Exerpt from: A New Approach to NT textual criticism

A Study in Intrinsic Probability
by A. W. Wilson, 2004-2005


The external evidence for the omission of the Pericope Adulterae, the Incident concerning the Adulteress in John 7:53 - 8:11, is weighty, the unbroken agreement of the most ancient MSS that we possess. Over 20 MSS entirely omit the passage, amongst whom are P66, P75, Codex Sinaiticus (01), Codex Alexandrinus (A), Codex Vaticanus (B), Codex Ephraemi (C), Codex Purpureus (N), Codex Borgianus (T) and Codex Washingtonianus (W) - all dating from the 3rd to the 6th centuries. Judged by the age and diversity of the external evidence, the passage is considered by most textual critics to be secondary. The Alexandrian witnesses as well as the Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian and Slavonic Versions omit the incident whilst only the Western and Byzantine witnesses and Latin Versions contain it. 

Metzger marshals this evidence in his textual commentary in such a way as to leave little room for honest or intelligent doubt that the incident was not originally part of John's Gospel. After listing the impressive manuscript, versional and patristic evidence against the passage, he secondly mentions the two chief internal considerations that tell against the passage: its discordant, non-Johannine style and its interruption of the flow of John Chapters 7 and 8. Metzger directs his readers to 'see any critical commentary' for confirmation that the Internal evidence is against the incident. Metzger concludes that whilst the Adulteress Incident (hereafter abbreviated to the initials AI) bears all the marks of an historical incident from Christ's life, the evidence against it being originally part of John's Gospel is 'overwhelming' and 'conclusive'.

S. P. Tregelles, the 19th Century textual critic, having likewise exhaustively detailed the documentary evidence against the AI (but not the internal evidence), gave vent to some frustration at the refusal of some to acknowledge that it was not originally part of John's Gospel. He put such an attitude down to 'that kind of traditional inertness of mind, which has rendered many unconscious of what have been deemed the most manifest facts of criticism'.

Having no desire to be numbered amongst those described as suffering from inertness of mind, we are going to examine in detail the internal considerations that are claimed to provide additional evidence of the absence of the AI from the original John's Gospel.


Perhaps the most commonly used internal argument against the AI is that the style and vocabulary here differ noticeably from the rest of John's Gospel. This argument is repeated in virtually every modern commentary that deals with John's gospel. 

There are ten non-Johannine Greek words in the AI. The ten words nowhere else found in John's Gospel are here listed in English for the benefit of those who are not familiar with the Greek:

    • early (v2)
    • scribes (v3)
    • adultery (v3, 4)
    • in the very act (v4 - found nowhere else in the NT)
    • stooped (κυψας - vs 6 & 8)
    • lifted himself up (ανα-κυψας - v10 - same root word as 'stooped' in vs 6 & 8)
    • continued (v7)
    • without sin (v7 - the word here is literally 'unsinning' (αναμαρτητος) - nowhere else in the NT)
    • left (v9)
    • condemned (v10, 11)

On this basis it is argued that the passage exhibits too many peculiar and non-Johannine words to have been written by John - the NT writer famous for his down-sized vocabulary. Thus, some later scribe who inserted the AI into John's Gospel gave himself away by his awkward vocabulary.

However, by performing the simple experiment of counting some other similar passages in John's Gospel, we can quickly prove that this argument lacks any real validity. An examination of four other comparable passages, over which there is no textual uncertainty, shows that they also have many words that are nowhere else found in John's Gospel.

We shall start our survey with John 6, verses 3 to 14 - the incident concerning the feeding of the five thousand. Any guesses how many 'non-Johannine' words occur in this comparable passage? The answer is that there are ten Greek words that are nowhere else found in John's Gospel:

    • to go up (v3)
    • little boy (v9) - only time in NT
    • barley (v9, 13) - only time in NT
    • grass (v10)
    • number (v10)
    • distributed (v11)
    • filled (v12)
    • broken pieces (vs 12, 13)
    • baskets (v13)
    • to eat (v13) - an unusual word, only found here in NT

Thus, in a passage of equal length (12 verses) to our AI, we find as many so-called non-Johannine words as we do in the incident of the adulteress. Notice, of course, that all the words in John 6 are Johannine - even though John only uses these words once in his entire Gospel.

