The second week of Easter means readings from John, chapter 3, at daily Mass. An extremely fascinating chapter for many reasons. But one of the reasons has to do with punctuation marks.
St. John wrote his gospel in what language? Don’t know for absolute sure, but probably Greek. The oldest copies that we possess are in Greek. And the oldest copies we possess have no punctuation marks whatsoever.
So the question arises: Who said the world-famous John 3:16?
Did Jesus say those words to Nicodemus, as part of the conversation narrated at the beginning of the chapter? Or did St. John himself reflect on the conversation, and write “for God so loved the world…” himself?
And who said the words we hear at Holy Mass today? Did John the Baptist say them, as part of his testimony to his cousin? Or did John the Evangelist write them, reflecting on John the Baptist’s speech?
Can anybody help me here? Scholars?
Fact is, the scholars don’t know. John 3, as a chapter, certainly gets the prize for “Chapter When We Most Wish that Koine-Greek Manuscripts Had Punctuation Marks.”
Now, “the one whom God sent speaks the words of God.” (John 3:34)
‘The Bible’ can be an idol, like any other idol. If we think that the Bible is anything other than a collection of ancient manuscripts, written at particular places and times, by particular men; if we think that “the Bible” is some kind of golden token we can easily grasp, magically making us righteous—if we think that, or anything like that, we are idolaters.
The fact is: the Bible is an unwieldy collection of ancient manuscripts, translated by human beings into many languages. We can never really understand the Bible without recognizing this.
That said, when we read one of these handy translations, or if we just listen carefully at Mass over an extended period of time, we also clearly see: This unwieldy collection bears witness to the One Whom God has sent. The One Whom God has sent is a man, the man who knows God, because He is God.
Every word of the unwieldy collection of strange manuscripts, every letter of every word, with or without punctuation—every single jot and tittle is more precious than all the Crown Jewels. Because all these markings on paper, taken together, give us the unique testimony which the triune God has made about Himself.
God has not left us to endure unending silence from heaven. He has spoken. Christ is His Word. And if we want to hear and know Christ, we have to let the unwieldy collection of ancient manuscripts become a food for which we hunger more than for breakfast, lunch, and dinner combined.