19th Century Critics

Porter on Jn 8:1-11 (1848)

Excerpt from: J. Scott Porter,

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Porter on
John 8:1-11

Taken from:
Professor of Sacred Criticism and Theology
to the Association of Non-subscribing Presbyterians in Ireland.

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.

Section VIII.

John vii. 53 — viii. 11.

The paragraph containing the narrative of the Adulterous Woman has attracted a great deal of attention ; and, more perhaps than any other passage in the Gospels, has been instrumental in turning the thoughts of many to textual criticism, who, but for some such exciting cause, would never have spent a thought upon the subject.

The narrative is found in its usual form and without observation in the Codices G, H, K, M, U, and about 277 of those written in the cursive character ; among which are those marked 28, 118, 209, 235, 433, and 435 ; in the Versio Itala, the Vulgate, the AEthiopic, the Jerusalem Syriac, the Sclavonic, and the Persic, and likewise in the Arabic, as given in Walton's Polyglott.

It was read and acknowledged by the compiler of the Apostolical Constitutions, a work apparently of the fourth century ; and Euthymius Zigabenus recognises it as genuine ; though ho admits that the silence of Chrysostom is an argument of its being spurious. The author of the Synopsis of Sacred Scripture, commonly printed among the works of Athanasius, also alludes to it as found in this Gospel; but he places it after John viii. 20.

Jerome says — "It is found in many MSS. both Greek and Latin." Augustine was acquainted with it, and considered it to be genuine; but admitted that there were copies in which it was not to be found. Ambrose, Sedulius, and other Latin writers also quote it.

The following authorities omit the paragraph : — A,1 B, C,2 L,3 T, X, Δ 4 with 51 other MSS. including 33, 131, and 253, and 32 Evangelistaria. Seven manuscripts, as written a prima manu, omit the paragraph, but have had it inserted, generally in the margin, by a succeeding hand.

Many of the most ancient versions omit this narrative. It forms no part of the Old Syriac Version ; for although it appears in almost all the editions that have appeared since the time of Bishop Walton (who first printed the interpolation in the Polyglott 5 ), it never has been found in any one MS. of the Peshito, and is absent from all the older editions. Nor does it belong to the Philoxenian Syriac ; for although it is written in the margin of one or two MSS. of that version, it is accompanied by an intimation that the paragraph was neither found in the Peshito nor in the Philoxenian Translation, and that it had been turned into Syriac, according to one copy by Mar Abba, according to another by a monk named Paul.

The Sahidic Version omits it altogether, as do the MSS. of the Copto-Memphitic, except a very few, though Wilkins has given it a place in the printed text. It was printed by Uscan, and after him by other editors, as part of the Armenian Version, but is not contained in the MSS., and therefore has been expunged by Dr. Zohrab in his critical edition; in which, however, it is placed as an appendix at the end of the Gospel. 6

The Gothic of Ulphilas omits the narrative; and some Latin MSS., among which are the Codex Vercellensis and the Codex Brixianus, are in the same con- dition.

The Cambridge MS. (D) is in a peculiar state in reference to this passage ; it cannot be said to omit it, for it has the narrative, detailing the same history, step by step, but expressed in words so different from those found in all other authorities, that its text cannot possibly have been derived from the same Greek source.

Either, therefore, there must have been two copies of this narrative from the beginning, or the person for whose use Codex D was written must have procured it to be translated from some foreign language — probably from the Latin. Both suppositions are unfavourable to its authenticity.

Codices E, S, and 52 others, contain the narrative, but marked with obeli or asterisks; and 13 MSS. including 1 and 102, insert it, not in its usual place, but at the end of the Gospel.

One of these (No. 1) adds the following scholium: —

"I have expunged, in the customary place, the chapter concerning the Adulteress in the Gospel according to John, as not being found in most copies, nor mentioned by the holy fathers who have expounded the Scriptures — I allude especially to John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, and Theodore of Mopsuestia; but it reads as follows, a little after the commencement of the 96th [Ammonian] chapter," &c.

Two other MSS. (105 and 301) have a similar remark: —

"Another paragraph is found in old copies, which we have thought proper to write in at the end of the same Evangelist, as follows," &c.

Four MSS., viz., 13, 69, 124, and 346, place the paragraph, not in the Gospel of John, but in that of Luke, inserting it at the end of Luke ch. 21. ; and one copyist at least (115), after John vii. 52, writes down viii. 12 ; but goes back immediately to vii. 53, and inserts the whole narrative, at the end of which he repeats viii. 12 over again.

