Besides the obvious help contained in the verse-by-verse commentary of the SDA Bible Commentary in the study and teaching of the Bible, busy pastors and evangelists who deplore the fact that they do not have more time in which to carry on independent study and research, will find valuable help in the textual criticism provided for all the New Testament verses in which there is a textual problem.
There is no need to base our teaching of the doctrines of the Bible upon a weak foundation textually; every doctrine is clearly taught by texts in which there is no textual problem. But too often texts are used as proof texts that should not be so used, for the best Biblical manuscripts do not contain those words that are being used to clinch an argument. A caution along this line is given in the "Hints and Helps to Bible Interpretation" on one of the introductory pages of Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible. Section 25 reads as follows:
INTERPOLATIONS—are never to be adduced as proof texts, e.g.—Matt. 6.13; 10.8; 17.11; 21.44; 23. 14; Mark 7.16; 9.44, 46; 11.26; 15.28; 16.9-20; Luke 17.36; 23.17; 24.12, 40; John 5.4; 7.53-8.11; Acts 8.37; 15.34; 24.7; 28.29; 1 John 5.7, &c.
Every one of these except the second and the third is commented on in our SDA Bible Commentary. The minister will find it of value to check the comment on all of these. For example, the doxology is omitted from Matthew 6:13 in all the best manuscripts—evidently it was added later for liturgical purposes, and it does make a beautiful conclusion for the Lord's Prayer.
Important textual evidence may be cited (cf. p. 146) for the omission of this doxology. It is not in Luke's version of the prayer (Luke 11;4). However, the sentiment it expresses is certainly scriptural, and closely parallels 1 Chron. 29:11-13. A shorter doxology occurs in 2 Tim. 4:18.—SDA Bible Commentary, on Matt. 6:13.
The Troubling of the Water
John 5:3, 4 is a more serious problem. The Commentary on these texts states:
Important textual evidence may be cited (cf. p. 146) for omitting the words "waiting for the moving of the water," and the whole of v. 4. Thus the story of an angel's bestowing supernatural healing powers upon the water of the pool appears not to have been part of the original gospel text, but was probably added in an attempt to explain v. 7. However, that this legend was based on an early tradition is indicated by the fact that Tertullian knew of it at the beginning of the 3d century. There is no evidence for this insertion prior to his time. In view of v. 7 this passage evidently preserves what was a popular opinion regarding the waters of the pool (see DA 201).
Ellen G. White comments thus:
At certain seasons the waters of this pool were agitated, and it was commonly believed that this was the result of supernatural power, and that whoever first after the troubling of the pool stepped into the waters, would be healed of whatever disease he had.—The Desire of Ages, p. 201. (Italics supplied.)
A. T. Robertson says:
Marginal glosses were sometimes incorporated into the text under the misapprehension that they were part of the text. Such crude interpolations account for many additions in a ms. like D. Thus it is probable that the story of the angel disturbing the water crept into the text (John y:4).—Introduction to Textual Criticism, p. 154.
The "Pericope Adulterae"
The case is different with the textual problem of the story of the woman taken in adultery, John 7:53-8:11. While it is omitted from the majority and the best of the early manuscripts, and appears in several positions in manuscripts that do have it, it sounds just like what Jesus' attitude would have been, and Mrs. White comments upon it as a true narrative (see The Desire of Ages, pp. 460-462). The later manuscripts apparently inserted a true tradition, in this case. The Commentary remarks as follows:
This entire section (chs. 7:53 to 8:11) appears in only one of the early uncial manuscripts (D), although Jerome claims that it was present in a number of Greek manuscripts. The large majority of the Old Latin manuscripts do not have it. The passage is nowhere commented on in the extant writings of the early Church Fathers. The first comments are found following the time of Jerome, in the West, and not until the 10th century in the East. A few manuscripts place the narrative after Luke 21:38. These and certain other considerations, such as an alleged difference of style, have led scholars to the conclusion that this narrative did not appear in John's autograph copy. However, they admit that the narrative appears to be authentic and that it is in full harmony with what Jesus did and taught. This commentary takes the position that the narrative is authentic.—On John 8:1.
The "Comma Johanneum"
The most notorious interpolation in the New Testament is the so-called Comma Johanneum, concerning the three heavenly Witnesses of 1 John 4:7, 8. The italic section in the following quotation from the K.J.V. does not appear in any Greek manuscript before the fifteenth or sixteenth century: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one." The original form, then, was: "For there are three that bear record, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one." The addition was early made, probably from a marginal gloss, in the Latin Vulgate. Sir Frederic Kenyon states:
This text is found in no Greek manuscript, with the exception of two, in which it is manifestly inserted from the Latin. It is a purely Latin interpolation, though one of early origin, and it finds no place in Alcuin's corrected Vulgate.—Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, p. 188.
