Is John 8:1-11 really in Scripture?

Is John 8:1-11 really in Scripture?

Question
Is John 8:1-11 really in Scripture?
Answer
John 8:1-11 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

These verses are not present in the earliest Greek manuscripts, and in others they appear at different locations (after 7:36; after 21:25; after Luke 21:38; after Luke 24:53 etc.). However, the Gospels are not always written chronologically. For instance, in Luke's narrative of Christ's baptism (Luke 3:1-20), he mentions the story of John the Baptist, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and his baptizing of the multitude in the Jordan River. He then immediately mentions that King Herod arrested John the Baptist and shut him up in prison (Luke 3:19-20). However, in a chronological timeline we know John the Baptist baptized Jesus prior to his imprisonment and beheading (Matt. 3:13-17;1 4:1-12; Mark 1:9-11; 6:14-29; John 1:29-34). So, Luke adhered to the topical subject matter rather than the sequential order of the events. Luke is not contradicting the chronological events, but merely phrasing them topically, not chronologically.

From John 7:53-8:1, it is apparent that the present location of this pericope is not the original one, because Jesus was not present at the meeting described in John 7:45-52. So, while I believe these verses do reflect an actual historical event that took place sometime during Jesus' ministry, the evidence suggests that they were not part of this portion of the original manuscript.

As D. A. Carson states:

Despite the best efforts of Zane Hodges to prove that this narrative was originally part of John's Gospel, the evidence is against him, and modern English versions are right to rule it off from the rest of the text (NIV) or to relegate it to a footnote (RSV). These verses are present in most of the medieval Greek miniscule 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 John 7:52 to John 8:12. No Eastern Father cites the passage before the tenth century. Didymus the Blind (a fourth-century exegete from Alexandria) reports a variation on this narrative, 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 here (i.e. at 7:53-8:11), some place it instead after Luke 21:38, and other witnesses variously place it after John 7:44, John 7:36 or John 21:25. The diversity of placement confirms the inauthenticity of the verses. Finally, even if someone should decide that the material is authentic, it would be very difficult to justify the view that the material is authentically Johannine: there are numerous expressions and constructions that are found nowhere in John, but which are characteristic of the Synoptic Gospels, Luke in particular (cf notes, below).

On the other hand, 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. Similar stories are found in other sources. One of the best known, reported by Papias (and recorded by the historian Eusebius, HE III xxxix. 16), is the account of a woman, accused in the Lord's presence of many sins (unlike the woman here who is accused of but one). The narrative before us also has a number of parallels (some of them noted below) with stories in the Synoptic Gospels. The reason for its insertion here may have been to illustrate John 7:24 and John 8:15 or, conceivably, the Jews' sinfulness over against Jesus' sinlessness (John 8:21, 24, 46).

Reference:

Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John (333-334). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991.

Related Links:

Textual Note - John 7:53-8:11

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).