John 7:53‑8:11 - The Adulterous Woman and the
Missing Man: Proving Passage Authenticity
This passage is not present in many manuscripts,* and NIV translators boldly attack its authenticity in a text note saying, The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11. But it's in many post-4th century Greek manuscripts, earlier Latin ones and church-elder quotes. Further, Augustine, who lived in the 4th-5th centuries, a period in which the passage history would be known, said it’s a true reading removed in many manuscripts of his day due to resent- ment of forgiveness for adultery,* indicating a tampering problem. The passage has endured in some churches for many centuries, unlike Alexandrian texts lost to all churches for ~1400 years. It’s in the Old Latin text of a true biblical church, and evidently was a target of censors in various passages. The present writer views it as an authentic passage removed in early texts, but restored in post-4th century manus- cripts as a stage in providential inerrancy preservation in various select Traditional- Text manuscripts for true churches (see essay 2).
*Hills, E.F. The King James Version Defended. 1984. Des Moines. Christian Research Press. p150-59
Textual evidence trumps manuscript number & age
How likely is it that such a lengthy passage could be invented and added to some Traditional-Text copies? Removal from copies would be far easier and more likely. Further, if dishonest men invented it, and added it to the biblical text, how might we account for its high doctrinal quality, and its compatibility with other scripture?
In the preceding passage Jesus is not present as Pharisees and priests question some officers sent to arrest Him, and the officers explain why they did not. The passage ends in 7:53 as all parties leave, and the next morning the account of the woman is introduced. In verse 8:12 the Lord speaks to Pharisees and scribes.
As John Burgon noted over 100 years ago, in the absence of the account, 7:52 ties directly to 8:12 to produce linguistic nonsense. Pharisees and priests would speak to officers in an episode where the Lord isn’t present, immediately followed in 8:12 by, Then spake Jesus again unto them. The subject passage is set off below, between preceding and subsequent verses.
7:45 Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said unto them, Why have ye not brought him?
7:46 The officers answered, Never man spake like this man.
7:47 Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived?
7:50 Nicodemus saith unto them…
7:51 Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him…?
7:52 They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.
7:53 And every man went unto his own house.
8:1 Jesus went up unto the mount of Olives.
8:2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he…taught them.
8:3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
8:4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery…
8:5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
8:6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
8:7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8:8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
8:9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last; and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing…
8:10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?
8:11 She said, No man Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more.
8:12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world…
8:13 The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself…
Verse 8:12, called genuine by all, says Then spake Jesus again unto them. Where did He speak a first time to them? The only answer is the passage on the woman, the Lord saying to scribes & Pharisees, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. For the indefinite them to have meaning it must refer to the near context. In the prior passage, the Lord isn’t present, and that relates to the prior day. The only nearby passage identifying them is the supposed unauthentic account of the woman.
Logically, verse 8:12 follows the account of the woman. But the NIV 8:12 reads When Jesus spoke again to the people. This use of When in lieu of Then enables 8:12 to stand alone without the preceding account of the woman, for when introduces a new thought, removing the sense of an 8:11-to-8:12 sequence. And the use of people suggests that 8:12 describes a discourse with the people, not the scribes & Pharisees. The NIV eliminates the need for 8:12 to refer to the account of the woman, to make the account seem unauthentic. But this is misleading paraphrasing, as seen by other modern versions based on the same type of Greek text as the NIV. They render the passage with crucial words similar to those of the KJV.
NASV: 8:12 Again therefore Jesus spoke to them saying, I am the light of the world…
RSV: 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, I am the light…
The effort to discredit the account of the woman in the NIV fails. In 8:12 the Lord addresses those He addressed in the account, so them is scribes & Pharisees with rocks in hand, not the people in general. This is clear since, after the Lord speaks to them in 8:12, in 8:13 the Pharisees answer Him in all versions, including the NIV. NIV use of them as the people glosses over the matter by paraphrasing of its Greek text. Without the account of the woman, there’s no place where the Lord spoke a first time to the people recently enough for them to be the people. He isn’t present in 7:45-52 preceding the account of the woman, and this happened on the previous day. His last earlier discourse with the people was on the prior day in 7:39, too distant for them to refer to the people. The pronoun can’t link to a noun in such a remote con- text, much unrelated language intervening. Thus, while skipping the account of the woman and linking 7:52 to 8:12 doesn’t work, neither does the effort in the NIV to justify the text note on a lack of passage authenticity. The passage just won’t go away, as is typical of truth.
One might think use of the people is justified by verse 8:2 where Christ teaches the people before the woman arrives, but verse 8:2 is part of the passage that scholars would eliminate.
A genuine passage is removed in manuscripts preferred by scholars, the following verses being those it logically connects to. The same is true at the passage first verse, 7:53, that fits exactly with 7:52 that all scholars say is true scripture. Verse 7:52 concludes a conversation between officers, pharisees and priests, and verse 7:53 follows perfectly, saying each man then went to his home.
