Internal Evidence

on John 8:1-11 (1863)
Part II: Internal Evidence

Review of: E. B. Alford, Greek NT, 5th Ed. (1863) pp. 777-784
by Nicolson, The Gospel Acc. to the Hebrews, (1878)

Page Index

Last Updated: Feb 21, 2009

Prologue: - Introduction to Henry Alford & E. B. Nicolson

Review: - Alford on John 8:1-11: Internal Evidence, with Nicolson
    Modern Footnotes: - from Nazaroo

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Henry Alford (1810-1871) was a biblical scholar in England. He was dean of Canterbury from 1857-1871 and is often referred to as "Dean Alford." His great work was an edition of the Greek New Testament(1849). He wrote the words to the well known hymn, "Come Ye Thankful People Come." He also wrote exegetical notes on the Greek New Testament which is now titled Alford's Greek Testament.

Alford lived in the 19th century, a time when the majority of Bible students held to an amillennial position or a postmillennial position. Both of these positions denied a literal thousand year kingdom and both taught that at the end of time there would be one general resurrection for both the saved and the unsaved and one general judgment.

The minority position, held by the Plymouth Brethren, George Peters, and some others, taught that there would be a millennium kingdom, the character of which would match that which is described in all of the great prophecies of the Old Testament relating to the Messiah and His glorious worldwide reign. They also taught that there would be two resurrections: the first resurrection for the saved and the second resurrection for the unsaved and these two would be separated by a period of a thousand years (see Revelation 20:4-6).

It should also be noted, as Alford does, that the premillennial view was universally held by the early church.

-, Henry Alford

Dean Alford seems to have come along at just the right time, or perhaps it may have had more to do with his inherent social status. Samuel Davidson had been embroiled in controversy a mere ten years prior to Alford's publication of a Greek New Testament text, when he began teaching modern 'liberal' views of the Sacred Holy Scriptures. Davidson was accused of heresy, and in spite of support from peers lost his battle and retired in near obscurity as a 'semi-Christian' philosopher.

Alford, publishing quite similar views only a few years later, and continuing to update his work, on the contrary became quite popular because of his extensive footnotes and critical apparatus which accompanied the text.

Edward Byron Nicolson, MA (1849–1912) was a scholar of Trinity College, Oxford, and Principal Librarian and Superintendant of the London Institution.

In 1867 he went to Trinity College, Oxford, as a classical scholar; he gained a first in classical moderations in 1869 and a third in law and history in 1871. He won the Gaisford prize for Greek verse the same year and the Hall Houghton junior Greek Testament prize in 1872. He was school librarian at Tonbridge and librarian of the Oxford Union, demonstrating at an early age a laudable application to cataloguing by producing published catalogues of each library. After a brief spell of teaching at the Rookery School in Headington, Oxford, Nicholson was appointed librarian of the London Institution in January 1873.

- Oxford University Biography

E. B. Nicolson, on the other hand, although he became renowned as a meticulous librarian and innovator of modern professional library practice, was never quite recognised as the serious scholar he struggled hard to be. Ironically, his heavy volume on The Gospel According to the Hebrews (1879) continues to retain its value, since actual copies of the said "Gospel" have still not been recovered to this day.

In the process of his own investigations into the content of the almost legendary Hebrew Gospel, Nicolson became convinced that the Pericope de Adultera (Jn 8:1-11) must have belonged to it. This led Nicolson to do his own study of the textual and linguistic evidence then known regarding the passage. It is from this effort that we extract both the essence of Alford's views on the internal evidence, and alongside it a healthy skeptical examination of the strength of those arguments.

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Alford on John 8:1-11
Internal Evidence

Critiqued by E. B. Nicolson

After reviewing the textual evidence, which Nicolson considers to be of far more weight and importance than internal (linguistic) evidences, he turns to what linguistic arguments were readily available in his time, namely those of Dean Alford, as presented in his (1863) Greek Testament.

