The Naive and the Naughty

on Jn 8:1-11

Excerpt from: Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, Christianity Today,
("Web Only Sidebar"), (Apr 2008)

Page Index

Last Updated: Sept 15 2010

Introduction: - Christianity Today and the Article's Quality

Review: - Christianity Today & Jn 8:1-11
    Consulting Wallace - and the disappointing results
    Other Scholars - less extreme
    More from Wallace and Moo - dire warnings

Return to Index


Christianity Today, as its name suggests, is a modern American magazine with an 'evangelical' but often liberal viewpoint. Its articles attempt to embrace Christian values and often discuss important Christian issues. However, like all popular magazines, the depth of treatment and level of discussion is often quite basic and shallow.

This is the case here, in which an important issue that demands deep Christian scholarship and serious consideration (namely the authenticity of John 8:1-11) gets hardly more than an introduction, and none of the important questions are even adequately asked or explained.

Instead of clear facts, and careful explanations of the issues, we are treated to brief "soundbites" and are expected to simply absorb the 'attitudes' expressed, without proper independant examination of the questions. The "sidebar" article is supposed to bring the reader into the loop, inform and entertain for a brief moment, as they flip through the magazine or browse the internet website.

What is really disappointing, is that no useful links are provided to places on the net (or even a good bibliography) where a Christian could seek and find accurate information in order to make an intelligent decision for themselves on the issues.

Further detracting from the clarity and usefulness of the article is its total lack of balance. It appears to have been virtually "ghost-written" by Daniel Wallace, and carefully composed under the 'guidance' of his negative opinion of the verses. Both the first and last third of the article regurgitate Wallace's views on the passage (Jn 8:1-11).

Finally, the information that actually is provided is often false, distorted, and deliberately misleading. This can also be traced directly to Daniel Wallace and his propagandizing elsewhere.

To correct the severe flaws in the article, we will provide footnotes and links to sources of additional important information regarding the passage.

Return to Index

Christianity Today
on John 8:1-11

Review of:
Christianity Today Online
April 23, 2008 (web only sidebar)

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.

Is 'Let Him Who Is Without Sin Cast the First Stone' Biblical?

Scholars are cautious about the story of the woman caught in adultery.

by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra     April 23, 2008 (web only sidebar)

Consulting Wallace

When Dallas Theological Seminary professor Daniel Wallace examined New Testament manuscripts stored in the National Archive in Albania last June, he was amazed by what he did not find. 1

The story of the woman caught in adultery, usually found in John 7:53-8:11, was missing from three of the texts, and was out of place in a fourth, tacked on to the end of John's Gospel. 2

"This is way out of proportion for manuscripts from the 9th century and following," Wallace said. "Once we get into that era, the manuscripts start conforming much more to each other. Thus, to find some that didn't have the story is remarkable." 3

Wallace called modern translations' inclusion of the famous narrative, in which Jesus said, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone" and told the woman to "go and sin no more," the result of "a tradition of timidity." 4

Other Scholars

The Roman Catholic Church requires this story to be considered Scripture, and Protestants have not broken with that tradition, even though it is missing from the earliest and most reliable manuscripts. 5

During the 5th century, the church was sorting out what, exactly, should be in the canon of inspired Scripture. Pericope adulterae, as it is known, first appears in a Greek text during this period, although it is alluded to by Greek writers as early as the 2nd century. 6

Many scholars agree that the verses are not original to John's Gospel, pointing out that the story interrupts the flow of the verses that come before and after. 7 The style is also noticeably different from that of John's usual writing. 8

But that doesn't mean that all Bible scholars want the story removed. Many of them disagree with Wallace and believe it relays an historical event and that it belongs in our Bible. 9

"There is no reason to pull this out," said Craig Evans, a professor at Acadia Divinity School. "Nothing about it says Jesus didn't have this encounter." All of the stories about Jesus began orally - it was a few decades before they were written down - so it is possible that this story just did not get written down until much later, Evans said. 10

Michael Holmes, a professor at Bethel University, doesn't consider the story inspired Scripture. But he said he would include the story in the Bible, because of its long history and because the verses bear the marks of an authentic story about Jesus. 11

"[The Pericope adulterae] does offer us deep insight into how Jesus dealt with questions such as this, and in that sense is a great illustration to live by," he said.

