Thursday, January 24, 2008

What do we do with John 8?

I was looking over a book that came in yesterday, and ran across this quote:

Our present preoccupation with questions of historical accuracy and the restoration of the original manuscripts means we either deny this story [the woman caught in adultery] its place in the Gospel of John or treat it with marginal notes that state the earliest manuscripts did not include it. As a result, we have lost contact with the teaching of this story, which the early church found authoritative, wrestled with and finally recognized. As such the story of the woman caught in adultery illuminates how our methodological concerns may conflict with the teachings of the early church and the tradition that has been handed down to us.— Reading the Bible with Giants pages 73-74.

Interesting perspective, isn't it? Our preoccupation with the historico-critical method has cut us off from about 1700 years of the church's history...


Anonymous said...

I would be inclined to say that I am most interested in the text the original audience read rather than the one that the other 1700 years read.

R. Mansfield said...

A number of my peers will not touch this passage, even refusing to preach from it because they say it is unbiblical. But is it?

I think we could agree that's it's not written by John and has been "inserted" into it's current position in the fourth Gospel.

However, this is ultimately a canonical question. In spite of the fact that John didn't write it, the better question to ask is whether or not it is part of Canonical writings. Does non-Johanine authorship automatically disqualify it?

I find it interesting that in 1946 when the RSV was released, it was relegated to the footnotes. But a storm of protest broke out from the church at large. So by the early seventies when the RSV II was released, the passage was moved from the notes back to the text. To this day, no major translation has tried to remove the passage again.

So, what does this say? Does the church recognize this passage as canonical? The question of course also relates to the longer ending of Mark, although I would imagine that there is less enthusiasm for that particular passage.

And of course, what role does the church play in a book's canonicity? Does the church determine canon or recognize canon? I would suggest the latter, but many traditions would obviously disagree.

I'd like to see meetings with representatives from various Bible societies and translations committees discuss John 8 and the longer ending of Mark. Can any kind of consensus be reached?

jps said...


Do we have to choose one or the other? Why not use the historico-critical method and look at what church tradition has said? That way we can keep from being too introspective and short-sighted. I would not want to go back to the allegorical interpretation of scripture, but that doesn't mean I throw all their insights away.


Yes, it is interesting that the UBS 2 had John 8 at the end of the book of John. By UBS 3, they had moved it back into John 8, although in brackets. Metzger's comment was interesting: Almost certainly not Johannine, but almost as certainly authentic. I find that comment to be right on the mark!

As for the long ending of Mark, I have mixed feelings about it. I suspect it is not original, but it is quite ancient. I wouldn't want to hang any serious theology on it, but that is as far as I go.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you. I didn't mean that I'm not interested in John 8, but I simply not as interested in it.

I think the uproar with the RSV was less about canonicity, but about sentimentality. Would the very first fathers had accepted it as canonical? I think that's the bigger question.

I am willing to accept it as Canonical (I think), but I'm not comfortable with it being in its present location. I think it would be best that we recognize that John didn't write it by putting it at the end. We need to be more honest on that point for the lay people in the pews.

Anyway, on a more exciting note, I just purchased my first book from Eisenbrauns - it was a used book, but a book none the less.