Textual Evidence

Bushnell on
John 8:1-11 (1925)

Exerpted from: Catherine Bushnell, GOD'S WORD TO WOMEN,
100 Bible Studies on Woman's Place in the Divine Economy
online at http://www.godswordtowomen.org/resources/onlinebooks/gwtw.htm (1925, 1943, 2005)

Page Index

Last Updated: Feb 19, 2009

Section 1: - Introduction
Section 2: - Bushnell on John 8:1-11

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Katharine C. Bushnell (1856-1946) was a courageous and gifted servant of God who modeled her life"s motto "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Phil 4:13). She was a physician, missionary, crusader, reformer, author and speaker as well as a brilliant and original scholar who spoke seven languages and was grounded in Greek and Hebrew. Bushnell left medicine to do what she considered the more important work of reforming conditions of human degradation through leadership in the Women"s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) of the 19th century women"s movement. The scriptural status of women was of intense concern to Bushnell who came to believe that mistranslations were responsible for the social and spiritual subjugation of women. She left the WCTU in 1896 to spend her remaining years writing and sharing the biblical truth of God"s original and unchanging intent of full equality for women.

God"s Word to Women by Katharine Bushnell is a groundbreaking study that carefully examines every scripture relating to women. Jessie Penn Lewis said that the material opened up the Scriptures in a way that can only be described as containing a revelation direct from God. For many today, it is the book that set them free to be what God has called them to be and to do the work that the Holy Spirit has placed in their hearts.

While in China as a medical missionary, Bushnell discovered that the Chinese Bible was mistranslated to support cultural prejudice against the ministry of women. She wondered whether the same male bias might prejudice English translations as well and renewed her study of Hebrew and Greek. Later, while traveling throughout the world for the WCTU, she made good use of hours spent on trains, boats and in rooms where she was staying to carefully compare biblical translations with the Word as found in the original languages.

Through experience and study, the Lord was preparing Bushnell to write God's Word to Women. Begun in 1908 as a correspondence course, it was first published privately by Bushnell. Despite positive early reaction, the book soon disappeared; and Bushnell died believing that her life had made little impact. God knew better! The book was rediscovered and continues to be republished by those who see its priceless value. Today it is finally receiving well-deserved recognition as a foundational reference for those working on the cutting edge of biblical equality for women.

To this admirable introduction to Katharine Bushnell we might only add the observation that resistance to the equality of women is still a pervasive and systemic problem both in society all over the world and in many cultures, as well as within Christianity too, to its shame.

Ironically, Ms. Bushnell's lasting and powerful contribution to the preservation of the Pericope de Adultera may have actually hardened some hearts to the possibility of its authenticity and increased resistance in some quarters. As the message of Christ has always done, the people were divided.

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Bushnell on John 8:1-11

100 Bible Studies On Woman's Place in the Divine Economy
by Katharine Bushnell (1925, reprinted 1943, online 2005)

available online at:



674. Misinterpretations of Scripture are bad enough; mistranslations worse. We have dealt with both of these as they concerned woman's place in the Divine economy. But worse than either misinterpretations and mistranslations are mutilations. God has pronounced a solemn curse upon those who are guilty of such manipulations, - at least as far as the last book of the Bible is concerned, and it may apply to all the other books as well, for Proverbs 30: 5,6 reads: "Every word of God is tried: . . . add not thou unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar." The curse in Revelation 22:18 reads: "I testify unto everyone that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If anyone shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if anyone shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things that are written in this book."

675. If we will look in a Revised Version of the English Bible we will discover that a certain section, - John 7:35 to 8:11, - has been placed within brackets and spaced off from the rest of the text of the Gospel; and this marginal note has been added in explanation: "Most of the ancient authorities omit John 7:35-8:11. Those which contain it vary much from each other." Now we must examine the exact facts of the case; and, thanks to the careful investigations of the late learned Dean Burgon of Chichester, our task is not so difficult. 1 The story recorded in John 8 is but consistent with Jesus Christ's entire human history in His treatment of women. Because of this fact, it will never be blotted out of the Book, but will be the "word" by which men will be judged, as to their treatment of the social evil, in that Last Day of Judgment (John 12:48).

