Friday, June 10, 2011

19th cent. confusion over Jn 7:53-8:11


C. K. Barrett's popular but brief introduction to the New Testament for students, Companion to the Greek Testament  , (1867) para. 24, gives the following brief sketch:

"b. The story of the woman taken in adultery, contained in John vii. 53—viii. 11, is rejected as spurious by many.

It is not found in some of the best MSS, including א, A, B, C, (A and C are deficient in this part of the N. T., but from the space which is wanting it is clear that they did not contain the passage); in several of the MSS in which it is found it is marked with asterisks or obeli; in some it is placed at the end of John, and in others at the end of Luke xxi. It is omitted in some MSS of the Old Latin, the Peschito, and some other versions; it is not quoted in any extant writing of the second century, and appears to have been either unknown to, or rejected by Origen, Tertullian, and Cyprian. It differs in style from the rest of the Gospel; ο λαος is used instead of ο οχλος, εις after  πορευομαι and rapaylvofiai, and δε to connect two sentences instead of ουν.

On the other hand, it is found in D, some of the later uncials, many cursives, several MSS of the old Latin, the Vulgate, and some other versions; and it is quoted in the 4th century by Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine.

The general opinion is, that the passage was not in St. John's written Gospel, and is not therefore a part of canonical Scripture; but that the history is nevertheless a true one, derived (perhaps through a narrative of Papias, mentioned by Eusebius,) from the oral teaching of the Apostle himself."

It is not however the brevity, but the inaccuracy of Barrett's statement which misleads a whole generation of students:

 a)  No real quantitative survey of opinion was done.  In fact, in the mid-1800s most scholars still held that the passage was genuine.  The "rejected as spurious by many." misleads the reader as to relative numbers of scholars. 

b)  The markings "asterisks or obelii" are not explained.  Subsequent investigations by Dr. Maurice Robinson (who personally examined every manuscript containing the PA) have shown that the markings are ecclesiastical instructions and are all very late.  There are no early manuscripts which mark the passage with such signs.

c)  The late date of manuscripts which misplace the passage is not indicated. In fact, all of them are later than the 10th century, and most are later than the 12th.  They are not relevant to the early history of the text.

d)  The omission of the PA in some ecclesiastical manuscripts, such as the Old Latin and Syriac, points to the church's avoidance in reading the passage out in public during services.  In fact, many passages of the NT are never read in church, nor are they found in the Lectionary system (selected passages for services).
e)  The lack of commentary for the PA in the ancient commentaries is traceable to the same cause.  The commentaries were designed for church services.  Commentators such as Origen could not comment on passages which were not actually read out in public services. 

f)  The fact that the passage  "appears to have been either unknown to, or rejected by Origen, Tertullian, and Cyprian" shows the uncertainty of interpreting "arguments from silence".   There is no evidence at all that these early writers actually rejected the verses.  Origen naturally passes over the passage in his commentary (although this is apparently hasn't even survived, and what we know of it comes from a later table of contents!).  Tertullian on the other hand, actually does provide some rather suspicious evidence of his own knowledge of the passage.  In Cyprian's time the passage was already well-known to other writers, so his omission is not surprising or relevant.

g)  Both  Jerome   and Augustine provide important information about the state of the text in their time, and heretical movements which were actively editing the text.  This information is crucial to understanding what really happened in the 4th century regarding the PA.  

h)  Barrett's "general opinion" is in fact only a popular opinion held among Protestant Unitarians and historical-critical investigators in Germany and England.  Many other scholars had other opinions, both on the passage, and on Unitarianism and Rationalist approaches to Holy Scripture. 

i)  The theory that the story originates in Papias and migrated into John's gospel is only a conjecture, and a dubious one at that.

j)  Internal Linguistic evidence regarding the PA has been examined in detail here:   
Why 'δε' is irrelevant in John - more claims implode
'ει μη' in John 8:1-11 - NOT a stylistic marker
k)  The whole approach of analyzing vocabulary has been invalidated by R. Heard (1950) 


mr.scrivener

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