John 7:53 – 8:1-12

Stoning AdulteryJesus & The Adulteress

This is part of my expanding Bible Manipulations series.

Inspiring Sources:

“Jesus  and the Adulterous Woman” (John 7:53 – 8:1-12) is a favorite sermon story — the verses are quoted at the end of the post.  This section of John is called the “pericopae adulterai” (the adulteress’s section).  Stories in the New Testament which form a coherent story of themselves are referred to as pericope (Gr: a cutting out).   In this pericope, Jesus gives us a message which differs from the Old Testament — he forgives the  adulteress.   For in Lev. 20:10 the Law of Moses tells us that both the man and the woman caught in adultery should be stoned to death.

If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.
— Lev. 20:10 (RSV)

Matthew’s Jesus. apparently disagreeing with John’s, tells us that the Law must be accomplished.  But remember that Matthew wanted Jesus to be very Jewish.

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.
— Matt 5:18 (RSV)

But in John’s story, Jesus tells the adulterous woman that she is forgiven, will not be stone and should simply leave and sin no more.

Textual criticism has shown us that this story was not originally in the Gospel of John but was added later by scribes.  This excellent Wiki article lists ancient texts with and without the passage.  This pericope is actually no longer regarded as authentic by most modern translations.  The early Christian church wrestled with what part of the Jewish law they should keep.  This verse may have been added to help the anti-Law theology.  But how do we know this verse was not written by the author of John’s Gospel?  By the following two methods:

  1. The story is not found in our oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John
  2. It is written in a style very different from the rest of John with a large number of words and phrases that are otherwise alien to the Gospel.

But many scholars feel it was a well-known story circulating in the oral tradition of Jesus and was just liberally added by a scribe later.  It is now included in most translations with some only offering a footnote telling of this controversy.   Interestingly, we have translations where this story appear after John 21:25 and another after Luke 21:38.

Why has the authenticity of this verse been debated?  Here are two important reasons why people fight to keep it:

  • It again shows that the Bible has been augmented and changed over the years — an image many Christians are not comfortable with.
  • Importantly, however, it is the primary text to support the abolition of the death penalty for some Christians.  Since the executor must be sinless by the story added to John (The Adulteress Pericope) then supposedly no one could execute since no one is without sin.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in American has this pericope as part of their written arguments against the death penalty.

Even Augustine knew about the missing passage and felt it may have been improperly excluded from some manuscripts in order to avoid the impression that Christ had sanctioned adultery.

The Adulteress Pericope:

Then each of them went home, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’
— John 7:53 -8:11 (RSV)


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

18 responses to “John 7:53 – 8:1-12

  1. First I’d like to say that without Ehrman’s enlightening books I probably would have remained a Mainstream conservative Christian. And I’d also like to add that another reason Christians would fight to keep it in (considering its debatable authenticity) is for the sake of tradition. Yet I would go much farther and include non-canonical books like the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Thomas.

  2. @ Eruesso
    I agree, “Tradition” is a huge force in many lives — even scholars.

  3. Ian

    You git, Sabio.

    I was in the middle of preparing a post on exactly this. Saying mostly this:/

    The only three extra bits I was going to say are these:

    Firstly on your reasons to keep it, I think the most important is this:

    Many (particularly liberal) Christians don’t care two hoots about a theology of original inspiration. They are aware that the bible is the work of many people, some of whom collated passages from other writers or from oral accounts. There is no reason to think that the person who collated and wrote the rest of John (if indeed that was one full narrative) should have been particularly inspired while the person who collated and wrote in the pericope adulterae wasn’t.

    And secondly, conservative Christians don’t like this section either. It is one of the motivating examples behind Conservapedia’s Conservative Bible project:

    And finally, another reason we often know that a pericope is an insertion, particularly this one. If you do cut it out, the surrounding material joins up better. That is very much the case here. You have this strange introduction to the pericope where they all go home and then come back, and Olivet is mentioned.

