Letter to my Pastor re Byzantine Text


I just wanted to let you know that I was disappointed with your comments on John 7:53-8:11 in the sermon today because you basically said that this passage, though in keeping with scripture, is not scripture, and therefore you would not be preaching from it.  Even if you personally don’t think the passage is scripture there are many Christians, both scholarly and otherwise, who do, and I think it was wrong to downgrade it the way you appeared to do, even though the weight of modern scholarly opinion is with you.

The arguments you used to make your case are only one side of the story and there are compelling arguments to prove the opposite, that this passage is indeed scripture.  The “most ancient” manuscripts that omit the passage are only 4 or 5 compared to thousands of others which include it; and antiquity does not automatically mean accuracy.  New Testament corruptions began in about 100 AD, so even the age of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, two of the “best” manuscripts, does not protect them from corruption because they are 4th century manuscripts.  In fact, these two manuscripts disagree amongst themselves in thousands of places, and Sinaiticus has at least 15,000 alterations and corrections, many from the 6th and 7th centuries, and some even from the 12th century.  So apart from any other reason, it doesn’t make sense to remove a passage from the bible just because 2 or 3 supposedly “older and more reliable” manuscripts omit it. 

There is a strong case to demonstrate that the Byzantine readings (which include this passage) are actually more ancient than Sinaiticus and Vaticanus anyway; they are found in the majority of manuscripts, readings and commentaries from the early Fathers, and in ancient versions.  From the beginning, it seems, this passage has been regarded as scripture and in spite of the statements from some scholars, textual critics, and bible translators to the contrary, the argument to neutralise it as a true but uninspired story is not strong enough.

I realise that the issue is a vexed one and many disputes have arisen because of it; and I don’t wish to challenge your personal view or your role as pastor, a role to which God has called you; I just wish you had not given the whole congregation, many of whom are ignorant of this issue, the impression that there are passages in their bibles that shouldn’t really be there, when a different conclusion could, and should, be reached.

Yours by grace