A Commentary Search on the Aporia of John 7:53-8:11
Posted by Christopher W. Myers at November 27th, 2011
John 7:53-8:11 is often called the Pericope Adulterae. And the short passage has the most unique textual history than any other passage in the New Testament. Textual scholars have reached somewhat of a consensus that the pericope is not Johannine and a late addition to the original text of John. The amazing factor is that almost all of the conservative textual critics—although rejecting Johannine authorship—believe that the pericope is authentically a canonical story. Some scholars even contend that it may have been an appendix to the four gospels themselves. It behooves us therefore to evaluate three contemporary authorities on the text of John: Boice, Carson, and Borchert. An examination of the technicalities must ensue and determination must be made whether the evidence is as “overwhelming” as textual critics allege. At the heart of this discussion is whether more weight will be given to the external or internal evidence. The discussion here will assume priority to the internal evidence and argue for asterisking of the text because of uncertainty, yet the contention will be that there is no “overwhelming” side to this issue.
The External Evidence
The external evidence is the main basis for the rejection of the pericope. Some of the oldest Greek manuscripts do not include the pericope. However, it is found in the fifth or sixth century Codex Bezae. The early Greek fathers do not comment on the pericope, but Jerome did not hesitate to retain it in the Vulgate without any reservations. And Jerome freely quotes the pericope without any hesitation. To this can be added: “Ambrose at Milan (374) quotes it at least nine times; as well as Augustine in North Africa (396) about twice as often. It is quoted besides by Pacian, in the north of Spain (370),—by Faustus the African (400),—by Rufinus of Aquilea (400),—by Chrysologus at Ravenna (433),—by Sedulius a Scot (434)…. It is referred to by Victorius or Victorinus (475),—by Vigilius of Tapsus (484) in North Africa,—by Gelasius, bishop of Rome (492),—by Cassiodorus in Southern Italy,—by Gregory the Great, and by other fathers of the Westem Church.”
Carson is misleading when he states, “All the early church Fathers omit this narrative: in commenting on John, they pass immediately from 7:52 to 8:12.” This is misleading because it makes it sound as if the early fathers were commentating verse-by-verse. But this is far from the truth because the first ancient commentary on John was Gnostic and is only preserved by the father’s comments against it. The first orthodox commentary on John was written by Origen and it is not preserved to give any evidence toward the presence of the pericope. Therefore, the evidence is that we have no quotations from the early Greek father’s commenting on anything within John 7:53-8:11. This is an argument from silence. If it is an argument at all, it is a weak one and Carson should not have attempted to make his argument stronger by throwing in misleading commentary.
Boice is right when he states, “While it is true that most early manuscripts omit this story, it also is true that the story itself is old.” He goes on to cite the third century The Apostolic Constitutions, which undoubtedly refers to the pericope. And he also refers to the weaker evidence of Eusebius recording Papias who spoke of a woman accused of “many” sins who was brought before the Lord. Carson is quick to point out that this is not the same story because in 7:53-8:11 the women is accused of one sin. And Papias’ statement is further weakened when Borchert points out that Papias states that this story is found in the Gospel to the Hebrews, not John’s gospel. However, this does add weight to the antiquity of the story as a whole.
Carson, relying heavily upon the external evidence, concludes that the pericope is not Johannine. The external evidence that Carson relies so heavily on is the multiple placements of the pericope. Only one MS known places it after 7:36. Only one Georgian MS known places it after 7:44. A fifth or sixth century Armenian MS along with some late ninth to twelfth century MSS place it after John 21:25. The Ferrar family of manuscripts places it after Luke 21:38. However, Carson fails to mention that all of these different placements are late; the earliest being the Armenian MS and that the earliest and best manuscripts place the pericope exactly where tradition places it at 7:53-8:11. Boice seems to have misstated when he said, “Some early manuscripts attach it at other places, such as at the end of the Gospel or after Luke 21:38.” Metzger cites the evidence and they are late MSS. The work of Von Soden has vindicated the ancient tradition that positions the pericope at 7:53-8:11—whether originally Johannine or as an original addition—belongs right at John 7:53-8:11 and has rendered the evidence of multiple placements as unconvincing, greatly damaging the arguments of Carson and others.  Even Borchert, who relies mostly upon the internal evidence to discount the pericope, he not surprisingly also places undue weight upon the external evidence of multiple placements in order to strengthen his internal evidence argument. Regrettably Borchert shows no knowledge of Von Soden’s work at all.
