Answers to questions others have already asked!
Here you will find simple answers that will save you hours of searching or asking the wrong people, or just being stuck knowing that the answer was just a question away.
Frequently Asked Questions List
Question 1. What's all the excitement about?
Question 2. What's the passage about?
Question 3. How can you tell if it was removed, or added?
Question 4. Are you saying the footnotes in my Bible are wrong?
Question 5. Why did they remove the passage?
Question 6. How could modern experts get it wrong?
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What's all the excitement about?
Briefly said, several times in history there was an attempt to remove a part of the Bible, namely the short story found in the Gospel of John, chapter 8, verses 1 to 11. Some people claim that the passage was added to the Bible later. In many modern English translations, there is a footnote briefly mentioning this, and usually leaving the authenticity of the passage in some doubt.
2. What's the passage about?
You may already know this story. Its about the woman supposedly caught in 'adultery', who Jesus saved from being stoned to death. Since it is one of the most dramatic human stories in the New Testament, it has been included in many books, movies, and TV shows about Jesus. There are few people in the West who have never been exposed to some version of the story, or who haven't heard the famous line of Jesus:
"Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone!" (John 8:7)
Many people will have heard some expression like this, even if they don't know where it is actually from.
3. How can you know whether it was removed, or added?
That is what the 'science', or at least the method of Textual Criticism is all about. Its the effort to find out what happened, and then if necessary correct the Bible text.
Archaeologists seek out the most ancient copies of the texts at sites where ancient Christian and Jewish communities were located. Textual critics study the ancient evidence, such as old manuscripts and the writings of the early fathers, looking to see if any errors were made in copying.
The problem concerning this passage is that there is some conflicting evidence, and conflicting interpretations of that evidence, regarding its authenticity, much as in a typical court case.
4. Are you saying the footnotes in my Bible are wrong?
Bible footnotes are not always 'wrong'. In some cases, variations in wording or translation may pose legitimate problems for translators, interpreters, and the reader. Every case of variation is unique. There will be different evidence, and varying support for the choice made by any particular Bible translation.
Bible footnotes are always terse, and cannot present the full evidences behind the decisions of the translators. Thus mere footnotes can never be wholly 'right'. An adequate account for any important variant takes much more than just a footnote.
5. Why did they remove the passage?
If the passage was removed, it happened very early, possibly even shortly after the time of Jesus. Women had little power and few basic rights at that time. Of the three main cultures, Greek, Jewish, and Roman, only the Romans gave women near equal status in law, allowing them to own property, run businesses, and granting other social freedoms.
'Adultery', unlike pre-marital sex, simple seduction, or even rape, was considered a capital offence punishable by death. As it still is today in the Middle East, the law was unevenly applied, with women and children being the most common victims of such dubious 'justice'.
The story appears to grant leniency toward a woman adulteress. Several early writers have noted a hostility toward it based upon a certain prudishness or fear that the passage might encourage wives to commit adultery, or that adulterers would have an undeserved status in comparison to other offenders, like robbers or murderers.
While initial prudishness may have caused its avoidance in public reading, a copying accident or misunderstanding may have caused the passage to be left out of some manuscript. A pre-existant prejudice would then make it difficult to re-accept the passage, and prevent its re-insertion in other copies.
It seems that regardless of origin, a wide variety of factors influenced its acceptance afterward, from simple ignorance of its existance by some copyists, to personal agendas involving superstition, misogyny, and other related legal or political issues.
Today the passage is still footnoted, bracketed as an insertion, removed to the margins, or even placed at the end of the Gospel of John. We would hope the reasons for its mistreatment today are different than in ancient times, but this is not entirely clear.
The modern academic position is that the verses are spurious, but this is hardly the view of most Christians. The passage speaks to a difficult subject, and rarely draws a neutral attitude from anyone, whatever their background.
6. How could modern experts get it wrong?
Each textual problem is different, and involves many types of evidences of varying weight or estimation. It is natural that even experts should often differ, especially in complex and difficult cases.
This is quite normal, and similar to a medical condition: Often two doctors, both specialists, will disagree on a diagnosis and treatment of a complex case. This doesn't make them any less experts, or even of unequal skill. Often only a response to treatment will reveal the truth, sometimes not even then.