Textual Evidence

Textual Evidence:
Jn 7:53-8:11
Part I: Orientation

Revised and Expanded from: the forum thread created by Nazaroo,
Textual Evidence for John 8:1-11 www.ChristianForums.com, (2006)

Page Index

Last Updated: Feb 19, 2009

Section A: Introduction - Footnotes in Modern Versions

subsection 1..... The Premise of Modern Textual Criticism
subsection 2..... Key Issues: Authenticity versus Existance

Section B: Myth #1 - "Oldest and Best MSS Omit the Verses"

subsection 1..... Latest Plausible Date for 'Insertion'
subsection 2..... Codex Vaticanus (B) and Sinaiticus ( א )
subsection 3..... Photos of Codex Aleph and B
subsection 4..... The Background on Aleph and B
subsection 5..... Early Evaluations of Aleph and B
subsection 6..... Modern Approach to Aleph and B

Section C: Myth #2 - "Early Greek Fathers Unaware of them"

Section D: Myth #3 - The "Many Variants" Scam

Section A:
Footnotes in Modern Versions

The footnotes in most modern translations of the Bible are often a frustrating experience for the ordinary Christian layperson. On the one hand, many popular and seemingly reasonable verses of the New Testament are found bracketed, asterisked, and marked with notes suggesting that they are unreliable or perhaps later 'additions' to the text. On the other hand, the reader isn't even really given a clue as to the nature or the quality of the 'evidence' upon which these anonymous footnotes are based, or any way find out more, beyond the brief introductory notes at the front of the translation.

From a poster on Christian Forums:

"I still get the impression from trusted sources that it was a late addition to the Gospel of John. I have this in my John McArthur Study Bible in the study notes. I thought I would post them and see what kind of a response I get:"

"7:53-8:11 This section dealing with the adulteress most likely was not a part of the original contents of John. It has been incorporated into manuscripts at different places in the gospel (e.g. after vv. 36,44,52), while one manuscript places it after Luke 21:38. External manuscript evidence representing a great variety of textual traditions is decidedly against its inclusion, for the earliest and best manuscripts exclude it. Many manuscripts mark the passage to indicate doubt as to its inclusion. Significant early versions exclude it. No Greek church father comments on the passage until the twelfth century. The vocabulary and style of the section also are different from the rest of the gospel, and the section interrupts the sequence of v. 52 with 8:12ff. Many, however, do think that it has all the earmarks of historical veracity, perhaps being a piece of oral tradition that circulated in parts of the western church, so that a few comments are in order. In spite of all the considerations of the likely unreliability of this section, it is possible to be wrong on the issue, and thus it is good to consider the meaning of the passage and leave it in the text with Mark 16:9-21"

( - example footnote from the John McArthur Study Bible )

"I have absolutely no real particulars on the reliablity of this text or real evidence to challenge it. The extent of my knowledge is an interview I heard on NPR (not an unbiased source) and that footnote from John McAurthur." ( - original poster)

This is typical of the situation that many Christians, bible students and even scholars find themselves in with regard to the history of the text of the New Testament.

To this we can add, (for those using other versions, or wondering about the footnotes found there):

Marginal notes found in modern Bible versions

English Revised Version (ERV 1885). "Most of the ancient authorities omit John vii.53-viii.11. Those that contain it vary much from each other."

American Standard Version (ASV 1901). Marginal note: "Most of the ancient authorities omit John vii. 53--viii. 11. Those which contain it vary much from each other."

Revised Standard Version (RSV 1946). 7:53-8:11 given in the margin, with the note, "Most of the ancient authorities either omit 7.53-8.11, or insert it, with variations of the text, here or at the end of this gospel or after Luke 21.38." Since 1971 the section is printed as ordinary text, with the note, "The most ancient authorities omit 7.53-8.11; other authorities add the passage here or after 7.36 or after 21.25 or after Luke 21.38, with variations of text."

New American Standard Version (NASV 1963). "John 7:53-8:11 is not found in most of the old mss."

New International Version (NIV 1973). "The most reliable early manuscripts omit John 7:53-8:11." Later editions of the NIV have, "The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11."

New King James Version (NKJV 1980). "NU [that is, the United Bible Societies' Greek text] brackets 7:53 through 8:11 as not in the original text. They are present in over 900 mss. of John."

New Jerusalem Bible (NJB 1985). "The author of this passage, 7:53-8:11 is not John: it is omitted by the oldest witnesses (MSS, versions, Fathers) and found elsewhere in others; moreover, its style is that of the Synoptics and the author was possibly Luke, see Lk 21:38n. Nevertheless, the passage was accepted in the canon and there are no grounds for regarding it as unhistorical."

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV 1990). "The most ancient authorities lack 7:53-8:11; other authorities add the passage here (between 7:52 & 8:12) or after 7:36 or after 21:25 (the end of John) or after Luke 21:38, with variations of text; some mark the passage as doubtful."

New Living Translation (NLT 1996). "The most ancient Greek manuscripts do not include John 7:53-8:11."

This about sums up the (misleading and annoying) footnotes found in most modern versions. We are going to examine the claims/statements made by them one by one.