676. First, let us explain: The ancient manuscripts of the N. T., none of which are older than 400 A.D. (though, of course, they may in some cases be direct copies of the original autographs), are divided into Uncials and Cursives. The former term means that they are written wholly in CAPITAL LETTERS, the latter term implies that they are written in a running hand, something like handwriting. There are about sixty uncials of the Gospels, and a thousand or so cursives. It is generally assumed that the uncials are older than the cursives, but this is not always the case; certain cursives are a century older than the uncials. Tischendorf, in 1859, made the latest discovery of an entire Bible of ancient date, in the Greek tongue. This particular uncial is certainly very old, and it did not contain the story of the woman taken in adultery; and this fact, it has been claimed, clenches the proof that the story does not belong to the original text; for seven other uncials, it is claimed by Tischendorf, omit this portion. This has led to the marginal note in the R.V.The portion has been called the Pericope de Adultera, meaning an excerpt, - a portion selected for the Church readings relating to an adulteress. For short, we will call it by this name in these Lessons.

677. Whether the marginal note in the R.V.is correct or not, those who hold Tischendorf's manuscript in high esteem are likely to contend that "most ancient authorities" are against the pericope; but that is largely a mere opinion that those that contain it prove thereby their own lack of authority. Dean Burgon says of Tischendorf's claim that eight uncials in all omit the pericope: "No sincere inquirer after truth could so state the evidence," and then shows that several of these manuscripts happen to omit the pericope for the simple reason that they are lacking at this place, - that is, a page or two is lost out. This sort of "evidence" is as though I claimed that "All hail the power of Jesus' name" was not in the Church Hymnal, because my copy of it had two or three pages torn out at the very place where one would be guided by the Index to look for it. After weighing the claims as to the omission of the pericope, Dean Burgon asserts that only three uncials ("ancient authorities") actually omit the portion; and two of these are demonstrably copies of a common original. That seventy out of a thousand or so cursives omit it is a matter of small moment, of which Dean Burgon gives satisfactory explanation, - as also for its omission from the three uncials, at the same time.

678. It happens that the Eastern section of the early Church appointed that Christ's discourse at the Feast of Tabernacles, given in the 7th chapter of John's Gospel, should constitute the church reading portion on the day of the Festival of Pentecost (Whitsunday); and to this section was added, not unnaturally, the 12th verse of chapter eight. But the verses immediately concerned in recounting the story of the woman taken in adultery were reserved for another day, - St. Pelagia's Day, October 8th. In order to join up well the verses for Whitsunday, the following were omitted altogether: "And every man went unto his own house. Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came unto Him: and He sat down and taught them," - 7:53 and 8:1, 2. Thus, by the entire omission of three verses, two Lessons were made, one for the Festival of Pentecost, and the other for St. Pelagia's Day.

679. St. Pelagia is a name applied to at least three persons, but undoubtedly the one to whom this section finally referred was the one sometimes called "the sinner." She lived at Antioch (as did a virgin "St. Pelagia"), and was a courtesan and dancer. She was suddenly converted under the preaching of Bishop Nonnus, some time in the very beginning of the fifth century. After conversion, she retired to the Mount of Olives, and died three years later of strict penance. Some of the cursives, as we have said, and an uncial or two have omitted the pericope altogether. Now, it appears why; they were either manuscripts prepared for Church lessons, or copies of such, - or at any rate, copies of John's Gospel which had been influenced by the Lectionaries of the Church.

680. The proof that such was the case is given by Dean Burgon: Some of the ancient manuscripts of the Gospels are so marked on the margin as to indicate the portions to be used in church. At the beginning of such a portion, the Greek word for "beginning" (arche) is written, and at the end, the Greek word for "end," (telos). But for the reading for Whitsunday, another Greek word is written at the margin of John 7:53, namely hyperba, "overleap, skip"; and at 8:12 a second Greek word signifying "recommence" (archai), and lastly the usual telos at the end of the lesson. Now Dean Burgon claims that it is impossible that this section, if actually without authenticity, should ever have got so imbedded in the ancient Church readings, into the middle of the lesson for Pentecost, that the ancient Church authorities should invariably have written these directions, - for the Church reading must have been fixed before any of the present-day uncials had come into existence, being very old. All the manuscripts having these markings for Church lessons on their margin, have these special directions for the reading for the Festival of Pentecost. In a word, the Reader of the Scripture Lesson at Church would not have been directed to "skip" something that had not previously existed there.

681. To use Dean Burgon's own words: "By the very construction of her Lectionary, the Church, in her corporate capacity and official character, has solemnly recognized the narrative in question as an integral part of St. John's Gospel, and as standing in its traditional place, from an exceedingly remote time." . . . "In this way then it is that the testimony borne to these verses by the Lectionary of the East proves to be of the most opportune and convincing character. The careful provision made for passing by the twelve verses in dispute: - the minute directions which fence off twelve verses on this side and on that, directions issued, we may be sure, by the highest Ecclesiastical authority, because recognized in every part of the ancient Church, - not only establish them effectually in their rightful place. . . but fully explain the adverse phenomena which are ostentatiously paraded by adverse critics."

