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Pericope Adulterae

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Pericope of the Adulteress

John 7:53–8:11 is known as the pericope of the adulteress. Modern English translations place this passage between bracket and then refer readers to a note. The note may vary as to how much information is given, but the crux of the matter is that this passage is not included in the oldest Greek manuscripts.


This often does not sit well with some especially those of the KJV only movement, but the evidence is overwhelmingly against this passage being original part of the Gospel of John or the N.T. Rather than point to the manuscripts that do not contain this passage, I believe would prove more helpful to consider the manuscripts do contain this passage.


I. The Greek Manuscript

The pericope of the adulteress is found in only one Greek and\or Latin manuscript dating to the 5th century. It is found in only Codex Bezae (also know by the letter designation D). Codex Bezae is a diglot, meaning it has both the Greek and Latin.


The pericope of the adulteress does appear again in any Greek manuscript until the 9th century. Then some interesting things take place within manuscript evidence.


The pericope of the adulteress is not a stable text. When it is found, it appears in different places (after Luke 21:38; Luke 24:53, John 7:36, John 7:52, and at the end of the Gospel of John). When it does appear it is often marked off by obeli or asterisks to signal its probable spuriousness. This is analogous to modern English translations using brackets.


II. The Early Version\Translations

The early translations of the N.T. are very important for the study of the Greek N.T. These early version serve as a witness to the Greek text of the N.T. because they were translations of the Greek text. Thus as translations of the Greek call inform us as to what was there and what was not.


The pericope of the adulteress is not found in the early versions of the text. Here is a list of some of those versions.


(1) ita (an Old Latin manuscript dating from the 4th century)


(2) syrc (Syriac Curetonianus, 4th century)


(3) syrs (Syriac Sinaiticus, 4th century)


(4) syrp (Peshitta, daing from first half of the 5th century)


(5) copsa (Coptic 4th century)


(6) coppbo (Coptic 4th\5th century)


(7) copach2 (Coptic 4th century)


Now all of these translations would have had to rely upon Greek manuscripts that were earlier in date. Yet not one of them has the pericope of the adulteress. Thus they are a clear indication that the passage was not part of the Greek text.


III. The Church Fathers

The evidence from the church fathers also does not support the pericope of the adulteress.


Origen (ca. A.D. 184/185 – 253/254) - He wrote a commentary on the Gospel of John. I have zero doubt that If Origen had any knowledge of the pericope, he would have mentioned it.


Tertullian (ca. A.D. 155 – 240) and Cyprian (ca. A.D. 200 – 258) - Neither Tertullian or Cyprian make any reference to the pericope even though they both issued instructions concerning adultery. There is simply no explanation for such an oversight unless the pericope was not part of the Greek text.


It is conspicuously missing from the writing of Chrysostom (ca. A.D. 349 – 407) and Cyril (ca. 313 – 386 AD).


In fact according to scholarly sources, the first Greek church father (in the East) to unambiguously mention the story of the adulteress is Euthymios Zigabenos (12th century).


The first clear reference to the pericope comes from the Latin church father Ambrose (ca. A.D. 340 – 397). Some point to Didymus the Blind (ca. A.D. 313 – 398) as the first. Didymus' account shares some parallels with John 7:53–8:11, but there are also some important differences.



Given the evidence for and against the pericope, the lack of Greek manuscript evidence supporting the text, the lack of evidence from the versions\translations, and the lack of evidence from the church fathers (especially the Greek fathers) and the first Latin father unambiguously to mention the text being Ambrose (died A.D. 397), the pericope of the adulteress was never originally part of the N.T. Indeed there is no evidence that the story as contained in the N.T. was even known before Codex Bezae in its entirety.


This then also opens up an important question. Do the verses align in context to other teachings? It certainly seems that they don't if only for one reason. The text is not stable. As I pointed out above, sometimes it is found Luke 21:38; Luke 24:53, John 7:36, John 7:52, and at the end of the Gospel of John. This at the very least shows that context, in this case, was not an issue. It did not fit, so it could be moved.

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I think of the woman at the well and note that when she confessed her sin (sort of) "I have no husband", that Jesus did not say "I am not here to judge you either" but rather he confronts her with her sin "The man you are living with is not your husband."

Over and over in the Gospels, Jesus admonishes "Your sins are forgiven, now sin no more". This story always felt different.

"Neither do I condemn you" is really not the same as "your sins are forgiven." In the first, a Holy God is shirking his Holiness and Justice to be Merciful. In the second, a Holy God is accepting a debt that wasn't his and dragging it to the cross.