The Approach

Typically in a debate, the person picks a side, then marshalls all the arguments and evidence he can in favour of his position. He will also minimize or completely ignore any counter-evidence, leaving that to his opponent(s). However, this style or method is not suitable to the task here.

In this case, we want to adopt more of the function of a moderator of debate, since without rules and guidelines, and some controls in place, any debate will just deteriorate. In fact, our presentation should be modelled more along the lines of a forensic or scientific investigation. Without unduly prejudicing the outcome, we want an honest evaluation of the evidence available, and also its significance to the key question(s) at hand.

The central question raised by the footnotes of these modern versions is this:

"Is the passage (John 7:53-8:11) a part of John's Gospel?"

This may be considered the 'debate topic', or the main object of the investigation.

There are a number of related and secondary questions here also:

"Is this passage written by the author of John's Gospel?"

"Has John's Gospel been edited or redacted?"

"If it was not originally part of John, what is it? Where did it come from? Who wrote it?"

"Is the story in this passage an authentic tradition about Jesus?"

"Is the story an actual historical event in the life of Jesus?"

And of great importance to Christians, is the question,

"Is this passage an Inspired part of Holy Scripture?"

Such is the basic scope of the investigation before us. We will find these and other questions will arise and answers will be found as we proceed in our investigation.

The first order of business will surprisingly be to set a game-plan or framework for interpreting the evidence. In some cases we will also eliminate some of the irrelevant 'evidence'. We will not do this by simply ignoring it, but by understanding that evidence for what it is, and then applying our findings to the 'thesis' question, namely, the question of AUTHENTICITY.

The Opening Thesis of Textual Critics

"...the vast majority of textual scholars agree that ..."

"Most experts agree that..."

Whenever we see a phrase like this, a little alarm bell should go off, warning us that precarious claims are coming. They will have been lovingly massaged by a professional spin-doctor. Such statements are crafted to guide us into a murky fantasy-realm, falling into some dubious conclusion.

Nonetheless we'll start off with a similar statement here, because ironically, in our case we won't be far wrong with the following claim about the 'state of current textual criticism'.

The TC Theme Song:

Most textual critics take the position that John 7:53-8:11 is a later addition, an insertion into John's Gospel.

Some say it was added between 250 A.D. and 350 A.D., when supposedly the Byzantine text-type (Traditional Text) was being formed. Others push the time of effective insertion and final adoption of the text to much later, into the late 7th - 9th centuries and beyond.

Yet we must first evaluate this claim itself. We cannot simply accept the assertion of these men as foregone conclusions. We will want to know just what the evidence supporting their position really is, and how counter-evidence is handled, and finally what kind of case is actually left when all is said and done.

Authenticity vs. Existance

The value of the evidence obviously depends at least partly upon the purpose at hand. We must be capable of distinguishing between:

(a) earliest evidence for the EXISTANCE of the passage, versus

(b) the subsequent history of the BATTLE over the passage.

This is so important we should dwell upon it for a moment so there will be no doubt or confusion about the distinction:

You only need *ONE* copy having the passage to establish the LATEST date when the insertion process could have begun. The condition of the text found (and the # of later correctors) is completely irrelevant. For instance the passage is found in the 5th century Codex Bezae, and there it will stay, in the original hand. No date for insertion later than this is physically possible.

The reason we want a starting date for the insertion process is because it determines the value of all other evidence coming before and after that date. A later manuscript omitting (or containing) the passage would not be particularly meaningful, because it would only record the subsequent battle over the passage, not its creation-date or origin, or account for its insertion.

Again we don't want to confuse several entirely separate issues:

(1) The Existance of the Passage:
i.e., the start-date of the process of 'insertion' if it was inserted.

(2) The Authenticity of the Passage:
i.e., the question of whether the Evangelist is its author.

(3) The Integrity of the Passage:
i.e., whether or not it records a historical incident in the life of Jesus.

(4) The Original Text of the Passage:
i.e., which traditions or streams or variants preserve the most primitive version

(5) The History of Transmission of the Passage:
i.e., the processes it underwent and extent of the passage's subsequent fame and fortune, and its usage by the early church.

We especially don't want to confuse (1) with (5), since many textual critics claim the passage was inserted in the first place. In that case the two issues must by logical necessity be entirely separate.

The question of whether or not a given scribe at a given time appears to have approved of either the omission or the inclusion of the passage can be interesting and possibly important, but not for the question of when the process of 'insertion' had actually begun.

What is important to the question of WHEN the alleged process of insertion had begun is whether or not a scribe shows any knowledge of its existance, not the scribe's opinion of the value of the passage. For this purpose, a marginal note, a diacritical mark, or even a simple space could indicate knowledge of the passage's existance.

Section B:
The "Oldest and Best Manuscripts Omit the Verses (?)"