The scholiast of Codex 1 was quite correct in assorting that this passage has not been expounded by any ancient Greek commentator.

To those whom ho has named wo may add Origen,7 Apollinarius 8 Basil, Cosmas Indicopleustes, Nonnus in his metrical paraphrase of this Gospel, and Theophylact.9 Among the Latins, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Juvencus never once touch upon it ; and when we consider how largely the two former have written upon all manner of topics connected with marriage, celibacy, virginity, and the relation between the sexes, and the vast importance which they assigned to such subjects, we can hardly avoid coming to the conclusion that their silence arose only from their being unacquainted with its existence.

From this brief statement of the external evidence it appears —

(1.) That the preponderance of the ancient, as contradistinguished from the modern testimonies, is decidedly unfavourable to the genuineness of this narrative. The oldest MSS. the oldest versions, the oldest church writers, all agree, with a very few exceptions, in rejecting it as spurious.

(2.) That these testimonies belong to various classes and recensions. The Alexandrian and the Antiochian κοιναι εχδοσις are both hostile to its reception ; the Alexandrian recension (B, C, L, Δ, 33 Copt.) is unanimous in condemning it; and although the majority of the documents of the Constantinopolitan recension acknowledge the narrative, yet so many of them accompany the recognition with marks of doubt, hesitation, and uncertainty, either as to its authenticity or the place where it ought to be inserted, that the weight of their testimony is very much impaired.

(3.) Taking into account the fondness of the transcribers for those readings which appeared to make their text full and ample, we are led to decide against the genuineness of this narrative. It is far more probable that it has been added to the Gospel of John since the time when it was first published, than that it was originally in the text, and was afterwards left out by the copyists.

On the supposition that this narrative is an authentic portion of the Gospel, it is very hard to account for its omission, not only in so many MSS., but in the versions employed in so many of the ancient churches and in regions so distant from each other. The anecdote probably circulated at first as a detached piece, which the Christians were willing to preserve, as containing an honourable mention and pious recollection of their Saviour ; for this purpose it was perhaps written at the end of the ευαγγελιον, of course immediately after the close of the fourth Gospel ; hence it came to be considered by some as a portion of that book omitted in its proper place, and was introduced by the scribes in the part of the history which they regarded as its most fitting and convenient context. We can thus explain the circumstance of its being found in so many different situations — viz., at the end of the 22d chapter of Luke, after John vii. 36, after John vii. 52, after John viii. 20, and at the end of the Gospel.

It is not found in the Lectionaries, with the exception of a few modern ones ; because the Evangelistarium of the Greek churches was compiled before the time when the story of the Adulteress began to be regarded as canonical scripture.

(4.) It has been thought, indeed, that copyists omitted this narrative because they were startled by the historical improbability of the fact here recorded ; regarding it as incredible that the scribes and Pharisees should make their compliance with the express provisions of the law of Moses contingent on the view of the case taken by one whom they regarded as an unauthorised teacher.

I see no weight in this objection. The law for putting adulterous persons to death (Lev. xx. 10. Deut. xxii. 22.) was surely not intended to be carried into effect until the fact of their criminality had been judicially established, which evidently had not been done in this case ; and our Saviour's appeal to the accusers' consciences might have the effect of preventing them from appearing before the proper court as prosecutors ; for I am not aware of any provision by which individuals were obliged to come forward either as accusers or witnesses in such a case.

So little force do I see in these and some other legal and historical objections, and so entirely do I recognise the identity of character between Christ as depicted here and as described in the Gospels, that I have little doubt the fact is substantially true, though I do not believe it to have been recorded by the Apostle John. But these reasonings are altogether beside tho question, which is not whether the incident be credible in itself or not, but whether it would have appeared incredible to the copyists ; and I see no reason to attribute to them such a sceptical spirit on matters of sacred history as to suppose that, under the influence of any such considerations, they would have left out, or marked with signs of suspicion, a context like this, if it had come down to them without any such indications in the exemplars from which they transcribed, and the text of which it was their business to hand down faithfully and exactly.

