Francis Turretin and the heavenly witnesses and the Sixtus Senensis ms question

Steven Avery

from Senensis - "from the very times of the apostles".

[TC-Alternate-list] Re: Francis Turretin, the heavenly witnesses, evidences and the Greek exemplaria
Steven Avery - October 5, 2010

Small improvements and updates made to the original 2006 post. I also corresponded with at least two of the Turretin critics.

> Ex 1 Jon. v. 7. Respondente J Benedicto Picteto Genevensi

> ....Watch the emphasis on Cyprian, Contra Arium about Nicea (Athanasius-Arius), the Carthage documents, Jerome's explanation in the Vulgate Prologue, Fulgentius responding to the Arians, and doctrinal and internal and interpretative considerations (most of the article)

OK from what I can tell, the list of sources on page 290 looks much like the typical modern statements that one reads--not in many Greek and Latin mss, not in versions, not used in debates with anti-trinitarians where it would be expected if known. Then he goes to a comment in one of Jerome's prefaces, and then skips to Erasmus and later editions of the TR. Very interesting

Right. Francis Turretin was totally informed. He even discusses the Vulgate Prologue which says how translators were unfaithful in dropping the heavenly witnesses. And he knew the ins and outs of the history of the Complutensian, Erasmus, Cajetan (one of the early critics who considered the verse doubtful) Codex Brittanica, etc.

Your quote was from Institutio Theologicae Elencticae has been translated in two ways, the second one has the benefit of at least pointing out the Latin word exemplaria (the Latin is further down in this post.)


yet all the Greek copies have it, as Sixtus Senensis acknowledges: "they have been the words of never-doubted truth, and contained in all the Greek copies from the very times of the apostles" (Bibliotheca sancta [1575], 2:298) **

** English translation from Institutes of Elenctic Theology by Francis Turretin, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, vol 1 (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1992), 6. ibid, p. 11

All the Greek witnesses (exemplaria) have it, as Sixtus Senensis recognizes: "The words always were of unquestioned truth, and are read in all Greek manuscripts from the time of the apostles themselves."


Now based on these English translation (snippets) .. Francis Turretin has been a whipping boy of a number of modern authors.

Attacking Turretin:

[textualcriticism] Re: 1 Timothy 3:16 in Codex Alexandrinus - March 30, 2006
Michael Marlowe -
Turretin was a famous and well-respected theologian, and his Institutio was used as a textbook of theology in some Reformed seminaries up to the middle of the nineteenth century. But it's evident that this worthy author had no interest in investigating the possibility that a reading unconvenient to settled dogma could be the more authentic reading. False but "theologically correct" statements such as Turretin makes here set the tone for the time, and made it impossible for scholars to deal honestly with the evidence without fear of being tarred as heretics. Here is Turretin saying "all the Greek copies" have the Johannine Comma, when in fact *none* of the copies he could have examined in Switzerland contained the clause! And he quotes an Italian author who also maintained that the Comma is "in all the Greek copies." You see how utterly wrong and misleading some witnesses can be, and what a bad position we are in if we rely upon citations or testimony about readings from interested parties.

Textual Criticism in the Writings of Francis Turretin
A Case Study in the History of Criticism and Dogma
by Michael Marlowe, May 2003
... We must suppose that he had little interest in discovering the true facts of the case when the common opinion of uninformed men served his purpose. It is very instructive to note this weakness in the work of such a learned man as Turretin.

[textualcriticism] Re: 1 Timothy 3:16 in Codex Alexandrinus - March 30, 2006
Daniel Buck

What Turretin was exibiting was an appalling ignorance of the textual corpus (which could have been remedied by a careful perusal
of the CA in Beza's TR)

Reformed Orthodoxy (2006)
Henk van den Belt;sequence=16

Turretin, Institutio II.xi.10. Cf. Turret in. Institutes 1. 115. Turretin depended on secondary sources for this judgment. For the Johannine Comma he refers to Sixtus Senensis (1520-1569) who wrote that the Comma was present in all the Greek copies from the times of the apostles. Cf. Sisto da Siena. Bibliotheca sancta, vol. 2, Frankfurt 1575. 298.
On the Johannine Comma in Reformed orthodoxy cf. Muller, PRRD 2-2, 421-424.

James White

Bob Hayton

Now what are exemplaria ? It does not sound to me like simply "manuscripts" or "copies" in this context, definitely not all the copies for centuries. Note this usage .. looks just like our word exemplar.

Jacques Lefévre d'Etaples
Epistle 141
Unde fit, ut tempore Hieronymi codices Gracci hanc particulam in epistola loannis haberent: Tres sunt qui testimonium dant in caclo, Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus sanctus, et hi tres unum sunt, qua nunc carent nostra exemplaria Gracca.

