Should John Chapter 8 vs. 1-11 Be In the Bible?

Was John Chapter 8 vs 1-11 Originally in the Bible? In our latest series, we’ve been talking about Bible difficulties.  So far we’ve looked at the long ending of the Gospel of Mark.  I explained that the final verses (Chapter 16: 9-11) are not found in the earliest manuscripts we have.  This revelation causes many to doubt the reliability of the Bible.  If we have found this one addition, how many others night there actually be?

The Numbers

In truth, there really aren’t that many verses that are in question.  There are around 8,000 verses in the New Testament.  According to Daniel Wallace, Senior research professor of NT studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, only about 2 dozen of them are in question.  That’s a pretty good percentage.  And the verses in question don’t affect any major doctrines of the Church.  

Aside from the long ending of Mark, there is one other substantial section of the New Testament that appears to be an artifact.  It is the famous passage in John 8:1-11, the woman caught in adultery:

John 8:1-11

Then each of them went home, 8while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” [1]

Where Did It Come From?

The story first appears in the Gospel of John beginning in the 5thcentury in the codex Bezae. While it appears in many different manuscripts from this time, it is not always placed in the same spot.  Some manuscripts include the story in the Gospel of Luke after Chapter 24:53. In fact, many scholars in the field believe the language used more resembles Luke’s writing than John’s.  Others place the passage after John 21:25.   Documents exist from this time that also exclude the story completely.  

How Did It Get In the Bible? 

As with the long ending of Mark, this passage was accepted in the King James translation of the Bible in 1611.  The translators were using the accepted manuscripts of the time to produce their Bible. They were simply passing along what seemed to them to be the best available information and the rules presented to them for translation.

Does this change anything? 

No.  As with the long ending of Mark, the inclusion of this story does not alter our knowledge of Jesus.  Even though it is a late addition, it still sounds like Jesus.   Many scholars believe it to be an authentic episode from Jesus’ life that was added to the text by a well-meaning scribe.  

While these verses should be treated with care, there is no issue with treating them as authentic.  No essential doctrine is changed by either accepting or discarding the verses. 

As to inerrancy, again we must remember that it is the original autographs that are considered inerrant.  The copies we have will invariably contain spelling or word order variations.  They were copied by hand. And while great care was taking in the transmission, mistakes were inevitably made.  

The good news is that we have a wealth of copies to compare to each other. Currently there are over 5800 known manuscripts we have to work with.  We are constantly finding new copies that only increase the accuracy of our modern translations.  While these artifacts remain in the text, they are well annotated by the translators. We just need to pay attention to the margin notes in our Bibles.  

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[1]The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 7:53–8:11). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.