Exerpted from: A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures of the NT, 1932. Review taken from Nazaroo, Previously Unconsidered Evidence for John 8:1-11, christianforums.com
Last Updated: Feb 21, 2009
Archibald Thomas Robertson (A.T. Roberston): Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (1895-1934)
"(God) gave a revelation to make it free from errors, I believe He first made it inerrant as He made nature so. Hence, I boldly hold that the analogy of nature is in favor of inerrancy of God's original scriptures. ...Why in the world is it that there is such a terrible contention by destructive higher critics? ...I think I can tell. The school wants to change the whole order... they wish to get an entering wedge by having it admit that there were inaccuracies... in order to shift and change the order of the Word to suit themselves."
--"The Relative Authority of Scripture and Reason"
" A.T. Robertson was a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is best remembered as the author of a number of books that are used in theological studies around the world. His Word Pictures in the New Testament, Harmony of the Gospels, and Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research are wonderful reference tools. "
Many regard A. T. Robertson highly as an expert in Koine Greek, and it is worthwhile to see how he handled the Pericope de Adultera. As will become obvious, he looks briefly at the textual (external) evidence, and adopts Hort's text and the common 'assured result' of textual criticism, that the passage is a late addition. On this basis, he begins to slag the verses, but gradually warms up to the actual content.
This is actually a rather bizarre behaviour from someone usually so balanced and cautious. But not wholly inexplicable, given the era in which he lived and studied.
Art thou also of Galilee?
( μη και συ της Γαλιλαιας ει ;). Formally negative answer expected by μη, but really they mean to imply that Nicodemus from local feeling or prejudice has lined himself up with this Galilean mob (οχλος) of sympathizers with Jesus and is like Jesus himself a Galilean.
"These aristocrats of Jerusalem had a scornful contempt for the rural Galileans" (Bernard).
That out of Galilee ariseth no prophet
( οτι εκ της Γαλιλαις προφητης ουκ εγειρεται ). As a matter of fact Jonah, Hosea, Nahum, possibly also Elijah, Elisha, and Amos were from Galilee. It was simply the rage of the Sanhedrin against Jesus regardless of the facts. Westcott suggests that they may have reference to the future, but that is a mere excuse for them.
This verse and through John 8:12 (the passage concerning the woman taken in adultery) is certainly not a genuine part of John's Gospel. The oldest and best MSS (Aleph A B C L W) do not have it. It first appears in Codex Bezae. Some MSS. put it at the close of John's Gospel and some place it in Luke. It is probably a true story for it is like Jesus, but it does not belong to John's Gospel. The Canterbury Version on which we are commenting puts the passage in brackets. Westcott and Hort place it at the end of the Gospel.
With this explanation we shall proceed.
They went (επορευθησαν). First aorist passive indicative of πορευομαι used as a deponent verb without passive idea. In this context the verb has to refer to the Sanhedrin with a rather pointless contrast to Jesus.
But Jesus went (Ιησους δε επορευθη). Same deponent use of πορευομαι as in John 7:53 and in contrast to the Sanhedrin's conduct, though it seems "pointless" (Dods). Apparently Jesus was lodging in the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
Early in the morning (ορθρου). Genitive of time, ορθρος meaning daybreak, old word, not in John, though in Luke 24:1; Acts 5:21. John uses πρωι (Jn 18:28; Jn 20:1; Jn 21:4).
He came again into the temple (παλιν παρεγενετο εις το ιερον). If the paragraph is genuine, the time is the next day after the eighth and last day of the feast. If not genuine, there is no way of telling the time of this apparently true incident.
And all the people came unto him ( και πας ο λαος ηρχετο προς αυτον ). Imperfect middle of ερχομαι picturing the enthusiasm of the whole (πας) crowd now as opposed to the divisions in chapter 7.
Taught (εδιδασκεν). Imperfect active of διδασκω.
He took his seat (καθισας, ingressive active participle of καθιζω) as was customary for Jesus and began to teach (inchoative imperfect). So the picture.
The scribes and the Pharisees (οι γραμματεις και οι Φαρισαιοι). John does not mention "scribes," though this combination (note two articles) is common enough in the Synoptics (Luke 5:30; Luke 6:7, etc.).
