“…Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.”Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him…Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (Jn. 7:53-8:11 NKJV)
The pericope adulterae (henceforth PA) is one of the most well known and beloved passages in the Bible. Everything about the story looks, sounds, and acts like Jesus. This story has been used for centuries describing the abundant grace of Jesus and His desire to forgive sinners. To tamper with a beloved passage like the PA is to agitate a hornet’s nest and create a target on one’s own back. However, this subject must be addressed because most scholars question the authenticity of the story. At Citylight Ministries, we believe and defend inspiration. Because we hold a strong view of inspiration, we believe it is our job to study and bring out evidence to prove or disprove that John actually wrote this story under inspiration. My goal in this article is to answer the questions of “Is there external evidence for John writing the PA?” “Is there internal evidence for John writing the PA?” and “if John did not write the PA, then where did the story originate?” and also, “Is the story of the PA a true story that belongs in the Bible?”
Is there external evidence for John writing the PA?
I believe every reader should begin this study by asking this question, “Is it possible for a story about Jesus that survived antiquity to be true without being a part of scripture?” How we answer this question, I believe, will set the tone for how we examine this discussion. There are many stories of Jesus that even the Apostle John said took place that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (John 21:25). If we just take what the Apostle John said himself, we would have to answer the question with a resounding yes! With that being established, let’s move to the external evidence about the PA. There are potentially fourteen majuscule manuscripts that contain the PA listed the IGNTP edition: 05, 07, 09, 011, 013, 017, 021, 028, 030, 036, 039, 041, 045, and 0233. Majuscules are often dated closer to the originals. They are all capital (uppercase) letters with no spaces in-between words. Minuscules are lowercase words written with spaces. By the 11th century, almost all the manuscripts were minuscule. Therefore, the most reliable manuscripts are often majuscule manuscripts due to their date. Though there are potentially fourteen, the earliest of these manuscripts is fifth-century. The earliest and best versions such as the majority of the Syriac, the Sahidic dialect of the Coptic, the Garima Gospels and other Ethiopic witnesses, the Gothic, and some Armenian lack the PA as well. Very few patristic writers reference the PA until the 12 century. And the ones who reference it, often times are referencing a similar version to the PA or quoting from a non-canonical book.
According to Maurice Robinson, one of the main editors of the Robinson-Pierpont Majority Text, there are three internal variation forms between the manuscript witnesses of the PA. His three forms came in response to Von Soden’s claim of discovering seven forms within the manuscript tradition. Robinson acknowledged that there are a few other forms with minor attestation (such as the PA in Codex Bezae or Family 1). Using Von Soden’s numbering system that labeled these forms µ1 through µ7, Robinson affirmed three of these forms: µ5, µ6, and µ7. The statistical percentages that Robinson documented looks like this:1
µ5 ~ 31% of manuscripts
µ6 ~ 27% of manuscripts
µ7 ~ 29% of manuscripts
Although Dr. Robinson would still defend the PA as being authentic to John, his commitment to scholarship required him to produce data demonstrating that the PA is technically not in the “majority” of manuscripts when evaluating the different forms.
This passage is also referred to as a “floating text” because of its varying locations. Bruce Metzger said,
“The pericope is obviously a piece of floating tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western Church. It was subsequently inserted into various manuscripts at various places”2
The reason Metzger made this assertion is that the story appears in three different places within John 7. There’s also a lack of unity between the manuscripts in how they tell the story as well. The “Family 1” manuscripts place the PA at the end of John 21:25. Codex 115 has the story after John 8:13. Manuscript 225 has it after John 7:36. A group of manuscripts known as “Family 13” place the PA after Luke 21:38 which we will look at in more depth later. Codex 1333 has it placed after Luke 24:53. This amount of movement within the manuscript tradition is unique only to the PA. It would appear that this story had trouble finding a home within the scriptures. We will also spend more time dealing with why John 7:53-8:11 became home for the PA later in the article. There are no other textual variants found within the New Testament manuscripts that are as inconstant, misplaced, and controversial than the PA. The external evidence is concerning at best and disturbing at the worst.
