Thursday, March 16, 2017

And then there is this controversy

Let's move right away from particularly Anglican concerns for a day ...

One of the greatest stories told about Jesus is one we can be least clear and sure about whether it actually rests on historical fact, that Jesus had such a particular encounter with a woman, the so-called Pericopae Adulterae or Woman Caught in Adultery, most frequently published these days at John 7:53-8:11.

This post is NOT about sexual ethics (let's have a continuing Lenten Fast on those matters) but about the fascination of the quest to find out - if possible - just when and how the scribes of the NT manuscripts came upon and then included the Pericopae Adulterae in their scriptural activities.

On the one hand this quest is a quest of textual critical detectives, working from a limited range of manuscripts in which the PA occurs (and, for that matter, another range of manuscripts in which the PA is not found) and a certain amount of confusion as to who copied from whom and when that took place.

On the other hand, it is a matter of controversy at present as many modern publications of the Bible do, the PA in the same typeface as passages either side, with only a footnote to indicate that just maybe the PA is not original to any early copy of John's Gospel or for that matter any other manuscript of NT writings.

One tiny aspect of this quest is the focus of this Evangelical Textual Criticism post: how the PA became part of the Syriac NT.

Included in the post is this delightful picture:

The writing within the red line enclosure is described as: "Marginal note in CCM 64, f. 79r, (17th cent.) explaining the origin of the Pericope Adulterae."

I often think that the power of the PA as a story lies in the fact that whether it is original or not to the stories of Jesus told after his death and resurrection it makes us readers sure that this is what Jesus would have said if he had been confronted with such a challenge. It is a convincing story about Jesus and that, presumably, is why it has been incorporated into NT manuscripts over the centuries and continues to be published, even within the main body of the gospel of John and not (as some have done) as an appendix.

But is it a genuinel, original, historical part of the biography of Jesus?

13 comments:

Father Ron said...

Your question, Peter: "Is it a genuine, original historical part of the biography of Jesus" begs another question: Which bits of the Gospels are we ever really sure are in the category of certainty that you raise here?

It seems to me that would-be hermeneutical scholars can hardly escape the accusation that they just might be a wee bit biased - about the interpretation they put on to 'questionable' parts of the Sacred Writings'.

I'm sure, Peter, you have absolutely no interest in buttressing any prejudice that might question the veracity of Our Lord's kindness towards the lady in question; but your very selection of this pericope - especially during your self-imposed ban on sex-talk during Lent - cannot help but raise another question in the minds of those who might doubt your intentions in raising this specific matter at this time; when the wider Church is in the middle of 'Conversations' about human sexuality.

Father Ron said...

A belated second thought, Peter, about this article you have raised:

It is at all possible that every word in the scriptures could be tainted by the bias of either the writer or the interpreter, do you think? In other words. how seriously can we take the literal veracity of any of the scriptures?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Tricky timing but ETC is on my sidebar and I noticed this post this week.
Yes, all sorts of questions about how our Lord's teachings and stories of his life come to us and the extent to which various ways of handing on these pericope have shaped and reshaped the contents.
But there is a question of difference between materials which have been part of the written tradition and attested from the earliest days and materials which appear much later and cannot, yet, be tracked to earlier attestations.

MichaelA said...

"But is it a genuinel, original, historical part of the biography of Jesus?"

Why would that question be of interest to anyone apart from antiquarians and other history buffs?

The real issue for Christians everywhere is surely, whether this is of divine authorship?

That in turn depends on whether it was authored by or with the authority of the apostles, who alone were authorised by God himself to deliver his teachings to the church.

So far as I am aware, no manuscript dating earlier than the 6th century AD contains this passage, which doesn't augur well for its apostolic authorship.

MichaelA said...

"Which bits of the Gospels are we ever really sure are in the category of certainty that you raise here?"

All of them. Why do you ask?

"It seems to me that would-be hermeneutical scholars can hardly escape the accusation that they just might be a wee bit biased - about the interpretation they put on to 'questionable' parts of the Sacred Writings'."

Hermeneutics is a separate issue - there is no point in trying to conflate. This passage is not 'questionable' on the issue of doctrine - any doctrinal point in it can be supported elsewhere from scripture. Rather, it is questionable on the issue of apostolic authorship. If it wasn't authored by or under the direct authority of an apostle, then its not scripture.

"those who might doubt your intentions in raising this specific matter at this time; when the wider Church is in the middle of 'Conversations' about human sexuality."

Why would that be the case? I can't think off-hand of any instances when this passage has been strongly used by any side in the debate on human sexuality, so why would its authenticity be relevant to that debate?

"In other words. how seriously can we take the literal veracity of any of the scriptures?"

Why wouldn't we?

Father Ron said...

" I can't think off-hand of any instances when this passage has been strongly used by any side in the debate on human sexuality, so why would its authenticity be relevant to that debate? :

Perhaps you need, Michael, to get out a bit more.

Your last, rhetorical, question is all bound up in this post.

MichaelA said...

Hi Fr Ron,

I am happy to learn otherwise. If you can think of anyone who has relied on this passage or supply a link, that would be fine. And of course i am not saying it has never happened, but I just can't think of any examples off-hand. And I have followed a lot of debate on this subject over the years.

My last question is not so much rhetorical, as curious.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael and Ron
Are you talking past each other?
I have often times read the PA being invoked in discussions about the ethics of human sexaulity, not least on this blog, not least on the You Know What and We Are Not Going to Discuss It During Lent issue.
It may be that strictly no one is "relying" on it to establish some ethical position (after all, when Jesus says Go and sin no more, he is simply affirming the already stated ethical position of Judeo-Christianity that adultery is wrong) but it is the case that the PA is invoked in such discussions (here as an example of Jesus' kindness towards sexual sinners, there as a reminder that Jesus showed mercy regarding the Mosaic Law of consequences but not revision of the Mosaic Law of right/wrong).
So I consider this point at an end regarding this thread, not least because I do not want to have to Delete any comments that stray into "forbidden" discussion territory!

Bryden Black said...

Really Peter! There's absolutely no doubt at all abt this wee pericope - it's printed in red in MY Bible ...

Glen Young said...


During my mental health training, my mentor,Dr.A Anderson;stated that it was the images which we stored in our hearts (spirits) which needed to offered up to Christ, to be crucified: Prov. 4/23.
Marriage is the reunion of the man and woman, which He had created:Matt 19/4.
In His sight,they become one in body,soul and spirit."He whom God hath joint together,let no man put asunder".Why ???? Because man's law can undo the legal ties between a man and woman,but not the spiritual ties.Hence,in God's sight they remain married.Man's law may make a marriage legal but it may not be within God's ordained Will.
The relevance of this passage to marriage,is that Christ is stating that He is able to undo the spiritual bonding which occurs in all sexual acts (even mental -- Matt 5/28) We are in spiritual bonding (or Bondaging) with every person with whom we have had any connection.
So,what is the relevance of this to lent???? It is only through the life,death and resurrection of Christ and His gift of the Holt Spirit that we can become free of the spiritual bonding and bondaging which stops us forming Godly relationships.`

Father Ron said...

There you are, Peter. It's printed in Bryden's Bible, and ion RED, so it must be correct.

James Snapp said...

If you'd like an updated and thorough analysis of John 7:53-8:11, culminating in a defense of its genuineness, you are welcome to read my book on the subject, available at Amazon for a small price, or for free if you contact me to request a digital copy.

https://www.amazon.com/Fresh-Analysis-John-External-Evidence-ebook/dp/B01HBC8EGQ

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks James
I have contributed to your retirement fund :)
Will read with interest.