Metzger on John 8:1-11 (1971/1994)


Exerpted from: Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament ,
(1971, + 4th ed. rev. 1994)






Page Index

Section 1: - Metzger on John 8:1-11
Section 2: - Footnotes from Nazaroo


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Metzger on John 8:1-11

from: A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (1971,1994), pp. 219-221.

Metzger's (and Ehrman's) original footnotes are indicated with blue numbers (superscript).

[Discussion on Pericope de Adultera (John 7:53-8:11)]

"The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming. 1

It is absent from such early and diverse manuscripts as Papyrus66.75 Aleph B L N T W X Y D Q Y 0141 0211 22 33 124 157 209 788 828 1230 1241 1242 1253 2193 al. 2

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. 3

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 manuscripts 1 and the old Georgian 2 version omit it. 4

In the West the passage is absent from the Gothic version and from several Old Latin manuscripts (ita.l*.q). 5

No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (12th century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declares that the accurate copies of the Gospels do not contain it. 6

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), 7 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 ... 8

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. 9

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 G P 28 700 892 al). 10

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 Luke 21.38 (f13). 11

Significantly enough, in many of the witnesses which 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. 12

Sometimes it is stated that the pericope was deliberately expunged from the Fourth Gospel because it was liable to be understood in a sense too indulgent to adultery. 13

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 chapter viii were spoken, should have been omitted with the rest"

(Hort, "Notes on Select Readings," pp. 86 f.). 14

Although the committee [that is, the editorial committee of the United Bible Societies' (UBS) Greek New Testament, (1966, 2nd ed. 1968)] 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 John 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. "



Original Footnotes (1994 ed.):


1. According to a note in Zohrab's edition of the Armenian version,

"Only five of the thirty manuscripts we used preserve here the addition [i. e. the pericope of the adulteress] found in Latin manuscripts. The remainder usually agree with our exemplar in placing it as a separate section at the end of the Gospel, as we have done. But in six of the older manuscripts the passage is completely omitted in both places"

(translated by Erroll E Rhodes, who comments as follows in a note to the present writer: "When the pericope is found in manuscripts after 7.52, it is frequently accompanied with an asterisk or other symbol").


2. The pericope is lacking in the Adysh ms. (a.d. 897), the Opiza ms. (a.d. 913), and the Tbet' ms. (a.d. 995).


3. Occasionally an attempt is made to support the Johannine authorship of the pericope by appealing to linguistic and literary considerations (e. g. J. P. Heil in Biblica, lxxii [1992], pp. 182-191); for a convincing rebuttal of such arguments, see D. B. Wallace in New Testament Studies, xxxix (1993), pp. 290-296.

For patristic evidence of other forms and interpretations of the pericope, see B. D. Ehrman, New Testament Studies, xxxiv (1988), pp. 2444.


4. So Eberhard Nestle, who, however, identifies no specific manuscripts (Einfuhrung in das Griechische Neue Testament, 3te Aufl. [Gottingen, 1909], p. 157). According to information kindly provided by Dr. J. N. Birdsall, the pericope follows 7.44 in Sinai ms. georg. 16.

In the editio princeps of the Georgian Bible (Moscow, 1743), as well as the editions of the New Testament of 1816, 1818, 1878 (Gospels), and 1879, the pericope stands in its traditional place after 7.52.


Metzger, B. M., & United Bible Societies,
A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed.;
A Companion Volume to the UBS Greek New Testament (4th rev. ed.)
(1994, UBS, London; New York)


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Modern Footnotes

Footnotes courtesy of Nazaroo:



1. "The evidence (against the passage) is overwhelming."

This of course is the thesis which needs to be proved. Here in this textual commentary is where we are supposed to find that evidence. Back in 1881, Hort knew enough to realise he had to provide 800 pages of careful argument defending the first edition of a critical Greek text almost identical to the one adopted by the UBS committee in 1966.

Hort provided nearly a half-dozen dense pages of evidence and discussion in his Introduction. Metzger however, simply recites a half-dozen points here, with little evidence or argument to support them. The ordinary Christian reader will not find much substance in the Metzger account. Certainly not enough to convince him to abandon 12 whole verses of the Gospel of John.



2. "such early and diverse MSS as (list of MSS)..."

Unfortunately, the group of MSS listed does not actually form a list that can be characterized as 'early and diverse'. Only the first four manuscripts can be reasonably called 'early': P66 and P75 (late 2nd or early 3rd century), and uncial codices Aleph and B (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, mid 4th century).