Is there internal evidence for John writing the PA?
Most Greek students will spend their first two years memorizing vocabulary from the New Testament. A first-year Greek student will find the writings of John to be much easier to follow than someone like Paul or Peter because John used a more simple selection of vocabulary. When the first year Greek student reads through the Gospel of John and comes to the PA, they will see for the first time verbs, nouns, and conjunctions that John does not use anywhere else in his writings (which would include: 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation). In certain places of the PA, they will see words that are never used in any part of the New Testament. In my personal study on the PA, I calculated over thirteen word renderings that John did not use in these formations in any of his writings before or after the PA. For the reader, I will demonstrate ten of the major ones: one Pronoun/conjunction, three nouns, and five verbs. We will look at these in the order of the narrative.
1. In verse 1, John makes reference to the ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν (The Mount of Olives). Nowhere else in John’s writings does he focus on this Mountain. It’s a familiar location to Matthew and Mark, but absent from John’s normal vocabulary.
2. In verse 2, John allegedly states that Jesus came Ὄρθρου (early in the morning) to the Temple. This term is used by Luke in his Gospel, but once again, nowhere else does John use this term.
3. In verse 3, this would be John’s only mention of the group called the γραμματεῖς (scribes). This is an unusual find for a reader. John often mentions the Pharisees and the chief priests, but he never mentions the scribes.
4. In verse 5, there is a pronoun/conjunction that is unique for John to write, σὺ οὖν (you then or therefore you). This phrase is a textual variant as well as unusual for John. The manuscripts disagree as to whether or not “What then do you say?” belongs in the narrative at all. But again, this reading is not Johannine in its usage.
Verse 6 has more discrepancy than any of the other verses. There are 3 verbs that are unlike John to use in this verse alone.
5. The first verb is πειράζοντες (testing). Matthew, Mark, and Luke use this identical word throughout their writings in reference to the religious leaders, but John did not.
6. The second verb is κατηγορεῖν (accuse). Luke uses this phrase 5 times in his writings, but once again, John does not. We will see later the connection of some of these terms to the Lukan form of writing.
7. The third verb is μὴ προσποιούμενος (as though they did not hear). This verb and participle are not only unusual for John, but they are also found nowhere else in the New Testament. This is also a textual variant within the narrative. Some of the manuscripts that contain the PA do not have this additional phrase.
Verse 7 has two additional verbs that are found nowhere else in John’s writings.
8. The first is the verb ἐπέμενον (continued). Not only is this verb lacking in John’s vocabulary elsewhere, but it is also lacking in all the New Testament writer’s vocabulary.
9 and 10. The second verb is found in verses 7 and 10. The verb is ἀνακύψας (raised Himself up). In verse 10, the verb is used to describe the scene when the Jews walked away from Jesus. Outside of the PA, John never used this verb in any of his other writings.
I am not insinuating that the New Testament writers cannot utilize terms in their writings only once. However, to have this many in one narrative is completely unheard of. Also, the manuscripts do not even agree as to whether some of these words belong in the narrative at all!
These types of discrepancies should be very alarming for a serious Bible student who is seeking to find the truth on this matter. The external evidence points against the story being authentic to John. The weight of textual criticism stands against the story belonging in John. Though the majority of manuscripts have the narrative, we’ve demonstrated that these manuscripts are much later and struggle to agree on location and wording. The five most important manuscripts of the Gospel of John do not contain it: P66, P75, Aleph, B, and Alexandrinus. When these five manuscripts are in unison, that is a rare connection. Alexandrinus is a unique manuscript because the Gospel’s read more Byzantine and the Epistles are more Alexandrian. Therefore, if the two oldest manuscripts of John (P66, P75) are silent to the PA and Aleph, B, and Alexandrinus are all in agreement with the oldest, we have a safe case to follow this manuscript tradition. Internally, there are too many variables to not consider this suspicious at best. There are too many unique readings and unusual syntax for John to have written this as demonstrated above.
