Certain stories about Jesus and certain sayings of Jesus may be found in your edition of the New Testament but the text critics tell us they do not belong there. Robert Miller has pulled these sayings and stories from the gospels and collected them at the back of his edition of The Complete Gospels.1 One of the more famous of these stories that do not belong in the New Testament is the story of the woman taken in adultery that has traditionally appeared in English language translations at John 7:53-8:11. Here is how the passage is introduced by Miller:
[It is] a story found at various places in the manuscript tradition. In several manuscripts it is found after John 7:52. Many modern editions of the New Testament include it here, assigning it the versification John 7:53-8:11. Another important group of manuscripts include it after Luke 21:38. In the Georgian tradition it was sometimes located after John 7:44, and in another group it is found after John 21:25.2
The story seems to have been unknown in the manuscript tradition before the 5th century (Codex Bezae, which dates 5th or possibly 6th century). To put this date in perspective the reader should understand that the bulk of our extant New Testament manuscripts date from the 3rd century and later. Very few of the extant New Testament manuscripts are dated in the second century and none are dated in the first century.
Bruce Metzger thinks that John 7:53-8:11“has all the earmarks of historical veracity,” but fails to describe what those “earmarks” are.3 He also adds that the style and vocabulary of 7:53-8:11 “differ noticeably from the rest of the fourth Gospel…and that it interrupts the sequence of 7:52 and 8:12 ff.” He concludes that “the evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming.”4
With respect to the “veracity” of the narrative, there is at least one irregularity that argues against the genuineness of the story. The lady in question had been caught in the act of adultery. Why did the scribes and Pharisees not bring before Jesus the man with whom she was caught? The Torah condemnation of adultery applied equally to both men and women (Exod 20:14; Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22). It seems unlikely to me that the scribes and Pharisees would have failed to bring before Jesus both parties that had violated Torah.
If one decides that the story is a genuine piece of oral tradition coming from the time of Jesus, what should be done with it? It apparently does not belong in the New Testament since it does not come from the pen of any of the gospel writers. Miller’s solution describing it as an orphan story and listing it at the back of his book with other such material seems to concede that point. There is no common practice for treating this passage by English translators. Generally, it is translated following John 7:52, as though it belonged there. Some translators, however, do indicate that the location is spurious by a note at the bottom of the page and/or by marking it with brackets or parentheses. At least one (The American Bible. An American Translation, translated by the New Testament scholar Edgar J. Goodspeed) simply eliminates the story with no explanation.
There is another problem this passage presents to a church group that treats the Bible as divinely inspired literature. If it was not written by any of the writers of the New Testament, why should it be considered inspired by God? The theory that the New Testament texts are themselves inspired derives, I assume, from the idea that God inspired its writers and, therefore, the products of their literary labors must also be considered divinely inspired. John 7:53-8:11, however, at this stage of scholarship must be considered an orphan text, since it has not been identified as the brainchild of any New Testament writer.
What is your take, as a reader of the New Testament, on the story of the woman taken in adultery?
Missouri State University
1Robert J. Miller, ed., The Complete Gospels. The Scholars Version (Salem OR: Polebridge Press, 2010), 457-62.
2Miller, Complete Gospels, 460. Old Georgian was the literary language of the Georgian monarchies known from the 5th century in the region of the Causasus.
3Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2000), 187-89 (188).
4Metzger, Commentary, 187.
I see the passage as an example of how traditions of Jesus the teacher continued to be created, even using the usual antagonists . Seems like it would fit thematically better in a synoptic gospel, esp. with sayings like Mt 7.1-5//Lk.6.37-42, since it is an object lesson about judgment. The copies of Luke (Family 13 mss.) with it could have been tying it to Lk. 21.37-38 because of the setting. After John 7.25-52 and before John 8.12, seems “clumsy” in context.... Unless one adds a variant found,“... sins of each of them...” inside v.8. Then the “light of the world” would have been known the indiscretions, though it would have “deformed” the story. (The vocabulary also has 14 words not found elsewhere in John, four others used only once. Then in John 8.2 “people,” (using “laos”) is frequent in Luke, 36 times, found rarely (twice elsewhere) in John. Completing John’s phrase “all the people,” one finds it in several slight variations 11 times in Luke, if I am correct.)