Secondly, a list of seven Greek words found in the first 12 verses of John 9, in the incident of the healing of the man blind from birth, can be compiled that are nowhere else found in John's Gospel:

    • passed by (v1)
    • birth (v1 - only here in NT)
    • spit (v6)
    • anointed (v6 and v11 - only here in NT)
    • Siloam (v7 and 11)
    • beggar (v8 - a different word from the usual, nowhere else found in John)
    • neighbours (v8 - again, a different word from the usual Greek word, nowhere else found in John)

    If we include the words that are repeated in the many retellings of the story later in Chapter 9, we may add the further two words

    • parents (vs 2, 3, 18, 20, 22, 23)
    • clay (vs 6, 11, 14, 15)

Thirdly, in John 4:5-16, there are ten words nowhere else found in John's Gospel:

    • land (v5)
    • fountain (v6)
    • journey (v6)
    • food (v8)
    • associate with (v9 - only time in NT)
    • well (v11)
    • deep (v11)
    • cattle (v12 - only time in NT)
    • springing up (v14)
    • here (v15, 16)

Lastly, a study of John 21:1-12, likewise yields 9 words nowhere else found in John's Gospel:

    • to fish (v3 - only time verb form is found in NT)
    • shore (v4)
    • food (v5 - only time in NT)
    • net (v6, 8, 11)
    • outer coat (v7 - only time in NT that the noun form is used)
    • naked (v7)
    • cubit (v8)
    • dragging (v8)
    • examine (v12)

In the light of these other passages we conclude that the presence of ten words nowhere else found in John's Gospel in the AI is hardly impressive evidence against its authenticity. Other passages in John have just as many so-called 'non-Johannine' words as the incident concerning the woman caught in adultery.

The reason why all these different passages (and others that we have not listed) have so many unique words is that they are unusual paragraphs in John's Gospel. The action incidents in John's Gospel (as opposed to dialogues) are so few in number and so varied in content that it is easy to find at least half a dozen unique words in each one.

One other argument sometimes given voice is that the language of the AI is more Synoptic than Johannine. It is hard to understand what this argument is attempting to prove but, in any case, it is just another myth. The following table shows the figures for all of the five passages sampled for words that are (a) nowhere else found in all of John's Gospel, (b) nowhere else found in all of the NT (ie. hapax legomena) and (c) only found in the particular passage in John plus Synoptic Gospel references (we'll even include Acts to lower the bar further still). One can see quite quickly that on every count, there is nothing stylistically outstanding about the AI. It is a rather unexceptional member of the set of Johannine action narratives, like the other four passages sampled. 


John 4:5-16

Jn 6:3-14

The AI: Jn 7:53- 8:11

Jn 9:1-12

Jn 21:1-12

'Non-John' words






'Non-NT' words 






'Non-John, Synoptic + Acts' words






But what about the attention that is commonly drawn to the use of the word 'scribes' in the AI? The weight of this objection lies in the fact that John could elsewhere have referred to the scribes if he had wanted to. Perhaps he did not have much opportunity to elsewhere mention barley, grass (Ch 6), mud or spittle (Ch 9). But John mentions the Pharisees twenty times in his gospel and the other Gospels mention the scribes almost as frequently as they mention Pharisees. Surely John could have done so too? The singular use of the word here in John 8 thus shows the use of a genuinely non-Johannine word in the AI, it is argued.

A few points need to be made here. Firstly, much of the popular interest surrounding the AI centres on what Jesus wrote on the ground. Various suggestions have been put forward by different commentators as to what was written. However, such suggestions are perhaps a case of asking the wrong question. The important point is not what Jesus wrote on the ground, but for whom Jesus wrote on the ground. 