Nicolson feels obligated to critique every single one of them, because he is so disappointed and unsatisfied with their obvious weakness and lack of credibility.

Nicolson probably didn't feel it necessary to directly assess Samuel Davidson's previous set of arguments, presented in his Introduction to the NT (1848), because that work simply did not have the popularity of Alford's later Greek NT, it being simply a scholar's discussion without accompanying text.

It is likely however that Alford had earlier borrowed heavily from Davidson's presentation, even though Tregelles (1854) had dismissed the value of any such internal arguments shortly afterward (although he himself rejected the verses as inauthentic on the basis of available textual evidence).

Alford took a quite different view of internal evidence himself, valuing it very highly, providing that it was properly done according to his own criteria.


"I feel bound to admit that the force of the internal evidence has been greatly overrated.

The following are Alford's specifications [Greek NT, Apparat. (1863) pp 777f]:

(a) That John nowhere else mentions the Mt. of Olives.

McClellan (New Testament, 724) answers that each of the Synoptists mentions Gennesaret only once. There is no proof, however, that they had due occasion for naming it more frequently, whereas we should certainly have expected to find the Mt. of Olives named in John xii. or xviii., as Matthew and Mark each mention it 3 times and Luke 4 times. Still it may be thought less unlikely that John should name it here only than that he should never name it at all.

(b) That, when John introduces a new place, it is his habit to give explanations.

McClellan answers that in xviii. 1 the brook Kedron is introduced without explanation, and that in any case the Mt. of Olives was too well known to need it. McClellan s instance is not conclusive, since the winter-torrent Kedron is itself merely mentioned to explain the situation of the garden to which Jesus withdrew : and the 'sea of Galilee' ought not to have needed the addition (vi. 1) of the words 'which is the sea of Tiberias.'

(c) That πορευομαι with εις is not found elsewhere in John. This is not the fact : it is so found in vii. 35, only 18 verses before.

(d) That ορθρον is not found elsewhere in John. But it is only found once in Luke's Gospel, once in Acts, and nowhere else in the N.T., and is a word which one would not expect to find more than once in so short a book.

(e) That παραγινομαι with εις is not found elsewhere in John. Imagine one giving as evidence against the genuineness of an English paragraph the fact that it contained the construction 'came into', whereas in the rest of the author's book no example occurred of 'came into', but only of 'came' and 'came to' ! Cf. Matt., who has this construction only once, and Luke, who has it not once in his Gospel and yet 3 times in Acts.

(f) That John uses λαος elsewhere in a different sense, and would have used οχλος here. But, as John only uses λαος in two other places, it is not just to attribute to him alone among the evangelists an exclusively narrow sense of the word. And in the second place οχλος in John never means more than crowd, whereas here he may be describing the united impulse of all the people gathered together at the feast of tabernacles. Lastly, 3 uncials and 20 cursives actually read οχλος and not λαος , while 7 cursives omit the entire sentence.

(g) That such an expression as καθισας εδιδασκεν αυτους is not found elsewhere in John. True. But it is found (without αυτους ) only once in Luke, and McClellan reasonably asks, supposing that Jesus did on occasions sit down and teach, whether it is any more inconsistent with S. John's style than with S. Luke's or with any other writer s once to say so. Let me add that D and 7 cursives omit the clause.

(h) That 'it is not in John s manner to relate that Jesus taught them, without relating what He taught.' But there is a marked instance of his doing so in the previous chapter, vii. 14, 'Jesus went up into the Temple, and taught.'

(i) That 'John does not usually connect with δε' But McClellan has shown from other parts of John the complete fallacy of this argument, and has observed that δε occurs 204 times in the Gospel as against ουν 206 times.

