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The Third Epistle of
The Third Epistle of John ] This title, like that of the Gospel and of the other two Epistles, is not original, and is found in various forms, the most ancient being the simplest, 1. Of John T; 2. Third Epistle of John ; 3. Third Catholic Epistle of John ; 4. Third Catholic Epistle of the Apostle John . This letter has still less reason than the second to be styled ‘Catholic’ or ‘General.’ The Second Epistle may possibly be addressed to a local Church and be intended to be encyclical; but beyond all reasonable doubt this one is addressed to an individual.
1. The Address
1. This Epistle, like the Second, and most others in N.T., has a definite address, but of a very short and simple kind: comp. James 1:1 . It has no greeting, properly so called, the prayer expressed in v. 2 taking its place.
The Elder ] See on 2 John 1:0 . From the Apostle’s using this title in both Epistles we may conclude that he commonly designated himself thus. If not, it is additional evidence that the two letters were written about the same time: see on vv. 13, 14.
unto the wellbeloved Gaius ] More exactly, to Gaius the beloved : the epithet is the same word as we have had repeatedly in the First Epistle (2:7, 3:2, 21, 4:1, 7, 11) and have again in vv. 2, 5, 11. The name Gaius being perhaps the most common of all names in the Roman Empire, it is idle to speculate without further evidence as to whether the one here addressed is identical with either Gaius of Macedonia (Acts 19:29 ), Gaius of Derbe (Acts 20:4 ), or Gaius of Corinth (Romans 16:23 ). See Introduction, Chap. IV. sect. ii. pp. 60, 61.
whom I love in the truth ] Better, whom I love in truth : see on 2 John 1:0 . This is not mere tautology after ‘the beloved;’ nor is it mere emphasis. ‘The beloved’ gives a common sentiment respecting Gaius: this clause expresses the Apostle’s own feeling. There is no need, as in the Second Epistle, to enlarge upon the meaning of loving in truth. In this letter the Apostle has not to touch upon defects which a less true love might have passed over in silence.
2 4. Personal Good Wishes and Sentiments
2. I wish above all things that ] Rather, I pray that in all respects ; literally, concerning all things . It might well surprise us to find S. John placing health and prosperity above all things; and though the Greek phrase ( περὶ πάντων ) has that meaning sometimes in Homer, yet no parallel use of it has been found in either N.T. or LXX.
prosper ] The word ( εὐοδούσθαι ) occurs elsewhere in N.T. only Romans 1:10 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 , but is frequent in LXX. Etymologically it has the meaning of being prospered in a journey , but that element has been lost in usage, and should not be restored even in Romans 1:10 .
and be in health ] Bodily health, the chief element in all prosperity: Luke 7:10 , Luke 7:15 :27; comp. 5:31. We cannot conclude from these good wishes that Gaius had been ailing in health and fortune: but it is quite clear from what follows that ‘prosper and be in health’ do not refer to his spiritual condition, and this verse is, therefore, good authority for praying for temporal blessings for our friends. In the Pastoral Epistles ‘to be in health’ ( ὑγιαίνειν ) is always used figuratively of faith and doctrine.
The order of the Greek is striking, ‘all things’ at the beginning being placed in contrast to ‘soul’ at the end of the sentence: in all things I pray that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as prospereth thy soul . The verse is a model for all friendly wishes of good fortune to others.
3. For ] ‘I know that thy soul is in a prosperous condition, for I have it on good authority.’
I rejoiced greatly ] See on 2 John 1:4 . This cannot so well be the epistolary aorist, but rather refers to the definite occasions when information was brought. Of course if ‘rejoiced’ becomes present as epistolary aorist, ‘came’ and ‘bare witness’ must be treated in like manner.
testified of the truth that is in thee ] Better, bare witness (see on 1 John 1:2 ) to thy truth (see on v. 6). The whole, literally rendered, runs thus; For I rejoiced greatly at brethren coming and witnessing to thy truth . John 5:33 is wrongly quoted as a parallel. There the Baptist ‘hath borne witness to the truth,’ i.e. to the Gospel or to Christ. Here the brethren bare witness to Gaius’s truth, i.e. to his Christian life, as is shewn by what follows. The ‘thy’ is emphatic, as in v. 6; perhaps in contrast to the conduct of Diotrephes. Comp. Luke 4:22 .
even as thou walkest in the truth ] Omit ‘ the ,’ as in 2 John 1:4 . This is part of what the brethren reported, explaining what they meant by Gaius’s truth.
4. I have no greater joy ] In the Greek ‘greater’ is put first for emphasis, and this is worth preserving; Greater joy have I none than this . ‘Joy’ should perhaps rather be grace ( χάριν ) i.e. favour from God. The Greek for ‘greater’ is a double comparative ( μειζοτέραν ), like ‘lesser’ in English. In Ephesians 3:8 we have a comparative superlative. Such things belong to the later stage of a language, when ordinary forms are losing their strength. ‘Than this ’ is literally ‘than these ,’ where ‘these’ either means ‘these joys ,’ or more likely ‘these things ,’ viz. the frequent reports of the brethren. Comp. John 15:13 .
to hear that my children walk in truth ] Better, as R. V., to hear of my children walking in the truth . Similarly in Acts 7:12 ; ‘When Jacob heard of corn being in Egypt.’ ‘My children’ means in particular members of the Churches in Asia which were under S. John’s Apostolic care.
5 8. Gaius praised for his Hospitality: Its special Value
5. Beloved ] The affectionate address marks a new section (comp. vv. 3, 11), but here again the fresh subject grows quite naturally out of what precedes, without any abrupt transition. The good report, which caused the Apostle such joy, testified in particular to the Christian hospitality of Gaius.
thou doest faithfully ] So the Vulgate; fideliter facis : Wiclif, Tyndale, and other English Versions take the same view. So also Luther: du thust treulich . The Greek is literally, thou doest a faithful (thing) , whatsoever thou workest (same verb as is rendered ‘wrought’ in 2 John 1:8 ) unto the brethren : which is intolerably clumsy as a piece of English. R.V. makes a compromise; thou doest a faithful work in whatsoever thou doest ; which is closer to the Greek than A.V., but not exact. ‘To do a faithful act’ ( πιστὸν ποιεῖν ) possibly means to do what is worthy of a faithful man or of a believer, ostendens ex operibus fidem (Bede); and ‘to do faithfully’ expresses this fairly well: thou doest faithfully in all thou workest towards the brethren . But this use of πιστὸν ποιεῖν is unsupported by examples, and therefore Westcott would translate Thou makest sure whatsoever thou workest ; i.e. ‘such an act will not be lost, will not fail of its due issue and reward’. The change of verb should at any rate be kept, not only on account of 2 John 1:8 , but also of Matthew 26:10 , where ‘she hath wrought a good work upon Me’ ( εἰργάσατο εἰς ἐμέ ) is singularly parallel to ‘thou workest toward the brethren’ ( ἐργάσῃ εἰς τοὺς ἀδελφούς ).
and to the strangers ] The true text ( א ABC) gives, and that strangers ( καὶ τοῦτο ξένους ); i.e. towards the brethren, and those brethren strangers. Comp. 1 Corinthians 6:6 ; Philippians 1:28 ; Ephesians 2:8 . The brethren and the strangers are not two classes, but one and the same. It enhanced the hospitality of Gaius that the Christians whom he entertained were personally unknown to him: Fideliter facis quidquid operaris in fratres, et hoc in peregrinos . Comp. Matthew 25:35 .
6. Which have borne witness of thy charity ] Rather, as R.V., Who hare witness to thy love . There is no need here to turn the aorist into the perfect; and certainly in S. John’s writings (whatever may be our view of 1 Corinthians 13:0 ) ἀγάπη must always be rendered ‘love.’ In a text like this, moreover, ‘charity’ is specially likely to be understood in the vulgar sense of almsgiving.
before the church ] Probably at Ephesus; but wherever S. John was when he wrote the letter. Only in this Third Epistle does he use the word ‘church.’
whom … thou shalt do well ] The verb comes immediately after the relative in the Greek, and may as well remain there; whom thou wilt do well to forward on their journey : literally, whom thou wilt do well having sent on . The word for ‘send on’ or ‘forward’ occurs Acts 15:3 , Acts 15:20 :38, Acts 15:21 :5; Romans 15:24 ; 1 Corinthians 16:6 , 1 Corinthians 16:11 ; 2 Corinthians 1:16 ; Titus 3:13 . There would be abundant opportunity in the early Church for such friendly acts; and in telling Gaius that he will do a good deed in helping Christians on their way the Apostle gently urges him to continue such work. Comp. Philippians 4:14 ; Acts 10:33 .
after a godly sort ] This is vague and rather wide of the Greek, which means, worthily of God (R.V.), or, in a manner worthy of God (Rhemish), or as it beseemeth God (Tyndale and Genevan). ‘Help them forward in a way worthy of Him whose servants they and you are.’ Comp. 1 Thessalonians 2:12 ; Colossians 1:10 .
7. Because that for his Name’s sake ] Much more forcibly the true text ( א ABCKL), For for the sake of the Name : the ‘His’ is a weak amplification in several versions. A similar weakening is found in Acts 5:41 , which should run, ‘Rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the Name.’ ‘The Name’ of course means the Name of Jesus Christ: comp. James 2:7 . This use of ‘the Name’ is common in the Apostolic Fathers; Ignatius, Eph. iii., vii.; Philad. x.; Clem. Rom. ii., xiii.; Hermas, Sim. viii. 10, ix. 13, 28.
they went forth ] Comp. Acts 15:40 .
taking nothing of the Gentiles ] Hence the necessity for men like Gaius to help. These missionaries declined to ‘spoil the Egyptians’ by taking from the heathen, and therefore would be in great difficulties if Christians did not come forward with assistance. We are not to understand that the Gentiles offered help which these brethren refused, but that the brethren never asked them for help. ‘The Gentiles’ ( οἱ ἐθνικοί ) cannot well mean Gentile converts . What possible objection could there be to receiving help from them? Comp. Matthew 5:47 , Matthew 6:7 , Matthew 18:17 , the only other places where the word occurs. There was reason in not accepting money or hospitality at all, but working for their own living, as S. Paul loved to do. And there was reason in not accepting help from heathen. But there would be no reason in accepting from Jewish converts, but not from Gentile ones.