It should also be noted that the aporia of John 7:53-8:11 has been known as a textual problem since at least Augustine. Indeed Augustine and Ambrose would not agree with the common scholarly answer to the aporia. Most scholars argue that the answer to this aporia is that it is a gospel addition that is nonetheless canonical. Augustine and Ambrose would argue that the pericope is canonical because it is Johannine and the answer to this aporia is that it is a gospel omission. Augustine and Ambrose argued that the persecuted early church battling against paganism within and without the church thought that the pericope would give impunity to sinning. And so the persecuted early church passed over the pericope on behalf of the feeble minded and even because of enemies of the gospel who wielded the pericope against the purity of the church. Additionally, Borchert came across an excellent work by a Scandinavian scholar H. Riesenfeld. Borchert summarizes Riesenfeld’s findings,
“In the centuries following the ministry of Jesus, the early church developed strict rules of discipline. Not until the fourth century with the passing of the persecutions and the easing of the patterns of reinstatement following sin was the church in the west more open to less stringent means of penance. In the earlier periods, when the church was forced by outside social pressures to maintain a self-protective stance, grace and forgiveness often were subject to legalistic interpretations, just as in the times when the Jewish rabbis felt threats from Syria or Rome. In such a time as this, fearful Christian men could easily have interpreted this text as giving their wives too much latitude in dealing with inappropriate behavior.”
In light of this, it is surprising that Borchert does not find the ancient answer to this aporia more convincing than modern scholarly musings.
The Internal Evidence
The textual critics charge two basic internal evidences against the pericope. First, allegedly the pericope interrupts the Festival Cycle and is foreign to the context. Secondly, apparently the specifics of the Greek are incompatible with the grammar, vocabulary, and style of John and the pericope is more similar to one of the Synoptics, especially Luke.
Carson and Borchert are going to favor the latter argument against Johannine originality. Boice foregoes the conclusiveness of his contemporaries and admits that, “A good case can be made for its inclusion at this particular place in John’s Gospel.” But even Carson and Borchert must admit this without saying as much. Carson explains how nicely the pericope illustrates 7:24 and 8:15 and how the pericope calls to mind John 3:17 and 12:47 where it states that Jesus came to this earth not to condemn. Likewise, Borchert is quick to see the unique Johannine parallels of Jesus’ exhortation to the woman in 8:11 “sin no more,” which has no exact parallels anywhere in the NT, except in John 5:14 where Jesus heals the paralytic. But not only does Boice admit that the pericope fits the context, but numerous academic papers have been written to explicate this fact: Baylis shows how John uses the Prophet motif throughout his gospel and utilizes John 7:53-8:11 for that purpose, Guilding shows the pericope’s inclusion as an reflection of the Old Testament tabernacle lectionary cycle, and Hodges shows the connection of the “light of the world” in 8:12 to pardon of sin in 8:11 by way of Old Testament and Qumran parallels. Likewise, Hodges attempts to show the connection of 7:53 to the rest of chapter seven, A.A. Trites was surprised to find how “fully the story of the adulterous woman fits into the controversy-pattern of John chapters 1 to 12,” and not surprisingly, in a separate work Boice finds the pericope fitting in the fourth gospel, which stresses the revelatory character of the witness motif so strongly.
Therefore, Carson and Borchert must not stress context as much as the vocabulary and grammar of the pericope, which they largely base on statistical analysis. Carson complains of the pericope using words found nowhere else in John, such as “scribes” (grammateis), “dawn” (orthos), and “he sat down to teach them.” Borchert complains the same as Carson and adding that neither does John ever mention “Mount of Olives” and neither does John use “Teacher” (didaskale) in reference to Jesus as is found in the pericope. Both scholars seem rather convinced from the above linguistic evidences—which so closely parallel Lukan style—that the passage must be Lukan. And then they feel the evidence is overwhelming when they add that there is good late MS text critical evidence for placement in Luke. Additionally Borchert opines concerning the possible Lukan origin of the pericope, “It certainly is intriguing, however, to notice that at Luke 21:37–38 Jesus is also said to have been teaching daily in the temple (cf. also Luke 19:47), spent the night on the “Mount called Olives,” and in the early morning the people came back to the temple to hear him.”
