Patristic Evidence

Jerome on John 8:1-11 (386 A.D.)

Exerpted from: St. Jerome, Contra Pelagius,
Book II, Section 17 (386 A.D.)

Page Index

Last Updated: Feb 15, 2009

Introduction: - Jerome, John 8:1-11, and Textual Critics
Section 1: - Jerome, Against Pelagius 2:17 (Latin Text)
Section 2: - Jerome, Against Pelagius 2:17 (Engish Text)

Return to Index


Jerome: 4th century Scholar,
Translator of the Vulgate

Saint Jerome

Born at Stridon, a town on the confines of Dalmatia and Pannonia, about the year 340-2; died at Bethlehem, 30 September, 420.

He went to Rome, probably about 360, where he was baptized, and became interested in ecclesiastical matters. From Rome he went to Trier, famous for its schools, and there began his theological studies. Later he went to Aquileia, and towards 373 he set out on a journey to the East. He settled first in Antioch, where he heard Apollinaris of Laodicea, one of the first exegetes of that time and not yet separated from the Church.

From 374-9 Jerome led an ascetical life in the desert of Chalcis, south-west of Antioch. Ordained priest at Antioch, he went to Constantinople (380-81), where a friendship sprang up between him and St. Gregory of Nazianzus.

From 382 to August 385 he made another sojourn in Rome, not far from Pope Damasus. When the latter died (11 December, 384) his position became a very difficult one. His harsh criticisms had made him bitter enemies, who tried to ruin him. After a few months he was compelled to leave Rome.

By way of Antioch and Alexandria he reached Bethlehem, in 386. He settled there in a monastery near a convent founded by two Roman ladies, Paula and Eustochium, who followed him to Palestine. Henceforth he led a life of asceticism and study; but even then he was troubled by controversies, one with Rufinus and the other with the Pelagians.

Literary Chronology for Jerome

The literary activity of St. Jerome, although very prolific, may be summed up under a few principal heads: works on the Bible; theological controversies; historical works; various letters; translations. But perhaps the chronology of his more important writings will enable us to follow more easily the development of his studies.

A first period extends to his sojourn in Rome (382), a period of preparation. From this period we have the translation of the Homilies of Origen on Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah (379-81), and about the same time the translation of the Chronicle of Eusebius; then the "Vita S. Pauli, prima eremitae" (374-379).

A second period extends from his sojourn in Rome to the beginning of the translation of the OT from the Hebrew (382-390). During this period the exegetical vocation of St. Jerome asserted itself under the influence of Pope Damasus, and took definite shape when the opposition of the ecclesiastics of Rome compelled the caustic Dalmatian to renounce ecclesiastical advancement and retire to Bethlehem.

Jerome's Latin Vulgate (Common Translation into Latin)

In 384 we have the correction of the Latin version of the Four Gospels; in 385, the Epistles of St. Paul; in 384, a first revision of the Latin Psalms according to the accepted text of the Septuagint (LXX) (-> the Roman Psalter); in 384, the revision of the Latin version of the Book of Job, after the accepted version of the LXX; between 386 and 391 a 2nd revision of the Latin Psalter, this time according to the text of the "Hexapla" of Origen (Gallican Psalter, embodied in the Vulgate). It is doubtful whether he revised the entire version of the Old Testament according to the Greek of the Septuagint.

In 382-383 "Altercatio Luciferiani et Orthodoxi" and "De perpetua Virginitate B. Mariae; adversus Helvidium". In 387-388, Commentaries on the Epistles to Philemon, to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to Titus; and in 389-390, on Ecclesiastes.

Between 390 and 405, St. Jerome gave all his attention to the translation of the Old Testament according to the Hebrew, but this work alternated with many others. Between 390-394 he translated the Books of Samuel and of Kings, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Esdras, and Paralipomena.

In 390 he translated the treatise "De Spiritu Sancto" of Didymus of Alexandria; in 389-90, he drew up his "Quaestiones hebraicae in Genesim" and "De interpretatione nominum hebraicorum."

In 391-92 he wrote the "Vita S. Hilarionis", the "Vita Malchi, monachi captivi", and commentaries on Nahum, Micheas, Sophonias, Aggeus, Habacuc.