Some reject the passage, saying that it has Christ pardoning the woman too easily. Many classify sin in categories of severity, but any sin will send people to the same hell that adultery does if they aren’t forgiven. Such skeptics don’t realize the woman was forgiven because she received salvation in this encounter with the Savior since salvation by simple belief brings forgiveness of all sin. Christ said to her, Neither do I condemn thee, and one not condemned by the Lord has salvation (belief isn't limited to a formula, as the salvation of the apostle Paul shows us). He did not condone adultery, but imparted Christian morality to a newly saved person, saying to her go, and sin no more. And her salvation is indicated by the certainty of repentance, for she would be convinced that scribes and Pharisees with rocks in hand were about to crush her skull for a sin condemned without reservation by God’s Word. She would see herself as about to die in her sin, and fall into hell for eternal punishment. In a heart- stopping moment of anguish, deliverance by the wisdom of Christ would teach her a lesson she would never forget, and she would become a convinced believer in the God of both morality and forgiveness.
The gospel good news is that forgiveness overrules condemnation if a person truly repents of sin. Yet the law is holy, and the Lord did not just ignore it. He showed the scribes and Pharisees that the law was too holy for them since no man is righteous enough to qualify to stone others. He did this by challenging any without sin to cast the first stone. In this He was performing His mission to fulfill the law, overruling judgment rights of unholy man under holy law, declaring God as the one true judge, and accepting upon Himself God’s judgment of man for violations of the law. He introduced mercy as the true basis for judgment, giving sinners a second chance, to empower them to fulfill the spirit of the law. This doctrine became the foundation of a church filled with former sinners living holy lives in honor of God.
In the Old Testament, law enforcement and judgment were established through the leaders of Israel to show sin as grievous to God. The law, a schoolmaster, brings us to Christ (Gal.3:24), showing us defeated by sin & man’s faulty judgment, but made victorious in Christ over condemnation by the law, despite our sin nature. His power in forgiveness of sin by salvation changes the sinful heart to enable us to fulfill the spirit of the law, which is the crucial matter.
Victory over condemnation by the law is illustrated in this New Testament passage that scholars would trash! Condemnation by man under the law is overruled by the highest authority to show God as the righteous judge who accepts Christ’s sacrifice for us. Christ pays the price for our sin, and we are not damned. He fulfills the law for us in accepting its judgment for us, introducing mercy, while showing how awful sin really is in the suffering of its penalty by the divine innocent one. To reject the account of the woman is to attack the most fundamental of all church doctrines, the vicarious atonement, and rejection of it is a move toward condemnation by unholy man under the law!
The nature of the incident
Now we need answers to a few questions to understand fully the true nature of the incident with the woman. First we ask how it can be that scribes and Pharisees just happened to catch a woman in the act while Jesus taught in the temple. And how did they just happen to be near enough to the temple to get her there before He moved away from witnesses? And by the way, where is the guilty man?
As verse 8:6 indicates, Pharisees and scribes sought to trap the Lord in His words in front of witnesses. They could pre-select a poor woman and offer her much-needed money (entrapment), and have a crony lure her to the right location at the right time to use her against the Lord. They push the crony aside and direct attention only to the woman. They think Christ must either condone stoning of a woman just entrapped in sin, or must ignore the law. If He condones it, the crony can step forward and say he arranged the affair to prove Jesus was not from God, for if He were, He would know the woman was just entrapped (He did know). Worse yet, if He condoned stoning, they could do so (they had rocks in hand), and then destroy His ministry by having the crony reveal the entrapment. And they could say He violated His own teaching on mercy replacing condemnation in fulfilling the law (Mt.9:13, Lk.9:56).
The Lord knew all this and would never condone killing of the woman. Further, He would never set a wrong example by defying Roman control of capital punishment, for the Romans had control of the nation in the providence of God. But if He didn’t, condone the stoning, He would be said to defy Mosaic law, and not be the Messiah spoken of by Moses (Dt.18:15). That attitude of men ignores the superseding of the letter of the law by the spirit of the law that is based upon love (Mk.12:29-31, 1 Jn. 1:9), and affords forgiveness upon confession and repentance, which is what had to be the case in this incident involving discouragement of any further willful sin.
The trap seemed inescapable, but Christ easily defeated it. The Lord foiled the plan by challenging anyone who was sinless to cast a stone at the woman. Each one was reminded of his own sin, and beginning with the oldest, who had sinned the longest, they dropped their rocks and left. The Pharisees & scribes try to trap Christ in His words, and in this true passage of scripture, as in others, the Lord defeats them. Vile men would kill a misled woman to make Jesus look bad, while claiming to honor the law. Christ shows us that only God is ultimately qualified to judge sinners, and in doing so He introduces the basis for the vicarious atonement.