Jesus was writing on the ground in the very presence of men who - so we are specifically told - made their living by writing. Scribes copied out the words of the Law of God, as well as teaching it to the people. Furthermore, we know that these Jewish scribes had such reverence for the Word of God that they maintained extremely high standards in the copying department. They tried to make sure that they did not even miss one letter in their copying. It had to be perfect because it was the Word of God. Yet these scribes were standing accusing a woman of sin, despite the fact that they should have been convicted - from God's word that they copied out every day - of plenty of sins of which they were themselves guilty. Christ's reply, 'he who is without sin - or, the one who has never made the slightest mistake - let him cast the first stone', only resulted in wholesale conviction of sin because Christ's calligraphy provided graphic illustration of what these men did every day and the standards they themselves set. It was only then that these men felt the full force of Christ's accusation of hypocrisy. It was not simply Christ's words that convicted the men of sin - it was God's laws that they continually copied out that prompted these men to themselves look for somewhere to hide. 

Therefore, it seems quite necessary for this incident to mention the fact that scribes were the prime movers in condemning the woman. It is no less important to the understanding of the entire incident as is the later singular mention of fishing in John 21.

Secondly, the argument that there are plenty of other occasions that John could have mentioned the occupation 'scribes' is vacuous. There are also plenty of other occasions, aside from John 21, that John could have mentioned the fact that he - and other main characters in his narrative - were by occupation fishermen. John could have likewise used the word 'journey' found only in John 4:6 on numerous occasions, considering that the fact that the first twelve chapters of the Gospel contain so many of Jesus' journeys, particularly to Judea. The fact that John only mentions the occupation of certain men as scribes in the AI is hardly surprising for a Gospel famous for its narrow focus and its numerous omissions of information that rate prominently in the Synoptic accounts of the life of Christ.

In conclusion, the style argument against the AI's authenticity is based on a selective use of statistics, the famous third-degree lie. It has a form of science but, once examined, lacks the power thereof. Other important and relevant statistics have been overlooked or ignored to make the non-Johannine vocabulary case against John 7:53 - 8:11 appear stronger than it really is.

On the other hand, there are a number of distinctly Johannine words and expressions in the AI.

  • this they said testing him (v6 - also found in Jn 6:6, 7:39, 11:51, 12:6 & 21:19)
  • the use of the address 'woman' in v10 (see also Jn 2:4, 4:21, 19:26, 20:13, 15)
  • 'sin no more' in v11 is only elsewhere found in the NT in John 5:14
  • the scornful use of the word 'this' to refer to a person the Pharisees did not approve of (here referring to the woman) in v4 is very commonly found in John's Gospel. Christ is derisively referred to as 'this (fellow)' in 6:52, 7:15, 9:29 & 18:30.
  • stoning (see Jn 10:31, 32, 33, 11:8)

In conclusion, the argument that the AI shows evidence of non-Johannine style and vocabulary has little real merit. Its uncritical repetition in numerous commentaries is disturbing.


The other argument commonly advanced against the authenticity of the AI is that the AI interrupts the flow of John 7:52 and 8:12ff.

Strange to say, most commentaries produce little or no explanation for why they say that the AI interrupts John's Gospel. There is, in fact, such scarce substantiation of this allegation that it is difficult to understand in what way the incident really does interrupt John's Gospel. One gets the 'feel', however, that the commentaries levelling this accusation against the AI are holding against it the fact that it is an 'action' incident instead of a dialogue, thus interrupting the arguments that rumble on through John chapters 7 to10. Whether John should be allowed to break up his discourses with narratives every now and then, however, seems to be a matter that modern commentators might not be properly qualified to advise John upon.

Leaving aside, therefore, the issue of whether John is allowed to intersperse dialogue and narrative throughout his Gospel, we shall examine the issue of the context of the surrounding chapters. If the AI has been inserted into John's Gospel by a later scribe, we would expect to find it interrupting the flow of the themes that John is developing in this stretch of his Gospel, distracting attention away from them towards other unrelated issues. Thus, we turn our attention to the matter of whether the AI is contextually appropriate or inappropriate.

In the following analysis of John Chapters 7 to 10, we are going to look at some of the major themes and purposes of John 7 to 10 and see if the AI interrupts these themes or enhances them.

We shall see that the AI - far from standing out like a sore thumb - is so environmentally appropriate that the opposite is true: to remove this incident from John's Gospel pulls the keystone out of the arch that John is building in these chapters.