Myth #1:
"The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11." (NIV)

We are calling this a myth, because the statement is so brief and lacking in critically important detail, that it appears deliberately designed to misdirect. And even if not intended to, it certainly will mislead anyone unaware of the following details:

The Four Oldest Manuscripts: P66, P75, B, Aleph

There are currently only four known fairly complete copies of John older than 400 A.D.:

SymbolOther Name(s) DateContentOrigin
P66 Papyrus Bodmer II 150-200 A.D. JohnEgypt
P75 Papyrus Bodmer XIV 175-225 A.D. Luke/JohnEgypt
B, (Codex B)Codex Vaticanus, #03 330-350 A.D. O.T and N.T.Caesarea
א, (Aleph) Sinaiticus, #01 330-350 A.D. O.T and N.T.Caesarea

These are usually treated as a group, representing the 'oldest manuscripts'. (There are older papyrii, but they are too fragmentary to be of any use for the confirming the authenticity of our passage.)

The Latest Plausible Date for an 'Insertion'

First consider the word 'earliest' in the above quoted footnote: This implies that the passage was added after all of these manuscripts were made. But this is hardly accurate.

The Witness of Jerome

Yet two of these manuscripts date from 330-350 A.D. (Aleph, and B) and by that time the passage was apparently already found in many copies of John. Saint Jerome tells us he found John 8:1-11 in "many copies both Greek and Latin" when he was translating the gospels into Latin in 380-390 A.D.

"...in the Gospel according to John in many manuscripts,
both Greek and Latin, is found the story of the adulterous woman
who was accused before the Lord."

(See Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Latina,
vol. 23, col. 579)

Jerome must have observed this around 380 A.D., when he began gathering ancient and trustworthy manuscripts from across Christendom for his translation of the Gospels, a work begun in 383 A.D. and completed by about 390 A.D.

This provides a rough cut-off date of about 350 A.D. for the latest sensible time when the passage could have been first inserted into John (if it actually was inserted, and was not simply deleted from some copies).

Jerome viewed the passage as Holy Scripture without reservation, including it in his new Latin translation. But it is not Jerome's judgement as a textual critic that matters here at all. All that really counts is his simple honesty, and the accuracy of his observations regarding the manuscript situation in his time.

The Vindication of Jerome

Ancient Greek manuscripts in fact did contain the passage. It is found in the early 5th century Codex D (Bezae). Although this codex was made around Jerome's time, it certainly wasn't made by him and its text (both Greek and Latin) is much older than Jerome's Vulgate. Codex Bezae is clearly an ancient gospel text of unknown origin.

That early Latin manuscripts also contained the passage is confirmed by its inclusion in the Old Latin manuscripts, codices b and e. These manuscripts together represent the 'Western Text-Type', a version of the NT far older than Jerome's Vulgate:

"The Western text in the Gospels consists of only one Greek witness (Bezae, D/05), but it is supported by most of the Old Latin versions, and by quotations from many early writers such as Irenæus (175-202 A.D.) and Tertullian (197-225 A.D.) .

The Old Syriac versions also seem to belong here, although they are not as pure and may have elements of other types. In the Acts, Bezae and the Old Latins are still the key elements of the type, although 614, the margin of the Harklean Syriac, and the other manuscripts of Family 2138 are believed by many to belong here.

In Paul, the Old Latin still supports the type, as do the uncials D (here "D" is the Latin Uncial Claromontanus [6th cent.], not Bezae) and the closely-related 9th cent. pair F, G. There are no known witnesses to this text-type for the Catholic Epistles or Apocalypse."

(paraphrased from http://www.skypoint.com/~waltzmn/intro.html)

The Ancient MSS used by Jerome

In fact, even around A. D. 110, Polycarp was already quoting the longer Western text of Acts, in his letter to the Philippians. This puts the Western Text back into the 1st or early 2nd century A.D. and confirms that the text of Codex Bezae is very ancient. But if the Western text-type contained the Pericope de Adultera, it would certainly explain why the passage was found in many manuscripts in Jerome's time, as well as in Codex Bezae.

Jerome's Vulgate is not of the Western text-type, but has a closer relation to the Byzantine text-type, although having some affinity to the Alexandrian as well. Jerome may have influenced the opinions of others in the 5th and following centuries, but he is not responsible for putting the passage in John in the first place. He merely put his weight behind it, by giving assent to what he already found in the MSS tradition.

According to Streeter, (The Four Gospels, Appendix IV, Jerome & Codex (א) ), Jerome explains his principles in his preface to the Latin Gospels. No two Latin copies agree, but we have recourse to the original Greek. Yet the MSS of Lucian and Hesychius are heavily edited and interpolated. Jerome therefore, specifically states he has only used the most ancient Greek copies, known to be older than these rescensions.

(Streeter is online here: Appendix IV: Jerome and Codex Sinaiticus)

Streeter makes a good case that the ancient copies of Jerome were very similar in text to Codex Sinaiticus. This is doubly significant, since the later copies that we have (Codex B and (א) themselves) OMIT the Pericope de Adultera. Jerome seems to have used far older copies of the "Alexandrian" text-type that still retained the passage.

Dr. Hort Confirms the Early Latin Evidence

Dr. Antony Hort was the first to remove the verses from his own Greek text in 1881. Yet Hort himself fully acknowledged Jerome's Latin evidence. Although he chose to downplay the Greek mss evidence of Jerome and the other 4th century fathers, he readily admitted:

"But the Section was doubtless widely read in the Latin Gospels of the 4th century, being present even in e, as also in b, d, ff, j, vg and the Latin MSS referred to by Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome."

