The Naive and the Naughty

Wallace on
Jn 8:1-11 (2007)

Review of: D. Wallace, My Favourite Passage thats not in the Bible, Parchment & Pen Blog, (Aug 7 2007)

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2009

Original Post: - Daniel Wallace, Pen & Parchment (Aug 7, 2007)
    Bart Ehrman - Befriending the Enemy
    1st John 5:7-8: Trinitarian verse deleted
    Mark Ending & Jn 8:1-11: Two more passages to dump
    Question for Readers: purpose of blog post

Posted Replies: - from Readers, with Responses by Wallace
    Reply #22: - from 'Athanasius 2000' (C. L.)
    : -
    : -

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Wallace on
John 8:1-11

Taken from:
D. Wallace,
My Favourite Passage thats not in the Bible,
Parchment & Pen Blog, (Aug 7 2007)

Wallace on Jn 8:1-11 < - - Click here.

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.

My Favourite Passage
thats not in the Bible

Pen & Parchment

Thanking Bart Ehrman

A year and a half ago, Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story behind Who Changed the Bible and Why was released. No one at the time could have predicted that it would become a New York Bestseller. It’s a book that essentially introduces textual criticism to a general readership. There are some serious problems with the book, as I have noted in reviews posted on, in Christian Research Journal, and in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society [JETS]. In general, Ehrman suggests a gloomy prospect of recovering the original text, and further, that what we thought was authentic often turns out not to be - most significantly, in passages affirming a high Christology.

As much as I disagree with Ehrman over these issues, there’s one thing that I think he is right on target about. He speaks about some passages that scholars for a long time have considered to be spurious, yet for a variety of reasons are still left in the Bible. Two in particular are noteworthy: Mark 16.9-20 and John 7.53-8.11. These two texts - the two longest variants in the New Testament - are almost always marked out in modern translations with notes such as "Not found in the oldest manuscripts." However, the passages continue to be printed in the Bibles, in their normal locations. The marginal notes are ignored by most readers.

Evidence of this is seen in the many interviews Ehrman has had over his surprising bestseller. He routinely brings up the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7.53-8.11), arguing that it’s not part of the original Gospel of John. There are gasps in the audience (e.g., when he was on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show) when he makes such a revelation.

As I noted in my review in JETS, keeping these two pericopae in our Bibles rather than relegating them to the footnotes seems to have been a bomb just waiting to explode. All Ehrman did was to light the fuse. One lesson we must learn from Misquoting Jesus is that those in ministry need to close the gap between the church and the academy. We have to educate believers. Instead of trying to isolate laypeople from critical scholarship, we need to insulate them. They need to be ready for the barrage, because it is coming. The intentional dumbing down of the church for the sake of filling more pews will ultimately lead to defection from Christ. Ehrman is to be thanked for giving us a wake-up call.

The Case of the Omission of 1 John 5.7-8

In that article [JETS], I used the analogy of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: in the eighteenth century, when he wrote his masterpiece, he spoke glibly about the KJV reading of 1 John 5.7-8:

'For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one' .'

(1 John 5.7-8, KJV).

This passage (or, more specifically, the mention of the Father, Word, and Holy Spirit), which in the KJV becomes an explicit affirmation of the Trinity, is not found in the great majority of manuscripts.

In fact, there is no evidence that it was written in any Greek manuscript prior to the sixteenth century. Gibbon's matter-of-fact denial of the authenticity of the verses in the KJV sent shock waves through England. Yet today, those two verses aren’t found in any major English Bible (apart from the KJV and NKJV), and they rarely merit a marginal note. Modern translations instead have:

' For there are three that testify, the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are in agreement'

(NET Bible).

Mark 16.9-20 and John 7.53-8.11

When it comes to the story of the woman caught in adultery or the long ending of Mark, why is it that translators are still hesitant to relegate these verses to the margin? My sense is that there is a tradition of timidity. The problem is that when layfolks learn that these verses are almost surely not authentic, it sends panic through their ranks. I assume that the RMM crowd is a bit more sophisticated than that. Hence, I am taking the risk of talking openly about these passages.

If you want to see the arguments against their authenticity, simply check out the NET Bible’s notes on them (at

The irony is that between these two doubtful passages, if most Christians had to choose, they would rather have John 7.53-8.11 in the Bible than Mark 16.9-20. Yet, the textual pedigree of the John passage is far worse than the Mark passage. To put it bluntly, the story of the woman caught in adultery is my favorite passage that’s not in the Bible.

