The Woman Caught in Adultery
I am currently preaching through the Gospel of John. This week (11/29/20) I am passing over John 7:53-8:11. This is the story of the woman caught in adultery. I want to explain this decision without using a full-length sermon to do it. In short, I do not believe this passage is original to the Gospel of John and therefore does not warrant a sermon. Let us examine the evidence that supports this conclusion.
First, you will notice that in almost every modern translation, except the KJV and NKJV, there is an explanation inserted into the biblical text above the passage in question. This is the explanation from an NIV bible I have in my office, “The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses, do not have John 7:53-8:11”. My ESV says, “The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53-8:11”. Then in a footnote it adds, “some manuscripts do not include 7:53-8:11; others add the passage here or after 7:36 or after 21:25 or after Luke 21:38, with variations in the text”. In addition the passage itself is in brackets, setting it apart from the surrounding passages.
So, the most significant evidence that supports excluding this text from the Bible is that all of the earliest manuscripts do not have this passage included. There are no manuscripts before the 5th century (400s AD) that include this text. When it does start to appear in some manuscripts it does not appear in the same place consistently. When the NIV references “ancient witnesses” it is speaking of early church fathers. In their comments on the book of John none of them make comments about this passage. This would be very strange for them all to pass over a certain passage if it was indeed original to the Gospel of John.
Other pieces of evidence (See John Piper’s sermon on this issue, click here) include: 1) the fact that the text flows much better if one passes over 7:53-8:11, 2) there are fourteen words in this paragraph that appear nowhere else in John’s writings, 3) and it is not cited by any Eastern church fathers until the 10th century (900s AD).
All totaled I believe this is enough evidence to conclude that John did not author this text under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The story may very well be true, but the possibility that this story is true is not a sufficient reason to include it in the Bible. There are many things that Jesus said and did that are not recorded in Scripture. If somehow one of those true stories survived orally for several hundred years and then made its way into a scribe’s copy of the book of John then that still doesn’t make it part of the Spirit-inspired author’s intent and should therefore be treated differently than the Scriptures. I think the best option would be to include it as an appendix in the back of the Bible (where maps or other articles are typically included) with an explanation about its history.
Other factors for consideration include: 1) a vast majority of evangelical biblical scholars agree that the passage is not original to John, 2) that no biblical doctrine is compromised if this text is removed, 3) that this need not shake our confidence in the reliability and authority of our English translations because of the wealth of manuscripts available to us, and 4) that the main proponents who defend this passage as original are usually more interested in defending the KJV/NKJV as a superior English translation than anything else.
My task as a pastor and preacher is to rightly handle the Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). I feel I would be doing the church a disservice if I preached this text as the authoritative Word of God.
In closing I am eager to maintain unity and a charitable attitude towards each other when we have minor disagreements. If you disagree with my position on this passage please understand that I respect your position and would love the opportunity to speak with you about your concerns and opinions on the matter. It is possible that each of us could grow and learn from each other by talking about our perspectives. I assure you, I love the Word of God and am committed to its inerrancy and authority. That is precisely why I stand where I stand on this issue.