(Westcott & Hort, The NT in the Original Greek, Introduction,
Appendix I, pg 85 (1881/96 Note: Latin MSS are given in italics)

Nonetheless, the evidence of Jerome and the other early fathers shows that it was also embedded deeply into the Greek manuscript copying stream as well, long before Jerome's time. It may possibly have been a minority reading in early times, but it certainly sat in John at its usual place in some mss long before 380 A.D.

There is no compelling reason to question the accuracy of Jerome's statements, especially since other claims of his have repeatedly proven correct. For instance, Jerome accurately reported a previously unknown shorter ending of Mark, later discovered in the margins of Codex W.

Jerome was not the type to include doubtful passages in his Vulgate: He mercilessly chopped passages out of the Greek O.T. that he found missing from the Hebrew Bible, and would have gladly dropped John 8:1-11, if he'd had he any doubts about it.

The Two 'Great 4th Century Uncials',
Sinaiticus (א) and Vaticanus (B)

We know that the passage already existed in at least some manuscripts by about 350 A.D. So its no great surprise that these two famous manuscripts also show clear knowledge of the existance of John 7:53-8:11, even though they leave it out.

In fact, we will see that several manuscripts omit the passage, yet betray plain knowledge of its existance. For instance, two other ancient uncials, manuscripts L (8th cent.) and W (5th cent.) omit the passage, but leave a large space. So L and W are witnesses in FAVOUR of the existance of the passage in John by about 400 A.D., not against it.

Similarly, Codex A (5th cent.) and Codex C (5th cent.), may have missing pages in these places, but they seem to have contained suspicious extra space, enough for at least a place-holding partial column or scribal note. The original scribes seem to have known full well the passage existed. Whether or not they knew how much space to leave, or intended only to add a note of omission, isn't as important.

As witnesses, however, they are only supplimental, since Codex Bezae ALREADY establishs that the passage entered the textual stream (if it is indeed an insertion) well before this. They merely corroborate Codex Bezae, which in turn corroborates Jerome and the other early fathers.

We can say that both Codex Bezae and Codex W are reliable witnesses for the passage. In this context, 'reliable' simply means a good witness to its early existance, and it has no meaning as to the quality of either the passage or the rest of the Gospel.

Codex Sinaiticus (330-400 A.D.):
A 'Great Bible' from the Constantine Period

The key page of Codex Sinaiticus above, shows the place-holder technique of space and dot, marking the omission of John 7:53-8:11. Normally, no spaces are left between words, or even sentences, and sometimes a word will be split in half and continued on the next line without any notice.

This practice of using dots to signify variants (along with other markings) was carried on by Alexandrian scribes for at least two centuries (150-350 A.D.). At this time, the complex accenting system of the Middle Ages was virtually non-existant, and single dots were not used as often for other purposes, like accenting, breathing notes or punctuation.

A single dot appears in other places on the page as well, however in some cases, like the one in the middle of line 11 column 2, they were added later by the corrector or another hand. The important observation for the dot of interest (line 11, column 1) is that it is definitely by the original hand. The necessary space was provided for the dot by the scribe writing the letters. This special dot then, was combined into the text, and was probably in the master-copy the scribe was working from.

Tischendorf was well aware of this feature of Sinaiticus, and he included the mark in his facsimile edition, for which he had prepared a special type-face to handle the many peculiarities of the manuscript:

Codex Vaticanus (330-360 A.D.):
A 'Great Bible' from Constantine's time

The Nature and Reliability of the 4th Century Uncials

In order to properly assess the value of Codex Vaticanus (B) and Sinaiticus (א), we need to know about what they are, and who made them. Just after the last Great Persecution of Christians by Diocletus (311 A.D.), Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and legalized it (313 A.D.). Edward Miller has offered a good background description of what happened next:

"Constantine...gave the celebrated order to Eusebius, probably between 330-340 A.D., to send him 50 magnificent copies of the Holy Scriptures. They were to be written on the best vellum (calfskin) by skillful penmen,and in a form well fitted for [church] use. Orders were also issued to the provincial Governor to supply the working materials, and the work was to proceed with all possible speed. Two carriages were given to Eusebius for transport to Constantinople, and they were sent under charge of a deacon. 1

There are several reasons for supposing that B and (א) were among the 50 MSS. They are dated by experts to about the period of Constantine's letter. Tischendof and Scrivener believe the scribe of B wrote six consecutive pages in (א) . Both manuscripts are unrivalled for quality of vellum and calligraphy, as we would expect from MSS made to Imperial Order out of Imperial resources. They are also 'sister MSS' according to their significant agreement in variants. They abound in omissions and show carelessness typical of a 'rush job'. Even the corrector (the 'Diothotess') shows similar carelessness.

It is expressly stated in (א) that it was collated with an ancient MSS corrected by Pamphilus after Origen's Hexapla. And Caesaria was where the MSS of Origen and Pamphilus would be found.

There is then good cause for the opinion that these two MSS were executed by order of Constantine, and they show throughout the influence of Eusebius and Origen, whose work was housed at the library of Pamphilus in Caesarea, where they were most likely made."