As far as historical value, it seems at odds with what The Mishnah, Sanhedrin 6.1-4 (ca. 200) records as what constitutes “stoning.” The passage from John, when I heard it as a child, gave me the image of a mob throwing rocks, but that isn’t the picture in The Mishnah. Also, as you mention, having the woman stoned is interesting, also because it is the male in Sanhedrin 7.4 who is mentioned as having the penalty of stoning applied to sexual relationships except in one example (bestiality), though it is explicit with whom the male transgresses, generally a woman who isn’t mentioned as one being stoned. I also doubt that “the scribes and the Pharisees,” antagonists of the protagonist Jesus in the gospels, would been ferretting out adulteresses for Jesus to judge.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
I feel that the story of mercy to a “sinful” woman was important to John’s message no matter who wrote it. Sorry, but I am not a purist regarding who wrote what. I see your point, however, of a difference in style of John’s writers.
Jesus is truly a "contemporary" voice in this story of "the woman taken in adultery." He manipulates the conditions so that all males present must confess that they are as guilty as this woman. If this isn't scripture worthy of any time and age I'm not sure what is. This story speaks to every condition where males controlling society shape the laws to control women.
The story reminds me of Mark 10:1-9 (Matt 19:1-9) where Pharisees are asking Jesus about divorcing via the certificate approved by Moses. Jesus reminds them that the issue is not the certificate of divorce approved by Moses but whether God put the relationship together.
If it is Scripture where are you going to put it? Do you want to put it in a addendum to the New Testament or do you want to make a case that it actually belongs in John--perhaps as an addendum to John? Or do you like Bob Miller's solution declare it as an orphan story and list it among the orphans to Scripture?
I'll go with an addendum to the NT.
Not attempting to play “devil’s advocate,” I think it should probably be deleted. After all, does one find Fulgentius or even his mentor Augustine in the Bible? To me it “merely” (or “merrily”) continues the brutal anti-Jewish stereotype of the antagonist and “murderous” “scribes and Pharisees,” it singles out a woman for the crime, perpetuating the myth of the woman as “seductress,” (probably from the Christian caricature of the Eden fable), and it doesn’t explain the seriousness of adultery in a culture where sexual transgressions were one of three “moral impurities,” seen as a defilement of the perpetrators, the homeland and the sanctuary. (The other two are bloodshed and idolatry.) In the Bible, as well as The Mishnah, adultery could be a capital offense.) Jesus’ response in the chreia seems to “deform” Deut. 17.7 into what I would consider a false equivalency, because in modern times, with adultery not a criminal offense, one can easily infer that it equates any shortcoming or “sin.” (Does a society today judge capital crimes, or, since all are “sinners,” do we just not try those accused of modern capital crimes?)
According to Comfort’s “Early Manuscripts & Modern Translations, it appears in only one Greek text before the ninth century and the earliest outside attestation is by Euthymius Zigabenus in the 12th century, “... who himself declares that the accurate copies do not contain it” (p. 115). I don’t think it belongs in the Bible. Like much in the Bible, without requisite knowledge of the cultures (and propagandic tenor) involved, it unconsciously reinforces the negative stereotypes I mentioned above.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Has anyone on this blog every asked a fellow Christian what they would do if this text were removed? I would be very interested to hear their reaction. It most certainly does not belong in the NT, but at this point... Do you think anyone cares? I don't. I think it would be seen as "You're taking my Jesus away from me!" Christians are deeply and emotionally attached to this story, it is a "fan favorite."
The Christians I know would be enraged beyond belief to see it removed. Their attachment to this Jesus story is beyond the scope of reason or logic... In their minds, it is a true story, full stop.
And it really is a great story, I don't know who came up with it, but the premise is brilliant. Even Rabbi Singer attests to its enduring popularity... I agree with what he says about Romans and Galatians. He says "Christians don't love Jesus because of Romans and Galatians, those are very cerebral chapters that are intellectually driven. Christians love their Jesus because of the stories like the adulteress in John, their sentimental attachment to it is incredibly deep and profound." He's right about that.
One could slice and dice Romans, Galatians, Corinthians... There would be a fair amount of backlash, yes. But deleting "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone"?? You may as well abolish the Virgin birth and the resurrection. Am I overstating the matter? Elizabeth
PS: I don't have the guts to ask another Christian about removing that story- it would not go over well and I would be ostracized. There is one friend who may be open to heating such a proposition... If I get the courage, I'll ask her and report my findings.
