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John 8:1-11

From:  (Nigel B. Mitchell)
Newsgroups: aus.religion.christian
Subject: John 8:1-11
Date: Mon, 09 Nov 1998 08:04:18 GMT

John 8:1-11 is a passage that comes up for discussion on the
newsgroup quite often.

I am doing some work on the Jesus Seminar at the moment, and I
thought it might be interesting to note what the Seminar says
about this passage. The whole passage is printed in grey (except,
being Americans, they call it 'gray'), which means "This
information is possible, but unreliable. It lacks supporting
evidence". In other words, the Jesus Seminar concluded that this
event did not take place precisely as it is described in John
8:1-11, but it is quite possible that the passage does bear some
resemblance to a real event and/or teaching in the ministry of

This is what the Seminar says about John 8:1-11 in the commentary
(Funk, et.al (1998) The Acts of Jesus, pp. 397-9).

---begin quote--

This fascinating little anecdote is an intrusion into the Gospel
of John. The earliest manuscripts of John do not have it, and
modern scholars are virtually unanimous in concluding that it was
not an original part of the Fourth Gospel. It does not match the
style of John and it breaks the flow of text from 7:52 to 8:12.
In ancient manuscripts, moreover, its position is not fixed: it
sometimes appears in John between 7:52 and 8:12, but it is also
found in other locations in John - after 7:36, after 7:44, and at
the end of the Gospel. It even appears in one group of
manuscripts after Luke 21:38. It does not have a fixed canonical
If it is a "stray" or "orphan" text, how is it to be assessed? Is
it an old story or a late legend? Can it possibly reflect
anything Jesus did or said?
The story appears to have been well known in the ancient church.
Eusebius of Caesarea reports that Papias, another early Christian
scholar, knew the story of a woman accused of sin, a story that
was recorded in the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Eusebius
lived in the third/fourth centuries CE. Papias died ca. 130 CE.
The Gospel of the Hebrews was probably composed some time in the
early second century CE. A third century document known as the
"Didascalia Apostolorum" (The teaching of the Apostles) has an
unmistakable reference to the story. The Didascalia originated in
Syria, which means that the story was probably known in oral form
in Syria by the late second century. However Augustine (354-430
CE) and Ambrose (339-397 CE) regarded it as part of the Gospel,
Jerome (342-420 CE) included it in the Vulgate, the official
Bible of the Roman catholic Church. There can be little doubt
that the story is quite old.
... Roman Catholic scholars have tended to assume its canonicity
because it was included in the Latin Vulgate. They are therefore
obligated to treat it as scripture. Critical scholars, both
Proptestant and Catholic, have tended to exclude it from
consideration for the simple reason that it did not really belong
to any of the canonical gospels. 
As the testimony of Eusebius and Papias indicates, the story of
the accused woman had been circulating orally in the second
century. ...
In the story, Jesus is presented with a question designed to trap
him. Should we stone her as ordered by the Law of Moses? If Jesus
said "no", he would be contravening the Mosaic code; if he said
"Yes", he might have been endorsing a mob action - especially if
the Romans had removed the jurisdiction for capital crimes from
the Jewish authoritites. Or Jesus may have been acting against
what his opponents perceived to be his open association with
propstitutes. In either case the trap posed an uncomfortable
dilemma. Jesus circumvents the dilemma by inviting his opponents
to comply with the ancient codes but to do so only insofar as
they are themselves without guilt.
It is unclear why the woman is brought to Jesus in the first
place. He had no authority to adjudicate the case. Was he being
asked to endorse mob action? Or is the anecdote a hypothetical
problem presented to Jesus that was later turned into a fictional
As it stands, the secene is an artificial construction. Elements
of it may reflect something Jesus did and said, but as a whole it
is not the report of a specific event. Yet because of Jesus' open
association with sinners, and his unqualified willingness to
endorse mercy on every occasion, the story merited at least a
gray rating.

--end quote--



Nigel B. Mitchell


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