Question: If Mark 16:9-20 appears that it shouldn`t be in Mark`s Gospel, should John 7:53-8:11 be included in John`s Gospel?
Answer: Although the scholastic consensus is growing that these verses in Mark and John are not supported by our best manuscript evidence, not every individual is convinced. Furthermore, various Bible editions have handled this information differently…and differently at different times. For instance, the 1946 RSV (Revised Standard Version) published Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11as footnotes rather than in the main Bible text, but in the 1971 edition they responded to newer available manuscripts by placing them back into the text…but we’ve added newer manuscript evidence since then! The ESV (English Standard Version, based on the RSV) has double-bracketed these verses and posted the appropriate warnings—yet it has removed John 5:4 from the text for the same offense! The KJV (King James Version) will very probably continue to publish these verses in the main text since their version is considered a baseline of sorts in spite of its 400 year-old choice of manuscripts. But how should the modern translations handle these verses in future editions?
I join with Pastor Jim Hamilton of the Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville Kentucky in his recommendation to remove these verses from the main bible text and put them in the footnotes. Hamilton makes the following plea to the Bible translation committees:
Bible translation committees responsible for the ESV, CSB, NIV, NAS, and any other translation preached from pulpits should do pastors a favor and put these texts in footnotes. Mark 16:9–20 was not written by Mark, and John 7:53–8:11 was not written by John. Those passages do not belong in the text and should not be preached from pulpits. The snake-handlers are woefully mistaken. They should not think there is any warrant in the New Testament for such a practice. Similarly, those who cry that no one should throw stones anytime sinners are called to repentance have misunderstood this interpolated passage (Jesus does tell the woman to stop sinning in 8:11), but still the passage has no business in the text. It was not written by John, and it should not be there interrupting the flow of though between 7:52 and 8:12. Put it in a footnote.
Hamilton argues that the manuscripts themselves do not warrant that the verses be included in the main bible text, and that their inclusion breaks the flow of John’s narrative. He also argues that we lose continuity between John chapter 7 and 8 because of these inclusions, and that the vocabulary within these inclusions is not even John’s! I heartily agree with Hamilton. But since I have no expertise concerning these manuscripts, let me give you my (decidedly non-scholarly) reasons for agreeing with him.
After I had been reading the Bible long enough to get a feeling for its stories, its diction and its ways, certain things seemed to “bother” me as I read them—and one of the earliest was the section from John with the woman taken in adultery (8:1-11). First, although I hadn’t analyzed or itemized the words in particular, I could hear a change of voice. Second, the story is encapsulated; it does not integrate with the text on either side of it. This cellular nature (which speaks to the break in flow as noted by Hamilton) makes insertion plausible. But the third is most troubling—the portrait of Jesus. He twice turned his attention to the dirt. Was he afraid of eye contact? Did he need time to think? Was he affecting a distracted manner with his writing on the ground—being (sort of) the cool Jesus? He performed no miracles; he had no intimate moments with his disciples and he was not teaching as one who had authority. But most importantly, he offered a clever rather than a godly solution to relieve the moment’s tension. As such, this pericope does not show Jesus being Jesus…it shows Jesus being Solomon…and frankly, I want my Lord back!
Remember when Solomon (at his uber-cleverest) threatened to divide a baby in order reveal the true mother? That was clever! In John 8 when Jesus invites the sinless to cast the first stone, that was clever—and the very same kind of clever. What’s the problem? Jesus doesn’t do clever…he does truth—and truth militates against this slick kind of cleverness.
Truth is a blunt force; it spurred Jesus’ enemies to try to kill him repeatedly. Truth is nothing elegant; it is beyond wisdom…and it is anything but clever. So, even as a young Christian, this section sounded nothing like Jesus to me. It sounded contrived—and frankly, it still does. Now surely, I am not the Holy Spirit. But if I get a vote, I vote to remove John 7:53-8:11 from the bible’s body text and put it in the footnotes.
Because we’re talking about certain editions of the Bible being “wrong” in certain ways, let me include a few words on the inerrancy of Scripture lest someone get the wrong idea: The original autographs are inerrant…but none are extant. Instead of those we have thousands of ancient documents and citations that have allowed us to (virtually) re-create the autographs. The occasional manuscript section may come under scholastic review and debate, but these sections are all doctrinally inert like the sections under discussion today. The fact that the manuscripts are under ongoing scholarship does not prove that there is something wrong with God’s word; it is a refining fire—one of the very processes that God has ordained to keep his word pure. Let us hear Hamilton’s itemization of the manuscript problems—but look at the certainty that this process has rendered.
John 7:53–8:11 is not in any of the best texts: P66, P75, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, etc. As the note above the passage in the ESV states, the earliest manuscripts do not include it. As the footnote in the ESV text states, some manuscripts contain this passage, but not following John 7:52. Some have it after John 7:36 or 21:25 or even Luke 21:38. Again, the fact that we have enough manuscript evidence to arrive at this conclusion shows that we can be practically certain about the original contents of the text of the New Testament. (Emphasis mine)
The list of scholars who are willing to go on record for this change is growing as the manuscript evidence comes into clearer focus. However, the editorial committees of the many Bible editions are the ones which must decide how those texts will appear in their particular pages. Our community has been cautious; scholarship has proceeded for decades without bold action to the text. But perhaps now is the time. If we respond to the scholastic consensus by making these proposed changes to the body text, we will serve its readers well—and we show the world that veneration does not require stagnation, and that inerrancy underpins our continual investigations.