Various commentators, preachers and seminary professors have
called for the removal of John
– the story about Jesus and the adulteress – to be removed from the Bible,
because it is not in some important early manuscripts, and because, in some
other manuscripts, it is in different locations. In this book I offer the following:
● A case for the genuineness of John ,
● Corrections and clarifications of some well-circulated
falsehoods and misinformation (answering especially some claims spread by Bruce Metzger, Dan Wallace, Bart Ehrman, David Parker, John Piper, and James White),
● An explanation of the simple scribal mechanism that
elicited the loss of the passage in an early transmission-stream,
● An explanation of the influence of lection-cycles that led
to the transference of the passage to other locations – including a consideration of the rarely cited evidence from Palestinian Aramaic texts.
● A refutation of the theory that the passage was a
● A consideration of Augustine’s theory about why the
passage was removed from the text,
● A thorough review of the relevant external evidence,
including not only Greek manuscripts but also versional and patristic evidence,
● An examination of the internal evidence, and the disruption in the narrative that results when the pericope adulterae is removed, and
● Some brief notes about miscellaneous concerns which have a bearing on the question about John 7:53-8:11 (or upon which the question about John 7:53-8:11 has a bearing) in one way or another.
I have tried to make this digital volume affordable for the
typical Bible student. (The price varies from country to country.) Those for whom
the price is prohibitively high are welcome to request a copy directly from
Earlier this year, Hugh Houghton gave the field of New Testament textual
criticism a great gift: a definitive
introduction to the transmission of the New Testament in Latin. His recent book, The Latin New Testament: A Guide
to Its Early History, Texts, and Manuscripts, is excellent. Metzger’s 1977 description of the Old Latin and Vulgate texts (in
pages 285-374 of The Early Versions of
the New Testament may now be dismissed in peace, like a candle extinguished at
The main text of the book is conveniently divided into three parts: History (describing the rise of the Old Latin
and the Vulgate in patristic times, and their dissemination in the Middle
Ages), Texts (describing the various resources and compilations of the Latin
text, especially the Vulgate), and Manuscripts (with descriptions of the
features often found in Latin manuscripts, and a remarkably thorough catalog of
Latin manuscripts of text-critical importance. The bibliography, appendices, and indices occupy the final third of the book.
Houghton’s account of the development of the Old Latin
version is full of fascinating details which may cause even experienced
researchers to wonder if they have given the Old Latin evidence the attention
it deserves. For example, in the course
of making a case that the Old Latin witnesses of the Gospels share a common
Latin ancestor, Houghton does not neglect to mention the example from
Mark 9:15, which has been enlisted for this purpose for a long time: gaudentes
(rejoicing) appears in the Latin text of “all pre-Vulgate Latin manuscripts,”
which seems to imply that behind them all there was a Greek text which read
προσχέροντες (i.e., minus itacism, προσχαίροντες), as in Codex Bezae, rather
than the usual reading προστρέχοντες (running).
This example, however, is not left to carry the case by itself; Houghton
also cites readings in the majority of Old Latin copies in Luke
1:9, Luke 9:62, Luke 22:11, Matthew 27:60, and more.
It is still possible to believe Augustine’s statement (in De Doctrina Christiana, ) that “The Latin translators cannot be
counted. For whenever, in the first ages
of the faith, a Greek manuscript came into the hands of anyone who had also a
little skill in both languages, he made bold to translate it forthwith.” However, the shared anomalies in the Old
Latin manuscripts – some of which imply a shared Greek base-text, or the same
rendering of once-used Greek words – imply that these translators did not
work in full independence; we must picture them sharing a Latin source and
proceeding to adjust it in various ways.
Houghton also makes it clear that despite Aland &
Aland’s attempts to downplay Greek text-types, text-type-based categorization
is very much alive in Old Latin research.
He presents 14 forms of the Latin text, ranging from the early forms
used by Tertullian and the translator of Irenaeus, to the Stuttgart Vulgate
text. Some of the most prominent Latin
● K, the text used by Cyprian,
● I, an Italian text closely resembling the Vulgate,
● A, a text used by Augustine,
● R, the text used by Lucifer of Cagliari, and
● S, a Latin text used in Spain.
