Parker on John 8:1-11

Review of: David C. Parker, The Living Text of the Gospels, (Cambridge, 1997) pp. 95-102

Page Index

Prologue: - Introduction to Parker
    Parker's Book - and John 8:1-11

Review: - Parker on John 8:1-11
    Introduction to the PA - a sales pitch
      Review Footnotes: - courtesy of Nazaroo
    (A) The Location - of the passage
      Review Footnotes: - courtesy of Nazaroo
    (B) The Form - of the text
      Review Footnotes: - courtesy of Nazaroo
    (C) The Finale - final discussion
      Review Footnotes: - courtesy of Nazaroo

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The Living Text of the Gospels

David C. Parker appears to be an author with the priviledged position of having his work published by the once prestigious Cambridge University Press.

His book, The Living Text of the Gospels, (Camb.U.Press, 1997), has been promoted and quoted by recent scholars, including Josep Rius-Camps, in discussions of the Pericope de Adultera (John 8:1-11). Frankly however, it escapes us how such a work as this could be given such notice, and seems to betray the amateurish approach of Rius-Camps more than it bolsters the dubious quality of Parker's work.

The internet advertisement/promotion for the book describes it as follows:

"This book represents an important new departure in Gospel studies and textual criticism. David Parker offers, for the first time, a different way of reading the Gospels which treats seriously the fact that they first existed as manuscripts. Through an analysis of the different forms of a number of key passages, he demonstrates that the Gospels cannot be properly understood as texts without taking into consideration their physical existence as manuscripts, printed books and electronic text.

In conclusion, he argues that the search for an original text of the Gospels overlooks the way in which the early church passed down its traditions.

This book challenges many of the assumptions of New Testament scholarship. But, at the same time, it does not assume any prior knowledge of the discipline, and can therefore be used as a unique alternative to traditional primers of New Testament textual criticism."

- Google Books Advert

The novelty of the book is obviously exaggerated, as well as its importance and accuracy.

Its intended market would be as a popular handbook for introductory courses or brief treatments of NT Textual Criticism. For this purpose, however, it is nearly useless. Like so many 'popular' books on all kinds of subjects, this one gives offers the reader no real grasp of its topic or grounding in scientific methodology. The reader indeed requires no prior knowledge, but ends up with the same expertise that he started with.

The book seems to suggest that the very act of searching for the 'original text' and/or reconstructing texts is actually pointless, and that we should just enjoy ourselves playing around with variant versions, giving them all equal value and status as 'tradition'.

Like so many popular books on this subject, its real purpose is not to teach students how to engage in serious textual criticism, or even think for themselves, but rather to promote a certain academic viewpoint about the NT text itself, namely the secular-humanist worldview of religion, and the naturalist view of religious texts.

David Parker on John 8:1-11

Although devoting a 'whole chapter' (seven small pages, three of which are filled with charts and sample texts) to the question of the authenticity and text of the Pericope de Adultera (hereafter "PA"), Parker incredibly provides us with virtually no new or useful information at all on this passage, and no tools or methodology to deal with the data.

It is truly stunning that a reporter could introduce so many errors and inaccuracies into such a short discussion. It seems doubly tragic that the work does not justify its errors by offering any new contribution whatsoever to the practical solution of this famous NT problem. Most scholars who have spent any time on this passage and its accompanying issues will simply be floored by the naivety and clumsiness of this attempt at framing the essential textual-critical issues.

Parker shares with his proposed readers a profound and complete lack of any grasp of the textual questions surrounding the PA. He assists them in the same way that perhaps a diabolical immunization serum might, by roughly exposing the victim to a watered-down version of the German Higher Critical virus that has all the obnoxious symptoms of a bout of influenza.

But does the general population need such regular booster shots, to keep them from accidentally becoming serious Christians or serious scholars? Apparently the Cambridge U. Press thinks the expenditure of precious academic resources for this cause is a worthwhile endeavour.

