Was the Woman Caught in Adultery John 7:53-8:11 In the Original and What Was Being Taught?

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 140 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

First, we are going to share the text of John 7:53-8:11 itself, which will then be followed by some questions from a Facebook poster, Moises Rodrigues Coimbra, with my responses, and then Old Testament Bible scholar Gleason L. Archer will address the capital punishment aspect. Lastly, a link to an extensive article on whether John 7:53-8:11 was an original reading.

John 7:45-8:17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” 47 The Pharisees answered them, “You have not also been deceived, have you? 48 Not one of the rulers or of the Pharisees has put faith in him, have they? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” 50 Nicodemus, who had come to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 51 “Our law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” 52 They answered and said to him, “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

7:53–8:11 —— [1]

We have added 7:53–8:11 into the footnote (see below), not the main text because it is a spurious passage. Single brackets [ ], are used to indicates that the translator(s) had difficulty in deciding which variant to place in the text. Double brackets [[ ]], are used to indicate a spurious passage that has been added to the text. However, because of its early history, it has been included within double brackets.

The P52 PROJECT THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS 4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS

I am the Light of the World

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. He that follows me will never[2] walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your witness is not true.” 14 Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, because I am not alone, but the Father who sent me is with me. 17 Also, in your Law it is written that the witness of two men is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”

[1] John 7:53–8:11 is included in NA28 and UBS5 enclosed within double square brackets. WH has it after John’s gospel. It is included in TR as 7:53–8:11. The following witnesses omit 7:53–8:11, P39vid P66 P75 א Avid, B, CVid L N T W Δ Θ Ψ 0141 33 ita,f syrc,s,p copsa,bo,ach2 geo Diatessaron Origen Chrysostom Cyril Tertullian Cyprian MSSaccording to Augustine

The following witnesses included 7:53–8:11, D (F) G H K M U Γ itaur,c,d,e syrh,pal copbomss Maj MSSaccording to Didymus; E 8:2–11 with asterisks; Λ 8:3–11 with asterisks; f1 after John 21:25; f13 after Luke 21:38; 1333c 8:3–11 after Luke 24:53; 225 after John 7:36.

[[53 So they went each one to his own house,

8 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. Not the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and standing her in their midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of committing adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they were saying to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. But Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to asking him, he stood up and said to them, “Let the one who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And bending over again he kept on writing on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older men, and he was left alone, and the woman that was in their midst. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”]]

[2] This combination of two Greek negative particles ο µ (ou mē) and the aorist subjunctive with reference to a future event is the strongest negation possible in Greek, meaning absolutely not at all, in no way, by no means in any way to something in the future, this being known as the Subjunctive of Emphatic Negation.

9781949586121 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS

First, the adulterous account is exceedingly early and is likely apart of oral tradition. It is not a part of any original manuscript though.

JOHN 21:5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.

QUESTION: If this woman was caught in the act of adultery, for example, where is the man she was caught with?

RESPONSE: The whole purpose of this account is to make a point and teach a lesson. The Jewish leaders and Jewish men of this time were kind of like the Afghan Muslims in the way they treated women. You could divorce a woman for a poorly cooked meal. A woman could be stoned for adultery while the man was not even seen as being guilty. John primarily focused his attention on the Pharisees and Chief Priests, not the Scribes, who were teachers of the Law. Again, yes, the Law demanded the execution of both but the oral traditions and what was practiced were not always in alignment with the actual meaning of the Law. In addition, we do not want to get lost in the weeds of dissecting every aspect of an account because when a historical account or parable is being told, it is usually to make one point and so every detail is not filled in for us. Who knows maybe the man guilty of adultery was right there, but the woman was the one being dragged forward, so she gets all the press in the retelling of the account?

STATEMENT: Both of them are to be stoned, according to the law of Moses (see Lev. 20:10).

RESPONSE: While true, the Jewish religious leaders were going beyond the Law, they were developing oral traditions, and lastly Jesus was to be the end of the Law once executed, and a new way of doing things was underway. Each account and each parable was to make one specific point. The point, ‘who are you to be judging,’ ‘you will be judged as you are judging,’ ‘who is without sin,’ ‘even serious sin?’ Points such as this. The account isn’t negating the fact that they are still under the Mosaic Law because they were.

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

QUESTION: Moreover, when Jesus writes on the ground – what exactly was he writing? (According to one ancient tradition, he was writing the sins of the accusers, who seeing that their own transgressions were known, left in embarrassment!)

