R.H. Lightfoot on John 8:1-11 (1957)

Exerpted from: R. H. Lightfoot, St. John's Gospel:
A Commentary. With the Text of the Revised Version
ed. C. F. Evans (Oxford, 1957)

Page Index

Section 1: - Introduction
Section 2: - R. H. Lightfoot on John 8:1-11
Section 3: - Nazaroo's Footnotes

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R. H. Lightfoot on Jn 8:1-11


Nazaroo's modern linked (clickable) footnotes are in RED.

The Lord and the woman taken in adultery

Revised Version of 1882 Text:

7:53 1 And they went every man unto his own house: ...
8:11 ...And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn thee: go thy way; form henceforth sin no more.

R.V. Footnotes:

1 Most of the ancient authorities omit John 7.53-8.11. Those which contain it vary much from each other. 1

EXPOSITION OF 753 - 811 (p. 345f) 2

It is generally agreed 3 that two considerable sections, and two only, in the canonical gospels, Mk. 169-20 and Jn. 753-811, did not form part of these gospels as written by the original evangelist. In each case the weight of both external and internal evidence supports this conclusion.

External evidence:

The section Jn. 753-811 is omitted at this point by all the early Greek uncial MSS except D, 4 and by important cursive MSS. (Some of the latter place it after Lk. 2138, where it is better suited to the context than here; and a few place it at the end of John. 5 ) Apart from some MSS of the Old Latin version, the earliest evidence of the versions is against the section here; 6 and no Greek commentator on the gospels alludes to it before the 12th century. 7

On the other hand, the story certainly was known at least as early as the 3rd century. Thus, in addition to some less decisive evidence, several Old Latin MSS contain the section at this point; and Jerome, who says, apparently with some surprise, that the passage 'is found in many Greek and Latin codices', included it here in his Vulgate version. 8

Augustine accepted it. 9 It might have been omitted from some texts, he implies, owing to fear that wrong conclusions might be drawn from the Lord's first words in 811. It thus becomes clear that such external evidence as exists in favour of the passage is overwhelmingly 'western' in character; and its inclusion by Jerome as part of Jn 7 and 8 may have played an important part in its final acceptance as part of this gospel. 10

Internal Evidence:

This points even more strongly to the conclusion that the section was not part of the original text of John. Thus the character of the story and also the style and the vocabulary (e.g. the expressions 'the Mount of Olives' and 'the scribes', and the particles used) are more in keeping with the earlier gospels than with John; and certain resemblances to St. Luke's gospel are especially striking. 11

Again, the opening words 753, 81, 2 suggest agreement with the earlier tradition Mt 2117, Mk. 1111, 12, 19, 20, 27, Lk. 2137, 38, 2239, that during the days at Jerusalem the Lord left the city each evening, and returned the next morning to the temple; 12 but as this passage stands in John, the occasion is 'the feast of tabernacles' [72]; and a consideration of the immediate context on each side will show that the passage is ill adapted to its present position. 13 Finally, 'the various readings are more numerous than in any other part of the New Testament', 14 a fact which suggests that the section at first had a more uncertain and varied transmission than the rest of John.

The first definite allusion to the story - but not as certainly confirming also its present position in John - is in the Apostolic Constitutions 224, a passage which may be of the 3rd century. 15 It is there cited as a lesson to bishops who were thought to be too severe in dealing with penitents.

The suggestion has been made that the passage was a story handed down in oral tradition 16 (we may perhaps compare the addition which is contained in D after Lk. 64 about the man who worked on the sabbath), and that owing to the belief that its teaching might be misunderstood it failed at first to find a definite place in the teaching and accepted writings of the Church; 17 but as time went on and ecclesiastical discipline became less severe, it was more readily welcomed, and thus was first read in public worship and then passed into the text of the gospels. 18

Its position at this point in John may perhaps be due to the Lord's words, close by, at 815, "Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man", and indeed to the whole contrast in chs. 7 and 8 between the Jews' sin [821, 24] and the Lord's sinlessness [846], in spite of which He, notwithstanding His word in 87, did not condemn her, whom the Jews had brought before Him. 19

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Modern Footnotes

Footnotes courtesy of Nazaroo:

1. This is the infamous terse footnote that the revisors used in an attempt to justify dropping 7:53-8:11 into smaller type putting it in brackets. The statement is non-sequitous, or a kind of truism: Of course the ancient authorities that contain the verses "vary from each other". We are comparing a Greek copy (e.g. Codex Bezae) with a translation (Old Latin, Vulgate, Coptic) and/or a commentary (Didymus, Eusebius/Papias). It would be ludicrous to expect no variation or paraphrase between the ancient witnesses to the text.

2. Just as Westcott and Hort did in their "Original Greek NT", Lightfoot has torn the passage out of its traditional place, and put it at the end of John as a kind of appendix. In fact NO existing manuscript does this. Even the strange (and very late) MSS of Family 1 (14th cent.) insert the verses between the 2nd last and last verse of John chapter 21, not after the end of the Gospel.

3. It has become jaded if humorous observation at this point in time that whenever we hear "All experts agree..." in the field of textual criticism, we can expect to be treated to an obviously controversial claim or pet theory by the author. The days of writing as though assuring an easily spooked gaggle of aging church ladies have long since passed on.

4. "...omitted by all the early Greek MSS except D"

This is a misleading way of stating the evidence, since it leaves out the critically important fact that most of the early MSS "omitting" the verses do so in a way that clearly acknowledges their existance as a well-known variant. The statement by itself would imply that the passage was added later, and that the early witnesses know nothing about it, but this is hardly the case:

Early MSS for John 8:1-11 <-- Click Here for photos.

