Tommy Wasserman, who came all the way from
argued that the PA is not authentic.
Wasserman’s lecture involved a digital slideshow, which resisted his
efforts to make it work, but eventually surrendered after a valiant struggle
with Dr. Black’s research assistant Jacob Cerone. Wasserman reviewed the opposing views about
the PA (mentioning that SEBTS professor Andreas Köstenberger rejects the
passage), briefly surveyed some external evidence, including the testimony of
Didymus the Blind, and proceeded to plunge into a comparison of the PA and some
other disputed passages. His purpose for
doing so was to illustrate a couple of points:
(1) in the early witnesses, textual alterations
tend to be accidental, not editorially motivated, and (2) even where scribes took liberties with the text, the scribal
activity was limited to individual words or phrases; no scribal omissions
involve the omission of an amount of text anywhere near the size of the PA.
Wasserman reviewed some readings which reflect editorial activity; these include the incident in the Diatessaron (≈ Luke 4:29-30) in which Jesus flies, the “fire in the Jordan” mentioned by Justin, the incident of Jesus’ bloody sweat and strengthening angel (Luke 22:43-44), Luke 9:54-56 (the “Shall we call down fire?” incident), Luke 23:34a (“Father forgive them,” etc.), the Syriac expansion of Luke 23:48 (“Woe unto us,” etc.), the Freer Logion, John 5:4’s description of the angel moving the water at Bethesda, and the expansions of Luke 6:4 and Matthew 20:28 in Codex D and some other Western witnesses.
Wasserman also mentioned that Hugh Houghton has discovered that in an early form of the Old Latin chapter-lists (capitula), there is a chapter-title for the story of the adulteress that includes the term moechatio. This loan-word seems to imply that in the branch of the Old Latin tradition that produced this form of the capitula, the PA was inherited, in its normal location following John 7:52, from a Greek source. This implies that the PA was present in a Greek copy of John’s Gospel in the 200s (or was it the 300s? It wasn't clear to me which century Wasserman meant; Houghton seems to put the origin of the Old Latin capitula in the 200s); nevertheless Wasserman argued that this only implies that the PA is an early interpolation rather than a late interpolation.
What, then, should be done with the PA? Wasserman proposed that instead of rejecting the PA, the church should consider enlarging its effective canon, imitating the churches in
Ethiopia. Jude, he noted, used the Book of Enoch, even
though it was not written by Enoch, so why shouldn’t Christians feel free to
use the PA even though it was not part of the original text of the Gospel of
John? If we do not want to criticize
Jude for using the Book of Enoch, then doesn’t the same principle preclude the
criticism of those who use the PA?
Wasserman’s list of passages which display editorial activity cuts both ways: while one could argue that it shows that scribes tended not to remove large portions of text, it also shows that scribes tended not to add large portions of text. So, while the excision of the PA would be a special case, its insertion would be a special case too. If Wasserman has shown anything via this comparison, it is only that the PA is a special case, a point which is granted by all sides.
Also, Wasserman’s list of proposed editorial expansions seems problematic in two ways.
First, it included some very isolated readings. For example, Justin’s “fire in the Jordan,” the Sinaitic Syriac’s “Woe unto us” insertion, Codex D’s Man-on-the-Sabbath episode at Luke 6:4, its extra saying after Matthew 20:28, and its comment about the size of the stone in Luke 23:53, and Codex W’s Freer Logion, all have extremely limited support among Greek manuscripts. (One could add to this list the expansion in Luke 11:2.) The reception of those readings is so limited that they are not really analogous to the reception of the PA; rather, they are contrary to it: the very limited attestation of these expansions shows the opposite of what Wasserman proposed; that is, they show that editorial expansions that spread much beyond their origination-point tended to be rejected. That’s why their Greek manuscript support is teensy-tiny.
Second, it included some passages which may have been editorially omitted rather than added. If the rejection of Luke
9:54-56 (regarding which Burgon mentioned the
possibility of loss due to lectionary-influence), and the rejection of Luke
22:43-44, and the rejection of Luke 23:34 (regarding which see Nathan Eubank’s
2010 JBL article) are necessary for
Wasserman’s case, then his case is precarious.
Dr. Wasserman does not recommend that the church should stop using the story of the adulteress, but I strongly suspect that his line of reasoning will bounce off those who both reject the PA and subscribe to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. That is, if one maintains that (a) the church regards Scripture as authoritative because it regards Scripture as inspired, and (b) the text that the church recognizes as inspired is the original text, not a form of the text that includes material of scribal origin, then it follows that if the PA is regarded as material of scribal origin, then it will not be regarded as authoritative Scripture. Jude’s use of Enoch will be placed alongside Paul’s use of the writings of Epimenides as a quotation made to illustrate a point, not to endorse its source.
It was remarkable to hear, from a presenter who had already stated his view that the PA is an interpolation, the review of a substantial amount of external evidence in favor of the early date of the passage. The evidence presented by Wasserman practically requires the existence of a manuscript of John with the PA in the early 200s, contemporary with P66 (the earliest Greek manuscript that does not include the PA). As Keith (I think) quipped at one point during the conference, we don’t see the fire – i.e., the manuscripts have not survived – but we see a lot of smoke – i.e., we see evidence that there were Greek manuscripts in the 200s that included the PA.