandrian” text-type which underlies the Latin Vulgate, but professedly on surviving Greek manuscripts only, not directly on the Latin. I John 5. 6-8 reads in the NIV (omitting the “Three Heavenly Witnesses”): “6 This is the one who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” A footnote in the NIV to verse 8 reads, deceivingly: “Late manuscripts of the Vulgate ‘testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.(not found in any Greek manuscript before the fourteenth century).” Apart from the blatant, and textually irrelevant, reference here to the Vulgate, by which is meant the official Latin Vulgate of the Roman Catholic Church of the later period, not Jerome’s own work, the statement about the fourteenth century is simply a lie. I Timothy 3. 16 reads in the NIV (changing “God” to the vague and mysterious “He”): “16 Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” As for Acts 20. 28 the NIV becomes as deceitfully ambiguous as Jerome’s Vulgate: “28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” In case one thought here one could simply connect “his own” with “God”, and understand, correctly, the reference to be to the blood of God’s own body, the NIV supplies two footnotes: one is on the word “God”, stating, “Many manuscripts ‘of the Lord’”, as though that heretical reading is of equal validity, therefore “God” is not really the Supreme Eternal Being, but some lesser “Lord”; and, on the phrase “his own blood”, the following, “Or with the blood of his own Son”, which shows the NIV followed the heretical reading of Vaticanus, Sinaiticus etc., and which is so much as to say, this is a perfectly acceptable alternative translation of the Greek (though actually Gk. tou idiou in that reading means “His Own”, whoever that may be, not “His own Son”). Compare this with the Vulgate’s ambiguous sanguine suo. The NIV would warm the cockles of Jerome’s heart.

Returning now to Jerome’s era, all three heretical readings are found also in Codex Alexandrinus (4th to 5th century). This codex has a Byzantine text-type in the Gospels, and an “Alexandrian” type in the remainder of the New Testament, in which latter these heretical readings are found. The “Heavenly Witnesses” passage in Alexandrinus is eccentric, but brings out the centrality of the Spirit in relation to its true exegesis, which the emendation was attempting to combat: literally translated, Alexandrinus reads, “This is he who came by water and blood and spirit, Jesus Christ; not in the water only, but in the water and the spirit. And it is the spirit that bears witness, because the spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness, the spirit, and the water, and the blood, and the three agree in one.” It is disputed whether the two uncial letters in Codex Alexandrinus (OC) at I Timothy 3. 16 represent the word Theos “God” (was manifested in the flesh), that is, whether a stroke should be seen in the middle of the “O”, making it the initial Greek letter theta of the standard two-letter abbreviation, theta and sigma, for “Theos”, “God”, or whether these letters should be read “hos”, “he who” (was manifested in the flesh). From a strictly paleographic point of view, either is possible, but the codex’s “Alexandrian” text-type in other readings outside the Gospels favors the latter of these alternatives. In Acts 20. 28 Alexandrinus reads “the Church of the Lord which He purchased with His own blood”, instead of the correct “Church of God”.

