John 7:53–8:11 Should Be in a Footnote, Not in the Text

Have you noticed the double brackets in the ESV that surround John 7:53–8:11? Those double brackets mean that the ESV’s translation committee does not consider this passage to be original to John’s Gospel. You also find double brackets around Mark 16:9–20.

Do you know what it means that these passages are marked off–correctly–as not coming from the authors of these respective Gospels? If John did not write what is enumerated as 7:53–8:11, that means it doesn’t belong between John 7:52 and 8:12 because it does not come from the author who was “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” If John did not write this passage, it isn’t Scripture because it was not “breathed out by God.” If it isn’t Scripture, it shouldn’t be in the text, and pastors shouldn’t preach it.

That’s what those double brackets mean about these passages. I submit that if a translation committee has come to the conclusion that they should put double brackets around these texts, they would serve pastors and Bible teachers better by putting these texts in a footnote rather than in the text. Those double brackets are too easy not to notice. The ESV puts John 5:4 in a footnote because the editors do not think John wrote that verse. The same should be done with Mark 16:9–20 and John 7:53–8:11.

What is the evidence for such a conclusion? In what follows I will only present the evidence for John 7:53–8:11, evidence that comes from the New Testament manuscripts (external evidence) and from the flow of thought in John’s Gospel (internal evidence). [If you're interested in the Mark 16 issue, I discussed that passage also from the pulpit].

The Manuscripts

We are dealing with books written long before the printing press and long copied by hand. John 7:53–8:11 is not in any of the earliest manuscripts, and Bruce Metzger notes that “No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declares that the accurate copies of the Gospel do not contain it.” That means that at some point a scribe copied this passage into a manuscript of John’s Gospel, and then that got perpetuated. The fact that we have enough evidence to determine this to be the case should increase our confidence in the text of the New Testament. That there is a consensus on this point should make us more confident in the Scriptures not less.

John 7:53–8:11 is not in any of the best texts: P66, P75, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, etc. As the note above the passage in the ESV states, the earliest manuscripts do not include it. As the footnote in the ESV text states, some manuscripts contain this passage, but not following John 7:52. Some have it after John 7:36 or 21:25 or even Luke 21:38. Again, the fact that we have enough manuscript evidence to arrive at this conclusion shows that we can be practically certain about the original contents of the text of the New Testament.

The Flow of Thought in John’s Gospel

In addition to the manuscript evidence indicating that John the author of the Gospel did not put this passage here, we can also observe that the passage interrupts the flow of thought in this section of the Gospel. The opponents of Jesus are ready to kill him (John 5:18; 7:19–20, 25). They seek to arrest him (7:30, 32), and they are frustrated when the officers don’t bring him in (7:45–47). Their minds are made up. They have just rejected Nicodemus’s counsel that they investigate Jesus (7:51). They are past the point of testing Jesus or seeking charges to bring against him, as the interpolated passage has them doing in 8:6. They do not need charges against Jesus. He has called “God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18), so they can bring him up on charges of blasphemy.

There are accounts in other Gospels similar to this one about the woman caught in adultery, but there are no accounts like this one in John. The passages most similar to this interpolated passage are the ones that depict the scribes and Pharisees disputing directly with Jesus over someone who is in need. Interestingly, the two accounts closest to this one involve the healing of the paralytic and the man with the withered hand. Mark places both of those incidents (Mark 2:1–12; 3:1–5) prior to the Pharisees’ fateful decision to seek to kill Jesus (Mark 3:6).

John Doesn’t Talk This Way

Have you noticed that John always refers to the opponents of Jesus as “the Jews”? Did you notice that John never refers to the scribes? The only instance of the word “scribes” in John’s Gospel is in the interpolated passage at 8:3. In fact there are 14 words in John 7:53–8:11 passage that occur nowhere else in John’s Gospel.

Continuity Between John 7 and 8

If we pass over 7:53–8:11, we find that the setting and situation in the rest of John 8 matches the setting and situation of John 7. As we move to John 8:12, John continues to present Jesus speaking at the temple (7:28; 8:20) on the last and greatest day of the feast (7:37).

