The Sins of the Lectionary

Anyone following the BCP‘s Daily Office Lectionary (Year Two) is currently reading through the Gospel of John. Perhaps you shared my confusion this morning on realizing that today’s Gospel lesson began at John 8:12, although yesterday’s reading only got to the end of John 7. The framers of the Revised Common Lectionary (of which I assume the Daily Office Lectionary is a subsection), in their infinite wisdom, effectively chose to excise the “Woman Caught in Adultery” pericope from the Gospel. (In Year One, they also excise the “Longer Ending of Mark.)

The obvious reason for these decisions are the passages’ tortured textual history: it’s well known that there are good reasons for thinking that John 7:53-8:11 wasn’t originally part of the Gospel written by John (the earliest manuscripts of John don’t include it, and Eusebius attributes it to the Gospel of the Hebrews). Grant that this is so — it remains the case that the pericope from John (and the longer ending of Mark) have been received as Scripture by the entire Christian world for the better part of (at least) 1600 years.

John Milbank has criticized modern Christianity’s “false humility” in the face of secular disciplines, and it’s on full display in the decision to excise these readings as spurious. Critical historiography, apparently, is now a kind of scholarly magisterium, authorized to pronounce which words belong to the LORD’s words, the Scriptures. The Spirit’s use of some text in the life of the Church down the ages weighs as dust in the balance next to the pronouncements of Metzger and Co.

Obviously, I think that the RCL’s framers erred in excluding this pericope, but that doesn’t commit me to a fundamentalist insistence on ignoring the textual evidence against its originality in John, or to excluding that evidence from my reflections on the Gospel. We need a more complicated exegetical approach, one in which attention to compositional history (the “depth dimension,” as Childs called it) is situated within attention to the broader Church’s reception of a text as part of the canon of Scripture. The whole text merits commentary; but one of the things worth commenting on in relation to John 8:1-11 is precisely that it might not have been original to the Gospel.

This entry was posted in Brevard Childs, Canon, Gospel of John, Historical Criticism, Text Criticism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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