Textual Criticism

The Inauthenticity of the Pericope Adulterae

Why John 7:53-8:11 should be excluded from the New Testament Canon

Introduction: The Pericope Adulterae – A Textual Anomaly

             In virtually all of today’s modern Bible translations, the aptly named Pericope Adulterae can be found in John 7:53–8:11. Yet evidenced by the cautionary brackets placed around the story, its canonicity has been pushed to secondary status. Although a majority of scholars and text-critics deny the words ever came from the Apostle John’s pen, the contentious Pericope nevertheless abides. This paper will seek to reaffirm the inauthenticity of the Pericope Adulterae by utilizing the methodologies of textual and literary criticism. More specifically, the story of the adulteress woman will be shown as warranting no connection to the Apostle John. Historical attestation to the text itself will be scrutinized and its authorship examined, before addressing the superfluous attestations of literary and theological concurrence. By way of conclusion, this author will argue that the Pericope Adulterae, if it can be established as inauthentically Johannine, should be excised from Scripture completely.

External Evidence: A Late Interpolation of the PA

            Historical attestation of Johannine authorship for the Pericope Adulterae (henceforth PA) is markedly minimal. The modern student of Scripture quickly recognizes the jarring brackets surrounding this story, where it currently rests in John’s Gospel. This fenced off passage is ominously accompanied by the cautionary note, “The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53–8:11.” As will be shown, this warning alone represents sufficient reasoning to reject the PA as non-canonical. The PA must be thoroughly scrutinized via textual criticism to reveal its origins as inauthentically Johannine. Examining the manuscript evidence will reveal that this story was interpolated between John 7 and 8 sometime in the early fourth or late third century. After addressing the manuscript evidence, the earliest attestations to the PA within Latin and Greek church traditions will be considered.

Greek Manuscript Evidence

That “many of the earliest [Gospel of John] manuscripts don’t include 7:53–8:11” is perhaps an understatement, used to justify continuing the circumspect inclusion of PA into John’s Gospel. Regardless, the scant manuscript support for the Pericope has been widely cited as the fatal blow for any question of its authenticity. It has been noted that none of the second- and third-century Greek papyri containing portions of John’s Gospel have the Pericope Adulterae.[1] Two notable witnesses, Papyrus Bodmer XIV and Papyrus Bodmer II, contain the relevant section of John, without any sign of the questioned Pericope.[2] Other early Greek manuscripts exist, but with missing or otherwise obstructed sections where the PA is traditionally found.[3]

The earliest Greek witness of PA’s inclusion into John’s Gospel can be found in the Greek and Latin diglot, Codex Bezae. This manuscript, however, has been the subject of much debate. It is the opinion of this author that Bezae, dating to approximately AD 400, has been rightly criticized as anomalous and often erroneous. Indeed, the text contains many interpolations besides the PA. The reader should follow the Alands’ example in recognizing Bezae as insignificant outside of validating textual traditions from more reliable sources.[4] In Bezae, then, we have the first evidence of an abnormal interpolation of PA into a Greek manuscript. This is by no means normative for the first four centuries of Greek New Testament scribal efforts. No reliable, universally accepted early Greek manuscript contains the story of the adulteress.

From Asia to Alexandria: The Attestation of Didymus and Papias

            Moving away from Greek external evidence against the Pericope, one must now examine the far more affirmative Latin tradition pointing toward inclusion. To be sure, later Latin scholars and theologians, from the fourth century onward, display a willingness to accept PA into the canon of Scripture. Several significant church fathers must be examined – Didymus, Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine.

The most significant of our attestations to the PA is not from a Latin father, but rather Didymus the Blind (c. 388–89). This Alexandrian theologian had a direct connection with the Latin father Jerome, who was his pupil in Alexandria.[5] Rufinus, who translated Eusebius’s works from Greek into Latin, was also a student of Didymus. As will become apparent, these connections to Didymus are incredibly important for understanding the history and acceptance of the PA.[6] Regarding Didymus, Donaldson notes,

In his Commentary on Ecclesiastes, Didymus uses the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11; §85), which he says is present in certain (copies of the?) Gospels (εν τισιν ευαγγελιοις), to illustrate the statement that even if a servant has cursed a master, the master is not innocent of having wronged others. While Didymus offers no opinion on the authenticity of the passage, he feels free to cite it as though it is authoritative Scripture.[7]

Ehrman argues that Didymus’s claim regarding the PA being found “in certain Gospels” and literary positioning necessarily link the story to the context of John 7 and 8.[8] This, of course, represents only those manuscript(s) available to Didymus in fourth century Alexandria, which he utilized for his commentary on Ecclesiastes. Because Didymus utilizes the PA to further explicate right versus hypocritical judgement in Ecclesiastes 7:22, Ehrman is confident Didymus understood the story in a Johannine context. Put simply, he contends that utilizing the PA in this instance would be nonsensical unless the greater Tabernacles Discourse of John 7–8 is recognized.[9] This conclusion requires one to submit that the PA was present in John’s Gospel manuscript(s) within Alexandria (and thus in Greek) even before Bezae. Despite the contentions of Ehrman, no such manuscript exists. If the Alexandrian-to-Latin link can nevertheless be maintained, one can argue for an early fourth or late third century interpolation of the PA into John 7 and 8.

