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Category: New Testament (page 1 of 2)

Don’t Assume Commentaries are Right

This is a reminder of caution when reading a commentary. We can’t simply assume they are correct because they have Commentary in the title.

I just got a hold of Teach the Text Commentary Series: Mark. Regarding « Mark i.17 » (Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people.”), the commentary reads

The disciples are professional fishermen, and Jesus uses a brilliant metaphor to describe their new careers. In their profession they kill fish, but now they will bring life to people. In the Old Testament the fishing metaphor is used for coming judgment (Jer. 16:14–16; Ezek. 29:4–5), but Jesus reverses the imagery: netting people for salvation.

While I appreciate how the commentator points out the judgment language associated to fishing, I am lost as to how he could immediately (in true Mark form) switch to a place where he says, “but Jesus reverses the imagery.”

Where did he reverse the imagery? When speaking with the soon to be disciples, he never mentioned netting people for salvation. He never mentioned salvation at all.

This passage is often romanticized and expounded on as a great missionary call, speaking of fishing for men as going out into the world to save sinners. But, as the commentator admitted, “the fishing metaphor is used for coming judgment.” There is simply no explanation given by this author showing the shift from judgment to salvation. If Jesus is reversing the imagery, ought there not be some evidence of that? Or is the commentator bringing those ideas in from somewhere else, ultimately forcing the text to say something?

I’m thinking most commentaries do not mention the judgment language and imagery. Even resources like Wuest don’t mention it: “The addition of the words ‘to become,’ indicates a long, slow process in making them soul winners.” (Wuest, Word Studies, Vol. I, pg. 29) I’m not saying a commentator isn’t free to present their own conclusions, e.g. in this case, that Jesus is calling for disciples to start a ministry to save souls. I’m trying to emphasize the idea that a commentator, like a Bible teacher or preacher, needs to have a higher standard when teaching the text. What this author did shouldn’t be considered good enough. If he believes Jesus is talking about soul winning and salvation, and that Jesus is reversing imagery, than present the case because it’s simply not in the text.

Instances like this remind me to stay a bit cautious when reading a commentary. It’s good to remember that an author of a commentary still has his or her own agenda, vision, theology, etc. being poured into their work. They have traditions and blinders like anyone else. The fact that it’s published does not mean everything published is fact.

Three named martyrs in Apocalypse i-ii

Exile of John on Patmos, Topper

There are three different and different kinds of martyrs named in the first two chapters of John’s Apocalypse. There’s Jesus in i.5, John the author in i.9, and Antipas in ii.13.

Jesus was called “the faithful martyr,” and was considered the prototypical martyr, the exemplar for his followers. He bore witness to the Truth and The Way, and called for his disciples to take up their cross and follow him.

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Conference on the Adulterous Woman passage in John


Fascinating. On Saturday (4/26/2014), at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, there was a Pericope Adulterae conference. I missed it but am glad there was some live blogging and summaries put together. The blogging of Jacob Cerone was helpful.

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Why was John on Patmos?


That John, the same Apostle who wrote the Gospel and three letters, was the same John exiled on Patmos and wrote Revelations was something I always knew and was always taught. At least as far back as I can remember learning or reading about such things. Over time, as I grew and read and studied further, what I knew changed. The first heresy I repented of was calling the little book Revelations; it’s either Revelation or the dark and ominous (and preferred) title, Apocalypse. I pray we can all repent of the silly s. Moving along, I also came to understand the three Johns didn’t necessarily have to be the same person. Doesn’t mean they are definitively not; just that tradition has historically decided who we believe authored those texts. Tradition can be just as wrong as it can be right.

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He holds the keys of death


Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive – forever and ever – and I hold the keys of death and of Hades! (Rev. i.17b-18)

Before this, John spent considerable time lofting up the authority of Jesus with magnificent titles, contrasting him with and placing him as a superior authority above that of the Roman Emperor. And while the Emperors died and remained dead, despite their claims of deity, Jesus died and is alive, forever and ever.

