The Woman Caught in Adultery!

01 Nov
The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from ...
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Some modern translations do not include the beginning of the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel narrative, or if they do, they have a reference in the margin to its being inserted later by a scribe. The critics claim it is not in the earliest manuscripts. There is ancient evidence showing some scribes placing it at the end of John’s Gospel, then in Luke’s Gospel and even in Mark’s Gospel, but in later manuscripts we have it where we find it today. If this is so, why does any translation insert John 8:1-11 in John’s Gospel at all? If it was never there to begin with, does it have any authority? Is it possible for anyone to offer an adequate reason for why it is there?

Many critics believe John 8:1-11 was added to our Bible by a copyist. However, I need to ask, why would anyone wish to **add** the story of the woman caught in adultery to the Gospel of John? We know, for example, that it had been practically an embarrassment to early Christians that Christ would appear so soft on the issue of adultery! So, if it is not genuine, why would anyone wish to add it? It does have a very interesting history. I have found that John 8:1-11 is not in the Alexandrian text nor in many other ancient texts. It is not in Nonnus, Chrysostom, or Theophylact or in any of the editions of the Syriac version, until it was restored by De Dieu from a copy of Archbishop Usher’s manuscript.

The Scripture is, however, in the Arabic and Ethiopic versions and in the Harmonies of Tatian and Ammonius. The Harmony of Tatian was written in about the year 160 AD. Therefore, we have evidence of its use within about 60 years of the normally accepted date of the death of John the Apostle. The Harmony of Ammonius was written in about the year 230 AD. It is in Stephen’s sixteen ancient Greek copies and in sixteen out of seventeen of Beza’s. It is also authenticated by Eseubius in his writings about church history.

Why would this passage be in so many ancient manuscripts, but not in others? Adam Clark’s Commentary quotes Bishop Pearce who seems to have a logical answer to this question:

“It would have been strange for Jesus, when he was not a magistrate and had not the witnesses before him to examine them, and when she had not been tried and condemned by the law and legal judges, to have taken upon himself to condemn her. This being the case, it appears why Jesus avoided giving an answer to the question of the scribes and Pharisees, and also how little reason there is to conclude from hence that Christ seems in this case not enough to have discouraged adultery, though he called it a sin. And yet this opinion took place so early among the Christians, that the reading of this story was industriously avoided, in the lessons recited out of the Gospels, in the public service of the churches; as if Jesus’ saying, ‘I do not condemn thee’, had given too much countenance to women guilty of that crime. In consequence of this, as it was never read in the churches, and is now not to be found in any of the Evangelistaria, and as it was probably marked in the MSS as a portion not to be read there, this whole story, from John 8:1-11, inclusive, came, in length of time, to be left out in some MSS., though in the greater part it is still remaining.”

This may account for the fact that in some of the ancient manuscripts, where John 8:1-11 has been expunged, a vacant space is left between the end of chapter 7 and John 8:12.

The problem of it being placed in the Gospels of Mark and Luke and also at the end of the Gospel of John can be explained by what Bishop Pearce has said. Early Christians (without the guidance of the apostles) thought that John 8:1-11 gives the impression that Jesus made light of the sin of adultery. Adultery was as much a problem during the early years of the Church as it is today. The leadership of the Church felt uncomfortable reading this Scripture. The fact that they tried to find a place for it at the end of some of the Gospel accounts shows that they also felt uncomfortable taking it out of the manuscripts without apostolic authority.

It seems simple enough, if John 8:1-11 is genuine, to explain why it was omitted in many early manuscripts. However, considering the problems early Christianity faced by men and women coming to Christ out of polygamy and adultery, can anyone adequately explain why it was inserted? If John 8:1-11 is NOT genuine, what logical reason might the copyist have for inserting the passage?


Posted by on November 1, 2010 in Christianity, Religion, Textual Criticism


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2 responses to “The Woman Caught in Adultery!

  1. nazaroo

    November 27, 2010 at 18:04

    Dear Eddie: To get the deep answers regarding John 7:53-8:11, you need to dig deep.

    Luckily, we have created the world’s largest database on the Pericope de Adultera (John 8:1-11) :

    For the main resource centre for John 7:53-8:11, its the
    Pericope de Adultera Website < – – Click here.

    The site has 40,000 pages of research, photos of ancient manuscripts, and detailed articles explaining all the evidences in detail, including:


    Of special interest is the newest Structural and Chiastic evidences, found in articles here:

    If you need any help on textual criticism, we have vast resources on that too:


  2. Eddie

    November 27, 2010 at 18:39

    Nazaroo, hi,

    Thank you for reading my blog and for taking the time to help me increase my knowledge on textual criticism. I am a novice, but I hope not a dummy. :-)

    I appreciate the links. It seems with 40,000 pages, I’ll have a good time learning and building up my faith. Thanks again.

    Lord bless,


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