Ehrman takes Didymus’s ambiguous, plural “gospels” to also refer to The Gospel of the Hebrews.[10] That Didymus merely refers to manuscripts or copies of “gospels,” is a conclusion wholly rejected by Ehrman.[11] While his suggestion of an early interpolation of the Pericope into John is lacking evidence, it becomes more convincing once one understands the link between Didymus, Jerome, and Rufinus. Your author proposes a mediating position, which qualifies Ehrman’s Didymus connections, while rejecting his extrapolated two-source theory. More specifically, that the Gospel of Hebrews is the original written source of the PA, which was only later interpolated into the Gospel of John. This narrative translocation plausibly transpired in an early fourth or late third century Greek manuscript – likely originating from Alexandria. Since the Gospel of Hebrews may indeed represent its original manuscription, it should be acknowledged as the sole non-oratory source of the PA.[12] Even Ehrman contests that, elsewhere in his writings, Didymus displayed familiarity with this non-canonical gospel.[13] If, then, it can be shown that the PA belonged to the lost gospel, the story’s current position within the Gospel of John must be completely rejected.

            By way of analysis, evidence points toward Didymus’s utilization of the PA, in the context of his commentary on Ecclesiastes 7, as inseparable from its present Johannine location. This does not mean the Alexandrian theologian was unaware of other traditions or “gospels” purveying this same narrative. As virtually all scholars agree, it is likely that Didymus was familiar with either oratory tradition regarding the PA, or the Gospel according to the Hebrews specifically.[14] This hypothesis is further supported by the witness of Papias (c. AD 95–110), who, according to Eusebius (c. AD 324), was familiar with a story regarding a woman accused of many sins being brought before Jesus, “and he (Papias) has set forth another story about a woman who was accused before the Lord of many sins, which is contained in the Gospel according to the Hebrews.”[15] Certainly this early attestation could refer to the PA. Many scholars have reached this conclusion.

Notably, there remains ambiguity in the reference to the Gospel of Hebrews. Eusebius may have been recalling that this story, known in Papias’s Expositions of the Lord’s Sayings, was found/recognized by Eusebius himself in the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Otherwise, the historian is stating that Papias actually found this story in the Gospel of Hebrews. The former reading seems more plausible contextually.[16] Given that Eusebius grants very little space for addressing Papias’s works, it’s clear he only included the most consequential details. Why would he, as some suggest, merely reference Luke 7:36–50, which was already an accepted canonical account?[17] Observing this passage from Luke, there are certainly parallels – A woman guilty of many sins (v. 47), who was accused before Jesus by the Pharisees (v. 39). Still, Eusebius would have certainly made reference to any synoptic or Johannine parallels. Moreover, Eusebius heads this section with “another story”, suggesting it was not a familiar narrative.[18] Eusebius seems to be affirming the historicity of an account Papias passed on from source a (likely oratory witness) as corroborated with the same story appearing in source b (the Gospel of Hebrews). Ehrman highlights that Eusebius only recorded traditions Papias had passed down from the oral witness of certain ‘elders’ (associates of the Apostles).[19]

Didymus and the Didascalia: The Two-Source Theory

Ehrman concludes that the Papias account represents the same historical narrative recorded in the Didascalia Apostolorum (c. AD ~230).[20] The Didascalia, which is similar to the extant Didache, clearly refers to the PA,

For if thou receive not him who repents, because thou art merciless, thou sinnest against the Lord God, because thou dost not obey our Lord and God in acting as He acted; for even He to that woman who had sinned, her whom the elders placed before him and left it to judgment at His hands, and went away; He then who searcheth the hearts, asked her and said to her, “Have the Elders condemned thee, my daughter? She saith to him, No, Lord. And our Saviour said, Go, and return no more to do this, neither do I condemn thee.”[21]

Notable here is the PA tradition being carried on, supposedly at an early third century date, without any reference to the Gospel of John. In fact, this account is quite dissimilar to the present John 7 Pericope. Yet this story was clearly viewed as historical and authoritative, given its use for church instruction here. Ehrman believes this version (concurring with that of Papias) represents one of two disparate early PA narratives, later conflated and interpolated into John.[22] Under this theory, it is understood that Papias directly received and recorded one PA story, which was incorrectly identified by Eusebius with a second PA story found in the Gospel according to the Hebrews.[23] This would assume the two narratives had divergent details which Eusebius simply ignored.