Such judgments raise questions about what words like canonicity and inspiration mean for evangelicals. 12 If we reserve the word inspired for the text in the earliest manuscripts, 13 yet accept that other material (such as the pericope adulterae) should be included in our biblical canon, are we implying that select biblical passages may be canonical yet not inspired? If so, what should we do with this distinction? 14

Biblical scholars do agree on two things: The Bible story should be set apart with a note, and Christians should be cautious when reading the passage for their personal devotions. 15

Translation teams have struggled with how best to present the story. Some place brackets around the story (RV, NRSV, GNB, ESV), print it in a smaller font (TNIV), or place it at the end of the gospel (REB), all with notes of explanation, said Howard Marshall, professor at the University of Aberdeen. Textual notes are generally added when the traditional King James Version differs significantly from the texts of the Greek New Testament that today's English translations are based on. 16

So far, no modern translators have chosen to leave it out altogether. 17

"If you leave it out without any comments," said Ben Witherington, professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, "there are bound to be thousands of Bible readers asking, 'Is this Thomas Jefferson's Bible?'" 18

More from Wallace and Moo

But leaving it in can be dangerous, too, especially when Christians breeze past the notes to concentrate on the story. 19 It's difficult to understand how to treat such a sequestered passage; 20 [The] pericope adulterae continues to be much used as evidence of Jesus' character and as an example to believers.

The note in most Bibles does not say the story isn't authentic, but that the oldest manuscripts do not include it. 21 Laypeople assume that translation teams must have a good reason for including the passage, Wallace said. 22

Douglas Moo, professor at Wheaton College, said that Christians should be cautious about using "Go, and sin no more" or "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." 23

Wallace said pastors have a responsibility to communicate the truth of this text to their congregations. "We need to be as thoroughly biblical as we can be … [There] is a huge amount of ignorance that we're catering to in the Christian public. 24

"A person hearing these words should recognize that they have no authority as authentic words of Jesus," he said. 25 Christians who are reading the story, he said, should give it the same authority as any other unsubstantiated early Christian teaching about Jesus. 26

- Apr 2008 Christianity Today (Online).

Footnotes courtesy of Nazaroo:

1. It is unlikely that Wallace was amazed. He had been negotiating to photograph the collection of MSS for months over the phone, by his own account, and had a very good idea of the age and content of the MSS.

2. This is misleading in itself. What is NOT mentioned is that the collection contains at least 47 manuscripts, ranging from the 6th century A.D. to the 11th century, with the bulk of them later than the 8th century. Thus less than 8% of the manuscripts, all of them later than the 9th century, omitted the verses. By Wallace's own count (given elsewhere), at least 43 manuscripts contained the verses in their proper place without suspicion.

3. Elsewhere Wallace admits that the 3 or 4 manuscripts omitting the verses are related to the infamous Family 13 Group of closely related late copies. All closely follow the same basic text, because they have all been made from one (possibly 8th or 9th century) archtype or master-copy, and are only separated by a generation or two each. The text this group exhibits is a "Lectionary"-style text, modified for public reading and church services. It is a late creation, and nearly useless for serious reconstruction of the EARLY text of John's Gospel.

4. Rather than a "tradition of timidity", most modern translation committees are made up of mostly committed Christian evangelical Protestants (with a few Catholics as well). These groups possess both scholarship and also (more importantly), they possess a faith and respect for the traditional Christian text as used by Christians for the last 2,000 years.

It is a reasonable conservative stance not to rashly delete whole paragraphs from the Bible without extremely strong historical evidence. The so-called "consensus" of scholars only exists in secular academia (modern universities), not among Evangelical scholars or even conservative Christian researchers.

Of course those who have no belief that the Bible contains the inspired word of God and an important and divinely protected message for mankind will not have any hesitation deleting anything they don't understand or don't like. But even modern Christians don't have such a cavalier attitude toward the Bible text.

As it happens, there is plenty of evidence, both textual / historical and internal in favour of the authenticity of John 8:1-11.

Internal Evidence < - - Click here.
Textual Evidence < - - Click here.
Patristic Evidence < - - Click here.

5. "it is missing from the earliest and most reliable manuscripts."

Another misleading and inaccurate statement about the textual evidence: Whether the (four surviving) "earliest manuscripts" are the "most reliable" is the thing to be demonstrated. This soundbite seems to have been snatched from the margin of some modern version. The original New International Version (NIV) uses the exact phrase in their footnote: "The earliest and most reliable not have John 7:53-8:11" This useless and uninformative footnote was written prior to 1973 when the NIV was first published. It represents the opinion of only one group of scholars (the school of Westcott & Hort, 1882), popular among Protestant intellectuals.