In 392-93, "De viris illustribus", and "Adversus Jovinianum"; in 395, commentaries on Jonas and Abdias;

in 398, revision of the remainder of the Latin version of the New Testament, and about that time commentaries on chapters 13-23 of Isaiah; in 398, an unfinished work "Contra Joannem Hierosolymitanum";

in 401, "Apologeticum adversus Rufinum"; between 403-406, "Contra Vigilantium"; finally from 398 to 405, completion of the version of the Old Testament according to the k/07176a.htm">Hebrew.

In the last period of his life, from 405 to 420, St. Jerome took up the series of his commentaries interrupted for seven years. In 406, he commented on Osee, Joel, Amos, Zacharias, Malachias; in 408, on Daniel; from 408 to 410, on the remainder of Isaias; from 410 to 415, on Ezechiel; from 415-420, on Jeremias. From 401 to 410 date what is left of his sermons; treatises on St. Mark, homilies on the Psalms, on various subjects, and on the Gospels; and in 415, "Dialogi contra Pelagianos".

(Catholic Encycl. Online)

Jerome and Modern Textual Critics

Jerome is rarely given more than a single sentence in any discussion of the authenticity of John 8:1-11. But this is an absurd way of handling the evidence, as will become obvious.

Critics who have already decided for themselves that John 8:1-11 is to be treated as an 'interpolation' naturally downplay the difficulty that Jerome's testimony creates for their view.

Metzger for instance, completely avoids mentioning Jerome at all in his discussion of John 8:1-11 in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament , (1971, + 4th ed. rev. 1994).

Tregelles only tells us "It is mentioned by Jerome as being found in many copies." ( An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek NT (London, 1854), pp. 236-243.)

Hort gives Jerome a single line in over 10 pages of discussion on John 8:1-11 in his Introduction:

'According to Hier., l. c.,

"in the Gospel according to John many MSS, both Greek and Latin, contain an account of an adulterous woman..."

& etc.: at the close he implies that the narrative belonged to Scripture.'

(Hort, Notes on Selected Readings, p. 82)

Of critics rejecting the verses as an 'insertion', only Streeter perceives the necessity of dealing with Jerome at length. He spends several pages discussing for instance the tricky question of whether Jerome's testimony regarding Lucian's 'recension' should be taken to imply that Lucian left out or included John 8:1-11. (The Four Gospels, e.g., pp. 43-44, 112f, 116, 121 etc.) More on Streeter can be had here:

Streeter on John 8:1-11 <-- Click Here for Streeter

Even those defending the Pericope De Adultera (John 8:1-11) as authentic to the Gospel and authored by John seem to have been content with citing a single line from Jerome's rather copious evidence regarding the text. This may be in part due to the historical difficulty of getting at the texts of the early fathers (books containing the early fathers were rare, expensive, and usually incomplete).

The 'Spin' Game

The lengths to which critics are willing to go in the process of adding 'spin' to Jerome's testimony is well illustrated by R. H. Lightfoot :

"On the other hand, the story certainly was known at least as early as the 3rd century. Thus, in addition to some less decisive evidence, several Old Latin MSS contain the section at this point; and Jerome, who says, apparently with some surprise, that the passage 'is found in many Greek and Latin codices', included it here in his Vulgate version."

- A Commentary with RV Text (Oxford 1957)

Does Jerome really mention the inclusion of the passage in many manuscripts both Greek and Latin "apparently with some surprise"?

This is a critically important question which requires a careful examination of the entire passage and context in which Jerome is writing, as well as some familiarity with Jerome's thinking and writing style.

So we here present the entire passage in both Latin and English translation, in order to clarify what if any additional nuances of meaning Jerome could have reasonably intended in his sensitive and detailed treatment of John 8:1-11.

Return to Index

Against Pelagius
Book 2, Chapter 17

Latin Text

The Latin text is as we have found it, except for formatting. We have split the "Chapter" into subsections ('Paragraphs') to show how Jerome's text naturally divides by content. We have also added paragraphs and quotation boxes, as well as color codes to help the reader follow the changes between where Jerome is talking and where he is quoting or paraphrasing Scripture.

