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Aug 13, 2010

Plummer on the PA

Excerpt from: Alfred Plummer, Gospel Acc. to St. John, (London, 1880-1902), p. 175 fwd

Page Index

Pericope Adulterae - Alfred Plummer (1880-1902)
    Textual Introduction not John, but authentic
    Verse by Verse: Textual Commentary

Of the various questions which arise respecting the paragraph that follows (vii. 53 - viii. 11) one at least may be answered with something like certainty, - that it is no part of the Gospel of S. John.

(1) In both tone and style it is very unlike his writings. His favourite words and expressions are wanting; others that he rarely or never uses are found.

(2) It breaks the course of the narrative, which runs smoothly enough if this paragraph be omitted; and hence a few of the MSS which contain it place it at the end of the Gospel.

All the very serous amount of external evidence which tells against the passage being part of the Gospel narrative at all of course tells against its being by S. John, and in this respect is not counterbalanced by other considerations.

So that the internal and external evidence when put together is overwhelmingly against the paragraph being part of the Fourth Gospel.

With regard to the question whether the section is a genuine portion of the Gospel history, the internal evidence is wholly in favour of its being so, while the balance of external testimony is decidedly on the same side:

(1) The style is similar to the Synoptic Gospels, especially to S. Luke; and four inferior MSS insert the passage at the end of Luke 21, the place in the history into which it fits best.

(2) it bears the impress of truth and is fully in harmony with Christ's conduct on other occasions; yet it is quite original and cannot be a divergent account of any other incident in the Gospels.

(3) It is easy to see how prudential reasons may in some cases have caused its omission (the fear of giving, as S. Augustine says, peccandi impunitatem mulieribus); difficult to see what, excepting its truth, can have caused its insertion.

(4) Though it is found in no Greek MS. earlier than the 6th century, nor in the earliest versions, nor is quoted as by S. John until late in the 4th century, yet Jerome says that in his time it was contained "in many Greek and Latin MSS" (Adv, Pelag. ii. 17), and these MSS must have been as good as, or better than, the best MSS which we now possess.

The question as to who is the author cannot be answered. There is not sufficient material for a satisfactory conjecture, and mere guesswork is worthless.

The extraordinary number of various readings (80 in 183 words) points to more than one source.

Plummer's statement here remains extraordinary and unverifiable. By 'various readings', he must mean alternate readings, not variation units (places in text).

But the number itself would only be 'extraordinary' if we could compare it to collations in other places of the text, which have never been done. The Pericope Adulterae (Jn 7:53-8:11) has been extensively collated; initially by Tischendorf (1870), then more thoroughly by von Soden (1911), and finally exhaustively by Dr. Maurice Robinson (2000).

However, no other portion of the Gospels has been collated in all extant MSS, like the PA has. So we have no similar portion of text to compare to.

The number 80 is at any rate inaccurate.1 The method Plummer used to get this number is unknown, but it may simply be something gleaned from the Prolegomena of Tischendorf's 8th ed. GNT, ghost-written by Gregory, Davidson, Tregelles, and of dubious accuracy. If it includes all the quirks of Codex Bezae, these have not similarly been so thoroughly catalogued in any known GNT apparatus anywhere else in John.

Most remarkable of all, is Plummer's unique conclusion that this variant count implies "more than one source". Can he simply mean more than one source for the variants, or more than one source for the PA itself? We can never know at this point what Plummer had in mind. His statement here is worthless.

1. It turns out a similar statement is found 15 years earlier in Godet (1865):

"Besides, there is an extraordinary variation in the text in the documents which present this passage; 60 variants are counted in these twelve verses."

Note that the number is lower by ten. It is unlikely that any special collations were done between 1865 and 1880 when Plummer published. The similar numbers seem to indicate that he has simply mis-read Godet's "60" as "80", and although Plummer went through a dozen editions from 1880 to 1904, this was never corrected.

One more question remains. How is it that nearly all the MSS. that do contain it (several uncials, including the Cambridge MS (Codex Bezae, D), and more than 300 cursives) agree in inserting it here?

This cannot be answered with certainty. Similarity of matter may have caused it to have been placed in the margin in one copy, and thence it may have passed, as other things have done, into the text of the Cambridge and other MSS.

In chap. 7 we have an unsuccessful attempt to ruin Jesus: this paragraph contains the history of another attempt, equally unsuccessful. Or, the incident may have been inserted in the margin in illustration of Jn. 8:15, and hence have got into the text.

