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Aug 13, 2010

Hengstenberg on the PA

Excerpt from: E.W. Hengstenberg, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, (Edinb., 1865)

Page Index

Pericope Adultera - E.W. Hengstenberg
    The Dilemma - non-Johannine External Evidence
    Internal Evidence - Foreign Style, Sermonizing Purpose
    Non-Historicity - Ecclesiastical Content
    'Pious' Forgery - historically attached to John
    Commentary - verse by verse
    Conclusion - An Anti-Nomist Purpose


John 7:53-8:11.

There can be no reasonable doubt that this section was not a component part of the original Gospel, but that it was introduced into it by another hand. It is wanting in so many and so important Codd. and MSS., that this of itself might be considered proof enough of its being spurious. We cannot, indeed, altogether and unconditionally agree with Bleek, when he says :

"It is not to be thought of, that anxiety lest the Redeemer's gentleness towards the adulteress might be abused by the unintelligent and thoughtless, was a sufficient reason why an entire genuine section of this Gospel should have been for many centuries, and in all parts of the Church, passed over in perfect silence, or actually struck out of the text of biblical manuscripts."

The supposed offence, — to which Augustine, although, indeed, with an "I suppose", referred, — is so great, that the impossibility of thus explaining the omission cannot be maintained with absolute confidence : especially as we know that dogmatical objections have availed to the omission of other passages from the manuscripts: compare with Jn. 5:3 fwd.

Meanwhile, what is given with the one hand is retracted with the other. Only well-grounded objection and offence could have had so pervasive an influence; and a narrative which furnishes such a stumblingblock could not possibly have proceeded from the Evangelist himself ; and our exposition will make it plain that there is in the account a stumblingblock which no explanation will explain away.

1. De Adulterinis Conjug. ii. 7 : Hoc videlicet infidelium sensus exborret, ita ut nonnulli modicse vel potius inimici verse fidei, credo, metuentes, peccandi impunitatem dari mulieribus suis, illud quod de adulterse indulgentia Dominus fecit, auferrent de codicibus suis.

Internal Evidence

Foreign Style, Sermonizing Purpose

Internal reasons tend in the same direction as the external. We find none of the peculiarities of John's style in the narrative.; on the other hand, every verse of it presents, as our exposition will show, something decidedly alien to his style. It is very suspicious, for instance, that the δε occurs in this short section no less than eleven times, heaped together in a manner of which there is no example elsewhere in his writings ; while, on the contrary, his favourite ουν is found only once. Moreover, all is at the very first glance intelligible and straightforward ; we have none of that mystical dark-in-bright which everywhere characterizes John's style, and none of that necessity to master the meaning of the writer by thoughtful reflection and pondering that we are accustomed to in his genuine productions.

Nor is it without significance that the narrative interrupts the connection. Both before it and after it we have matter which directly refers to the question whether Jesus were the Christ, the Son of God. Then, again, John's authorship js contradicted by the fact, that while the beginning of the account is borrowed from Luke, the motive of it was furnished by Paul. We have the starting-point in Rom. 2:1, where the Apostle says to the Jews :

"Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself ; for thou that judgest doest the same things:" comp. vers. Rom. 2:22, 23, & Rom. 3:23 ; "For there is no difference; for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."

These statements of the Apostle have here put on an historical vestment. Lampe cannot help observing that our narrative presents much similarity to the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Expositors of the middle ages declare plainly that the woman here represented heathenism, to which the grace of God, slighted by the Jews, was assigned by Christ. 2

The last and strongest argument is the offence we have already touched upon. If we look at the element of mercy in it, the narrative makes good what Lyser says:

Tota historia est mirifice consolatoria afflictis conscientiis, si quidem vident, ne infamem quidem adulteram a Christo rejici, modo agat poenitentiam.

The Saviour's love to poor sinners meets us in a most attractive form ; and the delight in judging others is most effectually condemned.