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The blood of God’s people


Now when the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been violently killed because of the word of God and because of the testimony they had given. They cried out with a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Master, holy and true, before you judge those who live on the earth and avenge our blood?” Each of them was given a long white robe and they were told to rest for a little longer, until the full number was reached of both their fellow servants and their brothers who were going to be killed just as they had been. (Rev. vi.9-11)

From the sixth century commentary by Oecumenius,

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Jesus Christ, the Faithful Martyr


και απο Ιησου Χριστου, ο μαρτυς ο πιστος ο πρωτοτοκος των νεκρων και ο αρχων των βασιλεων της γης

. . . and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the Earth. (Rev. i.5a)

Whether The Apocalypse (a.k.a. Revelation . . . without the ever popular but still incorrect s added at the end) was written before AD 70 or closer to the end of the first century, by the time John was exiled on Patmos and wrote what he was told to write, the word μαρτυς had “already been loaded with the new meaning of one who witnesses” to the truth of Jesus Christ and the Gospel, and pays for that with his blood.1 Now, that’s not to say in every case the word is found we need to interpret the use as if there was bloodshed; context always determines the meaning of a word.

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I have to do something!

Luke 17:11-19 NET
Now on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten men with leprosy met him. They stood at a distance, raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them he said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went along, they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He fell with his face to the ground at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. (Now he was a Samaritan.) Then Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to turn back and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to the man, “Get up and go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

I felt prompted to write this post because these thoughts have been weighing greatly on my heart and mind of late. I have found myself struggling to put my finger on what living my life daily as one who follows Jesus and his teachings should look like from an outward glance and also from inward inspection. There have been a few things that started this introspection. One huge one is Life. Daily living, people I interact with, things I read or overhear, products I use, things I see in passing. Life.

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A blessed reminder, from Luke vi

And he came down with them and stood on a level place, and a large crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all of Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast district of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases, and those who were troubled by unclean spirits were cured. And the whole crowd was seeking to touch him, because power was going out from him and healing them all.

And he lifted up his eyes to his disciples and said,

Blessed are the poor,
because yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are those who are hungry now,
because you will be satisfied.
Blessed are those who weep now,
because you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.
For their fathers used to do the same things to the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich,
because you have received your comfort.
Woe to you who are satisfied now,
because you will be hungry.
Woe, you who laugh now,
because you will mourn and weep.
Woe whenever all people speak well of you,
for their fathers used to do the same things to the false prophets.

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from the one who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic also. Give to everyone who asks you, and from the one who takes away your things, do not ask for them back. And just as you want people to do to you do the same to them.

And if you love those who love you, what kind of credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good to those who do good to you, what kind of credit is that to you? Even the sinners do the same! And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive back, what kind of credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may get back an equal amount! But love your enemies, and do good, and lend expecting back nothing, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful!

– Jesus (recorded in Luke vi.17-36)

Thank you, Jesus,
our great God come in the flesh,
taking on the humanity you gave me,
and making clear through your words and deeds,
through your commands and example,
what I am to do and say as your disciple.

May I love my enemies as you commanded.

May I take your words seriously as you desired.

May I bear the Good News today as you expected.

May I sacrifice my life for even the worst of terrorists as you did.


Walking through The Apocalypse, i.4-6

John's Revelation

Ἰωάννης ταῖς ἑπτὰ ἐκκλησίαις ταῖς ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ· χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος, καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν ἑπτὰ πνευμάτων ἃ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἀπὸ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὁ μάρτυς ὁ πιστός, ὁ πρωτότοκος τῶν νεκρῶν καὶ ὁ ἄρχων τῶν βασιλέων τῆς γῆς.

Τῷ ἀγαπῶντι ἡμᾶς καὶ λύσαντι ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν ἐν τῷ αἵματι αὐτοῦ—καὶ ἐποίησεν ἡμᾶς βασιλείαν, ἱερεῖς τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ— αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων ἀμήν.

From John, to the seven churches that are in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from he who is, and who was, and who is still to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ – the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the earth.

To the one who loves us and has set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father – to him be the glory and the power for ever and ever! Amen. (NET)

In these few sentences alone are some powerful declarations that I think we might miss if we reading the text with a futuristic prophecy perspective. Remember the context during which John was writing these words: the Roman Empire is strong, powerful, authoritative. The Emperor has complete reign over the people within the conquered world. Christianity is still fairly young and being ravaged by persecution in various regions of the empire. If you read the text for what it is you find the anti-empire proclamations.

First, the one being called “he who is, and who was, and who is still to come” is God. Not the emperor, but God. Not Claudius. Not Nero. Not Galba, or Otho, or Vitellius, or Vespasian. Not Titus, the mighty destroyer of the Jerusalem temple, and especially not Domitian. God alone is, was, and is to come. And God sits on a throne, unmatched by man.

