“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
It’s a famous line – perhaps one of the most famous verses in the Bible. And yet as I continue to work my way through John’s gospel with #johnblog, we’re skipping it. Why?
Why is it excluded?
It’s not included in a normal look at John’s gospel because the best evidence says that it wasn’t part of the original. It includes language that makes it very different from John’s normal writing style, it is absent from all the early manuscripts, and when it does appear in manuscripts it can be found in various locations1.
The most compelling argument for me is the simple fact that it doesn’t fit at the end of John 7. Going from the evolving debate with the Jews who doubt Jesus’ identity in chapter 7, it is jarring to enter a new location with a new topic for 12 verses, before returning in chapter 8 to the very same topic (and location) as before.
Is that a problem?
No. There are a few places in the Bible where the manuscript evidence suggests it wasn’t part of the original2, and often it doesn’t come as a big surprise because the addition is discordant. In all good translations, such additions will be clearly marked.
But such incidences are in the minority. Almost every single verse in the Bible has amazing manuscript evidence to back it up. The fact that these occasions don’t crop up more frequently demonstrates how well attested the verses of the Bible are.
We’re now in a position where the manuscript evidence is so good, we’ve got an incredibly accurate picture of the original manuscripts that were written. And, in any case, no significant Christian doctrine depends on any of these ‘added’ texts. The discovery that they weren’t part of the original hasn’t affected standard Christian teaching in any way.3
So why include them at all?
Why are these passages included in our modern Bibles? I’m not completely sure. I’m not really here to defend the decision of those who have chosen to do so. For my part, I’m not going to have a blog post on John 7:53-8:11 (except for this one!); you’ll have to ask someone else why they keep it in…!
It’s a complicated topic that deserves much longer explanation, but this isn’t the time or place. If you’re interested, I strongly recommend the short chapter in the commentary mentioned in the footnotes below.
More on John’s gospel will be published each Wednesday evening, with a bonus blog article thrown in on most weeks at some point before the next Wednesday. Feel free to share posts using the buttons below, and you can subscribe to the blog by using the sign-up form on the right.
- See Kostenberger (2004) John. Baker Academic. pp 245-249 ↩
- Another example is Mark 16:9-20 ↩
- The big arguments that different parts of the church have don’t tend to depend on these added sections. Rather, people tend to argue about the interpretation of passages which are already widely accepted as ‘original’. ↩