Theme One of John 7-10: The Brilliance of Christ's words

John 7 is all about the greatness of Christ's words and teachings. Notice some of these features of John 7:

    • 'The Jews marvelled, saying, How does this man know letters, having never learned' (John 7:15). In other words, how could Christ teach so well without theological training? Christ responds over three verses (John 7:16-18) justifying his preaching and teaching in the temple on the basis that he speaks God's words, not his own.
    • In response to Jesus' enigmatic statement that he is going away (7:33-34), the Jews ask 'Does he intend to go to the Dispersion and teach the Greeks?' (7:35). The Jews thus tacitly admit Christ's teaching ability, even if in mockery.
    • In John 7:37-40 Christ made the great declaration, 'if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink...' etc. John records the crowds' response: 'Therefore ... when they heard this saying, (they) said, "Truly this is the Prophet!"'.
    • The soldiers sent to arrest him return without him, saying 'No man ever spoke like this man!' (7:46).
    • Finally, as the critics insist, John Chapters 7-10 involve one long debate between Christ and his opponents. It is a war of words.

Now, what is the most notable feature of the incident involving the adulteress? Is it not the brilliance of Christ's words in 8:7?

'He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone'?

There is hardly a more spectacular example of the brilliance of Christ's words in any of the Gospels. This is probably the most famous thing that Christ ever said, proverbial to this day. At least, it is quoted so frequently - by politicians, sporting commentators and others beside - that it is probably the most famous thing that Christ ever said as far as 21st Century society is concerned. Christ's reply is so characteristic of his unique genius that it induces most commentators to admit that the incident is truly historical, even though they don't think it was originally part of John's gospel. The trap the Pharisees and Scribes set for Christ was a particularly clever one. It would either destroy Christ's religious authority if he undermined the Law of Moses, or it would lead to politically dangerous consequences if he gave the go ahead for a stoning. Christ's reply not only upheld the Law of Moses and avoided political trouble, but publicly disgraced his enemies. All this in a spectacular one-liner - no political circumlocutions or double-speak. No wonder the soldiers sent to arrest Christ in the previous chapter of John's Gospel said 'no man ever spoke like this man'. In addition, these words are entirely in keeping with Christ's well-documented distaste for hypocrisy.

In the incident of the adulteress, then, we have perhaps the most powerful example of what John has spent most of the previous Chapter of his gospel, Chapter 7, trying to prove - the marvel of Christ's words and teachings.

Feature Two of John 7-10: Judgement

Immediately after the incident of the adulteress, Christ starts speaking about judgement (8:13 -18, 26). Notice particularly, just three verses after the incident, in 8:15, Christ says:

You judge according to the flesh. I judge no one.

Now, what prompted Christ to say that? Some scholars plead that the proximity of the AI to such a statement only shows the sophistication of whoever inserted the incident of the adulteress at this point in John's Gospel. True enough. However, the question that we are seeking to answer here, remember, is this: Is the incident of the adulteress contextually appropriate or inappropriate? The answer (whether grudgingly given or not) is Appropriate. Christ had just refused to judge or condemn the adulteress.

Notice other words that are also related to the idea of judgement:

    • Testimony, witness, witnesses (8:13, 14, 17, 18)
    • Law (8:17)
    • Convict (8:46: 'Which of you convicts me of sin?')

Notice also that the same themes of judging, law and evidence are prominent at the end of John 7, just before the incident concerning the adulteress:

    • 7:24: 'Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgement'
    • 7:51: 'Does our law judge a man before it hears him?'

Therefore, before the incident of the adulteress in Chapter 7, attention has been focused on the subject of judging and the same is true of the verses in Chapter 8 immediately following the incident. The incident of the adulteress is hardly out of place in the midst of all the judging going on. On the contrary, it is contextually well-suited.

Feature Three of John 7 -10: Entrapment

The Pharisees and Scribes were not primarily interested in judging the adulteress when they brought her to Christ - they were more interested in trapping Christ Himself. The whole of John chapters 7-10 involve the Jews continually accusing Christ of sins (like blasphemy) upon which they could justify putting him to death.