(E. Miller, A Guide to the Textual Criticism of the NT, p 81-83)

1. Eusebius sent them "trissa kai tetrassa". (Vit. Const., IV.37). There are several interpretations possible here: (1)"in triple or quadruple sheets" - but in that case it would have been probably "triploa kai tetraploa". (2) "written in 3 or 4 vertical columns"(so Canon Cook), which would exactly describe B and (א), only a preposition is missing to turn the adjectival into adverbial expression. (3) combined with "penthkonta swmatia en dijqeraiV egkataskeuoiV (c. 36), "..we sent abroad the collections [of writings] in richly adorned cases, three or four in a case" (So Archdeacon Palmer, quoted by Scrivener). After examining the letters, I am convinced that Palmer is right. (see Cook, Revised Version p.162-163, & Scrivener p.513 footnote).

Now the next question has to do with the 'quality' of these ancient manuscripts: and here we must inevitably say a few words about the history of textual criticism and its practitioners, because it will come up sooner or later, and the reader should have some warning of the rather colorful language bound to appear.

Early Evaluations of codex B and (א) (circa 1880-1920)

In the early days of textual criticism (1850-1920) there were some heated exchanges over the content of these old manuscripts. Textual Critics quickly polarized into two opposing extreme camps.

The 'Codex Vaticanus' Club

Liberal critics wanted to abandon the Traditional NT text in favour of just about any variant found in codex B and (א). Such men as Dr. Hort (1881) expressed their position as follows:

Dr. Hort

"The course of future Criticism must be shaped by the happy circumstance that the 4th century has bequeathed to us two MSS , of which even the less incorrupt must have been of exceptional purity among its contemporaries: and which rise into greater pre-eminence of character the better the early history of the Text becomes known." (Hort, Introduction, p. 287)

"Even when B stands quite alone,its readings must never be lightly rejected." ( ibid. p. 557)

Yet the apparent scientific disinterest and temperance of Hort must be balanced against his quiet but longstanding burning hatred for the Traditional Christian text. Even as a young student, Hort had determined to 'overthrow' the traditional text, before he could possibly have had the scientific acumen to justify an assault:

"I had no idea till the last few weeks of the importance of texts, having read so little Greek New Testament, and dragged on with the villanous Textus Receptus [the Traditional text]...

"...think of that vile Textus Receptus leaning entirely on late manuscripts: it is a blessing there are such early ones...[referring to Codex B, and probably Codex L]"

(Hort to Ellerton, Dec 20,1851, Life and Letters, Vol. 1 pg 211)

The Extreme Conservatives

While Hort had elevated the adoration of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus almost to a disturbing fetish, those on the other side of the fence were hardly less extreme in their characterization of these manuscripts:


"Since B and (א) are derived from one and the same original - Why should not 'the concord' spoken of be rather "an unique criterion" of the utter depravity of the archetype?"

"...These are two of the least trustworthy documents in existance. ...by far the foulest text that had ever seen the light: worse, that is to say, even than the text of Drs. Westcott and Hort.

"... And codices B and (א) are, demonstrably, nothing else but specimens of the depraved class...so manifest are the disfigurements...we are constrained to regard them as little more than a single reproduction of one and the same scandalously corrupt and (comparatively) late copy."

(John Burgon, The Revision Revised,1883, pg 314 fwd...)

The Voices of Reason

Yet from the beginning there were many calmer and more experienced experts, able to give an assessment of these manuscripts that could stand the test of time:

Concering Dr. Scrivener:

"The labour spent by Dr. Scrivener is well known...Dr. Scrivener's candour, and patient and conscientuious consideration of every point that presents itself, of of every opinion resting upon intelligence, are conspicuous in all that he has written upon this subject. And his accuracy, a matter of extreme importance in these matters, stands at the very top of editorial and collational work."

(Miller, A Guide to the TC of the NT, pg 31)

"Let the truth be told; C.F. Matthaei and Dr. Scrivener are the only two scholars who have collated any considerable number of sacred codices with the needful amount of accuracy."

(Burgon, The Revision Revised, p 246)

And Dr. Scrivener has given us a detailed characterization of the manuscripts of this early period that has not so far been faulted:

"It is no less true to fact than paradoxical in sound, that the worst corruptions to which the NT has ever been subjected, originated within a hundred years after it was composed; that Irenaeus (150 A.D.), and the African Fathers, and the whole Western, with a portion of the Syrian Church, used far inferior manuscripts to those employed by Stunica, or Erasmus, or Stephens 13 centuries later, when forming the Textus Receptus."

(Scrivener, Plain Introduction, pg. 453)

Many other calmer and more scientifically disinterested experts gave their own far less enthusiastic appraisals of codex B and (א) as well:

"Canon Cook...maintained that codex B and (א) have been unduly exalted; that the Alexandrian (A), which in the Gospels fairly represents the text used by Chrysostom and his contemporaries, is superior to them; that the former two were probably written under the direction of Eusebius;..." (Miller,ibid., pg 35)

Wordsworth criticized the trend of "too much confidence in certain favourite manuscripts." (Bp.Chr. Wordsworth, Charge, Nov. 1881)

Dr. Michelsen in Theologisch Tijdschrift, (1884) submitted the text of codex B and (א) to a vigorous examination. From internal evidence he concluded that the so-called 'Neutral Text' is not so good as the advocates of it claimed. (MIller ibid, pg 36)

Vercellone, the official Vatican editor of B, held no such high opinions as those of the Extreme school of Wescott and Hort et al.