(5.) A much stronger argument in support of the authenticity of the story is drawn from the unwillingness of the copyists to perpetuate a section which appeared to them to inculcate a lesson at variance with moral purity, and especially calculated to lead Christians to undervalue the virtue of chastity, which they regarded as the very first and most important of all Christian graces and of all good works. This argument is as old as the time of Augustine, who says —

" It has come to pass that some men of weak faith, or rather enemies of tlie true faith, fearing lest impunity in sin mi^ht be granted to their own wives (mulieribus suis), took away from their MSS. the act of our Lord in forgiving the Adulteress, as if he had granted free license to sin by saying, Go, sin no more.''

De Conj. Adult, cap. ii. sec. 2.

But although this seems plausible, it is not well supported by facts; for the copyists have shown no unwillingness to insert this clause. The transcribers of the MSS. L and Δ had it not in their exemplars, but knew of its existence, and left a blank space for the purpose of putting it in as soon as they could get a copy of it.

The copyist or compiler of Codex D was so anxious to get it in, that not being able to find a Greek MS. which contained it, he took a translation of the narrative from some foreign language, or perhaps caused one to be made on purpose.

The scholia which state the objections of the transcribers to its authenticity do not proceed on ethical but on purely critical grounds ; they state that,
" it is not found in the majority of MSS.,"
that "it is omitted in the oldest copies,"
that "it has not been touched upon by ancient commentators," &c.

I conceive that, had it not been for such objections as these, they would have admitted it without scruple. I therefore adhere to the opinion already intimated, that this narrative, though probably true in point of fact, forms no part of the Gospel of St. John.

Original Footnotes:

1. In Codex A (the Alexandrine), the leaf which contained the close of the 7th and beginning of the 8th chapter of John hae been lost; but Dr. Woide, by counting the number of letters on the two adjoining leaves and those in the deficieut part of the text, ascertained that there was exactly room for the verses which have been torn out, on one leaf, — if the narrative of the adulteress be omitted. It is most certain, therefore, that Codex A did not contain that narrative. See Woide's Prolegomena.

2. In Codex C two leaves have been lost ; but Boivin and Tischendorf by a similar computation, (which any one can now repeat, and which I have repeated), have made it mathematically certain that the Codex wanted this paragraph, at least a prima manu; or else some other passages of the same extent — a supposition which is utterly impossible. See Tischendorf 's Prolegomena, p. 31.

3. The MSS. L and Δ leave a vacant space, which iu the latter would, but in the former would not, be sufficient to contain the paragraph.

4. It should be observed, that the transcriber of Cod. Δ at the close of vii. 52, and in the very same line, wrote down the commencement of viii. 12; " Then Jesus spoke unto them again, saying" — but immediately drew his pen across the line, leaving the remainder of that page and the first two lines of the next page vacant, at the end of which he re-wntes the words of ver. 12 which he had formerly written and cancelled.

5. See the account given of the 0ld Syriac Version, p. 310, supra.

6. The manner in which these versions have been here tampered with is but a specimen of the treatment which has been experienced by the documents of every kind in several passages of peculiar interest and importance. This circumstance renders such passages comparatively unavailing to the critic in any attempt to establish a system of recensions.

7. Comment, in Johan. (ed. Paris, 1733), 4299. No notice of the passage here, nor in any other part of his works.

8. So the scholiast asserts, whose note is given in the Codices 20 and 215.

9. It is necessary to put the reader on his guard against an extracrdinary mis-statement of Adler, Versiones Syriacae, &c., p. 191 [Historia de Adultera]

"ex Evangelio sec. Hebraeos arcessita, et nostro assuta est a Papia, teste Eusebio, His. Eccl. 1. iii. c. ult."

But Eusebius merely tells us that Papias

"relates a story of a woman who was accused of many sins before our Lord, which is contained in the Gospel according: to the Hebrews."

Whether the story was the same that is found in this section is extremely doubtful ; at all events, Eusebius says nothing of its being added to the Gospel of John by Papias, or by any one else. nor of any such story being in our Gospel at all.

10. Dr. Davidson, in his lecture on this section, says —

" the writers of MSS. that have left here an open space, although it may be too small to contain the section, show by this circumstance that they were acquainted with the passage, and found it in some copies, though they thought fit to reject it."

Lectures on Bib. Crit., p. 164.

In my opinion their conduct shows the very reverse; and the fact of the space left being too small (as in L), proves that the transcriber could not possibly have had an exemplar which contained the passage. These copyists had heard of it, they were anxious to get it, and would have inserted it had it been in their power.

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