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Bible Corruption Series: Part 3 – John 7:53-8:11, Pericope of the Adulteress

By: S.L.A. © 2016

John 7:53-8:11 is a disputed passage and considered to be an insertion added to the Bibles, which came later in time. Analysts of the Greek texts and manuscripts of the Gospel of John have stated that this passage was "certainly not part of the original text of St John's Gospel."[i]

Bart D. Ehrman, is an American professor and scholar, currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is one of North America's leading scholars in his field, having written and edited 30 books, including three college textbooks. Ehrman's work focuses on textual criticism of the New Testament, the historical Jesus, and the development of early Christianity. Ehrman agrees it is a corruption in his book Misquoting Jesus, explaining that the words and phrases used in the passage, were not in accordance with John’s style, and wordings.[ii]

The passage is telling the story of how Jesus was teaching at the temple when an adulteress was brought to him. Those that brought her to Jesus reminded how Moses had stated the law for such a crime, was that she should be stoned. They then asked Jesus what he had to say about it, and Jesus told the people that the one that had no sin could be the first to cast the first stone, and none of them were without sin, so they walked away without punishing the woman.

After discussing the textual issue of this passage, later in this article, I will also explain a conundrum resulting from this passage about the laws of the Old Testament vs. the fact that in this passage Jesus contradicts those laws, more in depth..

John 7:53-8:11 reads:

53 “And every man went unto his own house.”

8:1 “Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. 2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. 3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, 4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? 6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. 7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. 8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. 9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? 11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

There are 267 Greek manuscripts, which are the earliest versions, and are considered the most important by textual analysts, and none of those 267 contain this passage. Newer Bibles that were compiled, and wrote after the more ancient manuscripts were discovered, either omit the passage or add a note along with the passage, stating it was not found in the more ancient manuscripts. See image below for an example of such note as found in the New International Version (NIV).

John 7.53 8.11 KJV NIV Pericope of Adulteress

Another very interesting and important footnote, is found at the bottom of the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition Bible (RSVCE) below.

John 7.53 8.11 RSVCE Pericope of Adulteress 

Footnote ‘b’, says it is ‘regarded’ as ‘inspired’… BY THE CHURCH, and even states that it believed that it was not written by John. It seems suspicious for the ‘church’ to claim ‘inspiration’ out of thin air with no documented proof from the earliest manuscripts. If it isn’t written by John, and the author is unknown for the verse, how can they claim it to be ‘inspired’?

History of the Text

Papyrus66 excluding John 7.53 8.12

This passage is not in the early Greek manuscripts. It is also not found in Papyrus 66 (P66) or Papyrus (P75) which are dated to be from the 100s or early 200s. The important codices ‘L’ and ‘Delta’ do not contain the passage either. It is also not found in the Sinaiticus or Vaticanus from the 300s. The first Greek & Latin manuscript to have it was the Codex Bezae from the 400s or 500s, which contained both the Greek and Latin translations side by side.

Both Catholic and Protestant scholars in the 16th century wanted to search for the most accurate Greek versions instead of depending on the Vulgate Latin one, and they discovered that John lacked the passage. Interestingly, in the Greek Church lectionary, it goes from John 7:37-8:12, BUT… skips over the twelve verses of the periscope.

Majority of the modern translations include it, while some of them add a note to it, indicating it had no witnesses in the ancient manuscripts.

