Internal Evidence

Witherington on
Historical Integrity of PA

Excerpt from: B. Witherington, Women in the ministry of Jesus, (Cambridge, 1984,rep.1998)

Page Index

Last Updated: Feb 26, 2010

Witherington: - Historical Integrity of the Traditions:
    Introduction: Marriage, Adultery, Divorce
    Jewish Form and Content - for Matt. 5:27-32, etc.
    Meaning and Translation - for Matt. 5:27
    Cultural and Legal Background - behind Jesus' Teaching

    John 7:53-8:11 - similarity to the above authentic traditions

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Witherington on
the Pericope de Adultera


Witherington has taken the standard 'party position' that the Pericope de Adultera ('PA', John 7:53-8:11) was not originally a part of John's Gospel.

Remarkably however, his own analysis shows that the incident and story is an authentic historical event in the life of Jesus, removing yet another plank in the platform against its essential authenticity as authored by John and as a part of his Gospel.

Had Witherington reconsidered the textual and patristic evidence, he might have reversed his view on its authorship.

As far as textual evidence goes, Witherington limply relies on Metzger, who simply presents a propaganda-piece for the followers of Westcott/Hort. Metzger, remarkably however, does support the originality of μοιχεια (the traditional text, as against the earliest patristic reference, Papias). "αμαρτια is a later correction of μοιχεια to conform this phrase with verse 11." (cf. fn 95 below).

Witherington thinks Cadbury's case for Lukan authorship is 'impressive' (fn.), but Cadbury himself thought otherwise, and pressed the point with much less enthusiasm, being unhappy with his own results.

Lake's old translation of Eusebius has been questioned by Schoedel.

Witherington trots out two well-known commentators: R.A.Brown, who should rightly be credited with making the concept of a Johannine Community (set apart or isolated from other Christians) plausible, but who fumbled the ball badly in regard to the Pericope Adultera; and Leon Morris, who has nothing to add to the party-line on the PA.

Witherington is important, because he presses ahead with the historical analysis, and shows with reasonable confidence that the Pericope de Adultera is after all an authentic early tradition about Jesus. What needs to be done at this point, is to bring the historical interpretation of the textual evidence in line with such results, to produce a convincing and reasonable textual history that properly accounts for all the historical data.

Exerpted for review from:
B. Witherington, Women in the ministry of Jesus, (Cambridge, 1987)

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.

2 Women in the Teaching of Jesus

A. The Physical Family


2. Marriage, Adultery and Divorce

The matters discussed in Mt. 5:27-32, Lk. 16:18, Mt. 19:3-9 and Mk.10:1-12 are of great importance for our understanding of Jesus' view of marriage, family and women's roles. The sayings on marriage and divorce fall into two categories: isolated sayings (Mt. 5:31-2, Lk.16:18), and the controversy dialogues (Mt. 19:3-9, Mk 10:1-12).(68) We will deal with each group in turn. (69)

The saying on marriage and divorce in Mt. 5:31-2 is located in a larger section of the Sermon on the Mount (5:27-32) that deals with μοιχεια (cf. vs. 27,28,32), and is presented in the familiar antithesis form: 'You have heard that it was said...but I say to you...'.

The saying which precedes the divorce discussion deals with the related matter of sexual sin; therefore, we must see how it sets the stage and relates to the content of what follows. First, however, a word on the critical problems raised by 5:27-30.

Jewish Form and Content

Verses 27-28 present few problems. Applying the criterion of dissimilarity, the antithetical parallelism and the 1st person address speak strongly in favour of its authenticity. (70) This is so not only because of the uniqueness of the form ('You have heard...but I say..') in a Jewish context where rabbis were careful to build on past traditions (biblical and otherwise), but also because,

'The evidence shows that the large number of cases of antithetic parallelism in the sayings of Jesus cannot be attributed to the process of redaction.' (71)

This passage is not an exception to this rule, and Bultmann indicates that verses 27-28 are from the older stock of tradition. (72)

In regard to verses 29-30, there are more difficulties. Here we appear to have a case where Matthew had two different sources for virtually the same saying: 5:29-30 from "M"; (73) 18:8-9 from Mk 9:43-47.

As Taylor indicates, Mk 9:43-47 is not in its original context but has been placed with a compilation of other sayings, (74) and clearly these verses are an insertion in Matthew, for 18:10 would follow naturally on 18:7 (75).

It is possible then that Matthew found 5:29-30 connected with 5:27-28 in his source, and if Derrett is correct about the meaning of verses 29-30, the connection would belong to the earliest stage of the formation of this tradition and be traceable ultimately to Jesus Himself.

As we shall see, 5:29-30 could refer to punishments known in Jesus' day for sexual sins. (76).