The Purpose of This Blog Article

This blog is not meant to get into the debate over whether these verses are authentic. I will simply ask you to look at the literature on this if you’re interested. It is certainly not too much to say that the great majority of New Testament scholars, including evangelical scholars, would reject both passages as later additions to the Gospels. However, no cardinal truth is lost if these verses go bye-bye. No essential doctrine is disturbed if they are MIA [ = 'Missing In Action'].

What I want to ask is a different question:

In light of the scholarly consensus, how should translators address these passages?

What would you prefer? Would you want the texts to remain in their place, with only a tiny marginal note that, like the small print in consumer products, is hardly noticed by the reader? Would you want these verses expunged from the text entirely with no trace? Would you want them relegated to footnotes with explanation? Ultimately, what I’m asking is, How honest do you want biblical scholars to be? Would you rather hear this sort of news from those who are enemies of the faith or from those love Christ and are willing to go to the wall for the scriptures? What say you?

- Dan Wallace, Aug 7, 2007
Parchment & Pen

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Posted Replies

Selected Responses re: Jn 8:1-11

Reply #22 - Athanasius2000 on 07 Aug 2007 at 6:57 pm

I think that if both the internal (style) and external (manuscript) evidence demonstrated these passages to be nonoriginal, then they ought to be removed from the text. I feel a bit less strongly about this regarding Mark’s ending due to its presence in so many manuscripts, but nonetheless there ought to be a clear indication (perhaps a smaller font) that indicates the fact that it’s originality to the Gospel is highly unlikely.

I feel even more strongly that the pericope about the adulterous woman in John 7:53-8:11 should be removed from the text and relegated to a footnote, primarily due to the fact that 1) the manuscript evidence shows how it was wedged into John at this point; and 2) it interrupts the flow of the Johannine passage it’s inserted into. While I also greatly appreciate the story and am not suggesting that the account is nonhistorical, it should not continue to be presented as a part of John’s Gospel.

- C. L.


Reply #24 - from C Michael Patton on 08 Aug 2007 at 12:26 am


Concerning both Mark and John, one must explain both why it is virtually absent from the earliest Greek manuscripts and why the vocabulary and style of both are so different from the rest of the book. While we have the same vocabulary and style problem between 1 Peter and 2 Peter, it is easier to resolve due to the external evidence and the explaination of an amanuensis. Both Mark 16 and John 8 seem to be beyond any plausible explaination for continued inclusion other than emotional attachment and the plausibility of their basic historicity (esp with John 8). Yet we must be careful since historicity does not determine inspiration or canonicity. (BTW: I find no problem believing the John 8 is historical).


Reply #25 - from Dan Wallace on 08 Aug 2007 at 1:51 am

Thanks, folks, for the excellent interaction! I really appreciate the great comments and, frankly, the boldness with which you express yourselves. I’m encouraged, too, by the general response that you would want these passages relegated to the footnotes. Since they have had such a long history in the text, and since they are well known, I think they should be in footnotes rather than not being printed at all.

I appreciate, too, the concerns that some raised about relying on scholars rather than relying on scripture. However, what needs to be stressed is that scripture as we have it today is based on an eclectic compiling of the data from the earliest and best manuscripts. There is no single manuscript that we can point to and say, “That’s exactly what the original says!” But to think that just because these two passages have been in printed Bibles doesn’t mean that they were always a part of the Bible. In spite of what the general public may think about biblical scholars at times, responsible scholarship does not simply chop out of the Bible what it doesn’t like. To be sure, there are those with a liberal agenda who twist the meaning of the text, but very few simply chuck it because it doesn’t meet with their agenda. And such scholars have had zero impact on the wording of the text that other scholars accept as genuine.

At bottom, these passages and several other, significantly shorter ones (no more than a single verse or two at the most) have a lot of emotional baggage attached to them. If you’ve grown up reading a passage as scripture, it’s very hard to even consider the possibility that it’s not—especially if it’s a favorite passage!

As for the historical question about the story of the woman caught in adultery, I make a distinction between what the evangelist wrote (which is what I regard as inspired) and what additions to the text may still be historically true. Something doesn’t need to be inspired to be true. There are, in fact, several places in Acts where additions were made by certain manuscripts (collectively known as the western text-type)—additions that may have come about by early oral tradition that had some genuine historical basis to it. But because such passages are not generally known, there is no emotional baggage attached to them. As Henry Alford argued long ago, we must always be willing to jettison the most treasured passage if the textual data do not support having it in the text. He was an honest, conservative scholar.