One might argue, as Ehrman has, that Papias and the Didascalia Apostolorum account for the oldest, most historical PA.[24] This leads to a conclusion that Didymus, the Gospel according to Hebrews, and Eusebius were all familiar with an entirely different PA narrative.[25] Finally, Ehrman presents his theory, “Is it possible that Didymus and the Didascalia actually preserve two originally distinct stories which were conflated into the traditional version of the PA only after they had circulated independently in different Christian Communities?”[26]

            Ehrman’s pervasive theory fails on several counts. First, his infamously conjectural methodology is on full display here. One wonders how Ehrman makes such great cognitive leaps in his text-critical endeavors. For example, he submits that Didymus offers a paraphrased account and Eusebius a mere allusion to Papias’s full story in Expositions of the Lord’s Sayings, yet he still draws his main contentions from the details (or lack thereof) in each recounting! His molding of each PA appearance to fit his two-source bias is arbitrary and contrived. In addition, Ehrman’s conclusion on an early dating of the Didascalia Apostolorum is similarly conjunctural.[27] There’s no compelling evidence to believe the Didascalia preserves an older, historical version of the PA. Regarding other potential manifestations of the PA, some have dubiously suggested phrasal parallels between the “Johannine PA” and the second century Infancy Gospel of James or Papyrus Egerton 2.[28] These links are nearly impossible to maintain and thus find little explication in modern scholarship.[29]

            Therefore, only three early attestations to the PA are extant – in Didymus’s commentary on Ecclesiastes, Papias’s Expositions of the Lord’s Sayings, and the Didascalia Apostolorum. None of these accounts claim this story is canonical. It can further be held that all three narratives represent the same story, in opposition to the outdated two-source theory of Ehrman. This is the most logical conclusion, given that the PA is almost universally acknowledged as originating from a nearly lost oral tradition and the nonextant Gospel of Hebrews. Due to the transient nature of both sources, it should not be assumed that the PA would maintain complete fidelity. This is certainly an important acknowledgement for the Christian who understands the story to be uninspired. God had no reason to sovereignly preserve it – and the text naturally faced additions and degradation.[30] The onus is on Ehrman to provide solid, nonconjectural proof of two sources. For even he admits all the aforementioned accounts bear notable similarities.

Finally, and most importantly, neither text is inherently Johannine. Even Ehrman would submit to this conclusion.[31] These rather early instances of the story’s circulation highlight that the PA is not completely apocryphal. Rather, it seems to have been acknowledged as a truthful story of the Lord’s life, perhaps only found in the Gospel of Hebrews. Didymus and the Didascalia Apostolorum seem to imply this was the case. Regardless, no Christian witness testifies to the Johannine inclusion of the PA until the late fourth century.[32] Though the text was included after John 7:52 in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, it remains to be shown that such an inclusion was contentious.

The Latin Church Fathers and PA’s Late Acceptance

            To conclude this section on the historicity of the PA text itself, one must recognize the Latin fathers’ zeal in affirming the pericope as authentically Johannine. Jerome, writing around AD 415, noted, “In the Gospel, according to John, there is found in many of both the Greek as well as the Latin copies, the story of the adulteress who was accused before the Lord.”[33] This came nearly forty years after Jerome resolved to include the Pericope in his Latin Vulgate.[34] Certainly Jerome wasn’t referring to Codex Bezae (c. AD 400) alone. It’s clear Jerome utilized even older Greek manuscript(s), likely those estimated to have existed in Alexandria in the early fourth, late third century AD. One must necessarily conclude that by the fourth century, the PA was found within John, though its inclusion was already contentious. It must be noted that the story appeared in a small fraction of Greek manuscripts but found wider assimilation into the Latin tradition. Jerome thus wittingly chose to translate those Greek manuscript(s) containing the PA.

Augustine, writing around 401, said of the Pericope,

Some hostile to true faith, fearing, as I believe, that liberty to sin with impunity is granted their wives, remove from their Scriptural texts the account of our Lord’s pardon of the adulteress, as though He who said: ‘From now on, sin no more,’ granted permission to sin, or as though the woman should not have been cured by the Divine Physician by the remission of that sin, so as not to offend others who are equally unclean.[35]

Again, this quote reaffirms that by the fourth century, the PA was contentiously present in some manuscripts of John’s Gospel. That a variety of manuscripts existed both with and without the story is readily apparent. Should one assume the PA was excised from John due to scribal misgivings regarding Jesus’ leniency on sexual sin? While we might observe the sexual ethic of Augustine’s time was strict and valued chastity and fidelity, this historical, redaction criticism claim is frankly a baseless theory.[36] Early textual excision would be apparent from the manuscript evidence.

As it currently stands, there is no sign that any early Greek copyist was familiar with the adultery narrative in a Johannine context. Another fourth century witness to PA was supposedly mounted by Ambrose, which will not be treated here due to the account’s spurious nature.[37] It bears mentioning that this Ambrose imitator, writing sometime after AD 397, affirms that PA was, by this time, both found in a Gospel and viewed as difficult to accept, precisely because of Jesus’ forgiveness of an adulteress.[38] Punch, who himself cannot fully affirm Ambrose’s authorship of Second Apology, comments, “Ambrose seems concerned that the PA could lead some to view Jesus as being too lenient on sexual sins and perhaps even as making a mistake.”[39] This displays what has already been affirmed – that the Pericope Adulterae was found within the Gospel of John by the fourth century, yet not without debate regarding its authenticity.

