As I'm looking at John 7:22, I see:

Moses gave you circumcision (it is, of course, not from Moses, but from the patriarchs), and you circumcise a man on the sabbath. (NRSV)

It seems like the parenthetical reference is an annotation to clarify a potential sticking point (perceived error). Why is there the confusion here? Why not just say "Abraham gave you circumcision"?

It seems to me that this may mean that the original text lacked the parenthetical comment because the original author interpreted the Torah symbolically. That it was a story, like Homer gave us the Odyssey, Moses gave us the stories of the pentateuch. Hence the true source of circumcision was from Moses, the inventor of the Torah, and not from Abraham because Abraham (and circumcision) was an invention of Moses. Otherwise, circumcision (as a law) would have predated Moses's delivery of the Torah.

It seems then that a later literalist received the text and added the annotation to "correct it" according to their method of interpretation.

This seems to match Philo of Alexandria who writes (for one example):

When trees of knowledge and life are mentioned, this can only be understood allegorically, since in reality there are no such trees, (de opif. m. 54)

It seems like the Alexandrian school preferred a purely analogical read (e.g. the referents of the text did not exist). This is contrasted with the literalist school of Antioch.

It seems solid to interpret the seeming tension in this verse as tension between these two schools of interpretation, and the insertion indicating that the original text likely lacked the parenthetical literalist intrusion.

Are there other interpretations of this verse that I am missing?

2 Answers 2


It is fine to have such theories about the text but there is no textual (historical) evidence for such a development. The phrase, "not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers" (or similar) are extant in the earliest copies of MSS.

The only real textual variation is earlier in the verse as Ellicott points out:

(22) Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision.—Some MSS., and many editors, place the “therefore,” or, on this account, at the close of the last verse, reading, “Ye all marvel on this account,” and then the present verse, “Moses gave unto you circumcision . . .” The reading of our version is, however, better supported, and agrees better with the writer’s style. “On this account hath Moses given you circumcision, not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers.” The argument is, “Ye circumcise on the Sabbath day because circumcision is part of the Mosaic law; but Moses gave you circumcision because he had an anterior and higher authority for it, and in practice you recognise this and make it override the Sabbath. But if circumcision is allowed, why not a deed of mercy? This is the practice and precept of your rulers. But if a patriarchal rite is greater than the Mosaic Sabbath, because the fathers were anterior to Moses, how much more an act of love, which is anterior to all time.”

  • Good to the point answer.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 22:15
  • Not sure what this answered. We can certainly largely accept theories of provenance in the 90s for John while only having a credit card sized fragment from 125 AD. We don't demand that the earliest dating of the text sit with the earliest witness, for example (c200AD for this verse in P66). Internal narrative evidence provides a date. How do we account for the confusing language in 7:22? Was Jesus using language that "the Jews" could understand? If so, does this mean that THEY did not take the stories to be literal history? Or is it just merely what happened for no reason?
    – Gus L.
    Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 23:10

Readers of [John 7:22-23] may struggle to understand why certain cosmetic procedures (like "La-Mul" לָ-מוּל: "to-circumcise") are accepted as a Shabbat Covenant [Leviticus 12:3], compared with lucrative medical consultations [Nehemiah 10:31] seen as work.

Shabbat is a holy day of rest for humans & animals to abstain from the production of merchandise (caused by human love of earning $ money). | Freely establishing a child's covenant to God without animal labor and purchasing of goods [Leviticus 12:3] is observing [Exodus 31:14-17] the covenant of Shabbat as a sign to know that YHVH makes you holy.

  • Genesis 2:3 [Tanakh]
  • Deuteronomy 5:14 [Tanakh]
  • Leviticus 23:3 [Tanakh]
  • Exodus 20:8-11 [Tanakh]
  • Isaiah 58:13 [Tanakh]
  • Jeremiah 17:24 Tanakh]
  • Nehemiah 10:32 [Tanakh]

The author of [John 7:22-23] questions the sacred covenant of Shabbat circumcision to allow the personal pursuit of cosmetic & financial self-preservation.

Ha-Shabbat הַשַּׁבָּת : "The-Sabbath" will always be about spending time with God by loving your neighbor, instead of spending and making $ money for yourself (which Paul sadly supports) in the New $habbat :[Colossians 2:16-17], [Galatians 4:10-11], [Romans 14:5-6], [Hebrews 4:9-10].

  • Good answer. When you consider the place Moses had with the leaders Jesus spoke to, the way Jesus said it made perfect sense. Plus, he was discussing the Law.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 22:24

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