The Modern Approach to Aleph and B

The Essential Tools

Dr. Scrivener published A Full Collation of the Codex Sinaiticus (1864), with corrections of errata in Tischendorf's editions of the same manuscript. To this day, it remains a priceless detailed account of the contents and quality of the manuscript.

H.C. Hoskier finally gave the last word on Codex B and (א), in his massive 2 vol. 900 page examination, Codex B and Its Allies, (1914), a meticulously accurate line by line examination of all the significant variants. This volume is indispensible for interpreting the significance of the readings and identifying scribal errors in these manuscripts.

Both of these works are readily available on the internet:

Codex B and its Allies: Part I Hoskier (1914), (downloadable)
Codex B and its Allies: Part II Hoskier (1914)
Codex Sinaiticus: Scrivener's Collation (1852) (.pdf) from Mr. Palmer

To this we can add complete online photos of Sinaiticus (and Vaticanus for John):
Online Photos of Sinaiticus - from CSNTM.ORG
Vaticanus: John (other Gospels coming soon)

So the most detailed analysis is possible nowadays by anyone with the time, inclination, and a reasonable amount of care and skill.

The Basic Character of Aleph and B

...but in fact, this amount of effort is hardly necessary for our purposes.

We don't need to take any extreme positions. Neither the hysterical view that these two old manuscripts are 'satanically inspired' corruptions, nor the naive adulation of the cult of Hort and his followers will be of any real use to us. Instead, the extremist views need to take a back seat to a more sensible and scientific approach.

What we do need to do is see these manuscripts for what they really are. Neither 'demons' nor 'saints', but simply very artifical and 'official' productions, created using an editorial process quite similar to that of 'modern' textual critics themselves.

They are sophisticated technical works reflecting a dual set of purposes. On the one hand, they reflect a mature set of procedures for handling textual variants. And on the other hand, they were created to meet the practical needs of a very structured and fully developed liturgical tradition.

And so we need to avoid any fawning romanticism about them. On one hand, the mindset and methodology in the 4th century was too naive and clumsy to be of any serious merit in textual reconstruction. And on the other, they are far too late (300 years too late) and too heavily edited to give us a clear view of any kind of a primitive, pure or 'neutral' text.

If we were going to give more than just 'lip-service' to the 'Oldest and Best MSS' argument, we would have to jump right over these two museum pieces, and choose the papyrii, fully 150-200 years older, and suffering from far less sophisticated and extensive editing procedures.

In any case, the 'Oldest and Best MSS' argument has been examined critically by Dr. Holland, Mr. Pickering and others:

Pickering on 'Oldest and Best MSS'
Dr. Holland on 'Older and Better MSS'

The best that we can say for the 'oldest and most reliable MSS' sales-pitch, is this: The four 'Oldest MSS' don't form a homogenous group at all. Rather, their value in regards to the authenticity of John 7:53-8:11 is extremely lopsided.

Two of them (Codex B and Aleph) are far too late, too obviously edited, and too incestuously related to act as independant primitive witnesses to the original reading. Only the papyrii have the necessary antiquity, primitive character and independance to provide credible evidence.

The Older Papyrii

The problem with the earlier two manuscripts (papyrii, P66, and P75) is that the oldest of them, P66 (150-200 A.D.) also shows guilty knowledge of the existance of the passage, even while omitting it. The oldest papyrus seems ironically to present the oldest manuscript evidence for the existance of the passage.

It may be that the four oldest manuscripts available to the public leave out the passage, but they don't do so without revealing their knowledge of its existance. The oldest complete copy of John, P66, has a mark indicating the omission, as does Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph), and even Codex Vaticanus has a special mark (an umlaut) in the margin to mark the variant. Only P75 seems to lack a notice of the omission, but this manuscript is much newer than P66, coming perhaps 50 to 75 years later in time.

P66 (approx. 180 A.D.):
The Oldest complete MSS of John

Note in particular the space with a dot in the center, marking the omission of John 7:53-8:11. This Egyptian scribe plainly knew of the existance of the Pericope de Adultera.

Section C:
The "Early Greek Fathers"

A typical statement like the previous one will be combined with others such as the following:

Myth #2:
" No Greek church father comments on the passage until
the twelfth century. " (John McArthur Study Bible )

These terse remarks paint a false picture of the actual historical situation. They leave the unsuspecting reader with the impression that the passage was unknown to earlier church leaders and scribes: And that it was somehow added later and mistakenly accepted as a part of John's Gospel.

How could textual critics who reject the verses get it so wrong? The answer again is a 'technicality'. The above statement may be technically 'true', but it is designed to mislead.

Let's see why this is a false image of the actual situation: As it turns out, many important early fathers who lived at the heart of the Roman Empire, both talked of the passage and confirmed its authenticity, as early as the 4th century. It so happens however, that these early church writers wrote in LATIN.

