The last vestiges of my old Posterous blog

My favorite Bible passage that wasn't originally in the Bible

The Woman taken in Adultery | Dulwich Picture Gallery

I suppose this might be news to some readers, but it won't be to others. When I stop to consider what some of my favorite passages from the Bible are, specifically in the New Testament, one passage often springs to mind: the story of "the woman caught in adultery," from the eighth chapter of John's Gospel. Many people, even those who aren't particularly familiar with the Bible, know at least the basic outline of this one. Here it is, in the words of the Lexham English Bible:

3 Now the scribes and the Pharisees brought to him a womanb caught in adultery. And standing her in their midst, 4 they said to him, testing him,c “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery! 5 Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 (Now they were saying this to test him, so that they would have an occasion* to bring charges against him.) But Jesus, bending down, began to write* with his* finger on the ground, taking no notice.d 7 And when they persisted in asking him, straightening up he saide to them, “The one of you without sin, let him throw the first stone at her!” 8 And bending down again, he wrote on the ground. 9 Now when they* heard it,* being convicted by their conscience,f they began to depart,* one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesusg was left alone—and the woman who was in their midst. 10 So Jesus, straightening up and seeing no one except the woman,h said to her, “Where are those accusers of yours?i Does no one condemn you?” 11 And she said, “No one, Lord.” So Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, andj sin no more.”⟧k

Now many (but not all) Bible versions have a note much like note k at the end of this version, which reads: "John 7:53–8:11 is not found in the earliest and best manuscripts and was almost certainly not an original part of the Gospel of John; one significant group of Greek manuscripts places it after Luke 21:38."

So most scholars of Biblical textual criticism agree, this famous story was not in the earliest versions of John's Gospel, but was a later addition to the New Testament. Still, it's a great story, isn't it? The little details are especially great: for example, the absence of the man with whom the woman committed adultery, where is he? Her accusers make it clear that she was "caught in the very act," so surely there was someone else present, right? And then there's my favorite detail: Jesus bends down, and begins to write on the ground with his finger. This is such a specific description of Jesus' response to their accusations against the woman. He doesn't just stand there and listen, he doesn't ask for more detail, he doesn't even talk to the woman herself. He writes on the ground, almost as if he's barely listening. But it's clear from his next statement that he has been listening, and he drops that amazing bombshell: "If there's one of you who hasn't sinned, go ahead, throw the first stone" (my paraphrase). And then they begin to depart, starting with "the older ones," who presumably have the wisdom to see exactly what Jesus is getting at. Finally, Jesus doesn't proceed to "share the gospel" with the woman...or maybe he does. He simply says that he doesn't condemn her. A lot of pious folks will point out that he tells her to sin no more, as if that's the point. But he starts with the forgiveness. I can't help but find that significant.

It's a great story, very well told. A whole sermon in fewer than a dozen verses. So if it wasn't originally part of John's Gospel, it's my fervent hope that it was another true story of Jesus that just didn't make the first cut. After all, John admits towards the end of his Gospel that these haven't been all of the stories of Jesus. In the twentieth chapter, we read: "30 Now Jesus also performed many other signs in the presence of the disciplesc which are not recorded in this book, 31 but these things are recorded in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by* believing you may have life in his name." I imagine this could easily have been one of the "many other signs" John mentions, or at least, a story that he just didn't know about, that someone else later added. In fact, many scholars believe that the Gospel of John was actually written by disciples of the apostle John, so I imagine it's possible that there could have been disagreements among them as to which stories they should include.

So that was it: my favorite Bible passage that wasn't originally in the Bible. But I think it should have been. And I intend to keep reading it as scripture. Thanks for reading.


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