By Tyson Thorne

July 23, 2019

John 25 Large

The story is referred to by early church fathers as the Pericope Adulterae, but to modern readers it is know as the Adulterous Woman, or A Woman Caught in Adultery. You know the one, where a woman caught in adultery is brought before Jesus to be stoned? Jesus challenges the crowd with the words, "he who is without sin cast the first stone." It is one of the most well-known stories in the New Testament and, surprisingly, not original to the New Testament at all. All the earliest manuscripts omit the story, and among the later it shifts location.

This story has long intrigued scholars, at first because of its shifting location on the New Testament canon. It appears in some manuscripts after John 7.36, some after John 21.25, and still others after 8.12. A few even place it in the book of Luke, following 24.53. While most of the placements are in John, Luke makes more sense as it matches his style of writing more than John's. For complete information regarding this "floating text" check out the extensively researched work by M. A. Robinson, Preliminary Observations Regarding the Pericope Adulterae Based upon Fresh Collations of Nearly all Continuous-Text Manuscripts and all Lectionary Manuscripts Containing the Passage. It's a page-turner.

There are arguments for and against including this passage in the Bible. Because we do not know the author does not mean that the story is not an authentic representation of something that really happened in the life of Jesus. While the earliest manuscripts do not contain the story, it may still have ancient origins. It is difficult, however, to argue from the unknown. What we do know is that an examination of the vocabulary and style used in the story doesn't match either Luke of John — or any New Testament writer — very well.

So why is it included in the Bible at all? There are a couple reasons. First, since the story does appear in later manuscripts it was included when the King James Bible was translated. As the most wide-spread English translation of all time, tradition takes a hold. It has become a part of church liturgy and is beloved by many. Secondly, as the translators of the NET Bible state in their notes, "the passage has an important role in the history of the transmission of the text, so it has been included in the translation." Most modern translations include this story, but have a footnote indicating the controversy around it.

Tomorrow we will examine the story itself, from chapter eight verses one through eleven.

Learn Biblical Hebrew Online


English French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish



How to setup an RSS of Windows Reader Service