The formatting conforms to our English translation below, to help researchers jump between the two.

We include the previous material leading up to the reference to John 8:1-11 so that the reader can get a flavour of how the topic is raised in Jerome's argument with the Pelagians, and his style of commentary here.

Caput 17

¶ 1.   Item ex Evangelica historia.---

"Non possum", ait, "ego facere a memet ipso aliquid, sed sicut audio, ita judico..."

(John. V, 30) .

Ariani objiciunt calumniam, sed respondet Ecclesia, ex persona hominis haec dici qui assumptus est. Tu e contrario loqueris;

Possum sine peccato esse, si voluero. Ille nihil potest ex se facere, ut hominis indicet veritatem. Tu potes omnia peccata vitare, ut adhuc in corpore constitutus --- esse te doceas.

¶ 2.   Negat fratribus et propinquis ire se ad scenopegiam; et postea scriptum est:

Ut autem ascenderunt fratres ejus, tunc et ipse ascendit ad solemnitatem, non manifeste, sed quasi in abscondito

(John. VII, 10)

Iturum se negavit, et fecit quod prius negaverat. Latrat Porphyrius, inconstantiae ac mutationis accusat, nesciens omnia scandala ad carnem esse referenda.

¶ 3.  

"Moyses", inquit, "dedit vobis legem, et nemo ex vobis facit legem"

(John. VII, 19)

utique possibilem, et tamen quod erat possibile, nemo impleverat, neque enim culpa imperantis est, sed fragilitas audientis, ut omnis mundus subditus fiat Deo.

Jerome: Pericope De Adultera

¶ 4.   In Evangelio secundum Johnnem in multis et Graecis et Latinis codicibus invenitur de adultera muliere, quae accusata est apud Dominum.

Accusabant autem et vehementer urgebant Scribae et Pharisaei, juxta legem eam lapidare cupientes. (John. VIII, 5-7)

At Jesus inclinans, digito scribebat in terra

(John. VIII, 6)

eorum videlicet qui accusabant, et omnium peccata mortalium, secundum quod scriptum est in Propheta: Relinquentes autem te, in terra scribentur (Jerem. XVII, 13) .


caput elevans dixit eis:
Qui sine peccato est vestrum,
primus mittat super eam lapidem

(John 8:7b) .

Hoc quod dicitur sine peccato, Graece scriptum est ---. Qui ergo dicit, aliud esse sine peccato, et aliud ---, aut Graecum sermonem novo verbo exprimat, aut si expressum est a Latinis, ut interpretationis veritas habet, perspicuum est --- nihil aliud esse, nisi sine peccato.

Et quia accusatores omnes fugerunt (dederat enim verecundiae eorum clementissimus judex spatium recedendi) rursumque in terra scribens, terramque despiciens: paulatim discedere, et oculos illius declinare coeperunt: solusque remansit cum muliere,

cui locutus est Jesus:
"Ubi sunt qui te accusabant?
Nemo te condemnavit? "
Quae ait: "Nullus, Domine. "
Respondit ei Jesus,
"nec ego te condemnabo.
Vade, et amodo noli peccare."

(John. 8:10b-11) .

Praecepit Dominus, ne ulterius peccaret, sicuti et alia similiter in Lege mandavit. Sed utrum ea fecerit, necne, Scriptura non dicit.

¶ 5.  

Return to Index

Contra Pelagius 2:17

English Text

We have translated afresh directly from the Latin text as found. We have attempted to translate as accurately and literally as possible, while still retaining clarity by use of English idiom, and by insertion of explanatory particles in round brackets ( ). Longer explanatory phrases not found in the Latin are placed in square brackets [ ].

In a few cases we have placed the original Latin word in round brackets ( ) beside the translation because it may be of interest or importance. In other cases, we have inserted the names of the parties referenced (e.g., Jesus) in round brackets to assist the reader in following Jerome's arguments.

We have noted Jerome's scripture references and quotations by modern chapter and verse. Where Jerome appears to be formally quoting a verse rather than paraphrasing, we have boxed it for emphasis. Mere words and phrases are left in the body of the text.

We have further subdivided the text into paragraphs, where it is apparent that Jerome either switches to a new topic (usually with a quotation) or moves on to another claim or point of contention with Pelagius. We have added a few headings to sections for ease of locating.