The more detailed, accurate, and honest answer to the puzzle is found when two critical factors are taken into account:

(1) By the 4th and 5th centuries A.D., after nearly a thousand years of Roman rule, the Latin language had finally pretty much taken over. Most people, all over Europe in fact were conducting business, reading and writing in Latin, the official language of the Empire. Greek was fading out everywhere except in Greece and Turkey, where it was the original language of the people there.

So by about 400 A.D., most preachers, evangelists, and ecclesiastical leaders were doing business and writing commentaries and sermons in Latin, not Greek. The few older Greek commentaries which survive are only fragmentary examples of an earlier era.

(2) The ancient 'commentaries' were for public reading at church: The commentators only commented on what was actually publicly read. By the 4th century, there was already in place a 'Lectionary System'. That is, the Scriptures were divided up into sections or 'Lections' (Lessons) which were read on each day of the year. The Commentaries would follow along, commenting or providing the 'Lesson' for the daily scripture reading, much as sermons are given today.

The tradition of reading John throughout the weeks of 'Lent' is ancient. Much older than the final Lectionary forms that were standardized by the 7th or 8th century. And on the 3rd Week of Lent, it was customary to skip over the Pericope De Adultera (John 7:53-8:11), including the introductory verses, so that the theme of Jesus as the 'Light of the World' would not be broken up by Jesus' exit from the temple, His return and the confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees.

It has long been suspected that the passage was originally dropped because of this 'editing' and rearrangement of John to form the Lectionary Tradition. But whatever the reason for its original omission, it would be absurd for the great Public Commentaries to comment on verses that were completely skipped during the actual service.

Those Who Quoted John 7:53-8:11

(source: http://www.dr1611.org/O%20Biblios )

I supply here Dean John Burgon's original footnotes to these early fathers, taken from his book, The Causes of Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, ed. Edward Miller (1896, London - George Bell and Sons) Appendix 1: Pericope de Adultera pp. 232-265 , to assist the researcher in finding these quotations:

20. (Jerome:) ii. 630, addressing Rufinus, A.D. 403. Also ii. 748-9.

21. (Ambrose:) i. 291, 692, 707, 1367: ii. 668, 894, 1082: iii. 892-3, 896-7.

22. (Augustine:) i. 30: ii. 527, 529-30: iii1. 774: iii2. 158, 183, 531-2 (where he quotes the place extensively and comments upon it): iv. 149, 466 (quoted largely), 1120: v.80, 1230 (quoted largely both places): vi 407, 413: viii. 377, 574.

23. Pacian (372 A.D.) refers the Novatians to the narrative as something which all men knew. "Nolite in Evangelio legere quod pepercerit Dominus etiam adulterae confitenti, quam nemo damnarat?" Pacianus, Op. Epist. iii. Contr. Novat. (A.D. 372). Ap. Galland. vii. 267.

24. (Faustus:) Ap. Augustin. viii. 463.

25. (Rufinus:) In his translation of Eusebius. Nicholson, p. 53.

26. Chrysologus (433 A.D.) Abp. of Ravenna. Venet. 1742. Ile mystically explains the entire incident. Serm. cxv. para.5.

27. Sedulius the Scot (435 A.D.) makes it the subject of a poem, and devotes a whole chapter to it. Ap. Galland, ix. 553 and 590.

28. (anonymous:) 'Promiss.' De Promissionibus dimid. temp. (saec. iv). Quotes Jn viii 4,5,9. P.2, c. 22, col. 147b. Ignot. Auct., De Vocatione omnium Gentium (circa, 440 A.D.), ap. OPp. Prosper. Aquit. (1782), i. p. 460-1: - "Adulteram ex legis constitutione lapidandam...liberavit...cum executores praecepti de conscientiis territi, trementem ream sub illius iudicio reliquissent...Et inclinatus, id est ad humana dimissus..."digito scribebat in terram," ut legem mandatorum per gratiae decreta vacuaret," &c.

29. (Vigilius:) Wrongly ascribed to Idacius.

30. Gelasius P. (492 A.D.) Conc. iv. 1235. Quotes Jn viii 3, 7, 10 , 11.

31. Cassiodorus (514 A.D.) Venet. 1729. Quotes Jn viii 11. See ii. p. 96, 3, 5-180.

32. (Gregory:) Dialogues, xiv. 15.

33. (Jerome:) ii. 748: - "In evangelio secundum Ioannem in multis et Graecis et Latinis codicibus invenitur de adultera muliere, quae accusata est apud Dominum."

It would be superfluous to complain that all these fathers were 'Latin'. Many were fluent in both Latin, Greek, and even Hebrew, such as Jerome. Together they reflect the state of knowledge all over the Empire, and by implication also witness to the widespread attestation and penetration of the passage to the furthest reachs of civilization as then known, from Africa to Scotland.

All of these early church leaders attest unanimously to their strong belief in the authenticity and Johannine authorship of passage. Some note that certain manuscripts in their time omit the verses, and attribute this to tampering, for various reasons.

