Tuesday, November 2, 2010

John 14:14: To "me" or not to "me", that is the question

With apologies to Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Many modern Bible translations are based on a critical text like the Nestle-Aland 27 (NA27). At John 14:14 such texts read: ἐάν τι αἰτήσητέ με ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου ἐγὼ ποιήσω, "If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." (English Standard Version)

New Testament textual scholars consider the Alexandrian text to be generally "the best text and the most faithful in preserving the original." (Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 5) The "me" reading is found in a number of such ancient textual witnesses, including p66 (2nd century).

The Sahidic Coptic text (2nd/3rd century) is also in the Alexandrian text family. Like still other ancient witnesses, it does not have "me" at John 14:14.

Rather, the Sahidic Coptic text reads: ЄΤЄΤΝϢΑΝΑΙΤЄΙ ΝΟΥϨШΒ ϨΜ ΠΑΡΑΝ ΠΑΙ ϯΝΑΑΑϤ, "If you should ask anything in my name, this I will do."

Some scholars think that "ask me" is original because it is the more difficult reading. That is a consideration, but a more important consideration would be if it squares with everything else that Jesus said and did.

"Ask me" would be logical in the immediate context of Jesus' speaking with his disciples while he was still with them. Even the first Christian martyr Stephen implored Jesus as if he were still present. (Acts 7:59) But it is not unusual that Jesus as a living presence would still resonate with Stephen, since Jesus' ministry and resurrection were recent events for Stephen.

However, beyond that context, Jesus directs Christians to pray to "Our Father" (Matthew 6:9), and the apostle Paul said "I bend my knees to the Father." (Ephesians 3:14)

There is no other verse in the New Testament where Jesus requests or directs that prayer as an act of worship should be addressed to him. If the "me" reading is original, it would be an anomaly that is out of character with the whole New Testament.

"Ask me...in my name" is tautological, a needless repetition that is also ambiguous. Further, in the context of the Gospel of John as a whole, "ask me...in my name" is strange doctrine, if it is taken to refer to prayer.

But the Sahidic Coptic reading, ЄΤЄΤΝϢΑΝΑΙΤЄΙ ΝΟΥϨШΒ ϨΜ ΠΑΡΑΝ ΠΑΙ ϯΝΑΑΑϤ, "If you should ask anything in my name, this I will do," harmonizes with the rest of Jesus' teaching. -- John 15:16; 16:23