If John did not write the PA, then where did the story originate?
This is where the evidence begins to change directions. I have hinted throughout the first two sections that we will revisit certain statements. My desire henceforth is to take us on a journey through history and logic. I want to focus on two ancient stories that two church fathers mentioned in their writings that sound similar to the PA. Often times, people who contend for the authenticity of the PA will make mention of early church fathers who quoted it. The church fathers that are often referenced are Didymus the Blind (313-398 AD) and Papias (60-163 AD). There is also a claim by Eusebius (260-339 AD) that he found a story in the writings of Papias that is believed to refer to an alternative version of the PA3. We will also examine a Syriac writing known as Didascalia that contains a narrative likened to the PA. First, we will examine the documentation of Didymus the Blind. He stated,
“It is related in certain gospels that a woman was condemned by the Jews because of a sin and was taken to the customary place of stoning, in order that she might be stoned. We are told that when the Savior caught sight of her and saw they were ready to stone her, He said to those who wanted to throw stones at her: “Let the one who has sinned, lift a stone and throw it.” And no one dared to do so. When they examined themselves and recognized that they too bore responsibility for certain actions, they did not dare stone her.”4
Though this story seems to be relatable to the PA, we need to examine the differences. The statement he made was “certain gospels.” I have read numerous accounts of the defenders of the PA trying to suggest that Didymus was referencing the gospels collectively as a whole rather than more than one account. It would have been one thing to say “the gospels” but the statement he made was “certain gospels.” We have to remember as 21st-century readers, these people did not have “certainty” as to what was considered “canon” of scripture yet. There were other documents that were circulating with true stories of the life and ministry of Jesus. Some of those documents contained truth at times and error at others. An example of this is the Gospel of the Hebrews. In fact, it is very likely that this account was one of the “gospels” Didymus was referencing. Didymus the Blind was a teacher in Alexandria Egypt and this was the location of where the Gospel of the Hebrews was utilized.
Clement, Origen and Dydimus the Blind were Church Fathers in Alexandria and often made mention of this document by name. It was also quoted by Jerome, either directly or through the commentaries of Origen.5 It would appear that this document was a record of Jesus’ ministry given to the believers of Alexandria. Eusebius (260-339AD) was a Bishop in Caesarea and listed the Gospel of the Hebrews in his Antilegomena as one of the disputed writings of the early church.6 Eusebius had this to say about the document,
“Moreover, many have also reckoned among these writings the Gospel according to the Hebrews, in which those especially from among the Hebrews who have accepted Christ find delight”7
Though Eusebius questioned the full validity of this document, he certainly saw the spiritual benefits of truth from it for the Christian Jews in Alexandria. I do not believe this document is canon nor should it be utilized and studied the same way that we examine and live by the New Testament. However, as I stated earlier in this article, are we content with the idea that there are true accounts of Jesus that are not inspiration? The reason I am bringing our attention to this document is that Didymus made mention of “certain gospels” and perhaps this was one of those “gospel” accounts. We know, through Papias, that the Gospel of the Hebrews contained a story similar to the PA.
“And he (Papias) has adduced another story of a woman who was accused of many sins before the Lord, which is contained in the Gospel according to the Hebrews.8
In conclusion to our first point about Didymus’ quote, we have to accept the fact that these men quoted other documents that they understood as truth about Jesus before the full recognition of the New Testament canon. Even Luke, in his Gospel, recognized that there were “many” accounts circulating about the life of Jesus. In Luke 1:1-2, he said,
“Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us.”
Luke knew and possibly even utilized some of the resources and documentation that he had about Jesus in his day. His goal in his Gospel was to give Theophilus a more accurate and excellent account than of those “many” in circulation. We have to recognize that there were various documents that circulated about the ministry of Jesus that contained some elements of truth in places.
