Problem Passages in the Gospel of John Part 8 The Woman Taken in Adultery (John 7:53-8:11): The Text -- By: Zane C. Hodges

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 136:544 (Oct 1979)
Article: Problem Passages in the Gospel of John Part 8 The Woman Taken in Adultery (John 7:53-8:11): The Text
Author: Zane C. Hodges

Problem Passages in the Gospel of John
Part 8
The Woman Taken in Adultery (John 7:53-8:11): The Text

Zane C. Hodges

[Zane C. Hodges, Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas Texas.]

Few if any passages in the New Testament have been more subject to controversy over a longer period of time than the famous story of the woman taken in adultery found in John 7:53–8:11. This well-known narrative, often referred to as the pericope de adultera,1 has been discussed since ancient times and its authenticity as part of the Fourth Gospel has been both assailed and defended.

There can be no question that the story is not found in many of the very oldest documents, and for this reason—as well as on other grounds—there exists today a strong scholarly consensus that it formed no part of the original text of John’s Gospel. However, there are some very serious problems with this widely held view, and in fact an excellent case can be made that the narrative is not only entirely suitable to its context but also bears the stamp of Johannine authorship.

In order to deal adequately with a question that involves many complexities, it will be necessary to divide the discussion of it into two parts. First, there must be a careful treatment of the issues raised in the textual criticism of this passage, and second, there must be a careful exposition of its content and message within the framework of the Johannine presentation. It will not be possible, of course, to keep these two facets really separate, since textual and expository issues continually overlap here, but in a general way an effort will be made to treat the question under these two rubrics. Accordingly, it is planned that the present article on “The Text” will be followed by one on “Exposition.”

A Unique Case

In some ways, the textual problems centering around the pericope de adultera are unique to New Testament criticism. To begin with, there is an almost classic division between the documentary witnesses. Ranged against the pericope are virtually all of the most ancient Greek manuscripts which are favored by modern scholarship, along with an impressive array of versionary and patristic data. On the other hand the evidence for the existence of this story seems very early and the passage is actually found in a very large majority of the surviving Greek manuscripts while there are also ancient attestations from both versions and fathers. Still, it might be suggested that, if modern New Testament textual criticism is really headed in th...

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