Bring (αγουσιν). Vivid dramatic present active indicative of αγω. Dods calls this "in itself an unlawful thing to do" since they had a court for the trial of such a case. Their purpose is to entrap Jesus.
Taken in adultery (επι μοιχειαι κατειλεμμενην ). Perfect passive participle of καταλαμβανω, old compound to seize (Mark 9:18), to catch, to overtake (John 12:35), to overcome (or overtake) in John 1:5.
Having set her in the midst (στησαντες αυτην εν μεσω ). First aorist active (transitive) participle of ιστημι. Here all could see her and what Jesus did with such a case. They knew his proneness to forgive sinners.
Hath been taken (κατειλληπρται ). Perfect passive indicative of καταλαμβανω (see verse Jn 8:3), caught and still guilty.
In adultery (μοιχευομενη). Present passive participle of μοιχευω, "herself suffering adultery" (Matthew 5:32). Used of married people. Not in John.
In the very act (επ' αυτοπωρω). Old adjective ( αυτοπωρο, αυτος, self, and πωρ, thief) caught in the act of theft, then extended to any crime in which one is caught. Old idiom, but not elsewhere in the Greek Bible. One example in a Berlin papyrus.
Commanded (ενετειλατο). First aorist middle indicative of εντελλω, old verb to enjoin (Matthew 4:6).
To stone such (τας τοιαυτας λιθαζειν). Present active infinitive of λιθαζω (from λιθον), from Aristotle on. Stoning was specified for the case of a betrothed woman guilty of adultery (Deuteronomy 22:23-24) and for a priest's daughter if guilty. In other cases just death was commanded (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). The Talmud prescribes strangulation. This case may have strictly come within the regulation as a betrothed virgin.
What then sayest thou of her? (συ ουν τι λεγεις;). "Thou then, what dost thou say?" This was the whole point, to catch Jesus, not to punish the woman.
Tempting him (πειραζοντες αυτον). Evil sense of this present active participle of πειραζω, as so often (Mark 8:11; Mark 10:2, etc.).
That they might have whereof to accuse him (ινα εχωσιν κατηγορειν αυτου). Purpose clause with ινα and present active subjunctive οφεχω. This laying of traps for Jesus was a common practice of his enemies (Luke 11:16, etc.). Note present active infinitive of κατηγορεω (see Matthew 12:10 for the verb) to go on accusing (with genitive αυτου). It was now a habit with these rabbis.
Stooped down (κατω κυπσας). First aorist active participle of κυπτω, old verb to bow the head, to bend forward, in N.T. only here and verse Jn 8:8; Mark 1:7. The use of κατω (down) gives a vivid touch to the picture.
With his finger (τω τακτυλω). Instrumental case of δακτυλος for which see Matthew 23:4.
Wrote on the ground (κατεγραφεν εις την γην). Imperfect active of καταγραφω, old compound, here only in N.T., to draw, to delineate, to write down, apparently inchoative, began to write on the sand as every one has done sometimes. The only mention of writing by Jesus and the use of katagrapw leaves it uncertain whether he was writing words or drawing pictures or making signs. If we only knew what he wrote! Certainly Jesus knew how to write. And yet more books have been written about this one who wrote nothing that is preserved than any other person or subject in human history. There is a tradition that Jesus wrote down the names and sins of these accusers. That is not likely. They were written on their hearts. Jesus alone on this occasion showed embarrassment over this woman's sin.
When they continued asking (ως επεμενον ερωτωντες). Imperfect active indicative of επιμενω (waiting in addition or still, επι, old verb) with supplementary active participle of ερωταω, to question. See same construction in Acts 12:16 The verb επιμενω does not occur in John. They saw that Jesus seemed embarrassed, but did not know that it was as much because of "the brazen hardness of the prosecutors" as because of the shame of the deed.
He lifted himself up (ανεκυπσεν). First aorist active indicative of ανακυπτω, the opposite of κατακυπτω, to bend down (verse 8) or of κατω κυπτω (verse 6).
He that is without sin (ο αναμαρτητος). Verbal adjective (αν privative and αμαρτητος from αμαρτανω), old word, either one who has not sinned as here and Deuteronomy 29:19 or one who cannot sin, not in the N.T.
