The Diocletian Persecution, The Johannine Comma, and the Destruction of Ancient Texts

Steve Rafalsky on the texts held by the Aegean region:

“We may safely assume that reliable copies of the NT books proliferated in these regions. A quick jump to the end of the 3rd century and beginning of the 4th: in 303 AD Emperor Diocletian commenced a violent persecution of Christians in the Eastern part of the empire. All church buildings were destroyed, all sacred writings destroyed (there was even a special class of informers, which included ministers—called traditores—who would inform on those who believed and had secreted away copies of the Scriptures or other holy writings), all faithful ministers were to be arrested (till there was no more room in the prisons for them), and sacrifices to the Roman gods were required on pain of death—and vast multitudes of Christians were slain. After Diocletian died in 304, Galerius continued the persecutions with greater intensity, and other rulers continued them, and they did not completely end until Constantine became Emperor in 324…

Before the time of the Diocletian persecution in 303 AD the Greek texts were fairly intact, but afterwards—after the great and effective campaign to root out and destroy all Bibles, and then the replacement of them with Alexandrian-type Scriptures—there were readings that disappeared during the 3rd and 4th century struggles against the Sabellians and later the Arians. Regarding the latter, with the dominance of the Arian party in the Byzantine empire, it was those Scripture passages declaring the triunity of the Godhead and the deity of Jesus Christ that were targeted. [An extensive treatment of this historical matter to be found in Frederick Nolan’s classic, An Inquiry into The Integrity of the Greek Vulgate Or Received Text of the New Testament; multiple formats.]

It is asserted that during the 50 years (approximately 335 – 385 A.D.) the Arian party held supreme power both in the Greek church and the Imperial government, the zealous among them expunged parts of those verses they held to conduce to heresy (Acts 20:28, 1 Timothy 3:16, 1 John 5:7, among others).* We’ve seen that Constantine had ordered from Eusebius 50 complete Bibles to replace those destroyed by Diocletian, and we know the textual treasure house of Origen’s library in Caesarea was available to Eusebius (a devotee of Origen); Tischendorf, among others, was of the opinion that Sinaiticus (Aleph) and Vaticanus (B) were of that 50, though this is hotly disputed. Still, these verses (not to mention numerous others) are altered or omitted in Aleph and B, and could well have been useful in the Arian and Sabellian causes. Even among the orthodox in the 2nd and 3rd centuries the Sabellians’ use of 1 John 5:7’s “and these three are one” made them highly suspect in their eyes [more on this in post #104]

This would explain why 1 John 5:7 is missing in the Greek / Byzantine manuscripts of the Eastern Empire and remained intact in the Latin MSS of the Western portion of the Empire where neither Diocletian’s vendetta against the Scriptures (and Eusebius’ replacements) nor the Arian oppression had much impact. This, in part, is what Frederick Nolan investigated in his above-mentioned book. It’s a fascinating study.”

Source:, Comment #45


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