(To be continued.)



682. That this narrative of the woman taken in adultery has the living truth of God in it is proved by its amazing vitality. What but truth could hold its own and progress through the ages with such adverse winds against it? For all through the ages, particularly since the supplanting of female kinship by male kinship, men have held that woman must be more chaste than man, as otherwise man might have more children than his own reckoned in among his progeny; in female kinship no such danger must be guarded against, in genealogical tables. Herein is the chief cause of the persistent maintenance of two standards of chastity, one for men and one for women. But the teaching of Jesus Christ is that man must first show himself to be chaste before dealing with woman's unchastity.

683. The Talmud, for instance, during a discussion between rabbi and scholars, reproduces words incidentally which show that some of the most honored among them, - married men - expected women to be furnished them when away from home in the performance of their duties as religious leaders; and yet the Talmud teaches that a man should repudiate his wife as a proved adulteress, if merely found abroad with her head uncovered. And we know of pagan customs dealing no less cruelly with women guilty of the least indiscretion. Further, we have only to read the discourses of some of the "Church Fathers," as Tertullian, particularly on the veiling of women, to see exhibited the same spirit of injustice to women. And surely, no one can pretend that anything more than lip-homage to the teaching of the pericope has ever been exhibited in the Church up to the present day, excepting in rare instances.

684. Where ever has existed the man, in ancient times or modern, so jealous for the rights of women, so skilful in drawing a picture of absolute justice, and yet so unscrupulous in character, and so influential, as to have foisted this story upon the credulity of the Church, so that the ecclesiastical authorities, who live so far beneath its principles of justice in dealing with fallen women, are compelled to let the story persist, and dare not wipe it out of existence? No stronger proof than this is needed that it is a true incident in the life of our Savior. That we should find that a few attempts have been made to discredit it (such as the Revisers), is no more than we should expect. The textual critics, Westcott and Hort, are the chief one in England to cast doubt upon its authenticity, and yet they say: "The argument that has always told most in its favor in modern times is its own internal character. The story itself has justly seemed to vouch for its substantial truth."

685. Besides the oppressive measures instituted by the male in order to maintain male kinship making it necessary to see to it that women are chaste, whatever men may be, another factor has worked prejudicially against the authenticity of this story. This is well expressed in the words of Dr. Philip Schaff: "The story could not have been invented, the less so as it runs contrary to the ascetic and legalistic tendency of the ancient Church which could not appreciate it." We have only to think of the days when monks fled to the wilderness, that they might never be defiled by looking upon the face of a woman; and when celibacy was so exalted that marriage was looked upon as a mild sort of adultery (Tertullian spoke of married women as "women of the second degree [of modesty] who have fallen into wedlock"), to understand these difficulties in the way of a preservation of the pericope. Augustine tells us (died about 430 A.D.) that men "from fear lest their wives should gain impunity in sin, removed from their manuscripts the Lord's act of indulgence to the adulteress." Ambrose, twenty-five years earlier, intimated that danger was popularly apprehended from the story; "while Nicon, five centuries later, states plainly that the mischievous tendency of the narrative was the cause why it had been expunged from the Armenian versions."

686. Furthermore, to quote Dean Burgon again, "In the earliest age of all, - the age which was familiar with the universal decay of heathen virtue, but which had not yet witnessed the power of the Gospel to fashion society afresh, and to build up domestic life on a new and more enduring basis; - at a time when the greatest laxity of morals prevailed, and the enemies of the Gospel were known to be on the lookout for grounds of cavil against Christianity and its Author, - what wonder if some were found to remove the pericope de adultera from their copies, lest it should be pleaded in extenuation of breaches of the seventh commandment? The very subject-matter, I say, of John 8:3-11 would sufficiently account for the occasional omission of those nine verses."

687. We need not fear, however, that this story has ever done any mischief, or ever will. The story does not suit the views of men who are over-careful as to the prudent conduct of their wives, while loose in their own morals. Christ's blow was aimed at two standards of morality; at injustice; at hypocrisy. It was not a blow in defense of adultery in either man or woman. Those who have made use of the narrative, or its principle of justice, in dealing with fallen women, have discovered how it encourages the victim of society's cruel injustices to try again, in the strength of Him whose sceptre is "absolute justice." We have known the story to bring a hardened woman sinner to instant repentance, - for the reckless immorality of a fallen girl is generally to be accounted for in the words of Jeremiah, which so vividly describe the effect of hopelessness upon women: "And they said, There is no hope; but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart. Therefore thus saith the Lord: Ask ye now among the heathen, who hath heard such things: the virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing: (Jeremiah 18:12,13).