Among you (υμων ). Objective genitive.
First cast (πρωτος βαλετω). The nominative πρωτος means first before others, be the first to cast, not cast before he does something else. See John 20:4. The verb is second aorist imperative of βαλλω, old verb to fling or cast. Jesus thus picks out the executioner in the case.
Again he stooped down (παλιν κατακρυπσας). First aorist active participle of κατακυπτω, old and rare verb (in Epictetus II, 16. 22) instead of κατω κυπσας in verse John 8:6.
With his finger (τω δακτυλω). Not genuine, only in D and Western class.
Wrote on the ground (εγραφεν εις την γην). Imperfect active of the simplex γραφω, not καταγραφω. The second picture of Jesus writing on the ground.
Went out (εξηρχοντο). Inchoative imperfect. Graphic picture.
One by one (εις καθ' εις). Not a Johannine phrase, but in Mark 14:19 where also the second nominative is retained as if καθ' (κατα) is regarded as a mere adverb and not as a preposition.
Beginning from the eldest (αρξαμενοι απο των πρεσβυτερων ). "From the elder (comparative form, common in Koine as superlative) men," as was natural for they had more sins of this sort which they recalled. "They are summoned to judge themselves rather than the woman" (Dods).
Was left alone (κατελειπθη μονος). First aorist effective passive indicative of καταλειπω, to leave behind, with predicate nominative μονος. "Jesus was left behind alone."
And the woman, where she was, in the midst ( και η γυνη εν μεσω ουσα ). The woman was left behind also "being in the midst" as they had placed her (verse 3) before they were conscience stricken and left.
Lifted up himself (ανακυπσας). First aorist active participle of ανακυπτω as in verse 7.
Where are they? (που εισιν;). Jesus had kept on writing on the ground as the accusers had slipped away one by one.
Did no man condemn thee? (ουδεις σε κατεκρινεν;). First aorist active indicative of κατακρινω, old and common verb to give judgment against (down on) one, but not in John. No one dared to cast a stone at the woman on Christ's terms.
No man, Lord (ουδεις, κυριε). "No one, Sir." She makes no excuse for her sin. Does she recognize Jesus as "Lord"?
Neither do I condemn thee (ουδε εγω σε [κατα]κρινω). Jesus does not condone her sin. See John 8:15 for "I do not judge (condemn) any one." But he does give the poor woman another chance.
Henceforth sin no more (απο του νυν μηκετι αμαρτανε). See also John 5:14 where this same language is used to the impotent man. It literally means (prohibition with present active imperative): "Henceforth no longer go on sinning." One can only hope that the woman was really changed in heart and life. Jesus clearly felt that even a wicked woman can be saved.
Again therefore (παλιν ουν). This language fits in better with John 7:52 than with John 8:11. Just suppose Jesus is in the temple on the following day.
Unto them (αυτοις). The Pharisees and crowds in the temple after the feast was past.
I am the light of the world (εγω ειμι το πως του κοσμου ). Jesus had called his followers "the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14), but that was light reflected from him. Already Jesus (the Logos) had been called the true light of men (John 1:9; John 3:19). The Psalmist calls God his Light (Psalms 27:1). So Isaiah 60:19. At the feast of tabernacles in the Court of the Women where Jesus was on this day (Jn 8:20) there were brilliant candelabra and there was the memory of the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. But with all this background this supreme and exclusive claim of Jesus (repeated in verse 9:5) to being the light of the whole world (of Gentiles as well as of Jews) startled the Pharisees and challenged their opposition.
Shall have the light of life (εχει το φως της ζωης). The light which springs from and issues in life (Westcott). Cf. Jn 6:33,51 about Jesus being the Bread of Life. In this sublime claim we come to a decisive place. It will not do to praise Jesus and deny his deity. Only as the Son of God can we justify and accept this language which otherwise is mere conceit and froth.
(A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures of the NT, 1932)
A.T. Robertson's Commentary of the Pericope: First Look
What a confused, and confusing mess. The reader can only be dumbstruck after reading this near-pointless exposition. The famous medical joke is applicable here: "The operation was a success: however, the patient died." And indeed a similar cause is at work. Never has so much talent, so much technical expertise been applied so ineffectively, with so little result.