Some expositors render this very differently. ‘For for the Name’s sake they went forth from the Gentiles, taking nothing;’ i.e. they were driven out by the heathen, penniless. But ‘went forth’ is too gentle a word to mean this; and the negative ( μηδέν not οὐδέν ) seems to imply that it was their determination not to accept anything, not merely that as a matter of fact they received nothing. For ‘receive from’ in a similar sense comp. Matthew 17:25 .
8. We therefore ] ‘We’ is in emphatic contrast to the heathen just mentioned. The Apostle softens the injunction by including himself: comp. 1 John 2:1 .
ought to receive such ] Or, ought to support such , to undertake for them: the verb ( ὑπολαμβάνειν not ἀπολαμβάνειν ) occurs elsewhere in N.T. only in S. Luke’s writings, and there with a very different meaning. Comp. Xen. Anab. I. i. 7. There is perhaps a play upon words between the missionaries taking nothing from the Gentiles, and Christians being therefore bound to undertake for them.
that we might be fellowhelpers to ] Rather, that we may become fellow - workers with . ‘Fellow-workers’ rather than ‘fellow-helpers’ on account of v. 5; see also on 2 John 1:11 . Cognate words are used in the Greek, and this may as well be preserved in the English. ‘Fellow-workers’ with what? Not with the truth, as both A.V. and R.V. lead us to suppose; but with the missionary brethren. In N.T. persons are invariably said to be ‘fellow-workers of ’ (Romans 16:3 , Romans 16:9 , Romans 16:21 ; 1 Corinthians 3:9 ; 2 Corinthians 1:24 ; Philippians 2:25 , Philippians 2:4 :3; [1 Thessalonians 3:2 ;] Philemon 1:24 ), never ‘fellow-workers to ’ or ‘fellow-workers with :’ those with whom the fellow-worker works are put in the genitive, not in the dative. The dative here is the dativus commodi , and the meaning is; that we may become their fellow-workers for the truth . Sometimes instead of the dative we have the accusative with a preposition (Colossians 4:11 ; comp. 2 Corinthians 8:23 ).
9, 10. Diotrephes condemned for his Arrogance and Hostility
This is the most surprising part of the letter; and of the internal evidence this is the item which seems to weigh most heavily against the Apostolic authorship. That any Christian should be found to act in this manner towards the last surviving Apostle is nothing less than astounding. Those who opposed S. Paul, like Alexander the coppersmith (2 Timothy 4:14 ), afford only remote parallels (1 Timothy 1:20 ; 2 Timothy 1:15 ). They do not seem to have gone the lengths of Diotrephes: the authority of Apostles was less understood in S. Paul’s time: and his claim to be an Apostle was at least open to question; for he was not one of the Twelve, and he had himself been a persecutor. But from the very first the N.T. is full of the saddest surprises. And those who accept as historical the unbelief of Christ’s brethren, the treachery of Judas, the flight of all the Disciples, the denial of S. Peter, the quarrels of Apostles both before and after their Lord’s departure, and the flagrant abuses in the Church of Corinth, with much more of the same kind, will not be disposed to think it incredible that Diotrephes acted in the manner here described even towards the Apostle S. John.
9. I wrote unto the Church ] The best authorities give I wrote somewhat to the Church ; i.e. ‘I wrote a short letter, a something on which I do not lay much stress’. There is yet another reading; I would have written to the Church : but this is an obvious corruption to avoid the unwelcome conclusion that an official letter from S. John has been lost. The reference cannot be to either the First or the Second Epistle, neither of which contains any mention of this subject. There is nothing surprising in such a letter having perished: and Diotrephes would be likely to suppress it. That the brethren whom Gaius received were the bearers of it, and that his hospitality was specially acceptable on account of the violence of Diotrephes, does not seem to fit in well with the context. ‘To the Church’ probably means ‘to the Church’ of which Diotrephes was a prominent member: that he was presbyter of it cannot be either affirmed or denied from what is stated here.
who loveth to have the preeminence ] The expression ( ὁ φιλοπρωτεύων ) occurs nowhere else in N.T.; but it comes very close to “whosoever willeth to be first among you” (Matthew 20:28 ). Perhaps the meaning is that Diotrephes meant to make his Church independent: hitherto it had been governed by S. John from Ephesus, but Diotrephes wished to make it autonomous to his own glorification. Just as the antichristian teachers claimed to be first in the intellectual sphere (2 John 1:9 ), so the unchristian Diotrephes claimed to be first in influence and authority.
10. Wherefore ] Or, For this cause : see on 1 John 3:1 .
I will remember ] I will direct public attention to the matter, ‘will bear witness of it before the Church’ ( v. 6). It is the word used in John 14:26 , ‘He shall bring all things to your remembrance.’
his deeds which he doeth ] Or, his works which he doeth : see on 2 John 1:11 .
with malicious words ] Or, with evil words : it is the same adjective ( πονηρός ) as is used throughout the First Epistle of ‘the evil one.’ The word for ‘prate’ ( φλυαρεῖν ) occurs nowhere else in N.T. It is frequent in Aristophanes and Demosthenes, and means literally ‘to talk non-sense.’ Its construction here with an accusative after it is quite exceptional. ‘Prates against us,’ garriens in nos , cannot well be improved: it conveys the idea that the words were not only wicked, but senseless. Comp. ‘And not only idle, but tattlers ( φλύαροι ) also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not’ (1 Timothy 5:13 ). Other renderings are ‘chiding against us’ (Wiclif), ‘jesting on us’ (Tyndale and Cranmer), ‘pratteling against us’ (Genevan), ‘chatting against us’ (Rhemish), plaudert wider uns (Luther).
neither doth he himself receive the brethren ] The same word ( ἐπιδέχεται ) is used here and at the end of v. 9. It occurs nowhere else in N.T. but is common in classical Greek. In v. 9 the meaning probably is ‘admits not our authority,’ or ‘ignores our letter.’ Here of course it is ‘refuses hospitality to.’ But perhaps ‘closes his doors against’ may be the meaning in both places; ‘us’ being S. John’s friends. By saying ‘us’ rather than ‘me’, the Apostle avoids the appearance of a personal quarrel.
casteth them out of the Church ] He excommunicates those who are willing to receive the missionary brethren. The exact meaning of this is uncertain, as we have not sufficient knowledge of the circumstances. The natural meaning is that Diotrephes had sufficient authority or influence in some Christian congregation to exclude from it those who received brethren of whom he did not approve. For the expression comp. John 9:34 , John 9:35 .
11, 12. The Moral
11, 12. This is the main portion of the Epistle. In it the Apostle bids Gaius beware of imitating such conduct. And if an example of Christian conduct is needed there is Demetrius.
11. Beloved ] The address again marks transition to a new subject, but without any abrupt change. The behaviour of Diotrephes will at least serve as a warning.
follow not that which is evil, but that which is good ] More simply, imitate not the ill , but the good . The word for ‘evil’ or ‘ill’ is not that used in the previous verse ( πονηρός ), but a word, which, though one of the most common in the Greek language to express the idea of ‘bad,’ is rarely used by S. John ( κακός ). Elsewhere only John 18:23 ; Revelation 2:2 , Revelation 16:2 : in Revelation 16:2 both words occur. Perhaps ‘ill’ is hardly strong enough here, and the ‘evil’ of A.V. had better be retained. Nothing turns on the change of word, so that it is not absolutely necessary to mark it. For ‘imitate’ comp. 2 Thessalonians 3:7 , 2 Thessalonians 3:9 ; Hebrews 13:7 : the word occurs nowhere else in N.T.
He that doeth good is of God ] He has God as the source ( ἐκ ) of his moral and spiritual life; he is a child of God. In its highest sense this is true only of Him who ‘went about doing good; but it is true in a lower sense of every earnest Christian. See on 1 John 2:16 , 1 John 2:29 , 1 John 2:3 :8, 1 John 2:9 , 1 John 2:4 :4, 1 John 2:6 , 1 John 2:7 .
hath not seen God ] See on 1 John 3:6 . Of course doing good and doing evil are to be understood in a wide sense: the particular cases of granting and refusing hospitality to missionary brethren are no longer specially in question.
12. While Diotrephes sets an example to be abhorred, Demetrius sets one to be imitated. We know of him, as of Diotrephes, just what is told us here and no more. Perhaps he was the bearer of this letter. That Demetrius is the silversmith of Ephesus who once made silver shrines for Artemis (Acts 19:24 ) is a conjecture, which is worth mentioning but cannot be said to be probable.
