Monday, April 16, 2012

Not In The Bible? - Cast the First Stone

John 8:7 and 8:11- Two very important verses within the Christian world.  These take place within the very well known story of Christ’s encounter with the prostitute taken to Him for judgment.  8:7 states that he who is without sin casts the first stone; and 8:11 says go and sin no more.  Many Christians have based a great deal of their life around verses such as these.  So what would happen if this section, specifically, these two verses, did not exist?

Quite honestly, nothing.  Or more correctly, nothing should be different.  However, in this day and age, many believers find themselves feeling as though they are on thin ground where their faith is concerned.  Suggestions such as those we’ve discussed thus far only help to shake that footing.  In reality, our faith and its basis is the firmest and surest place upon which to stand, and base our lives upon.  However, in this day and age, as the roaring lion continues to grow ever stronger in this world, accusations such as thing not only come more frequently, but serve to bring hurricane force winds to the uncertain believer.

It is for this reason that we must always remain on our guard and aware of the machinations of our enemy, the Devil.  Moreover, we should be ever conscious of his methods, because as has been said before: “Darkness never learns.”  The forces of Hell constantly bring the same attacks as they have always brought, and these include the attempted shaking of Christians in their most closely held beliefs.

With the two verses mentioned above, most of these accusations begin by stating that they were added in, and most point to the King James Bible as the first perpetrator.  However, I would point out here that these verses are found in many earlier translations, including Martin Luther’s of 1545; the 1535 Miles Coverdale; and Wycliff’s of 1385.  These are not the only versions to have this section: The Latin Vulgate also carries these verses.

However, arguments could potentially be made against even these earliest of translations, because some of the original codices do not include these verses.  What is to be said, then, of the amazing words said by Jesus, which have made their way even into our pop culture?  Are the accusations of editorial liberties to be taken seriously; and if so, could the Bible be wrong?

First, let me address the claim’s historical accuracy: Of the four uncials, (four earliest known copies of the Bible), not one surviving copy has the account, let alone these two verses, written within it.  Thus, it would seem, at least on the surface, that the accusations have actual basis.  The lack of the verses within the earliest known versions of the Bible does indeed seem to close the case.

However, what this particular accusation fails to take into account, and conveniently forgets to mention, is that in every one of these versions, there are marks indicating that something is missing between John 7:52 and 8:12.  What could possibly be missing, if these are complete copies?
For that, let us begin with the Codex Vaticanus, which dates to about 325 B.C., as it includes a symbol known to indicate other alternate versions.  What this means is that the writers and translators of the Vaticanus knew of the account’s existence in prior copies, but were forced simply to mark it as known, rather than including it.  There are any number of reasons which could be given for this, but the most plausible, and quite common in that day and age, was their inability to actually see the original version.

This suggestion is absolutely plausible when one looks back to history.  The codex was written around the same time as the Council of Nicaea- And just after a civil war which left a great deal of chaos in its wake.  Though the codex is given a span of twenty-five years inception, within that period of time there were many wars of note, and all of which would have severely hampered the safe transport of this known but untranslated portion of Scripture.  Of particular note is the ruler Licinius, who from 320 to late 324, confiscated many Christian items.  Regardless of where it was written (Asia Minor, Rome or Egypt), however, the fact remains that war, persecution and political upheaval would have prevented the translation, and thus the full inclusion, of this section.

Further dismissals have come with the facetious statement that, if they were not included within the papyri, they must not have been in the original Gospel.  This is a foolish statement that stands, at best, upon assumption rather than fact.  The truth is that, even at the time the codices were written, the Bible did not exist in a collected form.  Thus, people either memorized it through study, or copied it down for others.  If one had a section, and not the other, the missing portion would be copied and sent them.  Such events are documented throughout this time period, and even within the Bible itself.  (Copies of Paul’s letters being sent to area churches, for instance.)

Further evidence of this can be seen in the writings of Papias, who pointed out that this same account was also recorded within the Gospel of the Hebrews, an apocryphal book known among scholars of Church History as one of the “Lost Gospels.”  Some may wonder why I would choose to include statements on non-canonical books: I do so for the fact that Papias’ statements were written before the earliest of the four uncials was composed.  This not only makes a strong case for its inclusion within the Gospel of John, as Papias mentions it specifically as being found in John, but also its being an actual occurrence.

Now, finally, the question must be asked: Is John the only place we see these two standards, (“he who is without sin cast the first stone,” and “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”), or is it echoed in other areas of Scripture?

In Luke 12:13-14, we see a similar display in regards to the lack of judgment.  In this case, however, it is directed at a man who wanted Christ to order his brother to divide his inheritance with him.  The response was, “who appointed me judge over you?”  This is just one instance of the non-judgmental aspects portrayed in John, yet the fact that it is mentioned even one other provides a firm stance for the underlying principle.

Also in Luke (6:42) we read “Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.”  This clearly echoes the “he who is without sin” statement within John.  This same statement is found in Matthew 7:5.

As for the “go and sin no more” statement we see in John 8, this statement is seen coming from Christ elsewhere: John 5:14.  However, in that instance, His blessing came with a warning; He told the man “Go and sin no more, lest greater trouble befall you.”  Similar statements are seen in Matthew, Luke and Mark.

We come now to the end of this entry.  We have seen that the lessons found in John 8 are found elsewhere in the Bible, and are thusly true.  We have discovered that there is evidence of these two verse being included in the original Gospel of John; both through witness of Papias, who predated the earliest surviving codex; as well as through the translators of the codices themselves.  We have seen the accusations of editorial liberties on this passage beginning with the KJV put to rest through the presentation of far earlier versions.

In closing, I wish to leave two final tidbits with you.  First is that three of four uncials have what are known as “lost pages.”  These were separate pages upon which were written additional translations, apparently completed after the document was crafted.  They were meant to be included with each codex; something which is, again, a well documented event of the time period, affecting far more than just copies and translations of Scripture.

Secondly, the question of “why would this section be left out?” may, perhaps, be answered best through the statements of Augustine, who wrote that he wondered if perhaps that account may prompt immoral activity; or the false belief that Christ was closing a blind eye to adultery.

We will continue to study similar accusations against Scripture at a later date.  Until then, God bless.


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