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FORGERY IN THE

GOSPEL OF JOHN

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John 7:53 to John 8:11 describes the story of Jesus and the adulteress. It appears to be a forgery that was not part of the Book of John as it was originally written, but was added later by an unknown person:
bulletThe New International Version of the Bible states:

"The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53 - 8:11."

bulletThe "Interpreter's One Volume Commentary on the Bible" states: 1

"7:53-8:11: This passage is omitted or set off in modern editions of the gospel since it does not appear in the oldest and best manuscripts and is apparently a later interpolation. In some manuscripts it occurs after Luke 21:38."

bullet"The New Commentary on the Whole Bible" says: 2

"This story is not included in the best and earliest manuscripts [of John]. In fact, it is absent from all witnesses earlier than the 9th century, with the exception of a fifth century Greek-Latin manuscript. No Greek church father comments on the passage prior to the 12th century."

bulletBruce Metzger, author of the "Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament" writes that the passage is "obviously a piece of oral tradition" and that it "has all the earmarks of historical veracity."

bulletThe "Precise Parallel New Testament" states in a footnote: 3

"The story of the woman caught in adultery is a later insertion here, missing from all early Greek manuscripts. A Western text-type insertion, attested mainly in Old Latin translations, it is found in different places in different manuscripts.: here, or after 7:36 or at the end of this gospel, or after Luke 21:38 or at the end of that gospel"

bullet"The Five Gospels"  states: 4

"The story of the woman caught in the act of adultery...was a 'floating' or 'orphan' story. It is almost certainly not a part of the original text of John, but is a noteworthy tradition nonetheless...While the Fellows [of the Jesus Seminar] agreed that the words did not originate in their present form with Jesus, they nevertheless assigned the words and story to a special category of things they wish Jesus had said and done."

There is general agreement that the verses from John 7:53 to John 8:11 were not written by the author or authors who wrote the rest of the gospel. It was probably based on a story about the life of Jesus that had been often told, and was passed orally down through the centuries. Copyists then inserted it into various gospels. There is little consensus as to exactly when the forgery was inserted:

bullet"The New Commentary on the Whole Bible" asserts that its earliest appearance was in a 5th century CE manuscript which they do not define.
bulletIt was present in the version of John that St. Augustine (354-430 CE) used when he wrote his "Tractates on the Gospel of John" on or after 416 CE.
bulletEusebius "Church History" was written circa 325 CE. He mentions that the story was told by Papias, who wrote circa 115 to 140 CE. 5 Papias had taken the passage from the Gospel of the Hebrews. That gospel is believed to have been written circa 70 to 150 CE. 6 It never made it into the official canon; no copy survived to the present time.

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References:

  1. C.M. Laymon, Ed, "Interpreter's One Volume Commentary on the Bible", Abingdon Press, Nashville TN (1991), P. 718
  2. Jamieson et al, "The New Commentary on the Whole Bible", Tyndale, Wheaton IL (1990), P. 247-248
  3. J.R. Kohlenberger III, "Precise Parallel New Testament", Oxford University Press, New York NY, (1995)
  4. R.W. Funk, et al"The Five Gospels", Macmillan, New York NY (1993)
  5. "St. Papias," The Catholic Encyclopedia, at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11457c.htm 
  6. Geoff & Heidi Trowbridge, "The Gospel of the Hebrews," at: http://www.comdac.com/~trowbridge/gosheb.htm 

Copyright 1996 & 1999 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1996
Latest update: 1999-DEC-1
Compiler: B.A. Robinson

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