2. According to Rupert, the woman was a type of the Church which was to be gathered from the Gentiles, quae deserto vero suo Deo fornicata fuit cum Diis suis falsis et ab ipsa Judaeorum synagoga accusata, atque ad dignam ultionem saepius petitor, a Christo est absoluta, qui Synagogam etiam sub peccato conclusam esse redarguens, ostendit ab illa merito hanc non accusandam aut execrandam.

Hugo de St Victor, in the Annott. in Joan. I. i. c. 8, says : Mulier ista significat Gentilem ecclesiam a diabolo per culturam idolorum violatam. Hanc Judaei volunt lapidari, quia volunt eam damnari, dum invident eam gratiae coelestis participem fieri. — Grotius :
Recte autem notarunt veteres, in hac femina typum esse Ecclesiae ex gentibus idololatris colligendae, cui impertitam Dei misericordiam accusare Judaei non possent, si ipsi suos mores inspicerent.


Ecclesiastical Content

But then, on the other hand, if we regard the account as history (and it must be so regarded if we receive it as from John), it does offer a very real and palpable stumblingblock ; indeed, it is no less than offensive. Thinking only of his point, the author never reflected that what he gives in the form of history, must in that form awaken mistrust.

Hase strikingly remarks,

"The narrative bears the ordinary stamp of the better apocryphal writers, who give one side of our Lord's character aright, — indeed, display it gloriously, — but are wanting in that all-sided truth, which most effectually distinguishes between the actual occurrences of fact and the imagined incidents of fiction."

There can be no doubt that our narrative was originally written with the express purpose of being interpolated into the Gospel of John. We find the simple evidence of this in the verses, Jn. 7:53-8:2, which obviously serve no other purpose than to connect this supposed fact with what precedes, and to insert it fairly in the Gospel. How diligently and skilfully the writer accomplished this task, is proved by the fact, that several manuscripts which treat the section itself as spurious or suspicious, nevertheless acknowledge these verses as the Evangelist's [i.e., leave them in]; that Beza, who clearly perceived the spuriousness of the section, decided that these verses should be retained ; and that Wieseler, with others, defends them still.

It is going altogether on a wrong track to seek traces of the recognition of this passage elsewhere ; for instance, in what Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. iii. 39, records of Papias :

" He tells us also another history of a woman who was traduced before our Lord, as having committed many sins, which was contained in the Gospel secundum Hebraeos."

That narrative has nothing in common with ours. The Gentile-Christian tendency of the latter would be quite out of harmony with the Gospel of the Hebrews. The "many sins" there, and the one offence here, are clearly distinct and discordant. The διαβληθεισα leads us to think of a penitent sinner, like her of Luke 7:36 fwd., against whom her past forsaken and forgiven sins were wrongfully alleged. It could refer to no other charge than an unwarranted one.

2nd Century Forgery

'pious fraud' attached to John

It is the mistake of an unscientific and partial criticism, to say that our narrative was "a morsel of oral tradition, which had an actual fact in our Saviour's life for a foundation."

There is but one plain alternative : either John's authorship, or a symbolical fiction which sought to gain authority by obtaining insertion in the Gospel of John. We have felt obliged to declare decidedly for the latter. If we take the design of the fiction into consideration, we must assign the date of it to a period in which the conflict with Jews and Jewish Christians was in full vigour.

Only the most vivid polemical interest could have tempted any one to the bold expedient of usurping the apostolical authority, and putting interpolations into one of the holy Gospels. This requires us to keep within the limits of the 2nd century, in which the conflict that gendered the pia fraus ('pious fraud') was most excited (compare Graul's Christian Church on the Border of the Age of Irenaeus).

The fact that the interpolation found so much acceptance, points to a similarly early era. The Apostolical Constitutions towards the end of the 3rd century, are familiar with our narrative in its integrity (i. 2, 24) ; and this is all the more significant, from the fact already demonstrated, that it was originally written in order that it might be incorporated with the Gospel in the very place which it now occupies, and that it never had an independent existence. Wherever it has been given in any other connection, it has been certainly detached from its original place.


verse by verse

Jn 7:53. " And every man went unto his own house."