If you do ask her, please share what you think is appropriate.
I would not likely use the word "delete," since what is being proposed is "restoring" the text to an earlier form, which means the story must come out. Of course that may seem to be splitting hairs.
Well sometimes splitting hairs is necessary when speaking about sensitive subjects... So thank you for framing it in those terms, I do think it will go over a little more smoothly rather than the harshness of "delete." Elizabeth
Charlie, “delete” to me simply means “remove.” My thought is the story should be deleted or removed from John. It doesn’t belong there. “Restore” suggests to me what translators attempt as ancient writings are discovered and weighed by textual critics. Much of the time, it is only emending a phrase, replacing or deleting/adding a word, in order to restore to what the earliest copies might have reflected. In this case I think it all should be deleted because of its very late date. But, it has had disclaimers around it for years, and if one can’t even get rid of the additions to Mark at the end, I reckon there will still be snake handlers in the woods who don’t hurl rocks at women wearing scarlet “A’s.” Maybe there could be a section of the Bible called “Pious Frauds.” (Origen, with his criticism of a variety of versions, would have agreed!)
People who read the Bible, unless they are mired in the 17th century KJV, realize modern translations have already voiced serious qualifications about this story, marginalizing it. The NRSV has relegated it to the end of John with double brackets, which means there is serious doubt it was original. Looking at some of my other editions, the NEB (1970), NLT (2013), & NIV (1984) also have disclaimers, the NIV stating, “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7.53-8.11.” This favorite of many evangelicals says it all. The JS “Complete Gospels” (1992) puts it in the category of orphan stories. Lamsa’s 1933 translation, from The Peshitta (he used 4th c. texts) includes it, but notes that the story “is not found in the ancient Peshitta, but occurs in later Aramaic texts.” I think I have a few more translations, but it seems clear. If Christians have read John in a fairly modern translation, they probably already understand the story wasn’t part of the earliest extant copies of John (or Luke).
Dennis Dean Carpenter
I'm interested to see why Charlie wrote this article when, as Dennis states, all current and relevant editions of the Bible already state the disclaimers in clear concise English for all to see. If there's already a disclaimer- why the need to highlight this passage as an "orphan story?" Could it be that pastors in the pulpit portray it as inerrant unarguable accurate scripture? Its one thing to include a footnote- ti's another thing entirely for Cardinal Dolan or Pastor Jeffress or Joel Osteen to frame John 7:53-8:11 as an orphan story. That'll happen when pigs fly.
My reason was that I quite recently heard a sermon from John 7:53-8:11 from a Baptist pulpit with no mention of the conflicted pedigree of the passage. As far as the congregation was aware the pastor was preaching from what all considered "Sacred Scripture." I wonder how many people take the time to reflect on the disclaimers of the translators, editors, and publishers of the Bible. Of course if there was a big gap in the text from John 7:52 to 8:12 the situation would be readily apparent to most everyone.
It seems to me that it has been a long time since you have rubbed elbows with the sweaty and wilted collar crowd that frequents conservative revivals. I had to abandon most of the modern translations of the Bible along with most of my library when I moved from Springfield. My copy of the NRSV was one left behind but the 28th revised edition of Nestle-Aland has two English translations included with the Greek. One of them is the NRSV and John 7:53-8:11 is in its usual place with disclaimers.
Nah, not since I retired. (Most teachers in the area were evangelicals, so I knew quite a few.) My NRSV is a 1990 edition attached to the UBS Greek Third edition. I was planning to look at different versions that weren't included, especially those found in Luke. (Greek mss. Family 13)
There is a book in my collection which I think sheds insight into its continued presence in the Bible. (It was originally a Baptist family member’s book.) I find that “The New Bible Commentary,” Davidson, Stibbs & Kevan, Eerdmans, in the fifties (this is a 1960 edition), states, “There is overwhelming external and internal evidence against the traditional theory that the story was written by John.” It goes on to say why and adds, “Yet is is unquestionable that it forms part of the authentic tradition of the Church.” .... “It has no theological relevance, however, in its present context and, as Temple says, ‘was probably introduced here as an illustrative gloss on the words “I judge no man’ (viii.15)’” (p. 880). In other words, it was a “tradition of the Church,” thought it was “an illustrative gloss.”
