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Interpolations and Textual Corruptions: The Blurry Lines

After the past two posts, I am now in a position to answer the question that led to this brief hiatus in my discussion of the afterlife, involving the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke.  To refresh your memory, here is the question:

 

QUESTION:

If, in your suspicion, the original Gospel of Luke began at 3:1 and the infancy narrative found in 1:5-2:52 is a later addition, do you think that should be indicated in NT reconstructions and translations in a way similar to how Mark 16:9-20 is often bracketed?

 

RESPONSE:

Different scholars will have different opinions on this question, in no small measure because the majority of scholars (I would imagine) are reluctant to say that Luke 1-2 were originally lacking from the Gospel.   But suppose the majority were convinced?   Would they say that brackets should be placed around the story, as happens, typically, with passages otherwise recognized as probably not belonging in the New Testament, such as the ending of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:9-20) or the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) or the passage that affirms the doctrine of the Trinity in 1 John, called the “Johannine comma” (1 John 5:7-8)?

I think the answer is almost certainly “no,” and for a technical but important reason that involves the difference between two widely recognized phenomena whose technical names are “textual corruption” and “interpolation.”

These are two different phenomena, and even though the boundaries between them can be blurred and blurry at times, it is important (in most scholars’ views) to keep them distinct in one’s mind.

A textual corruption is …

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    fishician  August 15, 2017

    Do you think the parables in Luke that are missing from the other Gospels go back to Jesus, or are they just inventions (interpolations?) by the sources Luke happened to draw upon that the others did not? (Just signed up for your UNC seminar next month!)

  2. DestinationReign
    DestinationReign  August 16, 2017

    Very informative and nicely explained.

  3. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  August 16, 2017

    Do you know of any case where an interpolation has become a corruption, i.e. a part of the text that many scholars believed was not “original,” but was not missing from any of the known mss, was found to be missing from a subsequently discovered ms?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 17, 2017

      Ah, I don’t off hand, but that would be a very interesting thing to know! I’ll see if I can find out.

  4. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  August 16, 2017

    Does the NT contain any reference to the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE? I just read an article (http://www.ranker.com/list/facts-about-pompeii/theodoros-karasavvas?ref=mshare&source=fbshare& ) and Pliny the Younger’s eyewitness description in a letter to Tacitus is remarkably similar to some popular conceptions of the end of the world.

  5. Avatar
    JamesSnappJr  August 17, 2017

    That seems like a novel redefinition of the term “interpolation.” If an interpolation is “an addition to the text that was made at some point before the final published form of the text that lies behind all our surviving manuscripts came to be put in circulation,” it could be argued that interpolations are original factors in the text — it’s just that the original text is the work of more than one author. Anyway, “interpolations” in textual criticism are secondary, as in, post-production insertions. I’m not convinced that the term should be applied to any goings-on during the text’s production. (I.e., it’s more appropriate for lower criticism than for higher criticism. Maybe “expansion” or “supplement” would be better.)

    I don’t grant that Mark 16:9-20 or John 7:53-8:11 is not part of the original text — though, if I were to adopt your definition, I would say that Mark 16:9-20 was an “interpolation,” a previously freestanding composition attached by Mark’s colleagues to conclude his otherwise unfinished narrative — attached /before/ the Gospel of Mark began to be distributed for church-use. But, setting that matter aside, inasmuch as activities such as proof-reading can be done on a text prior to the end of its production-stage and the commencement of its transmission-stage, then so can supplementation, even two chapters’ worth. So, yes, whatever one might imagine about Luke 1-2, unless one has manuscript-evidence at hand, it would be reckless to bracket it, just as (or much more so than) it would be reckless to bracket John 21.

    I add, en passant, that it may misimpress to lump together Mark 16:9-20, John 7:53-8:11, and 1 John 5:7-8 as if they are in the same class. Mark 16:9-20 is in almost all Greek MSS and has second-century support and broad patristic citation. John 7:53-8:11 is supported by 85% of the Greek MSS and — if Hugh Houghton’s observation about the Old Latin chapter-descriptions stands — evidence from the 200’s, and Maurice Robinson has argued that the PA was lost due to a quirk in an early lection-cycle. The Comma Johanneum, meanwhile, has pitiably scarce Greek support, and its Greek forms are derived from Latin ones.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 17, 2017

      Yes, absolutely right! I lump the three together simply because there really is not much debate about the three except on the margins of critical scholarship. But far less about 1 John 5:7-8 than the PA or, esp., Mark 16.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  August 17, 2017

        What is the PA?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 18, 2017

          The Pericope Adulterae — the story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery in John 7:53-8:11.

  6. Avatar
    JoeWallack  August 17, 2017

    “I add, en passant, that it may misimpress to lump together Mark 16:9-20, John 7:53-8:11, and 1 John 5:7-8 as if they are in the same class. Mark 16:9-20 is in almost all Greek MSS and has second-century support and broad patristic citation. John 7:53-8:11 is supported by 85% of the Greek MSS and — if Hugh Houghton’s observation about the Old Latin chapter-descriptions stands — evidence from the 200’s, and Maurice Robinson has argued that the PA was lost due to a quirk in an early lection-cycle. The Comma Johanneum, meanwhile, has pitiably scarce Greek support, and its Greek forms are derived from Latin ones.”

    An important part of The Difficult Reading Principle is the relationship between the degree of difficulty and the likelihood of an intentional verses unintentional explanation. The more difficult the reading, the more likely the explanation (for the orthodox reading) is intentional. All of the above are prime examples. A good illustration is Mark 1:1 [son of God]. The reason for intentional addition addition [since the word is “addition”, is the addition intentional?] by the orthodox is very good. The unintentional defense that a native Greek speaker (who probably spoke nothing else) would have lost their place in the NS at the start of GMark is very bad.

    http://skepticaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/

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