— Here we have a bootless circumstantiality ; and all the more out of place, inasmuch as John in this part of his Gospel is very sparing of words, and everywhere aims to record only those particulars which were adapted to place in a clear light the great conflict between Jesus and the Jews.

Moreover, it is very uncertain to what the "every man" refers, whether to the members of the council, who had been spoken of in what immediately precedes, or to the people generally. Probably the author thought of both at the same time, when he set the whole scene before his eyes. We cannot exclude the people, since the narrative of the combination of all parties again, in ver. 2, seems to correspond to their separation in this verse.

Jn 8:1-2. "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."

το ορος των Ελαιων is found in Matthew, who wrote for the Jewish Christians ; and in Mark, who depends upon him :το ορος καλουμενον Ελαιων, in Luke, when he first mentions it, Luke 19:29 ; again, after a considerable interval, in Luke 21:37 ; and in Acts 1:12, with a closer specification of its position.

In John the mountain is nowhere else alluded to ; and, according to all analogies, he would not have spoken so simply and unconditionally of "the Mount of Olives." ορθρος, ορθριος, ορθριζειν ("Dawn", LXX), is found only in Luke ; John uses instead, πρωι, πρωιας, πρωινος ("morning"), Rev. 2:28, 22:16. [?]

The words Ιησους - προς αυτον were doubtless put together on the basis of Luke 21:37-38:

ην δε τας ημερας εν τω ιερω διδασκων. τας δε νυκτας εχερχομενος ηυλιζετο εις το ορος το καλουμενον Ελαιων. Και πας ο λαος ωρθριζε προς αυτον εν τω ιερω ακουειν αυτου.

— To the και καθισας εδιδασκεν αυτους there are parallels only in the first three Gospels : compare Matt. 26:55 ; Mark 12:41 ; Luke 5:3. The passage in Luke agrees best ; and it is all the more obvious, to assume that the interpolator had this before his eyes, because the rest is taken from Luke.

Jn. 8:3-4. "And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto Him a woman taken in adultery ; and when they had set her in the midst, they say unto Him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act."

— The "scribes" are never elsewhere mentioned by John, which manifestly could not have been accidental. Nor does he ever refer to the νομικοι. He always contents himself with the general designation of Pharisees. To his first readers Judaism was already seen in the distance ; hence it was natural that he should enter as little as possible into the details of matters which were alien to them. The combination ol οι γραμματεις και οι Φαρισαιοι was probably introduced here from Luke 6:7 or Luke 11:53, where they occur in the same connection.

— In what distinctive character do the scribes and Pharisees come? Not merely as complainants, ver. 10, and as witnesses, whose business it was to make a commencement with the stoning. Acts 7:59 (compare Jn. 8:7), but also in part as judges, who, before they pronounce their decision, would have the opinion of Jesus. This is plain from the fact, that at the head of them came the scribes, who were called jurists; from the mention of the elders in ver. 9; and from the question of Jesus, "Hath no man condemned thee?" in ver. 10. — According to the Mosaic law, the adulterer and the adulteress were to die the death. Lev. 20:10. That the adulterer in the present case had escaped, is a very shallow supposition. The narrative takes no account of what had become of him; it has to do only with the adulteress, because she gave the author the type of heathenism, which forsook the Creator and served the creature, Rom. 1:25, and committed adultery with stone and wood, Jer. 3:9. — The forensic term επαυτοφωρω (Grotius: vox est Graeca forensis) does not seem to harmonize with the higher style of John.

Jn. 8:5. "But Moses commanded in the law that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?"

