John 7:53 - 8:11 to use or not to use?


(Glenn Meyer) #1

Hi Everyone,

A question that I keep pondering about is regarding the story about the women caught in adultery John 7:53 - 8:11.

Understanding that are various views about whether it was part of the Gospel of John, the manuscript evidence at least demonstrates that this passage is a forgery, given the earliest manuscripts Codex Saniaticus, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Alexdrinus does not contain this passage.

With that said, if this passage was not found in the earliest manuscripts, should we be using this story when preaching the Gospel since one could claim that this is a forgery. In essence would should we be using this story in preaching or evangelizing if it is not authentic?

I’ve heard lots of great sermons based on this passage, but if it’s not there in the Gospel of John, we will be using an invented story that is not part of the Bible, not to say that God can’t use that story, but it terms of authenticity, it’s not part of the canon.


Why are John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20 included in modern Bibles when the earliest manuscripts don't?
(Joshua Elder) #3

Hi @Glenn_Meyer ,

I think often times textual criticism becomes narrow focused. What I mean by that is because it does not appear in a few of the earliest manuscripts we say, “it is a forgery”. Here is the problem with that. The tradition of the scripture logically was well understood by the time of the earliest manuscripts because we have documents older than the earliest manuscripts quoting from the story as though it was authoritative. Look at this quote from Didascalia Apostolorum written in the early 3rd century (100 years older than the manuscripts in question.) "But if thou receive not him who repents, because thou art without mercy, thou shalt sin against the Lord God; (p. 31) for thou obeyest not our Saviour and our God, to do as He also did with her that had sinned, whom the elders set before Him, and leaving the judgement in His hands, departed. But He, the Searcher of hearts, asked her and said to her:? Have the elders condemned thee, my daughter? She saith to him: Nay, Lord. And he said unto her:? Go thy way:? neither do I condemn thee.? Didascalia Apostolorum The writer is pleading with Bishops to show grace to sinners and uses this story to speak to those who would know the scriptures and stories of Jesus in order to do so. This also doesn’t take into account the reference of Papias of a story of Jesus and woman accused of many sins which he says appears in the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Papias lived from 60-130 A.D. Then we have close contemporaries of these manuscripts, Augustine born around the times these early full manuscripts were written, and he defends this passage as authoritative. Jerome who included it in the vulgate mentions that it appears in many of the codices both Greek and Latin this is found. He wrote this in 417 so we are talking within 50 or 60 years of the oldest manuscripts you mentioned. My point is there is a great deal of evidence that this scripture is not only authentic but was understood as authoritative before and during the time of the manuscripts missing it. I think we should mention the fact that it doesn’t appear in these places, but I would say it is far from a forgery, and completely consistent with the gospel and who Jesus Christ was. I’m sure there are people who are more well read on this issue who can help.


(Jimmy Sellers) #4

I read this today and it brought to mind this discussion thread. I thought it might be of interest.

“The famous story of the woman taken in adultery (Jn 7:53–8:11) does not appear in the third- or fourth-century manuscripts of John. It first appears in a fifth-century manuscript, but it is also occasionally inserted into the Gospel tradition at Luke 21:25, 21:38 or 24:53. This suggests that, although not originally included by either Luke or John, the story remained an important part of the oral tradition about Jesus. Indeed, it pointed so dramatically to a vital dimension of Jesus’ purpose and mission that scribes were unwilling for it to be lost to posterity and so sought to find a place for it in the written record.”

deSilva, D. A. (2004). An introduction to the New Testament: contexts, methods and ministry formation (p. 179). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

(Carson Weitnauer) #5

Hi @Glenn_Meyer,

I’ve often wondered the same thing about this post. The other replies in this thread have been very interesting. This morning I did some additional research on the question.

First, this sermon by John Piper is very interesting:

He basically explains why many experts in the field do not think it is part of the original text of the Scriptures. But then, remarkably, he preaches from the text and shows how it is faithful to the message of the Scriptures. For John Piper to “preach” from a text that he does not believe is original to Scripture is quite remarkable to me. His conclusion is, “The story may not belong to John’s Gospel. In fact, the story may never have happened. But this point of the story is unshakably true.” That strikes me as an unusual approach for Piper to take.

