Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How do you use apocryphal texts?

I know, that title really makes you want to read the post, huh?

I hope to make this somewhat interesting and thought provoking.

This question comes from a couple of texts in the New Testament (John 8 and Mark 16) that do not appear in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts. That means that for the first several centuries of the church, no one knew about these passages.

But the problem is that John 8 tells of the woman caught in adultery where Jesus says: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." We love that passage! Preachers love to preach on that passage; Christian counselors love to teach from that passage.

In Mark 16 we get a favorite verse: "Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."

So do we throw out these passages because the historic and manuscript evidence does not support their place in the bible? Or do we use these passages because we have about 1500 years of Christian tradition supporting their use in the ministry of the church?

What do you think?


Mark said...

I'm not sure we can really say that these passages were completely unknown before 400 AD. All teachings of Jesus started off as oral traditions that were at some point written down. It is possible that these were part of Q (which I use as a broad term for all material about Jesus, oral and written, which is not in the Gospels) and because they had always been part of the tradition, someone included them later. I don't think people would have agreed on their inclusion if they were completely foreign to what was known about Christ and his teachings.

This is one of those things that I can't prove one way or the other. All we can really do is speculate about whether they were known or not.

They sure are nice stories, though, aren't they? :-)

KMiV said...

I have to agree with you on the John 8 story. I don't usually preach it although we did use the clip of this story in the Jesus DVD a few weeks ago.

Mark 16 however is quoted by Tatian and a couple of early 2nd century church fathers. This can give some weight to the tradition and it's acceptance in the church. It is also interesting that the Codex copies of the Mark text ends abruptly at 16:8. Seems more likely that pages were lost and the scribe decided to be careful.

Ryan said...

Uh we should always be cautious when verses that have variants or are not found in all text....
We should use Jesus as the interpreter, is it congruent with what Jesus says througout the scriptures. I'd say the first one is skeptical... I can't remember another use of this kind of teaching, the second is definately congruent with what Jesus says in many other parts of the Gospels.

rich jandt said...

This may sound like heresy, but I often use parables and lessons learned outside of the Bible in my lessons.

My opinion; If it fits your interpretation of Gospel, use it.

Unknown said...

I think that we should judge based on content (isn't that what we usually do?). John 8 sounds more like the Jesus we know than some of the biblical stories. It reflects who we testify Jesus to be in our lives.

As for manuscript evidence, John 8 probably isn't there, and perhaps we should let people know that, but that doesn't mean it can't have positive transformational effect. Furthermore, it is ancient, how ancient, we can't pretend to know, nor can we know who the author might be. That sound familiar anyone (Jude, II Peter, The Pastorals, Revelation)?

The ending of Mark 16 is almost certainly taken from one of the hundreds of gospels circulating before canon was formed. I think it isn't particularly bad in content: all the things that killed the prophets won't kill you; faithfulness and baptism are part of salvation.

However, the original ending to Mark is SO much more powerful: "They went away and said nothing because they were afraid," implying the question, "will you fight that fear and not remain silent?" The ending was so powerful (read "disturbing") that they felt compelled to find some other way to end it (which is why several endings were appended over time). The best lesson seems to come from that discomfort, not from the words in any of the (rather equally attested) added endings.

James T Wood said...

Good thought! Thanks for weighing in. I'll post a blog in response to this in a short while. Stay tuned.