Monday, February 8, 2010

John 7:53-8:11

There is a question as to weather or not John 7:53-8:11 is original to the Gospel of John (or any other canonical book for that matter). Carson and Moo, in their An Introduction to the New Testament, comment on this passage about the women caught in adultery and have this to say, which I agree with.
Despite the best efforts of Zane Hodges to prove that the narrative of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:11) was originally part of John’s gospel,116 the evidence is against him, and modern English versions are right to rule it off from the rest of the text (TNIV) or to relegate it to a footnote (RSV). These verses are present in most of the medieval Greek minuscule manuscripts, but they are absent from virtually all early Greek manuscripts that have come down to us, representing great diversity of textual traditions. The most notable exception is the Western uncial D, known for its independence in numerous other places. They are also missing from the earliest forms of the Syriac and Coptic Gospels, and from many Old Latin, Old Georgian, and Armenian manuscripts. All the early church fathers omit this narrative; in commenting on John, they pass immediately from 7:52 to 8:12. No Eastern Father cites the passage before the tenth century. Didymus the Blind (a fourth-century exegete from [p. 274] Alexandria) reports a variation on this narrative,117 not the narrative as we have it here. Moreover, a number of (later) manuscripts that include the narrative mark it off with asterisks or obeli, indicating hesitation as to its authenticity, while those that do include it display a rather high frequency of textual variants. Although most of the manuscripts that include the story place it at 7:53–8:11, some place it instead after Luke 21:38, and others variously after John 7:44, John 7:36, or John 21:25.118 The diversity of placement confirms (though it cannot establish) the inauthenticity of the verses. Finally, even if someone should decide that the substance of the narrative is authentic — a position plausible enough — it would be very difficult to justify the view that the material is authentically Johannine: it includes numerous expressions and constructions that are found nowhere in John but that are characteristic of the Synoptic Gospels, Luke in particular.


  1. All true, but such musings do not help the preaching minister who must 1) explain to his congregation why the passage is bracketed or 2) explain to his congregation why he chooses not to preach it.

    Calvin provides a good comment: “It is plain enough that this passage was unknown anciently to the Greek Churches; and some conjecture that it has been brought from some other place and inserted here. But as it has always been received by the Latin Churches, and is found in many old Greek manuscripts, and contains nothing unworthy of an Apostolic Spirit, there is no reason why we should refuse to apply it to our advantage.”

  2. Kevin,

    Thanks for reading, commenting and posting the Calvin quote. Does Calvin give which "old Greek manuscripts" to which he is referring?

    Also, could you explain how the textual critical work done by Carson and Moo does "not help the preaching minister"? It seems to me that it would help them preacher "explain to his congregation why the passage is bracketed." It is in brackets for all the reasons (and more) that Carson and Moo give. Further, it seems that the work done by Carson and Moo (and others) on this passage would help "explain to [the] congregation why [the preacher] chooses not to preach it." The preacher is not preaching this passage for all the reasons given. Since this passage is not the Word of God, the preacher should not preach it. It seems that explaining the reasoning of Carson and Moo (and others) to the congregation would help the preacher in this situation.

  3. Calvin does not say which mss he was looking at.

    "Since this passage is not the Word of God, the preacher should not preach it."

    Wow. Try saying that from the pulpit. (Can you say "Ministerial Relief Fund?") Which is my point. The average saint cannot handle discussions of this nature. It would rattle their faith.

    I for one am not willing to say that John 7.53-8.11 is not the Word of God. I tend to agree with Carson/Moo that it was probably not originally part of the gospel of John, but that is a far cry from saying it is not Scripture, don't you think?

  4. Kevin,
    I agree with you that this would be hard to explain from the pulpit why it shouldn't be preached but I think that a pastor has to be careful about shying away from hard teachings. It's true that every congregation will have people from varying degrees of spiritual ability but the faith that they have is from the Lord and the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives to help them understand the preached Word. My caution here is that every pastor will have someone in his congregation tell him that the teachings of Roman's 9 or Ephesians 2 is to hard doctrine and that it could cause people to stumble. It is at these times that the pastor is a true shepherd.
    Just a thought.