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Parker on John 8:1-11

The Story of the
Woman Taken in Adultery

The passages covered so far have all been teaching [that is] firmly embedded in the canonical Gospels. That to which we now turn has had a different history. It poses a particular problem for those who believe that there is a single authoritative text, a problem that they generally ignore. 1 For this passage is demonstrably spurious to that text. 2 Read in the lectionaries of most denominations, it attests a tradition about Jesus received into several places in the Gospels at a later date. 3 It is not part of the supposed authoritative and original text. 4

The story of the woman taken in adultery is one of the best-known examples of expansion to the Gospel text. 5 It is generally known as the passage John 7:53-8:11, although it is found elsewhere in some witnesses. Present in the A.V., it has been excised from most modern versions. 6 But it has not gone out of use, nor has attachment to it diminished. It continues a part of the lectionary.

This allows us to expand a point made at the end of Chapter 4. There we saw that our reading of one form of the text will be influenced by other forms. Here we learn that passages do not lose their influence once they have been declared and acknowledged to be spurious. 7

As with the story of the man working on the sabbath, there are two questions to be kept separate: 8

Is this story authentic to the life of Jesus? and,

Is it a part of one of the Canonical Gospels?

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Review Footnotes

courtesy of Nazaroo:

1. Parker claims that those who support "a single authoritative text" (i.e., an inspired Bible) ignore textual issues like the Pericope de Adultera, the Ending of Mark etc. But this is just nonsense. The list of Christian scholars heavily involved in textual criticism is a long one. And the depth and detail with which they pursue the subject easily matches that of naturalistic and secular opponents. A good introduction to their work can be found here:

Index of Textual Critics < - - click here for more info.

2. Whether the Pericope de Adultera is "demonstrably spurious" will once again have to await an actual demonstration. All Parker will offer us here is unsubstantiated claims.

3. Parker speaks of "a tradition about Jesus received into several places in the Gospels at a later date". But the language here, e.g. "received", deliberately implies it was originally absent. It also suggests an idea completely unsubstantiated by the actual textual evidence.

At the very same time that a handful of late manuscripts clumsily relocate the Pericope de Adultera, there were in circulation literally thousands of manuscripts ("MSS") that had the passage in its normal place, of which some 2,400 have survived, along with over 1,000 lectionaries containing the verses.

This overwhelming evidence concerning the later period (8th to 15th centuries) shows that at the time these oddball MSS were produced, the Pericope de Adultera's location after John 7:52 and its canonical status was already secure, and had been for centuries.

4. Unfortunately for Parker, John 7:53-8:11 has been part of the authoritative text for nearly 15 centuries, since the time of Latin Vulgate. We are still waiting for any credible demonstration that the passage was not also part of the original text.

5. Again, Parker appears to have muddled his terms in an attempt to gain some advantage for his view.

Technically, an expansion of a text means the addition of explanatory glosses or supplementary material relating to the narrative or discourse. This is often through conflation by combining words, phrases or clauses from parallel accounts (as in Synoptic harmonizations), or from similar stories.

But the Pericope de Adultera functions as a complete independant unit, and shows no signs whatever of significant "expansion". Very little of the passage could be deleted without severely altering the story or leaving it incomplete. Even the supposed "glosses" in this passage amount to only a handful.

The "interpolation" of an entire story into a Gospel is a phenomena on the scale of what is rather called a redaction, that is, the combining of two separate literary works into a new inclusive creation, often quite different in impact and purpose than its original sources.

The alleged interpolation of the Pericope de Adultera cannot be explained or even described as an ordinary "expansion" of the text of John's Gospel. There is no known "mechanism" or plausible process by which a whole passage could be successfully inserted into a Gospel, especially so late in the history of the text as Parker claims.

