Monday, March 31, 2014

Not original therefore not inspired? The story of the woman taken in adultery.

One thing that confronts every first year Greek student is the existence of variant readings. These are verses in the New Testament that either don't appear in our earliest manuscripts or, if they do, read somewhat differently.

Many readers of English Bibles have probably noticed a footnote now and then with the statement "this verse doesn't appear in our earliest manuscripts." See John 5:4 and Mark 16:9-20 as two examples.

Probably one of the most famous variants is the passage about the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11). Although this is one of the best known stories in the Bible, it wasn't originally in John's Gospel till centuries later. No one is exactly certain of its origins, but we are certain that it wasn't part of John. In fact, it even appears in Luke 21 in at least one manuscript.

Nonetheless, although the inclusion of the story is late, most text critics agree that the story seems to be an authentic tradition about Jesus. And thus it remains in John where it's been for centuries and will do so, unless some get their way.

Apparently there are some who want to see the story of adulterous woman confined to a footnote in John's Gospel (see here). But even more interesting is the suggestion by Denny Burk is that the story is not inspired. Here's what he says.

What many people do not know is that the story was not originally a part of John’s gospel. A scribe(s) added the story centuries after John’s Gospel was written for reasons unknown to us, and it is therefore not inspired by the Holy Spirit. The story remains in our English Bibles more for tradition than for anything else.

Burk's comments raise an important question. How old does a tradition about Jesus need to be to be considered inspired? Burk's assumption seems to be that since we don't know where the story about Jesus and the adulterous woman originated we therefore cannot consider it inspired and I assume, therefore, authoritative. In fairness, Burk does say that he thinks it communicates a truth consistent with biblical truth. But does he mean the story of the woman is not "biblical."

While I am not seeking to blow open the New Testament canon, I do think Burk and those like him have an overly narrow view of what is "biblical" and what is inspired. Even if it wasn't written by the author of John and is perhaps very late does this mean it is no longer inspired?

What do you think?  Is it inspired? Should we remove the story?

10 comments:

  1. Having done some research on this passage a couple of times for sermon prep, I do believe that this passage is inspired. Like Burk says, it falls in line with biblical truth and I feel that it communicates a vital aspect of Jesus' ministry: salvation. He saved the woman from certain death.
    If not being originally included in the Gospel of John means its not inspired than I believe that is saying God only works in one way when it comes to communicating His truth and I know I am not comfortable in saying that.
    I guess my question would be what if John wrote several drafts of his Gospel. Which draft was inspired then? What if John wrote his Gospel and a few months later decided to ad something else? Does that mean that narrative/teaching isn't inspired? And what about chapter 21 which at least in English translations looks like an add-on? Is that not inspired either?

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  2. Um. . . you mean Mark 16:9-20, right? Looks like you really looked into the subject thoroughly, eh.

    And, um . . . don't you mean that the story about the adulteress appears after Luke /21:38/ in at least one manuscript (not Luke 23)?

    Figuring that John 7:53-8:11 wasn't in any manuscripts until "centuries later" -- which, figuring that the Gospel of John was written in the 90's of the first century A.D., would imply that it was inserted around 290 (+ two centuries) or 390 (+ three centuries), how do you account for its use in the Syriac Didaskalia (in the mid-200's), by Ambrose, and by Augustine. How do you account for Jerome's statement, made in 417, that he found many copies, both Greek and Latin, that contained the story about the adulteress?

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    1. James,

      It would do you well to read this, since it also gives explanation about Jerome that you mentioned in other blog. Open your mind and be more objective please.

      https://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/bitstream/1842/2595/4/Keith%20C%20PhD%20thesis%2008.pdf

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  3. Dear James,

    Yes, you are correct. I meant Mark 16:9-20. I neglected to cite all of the verses for various possible endings to Mark's Gospel. And yes I should have said Luke 21 not 23. You see, I don't keep my copy of Metzger's Commentary on Textual Variants next to my sofa so I couldn't check up on that last one. I suppose I should have went on the internet, or your blog, and checked my sources more closely. but it was late and the point of the post was inspiration, not whether or not I had the verses correct. Mea Culpa.

    As for the other sources you provide for knowledge of the story, I suppose we could quibble all day whether or not I should have said "centuries" or "century." But none of your comments detract from the simple fact that the story is not original to John. Moreover, you don't address the main question of the post which is related to inspiration.

    So I am curious. Now that you have made your points. Do you have any wisdom that focuses on the question at hand?



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    1. John,
      On Facebook, if you visit the NT Textual Criticism group, and explore the files, you can download a research-essay I've prepared that includes descriptions of over 90 pieces of external evidence pertaining to this passage. I also offer some brief analysis.

      My points were really just one point: that some folks who are "certain" that the pericope adulterae (and/or Mk. 16:9-20) is spurious do not have a tight grip on the relevant evidence.

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    2. Let me say this on behalf of everyone on this blog and other blogs where you've left your trail of comments: Ignorance is what ignorant does, and there really is no help for you.

      Delete
    3. Anonymous,
      Indeed that is well-spoken on your own behalf.

      Delete
  4. Here's a couple of ideas on this passage:

    1) Maybe the earlier "John" documents than we have access to did have it and it was removed, Richard Bauchham thinks this may have occurred.

    2) James DG Dunn thinks higher of oral tradition than we do( or anyone anymore in the literary age) and thinks it is likely this passage was added later, but, was a valid "Jesus" oral tradition based on truth that was added , just didn't make it in at first.

    I subscribe to Dunn's thesis myself.

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  5. The act of adultery is simply having sex with someone other than your spouse. It is the breaking of a promise made at the onset on a marriage. An affair is the ongoing act of adultery over time; repeated sex with someone other than your spouse is defined as “having an affair”. know about Alienation of affection lawyer nc

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