Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Textual Criticism Placed on the Front-Burner: Dr. Jim Hamilton on John 7:53-8:11

Textual critical issues in biblical studies issues are difficult because they involve tracing ancient manuscript evidence. Textual critical issues in biblical studies can also be scary, because (wrongly understood) they can lead Christians to doubt the accuracy of Scripture. I am thankful that Dr. Jim Hamilton has recently displayed appropriate holy boldness in tackling the difficult, potentially scary issue of whether John 7:53-8:11 should be included in our translations as part of the biblical text or whether it should be placed as a footnote. Dr. Hamilton concludes-based on the manuscript evidence, the flow of the thought-development in John's Gospel as a whole, the difference of language in this section, and the plot structure of John 7-8-that John 7:53-8:11 should be relegated to a footnote.

Dr. Hamilton shows that he is not alone in his conclusion: the ESV and other current translations bracket or otherwise indicate the dubious nature of the text, and Bruce Metzger notes, “No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declares that the accurate copies of the Gospel do not contain it."

Dr. Hamilton comments:
[A]t some point a scribe copied this passage into a manuscript of John’s Gospel, and then that got perpetuated. The fact that we have enough evidence to determine this to be the case should increase our confidence in the text of the New Testament. That there is a consensus on this point should make us more confident in the Scriptures not less.
[Read Dr. Hamilton's blog-post on this issue HERE.]

It is important to note that the places where scribal commentary has been placed within the biblical text over time are, in God's providence: 1) few; 2) easily identifiable; 3) NOT in contradiction to other portions of Scripture; 4) NOT crucial for any doctrine (the doctrines they represent are clearly taught elsewhere, in places that are demonstrably original).

Whether  John 7:53-8:11 (and the few similar passages) should be allowed in the text of biblical translations is important on an exegetical level because, if Dr. Hamilton is correct, then John 7:53-8:11 interrupts the intended flow of the Spirit-breathed text. In penning Scripture, the Spirit-led prophet/apostle is constructing an argument or painting a picture. The argument or picture becomes diluted (to mix metaphors) if extraneous material (even otherwise good extraneous material) is included.

Whether  John 7:53-8:11 (and the few similar passages) should be allowed in the text of biblical translations is important on a confessional level because, as The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy properly notes in Article 10a:
We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original. [emphasis added]
Whether  John 7:53-8:11 (and the few similar passages) should be allowed in the text of biblical translations is important on a practical level because if Christians rely on a legitimately questionable text in order to establish a doctrine, non-Christians can look at us and with good cause say, 'Well, that wasn't even originally in Scripture.' (I've actually had this happen to me before.) We must be ready and able to establish our beliefs on the sure foundation of God's Word.



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