6. Yet another inexcusable inaccuracy. Although most "modern versions" (i.e., 20th century English translations) add short depreciatory footnotes, and some even place brackets around the verses or insert a bit of space between it and the surrounding context, only one "modern version" has ever dared to actually remove the passage from the text or relegate it to a footnote in the margin or at the end of John.

Its not the first time imprecision or ambiguity has been used to mislead readers, but it remains thankfully rare. This is a case of telling what are essentially falsehoods to increase the apparent 'weight' of Parker's own position.

7. ..."passages do not lose their influence once they have been declared and acknowledged to be spurious", especially when the "authorities" doing the declaring and acknowledging are merely armchair academics who have no real interest in Christian affairs.

Parker should not be surprised that the "majority" of modern textual critics are ignored by the majority of Christian scholars and laymen worldwide. These academics are after all propagandists and enemies of Christianity, and their credentials are negated by their blatant lack of any acumen, accuracy, or even simple honesty in the way they present their "facts".

8. Although many Christians are naturally interested in these two questions, Parker, after introducing them (presumably to cast further doubt over the verses) never even discusses these questions in an open and thorough manner. Instead he hops quickly to the next section, in order to further frighten naive and unwary students being forced to use the textbook.

For Parker, these questions only serve the polemical purpose of undermining the reader's faith in the passage, and in the condition of the Holy Bible.

"The Evidence"

The study of the evidence has two parts to it. The first concerns the passage's location, the second the form of its text.

(A) Location

1.1 After John 7:52
This is the reading of D and the Byzantine text. Versional evidence includes some Old Latin MSS (including the African MS Palatinus (e) ) and the Vulgate.
2.2 A few copies of the Byz text use symbols taken from Alexandrian classical scholarship to indicate that a passage is probably an interpolation. Some of these MSS place the 1st marker not at v.7:53 but at 8:2 or 8:3, showing that they regarded the first couple of verses as genuine. Many of these also contain a note indicating that not all copies have the passge.
3.3 After Jn 7:36
One MS has this reading. It is MS 225, a copy of the Gospels written in 1192.
4.4 After John 21:25
Placing it at the end of the Gospel, as a kind of appendix, is the solution of Family 1.
5.5 After Luke 21:38
Family 13 (except a couple of its members) copy the passage as an authentic part of Luke's Gospel.
6.6 After Luke 24:53
Even more baffling is the corrector of one MS, who copied it in at the end of Luke. The MS is 1333, an 11th cent. copy of the Gospels.
7.7 Some witnesses have a blank space after [John] 7:53.[sic! read 7:52]
8.8 Finally, the section is omitted completely by all other MSS. Amongst them we may single out P66 P75 B L N T Θ, the entire Syriac tradition, some Old Latin MSS (including Vercellensis) and the maj. of the Coptic versions. A and C both have missing pages at this place in the Gospel, but the missing space was clearly too short to contain the section. THe scribe of 565 (see p. 113 below) notes that although the passage was present in the MS from which he was copying, he has omitted it as spurious.

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Review Footnotes

for Chart: courtesy of Nazaroo:

1. This is also the position in which it is found in the over 2,400 extant Greek copies of John ranging in date from the 5th to the 15th century, and the acknowledged place of origin given in many copies of the some 1,000 lectionaries.

One thing no textual critic has seriously tabulated are the thousands of LATIN manuscripts which also place the verses here in their proper home. These Latin (and other language) copies may exceed the Greek copies by as much as 4 to 10 times in number, between 5,000 and 10,000 copies all told.

2. Again, a fraudulent presentation of the actual evidence: In the majority of copies, the "marks" are simply Lectionary Marks, indicating where the public reading of the verses is to begin and end. (Church Lessons).

3. Note the DATE: a single 11th century manuscript misplaces the verses in an attempt to correct a copy that deleted them.