And these four early MSS can hardly be called a diverse set of witnesses. The two early papyrii (P66 and P75) come from the same tiny geographical area in Egypt, a backwater of the Empire and far away from the evangelical trade-routes used by Paul and the Apostles. The two 4th century Uncials (Aleph and B) can be shown to be descendants of the same Alexandrian text-type found in P75.

As Metzger notes in the next paragraph, the other two old MSS (A and C) are missing the pages that would have contained John 7:53-8:11 entirely. This makes it difficult to cite them as simple witnesses for omission (see next footnote).

The likelihood is that there actually WAS some note or mark indicating the omission, since the only two other (4th cent.) uncials that omit the verses (Aleph and B), also have clear diacritical marks from the original scribes, showing a knowledge of the existance of the verses.

In fact, even the oldest papyrus (P66) also shows a clear knowledge of the existance of the passage. Only P75 omits the verses without any apparent sign: but this manuscript is at least 50 years later than P66, so its testimony is already secondary.

The rest are better described as 'late' MSS: Except for N (6th), T (5th), W (5th), the rest are 9th to 15th century cursives: L (9th cent.), Y (9th), D (9th), Q (9th), Y (9th), 0141 (10th), 0211 (9th), 22 (9th), 33 (10th), 124 (11th), 157 (12th), 209 (14th), 788 (11th), 828 (12th), 1230 (12th), 1241 (12th), 1242 (13th), 1253 (15th), 2193 (10th).

The most ridiculous member of Metzger's list is codex X (10th cent.), which is really just a late commentary on the gospels, not a copy of John at all. It leaves out the passage because it only comments on what is publicly read to the congregation during Pentecost. It is only written in uncial script for decorative purposes!

It is hard to see what 'diverse' can mean in this context of a motley list of MSS artificially and inadequately thrown together, for the purpose of making the manuscript count appear large. The actual count of MSS from all ages which omit (less than 100) is dwarfed by the number that include the passage, (almost 1,300 and counting), giving at least a 10 to 1 ratio for inclusion.



3. "it is highly probable that neither (A or C) contained the pericope"

The last time anyone seriously tried to 'accurately' guesstimate the contents of the missing pages in A and C was around 1800. This was done by Woide, but his work was later criticized by John Burgon, who showed the possibility that there may have been either redundant material or a space on the missing pages. Willker (2006) also claimed to have made an experimental count, but failed to produce his notes or a mock-up of the missing pages.

In any case, it is unreasonable to call such guesstimates "accurate measurements", since the pages of the MSS are missing, and nothing physical can be 'measured'.

The worst deficiency here by Metzger is his failure to mention any controversy concerning these 'measurements', or who claimed to have done them.

Two key points need to be observed in the discussion of A and C here.

(1) Since the pages are missing, it cannot be determined if there was a space or any other kind of notice given by the scribe or scriptorium supervisor in the margin. This is critical information which now prevents the MSS from ever being grouped with those that omit the passage without any notice of its existance.

(2) Even if it were determined that the MSS omitted the verses, they are too late (both are 5th century uncials) to be useful in determining the early history of transmission.



4. However the earliest 'versions' (translations) of the Gospels appear to have been based upon early liturgical copies of the NT. That is, from MSS prepared for public reading and liturgical use. These manuscripts formed the core of the early evolving lectionary system, and it is likely that the verses were left out, not because they were deemed spurious or unknown, but because they were simply not used in worship services.

We know that such 'liturgical' copies of the NT existed, because our two oldest semi-complete copies of John (P66 and P75) are in fact 'lectionary-type' documents specially prepared for use in public reading in local congregations.



5. The Gothic version is again a late translation of the Gospels apparently based upon liturgical copies of the NT.

The meaning of the omission in some Old Latin copies is not completely certain, but must be interpreted in the light of St. Jerome's testimony regarding the omission of the verses in some Old Latin documents in his time. These documents (along with those which contain the verses) confirm the accuracy of Jerome's testimony regarding the state of the MSS in his time, and lend Jerome's statements more weight here too.



6. "No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius (12th cent.) comments on it"

This comment by Metzger is misleading to someone unaware that ALL the ancient commentaries were prepared for liturgical use. They were not private books, but comments meant to be read to the congregation during services. The ancient commentaries could not comment upon sections of Holy Scripture that were not publicly read.

