Sunday, April 10, 2011

NEB Nonsense on the PA

One of the earliest English modern New Testaments to dare to actually remove the Pericope de Adultera (the PA: John 7:53-8:11) and place it at the very end of John's Gospel, was the New English Bible (NEB, 1961).

Shortly thereafter, The text adhered to by the translators of the New English Bible was published separately as The Greek New Testament, edited by R. V. G. Tasker  (Oxford U., 1964).  In this second volume, the thinking behind some of the editorial decisions was revealed in much more detail, in an Appendix.  On page 426 the note on Jn 7:53-8:11 is as follows:
"(chapt) 7. 53- 8:11.  This passage, usually printed in this position [i.e. John 7:52] in editions of the NT (following most late Greek MSS and the Latin versions) is found here in no ancient Greek MSS, except D;  and some MSS which insert it at this point mark it as doubtful.   It is also absent from the Syriac versions.  It is found after Jn. 21:24 in Family 1; after Luke 21:38 in Family 13; and after Jn 7:36 in  [MS] 225.   This evidence seems to indicate that it was not generally recognized as part of the Gospel of John.  Internal evidence supports this.   It is un-Johannine both in style and content;  and its presence here interrupts the discourse at the festival of Tabernacles.   The translators decided, therefore, to treat it as a disconnected incident and print it at the conclusion of the Gospel of John." 
The factual errors, and subsequently erroneous decision on the part of the translators can be corrected concisely as follows:

(1)  There are only two surviving 4th century Manuscripts (B, א ),  and two 2nd - 3rd century papyri copies of John (P66, P75) in existence.   Yet the number of manuscripts in circulation by the 4th century is estimated to be in the thousands to several thousands.   These few surviving copies cannot credibly represent the text at large, as the sample-size is absurdly low.   Even these few copies show a wide variation in the text at this time, especially in North Africa and Egypt.

(2)  The fact that Codex D (Bezae) includes the passage, along with the testimony of Ambrose, Didymus, Jerome and Augustine, makes it clear that many copies must have had the passage in its normal place, even though none have survived.

(3) Dr. Maurice Robinson has collated the bulk of the MSS having the passage, and has found that most of the marks (asterisks, obelisks, notes etc.) do not indicate doubt at all, but rather indicate the beginning and end of 'Lections' or Church Lessons for public reading.

(4) The later Manuscript Families (1 and 13) cannot be traced earlier than the 8th or 9th century, fully five centuries too late to give first-hand testimony regarding the position of the passage in the crucial early period.  Von Soden has shown that most cases of displacement of the passage arose in the Middle Ages as copyists attempted to delete or reinsert the passage.  These anomalies don't represent the original position of the passage in any case.   The shuffling of the passage about does not indicate early doubt, but rather later confusion arising from its omission in some copies.
Only LATE MSS displace the PA

(5)  The argument that the passage is "un-Johannine" is based on crude and now discredited tests of vocabulary and style, and the methods and interpretation of the evidences have not held up in subsequent analysis.  Dr. Heard has shown that all such vocabulary/style tests for pericopes are invalid, given the nature of John's gospel.

(6)  The question of whether the passage 'interrupts' the Gospel narrative is currently in dispute, and there is complex evidence on both sides of the issue.   The decision by the translators to remove the passage from John and place it at the end of the gospel was therefore misguided and is not supported by current textual and historical evidences.  For recent arguments see earlier posts here.

(7)  In the meantime the question of whether John's Gospel has knowledge of the passage has been answered in the affirmative by the discovery of structural and chiastic, and thematic structures embedded in the Gospel which are damaged when the passage is omitted.   It appears that the Gospel was composed with the passage in place and consciously blended with the other materials.
Interlocking Sections of John's Gospel


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