4. This also is factually incorrect. Some manuscripts insert the verses after the SECOND last verse of John, clearly in an attempt to retain them in the text, and indicate their status as Holy Scripture. If the passages were thought to be certainly "spurious", they would never be included at the end of John. In most cases, these are attempts to correct a manuscript which has left out the verses. The copyists doing this obviously believe the verses to be authentic.

Again no notice is given of the DATES of these manuscripts, all coming from the 10th to 12th centuries, and showing a text that cannot be safely dated earlier than the 9th century.

5. Here all the manuscripts are acknowledged to be derived from a single early copy that inserted the verses in Luke. Why? Because the copyist was ordered to delete the verses, but valued his soul higher than his job, and so inserted them in Luke in order to save them, without being detected for failing to delete them. Again we have the testimony of the ORIGINATOR of this reading, plainly indicating their authenticity, and bravely risking severe punishments in order to save himself and the verses. Again no notice is given of the DATES of these manuscripts, all coming from the 10th to 12th centuries, and showing a text that cannot be safely dated earlier than the 9th century.

6. Maurice Robinson tells us that 1333c did not copy them "at the end of Luke", but on a separate page at the BEGINNING OF JOHN, with a plain note that these verses were "FROM JOHN'S GOSPEL". No association with Luke can be squeezed out of MS 1333c.

7. A blank space which indicates both the existance and acknowledges the need to restore the verses. The copy from which these MSS were made lacked the verses, there is little doubt. But the copyists themselves clearly intend that the receiver of the MSS at least have the option of copying them back in, or making notes regarding the omission.

8. Parker fails to mention that ALL FOUR of the earliest MSS which omit the verses (Aleph, B, P66, P75), leave a tell-tale Dot and Space at the spot, to indicate the omission and the existance of the verses. Nor is the fact that these manuscripts were deliberately made for Church Services and public reading / worship been noted and discussed. Since the verses were not read during Pentecost but relegated to obscure feast days in Oct etc., its no surprise that these "church copies" were prepared in a manner to allow easy skipping over of the reading.

A and C: These two should have been counted with the previous section. Note however, that if either MS had a note concerning authenticity, this was lost when someone tore out the pages (deliberately). Now the MSS cannot be used with any certainty as to their readings.

The scribe of 565 etc.: Parker fails to note that there are dozens of marginal notes in manuscripts which indicate the authenticity of the verses, its presence in "early copies" etc. This one-sided presentation of evidence is near-useless for understanding the true picture which the manuscripts show.

The Text Form

One of the most full and accurate editions of the Greek NT is that produced by Constantin von Tischendorf and published in the years 1869-72. IN printing the text of this passage he followed a course of action which he adopted nowhere else. He printed the text of Codex Bezae on the left-hand page, and that of the Byzantine text on the right. There thus appear to be two forms of the passage. When another scholar, Hermann von Soden, was conducting his exhaustive investigations into the relationship between the Byzantine MSS, it was in the text of this passage that he compared them. There is therefore unusually extensive information available. We shall now follow Tischendorf's example in placing the D and the Byzantine text side by side. The form of the Byzantine text which Tischendorf presented was not scientifically constructed, for that had not yet been attempted. It is the Textus Receptus (Recd. Text), the printed edition descended from Erasmus through the French printer Robert Stephanus, which held sway as the Greek NT until the last century. As before, several typefaces are used to highlight the differences. Bold indicates workding unique to that column, and underlining a change in word order.

[ Here Parker offers Codex D and the TR in side by side columns. We don't reproduce that here, since it is a distracting excursion that leads to nothing fruitful. Both texts are readily available elsewhere.]

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Review Footnotes

Hand Waving and Conjecture

Parker here admits that the text and method of Tischendorf (1860s) comes from a "pre-scientific" attempt at analysis, and he is aware that von Soden (1917) had done a deep study involving textual reconstruction and genealogical dependance, yet then proceeds as though none of this is important: He simply ignores von Soden, and adopts Tischendorf's method and the TR for the basis of his analysis. How can any credibility for this procedure or his results be granted?


