54. The woman caught in Adultery. (John 7:53-8:11)
Most modern versions of the New Testament have a note like that of the NIV at this specific piece of Scripture: “The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53 – 8:11.” The Common English Bible even puts it in brackets.
But what are the real facts behind this part of Scripture?
The challenge before every devout Christian and specific the honest translator is to discern the true Word of God, nothing less, but also nothing more. “Sola Scriptura”, undiluted, nor distorted!
The question before us is whether this beautiful and important incident had in fact been part of scripture as “word of God” or is this jewel portraying the true beauty and character of Jesus something some unknown person had fabricated later on and added to the Gospel of John. Is it from God, or should it be discarded?
Let us look at all the real facts revealed by the manuscripts.
John 7:53 – 8:11
|Witness:||Greek:||Marked as uncertain or elsewhere:||Translations:||Church Fathers:||Greek:||Translations:||Church Fathers:|
|101-200||p66 , p75||Diatessaron|
|201-300||Didascalia||Sahidic||Clement, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian|
|301-400||Vulgate, Bohairic||Apostolic Constitutions, Ambrosiaster, Ambrose||א , B W||1 Old Latin, 2 Syriac, Bohairic, Achmimic, Gothic|
|401-500||D||3 Old Latin, Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopic||Augustine, Jerome||A, C, T||Syriac, Armenian, Georgian||Chrysostom, Nonnus, Cyril|
|501-600||1 Old Latin||N||1 Old Latin||Cosmas|
|601-700||2 Old Latin, Syriac||1 other Uncial manuscript||2 Old Latin|
|801-900||H, K, M,
|F, Λ, Π||X, Y, Δ, Θ|
|901-1000||G, Γ,||S||1 other Uncial manuscript|
|1001-1600||15 Minuscules, Byzantine Lectionary||5 Minuscules, f1, f13, Byzantine Lectionary||Old Latin||12 Minuscules||Theohpylact|
Let us consider the above factual evidence and employ objective scientifically proven criteria.
1. External criteria
When we evaluate manuscript evidence, we have to keep in mind that the New Testament had been written in Greek. Therefore the Greek manuscripts are of paramount importance Codex Bezae (D), a manuscript containing extraordinary additions and unique readings dated the fifth century, and codex Basiliensis (E), in which the scribe himself indicated that he doubts the authenticity of this paragraph, are the only Greek manuscripts including it up to the year 800A.D. Yet it is lacking in no less than twelve uncial manuscripts for the same period!
Concerning ancient translations the numbers are equal though the inclusion are represented by five languages versus eight lacking it.
Six Church fathers refer to it, but ten including Origen, Chrysostom and Nonnos who left us a verse for verse commentary did not include it. It is also noteworthy that Tatianus who compiled a single narrative of the four Gospels, the Diatessaron, did not include it. Could it be that he didn’t know it, or did he discard it as spurious?
Greek manuscripts, antique translations as well as the ancient church fathers all indicate towards not including this paragraph in the Gospel of John.
2. Internal criteria.
Here we look at criteria concerning the scribes themselves. i) In many manuscripts the scribes themselves give an indication that they doubt the authenticity of this paragraph by a note or by putting it between asterisks. ii) This paragraph if not always found here in John, but in several other places in the NT. like after John 7:36; or John 7:44; or John 21:24, and even after Luke 21:38 and Luke 24:54. iii) Where it is placed at present, it interrupts the conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees in the temple. There is also a break in the logic sequence, for in vs.9 we read that everybody went away, and no one remained (Vs.11) yet Jesus spoke to them again (Vs.12) Again the facts are strong against the inclusion of this paragraph at this place in John.
3. Intrinsic criteria.
Looking at the intrinsic criteria, two points of view has to be considered. i) Are the words and style in accordance with that of John elsewhere? Matthew uses the combination of “scribes and Pharisees” in 11 verses; Mark in 3 and Luke in 6. Both word are used in many other combinations. But in John, though he refers to “Pharisees” in no less than 18 times elsewhere in his Gospel, a reference to “scribes” or “teachers of the Law” is found only in this paragraph! Looking at style it is very typical in the Gospel of John that an important event is followed by a theological discussion and explanation by Jesus concerning the meaning the event. This event that cries out for such a dissertation is strangely without any! This paragraph gives all indication that it had not been written by John.
ii) But what is of greater importance, is whether this event could be rendered as authentic to Jesus. Everything points in that direction. No ascetic monk would have thought it up and let the woman get away scot free! Jesus condemns not but empowers. Jesus gives a second chance, but puts the responsibility on everyone where it should be.
The intrinsic criteria strongly points to some other origin than John for this paragraph, yet gives strong indications to its authenticity to Jesus’ way and ministry!
There are serious questions concerning the origin and placing of this paragraph in the Gospels, and specifically here in John.
There is clear evidence that it had not been written by John, or had originally been part of his Gospel. Yet John himself confesses that “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)
Yet this paragraph is so authentic to Jesus’ way with sinners!
How should we evaluate or explain this paragraph?
This paragraph had most probably been a floating tradition in the Western Church that had been inserted into the codices as a loose piece of parchment. At a later date some scribes inserted it where they saw fit.
An open canon?
All documents of the New Testament had been written during the first century. But during the same period, and especially later on, many other documents with some spiritual content had also been written, but often containing fictitious events and distortions, often written as pseudepigrapha under the name of an apostle. Very early it was clear that only some documents could be rendered as canon or measure for the spiritual life of the Church. When the synod of Hippo had to decide which documents could be rendered as canon, an apostle as author was one of the most important criteria. Yet when we look at the manuscript evidence, it is most probable that this paragraph had not been part of the Gospel of John when the rest of it had been accepted as canon! This brings the question before us: What is our conception of “canon” for us? How do we define “Sola Scriptura”? Do we accept only the writings of the apostles? Do we accept the year 100 A.D. as cutting off point? Or the Latin translation of Jerome, known as the Vulgate (±382 A.D.), the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church? Or do we accept the decision of Hippo in 393 A.D.? Or should we accept the majority text of the Greek Orthodox Church of around 1500 A.D. containing many inclusions, omissions and alterations that originated through the centuries? Or should we make Desiderius Erasmus the final authority on the canon with his first printed Greek text of 1516 A.D.?
Instances like these challenges our concept of what we regard as canon! Should we accept an open canon? On what grounds should we accept or reject books of the Bible, portions or verses or even words that can be proven not ever to have been part of the original manuscript? Or should we let ourselves be guided by what we have become used to and declare it “Word of God”?
At about 320 A.D. with the large demand for New Testament manuscripts when the Christian faith became the official religion in the Roman Empire copies were made in a scriptorium where the lector slowly read the book while several scribes would then write their copies. Scribes were paid according to the official count of lines (15-16 letters per line) for each book. Matthew had a count of 2,560 lines, Mark 1,616, Luke 2,750 and John 2,024 lines, indicating the absence of the woman caught in adultery. At that time it had not yet officially been part of the gospel of John!
The genuineness of this encounter of Jesus with the adulterous woman cries out to be included in the Bible. But all indications point towards it never been written by John and where it is included at present it causes a break in the discussion of Jesus with the Pharisees. Should translators rather move it to the end of the Gospel of John but keep it in the Bible? What would you do?
If you had to make the final decision, having the facts before you and the responsibility before God to render only what He had given as His Word, what would your decision be and on what grounds?
Translation is such a responsibility. Translators have to do with the very words God had spoken! And Christians should be able to trust it as a true rendering of what God had given to be written to us, nothing less, but also nothing more!
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