Similarly Jerome refers to the Hesychius Greek OT as the exemplaria Alexandrina. While Sepulveda makes distinctions between codices and lectio and exemplaria, with the exemplaria Romans == libri archetype. So what you have is mediocre, questionable translation jumped on for the purpose of accusation. By writers who apparently do not know the very basics of the heavenly witnesses debate and what was actually written by Francis Turrretin.


Francis Turretin was simply explaining that Jerome and the evidence points to the Greek exemplars down to the days of the apostles as having the heavenly witnesses. Exemplars from the times, at the times... not all copies (codices) since the times.

And as well the verse was in the Greek exemplars of his day, in the Greek editions approved (Complutensian Stephani, Hutteri, etc).

Here is the original Latin of the quote that is accused through translation

Francisci Turrettini opera, Volume 1

X. Falso Editio Hebraea Veteris et Graeca
Novi Testamenti dicitur mutila: Nec quae ab Adversariis afferuntur testimonia hoc evincere possunt. Non historia adulterae, Job. 8, licet enim desit in Syriaca Versione, reperitur in omnibus Graecis Codicibus. Non dictum, 1 Joh. v. 7, quamvis enim quidam in dubium olim vocarint, et vocent hodie haeritici, habent tamen omnia Exemplaria Graeca, ut Sixtus Senensis agnoscit:

verba indubitatae semper veritatis fuerunt, et in omnibus Graecis exemplaribus ab ipsis Apostolorum temporibus lecta.

Non Marci 16 caput, quod potuit in variis exemplaribus desiderari tempore Hieronymi, ut ipse fatetur; sed nunc La omnibus habetur, etiam in Syriaca Versione, et est plane necessarium ad pertexendam historiam resurrectionis Christi.

Francisci Turrettini opera, Volume 1 (1847)

Notice the emphasis on what Jerome said about manuscripts, with the Mark ending. Jerome specifically tells us of the Greek manuscripts of his day having the heavenly witnesses, but its being dropped by unfaithful translators (and scribes, by context.)


Notice that here Jerome is again talking of the ancient exemplars, very specifically, in the discussion of the Vulgate Prologue, where it is most apt.

De tribus testibus coelestibus (1848)

1691 edition - original is 1674

V. Primo, fides probatissimorum et antiquissimorum Exemplarium, quae hic pro nobis aperte militant. Hieronymus, qui ex testmonio Augustini fuit Vir doctissiraus, et trium linguarum peritissimus, qui et omnia fere ante ilium Scripta Ecclesiastica legit, in prologo in Epist. Cano. ad Eutochium, refert, Codices omnes Graecos suo tempore versum hunc habuisse, et hunc de Unitate Trinitatis locum ab infidelibus Latinis Interpretibus omission queritur.

Here you can see the emphasis on Jerome, that in his time the Greek, the Latin and the interpreters had the heavenly witnesses, as expressed in the Vulgate Prologue.

Overall, I wondered about this for awhile, until I was able to find the real, full Turretin section about the heavenly witnesses.

Disputatio Theologica
De Tribus Testibus Coelestibus - p. 289-303
I - Athanasius
II - unsure
III - internal doctrinal (looks worthwhile)
IV - adversaris
V - Jerome Prologue, Cyprian, Athanasius and much more
VI - Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic discussed
VII - internal doctrinal

This section is very strong.

When it comes to Reformation-era giants, may I suggest "slow to accuse" would be a savvy style of writing.


Steven Avery

more on Turretin and Senensis - superb reply from Henk van den Belt

From TC-Alternate:

Hi Folks,

[TC-Alternate-list] Francis Turretin, the heavenly witnesses - Professor Henk van den Belt Dec, 2010

In our earlier series of posts, including these four:

[TC-Alternate-list] Turretin and his mss comment on the heavenly witnesses - 10/06/2010 - Steven

[TC-Alternate-list] Turretin and Whitaker on the heavenly witnesses - Reformation Bible perspective - 10/6/2010 - psaulm119

[TC-Alternate-list] Francis Turretin, the heavenly witnesses, evidences and the Greek exemplaria - 10/06/2010 - Steven

[TC-Alternate-list] Francis Turretin, the heavenly witnesses, evidences and the Greek exemplaria - 10/07/2010 - Steven

The most important person who looked to consider Turretin as writing questionably was Professor Henk van den Belt, quoted in the last post. However,
Henk van de Belt was simply approaching this in a scholarly manner
, en passant, the others who were quoted Turretin did not approach this as a scholarship matter to study ... it was seen more as anti-TR agiprop.

