Jesus Encounter with the Adulterous Woman: Should it be in the Bible?

  • Should John 7:53-8:11 be in the Bible?


*(this was taken from an article written by pastor Dr. John Piper on his website…desiringgod.org)


John 7:53-8:11 some scholars claim this text wasn’t in the original Gospel of John, but was added at a later date--the scholars believe these events took place, they just do not flow with what Jesus was teaching about--at the Feast of the Booths, using the rituals of that celebration as a way of showing Himself to be the Messiah...and then it just abruptly ends, and we have the encounter of the adulterous woman...and there were some scholars that tried omitting this portion because they thought that Jesus was approving of an adulterous relationship...which clearly, He wasn’t the case.


Why This Section Isn’t Original to John’s Gospel


● The evidence goes something like this:

● The story is missing from all the Greek manuscripts of John before the fifth


● All the earliest church fathers omit this passage in commenting on John and pass directly from John 7:52 to John 8:12.

● In fact, the text flows very nicely from John 7:52 to 8:12 if you leave out the story and just read the passage as though the story were not there.

● No Eastern church father cites the passage before the tenth century when

dealing with this Gospel.

● When the story starts to appear in manuscript copies of the Gospel of John, it shows up in three different places other than here (after John 7:36; 7:44; 21:25), and in one manuscript of Luke, it shows up after 21:38.

● Its style and vocabulary is more unlike the rest of John’s Gospel than any

other paragraph in the Gospel.


  • The New Testament that we know was originally written in Greek. The first printed Greek New Testament — that came off a printing press — was published by Erasmus in 1516.

This means that for 1,500 years the manuscripts of the biblical books were passed down to us through handwritten copies. This is how we have access to the actual words that the New Testament writers wrote with their very hands. None of those first, original manuscripts is known to exist.

Let’s compare the texts of the NT w/ some of the historical literature--there are 10 copies of Julius Caesar’s Gaelic Wars (written between 58-50 BC...there are 20 copies of Livy’s Roman History written during the time of Jesus...there are 8 copies of the History of Thucydides who lived around 460-400 BC.

And of the NT manuscripts there are over 5,800 that are preserved in libraries across the world. That’s good and problematic at the same time--because with all these manuscripts, not all agree in every single detail. More manuscripts = more variations of the story...however, most Biblical scholars can use the existing manuscripts to see what most of the texts say...so if you only had 2 manuscripts of John and 1 had the adulterous woman story and 1 didn’t –you would have a tough time knowing which one to believe--however, with over 5,000 manuscripts--the stories that weigh heavy on one side can be more trustworthy and reliable.  Makes sense?


This is troubling--let’s be honest--because as Baptists--we proclaim that the Bible is the inherent/inspired Word of God--from Genesis to the Atlas Maps  it all is inspired by God...so if we have men choosing for us centuries ago what gets to stay and what doesn’t...that is unsettling...however, in a case of this story, whether it happened here as it’s presented to us at this time in Jesus’ ministry or at an earlier or later date--and even if this encounter did not happen--this story doesn’t change or have any dealing with the Christian doctrine. No truth this story teaches changes anything or goes against any other teaching of Christ in the Bible...it lines up with Jesus teaching of God’s grace--that no matter what we have done/sinned--God can and will forgive us of our sins. Most Bible scholars believe this even happened in Jesus’ ministry--they just question the time of Jesus’ ministry that it took place.


  • See John Piper’s explanation…


The most remarkable point of this story is that Jesus exalts himself above the Law of Moses, changes its appointed punishment, and reestablishes righteousness on the foundation of grace.


● The woman is caught in adultery and brought to Jesus. In verses 4–5, the

scribes and Pharisees put Jesus to the test. We have seen this before in the

Gospels. This has the ring of truth. Here’s what they say, “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?” So, this is a

blatant test to see if Jesus will contradict the Law.


● The law said, “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of

them shall die” (Deuteronomy 22:22; see Leviticus 20:10). There is already something fishy going on here that only the woman is brought forward. There is no such thing as adultery where only one party is guilty. But there she is and no man. So how committed are these scribes and Pharisees really to the law? Or is the law a pretext for their prejudice against Jesus?


Verse 6 makes explicit what their motives were, and so we don’t expect a

great deal of justice: “This they said to test him, that they might have some

charge to bring against him.” They were using her, and using the law, to get

rid of this troublemaker.


In verse 7, Jesus says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Now of course, that won’t work as a basis for social justice. No criminals would be brought to justice if judges had to be sinless.


● Jesus is going to reestablish righteousness. He’s going to do it on the

foundation of grace. For now, there is zero grace, zero humility, zero

compassion. Which means there is zero law-keeping.


● Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus standing against the Pharisees’ view of the law and saying in effect, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’”


● So, Jesus forced them to expose their own misuse of the law. They all walked away. The point is not that judges and executioners must be sinless. The point is that righteousness and justice should be founded on a gracious spirit, and if it’s not, what you get is the heartlessness and hypocrisy of Pharisaism. That’s the point throughout the Gospels, not just here.


● When they are all gone, Jesus ends the story saying to the woman, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (recall John 5:14). Not: Neither do I condemn you, so it doesn’t matter if you commit adultery.  But: I am reestablishing righteousness in your life — and the for Pharisees if they will have it — based on an experience of grace. Don’t commit adultery anymore. Not mainly because you fear stoning. But because you have met God and have been rescued by his grace — saved by grace!


● The story may not belong to John’s Gospel. In fact, the story may never have happened. But this point of the story is unshakably true. This is the pervasive message of the New Testament. Jesus exalted himself above the Law. He wrote it! Jesus altered some of its sanctions. He pointed to its main goal of Christ-exalting love. And Jesus reestablished righteousness based on an experience of grace.


● The story points us to the message of the whole New Testament: we are

called to be holy as God is holy. God hates sin. But pursuing holiness without

a profound experience of grace in our own lives produces hypocrisy and

doctrinaire cruelty. Jesus came into the world to provide that grace through

his cross, and to establish holiness, righteousness, and justice on the

foundation of our experience of his grace. So, come to Him for grace, and set your face to sin no more.

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