St. John’s Gospel (22) - Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8:1-11)
St John’s Gospel (22): The Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8:1-11)
The Textual Issue - This story (pericope) is disputed as to it’s authenticity since it is not found in the earliest and most reliable Greek manuscripts. Bruce Metzler, “the evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming.” C. K. Barrett, “It is certain that this narrative is not an original part of the gospel.” Leon Morris, “The textual evidence makes it impossible to hold that this section is an authentic part of the Gospel.”
This is stated ad infinitum. This general dismissal will not do. What is the basis? “The earliest and most reliable” are only four manuscripts. Two of these are papyri that date to third century (P66 and P75) and two are codices that date to fourth century (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus). That’s it, four out of 5800 or more. So to put this in perspective, it is present in vast the majority of NT manuscripts.
Many general claims about this text not being “early” lead to some confusion, as though in 500 A.D. someone created it out of whole cloth. Not at all. The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles is dated at 230 AD. Book II.24 refers to the passage, “And when the elders had set another woman who had sinned before Him, and had left the sentence to Him, and were gone out, our Lord, the Searcher of the hearts, inquiring of her whether the elders had condemned her, and being answered No, He said unto her: “Go thy way therefore, for neither do I condemn thee.” This is nearly as early as P66 (ca 200), concurrent with P75 (3rd Century), well before Sinaiticus (330) and Vaticanus (325).
Not only are the “earliest and best” manuscripts only four in number, but one of them, Vaticanus, actually has a diacritical mark where the story ought to appear, indicating that this pericope was known to the editor(s), though they determined not to include it.
I have heard many preachers refer to the claim of Bruce M. Metzger in The Text of the New Testament - “In the east, no Greek father mentions the passage for one thousand years.” The only problem is this is inaccurate. Preachers need to update their stats and quotes. A few things have happened since 1971. There’s this thing called Wikipedia: “in 1941 a large collection of the writings of Didymus the Blind (ca. 313- 398) was discovered in Egypt, including a reference to the pericope adulterae as being found in ‘several copies’; and it is now considered established that this passage was present in its usual place in some Greek manuscripts known in Alexandria and elsewhere from the 4th Century onwards.”
There are two internal considerations for the inclusion of this passage as the first part of John 8. John wrote not only the Gospel, but most conservative scholars agree that he wrote Revelation. Dr. Warren Gage compared the Gospel and Revelation and discovered an extensive parallelism which proceeds through John and Revelation (John’s Gospel: A Neglected Key to Revelation?). He observes the chiastic structure links to this pericope and the dragon's war against the woman in Revelation 12. Note that Jesus (ch. 8) proceeds to call these leaders the spawn of their father the devil.
Another internal evidence argument is made by James B. Jordan. He notes that at the end of ch. 7, “Nicodemus objected: ‘Our law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?’ (7:51). This leads directly into the John 8, as an instance of a true judge sitting in judgment. The Pharisees plotted to judge Jesus without Biblical due process, but Jesus used due process to judge them.”
The Testing Issue - Like other examples in the Gospels, this was a lame attempt at entrapment by the corrupt leaders of Israel (v6). They wanted to seize Him in the act of violating the Law. They entrapped Him in a dilemma: whose Law will you obey Rome, Moses, or New Covenant law?
The Torah Issue - Jesus averts them by simply applying the standards of Torah (Law) to the accusers, e.g., “If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing . . . then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother” (Dt. 19:16-19). Further, where’s the dude? “If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman” (Dt. 22:22). Jesus simply invokes the principle, “The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Dt. 17:7). In effect this sham
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more