Ancient texts that do not have the pericope

Papyri 66 (c. 200) and 75 (early 3rd century); Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (4th century), also apparently Alexandrinus and Ephraemi (5th), Codices Washingtonianus and Borgianus also from the 5th century, Athous Lavrensis (c. 800), Petropolitanus Purpureus, Macedoniensis, and Koridethi from the 9th century and Monacensis from the 10th; Uncials 0141 and 0211; Minuscules 3, 12, 15, 21, 22, 32, 33, 36, 39, 44, 49, 63, 72, 87, 96, 97, 106, 108, 124, 131, 134, 139, 151, 157, 169, 209, 213, 228, 297, 388, 391, 401, 416, 445, 488, 496, 499, 501, 523, 537, 542, 554, 565, 578, 584, 703, 719, 723, 730, 731, 736, 741, 742, 768, 770, 772, 773, 776, 777, 780, 799, 800, 817, 827, 828, 843, 896, 989, 1077, 1080, 1100, 1178, 1230, 1241, 1242, 1253, 1333, 2106, 2193, 2768 and 2907; the majority of lectionaries; some Old Latin, the majority of the Syriac, the Sahidic dialect of the Coptic, the Garima Gospels and other Ethiopic witnesses, the Gothic, some Armenian, Georgian mss. of Adysh (9th century); Diatessaron (2nd century); apparently Clement of Alexandria (died 215), other Church Fathers namely Tertullian (died 220), Origen (died 254), Cyprian (died 258), Nonnus (died 431), Cyril of Alexandria (died 444) and Cosmas (died 550).[iii]

Now, for the conundrum I mentioned earlier that I said I would discuss, that this passage causes.

The Mosaic Law vs. the Ruling from Jesus

Now, if we were to accept this passage of the periscope to be true, it would be a direct contradiction to the words attributed to Jesus in Matthew 5:17-19.

Matthew 5.17 19 NIV Not to abolish the OT Laws

Think about the extent of Jesus placing such importance on NOT changing any of the Old Testament laws. He stated that it is not to be changed by even one letter, until the earth disappears! Christians tend to say this is not what is meant by this verse, but if you look at the Christian scholar commentaries, found on Christian Bible websites, you will see for example in the Matthew Henry Bible Commentary (as seen below), how Henry affirms that he is in fact referring to the Old Testament laws, and that they should not be changed, as they are correct.

Matthew 5.17 19 Not to abolish the OT Laws Matthew Henry Commentary

Also worth pondering over is that if we accept the passage of the pericope of the adulteress, that means Jesus was changing that law that he was urging and demanding that it would not and should not be changed until the earth disappeared, and if anyone does, they would be considered the least in the Kingdom of Heaven…so that would suggest that Jesus would be considered the least in the Kingdom of Heaven himself! Surely you can see what a conundrum this makes. Jesus would not lower his status in heaven by doing such.

Now, what exactly did the Mosaic laws state, in the Old Testament that Jesus said not to change in relation to this passage?

The passages relate to the punishment of death, even stoning, to be given for adultery. The verses of Deuteronomy 22:22-24 and Leviticus 20:10 agree on the punishment, which contradicts the punishment found in the pericope.

Deut 22.22 24 Stone the adulterer   Leviticus 20.10 adulterers to be killed

Now, should we follow the words of Jesus in Matthew, which has foundation in manuscripts, or do we follow the words of Jesus in verses not found in the ancient manuscripts? Which is the more logical answer? The pericope of the adulteress is easily a corruption invented later and inserted into the Bible.

Related Recommended Reading:

Bible Corruption Series: Part 1 – Intro to Bible Version Differences

Bible Corruption Series: Part 2 – 1 John 5:7-8, The Three That Bear Record in Heaven

Bible Corruption Series: Part 3 - John 7:53-8:11, Pericope of the Adulteress

Bible Corruption Series: Part 4 - Mark 16:9-20, Resurrection of Jesus

Bible Corruption Series: Part 5 - Conflicting Gospels on the Empty Tomb & Ascension to Heaven

Is the Crucifixion of Jesus Really Foretold in the Old Testament?

The Corruption of the Torah


Other Recommended Reading:

Read Bibles Online & How to Use Them in Dawah

Do Muslims Believe in the Bible?

The Corruption of the Torah

Bible Versions List & Manuscript Sources



[i] 'Pericope adulterae', in FL Cross (ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[ii] Bart D. Ehrman in Misquoting Jesus, (HarperCollins. NY, 2005), p. 65

[iii] Wikipedia, Manuscript Evidence  

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