Friday, April 11, 2014

The Pericope Adulterae: A Tour of the External Evidence

John 7:53-8:11 -- the story about the adulteress -- is in the process of being rejected as Scripture by many evangelical seminary professors.  They want it out of the text.  They say it must go.

For those who keep up with the currents of New Testament textual criticism, this is not news.  The RSV, when it first came out, did not have these verses in the text of John.  The NEB moved the entire passage to the end of the Gospel of John, presenting them as a separate text.  That was 1946 and 1961 -- and the theological hue of the translators of the RSV and NEB was not distinctly evangelical.  But the influence of the scholars responsible for those translations has trickled down.  Now it is 2014, and evangelical seminary professors such as Daniel Wallace and James Hamilton are calling for the removal of John 7:53-8:11 from the text of the Gospel of John. 

It's a complicated textual subject.  But to a lot of folks, it seems so simple:  Bruce Metzger said that the evidence against these 12 verses is overwhelming, and Metzger -- and the commentators whose research on the subject consisted mainly of reading Metzger -- must be right, since he was an expert, right?  And if you want to retain the passage in the text, you must be stuck in a "tradition of timidity," and nobody wants to be stuck in a tradition of timidity, right?

Of course not!  We want to boldly follow the evidence.  But somehow, when it comes to describing the evidence in an even-handed and balanced way, the scholars calling for the removal of John 7:53-8:11 from the text of the Gospel of John seem . . . timid.  They convey that the KJV has these verses because of half a dozen Greek manuscripts.  They do not tell their readers that the pericope adulterae is in over 1,300 Greek manuscripts.  They tell their readers that the passage is found in some manuscripts after Luke 21:38, as if it floated there from some unknown source -- as if "some" is the most precise estimate the commentators can muster, and as if they have no inkling why the passage would be in that location.  They say that no Greek commentator until the 1100's comments on these verses -- but they don't say exactly how many complete Greek commentaries on John were made in the period before that, and they say nothing about Latin commentators.

Look through Dan Wallace's online article "My Favorite Passage That's Not In The Bible," (you might notice that the 2008 form of the article is not identical to the identically titled article that appeared in 2007) and find where he tells his readers what Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome were saying about the Pericope Adulterae in the 300's and early 400's.  What's that you say?  There's nothing about any of their statements?  Hmm.  He recommended that you consult the text-critical note about this passage in the NET, so let's try there.  What's that you say?  They are not mentioned there either?  Hmm.  Maybe look, instead, for some mention of the Didascalia, or Pacian, or Ambrosiaster.  Can't find them?  Hmm. 

Try James Hamilton's recent blog-post about the Pericope Adulterae from March 30, 2014, in which he calls on preachers not to preach from this passage.  Did you find the references to Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine yet?  No?  Instead you found a repetition of Metzger's claim, and the ESV's vaguely worded footnote, and strained arguments based on cherry-picked internal evidence, didn't you.  Hmm.  Were these writers aware of the testimony of Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine?  Of course they were.  They wouldn't be so negligent and irresponsible as to advocate the removal of 12 verses without carefully looking into the evidence.  Then why didn't they mention it? 

Perhaps, when looking for a "tradition of timidity," you will find it among writers who have been timid about presenting the evidence about the Pericope Adulterae in an even-handed way.   As an antidote for that timidity I offer a small book:  The Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11) - A Tour of the External Evidence.

I don't aspire to answer every question about John 7:53-8:11 by means of this book.  It does not explore the internal evidence (which Alan Johnson has done, in some detail), and the analysis offered in it is brief.  But at least it might help level the playing field, so to speak, which for some time has been tilted by commentators who, when it comes to describing numerous pieces of evidence about John 7:53-8:11, seem to have been very timid indeed.