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Lectionaries and the Adultery Story

The following e-mail is commenting on the items listed at Bible Versions Controversy. The e-mailers’ comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.

> Dear Gary:

The following is one of the most fascinating verses in the Old Testament, IMO:

(Jer 36:32 NKJV) Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah, who wrote on it at the instruction of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And besides, there were added to them many similar words.

In light of this passage, and being purely speculative, what if any significance does this have in relation to variations in ancient NT MSS? I think in Gordon Clark's excellent article on logic and textual criticism he mentions the (speculative) possibility that an inspired writer may have written more than one version of his gospel or epistle. Speculation is always dangerous, but it never seems to impede textual critics. Your opinion would be most appreciated.

God Bless,

Clark's comment about the possibility of more than one version of an autograph occurs in his article Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism. It was in reference to the Gospel of John. Specifically, it concerned the debate over the inclusion of the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11). He was speculating that maybe John issued two versions of his Gospel: the first without the passage and the second with it.

I just received a mailing from the Majority Text Society. It included an article by Maurice A. Robinson on this passage. The article has the rather lengthy title of "Preliminary Observations regarding the Pericope Adulterae based upon Fresh Collations of nearly all Continuous-Text Manuscripts and over One Hundred Lectionaries."

In the article, Robinson explains how he recently did a detailed study of the Greek manuscripts and lectionaries with and without the passage. He makes a good case that the omission of the passage is best explained by the lectionary practice of reading a passage of Scripture at certain times of the year.

It's a little hard to explain; but briefly the lectionary reading for Pentecost was John 7:37-52, then 8:12. The reason verse 8:12 was included was the reading didn't want to end on the "negative" note of verse 7:52 (They answered and said to him, "Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.").

Meanwhile, 7:53-8:11 would have been skipped as it was irrelevant for a Pentecost service. However, 8:3-11 was used in lectionaries for "forgiveness" services. But interestingly, nearly all lectionary MSS lack 7:53-8:2, but no manuscripts omits just those verses.

Now, the Pentecost lectionary dates to the second century. So it is possible that scribes, in copying John, omitted John 7:53-8:11 as it was considered "out of place" in light of the lectionary reading. But dozens of manuscripts which omit it at 7:52 include it at the beginning or end of John!

Moreover, there are "notations" on some manuscripts around 7:53-8:11. These have traditionally been interpreted as indicating the scribe considered the passage to be "doubtful." But Robinson makes the case that the marks actually indicate the passage was simply to be omitted for Pentecostal readings.

To sum, Robinson uses the lectionaries to demonstrate a plausible case for why the adultery story is omitted in some manuscripts, and in different places in others. But, or course, it is still included in the vast majority of the manuscripts. And three of the major manuscripts that omit it leave "empty space" after 7:52 that would be sufficient for adding it! This shows that even these scribes had at least one copy of a manuscript before them which included the passage.

So the "hard evidence" of the lectionaries and the manuscripts themselves strongly argues in favor of the passage being genuine. So there's no reason to "speculate" about a second edition of John.

>Great answer. Thanks a lot!


>I just noticed on your web site that you had summarized portions of the Lectionary paper I did for ETS (which was distributed by MTS)....<

Thank you very much for your e-mail. It is nice to hear from you. As you can see on my Web site, your (and Pierpont's) Greek text is the one I promote. I will also eventually be using your Greek text for my own translation. It is currently being based on the TR, but I will eventually convert it to your text.

> Among the continuous-text MSS, there is one (MS 047) which does lack 7:53-8:2 but contains 8:3-11; this too is certainly lectionary related.

Other anomalies which reflect lectionary practice are the following:

One MS (MS 900) includes 7:53, but omits 8:1-11.

Others include 7:53-8:2 but omit 8:3-11 (MSS 344 (x), 237 (xi), 754, 937, 1168, 2133, 2386, 2693 (xi), 105, 2757 (xii), 759, 2525, 2533 (xiii), 228, 889 (xiv)).

MSS 1298, 2804 (xiii) include 7:53-8:2, followed by 8:12 in the main text, with the PA at the end of Jn.

MSS 1458, 1663 (x), 2292 (xiii) have 7:53-8:2 as main text, followed by 8:12, but 8:3-11 supplied on a later leaf or in margin by corrector.

Maurice A. Robinson
Professor of NT and Greek
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina

Thanks for the info.

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

Note: All Scripture references from: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, unless otherwise indicated.

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