I have recently read the following books: How We Got the Bible, by Neil R. Lightfoot; The Origin of the Bible, by Philip Wesley Comfort; and From God to Us, by Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix. After reading these books, I tend to think that John 7:53-8:11 should not be in the Bible. Yet this story is very often used in sermons and lessons. As we do not use the Apocrypha in Church lessons, as it is of dubious historical value, why do we allow the aforementioned "scriptures" to be used? Also, do you recommend any other texts for study of Bible textual history? -- Karl Giese (Sydney)
Reply by Andrew Kitchen (Sydney, Australia):
The books and authors you mentioned are certainly well-respected in this most interesting field of textual criticism. My view on John 7:53-8:11 is in agreement with yours; i.e., John 7:53-8:11 is most probably a later addition, not in the original text. However, I believe it is quite possible that the events described did actually occur. After all, Jesus did many things not recorded in the four 4 gospels we have (John 21:25).
This passage and Mark 16:9-20 are the two "major" variants in the New Testament. However, the question of how we use them is a separate one, in my view. From a preaching/teaching standpoint, we use many non-inspired sources to get the point across (any non-biblical illustration -- quotes, surveys, song lyrics, even movies), which I believe is fine, if used appropriately. (And what is appropriate is a whole separate discussion!) Jesus, the master teacher, used everyday illustrations to get his point across. The Old Testament prophets were very creative in their communication also. Sometimes you could actually use an apocryphal or even Koranic passage to make an inverse point. I believe it comes down to how various sources are used and how they are pitched.
As far as John 7:53-8:11 is concerned, if I were using this passage in teaching, I would be sure to mention the doubt about the originality of the text. This is important, because most people would accept it unquestioningly, just because they see it in their Bibles. However, the events described are not inconsistent with what we know about Jesus' character, approach to the Law etc. and could be used in a positive way.
So in summary, I don't think it is part of the original text, but I feel okay about using the passage, provided the veracity of the source is appropriately "footnoted" by the speaker. Others may have a different view on this, but that is where I am at currently. For further reading, you might want to consult various works by Metzger.
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