(j) That John never mentions οι γραμματεις elsewhere, but usually calls the opponents of Jesus οι Ιουδαιοι, οι αρχοντες . It certainly is remarkable that the name Scribes occurs nowhere else in this Gospel. McClellan, who paraphrases it by Doctors of the Law, says But the question was one of the Law This answer seems at first fairly satisfactory, but becomes less so when we observe
(i.) that there was no dispute about the Law at all : the question was not what the Law, but what Jesus prescribed ;
(ii.) that in cases where the legality of the acts of Jesus is questioned (v. 10-16, ix. 13-16) the Scribes are not mentioned by John, who speaks of the Jews and the Pharisees.

It is true that three cursives, with Coptic and Armenian MSS., read the 'CHIEF-PRIESTS and the Pharisees' and we cannot prove that this, which admirably suits John's usage, was not the original reading. But the authority for it is slender, and the fact of its being thoroughly Johannine will explain its introduction : that 'chief- priests' was, on the other hand, corrupted into 'scribes' is the less likely because in passages of John where the 'chief-priests' are mentioned 'scribes' is never found as a various reading.

(k) That λεγουσιν αυτω εκπειραζοντες αυτον savours much more of tlie synoptic Gospels than of John. Clearly, because they contain more incidents which admit of such an expression. The use of the word πειραζω is not alien to John, who describes Jesus as πειραζων, trying, Philip with a question (vi. 6).

(l) That the very fact of their questioning thus, "Moses commanded, .... but what sayest Thou?" belongs to the last days of the Lord s ministry, and cannot well be introduced chronologically where it here stands.

John, however, clothes the figure of Jesus at Jerusalem at this stage of his career with as much public importance as the Synoptists do in the week previous to his death. And would not the same objection apply equally to iii. 13-17, the account of the cleansing of the Temple ?

(m) That 'John nowhere introduces these questions between the law of Moses and Jesus ; but the synoptic Gospels often do.' The same might be said of the miracle at Cana (c. ii.) and that of the nobleman s son (c. iv.) : miracles which do not serve as the occasion for discourses are quite foreign to the general scope of the Gospel.

(n) That 'πλην is only found here in John, Gosp. and Epp.' True, but it is also found once, and once only, in Mark. And it is only found once in the Apocalypse which, if the Apocalypse was written by the writer of the Gospel, is likewise a proof of its being one of his words.

(o) That ' κατακρινω also is not found elsewhere in John, who uses κρινω in its strict sense for it.' Equally true, but here again we have a parallel in Luke, who also uses κατακρινω in two consecutive verses (xi. 31, 32) but nowhere else.

Reviewing these 15 items of the indictment, we find that 3 of them (c h i ) must be given up as against fact ; that 5 (d e g n o ) are exactly applicable to other Gospels (e and g are otherwise weak) ; and that 4 (f k l m ) are untenable for various reasons. Only 3 are left (a, b, j ). I think that these (particularly the last) do afford a presumption against Johannine authorship, though to each of them there is some sort of answer not altogether beneath notice.

To sum up the external evidence must be held fatal to the genuineness of the passage: the internal evidence, while insufficient of itself to establish the same conclusion [that the passage is inauthentic], must be taken to confirm it."

- E. B. Nicolson, Gospel Acc. Heb. (1879) pp. 53 ff,
and appendix F, p.138 fwd

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Modern Footnotes

Footnotes courtesy of Nazaroo:

It is of note that of all of Alford's arguments, Nicolson only finds (a), (b), and (c), namely :

(a) the unique phrase "Mount of Olives", and

(b) John usually comments on new locations, (but not here), and

(j) the unique appearance of "scribes" here alone, be of any significance as to authorship or authenticity of the passage.

Even with these three cases (really two, since (a) and (b) are a single case) , the first is a famous location outside of Jerusalem, certainly known to almost any NT author, and (j) "scribes" is an obviously common and frequent word in any discussion of Jesus' public life.

Nicolson rightly complains that the 'internal evidence' against the passage doesn't amount to a hill of beans.

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