Houghton also shows that it is important not only to notice
textual relationships, but also to detect shared features in the meta-text (or paratext) of
Latin manuscripts: the formatting of the
text, as well as supplemental materials such as canon-tables,
chapter-summaries, and even the use of different colors of ink, can contribute
to important discoveries. For example, there
are 13 different forms of the capitula
(chapter-summaries), and early Old Latin forms are sometimes found in later
manuscripts in which the Gospels-text is Vulgate. The most significant example of these forms
of the capitula is KA Cy, which Houghton
assigns to the first half of the 200’s.
Although this form of the capitula
is found mainly in later manuscripts with an essentially Vulgate text, “The
affiliation of the passages quoted in these lengthy summaries corresponds very
closely to the text of Cyprian and VL 1” [i.e., Codex Bobiensis]. The significance of this is felt when it is
observed that KA Cy describes the pericope
adulterae as the sixteenth chapter of John, and thus indirectly constitutes
a very early witness for the inclusion of the passage.
Readers of The Latin
New Testament will likely gain a new insight or new information every few pages, whether the
subject is a Latin manuscript, a lectionary (such as VL 32, from the 500’s), a patristic writer, or a
modern-day editor. After reading this
book, it will be obvious that the Old Latin evidence is much
more extensive than it was believed to be just 40 years ago. The use of letters to represent Old Latin
manuscripts (such as k for Bobiensis)
is manifestly insufficient, and the Beuron system which Houghton uses throughout
the book will inevitably replace it; indeed it must replace it in order to allow all relevant Latin witnesses to
be coherently identified.
Sixteen illustrations supplement the text (including a photo of Codex Complutensis with the Comma Johanneum), but a far greater
supplement is the provision of links to digital photographs of many of the
manuscripts in the catalogue in chapter 10.
This represents a real step forward, allowing readers the ability to
virtually see many of the manuscripts online. The Vetus Latina website, which Houghton
maintains, helpfully supplements the book, and so does his website. One can find there, among other
things, a list of Old Latin Gospels-manuscripts (many of which have been fully
digitized), Houghton’s article Latin Chapter-divisions, Capitula Lists, and the Old Latin Version of John, and
his essay on the text of Luke in VL 11A, which appeared in the Festschrift for
the great Roger Gryson, one of the giants, with Bonifatius Fischer, Hermann Josef Frede, and others,
upon whose shoulders Houghton stands.
It is traditional for authors to say that if they have seen further than their respected predecessors, it is because
they are dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants.
Readers of Houghton’s work, however, may be justified if they adjust the
axiom somewhat, recognizing that they are reading the work of a giant standing
on the shoulders of other giants in a relatively obscure field that has finally
been made accessible, comprehensible, and up-to-date.
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
(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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 the page-number.
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.
A few things should be clear from this review of the major
early witnesses for the non-inclusion of the pericope adulterae.
● First: the evidence strongly supports the view that
the text of John used in Egypt
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
● 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.
In a recent interview at Apologia TV, James White (of Alpha
& Omega Ministries) offered some comments about John 7:53-8:11 which
reflect a common misunderstanding of some evidence pertaining to that
passage. White, who does not believe
that these 12 verses belong in the Bible, turned his attention to them about 52
minutes into the interview, stating that he was going to explain why most scholars are confident that the passage is not genuine.
White proceeded to explain that although most manuscripts
contain the pericope adulterae
between John and , it is also found in four other
places: “In manuscript 225, it’s found
after John . In manuscript 1, it’s found after John
21:25. And here’s the important
part: in a group of manuscripts called
family 13, it’s not in John. It’s after
Luke 21:38. And in manuscript 1333, it’s
after Luke 24:53.”
These multiple locations, White stated, constitute “absolute
evidence” that John was
not originally part of the Gospel of John, but was instead “a story, very
popular, looking for a place to call home.”
(This remark from White is very similar to a sentence in a 2007 essay by Dan Wallace: “The pericope adulterae
has all the earmarks of a pericope that was looking for a home.”)
