INTERPOLATIONS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT: Definition. In its rigorous sense, an interpolation is an insertion in a text or document with the object of obtaining backing or authority for the interpolator's opinion or project. This is the ordinary dictionary sense of the group of words, "interpolation, interpolate, interpolator." This is also the meaning assigned to the word by legal usage, according to which an interpolation is an insertion within a will or deed, or a molding of its text to an end distinct from the original end and aim of the text itself. The same sense is assigned to the word by diplomacy, where an interpolation is a tampering with the text of a public document by one party to it, in order to gain an advantage over the other party. Thus "interpolation" seems to imply, first, a fixed text and, secondly, a conscious or deliberate purpose to alter or twist the meaning and intention of a text, the interpolator’s aim being to slip his meaning under cover of a mind having greater authority or higher standing than his own, so securing for his own opinion or judgment a market-value above its intrinsic worth. For example, a Christian student of the second century inserted in the text of Josephus (Ant. XVIII., iii. 3) the well-known passage regarding Jesus. His object was to make Josephus a witness to Christ. This is an interpolation in the rigorous sense.

Strict Sense Inapplicable to New Testament. It is doubtful, however, whether the word in this sense can be safely and correctly applied to any part of the field of text-variation in the New Testament. At least, if used at all, it must be used with caution. The conditions of thought have materially altered since the word came into use. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when for the first time Christians began to be seriously disturbed by text-variation (the life and work of Brian Walton and of Johann Albrecht Bengel [q.v.] yield examples), the standing view of the New Testament has regarded it as an inerrant book or collection of books written by inspired individuals. This conception seemed to involve a belief that the text, once for all delivered in apostolic autographs, should have been closed against change. It was this conception which gave rise to the furious controversies in England (nineteenth century) over the "three witnesses" passage (I John v. 7). Both the conservative and the anticonservative forces of Christendom gave the idea of interpolation great vogue. The currency of the idea depended therefore on a body of related ideas. But those ideas have been modified in order to bring them into agreement with widening and deepening knowledge of the apostolic age. Neither of the two conditions presupposed by the rigorous definition of the term interpolation can be placed within the period when the New-Testament literature was coming to the light. The conception of the inspired text as an apostolic autograph, finished, like a modern book, at the time of publication, has broken down under the pressure of historical truth. Regarding the Gospels, it is known (see GOSPELS) that the author of a single Gospel was quite as much corporate as individual. The text remained plastic for a considerable period. The "Gospel" was not thought of as a book, but as a living word, a spiritual climax, a majestic conviction. So long as this conception had sway, the gospel-text lay open to the formative and molding forces of the Christian consciousness. It was not till deep in the second century that this situation altogether passed away. When that happened, when the Gospel came to be thought of as a book, the text became fixed and rigid. The Church’s theory of inspiration and the zeal of scholars and theologians endowed the text with powers of resistance sufficient to withstand the ceaseless tendency to mold it by interpretation.

Examples from the Gospels. So then the possibility of text-molding continued deep into the second century. The last twelve verses of St. Mark’s Gospel are a case in point. The conclusion of the Gospel somehow fell into confusion, was torn off, or lost. A reverent scholar, probably in the first half of the second century, wrote in the present conclusion, taking his materials from Matthew and Luke. The doxology to the Lords Prayer in one form of the Matthean text (Matt. v. 13) is another example. The Prayer was soon taken into the corporate worship of Jewish Christians. Designed by Jesus not so much for a specific prayer as to show the framework and perspective of prayer, it needed the ascription to qualify it for liturgical uses. The Christians who made the addition had no thought of doing injury to Christ’s authority or tampering with his meaning. They rather supposed that they were asserting his authority and publishing his mind. Consequently, the second of the conditions stated above, a deliberate purpose to alter the text, is wholly lacking. Both conditions therefore being absent, doubt regarding the correctness and propriety of the term in the New-Testament field appears to be well founded, so far as the Gospels are concerned. The phenomena of interpolation, under the pressure of recent discoveries, are converted in large measure into one element of a much larger and more vital problem, namely the part played by Christian interpretation of the person of Christ in bringing the Logia, the saving words of Jesus, into their present text. One example will serve, the text of our Lord’s teaching about divorce (Matt. v. 32, xix. 9; Mark x. 9 sqq.; Luke xvi. 18). A strong, if not a decisive, body of scholarly opinion, renders it probable that the permission of divorce on the ground of fornication or adultery was no part of our Lord’s teaching. Mark and Luke are silent. Furthermore, this exception to his prohibition of divorce seems to run counter to his methods as an inspirer of constructive morality. Except in this one instance, he deals with the supreme ideals in their perfection of spiritual and moral beauty. Therefore it seems probable that the Matthean text is a molded form of the original logion, and that the change took place as the result of debates between Jewish Christians and Jews over the interpretation of Deut. xxiv. 1. But no scholar would think of applying the word "interpolation" to the process.

Further Examples. The same process goes on in the New-Testament text outside the Gospels. Harnack and others have recently affirmed that "things strangled" (Acts xv. 29) was never a part of the original Lucan text, but was read in by later Christians. This is problematical. But there is little that is problematical regarding the present text of Eph. iii. 5. St. Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians (see PAUL). He did not write and could not have written "as it was revealed to his holy apostles." These words show the handiwork of the Paulinist editor of the Pauline letters. It is, however, quite a different affair to say that the editor was an interpolator. Indeed, the use of the term seems to involve a view of the origin and growth of the New-Testament Scriptures which is decisively contradicted by a large and growing body of facts. It would be, for example, a serious misnomer to call John viii. 53-ix. 11 (the woman taken in adultery) an interpolation. That it is no part of the Johannine text is now agreed on all hands. Yet there are strong grounds for believing the story to be a piece of genuine and trustworthy tradition. Some day, when the Churches have recovered their self-possession, this fragment may find itself printed along with other extra-canonical sayings of Jesus as an appendix to the New Testament. Again, John v. 3-4 (the account of the angel stirring the waters) can not justly be called an interpolation. No conscious, deliberate intention to tamper with the text is here in question. The variant is found within a class of phenomena which belong to the history of the conflict between the text and the margin. How natural, how irresistible even the conflict is, may be illustrated by the history of the greatest hymns and their use in the churches (cf. Julian, Hymnology, s.v. "Rock of Ages" or "Nearer, my God, to Thee"). When once a noble hymn has been taken to the heart of the living Church it begins to pay taxes for its right to rule. Similarly, sane historical views of the sacred text help to realize the immense pressure brought to bear on a book like the Bible incessantly employed and appealed to by canonist and theologian, by the preacher and the pastor and the saint, and to prevent wonder at the irrepressible conflict, under certain conditions, between the text and the margin. The case which seems to come nearest to the requirements of rigorous definition is I John vii. 6-8a (the "three heavenly witnesses"). The authority against it is overwhelming, and its entrance into the Greek text is illuminating. Erasmus omitted it in the first edition of his Greek Testament (1516). A great outcry was raised, and Erasmus offered to insert the reading if a single Greek manuscript containing it could be found. One was found, later study of which made probable that its text for I John had been achieved by a translation, at a very late period, out of Latin into Greek. But Erasmus kept his word, and the reading appeared in his second edition. It became a part of the commercial text of the New Testament and passed into the so-called textus receptus of 1633.