Monday, November 29, 2021

Luke 1:56 And The Importance Of Bracketing

In a post about Luke's census account a few years ago, I mentioned the value of bracketing the first three verses of Luke 2 to highlight the fact that Jesus and his family don't enter the narrative until verse 4. Bracketing is often helpful in understanding Biblical passages and working through some of the issues involved. And Luke's material on Jesus' childhood provides us with another example.

As I mentioned in a post earlier this year, Joseph's presence in Nazareth in Luke 2:4 makes more sense if you read 2:4 in the context of 1:56. But people typically don't do that, since the material between 1:56 and 2:4 is distracting them from 1:56 and what led up to it. If you bracket the material about Mary and Jesus in 1:26-56 and the material about Jesus and his family starting in 2:4, you'll have a better understanding of some aspects of what's going on. You can read the post linked at the beginning of this paragraph for an explanation of how 2:4 makes more sense in light of 1:56. Luke had good reason to present the material as he did. The paralleling of John the Baptist and Jesus, going back and forth between the two, accomplishes some good things. But it's helpful to also bracket the material I've mentioned above and read that bracketed material together.

And it helps to do the same in other contexts. A major example outside of Luke that I've often cited is John 7:53-8:11. That passage shouldn't be included in John's gospel, but when it's present, it's important to bracket it to assist in reading 8:12 in light of 7:52 and what led up to it.


  1. Have you read Warren Gage's book on John and Revelation? I found his textual and theological arguments for the pericope adulturae belonging in the canon persuasive.

    1. No, I haven't read it.

      I don't know what relevance these distinctions have to Gage's book, but we need to distinguish among scenarios in which John 7:53-8:11 is excluded from the canon, is included where it currently is, and is included somewhere else. Even if it's included and believed to belong where it is in modern Bibles, I would apply what I said above about bracketing. John 8:12 is referring back to what was said in chapter 7, culminating with verse 52. That, itself, is another line of evidence that 7:53-8:11 shouldn't be where it is. But if there were enough evidence for including the passage and keeping it where it is, it would remain likely that 8:12 is referring back to chapter 7. I doubt that 7:53-8:11 is canonical, but I'm not familiar with Gage's work on the subject.

    2. It is a bit difficult to summarize. He argues that John and Revelation are two parts of one, unified work. These books textually correspond to one another when read in parallel (as well as when read inversely).

      As part of an extended argument in which he parallels John to Revelation to support this thesis, he notes verbal links (where we should expect them to exist at the Gage's given stage of comparison of the books) between John 8:3 to Revelation 12:4 as well as John 8:6-7, 10 to Revelation 12:4, 6, 8 (e.g. "woman," "stood," "cast," "accuser"). Further, the textual correspondence of these contexts have theologically interrelation:

      "The scene in the second earthly temple depicts the scribes and Pharisees seeking to destroy the adulterous woman as a way to accuse, and thus destroy, Jesus (8:6). The accusers wait to cast stones at her (8:7), wanting to stone Jesus as well (cf. 10:31). In heaven, the dragon stands before a woman in labor, hoping to devour her Child (R 12:4). The conflict leads to war in heaven, and the dragon-accuser is cast out of the heavenly sanctuary (R 12:7–12).

      The association with the central, and in many ways key, chapter twelve of Revelation indicates the theological significance of the adultery pericope (J 8:1–11). A comparison of the two Johannine texts, within their contexts, will do much to help us identify the immoral woman, one of the major themes of Revelation.

      In the dramatic account of the Gospel, before Jesus forgives a flagrantly immoral woman (8:11), He first confronts her accusers, whom He shows to be morally incompetent to charge an adulteress. As a result, the accusers leave the temple precincts (8:9). The exit of the scribes and Pharisees from the temple because they could not “cast the first stone” constitutes their implicit acknowledgment of their own “adulteries.” Their exit constitutes a second “temple cleansing” (J 8:9), and corresponds to the accusers who are cast out of the heavenly sanctuary (R 12:8–12). The religious leaders, who were so zealous of protecting their place in the second temple (J 11:48), are thus associated with the followers of the dragon, for whom no place was found in the heavenly sanctuary (R 12:8).