Why? What has happened? The patient, the subject matter, the story, the people, the crucial lesson, the critical doctrine, have been all but forgotten. The catastrophe is so shockingly surprising and improbable, that the reader can only suspect its a forgery. Not the pericope, but Robertson's exposition!
How? What miss-step, what tragic misdirection, could have steered the great man off into the abyss so firmly and completely?
Simple: He naively embraced a verdict so disturbing, so contrary to his own instinctive knowledge of Scripture, Gospel, and John, that his entire concentration and psyche was thrown off-kilter. No: worse than this, he is irrationally compelled to apply his great gift over and over again in a pathetic attempt to rationalize his own intellectual choice, which every intuitive bone in his body is shouting at him is a mistake.
He begins by reciting the two most infamous lies of 19th century textual criticism: (1) "oldest and best manuscripts", and (2) "some manuscripts place it in Luke". We have previously noted the first lie, namely that since the story is known to have been in copies of John two centuries earlier than the 'oldest' complete manuscript, the age of the manuscripts in question is near-irrelevant. We can also note in passing that one of the 'oldest' manuscripts, codex Bezae (IV,V cent.) actually has the verses.
But the second lie is equally false and deliberately misleading: the manuscripts in question, a closely related family of mss called the 'Farrar group (fam 13)' is from so late a period (five centuries later!) that no textual critic considers its testimony anything more than an example of how later Medieval monks have mishandled the verses.
Finally, Robertson limply appeals to the authority of "the Canterbury Version" (the disastrous English Revised Version of 1881) and the Westcott/Hort text.
The Farce Begins:
But Robertson's own conscience dogs him so badly here, that he begins misfiring into the dark almost from the starting gate:
(7:53) '...a rather pointless contrast to Jesus'. (!) This strange distain immediately strikes the reader as so uncharacteristic of Robertson, and so inappropriate to the handling of scripture that an alarm bell must go off: at least the reader is now awake and cued that something is amiss beyond Robertson's opening reassurance that it is "probably a true story"!
(8:1) '...though it seems pointless (Dods)' - ('that is, it was Dods' idea, not mine!') now the source of the negative energy is guiltily revealed, to further excuse the out-of-character remarks.
(8:2) 'not in John', with the counter-examples: but no actual light at all on the most remarkable word in the pericope! What is going on?
'If the paragraph is genuine, ...If not genuine...': more irrelevancies, before he is forced finally to look at words and phrases, - the whole reason for the current work.
(8:3) 'John does not mention "scribes" '. More concern for finding every thread that might support rejection, no matter how weak and implausibly stretched, before getting down to business.
(8:4) 'Not in John.' Another quick shot in the middle of the exposition, which only distracts.
(8:5-6) Finally a rest from the tedious attack, as Robertson himself is distracted by the content (!) of the passage.
(8:7) 'the verb does not occur in John', but no enlightenment given to the reader as to when it might or might not be appropriate.
(8:8) 'Not genuine, only in D' i.e., the reading is "only found" in the oldest manuscript containing the passage!
(8:9) Again a reference (plea?) to his dependancy upon '(Dods)', even for the simple interpretation of these verses.
(8:10-11) The attack is exhausted, since it was half-heartedly begun. Robertson has given up collecting or reciting 'evidence' for inauthenticity.
His strained apologetic has affected his 'brilliant' exposition so badly, he must have been aware of it himself. After so many 'aorist active indicative' this, and 'inchoative imperfect' that, the reader is left only bewildered, with all the profound drama and power of the pericope drained away: as if one had readied a swimming pool for the coming winter.
Bad choices are known by their bad consequences. The fruits here are dried and tasteless, and lack any spiritual nutritional value. It appears that even the 'greatest' talents can trip over a stone and break themselves upon it, once they've decided to run into it head-first on bad advice.
One doesn't know whether to laugh or just cry, seeing this tragecomedy embedded in one of the best Greek grammatical commentaries of the New Testament ever penned. And what a senseless waste of time and energy, writing it, reading it, refuting it.
