As you may have realized by now we will be posting something on the Fourth Gospel on this blog each Sunday. It will be written by JohnDave Medina most weekends, but I am covering today. Since I am teaching through the Fourth Gospel along with a few other people at my church it is easy enough for me to find material, though I am the lesser of the two of us on this gospel.

He Qi (China), Woman Caught in Adultery

Last week a friend of mine named Luke Todd skillfully discussed the Pericope de Adultera (Jn 7.53-8.12) with a group of our students many of whom are not familiar with textual criticism. He was able to discuss how the passage is not found in the earliest MSS, while simultaneously noting its narrative value. Before he taught I meant to share with him D.L. Bock’s useful, clear, and concise summary of the issue (Jesus According to Scripture, pp. 461-462), which I will post here:

“In all likelihood, this passage, though reflecting an event in Jesus’ life, originally was not present at this location in John’s Gospel….The evidence for this conclusion is both external (text-critical) and internal. Internally, little of the unit reflects John’s style; the passage reads in spits, especially John 8:2, like something from the Synoptics, especially Luke. Externally, the text does not appear in any important Eastern witnesses (א, B, W, ϴ) or in the old Syriac or Coptic. Even some manuscripts that include it either leave a space after John 7:52 to communicate doubt about the placement or have asterisks or obeli to set it off for the same reason. No Greek writers on John comment on these verses in the first milleniun, and the passage shows up in standard manuscrips ca. A.D. 900. Among those who omit it in treating John are Origen, Cyprian, and Chrysostom, and in the Western witness of Codex Bezae. Some manuscripts have it in other locales, including after Luke 21:38, at the end of John, after 7:36, or after 7:44. This makes it unlikely that the text originally had this location in the Gospel.”

Bruce Metzger (A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd Ed, pp. 187-189) gives the highest grade ({A}) for the likelihood that it was not original. There is little doubt by modern scholars that this seems to be most evident. So does this pericope have any use for readers of Scripture? That was part of the discussion we had last week.

My opinion is that it is valuable in that (1) it seems evident that several scribes felt the story was important enough to try to stuff it somewhere in the canonical gospels, even disrupting the narrative at John 7.52 that flows directly into 8.13 and (2) that it tells us something interesting about the oral memory regarding Jesus. It was one of those stories that had staying power.

Did it actually happen? Who can know?! I do find two points of interest. First, it is grounded in a very real discussion regarding the interpretation of Torah, especially Deuteronomy 13.9; 17.7 and Leviticus 24.14. This doesn’t make it historical, but it does separate it from spurious gospels that seem very dejudiaized. Second, I have found the “writing in the dirt” aspect to be worth pondering. Many asked last week, and I have asked myself, why not tell us what Jesus wrote? If it is important enough to include that he did write wouldn’t it make sense to tells us what he wrote? Of course, if there were witnesses to this event who saw Jesus writing but that is all then it would make sense this is all they could say of the moment. If the story was pure fiction it would have been easy enough to create what Jesus wrote.

I know this doesn’t prove the historicity of the event, and I am not sure that it would even matter, but it is worth pondering.