The inspiration of Scripture

At some point in the history of the Christian Church, the Church chose the writings (gospels and epistles) of the Apostles and other disciples as the canonical inspired Scriptures. How were those Scriptures chosen? And what constitutes inspired Scriptures? How were they established?

Quite obviously the writings, which now constitutes the accepted Scriptures, were written by humans and not directly by God like He did when He wrote the 10 commandments (with Moses) on Mount Sinai using His own finger to write in stone.  So what defines inspired writings in the vein of 2 Timothy 3:16?

All scripture is given by inspiration of God [meaning God breathed], and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

We know through the 1st to 3rd centuries AD there were many cults and schisms in the early Church over different heresies. There were many spurious writings claiming inspiration of God, including false gospels, some promoting pet heresies. Then in the modern period there have been much discussion about the preservation of the inspired writings.

In 1881 Westcott and Hort produced the first revised Greek NT manuscript, since the late 16th century, which they compiled largely from the Codex Sinaiticus, also known as “Aleph” (the Hebrew letter א), found by Tischendorf in 1859 at the Monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai, and, Codex Vaticanus, also known as “B”, which was found in the Vatican.  It is not known when B arrived at the Vatican, but it was included in a catalog listing in 1475. Both of these manuscripts are dated to the 4th century.


Vaticanus was first used as a source document by Erasmus in his compilation work to produce his Greek New Testament, the Textus Receptus, upon which the early English Bibles were based. The King James Version was based on Beza 5th edition (1598) of Erasmus’ Textus Receptus. Because Erasmus viewed the text of Vaticanus to be flawed, he seldom followed it when it differed from the majority of the many other Greek texts available at that time. Aleph and B are part of about 1% of all Greek manuscripts, which disagree with the rest, the Majority Texts. Those 1% are called the Critical Texts, and are used for most modern translations because they are believed to be the oldest and hence are erroneously assumed closest to the original inspired writings.

But in 1516 Erasmus left out one passage, known as the Johannine comma (1 John 5:7-8), because he didn’t find it in early Greek manuscripts. It is omitted from Aleph and B but is found in the later Latin Vulgate NTs. To quieten the outcry that followed his omission, he agreed to restore it if one Greek manuscript could be found containing it. Two Greek manuscripts, Codex 61 and 629 were presented, so Erasmus included it in his 1522 3rd edition Greek Textus Receptus.

7. For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. (1 John 5:7-8)

The consensus of the textual critics is that that passage (shown in bold text) is a Latin corruption that entered the Greek manuscript tradition in later copies. It is believed by some that the mechanism by which the Johannine comma entered later Greek manuscripts was from a copyist margin note in an early Greek manuscript, which eventually became embedded in the main text.

However, there is textual support for the genuine existence of the Johannine comma as early as 208 AD as it seems to be quoted by Tertullian and by The Treatises of Cyprian I: 1:6 (Cyprian of Carthage, 200-258).  Its first undisputed citations though occur in the 4th century writings of two Spanish bishops, Priscillian and Idacius Clarus. It was cited by several orthodox African writers in the 5th century to defend the doctrine of the Trinity against the Arian heresy of the Vandals who ruled North Africa from 439 to 534. See here for a list of evidential support for the comma.

It is only found in a handful of Greek manuscripts (61, 88 mg, 429 mg, 629, 636 mg, 918), where mg refers to ‘margin note’. Thus the way the argument goes for its unjustified inclusion into the inspired Scriptures is that some early scholar felt that message of the Trinity in “the Spirit, and the water, and the blood” text (verse 8) needed to be spelled out more fully and so wrote a marginal note in his copy of the Latin version of the text, showing the parallel between John’s trinity and the Trinity of God: one heavenly, one earthly. At some later time this text was copied. Then a scribe seeing this marginal note mistook it for an omitted part of the inspired text. So he merged it into the text as best he could. Then at later date again, a translation into Greek was made of this Latin text, and so the appropriate section was then turned into Greek along with the rest of the verses around it. This way it found its way into the Latin and a few Greek manuscripts that Erasmus used to justify its addition in 1522 to his Greek NT, and thus it found its way into the King James Version of the Bible.


The Greek text of Codex Sinaiticus without the Johannine comma. The highlighted area shows 1 John 5:7-8.

But there are various reasons why it makes grammatical sense to include the comma (short clause) in the inspired text, and there is also a good argument how it may have been inadvertently omitted from early manuscripts. That latter argument relies on the similar endings of the verses 1 John 5:7 and 1 John 5:8. When a scribe was copying it he may have been distracted and failed to copy the correct text.

Now back to the initial questions. How does a passage become Scripture anyway? Quite obviously someone had to write it and others had to accept it as an inspired writing.

Could it be that this was intended by God for good? Even if the evidence is true that it first appeared as a margin note, could it be that God in His sovereign will worked in such a way that this passage became canonical Scripture? If so, then God intended that to happen. The canon of Scripture was formed by a decision of men to include certain texts. And the Scriptures tell us God always accomplishes His will. Maybe this was a way He works too? After all, originally, all Scriptures were just the writings of men.

About John Gideon Hartnett

Dr John G. Hartnett is an Australian physicist and cosmologist, and a Christian with a biblical creationist worldview. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) and Ph.D. (with distinction) in Physics from The University of Western Australia, W.A., Australia. He was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) fellow at the University of Adelaide, with rank of Associate Professor. Now he is retired. He has published more than 200 papers in scientific journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.
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4 Responses to The inspiration of Scripture

  1. Sean Clement says:

    I would be interested to know: how do you reconcile your apparent rejection of any authority in the Romish Church with your apparent reliance upon same to validate your arguments with respect to the Biblical Canon…?


    • A suggested reliance on the Romish church has been also argued in reference to Erasmus who was a Roman Catholic priest/scholar. Like I wrote in the article, I believe in the providential preservation of the holy Scriptures, and God used Erasmus to collate the best available Greek manuscripts, which by that time were available from the East having been brought to the West by the scholars fleeing the collapse of Constantinople in 1453. Then there is the issue of the establishment of the Canon of Scripture, as you suggest. In the same way I believe in the providential hand of God. He used infidels (Muslims who invaded Constantinople) to trigger a series of events that lead to many Greek manuscripts being brought to the West, which was very significant considering the Romish Church relied on their version of the Latin Vulgate, which was quite corrupt, so corrupt in fact that Erasmus disregarded its authority and relied largely on those Greek manuscripts. “For ever, O LORD, thy Word is settled in heaven.” (Psalm 119:89) See the graphic at the end of the post here on the providential preservation of the early manuscripts, which had very little to do with the Roman church.


  2. Sean Clement says:

    Thank you, John. Have you/do you want to opine on the theories about the New Testament having been originally written in Aramaic? There are some very cogent arguments, IMO, contained in this work:
    Roth, amongst many other interesting observations, notes that original Aramaic appears even in the translations, such as the word: ‘Boanerges’ and Y’Shuah’s almost last words: ‘Eli, Eli…’ Interesting…


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