RESPONSE: Repetition for emphasis. We do not want to get lost in the weeds of dissecting every aspect of an account because when being told, it is usually to make one point and so every detail is not filled in for us. What was being written on the ground is really irrelevant in this account. The Byzantine scribes altered the text in their attempts at making things clearer and adding material to complete what they felt was left unsaid or not covered to their satisfaction.

STATEMENTS/QUESTION: And even if Jesus did teach a message of love, did he really think that the Law of God given by Moses was no longer in force and shouldn’t be obeyed? Did he really think sins shouldn’t be punished at all?

RESPONSE: It isn’t that Jesus thought the Law was already removed. First, Rome had removed capital punishment from Jewish courts, this is why the Jews had to go to Pilate to get Jesus executed. If they were really seeking her death, they would have had to take her to the Roman official. Thus, the Jews were likely testing Jesus as to whether he supported Roman law or the Mosaic Law.

What was the purpose of telling the account? Was it to highlight the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in that they too sinned egregiously? Was it to highlight that the Pharisees were tempting Jesus? Was it to highlight the hypocrisy that the Pharisees were obeying the Law to execute the woman but not obeying it to execute the man? Was the point to expose the Pharisees in their effort to trap Jesus in what they felt was no good, right response, making him look bad regardless? Was the account trying to highlight that the Pharisees could care less about the Law or this woman, they only cared about accusations against Jesus? It could be all of these for they are just nuances of the general point, or just one, but let’s not get bogged down in the weeds of details that were irrelevant to the point.

This spurious interpolation, oral tradition placed at John 7:53-8:11 is likely a real historical account, which certainly contains no doctrinal error and indeed fits with the character and the teachings of Jesus, but it most certainly was not in the original text. However, that does not mean that it never happened.

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS I AM John 8.58

Gleason L. Archer The Capital Punishment Aspect

How can John 8:11 be reconciled with Romans 13:4 in regard to capital punishment?

In Romans 13:4, the apostle Paul, speaking of the authority of human government, says, “It is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil” (NASB). This verse makes it perfectly clear that the God-inspired author taught that capital punishment (for the “sword” is not used for imprisonment or for releasing killers on parole) is ordained of God and intended by Him for the protection of human society against those who would unjustly deprive others of their right to life.

Some students of Scripture, however, have found difficulty in reconciling Christ’s treatment of the adulterous woman in John 8:3–11 with the imposition of the death penalty for capital crime. To be sure in this particular case the offense was marital infidelity rather than first-degree murder. But adultery was defined by the Mosaic Law as a heinous crime, punishable by death—normally by stoning (Deut. 22:22–24). Nevertheless it has implications for other capital crimes, such as murder and treason. Did Jesus intend to abolish the death penalty altogether by taking this action of releasing the guilty woman in the way He did?

The evidence of the earlier manuscripts of the Gospel of John suggests that this particular passage was not included by John himself in the original text of his gospel. The earliest surviving witness to this episode seems to be the sixth-century Codex Bezae, although it was received into the Koine or Byzantine family of manuscripts, on which the Textus Receptus (and the KJV) are based. Nevertheless, it appears to be an authentic account of an episode in Christ’s ministry, and it is written in characteristically Johannine style. Therefore it should be reckoned with as an authoritative word of Christ, despite the uncertainty of its relationship to the Gospel in its earliest form.

‘Non-Johannine’ vocabulary in John 7.53–8.11

English Bible Versions King James Bible KING JAMES BIBLE II

In this incident, Christ is portrayed as responding to a challenge by His adversaries, who wish to catch Him on the horns of a dilemma. If he condemns the adulteress according to the law of Moses, He will tarnish His image as a merciful and kindly messenger of God’s love. On the other hand, if He refrains from condemning her to death, He will be open to the charge of annulling or revoking the law of God—contrary to His own affirmation in Matthew 5:17. This was an entrapment device somewhat similar to the question later put to Him concerning the obligation of the Jewish believer to pay tribute to Caesar (Matt. 22:17). Whichever way He answered, He could be chargeable with opposing either the holy law or the duly constituted government of Rome.