As has been shown, the Latin Fathers almost unanimously viewed the PA as subversive in its sexual ethic. Does this represent a history of purposeful excision due to a strict moral framework within the church? This so called “suppression theory”[40] fails under scrutiny when one acknowledges various passages not excised from the text of John. Certainly, if there was an aversion to leniency regarding female sexual sin, scribes would have first removed John 4:1–45. Herein we find a blatant picture of Christ ministering to the Samaritan woman, who was herself an adulterer. Many such targets for redaction are only limited by the imagination. Further, the rigorous and defined philology of scribes counts against this theory, “Such an editor may have chosen to mark copies of John with the passage in some way—and indeed, such marks do accompany the pericope in later Byzantine manuscripts—but deletion was outside of the scope of established critical methods.”[41]

A thorough examination of the Pericope’s historicity and a synopsis of currents in text-critical analysis has revealed that the story of the adulterous woman was never original to John’s Gospel. While the external evidence is certainly conclusive, arguments based on the internal witness must nevertheless be addressed. Those arguing for inclusion of the PA most commonly appeal to the story’s contribution to John’s narrative flow and congruence with Johannine literary and textual cues.

Internal Evidence: Johannine Dissimilarities

While the interpolation of the Pericope Adulterae is clear from its meager historical record, many questions remain regarding this passage. Most prominently, what is the source of this textual anomaly and where does it belong? While nothing pins the Pericope between John 7 and 8 necessarily, one must inquire about the origin, historicity, and canonicity of the narrative itself. These issues will henceforth be taken up, with a conclusion regarding the canonicity of this anomalous account.

The PA’s Anomalous Rhetorical Style

One perplexing feature of the PA is its appearance outside of John 7:53–8:11 in several notable manuscripts. The story has been found after John 7:36, after John 21:34 or 24, and even after Luke 21:38.[42] Although these manuscripts are exceptions, the “floating” nature of this account further suggests interpolation. Thus, one might rationally conclude that a copyist wittingly chose the present context of John 7:53 precisely because of the Pericope’s contextual parallels. But most interesting here is the early appearance of this stray narrative in Luke. As Brown suggests of the Pericope, “in general the style is not Johannine either in vocabulary or grammar. Stylistically, the story is more Lucan than Johannine.”[43] This has led more than one scholar to posit Lukan authorship for the PA.[44] Even the previously mentioned use of the PA in the writing of Didymus has been argued by Donaldson to exhibit Lukan characteristics.[45]

Literary Concurrence

            Thus far, the disparate elements of the Pericope Adulterae have been analyzed to highlight the incongruity of this narrative within John’s Gospel. Textual criticism alone strongly suggests the Pericope is not original. With the addition of decidedly unusual textual elements, Johannine authorship is nearly impossible to maintain. Scholars, desiring to move beyond these two lines of attack, have suggested the Pericope Adulterae is abruptly introduced and does not fit within the Tabernacles Discourse of 7:1–52. Further, there is a clear connection with 8:12ff, suggesting a continuation from 7:52. Specifically, the phrase “Again Jesus spoke to them” in 8:12 most apparently links back to Jesus’ living water discourse in 7:37–38. This imagery, previously utilized by Jesus, is that of water drawing associated with the Feast of Tabernacles.

Similarly, in 8:12 Jesus is found proclaiming, “I am the Light of the World” – drawing upon the symbolism of lamplit nights during this same celebration.[46]

Reflecting back upon the methodologies of text criticism, it is worth noting that PA contains 14 words unique to John, being used nowhere else in his Gospel.[47] By some accounts, the author of PA appears to use phraseology and terminology quite unusual for John’s Gospel, yet almost certainly mimics Johannine features as well.[48] The evidence is far from being rendered inconclusive, however. For one, the unusual and frequent use of verbal κατα-prefixes has been variously noted as the strongest example of non-Johannine terminology being employed.[49] Finally, only two distinctly Johannine style characteristics have been noted in the entire Pericope.[50]

            Although there is a convincing narrative continuation from 7:52 to 8:12, it cannot be decisively asserted that the PA is completely out of place narratively. Beasley-Murray explains, “If we ask why it (PA) was set in its present place, the answer must be a genuine sense of fitness of context. The theme of judgment is strong in chaps. 7–8; the story could well be regarded as illustrative of 7:24 and 8:15–16; and we note the opposition of the Pharisees to Jesus in 7:46–52 and 8:13.”[51] Similarly, Klink comments, “Yet in spite of this text-critical mystery, this pericope plays a significant role in the developing narrative, serving as a conclusion to several burgeoning issues in chapter 7 and as the climactic episode to the section, “The Confession of the Son of God” (5:1–8:11), by clearly showing to the Jewish authorities the authority of Jesus.”[52]

By way of deduction, one may thus suggest that this interpolation was purposefully placed within a fitting context. It’s not a far stretch to conclude this same interpolator attempted to mimic Johannine style characteristics to further blend the PA into its current context.[53] To simply assert the adultery narrative is completely unfitting within this context is too assumptive and cavalier a conclusion. Brown, who strongly argues the Pericope Adulterae is a later insertion, nevertheless submits, “From the standpoint of internal criticism, the story is quite plausible and quite like some of the other gospel stories of attempts to trap Jesus (Luke 20:20, 27).”[54]As has been shown, text-critical and syntactical analysis have sufficiency placed the onus on those holding the minority view to support their claims.