The Meaning and Translation of Mt 5:27

If the 'M' version of this saying is the more authentic, then it follows that at some point the Marcan version was expanded to include a reference to the foot (9:45) at a stage in the tradition when the original sexual content and implications had been forgotten. (77).

Mt. 5:27 opens with,

'You have heard that it was said, "ου μοιχευσεις.", but I say to you, πας ο βλεπων γυναικα προς το επιθυμησαι αυτην ηδη εμοιχευσεν αυτην εν τη καρδια αυτου.'

Two important questions need to be asked:

(1) What is the meaning of μοιχευω? and
(2) How should γυναικα προς το επιθυμησαι αυτην be translated?

μοιχευω and its cognates are used most commonly in the specific sense of extra-marital intercourse by a married man or woman with someone betrothed or married who is not his or her legal spouse. This word group can be used in a wider sense of various sorts of sexual misbehaviour - feelings, thoughts, or acts that involve sexual sin. It appears that the term is used in its narrower sexual sense of adultery in 5:27,32, and in a somewhat wider sense in 5:28. (78)

Traditionally, Mt. 5:28 has been translated,

'Anyone looking on a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' (79)

K. Haacker rightly challenged this translation. First, it is questionable whether ...προς το επιθυμησαι αυτην should be translated adverbially so as to link the seeing and desiring as part of one act. προς with the accusative, as in 2 Cor. 5:10, may yield the sense 'in accord with' which would lead to a translation "looks in accord with his lust for her".

THis translation however, does not take proper account of the infinitive and its relation to αυτην.

There is a further point to be considered -- what shall we make of εμοιχευσεν αυτην? Usually, this phrase is rendered "commits adultery with her", or else the αυτην is neglected entirely. Haacker suggests we translate "has led her astray to adultery", since in rabbinic Judaism it was almost always the woman who was associated with the act of and the term adultery (80)

αυτην can logically be the subject of επιθυμησαι. Possibly we should translate,

"Anyone who so looks on a woman that she shall become desirous has in his heart already committed adultery with her."

If this is correct, then it is not the same idea that we find in rabbinic sources, where men are warned against looking at women (or women looking at them) lest they, the men, be led astray. (81) Here we have the antithesis to such an idea, for what is being treated in our passage is not male instability in the face of a temptress, but male aggression which leads a woman to sin.

Thus the responsibility for such sin is placed on the male, and consideration is given to the woman, often the weaker and more suspected party in a male-oriented society. This saying is at one and the same time a reaffirmation of a man's leadership and responsibility for the community welfare, and an attempt to liberate women from a social stereotype. (82)

Jesus' Teaching and The
Cultural and Legal Background

Consistent with this stress on restraint of male aggression is the radical remedy Jesus proposes for those unable to control themselves:

'If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.' (Mt.5:29-30)

While it is often assumed that this is Jesus' hyperolic way of saying that we must sever ourselves from whatever causes us to sin, (83) in this context it is possible that sexual sins are being alluded to in verses 29-30.

This becomes more likely when we realize that loss of eyes was a well-known punishment for sexual misbehaviour, and loss of hand was a punishment for stealing another's property, even his wife. (84)

'Thus, the whole speaking in terms of punishments actually known in Palestinian practice in order to throw light on the great difficulty of remaining effectively loyal to...the Kingdom of heaven.' (85)

Jesus' words would have sounded more like a threat than a dramatic hyperbole to the male listeners he addressed. (86)

All of the above is like Jn 7:53-8:11, where men's motives are questioned in a similar way, and their failure to live up to their responsibilities in such a situation is pointed to. Perhaps then a brief digression into this Johannine material is in order at this point.

Similarity to John 7:53-8:11

The story of the woman caught in adultery, while probably not a part of the earliest and best text of the NT, is still included in most modern translations, albeit often in the margins. (87)

How are we to assess the historical value of this material in the light of its textual history and problems of positioning?

There are several factors which point to the earliness of this narrative. Daube points out that the reference to stoning indicates that this story originated in the 1st century, since strangling was substituted as a punishment soon thereafter. (88)

Further, as Cadbury points out,

'its internal character, agreeing as it does with the Synoptic stories, bespeaks its genuineness as a tradition.' (89)

The external evidence seems also to demand an early date for this story. (90)

It is difficult to explain how this narrative ever forced its way into any of the canonical Gospels unless there were strong reasons for assuming that it was authentic Jesus material. (91)

It is plausible that because the story recorded ideas found elsewhere in the Gospel tradition and because it may yave called into question the early Church's strict disciplinary measures when sexual sin was committed, it was not originally included in any Gospel. (92)

This last factor also argues against the view that this material is simply a Church creation. That the story 'represents the character and methods of Jesus as they are revealed elsewhere' (93) favours the view that the portrayal here is an accurate description of Jesus' 'typical' attitude in such cases even if it is not a description of one particular historical incident. Thus, it seems reasonable to expect that by examining this material as a literary unit we can deduce something about what was characteristic of Jesus from Jn 7:53-8:11, though we shall not contend that this text records a particular historical occurrence.