— Concerning the punishment of adultery, Moses speaks in Lev. 20:10 and Deut. 22:22. It is not without significance that in both passages not stoning, but death generally, is decreed; the latter passage, too, being in a context which introduces, before and after, stoning as the punishment of other offences: comp. vers. 21, 24. It appears that Moses, in regard to adultery, left the more exact specification of the mode of punishment to historical development, and the practice of the Jews was not in favour of stoning.

In the Talmud, Sanhedrim, ch. vii. 4, we do not find adultery among the offences enumerated as punishable with stoning; and, according to x. 4, the adulterers were to be impaled. It has, indeed, been supposed that stoning was the common capital punishment in the law ; and that as in certain cases it is expressly mentioned, Deut. xxii.; and that the woman would not be lightlier dealt with than the betrothed virgin, ver. 24. But this is unsound reasoning. Against the last instance Grotius remarks: Adulterium in sponsa gravius censebatur, cum in custodia mariti non esset.

At any rate, it is certain that stoning was not expressly commanded in the law, as might be gathered from the language of those who here cite Moses. And thus there does appear on the face of the narrative such a contradiction to Moses as could not have proceeded from the scribes and Pharisees.

Jn. 8:6. "This they said, tempting Him, that they might have to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground."

— Wherein consisted the temptation? In the estimation of the author, the scribes and the Pharisees doubtless thought that they would entangle Jesus in a contradiction to Moses, as in Matt. 19:3 fwd. It was supposed that Jesus, " the friend of publicans and sinners," would pronounce a milder Judgment on the adulteress than Moses had pronounced ; that He would make Himself worthy of stoning, by absolving one whom Moses condemned to be stoned. 1

That this was their aim is shown by the result, which did not correspond to the expectations of the scribes, only so far as and because their conscience was appealed to. Were the matter in question here the execution of criminal justice, it is not probable that the Pharisees would have laid such a snare for Christ. They could hardly think that He would place Himself in such direct and manifest antagonism to Moses, that He would oppose him in his own domain, and thus assault, so to speak, the God who had sent him. The Lord had never given any occasion for such an opinion of Himself as that. But this interpenetration of the spheres of law and gospel pervades the whole narrative, which, on that very account, loses all pretension to historical truth. — Why does Christ write upon the earth ? We might, with many of the old expositors, compare Jer. 17:13, "Those who depart from Me shall be written upon the earth :" - the earth, the place of perishableness ; whosoever is only written or inscribed there, has no citizenship in heaven, does not stand in God's book of life, and must pass away without a trace.

Jesus, on that supposition, must have written the names of the complainants. But the fact that what He wrote is not recorded, but only that He wrote, shows that the matter of His writing was not of moment, and therefore that the explanation must not be thus fetched out of the depths of the Old Testament, which, moreover, would be out of harmony with the entire character of the narrative, but must be derived from the custom of the Greeks, amongst whom he wrote upon the earth who trifled idly, or had nothing more earnest or important to do (the classical passage is Aristoph. Acharn. 31 Schol.).

Christ gave it thereby to be understood that He had no respect for the questioners with their demonstrative sacred zeal ; that He did not think it worth His while even to answer them. 2

This trait, however, which has been dwelt upon much as evidencing the historical character of the narrative, rather betrays, and that in a very plain manner, its want of historical truth. It seems hardly worthy of Christ's dignity, to exhibit such a pastime of idle weariness. The contempt, the bitter scorn, the anger against the questioners, which this gesture would have expressed, suits better one of the old heathen philosophers in relation to his opponents than the Saviour of the world. — Most incorrectly has it been observed,

"Jesus would not give any reply to the crafty question, because civil legislation and the administration of justice were no part of His function while upon earth."

But Jesus does enter into the matter thoroughly in what follows; and that entire distinction belongs only to the expositors who have invented it, and has no support whatever in the narrative itself.

1. Lampe: Cum alia quoque occasione simile quid contigisset in scandalum Pharisasorum, Luke 7:31, unde et publicanos atque meretrices his legis custodibus prsefest, Matt. 11:31, et propter conversation em cum peccatoribus apud Pharisseos et scribas male accedit, Luke 15:11.

