Streeter (1930) On John 8:1-11

Exerpted from: B.H. Streeter, The Four Gospels, (1924, rev.1930, MacMillan)

Streeter On John 7:53-8:11

Streeter's most popular work, The Four Gospels, really centers around the Synoptic Problem. That is, the question of the sources, order of composition, and interdependance of the first three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Yet in the process of his analysis, Streeter inevitably delves into textual criticism proper, and the question of text-types, textual variants, and the origin of various readings and stories. He especially discusses briefly the Pericope de Adultera, (John 7:53-8:11), in his investigation of the 'Caesarian' text-type.

Streeter's view of the Caesarian Text, its definition, scope, and its very reality, have of course been challenged and modified by subsequent textual critics. Yet surprisingly, much of his work, such as his detailed review of the Synoptic evidence and many of his pertinent observations regarding scribal activity, has somewhat stood the test of time.

We present here Streeter's comments on the Pericope de Adultera, along with a few observations of our own.

Local Texts

Once the Gospels were regarded as inspired, they were copied with scrupulous accuracy and by the most skilful scribes available. But during the first and most of the second century they would be, for the most part, copied by amateurs—for Christians were a poor community and a secret society under the ban of the police. It was during this period that all the really important various readings arose.

Both insertion and omission would be more possible then than at a later date. For, on the one hand, it was a time when incidents or sayings not included in the original Gospels would still survive in oral tradition, and when their inclusion in a text not yet regarded as sacred would be least resented. 1

On the other hand, accidental omissions—the commonest of all errors in copying, whether in ancient or modern times—would most easily become permanent; for at a period when the churches were relatively isolated, a passage once omitted from the earliest copy which reached a particular church would not for a long while, if ever, be replaced. This is the explanation of what is the most conspicuous difference between one text and another, that caused by the presence in some MSS. of sentences or paragraphs not found in others.

Of these variants the so-called Pericope Adulterae, i.e. the story of the woman taken in adultery (Jn. vii. 53 ff), and the last twelve verses of Mark are much the most considerable; 2 but there are quite a number of other interesting passages, from half a verse to a couple of verses in extent, which are found in some MSS., but omitted in others. The textual critic is called upon to decide in each particular case whether the reading is the result of accidental omission in the texts that lack, or of interpolation in the texts that contain, these passages. 3 The principles on which such decisions can be made will be discussed later.

(The Four Gospels, page 35-36)


1. Streeter makes a simple 'popular' introduction to the circumstances of the early text. But there are some weaknesses here:

(1) He implies first that there were two distinct periods in the manuscript copying process: an early one where copies were made by 'amateurs', and a subsequent period of 'professional' scribes. But there is no direct evidence of two such distinct periods. All surviving manuscripts appear to be done by reasonably professional scribes, whether Christian or not. There was a longstanding professional scribe class in Palestine and Egypt, which had been in place for hundreds of years. There is strong reason to believe that early Christians simply made use of the talents of converts from these classes and groups right from the beginning. Most of the early converts generally were Jews, both from the Diaspora, and Egyptian pilgrims.

(2) Streeter also implies a 'time' when the Gospels (and NT writings generally) were not "regarded as inspired", and "not yet regarded as sacred". Yet this is also difficult to maintain, given the actual contents of the books and letters (e.g. Rev.22:18-19, or Matt.5:18), and the zeal of the early Christians.

2. Streeter divides variants into two basic classes: (1) accidental omissions, and (2) deliberate additions: that is conscious acceptance and incorporation of texts and comments into the original works, after their release by the original authors.

Streeter makes it clear that he views John 7:53-8:11 as a variant of the second kind. To Streeter, (following most liberal critics since Hort) the passage is not an original part of the Gospel of John, but a deliberate incorporation of an early independant tradition of unknown origin into the text .

3. This two-category system of classification is however too simple. There are also accidental 'additions', such as repetitions or the incorporation of marginal notes through misunderstanding. And there are deliberate omissions as well, a common activity of Alexandrian editors attempting to follow primitive methods of textual 'reconstruction'. While the variation in the inclusion of the Pericope de Adultera was surely deliberate, both originally, and in most of the cases found in later copies, there is no a priori reason to automatically class the variant as an 'addition'.