John 7.53–8.11 is a text that so many scribes wanted in the Bible that it ended up in quite a few different places. My take on it is that, however, it is not entirely historical. Rather, I think it was a conflated story between two different stories that circulated even earlier in various parts of the Roman Empire. What I’ve been wrestling with for some time is (1) who originally wrote the story, and (2) what did it have in it? My preliminary investigation suggests that the language is more Lukan than Johannine, and that it would have gone after Luke 21.38 if Luke ever intended to include it in his Gospel (some manuscripts even place it here). However, not exactly in the present form. I do think, though, that Jesus did in fact write something in the dirt—precisely because it’s ambiguous, mysterious, and is just begging for some sort of definitive answer: WHAT did he write? That several later scribes actually wrote down what their hunches were is very much in line with human nature. And it also tells us that the text has grown with time.

Yet, remarkably, over fourteen hundred years of copying the New Testament by hand, the text has grown no more than about 2%! That’s a growth of about 1/10 of one percent in the average person’s lifetime. If Donald Trump had put all his money on that investment, he’d die a poor man.


Reply #42 - from Dan Wallace on 08 Aug 2007 at 8:34 pm

Folks, the comments here have gotten a little sidetracked and a little too pugilistic. If you recall, I said in the blog that I was not going to entertain the arguments about the authenticity of these two lengthy passages; rather, my question was whether we should remove such texts to the footnotes in light of the scholarly consensus. Perhaps that question was exhausted yesterday, prompting many of you to get into the details of the text.

Frankly, there are some people commenting who seem so angry that their vision is a bit blurry. When Westcott and Hort produced their magisterial Greek New Testament in 1881, there was a virulent reaction by the Dean of Chichester, John Burgon. He produced volumes about that the long ending of Mark needing to be retained, about "God" in 1 Timothy 3.16 needing to stay there instead of "who", and some treatments of patristic quotations of the New Testament. Hort told Westcott that he wanted to read what Burgon had to say, but that the tone was so hostile and personal it was difficult for him to wade through the barrage. I would ask those of you who are on the emotional fence to tone it down a couple of notches. If you want others to hear what you're saying, civility and substance will go a long way.

I won't get into the details on this issue, but suffice it to say the following: As I've already mentioned, the great majority of New Testament scholars would regard both of these passages to be spurious. This is no surprise in scholarly circles; the opinion has held sway for over a century. I mean this with all charity, but it is really an argument out of ignorance to say that the reasons for these decisions are "based on any criteria you intellectualize. If anyone wants to know the arguments for these various views, there is a wealth of information that you can consult. But I must insist that text-critical scholars do not do their work based on any criteria that they intellectualize.

Further, to argue that we have no right to take out parts of scripture or to add to it is also an argument that is not well founded. It really begs the question: What standard are you measuring things by? Is the standard the 1516 Erasmus Greek text? It radically changed things found in the manuscripts. Is the standard the Vulgate? If so, which version? The Vulgate is so corrupt in the copies that it's very difficult to determine the original wording in many places. Is the standard a particular manuscript? If so, it should be noted that every single copy of scripture has either taken away or added to the text. For one thing, no scribe is perfect. Mistakes are made. For another, the scribes filled in data where there were ambiguities. So, again the question is relevant: What standard should we use to claim that some scholars are taking away from scripture? I am inclined to think that what biblical scholarship has done in the past five hundred years is to burn off the dross to get to the gold. Or to put it another way, it's not that the modern translations are only 90% of the word of God; rather, the KJV is 110%!

Let me give some details. The earliest manuscripts of the New Testament are shorter than the later manuscripts. The earliest papyri, for example, do not have the story of the woman caught in adultery. The passage is not found in P66, P75, Aleph, A, or B. These are among the earliest manuscripts we have, from the second to the fifth century. If we say that these scribes have cut out part of the word of God, on what basis are we arguing that? No patristic commentary on the passage exists until centuries after these papyri were penned. So, is it not possible that later scribes added the passage to scripture rather than that early ones omitted it?