      The scribes and Pharisees had wanted to accuse Jesus of failing to enforce the law of Moses by stoning the adulteress (J 8:5–6). But Jesus’ mercy toward the adulteress, whom John tells us He could have justly condemned (J 8:11), did not compromise the Lord’s adherence to the law of Moses. Once again the concentric pattern is instructive. Having identified the true whore as the second temple in the Gospel, the Lord God executes judgment on her in Revelation. In a graphic passage which describes the vindication of the law of Moses, God condemns the true adulteress: “And Babylon the Great (the whore) was remembered before God … and huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven among men” (R 16:19–21). In Revelation, the One who is without sin stones the adulterous woman who committed fornication with the kings of the earth (R 17:2)."

      He says more, but I think that gives the basic thrust of this specific argument.

    3. In a separate work, he also argues that the pericope belongs where it has been placed on the separate basis that it fits a pattern he has noticed in all of the gospels. Certain verses, like John 8:7, are center points (what he calls "deltaforms") between passages on either side of it that textually and/or thematically correspond. For example, compare the following verses in John's gospel:

      (8:6) to (8:8)
      (7:51) to (8:15)
      (7:51) to (8:17)
      (7:44) to (8:20)
      (7:41–42) to (8:23)
      (7:39) to (8:27-28)
      (7:35) to (8:31)
      (7:34) to (8:32)
      (7:30) to (8:37)
      (7:29) to (8:37)
      (7:20) to (8:48)
      (7:4) to (9:5)
      (7:3) to (9:4)
      (6:69) to (9:9)
      (6:67) to (9:11)
      (6:52) to (9:26)
      (6:46) to (9:33)
      (6:45) to (9:31-34)
      (5:35) to (11:9)
      (5:28) to (11:17)
      (5:21) to (11:21-23)
      (4:53) to (11:43-45)
      (4:48) to (11:47–48)
      (4:47) to (11:50)
      (4:43) to (11:53)
      (4:30) to (12:9)
      (4:14) to (12:25)
      (4:5) to (12:34)
      (3:34) to (12:41)
      (3:31) to (12:44)
      (3:29) to (12:47)
      (3:11) to (13:16)
      (3:3) to (13:20-21)
      (1:51) to (14:12)
      (1:38) to (14:26)
      (1:37) to (14:28)
      (1:17) to (15:17)
      (1:14) to (15:20)
      (1:6-9) to (15:26-27)
      (1:2) to (16:4)

      John 8:7 is the central pivot between each of the above correspondences and implies the intentionality of its precise placement in the text. None of this bears on whether 8:12 connects with 7:52 in the manner you are describing, I just thought you might find it interesting.

    4. Thanks for the information. Judging by what you've posted, it seems that Gage's argument is too insignificant, vague, inconsistent, and unverifiable to prove the canonicity of the passage.

      I see no reason to think a passage like the one about the adulteress would be so prominent in John's thinking. And the similarities between the woman of John 8 and the one in Revelation 12 are accompanied by some significant dissimilarities. When Gage doesn't find what he wants in the passages that allegedly are parallel, he goes somewhere else to make a connection (e.g., going to John 10:31 to get a desire to stone Jesus, perhaps because Gage sensed how weak it is to claim that using the adulteress woman to accuse Jesus would be a way of "destroying" him). I don't know how Gage is determining that John 8:7 is the sort of central pivot you refer to. If he's going by something like the number of Greek words or Greek letters on each side of 8:7, it's hard to believe that John was concerned enough about the passage we're discussing here to construct his gospel the way Gage is suggesting. That would take a lot of work, and I'm not aware of any evidence that anybody in the earliest centuries of Christianity was aware of such an effort on John's part or the supposed centrality of the passage in question. John had a large influence on second-century Christianity. When I read the relevant sources, I don't come away with the impression that the early individuals and churches most influenced by John were thinking so highly of this account of the adulterous woman. To whatever extent they were even aware of the account or something somewhat like it - and they typically don't even show any awareness of it - they don't make much of it. Why would John go to so much trouble to construct his gospel in a way that's so hard to discern, requiring alternating back and forth between "textual and/or thematic" connections among passages? And we're supposed to think all of the gospel authors did it?

      Take, for example, the first alleged parallel you listed outside of the passage in question. How are John 7:51 and 8:15 parallel? They both refer to judging, but in significantly different ways. And how can 7:51 then be paralleled to 8:17? 8:15 and 8:17 can't be equally distant from 8:7. Or is equal distance not needed? In what sense, then, is 8:7 supposedly central? Then there are the places in his list (or what you've posted of it) that parallel one verse to two or more others, even as many as four. How much of a parallel is that? And so on.

      Gage's argument may be partly good and partly bad. Maybe he makes some valid points among the invalid ones. I don't know. But I think it would take more than what Gage seems to be offering to outweigh the evidence against the canonicity of the passage.