Zahn on John 8:1-11

Review of: Theodor Zahn, Introduction to the NT, (T & T Clark, 1909)

Page Index

Prologue: - Introduction to Zahn

Review: - Zahn on John 8:1-11
    Modern Footnotes - courtesy of Nazaroo

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Theodor Zahn or Theodor von Zahn (1838 - 1933) was a biblical scholar born in Rhineland, Prussia (now Germany). He was professor of Theology at Erlangen, and distinguished for his eminent scholarship in connection with the matter especially of the New Testament canon. He stood at the head of the conservative New Testament scholarship of his time.

Some of his more important writings are:

  • * Der Hirt des Hermas untersucht (1868)
  • * Patrum Apostolicorum Opera (1875-78; fifth edition, 1905)
  • * Forschungen zur Geschichte des neutestamentlichen Kanons
    und der altkirchlichen Litteratur (eight volumes, 1881-1908)
  • * Geschichte des neutestamentlichen Kanons
    (two volumes, 1889-92)
  • * Das apostolische Symbolum (1892)
    English translation, The Apostles' Creed, (1899)
  • * Einleitung in das neue Testament (two volumes, 1897-1900; third edition, 1906-07;
    English translation, Introduction to the New Testament, three volumes, 1909)
  • * Brot und Salz aus Gottes Wort, 20 sermons, (1901);
    English translation, Bread and Salt from the Word of God, (1905)
  • * Grundriss der Geschichte des neutestamentlichen Kanons
    (1901; second edition, 1904)
  • * Das Evangelium des Lucas (1912)


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Zahn on John 8:1-11

Excerpt from: Introduction to the New Testament (1909)
by Theodor Zahn

The Writings of John


There are also early glosses which become widely current (n. 2), and one undeniable interpolation 1 which came to be almost universally regarded as a part of the Fourth Gospel (vii. 53 - viii. 11, n. 3).

Original Footnote:

3. (P. 334.) With regard to vii 53-viii 11 the following remarks will suffice :

(1) a distinction is to be made between witnesses for the existence of the story and witnesses which make it part of the Fourth Gospel. 2

Early Existance of Passage

To the first only belongs the Didaskalia, chap. vii. end (Syr., ed. Lagarde, p. 31 ; Lat., ed. Hauler, xxiv. 15-22 = Const. ap. ii. 24); because this third century work contains much apocryphal material and the length at which this story is reproduced (in the Greek recension even more noticeable because of the brevity with which a reference to Luke vii 36 f. is here inserted) shows that it was not derived from one of the canonical Gospels. 3 The story is very old, and could be read in various books not directly dependent upon each other.

Papias as Probable Source

Unless all signs fail, it was to be found in Papias and in the Gospel to the Hebrews (Eus. H. E. iii. 39. 16 ; GK, ii, 703f.). In and of itself, and because of the analogy to Mark xvi. 9-20 (vol. ii. 478) it is very probable that the passage was inserted in the N.T. from Papias. 4 Probably it is one of those apostolic traditions which Papias inserted in connection with his interpretations of the sayings of Jesus, most likely in connection with John 7:24 and 8:15, so that those who gave it its present place in the Gospel were perhaps influenced by their source, the work of Papias. This location would be also favoured by the fine contrast between this passage and the illegal proceedings of the session of the Sanhedrin in 7:45-52. 5 There is no reason why the story itself should not be regarded as historical. 6

(2) The earliest witnesses for the location of the passage before viii. 12 are Lat. MSS. from the fourth century onwards; of the Greek MSS. the earliest witness is D (sixth cent.). 7 The Syrians (Tatian, Sc Ss S1 S8) for a long time knew nothing of the passage. 8 It was not until the 6th century that it was made accessible to them by various translations; 9 (cf. Forsch. i. 190 ; Gwynn, Transact. of the Irish Acad. (1886) xxvii. 8, pp. 17-24 ; Nestle, PBE3, iii. 174.)