However, all of the commentators have overlooked once again a pivotal work by Alan F. Johnson. It is surprising that they could overlook A.F. Johnson’s articles when his whole dissertation was on “A Re-examination of the Pericope Adulterae, John 7:53–8:11″ at Dallas Theological Seminary. Nonetheless, Johnson’s work is second only to Von Soden’s. Johnson took the undisputed text of John 2:13-17 and imposed the statistical analysis that scholars impose on 7:53-8:11 and found substantial evidence against Johannine authorship for 2:13-17. Johnson found more evidence against Johannine authorship in the undisputed text of 2:13-17 than in 7:53-8:11. He could advance the following problems with 2:13-17:
“(1) the large number of hapax words (14) not found elsewhere in John, (2) the use of frequent synoptic words rare in John, (3) the use of words more Lukan and Markan than Johannine, and (4) the absence proportionately of a sufficient number of Johannine preferred words and particles compared to other sections in the Fourth Gospel. To these could be added the abruptness of the incident in the context and the apparent historical anachronism of an early temple cleansing. It is hoped that by seeing how statistics can discredit a genuine passage in John, the obvious weakness of such a method will be acknowledged and abandoned by serious students who are searching for a true evaluation of the linguistic phenomena of 7:53–8:11. The shortcomings of the statistical method are evident and the trend in recent opinion is that such an approach is invalid for disputing authenticity. A much too narrow stricture upon an author’s vocabulary, grammar, style, mood and subject matter is imposed by this method.”
Johnson’s study shows the emptiness of the internal evidence arguments set forth by Carson and Borchert. And Johnson goes on to do further damage to the scholarly “overwhelming” consensus. Johnson finds a specific Johannine stylistic trait in the Pericope Adulterae. Johnson notes the Apostle John’s stylistic trait of explaining things further in more detail. John uses three elements when he does this: he puts the conjunction “now” (δε) with the demonstrative “this” (τουτο) with a form of the verb “to speak” (λεγειν). This type of literary style is completely absent in the Synoptic Gospels. John displays this stylistic trait ten times in his gospel. Even more weight must be given to the fact that 6:6 (τουτο δε ελεγεν πειραξων) is virtually identical to 8:6 (τουτο δε ελεγον πειραξοντεζ).
An examination has been set forth of both the internal and external evidences of the aporia of John 7:53-8:11 with special attention to three different modern-day scholars: Boice, Borchert, and Carson. The external evidence displayed impressive MS evidence for questioning John 7:53-8:11. However, the answer to the external evidence could equally be satisfied by concluding the pericope as a subtraction from the original or as an addition to the original. Likewise, the internal evidence showed quite impressive evidence both contextually and stylistically to be original to John, however, the evidence was not conclusive in light of the manuscript evidence and its many parallels to the Synoptics, especially Luke. Indeed if the earliest Greek manuscripts contained 7:53-8:11, there would be no question of its internal consistency with the gospel of John. The unique, varied, and ancient textual variations have driven the skepticism of its internal evidence. The conclusion, therefore, is that there is no “overwhelming” evidence for John 7:53-8:11 to be considered as Johannine or non-Johannine or original or non-original. However there is an overwhelming consensus that the aporia is both a genuine account and canonical and therefore Holy Scripture. And on this basis, the pericope should be included in its traditional location with distinguishing marks to note its unique textual status. The internal evidence should be the final factor in determining originality, holding even more weight than the external evidence. Furthermore, it would take only one newly discovered manuscript to prove the majority of the textual critics wrong and therefore to vindicate the apostolic origin of the pericope. May God lead us to this evidence.
Baylis, Charles P. “The Woman Caught in Adultery: A Test of Jesus as the Great Prophet.”
Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 146. Dallas Theological Seminary, 1989.
Boice, James Montgomery. The Gospel of John: An Expositional Commentary. Volume 2
Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005.
______________________. Witness and Revelation in the Gospel of John. Grand Rapids:
Borchert, Gerald L. John 1-11. The New American Commentary. Nashville : Broadman &
Holman Publishers, 1996.
Carson, D.A. The Gospel According To John. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand
Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1991.
Guilding, Aileen. The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press,
Hodges, Zane. “Problems Passages in the Gospel of John: Part 8 The Woman Taken in Adultery
(John 7:53-8:11): The Text.” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 136. Dallas Theological Seminary,
Johnson, Alan F. “A Stylistic Trait of the Fourth Gospel in the Pericope Adulterae.” Journal of
the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 9. Evangelical Theological Society, 1966.