But what is the real tragedy here? That thousands of readers may wander away, never even glancing at the passage again, and never discovering the real gold so easily available, the true manna from heaven being handed out to thousands who merely read the Pericope in its simplicity?
Is this too harsh a judgment? What has Robertson offered us for all his knowledge and skill? Something old, something borrowed: a mere sampling of stale observations offered before by others. A rehash of old 'objections' to the passage on flimsy grounds of 'vocabulary'. Not even an acknowledgement of the weaknesses of the approach: just a sort of drifting off. No insight, no discovery, nothing that couldn't have been had from any local preacher's sermon.
A Filmmaker's Dream! Think of it! Here is story so packed with drama, emotion, plot, characterization, mystery, heroism, redemption, that even the most inept and innaccurate portrayer of any 'historical Jesus' simply can't afford to leave it out. Every film of Christ ever made, has made more of this story than five similar-sized portions of the gospels. It would be inconceivable to document a 'Life of Christ' without it, unless the goal was, as in the comedy 'the Producers', bankruptcy!
Surely if ever someone made claims to be a commentator, they could make an inspiring, exciting commentary on this of all passages. Robertson's failure is as dramatic as the passage!
Even the most uneducated bumpkin of a hockey commentator knows this much! The least Roberston could have said concerning Jesus here was, "He shoots!...He scores!"
Now let us merely mention by way of foreshadow, what Robertson has inexplicably left out. The one feature of the passage that would have astounded all readers, both naive and experienced. The one feature of the passage that if anyone could have unearthed, it should have been Robertson, with his vast specialist knowledge.
And simultaneously the most remarkable piece of internal evidence for authenticity one could hope for, the most astounding and to all intents and purposes 'impossible to forge' signature of John the Evangelist, has been entirely missed. But I will hold back what it is, until I come to comment on the pericope myself.
Now, I only want to report my sympathy and great sadness at what Robertson has done to himself. It shines at me like a pillar of salt next to Lot. For unlike my distant and weak connection to Mr. Davidson, I empathize strongly with Robertson, who for the main part has dedicated his life to illuminating scripture. There is the tragedy.
For the precious stone, that should have been lovingly polished, and set in the golden crown Robertson made for himself in his commentary on John, he has instead stomped on and trampled. I am scandalized and horror-struck. It is as though I have just by happenstance overheard God command Moses to speak lovingly to the Rock, and then immediately have witnessed Moses turn around and beat on it with his rod. My hand shakes as I put it to my mouth in shock.
Or imagine David, instead of following the king's commands to go out and meet Goliath in the field, consults his halfwit brother who secretly envies and despises him, and who sends him to the wrong battlefield, where David awaits an opponent who never arrives, while all Israel is humiliated a mere stone's throw away in the next valley over.
The earlier the misstep, the greater the error in the destination.
See what a catastrophe starting out on the wrong foot brings.
A Plain Refutation of A.T. Robertson's Case
But now let us look at A. T. Robertson's results, as skimpy as they are:
One would think that after nearly a hundred years, and thousands of lexical and syntactical advances in knowledge, and hundreds of Johannine studies, that Robertson, the Greek linguist par excellence would be able to triple the number of instances of 'non-Johannine' vocabulary and syntax, thus nailing down forever the question of the authenticity of the Pericope de Adultera.
But what has happened? Robertson has barely been able to amass a tenth of Davidson's previous count from 1848, with examples he feels are even defensible, although he surely knows Davidson's work well.
From the most unlikely quarter, my own evaluation of Davidson's work has been amply vindicated. Robertson is afraid to advance practically any of Davidson's case, although he can hardly be unfamiliar with it, - because he is more painfully aware of its worthlessness than any other living expert of his time.
And is Robertson's 'lean and mean' case any better or more convincing? Hardly. In fact he hasn't even half-heartedly attempted an argument, because he hasn't found an honest case worth presenting. Of his mere seven instances, this is what we have:
(1) 7:53 - They went (επορευθησαν). First aorist passive indicative of πορευομαι used as a deponent verb without passive idea. In this context the verb has to refer to the Sanhedrin with a rather pointless contrast to Jesus.