5. This is again inaccurate, misleading, and irrelevant. The "some MSS" that place the passage after Lk. 21:38 are a handful of 12th century MSS, and represent a local attempt to save the verses by hiding them somewhere else in the MSS, probably against the orders of superiors who ordered a scribe to omit them.

Likewise, the other group of MSS (Family 1, again a handful of late witnesses) that displace the passage, insert it between the last two verses of John, not at the end. This may seem like nitpicking, but in both cases the scribes were not trying to remove the passage or make it an appendix, but were obviously trying to save it.

6. The 'earliest evidence' of the versions is not really against the passage at all. In fact, the earliest translations which leave out the passage appear to be following a text specially prepared for public reading and use in worship services. This is exactly what we ought to expect. The first translations were naturally made from worn-out or second-hand service books pressed into use by missionary evangelists. Later once a new church in a new community and culture had grown, resources could be allocated to purchasing better copies.

7. "...no Greek commentator on the gospels alludes to it before the 12th century."

Here Lightfoot repeats the claim first made by Hort in 1886. However, the commentaries of Didymus (4th century) which quote the passage extensively, were discovered in 1942. There is no excuse for perpetuating this falsehood, except to mislead those unaware of such important discoveries.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, critics like Bart Ehrman continue to repeat this myth, even though they are well aware of its falsehood.

8. "Jerome says" is an incredible understatement of this critically important evidence. Jerome carefully sought out the earliest MSS available to him (in 382 A.D.), and he had the full authority and cooperation of the Pope. He travelled extensively, to the Eastern Byzantine (Greek) Empire, and settled in the Middle East to finish translating the O.T. into Latin. Jerome deliberately avoided the 'editions' and 'corrected MSS' of his contemporaries and sought out the purest and most primitive sources he could find. The newest MSS Jerome have used would be centuries older than our existing copies.

9. Again, an almost ridiculous statement of the evidence. Not only Augustine, but Ambrose (a generation earlier), Jerome, and at least a half-dozen contemporary 4th century and early 5th century fathers and writers from all over the Roman world quoted John 8:1-11 and vouched for its authenticity. A full list with references can be found in Burgon's article on John 8:1-11.

10. Here Lightfoot paints an imaginative but completely hypothetical 'history' in which Jerome is held up as the 'cause' for the passage's recognition and acceptance. In fact, Jerome had little to do with the passage's acceptance in the West: He already found it in many Old Latin MSS, and this is confirmed by those that still survive. Jerome was influenced by the Latin tradition, not vice versa.

11. Lightfoot speaks of three categories of internal evidence: character, style, and vocabulary. "Character" is plainly a subjective judgement, and controversial at that. Several scholars have the opposite view to Lightfoot on the character or quality of the story and its similarity to the rest of John.

From the examples Lightfoot gives, "style" and "vocabulary" claims are based upon the work of previous critics, like Samuel Davidson (1848) and Cadbury (1917). We have examined these claims elsewhere and found them either baseless or too subjective for use:

Davidson on John 8:1-11 <-- Click here or
"DE" in John <-- here.

Again, Lightfoot uses suggestive language like "earlier gospels", but there has not been a true concensus or a convincing argument for the order in which the various gospels were composed. It could very well be that John and Mark are near-contemporary, and Luke is dependant upon both. Several textual critics have suspected that Luke is the latest gospel.

12. Again, if Luke is actually dependant upon John or his sources then the similarities don't mean that our passage is 'synoptic' or foreign to John, but rather that Luke has drawn upon Johannine traditions. There is some strong evidence of this in the so-called 'Johannine' passages in Luke, such as Luke 10:2, 10:16, and 10:21-22.

13. Many critics have come to the opposite conclusion. And even those who took this view, like Bultmann, were unable to make a convincing reconstruction of John without the Pericope de Adultera (8:1-11). For a good look at the internal evidence in favour of the authenticity of the passage, see our article here:

Chiastic Structure in John <-- Click Here, and:
Culpepper on John

14. This claim of an extreme number of variants for John 7:53-8:11 is an old one originating with a 19th century commentator, who took into consideration both the Lectionary texts, versions (translations), and Codex D. But if this procedure were carried out on any other text of equal size and type, the number of variants would be similarly inflated. Codex D alone accounts for a lion-share of significant variants, and because of its idiosyncacies, this would be true for any passage.

15. In fact, many critics see the reference to Papias (circa 120 A.D.) found in Eusebius to be referring to the story of the Woman taken in adultery. But two recent suggestions that predate the Apostolic Constitutions should also be considered, The Protevangelion of James, and the Egerton Fragment:

Petersen on Prot.James <-- Click Here, or.
The Egerton Fragment <-- Click Here

16. There is no evidence of our passage ever being any kind of 'floating oral tradition', although this has been proposed by critics who reject the authenticity of the verses. The comparison with the apparent interpolation of Luke 6:4 in D has no similarity with our passage in regard to either textual history and evidence, or internal evidence. The fact that both passages are in D may be more than a coincidence but this alone cannot connect the gulf between the two cases.

17. There is no known case of any textual pericope or variant first being rejected, then later accepted as part of the canon of scripture. The only similar case would be the book of Revelation, but its early history is unique, and in any case disputed.

18. Here Lightfoot offers an optimistic fantasy scenario, based upon Hort's original conjectures. In nearly a hundred years of textual critical analysis, no evidence has been uncovered that any text ever passed from the Lectionary tradition into the gospels proper in any significant number of MSS, especially a text of any significant size.

Many critics find the idea that an unknown or disputed text would find its way into the Lectionaries, and then from there come to dominate the text of the gospels to be totally preposterous.

19. Finally, Lightfoot inadvertantly introduces evidence of the passage's connection to the rest of John, which inconveniently imposes upon his own theory of a late 'interpolation' from the lectionary tradition.