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"Neither do I condemn you" is really not the same as "your sins are forgiven." In the first, a Holy God is shirking his Holiness and Justice to be Merciful. In the second, a Holy God is accepting a debt that wasn't his and dragging it to the cross.


There is one perspective that makes sense of Jesus saying "Neither do I condemn you". Here's an article on the subject from Apologeticspress: First, Mosaic regulations stated that a person could be executed only if there were two or more witnesses to the crime (Deuteronomy 19:15). One witness was insufficient to invoke the death penalty (Deuteronomy 17:6). The woman in question was reportedly caught in the “very act” (vs. 4), but nothing is mentioned about the identity of the witness or witnesses. There may have been only one, thereby making execution illegal.


Second, even if there were two or more witnesses present to verify the woman’s sin, the Old Testament was equally explicit concerning the fact that both the woman and the man were to be executed (Deuteronomy 22:22). Where was the man? The accusing mob completely side-stepped this critical feature of God’s Law, demonstrating that this trumped-up situation obviously did not fit the Mosaic preconditions for invoking capital punishment. Obedience to the Law of Moses in this instance actually meant letting the woman go!


A third consideration that libertines overlook concerning this passage is the precise meaning of the phrase “He who is without sin among you….” If this statement is taken as a blanket prohibition against accusing, disciplining, or punishing the erring, impenitent Christian, then this passage flatly contradicts a host of other passages (e.g., Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5; Galatians 6:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14; Titus 3:10; 2 John 9-11). Jesus not only frequently passed judgment on a variety of individuals during His life on Earth (e.g., Matthew 15:14; 23; John 8:44,55; 9:41; et al.), but also enjoined upon His followers the necessity of doing the same thing (e.g., John 7:24). Peter could be very direct in assessing people’s spiritual status (e.g., Acts 8:23). Paul rebuked the Corinthians’ inaction concerning their fornicating brother: “Do you not judge those who are inside?… Therefore put away from yourselves that wicked person” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13, emp. added). Obviously, Paul demanded that Christians must judge (i.e., make an accurate assessment regarding) a fellow Christian’s moral condition. Even the familiar proof text so often marshaled to promote laxity (i.e., “Judge not, that you be not judged”—Matthew 7:1) records Jesus admonishing disciples: “…then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye” (vs. 5). The current culture-wide celebration of being nonjudgmental (“I’m OK, you’re OK”) is clearly out of harmony with Bible teaching.


So Jesus could not have been offering a blanket prohibition against taking appropriate action with regard to the sins of our fellows. Then what did His words mean? What else could possibly be going on in this setting so as to completely deflate, undermine, and terminate the boisterous determination of the woman’s accusers to attack Him, by using the woman as a pretext? What was it in Jesus’ words that had such power to stop them in their tracks—so much so that their clamor faded to silence and they departed “one by one, beginning with the oldest” (vs. 9)?


Most commentators suggest that He shamed them by getting them to realize that “nobody is perfect and we all sin.” But this motley crew—with their notorious and repeatedly documented hard-heartedness—would not have been deterred if Jesus simply had conveyed the idea that, “Hey, give the poor woman a break, none of us is perfect, and we’ve all done things we're not proud of.” These heartless scribes and Pharisees had the audacity to divert her case from the proper judicial proceedings and to humiliate her by forcibly hauling her into the presence of Jesus, thereby making her a public spectacle. Apparently accompanied by a group of complicit supporters, they cruelly subjected her to the wider audience of “all the people” (vs. 2) who had come to hear Jesus’ teaching. They hardly would have been discouraged from their objective by such a simple utterance from Jesus that “nobody’s perfect.”


So what is the answer to this puzzling circumstance? Jesus was striking at precisely the same point that Paul drove home to hard-hearted, hypocritical Jews in Rome: “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Romans 2:1). Paul was especially specific on the very point with which Jesus dealt: “You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery?” (vs. 22). In other words, no person is qualified to call attention to another’s sin when that individual is in the ongoing practice of the same sin. Again, as Jesus previously declared, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). After all, it is the “spiritual” brother or sister who is in the proper position to restore the wayward (Galatians 6:1).