Along with these key texts, there are numerous other instances in which emendations have been made to suit the Docetic heresies of Cerdon, Marcion and Noetianists/Sabellianists. For example, Acts 4. 24-25 reads in the Received Text (“Byzantine” text-form) “24.2 O Master, You are He Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25. (You are) He Who said [lit. are the speaker] through the mouth of Your servant David, Why did the heathen rage, etc.” In Codex Alexandrinus the words “our Father” and “the Holy Spirit” are inserted into the text at this place, but in a way that tortures the Greek, thus (literally): “You are he who are the speaker of our Father through the Holy Spirit of the mouth of David your servant, etc.” The identical reading is found in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. The additions italicized were made to “correct a Judaizing error” the Docetists saw here. In the text as it stands God is addressed as the Maker of heaven and earth. That simple truth contradicted the Docetist belief that God Himself had nothing to do with the creation of “evil matter”, which the Docetists understood to be the work of an inferior or evil being, called the Demiurge. The object of the emendation, therefore, was to separate the supposedly inferior Master god who made matter (heaven, earth, sea), from God “Our Father”, and turn him into the subordinate, and errant, “speaker” of the “Father” through the Holy Spirit. The Trinity of Supreme Beings, including the Father and the Holy Spirit, according to the heretical theory espoused by the First Church of Rome, was not the Creator of matter. Only a spiritual God of this type, far above the evil world of matter, could be, according to their philosophy, the God and Father of the Apostles. At the same time, in the emended text the Apostles are represented still as acknowledging the Jewish king David to be the servant of the Master god. The Jews, the Docetists thought, were the people of the inferior Creator-god. All Jews were vilified by the heretics, along with their Old Testament God. So, in Jerome’s Vulgate (Codex Amiatinus) the passage reads: “Master, you who made heaven and earth and the sea and everything in them, who spoke, by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of Our Father, of your servant, David, etc.” Unsurprisingly the NIV has the same heretical additions of “our father” and “the Holy Spirit”, though in that translation the “father” seems to be David. (A mysterious divine “Father” separate from the Creator would be too blatantly heretical.)

There is circumstantial evidence that Codex Alexandrinus was connected with “tablets” of the Scriptures provided by Athanasius (c. AD 296-373) to Emperor Constans. Long after the Origenic Bibles were deposited in Constantinople, and in spite of those Bibles’ sufficiency in all textual respects, Constantine’s successor, Constans (emperor of Italy and other regions in the West AD 337-350), requested the notable theologian Athanasius of Alexandria, who was in Rome at the time, to supply him with “tablets” (Gk. puktia) of the Holy Scriptures. This has been taken to demonstrate the opposition Origen’s work encountered in official circles in the West, and a desire to replace it. The stated aim may have been to obtain, in combination with the New Testament Scriptures, a text of the Old Testament according to the Septuagint, authenticated by Athanasius, instead of the recent and controversial edition of Origen, as the Septuagint was the popular choice. Athanasius supplied the “tablets” as instructed. The traditional history of Codex Alexandrinus and other internal indicators associate it with this era. A woman called Thecla was the scribe who produced the manuscript, according to a note in Arabic attached to it, and she has been thought to be the Thecla with whom Gregory Nazianzen corresponded (Letters, ed. Migne PG 37, nos. 56, 57, 222, 223) in the latter part of his life (c. AD 300-392), the contemporary of Athanasius. The codex includes a preface written by Athanasius, who himself latterly was a contemporary of Damasus and Jerome. It also bears the hallmarks of post-Nicene diplomacy, attempting to reconcile the increasingly divergent parties of the Eastern and Western forms of Christianity, as it combines Origen’s “Byzantine” or Eastern text-type in the more popular Gospels, with “Alexandrian” or Western text-type readings in the rest of the New Testament, the latter being of overriding interest to theologians and dogmatists.

Neither Athanasius nor Thecla can be blamed for Codex Alexandrinus as it has come down to us, but it could well have resulted from a reworking of Athanasius’ text in the latter parts of the New Testament by an advocate of the “Alexandrian” text-type. One wonders if behind the request of Constans was a plot to get Athanasius’ name attached to a Greek copy of the Scriptures in the Latin West, which could then be modified to accord with the Latin translation of the Roman Church, and fobbed off on the Greeks of Constantinople, thus spreading the heretical Latin readings in the Greek East.

