For now this thread will take from four posts on the NT Textual Criticism forum on Facebook. Later it can be augmented with primary source and analysis.

Stephanus notation on heavenly witnesses
NT Textual Criticism - 2015-07 - Steven Avery{tn%3AR9}#{"tn"%3A"R9"}{"tn"%3A"R9"}{"tn"%3A"R9"}

For the issue of the mss used by Stephanus, I'll try to find a couple of the most readable links. If you put in "crochet" or "semicircle" and "Stephanus" (sometimes Stephens, or Estienne) and "heavenly witnesses" (various other forms) you probably will find references. And I tend to agree with what James wrote on this point. By this analysis, the question had to do with whether the notation had to do with whether a phrase was included, rather than the whole heavenly witnesses.

And I think the surprise is that John Gill (1697-1771), normally very astute (including on his heavenly witnesses analysis) made the claim, since it had been a matter of analysis for a long time before he wrote. At a quick glance my notes reference Lucas Brugensis ("Louvain divines"), Richard Simon, John Louis Roger, the debate between David Martin and Thomas Emlyn, and Isaac Newton as among those who had discussed the Stephanus mss before John Gill.

Richard Porson is actually helpful in this review, although very little he writes can be accepted without checking the source he references. Here is the heavy drinker and skeptic Richard Porson (1759-1808). Although writing after Gill, he is referencing earlier writers:

Letters to Travis, in answer to his defence of the three heavenly witnesses, I John,v 7 (1790)
Richard Porson

Similarly, here is Charles Butler (1750-1832), who was very fair in analysis, writing on Lucas Brugensis (1549-1619) and this issue:

Horae Biblicae (1807)
Charles Butler
"in the sixteenth century it was well known, that the Greek Manuscripts, in general, omitted the whole passage"

This argument from Greek mss of Stephanus was the weakest point of David Martin, John Gill and George Travis. (As a sidenote, the able verse defender and scholar, Francis Turretin, 1623-1687, has been wrongly accused of not knowing the ms. situation, based on misreading a comment.)

The pure Bible defender William Hales took Travis to task on this while also complimenting him on other issues, especially the critical Council of Carthage publication:

Faith in the Holy Trinity, Volume 2 (1818)
William Hales

This ended the debate difficulty, except that the internet led to John Gill being quoted. Gill is almost always accurate, but not on this point.

Note that the learned William Hales (1747-1831) was making sure to vindicate Stephanus from a bogus accusation of forgery (read ahead to p. 171-173). This was a type of anti-Christianity argument from Gibbon and from Porson represented a type of pre-hortian anti-TR animus.

William Parr Greswell (1765-1854), in A view of the early Parisian Greek press (1833), p. 322-330, similarly defended Stephanus from the "venial fraud" allegations of Gibbon and Porson.

A View of the Early Parisian Greek Press: Including the Lives of the Stephani; Notices of Other Contemporary Greek Printers of Paris; and Various Particulars of the Literary and Ecclesiastical History of Their Times, Volume 1 (1833)
William Parr Greswell

"Such are the illiberal and frivolous pretences, upon which he [Porson] has attempted to fix an indelible stain on the personal and professional character of Robert Estienne; thinking it would seem, in his day, that dead reputations are fair subjects of the most wanton insult, because, as the proverb says, " Mortui non dolent."

Porson was rather wretched and sleazy. And he became the poster boy for the attack on the heavenly witnesses authenticity. (Even today, as in the censored BVDB forum.) As a master of the cheap debating trick, he is the prefigurement of James White, except that Porson was, technically, a knowledgeable scholar. (And White is not a drunkard.) They run neck-and-neck in the ability to be arrogant and condescending in error.


The whole situation is a bit more complicated than that, James. There is a question of the placement in the apparatus and auxiliary comments made in the 1500s. I think it is theorized that his son Henry did some of the collation in the 1540s and then the mss had to be returned, and then the interpretation of the marks (crochet, semicircle) became the controversy. See my references above, but I will add three more.

The key scholarship that turned around William Hales on this question was by Herbert Marsh (1757-1839), known more as the translator of Michaelis.

Letters to Mr. Archdeacon Travis in vindication of one of the Translator's notes to Michaeli's Introduction (1795)
Herbert Marsh

I am not sure how much is in Horne, but Orme's work, when the edition was done by good 'ol Ezra Abbot, had a fine section. (I have not yet checked the earlier Orme editions carefully.)

Memoir of the Controversy Respecting the Three Heavenly Witnesses, I John V (1869)

And the 1807 article by Joseph Jowett was referenced.

Christian Observer (1807)
Joseph Jowett

Using those resources, and the ones above, some one could write a nice article reviewing the controversy. Which included the journey of Travis to Paris to research what mss were there. Afaik, no such study on this whole controversy has ever been written.

Personally, I have not felt the need to go into every detail. Marsh convinced William Hales to flip (from 1816 to 1818). And that is a strong indication that his explanation was rock solid. Hales and Brownlee, along with Nolan, were superb defenders in the period after Travis, writing mostly before the Burgess summaries. Hales really ripped Travis on this issue, while complimenting him on others. I am not sure offhand how Travis responded to the Marsh Letters, which would be a key part of a historical review. The only reason why the dispute has become part of the public discussion again is that John Gill placed the mistaken interpretation in his commentary. btw, Donald Carson make a big point about the Gill summary, but really this was the spot that was a major problem.


Jan Krans, in "Beyond What Is Written," summarizes the information about the relevant typo on page 242 (digital page 253): in the text, Krans states that at First John 5:7

"Beza followed Stephanus’
typographical error and therefore assumed the presence of the Comma in some of Stephanus’ manuscripts."

A footnote provides further details:

"The opening sign for the omission is put before EN TW OURANW and its closing sign immediately after it, instead of after EN TH GH. The omission itself is signalled in seven manuscripts; an eighth manuscript, Stephanus’ 15 [i.e., Greek IE'] (min. 82), should have been included; in a positive apparatus only the Complutensian Polyglot could have been indicated."


Actually, there does not seem to be a typo issue as the main point, simply Beza thought there might be more than seven mss of the epistles available to Stephanus.

Granted the closing point of the omission of the seven mss is placed after "in heaven", but there is no indication that Beza thought that therefore the seven mss had everything but that phrase.

The language of Beza is quite moderate, and generally well informed about the evidences, and indeterminate about count regarding the Stephanus note (the Beza note changed a bit in 1582 ). Krans thinks that Beza did not understand a negative apparatus, based on this verse the weakness was only that he thought there might be some ms other than the seven omittters. (The word veteribus libris "old books" is why it seems that he is referring to Stephanus mss rather than Stephanus editions.).

It was only much later that some people (we see this in John Gill. Travis is unreliable on this issue, Hales had been influenced by Travis but flipped to the right view after reading Marsh) made comparisons of seven to a number like 15 to claim that many of the Stephanus mss had the verse.

Beza never made such a claim, he simply indicated there might be some beyond the omitters.


"in a positive apparatus only the Complutensian Polyglot could have been indicated."

Jan Krans is clearly wrong here, unless he is limiting himself to mss, but even there, see below.

Jerome was a major evidence for Erasmus, and is specifically mentioned by Beza as very significant.

Beyond that, Cyprian could have been included, somehow he seems to have slipped through the cracks of the learned men of the Reformation Bible development, rather surprisingly. Yet Alfonsus Salmeron (1515-1585) has clearly used this as one of the evidences for authenticity:

Disputationum in Epistolas divi Pauli et Canonicae et praeludia generalia in Apocalypsithe Books on the Trinity by Vi

(chronological summary next post)