Dennis Dean Carpenter
The 1952 RSV sitting in front of me doesn't include the story in the text. It includes it as a footnote (small print, italics). It is underneath chapter 8.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
How are we to think of Hal Taussig's The New New Testament (2013)? Ten recently discovered texts have been strategically placed thruout the traditional New Testament. The cut-off date for selection was 175 CE. (Taussig himself wanted to add 20 texts).
Teachings of Jesus have been added: the Gospels of Mary and Thomas. There is the increased voice of women: The Thunder: Perfect Mind, the Gospel of Mary, the Odes of Solomon, and the Acts of Paul and Thecla. There are many more prayers: The Odes of Solomon, the Prayer of Thanksgiving, and the Prayer of the Apostle Paul. There is interest in the contrast between the Secret Revelation of John and the traditional Revelation to John. Both books predict a divine victory over the oppressive Roman empire, one by God's love and light and the other by cosmic destruction and military victories.
"4R: How do you distinguish between a canon of writing and an anthology of writings? In this electronic age with the explosion of blogging and Tweeting, is there a place for a canon any longer?
Taussig: These are important and still-unresolved questions. I think the publication of A New New Testament allows scholars, church people, and the public to consider these questions more explicitly than before. I look forward to being a part of this larger process."
As far as I know, there is no law that inspiration can't occur outside of the New Testament of Christian orthodoxy.
Hal published an anthology of related texts. He did not publish a canon for the church. It should be left to the church to decide what goes in to their canon--or so it seems to me. Scholars may try to get the church to reopen the issue of canon, but it will do what it does in its own time. The church moves like a jar of honey outside in freezing weather, as I am sure you well know.
If you believe literary critics and the general public many secular texts are inspired scripture (little S).
As I am waiting for my friend to get back with me (she's busy keeping grandchildren and other things), I told her there's no rush to reply... Anyway, I as I am waiting to hear her response, I did some snooping around Christian apologist websites with regard to the "pericope adulterae" and was interested to learn the different theories as to why it may have been added later. The most common theory is that early church leaders removed it because they thought it was give license for people to commit adultery without consequence. Then it was later inserted after internal wrangling and debating:
"Those who favor the inclusion of the story of the woman taken in adultery point to the sheer number of Greek manuscripts that contain the passage. They explain its omission in early manuscripts as an attempt by overzealous church leaders to prevent misunderstandings. Here is the theory of those who favor inclusion: John wrote the passage just as it appears in the Textus Receptus. But later church leaders deemed the passage morally dangerous—since Jesus forgives the woman, wives might think they could commit adultery and get away with it. So, the church leaders tampered with the Word of God and removed the passage. To leave the passage in, they reasoned, would be to make Jesus seem “soft” on adultery. Later scribes, following the lead of the Holy Spirit, re-inserted the pericope, which should never have been removed in the first place.
The fact, however, remains that John 7:53—8:11 is not supported by the best manuscript evidence. Thus, there is serious doubt as to whether it should be included in the Bible. Many call for Bible publishers to remove these verses (along with Mark 16:9–20) from the main text and put them in footnotes.
Because we’re talking about certain editions of the Bible being “wrong” in certain ways, we should include a few words on the inerrancy of Scripture. The original autographs are inerrant, but none of the original autographs are extant (in existence). What we have today are thousands of ancient documents and citations that have allowed us to (virtually) re-create the autographs. The occasional phrase, verse, or section may come under scholastic review and debate, but no important doctrine of Scripture is put in doubt due to these uncertainties. That the manuscripts are the subject of ongoing scholarship does not prove there is something wrong with God’s Word; it is a refining fire—one of the very processes God has ordained to keep His Word pure. A belief in inerrancy underpins a reverent, careful investigation of the text."
The last two sentences of the final paragraph are why pastors get away with standing in the pulpit and preaching the pericope adulterae story as Sacred Scripture and get away with it scott free. Jewish Rabbis are more familiar with the end note disclaimers than Christians because they read the text very thoroughly and accurately. Charlie's pastor is lucky he doesn't have a rabbi sitting in his congregation taking notes, he'd be shocked with the questions that would ensue. Elizabeth
"Canon," referring to a work or group of works considered to fit a certain criteria (measuring up to the "yardstick") is not owned by Christianity. They used it and deformed it when they added the idea a canon should be "closed," but I first heard the word (in college) referring to Shakespeare's canon, not relating to the Bible. (I remember that because at the military college, they shot the cannon every day at five.)
Dennis Dean Carpenter
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