  4. Ian

    …[hit submit prematurely]…

    Whereas if you remove the pericope you get a consistent narrative with the Pharisees arguing about the authority under which one could claim Jesus is a prophet.

  5. @ Ian
    Wow, excellent link.
    Since these posts are notes to myself on these passages, I will include your points in the post.
    Thank you kinldy.

  6. societyvs

    It’s best to take this passage as an addition – based on the 2 points you make. Which does prove the people that edited the NT did take some liberties with what was to be added.

    Hebrew is another letter that troubles me to some degree (and John’s whole gospel but I’ll leave that one for now). Hebrews actually contains a passage that was clearly changes and does not reflect the actual Hebrew version (of a Psalm I think). Plus, no one is sure of the writer (obviously not Paul). Yet it makes it in, and has become a very authoritative book for doctrines like the atonement.

  7. rey

    I think its more likely it was removed by scribes who saw it as destructive to societies morals than that it was added in a time of ‘orthodox’ dominance. (Why would the ‘orthodox’ add this story?)

    As to Matthew’s comments about not one letter passing from the Torah till all is fulfilled I think its clear this idea was modified by the ‘orthodox’ from originally saying that Jesus’ words would not pass away, as obviously they also added ‘think not I have come to destroy the Torah’ in a context in Matthew where he has already directly contradicted it three times.

    In Luke you have two similar passages to Matt 5:18, namely Luke 16:17 and Luke 21:33

    Luke 21:33 “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.”

    Notice this one is about Jesus’ words not the Torah. But the other is about the Torah.

    Luke 16:17 “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”

    But in Marcion’s gospel which of course was similar to Luke and believed by some scholars to be earlier than Luke, this verse also was about Jesus’ words not the Torah.

    I think the same is true of Matt 5:18. In the sermon on the mount Jesus contradicts the Torah saying “you have heard it said ____ but I say ____.” He is destroying the Torah. He is making its jots and tittles or letters and parts of letters pass away. How then can he say no letter can pass away from it when he himself is removing those letters? Or how can he say he didn’t come to destroy what he is plainly destroying? Clearly, just as Luke 16:17 originally (i.e. in Marcion’s version) was about Jesus’ words not the Law, so also was Matt 5:18. Matt 5:18 is in fact merely Matthew’s borrowing from Luke 16:17 anyway.

  8. rey

    “In this pericope, Jesus gives us a message which differs from the Old Testament — he forgives the adulteress. For in Lev. 20:10 the Law of Moses tells us that both the man and the woman caught in adultery should be stoned to death.”

    In a way it actually doesn’t. The Law specifies that BOTH the man and the woman must be put to death. These guys only brought the woman to Jesus having presumably let the man go. A most sensible conjecture as to what he wrote on the ground would be “where is the man?” But the fact that ‘orthodox’ expositors of the verse don’t ever know how the verse actually does jive with the OT suggests they didn’t add it to make Jesus agree with the OT.

  9. ezeric

    JESUS could not have destroyed the law because the law was all about him. (what he is like, what he stands for)

    He did 2 things primarily.
    1) Raise the law back up to its primary place. To elevate it, to where it belonged.

    2) Then to fulfill it (keep it) the way it was always supposed to be kept (not the way man had invented and pretended in keeping it).

    Torah meaning the books of the law.


  10. rey

    -An eye for an eye is all about Jesus?
    -Divorcing your wife for any reason is all about Jesus?
    -Stoning people like Jesus (Deut 13) is all about Jesus? (Well, in a way, yes, it is all about Jesus because Moses was commanding that Jesus be killed)
    -Burning your daughter at the stake if she gets pregnant out of wedlock and you’re a priest is about Jesus? (Talk about abortion–look like the OT is pro-choice, pro-choice of the priest to abort his daughters child and her with it.)

    No my friend, Jesus destroyed the Law. He says the Torah was until John. What does that mean unless it means he intends to set it aside, making John the last valid representative of it. Don’t let the Catholic interpolations deceive you. As Paul says in 1st or 2nd Corinthians 4, the god of this world (the god of the OT) is seeking to blind you by veiling the gospel with the veil of the OT, Moses’ veil.

