Pericope de Adultera--John 7:53-8:11

Notes © 1996, 2003 by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

John 7:53-8:11 And every man went unto his own house. (8:1) Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. (2) And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.

(3) And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, (4) They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. (5) Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

(6) This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. (7) So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. (8) And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.


(9) And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. (10) When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? (11) She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

John 7:53-8:11 is lacking in many manuscripts. It is, however, cited by Ambrose, Eusebius, and other early Church Fathers, and appears in Jerome's Latin Vulgate (4th century). And Dean Burgon demonstrated its genuineness and also gave the reason for the elimination of these verses:


" . . . at a time when the greatest laxity of morals prevailed, and the enemies of the Gospel were known to be on the look out for grounds of cavil against Christianity and its Author;--what wonder if some were found to remove the pericope de adultera from their copies, lest it should be pleaded in extenuation of breaches of the seventh commandment? . . . But in fact this is not a mere conjecture of my own. It is the reason assigned by Augustine for the erasure of these twelve verses from many copies of the Gospel" (Burgon, "Appendix I: Pericope de Adultera," in Causes of the Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, ed. Edward Miller, 1896 [reprint: Dean Burgon Society], p. 251).


Dr. Thomas Holland gives the quote alluded to by Burgon--"After citing the forgiving phrase from Christ, 'Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more,' Augustine writes: 'This proceeding, however, shocks the minds of some weak believers, or rather unbelievers and enemies of the Christian faith: inasmuch that, after (I suppose) of its giving their wives impunity of sinning, they struck out from their copies of the Gospel this that our Lord did in pardoning the woman taken in adultery: as if He granted leave of sinning, Who said, Go and sin no more!' (St. Augustine, De Conjug. Adult., II:6.)."

Furthermore, the testimony of ancient lectionaries, which gave careful directions for the omission of these verses in the lection read in the church at Pentecost, shows that the verses were an honored portion of scripture in the church in ancient times (Burgon, pp. 253-9).

To the charge that its style and interruption do not fit the style of the fourth gospel, Burgon answers with the observation that the narrative of John 7:37 and 52 is only concluded by 7:53-8:2; otherwise one has an abrupt jump between "out of Galilee ariseth no prophet" (7:52) and "Then spake Jesus again unto them" (8:12) (ibid., pp. 237-9). Assuming momentarily that this is an insertion by someone other than John, the forger has, the charge of "interruption" to the contrary, gone to great lengths to assure that the transition be smoothed over with 7:53-8:2.

Now it is true that Philip W. Comfort (in his "Guide to the Ancient Manuscripts," an appendix to Tyndale House's Eight Translation New Testament) argues vehemently if not compellingly that the passage is not authentic. (It is intriguing how relentlessly this "Guide" advocates nearly all the textual variations of modern versions, and even appraises the reliability of Codex B as "excellent"--as though Dean Burgon's exhaustive treatment of the contradictions and scribal gaffes of the old uncials had never been written!) Comfort maintains that in John 8:12, Jesus is answering the Pharisees in John 7:52 and alluding to Isa. 9:1-2. Other than the fact that both Jesus' words and the Isaiah passage mention "light," it does not appear to me that either 8:12 echoes Isaiah or that it addresses John 7:52's question in any intelligible way! While demonstrating a clear parallel or linkage could certainly qualify as internal evidence, Comfort here has simply taken the passage minus the Pericope and performed his own self-administered Rorschach test on it, presenting the results as a serious finding--which is no more the case than someone's seeing a butterfly or a bunny rabbit in a random series of ink blots.

(Indeed, Scofield suggests that "the immediate context" of John 8:12-46 "beginning with Christ's declaration, 'I am the light of the world,' seems clearly to have its occasion in the conviction wrought in the hearts of the Pharisees, as recorded in verse 9; as, also, it explains the peculiar virulence of the Pharisee's words (v. 41)." Whatever one may think of the plausibility of this explanation--and I am not particularly concerned to defend Scofield's interpretation here--, it demonstrates that every bit as good a case can be made for the continuity of the context with the Pericope as Comfort makes for the continuity without it.)

Finally, the implication of some critics that 7:53-8:11 may as suitably be placed somewhere else--by noting that some few MSS. place the passage after John 7:36 (ms. 225), John 21:25 (ms. 1), or Luke 21:38 (family-13 mss.)--loses force when we see that placing Jn. 7:53-8:11 after any of these verses is far from satisfactory compared to where the Received Text places it.

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