Not only is the setting of John 8 the same as that of John 7, the points under discussion are the same. Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of the water pouring ceremony of the Feast of Tabernacles in 7:37–39. That water pouring ceremony likely commemorated the water from the rock in the wilderness (Exod 17:1–7; Num 20:2–13). In addition to the water pouring ceremony there was a ceremonial lighting of candles, likely commemorating the way the Lord lit Israel’s way through the wilderness by the pillar of cloud and flame. In John 8:12, Jesus will assert that he is the light of the world. Other points of contact between John 7 and 8 include the following:

  • Testimony, 7:18, 28; 8:13
  • Where Jesus comes from and where he goes, 7:25–30, 31–36; 8:14, 21–22 (cf. esp. 7:34–35 and 8:21–22)
  • Righteous judgment, 7:24; 8:15
  • The Jews don’t know God, 7:28; 8:19, 55
  • The seeking of glory, 7:18; 8:50, 54

A Plea to Translation Committees

Bible translation committees responsible for the ESV, CSB, NIV, NAS, and any other translation preached from pulpits should do pastors a favor and put these texts in footnotes. Mark 16:9–20 was not written by Mark, and John 7:53–8:11 was not written by John. Those passages do not belong in the text and should not be preached from pulpits. The snake-handlers are woefully mistaken. They should not think there is any warrant in the New Testament for such a practice. Similarly, those who cry that no one should throw stones anytime sinners are called to repentance have misunderstood this interpolated passage (Jesus does tell the woman to stop sinning in 8:11), but still the passage has no business in the text. It was not written by John, and it should not be there interrupting the flow of though between 7:52 and 8:12. Put it in a footnote.

[it was my privilege to preach John 7:53–8:29 at Kenwood Baptist Church today, and for any who may be interested in the way I addressed this issue from the pulpit, the sermon audio is online].

48 Responses to John 7:53–8:11 Should Be in a Footnote, Not in the Text

  1. Stephen March 30, 2014 at 10:05 pm #

    Of course, there are those who do believe this text is authentic to John – there’s a conference at SEBTS next month to discuss different aspects of the debate. http://www.sebts.edu/news-resources/conferences/pericope_adulterae/default.aspx

  2. dr. james willingham March 30, 2014 at 10:42 pm #

    Whoa! Wait a minute. Before you do a fast draw and blow the text out of the water, you might want to consider the work/works a friend of mine has been seeking to complete with peer review (which was interrupted by Katrina). Dr. Maurice Robinson, Senior Professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Semihary, has been in the process of writing up the results of his investigation into the reality of whether the Jn.7:59-8:11 pericope is a first century production. Dr. Robinson, whom I have known for nearly 42 years is nothing, if not meticulous. He has checked all 5000 of the Greek Mss extant, along with the Liturgies and the Early Fathers to see if he could find evidence for a first century origin. At last account he said that he believed he had enough evidence to indicate that the pericope originated in the first century. This does not necessarily mean that it belongs at the place where it now is in John’s Gospel. Permit me to suggest that we ought to suspend judgment until we see the results of Dr. Robinson’s efforts. Unfortunately, this might not occur until after he retires.

    I will tell you some of the interesting facts that I know about the Professor’s dedication to study and research. When he came to SEBTS he took the Advanced Standing in Greek, having taught himself Greek, passed it with an A and received credit for first year Church History. The Dean of the Seminary did not want to give him credit, not believing he could have done that. However, Maurice appealed to the faculty Policies Committee which reversed the Dean, pointing out that the Catalogue did not specify that one had to have Greek before taking the test. The next year it was in the Catalogue. I had a good laugh, when he told me that he would never take the Dean for any subject, for he was sure he would flunk him.

