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Textual Criticism
of the New Testament
Pericopa de Adultera
(John 7:53-8:11)
The passage of scripture containing the account of the woman taken in adultery
-- John 7:53-8:11 -- is called
the Pericopa de Adultera.  This passage is
double-bracketed (which means the passage is regarded as a later addition to
the text, but of evident antiquity and importance) by the Westcott-Hort Greek
Text, omitted by the Nestle's Greek Text, double-bracketed by the United Bible
Society Texts (2nd & 3rd editions), single-bracketed (which means the passage
is regarded as having dubious textual validity) by the American Standard
Version, single-bracketed by the New American Standard Bible, single-bracketed
by the New International Version, and omitted by the Revised Standard Version.  
The passage is included in the Textus Receptus, in the Majority Text, in the King
James Version and in the New King James Bible.

The question is:
Does the passage belong to the word of God? or, has it
been incorrectly added to the Gospel of John?

The first matter of business in determining the validity of a passage is realizing
what evidence needs to be examined in order to come to a conclusion.  [We will
discuss these further as we examine them.]  There are three things that most
textual critics examine.  
1. Does the passage fit into the flow of the
context?  2. Is the literary style of the passage compatible with the
supposed author?
And, lastly and most importantly, 3. What evidence do we
find for the passage in the manuscripts, lectionaries, ancient versions,
and quotations of early writers?

We shall look at each of these three areas in determining the textual validity, or
authenticity and genuineness of John 7:53-8:11, the Pericopa de Adultera.


Those who reject this passage as being authentic rely heavily upon the alleged
incongruity of this story with the context.  They feel the story of the woman taken
in adultery interrupts the "flow of Jesus" sojourn in Jerusalem.  However, a
careful reading of the passage where it is found shows it to be perfectly
compatible to the context which surrounds it, and even helpful in completing the

In verse 32 of the 7th chapter, we read:
"The Pharisees heard that the people
murmured such things concerning Him
[i.e., indicating He was the Christ] and the
Pharisees and chief priests sent officers to take Him."

Beginning with verse 45 these officers report back to the Pharisees.  This
meeting between the chief priests and the Pharisees and the officers is still in
progress in verse 52.

Without the passage in question (7:53-8:11), the next verse (8:12) would begin:
"Then spake Jesus again unto them,..."  There is no end to the conspiracy
meeting of the chief priests, Pharisees and officers.  There is no context for the
place of Jesus' words beginning at 8:12.  There is no contrast between the light
which Jesus is, and the darkness which the scribes and the Pharisees have
shown themselves to be by their sinful conduct.

"Nor is the narrative improperly suited to the place where it is found in the
overwhelming majority of the nine hundred copies which contain it.  On the
contrary, a setting at the Feast of Tabernacles (cf. 7:2,14) is ideal for the story.  
It was on just such an occasion, when Jerusalem was crowded with pilgrims, that
strangers might be thrown together with the resulting sin around which the story
centers.  An interview with a woman in a court of the temple would likely have
been in the Court of the Women.  And this evidently where Jesus was, as the
reference to the 'treasury' in 8:20 indicates.  Moreover, the way in which the
woman's accusers are driven to cover by the moral exposure which Jesus brings
upon them furnishes a suggestive introduction to the initial Johannine reference
to the Lord as the Light of the World (8:12).  The setting of the incident at
daybreak is likewise suitable (cf. 8:2) since the rising sun furnishes the natural
backdrop for the same title.  It is in fact to the sun (not the temple candelabra, as
Hort thought) that the title Light of the World refers (cf. 9:4,5; 11:9).  Finally, as
the Qumran find have shown (cf. 1QS iii 6-7), the thought of forgiveness of sin
experienced here by the woman is properly linked to the phrase 'light of life'
(8:12)." [
The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text; edited
by Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad; Thomas Nelson Publishers; 1982; p.