A signicant number of these early fathers were experts in the textual history of their time, and also the history of the church, and they were centrally located in the Empire, where knowledge was at hand, and communication was possible to all corners of the Mediterranean.

We must grant at the outset that all these fathers are 'late' in the sense of the textual critical hypothesis of an 'insertion'. A credible hypothesis of an insertion must place it before about 350 A.D. But such are the witnesses that we actually have, and they are as expert upon the state of the text, the controversies surrounding our passage, and the history prior to their time as any group of witnesses we could hope to uncover.

Section C:
The "Many Variants" Scam

Again other arguments are usually presented, such as the following:

Myth #3:
" This passage has more variants than
any other section of scripture." (e.g., RV, ASV footnotes )

One of the more annoying statements by rejecters of John 7:53-8:11 concerns the sheer number of variants in the text at this point.

The statement is usually formulated in a way that implies it is some kind of evidence regarding the authenticity of the verses. Thus we may typically read something to the effect of:

"This portion of the text displays more variations than any other portion of scripture, showing its unusual transmission history, its dubious origin, and spurious nature"

But again, are we being given an honest portrayal and appraisal of the actual textual evidence? No.

The first thing the critics do, is claim there are three different 'text-types' for this passage. For this accounting they include the text of Codex Bezae ("D", 5th century uncial).

Codex Bezae has a very peculiar and abberant version of the text, not just here, but throughout the whole NT. Its deviations from the standard book of Acts for instance are notorious and profuse.

But Codex Bezae is hardly a 'text-type'. It is a single manuscript. Although it clearly represents a much older master-copy (possibly 3rd or 4th century), the fact is, the text itself (along with the small handful of other witnesses to some of its various readings) can at best be called a small 'family' or group.

The Peculiar readings of Codex Bezae in part stem from the fact that it is a bilingual Greek/Latin manuscript, with Greek on the right page (lectio) and Latin on the left page (verso). It is evident from examining both sides of the manuscript (Greek and Latin), that the copyist was influenced by the Latin side and the two texts have been allowed to influence one another in the interests of making them conform to one another.

Thus, codex Bezae is not a true or pure 'copy' of its source documents or master-copy. It is in fact a heavily edited 'paraphrase' meant to give a kind of Greek/English cross-reference.

Although this isn't the only or even an adequate explanation for all of Bezae's bizarre readings, it shows that the scribe/editor was quite willing to modify the text in multiple places where it suited him.

As a result, this text alone accounts for nearly half of the 'variants' alleged in the passage (Jn 7:53-8:11).

Dropping the facade that this manuscript is a 'text-type' having any kind of credibility as an accurate source for the original wording of the text, and removing it from the critical apparatus, not only cuts our work in half, but almost completely clears the field of the smokescreen or veil placed over the text by including Bezae's spurious readings.

Not only has the number of variants been artificially bloated beyond reason by including Bezae as a credible witness to the exact wording of the text, but the critics have also cheated in the other direction:

(1) If the many (and we stress MANY) variants in codex Bezae (Greek and Latin) were included in the critical apparatus for the rest of the NT, this would almost double the size of the footnotes everywhere else too.

Critical editions of the Greek NT don't dare do this of course. They only include a handful of the significant variants of Codex Bezae in any typical critical apparatus, possibly about 10% of them. Researchers are expected to refer to a critical edition and facsimile of Codex Bezae itself for more detailed accounts of its unusual text.

(2) The bulk of NT manuscripts (over 5000 for the whole NT) have never been collated at all, in the detail that our passage has by von Soden (who checked over 900 manuscripts individually for their readings) or even more recently by Maurice Robinson (who has now collated all the extant manuscripts of John, as well as several hundred lectionaries!).

If textual critics were to exhaustively collate all the manuscripts in OTHER places, they would have the same number of variants for all those other portions of the text.

(3) The dozens of variants found in a mere handful of particularly loose manuscripts, (Groups M1, M2, M3, M4) have also ridiculously bloated the count.

The fact is, we could if we so desired, pick two dozen particularly bad paraphrases or poorly executed manuscripts/versions and multiply the variants in any section of the NT by a factor of five.

These are not neutral, scientific procedures, or even honest ones. Instead what has happened is that in the scramble to find supporting evidence for the rejection of John 8:1-11, the critics have been grasping at straws.

In fact, as von Soden first observed in the early 1900's, there are only TWO text-types for John 8:1-11, the main text (M5, some 300 MSS), and the Lectionary text (M6, some 250 MSS). The third significant group of MSS, (M7, some 250 MSS), is simply a later peculiar (block-copied) mixed text made by blending the two.

All the variants found in the majority of manuscripts can fully accounted for by the fact that the Lectionary text was made as a paraphrase to 'stand alone' as a Lection (Lesson for Public reading).

This practice is simply what churchs and pastors have done all along, and still do today: paraphrase a portion of scripture to make it easier to understand for their listeners.

There is no fourth group of manuscripts supporting Codex Bezae. It is the product of a single scribe or editor, and was never copied or used by anyone as an authority or reference for the Greek text of John.

The claim that this passage has an unusual number of variants is false and fabricated out of a biased and unscientific methodology.

Its just another myth perpetrated by detractors of John 8:1-11.