Notice particularly the following instances in which the Jews tried to capture Christ in the incidents surrounding the Adulteress Incident:

    • 7:19: 'Why do you seek to kill me?'
    • 7:30: 'Therefore they sought to take him'
    • 7:32: 'The Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take him'
    • 7:44: 'Now some of them wanted to take him, but no one laid hands on him'
    • 8:20: 'No one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come'
    • 8:37: 'You seek to kill me because my word has no place in you'
    • 8:40: 'but now you seek to kill me'
    • 8:59: 'then they took up stones to throw at him'
    • 10:31: 'then the Jews took up stones again to stone him'
    • 10:39: 'Therefore they sought again to seize him, but he escaped out of their hand'

The incident involving the adulteress is therefore better suited here in John 7-10 than in any other place in John's Gospel or any other place in any of the Gospels. What then suggests the idea that the AI is contextually unfit to stand where it does in John 7:53-8:11?

Feature Four of John 7-10: The Light of the World

Twice - once in 8:12 and once in 9:5 - Christ presents himself as the Light of the World. Christ's second declaration in 9:5 that he is the Light of the World is immediately understandable and appropriate - he is about to give the blind man sight. The action illustrates the declaration. What about the first declaration in 8:12, then? Is there any obvious reason in Chapter 7 that might have prompted Christ to start speaking about himself as the Light of the World in 8:12? Alternatively, like Chapter 9, is there any action in Chapters 7 or 8 that illustrates Christ's declaration of himself as the Light of the World? Why does Christ make the declaration about himself as the Light of the World in 8:12 - the very next verse after the AI?

The reason why Christ speaks about himself as the Light of the World seems to be very easily explained on the theory that the adulteress incident is part of John's Gospel. At least, there seems to be a very obvious connection between the AI and John 8:12. The obvious connection is that Christ had just exposed the sin and hypocrisy of the Jewish religious rulers who had brought the Adulteress.

This is also what Christ is doing, as the Light of the World, all the way through the rest of Chapter 8. He has come to tell us the 'truth' (mentioned 7 times in Chapter 8). Truth is often symbolised in Scripture by Light (eg. Daniel 2:22: 'He reveals deep and secret things, He knows what is in the darkness and light dwells with Him'; see also the connection between light and truth in 1 John 1:5-10). The truth is not particularly pleasant sometimes - just like the scribes and Pharisees found out when they brought the adulteress to Jesus. Jesus told the Jews in Chapter 8 that they were sinners and slaves (see Chapter 8, verses 24, 34, 46). See particularly the way he shows the Jews that their father is not God, nor Abraham, but the Devil, because they do his deeds (verses 33 to 47).

So, Christ is the Light of the World in Chapter 8 in that he reveals to us and exposes what we truly are - sinners. But Christ is the Light of the World in Chapter 9 in a different way. In Chapter 9, he has come to reveal to the blind who He truly is. Christ as the Light of the World saves us by revealing to our blinded eyes the truth about Himself - the Son of God. Of course, some people, like the Pharisees, prefer to be blind to what they are truly like and to who Jesus truly is, as evidenced by their reaction to his miracle in John 9.

Furthermore, the connection between Christ the Light and the incident involving the adulteress is seen in the fact that the woman's deed was committed under cover of darkness. She was brought out early in the morning with the sun rising. This is why, contra the argument that John 7:53 and 8:1 need not have been omitted by scribes wanting to delete the unsavoury AI, the information that another night had passed is an integral introduction to the AI. 

So, in the AI there are actually two clear connections with Christ's statement in John 8:12 that He is the Light of the world. Firstly, there is the moral connection: Christ's exposure of human sin. Secondly, there is the physical connection in the fact that the incident took place early in the morning with the sun rising, the accused woman having been caught in the act of adultery during the previous night.

Therefore, after Christ has sent the Jews away with pricked consciences He said - in perfect keeping with the incident of the adulteress that had just gone before - 'I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life'.

Some commentators, not accepting that the AI was originally part of John's gospel, suggest that Christ was comparing Himself to a Temple lampstand here. The only problem with this argument is that there is no explicit mention of lampstands anywhere in the context of these chapters. This argument resorts to fetching from afar something that is not found in the context at all. It is indulging in speculation at best and clutching at straws at worst. This explanation only ends up showing how speculative the attempts are to explain Christ's statement about the Light of the World in 8:12 once the AI has been excised.

