Last Updated:

Aug 13, 2010

Whitney on the PA

Excerpt from: S.W. Whitney, The Revisers' Greek Text:, Vol. II (Boston, 1892) p. 39-41

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Whitney: - On the PA
    Modern Notes - from Nazaroo

Whitney on the PA

Revisors' Greek Text: Vol. II, p. 39-41

John 7:53 — 8:11: If the genuineness of this paragraph respecting the woman taken in adultery is to be decided by an appeal to documentary evidence, it cannot be maintained. That evidence, as it now stands, is clearly against the passage as a part of John's Gospel.

Of all the Greek manuscripts that have come down to us from a date prior to the 8th century, the only one that contains the passage is Codex Bezae (D), 1 which is noted "for its numberless and strange deviations from other authorities," especially for its "many bold and extensive interpolations." 1

The only ancient versions that contain the passage are the Old Latin manuscripts b (1st hand), c, e, ff2, g, j, the margin of l, and the Vulgate and Ethiopic Versions, to which may be added the later Slavonic, Anglo-Saxon, Persic, and Arabic Versions, which were obtained mainly or wholly through the Latin. 2

Of the Greek Fathers, Euthymius, of the 12th century, is the first to notice the passage as a part of John's Gospel. 3

The Apostolic Constitutions, of the 3rd or 4th century, alludes to the story of a woman accused before the Lord of many sins; so does Eusebius, following Papias; but he did not consider it as a part of Scripture. 4

Besides, the copies that contain the paragraph vary among themselves in their readings more than in any other part of the New Testament. 5

All of which circumstances naturally lead one to conclude that the passage is not a proper part of the Fourth Gospel.

- And yet, as Scrivener says,

..."while it is absent from too many excellent copies not to have been wanting in some of the very earliest, the arguments in its favor, internal even more than external, are so powerful, that we can scarcely be brought to think it an unauthorized appendage to the writings of one, who in another of his inspired books deprecated so solemnly the adding to or taking away from the blessed testimony he was commissioned to bear." 1

And one of the foremost of American NT scholars (Dr. Kendrick) has well said,

" Uniting the internal with the external difficulties, the numerous varieties of reading (always suspicious) and the absence of the passage from so many manuscripts, versions, and Fathers, the case is strong against it — only, however, against its genuineness here in John.

That it is, if not Johannean, at least apostolic, and describes a real and most remarkable incident in the life of our Lord, cannot be well doubted; there is none in the record of our Saviour's life that is more completely lifted above any conception which belonged to the men of his time, and more completely beyond the probability of fabrication.

In the Lord's answer to his accusers, by his ready escaping from the snares laid for him, and that subtle appeal to their consciences, which, by placing the lustful feeling on a virtual equality with the outward act (as Matt. 5:28 ff.), dissolved the accusation and dispersed the accusers ; and in his subsequent treatment of the woman, his separating his mission, on the one hand, from human civil tribunals, and his assertion of his divine relation as not here to condemn and punish, but to pity and save, it proves itself worthy of a place — however it got there — in the heart of the most spiritual of the Gospels." 2

And Dean Burgon, in reference to this passage, says,

"I am convinced that the first occasion of the omission of those memorable verses was the lectionary practice of the primitive Church, which, on Whitsunday, read from S. John 7:37 to Jn. 8:12, leaving out the twelve verses in question. Those verses, from the nature of the contents, as Augustine declares, easily came to be viewed with dislike or suspicion. The passage, however, is as old as the second century, for it is found in certain copies of the Old Latin.

Moreover, Jerome 6 deliberately gave it a place in the Vulgate." 3

This seems to be a very reasonable view, if not the real explanation, of the omission of the passage and of the various readings found in connection with it. We should be slow to have the passage stricken from the Bible.

1. Scrivener, Introduction, p. 126, p. 610.

2 A. C. Kendrick, D.D., Amer. Ed. of Meyer's Gospel of John, pp. 294-5.

3. Burgon, The Last Twelve Verses of Mark, p. 219.

Nazaroo's Modern Footnotes:

1. It should also be noted that the text of Bezae is also very ancient, being pre-Vulgate (c. 392 A.D.). Its witness reaches much further back than its nominal estimated date of manufacture in the early 5th cent. Many of its readings are demonstrably very old, i.e., circa 2nd century.

2. The Old Latin text is also estimated to be at least as old as the 2nd century, placing its readings prior to this. The collective "Western" evidence suggests the PA was a part of John in the Latin traditions from about this date.

3. We now have Greek witnesses such as Didymus the Blind (c. 350 A.D.) citing the PA in a commentary on Eccles. Many other early fathers, including Pacian (Spain), Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine also cite it as part of John's Gospel. The distinction between "Latin" and "Greek" writers is difficult to maintain, since Jerome for instance travelled to Constantinople and searched out the most ancient and reliable copies there in 392 A.D., for his Latin translation, and later moved to Palestine.

4. Modern critics are still divided as to whether Papias (in Eusebius) refers to our passage or another similar story.

5. This claim is at least partly based upon counting the numerous quirks of Codex Bezae, even when they are singular readings, and some are based on the Latin side of this bilingual manuscript. If this manuscript were used in other passages, the variant readings would be doubled in those places also...

6. The testimony of Jerome should not be underestimated: He not only prepared the Latin Vulgate NT in 392 A.D., he travelled across the Empire to acquire the most ancient and reliable Greek copies for his translation. These MSS would be perhaps 100 years older than our extant 4th century uncials. Jerome also described the state of the Greek and Latin text in his own time, stating that "many copies, both Greek and Latin," contained the Story of the Adulteress.

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