An Interpolation from Gospel Acc. Hebrews

The passage is certainly no part of the Fourth Gospel ; in the first place, because the Gospel to the Hebrews, in which it occurs, contains no other material in common with John; 10 and, in the second place, it is not likely that Papias would have repeated an entire story of this kind if it were already in the Fourth Gospel (above, p. 196), which was known to him. 11

Augustine's Explanation Inadequate

Moreover, the possible moral danger arising from the story is not sufficient to explain its disappearance from the oldest Greek MSS., 12 and the fact that it was wanting originally in all the forms of the Syriac versions. 13 Direct evidence of the spurious character of the passage is to be found also in the fact that its position is very uncertain. 14

In the early MS., now lost, represented by the Ferrar group of cursives [Family 13] (13, 69, 124, 346, etc), it was inserted after Luke xxi. 38, where the location indicated in viii. 1, 2 made it seem natural ; in other cursives and Armenian MSS it is appended to John 21 [Family 1]. 15

Even if the latter position be due to the fact that it was found before John viii. 12, recognised as suspicious or spurious, and removed to the end of the Gospel because of unwillingness to omit it altogether, this does not explain its location following Luke 21:38. 16

Internal Linguistic Evidence

Finally, the language shows that the passage is not Johannine. The Synoptic expression
οι γραμματεις και Φαρισαιοι
in 8:3 is entirely foreign to the Gospel of John, notwithstanding the frequent occasions when it might have been used. Also
επ' αυτοφωρω,
ελεγχομενοι υπο της συνειδεησεως

are likewise not Johannine. 17

Supplementary Questions

The opinion advocated by Spitta (note 6), 8. 197 f., following the suggestion of other writers, - that a genuine passage has fallen out between 7:52 and 8:12 and has been replaced by an apocryphal story, is untenable. 18

For how does it happen then that the earliest MSS. 19 אABC, etc, Origen, Eusebius (who if this were known to him could not have written as he does regarding Papias) 20 certainly also Tertullian and the Syrian writers until the sixth century, know nothing of either the genuine or the spurious passage?

The situation is practically the same as in Mark xvi. 9-20, 21 save that the connection between John vii. 53 - viii. 11 and the Gospel of John cannot, as Spitta maintains, be traced back into the 2nd century, but only into the 4th.22

The oldest witness for this passage is Ambrosius [Ambrose]; 23 to counterbalance the Verona MS. b, in which the passage was written by the first copyist, and crossed out by a later hand, there is the Verc. MS. a (4th or 5th cent) of equal age, which does not have it. 24

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Modern Footnotes

Footnotes courtesy of Nazaroo:

1. Since Zahn's time, evidence has come to light that precludes any kind of simple "interpolation". The structural evidence from John's Gospel indicates that if the Pericope de Adultera were added later to the Gospel, then large portions of the Gospel itself must have been rewritten and expanded to accommodate it. The passage has been thoroughly integrated with the Gospel in very sophisticated manner. See for instance:

Chiastic Structure & Jn 8:1-11
The Moses Theme and John
O.T. Quotation Structure of John

2. The distinction here is hypothetical, and does not hold up under examination of much early evidence, which combines knowledge of the existance of the passage with its location in John's Gospel. See for instance:

Egerton Fragment & Jn 8:1-11

3. Other opinions differ on the nature of the quotation in the Didaskalia. The reader is advised to examine the case closely themselves:

Didaskalia & Jn 8:1-11

4. One hundred years later there is still no consensus on whether the notice of Papias in Eusebius refers to Jn 7:53-8:11 or another similar incident. This situation is in part due to the brevity and ambiguity of the reference itself, and so can never in fact be resolved with certainty.

5. Zahn's account here may have seemed plausible and adequate in 1900, but as we indicated, in the light of the major structural features of John that show how deeply embedded the passage is, this scenario cannot be maintained. A naive insertion based on pre-existing features of the Gospel is woefully inadequate to explain the phenomena.

6. Zahn is surely correct on this point: The nature of the pericope is more than adequate to demonstrate this. It excludes supernatural effects and legendary features, and it deals directly with the main issues of contention between Jesus and the religious authorities. It has many authentic features, such as the mention of writing etc. which are inexplicable as literary flourishes or fictional elements.