    In any case, while working on his M. Div., Maurice was busy taken notes for his thesis for the M.Th., putting variant readings on the Book of Acts on computer Punch Cards. It was interesting to see him walking around the campus with a handful of punch cards. When he wrote his thesis for the M.Th., it was about 273+ pages in length, a respectable size for a Doctoral Dissertation. In any case, about 200 pages of that thesis was computer tables, and the professors of his committee could not grade it. He was seeking to prove that there was a Caesarean text for the Book of Acts. The Committee requested the help of Dr. Kenneth Clark, one of two Greek Papyri experts in the world then (Matthew Black at Edinburgh or Glasgow being the other). Dr. Clark who had retired at Duke, asked Maurice one question about some book he had cited in the body of the thesis. When he answered it correctly, he passed him with an A.

    You all might be interested to know that the Moderates at SEBTS (then known as “the most liberal seminary” in the SBC during that period, ’72-77) really had problems with a whole new crop of students. For example, in my Systematic Theology class there were six M.A.s, one Ph.D., and one of the M.A.’s who had 18 hours toward a Ph.D., twelve from Columbia Uni. One of the M.A. students then died two Sundays ago, and his funeral was this past Friday. He possessed then a Bachelor’s from the Univ. of Md., and an M.A. L.S. from St. John’s College in Md., both degrees summa cum laude. He would also take his M.Div. and D. Min. summa cum laude. The professors were really having problems with such heavy duty students attending their classes. It was an interesting period in the history of the seminary.

    • Dan Phillips March 31, 2014 at 9:37 am #

      So, the text of the word of God should be left riding on the work of one man — a man who, however truly remarkable he may be, won’t get around to finishing his work for awhile? I think this rather plays to (and strengthens) Prof. Hamilton’s point.

      • dr. james willingham March 31, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

        If you have any knowledge of scholarship, you should know better than to make a statement like that. Clearly, I do not let every thing ride on the work by Dr. Robinson. All I did was call attention to his scholarship and research on the issue. Some folks might think that Mk.16:12-20 (really 9-20) should not be included. Dr. Robinson and another scholar took the position that the passage was acceptable New Testament (first century writing), and before them was Dean Burgeon in the 1800s. I like some of the arguments the scholars made at the conference on this matter at SEBTS about 5-6 years ago even though I do not agree with them. And as to the snake handlers, the one illustration that makes sense is what happened to Paul on the Isle of Crete; he was seeking to advance the cause of Christ, and a serpent advanced the cause. In another case, one of our missionaries in Africa some years ago was bit by very deadly serpent, and it was, if memory serves correctly about 70 hrs. in the bush while making his way to the hospital. Seems the doctors were amazed. Anything else is simply testing God, a foolish thing to do.

        • Dan Phillips March 31, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

          Yes, I believe I know a bit about scholarship. You said “Before you do a fast draw and blow the text out of the water, you might want to consider the work/works a friend of mine has been seeking to complete…” You’ve now changed your mind, apparently. Okey doke.

          • dr.james willingham March 31, 2014 at 11:29 pm #

            Change my mind? Now, dear brother, I am not interested in playing oneupsmanship with you. It is somewhat distressing to be misread as you have evidently misread what I have to say. No, I have not changed my mind. I call your attention to Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views, edited by Dr. David Alan Black. If you would kindly take the time to look again at what I have written, you might find that my primary focus is on factual material. Dr. Robinson, for example, is my kind of professor. He is willing to pay the price to do research in depth and detail. What that research unearths is the deciding factor….unless it happens to be analytical, ala the so-called scientific method of modern science which has led to the problem of a paralysis of analysis. There are, of course, other scholars, and I gladly examine what they have to say as well. While I no longer do research like I once did, due to the vicissitudes of aging, I have spent as many as 6 years on one research project, etc.

