A Textual Critical Analysis Of John 7:53-8:11

          Most modern English translations of the Bible place into brackets or footnotes the story of the woman caught in adultery, which can be found in John chapter seven verse fifty-three through the eleventh verse of the next chapter.

          The story of the woman caught in adultery has value because it sets in stone the superiority of Jesus Christ over the Law and portrays the cross as being the fountain of mercy that washes away iniquity. It powerfully emphasizes grace over law; justification rather than condemnation before God. The scribes and Pharisees tried to set up a trap for Christ. If He answered them by saying outright that justice should not be administered to this woman, then that would violate the Law of Moses and cause a negative reaction amongst the Jews against Him. If He were to take the administration of justice into His own hands, then that could have been viewed as a challenge to Caesar's authority. Rather than dong either, Jesus pointed out that all people fail to obey the Law.

          The text of John 7:53-8:11 strongly conveys to us the message that God has been gracious to us. Hence, it is no wonder that Christians would want to preserve this tradition in writing. Furthermore, there exists no credible reason to deem this event in the life of Jesus Christ as being a forgery. However, the oldest manuscripts available do not incorporate the text in question into John's gospel narrative. Henry Clarence Thiessen, in his Introduction to the New Testament, p. 176, writes in regard to John 7:53-8:11:

          "The section about the adulterous is, no doubt, a true story from the life of Jesus; but it is poorly supported by documentary evidence. It is not found in Aleph A B C L T W X Delta and at least seventy cursives and numerous Evangelistaria (Gospel Lectionaries). It is also wanting in the Old Syriac, the Peshitta, the Harkloan, in some copies of the Old Latin, and in several of the minor versions. Really, it appears in no Greek manuscript earlier than the eighth century, save in Codex Beza (5"cent.), which has many textual peculiarities. It is not quoted as by John until late in the fourth century, at which time Augustine says that some have removed it from their copies, fearing, he supposes, that its presence might give their wives undue license Jerome says that in his day it was contained in many Greek and Latin MSS." Plummer reminds us, however, that most of the worst corruptions of the text were already in existence in Jerome's time." Practically all scholars today accept it as a true incident in the life of Jesus, but not as a genuine part of John's Gospel. This includes conservative scholars as Warfield and A. T. Robertson. Yet there we have the statements of Jerome and Augustine!"

          J.B. Phillips, in his New Testament in Modern English, writes:

          "This passage [John 7:53-8:11] has no place in the oldest manuscripts of John, and is considered by most scholars to be an interpolation from some other source. Almost all scholars would agree that, although the story is out of place here, it is part of a genuine apostolic tradition."

          In fact, some manuscripts that do contain this passage have it located after John 21:24. There is one manuscript that has John 7:53-8:11 inserted after John 7:36. Others have the story of the woman caught in adultery placed after Luke 21:38, or at the very end of Luke's gospel.

          There is nothing inherently wrong with accepting this text as canonical Scripture, since it contains no doctrinal error and accurately reflects the tender side of Jesus Christ. This story is actually something that we would have more expected to be recorded in Luke's gospel, since he focused more on women than did the other three writers. The story of the woman caught in adultery does not in any way contradict historical details of the four gospels.

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