Consequently, in the context under consideration, Jesus knew that the woman’s accusers were guilty of the very thing for which they were willing to condemn her. (It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the man with whom the woman had committed adultery was in league with the accusing crowd.) Jesus was able to prick them with their guilt by causing them to realize that He knew that they, too, were guilty. The old law made clear that the witnesses to the crime were to cast the first stones (Deuteronomy 17:7). The death penalty could not be invoked legally if the eyewitnesses were unavailable or unqualified. Jesus was striking directly at the fact that these witnesses were ineligible to fulfill this role since they were guilty of the same sin, and thus deserved to be brought up on similar charges. They were intimidated into silence by their realization that Jesus was privy to their own sexual indiscretions.


Observe carefully that with the withdrawal of the accusers, Jesus put forth a technical legal question: “Woman, where are they? Did no man condemn thee?” (ASV), or “Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?” (vs. 10, KJV). The reason for Jesus to verify the absence of the accusers who had brought the charges against the woman was that the Law of Moses mandated the presence of eyewitnesses to the crime before guilt could be established and sentence passed. The woman confirmed, “No man, Lord” (vs. 11). Jesus then affirmed: “Neither do I condemn you….” The meaning of this pronouncement was that if two or more witnesses to her sin were not able or willing to document the crime, then she could not be held legally liable, since neither was Jesus, Himself, qualified to serve as an eyewitness to her action. The usual interpretation of “neither do I condemn you” is that Jesus was flexible, tolerant, and unwilling to be judgmental toward others or to condemn their sinful actions. Ridiculous! The Bible repudiates such thinking on nearly every page. Jesus was declaring the fact that the woman managed to slip out from under judicial condemnation on the basis of one or more legal technicalities. But, He said (to use modern-day vernacular), “You had better stop it! You were fortunate this time, but you must cease your sinful behavior!” Jesus did not condemn the woman legally--He had no grounds to do so. But He most certainly condemned her morally and spiritually!


Incredible! The scribes and Pharisees were trying to catch Jesus in a trap. Yet Jesus, as was so often the case (e.g., Matthew 21:23-27), “turned the tables” on His accusers and caught them in a trap instead! At the same time, He demonstrated a deep and abiding respect for the governing beauty and power of law—the law that He and His Father had authored. Jesus was the only person Who ever complied with Mosaic legislation perfectly. He never sought to excuse human violation of law, nor to minimize the binding and authoritative application of law to people. Any interpretation of any passage that depicts Jesus as violating God’s law in order to forgive or accommodate man is a false interpretation, as is any interpretation that relegates law to a status of secondary importance (cf. Deuteronomy 6:24; 10:13; Psalms 19:7-11; Romans 7:12). Any interpretation of any passage that contradicts the teaching of other clear passages also is false. Jesus was not in sympathy with the permissive mindset of today’s doctrinally lax thinkers who soften doctrine and the binding nature of law in the name of “grace,” “freedom,” or “compassion.”


God bless,


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Yet Jesus was in a position to know the truth and pass a right judgement. Her accusers had all left when Jesus declaired that he would not condemn her under the Law of Moses.

'I will not condemn you' (under the Law) is not the same as 'your sins are forgiven' (under Grace).

Why this unique and inferior treatment of sin by the Christ?


Yes he handled the hypocrytes well in the story. It is the sinner that he has not dealt with as he has in other cases. I am not surprised to find a lack of transcript support for a story of such unique character.

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I think the woman (sinner) was rather insignificant in this passage, but merely appears so superficially. The woman was let go on a legal technicality, but it was the wickedness of the Scribes that attempted gain through tempting Jesus. If anything can be said about the woman it was that her sins were no longer concealed before the Judge, but Jesus had not taken upon Himself the office of Civil Magistrate. In John 8:5, I infer that when the scribes asked Jesus "what do you say", that they were in essence mocking the Lord, really, they could care less about the woman, her crimes, but rather made her into an opportunity for accusation towards the Christ for charges of inconsistencies. Remember they accused Jesus of sitting with sinners or implying wicked company. Jesus did not come to destroy the law and the prophets, and I think his answer was most perfect in these verses. Jesus did not allow Himself to be a "conniver" of wickedness or to let things go unpunished. I think taking that position from the text does it a great injustice. In the beginning of John Jesus referred to Nathanael as man with no deceit, a True Israelite, which alluded to Jacob a conniver and schemer from the start. Obviously, the Scribes were a poor example in the passages as they laid snares before the Lord, which He avoided, saving His reputation which they sought to destroy. I think emphasis is also placed on the fact that Jesus Christ stated it was fit that the woman should be prosecuted John 8:7, but appeals to the Scribes consciences as to whether they were fit to be the prosecutors Deuteronomy 17:7.


God bless,


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