This oversimplification of cases is not really useful. Even if probabilities for accidental omissions and deliberate additions were known, and omissions were most often accidental, while additions deliberate, we cannot simply rely here upon statistics based upon most other variants. Whatever kind of variant John 8:1-11 is, it is profoundly unique in the textual history, and must be evaluated thoroughly on its own merit.


Precisely the same process of standardisation can be traced in the Latin church. ... The result is that we have a number of MSS. the text of which is a mixture, in varying proportions, of Old Latin and of Vulgate elements.

Indeed, just as the Greek Textus Receptus includes certain readings (e.g. the Pericope in John) which, though found in some pre-Byzantine MSS., are absent from the earliest MSS. of the Byzantine text, 4 so in the "received" text of the Vulgate certain Old Latin readings are found which Jerome had discarded.

(The Four Gospels, page 43-44)


4. Streeter again mentions the Pericope de Adultera in passing. Unfortunately, he also makes a misleading and unsupportable impression on the reader. He has classed some early manuscripts that contain the passage, such as Codex Bezae (D) as non-Byzantine, (i.e., Western), which is fair enough:

But then he goes on to imply that there exist a set of 'earliest Byzantine manuscripts' that uniformly omit the passage. This is false and misleading on two counts: (1) The earliest Byzantine manuscripts don't uniformly omit the passage. (2) There actually are no really early Byzantine manuscripts. The earliest of them date from the 5th or 6th century, and have little to say about what went on in the 2nd or 3rd century, the most plausible time Streeter himself has suggested for significant 'deliberate additions' to the Gospels.

Chapt IV:
The Koridethi MSS () and the Ceasarian Text 5


The Family:

The new Koridethi MS. has been shown by K. Lake to be the most important member of a family of MSS. of which the most important are the cursives 1 &c., 13 &c., 28, 585, 700. Accordingly the whole group may appropriately be styled fam. . Each member of this family has been partially corrected to the Byzantine standard; but, since in each a different set of passages has been so corrected, we can, by the simple expedient of ignoring the Byzantine readings, approximately restore the text of the original ancestor. This illustrated by a Table. In an Appendix evidence is adduced for assigning to fam. certain other less important MSS., in particular the group 1424 &c.

(The Four Gospels, page 77)

Relation to Other Ancient Texts:

(1) The text of fam. is slightly, but only slightly, nearer to the Western than to the Alexandrian type; also it has a large and clearly defined set of readings peculiar to itself.

(2) In fam. are found certain striking additions to the T.R. which the Syriac shares with D and the Old Latin, beside others found only in the Syriac or Armenian.

(3) As regards, however, the longer omissions from the T.R. found in B and Syr. S., fam. nearly always supports the shorter text.

(4) Fam. is nearer to the Old Syriac than is any other surviving Greek text, but it is by no means identical; it is frequently supported by the Armenian against the Syriac. Most frequently of all it is supported by the oldest MSS. of the Georgian version.

I proceed to summarise6 the evidence on which these con­clusions are based. But the reader who has not previously made a study of textual criticism is advised on a first reading to skip this and pass on to the next subsection, " and the Text of Origen."

(1) Lake's table shows that in Mk. i., in cases where B and D differ, B supports fam. against D 16 times, while D supports the family against B 15 times, also that in 9 cases fam. is supported against B D combined by one or more of the later Alexandrian group K L A W 33 579. That is to say, the text of fam. , in this chapter of Mark, is somewhat more closely allied to that of Alexandria than it is to D and the Old Latin. But how far, we ask, is this proportion maintained throughout the four Gospels? To make a count of all the readings in all four Gospels is obviously impossible; but in four different ways I have been able to compile statistics that give some indica­tion of the proportion that prevails elsewhere between the number of Egyptian and D readings.