Second, Jesus is called “the ruler over the kings of the earth.” This is a radical statement that too often is under-emphasized (not just in this text, but throughout the Scriptures; not just in our reading, but in our daily lives, in our national context). Yet, this is what truly sets the tone for the rest of The Apocalypse. Jesus is the true ruler. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. Those of us who are his subjects (his disciples, his friends, his followers) must place our allegiance with him and no others. We cannot split our allegiance. Not that we must not, but that we are unable to. We either serve the King of kings, or we serve one of the kings of the earth.

Jesus is called ὁ πρωτότοκος τῶν νεκρῶν, “the firstborn from among the dead.” If you think back to the letter to the Colossians, and the contrast made between Jesus and the Emperor (Col. i.15-20), Paul there also called Jesus πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, “the firstborn from among the dead.” He is the one to worship, who brings life to the dead, who rules even over death. The Emperor doesn’t even come close.

Third is the most obvious, radical, rebellious statement: Jesus “has appointed us as a kingdom, serving his God and Father.” We are a kingdom. In the middle of this vast, powerful, authoritative, Roman Empire, Jesus has appointed his disciples “as a kingdom.” We are a kingdom here on this earth amid the many earthly kingdoms, and we have Jesus as our King. We are what Jesus wants to do on the earth. We must be obedient in our service.

All of the imperial language is intentional. Worshipping Jesus–placing your allegiance in Jesus–puts your life in contrast with the kingdoms of the earth, with the Empire. And this is a great encouragement. Why? Because you have the King of kings, Lord of lords, ruler over the kings of the earth, master over death, and the one seated on the throne over all creation, on your side.

Do not get sidetracked by phrases like “kingdoms of the earth.” The US is an empire as much as Rome was. It looks a bit different, but the ideology and activities aren’t that different at all. Just because we do not technically have a king or royalty doesn’t mean we do not have a kingdom of the earth. So when you’re considering how to apply this text today, keep in mind the context and that the world truly hasn’t changed all that much. Empire is Empire.

Watching for Ehrman and his bias

Darrell Bock recently discussed his use of Bart Ehrman’s The New Testament: An Historical Introduction for this course for his classes. The focus was on the clear bias of Ehrman, and, as I want to bring out, how we need to be very careful and purposeful when reading the man’s works. He has contributed some challenging (and ultimately helpful) texts, but if you’re not well grounded in Christian history, and the history of the canon and its manuscripts, then you could very well fall into Ehrman’s very obvious and meticulous traps.

Bock wrote,

For example, in treating the authorship of the gospels (all of them), he does not address any of the external evidence for authorship that comes from sources like Eusebius or Irenaeus or any of the canonical church lists. This is historical evidence and ignoring it prejudices his volume’s work, cutting out one of the two key factors one has to address in treating authorship, namely external evidence for a work’s authorship. Vincent Taylor and C. E. B. Cranfield regarded such evidence as decisive in treating this question in terms of Mark’s gospel.

Bart Ehrman hasn’t kept his prejudices out of his work; the popular Misquoting Jesus is a prime example, where they are subtle enough to entrap the unsuspecting and more gullible. But, they are masked within a lot of good information, accurate history, and so forth. Too bad it’s nowhere near comprehensive history, and stays away from balance and a fair presentation of various arguments.

Ehrman has a very strong anti-Christian, anti-God bias that he premises all of his works with. That becomes very clear, as Darrell Bock pointed out, with what Ehrman does not talk about. Especially when discussing the history of New Testament documents. Keep watch. Don’t necessarily not read Bart Ehrman. But, if and when you do, remember to keep watch.

Public Service Announcement for the day.

Walking through The Apocalypse, i.1-3

αποκαλυψις ιησου χριστου ην εδωκεν αυτω ο θεος δειξαι τοις δουλοις αυτου α δει γενεσθαι εν ταχει, και εσημανεν αποστειλας δια του αγγελου αυτου τω δουλω αυτου ιωαννη, ος εμαρτυρησεν τον λογον του θεου και την μαρτυριαν ιησου χριστου οσα ειδεν. μακαριος ο αναγινωσκων και οι ακουοντες τους λογους της προφητειας και τηρουντες τα εν αυτη γεγραμμενα, ο γαρ καιρος εγγυς.