Color coding is used to indicate the words of Jesus (red), quoted dialogue (blue), or narrative (green).

¶ 1. ...Similarly from the Historical Gospel [i.e., the Traditional text of John]: 1

"I am not able", He said, "by Myself to do anything, but as I hear, so I judge"

(John. 5:30)

The Arians throw down a piece of sophistry; But the Church (Ecclesia) responds: "Spoken out of the nature (persona) of the man how (is) this to be taken?" 2

You, you speak from a contrary position;

I am able to engage in sin, if I will. That person (Jesus) is able to do nothing out of himself, so that He can (instead) reveal to man the truth. You (too) then are able to avoid every sin; even if until now residing in the body, you teach yourself to indulge. 3

¶ 2.   He (Jesus) denys that He himself will go to the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles to His brothers and relatives; Yet afterwards it is written:

'But after his brethren were gone up, then he also went up to the feast, undetected, but as if in concealment (abscondito)'

(John. 7:10) .

He has denied to those going (access to) Himself, and has done what He previously denied. So barks Porphyrius, "Inconsistency!" and charges 'fickleness', not knowing that every temptation of the flesh is being referenced. 4

¶ 3.  

"Moses", it is said, "has given you the law, and none of you keeps the law;"

(John. 7:19)

[And keeping the Law is] Certainly possible, and yet regarding what was possible, no one had (actually) fulfilled it; nor had fault been imputed, but weakness of hearing (cf. Mark 4:11, Matt. 13:13-14 etc.), so that the whole world might be subordinated to God. 5

Jerome on John 8:1-11

¶ 4.   Next in the Gospel of John in many codices both Greek and Latin is found the (story) of the Adulteress Woman, who was accused before the Lord: 6

'They were seeking to accuse' (cf. John. 8:6), and they (of the scribes and of Pharisees)(John. 8:3) were pressing vehemently'(John 8:7), according to law wanting to stone (her). (cf. John 8:5) 7

'But Jesus bending down, with the finger was writing in the earth'

(John. 8:6b)

...That one may see what the accusation was, and every mortal sin; secondly, regarding what is written in the Prophets: 'Your apostacy moreover, into the earth will be written.' (cf. Jer. 17:13) 8

At last,

lifting up His head He said to them:
"Whichever of you is without sin,
first may cast upon her the stone."

(John. 8:7b) .

This, regarding which it says "without sin", in Greek (also) it is written --. how therefore does it say, another to be without sin? And another thing - whether in Greek conversation a new proverb is expressed, or if it is expressed in Latin, so if the interpretation has any truth, it is transparent; - nothing else it can be, if not "without sin". 9

And because the accusers have all fled (the merciful judge having given the time needed to withdraw for their conscience sake) :(cf. John. 8:9)

- He turned back to the earth writing:(John. 8:8) ( - to the earth in distain) Little by little they withdrew, (cf. John. 8:9) and averting the eye they commenced: (And) He remaining alone with the woman, (cf. John. 8:10a) 10

Jesus spoke to her,
"Where are those accusing you?
Has the no one condemned you?"

She replied, " No one, Lord."

Jesus answered her,
"Nor will I condemn you.
Go, and henceforth do not sin. "
(John. 8:10b- 11)

The Lord's Warning - not to sin again, is just as in another similar story where He so commanded (cf. John 5:14). 11 But whether she fulfilled it (Jesus' command), or not, Scripture does not say. 12

¶ 5.   ...

Return to Index

Modern Footnotes

Footnotes courtesy of Nazaroo:

1. Jerome makes it clear from the start that he is quoting the standard text of John's Gospel, by underlining the aspect of its historically accepted text. This is important for evaluating Jerome's handling of the Pericope de Adultera, which shortly follows.

Jerome is also giving the 'heads up' that he is carefully quoting Scripture verbatum here, a requirement for making subtle points of argument that hinge upon the text and its interpretation. Jerome is meticulous in his accuracy, when it counts.