(a) Hoskier in his edition of 700 (p. ix) sets out all the agreements of that MS. with the great uncials against the Byzantine text. From these it appears that 700 is supported by B against D 63 times, by one or more members of the group L C Δ against B D combined 34 times, while it joins D against B 111 times,

(b) In the Introduction to Ferrar and Abbott's historic edition of 13—69—124—346 (p. xlviii) will be found an analysis of the variants in Mt. xix.-xx. and Mk. i.-ix. Only those variants are counted in which the four cursives agree against the T.R. Out of 25 variants in Mt. xix.-xx., 13 &c. agree 18 times with B, 17 with D. Out of 215 in Mk. i.-ix. they agree 88 times with B, 90 with D. Further, it appears that in a series of selected passages from all four Gospels fam. 13 differs 376 times from , 367 from B, 496 from D. That is to say, while 700 is slightly nearer to D than to the Egyptian group, the Ferrar group is distinctly nearer to B than to D.

(c) The statistics given below (p. 90), compiled from the lists in Lake's Codex 1 and its Allies, show the numbers of agreements of fam. 1 with the principal authorities in turn, and show that fam. 1 is only a very little nearer to B than it is to the Old Lat. and D.

(d) For there are no such statistics to refer to, but a study of the MS. support for variants in Mk. xiv. and xv. as set out in the Appendix of Gregory and Beerman's edition of shows that for these two chapters the proportion of Alexandrian to Western readings is approximately as 3 to 4. All these several sets of statistics, it will be observed, come to much the same thing. It so happens that in fam. 1 and fam. 13 the Byzantine revisers have spared a slightly larger proportion of Alexandrian than Western read­ings, while in and 700 the opposite has occurred; but, considered as a whole, the text of fam. is not very much nearer to D than it is to B.

Thus the von Soden grouping, which puts D in the same group as , 28, 565, 700, while ex­cluding from that group fam. 1 and fam. 13, is a complete mis­apprehension of the evidence.7

(The Four Gospels, page 84 f.)

(from table of significant variants: pg 87-89)

Jn.vii.53-viii.11. - Pericope Adulterae8,

om. , 22, 2193, 565, 1424 &c., Arm.; a f q ; in 1 and 1582 at the end of the Gospel—with a note that it is found in some copies but not commented upon by the holy Fathers Chrysostom, Cyril Alex., and Theodore of Mopsuestia; inserted by 13 &c. after Lk. xxi.38. It is absent from all old Georgian MSS., having been introduced by George the Athonite in his revision, c. 1045.


5. The primary purpose of this chapter is to provide a convincing sales-pitch for Streeters 'discovery' of a whole new text-type, the 'Caesarian' Text. This campaign was not ultimately as successful as he would have wished, and the 'Caesarian' text-type remains at best an elusive and ill-defined text, best described as a rather loose collection of related readings shared between an interesting group of manuscripts and versions.

6. Here Streeter hopes to convince students not to question too deeply his thesis and evidence. Others may not be so generously inclined.

7. The essential agenda is here underlined. Streeter must trash von Soden's exhaustive work in order to secure a place for his own theory of a 'Caesarian text-type'. In one early and excessively long footnote (pg 34), Streeter poses as a friend, but paints von Soden as a kindly old professor who unfortunately didn't 'discover much of importance'. His own discrimination is contrasted with von Soden's theories which are 'not only wrong but wrong-headed', and Streeter calls upon Dr. Sanday for support. Streeter then describes von Soden's apparatus as only for the advanced, 'cumbersome', and 'very inaccurate', again supporting his attack with references to Sanders and Lake. The researcher is all but turned completely away from von Soden's work.

8. Probably the most useful section for researchers of the Pericope de Adultera: Streeter gives a good summary of the evidence of Family 13 / , providing a bit more detail than Hort did in his own appendix, and avoiding the obscurantism of the father of the Revised Version.

The Revision by Lucian: (pg 112f.)

