Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rejoinder to Jamin Hubner: Part 9 (Pericope Adulterae)

Note to readers: I have added the label "Jamin Hubner"at the end of this and the other rejoinders in this series. If you click on the "Jamin Hubner" button, you can read all the rejoinders in this series.

This rejoinder is in response to Jamin Hubner’s post “Case Studies in King James Onlyism: The Woman Caught in Adultery was in the Original? [sic]” (which is essentially part 9 in his series “The ESV Translation: A Response to Jeff Riddle” which he began in response to my bog article “Three Basic Challenges to the ESV”).

I will be brief with regard to technical textual discussion of this disputed passage:

With regard to the pericope adulterae (John 7:53-8:11), according the NKJB editors it appears in over 900 Greek manuscripts. In other words, it has healthy external attestation. It clearly was embraced as part of the traditional text and was included in all Protestant translations of Scripture until the modern era.

There is also strong internal evidence arguments as to why it could have been omitted by those who might have been uncomfortable with the ethical ramifications of the passage (i.e., Jesus completely forgives a woman caught breaking the 7th commandment, as Hills explains).

Hubner quotes an extended passage from Metzger’s Textual Commentary to support exclusion. We should be no more surprised that Metzger desires to exclude the passage than that Hills desires to include it.

I have previously shared Calvin’s assessment, which I would once more affirm:

Calvin on the pericope adulterae (John 7:53-8:11):

“It is plain enough that this passage was unknown anciently to the Greek Churches; and some conjecture that it has been brought from some other place and inserted here. As it has always been received by the Latin Churches, and is found in many old Greek manuscripts, and contains nothing unworthy of an Apostolic Spirit, there is no reason why we should not apply it to our advantage” (Calvin’s Commentaries).

By this time, it will surprise no one to learn that I believe that the pericope adulterae should be received as part of the infallible and authoritative Word of God. I have preached and taught on this passage and would gladly do so again.

Here, however, is how Hubner concludes this article:

It is not enough to desire certainty and avoid discomfort in dealing with textual variants to reject the facts and turn to some brand of KJV Onlyism, or "the TR is stable," or whatever. The believer must open himself up to the Word of God itself - all of it, as it comes to us from the sands of Egypt or the halls of a monastery or some other place. The Lord has provided a rich tradition from which to gain and read the autographic text. But like a child sitting with 110 pieces for a 100 piece puzzle, we must every now and then do some work to figure out what is truly part of God's Word. The story of the woman caught in adultery probably isn't one of those pieces.

He claims that “the believer must open himself up to the Word of God itself.” This smacks of mystical subjectivism. Is Hubner really suggesting that each believer individually is to make a determination as to whether or not John 7:53-8:11 is Biblical? When we hold the Word of God, are we really all like children with 110 pieces of a 100 piece puzzle, and it is our task to try to put the pieces together? Does this sound like anything remotely resembling the statement on Scripture in the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith? Does it cohere with the Puritan Father John Owen? No. Instead, it sounds like the postmodern musings of D. C. Parker and Bart Ehrman who see the Bible as a “living text” composed of many valid texts. Take a look at the ending of Mark in the NRSV—with no less than three optional endings presented all as equally valid options--for ideas as to what future editions of evangelical Bibles (like the ESV) might look like. I can hear Hubner now accusing me of a “slippery slope argument.” The truth is that the slippery slope argument is very often completely valid.

Hubner’s final tepid, yet stunning, conclusion is, “The story of the woman caught in adultery probably isn’t one of those pieces.” I would suggest that if he really believes that, then he ought to protest vociferously any translation that dares to print these words within the pages of Holy Scripture. He should rip them out of his Bible. But what if he is wrong? What if this is the Word of God? We are not to add to God’s Word or take away from it (Deut 4:2; 12:32; Rev 22:18-19).

What I find is that many who embrace the modern critical text speak out boldly against what they consider to be late, extrabiblical additions (e.g., John 7:53-8:11; Mark 16:9-20), but when it come to printing and publishing Bibles they demure and leave the contested passages with the Bibles, enclosed by seemingly innocuous brackets. Why not go ahead and yank those passages out, if you are truly convinced that they are non-canonical? Daniel Wallace has said that he printed Mark 16:9-20 in the smallest font he could find in the NET Bible and would eventually like to see an edition with it relegated to the footnotes. Who knows? Maybe in the next edition he can successfully achieves that goal, and in the edition after that he can get rid of it all together? Why don’t modern translations remove these passages? The most likely answer is that they realize that there would be a public backlash that would make the revolt against the gender-neutral TNIV look like child’s play. They would not sell Bibles and their theology would come under serious scrutiny. So, instead we get brackets. Is it possible that the reason modern scholars have not yet been able to dislodge this text from the Bible, despite massive and sophisticated efforts for over 100 years, is that it is canonical? What is it we say about the canon contra Rome? The Bible chooses the church; the church does not choose the Bible. This would mean that we are the puzzle pieces and the Word of God puts us together.

Hubner has demonstrated the dangers in embracing the modern critical text. It leads one to see the Bible as a jumble of puzzle pieces, including many stray pieces that do not fit. Those who embrace the received text, however, see the Bible as an intact, beautiful picture that has been expertly framed by our Protestant and Reformed forebears and preserved by our Guardian.

Jamin, you are obviously a gifted young man. I plead with you (and other readers) prayerfully to consider this exchange on the transmission of Scripture.  I will certainly do the same.

We are obviously beginning to cover a lot of the same ground and meet the same impasses. I feel sure a post on Revelation 16:5 is coming down the pike from Mr Hubner. Rest assured, I would counter with more about Psalm 145:13 and 1 Samuel 6:19. And on and on it goes….

In my next post in this series, I will discontinue direct interaction with Mr. Hubner’s posts. I will, however, provide an annotated reading list of resources that I have found helpful if one wants to learn more about the traditional text of Scripture. We are living in a day when there appears to be a resurgence of Calvinistic soteriology. Many have rediscovered the Reformers and Puritans. Will we also rediscover the Reformed Bible?


No comments: