The Greek manuscripts which are often cited as the primary external evidence against the pericope adulterae (John 7:53-8:11 – a passage which some evangelical seminary professors and influential preachers, including John Piper, do not regard as Scripture) are Papyrus 66, Papyrus 75, À (01, Sinaiticus), B (03, Vaticanus), A (02, Alexandrinus), C (04, Ephraemi Rescriptus), L (019, Regius), N (022, Petropolitanus Purpureus), W (032, Washingtoniensis), and Δ (038, Sangallensis). None of these manuscripts has John between and . However, the testimony of some of these witnesses is significantly nuanced by additional details.
|Codex Delta's blank space.|
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For example, in Codex Δ (from the 800’s), the copyist provided a clear indication of his recollection of the passage, even though it was absent from his exemplar. After John 7:52, the copyist wrote the first seven words of 8:12, but then left the rest of the page blank, and resumed writing after leaving three additional blank lines on the following page. Then he restarted the text of 8:12, and proceeded on from there. Thus, while Codex Δ attests to the absence of the pericope adulterae in its exemplar, it also attests to the copyist’s memory of the presence of the passage in some other manuscript.
Similarly, in Codex L (from the 700’s), the copyist left a long blank space between the end of John , on one page, and the beginning of , on the following page. This blank space in Codex L includes more than an entire blank column. In codices Δ and L, the blank space is not sufficient to include John , but the copyists’ intention to leave “memorial space,” acknowledging their awareness of the absent passage, remains obvious. It therefore seems somewhat selective when commentators such as Metzger, Wallace, and White (among others) mention the absence of John 7:53-8:11, but fail to mention these blank spaces, of equal age, which attest to the presence of the passage in the memories of these manuscripts’ scribes.
|Codex Regius' blank space.|
Before we turn to some other interesting features in these manuscripts, it should be pointed out that of the 1,476 manuscripts that contain the pericope adulterae, about 60 manuscripts have it in a location other than between John 7:52 and . One particular group of manuscripts, which includes the important minuscules 1 and 1582, has the passage after the end of the Gospel of John, preceded by a note stating that because most manuscripts did not contain the passage, and because it was not commented upon by venerable patristic writers (such as John Chrysostom), it was moved to the end of the book, having been previously found after John 7:52 (the end of which the annotator quotes).
Although the minuscules that contain John after John are not particularly early, their agreements are considered to echo an ancestor-manuscript which was produced in the 400’s. In addition, their distinct readings tend to have an affinity with readings used by Origen, a patristic author who died in 254.
The transfer of John 7:53-8:11 from the usual place in chapters 7 and 8 to the end of the Gospel of John thus did not begin when these manuscripts were produced, but centuries earlier, when their shared ancestor was made. This raises a question: could some of the manuscripts which have been cited against the pericope adulterae, and which do not have it in chapters 7 and 8, have had it at the end of the Gospel of John?
In the case of Codex N (from the 500’s), there is no way to verify if it contained the pericope adulterae after the end of John or not, because the manuscript is damaged; the last extant bit of John 21 is in verse 20, and so there is no way to know if 21:25 was followed by the pericope adulterae when Codex N was in pristine condition or not.
In Codex W (from about the year 400), the Gospels are arranged in the order Matthew-John-Luke-Mark. Commentator Wieland Willker has noticed that between the end of John and the beginning of Luke, there is a blank page – blank on both sides. No such similar feature exists in Codex W between Matthew and John, or between Luke and Mark. This might be an attempt, by a copyist aware of the existence of the pericope adulterae, to provide space where it could be added.
In Codex A (from the early 400’s), the pages containing the text from John 6:50 to 8:52a have been lost. Thus, we cannot see directly that in Codex A, John was followed by ; we have to rely on space-calculations. Here, again, Willker’s commentary is very helpful: he notes that the copyist accidentally omitted John 8:52, when his line of sight wandered too far down the page. When this is accounted for, a reconstruction of the missing text, without John , fits the space that would have been on the absent pages, whereas if the pericope adulterae had been present, the space would not be remotely sufficient.
|Codex Alexandrinus -|
The end of John,
and a blank column.
At the end of the Gospel of John, the copyist of Codex A put the closing-title of the book at the end of the first column on the page. The second column is completely blank. One might argue that this is to be expected at the end of the Gospels – yet, at the end of Acts, there is no similar blank column; the column in which the book of Acts ends is followed immediately by a column in which the Epistle of James begins. On the other hand, between the end of Philemon and the beginning of Revelation, there are two blank columns, that is, one side of the page is blank. There is little way to discern, from this evidence alone, if the blank column at the end of John in Codex A is filler-space, or memorial-space.
In Codex Sinaiticus (from the mid-300’s), after the Gospel of John concludes in the fourth column of a page, the next four columns are completely blank. Once again, while it is probable that this is simply filler-space, it is not impossible that this feature represents copyists’ recollection of the presence of the pericope adulterae at the end of the Gospel of John.
In Codex Vaticanus (from the early 300’s), John does not appear after , and there is no unusual blank space after the end of John (on page 1382 of the codex) – just the usual leftover space below the end of the book. However, in the outer margin alongside that blank space after John there is an interesting feature: an umlaut, also known as a distigme. Very many of these symbols appear in the margins of the New Testament books in Codex Vaticanus; researcher Philip Payne brought them to the attention of his fellow-researchers in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, and established that they were added to denote the locations of textual variants.
It has not been determined beyond reasonable doubt that these symbols were added in ancient times. Payne has contended that most of the distigmai are contemporary with the production of the manuscript; Peter Head, however, has challenged this position. My own suspicion is that these marks are all late. However, because some scholars, including Daniel Wallace, have treated them as if they are ancient, let’s consider their possible significance in the case at hand: the only known textual variant that would elicit the addition of a distigme in the blank space after the end of the Gospel of John is the presence of the pericope adulterae.
If the distigmai are as ancient as the manuscript itself, Codex Vaticanus testifies to a fourth-century copyist’s awareness of the pericope adulterae’s presence at that location in at least one manuscript older than Codex Vaticanus itself. This would imply that the transfer of the passage to the end of John 21 was not initially due to its lack of use by Chrysostom and other patristic writers, but was caused by some other factor.
Papyrus 75 (usually assigned a production-date in the early 200’s) is only extant in John up to 15:10, so there is no way to tell whether or not the pericope adulterae was present after the end of chapter 21.
|Papyrus 66 -|
not much remains
of John 21:17ff. except
Similarly, Papyrus 66 (which Robert Waltz describes as “a notably inaccurate copy”), also from the 200’s, is very fragmentary in John 21, and no text can be confidently reconstructed beyond . Thus we cannot tell with certainty that Papyrus 66 did not contain the pericope adulterae after John 21.
● First: the evidence strongly supports the view that the text of John used in
in the 200’s did not contain the passage after John .
● Second: codices L and Δ should be considered witnesses for non-inclusion and for inclusion.
● Third: the testimony of most of the major Greek manuscripts that support the non-inclusion of the pericope adulterae in chapters 7 and 8 is not nearly as clear or one-sided when they are asked to testify about the passage’s presence or absence following John 21; on this question, most of the early Greek manuscript-evidence is open to interpretation.