7. This information is inaccurate. The Old Latin is believed to reflect primitive text(s) existing long before Jerome's time (c. 380 A.D.), and probably reaching back to the 2nd century. Codex Cantabrigensis ("Bezae", D) is currently dated to the end of the 4th or early 5th century by most authorities, but its text is considered to be much older, and certainly roughly contemporary with Codex B and Aleph.

8. The information about the Syriac sources needs correction. For instance, Tatian's Diatessaron, while omitting the passage, marks the spot by inserting a passage from Matthew in its place. This behaviour seems to betray a knowledge of the variants at this point in John's Gospel.

Diatessaron & Jn 8:1-11

9. On the contrary, the Didaskalia and the Apost. Constitutions, by more recent assessments, show a knowledge of the passage in the 2nd or 3rd century.

Apost. Constitutions & Jn 8:1-11

10. The problem here relates to the reliability of Eusebius regarding both Papias and the passage in this case. The circumstances surrounding Eusebius and John 8:1-11 are very peculiar and many alternate solutions are possible.

11. Again we know almost nothing of Papias, because essentially all we know comes from Eusebius, who in this case, while showing distain for Papias because of his 'literal interpretation' of Gospel material, may be involved in more complex issues than this. Until more light is shed on Eusebius and Papias, the vague notice of Eusebius is not of much use.

12. There is some real truth in Zahn's statement here: The discovery of P66 and P75 shows that the 'omission' of the Pericope de Adultera is much older than either Codex B or Aleph. Nonetheless, he overstates the case, because since only 4 MSS earlier than about 330 A.D. have survived, and two are from the same site in Upper Egypt, they simply can't give us a real picture of the state of the manuscript streams of transmission for this 300 year period. The sample is just too small and narrow demographically.

The surviving manuscripts are heavily edited ecclesiastical productions, and we simply don't have 'pure' or primitive copies of John's Gospel.

13. Again, the current state of controversy, diversity of opinion and confusion regarding the early Syriac traditions makes it impossible to make any clear judgments regarding the passage.

14. The supposed "uncertainty" in the position of the passage rests entirely upon late evidence (10th to 15th century). Further, the cause of these displacements has been adequately accounted for by von Soden in his detailed account of the history of transmission for the Medieval period.

15. These late insertions are virtually meaningless for determining the early history of the text. It really is an act of desperation to continue to appeal to them, simply because early evidence is entirely lacking.

16. Zahn is correct in noting that the placement in Family 1 cannot explain in Family 13. Of course why should it? Each needs its own explanation. But both explanations are similar, because these placements are a result of attempts to restore the passage or protect the passage by copyists who were forced to omit it.

17. Internal evidence of this kind is worthless, for a variety of reasons. Good discussions of this lexical and grammatical evidence can be found here:

Davidson: Internal Evid. on Jn 8:1-11
Alford: Internal Evid.
Keith: Internal Evid.

18. Surprisingly, early evidence of just such a substitution comes from Tatian's Diatessaron, which substitutes a section of Matthew for the passage.

19. It can now be shown that the earliest MSS indeed DO show evidence of knowing about the passage:

Four Earliest MSS for Jn 8:1-11

20. Eusebius' witness cannot be relied upon in this matter, in spite of recent attempts by scholars to rehabilitate the credibility/honesty of Eusebius. see:


21. Unfortunately, these cases are not similar in key respects. The Ending of Mark is explicable as a lost ending replaced by an early Apostle or Bishop in the early community. The alleged 'interpolation' of Jn 7:53-8:11 is of an entirely different order.

22. If we give the testimony of Jerome the credibility it deserves, the early MSS he relied upon which contained the passage must have been 100 years older than Codex B or Aleph.

23. The oldest Early Greek Father is now Didymus the Blind, who quotes the passage from memory in his recently discovered O.T. commentary. See:

Didymus & Jn 8:1-11

24. Conflicting witnesses are not relevant to establishing the presence of the passage in the MSS transmission of John. We know some MSS did leave it out. This cannot remove it from those MSS which contained it.

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