Demetrius hath good report , &c.] Literally, Witness hath been borne to Demetrius by all men and by the truth itself ; or less stiffly, as R. V., Demetrius hath the witness of all men . See on 1 John 1:2 . ‘All men’ means chiefly those who belonged to the Church of the place where Demetrius lived, and the missionaries who had been there in the course of their labours. The force of the perfect is the common one of present result of past action: the testimony has been given and still abides.
and of the truth itself ] A great deal has been written about this clause; and it is certainly a puzzling statement. Of the various explanations suggested these two seem to be best. 1. ‘The Truth’ means “the divine rule of the walk of all believers:” Demetrius walked according to this rule and his conformity was manifest to all who knew the rule: thus the rule bore witness to his Christian life. This is intelligible, but it is a little far-fetched. 2. ‘The Truth’ is the Spirit of truth (1 John 5:6 ) which speaks in the disciples. The witness which ‘all men’ bear to the Christian conduct of Demetrius is not mere human testimony which may be the result of prejudice or of deceit: it is given under the direction of the Holy Spirit. This explanation is preferable. The witness given respecting Demetrius was that of disciples, who reported their own experience of him: but it was also that of the Spirit, who guided and illumined them in their estimate. See note on John 15:27 , which is a remarkably parallel passage, and comp. Acts 5:32 , Acts 15:28 , where as here the human and Divine elements in Christian testimony are clearly marked.
yea, and we also bear record ] Better, as R. V., yea, we also bear witness (see on 1 John 1:2 ): the ‘and’ of A.V. is redundant. The Apostle mentions his own testimony in particular as corroborating the evidence of ‘all men.’
and ye know that our record is true ] Rather, as R.V., and thou knowest that our witness is true . The evidence for the singular, οἶδας ( א ABC and most Versions), as against the plural, οἵδατε (KL), is quite decisive: a few authorities, under the influence of John 21:24 , read ‘ we know:’ comp. John 19:35 . The plural has perhaps grown out of the belief that the Epistle is not private but Catholic.
John 21:0 is evidently an appendix to the Gospel, and was possibly written long after the first twenty chapters. It may have been written after this Epistle; and (if so) 21:24 may be “an echo of this sentence” (Westcott).
13, 14. Conclusion
13, 14. The marked similarity to the Conclusion of the Second Epistle is strong evidence that the two letters were written about the same time. See notes on 2 John 1:12 , 2 John 1:13 .
13. I had many things to write ] With R. V., following א ABC and all ancient Versions, we must add to thee . ‘I had’ is imperfect: at the time of my writing there were many things which I had to communicate to thee.
but I will not ] ‘Will’ is not the sign of the future tense auxiliary to ‘write,’ but the present of the verb ‘to will:’ but I will not to write to thee; I do not care to write . See on John 6:67 , John 7:17 , John 8:44 .
with ink and pen ] In the Second Epistle we had ‘with paper and ink.’ The word for ‘pen’ ( κάλαμος ) occurs in this sense nowhere else in N. T. It signifies the reed, calamus , commonly used for the purpose. In LXX. of Psalms 44:2 , ‘My tongue is the pen of a ready writer’, the same word is used; so also in Matthew 11:7 and Revelation 11:1 , but in the sense of reed, not of pen.
14. But I trust I shall shortly see thee ] More closely, but I hope immediately to see thee . The punctuation of this passage should be assimilated to the parallel passage in the Second Epistle. There is no reason for placing a comma before ‘but I hope’ in the one case, and a full stop in the other.
face to face ] As in 2 John 1:12 , this is literally ‘mouth to mouth.’
Peace be to thee ] Instead of the usual ‘Farewell’ we have an ordinary blessing with Christian fulness of meaning.
Pax interna conscientiae ,
Pax fraterna amicitiae ,
Pax superna gloriae .
Comp. John 20:19 , John 20:26 . The concluding blessing 1 Peter 5:14 is similar; comp. Ephesians 6:23 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:16 ; Galatians 6:16 .
Our friends salute thee ] Rather, The friends salute thee : there is no authority for ‘our’ either as translation or interpretation. If any pronoun be inserted, it should be ‘thy’: the friends spoken of are probably the friends of Gaius. It is perhaps on account of the private character of the letter, as addressed to an individual and not to a Church, that S. John says ‘the friends’ rather than ‘the brethren.’ Comp. ‘Lazarus, our friend , is fallen asleep’ (John 11:11 ); and ‘Julius treated Paul kindly, and gave him leave to go unto the friends and refresh himself’ (Acts 27:3 ), where ‘the friends’ probably means ‘ his friends,’ just as it probably means ‘ thy friends’ here. In ‘Lazarus, our friend’ the pronoun is expressed in the Greek.
Greet the friends by name ] Better, as R. V., Salute the friends by name : the same verb is used as in the previous sentence and in 2 John 1:13 ( ἀσπάζεσθαι ): ‘greet’ may be reserved for the verb used Acts 15:23 , Acts 15:23 :26; James 1:1 ; comp. 2 John 1:10 , 2 John 1:11 ( χαίρειν ). The former is much the more common word in N. T. to express salutation. For other instances of capricious changes of rendering in the same passage in A.V. comp. 1 John 2:24 , 1 John 2:3 :24, 1 John 2:5 :10, 1 John 2:15 ; John 3:31 .
by name ] The phrase ( κατʼ ὄνομα ) occurs in N. T. in only one other passage (John 10:3 ); ‘He calleth His own sheep by name .’ The salutation is not to be given in a general way, but to each individual separately. S. John as shepherd of the Churches of Asia would imitate the Good Shepherd and know all his sheep by name.
A. The Three Evil Tendencies in the World
The three forms of evil ‘in the world’ mentioned in 1 John 2:16 have been taken as a summary of sin, if not in all its aspects, at least in its chief aspects. ‘The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life’ have seemed from very early times to form a synopsis of the various modes of temptation and sin. And certainly they cover so wide a field that we cannot well suppose that they are mere examples of evil more or less fortuitously mentioned. They appear to have been carefully chosen on account of their typical nature and wide comprehensiveness.
There is, however, a wide difference between the views stated at the beginning and end of the preceding paragraph. It is one thing to say that we have here a very comprehensive statement of three typical forms of evil; quite another to say that the statement is a summary of all the various kinds of temptation and sin.
To begin with, we must bear in mind what seems to be S. John’s purpose in this statement. He is not giving us an account of the different ways in which Christians are tempted, or (what is much the same) the different sins into which they may fall. Rather, he is stating the principal forms of evil which are exhibited ‘in the world,’ i.e. in those who are not Christians. He is insisting upon the evil origin of these desires and tendencies, and of the world in which they exist, in order that his readers may know that the world and its ways have no claim on their affections. All that is of God, and especially each child of God, has a claim on the love of every believer. All that is not of God has no such claim.
It is difficult to maintain, without making some of the three heads unnaturally elastic, that all kinds of sin, or even all of the principal kinds of sin, are included in the list. Under which of the three heads are we to place unbelief, heresy, blasphemy, or persistent impenitence? Injustice in many of its forms, and especially in the most extreme form of all murder, cannot without some violence be brought within the sweep of these three classes of evil.
Two positions, therefore, may be insisted upon with regard to this classification.
1. It applies to forms of evil which prevail in the non-Christian world rather than to forms of temptation which beset Christians.
2. It is very comprehensive, but it is not exhaustive.
It seems well, however, to quote a powerful statement of what may be said on the other side. The italics are ours, to mark where there seems to be over-statement. “I think these distinctions, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, prove themselves to be very accurate and very complete distinctions in practice, though an ordinary philosopher may perhaps adopt some other classification of those tendencies which connect us with the world and give it a dominion over us. To the lust of the flesh may be referred the crimes and miseries which have been produced by gluttony, drunkenness, and the irregular intercourse of the sexes; an appalling catalogue, certainly, which no mortal eye could dare to gaze upon. To the lust of the eye may be referred all worship of visible things, with the divisions, persecutions, hatreds, superstitions, which this worship has produced in different countries and ages . To the pride or boasting of life, where you are not to understand by life, for the Greek words are entirely different, either natural or spiritual life, such as the Apostle spoke of in the first chapter of the Epistle, but all that belongs to the outside of existence, houses, lands, whatever exalts a man above his fellow, to this head we must refer the oppressor’s wrongs , and that contumely which Hamlet reckons among the things which are harder to bear even than the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ In these three divisions I suspect all the mischiefs which have befallen our race may be reckoned, and each of us is taught by the Apostle, and may know by experience that the seeds of the evils so enumerated are in himself” (Maurice).
Do we not feel in reading this that S. John’s words have been somewhat strained in order to make them cover the whole ground? One sin produces so many others in its train, and these again so many more, that there will not be much difficulty in making the classification exhaustive, if under each head we are to include all the crimes and miseries, divisions and hatreds, which that particular form of evil has produced .
Some of the parallels and contrasts which have from early times been made to the Apostle’s classification are striking, even when somewhat fanciful. Others are both fanciful and unreal.
The three forms of evil noticed by S. John in this passage are only partially parallel to those which are commonly represented under the three heads of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Strictly speaking those particular forms of spiritual evil which would come under the head of the devil, as distinct from the world and the flesh, are not included in the Apostle’s enumeration at all. ‘The vainglory of life’ would come under the head of the world; ‘the lust of the flesh’ of course under that of ‘the flesh;’ while ‘the lust of the eyes’ would belong partly to the one and partly to the other.
There is more reality in the parallel drawn between S. John’s classification and the three elements in the temptation by which Eve was overcome by the evil one, and again the three temptations in which Christ overcame the evil one. ‘When the woman saw that the tree was good for food (the lust of the flesh), and that it was pleasant to the eyes (the lust of the eyes), and a tree to be desired to make one wise (the vainglory of life), she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat’ (Genesis 3:6 ). Similarly, the temptations (1) to work a miracle in order to satisfy the cravings of the flesh, (2) to submit to Satan in order to win possession of all that the eye could see, (3) to tempt God in order to win the glory of a miraculous preservation (Luke 4:1-12 ).
Again, there is point in the contrast drawn between these three forms of evil ‘in the world’ and the three great virtues which have been the peculiar creation of the Gospel (Liddon Bampton Lectures VIII. iii. B), purity, charity, and humility, with the three corresponding ‘counsels of perfection,’ chastity, poverty, and obedience.
But in all these cases, whether of parallel or contrast, it will probably be felt that the correspondence is not perfect throughout, and that the comparison, though striking, is not quite satisfying, because not quite exact.