Many conservative (and liberal) scholars however strongly disagree with the evaluation of these four surviving manuscripts.

Two of them aren't old enough to be considered as "early", namely Codex Vaticanus 1209 (Codex B) and Codex Sinaiticus (Codex ,א, Aleph), both produced in the early to mid 4th century A.D. These two are heavily edited and expensive 'church Bibles' made for public reading and church service, and have many text-critical emendations. They are highly artificial productions, not "primitive copies" at all.

The other two, Papyrus 66 ( p66 2nd cent.) and Papyrus 75 ( p75 2nd - 3rd cent) come from a single garbage dump in Upper Egypt, and can hardly represent the mainstream text throughout the Roman Empire in the 2nd century.

We have many other manuscripts and witnesses to the text for this period, and these show that "all readings" are old.

In any case, all four of these manuscripts show guilty knowledge of the existance of John 7:53-8:11, even though they omit the passage:

4MSS of Jn 8:1-11 < - - click here

In particular, a thorough examination of Codex Sinaiticus can be found here:

Aleph and Jn 8:1-11 < - - click here

A more detailed description of these manuscripts can be found here:

Top Ten MSS for John 8:1-11 < - - click here

Regarding the theories of "oldest = best manuscripts", W. Pickering has provided his analysis of this argument here:

W. Pickering on 'Oldest & Best' < - - click here

Dr. Holland has also examined this question, and has provided his own discussion online here:

'Older & Better'? by Dr. Thomas Holland < - - click here

6. The bilingual Greek/Latin manuscript, Codex "Bezae" (Cantabrigensis, or 'D' ) is usually dated late 4th or early 5th century, but plainly displays a text far older than Jerome's Vulgate (c. 392 A.D.). Its text is possibly 3rd century, with readings reaching back into the 2nd.

Other witnesses include several very important early fathers from the 4th century, who also describe the state of the text in their time (e.g., Jerome notes many manuscripts containing the verses, in both Greek and Latin) and who themselves relied upon manuscripts hundreds of years older than Codex B or Codex Aleph.

Fathers Index on Jn 8:1-11 < - - click here

7. In fact, scholars are about equally divided on whether or not the passage "interrupts the flow" of John or enhances it. The arguments seem about balanced and leave the matter ambiguous. See for instance the analysis of J. P. Heil here:

Heil on Jn 8:1-11 (1991) < - - click here

or that of A. W. Wilson here:

NT Textual Criticism < - - click here

But as it turns out, these arguments have been rendered virtually irrelevant by the discovery of new structural evidence for the authenticity of John 8:1-11:

Culpepper on Jn 8:1-11 < - - click here
CHIASM and Jn 8:1-11 < - - click here
OT Quotes in JN < - - click here
MOSES and Jn 8:1-11 < - - click here

8. Arguments from "style" were evaluated as near-worthless, even in the 19th century, by scholars opposed to the authenticity of Jn 8:1-11.

S. P. Tregelles for instance, dismissed them as practically irrelevant in comparison to textual evidence:

"I do not rest at all on the internal difficulties connected with this passage, on the supposition that it is genuine Scripture; because, if it had been sufficiently attested, they would not present anything insurmountable."

Tregelles on Jn 8:1-11 < - - click here

And Nicolson (who thought the passage came from the Gospel to the Hebrews) dismissed Alford's stylistic examples as near-worthless:

Alford and Nicolson on Jn 8:1-11 < - - click here

9. "Many" is an understatement. All Christian scholars for the last two centuries (some 200 or more on two continents) have been unanimous and insistent on the historical genuineness of the story in Jn 8:1-11, even if they believed it was added to John's Gospel after the fact.

It is Ehrman, Wallace, and a handful of vocal opponents of the Bible who have rejected the story itself as historical and scriptural.

10. Evans' theory is not necessary. The story may have been written down at the same time as the rest of John, and the structure of John indicates it was a planned part of this gospel. It is more likely in a highly literary culture like the Jews of Palestine that sayings and stories of Jesus were written down from the beginning, in His lifetime by His own disciples, as well as His enemies.

11. Holmes and many such scholars all have their own ideas and definitions of "inspired", "authentic", "historical" etc., as well as on topics like "divine preservation" and "inerrancy". But since we are not even told in any detail the views of the various scholars sampled and their support, it is impossible to evaluate their opinions, or even properly know their positions. Such short anecdotes are useless for forming any judgment of the competancy of these men, or their integrity.

