There are many issues with the Critical Text of the New Testament. A cursory look at any critical apparatus, and you’ll discover thousands of instances where word position is changed, where words or phrases (or entire verses or passages) are stricken from the text entirely. And, the war rages on between the critical exegetes and their ecclesiastical text adversaries. King-James-Onlyists. Textus Receptus Adherents. Don’t even get started with which Old Testament text the New Testament writers quoted from. That’s an entirely separate can of worms.
But, in this article, I want to focus on a specific verse in the New Testament: 3 John 1:15. It is a tiny ending in a tiny letter at the back of the bible, just before the book of Revelation. It is the biblical equivalent of a pass-over State.
After all, when was the last time 3 John was the main focus of a sermon or bible study? In the proverbial throws of an apologetical defense, when have you ever heard, “Yes, but in 3 John 1:15 it states!”
I would wager: never.
So, if these kind of vague and mysterious bible trivia fascinate you as much as they do me, then let’s find out what I discovered.
You can read all of my uThM Posts here.
Let’s get started….
So, What’s the Deal with 3 John 1:15?
Yet, this little verse struck a nerve with me not long ago, and I’ve uncovered some interesting information that I decided was important enough to share. Especially since there is next to NOTHING written about this subject (or this verse). I mean, literally, NOTHING!
The variation is not from mutilators slicing and dicing up the biblical text. It’s not a Gnostic conspiracy out to thwart the deity of Christ. Rather, it’s the simple insertion of a verse number.
The words do not change. The meaning is not affected.
But, after comparing Stephanus’ 1550 Greek New Testament with the Nestle-Aland 28th Edition New Testament, I noticed the NA28 inserted verse 15 in this little letter.
Assumptions will Kill Us All
At first I just assumed it was a textual variation, since NA28 follows those critical texts like Westcott & Hort and others that are obsessed with underlining texts that differ from the Majority. But, upon closer inspection, I realized, as stated above, the actual text of verse 14 does not differ between the two texts. In fact, they’re pretty much exactly the same. There might be a word order variation, but certainly nothing so drastic that would required another verse!
So what gives?
That began the search. My interest was peaked, and when it comes to minutia in the bible, I’m a bit of a dog with a bone. So, I started digging. I checked all my commentaries. I check the tools available online.
The only thing I could find was: commentators chose one or the other and then commented on the text. Either they commented on verse 14 or they split their comments between verses 14 and 15. None of them made mention of the disparity between the Textus Receptus and the Critical Text concerning the addition or subtraction of a verse number.
After surveying most modern translations, I found verse 15 was present. The KJV, LITV had just verse 14, and the NKJV had all the words in verse 14, but had verse 15 as an empty verse.
How strange is that?
One of the few commentaries to mention the versification issue at all was the Baker Exegetical Commentary on page 385, where it states the KJV combined the verses of 14 and 15.
This I found surprising and a little far fetched, given the KJV translators are not known for messing with the text in general. Besides, what could be their justification for going against Stephanus in the first place?
The He Said/She Said Battle Begins
With more research, it quickly became clear, this was not an issue over modern translations. It was shaping up to be a “he said/she said” knock down over the original versification. Who did what and when? Did the KJV translators combine verses 14 and 15? Or, did (in typical fashion) Westcott & Hort (or some other nefarious translator between the Textus Receptus and the NA28) split verse 14 into two?
I looked for several days online to no avail, but then, at the last minute, stumbled onto the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog. It proved to be a light shining in the darkness, as it not only addressed “versification” issues, but it also has a dedicated tag for “verse numbering.”
This website led to the unearthing of a book titled: On the Division of the Greek New Testament into Verses. The short essay did not specifically deal with 3 John 1:15, but it did give a bit of a history into the development and variation of versification for the bible. I read it several times, and, compiled with other information I turned up, this is what I think happened.
It actually kind of shocked me.
It really boils down to two individuals. Stephanus and Beza. Or, at least, so I thought. Stephanus, of course, produced the 1550 Greek Text that we today refer to as the Textus Receptus. Beza, though, a little later (in 1556 to be exact) produced a New Testament in Latin. He would go on, about a decade later, to produce another Greek New Testament.