  5. "The average saint cannot handle discussions of this nature. It would rattle their faith."

    It seems to me that the faith of the flock would be less shaken if the pastor addressed these issues, than if the pastor does not address those issues, and someone like Bart Erman uses that as an example of why the Bible cannot be the Word of God.

  6. It seems like a great opportunity to teach the congregation about how we got our Bible, and to explain to them the story behind a section of their Bibles that almost certainly should not be there.

    It doesn't preach good, but it does teach good. In the hands of a skilled and thoughtful pastor, I could, however, conceive of a discussion of this nature that would be both pastoral and useful.

    I also agree with Baird that if we don't teach our people about the hard facts of Scripture, someone else will be waiting with their own narrative about what is happening here.

  7. Rob, preaching Roman 9 is one thing. I've done it. Standing in the pulpit and saying John 8 is NOT Scripture is another thing.

  8. Kevin, I think you missed my point. I was referring to

    "The average saint cannot handle discussions of this nature. It would rattle their faith."

    My point is that a pastor needs to be able to help those who are shaken by hard sayings in the Bible and shepherd them through it. John 8 is in most translations and a pastor is more than likely going to have to deal with it at some point in his ministry.

    I know a pastor that had to stop preaching through Ephesians because some members in the congregation couldn't handle the hard sayings. He taught on other things and then came back to Ephesians. The pastor may not believe that John 8 is supposed to be in Scripture but many in the congregation will so the pastor will have to deal with this at some point. It may come down to pastor philosophy. I believe in trusting a congregation with handling hard sayings and if anyone has a question regarding what was said then that gives the pastor a great opportunity for one on one or a group teaching.
    Just a thought
    oh and I've preached Romans 9 as well.

  9. I think Baird and Adam have a good point. It is much better for believer to hear about this sort of issue from their pastor, who is knowledgeable about the issue and still believes the Bible, then to hear about this issue from an unbelieving college professor, who will use this "new" information to try to ruin their faith. In other words, I am not sure ignoring the issue from the pulpit is the right approach. Yes, this issue is very difficult, perhaps one of the most difficult (theologically) a pastor will face, but I still think it best for a pastor to face the issue.

  10. I'm not so sure it's off limits (for teaching or preaching). Why? Because "there is little reason for doubting that the event here described occurred, even if in its written form it did not in the beginning belong to the canonical books" (Carson, The Gospel According to John, PNTC, p. 333).

  11. There are several events in Jesus life that were not recorded, but the Holy Spirit did not inspire someone to write about them as Scripture. Would the brute fact that it happened make it Scripture?

  12. If the criterion for preaching or teaching be that the entire text in view be "scripture," then there would be none.

    Why? Because Johnny can't preach, Baird boy. Our pulpits are filled with illiterate poetasters.

  13. Chris,

    Wouldn't it be safer for us to acknowledge that these events may have occurred, but to also acknowledge that they were almost certainly not in the original autographs since they appear to be a later addition? If we acknowledge this, then does not the section in 7:53-8:11 belong alongside of the apocryphal writings? There is much in the apocrypha which is beneficial, but we largely acknowledge they are no more inspired than any other writing outside of inspired writ.

    So what I'm saying is that maybe the events occurred; they certainly have the ring of truth, and it certainly sounds like the Jesus I know. But maybe they didn't occur and existed as an oral tradition that was believed by most of the early church and was later inserted into un-agreed upon locations in the text. In either case, doesn't that make this section apocryphal at best?

  14. Yes. I'm being a bit tongue-in-cheek with that boy Baird.

    I was suggesting we follow Carson's lead per his commentary (he extrapolates a few wonderful points from it and weaves them together with a couple of canonical texts, thereby showing how the pericope in question doesn't pose a contradiction problem). Probably not a good idea to read the text as Holy Writ from the pulpit and then proceed to expound upon it. But that doesn't mean it's totally off limits, to my mind. At least not any more than the Apocrypha.

  15. Not sure this thread is still live, but I wonder how Moo and Carson handle the ending of Mark 16; do they take a similar position and approach to their Jn 8 reading?

  16. Bobby,


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