Furthermore, when we look at the occasions that John employs this motif of Light in His gospel, a clear picture emerges: John is using the illustration of the SUN and DAYLIGHT - not some flickering lampstand - to point our attention to Christ. Notice the following references:

  • John 1:4-9 speaks of Christ as the Light. The opening verses of John's Gospel deliberately allude to Genesis 1 and Creation ('In the beginning', 'all things were made through Him', 'He was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world'). Christ is not being compared to a candlestick here. He is being compared to the Sun. He, as the Creator, is greater than any light - He is the Light of Life.
  • John 3:19-21 speaks again of 'light having come into the world' and 'men loved darkness rather than light'. The picture here is that familiar moral refrain of the NT, that the people of the world are the people of the night not the people of the daytime, for just like drunkards and robbers, they are more alive at night than during the day. There is no mention, at any rate, of lampstands or candlesticks here.
  • John 8:12 and 9:5 speak about Christ as the Light of the World. Notice that the Light of the World - not the Light of the Temple or the light of the House - seems to allude again to the Sun.
  • John 11:9-10 make the matter as plain as day. Jesus says, 'Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles because the light is not in him'. The 'light of this world' is the sunlight.
  • John 12:35-36 and 46 reinforce the point. The people had a choice to make in relation to Jesus. The Light would only be with them a little while longer. Would they believe in the light while they had it or would they remain in darkness? The picture is of nightfall coming.

The idea, then, that Jesus is comparing himself to the Temple lampstand in John 8:12 is without any contextual or Johannine basis. The idea that the Light of the World is an allusion to the early morning sun rising above the gathered crowds watching the unfolding drama concerning the adulteress in the Temple courts is again a powerful and contextually appropriate allusion - once we allow the AI its place in the flow of John's Gospel..

Now, again, the question is: Does the adulteress incident fit the context or not? The answer is again an undeniable yes. In fact, the speech that follows the adulteress incident - all about recognising our human sinfulness - only really makes sense when we allow the adulteress incident a place in the context.

Feature Five: Moses versus Christ

Another key feature of John Chapters 7 - 10 is the fact that the Great Debate in these Chapters is primarily over the question of the Law of Moses (which the Jews appeal to in the incident of the adulteress). Notice the following passages in which Christ comments upon, or is compared and contrasted with, Moses in the quarrels over the Sabbath and circumcision and Mosaic standards of justice. 

  • Jn 7:22, 
  • Jn 7:51, 
  • Jn 8:17, 
  • Jn 9:14-16, 
  • Jn 9:28-29 & 
  • Jn 10:34-36 

These chapters are set during the feast of Tabernacles and certain features of Chapter 7 allude clearly to Moses and the problem of the water. Remember that Moses missed out on the Promised Land because he tried to take the credit for producing the water instead of sanctifying God before the children of Israel when he said, 'Must we bring water for you out of this rock?' (Numbers 20:10-12). Christ, in contrast to Moses, is the One who deliberately invites the thirsty to come of himself and drink (7:37). Christ thus makes a far more stupendous claim than Moses' attempt to take the credit for the miracle of the water. Christ claims Deity - He is the very source of living water. Christ is also heralded as the prophet in these chapters, too (7:40) - a clear reference back to Moses' prophecy of another prophet in Deuteronomy 18. 

One of the purposes of Chapters 7 - 10 of John's Gospel therefore seems to be to prove the superiority of Christ over Moses. Notice how John does this in the AI. Christ's response to the woman is entirely in keeping with the tenor of Christ's teachings. Christ showed grace in not condemning the woman - he had come to save, not to judge. But he also upheld the truth in telling the woman to sin no more.

This is the same pattern that Christ showed earlier in John 5, where Christ told the man who he had healed beside the pool, 'Behold, you are made well, sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you' (John 5:15). The AI therefore is in perfect keeping with the grace that Christ typically displayed to sinners. It is in keeping with John's Gospel. It clearly illustrates the difference between the law of Moses and the grace and truth that came through Jesus Christ. In fact, it is the very high-point of this section of the Gospel in which John chooses to focus our attention upon the contrast between the Law of Moses and the Grace and Truth of Christ (John 1:17).