The context suffers not by the addition of the passage (7:53-8:11), but its

There is no justification for the rejection of the passage upon the grounds of
interrupting the flow of thought.  In fact, contextual considerations favor its

By the way, upon what basis is the assumption made that contextual
considerations made by men would be superior to the contextual selection of the
Holy Spirit?  The idea that men, upon the basis of literary context, can determine
where a passage belongs in the Bible is rather presumptuous.  That would mean
we can determine what and how the Holy Spirit would say something.  That is not
in the natural man (1 Corinthians 2:14).

2. Is the literary style of the passage compatible with the supposed

In the case of John 7:53-8:11, this means: Is the passage written in the same
style as John wrote the rest of his Gospel?  Those who reject the passage claim
that the style (i.e., the choice of words and the use of grammar) of these verses
is contrary to that found in the remainder of the book.  Thus, they claim the
passage not to be a part of the Gospel of John.

"There is no compelling reason to doubt that the story is originally Johannine,
despite the prevailing contrary opinion.  Among the marks of Johannine style
which it exhibits, none is clearer than the phrase in 8:6:
touto de elegon
peirazontes auton.
 This is a pure and simple Johannism, which is evident by
comparison with 6:6; 7:39; 11:51; 12:6,33; and 21:19.  Likewise the use of the
gunai (8:10) by Jesus to address a woman is a Johannine characteristic
(cf. 2:4; 4:21; 19:26; CF. ALSO 20:13,15).  The phrase
uaketi amartane (8:11)
occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, except John 5:14, and the historic
present of
agousi (8:3) is consonant with John's frequent use of this idiom."
[Ibid.; pp. xxiii-xxiv].

"In view of the features of Johannine style that have been noted and the
narrative's almost unique suitability to this context, the idea that the passage
isnot authentically Johannine must finally be dismissed.  If it is not an original part
of the Fourth Gospel, its writer would have to be viewed as a skilled Johannine
imitator, and its placement in this context as the shrewdest piece of interpolation
in literary history!" [Ibid.; p. xxiv].

3. What evidence do we find for the passage in the manuscripts (papyri,
uncials, minuscules), lectionaries, ancient versions and quotations of
early writers?

The passasge is found in twelve (12) uncial manuscripts [dating from the 6th
through the 9th centuries] and thirty-five (35) minuscules [dating from the 9th
through the 15th centuries], plus the majority of the Byzantine manuscripts, which
are not included in the above count.  This brings the count of manuscripts to
more than nine hundred (900) which include the passage.

The majority of the passage (8:1-11 in one, and 8:3-11 in the others) is found in
six (6) lectionaries, though it is missing in the majority of lectionaries.  However,
this is not surprising since lectionaries only include select readings.

The passage is found in fourteen (14) ancient versions [Syriac, Coptic, Old Latin,
Armenian and Ethiopic -- dating from the 2nd century to the 13th century].

Seven (7) early writers quote the passage [from the 3rd century to 430 a.d.].

It is interesting to note that from the 9th century on, the passage is firmly
accepted on the evidence available.  It waits until the 19th century to say the
passage is fraudulent.

The manuscript evidence, excluding the Byzantine texts (which comprise the vast
majority -- up to 95% -- of manuscripts extant), is numerically seventy-five (75) to
fifty (50) in favor of the inclusion of the passage.

Once the testimony of the Byzantine texts is added, the result is more than nine
hundred (900) manuscripts, plus versions, lictionaries, and early writers in favor
of the passage.  Therefore, unless one arbitrarily determines the Egyptian texts
to contain the purest text, the passage is overwhelmingly verified as part of the
original text.

The conclusion

Therefore, utilizing all three areas of textual criticism, the Pericopa de Adultera
belongs in the Gospel According to John following 7:52.  Those who remove it
are in error.  They are guilty of subtracting from the word of God, and have the
anathema of God upon them unless they repent.

"I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of
Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble
you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.  But though we, or an angel from
heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached
unto you, let him be accursed.  As we said before, so say I now again, If any man
preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have received, let him be
accursed." (Galatians 1:6-10)

"For I testify unto every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if
any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that
are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the
book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and
out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."
(Revelation 22:18,19)