The Didascalia Apostolorum was the second source that displayed a similar narrative to the PA. The Didascalia was a collection of teachings that were addressing Christian practices and church order. The authors claim to be the Twelve Apostles at the time of the council in Jerusalem which is very unlikely, but interesting to consider.9 The complete document is found in the Syriac language but has been translated into English in 1903 by Margaret Dunlop Gibson. The original document was believed to have been written in Greek, but those copies have been lost in history. A small fragment of chapter 15 has been found in Greek, and in 1996 another fragment was found in Coptic.10 The writers of Didascalia had this to say to the Bishops:
“..if you receive not him who repents, because thou art merciless, thou sinnest against the Lord God, because thou dost not obey our Lord and God in acting as He acted; for even He to that woman who had sinned, her whom the elders placed before him and left it to judgment at His hands, and went away; he then who searcheth the hearts, asked her and said to her, “Have the Elders condemned thee, daughter?” She saith to him, “No, Lord. And our Savior said, Go, and return no more to this, neither do I condemn thee.” In this, therefore, let our Savior and King and God be to you a sign, O Bishops! Be like Him, that ye may be gentle and humble and merciful..”11
What needs to be noted is that this narrative was given to Bishops in regards to their demeanor toward sinners. The authors never referenced the source as being John. Nor did they say “certain Gospels” as Didymus did in his work. They were quickly stating a truth about Jesus that they had learned without making reference. This version of the PA is interesting because it gives a more detailed account of the dialogue between Jesus and the woman. Once again, we do not see the sin of adultery mentioned specifically, nor do we see anything about Jesus writing on the ground. This will be important to remember later in the article because we will give an explanation as to why this could be the case.
After examining both stories from Didascalia and The Gospel of the Hebrews, it would appear that these two stories combined fill in the missing links of the narrative we see in the Gospel of John. I affirm and agree with Bart Ehrman that these two accounts are a conflation to make one complete story. Ehrman in his 1988 landmark article on the PA wrote,
“By the fourth century there were actually three extant versions of the PA: (1) the entrapment story which Jesus freely pardons a sinful woman, know to Papias and the author of the Didascalia, (2) the story of Jesus’ intervention in an execution proceeding, preserved in the Gospel according to the Hebrews and retold by Didymus in his Ecclesiastes commentary, and (3) the popular version found in MSS of the Gospel of John, a version which represents a conflation of the two earliest stories.”12
The question that still needs to be answered is “who wrote the story?” We see two references to it in the documentation above. Where did they find this information? I would like to spend the rest of this section making the argument that this narrative originated at the hands of the Gospel writer Luke. I do not believe it is a coincidence that certain scribes in the “Family 13” manuscripts chose to insert this story after Luke 21:38. These scribes apparently saw the Lukanisms in the PA. Kyle Hughes wrote a thesis called “The Lukan special material and the Tradition History of the Pericope Adulterae”13 for his Master’s work that I believe demonstrates the greatest evidence of this. Kyle Hughes found 7 Lukanisms in his study of the PA. Though his work on this has been thorough and well researched, I went back and re-examined the PA for myself, and came up with 10 Lukanisms in the PA.14
1. The noun Ὄρθρου (8:2) translated early, is a term that only Luke uses in the New Testament (Luke 24:1, Acts 5:21). This reading sets the stage for the arrival at the Temple.
2. The verb παρεγένετο (8:2) translated came or arrived is a favorite term for Luke. It occurs 8 times in Luke and 20 times in Acts. This verb introduces Jesus coming into the Temple and is a close relative to the narrative in Didascalia.
3. The phrase εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν (8:2) translated into the Temple. Though it can be found in Matthew and Mark’s writings at times, Luke uses this phrase more often than his fellow writers. He uses this exact phrase in: Luke 2:27; 18:10; 19:45; Acts 3:1-3,8; 5:21; 19:27; 21:26,28-29; 24:6; and 25:8. This parallels the narrative once again in Didascalia.
4. The phrase πᾶς ὁ λαὸς (8:2) translated all the people is mostly used in Luke’s writings. It appears 15 times in Luke-Acts. The word λαὸς is used 84 times in Luke-Acts out of the 142 times in the rest of the New Testament. This phrase establishes the crowd coming into the Temple to hear Jesus which is once again similar to the narrative of Didascalia.