            One fellow has already written to me about the matter we are discussing, casting aspersion on inerrancy. He will use what you say to really take a whack at me on verbal inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility. Where do you think the Moderates (as they like to call themselves) or Liberals (as the Conservatives like to call them)(although the truth be told, the only true liberal is a biblical orthodox person) got their start from? My training is in Intellectual History (and Intellectualism is one of the reasons why I believe in the doctrines listed above re: inspiration, etc.), where I learned about the fellow (Lorenzo Valla) who critiqued the Donation of Constantine, proving that that document did not date from the period which the advocates of Papal Supremacy claim (the time of Constantine). From there back in the 1400s that kind of approach was eventually used by some who despised the written word of God to cast aspersions on it. Like the fellow who teaches at UNC-Ch. He was trained by the editor of the UBS Greek text at Princeton, and he uses that critical kind of approach to justify the rejection of biblical Christianity. Interestingly enough, the Princeton professor sees the same methods (higher critical approach) as no distraction to faith in the Resurrection, etc. Now I have no desire to offend you, and I must have surely done so, I beg your forgiveness. I was responding to Dr. Hamilton’s view. My discussion is with him…not you. My aim was to prompt a better commentary on the issue, even if I disagree with it. Scholars will say things that seem outré to others, but the real aim is not a game of oneupsmanship; it is an effort to gain a better understanding of all the facts involved in an issue.

        • James Snapp, Jr. April 13, 2014 at 12:07 am #

          Dear Dr. Willingham:
          It was Malta, not Crete.
          On the subject of Mark 16:9-20, I refer you to the information in my e-book, “Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20.”
          Regarding John 7:53-8:11, I have no definite conclusion about the ins and outs of its early transmission-history, but I think you will find some information that might make some readers not want to lean very heavily on Dr. Hamilton’s suggestion in another e-book, “The Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11) – A Tour of the External Evidence.”

          (I hope no one minds that a side-effect of this comment was that I mentioned my e-books. It’s just that referring you to them is a lot easier than retyping the entire books in this little box.

  3. dr. james willingham March 31, 2014 at 9:33 am #

    It is very easy to be dismissive of a periscope, because of problems with the transmission. However, Dr. Maurice Robinson spent years looking at all 5000 of the early Greek mss (ball park figure on my part), the lectionaries, and the early church fathers. He said he believed he had traced that periscope back to the first century. It certainly reflects the spirit of Christ, an incredible mystery of goodness, justice, love, and holiness.

  4. PJ Tibayan March 31, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

    I love how you called the “HCSB” “CSB”! That’s what is should be called.

    I agree with and commend your argument here brother! This text was once preached at The Master’s College Chapel and I was uneasy with it. A footnote would be a very helpful alternative to the CSB’s current version.

    In Christ,
    PJ

  5. John the Lesser March 31, 2014 at 5:05 pm #

    You make an excellent point Dr. Hamilton. I must say, I have read that passage in other bibles before and had never seen any notation stating that it was not in earlier manuscripts. It was not until just the other day in my MacArthur Study Bible that I had seen it for the first time that the text was in dispute. It has always given me problems with the passage of Mark, and now with this one on why it was included. I especially appreciate when you state “That there is a consensus on this point should make us more confident in the Scriptures not less.” In an age of doubt we must never allow difficulties (supposed or not) to shake our faith in the revealed Word of God.

    Thank you.

    • Joe March 31, 2014 at 6:22 pm #

      Jim- I commented on Denny’s post regarding this and am copying it here with much affection for you.
      Put me in the category of people that make it ALMOST unanimous that John 8 is not inspired. Very difficult to preach through John’s gospel (without already being predisposed to an anti authentic bias) and not see this passage as very much in line with the theme and style and heart of this gospel. Love and truth versus murder and lies. Pharisees desire to kill and not keep the law. Jesus loves and fulfills the law. Jesus is eager to serve, eager to love, eager to give life. This account screams forth in divine style the same truths we see over and over through John. I am thankful for the work of textual criticism but I have lived long enough to see the “experts” proven wrong on what they were absolutely sure of – many times. I don’t know textual criticism but I do know Jesus and I think I know John and even with the great admiration I have for you and Jim – I am not convinced. I think you are wrong. Most minority opinions prove to be imbeciles. That may well be the case with mine! But not always so I can be hopeful

  6. Bryan McWhite March 31, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    Good point. But it’s probably not even worth saying, “The snake-handlers are woefully mistaken. They should not think there is any warrant in the New Testament for such a practice” in a post like this.

    Is there a single snake handler that doesn’t use the KJV? KJVers don’t care what the best manuscripts say anyway. That’s why they’re using the KJV to begin with, right?