That the PA appears in so many varied forms is further evidence of the text’s adaptation and interpolation into a Johannine context. One may conclude all the evidence points toward scribal zeal to preserve a Jesus tradition, regardless of the historicity of said narrative. From the fourth century (or perhaps late third century) onward, this well-known account was interpolated into John from either oratory tradition or the elusive Gospel according to the Hebrews. The interpolation theory of the PA finds further evidence in scribal attempts to fit the story into ten disparate locations within John and Luke.[55] Of all of these interpolations, ultimately the context of John 7 and 8, the Tabernacles Discourses, was found most fitting and enjoyed the greatest deal of later duplications. 

Conclusion: A Timeline for the PA

            In conclusion, the text-critical evidenced for the inauthenticity of Johannine authorship for the Pericope Adulterae is too strong to be ignored.[56] Not only is the Pericope completely absent from all pre-fifth century AD manuscripts, it appears within extant manuscripts in at least nine different locations in John’s Gospel, and one in Luke.[57] Many copyists who later included this Pericope did so with hesitancy, distinctly marking John 7:53–8:11 to highlight its potential inauthenticity.[58] Regarding church tradition and attestation, Metzger notes, “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.”[59] Admittingly, Didymus the Blind’s Commentary on Ecclesiastes, and the reference to the PA therein, means Metzger’s claim is outdated. This is far from a tragic development, however. Rather, as has been shown, the lineage of the PA can now be directly traced from the Gospel of Hebrews and oratory tradition to its current location in John’s Gospel. One must submit that the Apostolic father Papias attests to the PA’s circulation among the ‘elders’ (close associates of the Apostles).

The Imperfect Preservation of the Non-Canonical PA

This same exact historical moment in the life of Jesus was later confirmed by Eusebius as being recorded in the early but lost Gospel of Hebrews (c. AD 150). The popularity of this tradition and the Gospel of Hebrews itself was especially prevalent in Alexandria. Alexandria was home to Didymus the Blind, who taught both Jerome and Rufinus. Both scholars preserved the conclusions of their Greek mentor and teacher regarding the PA.[60] Jerome carried on Didymus’s claim that “certain gospels” contained the PA, by defending the narrative’s inclusion into John’s Gospel. As will be shown, Rufinus connected all previous iterations of the PA into one central, historical Jesus story.[61]

Yet by both accounts, the Johannine placement was far from unanimously accepted and represented an emergent interpolation attested by a minority of manuscripts. That any inclusion into the canon was absent until the early fourth or late third century is attested to by the non-existence of this narrative in all Greek manuscripts before the fifth century. When Jerome stated this deviant reading was contentious, he certainly affirms that his fourth or fifth century reader would be surprised by its inclusion in the Vulgate. Finally, the willingness of Rufinus to specify Papias’s account as absolutely referring to the PA in his translation of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (c. 401), shows that one PA narrative was known to exist in both late John manuscript(s) and the Gospel of Hebrews.

Rufinus writes, “He (Papias) includes at the same time some story about the adulterous woman accused by the Jews in the Lord’s presence. That passage is also found in the gospel which is called “according to the Hebrews.”[62] Two significant conclusions are drawn from this expansion and specification of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History. First, Rufinus wouldn’t have altered Eusebius’s “woman who was accused before the Lord of many sins” to “adulterous woman accused…” unless he was familiar with the PA as it stood in the Gospel of Hebrews and certain manuscripts of John. Correspondence with the Gospel of John is inferred on two points – the clear verbal allusion to the still extant “Johannine” PA and Rufinus’ association with Didymus.[63] Much like Jerome, Rufinus must have been aware of the PA’s existence in “certain gospels.” As has been argued, this phrase of Didymus most plausibly refers to the Gospel of Hebrews and a minority of Greek manuscripts of John’s Gospel.

From here, Latin Fathers such as Augustine took up the task of vehemently defending Johannine authenticity. Thus, the interpolation of PA must have happened in a Greek manuscript – and having never been fully accepted by the Greek Fathers as anything but an oratory tradition and Gospel of Hebrews narrative – was only later defended by zealous Latin Fathers. The link from Didymus to the Latin Fathers has been thoroughly represented. How can one be certain the Greek Father’s weren’t accepting of even the stray interpolation of the PA into John? Didymus’s own teacher, Origen, moves from 7:52 to 8:12 in his commentary on John’s Gospel, with nary a mention of the PA.[64] Thus, especially stunning in PA research is that the earliest church fathers explicitly knew of the PA, yet never considered it canonical.[65]

