[[They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 7:53-8:11]]
If you look closely at today’s verses you will notice something different about them, they are enclosed in double brackets. That is the way they are presented in the ESV translation and if you look at these verses in your Bible you will most likely see something similar. Now I am very sure there were no brackets used in the original manuscripts so what gives? Well, there is some question where exactly these verses belong in the Bible or if they belong at all. So today I want to visit this issue and then tomorrow we will look at the verses and what they say to us.
It seems that some manuscripts do not include 7:53–8:11 while others add the passage where we see it today or either after John 7:36 or John 21:25. Some include this passage after Luke 21:38, with some variations in the text. I have read that this particular passage actually sounds more like Luke than John but not being conversant with Biblical Greek I could not say one way or the other. What is one who believes in the inerrancy of Scripture to make of this problem? Do we just throw out the Bible and find another religion or can we reconcile these discrepancies.
First, if the story of the Woman caught in adultery were taken out completely it would not affect the important doctrine of the Bible and while it is a great story it has no salvation issues. Yes it does sound like something Jesus would say and it fits into the actions of those who sought to trap Jesus but Christianity would not suffer were it deleted from the Bible. So if the manuscripts that omit this story are in fact correct then noting is lost by excluding it.
As to the placement of the story, if it was supposed to be in John then where in John is of little matter, Anyone who reads John sees quickly that he chose not to write the event in chronological order. In fact his was a common custom in the first century. Many time writers would place events in the order they felt was most important. So we see in John’s Gospel that he chooses to put the story of Jesus cleansing the temple early in his story rather than at the beginning of Passion Week. Also, whether it belongs in Luke or John is also not that big of a deal. Once again this is a great story with w real ring of truth but once again no one will have their salvation threatened by where in the Bible the story is placed.
But still there is an error somewhere. Either the manuscripts that omit the story are wrong or the ones that place the story in a different part of the Bible are wrong. Some of the manuscripts must be wrong and that is an error. That would be a problem is we claimed that each and every manuscript and translation were inerrant. That is not what is meant by inerrancy. When we talk about the inerrancy of scripture we mean the original autographs that were recorded by the original authors. Any time something is copied errors can arise.
If errors can arise then how do we know we have what God really said and not something completely different? If the New Testament was like most ancient writings we could be in trouble. If there were only a couple of manuscripts that survived than we would have a hard time deciding which were right. However when it comes to the New Testament we have an embarrassment of riches. In fact there are more copies of the New Testament than any other ancient writing and they are closer to the original than all other writings.
Here is an excerpt from a lesion I taught a few years ago on Christian apologetics as it pertains to the veracity of the New Testament:
Copies of the New Testament by writing style and language:
Unical manuscripts (all-capital Greek letters from 3rd century) – 306 Minuscule (a more cursive Greek style from about 800 AD) 2,856
Early Church lectionaries ( contains New Testament in order it was to be read) 2,403
Total Greek copies = 5,664
Latin vulgate manuscripts 8,000 to 10,000
Ethiopic, Slavic and Armenian 8,000
All totaled there are about 24,000 complete copies of the New Testament in existence, dating from the third century on.
Scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix have concluded that not only has the New Testament survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity, but has survived in a purer form that any other great book, a form that is 99.5 percent pure.
The above does not count fragments. When there is so much manuscript evidence textural critics can compare the manuscripts and get back to the original writings. The good news is we can be comfortable that the Bible we read today gives us the same message that was read two thousand years ago. Check out A General Introduction to the Bible by Norman Geisler and William Nix.
Have a blessed day,