It is surely both fanciful and misleading to see in this trinity of evil any contrast to the three Divine Persons in the Godhead. Is there any sense in which we can say with truth that a lust, whether of the flesh or of the eyes, is more opposed to the attributes of the Father than to the attributes of the Son? Forced analogies in any sphere are productive of fallacies; in the sphere of religious truth they may easily become profane.
In the notes on 1 John 2:18 it has been pointed out that the term ‘Antichrist’ is in N. T. peculiar to the Epistles of S. John (1 John 2:18 , 1 John 2:22 , 1 John 2:4 :3; 2 John 1:7 ), and that in meaning it seems to combine the ideas of a mock Christ and an opponent of Christ, but that the latter idea is the prominent one. The false claims of a rival Christ are more or less included in the signification; but the predominant notion is that of hostility.
It remains to say something on two other points of interest. I. Is the Antichrist of S. John a person or a tendency, an individual man or a principle? II. Is the Antichrist of S. John identical with the great adversary spoken of by S. Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:0 ? The answer to the one question will to a certain extent depend upon the answer to the other.
I. It will be observed that S. John introduces the term ‘Antichrist,’ as he introduces the term ‘Logos’ (1 John 1:1 ; John 1:1 ), without any explanation. He expressly states that it is one with which his readers are familiar; ‘even as ye heard that Antichrist cometh.’ Certainly this, the first introduction of the name, looks like an allusion to a person. All the more so when we remember that the Christ was ‘He that cometh’ (Matthew 11:3 ; Luke 19:20 ). Both Christ and Antichrist had been the subject of prophecy, and therefore each might be spoken of as ‘He that cometh.’ But it is by no means conclusive. We may understand ‘Antichrist’ to mean an impersonal power, or principle, or tendency, exhibiting itself in the words and conduct of individuals, without doing violence to the passage. In the one case the ‘many antichrists’ will be forerunners of the great personal opponent; in the other the antichristian spirit which they exhibit may be regarded as Antichrist. But the balance of probability seems to be in favour of the view that the Antichrist, of which S. John’s readers had heard as certain to come shortly before the end of the world, is a person.
Such is not the case with the other three passages in which the term occurs. ‘Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is the Antichrist, even he that denieth the Father and the Son’ (1 John 2:22 ). There were many who denied that Jesus is the Christ and thereby denied not only the Son but the Father of whom the Son is the revelation and representative. Therefore once more we have many antichrists, each one of whom may be spoken of as ‘the Antichrist,’ inasmuch as he exhibits the antichristian characteristics. No doubt this does not exclude the idea of a person who should have these characteristics in the highest possible degree, and who had not yet appeared. But this passage taken by itself would hardly suggest such a person.
So also with the third passage in the First Epistle. ‘Every spirit which confesseth not Jesus is not of God: and this is the (spirit) of the Antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it cometh, and now is in the world already’ (4:3). Here it is no longer ‘the Antichrist’ that is spoken of, but ‘the spirit of the Antichrist.’ This is evidently a principle; which again does not exclude, though it would not necessarily suggest or imply, the idea of a person who would embody this antichristian spirit of denial.
The passage in the Second Epistle is similar to the second passage in the First Epistle. ‘Many deceivers are gone forth into the world, even they that confess not Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the Antichrist’ ( v. 7). Here again we have many who exhibit the characteristics of Antichrist. Each one of them, and also the spirit which animates them, may be spoken of as ‘the Antichrist;’ the further idea of an individual who shall exhibit this spirit in an extraordinary manner being neither necessarily excluded, nor necessarily implied.
The first of the four passages, therefore, will have to interpret the other three. And as the interpretation of that passage cannot be determined beyond dispute, we must be content to admit that the question as to whether the Antichrist of S. John is personal or not cannot be answered with certainty. The probability seems to be in favour of an affirmative answer. In the passage which introduces the subject (1 John 2:18 ) the Antichrist, of which the Apostle’s little children had heard as coming, appears to be a person of whom the ‘many antichrists’ with their lying doctrine are the heralds and already existing representatives. And it may well be that, having introduced the term with the personal signification familiar to his readers, the Apostle goes on to make other uses of it; in order to warn them that, although the personal Antichrist has not yet come, yet his spirit and doctrine are already at work in the world.
Nevertheless, we must allow that, if we confine our attention to the passages of S. John in which the term occurs, the balance in favour of the view that he looked to the coming of a personal Antichrist is far from conclusive. This balance, however, whatever its amount, is considerably augmented when we take a wider range and consider ( a ) The origin of the doctrine which the Apostle says that his readers had already heard respecting Antichrist; ( b ) The treatment of the question by those who followed S. John as teachers in the Church; ( c ) Other passages in the N. T. which seem to bear upon the question. The discussion of this third point is placed last because it involves the second question to be investigated in this Appendix; Is the Antichrist of S. John identical with S. Paul’s ‘man of sin.’
( a ) There can be little doubt that the origin of the primitive doctrine respecting Antichrist is the Book of Daniel , to which our Lord Himself had drawn attention in speaking of the ‘abomination of desolation’ (Matthew 24:15 ; Daniel 9:27 , Daniel 12:11 ). The causing the daily sacrifice to cease, which was one great element of this desolation, at once brings these passages into connexion with the ‘little horn’ of Daniel 8:9-14 , the language respecting which seems almost necessarily to imply an individual potentate. The prophecies respecting the ‘king of fierce countenance’ (8:23 25) and ‘the king’ who ‘shall do according to his will’ (11:36 39) strongly confirm this view. And just as it has been in individuals that Christians have seen realisations, or at least types, of Antichrist (Nero, Julian, Mahomet), so it was in an individual (Antiochus Epiphanes) that the Jews believed that they saw such. It is by no means improbable that S. John himself considered Nero to be a type, indeed the great type, of Antichrist. When Nero perished so miserably and obscurely in a.d. 68, Romans and Christians alike believed that he had only disappeared for a time. Like the Emperor Frederick II. in Germany, and Sebastian ‘the Regretted’ in Portugal, this last representative of the Caesars was supposed to be still alive in mysterious retirement: some day he would return. Among Christians this belief took the form that Nero was to come again as the Antichrist (Suet. Nero 40, 56; Tac. Hist. ii. 8). All this will incline us to believe that the Antichrist, of whose future coming S. John’s ‘little children’ had heard, was not a mere principle, but a person.
( b ) “That Antichrist is one individual man, not a power, not a mere ethical spirit, or a political system, not a dynasty, or a succession of rulers, was the universal tradition of the early Church .” This strong statement seems to need a small amount of qualification. The Alexandrian School is not fond of the subject. “Clement makes no mention of the Antichrist at all; Origen, after his fashion, passes into the region of generalizing allegory. The Antichrist, the ‘adversary,’ is ‘false doctrine;’ the temple of God in which he sits and exalts himself, is the written Word; men are to flee, when he comes, to ‘the mountains of truth’ ( Hom. xxix. in Matt. ). Gregory of Nyssa ( Orat. xi. c. Eunom. ) follows in the same track.” Still the general tendency is all the other way. Justin Martyr ( Trypho XXXII.) says “He whom Daniel foretells would have dominion for a time, and times, and an half, is even already at the door, about to speak blasphemous and daring things against the Most High.” He speaks of him as ‘the man of sin.’ Irenaeus (v. xxv. 1, 3), Tertullian ( De Res. Carn. XXIV., XXV.), Lactantius ( Div. Inst. vii. xvii.), Cyril of Jerusalem ( Catech. XV. 4, n, 14, 17), and others take a similar view, some of them enlarging much upon the subject. Augustine ( De Civ. Dei , xx. xix.) says “Satan shall be loosed, and by means of that Antichrist shall work with all power in a lying but wonderful manner.” Jerome affirms that Antichrist “is one man, in whom Satan shall dwell bodily;” and Theodoret that “the Man of Sin, the son of perdition, will make every effort for the seduction of the pious, by false miracles, and by force, and by persecution.” From these and many more passages that might be cited it is quite clear that the Church of the first three or four centuries almost universally regarded Antichrist as an individual. The evidence, beginning with Justin Martyr in the sub-Apostolic age, warrants us in believing that in this stream of testimony we have a belief which prevailed in the time of the Apostles and was possibly shared by them. But as regards this last point it is worth remarking how reserved the Apostles seem to have been with regard to the interpretation of prophecy. “What the Apostles disclosed concerning the future was for the most part disclosed by them in private, to individuals not committed to writing, not intended for the edifying of the body of Christ, and was soon lost” (J. H. Newman).
( c ) Besides the various passages in N.T. which point to the coming of false Christs and false prophets (Matthew 24:5 , Matthew 24:24 ; Mark 13:22 , Mark 13:23 ; Acts 20:29 ; 2 Timothy 3:1 ; 2 Peter 2:1 ), there are two passages which give a detailed description of a great power, hostile to God and His people, which is to arise hereafter and have great success; Revelation 13:0 and 2 Thessalonians 2:0 . The second of these passages will be considered in the discussion of the second question. With regard to the first this much may be asserted with something like certainty, that the correspondence between the ‘beast’ of Revelation 13:0 and the ‘little horn’ of Daniel 7:0 is too close to be accidental. But in consideration of the difficulty of the subject and the great diversity of opinion it would be rash to affirm positively that the ‘beast’ of the Apocalypse is a person. The correspondence between the ‘beast’ and the ‘little horn’ is not so close as to compel us to interpret both images alike. The wiser plan will be to leave Revelation 13:0 out of consideration as neutral, for we cannot be at all sure whether the beast (1) is a person, (2) is identical with Antichrist. We shall find that 2 Thessalonians 2:0 favours the belief that Antichrist is an individual.