This is the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His true worshippers what must happen soon. And He revealed it by sending a special messenger to His servant John, who gave a witness to what he saw concerning the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

The one who reads out the words of this prophecy, and those who listen and pay attention to what is written in it, are blessed because the time for their fulfillment is incredibly near.

The portion here that got me thinking and meditating more than any other element was the end: “ο γαρ καιρος εγγυς,” which I translated here “because the time for their fulfillment is incredibly near.” I guess a wooden literal translation looks more like

the (ο) for (γαρ) time (καιρος) near (εγγυς)

But simply saying “the time is near” is too ambiguous and non-committal for me. The time of what? When exactly is near? The καιρος, or time, refers to the fulfillment of the words of the prophecy, the message or revealing of “what must happen soon.”

I see the time, the nearness (εγγυς), as clearly imminent. If you look into the meaning and use of the term εγγυς (pronounced engous if you’re interested in sounding it out) throughout the New Testament, εγγυς itself testifies to either some thing or place extremely close in proximity, or, when talking about time, about some event occurring imminently; or, relatively speaking, closer to a matter of days than to millennia. While εγγυς is indefinite, as in not giving you a specific number of days or weeks, there is no question we are supposed to expect the fulfillment of the nearness, of the εγγυς, happening very, very soon. And “soon” did not mean 2,000 or so years later.

Translating Didache, i.2

Η μεν ουν οδος της ζωης εστιν αυτη· πρωτον, αγαπησεις τον θεον τον ποιησαντα σε· δευτερον, τον πλησιον σου ως σεαυτον· παντα δε οσα εαν θελησης μη γινεσθαι σοι, και συ αλλω μη ποιει.

Now, this is the path of life:
First, you will love God, your creator;
Second, you will love your neighbor just as you love yourself;
And, do not do to others whatever it is that you do not wish happening to you.

This short passage was a little tricky at first; I can tell I’m getting a little rusty in certain areas. That’s why it’s so important to keep your Greek up; a little bit everyday helps a lot.

τον πλησιον σου ως σεαυτον (trans. “your neighbor as yourself”) is a straight copy of either Mat. xxii.39, Mk. xii.31, or Lk. x.27. I would like to think Mark, but it’s more likely something recited so often by the time the Didache was written that the author(s) simply went from memory.

A salutation fit for the ekklesia of Rome

παυλος δουλος ιησου χριστου κλητος αποστολος αφωρισμενος εις ευαγγελιον θεου ο προεπηγγειλατο δια των προφητων αυτου εν γραφαις αγιαις περι του υιου αυτου του γενομενου εκ σπερματος δαυιδ κατα σαρκα του ορισθεντος υιου θεου εν δυναμει κατα πνευμα αγιωσυνης εξ αναστασεως νεκρων ιησου χριστου του κυριου ημων δι ου ελαβομεν χαριν και αποστολην εις υπακοην πιστεως εν πασιν τοις εθνεσιν υπερ του ονοματος αυτου εν οις εστε και υμεις κλητοι ιησου χριστου πασιν τοις ουσιν εν ρωμη αγαπητοις θεου κλητοις αγιοις χαρις υμιν και ειρηνη απο θεου πατρος ημων και κυριου ιησου χριστου (Rom. i.1-7)

Paul’s salutation is formidable. Some would call it long. While reading that passage this morning, immediately my mind went to the prologue of Brother Andrew and Al Janssen’s Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ. There, Brother Andrew recalled a correspondense he had with a Muslim political leader. He began the letter to the Muslim “Dear Sir.” In his response, the Muslim wrote, “Dear Brother Andrew. In the name of Allah, the compassionate and the merciful.”

Brother Andrew struggled with the response. Not in the idea of who Allah was, but with the unashamed proclamation of what, to the Muslim, surpassed the importance of anything else he could have said. For Brother Andrew, he felt the need to do likewise in his own response. When the time came, he wrote this:

“Dear _[name left blank]_. In the Name of the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”

We need to be conscious about opportunities we have to present the triune God to those around us. Sometimes we’ll miss them, but we should take those as chances to grow and adjust our perspective. Most of the time our witness of the triune God is nonverbal. But when we do speak, when we write, do we consider that our words—all words—have meaning and significance? And what we don’t say or fail to say may be just as important as what we do say.

Some thoughts this Thursday evening.