At the close of the hearing in this particular case, Jesus found Himself alone with the woman; and He said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way; from now on sin no more” (John 8:11, NASB). What did He mean by this? Did He mean that the woman was not guilty of the offense as charged? Hardly, since the defendant herself made no effort to deny that she had committed adultery and had been caught “in the very act” (v.4). In that sense, of course, the Lord Jesus did condemn her; His words “sin no more” indicate that she was indeed guilty of the capital crime with which she was charged. But the Greek term katakrinō (“condemn”) carries with it the connotation of imposing a sentence on the defendant with a view of its execution. Compare Mark 14:64: katerkrinan auton enochon einai thanatou (“They condemned Him as being worthy of death,” i.e., speaking of the Sanhedrin’s sentencing of Jesus to death on the cross). Katakrinō in other contexts might mean only defining the nature or gravity of the offense charged, but in this forensic setting it involved the actual imposition of sentence and the authorizing of her penal death by stoning.

The Epistle to the Hebrews Paul PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

As we analyze the situation faced by Jesus in this particular confrontation with His enemies, we must take into account the special factors that tainted the whole process with illegality. First, the law of Moses require both offenders to be dealt with on an equal basis. Leviticus 20:10 states: “If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife …, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (NASB). Deuteronomy 22:24 indicates that both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman herself. Thus this entire process in John 8 was legally defective because the woman’s accusers had not brought forward her male partner-in-sin. Without him there could be no valid action taken against her.

Second, such an action as this has to be taken before a duly constituted court of law, such as a panel of elders near the gate of the city, whose duty it was to hear cases. What this group of accusers had undertaken was not a lawful court action, therefore, but a lynching. Since Jesus of Nazareth was no official judge in criminal actions, even as He made clear in an attempted civil case (the settling of a probate dispute in Luke 12:14: “Who has appointed Me a judge over you?”), this attempt to remand the case to Him was an obvious farce, devoid of legal justification, and intended only to embarrass the Teacher from Nazareth whom they hoped to discredit.

REASONING FROM THE SCRIPTURES APOLOGETICS CONVERSATION EVANGELISM

Third, by their own admission, not even the Sanhedrin had the right under the Roman government to execute the death penalty. While they had authority to impose a sentence, capital punishment could not be carried out except under the authorization of the Roman governor. Thus we read in John 18:31: “Pilate therefore said to them, ‘Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.’ The Jews said to him, ‘We are not permitted to put any one to death’ ” (NASB). Therefore it follows that this proposal to Jesus to have the guilty woman stoned to death right there before Him was itself a flagrant violation of the law of Rome. Our Lord would have no part in this. As a law-abiding citizen, Jesus could have no part in such a lynching.

Nevertheless the question raised was whether the woman deserved to die. “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” (John 8:5, NASB). Jesus might have pointed out that they had violated the law of Moses by failing to bring along her male partner. But Jesus pursued another tack because He saw that the accusers themselves needed to realize that they also were very guilty before God, and that they therefore were hardly in a position to carry out the penalty that they demanded of their prisoner. We are told that He stooped down to write on the sand or dust of the ground. What He wrote convicted them of their own sins—sins that they had hoped would remain hidden and unknown to all but themselves. Since He had ruled that the witness who was “without sin” had the responsibility of casting the first stone at the guilty woman, it was essential for at least one of them to have a completely clean conscience before God’s law. But not one of them could honestly claim to be free from sin before the Lord, and all the accusers suddenly found themselves accused and guilty. Hence they took their leave, one by one, until not one of them was left.

As we study Jesus’ response to this challenge, we must clearly observe that He neither covered over the guilt of the accused (as if adultery was not, after all, really heinous enough to require the death penalty—in that modern-minded, enlightened first century A.D.); nor did He suggest that death by stoning was no longer the proper way to deal with this offense. He plainly implied that the woman was guilty enough to die, and that the legal mode of execution was by stoning. The point He raised was that the accusers of the woman were themselves guilty under the law, and that they were hardly competent to carry out the sentence. Certainly they had all become guilty of an attempted lynching, completely contrary to the law of the Roman government to which they were all subject. Hence the whole process was voided by their incompetence and illegality.

In this episode of the adulterous woman, Jesus was hardly affirming that capital punishment was no longer to be imposed, nor that He was revising the Law of Moses in favor of a new policy of compassion toward those who had incurred the penalty of death. On the contrary, He upheld the continuing sanction of execution for capital crime; but He brought home to His countrymen—and, indeed, to all mankind—the solemn truth that before the Lord every man is guilty of death—eternal death—and that He had come for the express purpose of paying that penalty in the sinner’s stead.[3]

[3] Gleason L. Archer, New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan’s Understand the Bible Reference Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), 371–373.

FOR A DEEPER DIVE INTO WHETHER JOHN 7:53-8:11 WAS IN THE ORIGINAL

1 John 5:7-8: The Story of an Interpolation

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