Is John 7:53–8:11 an original part of the Bible?
The earliest Greek texts we have that include the Gospel of John do not include John 7:53—8:11. Church fathers and others make no mention of it until the twelfth century. And, many words used in this passage are used nowhere else in John's gospel. For these reasons and more, many theologians believe this passage does not belong in Scripture.
The passage recounts an encounter Jesus had with a woman caught in adultery. He challenges those who brought her to Him to cast the first stone if they are without sin. When they dissipate away, He tells the woman her sins are forgiven and she should go and sin no more.
Some call this passage the pericope adulterae. The Textus Receptus, the Greek New Testament used for centuries as the basis for translations, includes the passage and many ancient Greek texts do, too. The King James Version of the New Testament, based on the Textus Receptus, includes it as well. More modern translations, such as the NIV and the ESV, include it but set it apart with brackets and such to communicate that translators do not believe this section to be original Scripture because the earliest manuscripts of John's gospel do not include it.
The earliest commentary of this passage comes more than 1,000 years after Jesus and that commentary challenged the inclusion of the passage because accurate Greek manuscripts did not include it. Some manuscripts do include the passage, or part of it, but place it after John 7:36 or after John 21:25. Some manuscripts put it after Luke 21:38 or 24:53.
As far as the language used, this passage includes at least fourteen words John does not use in the rest of his book. For example, this passage refers to "the scribes" but John never references them elsewhere. Also, scholars say the passage just before this story and the passage just after fit together well without the questionable section.
Scholars believe the story was an oral tradition that some scribes centuries later decided to include because it was widely accepted as true. The problem then, as with now, is that truth is not determined by a few scribes or even by the majority. "For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21).
Now, those who do believe this story is part of inspired Scripture make the argument that so many Greek manuscripts included it that it cannot be ignored. As for why it doesn't appear earlier, some say it was removed by those who feared women would feel freedom to commit adultery since Jesus forgave the adulteress in this story. Later, scribes who knew the story essentially overruled that decision and reinserted it.
All this leads to some people questioning the inerrancy of the Bible. If this passage is under question, maybe others are, too. We believe the original autographs, the first writings biblical authors made under the inspiration of God, are without error. We have none of those original autographs, but have recreated them from literally thousands of ancient documents and citations. Theologians acknowledge that some phrasing or words may come under scrutiny, but no important doctrine is in doubt. Scholastic review may be one method God uses to ensure His Word stays pure.
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