Last Updated:

Nov 27, 2010

G.H.Clark: the PA

Excerpt for Review: Gordon H. Clark, Logical Criticisms of TC, (TTR, 1984)

Page Index

The Pericope Adultera: - Gordon C. Clark
    Books and Resources
    The Greek Text: Reliability of the Bible
    Variant Readings: Theories and Arguments
    The Traditional NT: The Textus Receptus
    The Pericope de Adultera: John: 7:53-8:11


...the aim here is to show that much of textual criticism is not noticeably better. If Aland or Metzger says that B gives a certain reading, I shall not question it. I have never seen manuscript B. But the methodology of textual criticism cannot claim immunity from logical analysis.

Books and Resources

If the critics are not interested in the validity of their methodology, but nonetheless make use of manuscript evidence, I would like to recommend some studies of their professional resources. A small, interesting, and powerful brochure, The Ancient Text of the New Testament, by Jakob Van Bruggen (Premier Printing, Ltd; 1976, 1979, 40 pages) devastates the liberal criticism. The footnotes provide a good bibliography.

An earlier work, The King James Version Defended, by Edward Hills, while valuable, suffers from some deficiencies, one of which is an excursion into the philosophy of science which—even if it were without other errors—would be irrelevant anyway.

Zane Hodges wrote at least three papers between 1961 and 1975. More recently, with Arthur L. Farstad (and some consulting editors), Hodges edited a critical edition of The Greek New Testament according to the Majority Text (Thomas Nelson Publishers)—a major work that required incredible patience. It contains a bibliography of about 150 entries.

Perhaps the best production for immediate reading is Wilbur N. Pickering’s The Identity of the New Testament Text (Thomas Nelson, 1977). Further references to this excellent book will be made as we proceed. In particular, he contrasts the painstaking procedure of the usually despised Burgon with the sloppy methodology of his detractors. Even the least academic member of the ghetto congregation in East Podunk, Missovania, ought to read some of Pickering’s book.

But it may be that the people of Podunk are not only turned off from reading Pickering, they may also doubt that logical analysis can be at all interesting. Interesting or not, it is far more important than Homer, Alexander, and Virgil. For that reason, I shall partly repeat and more fully extend some of these introductory inducements.

The Greek Text

Enemies of the Bible occasionally try to destroy the faith of believers by emphasizing the impossibility of discovering what the apostles actually wrote. The four or five thousand Greek manuscripts differ in many places. Once when I quoted a verse from John’s Gospel to a modernist, she quickly replied,

"But how do you know that he actually said that?"

By the grace of God, I was able immediately to shoot back, "How do you know Jesus said anything?"

The other faculty members at the lunch table gave vocal evidence of a point scored. The modernist woman professor and missionary to India wanted to use some verses, but not others. But she saw then that if she insisted on her verses, she could not object to mine. At any rate the attempt to destroy Christian faith by an appeal to the difficulties of textual criticism has been based on considerable exaggeration. Someone has calculated that there is a textual variant for one word in seven, but only one in a thousand makes any difference in the sense. Still, since the New Testament contains about 200,000 words, it would mean 200 theological errors in the book as a whole. This is too many for comfort. Examples of both the nocuous and the innocuous will be given.

Variant Readings

In Mark 14:52, a few manuscripts have "naked he fled"; a few others have "he fled naked"; and a large number have "he fled naked from them." Perhaps only three have "he fled from them naked." Another example is 2 Corinthians 11:32. A few manuscripts read "to seize me"; many more have "wishing to seize me," where me in the accusative is still the object to be seized. And there are thousands of such insignificant alternative readings. However, there are many variants that are substantial. In both these categories the overwhelming majority of even mature Christians have no resources to judge which Greek manuscript preserves the words of the original author. But they can understand some of the methods textual critics use. In fact, they ought to. If they do, they will not be so overawed by the revisers.

When we come to examine the passages chosen, the particular textual method used in each case will be analyzed in detail. In order that the reader may not be completely discombobulated by their strangeness, a few of the more general rules can serve as a preparation.

First, the number of manuscripts of the type underlying the King James Version far exceeds all other types combined. This would seem to be conclusive for the Byzantine text. The critics, however, propose a rule that number is less important than weight. A dozen or a hundred manuscripts all copied from a single original ancestor count only as one, and therefore a lone manuscript of a different type equals the other hundred in weight.

This argument, which seems so plausible at first, is not so weighty a criterion as the critics seem to believe. There is another factor involved, which, if they have mentioned it, I have missed the mention. It is this. If a score or two score manuscripts have a single ancestor, it implies that a score or two score copyists believed that ancestor to be faithful to the autographs. But if a manuscript has not a numerous progeny, as is the case with B’s ancestor, one may suspect that the early scribes doubted its value. Possibly the early orthodox church knew that B was corrupt, while the later heretics were less interested in wasting time copying their own altered text.

Furthermore, the argument that pits weights against number, if it were to have much force, would require a far more extensive knowledge of manuscript genealogies than anyone now has. Even in the case of the Byzantine text alone, while the manuscripts are basically similar, a true genealogy has never been completed. The western text of D is somewhat like Melchizedek, without ancestors or descendants. Attempts by Westcott and Hort, and others, to establish Syrian, Alexandrine, Neutral, Caesarean, Antiochan, and Western families— running into insuperable difficulties—have produced competing results in the last seventy-five years.

The critics use other criteria also. When several manuscripts differ at a given place, they prefer the reading that is harder to understand rather than the easier reading. They justify this principle by assuming that the scribe is likely to think that the harder reading was a mistake, with the result that he guesses his easy interpretation is the original. No one can prove that this never happened. But it is also possible, for a number of reasons—fatigue, brilliance, the mispronunciation of a reader—that he changed an easy reading into something more difficult.