II. There is a strong preponderance of opinion in favour of the view that the Antichrist of S. John is the same as the great adversary of S. Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:3 ). 1. Even in the name there is some similarity; the Antichrist ( ὁ ἀντίχριστος ) and ‘he that opposeth’ ( ὁ ἀντικείμενος ). And the idea of being a rival Christ which is included in the name Antichrist and is wanting in ‘he that opposeth,’ is supplied in S. Paul’s description of the great opponent: for he is a ‘ man ’, and he ‘setteth himself forth as God. ’ 2. Both Apostles state that their readers had previously been instructed about this future adversary. 3. Both declare that his coming is preceded by an apostasy of many nominal Christians. 4. Both connect his coming with the Second Advent of Christ. 5. Both describe him as a liar and deceiver. 6. S. Paul says that this ‘man of sin exalteth himself against all that is called God.’ S. John places the spirit of Antichrist as the opposite of the Spirit of God. 7. S. Paul states that his ‘coming is according to the working of Satan.’ S. John implies that he is of the evil one. 8. Both Apostles state that, although this great opponent of the truth is still to come, yet his spirit is already at work in the world. With agreement in so many and such important details before us, we can hardly be mistaken in affirming that the two Apostles in their accounts of the trouble in store for the Church have one and the same meaning.
Having answered, therefore, this second question in the affirmative we return to the first question with a substantial addition to the evidence. It would be most unnatural to understand S. Paul’s ‘man of sin’ as an impersonal principle; and the widely different interpretations of the passage for the most part agree in this, that the great adversary is an individual. If, therefore, S. John has the same meaning as S. Paul, then the Antichrist of S. John is an individual.
To sum up: Although none of the four passages in S. John’s Epistles are conclusive, yet the first of them (1 John 2:18 ) inclines us to regard Antichrist as a person. This view is confirmed ( a ) by earlier Jewish ideas on the subject, ( b ) by subsequent Christian ideas from the sub-Apostolic age onwards, ( c ) above all by S. Paul’s description of the ‘man of sin,’ whose similarity to S. John’s Antichrist is of a very close and remarkable kind.
For further information on this difficult subject see the articles on Antichrist in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible (Appendix), and Dictionary of Christian Biography , with the authorities there quoted; also four lectures on The Patristical Idea of Antichrist in J. H. Newman’s Discussions and Arguments .
C. The Sect of the Cainites
The name of this extravagant Gnostic sect varies considerably in different authors who mention them: Cainistae, Caiani, Cainani, Cainaei, Cainiani, Caini, and possibly other varieties, are found. The Cainites were a branch of the Ophites, one of the oldest forms of Gnosticism known to us. Other branches of the Ophites known to us through Hippolytus are the Naassenes ( Naash ) or ‘Venerators of the serpent,’ the Peratae ( πέραν or περᾷν ) ‘Transmarines’ or ‘Transcendentalists,’ the Sethians or ‘Venerators of Seth,’ and the Justinians or followers of Justin, a teacher otherwise unknown. Of these the Naassenes, as far as name goes, are the same as the Ophites, the one name being Hebrew, and the other Greek ( ὄδις ) in origin, and both meaning ‘Serpentists’ or ‘Venerators of the serpent.’
All the Ophite sects make the serpent play a prominent part in their system, and that not out of sheer caprice or extravagance, but as part of a reasoned and philosophical system. In common with almost all Gnostics they held that matter is radically evil, and that therefore the Creator of the material universe cannot be a perfectly good being. The Ophites regarded the Creator as in the main an evil being, opposed to the Supreme God. From this it followed that Adam in disobeying his Creator did not fall from a high estate, nor rebelled against the Most High, but defied a hostile power and freed himself from its thraldom: and the serpent who induced him to do this, so far from being the author of sin and death, was the giver of light and liberty. It was through the serpent that the human race were first made aware that the being who created them was not supreme, but that there were higher than he; and accordingly the serpent became the symbol or intelligence and enlightenment.
Logically carried out, such a system involved a complete inversion of all the moral teaching of the Old Testament. All that the Creator of the world (who is the God of the Jews) commands, must be disobeyed, and all that He forbids must be done. The negative must be struck out of the Ten Commandments, and everything that Moses and the Prophets denounced must be cultivated as virtues. From this monstrous consequence of their premises most of the Ophites seem to have recoiled. Some modified their premises and made the Creator to be, not an utterly evil being, but an inferior power, who through ignorance sometimes acted in opposition to the Supreme God. Others, while retaining the Ophite doctrine that the serpent was a benefactor and deliverer of mankind in the matter of the temptation of Eve, endeavoured to bring this into harmony with Scripture by declaring that he did this service to mankind unwittingly. His intention was evil; he wished to do a mischief to the human race. But it was overruled to good; and what the serpent plotted for the ruin of man turned out to be man’s enlightenment.
The Cainites, however, accepted the Ophite premises without qualification, and followed them without shrinking to their legitimate conclusion. Matter and the Creator of everything material are utterly evil. The revolt of Adam and Eve against their Creator was a righteous act, the breaking up of a tyranny. The serpent who suggested and aided this emancipation is a good being, as worthy of veneration, as the Creator is of abhorrence. The redemption of man begins with the first act of disobedience to the Creator. Jesus Christ is not the redeemer of the human race. He merely completed what the serpent had begun. Indeed some Cainites seem to have identified Jesus with the serpent. Others again, with more consistency, seem to have maintained that Jesus was an enemy of the truth and deserved to die.
The moral outcome of such a system has been already indicated, and the Cainites are said to have openly accepted it. Everything that the God of the Old Testament forbids must be practised, and everything that He orders abjured. Cain, the people of Sodom, Esau, Korah, Dathan and Abiram, are the characters to be imitated as saints and heroes; and in the New Testament, Judas. These are the true martyrs, whom the Creator and His followers have persecuted. About Judas, as about Jesus Christ, they seem not to have been agreed, some maintaining that he justly caused the death of one who perverted the truth; others, that having higher knowledge than the Eleven, he saw the benefits which would follow from the death of Christ, and therefore brought it about. These benefits, however, were not such as Christians commonly suppose, viz. the deliverance of mankind from the power of the serpent, but the final extinction of the dominion of the Creator. Irenaeus ( Haer. I. xxxi. 1) tells us that they had a book called the Gospel of Judas . In the next section he states the practical result of these tenets. “They say, like Carpocrates, that men cannot be saved until they have gone through all kinds of experience. They maintain also that in everyone of their sinful and foul actions an angel attends them and listens to them as they work audacity and incur pollution. According to the nature of the action they invoke the name of the angel, saying, ‘O thou angel, I use thy work. O thou great power, I accomplish thy action.’ And they declare that this is ‘perfect knowledge,’ fearlessly to rush into such actions as it is not right even to name.”
These are developments of those ‘depths of Satan’ of which S. John speaks in the Apocalypse (2:24) as a vaunted form of knowledge. Into the fantastic details of the system it is not necessary to enter. Suffice to say, that taking an inverted form of the Old Testament narrative as their basis, they engrafted upon it whatever took their fancy in the Egyptian rites of Isis and Osiris, the Greek mysteries of Eleusis, the Phoenician cultus of Adonis, the speculative cosmogony of Plato, or the wild orgies of Phrygian Cybele. Purpurei panni from all these sources find place in the patchwork system of the Ophite Gnostics. Christianity supplied materials for still further accretions, and probably acted as a considerable stimulus to the development of such theories. In several of its Protean forms we trace what appear to be adaptations of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
“The first appearance of the Ophite heresy in connexion with Christian doctrines,” says Dean Mansel ( The Gnostic Heresies p. 104), “can hardly be placed later than the latter part of the first century;” which brings us within the limits of S. John’s lifetime. It is not probable that the monstrous system of the Cainites was formulated as early as this. But the first beginnings of it were there; and it is by no means impossible that 1 John 3:10-12 was written as a condemnation of the principles on which the Cainite doctrine was built. Be this as it may, the prodigious heresy, although it probably never had very many adherents and died out in the third century, is nevertheless very instructive. It shews us to what results the great Gnostic principle, that matter is utterly evil, when courageously followed to its logical consequences, leads. And it therefore helps us to understand the stern and uncompromising severity with which Gnostic principles are condemned, by implication in the Fourth Gospel, and in express terms in these Epistles.
D. The Three Heavenly Witnesses
The outcry which has been made in some quarters against the Revisers for omitting the disputed words in 1 John 5:7 , and without a hint in the margin that there is any authority for them, is not creditable to English scholarship. The veteran scholar Döllinger expressed his surprise at this outcry in a conversation with the present writer in July, 1882: and he expressed his amazement and amusement that anyone in these days should write a book in defence of the passage, in a conversation in September, 1883. The Revisers’ action is a very tardy act of justice; and we may hope that, whether their work as a whole is authorised or not, leave will before long be granted to the clergy to omit these words in reading 1 John 5:0 as a Lesson at Morning or Evening Prayer, or as the Epistle for the First Sunday after Easter. The insertion of the passage in the first instance was quite indefensible, and it is difficult to see upon what sound principles its retention can be defended. There would be no difficulty in treating this case by itself and leaving other disputed texts to be dealt with hereafter. The passage stands absolutely alone ( a ) in the completeness of the evidence against it, ( b ) in the momentous character of the insertion. A summary of the evidence at greater length than could conveniently be given in a note will convince any unprejudiced person that (as Dr Döllinger observed) nothing in textual criticism is more certain than that the disputed words are spurious.
(i) The External Evidence
1. Every Greek uncial MS . omits the passage.
2. Every Greek cursive MS. earlier than the fifteenth century omits the passage.
3. Out of about 250 known cursive MSS. only two (No. 162 of the 15th century and No. 34 of the 16th century) contain the passage, and in them it is a manifest translation from a late recension of the Latin Vulgate .
Erasmus hastily promised that if he could find the words in a single Greek MS. he would insert them in his text; and on the authority of No. 34 he inserted them in his third edition; Beza and Stephanus inserted them also: and hence their presence in all English Versions until the Revised Version of 1881.