  7. Brian R. March 31, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

    This is a pretty bold statement. There are many Textus Receptus advocates who would strongly disagree with this. I’ll stick with the A.V.

  8. James Snapp, Jr. April 1, 2014 at 2:08 am #

    A Plea to Underinformed Biblio-bloggers:
    Please stop parroting Metzger’s lopsided and inaccurate comments. Please learn about Mara of Amida, the Synopsis Scripturae Sacrae, and the Tura Papyri, and Jerome’s statement about the PA that Metzger never told you about.
    Please learn /why/ the primary members of f-13 have the PA after Luke 21:38.
    Please don’t jump to underinformed conclusions just to look smart or innovative.
    Thanks.

  9. James Snapp, Jr. April 1, 2014 at 2:47 am #

    Have you noticed the difference between the ESV’s note about Mark 16:9-20 as it was printed for over 10 years, and the ESV’s note about Mark 16:9-20 as it currently appears? For over 10 years the ESV’s translation-committee spread a fairly basic mistake in their footnote about Mark 16:9-20, claiming that “A few manuscripts” contain additional material after 16:14. In real life only one extant manuscript (Codex W) has additional material (the Freer Logion) there.

    Maybe these supposed-to-be-experts aren’t as well-informed on these subjects as you seem to think they are.

  10. Robert Karl April 1, 2014 at 9:07 am #

    The Council of Trent has already decided this issue a long time ago and determined it was canonical scrpture. Who are we to decided differently.Pride and hubris are very ugly and destructive sins.

    My brothers in Christ -lets focus on the true lesson of the story of Casting theFirst Stone—which is : Go and sin no more.

    • Andrew Lindsey April 2, 2014 at 9:33 am #

      re: “The Council of Trent has already decided this issue…” LOL.

  11. James Snapp, Jr. April 30, 2014 at 5:37 pm #

    Jim H.,

    I returned this past weekend from a very enjoyable conference at SEBTS in Wake Forest on the subject of Jn. 7:53-8:11. By the end of the conference, every one of the specialists on the panel of researchers had said that John 7:53-8:11 should be proclaimed, not proscribed.

    I think that there is really something to be said for direct comparison of disagreeing views on subjects such as this one, presented by people who are well-informed on the subject. i think I’m well-informed. You must consider yourself well-informed, too, to recommend the removal of John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20. Let’s get together in a brotherly debate. I’d be happy to take part in a debate/discussion with you on John 7:53-8:11 and/or Mark 16:9-20. Are you willing to do this?

    • dr. james willingham April 30, 2014 at 10:48 pm #

      The above reference to periscope was the result of my computer doing a correction to the word “pericope”. My computer is evidently not acquainted with scholarly terms in the field of N.T. Studies. In addition, I have had a lot of acquaintance with hospitals and rehabs lately. Both my wife and I have been in the hospital, and she spent 20 days in rehab. A little bit distracting to trying to get things ironed out in studies. However, I wanted to attend the conference on Jn.7:53-8:11, but my son discouraged me, saying I would have to do a lot of walking (not likely with a heart ready to quit) and little sleep (we live about an hour’s drive or more from the seminary. Even so I wanted to hear Dr. Robinson’s presentation after all of those years of research. I can remember him doing the research for his M.Th. thesis (273+ pages, 200 computer tables), proving there was a Caesarean text to the book of Acts. Research in depth and in detail was and is the key to what Dr. Robinson does as I am sure it is for the other scholars. Listen to the results of such effort is something truly worthwhile and rewarding. Mr. Snapp’s comment is indicative of what I was trying to say, when I was taken to task for such outré view. Sort of reminds me of my Professor who administered the Advanced Standing exam to me in Church History. He saved all of his ammo for the Albigensians of Southern France in the 1200s. He was following a Dr. Runciman of Cambridge University and the latter’s work on the Medieval Manichee. The Professor’s problem was he had never heard of the Russian writer, Zoe Oldenburg who lived in France and had access to the best sources. Credit for first years Church History, when one never had a course in that subject, is like comfort food.

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