In White’s 1995 book, The
King James Only Controversy, the same evidence was cited, and in this
respect White’s comments closely resemble the contents of Bruce
Metzger’s 1971 Textual Commentary on the
Greek New Testament. White, like
Metzger, has omitted important aspects of the evidence, probably because the
depth of White’s research on this subject did not go much further than reading
Metzger’s work. The improbability of
White’s idea that the pericope adulterae was “a story looking for a place to
call home” should already be obvious to anyone who ponders the contents of
the first sentence of the account: “And
everyone went to his own house.” That is
simply not how one begins a story.
Before we look in detail at some aspects of the evidence
that White did not share in his Apologia TV interview, there is something we
should know about the Gospel-lection for Pentecost – that is, the
Scripture-selection that was read annually at the Feast of Pentecost (one of
the major feast-days of early Christianity, celebrating the coming of the Holy
Spirit as related in Acts chapter 2).
This lection began at John 7:37 and continued to John , at which point the lector (the person
designated to read the Scriptures in the church-services) was to skip to . In
many Gospels-manuscripts that are supplemented by what is known as the
lectionary apparatus in their margins, symbols and notes instruct
the lector to read the lection in this way.
The Pentecost-lection, in other words, consisted of John
7:37-52 plus . In lectionaries, the passage is presented in
precisely that form, making it easy for the lector to read the entire passage
without having to pause and jump forward in the text to find the final
portion. The same motivation that led to
the development of lectionaries – a desire to simplify the lector’s task – also
led some copyists to reformat the passage that contained the
Pentecost-lection in continuous-text manuscripts of the Gospels, with the
result that John 7:53-8:11 was transplanted to other locations.
When we take a closer look at the manuscripts mentioned by
White, it may become clear that once he studies them more carefully, he might
not wish to continue to present them as “absolute evidence” in the future.
“In manuscript 225, it’s found after John 7:36.”
Which means that a copyist moved it so that it would appear
immediately before the Pentecost-lection.
In manuscript 225, John 13:3-17 – the lection for the annual
foot-washing commemoration on Maundy Thursday – is likewise moved; it is found
not only in its usual place but also is embedded in the text of Matthew,
following Mt. 26:20, conforming to the sequence in which it was read on Maundy
Thursday. If one knows nothing
about lection-cycles, one might start imagining that John 13:3-17 was a very
popular story that was looking for a place to call home, but the more one
learns about lection-cycles, the less plausible that becomes.
“In manuscript 1, it’s found after John 21:25.”
White makes it seem as if this means that someone had the pericope adulterae sitting around as a
freestanding composition, and placed it at the end of the Gospel of John. If, however, one notices the note that
appears in manuscript 1 before the passage, a very different impression is received. The note says: “The chapter about the adulteress: in the Gospel according to John, this does
not appear in the majority of copies; nor is it commented upon by the divine
fathers whose interpretations have been preserved – specifically, by John
Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria; nor is it taken up by Theodore of
Mopsuestia and the others. For this
reason, it was not kept in the place where it is found in a few copies, at the
beginning of the 86th chapter [that
is, the 86th Eusebian section],
following, ‘Search and see that a prophet does not arise out of Galilee.’”
Thus, according to this note, a copyist did not find this
passage in most of his copies of the Gospel of John, and he also noticed that
it was not commented upon by several patristic writers, so he removed it from
where it had been found – after John 7:52 – and placed it at the end of the Gospel. It had not been “a story in search of a
home.” According to this note, it had already had a home, following
John 7:52, before it was moved to the end of the book.
In addition, this note – which is also found in manuscript
1582, and thus echoes the archetype of family-1 – may be a copyist’s
guess about how it ended up at the end of John’s Gospel, rather than an
observation. In two of the manuscripts that formed the basis for the Palestinian Aramaic lectionary, John 8:3-11, rather than , was transferred to the end of the Gospel of John. This displacement of John 8:3-11 was not motivated by text-critical principles; like the dislocation of the
entire pericope adulterae in 225, it was done to make the lector’s job on Pentecost a little easier – the
difference being that in these manuscripts’ locale, the Gospels-lection for Pentecost included
John 7:53-8:2. Eighteen Greek
manuscripts echo the same treatment of John 8:3-11, with the difference that
instead of being transferred to the end of the Gospel of John, these nine verses
have been dropped entirely from the text of these manuscripts, although -8:2 remains in the text after .