One final point of contention is raised regarding the literary style of this pericope. While some argue this passage bears the marks of Johannine authorship, the majority highlight its highly unusual vocabulary, which seems almost Lukan. The Pericope is so anomalous, in fact, that the fringes of modern scholarship have spilled ink to defend its Lukan or even Markan authorship.[66] Even if the literary style’s ambiguity leads one to suggest a Johannine style, varied due to the unusual subject matter, one must concede that a forger would easily emulate Johannine characteristics given such a small canvas.[67]

            It is the contention of this author that the sheer magnitude of the aforementioned evidence alone demands the Johannine authorship of the Pericope Adulterae be rejected. The student of Scripture need not probe further into the contextual elements wherein the Pericope currently stands in modern Bibles. Many have suggested the story of the adulterous woman fits well within the context of Jesus’ Tabernacle discourse. This, however, proves nothing about the Johannine authorship of the account. Surely scribes located what they believed to be the most fitting spot for this interpolation, which explains why other copyists disagreed and found Luke 21:38 a more fitting context. 

            The Pericope Adulterae should not be included anywhere in the book of John and should be omitted from the canon of Scripture entirely. While the story’s origins and authorship remain ambiguous, one can be certain the passage was not penned by any of the four Gospel writers. Most scholars and textual critics have arrived at this very conclusion, though very few have suggested the Pericope be abrogated completely.[68] Many are satisfied with the story’s containment within cautious brackets or it’s questioned authenticity being relegated to a mere footnote. While the designation of this text must not divide the Church, there is no logical justification for its inclusion.

Concluding Implications for Theology and Ministry

One must submit the PA is not detrimental to the narrative flow of John’s Gospel, nor does it propose theological difficulties. If anything, as has been shown, the text fits well and even highlights God’s Gospel of grace. Yet this interpolation intrudes upon God’s inspired, inerrant Word, as recorded by the Apostle John. John’s masterful, God-breathed account serves the sovereign purposes of his Lord – regardless of our thoughts on the narrative or literary structure. In other words, If God, and His servant John, did not intend the Pericope Adulterae to be found anywhere within the Fourth Gospel, it should not be there. To interpolate even the most elegant, fitting, and historical story from an apocryphal gospel would rightly be considered an unspeakable evil.[69] Protestant Christendom has thus refused to include even “deuterocanonical” books within or “between” the Holy Scriptures, separating from the tradition venerating disposition of Roman Catholicism.

All uninspired stories of our Lord must be wholly separated from our inspired text. To wittingly entertain extra-canonical interpolations sets a dangerous precedent regarding the verbal-plenary inspiration of Scripture and contextual, literary, and socio-historical unity of individually purposed apostolic letters. Köstenberger, in his commentary on John, takes an approach to the Pericope Adulterae that is distinct among his contemporaries. He argues that this story should be completely excised from Scripture and not taught from the pulpit. The scholar thus stands in solidarity with Origen, who in his third century commentary on John, passed over 7:53 to 8:11 entirely.[70] While evangelical Christian scholars must continue studying New Testament apocryphal literature, such traditions must not be preached from the pulpit and thus ascended to “secondary” canonical status.


[1] Tommy Wasserman, “The Strange Case of the Missing Adulteress,” in The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research, Library of New Testament Studies 551, eds. David Alan Black, Jacob N. Cerone, and Chris Keith (Edinburgh: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 37.

[2] Bruce Manning Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, rev. ed. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 187.

[3] Wasserman, “The Strange Case of the Missing Adulteress,” 38.

[4] Barbara Aland and Kurt Aland, The Text of the New Testament: an Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Textual Criticism, 2nd ed., trans. E. F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989) 110, 244.

[5] William L. Petersen, “ΟΥΔΕ ΕΓΩ ΣΕ [ΚΑΤΑ]ΚΡΙΝΩ: John 8:11, the Protevangelium Iacobi, and the History of the Pericope Adulterae,” in Sayings of Jesus: Canonical and Non-Canonical: Essays in Honor of Tjitze Baarda, eds. William L. Petersen, Johan S. Vos, and Henk Jen de Jonge (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 199.

[6] Ibid. Petersen makes the connection between Didymus the Blind and his two students, Jerome and Rufinus. He suggests the witness of all three of these men be taken together when tracing the history of the PA’s acceptance. Petersen also makes a connection between Eusebius and Rufinus – the latter being responsible for correlating Papias’s vague story of Christ in Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord with the PA.

[7] Amy M. Donaldson, “Explicit References to New Testament Variant Readings among Greek and Latin Church Fathers” (PhD diss., University of Notre Dame, 2009), 113.

[8] Bart D. Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” New Testament Studies 34 (1988): 28. Ehrman views the Pericope Adulterae as explicitly instructing that anyone with any sin must never judge another sinner. With this interpretation, Didymus’s use of the passage to support leniency on hardworking slaves, regardless of their countenance or attitude, would thus be nonsensical. Ehrman’s contention is therefore that Didymus must have been alluding to the greater Tabernacles narrative of John 7–8, specifically regarding the discourses on right versus hypocritical judgement (Jn 7:22–24; 50-52).

[9] Ibid., 26–27.

[10] Ibid., 30; 37.