What does that mean?
The fight is definitely between Stephanus and Beza, right? As noted in the Division of the Greek New Testament essay, Beza reportedly followed the versification of Stephanus, but with some variation (Yeah, that’s right, Beza’s looking really guilty right about now). But, I wanted to make sure. Appearances can be deceiving.
My search led me back to the bible that influenced the KJV the most. The
Geneva Bible. That bible was influenced by the Great Bible. The Great Bible has no verse numbers in it. But, the Geneva Bible, produced in 1557, it was the very first English bible to have verse numbers. Guess what? It does not contain verse 15! Likewise, there is reference that the versification system used by the Geneva Bible was the same as Stephanus.
Come to find out, Stephanus was the very first publisher to put verse numbers in a Greek text. The Geneva bible was the first to put verse numbers in an English text. There was actually one guy before this, but his system was much different and it never caught on. The text Stephanus worked from was Erasmus’s Greek New Testament, produced in 1516, and, sure enough, it had no verse numbers, either.
Stephanus produced his Greek Testament in 1550, but I was surprised to find, it also had no verse numbers. A little more digging revealed Stephanus did not actually add verse numbers until his last edition in 1551.
Now, on the internet today, pretty much anyone can trip over a link and find an online copy of Stephanus 1550. It’s very popular and widely available in both digital and facsimile format. What is not, apparently, all that widely available is his 1551 edition (at least not until recently). Thanks to the blog The Amsterdam NT Weblog, I was able to locate a few copies of Stephanus’ 1551 edition online.
So, now it comes down to this final moment.
Who was the culprit? Who would get caught red handed twisting the text, adding or taking away? And, maybe your asking, why does any of this matter anyway? My answer is this. Hey, I live for this kind of stuff. Besides, details are important, and Bible translators in every camp have proven themselves incapable of being transparent in their decision making.
Will the Guilty Party Please Stand Up
So, zeroing in on a decent copy of the 1551 edition, I quickly clicked my way to 3 John, and what do you think I found? Did Beza go off the reservation in his later edition and add verse 15, bucking Stephanus’ original versification system with just vs 14?
As I zoomed in, I was shocked to find….
Beza was not at fault. Right there in front of my eyes, Stephanus, in the very first time his versification system was implemented for a Greek text, he had in 3 John a verse 15! It was clear as day, though I did click like a madman on the little magnifying glass to zoom in even more, just to make sure. After all, my eyes have been known in the past to deceive me.
But, there was no deception here. No Gnostic heresy lurking just under the text. No modern day translators trying to pervert the text with a debased and maligned cultural relativity.
No. The culprits were the King James translators.
Always More Questions
But, the question immediately arises. Why did they do it? What would persuade them to go against Stephanus and against Beza (they had both texts in front of them). Then it struck me! What other text was influential in the translation of the KJV?
It had been around for over 50 years. Been in homes. Been preached from the pulpit. It was the first mechanically produced, mass printed bible given to the people. But, despite the King’s animosity toward it, it is estimated that 20% of the King James bible came directly from the Geneva.
Remember what does the Geneva bible have for 3 John? Only verse 14!
So, if the Geneva bible was the first English bible to have verse numbers and here is a listing of the texts in order of their publish dates: Stephanus (1551), Geneva NT (1557), Beza’s Latin (1557), Geneva Full (1560), Beza’s Greek (1565).
Geneva did not follow Stephanus, at least not in 3 John 14-15 as far as verse numbering. If there were no English bibles before it that had verses, and the French Bible that had influence on the Geneva had no verses and Stephanus was the ONLY Greek bible at the time to have verses and Beza’s new Latin coming out the same year DID have verse 15 (and his Greek Text would not be finished until 1565), what can be made of this?
My Theory of What Happened
Here is my theory. Since there were no versification systems before Stephanus’ Greek in 1551, and no versification in the French Bible, and Beza’s Latin followed Stephanus’ versification, either the translators for the Geneva bible willfully chose to combine verses 14-15 in 3 John or they made a mistake and inadvertently left out verse 15. I personally lean toward the latter explanation.