Similarly, the critics often assume that the shorter reading is correct and the longer one corrupt. The underlying idea is that the copyist has several manuscripts before him, and he wishes to preserve all their readings in his copy. But could not some scribe, if he had different manuscripts before him and was not listening, with a room full of copyists, to a reader—could he not have been sufficiently devout to remember the Scriptural injunction neither to add nor to subtract? Examples of how these and other criteria are used and misused will now constitute a list that could be much further extended.

The Traditional NT Text

John 7:53-8:11: This is the passage concerning Jesus’ judgment of the woman whom the Pharisees caught in the very act of adultery. It is the longest and probably the most peculiar textual problem in all the New Testament; and though the liberal critics would not say so, the conservative scholars must admit that it is the most difficult also. Therefore, though not strictly necessary, some general background should be permitted.

First, no one should hold that the King James Version is the infallible autograph. For example (even if it is in the Old Testament), 2 Samuel 6:23 says, "Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death." But 2 Samuel 21:8 refers to "the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul." For once the Revised Standard Version can be complimented for removing the contradiction. In my earlier years I had heard that some people believed the King James to be infallible, but I was 70 years old before I ever met one such. The liberals surely have exaggerated their number, but at least one minister was of that opinion.

More important is the question whether the Textus Receptus (TR) is the original text. But such a belief would be as foolish as the former. Since the present study is not addressed to professional scholars, but to students and ordinary church members, it is permissible to say something about the TR, the Greek text which underlines the King James translation.

The Textus Receptus derives from the work of Erasmus, a Dutch scholar (1466-1536). His first edition of the Greek text appeared in 1516. It is full of mistakes, though most are merely typographical. The story is that Erasmus was anxious to have the honor of being the first to publish the Greek New Testament, and to do so he had to rush through his work before Cardinal Ximemes de Cisneras could publish his so-called Complutensian Polyglot. The Cardinal seems to have had no such eagerness, and though his edition was set up in type possibly as early as 1514, the actual publication date was 1522. Erasmus’ sloppy work doesn’t hold a candle to it.

Deficiencies other than typographical are not all Erasmus’ fault, or only partly so. He had the use of less than twenty manuscripts and used mainly only two or three. His only manuscript of Revelation lacked its last page, so Erasmus himself translated the Latin Vulgate back into Greek for the last six verses. He did this in some other places where his manuscripts were defective. Presumably this was unavoidable. Then to his credit, he omitted 1 John 5:7-8. This shocked the Roman Church. He replied that if they would produce even one Greek manuscript that had those two verses, he would include them. So the obliging papacy quickly got an Irish priest to make such a manuscript, and Erasmus inserted the verses.

Robert Etienne (Stephanus) of Paris printed a third edition of Erasmus’ translation. In it he used the Codex Bezae (that maverick western text D), parts of the Complutensian edition, all typographically corrected. This is the Textus Receptus.

The Pericope de Adultera

Now, the Textus Receptus and the King James Version have John 7:53-8:11. These verses are not found in papyri p86 and p75 , seemingly omitted in A and C, omitted in L, N, T, W, X, Y, Delta, Theta, Psi, two numbered uncials, and about ten minuscules.

Containing the passage are D, G, H, K, U, Gamma, and about as many minuscules. Some of those that include the passage indicate it is doubtful. One unimportant manuscript puts it after Luke 21:38

On the basis of this evidence, it is doubtful that the original contained the verses because it is unlikely that so many scribes would have deleted it. On the other hand, if it was not in the original, how can one explain so many manuscripts that include it? Now, if the liberal critics dogmatically assert that this copyist did this and that copyist did that, perhaps someone else can modestly suggest a different possible explanation. No doubt the liberal critics will hoot at the suggestion, but surely it will be at least a possibility. Just perchance the Apostle John himself wrote a second edition of his Gospel, adding the paragraph. I can point to a book on Ethics, whose second edition differs from the first by only the addition of an extra chapter halfway through. Could not John have done similarly?

However, Hodges and Farstad propose a more scholarly and much less speculative solution. In their Introduction (xxiii-xxxii) to The Greek New Testament according to the Majority Text, Hodges’ and Farstad’s first argument in favor of the authenticity of the passage is the linguistic style.

"Among the marks of Johannine style which it exhibits, none is clearer than the phrase in 8:6, touto de elegonpeirazontes (they said this, tempting him). The same introductory phrase occurs also in 6:6, 7:39, 11:5, 12:6, 33, and 21:19."

Let us grant that John frequently uses this phrase. We all know people who have favorite phrases. They sometimes annoy us. But usually the phrase itself is innocuous. Other people also use it, but not so frequently.

Therefore the fact that this is one of John’s favorite introductory phrases is far from proving that someone else could not have used it occasionally— or even often, for it is very Hebraic. The most that can be concluded here is that the phrase does not destroy authenticity.

The authors also add three other, less striking items. At least the second is less striking. It is the argument that the passage fits nicely in its place. This can hardly be contested, though their evidences for fitting are slightly too many. But if the authors have not demonstrated authenticity, their argument is quite satisfactory in undermining any counterclaim. There is also a third argument, a very complex genealogical argument, too difficult to reproduce here. The data are important, but the whole requires further investigation.


...we conclude that the type of criticism underlying the Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard, and other versions is inconsistent with its own stated criteria, inconsistent in its results, and inconsistent with the objective evidence. Its method is that of unsupported aesthetic speculation. If we want to get closer to the very words of God, we must pay attention to Hodges, Farstad, Pickering, and The New King James Version.

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