It has long been known that during Pentecost the Pericope de Adultera was skipped over during the reading, being deemed inappropriate for the Pentecost service. The preceding verses ending the evening in the Gospel account were also skipped, and the 'Lection' (Lesson) ended at verse 12, skipping directly there from 7:52.

Likewise, all the commentaries jump over both the introductory and bridging verses (7:53-8:2) and the story proper (8:2-8:11), which was read to the congregation at a different time of year.

The absence of many scriptures from the commentaries (like the whole book of Revelation for instance) is no indication of canonicity or acceptance of a given section of Holy Scripture, but rather a judgement of appropriateness for worship services.

Just as important, the opinion of the nearly unknown Euthymius who lived in the 12th century is practically worthless for text-critical purposes in establishing the authenticity and textual history of the verses.

We might as well consult any other Medieval monk at random, hoping for some insight. There is no way of validating the 'expert' status of this monk's opinion any more than there would be for any other inhabitant of the Middle Ages.

But Metzger is factually incorrect here as well. One Greek father, Didymus the Blind (c. 350 A.D.!) is known to have cited the passage extensively in his commentary on Ecclesiastes, discovered in the 1940's. Metzger, writing in 1971 is hardly unaware of this important find. In fact, Ehrman, who was chosen as 'editor' of the 2nd edition of Metzger's book (2000 A.D.), felt compelled to correct this 'oversight' with a footnote, even though he himself is against the authenticity of the passage.



7. "the style and vocabulary differ noticeably from the rest of John (see any critical commentary)"

When we do a little digging, we find that the last serious study of style and vocabulary was done by S. Davidson in 1848. This was rejected by most textual critics as too subjective a criterion, and they stuck to textual evidence.

Even Tregelles, who was against the authenticity of the verses on textual grounds, thought little of any internal evidence that could be mustered.

After that, Cadbury made an attempt to convince critics that the passage was Lukan in origin (again using vocabulary and 'style') in 1917, but failed to convince the majority of critics.

When we consult the bulk of the modern 'critical' or even evangelical commentaries on John, we simply find the same brief and simplistic statements repeated over and over. No one has done any original work or even thinking on the problem, and everyone is copying previous commentators.

There is more 'popular' disinformation on John 8:1-11 than on any other passage of the NT, other than the Ending of Mark.



8. "it interrupts the sequence of 7.52 and 8.12 ff.,"

This is not so clear cut as is claimed by those who are against the authenticity of the verses. Many critics and commentators alike find as much wrong with the omission of the verses and with their presence.

But even if such an 'interruption' of the narrative were convincing, the problem is that it is the wrong kind of evidence. It is already conceded by the same liberal critics who would dump the passage, that the rest of John also suffers from many 'interruptions' and dislocations or 'lacunae', disjoints and places that simply don't form good logical or temporal connections.

If the feature of internal evidence here cannot make itself stand out from many other parts of John which are not in any kind of doubt on a textual basis, how can it be evidence for or against Johannine authorship? What distinguishes the problem from any of another half-dozen similar places in John's Gospel?



9. "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."

Its obviously a piece of tradition, but why is it 'oral'? The only notice of it we have is in a written form. If we are going back to some hypothetical 'oral' period of the Gospel, before the obviously later written Gospels were created, how can this have any bearing upon its inclusion in John?

We can agree that it certainly circulated in the West, and it certainly did so in written form as a part of the Gospel of John! Even if we lack early evidence for its 'circulation' in other areas or languages, this again has little direct bearing upon it being an authentic part of the Greek version of John.

We certainly don't see any hard evidence that it was 'obviously subsequently incorporated into MSS'. That is the very thesis to be proven, or at least the idea that requires some solid supporting evidence and argument.

All we have so far is Mr. Metzger's 'wish list'. What we need is clear and unambiguous evidence that this indeed was a later addition.



10. " 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 G P 28 700 892 al)"

This is a ludicrously implausible way to dispose of all the counter-evidence.

In the past, even critics who were against the verses duly noted both the MSS evidence for the passage, as well as the evidence alleged to be against it.

Most copyists certainly were not free to apply their personal opinions, including or omitting whole passages of the NT. Whatever their opinions might be, they could hardly go around including this passage wherever they felt it most comfortably fit.

Not a single one of the manuscripts Metzger cites here can be claimed to support such nonsense. In every single case, it is obvious that the copyist was just that, a copyist: he was simply copying an even older master-copy which contained the verses already.