2. So the author of the gloss found in many MSS., after την γην μη προσποιυμενος.
So also Euthyinius, the only Greek expositor who has expounded our history.

Voluit Christus rem nihil agendo ostendere, quam ipsi audicntia indigni essent. Quemadmodum si quis alio loquente, digito suo lineas in pariete ducat, vel tergum obvertat, vel alio signo demonstret ad id quod dicitur se minime atteudere.

And Lyser also :

Indignos ipsos judicare quibus respondeat, cum omnia malitiose et fraudulenter agant : et in punieudo celeres esse veliut, cum in recte agendo sint tardi.

Jn. 8:7. " 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."

— If the question was a judicial one — as the casting the first stone implies — then the supposed answer of our Lord was at least incautious. Consequences might obviously follow, and inferences be drawn, tending to the subversion of all justice. Judgment is the Lord's; whoever exercises its functions, as judge or witness, stands in the position of God's minister : there must be no intrusion of personal and subjective bias, but all must be according to the law and ordinance of God.

Luther :

" Whether the prince, or burgomaster, or judge, be a knave or a fool or not, I should remember nevertheless that God's word has been put into his hand. If I hold such an office, and am myself a wicked fool, I should say, although I deserve to have my head taken off, yet I must judge all the same, and do right upon others."

The limitation, unwarranted in itself, of the αναμαρτητος to one class of sins, does not remove the difficulty of the case. (The word does not occur anywhere else in the New Testament : the LXX has it in Deut. 29:19 : ινα μη συναπολεση ο αμαρτωλος τον αναμαρτητον; of innocent children in 2 Macc. 8:4.) A judge or witness who himself is living in adultery, is not the less on that account warranted and bound to punish adultery, or bear witness against it.

But the error was the clothing this matter in judicial forms. The thought which hovered before the writer's mind was good and genuinely Christian. Man, conscious of his own sinfulness, should abstain from all uncharitable judgment : compare Matt. 7:1.

And with special reference to the relations which the fiction had assumed or symbolized : the Jews should, in the knowledge of their own sinfulness, cease to condemn the Gentiles, and abstain from denying to them all capacity of salvation : compare Rom.2:1, 22, 23, 3:23.

Jn. 8:9. "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."

— The Pharisees here betray a tenderness of conscience which is not in harmony with their general character, even as it appears in ver. 6 ; and which differs much from the temper of mind which the Jews before and afterwards manifest in this group. The narrative becomes still less probable, when we observe that amongst those present were both the judges and the witnesses. It would not have entered their minds to omit their official duty, in the feeling of their own sinfulness.

The Pharisaic self-righteousness, in combination with this consciousness of their responsibility and rights, would have so influenced them, that they would have repelled the imputation of Jesus with indignation.

εις καθ' εις, properly one by one — the preposition κατα becomes an adverb — is found elsewhere only in Mark 14:19 : compare ο δε καθ'εις, Rom. 12:5.

The "beginning at the eldest" seems suspicious. The elders themselves belonged to the whole to which the αρξαμενοι refers. The clumsy construction seems to poiiit to some passage, applied without thorough consideration, in which the αρξαμενοι as active are distinguished from the πρεσβυτεροι as the passive: compare Matt. 20:8.

Such a passage we find in Ezek. 9:6 : και ηρξαντο απο των ανδρων των πρεσβυτερων οι ησαν εσω εν τω οικω.

There the elders are the representatives of the people, the civil and religious rulers. And, accordingly, we must understand by the elders in our passage also official persons clothed with authority.

Moreover, in the Gospels, πρεσβυτεροι is always a designation of dignity. And this way points also the "hath no man condemned thee?" in ver. 10. To condemn was the business of the rulers and judges.

One cannot well see why precisely the eldest, who have been introduced in order to deprive the whole transaction of its awkward judicial character, viewed as a true history, should have necessarily been the first to go out. The reasons which have been adduced on that side are far-fetched.

The old were, among the Pharisees, certainly more hardened than the younger. With the judges, on the contrary, the reason lies on the surface. They were the men who had primarily to act, and the main guilt rested on them. — None remained behind but Jesus and the woman. Jesus sat teaching in the midst of the people, when the scribes and Pharisees brought the woman in, ver. 2. What became of the people, was a question which did not trouble the author.

Jn. 8:10-11. 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."

— The "condemnation" refers to the stoning. As the "eldest" had retired from her, the decision of the question was, as it were, devolved upon Jesus. He assumes the function of supreme judge ; and with His "Neither do I condemn thee", the matter was decided. The woman was dismissed with a formal acquittal.


Anti-Nomist Purpose

Now, if this narrative recorded an historical fact, it would have been very properly urged against the infliction of civil penalties on adultery. It would have given the authorities a direction ad illud scelus plane connivere, quo nullum gravius in generis humani societatem committitur — to connive at the vilest outrage that can be committed upon society. It would have established a glaring contradiction between the revelation given by Moses and that given by Christ.

It is a mere subterfuge to maintain that Christ did not act here as a judge, that He did not trespass upon the domain of municipal justice, and that His decree was spoken only with reference to a question of pure morality. Even were we to allow this unfounded distinction, there would still remain a very questionable point on which a strong objection might be based.

The Word of God breathes everywhere the deepest abhorrence of adultery. Christ also, in relation to this sin, is more severe even than the Pharisees: compare Matt. 5:27. In 1 Cor. 6:9, adulterers are unconditionally excluded from the kingdom of God. In Heb. 13:4 we read, πορνους δε και μοιχους κρινει ο Θεος, and in Rev. 22:15, all whoremongers are "without."

Christ condemns the adulterers no less severely than Moses does; but He points out to them the way of repentance, and gives them the power to enter and walk in it.

Nothing is said here about punishment and repentance; it is hinted only that adultery is sin, in an indirect manner by the μηνκετι αμαρτανε, which plainly is borrowed from Jn. 5:14.

But the woman to whom Jn. 5:14 was spoken, had already borne the punishment of her sin. It may indeed be said that here "Christ reckons upon the deep impression produced by all that had occurred, and dismisses her with only an additional warning."

But that impression was a secret one, and Christ speaks not for the person alone, but for the Church of all time ; and if our Lord had even in appearance dealt so lightly with the matter, He would have given some handle to that moral laxity which has ever been only too ready to show its special preference for this narrative. Consequently, this narration cannot be regarded as historically true.

The originator of the fiction had doubtless no evil design. He imagined to himself the sinner as a penitent; but, thinking little about the morality of his fable, he has contented himself with indistinctly and darkly reprobating Jewish prejudice and bigotry. Better we could hardly expect from one who has been bold enough to insert his own production into the sublime work of the Apostle.

John 7:37-52 belongs to the last day of the Dedication. The transactions between Jesus and the people on that occasion come to their close in Jn. 7:44. Then follow certain transactions relating to Jesus, within the council, and occurring on the same day. Consequently, what we have in Jn. 8:12 fwd. must be placed beyond the time of the feast; and with this harmonizes the fact, that beyond Jn. 8:12 there is no simple allusion which may be certainly, or even with probability, referred to the feast. A new note of time we obtain once more in Jn. 10:22. There we have the record of a transaction which passed at the Feast of the Dedication between Jesus and the Jews.

The Lord evidently remained in Jerusalem during the interval between the feasts. Without more precise chronological specification, of no importance to the matter itself, John selects a few scenes of this interval, which were significant as explaining the relation of Jesus to the Jews, and in which he uttered words of all-comprehensive importance for the Church. There are three of these scenes which refer to the conflict between Christ and the Jews, on the question whether Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.

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