But is it a 'non-Johannine' stylism? No one knows. Only Robertson (Dods?) thinks it a 'rather pointless contrast'. But this depends entirely upon one's sympathy with 'Son of Man who has no place to rest His head', and the wealthy Sanhedrin living in castles. Pointless to a rich man perhaps. To John and the average reader? Isn't that up to us?
(2) 8:1 - But Jesus went (Ιησους δε επορευθη). Same deponent use of πορευομαιας in Jn 7:53 and in contrast to the Sanhedrin's conduct, though it seems "pointless" (Dods).
The other half of what is really the same variant and question, posed by the connected clauses. A.T. Robertson's "Magnificent Seven" have now become six.
(3) 8:2 - Early in the morning (ορθρου). Genitive of time, ορθρος meaning daybreak, old word, not in John, though in Luke 24:1; Acts 5:21. John uses πρωι (Jn 18:28, 20:1, 21:4)
What can Robertson mean by "old word" here, when the only examples he can muster are from Luke, one of the latest contemporary writings and closest in time to John's Gospel? The word is rare, but of course, how often do you get to say 'dawn' in ordinary conversation? The 'book' of John is after all only a 30 page pamphlet! Obviously Luke didn't consider it 'old', and he was the most prolific and skilled NT writer we know of. His Johannine 'counter-examples' haven't a whole lot of weight either, since John cannot just invent the time of all the events he describes.
"If the paragraph is genuine, the time is the next day after the eighth and last day of the feast. If not genuine, there is no way of telling the time of this apparently true incident."
This doesn't even make any sense, since the word 'dawn' is not even in serious dispute as a textual variant. Perhaps Robertson means 'date' rather than 'time'.
(4) 8:3 - The scribes and the Pharisees (οι γραμματεις και οι Φαρισαιοι ). John does not mention "scribes," though this combination (note two articles) is common enough in the Synoptics (Luke 5:30; Luke 6:7, etc.).
Although John is quite clever at hiding his dependancy upon the Synoptics, no one in this century doubts John's familiarity with at least Luke and Mark. It is so common a phrase in all the Synoptics that it is hardly surprising that John might occasionally use it, possibly even on purpose to draw our attention to or recall Synoptic parallels. John was clearly written in the assumption, or even as almost a prerequisite, that the reader has already read a Synoptic Gospel.
(5) 8:4 - In adultery (μοιχευομενη). Present passive participle of μοιχευω, "herself suffering adultery" (Matthew 5:32). Used of married people. Not in John.
Now Robertson appears to be firing blanks. The word 'adultery' is not elsewhere in John, because there is no context for it. Supposing the incident is authentic, and John wishes to record it, what other word could he possibly use? Must we now assume John was unfamiliar with the Ten Commandments?
(6) 8:7 - When they continued asking (ως επεμενον ερωτωητες). Imperfect active indicative of επιμενω (waiting in addition or still, επι, old verb) with supplementary active participle of ερωταω, to question. See same construction in Acts 12:16 The verb επιμενω does not occur in John.
(Maybe its me, but since we know John read or at least knew about Luke/Acts, it seems foolish to pretend that the most skilled poet in the New Testament couldn't, or was unlikely to construct this simple phrase! Robertson can't possibly be suggesting John didn't know the verb.)
(7) 8:8 - With his finger (τω δακτυλω). Not genuine, only in D and Western class.
We can't really count this as an instance, because here Robertson is protesting a rare and rather poorly supported variant of an abberant form of the text. It still leaves us stuck with the rest of the pericope.
(8) 8:10 - Did no man condemn thee? (ουδεις σε κατεκρινεν;). First aorist active indicative of κατακρινω, old and common verb to give judgment against (down on) one, but not in John.
Again, disengenious. An incredibly common word in the context of the New Testament: If anything, it is remarkable that it doesn't show up elsewhere in John, not that it actually does show up here in this obvious context. That is, we are asking the wrong question again with this variant. No one in their right mind could suggest the word 'condemn' was not in John's vocabulary. Note that the Johannine letters have not been consulted either, although clearly related.
Can this possibly be the saddest case against the Pericope de Adultera ever half-heartedly compiled?