John 8:3-11 (or 8:1-11; there was some variation) was the
lection for the feast-day of Saint Pelagia, or for The Penitents (this refers to
a group of women famous for their penitence and austerity). In dozens of manuscripts of John, 8:3-11 –
not the entire pericope adulterae – are accompanied by symbols in the margin,
not (as some researchers have claimed) to convey scribal doubt about the
passage (as if the copyists accepted 7:53-8:2 but were suspicious about
8:3-11), but to thus show where, embedded within the Pentecost-lection, one
could find the lection for the feast-day of Saint Pelagia, or for the Penitents,
which was October 8.
“And here’s the important part: in a group of manuscripts called family 13,
it’s not in John. It’s after Luke 21:38.”
The text of the pericope adulterae has been altered in the family-13 manuscripts; in 8:2-3, instead of reading “and all the people came to him,
and he sat down and taught them. Then
brought the scribes,” they read, “And the scribes presented to him,” in order
to avoid repeating material similar to the contents of Luke -38.
Once again when we notice details which White did not
mention (not due to any malevolent intent, of course, but due to plain ignorance of the evidence), the picture changes significantly.
What has happened here is that
someone who had a manuscript in which John had been transferred to the end of John took things a step
further to simplify things for the lector. When transferred to the end of Luke 21, the passage would be easy to
find in the cycle of readings for feast-days in the Menologion: the lection for October 7, for Saints Sergius
and Bacchus, was nearby, in Luke 21:12-19.
Almost all of the remainder of Luke 21 is discourse, making the end of
the chapter the nearest convenient place in which to insert the narrative that
constituted the lection for the next day, namely, October 8, for Saint Pelagia/the Penitents.
“And in manuscript 1333, it’s after Luke 24:53.”
When we consider the details which the
shallowness of White’s research prevented him from detecting, the implications of the evidence drastically change from what he misrepresented them to be. In manuscript 1333, John 8:3-11 is written on
the page that follows the page on which the Gospel of Luke concludes, before
the chapter-list for the Gospel of John.
What has happened is that after the text of
John was written in 1333 without John 7:53-8:11, someone noticed that the passage used for Saint Pelagia’s feast-day was missing, and this person added it, preferring to use the blank
page after the end of Luke instead of writing the passage in the margin alongside
the end of chapter 7. According to
Maurice Robinson, in manuscript 1333, the verses are accompanied by abbreviated
rubrics in the margin; one says, “The Gospel-reading for October 8, for Saint
Pelagia,” and the other one says, “From the Gospel according to John.”
So instead of weighing in as evidence that
the pericope adulterae was “a story
looking for a place to call home,” as White has claimed, 1333 simply shows that
John 8:3-11 was a lection designated to be read annually on October 8, and that
even after someone made 1333 based on an exemplar that did not contain John
7:53-8:11, the lack of the lection for St. Pelagia’s Day was so problematic
that someone saw fit to add the lection on a blank page of the manuscript.
James White has asked, “If it was original,
why, why, why? If it was original, why
would there be all this chopping-up of it?
It doesn’t make any sense” – I
interrupt to mention that he seems to have asked that question out of sincere
perplexity. But one’s perplexity should not be regarded as a platform from which to jump to a conclusion. Nevertheless that is what White has done; his statement concludes: – “unless it wasn’t
original.” Such a text-critical method
is highly dubious. It would be better to
investigate the evidence more thoroughly, in order to answer the questions, as we
have done here.
This is, of course, not all that could be said about the pericope adulterae. (I intend to say much more soon in a book on
the subject.) It should, however,
justify a measure of concern when one encounters the claim that the
transference of John to
locations after the end of John, or to one side or the other of the
Pentecost-lection, or to the end of Luke 21, constitutes “absolute evidence”
that these 12 verses were “looking for a home” or similar nonsense. Such claims say more about the shallowness of
the authors’ research than they say about how copyists
treated the pericope adulterae and why they did so.