'Here other techniques of examination come to our aid. It has been pointed out that the story fits into Luke 21 much better than it does into John 7. 1 Jesus is already going in and out between the Mount of Olives and the temple. If we study the vocabulary and style of the passage, we shall quickly find a number of un-Johannine characteristics, and some Lukanisms. 2 In all, a better case can be made for this having been an authentic piece of Luke which dropped out than for its having been original to John. 3

It has been suggested that a possible reason for its excision is that it might seem to condone adultery. 1 4 But one might not even have to assume that it was at one time in all copies of Luke, and then became so generally offensive as to be almost universally excised. Perhaps Luke himself revised his Gospel and removed it. There have, after all, been quite strong arguments advanced in favour of Luke's having had two attempts at writing the Gospel, and the existence of two very different versions of Acts has led some to suppose the same of his second volume. 5

However, if it was original to Luke, and then excised, there is the difficulty of accounting for its inclusion in John's Gospel. 6

The textual conclusion must be that this story should not form part of the printed text of either Luke or John. 7

The question of its authenticity has not yet been broached. As with the story of the man working on the sabbath, the issues are separate. 8

It seems clear that we have here a piece of oral tradition. 9 Although the sub-apostolic age still valued such traditions more highly than they did the written texts, it was inevitable that the passage of time would bring a change in emphasis, and that floating stories would be put into books for safe keeping.

Of course, the questions about the authenticity of this passage are not different in form from those that have been asked about much that is indisputably part of the written Gospels.

It is tempting to whittle away various apparently legendary accretions - the writing on the ground, the order of departure - in order to recover the most primitive form. Whether such an original form is likely to be an authentic account of an event in the life of Jesus has to be doubted. 10 The story has all the marks of an illustrative story, for its purpose is to describe Jesus' interpretation of the law in a given (hypothetical) situation. Thus its presence in the text of the Gospels is significant, not for the factual information that it might contain but for the interpretation of Jesus' teaching of the law that it conveys. 11 That this continues to be its appeal is shown by the extreme reluctance which readers of the Gospels show in accepting that the story is inauthentic. 12 It is beautiful; it tells us so much about Jesus' true intentions that it must be true. This is not logic. It is a proof of the story's power. 13 And we may use this to illustrate an important point.

We noted at the end of examining the Lord's Prayer that all six forms contribute to our understanding. Once we have discovered their existance, they will be a part of the way in which we read and interpret the Lord's Prayer. We shall not be able to erase them from our minds, and to read a single original text as though the others had never existed. 14

So it is with this pericope. We may make the decision that it is not a part of the canonical Gospels; we may even decide that it is not an account of an incident in the life of Jesus. But, however we read the Gospels or think about the historical Jesus, this story will have influenced our views, and we cannot read or think as we would had it never existed. 15

The oral tradition is thus not something which ended at some point in the 2nd or 3rd or 4th century. 16 The way in which we read the written text is a part of the whole tradition which has been passed on from generation to generation. This can sometimes be chronicled in details such as the number of magi or the presence of animals in the infancy narratives. But it is more pervasive and more important than that.

The sum total of all that we have received from the tradition, written and oral (not even to mention such possible curiosities as inherited memory), is a part of the way in which we build up our interpretations, regardless of our decisions about the historical value of particular items.

Original Footnotes:

1. But this is very dubious. See Tertullian's robust rejection of the claim that the woman who washed Jesus' feet provided an analogy for Christian conduct: 'there were no Christians before the Ascension'.

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Review Footnotes

Footnotes courtesy of Nazaroo:

1. It may have been pointed out, but it was never demonstrated to be plausible.

2. But un-Johannine characteristics and some Lukanisms - have never been produced, or convincingly argued.

3. At least three modern textual critics believe otherwise, and have supported their position with a large body of evidence.