Trekking through Misquoting Jesus

I have been reading through Philip Jenkins’ The Lost History of Christianity. It’s been a mostly enjoyable read, minus a couple minor issues I have with it so far. I believe I’ve reached the meat of the book, starting the explanation behind the dramatic demise of Christianity in the East and Africa. But, our library got in Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus and Jesus Interrupted. I have a feeling those will be requested soon, barring me from extending the checkout, so I decided to pause my Jenkins read and tear through Ehrman’s books first.

I’ve listened to Ehrman in debates and interviews, but have not read any of his works yet: academic, popular (e.g. these two books would fall under that classification) or otherwise. I am familiar with what his conclusions are, but wanted to wrestle through his evidence and argumentation. From what I have listened to, I agree with many of his points, and think he makes a lot of valid, challenging observations.

So far in Misquoting Jesus (I’m just shy of starting chapter 2) Ehrman has given a sensible summary of the early development of the canon and of the Church using written works as authoritative. Much of it I said myself in the Church History class I led last year. But there are some areas I’ve found that sort of bring out the idea that he might be keeping some (possibly) important information from the readers—at least in my mind.

For example, on page 23, first full paragraph, Ehrman talked a little about people writing epistles using the name of an Apostle. In the example, Colossians is “allegedly pseudonymous.” And in Colossians, the author wrote about “the letter written to Laodicea” (Col. iv.16). Ehrman concluded

Evidently Paul—either himself, or someone writing in his name—wrote a letter to the nearby town of Laodicea. This letter too has been lost.

He included a footnote at the end of that passage. The footnote (#6, found on page 220) talked about a couple of forged letters that showed up later on that tried to hold the stature of this lost epistle. What I did was note this case down in the back of my mind. And, yes, here on this blog. What has been bugging me about it is where is the discussion about the letter known as Ephesians possibly (likely?) being that letter to Laodicea? Why is that omitted entirely from the footnote? Why was he limiting the information given to his audience of mostly non-students of textual criticism? Why were we left with the idea of only two options: the letter from the mighty apostle Paul, Scripture as much as his other epistles, either should have been preserved or was totally lost?

He was trying to build his particular case. To Ehrman, there is a big problem with the reliability of the Bible. The matter goes beyond infallibility and inerrancy; we’re talking whether or not anyone can trust anything written in the Scriptures. So it seems to me he has a plan to limit the evidence and argumentation to the information that will swiftly promote (even in subtle ways) his case. I think this particular example was subtle. He could have very easily added another line to the footnote that mentioned the other various possibilities for the epistle to Laodicea.

Then I came to this little passage:

In any event, Jesus’s teachings were soon seen to be as authoritative as the pronouncements of Moses—that is, those of the Torah itself. This becomes even more clear later in the New Testament period, in the book of 1 Timothy, allegedly by Paul but frequently taken by scholars to have been written in his name by a later follower. In 1 Tim. 5:18 the author is urging his readers to pay those who minister among them, and supports his exhortation by quoting “the scripture.” . . .

. . . Evidence comes in the final book that most critical scholars believe was not actually written by Peter but by one of his followers, pseudonymously. (pg. 31, emphasis mine)

Key into what I have italicized: scholars and most critical scholars. That is all well and good. It’s good to bring in the support of scholars not yourself. The problem is he never mentioned even one of the scholars or one source where we might look into that. Ehrman left no footnote anywhere near these passages. Why not mention a couple, especially when you are talking about “most” of them? Would not a reader take a little extra interest in checking out that information on 2 Peter or 1 Timothy? The term “scholar” is as subjective these days as are “good” or “essential.” Alone this is a minor issue. But add it to the last one, and some other parts of the story not being told, and you start to see a trend.

Now, I know full well there is a major underlying problem, and Ehrman is playing off of that problem perfectly. I’m talking about the enormous amount of ignorance and apathy from a great many in the Church when it comes to the Bible. I don’t mean people not reading their Bibles and/or not understanding it. I don’t mean they don’t pay attention to their pastors and Sunday School teachers. I mean there is no education ongoing about the history of the Bible, the story behind the Scriptures. I posed a course on the history of the Bible as a possible Sunday School class at our church come the winter and that idea was shunned. When I covered the topic of how the Bible developed in the Church History course, I did not have the time to handle the subject. The Sunday morning services have not (and will not) cover these issues. I’ve encountered the same sort of experience in the various churches I’ve been a part of during my (relatively short) time. And I am well aware of others—friends or folks I’ve read from or listened to who’ve happened to touch on this lack of instruction (e.g. a recent interview with Daniel Wallace)—who have experienced the same thing.