If they had made a conscious choice to combine the verse numbers on theological grounds, or textual grounds (or really any grounds), they would have said something about it. Looking at all these texts online, it is very clear they were sticklers for notes in the margins. The Geneva bible is known for having more notes than bible! In fact, it was the notes the King objected to concerning the Geneva bible in the first place, sparking the desire for a new translation that would become the KJV. But, despite the absence of verse 15, there is no mention in the notes at all about combining the two verse numbers.
I think it was an oversight in the typesetting. By the time it was discovered, it was too late (or maybe never discovered at all before it solidified with the masses). If never noticed for 50 years, then the King James Bible translators come along, having literally grown up on the Geneva bible, discover in the Greek texts (Stephanus & Beza) of 3 John an additional verse number, they didn’t think twice and went with the reading they were most comfortable with and the reading they thought the majority of the populous would be comfortable with.
The Bible Has a Fascinating History
In the end, it’s fascinating evidence of the history and development of the bible over the course of countless generations. The birth of the English bible is not as simple and straightforward as most would like to think. For whatever reason, God did not choose for us to receive the bible the same way Moses did. Instead, we have the filtered witness of more than two thousand years as the text in all its variations has affected and passed through the hands of those who put to work and even died to preserve and protect it.
I’m not sure we will ever know the definitive story behind 3 John 14-15. In the end, once Judgment Day is long behind us, and eternity is the new reality for all those who are saved, the disparity may not even be something we can recall.
At least for now, though, it will be yet another question added to my list of questions I want to ask the moment I die. It’s a long list.
Until my next post…..
Please consider supporting my writing, my unschooled studies, and my hermitic lifestyle by purchasing one or more of my books. I’m not supported by academia or have a lucrative corporate job – I’m just a mystical modern-day hermit trying to live out the life I believe God has called me to. So, any support you choose to provide is GREATLY appreciated.
Excerpt from Sacred the Circle:
There was a knock at the door.
Campbell got up from the chair and crossed the small distance so he could open it.
A young man stood in the doorway, probably in his early twenties.
Campbell could tell he looked a little disheveled.
He had deep rings around his eyes, as if he hadn’t been sleeping much, and he kept checking the hallway in both directions, as if half expecting someone to be stalking him.
“Hey,” Campbell said.
The kid was stumbling over his own words.
Campbell leaned out into the hallway, checking to make sure there was no one else listening.
This guy wasn’t the only one who was becoming paranoid.
There were two students hanging out at the foyer, near the stairs, but the rest of the floor was clear.
“I’m sorry,” the kid said. “Must be the wrong place. I’m mistaken.”
He started to leave.
“Wait,” Campbell said, putting a hand out. “Hold on a second.”
The kid paused.
“What’s your name?”
He fidgeted with his collar.
“I know it sounds crazy, but – ”
“You’re not crazy, Lloyd,” Campbell said, grinning.
“Did you – ? ”
The kid paused, as if unsure if he should continue.
He looked back toward the stairs, then at Campbell.
“Did you know I was coming?” he finally asked. “I mean, that’s not possible, but, were you expecting me?”
Campbell chuckled to himself.
“What’s so funny?” Lloyd asked.
“Well – ”
Campbell pushed the door open all the way so Lloyd could see inside his dorm room.
The entire room was full of them, students, non-students, ranging from what looked like eighteen to even a few middle-aged men, scattered about the room, sitting wherever they could find a comfortable spot.
Lloyd’s mouth dropped open.
“I wasn’t really expecting them, either,” Campbell said. “So, I hope you don’t hold it against me when I tell you, I had no idea you’d be showing up here. Do you care to join us, anyway?”
Buy my book Sacred the Circle to find out what these men are hearing from the supernatural realm. Will they answer the questions tugging at them? What are the visions saying? Who are the Multitude? Why are all these men being brought together? By whom? And why, above all else, are they being convicted….to pray?
But, trust me when I say, you’ll be white knuckling this one with every turn of the page!