Now, admittedly, that discussion is over an emotionally-charged passage. Let's consider something that is probably a bit less significant to most of us. It has to do with the "Amen" that is found at the end of some of the New Testament letters. Some later manuscripts have the "Amen" at the end of ALL the letters, while others have it only at the end of some of them. The evidence from the manuscripts is so overwhelming that we would be foolish to read "Amen" at the end of each letter. But if the standard that one is following is one of these later manuscripts, he or she might think that the earlier scribes perverted scripture. I would call that a knee-jerk reaction that is unworthy of our allegiance to Christ. Precisely because God clothed himself with humanity in time-space history, because the scriptures are written in such a way that intentionally risks historical inquiry, we do not honor Christ if we close our eyes and say no to history.

Three other points. First, the Greek text that stands behind the KJV has about 5000 differences (yes, that's three zeroes) from the modern Greek texts. Yet the KJV base was produced by a Catholic priest who was in a race to get the first Greek New Testament published on a printing press. His first edition has been called the most poorly edited book ever produced. It was based essentially on half a dozen late manuscripts, from the tenth century on. The modern translations, on the other hand, are based on manuscripts that come from as early as the second century. And instead of half a dozen, we now know of almost 6000 Greek manuscripts (let alone tens of thousands in Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and other ancient languages). In other words, modern translations are based on about one thousand times as many manuscripts as the KJV, and they predate the Greek manuscripts of the KJV by almost a millennium. Are we really going to say that those manuscripts have, in every instance, removed portions of the word of God? Is it not possible that the text has grown over time? Further, modern translations do not always shorten the text (i.e., by omitting words, phrases, clauses). In nearly 700 places, the text behind the KJV is shorter. This at least shows that scholars are not trying to chop up the text. They are seriously investigating the data and going where the evidence leads them.

Second, in case some readers are not KJV-Only advocates, but think that the Catholic Bibles are the only way to go, you should realize that the RSV and NRSV both received the imprimatur. Yet these modern translations are based on modern Greek texts. Catholics were on the translation committees. And they reversed the decisions about what the original text said from earlier generations of Catholics. Are we going to blame these scholars for using whatever criteria suits their fancy?

Third, the standard critical text of the Greek New Testament that is used today had five editors on the committee. One was a Greek Orthodox scholar, Johannes Karavidopoulos. Another was a Roman Catholic scholar, Cardinal Carlo Martini, formerly the Archbishop of Milan (from 1980 to 2002). Martini was highly considered for the papal office, too. The point is that Martini is a squeaky-clean Catholic with impeccable credentials. Yet, on the committee for the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament, he agreed with the rest of the committee (it was a unanimous decision each time) that Mark 16.9-20 and John 7.53-8.11 were not original to the Gospels but were added later. These, of course, are the most visible examples. But the committee made thousands of decisions and most of them received unanimous votes. Further, between the four editions produced since 1966, there were changes made—often because of recent discoveries, often because of new insights about an author's language, argument, etc. That the same committee members could reverse themselves in light of better evidence shows the integrity of the work. It simply is a cheap shot to say that these scholars based their decisions on any criteria that they intellectualized.


Reply #63 - from James Snapp Jr on 27 Aug 2007 at 12:16 pm


DW (DanWallace): "This blog is not meant to get into the debate over whether these verses are authentic."

But it should! By avoiding such a debate, you're not allowing one of your basic premises to be questioned. It's like saying, "Where should we sail this ship?" without allowing us to look at the hull to see if it should be sailed at all.

DW: "I will simply ask you to look at the literature on this if you're interested."

Almost all the literature on the subject of Mk. 16:9-20 is either very shallow, or else contains errors and inaccuracies. (In some cases, it's shallow, AND it contains errors and inaccuracies.)

DW: "the great majority of New Testament scholars, including evangelical scholars, would reject both passages as later additions to the Gospels."

And in the great majority of commentaries by evangelical scholars that go into any detail about Mark 16:9-20, there are errors regarding the external evidence.

DW: "In light of the scholarly consensus, how should translators address these passages?"

The first step, it seems to me, is clear: test the scholarly consensus.

DW: "I think they should be in footnotes rather than not being printed at all."

But it looks like you think that 083 and 0112 were two different manuscripts, and that the Freer Logion is a "different shorter ending."

DW: "When Westcott and Hort produced their magisterial Greek New Testament in 1881, there was a virulent reaction by the Dean of Chichester, John Burgon. He produced volumes about that the long ending of Mark needing to be retained."

Error! John Burgon's book defending the legitimacy of Mk. 16:9-20 was written in 1871/1874, quite a while BEFORE Westcott & Hort produced their Greek NT. (Hort cites Burgon's book in "Notes on Select Readings," p. 30, at the bottom of column 1.)

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.