688. There is absolutely nothing which destroys morality out of the human heart so effectually and quickly as injustice, and there is nothing which so quickly lights the Divine flame of penitence and aspiration for holiness, in the heart of the fallen, as the hope of justice. Justice is the kindest thing in the world; Injustice is the cruelest and the most depressing. We have seen, repeatedly, the softening effect of this story upon the dark, pagan hearts of women of shame in the Orient, - "Our gods have taught nothing so wonderful as this," they have said, "yours must be the true God."

689. Jesus Christ would not have said to the woman, "Neither do I condemn thee," had she remained impenitent, - so no harm was done. If the effect of the story upon the fallen is so marked, we do not infer too much when we say that the Savior's sentence of justice was quite enough to bring the woman to instant repentance. His kindness was such a tremendous contrast to the Pharisees who had dragged her into publicity while they let her male partner go free, - for the details of the story convict them of having had the man in their power, had they cared to make an example of him. Thus they had come, red-handed in compromise with male adultery, to make a chance to strike at the Holy One. What cared they if a woman must be made to suffer, too, with the Christ, - if only they could entangle Him!

690. The truth is, no quality whatever it happens to be, has anything of use or morality in it unless it be founded upon the basic principle of all morality, - justice. The lack of justice vitiates any moral quality which we may seek to exercise apart from justice. Hence, no good was every done, and no good can ever be done, by legal enactments for the benefit of society, which, for reasons of "prudence" omit principles of justice. Here is where the great mistake is being made on the "woman question." Is it "prudent" to allow women to do thus and so? - men ask themselves at every step of woman's progress. The only question that should be asked is, Does justice demand this? If so, "let justice be done though the heavens fall;" anything short of justice is mere mischief making.

(To be continued.)



691. We have now considered the principal weak arguments against the pericope, and the strong arguments in favor of it, in internal evidence. Other arguments against it must be briefly considered. Many of the Church Fathers do not mention the pericope in their commentaries. This objection is serious. The lesson of the incident was not palatable, as we have shown, because of the ascetic views of the early Church, teaching that the very face of the chastest woman was a cause of corruption. How much more the presence of an adulteress, brought to the thought of a congregation by discussing her case! How could the leniency of the Lord be accounted for by men who harshly put away from their midst the purest of women as a source of defilement of their imagination? Then, if husbands and brothers, they did not care to teach that a fall in a woman was no worse than a fall in a man, - especially as they believed that every fall in man was due to some woman. They could understand that the integrity of family life (at least, a man's ability to know his own children), depended upon the chastity of women; but they could not understand that in the remoter sense it depended even more upon the chastity of men. In fact, few men understand this up to the present hour. Again, many of these Fathers' writings are comments on the Church lessons, and as the pericope was for a special occasion, and not so well suited to a public address, in their opinion, it would naturally be passed over.

692. Other modern expositors declare that the chief difficulties in the way of crediting the pericope are textual. The story contains words that John uses nowhere else in his Gospel. This is true; but, on the other hand, the style of the writing is also much like John's. Supposing, then, that John wrote this portion when the event occurred, and while it was fresh in mind? He did not write his Gospel until fifty or eighty years afterwards, when he was living in Ephesus. This would explain a change of words. Or, supposing the woman herself wrote the account down for him, and allowed him, long after the event when none could identify her, to put it in his Gospel, for the encouragement to repentance of other sinning women; then the pericope would, as the woman's account brushed up by John, exhibit precisely that mixed character which it does. As for its containing several unusual words and expressions, the entire nine verses contain scarcely any more than the first two verses of John 19; and no one has ever questioned the authenticity of the latter, where nine unusual words (for John) occur.

693. On the other hand, note how characteristic, for John, is the expression, "This they said tempting Him, that they might have to accuse Him." Compare it with John 6:6; 6:71; 7:39; 11:13, 51; 12:6, 33; 13:11, 28; 21:19. We pass over many other points of similarity to John's own style, in the pericope, because they could only be appreciated by those acquainted with the original Greek, for the most part. Then there are other doubters who have claimed that this incident is an interruption in the text; that the story of Christ at the Feast of Tabernacles runs more smoothly if it is left out; but Dean Burgen contends that the exact truth lies quite at the other extreme: If this pericope is torn out of this place, either to be put elsewhere (some would place it at the end of the Gospel of John, others after Luke 21, - in accordance with a few ancient manuscripts), or to be thrown aside as discarded, then "ragged ends," he maintains, show where the violence has been done. Let us see: Let us join up 8:12 next to 7:52, dropping out all between, and study the result, - holding in mind all the time, of course, that this mutilation represents the wishes of certain critics, not our own view as to events.