Reformed Orthodoxy (2006)
Henk van den Belt
Turretin, Institution II.xi.10. Cf. Turret in. Institutes 1. 115. Turretin depended on secondary sources for this judgment. For the JohannineComma he refers to Sixtus Senensis (1520-1569) who wrote that the Commawas present in all the Greek copies from the times of the apostles. Cf.Sisto da Siena. Bibliotheca sancta, vol. 2, Frankfurt 1575. 298.

So I sent the fuller information to the Professor about the full background of Turretin on the heavenly witnesses and our discussion of the language he was using. (Mostly the url to the posts above with a quick summary of what Turretin covers in De tribus testibuscoelestibus.)

Today, Professor Henk van den Belt replied very graciously (and gave permission to be quoted).


Dear Steven Avery,

Thank you for your kind e-mail on Turretin. I'm sorry that I was to busy to respond earlier.
Your reference to the disputation on the issue is illuminating.
I agree that the reference to Sisto da Siena can be interpreted as referring to the original apostolic texts in stead of to all the Greek copies. THANKS!


Henk van den Belt
Assistant professor of Reformed Theology

So I feel a real satisfaction in unravelling this attack against Francis Turretin, who was a true Reformation giant being portrayed as a textual simpleton. All of which had puzzled me for a while when I had first seen it on the textual criticism list in 2006 some years back in a post by Michael Marlowe.

Granted, the Professor's comment is still a bit nuanced
"can beinterpreted" however all in all it is rather strong with"illuminating".. and a hearty thanks. All of which I see as a confirmation of the research project. My own conviction is now even more sure. Francis Turretin was fully aware of the textual backdrop of the extant Greek manuscripts, as is very clear in the major section in De tribus testibus coelestibus.

And Francis Turretin had been very unfairly attacked by men of little insight like James White
"Turretin is obviously in error". We also had Michael Marlowe's barrage in an email and an article. "The examination of practically any Greek manuscript would have revealed to Turretin that the statement of Sixtus Senensis regarding 1 John 5:7 is simply untrue" which Marlowe wrote was only because of "pressure on scholars to adhere to the TR"! "special-pleading on its (TR)behalf" .. "appalling" ... "utterly wrong and misleading" ... all this verbiage against Turretin based on superficial research into Turretin's writings and misunderstanding the context of one quote !

Ironically, Michael Marlowe then went a step further, and used his own error in analysis to claim that the many examiners of Codex Alexandrinus who had seen a stroke in the text (the list is long and distinguished) would have been similarly biased, and saw the OS stroke
"as mostly a figment of theological correctness". :) All this based on Marlowe's not knowing the strength of Turretin's writing! Which I had come across in my heavenly witnesses study.

The question is real, though, in a sense.

When there is a political agenda, research and analysis will suffer.
Here the agenda was against the Received Text.

Steven Avery
Queens, NY


Steven Avery


William Sandell
Peter Gurry

here is the quote from Turretin:

"Not 1 Jn. 5:7, for although some formerly called it into question and heretics now do, yet all the Greek copies have it, as Sixtus Senensis acknowledges: “they have been the words of never-doubted truth, and contained in all the Greek copies from the very times of the apostles” (Bibliotheca sancta [1575], 2:298)."

What he's referring to is Sixtus Senensis' quote referring to the Greek copies that were "from the very times of the apostles". Support for this would include Jerome's Preface (which has mistakenly been assumed to be a later 9th century addition, despite being included in a 5th century Vulgate manuscript).

Turretin obviously knew that all Greek manuscripts didn't have it. He even wrote a whole treatise on the comma and discusses the manuscript evidence for the comma. Even if he was referring to Greek printed editions, he obviously knew that it wasn't in "all" of them either, since the first 2 editions of Erasmus didn't have it.

Folks have misunderstood what Turretin meant in that phrase and made him sound like he didn't know what he was talking about. His book of disputations (which included various treatises on certain topics) was never translated and so those who have an axe to grind regarding the comma jump on the way he worded that sentence in the Institutes to make him sound ignorant of the data.

In his treatise, Turretin suspects that the Arians corrupted a bunch of manuscripts, and thus that is why a large portion of the extant manuscript evidence excludes the comma.

Peter Gurry
William Sandell I’ll take your word for it that Turretin knew of MSS that didn’t have it, but I confess I don’t know how else to read his remark that I mentioned. In any case, I have no ax to grind. The point stands that our data on that text is today different from what it was in the 17th century

Steven Avery

One of the few contras who engage the Turretin section is Grantley McDonald. However, only in a one-dimensional way. From Raising the ghost of Arius : Erasmus, the Johannine comma and religious difference in early modern Europe.

Moved to Turretin Ghost of Arius page.

Raising the Ghost of Arius - Grantley McDonald
Francis Turretin and Michael Walther and Thomas Smith
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