It is practically certain that what I have spoken of as "the Byzantine text" of the New Testament goes back to this revision by Lucian of Antioch to which Jerome alludes. Or, to speak strictly, the Byzantine text, as it appears in the Textus Receptus, has the same relation to the text of Lucian as the ordinary printed editions of the Vulgate have to the text of Jerome. 9

It is the same text, but somewhat corrupted during the Middle Ages, partly by the fresh errors of generations of copyists and partly by an infiltration of readings from the older text it superseded. 10

The Character of the (Lucianic) Recension: (pg 116f)

Most of the readings of the Byzantine text, which do not also occur in one or other of the earlier texts, are of the nature either of minor stylistic improvements or of assimilation of the text of one Gospel to a parallel passage in another. 11 (p 118)
The one really important reading which was certainly absent from the text of Lucian, although it is found, sometimes with, sometimes without, asterisks or obeli, in a majority of the Byzantine MSS., is the Pericope Adulterae (Jn.vii.53-viii.11)." 12 (p 121)


9. Streeter draws an analogy between the history of Jerome's Latin translation with that of the Greek Revision of Lucian. However, one important distinction should be noted: In Jerome's case, old readings that crept back in were primarily drawn from the Old Latin paraphrases, and were based primarily on the Latin hearers' preferences for those familiar renderings.

With the Eastern Greek text, corrections could again be based upon more familiar ancient readings, but in this case, they would have a high probability of being the original readings. Although technically 'corruptions' of Lucian's revision, they could equally well be restorations to the original text. The conclusion of 'inferiority' for these readings is unwarranted.

10. Streeter makes a basic distinction between accidental mistakes (always corruptions), and deliberate alterations. He rightly notes that most deliberate changes would be based upon ancient variants, chosen for having obvious merit as original readings. The Pericope de Adultera can only be of the latter category.

11. Again Streeter correctly identifies the character of the vast majority of Byzantine readings as deliberate but insignificant improvements or harmonizations. If they are actually original readings then the variants of other manuscripts and text-types would be simple corruptions. Again, the Pericope cannot fit into this category of Byzantine 'edits' either way. So what can it be?

12. The belief that Lucian excluded the pericope (for he must have known about it) is based mainly upon Jerome's testimony. Jerome rejected Lucian's revision, but obviously included the pericope. But if this is truly the case, and yet the Byzantine text-type is based upon Lucian, then the addition of the pericope would be a correction back to an earlier text than Lucian's. The restoration cannot have been based upon Jerome's Latin, since he himself based his text on the Greek. Nor would the Greeks likely give precedence to a translation. Jerome's text wasn't available to Lucian either, unless this was after his revision was published.

On the other hand, if the Pericope de Adultera was actually in Lucian's revision, then it was never removed from the early Byzantine tradition, and has an even higher probability of being original.

The Recension of Hesychius: (pg 123)

A typical Alexandrian editor would have diligently sought out the oldest copy attainable and followed that. And, if it omitted passages found in later MSS., he would have regarded these as interpolations. 13

Hort speaks of "the almost universal tendency of transcribers to make their text as full as possible, and to eschew omissions"; [W.H. ii. p. 175.] and infers that copyists would tend to prefer an interpolated to an uninterpolated text. This may be true of some of the local texts of the second century; it is the very opposite of the truth where scribes or editors trained in the tradition of Alexandrian textual criticism are concerned. 14

The Alexandrian editors of Homer were as eagle-eyed to detect and obelise "interpolations" in Homer as a modern critic. That they actually excised such passages with­out MS. authority is improbable, for most of the passages they suspect are found in existing MSS. On the other hand, many lines occur in papyri and in quotations of Homer by earlier writers, like Plato, which are not in our MSS.; so it would seem as if, wherever there was MS. authority for omission, they inclined to prefer the shorter reading.

That Christian scholars and scribes were capable of the same critical attitude we have irrefragable evidence. The obelus, invented by Aristarchus to mark suspected passages in Homer, is frequent in MSS. of the Gospel to mark just those sections, like the Pericope in John, which modern editors reject. 15

The first corrector of , probably the contemporary diorqwthV (official corrector)16 , was at pains to enclose in brackets and mark with dots for deletion two famous passages in Luke written by the original scribe which, being absent from B W 579 and the Egyptian versions, we infer were not accepted in the text at that time dominant in Alexandria, viz. the incident of the "Bloody Sweat" in Gethsemane (Lk.xxi.43 f.) and the saying "Father forgive them" (Lk.xxiii.34). 17

This is conclusive evidence, either that the passages in question were disliked on dogmatic grounds, or that the Christian scholars of Alexandria were as much alert as Hort to rid the text of interpolations. In either case the notion is completely refuted that the regular tendency of scribes was to choose the longer reading, and that therefore the modern editor is quite safe so long as he steadily rejects. And that there were Christian scholars outside Egypt who adopted the Alexandrian principle we have abundant evidence.18


13. This was certainly the common method of ensuring purity of text. But for some reason textual critics like Hort ignored this obvious factor in evaluating the evidence of Jerome.

