Sunday, October 29, 2006

The "without a cause" clause

The 35th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium was held on BYU Campus this last weekend (October 27-28). The theme this year was "How the New Testament Came to Be", and I was lucky enough to attend several of the sessions (my husband Bradley sent me while he watched the children). I found two of the Friday night sessions thought-provoking, albeit in very different ways.

Daniel K. Judd and Allen W. Stoddard co-authored a paper (Dr. Judd presented it) entitled "Adding and Taking Away "Without a Cause" in Matthew 5:22".
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say unto his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
Although I knew that the JST rendition of this passage removes the phrase "without a cause", I had no idea that among New Testament scholars, the originality of that phrase is debated. According to Dr. Judd's presentation, among the earliest NT manuscripts, both versions are found, but the phrase is missing in many of the very earliest. It doesn't show up in the Codex Vaticanus, an early Greek Bible (c. AD 400), although it does show up in an early Coptic manuscript (I missed the age of that one). Two early Christian theologians, St. Jerome (AD 185-254) and John Chrysostom (AD 347-407) held opposing views on the validity of the statement--St. Jerome arguing against it, and John Chrysostom arguing for it. The phrase is found in the King James Version of the Bible, but many recent versions, including the NIV, omit it.

Dr. Judd and his student have been studying the "Barcelona Papyrus", which is a scrap of papyrus from the first century AD with various passages from the Gospel of Matthew written on it. These passages include the oldest recording of Matthew 5:22, and careful reading by the authors has revealed that "without a cause" is not included.

The addition of "without a cause" fundamentally changes the message and idea behind the Savior's admonition. With the phrase omitted, we have absolutely no excuse for becoming angry with our brethren; with the phrase, we can justify it if we have a cause--and who is to judge what is a good reason or not? It seems very obvious that insertion of those three words makes a higher law into a lesser one.

When I was a child, I remember being taught in school that even though someone "made" me angry, it wasn't okay to act on that angry by yelling, pushing, hitting, etc. At home, though, my parents had a different perspective. Although they acknowledged the reality of those angry feelings, they taught us that no one could "make" us angry, that we didn't have to allow another person to change the way we felt. This isn't to say we were punished for being angry (although we were punished by acting on it, naturally); rather they tried to guide us into following the higher law, while recognizing the shortfalls of the natural man.

This lecture by Dr. Judd brought similar thoughts to my mind, and reminded me of those early lessons. Right now I'm experiencing a fair amount of frustration in my calling. I've had an enormous burden placed upon me by the bishopric, and I feel like I'm getting no support from them--or from the majority of the ward membership. For the past several months I've had a really hard time concentrating on the sacrament, coming as it does right after ward business, in which certain callings are filled with rapidity and my needs are left unfilled. I ever passed on taking the sacrament a few weeks ago, I was that upset. And I've been (mostly) blaming it on the bishopric.

But considering this passage of scripture, and the admonition to not become angry with our fellow men, makes me realize that I have to take responsibility for this situation--not that I can force the bishopric to fill the callings, but that I need to work on my anger. It's not something that is out of my control, it's not something that is "healthy" and "right". It is natural, but we are supposed to put off the natural man. Don't get me wrong, I don't expect myself to change overnight, and I certainly don't think I'll have this concept perfected anytime within my lifetime. But I need to be actively working on it, for it is my duty. There is no "without a cause" clause to get me out of it. Nor should there be.

(An interesting sidenote to this discussion: As I mentioned earlier, the JST omits the phrase. Later in the NT, the JST changes another passage dealing with anger, Eph.4:26. The KJV reads "Be ye angry, and sin not" whereas the JST changes it to read "Can yet be angry, and sin not?"--following the same trend as the omission of the "without a cause" phrase. There is no evidence that Joseph Smith was aware of the question of the authenticity of the phrase; many of the manuscripts cited in the talk had not been discovered during his time.)


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