694. But, let us first pause to consider the fact that no other place or time could better suit such a story of moral corruption. According to John, the Feast of Tabernacles was on, and hundreds of thousands of people were living in tents all about Jerusalem. Life was very irregular, and afforded opportunities for such a deed. As for the rest, Jesus had been speaking to the common people, in the temple precincts, in the informal way which was allowed to religious instructors. The rulers of the people were angry, but doubtless as on other occasions feared to arrest Him openly (Matthew 21:46). They were angry because they knew He was making great claims for Himself, by such expressions as, "If anyone thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." So the Pharisees and chief priests held a council and concluded to arrest Him, - probably when He ceased to speak, and the people dispersed. They sent officers to fetch Him (7:32), as they had opportunity to do so, quietly.

695. Finally the last day of the Feast comes (7:37), and at its close the Pharisees and priests assemble, confident that surely, at last, He will be brought. But their officers return to them without Him, and all they can say regarding their failure to bring Him is "Never man spake like this man" (vs. 46). The Pharisees enquire of the officers, "Have any of the rulers or Pharisees believed on Him?" - both in derision at the very idea of it, and yet, perhaps, because they wished to really know whether the officers had spied any of their own class and caste in the crowd about Him. It is to be noted that these Pharisees had disdained to go and listen to Him for themselves.[2] Then Nicodemus, who had gone to Him by night, and felt the force of the officers' testimony that "Never man spake like this man," remonstrated with them, to the effect that it was contrary to their own principles of justice to condemn a man wholesale to whom they had never listened, to know what he had to say for himself. His feeble defense of the Master in whom he secretly believed, acted like the "apple of discord" in the meeting, and "every man went unto his own house."

696. But according to the theory, after all the assembly did not break up, - for verse 53 must drop out, and all as far as verse 12 of the next chapter; and we must read to the effect that immediately after the words of Nicodemus, and the retort of the others of that council to him, "Then spake Jesus again [note the word] unto them" (8:12); and (v. 13) "the Pharisees" replied to His words. Now when had He spoken to the Pharisees at this Feast, that it can be said that He spoke "again" to them? Had not Nicodemus just declared that they had refused to give Him a hearing, but were in ignorance of His exact representation of His case condemning Him? We must account for that "again" somehow; and those who rule out the story of the woman cannot do it. But put that story back in its proper place and all becomes clear.

697. Convicted by the words of Nicodemus that they must hear something from His own lips that will be His own condemnation, - "hear Him for themselves," to make the testimony sure, the Pharisees take with them some experts as to points of law - scribes - and dragging a wretched woman into His presence, demand His decision as to what should be done to her. Thus they accept the challenge of Nicodemus.

698. This is on the day following the last day of the Feast, when Jesus is teaching those who have not yet returned to their country homes. If Jesus rendered a decision contrary to the Mosaic law, they would have something of which to accuse Him; if He condemned the woman to die, they might entangle Him with the Roman law. How truly they were to experience the fact that "Never man spake like this man!" They became, in His presence, as useless as the officers; they "went out one by one." Instead of succeeding in bringing Him to judgment, He had brought them to their own judgment of themselves. The effect of hearing Him for themselves was what Nicodemus had anticipated; they could not bring Him to the bar of their judgment and condemnation. But their Judge did not let them escape so easily. He followed them, still, in His mercy, offering them light and life: "Again [later] He spake unto them," and a long argument followed, in which they resisted all His efforts to enlighten their darkness, until at last, in a rage, they took up stones to cast at the Judge who would not allow them to be cast at the sinful woman. This discourse must have occurred later in the day.

Additional Note:

This decision of the Lord, as regards the adulteress, is well-founded in O. T. Scripture, as the scribes and Pharisees must have recognized. Hosea 4:14 (R. V.) reads: "I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot, nor your brides when they commit adultery, for the men themselves go apart with harlots, and they sacrifice with prostitutes." Rabbi Yochanan ben Zachi ordered the discontinuance of the trial of jealousy, on the authority of this word, saying, "If you follow fornication yourselves, the bitter waters will not try your wives." Indeed the Sanhedrin had abrogated the ceremony of trial of jealousy, on this word, - since the second Temple, B. C. 520, it is said. But there are evidences of its use in later times.

1. Ms. Bushnell refers to Burgon's powerful posthumous defence of the passage, "The Pericope de Adultera" found in his book, Causes of Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, (London: George Bell and Sons, 1896) edited by his friend Edward Miller. We have placed it online here:

John Burgon on John 8:1-11 <-- Click Here.

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