Since there is no evidence that any later revisions were given official sanction by the Byzantine court, the few typical “Alexandrian” deficiencies in some texts of the “Byzantine” type current in the Greek East thereafter, like the omission of I John 5. 7, are probably explicable by the supplanting of the authentic Origenic text by this mixed text-type resulting from the request of Constans. Athanasius’ reputation in the Greek East will have helped the spread of such readings. Amongst the lower social classes, economy dictated which parts of the New Testament were attested in more than one text-form, as it was rare for a manuscript of the complete New Testament to be found outside of an official library or a wealthy man’s private collection. Most readily available, and therefore lower in price, were codices of the Gospels. In the Greek East a divergent text of the Gospels would be immediately apparent, as one could compare the heretical codex with one’s own other copy, or with that of a neighbor. The effect would be a diminution in the number of copied heretical texts. And that is the situation as we find it, the Byzantine text of the Gospels being relatively pure. The second most widely available portion of the New Testament was the Pauline corpus. Here, too, divergent readings would be easily spotted. The Byzantine text of the Pauline Epistles is of a corresponding purity. Much rarer in ancient times were copies of the Johannine Epistles, and it is in the first of the Johannine Epistles that the divergent reading of I John 5. 7-8 is attested in texts of the Byzantine type even in Greek-speaking areas. In this sole instance the common Byzantine text-form is deficient. Another restraint on the availability of variant text-forms in the East was the limited geographical area under Byzantine influence, which became more limited as the Medieval period ran on. A deficient text might be the only one readily available within the zone where Greek was spoken. In the Latin West, by contrast, large areas of the former Roman Empire continued to speak Latin for official and ecclesiastical purposes, therefore variant texts were more widespread and the imposed Latin Vulgate was not the only one available. In the older Latin translations which were still copied well into the Medieval period, the ancient Byzantine text-form, including I John 5. 7, survived. This in spite of a concerted effort by the monk Cassiodorus to make all Latin texts (and even Greek texts by emendation of the Greek) conform to the Vulgate, and a similar standardization of the Latin texts by order of Charlemagne, though the details of the latter effort are obscure.

One can see that the First Church of Rome had much invested in the Vulgate and Codex Vaticanus, and Erasmus’ rejection of both and the use of his Greek text by the Reformers after him was, as might be expected, highly resented by the Roman party. Reformation scholars held to Erasmus’ Byzantine Greek text well into the beginning of the nineteenth century. Then a reaction set in, as the Church of England was infiltrated by Jesuits hoping to turn it back to the Vulgate and away from the Sola Scriptura (or Sola Scriptura Byzantina) of the Reformed Churches. They found a fertile field in England at that time to sow their seeds of “Textual Criticism”. The English upper classes feared the spread of French revolutionary fervor and therefore welcomed Jesuits and other Roman Catholic prelates, driven from France during the Revolution, as a potential bastion against Trade Unions, strikers and similar promoters of social discontent at home. The reaction against revolution spawned an animus against rationalists, humanists and liberals, even against responsible ones, like Erasmus. Many in the Church of England, including Tregelles, Westcott and Hort, and their circle, turned against the Greek text of Erasmus and his successors back to the Vulgate-like tradition of Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus to provide them with what they claimed was the purer and more original Greek text. The riches and prestige of the Church of England fell behind them, and their pseudo-scholarly arguments won the day. First came a “revision” of the King James Version (the latter representing the true original Byzantine text), that revision being called the “Revised Version”, and not long thereafter a flood of new English translations, as well as translations into other languages, based on the readings of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. The initial stages of the assault on the Received Byzantine Text included a blatant and deceitful attack on Erasmus himself by Tregelles (pronounced Tre-gel-les, three syllables). Tregelles joined the Plymouth Brethren, along with his cousin, B. W. Newton, who was a priest in the Church of England, caused a schism in that fellowship by promoting a significant difference with the movement’s leading light, J . N. Darby, over prophetic doctrine, and (when the first failed to cause a breach) by bolstering the overweening clerical pretensions of Newton, then, finally, retired to the Church of England. At the same time he and his cousin were wreaking havoc in the central Brethren Church in Plymouth, Darby was driven from Switzerland, where he had been conducting a very successful and popular Brethren revival, by a political revolution orchestrated by Jesuits, which resulted in a threat on his life. On arriving back in Plymouth, Darby denounced the clericalism promoted by Tregelles and Newton as Romish in nature, supported by the arguments, as he put it, of High Churchmen with a leaning towards Popery. Tregelles’ love for the Vulgate text-type was consistent, clearly, with his ecclesiastical prejudices.

1 I John 5. 7.

2 The Apostles pray to God as follows.

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