Feature Six: Sexual Matters

One of the accusations the Jews try to pin on Christ during the Great Debate of Chapters 7 - 10 is that He is born of fornication. See John 8:41, where the Jews say, 'We were not born of fornication', which seems to be a back-handed slur on Christ's parentage. Also in 8:48 they call him a Samaritan, which again implies some doubt over his parentage. In 8:19, the Jews ask him, 'Where is your father?' Also, in 9:29, the Jews tell the once-blind beggar 'we do not know where this fellow is from'. All these references to Jesus' origin suggest that the Jews enjoyed making sport of Christ's origin, presuming it to have involved sin of some sort.

John chapters 7-10 thus focus our attention on the subject of parentage, fornication and adultery. Chapter 8, particularly, is all about who the Jew's Father was. Abraham? God? No, says Christ, the Devil. Chapter 9 focuses some attention on parentage again in the question about whether the blind man was born so because of some sin of his parents (presumably sexual - see 9:3, 34). The question of adultery thus figures in these Chapters because of our spiritual problem - our sin. We have a parentage problem. We were born in sin and are not naturally the children of God but of the Devil - for we do his works.

What more graphic illustration do we find in any of the Gospels of the spiritual adultery of the human race than this account of a woman caught red-handed in adultery? Why should it be thought to be foreign material here in John 7-10? Is it not instead perfectly appropriate here?

Feature Seven: Women in John's Gospel

Next, notice the attention focused on the woman in the story of the adulteress. John's Gospel allows us to get close-up to a number of important women. We have Christ's relationship with his mother (John 2, 19), the Samaritan woman (John 4), Mary and Martha (John 11 and again John 12) and Mary Magdalene (John 20). In this, again, the story about the adulteress is hardly out of place in John's gospel.

The story of the adulteress shows up the hypocrisy of the Jews (where was the man?) and no doubt they were thus deliberately trying to trap Christ into showing sympathy towards her and thus damaging His reputation as One who upheld God's Laws. However, Christ's response in showing grace to the woman is so typical of the way that Christ acts in John's Gospel towards sinful women that it is puzzling to hear it said that this incident is somehow not true to John's style and approach.

John in his Gospel is famous for avoiding the beaten path. He does not, for example, tell us about the temptation by the Devil in the desert, the institution of the Lord's Supper, Gethsemane, the trial before Caiaphas or a host of other things that we would have expected of a Gospel. One other obvious example of this tendency of John's is the fact that he does not mention the tax-collectors who feature so prominently in the Synoptic Gospels. Christ's friendship with the sinful people in society - an incredibly important element in understanding Christ's life and the antagonism the Jews felt towards him - is instead highlighted in John's Gospel by Jesus' association with what the Synoptics refer euphemistically to as sinners. For example, we have Jesus' association with the Samaritan woman in Chapter 4. Was it not for this very reason that the Jews brought the adulteress to Jesus in the first place?

It would therefore seem out of place for John NOT to mention in his Gospel an example of what is without doubt an essential element in understanding the life of Christ - his association with and attitude towards sinners. Why then should it be thought contextually inappropriate for John to focus attention upon the relationship of Christ with a sinful Jewish woman, particularly in the section in which John focuses the spotlight upon the subject of Christ's attitude to sin and sinners?


Lastly, we ought to pay attention to the actual argument - that the incident somehow interrupts the flow of John's Gospel. 

John 7 concludes with Nicodemus and the Pharisees arguing privately over Christ's credentials. If we then cut out 7:53 to 8:11 (the AI), the next words that we read are 'Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, I am the Light of the World ...' (8:12). Now, who is Christ speaking to here? Is Christ speaking to Nicodemus and the Pharisees (7:52)? No, he is now speaking to the crowds in the Temple treasury area (8:20). Thus, if we cut out 7:53 - 8:11, the flow and connection is confused and dislocated. The scene switches without the slightest bridging note. We might have expected something like 'Then Jesus spoke to the crowd again' (as elsewhere in John chapters 7-10, eg. 7:12, 7:20, 7:31, 7:32, 7:40, 7:44, 7:49).