The story of how it came into late Greek manuscripts is interesting. Erasmus did not have it in his editions of 1516 and 1519. Then Stunica, Cardinal Ximenes' chief editor for the Complutensian Polyglot, tried to persuade Erasmus to include this, since it was in the Vulgate manuscripts he was using. Erasmus felt it was not original, and having been assured by a friend that it was not found in a certain ancient Greek manuscript in the Vatican Library (probably Codex B, Vaticanus, which is one of the oldest and best), Erasmus made a rash statement that if he could be shown a Greek manuscript containing it, he would put it into his next edition. Soon he was shown a Greek minuscule manuscript that contained it. The science of paleography not yet having been developed, so that Erasmus would recognize that the manuscript was not ancient, but of his own period, he had to keep his promise, but he did so with misgivings. After his third edition, of 1522, appeared containing it, he became convinced that the Dublin manuscript that had been shown to him was in reality a forgery, prepared for that specific purpose. Other minuscules were later copied from it, so that the Comma Johanneum appears in several late minuscules as well as in the Cavensis and the Toletanus manuscripts of the Vulgate, and in a couple of Old Latin manuscripts. Erasmus removed the insertion from his fourth and fifth editions, of 1527 and 1535. It is unfortunate that the K.J.V. came in the stream of manuscripts stemming from that third edition of Erasmus', the only one that contained this insertion!
Robertson's comment on this is as follows:
It is under suspicion, since Erasmus found it in no Greek ms. for his first edition and only put it in for his chief edition under the promise to do so if a Greek ms. containing it were produced. The one that was produced was very late (sixteenth century), apparently made to order to prove the doctrine of the Trinity in this passage, "a forged entry in a sixteenth century ms. now at Dublin" (Souter, Text and Canon, p. 95).—Introduction to Textual Criticism, p. 158.
Speaking of "other types of intentional change," The Ancestry of Our English Bible, by Ira M. Price (third revised edition by William A. Irwin and Allen P. Wikgren) states:
Theologically motivated variants are also found now and then, reflecting sometimes the views of different schools of believers in various parts of the Christian world. The most famous is the trinitarian passage in I John 5:7f., the omission of which in the Revised Version caused much excitement.—Page 158.
Most interesting of all is this comment in A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, 1951:
It is now generally held that this passage, called the Comma Johanneum, is a gloss that crept into the text of the Old Latin and Vulgate at an early date, but found its way into the Greek text only in the 15th and 16th centuries.—Page 1186.
Our SDA Bible Commentary has an illuminating discussion of this in volume 7, on 1 John 5:7.
Do we then need to feel a sense of loss, of weakening of our teaching concerning the doctrine of the Trinity? Not at all There are many other passages that clearly teach it, without any textual problems or ambiguity. For instance: In the story of Jesus' baptism, Matthew 3:15-17, all three Persons are involved; in the gospel commission, Matthew 28:19, believers are to be baptized in the name of all three Persons; see also 1 Cor. 6:11; 12:4, 5; 2 Cor. 1:21, 22; 13:14; Gal. 3:11-14; 1 Thess. 5:18, 19; and I Peter 1:2.
Textual Critical Work in "SDA Bible Commentary"
In making a verse-by-verse commentary on the New Testament, it was necessary to deal with these and other textual problems. It was decided to handle them in such a way that the ordinary lay reader would not be puzzled nor offended, but at the same time so that the scholarly reader could see the basis on which the comment was made. In the Commentary, page 146 of volume 5, and page 10 of volumes 6 and 7, is given the scale of five descriptions that were used in weighing the textual evidence for and against the variant readings. This judging and weighing was not done by merely one or two persons. Lists of the texts in each book, in which there were variants that were to be commented on, were sent out to a wide group of scholars, including teachers of Bible and Biblical languages in some of our colleges, as well as those located at headquarters. When the returns came in, the group who could be present met to compare their independent evaluations, including those that had come by mail, and then to arrive at a consensus of how to state the matter in the best way in the Commentary. It was most gratifying to all who worked together to see how closely all agreed in general, and how easily agreement could be reached where opinions differed somewhat. Many times the differences involved only the reverse way of stating the same thought, or merely choosing another way of stating the problem in order to avoid giving offense to someone less acquainted with the background and the problems involved.
If pastors and evangelists wish a quick, easy way to be certain that the texts on which their arguments are pegged in their sermons and Bible studies are absolutely sure, they may check page 146 in volume 5 or page 10 in volumes 6 and 7, and then note how the comment is stated on this scale of five in the verse in question, and what other information may be (riven in certain cases. One never knows who may be in his audience; in practically every audience will be someone who does know the difference, and whose confidence in our whole message may be undermined by careless use of a text to support a doctrine or argument with words that he knows are simply not present in the earliest and best Biblical manuscripts. By checking with the SDA Bible Commentary the texts in each new sermon or Bible study as it is made up, and checking those in already used outlines before using them another time, the speaker can feel confident that he is "rightly dividing [literally, "cutting straight"] the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15).