Metzger, Bruce Manning, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament 4th Rev. Ed.
New York : United Bible Societies, 1994.
Roberts, Alexander; Donaldson, James; Coxe, A. Cleveland. The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. X :
Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325. Oak Harbor: Logos Research
Trites, Alison A. “The Woman Taken in Adultery.” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 131. Dallas
Theological Seminary, 1974.
 Trites, Allison. “The Woman Taken In Adultery.” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 131. (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1974), 137.
 Hodges, Zane. “Problems Passages in the Gospel of John: Part 8 The Woman Taken in Adultery (John 7:53-8:11): The Text.” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 136. (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979), 320.
 Ibid. 319-320
 Leon Morris, The Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids, 1971), 883 n. 2.
 Metzger, Bruce Manning , United Bible Societies: A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament 4th Rev. Ed. (New York : United Bible Societies, 1994).
 Ibid. lists: P66, 75 א B L N T W X Y Δ Θ Ψ 0141 0211 22 33 124 157 209 788 828 1230 1241 1242 1253 2193
 Boice, James Montgomery. The Gospel of John: An Expositional Commentary. Volume 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), S. 602
 Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 7:53-8:11
Hodges, “Problem Passages”, n. 45, he quotes Burgon’s work.
 Carson, D.A. The Gospel According To John. Pillar New Testament Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1991), 333.
 Roberts, Alexander; Donaldson, James; Coxe, A. Cleveland: The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. X : Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), S. 294, “The Commentaries on John are the earliest work of Christian exegesis which has come down to us.”
 Boice, The Gospel of John: An Expositional Commentary, 602
 Carson, The Gospel According to John, 334.
 Borchert, Gerald L. John 1-11. The New American Commentary. (Nashville : Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996) S. 370
 Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 7:53-8:11, cites ms. 225
Ibid. although Metzger says “several Georgian MS”, he admits in the footnote that he could only find this occurrence in Sinai ms. georg. 16 and relies on Eberhard Nestle who says ‘several Georgian MS’, but does not cite any specifically!
Ibid. lists: 1 565 1076 1570 1582 armmss
Ibid. the family is called f13 and consist of 13 miniscules of a medieval date
Boice, The Gospel of John: An Expositional Commentary, 602 [emphasis mine].
See my notes 11-14 for details—the earliest would be the Georgian and Armenian MSS
Reference to his work in fn. 23-25; Hodges, Zane. “The Woman Taken in Adultery (John 7:53–8:11 ): The Text,” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 (October-December 1979): 318-32.
 Borchert, John 1-11, 370.
Perhaps because it is in German, but Zane Hodge’s article should have directed him towards Von Soden’s importance in this discussion.
 Boice, The Gospel of John: An Expositional Commentary, 603.
Borchert, John 1-11, 376.
 Johnson, Alan F. “A Stylistic Trait of the Fourth Gospel in the Pericope Adulterae.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 9. Evangelical Theological Society, 1966), S. 9:91-96
Boice, The Gospel of John : An Expositional Commentary, 602.
Carson, The Gospel According to John, 334.
 Borchert, John 1-11, 376.
Baylis, Charles P. “The Woman Caught in Adultery: A Test of Jesus as the Great Prophet.” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 146. (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1989), S. 146:171-185
 Guilding, Aileen. The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1960), pp. 110-11
 Hodges, Zane. “Problems Passages in the Gospel of John,” see his n. 20.
Trites, A. A. “The Woman Taken in Adultery,” S. 131:137-146.
 Boice, James M. Witness and Revelation in the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970).
 Carson, The Gospel According to John, 334.
Borchert, John 1-11, 370
DTS has it on microfilm; it was completed in 1961.
 Johnson, A. F. “A Stylistic Trait of the Fourth Gospel in the Pericope Adulterae,” see his n. 16 on Von Soden.
Ibid. 93-95. The details of the analysis are found in his dissertation.
 Johnson lists 6:6, 6:71, 7:39, 11:13, 11:51, 12:6, 12:33, 13:11, 13:28, and 21:19. And if it is assumed that 7:53-8:11 is Johannine, then John also did it in 8:6!
 Johnson, A. F. “A Stylistic Trait of the Fourth Gospel in the Pericope Adulterae,” 95-96.