5. The description of Jesus καθίσας (sitting) and ἐδίδασκεν (teaching) (8:2). These two terms are primarily Lukan. These two verbs are only used together twice in the New Testament and that is in Luke 5:3 and Acts 18:11. These terms are once again setting the scene for the narrative which is similar to the one in Didascalia.
6. The phrase ἐν μέσῳ (8:3) is in reference to the adulterous woman being set in the midst. Though other writers of the New Testament used this phrase, once again, not as frequently as Luke. This phrase is found in: Luke 2:46; 8:7; 10:3; 21:21; 22:27,55; 24:36; Acts 1:15; 2:22; 4:7; 17:22; 27:21. This phrase is similar to Didascalia’s narrative when the “elders placed before Him.”
7. The present active infinitive κατηγορεῖν in (8:6). The word is translated to accuse in the PA. This present active infinitive is exclusively Lukan such as Luke 6:7; 23:2; Acts 24:2; 24:19; 28:19. In fact, R.E. Brown demonstrates that the entire phrase ἵνα ἔχωσιν κατηγορεῖν αὐτου (that they might have something of which to accuse Him) closely parallels Luke 6:7.15
8. The imperative verb πορεύου (8:11) translated go in the passage. Matthew uses this format of the verb once. Luke uses this verb 12 times in his writings. 6 times in Luke (5:24; 7:50; 8:48; 10:37; 13:31; 17:19) and 6 times in Acts (8:26; 9:15; 10:20; 22:10,21; 24:25). This verb is mainly Lukan in its usage. This word directly parallels the command to “go” in Didascalia’s narrative of the PA.
9. The phrase ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν (8:11) is translated from now on in the PA. This phrase is a textual variant and does not appear in all the manuscripts. However, it is often used by Luke in his writings. He uses it in: Luke 1:48; 5:10; 12:52; 22:18; 22:69; and Acts 18:6. This once again parallels with Didascalia’s account like most of the others.
10. The postpositive δὲ is Luke’s favorite conjunction that he substitutes in his redaction of Mark’s Gospel which often uses καὶ and τε. This is well documented in H.J. Cadbury’s, “The style and literary method of Luke.”16 This postpositive is used nine times in tying it to the Didascalia narrative of the PA while only one usage ties it the Gospel of the Hebrews.
The summary I give to all this data is this: Most of these Lukanisms are tied to the Didascalia narrative. No Lukanisms were documented in John 8:7b-9 as also noted by Kyle Hughes. It is entirely possible that the authors of Didascalia received their information about this narrative through Luke’s documentation. As stated earlier, it makes sense that the scribes behind the “Family 13” manuscripts deemed it reasonable to insert the PA after Luke 21:38. These scribes must have seen the Lukanisms that we described above in the PA. I am of the persuasion that Luke collected data for his Gospel that is considered the Lukan Special Material. Most scholars refer to this as “L source.” As I have demonstrated earlier from Luke 1:1-4, Luke clearly utilized and worked through documents to create an “orderly account” of the life of Jesus. I am of the persuasion that this narrative originated from Luke’s Special Material and the Church Father’s utilized the documentation of this story from Luke’s study.
I stand in agreement with Bart Ehrman that the PA found in John’s Gospel is a conflation of the two early accounts of Didascalia and the Gospel of the Hebrews. However, we have not established an explanation for where the term “adultery” came into the equation or the act of Jesus writing on the ground. The term adultery was used by 4th-century church Fathers such as Pacian of Barcelona and Ambrosiaster the name given to the writer of the commentary of Paul’s Epistles, during the papacy of Pope Damasus I between 366 and 384.
