John 7:53-8:11

Part of a paper I wrote on John 7:53-8:11, one of the most disputed passages in the New Testament. This portion is from the part of the paper that deals with the authenticity of the passage.


For the purpose of examining the authenticity of John 7:53-8:11 an article written by Gary M. Burge titled “A Specific Problem In The New Testament Text And Canon: The Woman Caught In Adultery (John 7:53-8:11)” will be used to summarize the position of this paper.  First examined will be the  external evidence against the text. According to Burge, the chief problem with this passage from the Fourth Gospel is extremely weak attestation. Only one ancient manuscript contains John 7:53-8:11.

This is the Codex Brezae which is dated fifth or sixth century. Based on examination of the Greek texts Burge concludes that the story of the adulterous woman was introduced very late and was primarily known only in the west.

Considering the Church fathers, Origen in his commentary on John moves directly from 7:52 to 8:12. The earliest lectionaries, including the Constantinopolitan Lection have no mention of the passage. The earliest mention of the passage is by Euthymius Zigabenus in the twelfth century but even he considered the passage to be an insertion.

One more powerful piece of external evidence is that multiple Church fathers, including Tertullian, when discussing rules regarding adultery make no mention of this passage.

It would seem that this would not be the case if they considered it authentically John. Burge does point out however, that in the west there is more firm attestation. Those such as Jerome and Augustine both clearly have knowledge of the text. Also, Eusebius mentions a story that he claims was told to him by Papias, regarding an accused woman brought before Jesus. In the end Burge concludes that while the text is virtually absent in the Greek texts of the east, it seems that it was more known in the Latin west.

However, this does not mean the external evidence is inconclusive. The most important external witnesses remain completely silent on this passage.

In the book “The Five Gospels” the Jesus Seminar makes this passage as one that Jesus most assuredly does not represent the historical Jesus’ words.

Their reasons are as follows, Firstly because the this pericope is found in many different places throughout the four gospels, and seems to be a kind of “orphan” story. The Jesus Seminar scholars hold that while it is certainly not a part of the original Gospel of John, it is a notable tradition and they place it in a rather unique category that being the category of things “they wish Jesus had said and done.” Perhaps it is important to note that this is one of the very few places that the author of this paper actually agrees with anything the scholars of the Jesus Seminar say.

Now turning to examine internal evidence, the case for considering this passage inauthentic becomes much stronger. The language in these verses is simply not Johannine.

The syntax in John 7:53-8:11 is drastically different from the rest of John. Added to this is the very peculiar placement of such a passage. Not only does it fail to fit with the surrounding passages, it actually breaks up the flow of John. One need only read John 7 and 8 while excluding 7:53-8:11 to notice how much better the story of John reads without those twelve verses. The unique aspect to this piece of evidence is that the reader does not need to be a New Testament scholar to see its truth. Most decidedly because of the change in syntax, it seems very unlikely that this passage is even Johannine.

According to Bruce Metzger’s textual commentary on the New Testament “The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming.”

In his reasoning for this he cites numerous manuscripts that did not contain this pericope, he also points out certain manuscripts in which the leaves containing these passages were missing. However close examination of these manuscripts reveals that there is simply not enough room for this pericope to be included.

Metzger’s conclusion is that these verses are clearly a piece of oral tradition which had wider acceptance and knowledge of in the Western part of the Church which was what eventually led to its inclusion into certain manuscripts in certain places.

Metzger does however acknowledge that the panel decided that this passage was most likely historical and as such printed it, but distinguished it by placing double brackets around John 7:53-8:11.


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