The setting for this encounter is the women's court in the Temple (94) where Jesus is teaching the people. Suddenly, into this court come the scribes and Pharisees with a woman caught in the very act of adultery. (95)

There is no reason to doubt that a married woman is meant, as Daube and Binzler have shown independently. (96)

...(pp 22-23 not available in book preview)

Original Footnotes: (87-96, p. 144)

87. That P66, 75 א B L, et al, omit this pericope is fatal to any view that it was originally part of John's (or Luke's) Gospel. Cf. Metzger, TC 219-222.

This does not preclude the possibility that it is authentic Johannine or Lucan material. The case for Lucan authorship is impressive. Cf. H.J.Cadbury, 'A Possible Case of Lukan Authorship', HTR 10 (1917), 237-244; F. Warburton Lewis, 'The Pericope Adulterae', ET 29 (1917-18), 138.
In part, this view is based on the fact that f13 includes this pericope after Lk 21:38, and 1333c includes it after Lk 24:53.

For an argument for Johannine authorship, cf. A.F. Johnson, 'A Stylistic Trait of the Fourth Gospel in the Pericope Adulterae?' BETS 9 (2,1966), 91-96. Though D G H K, Didask., Apol.Const., Ambrosiaster and most MSS include this pericope in the traditional place after Jn 7:52, Jn 7:53 and the "again" in 8:2 argue against this placement.

88. D.Daube, 'Biblical Landmarks in the Struggle for Women's Rights', JR (in press), 14.

89. Cadbury 'A Possible Case for Lucan Authorship', 243, n.12,; cf. C.K. Barrett, The Gospel Accord. to St. John, 2nd ed. (London, 1978), 590.

90. Eusebius Ecc.Hist, III, xxxix 17 (LCL I; trans. K.Lake; 1926), 298-9, indicates that Papias recorded a narrative that is probable the same as Jn 7:53-8:11 with small variations. The evidence of the Apostolic Constitutions II, 24, also appears to point to an early knowledge and use of this sotyr in the Christian community. Cf. Barrett, John.. (1978), 589-90; R.E.Brown, Gospel Acc. to John, 'i-xii' (NY, 1966), 335-6. Perhaps even earlier evidence of the existance of this narrative is found in the language and ideas of Hermas, Mand. IV.I.4.11 (LCL; tr. K Lake 1913), 78-81; cf. also IV.I.3.2, and 3.4 (LCL), 82-5. Cf. C. Taylor, 'The Pericope of the Adulteress', JTS 4 (1902-3), 129-30.

91. Cf. E.C. Hoskyns, The Fourth Gospel, (Ed. F.Davey; Lond.1940), vol II. 676-7.

92. Cf. Brown, John, 'i-xii', 335.

93. Barrett, John (1978) 590; Leon Morris, Gospel Acc. to John (Grand Rap. 1971), 833ff; cf. Lk 7:36-50, Mk 12:18-23.

94. There was no other place in the Temple to which this woman could be brought without impropriety. Cf. G. Schrenk, 'Iereus' TDNT, vol.III, 236-7.

95. επι μοιχεια κατειλημμενην It is reasonably certain that αμαρτια is a later correction of μοιχεια to conform this phrase with verse 11. Cf. Metzger, TC, 222. It seems probable that the scribes and Pharisees were accompanied by the witnesses and perhaps a lynching mob. So Derrett, Law in the NT: The Story of the Woman Taken in Adultery, NTS 10 (1963-4), 1-26.

96. Daube, 'An Attack on Discrimination Against Women: the Adulteress of John 8', unpubl. essay 25 pgs, by permission of author (an abbrev.form will appear in 'Biblical Landmarks'), 14-23.
Since this may be a lynching mob, willing to take matters and stones into their own hands, one cannot insist that, since stoning is mentioned, a tetrothed woman must be involved. Pace E.F. Harrison, 'The Son of God Among the Sons of Men. VIII. Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery', BSac 103 (1946), 431-9. J. Blinzer argues persuasively that μοιχεια would not be used of a woman who was only betrothed and that the death penalty in Jesus' day generally meant stoning. Cf. his 'Die Strafe fur Ehebruch in Bibel und Halacha. Zur Auslegung von Joh. VIII.5', NTS 4 (1,1957), 32-47.

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