It needs to be reiterated that these men never pinpointed a specific Gospel writer. It could have been the previous works we examined or even oral tradition passed on throughout the churches. We do not know for certain. It is likely, that a sin worthy of death, would fit the adultery narrative because of Deuteronomy 22:22-24. My only question to the assertion of adultery is where is the man? If she were caught in the “very act” why would the man not be present as well? According to Deuteronomy 22, both are to be brought before the elders and stoned. The Jews were meticulous about following the Law. This would have been a major flaw in their entrapment of Jesus because He could have easily pointed out their failure to bring both the woman and the man in accordance with the Law. This is one of the reasons I am interested in Papias’ statement from the quote above about “many sins.”
The last dilemma to resolve is Jesus writing on the ground. Why is it that none of the ancient accounts of this similar narrative include these details from verses 6 and 8? There are numerous theories that scholars have come up with in order to give a reason for this insertion. Oddly enough, I find myself agreeing with Bart Ehrman on this. The most difficult part about studying discrepancies like this one is that my Christian peers will believe that I am attacking the Bible. Although I do not agree with Ehrman’s final conclusions about scripture, his work and research are some of the best available today.
It would appear that the statements of verses 6 and 8 were placed into the narrative in order to prove that Jesus was not illiterate. John 7-8 would be a perfect place to insert a narrative like this in order to strengthen Jesus’ credentials. Earlier in 7:15 the Jews were astonished at His education. They said, “how does this Man know letters, having never studied.” Jesus was not trained under the institutes of the Rabbis. Yet, he was able to speak and read better than the Rabbis in the Temple. There’s just one credential missing in this narrative, Jesus’ ability to write. What a perfect place to insert the PA which has a reading that mentions Jesus’ ability to write in the sand! Outside of Codex D which is 5th-century, the information of Jesus writing came much later in the manuscript tradition. Outside of the PA, there is no other New Testament passage that gives us an image of Jesus writing. It makes sense for a later scribe to choose this location to insert this story here.
Therefore, I agree with Ehrman that this was inserted to prove Jesus was not illiterate. Illiteracy was normal in that time of history. Most of the common people were deprived of a full education. Jesus was a carpenter and raised by simple parents. This is the main reason the Jews were astonished by his ability to understand letters. The term “letters” is the Greek word “γράμματα” which is where we get the word “grammar” in English. I believe this term covers more than just his ability to read which is evident in other passages such as Luke 4:16. Since many of the textual variants come from verses 6 and 8, it makes sense as to why this would be an insertion by a later scribe, who tried to fit this “credential” into an already conflated story.
Is the story of the PA a true story that belongs in the Bible?
The difficult task of ending this article is answering the last question. I will attempt to answer this question in two parts. First, is the PA a true story? Based on the different references to the versions of this story from the Gospel of the Hebrews, Didascalia, and the various references from patristic writers, it is difficult to argue against its validity. As stated above, I believe Luke had an influence on this narrative and that it was a part of his “special material”. It is probable, but not fully provable, that the PA related to Didascalia came from a rough draft of the Gospel of Luke known as “proto-Luke.”
I do agree with some scholars that many of the Biblical texts had revisions before the final draft. Perhaps, Luke chose to remove this story because he already included five similar stories of women that Jesus had forgiven. Remember, the earliest versions of the PA are a much more simple version of the story without all the extra details we’ve examined. He forgave the outcast woman in Luke 7:40-50 who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears. The story in Luke 8:2 tells us how Jesus healed Mary Magdalene of seven demons that possessed her. Luke has made the point already throughout his Gospel account that Jesus was in the business of forgiving sinful women. Perhaps, he did not see this narrative as necessary to include in his final draft as a result.
Second, does it belong in the Bible? The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that this narrative should be excluded from John 7:53-8:11. I do believe it should be footnoted as all other textual variances in scripture. The external, internal, and historical evidence points to this story as being a scribal insertion that scribes tried to find a home for. The wording is not Johannine in its syntax. As demonstrated above, its wording is more Lukan in its syntax. If the PA were an inspired text, the best place to insert this narrative would be after Luke 21:38, which is where the “Family 13” manuscripts placed it. However, there’s no weight of validity in textual criticism to place it there as well. I have no problem concluding that this story is historically true, but not divinely inspired.