Textual Commentary

Verse by Verse

7:53. That this verse, as well as 8:1,3, is omitted in most MSS shews that prudential reasons cannot explain the omission of the paragraph in more than a limited number of cases. Some MSS omit only Jn. 8:3 - 11.

every man went unto his own house - To what meeting this refers we cannot tell : of course not to the meeting of the Sanhedrin just recorded by S. John. It is unfortunate that the verse should have been left as the end of this chapter instead of beginning the next.

Chap. VIII.

8:1. the Mount of Olives - S. John nowhere mentions the Mount of Olives (comp. Jn. 18:1), and when he mentions a new place he commonly adds an explanation : (see Jn. 1:44, 4:5, 5:2, 6:1, 19:13, 17.) The [Greek] phrase for "went unto" is not found in S. John. Both occur in all three Synoptists.

8:2. And early in the mornings &c. - Comp. Luke 21:37-38 ;

' and in the day time He was teaching in the temple, and at night He went out and abode in the mount that is called the mount of Olives. And all the people came early in the morning to Him in the temple for to hear Him.

The phrase for 'all the people' used by S. Luke is the phrase which occurs here: S. John never uses it. S. John uses the word for 'people' only twice; it occurs more than 30 times in S. Luke, and more than 20 times in the Acts. The word for 'came early' is a verb derived from the word for 'early' which occurs here: S. John uses neither.

sat down - To teach with authority. Compare Matt. 5:1, 23:3; Mark 9:35.

8:3. the scribes and Pharisees - This phrase is used thrice by S. Luke, once each by S. Matthew and S. Mark. S. John nowhere mentions the scribes: he speaks of the hierarchy as 'the chief priests' or 'rulers' with or without 'the Pharisees', or else simply as 'the Jews'. Here we are probably not to understand an official deputation from the Sanhedrin: there is nothing to shew that the woman had been taken before the Sanhedrin before being brought to Christ.

brought unto him - Literally, bring unto Him. The bringing her was a wanton outrage both on her and on all generous and modest spectators. She might have been detained while the case was referred to Christ. The statement 'in the very act' is another piece of brutal indelicacy; and the Greek verb, 'hath been taken', adds to this.

8:5. Moses in the law - Of the two texts given in the margin of our Bible, Lev. 20:10 and Deut. 22:22, probably neither is correct. It is often assumed that 'put to death' in Jewish Law means stoning: such however is not Jewish tradition. The Rabbis taught that it meant strangulation; i.e. the criminal was smothered in mud and then a cord was twisted round his neck. But for the case of a betrothed woman sinning in the city, stoning is specified as the punishment (Deut. 22:23-24), and this is probably what is indicated here. Such cases would be rare, and therefore all the better suited for a casuistical question.

but what sayest thou? - Better, "What therefore sayest Thou?" This is the only place in the whole paragraph where S.John's favourite particle 'therefore' occurs; and that not in the narrative, where S. John makes such frequent use of it, but in the dialogue, where he very rarely employs it. Scarcely anywhere in this Gospel can a dozen verses of narrative be found without a 'therefore'; but see Jn. 2:1-17, and contrast Jn. 4:1-26, 20:1-9.

8:6. tempting him - The Greek word for 'tempting' is frequent in the Synoptists of trying to place Christ in a difficulty; never so used in S. John, who however, uses it once of Christ 'proving' Philip (Jn 6:6).

that they might have to accuse him - This clause must be borne in mind in determining what the difficulty was in which they wished to place Him. It seems to exclude the supposition that they hoped to nndermine His popularity, in case He should decide for the extreme rigour of the law; the people having become accustomed to a lax morality (Matt. 12:39; Mark 8:38).

Probably the case is somewhat parallel to the question about tribute, and they hoped to bring Him into collision either with the Law and Sanhedrin or with the Roman Government. If He said she was not to be stoned, He contradicted Jewish Law; if He said she was to be stoned, He ran counter to Roman Law, for the Romans had deprived the Jews of the right to inflict capital punishment (Jn. 18:31). The Sanhedrin might of course pronounce sentence of death (Matt. 26:66; Mark 14:64; comp. John 19:7), but it rested with the Roman governor whether he would allow the sentence to be carried out or not (Jn 19:16): see below on Jn 18:31 and Jn 19:6.

stooped down and with his finger wrote on the ground - It is said that this gesture was a recognised sign of unwillingness to attend to what was being said ; a call for a change of subject McClellan quotes Plut. ii. 532:

'Without uttering a syllable, by merely raising the eyebrows, or stooping down, or fixing the eyes upon the ground, you may baffle unreasonable importunities.'