4. Every Ancient Version of the first four centuries omits the passage.
5. Every Version earlier than the fourteenth century, except the Latin , omits the passage.
6. No Greek Father quotes the passage in any of the numerous discussions on the doctrine of the Trinity. Against Sabellianism and Arianism it would have been almost conclusive.
It has been urged that the orthodox Fathers did not quote v. 7 because in conjunction with v. 8 it might be used in the interests of Arianism. But in that case why did not the Arians quote v. 7? Had they done so, the orthodox would have replied and shewn the true meaning of both verses. Evidently both parties were ignorant of its existence.
Again, it has been urged that the Greek Synopsis of Holy Scripture printed in some editions of the Greek Fathers, and also the so-called Disputation with Arius, “seem to betray an acquaintance with the disputed verse.” Even if this ‘seeming’ could be shewn to be a reality, the fact would prove no more than that the interpolation existed in a Greek as well as a Latin form about the fifth century. Can we seriously defend a text which does not even ‘seem’ to be known to a single Greek Father until 350 years or more after S. John’s death. Could we defend a passage as Chaucer’s which was never quoted until the nineteenth century, and was in no edition of his works of earlier date than that? And the ‘seeming’ can not be shewn to be a reality.
7. No Latin Father earlier than the fifth century quotes the passage.
It is sometimes stated that Tertullian possibly, and S. Cyprian certainly, knew the passage. Even if this were true, it would prove nothing for the genuineness of the words against the mass of testimony mentioned in the first six of these paragraphs. Such a fact would only prove that the insertion, which is obviously of Latin origin, was made at a very early date. But the statement is not true. “Tertullian and Cyprian use language which makes it morally certain that they would have quoted these words had they known them” (Westcott and Hort Vol. 11. p. 104).
Tertullian’s words are as follows: ‘ De meo sumet,’ inquit, sicut ipse de Patris, Ita connexus Patris in Filio, et Filii in Paracleto, tres efficit cohaerentes alterum ex altero: qui tres unum sunt, non unus; quomodo dictum est, ‘Ego et Pater unum sumus,’ ad substantiae unitatem, non ad numeri singularitatem . “He saith, He shall take of Mine (John 16:14 ), even as He Himself of the Father. Thus the connexion of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, maketh Three that cohere together one from the other: which Three are one Substance, not one Person; as it is said, I and My Father are one (John 10:30 ), in respect to unity of essence, not to singularity of number” ( Adv. Praxean. xxv.).
S. Cyprian writes thus; Dicit Dominus, ‘Ego et Pater unum sumus’; et iterum de Patre et Filio et Spiritu Sancto scriptum est, ‘Et tres unum sunt .’ “The Lord saith, I and the Father are one ; and again it is written concerning the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, And three are one ” ( De Unit. Eccl. vi.).
It is very difficult to believe that Tertullian’s words contain any allusion to the disputed passage. The passage in S. Cyprian seems at first sight to look like such an allusion; but in all probability he has in his mind the passage which follows the disputed words; ‘the spirit, the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one’; the Latin Version of which runs, spiritus et aqua et sanguis; et hi tres unum sunt . For the Vulgate makes no difference between the conclusions of vv. 7 and 8; in both cases the sentence ends with et hi tres unum sunt . That S. Cyprian should thus positively allude to ‘the spirit, the water, and the blood’ as ‘the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit’ will seem improbable to no one who is familiar with the extent to which the Fathers make any triplet found in Scripture, not merely suggest, but signify the Trinity. To take an example from Cyprian himself: “We find that the three children with Daniel, strong in faith and victorious in captivity, observed the third, sixth, and ninth hour, as it were, for a sacrament of the Trinity, which in the last times had to be manifested. For both the first hour in its progress to the third shews forth the consummated number of the Trinity, and also the fourth proceeding to the sixth declares another Trinity; and when from the seventh the ninth is completed, the perfect Trinity is numbered every three hours” ( Dom. Orat. XXXIV).
But perhaps the most conclusive argument in favour of the view that Cyprian is alluding to ‘the spirit, the water and the blood,’ and not to ‘the Three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit,’ is S. Augustine’s treatment of the passage in question. In all his voluminous writings there is no trace of the clause about the Three Heavenly Witnesses ; but about ‘the spirit, the water and the blood’ he writes thus; “Which three things if we look at as they are in themselves, they are in substance several and distinct, and not one. But if we will inquire into the things signified by these, there not unreasonably comes into our thoughts the Trinity itself, which is the one, only, true, supreme God, Father, and Son and Holy Spirit, of whom it could most truly be said, There are Three Witnesses, and the Three are One . So that by the term ‘spirit’ we should understand God the Father to be signified; as indeed it was concerning the worshipping of Him that the Lord was speaking, when He said, God is spirit . By the term ‘blood,’ the Son; because the Word was made flesh . And by the term ‘water,’ the Holy Spirit; as, when Jesus spake of the water which He would give to them that thirst, the Evangelist saith, But this said He of the Spirit, which they that believed on Him were to receive . Moreover, that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are witnesses, who that believes the Gospel can doubt, when the Son saith, I am one that bear witness of Myself, and the Father that sent Me, He beareth witness of Me? Where, though the Holy Spirit is not mentioned, yet He is not to be thought separated from them” ( Contra Maxim. II. xxii. 3). Is it credible that S. Augustine would go to S. John’s Gospel to prove that the Father and the Son might be called witnesses if in the very passage which he is explaining they were called such? His explanation becomes fatuous if the disputed words are genuine. A minute point of some significance is worth remarking, that in these passages both S. Cyprian and S. Augustine invariably write ‘the Son,’ not ‘the Word,’ which is the expression used in the disputed passage.
Facundus of Hermiana in his Defense of the “Three Chapters” (c. a.d. 550) explains 1 John 5:8 in the same manner as S. Augustine, quoting the verse several times and evidently knowing nothing of v. 7. This shews that late in the sixth century the passage was not generally known even in North Africa. Moreover he quotes the passage of S. Cyprian as authority for this mystical interpretation of v. 8. This shews how (300 years after he wrote) S. Cyprian was still understood by a Bishop of his own Church, even after the interpolation had been made. Attempts have been made to weaken the evidence of Facundus by asserting that Fulgentius, who is a little earlier in date, understood Cyprian to be referring to v. 7, not to v. 8. It is by no means certain that this is the meaning of Fulgentius; and, even if it is, it proves no more than that in the sixth century, as in the nineteenth, there were some persons who believed that Cyprian alludes to 1 John 5:7 . Even if such persons were right, it would only shew that this corruption, like many other corruptions of the text, was in existence in the third century.
This may suffice to shew that the passage in Cyprian probably refers to 1 John 5:8 and gives no support to v. 7. And this probability becomes something like a certainty when we consider the extreme unlikelihood of his knowing a text which was wholly unknown to S. Hilary, S. Ambrose, and S. Augustine; which is absent from the earliest MSS. of the Vulgate (and consequently was not known to Jerome); and which is not found in Leo I. 1 1 The passage (sometimes quoted as from S. Cyprian) in the Epistle to Jubaianus may be omitted, 1. S. Augustine doubted the genuineness of the Epistle. 2. The important words cum tres unum sunt are not found in all, if any, early editions of the Epistle. 3. Even if they are genuine, they come from v. 8, not from v. 7.
The anonymous treatise On Rebaptism (which begins with a fierce attack on the view of S. Cyprian that heretics ought to be rebaptized, and was therefore probably written before the martyrdom of the bishop) twice quotes the passage (xv. and xix.), and in each case says nothing about the Three bearing witness in heaven, but mentions only the spirit, the water, and the blood. This confirms the belief that the words were not found in the Latin Version in use in north Africa at that time.
Lastly, the letter of Leo the Great to Flavianus in b.c. 449, shortly before the Council of Chalcedon, “supplies positive evidence to the same effect for the Roman text by quoting vv. 4 8 without the inserted words” (Westcott and Hort Vol. II. p. 104).
Therefore the statement, that No Latin Father earlier than the fifth century quotes the passage , is strictly correct. The words in question first occur in some Latin controversial writings towards the end of the fifth century, but are not often quoted until the eleventh. The insertion appears to have originated in North Africa, which at the close of the fifth century was suffering from a cruel persecution under the Arian Vandals. The words are quoted in part in two of the works attributed to Vigilius of Thapsus, and a little later in one by Fulgentius of Ruspe. They are also quoted in a confession of faith drawn up by Eugenius, Bishop of Carthage, and presented to Hunneric c. a.d. 484. But it is worth noting that in these first appearances of the text the wording of it varies: the form has not yet become set. The Prologus Galeatus to the Catholic Epistles, falsely written in the name of Jerome, blames the Latin translators of the Epistle for omitting Patris et Filii et Spiritus testimonium . But not until some centuries later are the inserted words often cited even by Latin writers. Bede, the representative scholar of Western Christendom in the eighth century, omits all notice of them in his commentary, and probably did not know them; he comments on every other verse in the chapter.
The external evidence against them could not well be much stronger. If S. John had written the words, who would wish to expel such conclusive testimony to the doctrine of the Trinity from Scripture? If anyone had wished to do so, how could he have kept the words out of every MS. and every Version for four centuries? And had he succeeded in doing this, how could they have been recovered?
In short, we may use in this case the argument which Tertullian uses with such force in reference to the Christian faith. “Is it credible that so many and such important authorities should have strayed into giving unanimous testimony?” Ecquid verisimile est ut tot et tantae ecclesiae in unam fidem erraverint?