I asked a question in the first section that I would like to revisit. I asked, “Is it possible for a story about Jesus that survived antiquity to be true without being a part of scripture?” I believe it is possible and evident. The PA appears to be a historically accurate story that had been passed down through the centuries that scribes wanted to include in the canon of scripture. Along with this insertion, other traditions came into the manuscripts that painted the story up to be more than what the oldest accounts record. We need to recognize that the ministry of Jesus forgiving sinners is not in jeopardy if we exclude this historical account. No major doctrine is excluded from scripture if we remove this narrative. I agree with the statements of Daniel Wallace in a blog he posted about the PA.17
I believe it’s time for us to own up to our tradition of timidity and recognize that this has not helped the Church in the long haul. It’s time to close the gap. I am calling for translators to remove this text from the Gospel of John and relegate it to the footnotes. Although this will be painful and will cause initial confusion, it is far better that lay people hear the truth about scripture from their friends than from their enemies. They need to know that Christ-honoring, Bible-believing scholars also do not think that this text is authentic and that such a stance has not shaken their faith one iota.
It is easy to allow our emotional connections to dictate our theological affirmations. My goal in this article is to not harm our view of inspiration but to strengthen it. Defend the defendable and prove the provable. My view of this passage has changed after many hours of study and documentation. I would love for the evidence to point to this story as being authentic to John. However, I have to be honest with the information that we have about this narrative. I conclude that John did not write the PA. It is Lukan in its syntax and it is very likely it was a part of his special study material.
I do believe there’s enough validity to recognize it as historically accurate, but not enough to call it inspiration. We should take note of the PA when reading and preaching through John and be honest with ourselves and our churches. Like all matters of controversy, we should handle this issue with grace and carefulness. There are those who will not agree with the evidence and make alternative conclusions. This issue should not change our desire or obligation to greet every saint as we are commanded to in Philippians 4:21. No harm will be done by applying the principles of this story to one’s life or audience. As explained earlier, all the truths that are found in the PA can be defended in other passages of scripture. Chase down the truth even if it’s unpopular or requires you to change your position. We need to honor Christ in our lives and churches by standing with the truth.
Grace and Peace
Stephen Boyce Th.D.
Edited by Kate Zerndt
1. Robinson, Maurice A.“The Pericope Adulterae: A Johannine Tapestry with Double Interlock.” In The Pericope Adulterae in Contemporary Research, edited by David Alan Black and Jacob N. Cerone, 115–145. LNTS 551. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016.
Robinson, Maurice A. “Preliminary Observations Regarding the Pericope Adulterae Based Upon Fresh Collations of Nearly All Continuous-Text Manuscripts and All Lectionary Manuscripts Containing The Passage.” Filología Neotestamentaria 13 (2000): 35–59.
2. Text Of The New Testament, p. 320
3. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 3.39.17
4. Didymus the Blind, Commentary on Ecclesiastes 4.223.6-13
5. Jerome, De viris illustribus 2
6. Ehrman, Bart D. (2005b) . Lost Scriptures p 337-339
7. Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.25.5
8. Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica 3.39.17
9. Didascalia Apostolorum in English, Margaret Dunlop Gibson M.R.A.S. LL.D. 1903 pg 1
10. Bradshaw, Paul F. (2002). The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship. Oxford University Press. pp. 78–80
11. Didascalia Apostolorum in English, Margaret Dunlop Gibson M.R.A.A LL.D. 1903, section 39
12. Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” pg 37
13. K.R. Hughes/Novum Testament 55 (2013) 232-251
14. I will be giving the exact Greek usages in John 7:53-8:11 with the understanding that the case, number, gender, tense, voice, and mood can change from one passage to the other.
15. R.E. Brown, The Gospel according to John (2 vols; AB 29; New York: Doubleday, 1966) 1:333
16. H.J. Cadbury, the Style and Literary Method of Luke(HTS 6; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920) 142-144.