Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jerome's Preface to the Canonical Epistles--Ancient Evidence for 1 John 5:7

The preface below, which, besides being on my website, does not appear to have been available easily in English, was translated, by my request, by Thomas Caldwell, S. J. of Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. The translation comes from the Codex Fuldensis (c. A. D. 541-546), one of the earliest copies of the Vulgate. This Latin codex is available at, and the Latin text translated below is found on pg. 399. The preface claims to be by Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate. The preface has textual critical value because it bears on the question of the authenticity of the Johannine Comma, 1 John 5:7 (“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”). If the preface is indeed by Jerome, it would provide evidence that there were Greek copies in his day that contained the Comma, and that Jerome thought that others who seem to have held to heretical doctrine had removed the verse from their manuscripts. Such a belief on Jerome’s part would explain the presence of the Comma in the overwhelming majority of copies of the Latin Vulgate. There is certainly evidence for the Comma in the Old Latin Bible and various other sources before Jerome (see, e. g., the article on 1 John 5:7 by Jesse Boyd on my website--click on the title of this post to get there--I also have the Preface below there, with the Latin text.). If the Preface is not by Jerome, whoever wrote it would still make the assertion that the Comma was originally present but was removed by unfaithful and heretical scribes. Of course, both Jerome and the copyist of the codex Fuldensis died many centuries ago and nobody today can ask them what actually happened. It is certainly true that many opponents of the genuineness of the Comma would dismiss out of hand the possibility that this Preface truly comes from Jerome based on the assumption that there cannot be genuine evidence so early for the Comma, just as they dismiss Cyprian’s quotation of the Comma in A. D. 251 (“The Lord says, ‘I and the Father are one;’ and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, ‘And these three are one.’” On The Unity of the Church, Treatise 1:6. Trans. Church Fathers: The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson.) on the assumption that Cyprian simply cannot have quoted it, since it allegedly did not yet exist. However, the fact that many people dismiss the evidence of this Preface to the Comma from unreasonable biases does not of itself mean that the work did indeed come from Jerome’s hand.

Jerome’s Prologue to the Canonical Epistles

The order of the seven Epistles which are called canonical is not the same among the Greeks who follow the correct faith and the one found in the Latin codices, where Peter, being the first among the apostles, also has his two epistles first. But just as we have corrected the evangelists into their proper order, so with God’s help have we done with these. The first is one of James, then two of Peter, three of John and one of Jude.
Just as these are properly understood and so translated faithfully by interpreters into Latin without leaving ambiguity for the readers nor [allowing] the variety of genres to conflict, especially in that text where we read the unity of the trinity is placed in the first letter of John, where much error has occurred at the hands of unfaithful translators contrary to the truth of faith, who have kept just the three words water, blood and spirit in this edition omitting mention of Father, Word and Spirit in which especially the catholic faith is strengthened and the unity of substance of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is attested.
In the other epistles to what extent our edition varies from others I leave to the prudence of the reader. But you, virgin of Christ, Eustochium, when you ask me urgently about the truth of scripture you expose my old age to being gnawed at by the teeth of envious ones who accuse me of being a falsifier and corruptor of the scriptures. But in such work I neither fear the envy of my critics nor deny the truth of scripture to those who seek it.



Titus Quinctius Cincinnatus said...


You might find this useful - - an article about the Comma that I finished revising a couple of months ago. It deals with some of the issues surrounding Jerome's Prologue (which is genuine), and deals with the early patristic evidence for the Comma as well.

I have a bunch of material about Cyprian that I got after the fact, and which may find its way into a new revision of the article at some point. Long story short, there were a lot of commentators who had absolutely no problem accepting that Cyprian was quoting the Comma, and who presented some very precise, scholarly arguments to substantiate it.

Thomas Ross said...

Thanks. I'll check it out!

Kent Brandenburg said...


Someone referred to this article at wikipedia:

We are a scholarly source of wikipedia.

KJB1611 said...

Thanks for the link--I'm glad to find out.

My defense of the inspiration of the Hebrew vowel points at my "Theological Compositions" website has also receive mention on Wikipedia.