2. Although Jerome is here refuting the Pelagian doctrine, not the Arians, who deny Jesus' Godhead and demote Jesus to the status of a mere man, he makes an interesting and brilliant choice of Scripture here to refute Pelagius. He first shows that other heretics have misread the passage, in contrast to the Church's position, then follows through with a remarkable insight.

3. Jerome (seemingly effortlessly!) reveals that this Scripture, rather than making Jesus 'inferior', sets Jesus aside as unique in being both sinless and even "unable to sin". With this first deadly stroke of genius, Jerome has already fatally wounded the Pelagian position on sin regarding the rest of mankind.

Jerome then trivially twists the knife he has thrust through Pelagius by observing that men can and do sin (something Pelagius can hardly deny), with the plain implication of free will and accountability for sin, while noting in passing that Pelagius himself is guilty of sin.

4. Jerome's terseness here once again may mislead the modern reader into thinking Jerome has failed to address the problem. Quite the opposite is true:

Jerome intends the reader to see the subtle distinction between participating in the feast, which in the form practiced by the time of Christ is corrupt and sinful, and using the opportunity created by the gathering of the tribes to teach truth.

Thus Jesus cannot "attend" the feast, but can nonetheless present Himself and His message to the people independantly in the Temple, and even fulfill the legal requirements of the "Festival of Booths" by staying on the Mount of Olives, and sharing ritual meals with His disciples.

Jesus, incapable of sin (re: previous paragraph), cannot participate in the Feast with the people, who remain guilty of every manner of sin. Jerome refutes various critics, while building his case against the Pelagian doctrine regarding sin.

5. Again, what appears terse, if not weak, is remarkable if not surprising in its directness and impact upon the Pelagian position. It is true that no one (Israelite) has kept the Law according to Jesus' statement here. And yet the deeper implication is not just imposing, but overwhelming in the end:

God through Moses indeed gave the Law, intending it to be kept, and expecting the Israelites to make the most sincere effort to do so. This historical truth is undeniable. Jesus' observation of the scandalous failure of the Israelites only makes the Pelagian position more unbearable.

If the Law really was not intended to be kept, and the people were truly powerless to do so, then the whole enterprise of God through Moses becomes an ironic farce, and worse: it is also a horrific tragedy which makes God out to be some kind of insane monster.

In contrast to this impossible interpretation, Jerome presents the standard New Testament position: God in His mercy has interpreted the failure of the Israelites as "dimness of hearing", and through this failure has opened salvation to the whole world.

In truth, says Jerome, men can refrain from sin and should do so. And the historical failure of the Israelites was foreseen and used by God, even mediated with compassion by the grace of God, to bless all of humankind. But this is not equivalent to excusing sin generally. Sin remains sin, and human beings remain a free agents responsible for their actions and accountable for sin.

6. By this remark we should not read into Jerome any claim that the manuscripts were "many" yet in the minority. The plain sense of the Latin here is that copies WITH the verses were in the majority.

Jerome's appeal to these 'many manuscripts both Greek and Latin' would be vain and self-defeating had he not been able to rely upon independant verification of his claim.

Contrary to R. H. Lightfoot's claim that Jerome was 'apparently surprised', it is obvious that writing late in 415 A.D. after a lifetime of studying and collating manuscripts from all over the empire, Jerome was very confident about and not in any state of potential amazement over the contents and state of the New Testament text, in Greek or in Latin.

Nor is Jerome speaking as a modern textual critic would, making observations to inform his readers.

He is here plainly acting in the role of apologist for orthodox/catholic doctrine regarding sin. He makes the "text-critcial" remark in passing, in support of his argument and his use of this passage in debate. He fully expects his readers to be aware of the fact, and capable of checking if they are unsure of its veracity.

Finally, it is a sad observation that Jerome's remark has been grudgingly acknowledged by textual critics, while the copious evidence Jerome provides regarding the actual textual variants, (for both the Greek and Latin text) have been completely ignored.

One has to suspect that a large number of 'textual critics' are not really in the business of reconstructing the text at all, but are rather in the business of polemics against the traditional text of the NT.

7. Jerome skips over 7:53-8:2 completely, ignoring its textual setting and context in order to get to the story proper.

Now Jerome will follow a pattern he repeatedly practises. He paraphrases the first 3 verses (8:3-6a) in order to get to the important spot (8:6b), then stops and carefully quotes the key verse or section.