(ii) Internal Evidence
But it is sometimes said, that, although the external evidence is no doubt exceedingly strong, yet it is not the whole of the case. The internal evidence also must be considered, and that tells very powerfully the other way. Let us admit for the sake of argument that the internal evidence is very strongly in favour of the genuineness of the disputed words. Let us assume that the passage, though making sense without the words (as is indisputably the case), makes far better sense with the words. Let us suppose that the sense of the passage when thus enlarged is so superior to the shorter form of it, that it would be incredible that anyone to whom the longer form had occurred would ever write the shorter one. Can all this prove, in the teeth of abundant evidence to the contrary, that the longer and vastly superior passage was written, and not the shorter and inferior one? If twenty reporters quite independently represent an orator as having uttered a very tame and clumsy sentence, which the insertion of a couple of short clauses would make smooth and far more telling, would this fact convince us that the orator must have spoken the two clauses, and that twenty reporters had all accidentally left just these two clauses out? The fact that in a few out of many editions of the orator’s collected speeches, published many years after his death, these two clauses were found, but not always in exactly the same words, would hardly strengthen our belief that they were actually uttered at the time. No amount of internal probability, supplemented by subsequent evidence of this kind, ought to shake our confidence in the reports of the twenty writers who took down the speaker’s words at the moment. Where the external evidence is ample, harmonious , and credible , considerations of internal evidence are out of place. If the authorities which omit the words in question had united in representing S. John as having written nonsense or blasphemy, then, in spite of their number and weight and unanimity, we should refuse to believe them. But here no such doubts are possible; and the abundance and coherence of the external evidence tell us that the internal evidence, whatever its testimony, cannot be allowed any weight.
And here it is very important to bear in mind an obvious but not always remembered truth. Although internal evidence by itself may be sufficient to decide what an author did not write, it can never by itself be sufficient to decide what he did write. Without any external evidence we may be certain that S. John did not write ‘The Word cannot come in the flesh;’ but without external evidence we cannot know what he did write. And if the external evidence amply testifies that he wrote ‘The Word became flesh,’ it is absurd to try and ascertain from the internal evidence what (in our judgment) he must have written. So also in the present case it is absurd to say that the internal evidence (even if altogether in favour of the disputed words) can prove that S. John wrote the words.
The case has been discussed on this basis for the sake of argument and to meet the extraordinary opinion that the internal evidence is in favour of the inserted words. But as a matter of fact internal considerations require us to expel the clauses in question almost as imperatively as does the testimony of MSS., Versions, and Fathers.
1. The inserted words break the sense. In v. 6 we have the water, the blood, and the spirit mentioned; and they are recapitulated in S. John’s manner in v. 8. The spurious words in v. 7 make an awkward parenthesis, in order to avoid which, v. 7 is sometimes inserted after v. 8.
2. S. John nowhere speaks of ‘the Father ’ and ‘the Word ’ together. He either says ‘ God ’ and ‘the Word ’ (John 1:1 , John 1:2 , John 1:13 , John 1:14 ; Revelation 19:13 ), or ‘the Father ’ and ‘the Son ’ (1 John 2:22 , 1 John 2:23 , 1 John 2:24 , &c. &c.). John 1:14 is no exception; ‘father’ in that passage has no article in the Greek, and should not have a capital letter in English. S. John never uses πατήρ for the Father without the article; and the meaning of the clause is ‘the glory as of an only son on a mission from a father.’ Contrast, as marking S. John’s usage, John 1:1 with 1:18.
3. Neither in his Gospel, nor in the First Epistle, does S. John use the theological term ‘the Word’ in the body of the work: in both cases this expression, which is peculiar to himself in N.T., is confined to the Prologue or Introduction.
4. The inserted words are in the theological language of a later age. No Apostle or Evangelist writes in this sharp, clear cut style respecting the Persons in the Trinity. The passage is absolutely without anything approaching to a parallel in N.T. If they were original, they would throw the gravest doubt upon the Apostolic authorship of the Epistle. As Haupt observes, “No one can deny that in the whole compass of Holy Writ there is no passage even approaching the dogmatic precision with which, in a manner approximating to the later ecclesiastical definitions, this one asserts the immanent Trinity. Such a verse could not have been omitted by inadvertence; for even supposing such a thing possible in a text of such moment, the absence of the words ἐν τῇ γῇ of v. 8 would still be inexplicable. The omission must then have been intentional, and due to the hand of a heretic. But would such an act have remained uncondemned? And were all our MSS. produced by heretics or framed from heretical copies?”
5. The incarnate Son bears witness to man; and the Spirit given at Pentecost bears witness to man; and through the Son, and the Spirit, and His messengers in Old and New Testament, the Father bears witness to man; respecting the Sonship and Divinity of Jesus Christ. But in what sense can the Three Divine Persons be said to bear witness in heaven? Is there not something almost irreverent in making Them the counterpart of the triple witness on earth? And for whose benefit is the witness in heaven given? Do the angels need it? And if they do, what has this to do with the context? Nor can we avoid this difficulty by saying that the Three are in heaven, but bear witness on earth. It is expressly stated that the Three bear witness in heaven , while three other witnesses do so on earth.
6. The addition ‘and these Three are one,’ though exactly what was required by the interpolators for controversial purposes, is exactly what is not required here by the context. What is required is, not that the Three Witnesses should in essence be only One, which would reduce the value of the testimony; but that the Three should agree, which would enhance the value of the testimony.
On this part of the evidence the words of F. D. Maurice respecting the passage are worth considering. “If it was genuine, we should be bound to consider seriously what it meant, however much its introduction in this place might puzzle us, however strange its phraseology might appear to us. Those who dwell with awe upon the Name into which they have been baptized; those who believe that all the books of the Bible, and St John’s writings more than all the rest, reveal it to us; those who connect it with Christian Ethics, as I have done; might wonder that an Apostle should make a formal announcement of this Name in a parenthesis, and in connexion with such a phrase as bearing record , one admirably suited to describe the intercourse of God with us, but quite unsuitable, one would have thought, as an expression of His absolute and eternal being. Still, if it was really one of St John’s utterances, we should listen to it in reverence, and only attribute these difficulties to our own blindness. As we have the best possible reasons for supposing it is not his, but merely the gloss of some commentator, which crept into the text, and was accepted by advocates eager to confute adversaries, less careful about the truth they were themselves fighting for, we may thankfully dismiss it” ( Epistles of St John pp. 276, 277).
We have, therefore, good grounds for saying that the internal evidence, no less than the external, requires us to banish these words from the text. They are evidence of the form which Trinitarian doctrine assumed in North Africa in the fifth century, and possibly at an earlier date. They are an old gloss on the words of S. John; valuable as a specimen of interpretation, but without the smallest claim to be considered original. Had they not found a place in the Textus Receptus , few people not bound (as Roman Catholics are) to accept the later editions of the Vulgate without question, would have dreamed of defending them. Had the translators of 1611 omitted them, no one (with the evidence, which we now possess, before him) would ever have dreamed of inserting them. In Greek texts the words were first printed in the Complutensian edition of a. d. 1514. Erasmus in his first two editions (1516 and 1518) omitted them; but having given his unhappy promise to insert them if they could be found in any Greek MS., he printed them in his third edition (1552), on the authority of the worthless Codex Britannicus (No. 34). Stephanus and Beza inserted them also: and thus they obtained a place in the universally used Textus Receptus . Luther never admitted them to his translation, and in the first edition of his commentary declared them to be spurious; but in the second edition he followed the third edition of Erasmus and admitted the words. They first appear in translations published in Switzerland without Luther’s name, as in the Zürich edition of Froschover (1529). They were at first commonly printed either in different type or in brackets. The Basle edition of Bryllinger (1552) was one of the first to omit the brackets. Perhaps the last edition which omitted the words in the German Version is the quarto of Zach. Schürer (1620). Among English Versions the Revised of 1881 has the honour of being the first to omit them. Tyndale in his first edition (1525) printed them as genuine, in his second (1534) and third (1535) he placed them in brackets, in the second edition with a difference of type. Cranmer (1539) follows Tyndale’s second edition. But in the Genevan (1557) the difference of type and the brackets disappear, and are not restored in the Authorised Version (1611).
The following by no means complete list of scholars who have pronounced against the passage will be of interest. After Richard Simon had led the way in this direction towards the close of the seventeenth century he was followed in the eighteenth by Bentley, Clarke, Emlyn, Gibbon, Hezel, Matthaei, Michaelis, Sir Isaac Newton, Porson, Semler, and Wetstein. In the nineteenth century we have, among others, Alexander, Alford, J. H. Blunt, Davidson, Döllinger, Düsterdieck, F. W. Farrar, Field, Haddan, Hammond, Haupt, Hort, Huther, Lachmann, Lightfoot, Marsh, F. D. Maurice, McClellan, Meyrick, Oltramare, Renan, Sanday, Schaff, Scrivener, Scholz, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Turton, Weiss, Weizsäcker, Westcott, De Wette, Wordsworth, and the Revisers. Even the most conservative textual critics have abandoned the defence of this text.
Some will perhaps think that this Appendix is wasted labour: that it is a needlessly elaborate slaying of the slain. But so long as any educated Englishman, above all, so long as any English clergyman 1 1 An Essex Rector has recently (Feb. 1883) thought it worth while to publish a book restating most of the old and exploded arguments in defence of the disputed text: and a member of the York Convocation (April, 1883) denounced the Revised Version as most mischievous, because people now heard words read as Scripture in Church and then went home and found that the words were omitted from the new Version as not being Scripture; and he gave as an instance the passage about the Three Heavenly Witnesses, which had been read in the Epistle that morning. He afterwards stated in a published letter “that the last word had not been spoken on this text, and that he was quite content himself to read it in the A. V., as required in the Church Service.… Whether the text was expunged by the Arians (!), or interpolated by the Western Athanasians, is as much a question as ever.” Jerome’s famous hyperbole, “The whole world groaned and was amazed to find itself Arian,” fades into insignificance compared with the supposition that long before Jerome’s day the Arians had acquired influence enough to expunge a decisive passage from every copy of the Bible in every language , so that neither Jerome, nor any Christian writer of his time, or before his time, had any knowledge of its existence! Where was the passage lying hid all those centuries? How was it rediscovered? Those who have been endeavouring upon critical principles to obtain a pure text of the Greek Testament have been accused of unsettling men’s minds by shewing that certain small portions of the common text are of very doubtful authority. But what profound uncertainty must be the result if we once admit, as a legitimate hypothesis, the supposition that an heretical party in the Church could for several hundred years rob the whole Church, and for many hundred years rob all but Western Christendom, of the clearest statement of the central doctrine of Christianity. What else may not the Arians have expunged? What may they not have inserted? , believes, and indeed publicly maintains, that the passage is genuine, or even possibly genuine, trouble to demonstrate its spuriousness will not be thrown away.
