Saturday, August 04, 2012

Manuscript Variants and Protasis and Apodosis in John 8: 37-38

NIV (1984) text:

(38)“I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

(39)“Abraham is our father,” they answered.

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did.”

NIV “alternate” reading from the footnotes:

(38) “I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence.  Therefore do what you have heard from the Father.”

(39) “Abraham is our father,” they answered.

“If you are Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then do the things Abraham did.”

Raymond E. Brown (hereinafter "REB") in The Anchor Yale Bible series, The Gospel According to John I-XII (hereinafter references to "REB writes" or "REB notes" and the like mean this publication):

(38) “I tell what I have seen in the Father’s presence;
Therefore, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”

(39)“Our father is Abraham,” they answered him. Jesus replied

“If you are really Abraham’s children, you would be doing works worthy of Abraham.”

This text raises two questions. The first is whether in verse 38 Jesus refers to two different fathers: “the Father”, that is “my father,” the person in whose presence Jesus has seen things to tell others, and “your father,” that is, the father of those among the Jews in Jesus’ audience with whom he is contending.  As you can see, the NIV text indicates two different fathers.  The NIV alternate translation in its footnotes and REB’s translation (pp. 352-353) indicate that Jesus is referring to one father for both, the same father, God the Father. 

If the meaning is that there are two different fathers, then to whom does Jesus refer as the father of his contenders?  (His contenders answer that their father is Abraham.) REB states (p. 356) that certain manuscript “variants” show two different fathers (my father vs. your father) and they are meant to show that Jesus sarcastically refers to the devil as the father of his contenders. Those variants anticipate what Jesus expressly states in verse 44. 

There are other variants, however, and they do not show “my father vs. your father.” REB prefers those variants because, he states (p. 356), at this point in the text Jesus “is still trying to convince his audience to obey the real Father, God.”

By way of parenthesis, let me state that choosing among “variants” in the early manuscripts is hardly unorthodox. 

In the Preface to the NIV 1984 edition, for example, the “Committee on Bible Translation,” comments generally on the differences shown in footnotes to its text as follows:

The footnotes in this version are of several kinds, most of which need no explanation. Those giving alternative translations begin with "Or" and generally introduce the alternative with the last word preceding it in the text, except when it is a single-word alternative; in poetry quoted in a footnote a slant mark indicates a line division. Footnotes introduced by "Or" do not have uniform significance. In some cases two possible translations were considered to have about equal validity. In other cases, though the translators were convinced that the translation in the text was correct, they judged that another interpretation was possible and of sufficient importance to be represented in a footnote.

In the New Testament, footnotes that refer to uncertainty regarding the original text are introduced by "Some manuscripts" or similar expressions. In the Old Testament, evidence for the reading chosen is given first and evidence for the alternative is added after a semicolon (for example: Septuagint; Hebrew father). In such notes the term "Hebrew" refers to the Masoretic Text.

Why is the response of Jesus’ contenders to his statement in verse 38 “Our father is Abraham”?  This depends, REB writes (p. 356), on the meaning of the second line of verse 38.  “If the reference is to the devil, then ‘the Jews’ say this by way of protest.  If the reference there is to Jesus’ Father, then here the Jews are saying that they want nothing to do with his “father” for they have Abraham.

The second issue appears in verse 39, particularly Jesus’ response to his contenders’ assertion that their father is Abraham.

REB writes (pp. 356-357) that his translation of what Jesus says is “awkward English [that] is a careful rendition of the confused situation in the Greek.”  He writes that the “witnesses are divided on three readings:”

(a)            Real condition: “If you are .  .  .  do.” REB notes that “Codex Vaticanus and Papyrus 66 read an imperative in the apodosis.”
(b)           Contrary-to-fact condition: “If you were .  .  .  you would be doing.”  REB notes that “the Byzantine tradition supports this reading, which implies that ‘the Jews’ are not Abraham’s children.  This seems to contradict vs. 37.”
(c)            Mixed condition.  This is how REB translates it and he notes that his translation is supported by Papyrus 75 and Codices Sinaiticus and Bezae.  “The idea is that the Jews are really Abraham’s children, but are denying it by their actions.”
“The confusion in the witnesses [REB writes] is best explained by assuming that (c) was the original reading, and the (a) and (b) are attempts to iron out the mixed condition by making it consistent in both protasis and apodosis.”

(Protasis: the clause that expresses the condition in a conditional sentence.  Apodosis: the clause expressing the conclusion or result in a conditional sentence: opposed to protasis.  From Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language College Edition (1960))
I find that REB’s translation is much more satisfactory.  Would Jesus say that the Jews are not Abraham’s children?  I doubt that he would, and why should he?  Why should he pick a fight on that issue?  His criticism of them is much more pointed when he concedes that they are Abraham’s children, but then asserts that they do not act like it.
As a penultimate point to this long post, just how were the Jews not acting like Abraham?  REB writes (p. 357) about this when he comments on verse 40, which I do not set out above: “That Abraham would not kill a divine messenger may be a general reference from Abraham’s character, or perhaps a specific reference to a scene like that of Gen.xviii where he welcomed divine messengers.”  The Jews who are contending with Jesus are hardly welcoming of him.
 Finally, I would respectfully suggest an application for Christians: How often do Christians, who claim God as Father through Jesus Christ, not behave accordingly.  Who is really out there in the crowd disputing Jesus, wanting to rid their culture of him?  Is the problem in Jerusalem the pagans or is it the believers?  Jerusalem, the metaphorical "City upon the Hill" that Jesus elsewhere identifies with his disciples and that John Winthrop identifies with the church in America.

No comments: