Last Updated:

Aug 13, 2010

MacRory on the PA

Excerpt from: J. MacRory, The Gospel of John, (London, 1914)

Page Index

Introduction - from MacRory
    Evidence Against Authenticity
    Evidence For Authenticity

The Authenticity of PA

John 7:53-8:11

This is the second of the three passages in our Gospel, whose authenticity has been seriously questioned. The others are Jn. 3:3-4 and Jn. ch.21. We shall sum up the evidence by which the critical question must be decided, and then say what we think as to the genuineness of the passage.

Evidence against Authenticity.

1. Manuscripts. The passage is wanting in the four oldest Greek MSS. that we possess, viz., in B, א, A, C ; the two former of which are thought by critics to be long to the fourth, and the two latter, to the fifth century; also in four other Uncial MSS., in more than sixty cursives, and in thirty-three Evangelistaries. 1 In about fifty other MSS, though read, it is marked as doubtful.

2. Versions. It is wanting in the best MSS. of the "Vetus Itala"; in the "Simple" (Peshitto) and "Figured" Syriac ; in most MSS. of the Coptic ; in all of Gothic, and in some of the Armenian.

3. Fathers. The passage is not commented upon by any of the Greek fathers that wrote upon this Gospel.

4. Internal evidence is said to prove the passage spurious, because of the use ot many words and phrases not else where used by St. John. 2

1. Evangelistaries are selections from the Gospels for the purpose of liturgical reading

2. " Relate ad stylum haec praesertim notantur ; pro particala ουν quam amat Joannes, semper adhibetur δε; deinde occurunt vocabula (vel phrases), quibus Joannes nullibi utitur : ορθρον, πας ο λαος, καθισας εδιδασκεν ουτους, οι γραμματεις και οι φαρισαιοι, επιμενειν, αναπαρτητος, καταλειπεσθαι, κατακρινειν, et πλην." Corn., Introd, iii., p. 235, n. 3.

Evidence in favour of Authenticity.

1. Manuscripts. The pas sage is found in seven uncial MSS. (one of which, D, though itself only of the sixth century, is thought to represent the text of the Gospels as it stood in the second century) ; in more than three hundred cur sives, and in six Evange listaries.

2. Versions. The passage is found in the Latin Vulgate, in the Arabic, Persian, Ethiopic, Syriac of Jerusalem, Slavic, and Anglo-Saxon.

3. Fathers. The passage is read by nearly all the Latin fathers Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Leo the Great, Chrysologus, Sedulius, Cassiodorus, &c. ; and in the Apostolic Constitutions, a work of the third, or, at the latest, the fourth century.

4. Internal Evidence
(a) Christ s merciful treatment of the adulteress harmonizes beautifully with His declaration immediately after (viii. 15), that at His first coming He condemned no man.
(b) It is inconceivable how a passage of this nature could ever have found its way into so many MSS., unless it was written by St. John. On the other hand, it is easy to see how, though genuine, it came to be omitted in many MSS., through the fear that Christ s merciful treatment of the adulteress might encourage sinners.

This is exactly what St. Augustine says :

" Nonnulli modicae fidei, vel potius inimici verae fidei, credo metuentes peccandi impunitatem dari mulieribus suis, illud quod de adulterae indulgentia Dominus fecit, abstulerunt de codicibus suis, quasi permissionem peccandi tribuerit qui dixit : Jam deinceps noli peccare " (St. Aug., De Con/. Adult., 2, 7).

As regards the arguments against the passage, we believe that the reason given by St. Augustine in the words just quoted, explains the absence of the passage in so many MSS, versions, and fathers. As to the internal arguments against the passage, it must be admitted that a number of words are used here which are not met with elsewhere in the writings of St. John ; but then the subject is peculiar, and besides in many other passages which are unquestioned, we meet with several words not used elsewhere by the Evangelist. 3
Even Renan admits that there is nothing in the passage that is at variance with the style of the fourth Gospel. 4

3. e g , ix. 21-28, ηλικιαν εχειν; συντιθεσθαι; λοιδορειν .

4. "Rien dans le morceau ne fait disparate avec le style du quatrieme Evaagile." - Renan, Vie de Jesus. ed. 18, p. 500.


From the evidence, which has been impartially laid before the reader, we hold we are justified in concluding that even on mere critical grounds the passage is more probably genuine. But whoever the writer was, some, as Franzelin, &c. (De Sacra Script., Thes. xix., pp. 466, 467), hold that since the decree of the Council of Trent (Sess. iv.), which defined all the sacred books of the Bible, and all their parts, as found in the Latin Vulgate, to be canonical, it is not lawful for any Catholic to question the inspiration of this passage. They argue that this passage constitutes a part (not merely a particula ) of the Gospel of St. John, and is, therefore, covered by decree of Trent. Nor can it be said in reply that the Council, in "cum omnibus bus", meant to inspiration of the Deutero- canonical fragments of the Old Testament only, for the Acts 5 of the Council show that these words were intended to refer especially to the fragments of the Gospels.

To conclude, then, we hold that we are not only critically justified in accepting John 7:53-8:11, as authentic, but that it is extremely probable that as Catholics we are bound to accept it as inspired.

5. Theiner i., p. 71-77.

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