14. Here Streeter has inadvertantly done an immense service in calling attention to the excessive exaggerations of Hort, and the true character of Alexandrian editing practices.

15. Unfortunately, Streeter has made a severe but common mistake, in assuming the usage of diacritical marks in biblical manuscripts were the same as those of the original inventors. It is quite clear that long before the NT was penned, Biblical scribes (such as those copying the LXX) had evolved a more elaborate set of symbols and practices which conveyed a wide variety of meanings, not just the indication of a 'doubtful reading' or suspected interpolation. It was the habit of thinking in the early days of textual criticism to carry over knowledge and methods relevant to Classical Greek into NT studies. For a simple but important introduction to the usage of diacritical marks in Biblical manuscripts, see the discussion here: Asterisks and Obelisks: Critical marks in Ancient Manuscripts

16. In a scriptorium it was the practice that a manuscript be checked as soon as it was finished. This was the task of the diorqwthV, literally "one who straightens," (i.e., the 'corrector'). The diorqwthV was often a scribe specially trained to find and rectify mistakes, though often a scribe acted as his own diorqwthV.

17. Again, Streeter has apparently completely misunderstood the probable meaning of the diacritical markings found in Codex Sinaitucus here, reversing the probable intent of the corrector. (see above link on diacritical marks).

18. From the notes above, it can be seen that Streeter's conclusions regarding this specific example are far from conclusive. However, as a consolation, his general point remains valid: Hort was wrong about scribal tendencies, or at least editorial tendencies, and it makes a huge difference, in evaluating early variants.

The Recension of Hesychius: (cont., pg 123-4)

And that there were Christian scholars outside Egypt who adopted the Alexandrian principle we have abundant evidence. Take two of the critical notes in (manuscript) 565.

The words, "Blessed art thou among women" are omitted in the text (cf. Lk.i.); they are added in the margin with the note:

"...not found in the ancient copies"
ou keitai en toiV arcaioiV.

Similarly in John there is the even more remarkable note (on the section about the Adulteress) ...

"I have omitted as not read in the copies now current."
wV en toiV nun antigrafoiV mn keimenon pareleiya,

Thus two passages, both in themselves attractive and dogmatically unobjectionable, are rejected, the one because it was omitted by the ancient, and the other by the modern, copies. 19

Surely we have evidence of a resolution to purify the text from all possible interpolation equal to that of Hort, who omitted one set of passages because absent from the pure "Neutral" text, and another set because absent from the "aberrant" "Western" text.

In codices 1 and 1582 the note on the Pericope points out that it is not mentioned in the Commentaries of Chrysostom, Cyril, and Theodore of Mopsuestia. 1582, besides having the foregoing note on the Pericope, also, as we have seen, gives Mk.xvi.9-20 as a sort of Appendix; but in the margin it has at v.19 the note,

"Irenaeus, who was near to the apostles (o twn apostolwn plhsion), in the third book against heresies quotes this saying as found in Mark."

This is criticism of a high scientific order.

Now, whoever was responsible for it, the B text has been edited on the Alexandrian principle. Indeed the difference between B and the Lucianic recension would be comparable to that between the text of the Revised Version and the text of Westcott and Hort. The Revisers definitely reject no reading for which there is respectable authority, W.H. follow the oldest MS. and suspect interpolation even in that.


19. Again, Streeter reads far too much into the marginal note. It probably refers to the fact that the section was skipped over in the Lectionary reading during Lent. It may well be that the scribe has misunderstood lectionary instructions, or confused a Lectionary for a copy of the Gospels.

There is a huge difference between a section not being (publicly) read, and it being considered a spurious interpolation, in any case. It is nice that in this particular case that the original copyist gave at least some kind of garbled notice as to why he left out the passage, but it remains little more than an interesting anecdote.