Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Textual Evidence for the Woman Caught in Adultery

Today in Sunday School we referenced the women caught in adultery story found only in John’s gospel (John 7:53-8:11). I did not get a chance to mention that the textual evidence for the inclusion of this passage into the New Testament is questionable, thus we should cite clearer passages when developing doctrine until the evidence becomes stronger for its inclusion. The NET Bible summarizes the evidence for this passage well. Respectfully, some of it may be hard to understand, but it at least sends the impression that these issues are not as cut and dry as we may think: 


This entire section, 7:53–8:11, traditionally known as the pericope adulterae, is not contained in the earliest and best mss and was almost certainly not an original part of the Gospel of John. Among modern commentators and textual critics, it is a foregone conclusion that the section is not original but represents a later addition to the text of the Gospel. B. M. Metzger summarizes: “the evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming” (TCGNT 187). External evidence is as follows. For the omission of 7:53–8:11: 𝔓66, 75 א B L N T W Δ Θ Ψ 0141 0211 33 565 1241 1424* 2768 al. In addition codices A and C are defective in this part of John, but it appears that neither contained the pericope because careful measurement shows that there would not have been enough space on the missing pages to include the pericope 7:53–8:11 along with the rest of the text. Among the mss that include 7:53–8:11 are D 𝔐 lat. In addition E S Λ 1424mg al include part or all of the passage with asterisks or obeli, 225 places the pericope after John 7:36, f1 places it after John 21:25, {115} after John 8:12, f13 after Luke 21:38, and the corrector of 1333 includes it after Luke 24:53. (For a more complete discussion of the locations where this “floating” text has ended up, as well as a minority opinion on the authenticity of the passage, see M. A. Robinson, “Preliminary Observations regarding the Pericope Adulterae Based upon Fresh Collations of nearly All Continuous-Text Manuscripts and All Lectionary Manuscripts containing the Passage,” Filologia Neotestamentaria 13 [2000]: 35–59, especially 41–42.) In evaluating this ms evidence, it should be remembered that in the Gospels A is considered to be of Byzantine texttype (unlike in the epistles and Revelation, where it is Alexandrian), as are E F G (mss with the same designation are of Western texttype in the epistles). This leaves D as the only major Western uncial witness in the Gospels for the inclusion. Therefore the evidence could be summarized by saying that almost all early mss of the Alexandrian texttype omit the pericope, while most mss of the Western and Byzantine texttype include it. But it must be remembered that “Western mss” here refers only to D, a single witness (as far as Greek mss are concerned). Thus it can be seen that practically all of the earliest and best mss extant omit the pericope; it is found only in mss of secondary importance. But before one can conclude that the passage was not originally part of the Gospel of John, internal evidence needs to be considered as well. Internal evidence in favor of the inclusion of 8:1–11 (7:53–8:11): (1) 7:53 fits in the context. If the “last great day of the feast” (7:37) refers to the conclusion of the Feast of Tabernacles, then the statement refers to the pilgrims and worshipers going home after living in “booths” for the week while visiting Jerusalem. (2) There may be an allusion to Isa 9:1–2 behind this text: John 8:12 is the point when Jesus describes himself as the Light of the world. But the section in question mentions that Jesus returned to the temple at “early dawn” (Ὄρθρου, Orthrou, in 8:2). This is the “dawning” of the Light of the world (8:12) mentioned by Isa 9:2. (3) Furthermore, note the relationship to what follows: Just prior to presenting Jesus’ statement that he is the Light of the world, John presents the reader with an example that shows Jesus as the light. Here the woman “came to the light” while her accusers shrank away into the shadows, because their deeds were evil (cf. 3:19–21). Internal evidence against the inclusion of 8:1–11 (7:53–8:11): (1) In reply to the claim that the introduction to the pericope, 7:53, fits the context, it should also be noted that the narrative reads well without the pericope, so that Jesus’ reply in 8:12 is directed against the charge of the Pharisees in 7:52 that no prophet comes from Galilee. (2) The assumption that the author “must” somehow work Isa 9:1–2 into the narrative is simply that—an assumption. The statement by the Pharisees in 7:52 about Jesus’ Galilean origins is allowed to stand without correction by the author, although one might have expected him to mention that Jesus was really born in Bethlehem. And 8:12 does directly mention Jesus’ claim to be the Light of the world. The author may well have presumed familiarity with Isa 9:1–2 on the part of his readers because of its widespread association with Jesus among early Christians. (3) The fact that the pericope deals with the light/darkness motif does not inherently strengthen its claim to authenticity, because the motif is so prominent in the Fourth Gospel that it may well have been the reason why someone felt that the pericope, circulating as an independent tradition, fit so well here. (4) In general the style of the pericope is not Johannine either in vocabulary or grammar (see D. B. Wallace, “Reconsidering ‘The Story of the Woman Taken in Adultery Reconsidered’,” NTS 39 [1993]: 290–96). According to R. E. Brown it is closer stylistically to Lukan material (John [AB], 1:336). Interestingly one important family of mss (f13) places the pericope after Luke 21:38. Conclusion: In the final analysis, the weight of evidence in this case must go with the external evidence. The earliest and best mss do not contain the pericope. It is true with regard to internal evidence that an attractive case can be made for inclusion, but this is by nature subjective (as evidenced by the fact that strong arguments can be given against such as well). In terms of internal factors like vocabulary and style, the pericope does not stand up very well. The question may be asked whether this incident, although not an original part of the Gospel of John, should be regarded as an authentic tradition about Jesus. It could well be that it is ancient and may indeed represent an unusual instance where such a tradition survived outside of the bounds of the canonical literature. However, even that needs to be nuanced[1]

[1] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005).

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