[11] Ibid., 26. Ehrman argues that ευαγγελιοις contextually refers to “books that contain Gospels.”

[12] Peterson, who utilizes form-critical parallels between the PA (as presented in John 7) and the Protoevangelium of James, even supports this conclusion. His contention, however, differs from that of his contemporaries. Based on several assumptions: (1) an early second century date for both the Protoevangelium and John’s Gospel, (2) that the Protoevangelium’s long history of textual variants and interpolation is insignificant, (3) and a rejection of a wide swath of scholarship that has observed and wittingly dismissed these parallels. All three of these assumptions represent major deviations from accepted scholarship. Johannine authorship of the Gospel of John and a first century date for this canonical book must be maintained. The historical development and corruption of the pseudonymous, apocryphal Protoevangelium cannot be ignored. And the extrapolations of Peterson’s form-critical method must be rejected. Indeed, Peterson is willing to entertain a hypothesis that the Gospel of John utilized the Protoevangelium, or that both works interpolated phraseology from a common, earlier source (such as “Q”). These conclusions are untenable and rightfully glossed over in New Testament scholarship. Petersen, “ΟΥΔΕ ΕΓΩ ΣΕ [ΚΑΤΑ]ΚΡΙΝΩ”, 204–219.

[13] Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” 28.

[14] Wasserman, “The Strange Case of the Missing Adulteress,”, 34.

[15] Eusebius, “Ecclesiastical History, Books 1–5,” in The Fathers of the Church 19, ed. Roy Joseph Deferrari, trans. Roy Joseph Deferrari (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1953), 206.

[16] Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” 29.

[17] Petersen, “ΟΥΔΕ ΕΓΩ ΣΕ [ΚΑΤΑ]ΚΡΙΝΩ”, 210.

[18] Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” 29.

[19] Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” 29.

[20] The Didascalia is only extant in the Apostolic Constitutions, dated to AD 380 and heavily modified/expanded. Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” 33.

[21] Margaret Dunlop Gibson, trans., The Didascalia Apostolorum in English, vol. II (London: Cambridge University Press, 1903), 39–40.

[22] Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” 30.

[23] Ibid., 33.

[24] Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” 35. The author of the Didascalia and Papias are thought by Ehrman to have both come across this story in Syria and Asia Minor, where it supposedly circulated.

[25] Ibid., 34.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Chris Keith, “The Pericope Adulterae: A Theory of Attentive Insertion,” in The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research, Library of New Testament Studies 551, eds. David Alan Black, Jacob N. Cerone, and Chris Keith (Edinburgh: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 91.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Petersen, “ΟΥΔΕ ΕΓΩ ΣΕ [ΚΑΤΑ]ΚΡΙΝΩ”, 210, Citing D. Lührmann, “Die Geschichte” (supra, n. 26), pp. 289-316. D. Lührmann argues the PA developed over time, gaining more details until reaching the Johannine account we have today.

[31] Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” 37–38.

[32] Keith, “The Pericope Adulterae,” 93.

[33] Jerome, “Against Palagians,” in Dogmatic and Polemical Works, trans. John N. Hritzu (Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1965), 2.17.

[34] Jennifer Knust, “‘Taking Away From’: Patristic Evidence and the Omission of the Pericope Adulterae from John’s Gospel,” in The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research, Library of New Testament Studies 551, eds. David Alan Black, Jacob N. Cerone, and Chris Keith (Edinburgh: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 65. – Jerome placed his translation after John 7:52, in about AD 384.

[35] Augustine, “Adulterous Marriages,” in Treatises on Marriage and Other Subjects, The Fathers of the Church 27, ed. Roy Joseph Deferrari, trans. Charles T. Huegelmeyer (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1955), 107–108.

[36] Knust, “Taking Away From,” 88.

[37] John David Punch, “The Piously Offensive Pericope Adulterae,” in The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research, Library of New Testament Studies 551, eds. David Alan Black, Jacob N. Cerone, and Chris Keith (Edinburgh: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 26. Further, Ambrose’s direct relationship with Augustine necessitates that even if one ascribes this account to the Bishop of Milan, he would simply be mirroring the same tradition Augustine later affirmed.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Knust, “Taking Away From,” 88.

[41] Ibid., 83.

[42] Punch, “The Piously Offensive Pericope Adulterae,” 22.

[43] Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John (I–XII): Introduction, Translation, and Notes, Anchor Yale Bible 29 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 336

[44] Chris Keith, “Recent and Previous Research on the Pericope Adulterae (John 7.53–8.11),” Currents in Biblical Research 6.3 (2008): 384–6.

[45] Donaldson, Explicit References to New Testament Variant Readings, 447.

[46] George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary 36 (Dallas: Word Books: 1999), 127.

[47] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic: 2004), 245.

[48] Ibid., 246.

[49] Punch, “The Piously Offensive Pericope Adulterae,” 15–16.

[50] Klink, John, 387.

[51] Beasley-Murray, John, 144.

[52] Edward W. Klink III, John, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Clinton E. Arnold, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 386.