E. John the Presbyter or the Elder
For some time past the writer of this Appendix has been disposed to doubt the existence of any such person as John the Elder as a contemporary of S. John the Apostle at Ephesus. It was, therefore, with much satisfaction that he found that Professor Salmon in the article on Joannes Presbyter in the Dictionary of Christian Biography , Vol. III. pp. 398 401, and Canon Farrar in The Early Days of Christianity , Vol. II. pp. 553 581, take a similar view. Dr Salmon’s conclusion is this; “While we are willing to receive the hypothesis of two Johns, if it will help to explain any difficulty, we do not think the evidence for it enough to make us regard it as a proved historical fact. And we frankly own that if it were not for deference to better judges, we should unite with Keim in relegating, though in a different way, this ‘Doppelgänger’ of the apostle to the region of ghostland.” Dr Farrar, with more confidence, concludes thus; “A credulous spirit of innovation is welcome to believe and to proclaim that any or all of S. John’s writings were written by ‘John the Presbyter.’ They were: but ‘John the Presbyter’ is none other than John the Apostle.” Professor Milligan, Riggenbach, and Zahn are of a similar opinion, and believe that this personnage douteux, sorte de sosie de l’apôtre, qui trouble comme un spectre toute l’histoire de l’Église d’Éphèse 1 1 Renan, L’Antechrist , p. xxiii. On the whole, however, Renan is disposed to believe in two Johns. , has no separate existence.
The question mainly depends upon a quotation from Papias and the interpretation of it by Eusebius, who quotes it. Papias is stating how he obtained his information. “If on any occasion any one who had been a follower of the Elders came, I used to inquire about the discourses of the Elders what Andrew or Peter said , or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew, or any of the Lord’s disciples; and what Aristion and the Elder John, the disciples of the Lord, say .”
Certainly the meaning which this at first sight conveys is the one which Eusebius adopts; that Papias here gives us two Johns, the Apostle and the Elder. But closer study of the passage raises a doubt whether this is correct. With regard to most of the disciples of the Lord Papias could only get second-hand information; he could learn what each said ( εἶπεν ) in days long since gone by. But there were two disciples still living at the time when Papias wrote, Aristion and John; and about these he had contemporary and perhaps personal knowledge: he knows what they say ( λέγουσι ). Of one of these, John, he had knowledge of both kinds; reports of what he said long ago in the days when Philip, and Thomas, and Matthew were living, and knowledge of what he says now at the time when Papias writes. If this be the meaning intended, we may admit that it is rather clumsily expressed: but that will not surprise us in a writer, who (as Eusebius tells us) was “of very mean intellectual power, as one may state on the evidence of his own dissertations.” The title ‘Elder’ cuts both ways, and tells for and against either interpretation. It may be urged that ‘the Elder’ before the second ‘John’ seems to be intended to distinguish him from the Apostle. To which it may be replied, that it may quite as probably have been added in order to identify him with the Apostle, seeing that throughout the passage, Andrew, Philip, Peter, &c. are called ‘Elders’ and not Apostles. May not ‘the Elder’ be prefixed to John to distinguish him from Aristion, who was not an Apostle? In any case the first John is called ‘elder’ and ‘disciple of the Lord’ and the second John is called ‘elder’ and ‘disciple of the Lord.’ So that the view of Eusebius, which primâ facie appears to be natural, turns out upon examination to be by no means certain, and perhaps not even the more probable of the two.
But other people besides Eusebius studied Papias. What was their view? Among the predecessors of Eusebius none is more important than Irenaeus , who made much use of Papias’s work, and independently of it knew a great deal about Ephesus and S. John; and he makes no mention of any second John. This fact at once throws the balance against the Eusebian interpretation of Papias. Polycrates , Bishop of Ephesus, would be likely to know the work of Papias; and certainly knew a great deal about S. John and his later contemporaries. In the letter which he wrote to Victor, Bishop of Rome, on the Paschal Controversy he proudly enumerates the ‘great lights,’ who have fallen asleep and lie buried at Ephesus, Smyrna, Hierapolis, Laodicea, and Sardis, as authorities in favour of the Quartodeciman usage. Among these the Presbyter John is not named. At Ephesus there are the graves of ‘John who rested on the Lord’s bosom’ and of the martyred Polycarp. But no tomb of a second John is mentioned. And would not the reputed author of two canonical Epistles and possibly of the Apocalypse have found a place in such a list, had such a person existed distinct from the Apostle? Whether Dionysius of Alexandria knew Papias or not we cannot tell; but he had heard of two tombs at Ephesus, each bearing the name of John. And yet he evidently knows nothing of the Presbyter John. For while contending that the John who wrote the Apocalypse cannot be the Apostle, he says that it is quite uncertain who this John is, and suggests as a possibility ‘John whose surname was Mark,’ the attendant of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 12:25 , Acts 13:5 ). The fragments of Leucius , writings of unknown date, but probably earlier than Dionysius, contain many traditions respecting S. John the Apostle, but nothing respecting any other John. The fragments are sufficient to render it practically certain that the compiler of the stories which they contain knew no second John.
It would seem therefore that the predecessors of Eusebius, whether they had read Papias or not, agreed in believing in only one John, viz. the Apostle. Therefore those of them who had read Papias (and Irenaeus certainly had done so) must either have understood him to mean only one John, or must have ignored as untrue his statement respecting a second.
Indeed Eusebius himself would seem at one time to have held the same view. In his Chronicon (Schoene, p. 162) he states that Papias and Polycarp (to whom Jerome adds Ignatius) were disciples of John the Divine and Apostle. That Papias was the disciple of another John, is a later theory of his, adopted (as there is good reason for believing) in order to discredit the Apocalypse. Eusebius was greatly opposed to the millenarian theories which some people spun out of the Apocalypse; and in order to attack them the better he wished to shew that the Apocalypse was not the work of the Apostle. But the Apocalypse claims to be written by John. Therefore there must have been some other John who wrote it. And as evidence of this other John he quotes Papias, whose language is so obscure that we cannot be certain whether he means one John or two.
The two tombs at Ephesus, each said to have borne the name of John, need not disturb us much. Polycrates, writing on the spot within a hundred years of the Apostle’s death, seems to know nothing of a second tomb. Dionysius, writing a century and a half after his death and far away from Ephesus, has heard of two monuments, but (much as it would have suited his theory to do so) he does not venture to assert that they were the tombs of two Johns. Jerome, writing still later and still farther away from the spot, says that a second tomb is shewn at Ephesus as that of John the Presbyter, and that “some think that they are two monuments of the same John, viz. the Evangelist” nonnulli putant duas memorias ejusdem Johannis evangelistae esse ( De Vir. Illust. ix.). The probabilities are that these people were right. Either there were rival sites (a very common thing in topography), each claiming to be the grave of the Apostle; or there were two monuments commemorating two different things, e.g. the place of his death and the place of his burial. Very possibly they were churches (Zahn, Acta Johannis , clxiv.).
The evidence, therefore, of the existence of this perplexing Presbyter is of a somewhat shadowy kind. It amounts simply to the statement of Papias, as interpreted by Eusebius, and the two monuments. But the Eusebian interpretation is not by any means certainly correct, and the two monuments do not by any means necessarily imply two Johns. Moreover, Eusebius himself was not always of the same opinion, making Papias sometimes the disciple of the Apostle, sometimes the disciple of the supposed Presbyter. And in this inconsistency he is followed by Jerome. Assume the Eusebian interpretation to be correct, and it will then be very difficult indeed to explain how it is that Irenaeus and Polycrates know nothing of this second John, and how even Dionysius does seem to have heard of him. Assume that Eusebius was mistaken, and that Papias mentions the Apostle twice over, and then all runs smoothly.
Does this hypothetical Presbyter explain a single difficulty? If so, let us retain him as a reasonable hypothesis. But if, as seems to be the case, he causes a great deal of difficulty and explains nothing that cannot be quite well explained without him, then let him be surrendered as a superfluous conjecture. Personae non sunt multiplicandae . We may heartily welcome the wish of Zahn ( Acta Johannis , p. cliv.) that the publication of the fragments of Leucius will “give the coup de grace to the erudite myth created by Eusebius about ‘the Presbyter John.’ The latter has quite long enough shared in the lot of the undying Apostle. Had this doublet of the Apostle ever existed, he could not have failed to appear in Leucius: and in his pages the Apostle of Ephesus could never have been called simply John, if he had had at his side a second disciple of Jesus of this name.” We, therefore, give up the second John as unhistorical.
It would seem as if ‘Presbyter John’ was destined to plague and perplex historians. A spectral personage of this name troubles, as we have seen, the history of the Church of Ephesus. Another equally mysterious personage of the same name confronts us in the history of Europe in the twelfth century; when the West was cheered with the news that a mighty Priest-King called Presbyter Johannes had arisen in the East, and restored victory to the Christian cause in the contest with the Saracens. For this extraordinary story, which appears first perhaps in Otto of Freisingen, see Baring Gould’s Myths of the Middle Ages , p. 32. Probably in this case an unfamiliar oriental name was corrupted into a familiar name which happened to sound something like it.
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