Getting back to Bart Ehrman’s book, I have found a lot of good points in there. The discussion of the canon, Marcion, Irenaeus, and Athanasius, for instance (pp. 33-36), was a simple and astute summary. Surely he left out more of the story, but he’s not wrong.

The book is an easy read, and I’m able to move along fairly quickly. And that’s in spite of my notoriously slow reading. Takes me way too long to read a stinkin’ book. Anyway, I look forward to getting into his discussion of the scribes and the specific problem areas he comes up with. Of course, all of this leading perfectly into his latest, Jesus Interrupted.

Casting away the woman caught in adultery

There was a woman caught in the act of adultery. The scribes and Pharisees brought her to Jesus and asked him what should be done. Jesus, after pausing to write something on the ground with his finger, replied, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”

He then said to the woman, “Go, and sin no more.”


Astounding. Subversive. Wise. Unbiblical.

Wait. What? Unbiblical?

Well, yeah.

That story as we find it in John’s Good News account probably didn’t happen at all. Maybe a piece of it did. Possibly. There’s always a chance.

We really should just cast it away. I certainly would not mind. It’s really just in the way.

(Keep in mind, none of this is new information. No esoteric revelations here. This has been known for quite a long time. I’m simply packaging the information here in order to lay the foundation for some questions on the Scriptures, in particular to those who maybe haven’t explored these avenues of New Testament studies. And if you are a believer in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, I hope you’ll pay keen attention and take a little challenge.)

The story of the woman caught in adultery, known as the Pericope Adulterae, was not a part of John’s gospel initially. We know at least that much. Here are some points to consider:

  1. The earliest manuscripts, which include two very important papyri in P66 and P75, do not include the story. The first manuscript to have the passage shows up in the Fifth or Sixth Century.
  2. When the story is included in later manuscripts, the placement is inconsistent. Some have the story where we generally find it, after vii.52. Others have it at the end of John’s gospel entirely. Still others have it in Luke’s gospel, after xxi.38.
  3. References in the Early Fathers to a story (sometimes referencing the Gospel) about a woman who had sinned and Jesus saying something along the lines of “Go, for neither do I condemn you.” vary widely. Some say she confessed herself, others have her not being condemned by the leaders, others leave out the whole “Let him without sin…” statement, and so forth.
  4. The passage (Jo. vii.53-viii.11) disrupts the flow of the narrative. If you start reading back at, say, vii.1, and read through viii.30, but skip over the adultery passage starting at vii.53, you understand a little better what Jesus says. Not only that, but you get a more accurate portrayal of what Jesus said. (At least, that’s my conclusion, though I’m essentially agreeing with others far more accredited than me.)

[At best the passage is a compilation of several apocryphal stories circulating in the early centuries. That’s not unheard of.]1 At some point a scribe inserted a version of the story into a later manuscript (maybe in the margin, maybe into a gap he saw). But the story does not belong there. The story never did.

I believe the footnote for this passage in the New English Translation makes the point far better than I ever could:

This entire section, 7:53-8:11, traditionally known as the pericope adulterae, is not contained in the earliest and best mss and was almost certainly not an original part of the Gospel of John. Among modern commentators and textual critics, it is a foregone conclusion that the section is not original but represents a later addition to the text of the Gospel. B. M. Metzger summarizes: “the evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming” (TCGNT 187).2

The passage is not Scripture. But that conclusion is not the point of this post. The fact is most readers of the Bible knew that already; or at least they’ve had that information at their fingertips. I have not come across a New Testament translation that does not have this passage bracketed or at least contain a notation of some kind. The footnotes usually include the point that the earliest (or some) manuscripts do not contain the passage.

But before I get to the heart of it, I think we need to talk briefly about why the passage shows up in our Bibles. Daniel Wallace, professor of NT studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and all around New Testament Greek and manuscript history freak, said that

modern translations’ inclusion of the famous narrative . . . [was] the result of “a tradition of timidity.”3

I recently heard Peter Williams, in a debate with Bart Ehrman wherein they discussed this passage briefly, rightly point out the spurious story was not going to be excluded from modern translations because publishers would sell less Bibles.4 Both Wallace and Williams (as well as Ehrman, I should add) are spot on.

While the strongest and earliest manuscripts do not contain the passage, the Textus Receptus (TR) does. The TR, put together in the early Sixteenth Century, is the basis for the King James Version. Because of the relationship the TR has with the KJV, the TR tends to be the exemplar for what’s known as the Majority Text. As the name indicates, the Majority Text refers to how the Greek text looks in the majority of the manuscripts we have discovered so far. The story exists in this manuscript group.

