A Specific Problem In The New Testament Text And Canon: The Woman Caught In Adultery (John 7:53-8:11) -- By: Gary M. Burge

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 27:2 (Jun 1984)
Article: A Specific Problem In The New Testament Text And Canon: The Woman Caught In Adultery (John 7:53-8:11)
Author: Gary M. Burge


A Specific Problem In The New Testament Text And
Canon: The Woman Caught In Adultery (John 7:53-8:11)

Gary M. Burge*

Few passages in the NT bring to the interpreter the bewildering variety of problems found in the pericope of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:11). Problems of text, canon and interpretation are at once evident. Commentators may choose to ignore the section completely by assuming that it is inauthentic,1 discuss it in an appendix,2 or integrate it into the body of John’s text.3 A recent monograph4 and a host of specialized studies5 have all sought some explanation for the story’s peculiar textual tradition and significance.

Is this “lost pearl of ancient tradition” original to the text of the fourth gospel? How do we explain the unusual history of its text? Is it an authentic story from the gospel tradition itself?. The aim of this paper will be a discussion of these problems as they relate to the problem of canon. We shall hope to employ this pericope as an example of the difficulty of canon studies in the NT.

*Gary Burge is assistant professor of Bible and religion at King College in Bristol, Tennessee.

I. The Authenticity Of The Text

1. External evidence. The chief problem usually identified in John 7:53–8:11 is its weak external attestation. The only major Greek MS antedating the eighth century and providing us with the story in its traditional location is Codex Bezae (D [105], fifth or sixth century), a MS noted for its interpolations.6 In addition various OL MSS (b, c, e, ff2, j) join Bezae in this, which suggests to us that the story was especially known in the western Church. While many ninth-century Byzantine MSS include the text,7 a good number of scribes expressed their reservations about it by writing in an obelus (so S) or an asterisk (E, M, Λ) in the margin. MSS L (viii) and Δ (viii) do not give the text but leave a space after 7:52, showing that the scribes were familiar with the section but that it was not in their exemplars.8

Significantly, in all of the major Greek MSS we find...

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