Later in the day I’m thinking for no particular reason about the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I think of how Jesus sort of doodles in the dirt during the story. Remember Jesus and the dirt and spit last week with the curing of the blind man? So then I figure that this story must be from St. John as well, with the novelistic detail and such. So I look it up and re-read it and sure enough it’s from St. John.
But then my Oxford Study Edition Bible tells me a bit more. And this is why I love this edition of the Bible. They note that most original Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of John don’t contain this story, that it looks to have been added later. Other manuscripts have it in St. Luke. And they point out that it fits better, stylistically and thematically, there in St. Luke, right after where the Pharisees ask Jesus about the widow of the seven brothers.
And why I like my edition so much is because of that critical eye they have towards everything. That honesty. Yes, tradition holds that St. John wrote this particular Gospel, but generally the scholarship is that he himelf probably didn’t write it. And different extant texts of it differ. And it originally was written in Greek except apparently the parts that weren’t.
So it was written by a particular person or persons for a particular audience for a particular reason. (And then it was copied and re-copied and changed and so on and so on.) And this actually is something that I don’t like about St. John’s Gospel. This Gospel was written later than the other Synoptic Gospels, written specifically for a non-Jewish audience. And so its references to the Sanhedrin or Pharisees or Saducees or whoever simply as “The Jews” is to my ears rather jarring. (And to some ears it’s nakedly antisemitic.)
But the point of all this, I guess, if I could even think that I have a point here, is that I don’t believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. Or, rather, in my Catholicism I have been taught that the Bible is not the literal word of God, that it’s a text, that it’s divinely inspired and it’s part of what we believe and practice, but is not the beginning or end of what we practice. What we do and believe is made up of the scriptures but then also the life and practices of the church and the Church.