Anyone holding strictly to the Majority Text (whether that’s specifically the Textus Receptus or not) or even to one of the Majority Text translations (which you find in the King James Only community) have serious textual critical problems to deal with. As I do not have the space and time on this post to discuss the issues, I would welcome you to read a quality article. Wallace wrote a piece that’s on The Majority Text and the Original Text: Are They Identical? In essence, Majority Text’ers do not have much of a leg to stand on when declaring the Majority Text is better than looking critically into all the manuscript evidence and seeing the significance of the earlier manuscripts. Back to the NET footnote on this passage:

. . . Therefore the [external] evidence could be summarized by saying that almost all early mss of the Alexandrian texttype omit the pericope, while most mss of the Western and Byzantine texttype include it. But it must be remembered that “Western mss” here refers only to D, a single witness (as far as Greek mss are concerned). Thus it can be seen that practically all of the earliest and best mss extant omit the pericope; it is found only in mss of secondary importance.5

For the sake of clarity, I am not saying we should only be looking at the earliest manuscripts as opposed to using only the majority text, or what the majority of the manuscripts display. I would be in danger if I were to stand firmly on either side. We must use all available resources and be critical of the text, no matter what section we might be focused on at that time. My second year Greek professor years back, Dr. Coombs, used the majority text predominantly, and almost exclusively in our class; I still used the UBS almost exclusively in the class so I could catch the differences (Greek is an oral language, very nice). Dr. Coombs, wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on a comparison between the critical and majority texts (ended up being two volumes). He was very influential in my grasping so early the importance of looking at the full body of evidence.

KJV onlyists tend to be intolerant about this sort of thing, and raise a lot of objections with the differences. I have a KJV on my bookshelf; who doesn’t. The footnote there says

Although Jn. 7:53-8:11 is not found in some ancient manuscripts, the immediate context, beginning with Christ’s declaration, “I am the light of the world,” (8:12) seems clearly to have its occassion in the conviction wrought in the hearts of the Pharisees as recorded in 8:9, and also helps to explain the Pharisees’ words in 8:41. It is therefore to be considered a genuine part of the Gospel. (emphasis mine)

The footnote did not indicate what those “some ancient manuscripts” are and their immense historical significance. The note seemingly ignores the historical record, emphasizing the bias of the interpretation over and against the evidence. The note did not mention how the story as found in the Textus Receptus did not show up in the manuscript records until relatively late in history, as well as how much the story varies in different manuscripts.

Here’s a quick sidebar on footnotes. I truly wonder how many Bible readers check the footnotes. Not comparing my text here to Scripture, but did you happen to check out footnote 1 above? I placed a sentence in brackets and gave it a notation. If you had read the notation (which, I guess, you can still do when you’re done with the article) you would have learned a little tid-bitty about me. While I can’t track it, I’m wondering how many folks saw the brackets and the footnote and scrolled down to see what that was about.

And here’s where we get to the heart of this post. After going through the probably very disjointed discussion above, here’s why I believe it matters so much whether or not we continue to include this passage in our Bibles, and especially have this passage taught from the pulpits or Sunday School classes. From a Christianity Today article in 2008:

Wallace said pastors have a responsibility to communicate the truth of this text to their congregations. “We need to be as thoroughly biblical as we can be … [There] is a huge amount of ignorance that we’re catering to in the Christian public.

“A person hearing these words should recognize that they have no authority as authentic words of Jesus,” he said. Christians who are reading the story, he said, should give it the same authority as any other unsubstantiated early Christian teaching about Jesus.6

The words of the Pericope “have no authority as authentic words of Jesus.” The average church attender, the average Christian listening to their preacher, has (at minimum) the subconscious expectation that the words presented in our Bibles are the inspired words of our Lord, and the messages brought forth from the pulpits using our Bibles are conveying the inspired words of God.

