(Today's post will be a little more technical. . . regarding biblical manuscripts. We won't go through this Sunday during the service due to the technical nature of things . . . so I offer an explanation here)
We are back in the book of John at GLC this weekend! We are going through the whole book, but recently took some time off to delve into some other topics. (you can find our recent sermons here)
At the end of John 7, through John 8:11; we find one of the most beloved stories of Jesus's ministry; ( Here's the text) "The Woman Caught in Adultery". Coming upon the woman under siege, Jesus declares, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone" and when all the religious rulers leave her, Jesus tells the woman, "Go and sin no more".
It's a great story of Jesus's gracious attitude towards those trapped in sin. The problem is, it almost certainly was not in John's original letter. None of the early manuscripts have it included. In your bible, you hopefully have a bracket or note around that section of text that relays that information. What should we do with this? Isn't the bible without error? How do we navigate this issue?
First off, we should say. . . .it is amazing that for all the manuscripts, translations, and time between the original writings and now. . . .there are only 2 sections of the New Testament like this. (the longer ending of Mark is the other). That is remarkable. We can be confident that we have the true bible due to the overwhelming textual evidence throughout the years that agree with one another and allow certainty on the original text. We can check manuscripts and translations against one another to make sure we have the proper wording. We can also look at the long tradition of biblical translation to help us. We're not playing "telephone" with the biblical text. We're going back to the very early manuscripts and reading them again.
So, what happened here? Most scholars agree that a scribe later in the 4th century or so added this oral tradition of Jesus to John's letter. If you read through John 7 and 8, . . . skipping to verse 12 of chapter 8 is a much smoother narrative from 7:52 than reading this episode first. Also, the Greek grammar is very different than the surrounding areas in the story of the woman caught in adultery.
The difference between this episode and other, false, gospels like The Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Peter (and a hundred other lame History channel specials) is that this story fits with the character of Jesus, the rest of the Gospel accounts, and the continuing conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. On the contrary, in false gospels, the stories have Jesus acting out of character and are full of teachings that do not accord with the rest of the Scriptures. One way we see this story connecting with the rest of Scripture, is back in John 5, Jesus says almost the same phrase to the paralytic man he healed; "Go, and sin no more". Most scholars believe the story of the woman caught in adultery actually happened because of these reasons. It just does not appear in most of the earliest versions of John's Gospel.
Even though this episode is probably true, we are bound by the original text of scripture. We don't get to edit it. The church did not create the Canon of Scripture, the church received and recognized it. And, the Holy Spirit did such a good job preserving the text for us, that we know sections like this don't belong in the originals. All of the doctrines found here of Jesus's grace, forgiveness, conflict with Jewish leaders, etc. . . are found elsewhere in the Gospels. So, we should preach those doctrines from other places.
That is why I've made the decision this Sunday to not preach on this text. I probably won't preach on the longer ending of Mark either when we encounter that text. The Word of God is powerful, convicting, and active. I don't want to add to it. All illustrations, stories, and takeaways should only serve to help bring out the themes in the text. This is the kind of preacher I want to be, and though imperfect, I want to head that direction.
There is a lot of great stuff throughout John 7 and 8 that we WILL look at together this Sunday, I hope you'll join us!