'Wrote' should perhaps be 'kept writing' (comp. Jn 7:40-41), or 'began to write, made as though He would write' (comp. Luke 1:59). Either rendering would agree with this interpretation, which our translators have insisted on as certain by inserting the gloss (not found in any earlier English Version), ''as though He heard them not' But it is Just possible that by writing on the stone pavement of the Temple He wished to remind them of the 'tables of stone, (tablets) written with the finger of God' (Ex. 31:18; Deut 9:10). They were hoping that He would explain away the 7th commandment, in order that they themselves might break the 6th.

8:7. they continued asking - They will not take the hint, whatever His gesture meant.

without sin - The Greek word occurs nowhere else in N.T., but it is quite classical: it may mean either 'free from the possibility of sin, impeccable'; or 'free from actual sin, sinless': if the latter, it may mean either 'free from sin in general, guiltless'; or 'free from a particular sin, not guilty'. The context shews that the last is the meaning here, 'free from the sin of impurity:' compare 'sin no more,' Jn. 8:11, and 'sinner,' Luke 7:37-39.

The practical maxim involved in Christ's words is that of Matt 7:1-5; Rom. 14:4. As to its application to them comp. Matt. 12:39; Mark 8:38. He is contending not against punishment being inflicted by human law, but against men taking the law into their own hands.

a stone - Rather, 'the stone', according to the Received Text and some MSS; i.e. the stone required for executing the sentence. Others take it of the first stone, which the witnesses were to throw (Deut. 17:7). But Christ does not say 'let him cast the first stone,' but 'let him be first of you to cast the stone.'

8:8. again he stooped down - He again declines to have the office of judge thrust upon Him. The Reader of men's hearts knew how His challenge must work: no one would respond to it. and wrote on the ground - A Venetian MS. ascribed to the 10th century has the remarkable reading 'wrote on the ground the sins of each one of them.' The same strange idea appears in Jerome, shewing how soon men began to speculate as to what He wrote. Others suppose that He wrote His answer in Jn. 8:7. As has been shewn (8:6), it Is not certain that He wrote anything.

8:9. being convicted by their own conscience - These words are probably a gloss added by some copyist, like 'as though He heard them not,' added by our translators (8:6).

beginning at the eldest - Literally, beginning at the elders: but it means the elders in years, not the Elders ; so that our translators have done well to avoid a literal rendering which would have been misleading. Meyer suggests that the oldest would be shrewd enough to slip away at once without compromising themselves further ; certainly they would have the largest experience of life and its temptations.

was left alone - Not that there were no witnesses, but that thev had withdrawn to a distance. The graphic precision of this verse indicates the account of an eyewitness.

standing in the midst - Literally, 'being in the midst' where the brutality of her accusers had placed her (8:3).

8:10. none but the woman - The word here for 'but' or 'except' occurs nowhere in S. John's writings excepting Rev. 2:25; frequently in S. Luke, 5 times in S. Matthew, 5 times in S. Paul's Epistles, once in S. Mark, and nowhere else.

hath no man condemned thee - Literally, Did no man condemn thee? But here the English perfect may idiomatically represent the Greek aorist : see on Jn 8:39. Tne word for 'condemn' is a compound not found anywhere in S. John's writings, but occurring nine times in the Synoptists. S. John uses the simple verb, which means 'judge,' but often acquires the notion of judging unfavourably from the context (see on Jn 3:17, 5:29).

8:11. No man. Lord - We must bear in mind that 'Lord' may be too strong a translation of the Greek word, which need not mean more than 'Sir' (see on Jn 6:34). But as we have no such ambiguous word in English, 'Lord' is best.

Neither do I condemn thee - He maintains in tenderness towards her the attitude which He had assumed in sternness towards her accusers:, He declines the office of judge. He came not to condemn, but to seek and to save. And yet He did condemn, as S. Augustine remarks, not the woman, but the sin. With regard to the woman, though He does not condemn, yet He does not pardon : He does not say 'thy sins have been forgiven thee' (Matt. 9:9; Luke 7:48), or even 'go in peace' (Luke 7:50, 8:48).

"We must not apply in all cases a sentence, which requires His Divine knowledge to make it a just one" (Alford).

He knew whether she was penitent or not.

go and sin no more - Or, go and continue no longer in sin. The contrast between the mere negative declaration and the very positive exhortation is striking. See on Jn 5:14.

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