It is paradoxically true that it is only when we cut out the incident involving the adulteress that we cause an abrupt, unannounced scene-switch, a forced discontinuity, an interruption to the flow of John's Gospel. The excision of this incident is therefore more of a problem for the flow of John's Gospel than its inclusion. The only non sequitur is the argument that the incident somehow interrupts the flow of John's Gospel here.


Having considered some of the Internal Evidence arguments concerning the AI, a number of conclusions need to be drawn:

The vocabulary and style arguments against the AI appear to have been all-too-hastily and uncritically accepted, perhaps because of too much weight being placed upon the external evidence supporting the omission, or perhaps because of the presumed infallibility of certain ancient witnesses. 

As far as the context is concerned, the AI is exceptionally well suited where it stands. Indeed, the question has to be asked: How could an incident dovetail so well with so many quite unrelated themes that John has chosen to highlight in this section of his Gospel (Christ's brilliant words, trapping Christ, judgement, light, Moses, sin, adultery,) if it is not original?

Even the cop-out explanation that a later scribe was sophisticated enough to put the AI in at a place where it was contextually well-suited is still a de-facto admission that the AI is exceptionally well-suited to its context. In other words, we arrive at the same conclusion anyway: The argument that internal considerations prove that the AI does not belong are wrong. There are no internal considerations that warrant the excision of the AI.

However, the internal evidence is here so weighty that it forces the reconsideration of the entire situation. The oft-repeated argument that the incident somehow interrupts the flow of John's gospel here is lame-footed and uncorroborated by any real evidence. On the contrary, the internal evidence suggests the exact opposite: that the incident is an integral, forceful and therefore original part of John's gospel. For the incident to dovetail with so many unrelated themes is surely beyond the possibilities of coincidence or later scribal manipulation, particularly in such a contextually sensitive place in John's thematically-driven Gospel. Furthermore, there are other parts of the context of John 7-10 that make no contextual sense or are robbed of all their force without the incident of the adulteress. The effect of the omission of the AI is comparable to the omission of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand from the discussion of Christ as the Bread of Life in John 6. The Adulteress Incident is the very keystone to Chapters 7 and 8 of John's Gospel. 

That means, though, that twenty of the most ancient and highly-rated manuscripts of the New Testament (howsoever they have been thus ranked) are all wrong at the same time in sharing an error of huge proportions - the second most serious textual corruption in the NT. That this seems to be the case here - to use somewhat less dogmatic terms than Metzger's 'overwhelming' and 'conclusive' in pronouncing his judgement against the passage - is a wholly reasonable conviction based on an a careful and comprehensive inspection of this section of John's Gospel. 

In passing, how interesting it is that the only incident in John's Gospel involving professional, scholarly scribes is the one which not only calls their credibility into question but is also precisely the same one which was to suffer the most at their hands down through the centuries.

Finally, we can make a few comments about the place and worth of Intrinsic Probability:

  • Arguments concerning the Author's style and theology and the content and context of the passage are valid arguments that deserve careful consideration in textual decisions. Sometimes, these arguments are very weighty, far weightier than documentary arguments or transcriptional arguments.
  • Arguments involving Intrinsic Probability are valuable in cases where longer passages are involved. Arguments involving intrinsic probability are much less certain in cases involving trifling textual variants for the reason that there are less contextual comparisons to make. 
  • Arguments involving suitable vocabulary are often overplayed, and are rarely to be depended upon.
  • Arguments involving Intrinsic Probability are ultimately subjective - just like arguments about the weight of external evidence. What persuades one critic will not necessarily please another.
  • Someone who comments on the Intrinsic Probability of a passage needs more qualification than a knowledge of technical manuscript evidence, an advanced knowledge of Greek grammar, an ability to parrot what commentaries say or a degree in computers or statistics. The primary requirement is something hard to define: a spiritual affinity with the Author of the passage being studied. This is because NT textual criticism is a religion as well as a science.