Ruckman on Luther and I John 5:7:
 Dolt or Deceiver?
Rev 6/02

By Doug Kutilek

 

In an undated pamphlet, "I John 5:7: Why We Retain I John 5:7 In the Authorized Version," Peter Ruckman (S.J.?), boldly and dogmatically affirms:

Footnote: the AV of the English Reformation and the Heilige Schrift of the German Reformation both contained 1 John 5:7. "By their fruits ye shall know them."  [p. 6; italics and boldface in original][1]

What does Ruckman mean by "the Heilige Schrift of the German Reformation"?  Of course the words Heilige Schrift are German, literally meaning "the Holy Writing" and are the equivalent of the English "Holy Bible."  In this pamphlet, this German term is inseparably linked to the German Reformation.  Naturally enough, then, the attentive reader would assume that Ruckman is referring to the German translation of the Bible made by Martin Luther.  Indeed, Luther's German Bible translation was the single most significant event in the German Reformation, and no one reading Ruckman's assertion would think of anything other than Luther's Bible translation. 

Luther's Bible was and has been consistently known as the Heilige Schrift (or, more correctly, die Heilige Schrift).  The title page of Luther's final edition of his German Bible translation (1545) reads:

Biblia: Das ist: Die gantze Heilige Schrifft / Deutsche / Auffs new zugericht[2]

["Bible: that is: the whole Holy Writing, German, newly revised."  All spelling as in original; italics added].   I also have before me a 1955 printing of Luther's version.  Its title page also carries the words "Heilige Schrift:"

Die Bibel oder die ganze Heilige Schrift des Alten u. Neuen Testaments nach der deutschen Uebersetzung D. Martin Luthers[3]

["The Bible or the whole Holy Writing of the Old and New Testament according to the German translation of Dr. Martin Luther"]. 

            Since it is to Luther's German translation that Mr. Ruckman makes evident reference, we next must ask: does Luther's version in fact include the disputed verse I John 5:7?  The answer is most assuredly, unambiguously and unquestionably, "Absolutely NOT!"

            What proof do I offer to support my answer?  Much every way.  First: the facsimile reprint cited above.  The passage from the middle of verse 6 to the end of verse 8 reads:

Und der Geist ists / der da zeuget / das Geist warheit ist.  Denn drey sind die da zeugen auff Erden / Der Geist und das Wasser / und das Blut / und die drey sind beysamen[4]

["And the Spirit is he who testifies; that Spirit is truth.  For three are those who testify on earth, the Spirit and the Water and the Blood and the three are together."]   The final edition of Luther's Bible to come from his own hand therefore does not contain I John 5:7, contrary to Ruckman's dogmatic assertion otherwise.

            The 1955 edition of Luther's Bible also omits all of the disputed verse, and adds a very interesting footnote on the passage:

Die in Frueheren Bibelausgaben V. 7 und 8 stehenden weiteren Worte: "Drei sind, die da zeugen im Himmel: der Vater, das Wort und der Heilige Geist; und diese drei sind eins" finden sich weder in den Handschriften des griechischen Textes noch in Luthers eigener Uebersetzung.

["The additional words of verse 7 and 8 which occur in earlier Bible editions, viz. 'There are three who testify in Heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one' are found neither in the manuscripts of the Greek text nor in Luther's own translation."  Italics added].[5] 

            The complete absence of I John 5:7 from any of Luther's various editions and revisions of his Bible translation is confirmed by a number of sources.  First, Karl Braune in Lange's commentary, informs us regarding the disputed words:

Luther never translated these words, but commented upon them in his second commentary on this Epistle, although he had pronounced them spurious in his first commentary.  They are omitted in all German Wittenberg Bibles from 1522-1545; they are first inserted in Lehmann's Quarto Wittenberg edition of 1596, although they are still wanting in later editions and in the Quarto edition of 1620.  They appear first in the Zuerich edition of 1529; the next edition of 1531 has this passage in smaller type, the later editions insert it in brackets, which were not abandoned until 1597.  The Basle edition of 1552 gives it already without brackets.  Of the Frankfurt editions, the Quarto of 1582 was the first in which this passage is inserted, although it is omitted in the Octavo edition of the same year.  It was of no avail that Luther considered these words as a clumsy addition directed against the Arians which was wanting in the Greek Bibles....[6]

According to Braune, then, Luther never included the disputed words in any Bible translation made by him, and expressly stated that he considered the words a clumsy insertion fabricated to refute the Arians.

            An examination of Luther's commentary on I John confirms the accuracy of Braune's remarks:

7.  For there are three that bear witness in heaven.

The Greek books do not have these words, but this verse seems to have been inserted by the Catholics because of the Arians, yet not aptly; for wherever John speaks about witnesses, he speaks about those on earth, not in heaven.[7]

            Adam Clarke in his commentary on I John has a lengthy treatment of the evidence regarding I John 5:7 which, though now somewhat incomplete (because written in 1832), nevertheless is still worth careful attention by the reader who wishes to be accurately informed.  In that treatment, Clarke states:  "It is wanting in the German translation of LUTHER, and in all the editions of it published during his lifetime."[8]

            Thomas Hartwell Horne in his very extensive and marvelously detailed presentation of the evidence regarding I John 5:7 (which anyone interested in the controversy will ignore at his own peril) states first "The Protestant Reformers either rejected 1 John v. 7, or at least marked it as doubtful," then details the German Bible situation:

Thus it is wanting in the German translation of the illustrious reformer, Dr. Martin Luther, and in all the editions of it published during his lifetime.  The last edition printed under Luther's superintendence (and which was not quite finished till after his death) was that of 1546, in the preface to which he requests that no person will make any alterations in it.  But this great and good man had not been dead thirty years, when the passage was interpolated in his German translation.  The first edition in which this act of injustice took place, and in which Luther's text at least was corrupted, is that which was printed at Frankfort in 1574.  But in the edition of 1583, printed in the same place, and also in several still later Frankfort editions, the passage was again omitted.  The oldest Wittenberg edition, which received it, was that of 1596; and in the Wittenberg edition of 1599 it is likewise contained, but is printed in Roman characters.  In 1596 it was inserted also in the Low German Bible, printed in that year at Hamburg.  In the seventeenth century, if we except the Wittenberg edition of 1607, which remained true to Luther's text, the insertion was general; and since that time it is found in every edition of his German translation of the Scriptures.[9]

            In volume 7 of his History of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff has an excellent extended analysis of Luther's Bible translation (pp. 340-368).  In that discussion, he states:

Luther did not slavishly follow the Greek of Erasmus, and in many places conformed to the Latin Vulgate, which is based on an older text.  He also omitted, even in his last edition, the famous interpolation of the heavenly witnesses in 1 John 5:7, which Erasmus inserted in his third edition (1522) against his better judgment.[10]

He then adds in a footnote:

It [i.e., 1 John 5:7] first appeared in the Frankfort edition of Luther's Bible, 1574.  The revised Luther-Bible of 1883 strangely retains the passage, but in small type and in brackets, with the note that it was wanting in Luther's editions.[11]

            The evidence from the facsimile reprint of Luther's 1545 edition, the 1955 edition footnote, and the commentators and scholars Braune, Clarke, Horne and Schaff is clear and all on one side: die Heilige Schrift of the German Reformation, that is, the various editions of Luther's German Bible translation published under his supervision and during his lifetime never included the disputed words of I John 5:7.  What therefore are we to conclude about Mr. Ruckman's dogmatic assertion that the Heilige Schrift of the German Reformation did in fact contain I John 5:7?  We can only conclude that his assertion is erroneous and completely false.  But we must also ask why did he make such a bold yet blundering affirmation?  There are two possible answers.  The first is that he simply wrote out of blissful ignorance of the facts, not knowing the truth and not caring to expend the effort necessary to ascertain the truth.  If this is the case, then he is a buffoon, a clown, a poseur masquerading as an authority on a subject in which only his ignorance is profound.[12]

            On the other hand, Ruckman might protest that by the term "the Heilige Schrift of the German Reformation" he made no reference at all to Luther's Bibles, but to the editions which appeared in German after his lifetime in which the suspect words were inserted against Luther's expressed wishes, and that he, Ruckman, is therefore technically right.  In reply, it must be stated that by no natural and ordinary use of the phrase "the Heilige Schrift of the German Reformation" would anyone think of any Bibles except those of Luther, and if this indeed was Ruckman's verbal sleight-of-hand designed to deceive the gullible into believing what he knew was patently false, then he is a huckster, a charlatan, a con man of the most deplorable sort. 

            We are left then on the horns of a not very perplexing dilemma: is Ruckman an ignorant blind leader of the blind, or is he a false prophet who has put on a hairy garment to deceive?  Perhaps he is in large measure both.  "By their fruits you shall know them."  Indeed.  But whichever he is, he is not credible, and those whose look to him for instruction will descend from darkness into greater darkness, not knowing the truth and not even knowing that they do not know the truth, because the darkness has blinded their eyes.


[1]This is by no means the only assertion in the pamphlet that could be challenged for factual accuracy.  Indeed, every page and virtually every paragraph contains errors of fact, gross distortions, or blatant misrepresentations, not the least of which is the gross anachronism of calling the Authorized Version the Bible of the English Reformation

[2]Biblia: das ist: Die gantze Heilige Schrifft.  Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. 1983.  Facsimile of Luther’s final edition of 1545.

[3]Die Bibel oder die ganze Heilige Schrift des Alten u. Neuen Testaments nach der deutschen Uebersetzung D. Martin Luthers.  Stuttgart: Wuerttemburgische Bibelanstalt, 1955.

[4]The verses are of course not numbered in this edition, in as much as the verse numbers were not invented and inserted into Bibles until a few years after Luther’s death.

[5]Perhaps someone will quibble that the words are found in some Greek manuscripts, and therefore, the footnote is erroneous.  Had the footnote read "any independent Greek manuscript," it would have been correct.  The four manuscripts which do contain the disputed words in the text are all clearly back-translations from Latin into Greek, and are therefore not independent witnesses.  The four remaining manuscripts which contain the verse in the margin simply copied the words from printed editions, and therefore likewise have no independent authority.   The remaining approximately 250 to 300 Greek manuscripts of I John do not contain the disputed words at all.                      

[6]Karl Braune, The General Epistles of John  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1960 reprint), p. 156.  Translated from the German by J. Isidor Mombert.

[7]Luther's Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, vol. 30, The Catholic Epistles, trans. by Walter A. Hansen (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1967), p. 316.

[8]Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon, n.d.) vol. VI, p. 932.  Italics and capital letters in original.  Clarke’s analysis is found on pp. 923-924; 927-933.

[9]An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970 reprint. Eighth edition), vol. IV, p. 457.  The extended treatment of I John 5:7 is found in this volume on pp. 448-471.

[10]Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. VII, p. 357. 

[11]Ibid.

[12]Gross errors arising from massive but bold ignorance characterize Ruckman’s works.  He long asserted that the KJV was not copyrighted, which I exposed as false in “The KJV is a Copyrighted Translation,” Baptist Biblical Heritage, vol. IV, no. 3, October 1993, pp. 5-8.  I exposed his false and ignorant claim that the Vaticanus manuscript has never been examined by a Protestant scholar in “ ‘Ruckmanism’--a Refuge of Lies,” Baptist Biblical Heritage, vo. IV, no. 4, January 1994, pp. 5-6.

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