In this short paragraph Jerome does this three times.

8. Jerome has Jesus pointing His finger to sin in distain or disgust. The implication for the Pelagians is clear. They, like the Pharisees and scribes in the story, are guilty, and accountable.

Its almost as though Jerome has literally picked up Jesus while pointing and used Jesus as a pointer to the Pelagian doctrine as heresy.

Jerome does this so boldly, forcefully and tersely that there can be no doubt that he is utterly committed to the authenticity and authority of John 8:1-11.

Jerome links Jesus writing in the earth directly to:

'Oh Lord, the hope of Israel,
all who forsake you will be put to shame;
Those who turn away from you
will be written in the dust!

because they have forsaken the Lord,
the Spring of Living Water

(Jer. 17:13)

Here, as elsewhere, Jerome will be referencing the LXX (Greek) O.T. text.

Like Jerome's other choices, this scripture again directly confronts apostacy, the very topic unavoidably raised in the heretical dispute between Jerome and the Pelagians.

9. Now Jerome forces the attention of the Pelagians to the simple adjective phrase, "without sin". Whether they Pelagians appeal to the Greek or the Latin, the meaning of the phrase is the same, and utterly certain.

The question now becomes, what is its import in this quotation from Jesus?

Jerome would answer (or leave the reader to observe), nothing more or less than what Jesus has stated: There could potentially be someone in the crowd who is free of sin at least in the 'classical' (legal) sense. For how else could the law have ever been carried out at all in any sense whatever in the past?

Just as Jesus has left the scribes and Pharisees to sort out the meaning of His pronouncement, likewise Jerome skips stating his own point here overtly. Instead, he moves ahead to the next few verses to (again) let Scripture itself do the work for him!

And the next few verses focus on the scribes and Pharisees, and their own realization that they were wrong, guilty of sin, and were being allowed to quietly retreat. Never has a selected Scripture so eloquently proposed in double-entendre what Jerome is here offering the Pelagians in a kind of 'history repeating itself' way.

Jerome's handling of the Holy text here is almost frightening in its power and subtlety.

10. Again Jerome paraphrases, in order to save time. He omits no critical content, but actually elaborates the text, while somehow keeping it short, so that he can move to the finale, in which he switches back to direct and careful quotation.

But none of the meat has been removed. The understanding and attitude of the scribes and Pharisees is underscored, in a way that confronts the Pelagians and asks for a similar response from them.

11. Both the serious command to the woman, and its harmony with and support from other Johannine scripture is again underlined for the Pelagians.

This time Jerome does not even ask, "What does 'Sin no more' imply?".

The meaning of the command is so self-evident that comparing it with the Pelagian doctrine is superfluous.

12. Jerome's final observation is dripping with irony (And vitriolic irony is something Jerome is famous for). Could Jerome actually be smirking here?

"But whether she fulfilled it (Jesus' command), or not,
Scripture does not say."

At first, like every other quotation Jerome has used throughout the argument, this seems to give surface support to the Pelagian position. Does the woman really go off and never commit sin again?

Yet Scripture is strangely silent, right where the Pelagians would hope and expect for a sign, some indication of confirmation of their doctrine regarding sin.

The Scriptural cup just sits empty for them.

Instead, what the Pelagians (and the reader) are left with is the plain fact of Jesus' command, supported elsewhere also, to "Sin no more.", hanging forever in the air before them, and ringing loudly in their ears.

Having now examined in detail Jerome's usage of John 8:1-11, we can make several final observations.

(1) Jerome could not have credibly engaged in a protracted debate with the Pelagians and used this scripture unless the Pelagians also recognized it as authoritative. The indications are that they not only knew this scripture, but had attempted to use statements made in it by Jesus in support of their own peculiar doctrines regarding sin and grace. This is strong evidence in support of the popularity and authority of John 8:1-11, both among catholic Christians and Pelagians too.

(2) Jerome's confidence in his own arguments using this scripture show that he was convinced of swaying his catholic hearers, if not the Pelagians. This means also that he believed that John 8:1-11 was prevalent among catholics and orthodox in the East and West. And who would know this better than Jerome?

Return to Index