[53] Alan F. Johnson, “A Stylistic Trait of the Fourth Gospel in the Pericope Adulterae?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 9 (1966) 91–96.

[54] Brown, The Gospel according to John (I–XII), 335.

[55] Köstenberger, John, 248.

[56] Metzger reached a similar conclusion, “The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming.” Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 187.

[57] Klink, John, 387.

[58] Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 189.

[59] Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 188.

[60] Petersen, “ΟΥΔΕ ΕΓΩ ΣΕ [ΚΑΤΑ]ΚΡΙΝΩ”, 199.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Rufinus, History of the Church, The Fathers of the Church 133, trans. Philip R. Amidon (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2016), 140.

[63] Petersen, “ΟΥΔΕ ΕΓΩ ΣΕ [ΚΑΤΑ]ΚΡΙΝΩ”, 199.

[64] Knust, “Taking Away From,” 79–80.

[65] As attested to by Eusebius, Eusebius, “Ecclesiastical History,” 206.

[66] Johnson, “A Stylistic Trait of the Fourth Gospel in the Pericope Adulterae?” 94.

[67] Ibid., 96.

[68] Köstenberger seems to be the one exception here. Unfortunately, his commentary on John has been removed from circulation due to plagiarism. Köstenberger, John, 249.

[69] See Revelation 22: 18–19.

[70] Köstenberger, John, 249.


Backgrounds, Surveys, and Introductions

Aland, Barbara and Kurt Aland, The Text of the New Testament: an Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Textual Criticism. 2nd ed. Translated by E. F. Rhodes. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989.

Brown, Raymond Edward. An Introduction to the Gospel of John. Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday, 2003.

DeSilva, David Arthur. An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Köstenberger, Andreas J., L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2016.

Concordances, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996.

––––––. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2001.

Freedman, David Noel. Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 Vols. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Silva, Moisés, ed. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis. 5 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.


Beasley-Murray, George R. John. 2nd ed. Word Biblical Commentary 36. Dallas: Word Books, 1999.

Blum, E. A. John. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures 2. Edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

Boice, James Montgomery. The Gospel of John: An Expositional Commentary. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

Borchert, Gerald L. John 1-11. New American Commentary 25a. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996.

Brown, Raymond Edward. The Gospel According to John. Anchor Yale Bible 29. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.

Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Edited by D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.

Gangel, Kenneth O. John. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

Hendriksen, William. Baker New Testament Commentary: John. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953.

Keener, Craig. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. 2 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012.

Klink, Edward W. III. John. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Edited by Clinton E. Arnold. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.

Kruse, Colin G. John. Tyndale New Testament Commentary 4. Edited by Leon Morris. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

MacArthur, John. John 1-11. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006.

Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. 2nd ed. German Bible Society: Stuttgart, 1994.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. Rev. ed. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

Ridderbos, Herman Nicolaas. The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary. Translated by John Vriend. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

Whitacre, Rodney A. John. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series 4. Edited by Grant R. Osborne. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Journals and Dissertations

Black, David Alan, Jacob N. Cerone, John David Punch, Tommy Wasserman, Jennifer Knust, Christ Keith, Maurice A. Robinson, Larry Jurtado. The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research. Library of New Testament Studies 551. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2016.

Donaldson, Amy M. “Explicit References to New Testament Variant Readings among Greek and Latin Church Fathers.” Ph.D. diss. University of Notre Dame, 2009.

Ehrman, Bart D. “Jesus and the Adulteress.” New Testament Studies 34 (1988): 24–44.

Johnson, Alan F. “A Stylistic Trait of the Fourth Gospel in the Pericope Adulterae?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 9 (1966): 91–96.

Keith, Chris. “Recent and Previous Research on the Pericope Adulterae (John 7.53–8.11).” Currents in Biblical Research 6.3 (2008): 377–404.

Petersen, William L. “ΟΥΔΕ ΕΓΩ ΣΕ [ΚΑΤΑ]ΚΡΙΝΩ: John 8.11, the Protevangelium Iacobi, and the History of the Pericope Adulterae.” In Sayings of Jesus: Canonical and Non-Canonical: Essays in Honor of Tjitze Baarda. Edited by William L. Petersen, Johan S. Vos, and Henk Jen de Jonge; Supplements to Novum Testamentum 89. Leiden: Brill, 1997: 191–221.

Translated Volumes

Augustine. “Adulterous Marriages.” In Treatises on Marriage and Other Subjects. The Fathers of the Church 27, edited by Roy Joseph Deferrari, translated by Charles T. Huegelmeyer. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1955.

Eusebius. “Ecclesiastical History, Books 1–5.” In the Fathers of the Church 19, edited by Roy Joseph Deferrari, translated by Roy Joseph Deferrari. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1953.

Jerome. “Against Palagians.” In Dogmatic and Polemical Works, translated by John N. Hritzu. Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1965.

Margaret Dunlop Gibson, translation. The Didascalia Apostolorum in English 2. London: Cambridge University Press, 1903.

Rufinus. History of the Church. The Fathers of the Church 133, translated by Philip R. Amidon. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2016.

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