The Missing Story: Why?

C Mc
C Mc Posts: 4,463

John 8:1-11 in the King James Version tells the story of the woman taken in adultery. This story is not included in John 8 of the New English Bible. Instead, a footnote refers the reader to the end of the Gospel of John. The story appears as a kind of appendix.

The New International Version begins the Gospel of John with a note saying that the earliest and most reliable manuscripts do not include John 7:53–8:11. Is it a true story? Does it appear in any Greek New Testament manuscripts? Do any of the Church Fathers write about the missing passage or story? Why would the NEB leave out a story about adultery? CM


  • Here is the explanation found in Metzger, B. M., United Bible Societies. (1994). A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition a companion volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th rev. ed.) (S. 187–189). London; New York: United Bible Societies.

         7:53–8:11     Pericope of the Adulteress

    The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming. It is absent from such early and diverse manuscripts as 𝔓66, 75 א B L N T W X Y Δ Θ Ψ 0141 0211 22 33 124 157 209 788 828 1230 1241 1242 1253 2193 al. Codices A and C are defective in this part of John, but it is highly probable that neither contained the pericope, for careful measurement discloses that there would not have been space enough on the missing leaves to include the section along with the rest of the text. In the East the passage is absent from the oldest form of the Syriac version (syrc, s and the best manuscripts of syrp), as well as from the Sahidic and the sub-Achmimic versions and the older Bohairic manuscripts. Some Armenian manuscripts1 and the Old Georgian version2 omit it. In the West the passage is absent from the Gothic version and from several Old Latin manuscripts (ita, l*, q). No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declares that the accurate copies of the Gospel do not contain it.

    When one adds to this impressive and diversified list of external evidence the consideration that the style and vocabulary of the pericope differ noticeably from the rest of the Fourth Gospel (see any critical commentary), and that it interrupts the sequence of 7:52 and 8:12 ff., the case against its being of Johannine authorship appears to be conclusive.3

    At the same time the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity. It is obviously a piece of oral tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western church and which was subsequently incorporated into various manuscripts at various places. Most copyists apparently thought that it would interrupt John’s narrative least if it were inserted after 7:52 (D E (F) G H K M U Γ Π 28 700 892 al). Others placed it after 7:36 (ms. 225) or after 7:44 (several Georgian mss)4 or after 21:25 (1 565 1076 1570 1582 armmss) or after Lk 21:38 (f 13). Significantly enough, in many of the witnesses that contain the passage it is marked with asterisks or obeli, indicating that, though the scribes included the account, they were aware that it lacked satisfactory credentials.

    Sometimes it is stated that the pericope was deliberately expunged from the Fourth Gospel because Jesus’ words at the close were liable to be understood in a sense too indulgent to adultery. But, apart from the absence of any instance elsewhere of scribal excision of an extensive passage because of moral prudence, this theory fails “to explain why the three preliminary verses (vii 53; viii 1–2), so important as apparently descriptive of the time and place at which all the discourses of c. viii were spoken, should have been omitted with the rest” (Hort, “Notes on Select Readings,” pp. 86 f.).

    Although the Committee was unanimous that the pericope was originally no part of the Fourth Gospel, in deference to the evident antiquity of the passage a majority decided to print it, enclosed within double square brackets, at its traditional place following Jn 7:52.

    Inasmuch as the passage is absent from the earlier and better manuscripts that normally serve to identify types of text, it is not always easy to make a decision among alternative readings. In any case it will be understood that the level of certainty ({A}) is within the framework of the initial decision relating to the passage as a whole.

  • C Mc
    C Mc Posts: 4,463


    From the reference mentioned above and reasoning, we can conclude the following:

    1. Only one of the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts contains this story.
    • Manuscripts from the Middle Ages have [John 7:53–8:11].
    • They floated it around:
    • After Luke 12:38, and sometimes at the end of John.

    2. The others, Greek New Testament manuscripts, left John 7:53–8:11 out. 

    Because the story is recorded in the writings of many church fathers around it, we need to work on mining the passage for its message and eternal truths. Don’t you agree?

    All the more, Augustine (d. 430 A.D.) believed the story was removed from the original text to avoid scandal. He asserted that some Christians think the story teaches too much forgiveness and might lead people to commit adultery on the premise that the Lord would forgive them afterward. Hence, they took it out to “protect” the flock.

    Was Augustine historically correct in his assessment, or was he reflecting his proclivities (“protective wall”)?

    Further Reading:

    • The Confessions of St. Augustine
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