J. P. Heil (1994) < - - Click here.
A. W. Wilson (2005)
Z. Hodges (1979)

4. Parker attempts to undermine the opinion of the early Fathers by quoting Tertullian and his rejection of typology in the Gospels. Tertullian's views may be novel and entertaining, but have little impact when his evidence regarding John 7:53-8:11 is fully investigated:

Tertullian & Jn 8:1-11 < - - Click here.

5. Since no connection of the PA with Luke has been shown, whether or not Luke released two editions is not convincingly relevant. What is needed here is a copy of Luke or a source at least as old as current copies of Luke, which demonstrates a 'second edition' and contains the PA in a convincing location and form. We are still waiting.

6. There sure would be a problem, but since no evidence of a Lukan origin has been presented, its not a problem yet.

7. An incredible conclusion, given his two previous sentences. We moved from a possible 2nd edition of Luke, to a problem accounting for the passage in John, and voila! (!?!) The passage now belongs in neither Luke or John. QED. But what has really been proven here, other than the stunning incompetance and illogic of the author?

8. The issues must apparently remain separate, even though no reason has been shown to keep them so.

9. 'It seems clear that we have here a piece of oral tradition.' Only we have no record of any oral tradition at all, that could have lasted more than a decade. The Pericope de Adultera is a written object, with a written history of transmission. It has been transmitted entirely within the written tradition of the Gospels, which were written down within a generation of Jesus and they have stayed written ever since. This reminds us of some remarks by Sir Charles Marston:

"Readers will ask – How can one postulate oral tradition when the art of writing was being practised even in Sinai when Moses led the tribes there? It is against common sense for scholars to try to sustain a theory of oral tradition under such conditions; and then to affirm that the widespread use of writing in the period makes no difference! Such assertions, even by Dr. Driver, impose too great a strain on our credulity. "

- Sir Charles Marston,
The New Knowledge...

10. It is the absolute duty and mandate of every naturalistic critic to doubt all historicity of ancient documents.

11. Parker says:

'Whether such an original form is likely to be an authentic account of an event in the life of Jesus has to be doubted. ... The story has all the marks of an illustrative story,...'

The stark contrast between Parker's assessment and that of Bruce Metzger (along with dozens of other critics) is glaring:

'... the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity.'

- Bruce Metzger
Textual Commentary

One can only reel at the remarkable circumstance that such textual critics cannot even agree on the very nature of the passage itself. How can we give their explanations of its origin and their evaluations of its "genuineness" any credibility at all?

12. Parker claims that the passage's popularity is based upon what it teaches about Jesus and the law. That it is popular is undoubtedly true. But the main reason for its popularity is the circumstance that it is found in the Gospel of John, and has been there since the 4th century.

Parker's theories about the "reluctance readers show in accepting that the story is inauthentic" are non-sequitous. Most Christians accept it as authentic because they are told it is, and find it in their printed Bibles. And those who study the textual evidence and accept it as authentic do so because those claiming otherwise have never made a convincing case.

13. Remarkably, Parker acknowledges the story's "power", but offers no real scientific explanation for this. The idea that it is the very word of God, Holy Scripture, is beyond his dulled perception. He can only wonder as Simon Magus did, at the miracles of Paul, and look for hidden panels or strings.

14. The "magic power" of lying is now lamented (or praised?). While it is true our experience colors our perceptions, it can hardly override scientific logic and factual evidence, unless the mind is being negatively influenced by other things, like hanging out in universities boozing and smoking pot.

15. We can only wonder that Parker finds himself forever affected by this story, even after personally rejecting it and publicly attacking it. Perhaps like the 'tar baby' in the Brier Rabbit story, the Pericope de Adultera has found another victim.

16. Not satisfied with postulating an imaginary early 'oral tradition', he must extend this invisible 'oral tradition' into the Middle Ages. Evidence will unfortunately not be forthcoming. Parker has consistently provided no evidence whatever for any of his important theories.

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