My hope is that future publications of the Bible exclude the text and leave a footnote, instead of the other way around. A perfect example is what the NET, NIV, NLT, and others have done with Jo. v.3-4: omit the text entirely. The KJV and NKJV still display the text. Problem is, like the Pericope Adulterae, this is a later addition. Looking at and comparing the textual apparatus for Jo. v.34 and Jo. vii.53-viii.11, it looks quite likely that there is more support for omitting the Pericope than the disturbed water verse. Another great example is the famous (or, rather, infamous) trinity clause in 1 Jo. v.7. That is another later addition that is omitted from virtually all translations except the KJV. We can and should do the same for this very famous story of a woman caught in adultery and loved on by Jesus, admittedly a favorite of so many devout followers of Christ. Omit the verses, leave a footnote, and educate the readers. Educate the congregation on the Scriptures.

Let’s say I was in Tanzania, a member of a team translating John’s Gospel into Bende. The translation team is supposed to be creating a text of the Gospel to give to the Bende people so they can have at least part of the Word of God. But even if they only have part, that part is supposed to be the Word of God. From what the translation team has told the people, from what other missionaries who have interacted with the people have stressed: the Bible is the Word of God. How can we then give them the Word of God when a part of it is most certainly not? How can we expect them to accept all the words contained in this Gospel as inspired by God when we don’t believe that ourselves? Nix the can: How dare we? (The we there would be translators and publishers, not necessarily everyone.)

I can think of a few reasons why someone might say the passage should stay in the text.

  1. They believe the passage is authentic, original to John, and inspired. If that is the case, then I’d love to see a presentation of the evidence and the argument.
  2. They believe the passage is authentic, the story is real, but not necessarily a part of the original text. This would fall more in the realm of oral tradition that told a true story but was simply not written down. Later on someone decided to write it down and include the passage within a Gospel. I would be fine with this point except (a) there would need to be a successful argument for the genuine story that is supposed to be included, and (b) I’m not so sure folks who embrace the doctrines of inerrancy and infallibility would be so open to that idea.
  3. They believe the passage is not authentic but contains valuable teachings and wisdom. I can understand that, but if it’s not Scripture then it’s not Scripture, right? There are wonderful jewels found in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Alexandria, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, and many other much larger texts. Why not include those in the Bible?
  4. They believe the passage is not authentic, and not Scripture, but should remain in the text for the historical, educational value gained by discussing the textual criticism involved. This would be great but is far too idealistic. The expectation would be that preachers and teachers would give a thorough explanation of what is going on with the text here, of the history involved. I’m not seeing it happen on a large scale.

While I’d rather the passage disappear from the main body of the text, #4 above may be the most viable option in the meantime. I believe #2 would be great if someone could surmise and construct the genuine story and supply the support for why the Pericope most likely happened during the ministry of Jesus. I believe both can be done.

Philip Comfort, however, can’t seem to comfort me with his downtrodden, pessimistic conclusion.

Having said all this, it is very disappointing to realize that most English readers of the NT will see none of the connections [between the text before Jo. vii.53 and after viii.11] because the pericope of the adulteress is still printed in the text between John 7:52 and 8:12. True, the passage has been bracketed, or marked off with single lines . . . or set in italics. But there it stands—an obstacle to reading the true narrative of John’s Gospel. Even worse, its presence in the text misrepresents the testimony of the earliest MSS, especially the papyri.7

In summary, I believe the story of the woman caught in adultery is most definitely not original to John’s Gospel. Whether the story actually happened or not is up for discussion and examination, and hopefully soon someone or some team can come up with a viable solution. Given that, I believe our modern translations from this point should omit the passage and insert a notation, just like other spurious passages, for example Jo. v.3-4 and (dare I say it) the ending of Mark. (Psst. I believe the shorter text, ending when the women run afraid from the tomb, is the real ending.) The inclusion of the passage in the main body of the text does more harm than good at the moment.

1 This info is not in any way related to the sentence associated with the note. I was born on the gorgeous island of Puerto Rico. Though not a US state, the country is an American territory. And get this: I do not need a green card to be here. Sadly there are government employees who don’t understand that. That is all. Carry on.
2 If you’re interested in looking into the NET footnote further many more details involved in the debate on the passage), here’s the direct link.
3 Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, “Is ‘Let Him Who Is Without Sin Cast the First Stone’ Biblical?” Christianity Today, 4/23/2008 web only: link here.
4 Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley, 1/3/2009: “Misquoting Jesus: Do we have the original writings of the New Testament?” Link here is to the actual broadcast. Click only if you’re ready to listen.
5 Here’s the direct link.
6 Zylstra, “Let Him Who is Without Sin…” Christianity Today: link here.
7 Philip Wesley Comfort, Early Manuscripts & Modern Translations of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990), 116.
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