The only MSS which can be cited as actual evidence of a scribe omitting or including the passage are a few late Medieval MSS made when there was some local confusion about the passage.

In these cases, the evidence doesn't point to scribes inserting the passage at whim, but rather some clumsy errors in correcting a few master-copies that had omitted it.

There is no doubt that once in a while in the Middle Ages there was some ignorance over the authenticity and the exact place the passge properly belonged. But these few cases are the clear exception rather than the rule.

The vast majority of MSS which include the verses did not do so based upon any contemporary opinions as to its most suitable context, but rather they included them exactly where they found them in their master-copies, between 7:52 and 8:12.

The long list of uncials and later MSS (some 1200+) simply represent more ancient copies of John that contained the verses in their proper place. They do not represent scribes actively adding the passage to each copy where they felt it fit best.

The vast majority of scribes were faithful copyists of the NT text as they found it, and the vast majority of MSS are witnesses to their fidelity in copying what they found.



11. Metzger is quite capable of telling us the dates when it suits his own arguments, such as noting that Euthymius lived in the 12th century. He can even exaggerate the 'age' of his witnesses by stuffing his count with later MSS.

But when it comes to important information about the dates of MSS where it might weaken his argument, he is not so surprisingly silent.

Here, Metzger should cue the reader that all these MSS which insert the passage in unusual places are later than the 9th century. They are worthless as witnesses to the early history of the text.



12. "asterisks or obeli, indicating that, ... the scribes ... were aware that it lacked satisfactory credentials"

Metzger commits two significant and misleading fallacies here.

(1) He fails to distinguish between asterisks and obeli. Both the ancient and later Medieval scribes used a variety of signs, and did so for different purposes.

Some marks, like asterisks, were used to mark out important passages, both for study and public reading. Other marks, like the Obelus, indicated the point in a text where an accidental omission had occurred and where the missing text written in the margin needed to be inserted.

In most such cases, neither style of mark carried the meaning Metzger tries to assign it for this passage.

(2) He tries to read the mind of the unknown corrector, and attributes motives and knowledge to someone we can have no real knowledge about.

Careful examination of the approximately 100 or less manuscripts which mark the passage show that many of these cases are simply "Reader's Marks", indicating the beginning and ending of official Lections (Lessons), to be publicly read at certain times.

In a few cases, these marks do indicate a mark of doubt or confusion by the scribe or an unknown corrector.

But the larger significance of the passage's inclusion in the original hand of the copyist is being obscured by overemphasis of sometimes untracable marginal notes.

A second problem with these marginal markings is that they are often added by some unknown hand centuries later, after the manuscript has long been in circulation. There is no way of identifying who marked the passage or on what basis they did so.

Such marks by nature must have much less authority than the included text of the original copyist.



13. When Metzger says "sometimes it is stated", he is deliberately leaving out WHO actually did the stating.

In fact, such statements are traceable to the 4th and 5th centuries, when St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, and St. Jerome spoke about the verses, and their absence in some manuscripts. These statements are not just nebulous 'theories' by unknown opponents of Metzger's view.

These are eyewitness accounts and opinions of ancient fathers and scholars who were actually there to record the state of the MSS evidence, and give their understanding of what had happened.



14. Metzger now presents Hort's argument against Augustine's explanation for the omission of the verses.

What Metzger fails to give notice of, is that Hort was commenting in 1886. A lot has been written on this subject in the 100 years since.

Nowadays, many textual critics are less ideological about such problem passages, and have less trouble admitting the many ideological, cultural, and psychological factors that may have contributed to textual variants.

Specifically, the problem of misogyny and patriarchical attitudes that go back to Jesus' time are now more fully recognized than in Hort's day. Not only does Augustine's explanation appear more plausible now, at least as a partial solution, but critics are willing to consider multiple factors in explaining textual history.

It may be true that Augustine's explanation cannot fully account for the extent of the omission, but it may well explain the opportunism which would arise out of an initial removal of the verses in some copies.

Today it looks quite plausible that the passage was removed in early times for expediency or to avoid charges by Jewish opponents. The choice of the size and place of the 'cut' may have been determined by liturgical factors. Then, once omitted, this would play into the hands of those who were ideologically motivated, like a Tertullian or some factions within the church at later periods.

It may be that the only acceptable final explanation for the omission of these verses will necessarily involve multiple historical events, motives, and parties. There is no shame in allowing a complex solution to a complex problem.


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