This entry is part 58 of 89 in the series: Troublesome texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Matthew 24:34 – This generation will not pass away?
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Ephesians 5:23- ‘The head of a wife is her husband’
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:15 – ‘Saved through child-bearing’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
John 7:53-8:11 records the famous and well-loved account of a woman caught in adultery.
This text is ‘troublesome’ because of the high level of doubt about whether it belongs in John’s Gospel, or, indeed, whether it belongs in our Bibles at all.
The earliest manuscripts do not contain this passage, and it is very rarely mentioned by Christian teachers during the 1st millenium AD.
Few scholars would argue that even if it is canonical, it belongs to this particular place in John’s Gospel. Not only does it interrupt the flow of John’s narrative, but its style and vocabulary are distinct from the rest of that Gospel.
Augustine thought that it was original, but surmised that it was suppressed who thought that our Lord’s ready forgiveness of an immoral woman would encourage sexual licence.
Roman Catholic scholars such as Schnackenberg and Raymond Brown judge that the passage is inauthentic, but are compelled to note that their Church recognises it as canonical.
Proponents of ‘KJV-only’, Textus Receptus and the Majority Text also accept the canonicity of the passage, based on the authority of their favoured textual tradition.
Klink thinks that although the text is inauthentic, its place in Scripture is assured by centuries of acceptance by the church. Burge agrees: ‘The story edifies the Church and has often become a vehicle through which the Holy Spirit works. Are these the grounds of the Protestant canon? If so, the passage should remain firmly anchored in the NT.’
Others argue that the passage should be accepted because it contains nothing that can be shown to be unhistorical or unorthodox. F.F. Bruce, for example, thought that the passage contained a ‘genuine remembrance of Jesus’ ministry’, and that it is is therefore ’eminently worthy of being treated as canonical.’ Kruse, similarly: ‘It is very unlikely that this attractive story was an original part of the Fourth Gospel. It is not found in the earliest and most reliable Greek manuscripts. Nevertheless, it has what Professor Metzger describes as “all the earmarks of historical veracity”.’ Carson: ‘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.’ Morris: ‘if we cannot feel that this is part of John’s Gospel, we can feel that the story is true to the character of Jesus. Throughout the history of the church it has been held that, whoever wrote it, this little story is authentic. It rings true.’
Millar judges this ‘sounds like Jesus’ argument to be rather weak, since it relies too much on subjective opinion. Does the record of Jesus becoming angry (Mk 3:5), or his speaking negatively to a Gentile woman (Mt 15:26) ‘sound like Jesus’?
Still others maintain that the passage should be regarded as inspired and canonical even though it does not belong at this point (or any point) in John’s Gospel. Sproul, for example, defended his preaching on this passage by saying: ‘The overwhelming consensus of text critics is that it was not part of the original Gospel of John, at least not at this portion of John. At the same time, the overwhelming consensus is this account is authentic, apostolic and it should be contained in any edition of the NT. I believe it is nothing less than the Word of God. Whether it belongs here in John’s Gospel or at the end of the 21st chapter of Luke, or somewhere else in John’s Gospel, I leave to the ages. But I am treating it as nothing less than the very Word of God.’
Michaels’ view is that ‘though it is undoubtedly a true incident in Jesus’ life, the story of the adulteress does not belong in the New Testament and specifically does not belong here, where its presence divides one day’s action into two and interrupts the narrator’s development of Jn 7:37–8:20.’ Michaels thinks that Lk 21:37f offers a more appropriate historical setting (and, indeed, a few manuscripts place it there).
A further view is that represented by Piper, who believes that the passage is non-canonical, but that it contains valuable illustrative material. We do not derive biblical doctrine from the text, but take established biblical doctrine to the text, to see it illustrated there. Miller concludes his lengthy discussion (from which much of the above is drawn) with the same point, adding that it is appropriate for a preacher to skip this text, and to explain why, on text-critical grounds, he has done so.
In summary: this pericope probably does not belong as part of John’s Gospel, and may not belong in any of the other canonical Gospels either. We cannot therefore confidently regard it as part of inspired Scripture, and should not base any key doctrine upon it. Happily, however, we do not need to, for, ‘Christ’s behaviour…comports well with the core of historical Jesus material, which so consistently paints him as compassionate towards the outcast, while rebuking the religious establishment: of his day.’ (Blomberg)