Wednesday, January 18, 2017

John 7:53-8:11: Why It Was Moved – Part 1

          John 7:53-8:11 (a passage known as the pericope adulterae – the section about the adulteress) is in 1,495 Greek manuscripts, in whole or in part.  The inclusion of the passage is also supported by 495 lectionaries (books containing Scripture-selections for annual worship services).  In 1982 when the New King James Version was made, its footnote about these 12 verses stated, “They are present in over 900 manuscripts.”  One would think that the footnote-writers would have written “over 1,400 manuscripts” or “almost 1,500 manuscripts” if they had been fully informed about the evidence.  That suggests that even scholars in the upper echelons of academia do not possess adequate information about the pericope adulterae
          As I write this, the Holman Christian Standard Bible is in the final stages of a revision; it is about to be re-issued, with many textual changes, as the Christian Standard Bible.  A new footnote about John 7:53-8:11 in the CSB says, “Other mss include all or some of the passage after Jn 7:36,44,52; 21:25; or Lk 21:38.” 
          When I read that, it provoked a question in my mind:  How did the footnote-writers keep Bruce Metzger’s Textual Commentary opened to page 221 as they wrote?  The reason why I wonder is that Metzger wrote, “Most copyists apparently thought that it would interrupt John’s narrative least if it were inserted after 7:52 (D E (F) G H K M U Γ Π 28 700 892 al).  Others placed it after 7.36 (ms. 225) or after 7.44 (several Georgian mss.) or after 21.25 (1 565 1076 1570 1582 armmss) or after Lk 21.38 (f13).” 
          But for most readers, such a footnote elicits a different question:  “Why was this passage moved around?”
          A popular answer among commentators goes something like this:  John 7:53-8:11 was originally not part of the Gospel of John.  It was a brief composition – probably recording an authentic historical event, but not one that John included in his Gospel-account – that was a “floating anecdote,” and it was so popular that copyists eventually inserted it into the Gospel of John, or into the Gospel of Luke.  Sometimes – the theory goes – the copyists inserted it at one place, and sometimes the copyists inserted it in a different place.  The appearance of the passage in several locations – it is said – is proof that it is an addition to the text.
            That is precisely the sort of conclusion, for instance, that James White wants his listeners and readers to arrive at:  “Such moving about by a body of text is plain evidence of its later origin and the attempt on the part of scribes to find a place where it “fits.””  D. A. Carson, likewise:  “The diversity of placement confirms the inauthenticity of the verses.”  Daniel Wallace has written, “The pericope adulterae has all the earmarks of a pericope that was looking for a home,” and recently proposed that because it is a “floating” text it is probably inauthentic.  Such claims are descended from Metzger’s confidently worded claim in his obsolete handbook, The Text of the New Testament:  “The pericope is obviously a piece of floating tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western Church.  It was subsequently inserted into various manuscripts at various places.”  (Metzger never explained why this supposedly freestanding account begins with the words, “And everyone went to his own house.”)    
MS 2404 (The Barnabas Gospels) -
At the beginning of John 7:37,
the red lectionary-notes convey that this
is where the lection for the Sunday
after Pentecost begins.  (The section-number
is also written in the margin.)
            However, that is far from the truth.  Chris Keith’s insightful 2009 essay The Initial Location of the Pericope Adulterae in Fourfold Tradition describes some of the evidence for the following points which other researchers have deduced: 
            ● The pericope adulterae’s position between John 7:52 and 8:12 was well-established when the Old Latin version spread throughout Western Christendom.
            ● The transplantation of the passage to other locations was a secondary development, and
            ● The movement of the passage to other locations was mainly an effect of how it was treated in lection-cycles and in lectionaries.    

            The CSB’s footnote unfortunately does not share the answer to the questions which it seems designed to elicit:  why is the pericope adulterae found in some manuscripts after John 7:36?  Why is it found in some witnesses after John 7:44?  Why is it found in some manuscripts after John 21:25?  And why is it found in some manuscripts after Luke 21:38? 
MS 2404 - After John 7:52 is the red "Skip forward"
symbol.  In the lower margin the chapter-title is written,
"About the Adulteress."  Four dots beside John 8:4
signify the beginning of the chapter.
           Today I will only answer one of those questions:  why was the pericope adulterae moved to a position between John 7:36 and 7:37 in some manuscripts?
            (First, let’s clear up the vagueness which is characteristic of every textual footnote in the CSB New Testament.  The number of known Greek manuscripts in which the pericope adulterae is found between John 7:36 and 7:37 is exactly two.)
            Readers who take the time to familiarize themselves with how the Byzantine lectionary arranged the text that was to be read annually on Pentecost will be well on their way to answering that question.  The Pentecost-lection consisted of John 7:37-52 combined with John 8:12.  Numerous medieval manuscripts of the Gospels were prepared to be read in churches, and in their margins are the names of various lections, and the assigned days on which they were to be read.  Typically, within the text itself, or in the adjacent margins, symbols represent the words αρχη and τελος, that is, “begin” and “stop,” signifying where the lector was to start reading the day’s lection, and where the lection stopped.  Sometimes a lection was not one continuous block of text; in that case, the symbols for υπερβαλε and αρξου were also added – the equivalent of “skip forward” and “resume here.” 
          As a lector read the Pentecost-lection from a manuscript of the Gospels, when he came to the end of John 7:52, he needed to jump ahead to 8:12 in order to finish the lection.  As a practical means of simplifying the lector’s task, two copyists moved John 7:53-8:11 backward in the text, so that it would precede the Pentecost-lection.  That is why, in minuscules 225 and 1128, we find these 12 verses between John 7:36 and 7:37, that is, immediately before the beginning of the Pentecost lection.  The text in these two manuscripts was adjusted to make the lector’s job on Pentecost a little easier, by turning the Pentecost-lection into one uninterrupted block of text.  
MS 2404 - After John 8:11, the red lectionary notes
convey that the lector should resume reading here
on Pentecost.  (The section-number is also
written in the left margin.)
          In minuscule 225, John 13:3-17 – the lection for the Foot-washing in Holy-Week – also receives special treatment:  besides appearing in its usual place in John, it pops up in the text of Matthew 26, and the reason is obvious:  to make things easier for the lector on Maundy Thursday, when Matthew 26:1-20 was followed in the liturgy by John 13:3-17.  We do not therefore question the authenticity of John 13:3-17 or suggest that it was a “floating tradition.”  Nor should we infer, from the presence of John 7:53-8:11 before the beginning of John 7:37 (where the Pentecost-lection begins) in two medieval manuscripts that this remotely suggests that the passage is inauthentic.
          I will continue to explain why copyists moved the pericope adulterae in Part 2.


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