Aug 13, 2010
Leathes on the PA
Excerpt from: S. Leathes, The Witness of St.John to Christ, Boyle lectures, (London, 1870)
Integrity of John(p. 350 fwd)
II. With respect to the narrative of the woman taken in adultery, the difficulties about it have been amply stated by Davidson and Alford.
On the other side the Rev. W. Pound, Story of the Gospels vol. ii. p. 277, may be consulted. It certainly cannot be said to be out of place here as he has arranged the Gospel narrative ; and with Alford the point that weighs most seems to be the fact that tradition inserts it here instead of other places which, according to him, it would appear to suit better.
S. Davidson says,
" The simple truthfulness of the story stamps it with credibility, and points to early evangelical tradition as its source."
Upon examination, the linguistic features mentioned by Davidson lose much of their weight when we consider that the event recorded is confessedly unique in our Lord's life, and, therefore, gives occasion for a special phraseology — a phraseology which we cannot assume was beyond the reach of the Evangelist under the circumstances, or beyond the compass of his vocabulary: e.g.
The Evangelist nowhere uses the word βαπτιζω except in the opening chapters, and once in the tenth chapter, in alluding to what is there said. He nowhere uses the word βαπτειν nor the word ψωμιον but in the 13th chapter, for the simple reason that he had no occasion to use them.
Many of the words in chapter 12 are peculiar to that chapter for a like reason; but what does this prove? Just so much as we choose to think it proves, and no more. And yet these words are numerous, e.g. διακονειν, συνανακειμενων, ναρδος, πιστικος, πολυτιμος, πιπρασκειν, τριακοσιων, ενταφιασμος, τα βαια των φοινικων, οναριον, κοκκος του σιτου, βροντη, πωλος, υπαντησις, τετυφλωκεν, πεπωρωκεν, τα βαλλομενα, νοειν, βραχιων, ευλογειν, οσμη.
Now, here is a vocabulary of some twenty words or more, not one of which is found in any other chapter of the Gospel ; but shall we argue from this fact that this chapter does not belong to the Gospel, that it was inserted by some one else? Surely this would be an extremely rash conclusion; but as far as the use of words can go the two cases are exactly parallel.
It is futile, therefore, to insist upon the difference of language as conclusive against the integrity of this passage. It is not so. One and the same author may well have written it.
Another point is alleged, viz. that strangulation 1 and not stoning was the punishment for adultery, and that this fact tells against the passage in question. But it is no solution of this difficulty to surmise that the passage was not written by St. John; for the blot remains, if it be a blot, whoever the writer was.
If, on the other hand, it is advanced as an objection to the historical credibility of the narrative, that is a question altogether independent of the question of authorship, and one, we may add, which is in no way affected by any solution of the former question.
Indeed, on this point the internal evidence of the passage must be felt to be conclusive. It cannot have been a mere fabrication. No one would have ventured to represent our Lord as acting thus at the time when the passage is known to have existed, e.g. before the time of Jerome, to say nothing of the extreme improbability of any second-rate author conceiving a story so true and so original.
Many critics seem to forget that their objections are of equal weight whoever wrote the passage. It may be questioned whether the testimony of the writer, whoever he was, to the practice of the Jews in our Lord's time, is not at least as good as that of the Talmud to the traditional interpretation of the Law.
We conclude, therefore, that on internal grounds, which are those mainly relied on by critics, there is not sufficient reason for rejecting either of the passages under discussion.
1. i.e., in the Talmud, c. 200 A.D. However, this appears to be a later practice, instituted (?) after the destruction of the (2nd) Temple, c. 70 A.D. Even before that time, the "Trial by Waters" (Numbers 5) was apparently no longer practiced, on the grounds that it would fail if the husband was also an adulterer. It is likely that adultery was too common, and excuses for divorce too numerous for temple priests to handle the volume of such petitions. Stoning on the other hand, was continued ad hoc even after Jesus' public ministry (see the Stoning of Stephen for example in Acts, also Paul's Epistles).
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