Edward Klink at Talbot School of Theology suggests the passage should be on ‘probationary’ status:

Using an analogy, this passage should be treated as a text on probation, given full membership without loss of rights or privileges yet serving as if on an extended probation (which has lasted now for 1,300 years). Just as a person on probation is prohibited from serving in certain authoritative capacities, so also might this text be prohibited from making its own contribution to a doctrine or theological issue. It can be used in collaboration with other passages, in a secondary and supportive role, but should not serve in an independent and isolated position of authority for the church. Such an approach allows it to function according to its verifiable nature without denying material concerns. While it is recommended that the pastor or teacher declare the (material) probationary status of this passage to the church, to take away its full (functional) rights and privileges, in our opinion, only does more harm than good and only causes more confusion than certainty.

The most interesting detail I found about the pericope itself is the significance of Jesus writing. Here’s Chris Keith’s explanation:

Most likely, John 8:6, John 8:8 represents simply a claim that Jesus could write-a claim quite significant in the ancient world, where most individuals were illiterate. Such a claim also explains why a scribe inserted the passage after John 7, where the Jewish leaders question both Jesus' literacy specifically (John 7:15) and Galileans' knowledge of the law and ability to search it generally (John 7:49, John 7:52). In addition, the author borrows the verbs for "writing" in John 8:6, John 8:8 from the Greek version of Exod 32:15. This passage describes God's authorship of the Ten Commandments; the woman in John's gospel is accused of breaking the command against adultery. The context in Exodus insists that God wrote these laws with his finger (Exod 31:18), and in the story of the adulteress, Jesus, too, writes with his finger (John 8:6). The author of the story of the adulteress seems to be claiming not only that Jesus can write but also that this particular instance of writing parallels the actions of God himself, thus making Jesus superior to Moses, whom his enemies had challenged him to usurp by pronouncing judgment on the woman in the first place.

Overall, I feel uncomfortable saying the passage is not part of the Bible because it so beautifully clarifies important Biblical themes of forgiveness, righteousness, and the authority of Christ. At the same time, it is hard to positively and confidently claim that it was part of the original manuscripts.

So, I think there is a practical and pastoral wisdom in continuing to explain that, according to our best scholarship, we cannot say this is part of the Bible as it was written, yet, it provides a useful way of illustrating the words of Scripture.

I look forward to learning from others on this topic.

(Brian Weeks) #6

Hi Carson,

I can completely understand your surprise at an expositor who takes the texts as seriously as Piper does preaching on these particular verses. When I first read of this, I too felt the same way. I found this part of his sermon helpful in shedding some light on how he actually “preached” on this passage:

"Now the question is: What should I, the preacher, do with this story? Both Don Carson and Bruce Metzger think the story probably happened. In other words, they think this is a real event from Jesus’s life, and the story circulated and later was put in the Gospel of John. Metzger says, ‘The account has all the earmarks of historical veracity’ (Textual Commentary, 220). And Carson says, ‘There is little reason for doubting that the event here described occurred’ (The Gospel According to John, 333).

Perhaps. I would like to think so. Who doesn’t love this story? But that does not give it the authority of Scripture. So what I will do is take its most remarkable point and show that it is true on the basis of other parts of Scripture, and so let this story not be the basis of our authority, but an echo and a pointer to our authority, namely, the Scriptures, that teach what it says."

It seems that he didn’t exposit this passage, but rather used it as a springboard to locate and preach from the biblical texts that this passage echoes. So, it was upon those biblical texts that his (quite short!) sermon was founded. Is that how you understood Piper’s position?

Nevertheless, from this sermon you shared, I learned that two of the top New Testament scholars in the world - Don Carson and the late Bruce Metzger - both believe that this story is probably true. Interesting!

(Jimmy Sellers) #7

Hi @Carson_Weitnauer

Thanks for the Chris Keith link. I have not heard of this explanation both in its placement and its meaning before. I will put this is my, to be use in Sunday School folder.

(Carson Weitnauer) #8

Hi @Brian_Weeks,

Yes, I do think Piper was quite nuanced and careful in how he handled the passage as you’ve pointed out. There is a bit of ambiguity for me in it because the passage keeps coming into view as an illustration. E.g.,

So Jesus forced them to expose their own misuse of the law. They all walked away. The point is not that judges and executioners must be sinless. The point is that righteousness and justice should be founded on a gracious spirit, and if it's not, what you get is the heartlessness and hypocrisy of Pharisaism. That's the point throughout the Gospels, not just here.

In this section, Piper talks about the disputed passage, makes his application directly from it, and then says that this point can be found “throughout the Gospels.”

I do feel like I’m splitting hairs here. The experience I had in reading the sermon was that it felt like he preached from the passage. At the same time, I think he exercised great care in explaining that his intended method was to use this non-Scriptural passage to illustrate points that are established elsewhere. Overall, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.