12. Unfortunately this article does nothing at all to explain any of the issues raised.

13. It makes no logical sense whatever to "reserve the word 'inspired' for the text in the earliest manuscripts". Christians throughout the last 2,000 years have referred to as 'inspired' the text that the Church has approved and adopted, i.e., the text that the majority of Christians have been using for the last two millenia. And this used and approved text is much fuller and quite different than the text found in a handful of Egyptian papyri or a few 4th century "church Bibles", heavily edited for worship services.

14. Again, the article asks an impossible question, since it hasn't explained anything regarding the questions it raises. It is simply emotive language, designed to excite but not inform.

15. Biblical scholars agree on nothing of the kind. And not a single "Biblical scholar" is cited to support this nonsense. Every Biblical commentator that has been published in the last 200 years has approved of the story, and generally interpreted it as a wonderful story of forgiveness, inspiring hope and grace.

16. Many of "Today's English translations" are actually old versions made and published in the 1960s to 1980s. They represent a "fashion trend" of adopting the academic critical text of liberals eager to "dethrone" the authority of the Bible. And they did this largely successfully because the clergy of the 20th century were thoroughly demoralized and apostate. Many faithful Christians find these so-called "modern versions" too corrupt and apostate in their meddling editing and disparaging footnotes to be useful except as "translation aids" alongside a faithful and reliable text like the King James or Douay NT.

17. Translators have wisely not mutilated the Bible so drastically, knowing quite well that the Christian public would just ignore the translation entirely and sales would be fatally negative. It is remarkable however, that in another article Wallace tries to claim that most modern versions virtually drop the verses - another inaccuracy. -

18. The expression refers to the "Bible" produced by Thomas Jefferson, who essentially deleted everything he didn't like or believe, and the result was a horribly mutilated "Reader's Digest" version of the Bible that was all but useless to Christians.

19. 'Yes...' The last thing Freemasons apparently want is Christians reading their Bibles at face value, and accepting the contents. Previously we are warned that Christians "should be cautious", a Freemasonic codeword for putting the brakes on the real Gospel, because it condemns their selfish elitism.

20. A "sequestered" passage? Is this Orwellian Newspeak, or just the wishful thinking of Jewish opponents and Jealous husbands for whom the passage is simply too difficult and embarrassing to allow people to read? For an alleged woman-author, this article strangely reads like it was a lecture from Albert Pike (the founder of the Freemasons).

21. Somebody checked, and seems to have corrected the statement apparently from Wallace. Its true, not all "modern versions" call the oldest manuscripts "best", nor do they dare suggest the story is not historical. Protestant authorities still prefer the ridiculous position that the passage is "authentic", but somehow not written by John or part of the Gospel!

22. And Laypeople would be right in assuming this. Its Wallace that can't stand the fact that most "modern translators" have adopted a moderate position instead of just rashly ejecting the verses from the Bible.

23. Thank goodness for Douglas Moo, who cautions us from getting anything valuable out of the passage. But this is absolute nonsense: Why should we be cautious about appealing to the phrase "Go and sin no more."? Is it because this implies "Go and sin no more."?

But this very phrase is found also in John 5:14, when Jesus warns the healed cripple. Erasing John 8:1-11 hardly gets rid of this saying. If it "dangerous" to appeal to in 8:1-11 it must also be dangerous to appeal to in 5:14. Or maybe not. Who is Douglas Moo again? Oh, that's right, nobody of any importance next to Jesus.

24. Wallace is right about the responsibility to communicate the truth. The problem is, Wallace doesn't have the truth about these verses. If he did, he'd be arguing for their authenticity.

The huge amount of ignorance Wallace must be referring to resides in academia, that faithless and apostate cluster of morons who deny all fundamental Christian doctrines, in favour of modernism.

25. On the contrary, a person hearing the words of Wallace should recognize that Wallace has no authority, but has confessed he is an apostate intellectual who no longer preachs or believes in the Christ of the New Testament.

26. Once we tear out the heart of John's Gospel, we might as well also give the resultant mutilated and incoherent lump the same authority as well, since it no longer presents the full and authentic early Christian teaching about Jesus.

We should leave Wallace alone with his new "Gospel of John" torn in two halves and with a third piece torn out and separated as an "authentic" but not "inspired" part of John.

When the best a man can do is tear a seamless garment into three pieces, he shoud not be allowed to play with priceless objects cherished by those who do understand their great value.

Return to Top