  11. ezeric

    The law was preached up-until John (the baptist) Luke 16:16
    and John ushered in JESUS who was going to show us what the law really meant and how the new covenant works.
    JESUS didn’t destroy the law (HE said so). Matthew 5:17
    JESUS fulfilled the law (because HE was the only one that could) Matthew 5:17
    Because the law (torah) has been fulfilled in HIM its ended. Romans 10:4

    JESUS himself said “it is finished” John 19:30

    So that man can be granted righteousness by faith.

    Basically law or old covenant really could be translated “Man’s effort”.
    GRACE or the New Covenant is nothing to do with your effort but is “GOD’s effort” or HIS work (not ours).

  12. rey

    ezeric, If you believe that the Law required human effort and the new covenant doesn’t then you actually believe that Jesus destroyed the Law more than I do. I really only believe he destroyed the bad things of the Law. He did not destroy morality, which is essentially what you are saying. The whole faith-onlyist idea is that Jesus set the morality of the Law aside, whether you want to admit that is your position or not. I believe he destroyed the worthless ceremonial requirements and the immoral commands like Deut 13’s command to kill your family members if they try to leave Judaism. He was the better God after all who came down to defeat Yaltabaoth.

  13. rey

    In this sense salvation is all of God and none of us, that is in the sense that without Jesus purchasing us from Yaltabaoth we would all be condemned by the OT god who relishes in punishing men unjustly for Adam’s “sin” of eating a fruit. But in another sense we save ourselves, because although we are saved without any input from ourselves from being judged by Yaltabaoth (and thus condemned for he knows only once sentence) yet we are still to be judged for the morality/immorality of our deeds for which purpose we will all stand before the judgment seat of Chrestos. Therefore, although already saved totally by grace in the sense that Jesus died to purchase us from Yahweh, we also must obey the righteousness which Jesus Chrestos teaches for we will stand before his judgment seat and there it is not by grace. There surely the punishment is proportional and we must minimize it by minimizing our wrongs.

  14. @ rey & ezeric

    Hey boys, why don’t you move your arguments concerning Marcionism to Rey’s site. You have taken this discussion into the real of Marcionite (Rey) vs. “Orthodox” Christianity (Ezeric). Good luck enlightening each other on your own theories of the heavenly hosts! But this is an atheist site. See parts C & D on my policy tab. Thanx

  15. ezeric

    Sorry Sabio, I just ‘stumbled on’ your site literally days ago and didn’t even know Rey had a site.

    It shouldn’t surprise me though, because Rey makes some good points that should not be ignored!

    So, if you guys want, can you send me Rey’s address?

    Lastly, all I would say is that you are missing the best part of true Christianity.
    Because you can’t study it, or understand it through much reading/learning because its something received in our spirits (the real us) and its the mystery (Most don’t get). Its simply JESUS love flowing through us…how will you know it?

    You experience it, you will feel it and its permanent.

    That is the only law left!

    What law would be broken if we loved our fellow man? (definition of true love? wanting the best for the other person).
    Not my love, or your love but GOD’S love, which keeps all the law.

    Sabio, you have a real ‘thick’ website (lots of meat) but if you don’t want me to post/or respond I wont.

    And if you guys are atheists, then I am one too.
    I don’t believe in the god the church created but I do believe in the GOD who created the Church.


  16. Glad to have you ezeric.
    See my “Policy” tab where it says “No preaching and proselytizing” . If you can avoid that, you are welcome.
    You should read THIS POST on my religious background before you try to judge what I do or don’t know or have or haven’t experienced.

    Your drop in and blind preaching tactic is sadly generic. I suggest you seek to understand before you judge and offer the perfection you think you have found.

  17. rey

    Sorry. ezeric I remembered to put my website in the box this time.

  18. Mark Goodell

    Good discussions on this page! Thank you, fellows.
    Mark G.

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